What To Do About Women’s Roles

I’ve sat around the table and been told – on more than one occasion and on both sides of the ocean – that what I’m doing is not Enough. That I am not working Hard Enough. That what I’m doing with my children is Too Small. That I’m not Properly Serving the needs around me. And all the while, I’d been following, to the best of my ability, what I thought God had for me in that season of my life.

There have been times I’ve been beyond frustrated at the state of church culture. A culture that seems to honor and esteem men above women. A culture that grants men more options in where and how to serve God than it grants women. A culture that judges women for the few options they do have, no matter which ones they choose. You stay at home with your children? You should be working all day. You work all day? You should be staying at home with your children.

Sometimes I wonder why men are privileged to choose their ministry emphasis, but wives are pigeon-holed into their husband’s jobs. Is there no difference between the way God fashioned the two parts of a couple, that they might possibly be able to serve in different capacities?

I have cried so many tears over this.

I’d love to see a Christian culture that places fewer unattainable expectations on women. I’d love to see a Christian culture that ties up fewer heavy burdens on women’s shoulders. I’d love to see a Christian culture that lifts a finger — or five — to ease those unbearable demands.

The reality is, we may not be able to bring cultural change across all of Christendom. We may not be able to exert organization- or church-wide influence. But we can attend to the one thing we do have influence over: our relationship with God.

When we tune our hearts to the heart of God, when we commune with Him, when we feel His pleasure, the displeasure of people feels much less intimidating and much less invalidating. This I know: the deeper I go into God’s love, and the more consistently I spend time with Him, the less the voices of Inadequacy clamor for my attention. It might sound cliché, but it’s been my experience.

Spending time with God won’t magically make stressful relationships disappear. It won’t miraculously change people’s expectations of us. And it won’t change a church culture that seemingly judges women more harshly than men. It will, however, modulate some of the disapproving looks and comments.

The time we spend soaking up God’s love and grace will inoculate us against some of the disapproval of men and women. The confidence we have in being His daughter that comes through spending time with Him makes the criticisms of how we’re not correctly filling our “role” pack a smaller punch. And when God’s love and affirmation burn in our hearts, that fire spreads to other women.

I’m not saying it isn’t important to discern our roles. It’s very important to humbly determine our giftings and prayerfully decide how we’re going to serve God, practically and whole-heartedly, in this season of our life. I’m not saying we won’t ever need to have discussions with our husbands, teammates, and organizations about our roles in our marriages, teams, and host cultures. And I’m most certainly not saying that a daily devotional time will immunize us against ever receiving criticism (warranted or not), or feeling its sting.

What I am saying is that the shackles of expectations we feel both externally from others and internally from ourselves are too Heavy. What I am saying is that Jesus wants to free us from the burdensome expectations of people and that the yoke He offers us is Light, much lighter than the yoke others would place upon us. What I am saying is. . .

I believe we are children of the King first and foremost.

I believe our various roles in the Kingdom have got to flow out of that.

I believe it is for freedom that Christ set us free.

I believe that if the Son sets us free, we will be free indeed.

I believe that freed people free people.

I believe that healed people heal people.

I believe if all we ever do is bring our freed selves to the Table, then that is worth it.

Have you wrestled with heavy shackles of expectations placed on you?  How are you learning to find freedom?     

32 Comments

  1. Kim March 17, 2015

    “When we tune our hearts to the heart of God, when we commune with Him, when we feel His pleasure, the displeasure of people feels much less intimidating and much less invalidating.”  “The confidence we have in being His daughter that comes through spending time with Him makes the criticisms of how we’re not correctly filling our “role” pack a smaller punch.”  AMEN! Thank you for sharing these words today. So, so, so true. It’s only by focusing on Him that we have any hope of handling all that others throw at us and expect from us. 

    1. Beth Everett March 17, 2015

      I was going to quote the same things and give a hearty AMEN as well! Which I will do here! AMEN and AMEN!

      Great post Elizabeth!

    2. MaDonna March 18, 2015

      Piping in that I liked this quote today, too! When I was in college, a friend and I used to ask each other “Where is your focus today?” It was a reminder to keep our hearts in line with God’s and to not get carried away with all the demands, criticisms(our own, usually), and the expectations and stresses of life. Thanks for the reminder!

      1. Elizabeth March 18, 2015

        Thanks, MaDonna. 🙂 And I think “carried away” is a good word for what we tend to do with our stresses! Thanks for sharing the memory.

  2. KH March 17, 2015

    Thank you for Sharing—your post really resonated with me.
    This school year I feel like I have had to fight against others expectations of me like never before.  This fall our family was really trying to make our situation work and we were being flexible with our team to the point of hardship for our family.  Recently our team sat us down and told us we are not doing enough (basically everything Elizabeth said in her first paragraph).  Why can’t you be like so-and-so whose child seems to function fine without a regular nap schedule.  So-and-so cooks three course meals and has people in her home several times a week. It went on and on.
    I wanted to scream out (but knew it was not appropriate) I’m not So-and-so!  The Father made me unique with my own personality and giftings!  We are being crushed under your expectations!  Stop trying to force me into the box you think I should fit in! 
     It is so hard to live with others when I am not able to meet up to their expectations-and in this case there is nothing I can do about it.  It is a daily struggle to replace their yoke with the Father’s.  It may not seem light when I look at it from afar, but He pulls with me. Only then is the burden light and the walk joyful.

