A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

On God and the Dreams of Women

Author’s note: I write this post to you with a sliver of trepidation and a big slice of humility, because it’s heavily nuanced and divided (even among Christians). And essentially, I loathe conflict. I’d rather write on topics no one disagrees with and that I only felt sheer confidence. Consider me just getting a conversation started. 

The Dark Question

I feel God was actually somewhat clear about our decision to leave Africa. But I need to confess: Some part of me felt raw, then calloused–specifically connected to my femininity.

My heart was still squarely in Uganda, living out its technicolor dream. But collectively as a family, it was necessary for us to move back. And after all the years of setting dreams aside for the dream that is loving a family, I wondered why I seemed to hold in my hand the short straw.

One might gather from other theologies, maybe this was just the lot of women—some might even say God’s will for women. But the blackest of whispers in my head would ricochet back: But then why would God give women dreams in the first place? Is it just to demonstrate sacrifice, or rare grace when those dreams materialize? Doesn’t that seem a bit harsh?

Now, before you go thinking nasty things about my husband (who I’ve already told you I’m a wee bit nuts over)—he’s the type who over and over said things like, I don’t think that just because I’m a man, we should all follow my “calling”, whatever that is. In fact, my own gifts and passions seemed to be causing him the most anguish in all we wrestled through together. My tears, as much as I wished to shield him from them, twisted the guy’s heart. I have never seen a guy advocate for his wife like my husband advocates for me. And after we’d made the decision—together—he didn’t leave my side. He grieved with me, sought with me a vision for our new life.

As we traversed some highway in New Mexico, I finally eked out my concern: I just don’t know what God thinks about the dreams of women.

I remember him cautioning me, encouraging me to dig into my confusion, my low-burning anger. He said something like, You cannot just push yourself forward in obligation toward your family, and pretend your passions don’t matter. Women who do that  are in danger of a couple of things. They could end up jaded and bitter…or as Pharisees, doing the right thing on the outside and empty or dead on the inside.

Neither of those sounded really lovely to me.


The Vital Ally

After tossing these questions around in my head like a rotting salad for a year, I landed on something in a talk last week. The speaker brought up the Hebrew word identifying Eve when she was first presented to Adam by God: ezer.

The translation into English—helper—is usually when we get into trouble. Perhaps it sounds diminutive; secondary.

But in its 21 usages in the Old Testament, 16 refer to God. In nearly every occurrence, ezer refers to a military ally (right—it refers to men there). In all senses, it’s a vital and significant help in trouble.  I like how this blogger writes, You can never be “just a mom” anymore (sic) than God is “just a father”.

Taking it further, Eva pointed out Luke 11:27-28:

As [Jesus] said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

This was clearly a culture where women derived their value from the men in their lives whom they nurtured. But note Jesus’ response. More valuable than being the mother of Jesus—than whoever you raise–is to hear God and obey Him. I still concur with the words of Andy Stanley: “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but someone you raise.” And yet I found hope I can’t describe when Eva intoned,

I think we do a disservice to women when we say a wife and a mother is the highest calling for a woman. We cannot exclude someone’s value based on God’s calling and season for them.

If you’re single and you’re a woman, you are not (as a single friend of mine joked) an empty uterus walking around. It’s the same if you’re a young girl or a widow. If you’re infertile. If you have prodigal kids. Marriage, as John Piper writes, is not our final destination (see Mark 11:25).

More important than who you raise or your marital status is following Jesus.


The Disclaimers

I love that I had women in my life–namely my mom–who demonstrated the sheer power of that hand that rocks the cradle. That a healthy home is a power never to be underestimated.

Authors Lisa Tatlock and Pat Ennis remind me that a home is place where people gather unseen resources—comfort, peace, happiness, nourishment—from tangible surroundings. You could say a home is like an aircraft carrier, launching its members into their respective missions. And I’ve felt that, from my own mom demonstrating in her intentional, intimate brand of motherhood, You matter. In short, any capacity I have to love well, I owe to the people who’ve logged the long hours loving me well. In a world where motherhood is so tragically undervalued–even among Christians, where I’ve met ministry “orphans”–I cheer on women who make the hard choice to take steps back from careers or passions and toward their kids. I did. And I will never, ever regret it.

Even on the I’m-headed-to-the-funny-farm days. 




The Dictating Dream

I’ve yakked about my soul-holes and their only source of satisfaction enough times that you may just want to shut your laptop right now. But I needed that to lasso my thoughts together. Even my roles as a woman—whether in career or ministry or relationships (adding rightful, inestimable value to my life)—are not intended to be my sole source of satisfaction and value. There’s only One of those, and it dictates all the others. He’s the big “D” Dream superseding all the other (little “d”) dreams.

For me, this helped me understand why moving back wasn’t a statement about my value—or lack thereof—because I was a wife and a mom. This decision was very rightfully influenced and even directed by these key relationships.

But what was important was to follow Him.

His direction and deep value of us preclude all other labels, all other manifestations of who we are.


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  1. You are brave to tackle this, but I love that you did. And I love your balanced approach as you don’t discount any one particular aspect of this discussion. As a husband and father (ergo male perspective), I can’t speak on this discussion as it pertains to women. However I can speak to husbands. Our highest calling (within marriage) is to love our wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25). How did He love the church? He died for her. I spend my time focusing on me and my walk, and I let the Holy Spirit and my wife be the ones to focus on her walk. Sure, we have spiritual discussions, and I might have opinions on the matter that I will share with her. But ultimately, my wife doesn’t answer to me. She answers to God.

    The bible does not teach that women are second class kingdom citizens, below men. No, there is neither… male [nor] female, for [we] are all one in Christ. (Gal 3:28) Women are deacons in the scripture. Women are prophets in the scripture. Women receive gifts of the Spirit, just as do men, for service within the body. So as men, we need to tread lightly if we think we understand what it means to be the “head of the house.” As husbands, be understanding with your wives and let God lead her to use the gifts he’s called her to. This looks different for every family. There is no cookie cutter answer here, so don’t treat your wife like a cookie.

    I love how your husband encouraged you to dig deeper with God about your feelings, not to stuff them and become bitter or hollow. It sounds like he’s been gentle with you during this shared difficult decision – another command of scripture (1 Pet 3:7). I sense he is a good man from what you’ve mentioned of him. It also says a lot about him that you feel free to air these struggles in the blogosphere. It seems you have a good model of what it means to have a real Christian marriage.

    As always, I love that you choose to wrestle with God over these difficult concepts rather than pretend they aren’t there and cover over them with cross-stitched bible verses. Good for you. And thank you for “getting [this] conversation started.”

    • Phil, thanks again for taking the time to share your perspective–perhaps especially in the “minority” voice of the readers here. These are valuable thoughts.

      And yes, I think you understand my husband well. He has a way of working out the gospel in our relationship, via emotional maturity and intelligent compassion, that continues to floor me. I wish more women were embraced by that kind of leadership. It actually makes me crave that leadership all the more.

      Grateful for your encouragement in an intimidating post.

  2. Janel, I love your bravery to address a difficult topic and to do it with such kindness, love and grace. When I heard those simple but profound words Eva shared last we my hope as a single woman was renewed and my desire to walk out in obedience as his helper was strengthened. Thanks for being transparent and sharing your heart with us through your words.

    • Keisa, you are such an encouragement to me. I love seeing how you walk as “helper” with such dignity, class, generosity, and graciousness. Thanks for taking the time to strengthen me–and give life. Grateful for you.

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