My dear friends,
I need you to know that I have no intention to burn my bras (they are quite expensive), nor do I believe that women should be in charge of everything (or anything for that matter). And I also need you to know that I’m not trying to convince anyone to be unyielding to their husbands or to usurp their pastors and other church leaders. This is not about rebellion or oppression, or who has the most power. It’s about learning to see ourselves outside of the box of gender lines and cultural expectations: To flourish fully in the brilliance and power of Jesus Christ…
It was last spring that I began to connect with the imagery found in growing sunflowers. They are, by far, the cheapest seed packet. 4 for $.25. You can’t beat that (unless you are digging in the ground, and even then, I’d say it’s worth the quarter)!
I planted them back in May. Well, I didn’t actually put them in dirt until several days after making a conscious choice to pursue facilitating an environment of growth for the seeds. You see, my kids were on their spring break and I couldn’t just let them watch TV and play on their tablets all day, so we did a science experiment. “Sharpen the ol’ noggins with mom,” right?? Of course, the boys were completely bored with the task about 45 seconds in. But they humored me and we wet paper towels, gently folded the black and white striped seeds inside, and placed it in a plastic, ziplock sandwich baggie.
Each day, I stalked that baggie, placing it on the sunniest windowsill. I’d find myself moving it all around, analyzing it each time to see if there was any change. Eventually, something did happen and to be honest, it looked gross through the plastic. The seeds began to germinate, turning black and chalky on the paper towel. I wanted to open the baggie and check it out, but I chose patience… at least for a while. (My little seeds were humble… just like I need to be when I’m waiting.)
Ten days into the process, I imagined that they had rotted, molded, and that I should just throw them out. However, my curiosity was piqued so I unwrapped the paper towel and was surprised to find that the outer casing had cracked open, and tiny green shoots were exposed! They looked so vulnerable! When the boys came into the kitchen I literally “shoo’d” them away for fear they would hurt them. Forgive me for being down right silly, but I felt like I was the protective mother to newborn baby sunflowers. (I wonder if this is how those who have mentored me in my life have felt?)
The next step to our science project was to get dirt. The boys ran outside with shovels and spades and I did some digging of my own. You see, I’m not much of a gardener. Perhaps I am too overly attentive (dya’ think?). I don’t know. But this time, I was determined to get it right. So I found an old, dusty flowerpot in the shed and we carefully rolled it out. It was huge, but it was all I had. Hopefully, our little sprout would grow into it. (I couldn’t help but to consider that we grow to fill the spaces afforded to us by the authority figures in our lives. They are the source of strength, facilitating environments and resources that help us to grow and thrive. They notify us of our potential and then we strive to reach it.)
And we waited again. Faithfully, I watered each evening. And watched. Moving the flowerpot around to the sunny spots became a challenge as I tried to protect it from the running and crashing of my 4 little boys. I even started saving apple cores, eggshells, and mushroom stems for composting. These little baby sprouts under there were always on my mind. (The composting process helped me to consider that nothing is ever wasted. We grow from the muck and trash not only produced in our own negative experiences, but in the rotten experiences of others. God really uses everything.)
Why should I care so much for something so small? Well, I think that the moment that its outer shell, hard and dormant, was shed, there was life. Something so small had potential to become something new, and living, its very own self: A transformation. I could watch it happen with bated breath, or I could walk away and never see the outcome.
And why am I telling you a story about a seed, a tiny sprout, and a pot of dirt? Because I have recently become acutely aware of my own dormancy and have been longing to be free of a shell… the shell of being submissive simply because I am female.
You see, I was born without a father. When I finally got one, he married my mother, legally adopted me, and protected me with a vengeance. I’ll love him until the day I die for the passion he had for keeping me safe. At the earliest of ages, I was keenly aware of my vulnerability for being born as a girl. My dad was a brand new Christian, tough guy, and a staunch believer that men ruled and it women complemented them and that’s how God liked it. I vividly recall that my earliest of Bible lessons were centered around submitting… to him for now, and to plan to be subordinate when the day finally came that I would marry my future husband.
After all, how would I survive? Who would teach me? Who would provide for me? Who would keep me an my many emotions in accuracy that I might not be beguiled by serpents? Who would protect me from the killers lurking behind every tree? (Each level of “care” that I was reminded of is like a stripe on the shell of the man made concept of submission, shaping me into a dormant person, waiting for a male headship to point me in the direction my life should go.)
As a tiny little girl it made perfect sense. And a soft shell of freedom begins to harden.
