The lost art of servanthood (a letter to my feminist sisters)

Dear sisters, dear spiritual mothers and daughters and midwives and stay at home mamas;

Dear women pastors and elders and janitors and lawyers and teachers and artists,

 

I celebrate us. I think this is obvious from my Woman’s Manifesto.

But.

I fear for us too.

I fear we’ve lost the art of servanthood.

The other day my husband asked me to make nachos with him. To stand at the counter and cut onions for him, while he prepared the cheese and the chips and I was picking up books our children had strewn across the floor and I snapped.

“I am not your servant!” I cried.

I am not your servant.

All he wanted was for me to cut some onions for him.

And everything in me defied him.

And in that moment, I was reminded of something my mother had told me when I was 17:

“You’re going to find it hard to get married because you’re not able to submit.”

And, being the rebel that I was, I had wanted to tell her, “That’s because you’ve never taught me how.”

My dad was a pastor but when I was a little girl, the church was the only place he was a leader. At home, my mum made the rules. She told my dad when to punish us; my dad would always tell us to go to our mum when we asked for permission, and she ultimately made any decisions affecting the family.

And my dad let her. So I not only didn’t fully respect my dad growing up,

because he didn’t stand up to my mum, but I didn’t really trust him to protect me. To come to my rescue if I needed him to. And when I first got married I treated my husband the same way; I bossed him around and got annoyed when he wouldn’t listen to me.

My mum’s mum was that way too. My Nanny and her husband divorced, because he couldn’t please her, and in the end, she committed suicide, because she wasn’t able to get her way and so I come from a long line of willful women.

But I’m made from my husband’s rib.

When God says, “Let us make mankind in our own image; male and female He created them,” there are two different Hebrew words used to denote gender.  “Zakar” is used for male and “Nequebah” for female.

Zakar means a call to remembrance or to worship, the Lord God who saved him.

Nequebah, the Hebrew word for female, literally means punctured, bored through.

Author Larry Crabb says that “nequebah” means—

“to be opened while arranging yourself consistently for a larger purpose than you.”

I think about this as I smooth back the hair from my sons’ foreheads. I think about how God whispered “tender-hearted leader” over my eldest, and “courageous warrior” over my youngest.

And my greatest prayer for them is that they remember what Jesus Christ–a man who submitted to his heavenly Father–did for them,

—so they will, in turn, die for the earth and its people.

And my greatest prayer for myself, and for my sons’ wives, is that we be open to serving a purpose larger than ourselves.

I know the stories. Some of them are YOUR stories.

I know about the nameless, faceless females around the globe who break their backs serving their families while their husbands beat them.

I know about my friend in Lebanon whose husband broke her teeth when she became a Christian. (And how she stayed with him, anyway, and how he became a Christian because of the way she continued to serve him.)

But I also know about my husband, and how he cuts up strawberries for my cereal, because it tastes better that way, and how he asks me to visit the garden with him, every evening, in the summertime, to see how our vegetables are growing, because he wants to hold my hand. I know how he purposely puts his used clothes back in the closet because he wants to cut down on my laundry so I can have more time to write. How he takes the boys over to his parents every day he’s not working so I can rest.

I also know that the way I treat my husband, and men in general, is not dependent on how they treat me.

It’s dependent on my obedience to Jesus– a man who died for me.

Yet when men treat women wrongly, when they forget or ignore what Jesus has done for them and take advantage of their leadership instead of using it to serve, then it is LOVE to set boundaries and to protect those women for God came to set the captives free. Spiritual submission goes hand in hand with spiritual responsibility.

And whether they’re men or women, that is what love does. It serves, by setting captives free.

I fear for us, sisters.

I fear we’ve become too angry to serve, to be opened up to a larger purpose.

My mum used to be the leader in our home. She had been hurt by my father (emotionally), and so she found it hard to submit to him.

But then she got brain cancer and suddenly she needed my dad.

And he delighted in being needed. In being given a second chance.

For all of my dad’s sermons the greatest message he ever gave (and continues to give) was with his life,  bent over the bathtub, washing my mum as she lay semi-unconscious; cutting her toenails, changing her Depend’s and cooking baked potatoes in the microwave night after night for supper, for years.

And suddenly Mum began to laugh at his jokes and lean on his arm and tell him he was handsome. And suddenly my dad’s shoulders straightened and his home became his ministry. And his children rose up and championed him, and called their mother blessed.

