Becoming God's True Woman
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by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Description: Seven beloved teachers--Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Susan Hunt, Mary Kassian, Carolyn Mahaney, Bunny Wilson, Dorothy Patterson, and Barbara Hughes--exhort women to restore the beauty and truth of their godly calling with hope, humility, obedience, and prayer.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [314 KB]
Reading time: 184-258 min.
DEVOLOPING A BIBLICAL
WHEN MY OLDEST DAUGHTER, Nicole, got married, she chose a unique theme for her wedding: her favorite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing. In addition to the Italian Renaissance decor of maypoles, wreaths, and kissing balls, the theme was carried on through to the reception, where guests were treated to four scenes from the play by the drama team from our church. Though written at the close of the sixteenth century, the witty sparring between the sharp-tongued, independent Beatrice and her reluctant love interest, Benedick, is as timeless as any modern romantic comedy:
Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.
Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come into her presence.
[Footnote 1: Version published by Shakespeare.com, copyright © 2000 by Dana Spradley, publisher of Shakespeare.com. Originally derived from the Complete Moby™ Shakespeare, now in the public domain.]
Though the language is archaic, Shakespeare's keen observation of the War of the Sexes is as fresh today as when he wrote it. The acerbic Beatrice, or "Lady Disdain" as Benedick aptly calls her, is still celebrated in our culture. She's a woman who contends with the men in her life and who is disrespectful in words and actions. Sadly, this is the model many young women grow up emulating.
While I'm glad Nicole enjoys Shakespeare's classic play, I'm more pleased that she has a biblical view of womanhood. Without God's Word as an anchor, modern women drift to extremes either embracing caricatures of femininity or rejecting it altogether. Secular feminist Susan Brownmiller sums up the confusion in her book Femininity: "Women are all female impersonators to some degree." Ms. Brownmiller's definition of femininity is also alarming."Femininity, in essence, is a romantic sentiment, a nostalgic tradition of imposed limitations," she writes.
[Footnote 2: Author summary of Femininity by Susan Brownmiller, as published on Susan Brownmiller. com, an author-generated web site.]
[Footnote 3: Susan Brownmiller, Femininity (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1985).]
The Bible gives women far greater honor, hope, and freedom than this definition of femininity. We don't have to impersonate anyone, much less suffer limitations. The Scriptures that speak of women and godly femininity are infused with dignity and purpose. The God who created femininity has a beautiful purpose and plan for women.
Look back with me to the inauguration of femininity at the dawn of creation. The language of Genesis is elegantly simple:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.... So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Gen. 1:27; 2:21-)
This passage shows that woman was the beautiful handiwork of God our Creator. Woman was God's idea, his creation. In fact, as we read the whole account of God's brilliant creation production, we discover that the woman was the finishing design of all that he created. She was the last act. Dare we say that God left the best for last? (I don't think we can take too much pride in that fact when we remember who was the first to eat the forbidden fruit!)
The important point here is that God created us, and being the creation of God determines everything for us as women. We don't look to our culture to find our feminine identity; we don't consult our feelings to discover our purpose. Everything that we are and everything that we do must be rooted in God.
It's not mere chance that we are women our gender is not accidental. We were intentionally and purposefully created. We are the planned and foreordained determination of an all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving God.
That means when God created the first woman, he made a fully feminine creature. You and I did not become feminine because someone gave us a doll and put a dress on us we were born feminine because we were created feminine.
The feminist doctrine of our time upholds the notion that femininity is a matter of cultural conditioning. Many feminists argue that the only essential difference between men and women is our anatomy, but Genesis teaches otherwise. Because God created male and female, we women are innately feminine. Granted, a woman can accentuate her femininity or she can detract from it, but she cannot change it our sex chromosomes are in every cell of our bodies. Our femininity is a gift of grace from a loving God.
CALLED TO BE A HELPER
In the garden, God made man and woman fellow stewards of creation but with different, divinely assigned roles. "Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him'" (Gen. 2:18). That is why God created Eve from Adam. She was created to be a helper suitable to him, to complement him, to nourish him, and to help him in the task that God had given him. Paul summarizes the creation plan by saying: "For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man" (1 Cor. 11:8-). This unique feminine purpose is well defined by John Piper: "At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships."