In a stark contrast, males were taught that limitless opportunities were afforded to them. They were encouraged to be leaders, to be strong, to make muscles and be men. “Protect her…. she’s weaker. Financially support her… she’s going to need it. Lead your family… it’s your responsibility…”
And the finger pointed at me said, “Obey.” I shrunk and the shell got even harder.
Peter and Paul’s view of womanhood had always been a perspective that I was Ok with. I mean, it’s right there in the Bible, plain and simple, preached from the pulpit a few times a year. Men ruled. Women followed. That was just they way that it was. We wrap our lives around theirs. We compliment them. They, sortof… compliment us, if that means that he has a little trouble in the kitchen and cannot give birth to babies. They are the pillar… we are the added bonus helpmeet… created for him because it wasn’t good that he was by himself. At least that’s how I always understood it.
“Daughter, you are valued equally but your responsibilities are different… and by that I mean, you are the limited one… Here is a small pot filled with dirt for you. In my mind, though, you must know how much I adore you. Grow well, my dear child, and focus on submitting to them in your little pot of humility.” -God
To be honest, I constantly struggle with the role that humility plays in my desire to be actively involved in His kingdom. I guess it feels like the Kingdom is like a game of soccer (forgive my parable). Certain players are called upon to work hard, get in shape, get on that field, and win the game. The instructions are to run, kick, work hard and, dangit, get sweaty out there! They are focused and intense and purposeful. They’ve trained for this. They are given positions with names. Captain/pastor… forward/elder… goalie/deacon… trained accordingly and honored/ordained for their efforts and successes. And other players get benched. Maybe they aren’t ready. Maybe it isn’t their role. It could be though if they worked hard enough.
Over on the other side, the women are called upon to do the “equally important” hard work of bringing the snacks, donning the pom poms, and cheering them on! The players aren’t really watching them. They’ve got their own work to do anyways.
“We need you for morale! You are absolutely invaluable! We’d be nothing without the snacks! We need you to teach the other younger cheerleaders to cheer us on, too!”
And what about the cheerleader that doesn’t want to cheer? Maybe she was born with exceptional physical athleticism, a gift for strategy and game smarts that absolutely exceed the best player on the team. What if she’s been practicing? What if she watches film late at night, runs first thing in the morning, trains all day long?? What of her?
“Well, you can go to this other field way over there. There’s a girls team and they play, too. But we’re not going to bring you any snacks or cheer you on and we don’t really have any interest in watching. It isn’t inspiring to us. We don’t need to know what is going on in your game. Ours is the one that really matters anyways.”
In the end of the final quarter, when you’re down by points, do you tag her in knowing full well she’s your best chance of winning it? Or is your pride too big to let a woman lead? What I’m saying is this… and please hear me…. are we suppressing the God given talents and gifts that could be building and strengthening our churches because of gender roles?
I could not figure it out. And please understand that I am not vying for a pastorate or to even be that star player, but am I allowed to root for her if the team captain position is up for grabs? Who knows, she might be my daughter in law some day, or my friend? I believe in her! And so I need to understand how so many are accepting that it is “God’s goodly order” that her pot is small, and that no matter how skilled she is, she can’t play for the team.
So I studied… and I read… and I read. I poured through books in a day or two (I’m a fast reader, often staying up half the night to possess the information!). I read from every perspective I could find. I memorized the key Scriptures in question, posted them around my house and analyzed them in every version put out there, honing in on the Greek meaning for each word. I longed for understanding… not power. I wasn’t hiding from the truth. I was desperately seeking it.
I studied the culture of the day in which it was written. I also took a fine tooth comb to every woman that is ever mentioned in Scripture. (and I am NOT exaggerating this… name her and I’ll tell you her story!) I did it because I want to see women the way that God sees them… really sees them. From Eve, to Sarai, to Deborah, to Abigail, to Mary and Mary of Bethany and then Mary Magdalene, to Priscilla and Nympha, Lydia and Pheobe, I see something special going on. Something real! And she doesn’t seem to be the perpetual obedient one, sitting on her hands and waiting for a man to tell her what to do. It’s like God has finally let me bust out of my shell and force my way through the dirt,
and see the truth about women… who we really are in Christ.
I want to be like the sunflower. I want you to, too. Male and female. Can we let our best players really play? Can we give our sons and daughters pots to thrive in that are based on the limitless potential of God’s desire for our lives? Perhaps we’re ready for a new beginning.
This is the dream of one striped “girl seed” found in a pot of dirt…
Now she’s now a little sprout.