“You are a creative, intelligent person with a very bright future ahead of you. Don’t feel bad about your decision. I’m proud of you and I know God is proud of you too.”
Those are the words I spoke to a young woman a few weeks ago; and another a young woman a few weeks before that; and another young woman a few weeks before that. All in regards to a decision they made for their lives that the community around them failed to support. I’m beginning to see an unfortunate trend surfacing among young women:
- Parents wondering why their daughter wants to work out of state and are angry because she doesn’t want to move back to the community she grew up in.
- A Youth Pastor discouraging a girl in his youth group from studying abroad because he just didn’t think that was something she should be doing.
- People looking down on a young woman who received a job opportunity across the country because she “clearly wasn’t thinking about leaving her boyfriend behind.”
The young women coming by my office don’t understand why making a decision for their lives has brought on so much resistance from their family and faith communities. Perplexed and sad, I watch these young women and wonder why they are being discouraged in something as simple as the freedom of their decision-making.
I do not hear these messages being communicated to young men. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that our society has traditionally recognized men as the primary decision makers within family structures. After all, if boys are to one day rise to the position of head of their families, it makes more sense for them to practice making decisions for their lives regardless of the risk. Men are “supposed” to make decisions. Women are “supposed” to follow their cultural rulebook.
We have created a culture where independent thinking and decision making for girls & women is vilified. It’s okay for them to decide as long as those decisions fit within the normative sphere for women. Women’s decision making has been encouraged primarily in the areas of relationships, be it romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, etc.
Within Christian culture, I’ve noticed that teaching on the women in the bible who are traditionally highlighted often focuses on narrow aspects of their stories (though all are powerful accounts). Sarah is highlighted because of her inability to have children and her jealousy of Hagar. Esther is the beautiful queen that the King chose, and her nobility and submission to him placed her in a position to save her people. Ruth and Naomi were known for their bond and devotion to one another as in-laws. Mary Magdalene – I was taught – was a prostitute. Even the Proverbs 31 woman has been solely taught to me as a good wife only; no mention of her entrepreneurial skills and wise investments.
There has been a subliminal message directed to women & girls that their decisions have to be within a relational and domestic framework and anything outside of that is devalued.
I fear this message is present in society as well as the church. The church community has contributed to this through the misuse of scriptures to keep women submissive and silent (1 Corinthians14:34–35). These arguments negate the contextual realities and dismiss the fact that women did participate in authority in prayer and prophecy within the church. This debate has contributed to the culture of dissuasion as it relates to women feeling empowered in their choices. The patriarchy (in particular Christian patriarchy) has taken away their ability to decide.
As a result, when I am with students, friends, or any women of different contexts I make sure to encourage them in the freedom of their decision-making. I do this simply because the system they live in discourages them in their autonomy. I want to make sure there are women out there who know that by simply exercising their freedom to decide they are unleashing a power and shifting a culture for generations of women behind them to do the same.
That power is liken to the female personification of God through Sophia or Wisdom who declares in Proverbs 8:14, “Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power.” Wisdom is a unique, timeless, and necessary feature of God – one that God has given human beings the opportunity to obtain.
“Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
‘To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all humankind’.” (Proverbs 8:1-4)
I would contend that when we discourage a woman’s right to choose, we deny her God-nature, which is her innate ability to choose and choose wisely.
I am eternally grateful for the women in my life who have decided to live within the tension of autonomy and community and make choices for their lives. Women like my friend who is pursuing a PhD in criminal justice and spends a great deal of her free time teaching political science to prison inmates. Women like another friend who pastors her own church while nine months pregnant; as she moves into a season of being a wife and a mother and a senior pastor, fully committed to all of those spaces. Women like one of my mentees who will graduate from college and spend the next two years of her life in Thailand serving young people in a small community.
We need to encourage our sisters, mothers, daughters, friends, and every woman in our communities to exercise their freedom to make wise, prayerful, guided decisions. If we don’t, women will miss out on God-given opportunities and experiences. Women will miss out on exercising the practice of divine Sophia.
Fantastic points there, Khristi. Had those students been male, they would not have had the pressure to pull back. The times are a changin’, but sometimes not quickly enough. It’s tough on a person to feel they’ve disappointed their family and have to make a decision as to whether it is worth it or not. Sadly, too many young women pull back at that point and never become what they’re called by God to be. Tough!
That was an excellent point about the traditional biblical role models!
Despite having become an egalitarian, I’m finding it hard to ‘rewire’ in the decision-making area. I keep under-achieving through lack of self-confidence, and missing my goals. Thanks for the encouragement – I find the text from Proverbs, with its feminine personification of a divine attribute, quite affirming!
I usually post with my name but today I’m going anon because I feel ashamed. I’m a grown woman. 48 next week. Crying now. More healing to come and some tough decisions to make.
Hope this post is a catalyst for many like me.
So excited for your decisions and your healing! Blessings to you!
How true, that things are changing for the worse with womens freedoms. I was encouraged my my mum amd dad to have a career behind me, and work where ever I felt led in serving Christ. There was never any pressure to marry, an no blackmail about grandchildren either. I’m 59, and thought the emerging women’s movement was great way back when. (I went to teachers college Germaine Greers brother, no less!) I married at 30, had 2 sons, and worked between state and Christian schools, and all sorts of outreach. My MIL is even more independent than my mum! Praise God for my church and family, and, I ask what a girl is supposed to support herself on if she isn’t lead to a traditional marriage, or needs money in life situations. One size does not fit all in any situation, bullies in the church are starting to sound a little too scary for anybodys good.
