What does a Christian woman look like? I know the automatic response for many is to open their bookmarked Bibles to Proverbs 31. I've done it. I made a list. I'll spare you the trouble of turning there just now, but don't take my word for it. Look it up.
Virtuous Woman -[vur'-choo-uhs woo-muhn] She is of noble character, trustworthy, brings good to her husband, selects wool and flax, works with eager hands, rises while it is still night and provides food for her family. She buys a field, plants a vineyard, watches over the affairs of her household. She works hard, is strong, her trading is profitable. Her lamp does not go out. She spins wool, opens her arm to the poor and needy, ensures her household is warm. She fears the Lord, is not idle, speaks with wisdom, makes coverings for her bed. Is clothed in fine linen and purple, is clothed with strength and dignity, laughs at the days to come.
Nice words. They create a nice picture. But what does that mean? Specifically, what does it mean for someone like me? What happens when one has missed the boat on the "live-under-her -father's-care-until-a-godly-man-comes-along-to-care-for-her-as-Christ -loves-the-church" philosophy? (I know philosophy is the wrong word, but it's all I've got at the moment.) I want to be a woman of noble character. I'm actually trying to be. But, I haven't always been. What then? When you (and frankly, everyone else) know that you have done things in the past that are not exactly "of noble character" what do you do to "undo" that? Look! That's the first item on the list and I'm already stuck.
Moving on to "trustworthy"... Am I? I think so. Now, anyway. I wasn't always. I could give you names of a few who could testify to that fact (but I won't). I'm not proud of it, but I'm not too proud to admit it, either. For if I could not admit my sin, I would not have need of a Savior, and to what end would I have reason to testify?
Next! "She brings good to her husband." Husband. (uncomfortable pause) Don't have one. In fact, remember the woman in the gospel of John, chapter four? That's me. In verse 16, we read that "Jesus said to the woman, 'Go, call your husband and come here.'" Her answer? "I have no husband". Jesus said to her "you have well said, 'I have no husband' for you have had five husbands and the one whom you have now is not your husband; in that you spoke truly." Later in the text we read that the woman ran to the Samaritans of that city (and these are the words that ring in my heart), and said "He told me all that I ever did." So, I admit it. I have had two husbands. I have lived with men who were not my husband (at separate times). Do you see where I am going? I've just made it to the second (v11) verse of the passage about finding a virtuous woman, and I've already a paragraph denoting the sin in my life. I'm being painfully honest because I know not what else to do. If I can't even get past verse two, what hope is there that I will ever be found a virtuous woman by those with whom I come into contact?
We all know that other women who are viewed as virtuous for possessing the qualities therein are also sinners. Maybe their sins are not as obvious-not like giving birth to a child out of wedlock and raising him as a single parent. But, they have and do sin. So, looking past my sinful nature as a human, I can work with eager hands, rise while it is still night to prepare for an important day. More accurately, I don't rise while it is still night, but I stay up until the wee hours of the morning to ensure the needs are met. I've conducted business for myself, and will likely do so again. I do work hard and I am strong. All true. I do fear the Lord. That much I know.
What about being clothed in fine linen and purple? What is the significance of that? Does that mean I've got to look pretty all the time? Leave the house with hair and makeup done? I don't want to take on a role as if in a play. I want to BE the part. I want to serve the Lord. I happen to be a woman and a mother. Can my children rise and call me blessed when I don't have a husband to honor? Can I ever be found a virtuous woman if I am not clothed in fine linen and purple? I wear combat boots every day.
I guess a better question than "What Does A Christian Woman Look Like?" should be "What IS a Christian Woman Like?" Is it really about how we look? Do the standards of dress extend beyond our appearance as modest, decent women to "ladies"? Does it matter what is in my heart, about whom I gossip or whether I look down on other women who don't appear as virtuous as I, as long as I walk, speak, and act virtuously myself? Or can I be modest in khakis and combat boots, and conduct myself in an appropriate, loving manner as I reach out to broken and hurting people? Can I show Jesus to others with my hair cut short or do I need to wear it long to be a virtuous woman?
