have had several women recently come to me concerned that they don't match the stereotype of the Ideal Christian Woman. That got me to think--what is that stereotype? When I hear others discuss the "Christian Woman" at our church, I think I know what they are talking about. I'm not going to describe her here, because I don't want to hurt any woman who may fit that stereotype. But I do want to shoot down the main myth I hear about the stereotypical Christian woman.
The godliest of Christian women look great all the time, all have godly Boaz type husbands, and have the same convictions about childbirth, breastfeeding, education, dinner preparation, employment, and so forth.
First of all, "godliest" is a bad label. It implies we determine our godliness by comparing ourselves to others. "She's godlier than that other lady, so that makes her the godliest." Wrong! Christ is our standard of perfection, and we all fall short of His glory. The best analogy I've heard is that it is like someone standing on a sheet of paper and claiming to be closer to the sun. When we try to use the label "godliest," we are equally absurd.
We have many godly, mature ladies at Mars Hill with great wisdom to offer their sisters in Christ. The first quality of all of them is humility. They realize their unworthiness and don't hold their preferences on childbirth, breastfeeding, education, dinner prep, and so forth as anything for which to pat themselves on the back. In fact, among the mature, Christlike women I know at Mars Hill, there are diverse opinions on each of these issues. Also, we have many godly women who are not married and/or do not have children. These women too are humble servants, hospitable with their resources and Christlike in their priorities.
I have definitely felt pressure from godly Christian women. But rather than feeling peer pressure to conform to some outward stereotype, I have felt pressure to know God, spend time in His Word, to pray, to be humble, to love my husband and children, and to embrace my role in their lives. While I have gleaned great practical information on breastfeeding, education, childbirth, dinner prep, etc from these ladies, I haven't felt pressure to conform to their image. No--they point me to conform to Christ's image (Romans 8:29). In that light, I can receive their practical feedback on different topics, compare it to other research I've done, pray about it with my husband, and reach my own personal convictions from the Word based on how the Spirit is leading my family as He conforms us to the image of God.
In light of all this, what are the true characteristics of the Ideal Christian Woman? Over the next few articles, let's take some time to explore these in four main categories I have observed.
1. The Ideal Christian Woman … Is Honest About Her Sin.
If we want to paint a stereotype of the Ideal Christian Woman, she would first simply be honest about the condition of her heart. The Apostle Paul is such a great example of this in the many letters he wrote to the young, fledgling New Testament churches. In I Timothy 1:12-15, he lays it out very clearly.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. …. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
Paul starts his letters under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit with an honest assessment of his sin. And notice that, while he gives the humble general statement that he was the foremost of sinners, he also lists specific sins. He doesn't sugar coat it, and he doesn't brush over it.
In contrast, how many of us have spent significant portions of our lives paralyzed by fear of exposure? We respond in groups by either clamming up or deflecting conversation because we don't want anyone to know the depth of our issues. And if we ever do give voice to our struggles, we sanitize it. We don't really want others to know how much we're hurting right now. And we don't want anyone to know how much our sin has hurt others.
Oh that we would be a church of humble women who are honest about our sin. Instead, so often we are a mix of shame and pride. We're ashamed of ourselves because of what others have done to us and what we, in turn, have done to others. And we're too proud to admit it to anyone. We must become women who value confession. I don't know where the saying originated that "confession is good for the soul," but I believe it's a concept that is taught first in Scripture.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
James 5:16 (NAS)
Do you notice the link between healing (which we all want) and confession? We all want to be healed from the ugliness in our lives. But are we first willing to confess--to admit, to acknowledge as true—the ugliness in our lives?
During a recent discussion with an elder concerning the women at Mars Hill Church who come forward for counsel, he said, "Those women who come forward represent those brave enough to get help. They are only a small sampling of the whole body of women at MHC. The issues counselors see are experienced among so many to varying degrees who just can't bring themselves to the place of exposure. The shame they have experienced and shaming they expect is too much, so they say nothing and stay hidden."
Does that sound familiar to you? Do you fall in that group? God forbid that we hide in the shadows like Eve after her sin lest we be exposed as something other than our warped view of the Ideal Christian woman. In our depravity, we think the Ideal Christian woman has it all together. Instead, we must understand the first step is to be honest about our mess.
Confession begins the process of repentance. For a good Biblical exploration of the journey from sin to joy via confession and repentance to God, check out Grace Driscoll's lesson from the January 27, 2007 Women's Training Day. (http://www.marshillchurch.org/audio/070127_Womens_Training_Day_02_The_Journey.mp3)
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,"
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.