When we stop being afraid of what men can do to us, or angry about what they have done, and start serving the God whose image they are made in, then men will start filling our church pews again.

And our husbands will rise up to their full potential to be spiritual leaders, to be prophets and priests of integrity and Pentecost, to be speakers into lives and providers of families and protectors of daughters and mentors of sons.

I celebrate us, sisters.

Not because of our gender.

But because of one man, and what He did for us.

With all my love,

Emily.

What are your stories? How do you feel about servanthood? I know this post probably strikes a chord somehow; please share with me, but with grace. Thank you.

The opinions, conclusions and other views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Prodigal Magazine or it’s particular editor. [Photo:  Haylee Marie, Creative Commons]

 

Servant King, watercolor on canvas by E. Wierenga, www.etsy.com/shop/canvaschild

**** (Added after published) PLEASE NOTE: I am not, by ANY MEANS, condoning abuse in this post. A man is to be SPIRITUALLY RESPONSIBLE in his relationship to Christ and to his wife, serving his wife as Christ served the church, but Christ was NOT submissive to the church, he was submissive to GOD, his father, while the CHURCH is submissive to Christ. Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself NOTHING, as the man is called to do, so that he earns the respect of his wife and his children (Philippians 2). If a woman is in an abusive relationship with her husband, I believe she should get out of it. Spiritual submission coincides with spiritual responsibility. Please also understand that in speaking about my Nanny (whom I know intimately, and understand that suicide is often related to mental illness, which I struggle with as well) I am not judging those who have committed suicide by any means, simply telling her story, and my mother’s, to demonstrate that I DO come from a long line of willful women.

My reference to my Lebanese friend was not meant to be misconstrued as saying women should stay in abusive relationships AT ALL. It was simply sharing the amazing sacrifice she made and the way it changed her husband but by all means, this is not normal or suggested.

Fifty Shades of Grey — And Why it’s Black And White For Me

I learned recently of a girl in grade three who was found flipping through a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, the pseudo-masochistic, erotic book which has topped all bestseller lists, and is, to put it blatantly, literary pornography.

Apparently the girl told her teacher that her mom had ordered it through the library and she was bringing it home for her, and I’m weeping into my wine, wondering what kind of world allows pornography into our children’s libraries.

I haven’t read the book. I don’t plan to read the book.

I’ve read the synopsis and it made my fragile mind do gymnastics. I couldn’t handle the book, and I’m proud of the fact. I’m proud that I have a pure heart and I wish purity was something we as parents encouraged more adamantly amongst our children.

I also wish purity was as popular as sex, but it isn’t, and it never will be, and if you must write bluntly and crudely about sex to be a famous author, I will never be able to secure the kinds of sales that author E.L.  James has, because I have morals. And I have a conscience that doesn’t allow me to do that.

“Well, is it at least well written?” I ask someone.

“No, not at all,” they tell me.

And I’m wondering: at what point, as a believer, once you open the cover oblivious to the content, do you stop reading?

My husband is one of those kinds of people that has to finish a book, no matter how poor it is (thankfully he hasn’t picked up Fifty Shades, and knowing him he never will), but don’t we ever just stop because it’s damaging our souls? Don’t we ever walk out of a movie theater, because it’s too crude or vulgar, because there are too many swear words or too many sex scenes?

Don’t we do that anymore?

How do our standards, as Christians, differ from the world’s? And how is it that books like Fifty Shades are ending up in third graders’ backpacks because their moms have ordered it?

First of all, as a mom, I can’t imagine asking my children to do my dirty work for me.

And secondly, I wish we could all live with a more vivid understanding that our children are watching. They’re flipping through those pages and reading graphic, sadistic sentences and wondering why their mother is reading this and if she is, then it must be okay.

I believe sex is personal, and private, and worth waiting for. I think you gathered that from my post, To the Last Virgins Standing.

But more than that. I think sex is holy.

We may not believe in much that’s black and white. We may live in a culture of 50 shades of grey.

But there’s one thing that will never stop being blatantly true for me, and that is, the value of my child’s skin, the value of his mind and his heart.

