I was a senior in high school when a male youth leader told me I needed to work on my “gentle and quiet spirit”—a direct quote taken from a letter the apostle Peter wrote to the New Testament Church. He may have had a point. I was loud and outspoken and maybe a little unruly. A group of friends and I had been kicked out of a fast food restaurant for being all of those things—and not so gentle or quiet—a few months before. So, his remark wasn’t completely unfounded. But still.
The part of me that got a little riled up at the comment was the part I assumed proved his point to begin with. A woman with a gentle and quiet spirit would not be such a contrarian when she heard a well-meaning admonition. It was hard to argue with, after all. The verse itself was there in black and white. This is what women were supposed to be. And yet. There I was. In flesh and blood. And this was not at all the woman I was, aspired to be, or even believed myself capable of.
I spent a lot of years wondering why I couldn’t be the gentle and quiet version of womanhood. This intangible woman who cooked and cleaned and rose before the sun—who I suspected did not need instructions for making spaghetti, would never allow her husband to take a midnight feeding with a newborn and always checked pockets of little boy’s pants to make sure no chocolate or tissues or other devastating little something’s left there would ruin the whole load of wash and maybe draw a not so holy sentiment from her lips.
With these images of femininity, it’s no wonder I felt ill equipped for my role as a wife and a mom for so long, or why I felt guilt for my love of work and purpose outside of the home, and though able to joke about it, felt a nagging sense of shame over my culinary expertise—and lack of a desire to get better.
A couple of days ago a prominent male theologian with extensive influence and far extending reach posted his thoughts on why there is a biblical case for women not teaching in a graduate level in religion, to male students. I am not in seminary, and I am not a teacher, and yet it struck a nerve. Because I am a woman. Because the emotions it elicited felt similar to the ones I felt 18 years ago when I was told who I was did not measure up. That God was looking for one thing, and I, by nature of my intricately woven personality, temperament and wiring was just not that thing. Except this time, it was my anatomy that discounted me.
The emotions I felt reading the article were nowhere near “gentle and quiet” but this time around I knew better than to think that it was my sinful nature showing, that images and pictures of womanhood found in Scripture, specifically in interaction with Jesus, are so much more three dimensional than a fabled woman in a proverb.
These days I know Jesus is my litmus test in how He treated women and those who disrespected them. And not one time did He tell a woman to quiet down, close her mouth, or know her place.
He used a woman with a bad reputation and a propensity for tears and extravagant demonstrations of gratitude and emotion and perfume as a teaching model, an example, for a (self) righteous religious leader at whose house he dined.
He commended the faith of a woman, who was so tired of her pain and her sickness, and her loneliness as a result of her bleeding, for her willingness to push past the barriers exclusive religion had created to keep her out, and reach out and touch Him, because if no one else was going to help her, she would go after Help herself.
He sought the company of a woman at a well in the middle of the afternoon, shunned and degraded for her sordid past, and risked His reputation and the gossip of the town so that she might know, what others were so slow to figure out—“I am the Messiah!” He told her. And it was her testimony to the people in the town—one might say, her teaching, her preaching, her evangelizing—that caused Samaritans (not even Jews!) to believe in this travelling rabbi.
He compassionately got eye to eye with a woman who very easily might have thought her death just minutes away, and He pointed out the line of hunched back accusers walking away from her, shamed by their own sin, an abandoned pile of rocks beside her, while telling her what she may have had a hard time believing herself capable of. “Go and sin no more!” In other words, “Go! There’s more life for you to live and more potential than you give yourself credit for.”
And then there’s Mary. His mother. The woman who carried Him and birthed Him, who felt his fluttering kicks in her belly, and suffered heartburn those last months of pregnancy, who knew Him like no other woman ever would, who nursed Him and tended to Him, who cried as He cried, emerging into the dusty, smelly, human world, who cried as He cried, leaving it, nailed on a dirty, bloody, looming, cross.
And the other Mary. Mary of Magdala. Who no fear or sadness or despair could keep from visiting the tomb, where she swore, just two days earlier, her Lord, her teacher, her friend, had been laid to rest. The Mary who, while the disciples hid in an upper room, afraid for their lives, uncertain of their futures, quiet in their hopelessness, walked back to the site of the burial, who panicked when the stone meant to enclose the body had been moved and revealed no body at all, who was the first to hear the words of the risen Jesus, not just speak, but speak saying her name. “Mary,” He said, or whispered? Or laughed? Or cried? “Mary”.
And then, thanks to this Mary’s love for her Savior and her inability to stay away for too long from what she thought was just His lifeless body, but was actually an empty grave, the next part of the story begins. The part of the story that told of Jesus not just as a good teacher, but a resurrected Lord, as a Savior, as a defeater of death and a proclaimer of life, and Mary? She started the movement by talking about it.
Women have always been a part of the story Jesus is telling. Central characters. Pivotal roles. The axis the story has hinged on. A blog may say otherwise, but I’m cashing my chips with Jesus on this one. Women—in all temperaments and personalities, in all social standings and reputations—were key to letting us know just who Jesus was, and how good He actually is. And we need them there. Jesus wouldn’t be who He is without them.
Even the ones who weren’t so gentle or quiet.
And the ones who had the audacity to open their mouths to share a message that would change the world, when their societal position should have convinced them to do otherwise.
It took me 18 years longer than it should have for me to learn this. To learn that the story of God allows room for so much more than one type of woman, and that God made it that way on purpose. That my not being gentle or quiet was neither a liability nor a mistake. It was simply who I was. That God was less concerned about forcing me, a square peg, into a round hole, than he was about drawing out of me the parts he carefully crafted—uniquely, intentionally and tenderly. (Even if he seemed to skimp on the actual “tenderness” in my personality.)
I don’t get the years I lost thinking otherwise back. But I get something better. The chance to raise boys who know better than to criticize the fiery spunk they see in the fairer sex. I get to speak and write and lead, and do it from a position of gratitude I may not have had otherwise, had it not been for the years I wondered if there was a place to do these things, outside of women’s or children’s ministry. I get to be a bearer of good news. The good news of Jesus and the good news of equality. And the good news that there is a place in this eclectic kingdom for everyone.
No, I am not gentle or quiet. I am me. And I like me better that way—and I’m pretty sure God does too.