[Footnote 4: John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 36.]
Note the phrase "differing relationships." It is not only in the context of marriage that we can express our femininity. We were created feminine; that is not a state conferred in marriage. We do not wait until we reach the marriage altar to give full expression to our femininity. Though it looks slightly different when we are single than when we are married, all women are called to display their femininity in a variety of relationships.
Please don't misunderstand me. This doesn't mean that we allow men to lead us into sin or away from God's priorities in our lives. But it means that we are inclined to affirm the leadership and initiative of the men around us.
Single women, please enjoy (appropriately) being a helper in these differing relationships with men, and trust God for your future. I encourage you to be at peace in this season. If the Lord has marriage planned for you, then you can rest assured that he is also the perfect matchmaker. It was God who said it was not good for the man to be alone. We have no record that Adam had complained of any lack. Rather, it was God who declared that aloneness is not good for a man. God was the one who made man aware of his need for a woman. So even though in your life there may be single men who seem to be unaware of their need for a woman, God is aware. Just as he did with Adam, God can break into the life of that single man and make him realize his desire for companionship. Resting in this truth will free you from the temptation to manipulate, complain, or become bitter three traits that greatly tarnish the luster of femininity.
In all our relationships, we should be making room for godly men to practice servant leadership. But I would especially encourage single women to ask the Lord to give them creative ways to inspire men to lead. Granted, this is not always easy, and I'm not promising you that all men will automatically lead. What matters is that you are cultivating the habit of making room for the leadership of the men in your life.
There are men in your life that the Lord has provided in this season fathers, bosses, friends and they need to know that you "incline" toward them, instead of resisting them in a stiff-necked posture of the heart. You encourage their godly leadership when you seek their counsel before making your own decisions. You respect them when you avoid sinfully complaining to others about their actions or decisions and resist publicly questioning their actions. When appropriate, we should ask questions, respectfully disagree, and offer our counsel. But we have to guard our hearts lest we allow our culture's attitude of female disrespect for all things male to permeate our perspective on their leadership. If you're not sure how well you are doing in this area, ask the men in your life.
DOES THIS HELP MY HUSBAND?
If you are a married woman, the Lord calls you to express your femininity more particularly in the context of marriage. In some ways, this is much the same call as for single women, but it is more specifically defined and directed toward your husband. You display your femininity by coming alongside your husband and helping him in the task that God has given him. Author Douglas Wilson provides a wonderful portrait of a godly, complementary marriage:
The man needs the help; the woman needs to help. Marriage was created by God to provide a companionship in the labor of dominion. The cultural mandate, the requirement to fill and subdue the earth, is still in force, and a husband cannot fulfill this portion of the task in isolation. He needs a companion suitable for him in the work to which God has called him. He is called to the work and must receive help from her. She is called to the work through ministering to him. He is oriented to the task, and she is oriented to him.
[Footnote 5: Douglas Wilson, Reforming Marriage (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1995), 19.]
Wives, we all have the same job description: We are our husband's helper. If you are wondering whether to pursue some particular endeavor, ask yourself this important question: Does this help my husband? Usually that one simple question will make your decision clear. My problem is that all too often I forget to ask that question. In fact, I have to confess that my orientation is often really toward myself rather than toward my husband. On numerous occasions I have made choices or pursued opportunities that served me rather than my husband.
This tendency is frequently illustrated in the mundane tasks of life. Recently I was cleaning out several disorganized cabinets in my kitchen. As I was working, I remembered the bathroom cabinet, which was also in dire need of cleaning. On several occasions as my husband had rummaged around that disheveled bathroom cabinet, he had graciously asked me when I thought I could get to that project. I usually informed him that I just didn't have time at present, but that I would get to it as soon as I could. However, as I was cleaning out the kitchen cabinets that day, I realized the problem was not that I didn't have the time to clean the bathroom cabinet; the truth was that I didn't really care about the bathroom cabinet. I wanted the kitchen cabinets clean because that served my purposes. My orientation was not directed toward my husband and his preferences it was directed toward me.
