Thursday, March 23, 2017

Biblical Feminity: Part 1: Motherhood (or the lack thereof)

"What does it mean to be a woman?"
"What does the Bible say about being a woman?"
"What is my purpose as a woman?"
"Can there be different purposes for different women?"
"What about feminism?"
"Can a woman be single in God's Kingdom?"

These questions and more have been running through my head for awhile, and I invite you to follow a long with me as I search Scripture and the Christian worldview for answers...

It is hard, looking back, to differentiate what I came to be believe as true as being determined by the honest and pure desires I had, the training I grew up in, or the environment I grew up in. As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a mom. A mom of 7 kids, to be exact. That may seem like a lot to you, but as one of 16, it seemed like a fair and moderate number to choose.

Why did I want to be a mom? Well...

...first and foremost, I think, it was because that was a desire God placed on my heart, and (I believe) most women's hearts. What exactly that means differs greatly, but I think that desire is a gift... not a necessity. Not all women innately desire to have children and... well... the only definitive statements I can find on the topic is that whereas mankind in general is commanded, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28) and most women will probably be mothers, Jesus Himself talks about people who choose to remain single in order to further God's work in Matthew 19, and Paul says, "Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (1 Cor 7:6-9) Notice that there is no gender stipulation here, in fact, Paul specifically addresses widows and puts no exception on "unmarried". So, whereas I 100% believe my desire to be a wife and mother was a gift, I DON'T believe it is a requirement of all women. 

...The second reason I wanted to be a mom was that no other option was ever presented to me or even discussed. My immediate environment consisted of parents that raised me to be a homeschooling mother of a large family. My schooling was always presented as necessary for survival in today's world, and to pass on the the next generation. Independent thought was given abundant lip service, but factually discouraged. In reality, we were only ever encouraged to freely think... the exact same things our parents thought. Independent lifestyles were never even discussed. My larger circle of influence consisted of women getting married as early as 18 and never later than 25 and going on to have lots of babies and raise them as stay-at-home-homeschooling moms. College was never quite forbidden, but greatly discouraged and presented as a waste to most, especially women who would go on to be nothing but mothers for the rest of their lives. 
...The last reason, I believe, I chose to be a mother is because I felt shamed into it. If I desired anything out of life besides cooking, cleaning, and homeschooling all day... I was being selfish and denying my role as a woman. I am sure some of this was over-exaggerated on my part internally, but would have made perfect sense at the same time. This... this right here... is complete and utter crazy conservative "Christian" bunk! Anyone who takes the wack-a-doodle fundamentalist glass off for five seconds and actually reads the Bible's calling to women could see that. 
First off, as I mentioned earlier, not all women are called to be mothers. Most, probably. All, most certainly not. And to raise them presuming that that is what they will be doing with the rest of their lives will cause those called to the glorious life of singleness to feel like complete and utter failures. There is more, so much more, to being a Biblical woman than being a mother. Yes, it is an awesome calling and is too often shamed into today's world, but it is not your identity. That is so much bigger.

Secondly, let's take a look at the epitome of womanhood, the prime example, the purely ideal woman who demonstrates the full spectrum of God's desire for women but is in no way prescriptive, aka: The Proverbs 31 woman. Verses 10-15 are what you remember and expect, but verse 16! "She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard." WHAT?! She is a shrewd business-woman? She owns property outside of the home? Vs 18 confirms this: "She perceives that her merchandise is profitable". Yes, she is. She runs a business. She does something outside of the home. Apparently, being a SAHM is not all there is for womenkind. Can it be a great and glorious place for those God calls to it? Of course! SAHM-ing is nothing to shake a finger at. It is hard, long, self-sacrificing labor all on it's own, and there are many many women who, in God's grace, find their calling there. Please understand I am NOT here to look down on them at all.
My point is that there is more to life for womenkind than this. In fact, nowhere in Scripture do you find a mandate for SAHMs. Yes, the woman is to be the keeper of the home and the nurturer of the children (if children are present). We'll get into that more later. But not once do you find God saying that for women to work is against His plan. Proverbs 31 is not the only example of this. Lydia sold dyes, Dorcas was a dressmaker, Priscilla was a tentmaker, etc. Where profession is implicated, especially in the New Testament, women worked more often than not. 

To all the women out there who feel guilty just because you're working, remember grace, remember love, and know that God does not condemn women working. Yes, you need to be submitting to your husband. Yes, the care of the house is primarily your responsibility. Yes, your children need you to continue to lavish your love upon them and nurture them. But none of that excludes you finding a calling elsewhere.
Does this change the way I live my life personally? Practically, no. I am a Work-at-home-mom and working outside the home, especially when my kids are small, is not how I see God calling me right now. But, spiritually? Emotionally? YES! I can live at peace with my home-run business. I can live in the freedom of this being my calling, not as a forced arrangement with no alternative. I can freely encourage women, including my someday-hopefully-daughters, in their joys and passions even if they don't revolve around children.
And I can continue down this path with a new sense of the vastness of God's Plan

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