In our modern Christian culture we have created this picture of the ideal Christian woman. When I picture her in my head, she has a long braid down her back and wears a denim dress that she sewed for herself. She has at least four children, probably more, and she homeschools all of them. By the way, she had all of them at home with no drugs and nursed them until she got pregnant with the next one. She also grows her own food organically in the backyard and bakes her own bread. She leads a Bible study or two. She has devotions every morning with her husband, and then he leads family devotions in the evening. Plus she spends an hour every day in prayer often early in the morning. She volunteers for a charity and runs the children’s ministry at church. She never fights with her husband, and she always says, “Whatever you think is best, dear.” She is kind, compassionate, gentle and never gets impatient with her children. She never admits she’s having a bad day and no matter what happens she smiles and tells you that God works all things together for good. She never doubts and she never falters in her faith. Consider her a modern Proverbs 31 woman.
To me, she sounds kind of plastic and boring. Kind of like a Barbie doll… There’s no life in her. But somehow I want to be her. Or at least I think that God wants me to be her. I think in the church we have built our idea of godly womanhood on a few verses. We think God wants all women to be gentle, quiet, submissive and busy at home all the time. When I started studying real women in the Bible through the study Women Who Dare to Believe, I doubted that was true, but had nothing to replace it with. Last semester, I felt like God began teaching me to see women as God sees them. He broadened my view of God’s woman and showed me that she is free. She is free to live and breathe and be all that God uniquely created her to be in the time and place He placed her. God has no cookie cutter for women. He has no expectation that we would all be the same.
I would venture to say that he does not want all of us to be gentle, quiet and submissive all the time in every circumstance. I don’t think people thought of Deborah as gentle when she marched out into the battlefield. The midwives of Egypt were not being submissive when they disobeyed Pharoah’s order to kill Hebrew babies. Tamar, wife of Judah, was not quiet or submissive when she pointed out Judah’s sin and hypocrisy.
So what does this mean for me? I have come to believe that God made me the way He did to uniquely accomplish His purposes in the time and place He has me. I had to believe that God could use a strong woman who is not so quiet and submissive.
My mentor, Mary Grace Birkhead described this as a woman on top of a hill who calls down to me at the bottom of the hill to come and strive to become like her. Occassionally she recommends a good website or a book I should read that was really helpful to her. Yet she never comes down to help me or to actually journey with me. She sits there on the top of the hill calling down to me that I too could be perfect just like her. (Introduce the Barbie doll)
It’s the deception of perfection that we chase after. It creeps in so subtly and before I know it I am trapped. I am enslaved to the desire, the expectation, that I meet certain standards. For some, it’s that I have perfect clothes or perfect hair or perfect figure like our friend Barbie. For some of you it’s chasing the perfect marriage or trying to have perfect children that never mess up your perfect house. Maybe you have even given up of perfect and are just striving for good or happy. Maybe it’s trying to be the best kind of grandma or figuring out just the right amount of times to call your adult daughter every week. For others it’s that dream job, that career that you would wake up every morning happy to go to. We all have our pictures of how our life should be going if only we…
The lie is that if I just did the right thing or did the right things better that life would be better, that I would be happy, that I would be whole. I become driven my desire to reach this unspoken standard. I take it all on myself and make plans and develop systems to make it better.
Last month I paid a counselor to remind me that it’s all broken, me, my kids, my husband, and no amount of striving or self-effort will ever change that. He also reminded me that I am not the center of the universe and it does not all depend on me and my efforts and my genius to make the world go around. I had once again succumbed to the great deception of perfection, that there was something I should be doing differently to make life better for me and everyone around me.
I hoped you’ve noticed how much of me has been wrapped up in all this. Somehow God just becomes a distant entity, impersonal and quiet.
The truth is that God doesn’t define womanhood by just a few verses in Scripture, so why should I?
Galatians has become one of my favorite books of the Bible. Paul depicts this epic struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. In Chapter 4, he uses two women to illustrate his argument…Sarah and Hagar. Both women gave Abraham sons. One by a slave woman and one by a free woman. One born according to the flesh (because it was Abraham and Sarah’s plan apart from God) and one born to a free woman by a promise.
Allegorically speaking, the two women represent two covenants (v. 24) Hagar, the slave woman represents the covenant at Mount Sinai, the giving of the law; the children, or the fruit, of this covenant is slavery. They are enslaved to a system based on self-effort. They are doomed to striving for a standard they can never reach. Paul says that the Hagar/ Mt. Sinai children correspond to the Jerusalem of his day, that is the religious leaders who persecuted Paul and tried to silence the true gospel. These people who loved their religious systems more than the grace of God. The people who would rather do the right thing than believe the right thing. The people who believed they could reach God’s standard through their own self-effort. The people who were slaves to impossible standards and expectations. The people who sound a lot like me and many others in our modern church. This is the slavery I get trapped into when I hold myself and those around me to immovable standards and expectations. When I judge myself and my day based on what was done, not the condition of my heart.
Paul goes on to say that the Jerusalem above is free (v. 26). He is talking about the heavenly kingdom of God and the Jerusalem that is to come. “She is our mother,” he says to the believers of his time. The good news is that we have not been born to the slave woman, destined to live a life of slavery. But through Christ, we are born into the promise. We are adopted into a new family that is free. We, like Isaac, are children of a promise. We were born not of self-effort, but of faith in a promise. Isaac came because Abraham believed God.
When Abraham believed, he was declared righteous before God. Likewise when we believe in God’s promise of salvation through Jesus, we are declared righteous before God. We are free because God’s standard of righteousness has been met in the sacrifice of His Son. We are free from judging ourselves and others based on outward behavior. We are free to repent when we sin and know that we are forgiven. We are free to love others because God loves them, not because of what they can do for us. I am free because I am no longer judged based on how well I meet God’s standard; but God has judged me according to the righteousness of Christ and how He perfectly fulfilled God’s holy standard.
“But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out (NASB); Get rid of (NIV); Cast out and send away (Amplified) the slave woman and her son, for never shall the son of the slave woman be heir and share the inheritance with the son of the free woman.”
Get rid of that woman on the hill! Cast her out, send her away! You will never get the inheritance you desire when you chase after her. You can’t strive up the hill and walk by the Spirit. For me this year, part of casting her out has been expanding my view of God’s view of women. As I study the real life women in the Bible, I get such a bigger picture of what God desires for women. I realize that God can use anyone, not just the perfect women on the hill.
Galatians 4:31 – “So then, [sisters], we are not children of a slave woman, but of the free woman.” (Gal. 4:31) “In this freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off].” (Amplified) (Galatians 5:1)
Do not believe again the deception of perfection. Don’t play the game! Do not adopt those expectations and standards that trapped you in the first place. You don’t need to!
Cast out that woman on the hill! (Throw the Barbie doll.) It was for freedom that Christ set us free!