My selfish orientation has not only been evident in the way I care for my home; it has been highlighted in other areas as well. On one occasion God exposed it when I offered to make a meal for a friend in need. Of course that sounds like a noble endeavor, but I volunteered without asking my husband or even considering whether this activity would be considerate of him. I just proceeded with my own plan because it seemed good to me. When my husband discovered that I had offered to make a meal for my friend, he lovingly pointed out that it was not a good time for me to be serving in this way. It was a season in which we had many other responsibilities, with lots of traveling and speaking engagements. I was not serving my husband and my family by adding another task to our hectic lives at that moment.
As I reflected on the situation, I realized that I had agreed to make the meal because I wanted to look good in the eyes of my friend. I wanted her to know I was just as good a friend as every other woman who was bringing her a meal. Had she known what our schedule and responsibilities were at that time, I'm sure she would have dissuaded me from this task. But that wasn't a consideration for me I was seeking to impress her. After confessing my self-promoting pride to both God and my husband, I ended up buying my friend a meal from a restaurant. However, this could have been avoided if I had asked, Does this help my husband? I could have quickly determined that making a meal for my friend that particular week was not a wise thing to do.
Wives, in light of the Lord's instruction to us, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions on a regular basis: Do I care for my home in a way that helps my husband or serves me? Do I manage my time in a manner that assists my husband or serves my own agenda? Does the way I serve others support my husband or promote me? Do I ask for my husband's input before committing myself to a plan? Am I oriented to him and the work to which God has called him? We honor the Lord when we minister to our husbands in ways that enhance our God-given roles as companions and helpers.
MADE TO NURTURE
I remember sitting next to a woman on an airplane flight who was addressing envelopes. We struck up a conversation, and she told me she was sending out wedding invitations for one daughter and graduation invitations for the other. I was about to congratulate her when she admitted, "It's so nice to be getting rid of both of them at the same time."
I cringed when I heard that. I was thankful her daughters weren't there to hear her words. Though it's a common attitude for many women in our culture, it should not characterize us as Christians. God intends that we enjoy motherhood and delight in our children.
As women, we are created to be life bearers. Our bodies have been designed with the ability to mother to receive, carry, and bear young. In fact, our bodies prepare themselves repeatedly to conceive and bear young. We express our femininity by gratefully embracing every stage of childbearing, receiving and nurturing each child as a gracious gift from God.
In no way does this exclude single women. As Elisabeth Elliot reminds us, a single woman may mother many children: "She can have children! She may be a spiritual mother, as was Amy Carmichael, by the offering of her singleness, transformed for the good of far more children than a natural mother may produce. All is received and made holy by the One to whom it is offered."
[Footnote 6: Elisabeth Elliot, "Virginity," Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter, March/April 1990 (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications), 1. Requoted by John Piper in the foreword to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, xxv.]
Single and childless married women alike can express their femininity by nurturing other people's children. When you babysit, you are giving expression to your femininity. When you take an interest and reach out to other people's children, you are displaying your God-given femininity. When you tutor children or sponsor a needy child internationally or volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center or build relationships with your nieces or nephews, you are bearing fruit in this area. I give thanks to God for all the single women in my life and for the countless times they have cared for my children, loving them as though they were their very own. We mothers want to say thank you for their doing that, for their blessing us in that way. It means so much to us, and we are grateful to them. But they are doing more than blessing us; they are honoring God by selflessly investing in the young lives around them.
If we do have children, we bring delight to God when we find joy in our roles as mothers. But what about those times when we find this mothering task to be a burden? What about those times when we lack joy or feel overwhelmed with the endless demands? Motherhood is a huge responsibility, an enormous task. In fact, there is probably no profession that requires greater sacrifice and servanthood. There is nothing easy about good mothering. As one woman said, "It can be back-breaking, heart-wrenching, and anxiety-producing and that's just the morning!" It's easy to grow weary and to focus on all the sacrifices being made rather than on the joys that motherhood can bring.
I vividly remember one particular weekend when I hit motherhood meltdown. My two older daughters were five and four and my youngest was still an infant, and C. J. was away on a ministry trip. The older girls came down with a vicious stomach virus, and I spent a solid twenty-four-hour period cleaning up behind them. Of course, they missed the bucket nearly every time. I was simultaneously cleaning up vomit, changing dirty diapers, and doing endless loads of soiled laundry. There was no relief, and I was utterly exhausted. I remember thinking, Really, is what I'm doing all that important?There are women out there working 9 to 5 who seem to be doing something much more important than this! It was a discouraging and emotionally depleting time.