My son’s value as a human being is black and white for me, and one day, he’s going to make love with a girl. And I want his sex life to be one that respects his value as a person, and hers. I want it to be one that honors the values of commitment, and purity, and perseverance. I want it to be protected by time and devotion,  because sex is spiritual. Not just physical.

And when our children can’t even walk into their libraries without finding pornography on the shelves, I’m shuddering.

For their souls.

 

 

(Are there things that, for you, are black and white? What are they?)

[Photo: Marina, Creative Commons]

In which being single is something to celebrate

It is Valentine’s Day and my friend’s just broken up with her boyfriend. And there’s nothing worse except for being alone on Christmas, and Hallmark has this way of isolating the wounded.

I write my friend, and I tell her, Take good care of yourself today. Because you are so very special. You are special, not because of any man, but because of YOU. You are an eternal creature who has been created for a divine purpose.

The enemy wants to distract you, to make you think that you’re less because you’re single.

But you aren’t. You are only more powerful because your heart is solely focused on Jesus.

I haven’t been single for fifteen years but I know I’m distracted. I know marriage, and human love, does that. I fight to keep my focus on Jesus but I’ve got this man to serve and my children and at the end of the day, sometimes the most God gets is a few well-meaning sentences dribbling from my mouth onto my pillow as I fall asleep. My hand resting between two translucent pages of Scripture.

But when I was single, I was on fire. I would spend hours praying.

I went on mission trips to the Middle East and I walked and breathed Jesus.

Of course, there was the constant distraction, then, of marriage, too, just in a different way. The wondering If, and When, and How, and Who.

But imagine if we did trust that God cared even about our love life? If we trusted it so bad and so hard and so fast that we didn’t let our singleness be a crutch, but instead, flourished in it? Celebrated it?

I have a 52-year-old single friend. She’s a virgin. I’m pretty sure she’s the last virgin standing, and she said so herself. And she is STUNNING and funny and successful, yet, when people find out she’s single, they look her up and down and say stupid things like, “But you SEEM normal enough.”

When I told my mum about my friend, and how she was single, my mum’s first reaction was “Oh, what a shame.”

NO! I told her. It’s not a shame! Marriage is not some destination we’re all meant to reach… It’s one possible route. Singleness is another.

And whether you’re married or single, when you thrive where you are, it’s a beautiful thing.

My friend is exactly where she is meant to be, doing what she needs to do. Not only is she a successful psychologist, but she meets monthly with fathers of daughters in her living room, all of these married men gathered around, and she’s mentoring them in something called The Abba Project. She still wants to get married, but she’s letting God do the looking, while she looks at God.

Singleness is not something to be ashamed of.

And it’s not something to be afraid of.

God made Adam single. And he made him out of dirt.

Later on, he made Eve from Adam’s rib.

Don’t you think he’s still creating helpers for us, when we need them? Still working in miraculous ways to fill our loneliness? That set us with the men and women we’re meant to be with?

Maybe it’s friendship. Maybe it’s marriage. But he hasn’t left us alone.

In the meantime, trusting that he knows our needs, can we cast off society’s stereotypes, the shame and the pressure and the judgment, and live FULLY in our own bodies, not needing any other human to make us complete, trusting that if Jesus could do this life alone, we can too?

[Photo: bortescristian, Creative Commons]

Everyday Radical: How God Feels About Letting His Children Go to Hell

my son is sucking on his bear even as he sleeps.

he’s only 18 months old and his cheeks are red as apples and i didn’t know being a mother would be this hard.  elizabeth stone says that having a child is like watching your heart walk around outside of your body, but it’s more than that: it’s like watching your heart tiptoe near the edge of jagged cliffs, all day long, and you only have two arms and two legs and no matter how hard you try —

you can’t get there fast enough. you can’t save them.

and maybe you can keep them safe for awhile, but you can’t save them from hell, ever. you can’t save anyone from hell, ever. you can only pray that the grace of God finds them.

and there’s all kinds of grace--50 shades of grace, you could say–and never has this been more clear than in the movie, Reservation Road. have you guys seen this movie? spoiler alert: it sucks. big time.

oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s very well done. and a stirring storyline, and you’ll stay glued to the edge of your seats and you’ll fall in love with the characters.

but it sucks.

because a little boy gets killed in the beginning. and that’s when you fall apart, watching that car hit him and then.keep.driving.