Looking at my life now, and the situations I have come through, I realize none would ever know that I was raised in church. For someone like me who "knows the ropes" of church... how to dress, how to behave, can find the book of Habakkuk without looking in the index of my Bible, knows the general expected times that Sunday and Wednesday services begin and understands why we collect missions offerings, it can be very easy to be overlooked in the everyday motions of a busy ministry. Would I be better off if I came to church dressed in a less than appropriate manner and "looked lost" enough that someone takes notice that I'm seeking something? Do we only minister to people who look like they need to be disinfected from the world, or are we reaching people despite the decent cover they've managed?
While I first began to consider my need for Christ at age ten, and thought that I had taken steps to surrender my life to Him, my journey to the cross has taken me thirty-six years. Thirty-six years of trying on my own to be the godly woman I knew scripture requires. Thirty-six years of being unable to "let go" of certain areas of my life because I didn't quite trust God enough to take care of my needs. Thirty-six years of blazing a trail a mile wide and deep in the miry clay on my way to a tragic eternity all the while believing I was on the narrow road to Life. One day in January 2011, I met Jesus face-to-face, thanks to a friend (thanks Jim!) who sent me a devotional written in 1871 by Charles H. Spurgeon entitled "The Withering Work of the Spirit". Until the moment I read the work, I did, indeed, think myself "as good as the best". My heart was pierced upon reading, "Ah, my dear hearer, when the Spirit of God blows on the comeliness of thy flesh, its beauty will fade as a leaf, and thou wilt have quite another idea of thyself. Thou wilt then find no language too severe in which to describe thy past character. Searching deep into thy motives, and investigating that which moved thee to thine actions, thou wilt see so much of evil, that thou wilt cry with the publican, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
Never before had I truly understood the impossibility of my plight as a sinner, the great gulf between God and man, and the matchless grace of Jesus Who took my place on the cross. It was as if I felt the Spirit blow on my flesh in that instant and I found myself broken and humbled, on my face before God pleading with Him to forgive my arrogance for thinking I could have done it on my own. I still do not understand how I had lived believing I knew His saving grace. I can only liken it to the moment my first son was born. I had loved children my whole life and longed for the day I had my own. I loved my nieces and others as if they were mine. Until someone placed a child in my arms and said "he's yours", I did not know what it meant to truly love anyone. Until Jesus touched me, I thought I knew His love. When I finally found it, or rather when His love found me, I realized how lost I had been.
It seems to me that many of the Christians I encounter may have had a similar experience to that of my original introduction to Jesus. I may be wrong, but "looking the part" did not get me anywhere. I knew the hymns, could hold my own in a sword drill, and could share the plan of salvation. But, I could not surrender. I'll take the chance and say "out loud" that I suspect that "looking the part" isn't going to get lost people saved, either. While I agree that presenting ourselves as modest, devoted Christ followers does set us apart from non-believers, what truly sanctifies us is a work that can only be done in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. How can they possibly be reconciled to God because I look like a Christian? Will my "good-Christian" looks fill their growling stomachs, heal their sickness, and restore their broken relationships? It would seem more effective to address them with sincere concern and unabashed willingness to plunge headlong into their reality without fear of getting dirty for the sole purpose of pointing them to the Fountain that cleanses, quenches and restores. Paul writes (Romans 10:14-15) "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" Aren't we all sent? (Matthew 28:19) "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
A quote from David Platt's book, Radical, struck me... "Whereas disinfecting Christians involves isolating them and teaching them to be good, discipling Christians involves propelling Christians into the world to risk their lives for the sake of others. Now the world is our focus, and we gauge success in the church not on the hundreds or thousands whom we can get into our buildings but on the hundreds or thousands who are leaving our buildings to take on the world with the disciples they are making."
Will I always walk around with a scarlet letter on my chest? Should we not tell the truth about who and what we once were? If non-believers do not hear from us that we were once where they are, what reason have they to believe we understand their plight? If we cannot look at them in love instead of with a disapproving glance, how will they ever see the value in the Salvation we tell them Jesus offers? I so desire to be welcomed into the body of believers that I may share in the joy and thanksgiving that results from the matchless gift that has been bestowed upon me, but I find instead that I am surrounded by such proper and right-appearing people that I can't see how it is possible that I could ever dine amongst them. As much as I wish to be welcome, equal, and worthy to fellowship, I think if by maintaining only an outward appearance of sanctity causes me to forget who I am or where I came from, I don't ever want to take that scarlet letter off. I'd rather see it every day and be reminded I've been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ than ever think I've earned my place at the table. Maybe it will help me to remember to always save someone a seat.