This last March, my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world. The months of pregnancy brough surprises around every corner, but but none so surprising as the day I discovered the stereotypes that prevail in my own mind about women, mothers, and daughters.
Early one morning, my husband found me sobbing in our living room. He anxiously asked me what was wrong and I sobbed, “I’m going to be a terrible mother.” The night before, during an inevitable bout of insomnia, I had happened upon the blog of a young mother living somewhere in middle America. This mother’s blog was filled with accounts of life with her two daughters. Days spent contentedly making crafts together. Handmade Easter dresses and matching baskets. Little Princess mermaid parties complete with handmade mermaid outfits and pink party favors. Shopping and personalized embroidered clothing.
I’ve spent 23 of my 30 years pursuing some kind of education. I’m much more comfortable in lecture halls and libraries than I am in craft stores and at parties. So when I read this mother’s blog, I was overwhelmed by the possibility I was not fit for motherhood. I don’t like shopping. I don’t like pink. I don’t know the first thing about party favors. How in the world would I be competent to raise a daughter?
But when the emotion of the moment was over, I was shocked at the limited scope of my thinking. For a few hours, the motherhood I read about in that blog seemed to be the only way to raise a daughter. As someone who has chosen to devote her life to the study of leadership and women’s experiences in leadership, I should have known better, but on first reaction, I didn’t.
I think the same one-dimensional thinking can sometimes plague the way we approach ministry to women as well. Last year, Amy Simpson wrote a post titled, “Why I Don’t Do Women’s Ministry.” She described the nature of women’s ministries in our local churches, how they trend towards superficial activities rather than activities that foster deep spiritual growth. The response was overwhelming. While some women were angry with the description, it struck a chord of familiarity with many others. While some women viewed such activities as opportunities for community, others thought such activities were a waste of time. They desperately wanted more learning, more spiritual meat. Collectively they seemed to wonder, “Is this the only way to do women’s ministry?”
When we hear the familiar story of Mary and Martha, our attention usually turns to either Martha or Mary. Martha carrying on with the busyness of her day. Mary at the feet of Jesus, listening. We don’t usually hone in on the radical thing Jesus is doing. He’s rocking the boat. He’s upsetting the apple cart. He’s teaching a woman the Word of God. Before Jesus, women were denied access to inner courtyards of the temple. Now, they’re sitting at the very foot of the Teacher, the traditional position of a disciple. Jesus called this learning “the one necessary thing.” All other things are ancillary.
I don’t think the traditional approaches to women’s ministry represent the only way to do ministry any more than that young mother’s blog represented the only way to raise children. While there is room in the Christian life for fun and celebration, if such ministries are not supplemented by deep teaching and learning, they may very well be wrong. As women leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure that our all ministries are committed to “the one necessary thing.” We have to ask ourselves, “Are we helping other women grow and mature into the likeness of Christ? Are we preparing them for a life of service to God through both times of joy and times of suffering?”
After that morning I spent crying in the living room, I went shopping at the local grocery store. The little store was crammed with people doing their weekend shopping. As I reached down to grab a block of cheddar cheese from the refrigerated bin, I overheard a conversation between a mother and daughter close behind me. “So, Mom, you mean that I am free, free to make my own choices, but God is ultimately in control? How is that possible?” I whirled around, surprised. The young girl’s face was screwed up in consternation and confusion. The mother lovingly looked at her daughter and passionately described the paradox of God’s love and sovereignty. Relief flooded through me at their interaction. I smiled. “Yeah,” I thought, “I could do that.”