I agree. I think as generations change there need to be reminders and resistance from within because even though times change there’s nothing new under the sun.
Thank you for your post, Khristi. I am an MDiv student here at APU and this post was encouraging to me. My mom has always pushed the notion that education is important and has not put pressure on me to have a boyfriend or get married.
Oh you’re really blessed to have such a great mom!
I believe that God’s view of women and society’s view of women are two totally different things. I believe that with God, and as a woman of God, we are freer and bolder to live and make choices that we otherwise wouldn’t dream of doing.
Well stated Leah.
I really like this post, although those issues haven’t affected me personally as I come from a largely secular and very feminist home. However, the title rubbed me the wrong way. I’m pro-choice and feel very strongly about it, and this title feels like it is co-opting that language and…I dunno. I see how the title makes sense, but it’s such a charged/loaded phrase that it felt strange and sort of “unfair” or something, to see it in another context. Just a thought. 🙂
Thanks Laaur! That’s a great point. I thought of that. Actually the title was inspired from an episode of Sex & the City “A Woman’s Right To Shoes.” 🙂 But all in all I did think of it and have to push back a little because I don’t feel that the generality of that phrase should just be rationed to “pro-choice” decisions when it comes to decisions around reproduction. I think we could re-imagine it in other areas of women’s choices as well, no? But I understand and thanks for sharing!
Thank you. I sent this to my daughter who just got her Bachelor’s this weekend in Fashion Design at a good art college but now wants to spend a year first teaching English to middle school aged kids in South Korea. She is 21, and loves kids and Asian culture, on top of being a strong, spirited person. She is getting a lot of pressure about her decision from her grandmothers, especially my mom, who is scared to death. I have always told her, “Girls can do anything!!!!” her whole growing up. Now, even though I am scared too, it is time to show her that truth in her own life.
Your daughter is so blessed to have you as her mom! She seems really amazing too. 🙂
Thanks for this! I just spent time with a young woman from my church who is moving to go to a seminary out of state. She has a heavy calling on her life in ministry and as parting words I felt compelled to tell her that in the future, balancing family and ministry will be hard, but that God will provide her every resource necessary to do it. It’s her job to receive his resources and the truth of how he has uniquely created her. This is a message I wish was told to me as I entered into ministry and family as a young woman. Oftentimes, I feel the message women receive is that once it gets rough or life/family feels out of balance, then they’re doing something they’re not meant to be doing and they should jump ship– in essence, their choices become limited and suddenly they’re not capable of following through on the decisions they have made. There can be a lot of guilt feelings associated with this (sometimes especially by other women). Their callings are called into questioned. Maybe at times they need to re-prioritize and/or re-evaluate choices being made, but I don’t think men get called into question like women do when the schedule gets tight or they can’t volunteer at every school party. Women need to be challenged just as much, if not more, to stay the course, press into Jesus and to trust him for every resource they need to accomplish the tasks he’s led them to while balancing family life. They need to be encouraged to ask for and receive help– childcare, housecleaning, meals when offered, etc– when the message they often get is that they should be able to do it all by themselves. The call to follow Christ is not easy and it demands all of our time and energy. Young women need to hear this. We need to give them space to explore what this means for themselves.
Awesome. That was a helpful added thought. “Women need to be challenged just as much, if not more, to stay the course, press into Jesus and to trust him for every resource they need to accomplish the tasks he’s led them to while balancing family life.” Love.
Thank you so much for this post – it was definitely the encouragement I needed right now!
I have often felt the (subtle) disapproval from certain family members and members of my faith community for choosing a professional career path; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard “isn’t about time you and husband started having kids???” I love Rachel Held Evans’ quote, “As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood. As Christian, my highest calling is to follow Christ.” I choose to be the image of Christ – in my career, in my marriage, in my faith community.
That is awesome Megan. That’s even encouraging for me to hear. Thanks for posting that quote as a great reminder!
Agreed! I think back to the time when I was choosing a college to attend. For many of my own personal reasons, I decided that a college in my hometown was actually the best fit for me. Weeks later, I learned from a woman at church that my mom was “incredibly relieved” that I was not going out-of-state…but my wonderful Mom had never mentioned her separation anxiety to me, because she did not want my decision to be based on anything but God’s call and my own needs. This is the type of restraint that people should model when letting women decide matters for themselves (but don’t get me wrong…it was awesome to know how much my mom loved being around me!)
Thanks Rachel. What’s great to hear is that you made your own decision and that your mom was so selfless. I keep hearing of stories of so many families making their daughters feel bad because they simply want to live. Go mom!
Ouch! My twenty-year old daughter has chosen a period of study in America which she is self-financing. I’m incredibly proud of her. Although I’ll miss her, that’s not a problem – what makes me anxious is her safety on an American campus. I think parents worry more about their daughters than their sons, in this respect. I’ll just have to pray!
Beautifully said, Khristi. The women are still expected to fulfill their “role” –get married, have children, take care of the husband. Amazingly even Paul said that it is better to be single to be more productive. While I am not against marriage or children (I have both), these should not be ingrained in young girls to be the ultimate goal and prize in life. That way young women can dream of doing other things too.
Sorry for the typo. Meant to be “other things too”
Thanks Elena! Totally agreed!