When C. J. returned, he sent me out for my morning away, a weekly habit for us. I took my Bible and holed up in the corner of a nearby fast-food restaurant, desperately seeking God for a fresh vision for the work of mothering. As I prayed and studied God's Word, the Lord revealed to me that I wasn't "just" to be a mom;rather, God had called me to be a mother. The perspective of having a calling gave motherhood a whole new significance, and I repented of my complaining and grumbling.
It is common for weary mothers to lack biblical perspective, to need fresh vision for the significance of our calling. In those moments, there really is no other source of refreshment than God. I would encourage you to offer your weariness and discouragement to Jesus in prayer, trusting his intercession on your behalf. Only your Creator can provide you with the eternal perspective you need to see these fleeting years as vitally important in the lives of your children. God wants to give you fresh strength and new joy for the task, which he is more than able to provide from the riches of his grace that he lavishes on us "in all wisdom and insight" (Eph. 1:7-8).
A LOVE FOR THE HOME
The woman of virtue portrayed in Proverbs 31 is commended for watching over the affairs of her household. In Titus 2:3-, Paul instructs the older women to teach younger women how to be busy at home. These and other Scriptures make it clear that while it is the man's responsibility to be the provider for the home, it is the woman's responsibility to be the caretaker for the home. Domesticity devotion to the quality of home life is an essential facet of femininity.
Single women (especially young women), may I advise you not to wait until marriage to cultivate this? Whether you get married or not, you can express your femininity by developing a love and devotion for the home. In fact, don't assume that if you ignore cultivating a heart for the home while you are single, you will automatically have it once you get married. You may be in for a surprise! I have talked to many married women who admitted they didn't value domesticity when they got married. They didn't like being at home; they didn't like caring for the home. They didn't value homemaking as a worthy profession. Why? Because they didn't develop a vision for the importance of home life while they were single. They filled their single years with every possible pursuit but a devotion to the home. I'm not saying other pursuits are wrong; the single years do provide opportunities for many other God-honoring pursuits. But these should be balanced with cultivating a love for the home.
Whether you are living at home with your parents or you have a home of your own, there are some practical steps you can take to learn domesticity. Learn now how to manage the order and cleanliness of a home, how to cook meals and care for clothing, and how to beautify a home.
Even for older singles, there is still a godly call on your life as a woman to bring balance to your professional life by "working at home" (Titus 2:5). I know many single women who have created warm, appealing homes whatever their living arrangements and who regularly practice hospitality. Some keep guest books or photo albums of those who have shared a meal or stayed overnight in their homes; others are talented with crafts, filling their rooms with beautiful, handmade items. Marital status has nothing to do with the feminine desire to create a warm, inviting home.
There are many practical aspects to consider in homemaking. In 1 Timothy 5:14, Paul commands young widows to "manage," or preside over, their homes. We are to manage the order or schedule of the home, its cleanliness, and its atmosphere, as well as to engage in other practical acts of service such as preparing meals and meeting the clothing needs of our families.
Proverbs 14:1 says, "The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down." In other words, the home is our place to build. Our culture says it's not a place worthy of our best labors, but we have to be careful not to allow the world to affect our thinking. The home is our primary place for ministry. Someone once said of Edith Schaeffer, "As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer's cinnamon buns as through Dr.Schaeffer's sermons." Our scope of ministry is different than that of men, but it is no less important it is God's assignment to us.
[Footnote 7: Mary Pride, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1985), 202.]
THE WITNESS OF FEMININITY
We were created purposefully by God to live purposefully by his Word. Though the world, even classic literature, would memorialize the tongue and attitude of "Lady Disdain," Christian women can be different by the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not have to be "female impersonators" who view femininity as a "nostalgic tradition of imposed limitations." Contrary to popular opinion, femininity is not "much ado about nothing"! In the awe-inspiring generosity of the Lord, we have been created with a unique task to be fulfilled in order to glorify him. If we cultivate and express our femininity with this in view, we will be commended by our Maker for the wise stewardship of this precious gift.