7 Suggestions for Ditching the Past and Embracing Your Truest Self

I recently watched a recording of a youth group skit from high school. Three guys pranced in frilly dresses to Aretha Franklin’s iconic song: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Shimmying and flipping fake hair, the guys lip-synced:

All I’m askin’ Is for a little respect . . . Hey baby (just a little bit) when you get home (Just a little bit) mister (just a little bit) . . .

My stomach cringed, recalling my sixteen-year-old self laugh with the crowd. The fun atmosphere, and my adolescent need to fit in, overshadowed doubts that bothered me deeply in years to come. What possessed a gymnasium of faith-filled people to laugh at the disrespectful skit toward women?

I don’t believe any of us doubted the worth of women. Bible studies extolled femininity. Messages on womanhood emphasized the beautiful contributions of females to marriage, motherhood, and tending homes. The women of our community led dynamic Sunday school classes and women’s ministries. Luncheons and teas spotlighted merits of biblical women—the faithful prayers of Hannah, the generous productivity of the Proverbs 31 woman, the selfless submission of Mary Jesus’ mother, and other gentle role models.

I celebrated the legacy of these women. At the same time, I wondered about other biblical women who received less press in church.

They leaped across the pages of my Bible: Miriam passionately led the Israelites in worship of their Creator, protector and provider. Zipporah boldly intervened to save the life of her husband (Moses). Rahab courageously risked her life to rescue the spies, save her family and bolster God’s people. Deborah wisely discerned God’s promises for victory; Barak paid attention, and they won the battle.

Abigail, Ruth, Esther, Huldah, Naomi, the wise women of Tekoa and Abel-Bethmaach, the Shunammite woman and Proverbs 31 woman—all made judgment calls accomplishing God’s purposes. Lydia, Dorcas, Priscilla, Tryphena, Euodia, Syntyche, Junia (among others) served in ministry, teaching and leadership of mixed communities. God endowed biblical women with strength and purposes spilling into the wider world.

For a long time I wrestled to square these strong, heroic women with the designation given to the first woman:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18, NIV)

Bible study guides tended to explain the creation of women in terms of assisting men. Study and discussion questions zeroed in on supporting a husband, children and a home (all great callings). Female roles, according to this definition of helper, entailed passive support of male leaders. They explained away stories of women leading men in the larger world; and female strength and purposes fell through the cracks. For example, scripture nowhere states that Deborah filled a “leadership vacuum” when men, including Barak, “failed to step up to the plate” (a common subordinationist interpretation).

I began thinking of this translation method as the “helper hermeneutic.” Those who define the word helper (ezer) as an “assistant to a man” spin biblical stories so women fit into subordinate roles. The more I weighed the evidence, the less I could reconcile this definition of womanhood with strong, smart, women of valor reeling across the pages of the Bible. I never doubted quieter contributions of women within marriage, motherhood, and the home. Overall my understanding of being a helper expanded.

An Old Testament professor once explained the Hebrew word ezer—meaning help or helper—usually occurs in desperate, dangerous situations. Sixteen out of twenty-one times where this word appears, the Israelites are in dire straits calling to God for rescue. During military battles, they plead for help, and God has their backs. Scholar R. David Freedman explains that ezer arises from two Hebrew roots that mean “to rescue, to save” and “to be strong.”

Psalm 121:1-2 provides a beautiful image of God as ezer rescuing the Israelites: “I look up to the mountains—does my help (ezer) come from there? My help (ezer) comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Here we see a powerful portrait of God’s strength, the source of women’s unique strength.

“What stronger help is there apart from God’s rescue?” Mimi Haddad remarks in her article Ideas Have Consequences. Far from a passive help devoted exclusively to a husband and children (in cases of married women with children), it extends to God’s work through women in the larger world. As logic has it, a subordinate role of females to males would only follow if God functioned in a subordinate role when helping Israel. That was far from the case.

God chose the word helper (ezer) to describe the first woman. Although physically weaker than men (usually), women have unique capacity for embodying God’s rescuing, saving strength.

Realizing the true meaning of ezer expands our self-understanding. Embracing the fullness of ezer qualities propels us into a fuller expression of God’s purposes. The Spirit whispers us in bolder, braver new directions in partnerships with men. And we flourish as strength spills into domestic life and the wider world.

Caricatures are funny. My old views of womanhood blinded my eyes from the men’s disrespectful skit. How subtly the laughter of the crowd enticed me to laugh. I have gained a much higher opinion of myself and other women.

On the other side of stumbling to meet my inner ezer, I offer 7 suggestions for ditching the past and embracing your truest self:

1. Check Your Sense of Humor

Culture inundates us with terrible jokes about women. Let’s think critically before laughing at jokes, skits, etc. that tear women down (“like a girl, blonde,” etc.). Let’s set a higher bar for humor.

2. Check Your Bible Reading Glasses

I don’t believe it’s necessary to go to seminary to understand the Bible. There are excellent resources out there for learning and growing in Christ. Let’s ask the Spirit (our divine Helper) for wisdom. Let’s compare notes and discern the best resources. The Christians for Biblical Equality Bookstore is a great place to start.

3. Dive Into What God Means to Say Through Scripture

We all come to Scripture with biases based upon our upbringing and experiences. It’s important to get past old ways of reading the Bible. To those starting out, I suggest How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth (Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart).

4. Know Your One-Of-A-Kind Design

Before we can flourish, it’s important to learn the strengths and weaknesses of our personalities. The Meyers Briggs Personality Test and The Enneagram offer helpful direction. As we grow in Christ, we develop our talents and receive new gifts. Laurie Beth Jones’ book The Path offers excellent wisdom.

5. Develop a Relationship With a Mentor or Spiritual Advisor

If you don’t have a mentor, consider getting to know an older woman you admire. Perhaps invite her to answer questions, suggest resources, or offer feedback on a ministry project.

6. Process Hurt and Anger Healthfully

It’s too easy for hurt and anger to fester into bitterness after being marginalized as women (speaking from experience). Anger isn’t a sin. God asks us to be angry and not sin. Emotional health is key to growth and living the fullest possible life. Check out Peter Scazerro’s books especially Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature.

7. Gain A New Sense of Humor

After processing hurts, we can laugh again. It’s possible to laugh at absurdity without minimizing others’ pain. God clothes us with strength and dignity; and we can laugh at the days to come. (Prov. 31:25)

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