The Gentleman Who Taught Me To Be A Lady

For the better part of the past two decades, I was an angry feminist. The cranky, condescending kind.

When my husband got his pastoring gig a few years ago, I had to tame it a bit. Or at least choose my rants. But it was still there, seething self-righteously at all men who might not take me seriously when I preached and wondered how our family justified me as the breadwinner.

But while male chauvinism provided a legitimate injustice upon which to thrust my fury, what I really hated was the stereotypical personality of traditional femininity: gentle, nurturing, sweet, harmless. Gag!

In my early twenties, these words conjured up a soft-spoken, demure, helper-type, one without too many opinions. And very few rights. One whose sole purpose in life was to find a man to stand behind.

This felt very awkward and disingenuous to me. I imagined I would need to shut up, stop taking spiritual gifts tests, quit college and stop laughing too loud. To comply, my whole personality would need an overhaul. And I felt like God made me this way anyway.

Yup, I would need a complete personality transplant. [Click photo for credit]

What turned me off from femininity most, however, were the automatically generated images of someone vulnerable and weak. Helpless. Unable to defend herself.

Who would want to embody these characteristics? Not me.

I wanted to feel empowered, educated, a partner to my husband, not subservient or less than. I wanted an adventure I chose. I simply didn’t know how to reconcile my view that femininity equals weakness with the strong person I desired to be.

I am fortunate to have married a man who saw me as an equal, and who fervently supported my efforts to be me. He knew I was a disproportionately angry woman, but he believed in me anyway.

My career and church community offered me plenty of opportunities to punch pastor’s wife stereotypes in the face. I got my Master’s degree and supported our family financially while our church was in its infancy, as I still do today. While I worked, my husband ran the church and raised our son. And when he asked me to preach, I did.

You would think in my little cocoon of female opportunity and dignity I would slowly calm down. But I didn’t. The anger just grew. Because it was never about opportunities for women, although I certainly value equality and justice. 

It was about how dangerous it felt to live as a woman. How nurturing others in gentleness and kindness could leave me used up and washed out when people took it for granted. It was about how the honor of pregnancy and making my body a home for humanity also left me breathlessly in need of defense. How could I stay secure in this vulnerable and unsafe life?

One day as I drove home, the conversation between Jesus and I turned to my aversion to gentleness. I expressed my anger toward this vulnerable state and told him I felt like I was getting set up to be trampled. I felt gentleness simply was too dangerous, and I would need to omit it from my feminine personality.

He answered back, in his quiet way, and I realized even Jesus wasn’t afraid to be gentle. He knew its value so much, he took on human flesh with all its vulnerability, setting aside weapons and the power the world seeks for the kind that truly wins hearts.

In only a moment, Jesus elevated gentleness, and femininity itself, in my heart. Instead of feeling at risk and helpless as a woman, I began to see gentleness as its own unique power: an instrument for great good and a cause for celebration.

Jesus, who is God and biologically a man, courageously personified the qualities I feared most, so often negatively associated with women. His life and earthly presence confirmed the fact that God fashioned both men and women in his image.

I wept humbled, happy tears on my drive home because it was no longer a shameful thing to be gentle. Jesus lived that way.

Through his life, Jesus modeled the strength and humility of meekness and gentleness. His kindness won hearts a more forceful hand would have lost. His words and presence left a blanket of comfort behind.

I realize now there is a purpose for gentleness. It is not merely a guarantee for beatings and abuse. Gentleness builds relationships, goes low, responds with wisdom. Gentleness is calm enough to see and believe the best in people.

That day I learned strength is not necessarily the ability to win in hand-to-hand combat. Nor is strength the state of total independence in which I need nothing from others. Sometimes strength looks like controlling our tempers instead of giving air to the rage.

This is how Jesus lived: holy, boldly, wildly, gently, everything done in wisdom and love.

In his earthbound days, he took of the form of a healer, a teacher and a nurturer. He dignified all humanity with his graceful presence. His entire life, start to finish, was one of sacrificial love.

Fully God, he perfectly displayed the strength and beauty, power and gentleness of his creation as it was meant to be: man and woman, both honored, both redeemed.

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