Not long ago a friend of mine, a woman who is quite satisfied to be single and child-free, was told by a man who is an active elder in his church that a woman’s greatest vocation is as wife and mother. This was at Sunday lunch, after my friend had preached that morning in his church.
Now, even if what he said were undeniably true, to choose to make a point of it to a woman he knew to be unmarried and unmothering would be rude or even cruel. But is it true? Does the Bible really say that a woman’s place is in the home?
Such questions rarely touched my life in any serious way before I moved to Bolivia. Growing up, I wanted to eventually marry and be a mother, but I was blessed to be surrounded by women who found success and fulfillment in a variety of occupations. If any of the couples around me were not in egalitarian relationships, I was never told that marriage had to work that way.
Only recently have I struggled to claim my pastoral identity as a woman in a context where women are rarely granted true authority. I’ve written before about this struggle that has opened my eyes to varied and often conflicting ideas about what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a woman in the church; a debate that is taking place not only in places like Bolivia but also in the United States.
I first came across Rachel Held Evans’ blog about a year ago, at just the right time. The conversations she opens up about faith and grace and being a woman in the church have been a nurturing space for me as I encounter those topics from a different angle here in Bolivia.
After following her blog for several months, I was eager to read her latest book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Rachel comes from an evangelical Christian background and has a great love for the church and her tradition, but she has developed a critical relationship with it. She lifts up questions and shares her own struggles with faith, Scripture, and discipleship in today’s world.
A frequent topic on Rachel’s blog is the role of women in the church, and somewhere along the line she came up with the idea to explore “biblical womanhood” throughout a year of her own life. A Year of Biblical Womanhood documents her journey of living for a year guided by a certain set of principles gleaned from the Bible, with a special focus for each month. She spoke with women from a variety of traditions and perspectives to learn about what these practices mean to them. Reading her book afforded me some helpful language, thought-provoking reflections, and the sense of having not one but many new sisters on this journey of faith.
I don’t mean to write a full review of the book, but just to give you a glimpse here’s an excerpt from the first chapter, on gentleness. This chapter really touched me (once I got past the incomprehensible football references!). Rachel lifts up a learning that I needed to be reminded of, about the strength in gentleness.
Reflecting on the practice of contemplative prayer, she writes,
“I don’t know for sure, but I think maybe God was trying to tell me that gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security. A great tree is both moved and unmoved, for it changes with the seasons, but its roots keep it anchored in the ground. Mastering a gentle and quiet spirit didn’t mean changing my personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften.” (p. 16)
Rachel Held Evans has lots of great reflections on the ways unrealistic expectations are shaped for women based on biblical texts, and many more windows into grace throughout the pages of the book. I encourage you to take a look!