the guy doesn’t stop. and the little boy’s father, oh, how he breaks, slowly, the way guys often do, the way they often consume grief like they do a steak–slowly, savoring the taste, whereas women, we tend to consume quickly. we’re fast and emotional and then we’re back in business, because there are things that need to get done.

and you watch the stories of these two men: of the man who lost his boy to the hit and run, and of the man who committed the hit and run. and you see their lives intersect, and you see how horribly both have been tormented–one by loss, one by guilt–and when they finally confront each other, and witness the sorrow in each other’s face, it’s almost, grace.

but grace sure hurts like hell.

sometimes God gives me pictures in my head of what he’s like. visions, so to speak. and i often get them when i’m running. the other day, i asked him to show me more of him. and i saw him, all three of him (Jesus, Abba, and the Holy Spirit) sitting in their thrones, but then all of a sudden, the thrones crumbled away.

and as they were crumbling, i looked behind them and saw the smoke of Hades, rising. and then i turned, and i saw God the father’s back was scorched from the heat of the flames. he was sitting so close to hell that he could feel the heat. and he was hurting because of it.

and when i looked at his face, he was crying, and he said,

“you never stop caring about your children.”

God is justice. God is love. he lets his children be punished, but he also enters into the punishment with them. feeling their pain, and mourning their loss. forever.

and i’ve told my husband, no matter where my children go, like Ruth, i will go with them. (not in a creepy kind of way, of course…) if they ever end up on the streets somehow, and refuse to come home, i will camp out beside them. because my life is entwined in my children’s. they are my heart. walking around outside my body.

and we are God’s heart, walking around outside of his.

and when we get hurt, oh, how it hurts him.

it hurts like hell.

[Photo:  60dn, Creative Commons]

Everyday Radical: To The Last Virgins Standing


Dear sixteen-year-old Emily,

In a few days Brent will dump you. The coolest guy in school. A basketball star. And you will wonder if you should have let him. If you should have pulled the Kleenex from your bra and the bra from your body and let him.

But you didn’t, and I know you feel like the last virgin standing —

but you’re not. In two years you’ll meet a man at Bible School–a place you said you’d never meet anyone because it’s too cliche–who is waiting for you. Who’s only kissed two other girls, who will wait six months to kiss you (his Dutch grandmother will kiss you on your lips before he does) and the only time you’ll ever see him cry will be when you tell him what you’ve done with other boys.

He’ll cry because he wants to marry you. And even though you didn’t ever let anyone make it home, they still tried to round the bases. And he’s waited his whole life to hold your hand.

Shortly after he dumps you, Brent will get another girl pregnant and they’ll have a baby together.

It’s not worth undoing your buttons for, honey.

In a few days your mother will hear you sobbing on your bed, after he breaks up with you in the courtyard of the school because “you’re just too nice,” he’ll say.

She’ll knock on your bedroom door and bring you a bouquet of red roses, and when you take them from her, your fingers will bleed a little, just like your body will on your wedding night, when you give it away to the Bible School boy who dressed up in his army uniform and showed up on your doorstep and asked you to take a walk with him.

The boy who will teach you not to be afraid. The boy who will kiss you, finally, in the rain. The boy who will hold you while you can’t sleep for the insomnia and the anorexia and the anxiety, the boy who will bring you ice chips as you give birth to the first of two sons, the boy who will ask you to take walks with him every day of your life, for the rest of your life, till death do us part.

Dear past self, in a few days you’ll be crying on your bed —

while your mum holds you and you grip a bouquet of bloody roses. But this too shall pass. Don’t remove that purity ring. Because it’s more than a ring. It’s a declaration that you believe in the kind of love that saves. A salvation kind of love. A love that lasts longer than a few dates and a few passionate make-out sessions.

The world has all but given up on that kind of love. And in a few years, your boy and you will share with a bunch of Young Life students about how you waited. And they’ll ask if you wonder what you missed out on, by having sex with only one person.

And you’ll look at them and say, Do you know what you miss by having sex with more than one person? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to know that the person you’re with has only ever seen and touched you? That when they make love with you, they’re only thinking about you, and that you’re beyond compare?

Then you’ll take each other’s hand.

Yes, you will say. We’re glad we waited.

And the students won’t respond, but in their hearts, perhaps they’ll be applauding.

For the last virgins standing.

Love,

Your Future Self, at 32.

[Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography, Creative Commons]