I was always a bit different growing up, or at least, I felt that way.
One thing I loved was reading, and I read a lot. C.S. Lewis, Nancy Drew, Lemony Snicket. Nothing too weird about that for a Christian kid growing up in the 90s and early 2000s. There was one book I had a weird obsession with for awhile. It was a pink paperback and had a picture of a white girl with long blond hair wearing a dress and reading a book while sitting in what looks like a tower. Beautiful Girlhood. It was written in 1922 and revised by Karen Andreola sometime later for a “modern audience.” Its aim was to guide “preteen and teenage girls on how to become godly women.” (Amazon).
I think my mom picked it up at a thrift shop or yard sale. As far as I’m aware, she never read it. But man I loved that book. I read and reread it until the cover was worn (I’m not the kindest to my books, so it’s really not that impressive).
The book was full of stories about girls who faced different moral quandaries. There’s the girl who wanted to wear makeup and look pretty and go to parties in school, like the popular girl. But her dad told her to wait. When she was the right age, she’d blossom and be able to do those things. Sure enough, she blossomed, like her dad said. And the popular girl was tired out and worn and a young mother.
There’s the story of the girl whose family worked on a farm. She never did any work because she didn’t want to mar her beauty by working in the field like her sister. One day, a handsome farm hand gets hired, and she tries extra hard to be pretty. He ends up with her hardworking, dutiful sister and then she learns her lesson.
For me, these stories were my blueprint to all the romances contained in the Jane Austen books. I loved the idea of being lovely, of being the type of girl the knight in shining armor would come save with the breastplate of righteousness glowing in the setting sun’s glare.
And the church often pushes this image as what a Christian woman should look like. Here’s the problem. That book and that image, in hindsight, have very little to do with being a Christian woman. Yes, of course leading a moral life and trying to do good things and living well is important (I won’t get into what that does or doesn’t look like right now). In the end, the takeaway from that book and other messages I heard growing up was this:
“Here’s what good boys like. Here’s what they don’t like. Now go be a godly woman.”
In the end, I think that book, or at least the way younger me took it, really damaged me. I’ve struggled my entire life thinking about life and God in the context of this book, in the ideas it espouses. This specifically is what a good Christian girl or woman should be like and if it’s not that, boys don’t want you. You’re not doing it right.
Just to clarify, I don’t blame my mom for this. The back description of this book sounds great for a mom trying to raise a daughter well. And in the time many of our parents were growing up, they probably heard very similar life lessons. But for living well as a woman in an age when girls grow to be independent and make their own decisions without the survival necessity of marriage, the lessons inside are unneeded, hindering, and damaging.
This is what I’m trying to unlearn. So what am I trying to internalize now that I’m an adult woman?
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:14-17
In this passage, Paul’s not telling the men to gird themselves. He’s telling the congregation, the believers, to gird themselves: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 1:1-2
It’s not saying men gird yourselves, put on that knight outfit and women, you wait for them to find you in your tower of perfection, maybe read a book while you wait. No. We’re supposed to be on the white horse too, garbed and ready, fighting and struggling. Being in relationship with God and going on the quest to find the Kingdom as human beings and believers. And it has very little to do with what the man on the horse next to you thinks (outside of a sense of general Christian accountability). It’s about your relationships with God. It’s about living a life of holiness. Clearly, I was reading the wrong book.
WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN WOMAN?
Godly women aren’t just mild ladies who wipe their noses with a silk hanky and wait for the men. They have the same purpose, hope, desires, and Savior as Christian men. and we need to stop acting like they’re not the same. Hit me with the “men and women ARE different” all you want. I’m not talking about biology or psychology of the sexes. I’m talking about what it means to be human and what it means to be in a relationship with Christ.
Plenty of women in the Bible are given as examples of powerful, strong God followers, and every single one of them had a unique job, relationship with God, and contribution to the story God tells. If you want a list, here you go.
So I’m not going to define what a Christian woman looks like beyond this. Because there isn’t a definition. Christian women come in infinite shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, personalities, you name it. The sooner we stop trying to put God’s people into boxes, the sooner we can focus more clearly on what we’re meant to be: God’s adopted kids whom he loves. Male and female.
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