    1. Elizabeth March 18, 2015

      Oh KH, my heart aches with you! Something inside us dies when shouldered with unrealistic expectations like these. I am so, so sorry. I am sorry you are in the midst of it, with no way out. I am sorry other people have measured you as unworthy. This hurts so badly.

      It sounds like you have your husband’s support. I know that doesn’t in any way make up for your unsupportive team (which really, really stinks!), but I’m thankful you have his support. I pray your team will become more supportive and accepting in time. But even if they don’t, I still pray that you will feel the Father’s warm, approving embrace. I pray His love will bind up these wounds and make them hurt less.

      Different families are different. Different children have different needs. Different ages and stages have different needs. And different adults have different needs and abilities. And you’re right, God is the one who made us that way!!

      I dream for the day when we don’t cut someone off simply because they don’t measure up to our pre-conceived ideas of what their roles should be. I dream for the day we accept what each one of us brings to the Table and encourage each other in it. I dream for this. But until that day, it’s comforting to rely on Jesus’ love for me. I know it sounds juvenile, but reminding myself that Jesus loves me, when I don’t measure up to someone else’s expectations, really does help me.

      Please know I’m crying with you today. I pray so, so many blessings on you this day and in this difficult, trying season. I don’t even have good words right now. I guess I’m depending on the Holy Spirit to intercede for us in this. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

    2. Monica March 20, 2015

      I’m so sorry that you experienced this.  My heart really goes out to you, because I have been on ‘both sides’- on the receiving end of team members putting demands on me that were unrealistic, and I’ve done it myself to others- which I’ve had to apologize for.  Comparing to so-and-so is so very dangerous, hurtful and divisive.  It sets people up for guilt, envy and that “I’m NOT ENOUGH” mentioned at the beginning of the post.  Thanks for sharing your heart, I pray you can walk in freedom and a release from expectations.

  3. T March 18, 2015

    Hi!  I’m sorry for this situation that you’ve been in and are still in!  Eeeek!  I just thought I’d pipe in to suggest that you and your husband communicate as much as possible directly and privately to your leadership…begin with words that clearly articulate your respect for them (if this is true) and your desire to be team players, etc, etc.  Then, ask for their help to work out/tweek the things that you aren’t able to do that they feel is a must.  I think readily agreeing that you aren’t ‘supermom’ like that other lady, or ‘superhost’ like the other, but that you are really committed to your team, none-the-less could be good.  Using clear words and time periods could help, as well.  Like, until May 15, I won’t be able to come every week, but during the summer, we will be excited to both attend every week, since the kids won’t be homeschooling or whatever.  I remember when I had nappers.  Going to mtgs seemed pretty worthless at times, but I wanted to show my commitment to the group.  Maybe you can do it in other ways?   (if none of this is useful, just toss it out, I just want to be hopeful that good communication and clear respect can make your leadership understand you better and come down to a ‘we can make this work’ more gracious kind of attitude towards you.)  regardless, i’m praying for  you today from my little spot on the globe!

    1. Elizabeth March 18, 2015

      Thank you for these suggestions, T. They are very practical, and I had not thought of them before. Will file them away for personal use later!

  4. Lauren Pinkston March 18, 2015

    Wow. Excellent, Elizabeth. Since Brene Brown has been in the discussion this week, I thought I’d share this from her book I Thought it Was Just Me (pg. 245) referring to women and shame:

    Don’t make people feel uncomfortable, but be honest.
    Don’t sound self-righteous, but sound confident.
    Don’t upset anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings, but say what’s on your mind.
    Don’t be offensive, but be straightforward.
    Sound informed and educated, but not like a know-it-all.
    Sound committed, but not too reactionary.
    Don’t say anything unpopular or controversial, but have the courage to disagree with the crowd.
    Don’t seem too passionate, but don’t come off as too dispassionate.
    Don’t get too emotional, but don’t be too detached.
    You don’t have to quote facts and figures, but don’t be wrong.

    COME ON. And yet, this is the irony of my life and story.

    Saying no to expectations. Saying yes to freedom in Christ. Holla and Amen.

    1. Elizabeth March 18, 2015

      Eek! That Brene Brown quote! Talk about opposing expectations!

      Jesus is indeed good news for us. Thank you for standing with me in the Truth that sets us free!

  5. Anna March 18, 2015

    I never had that problem in the US, maybe because we weren’t in full time ministry.  Here in Congo, culturally being a mom and wife is sufficient.  I love that aspect.  🙂  (The negative side is that women that work have to fight the stereotype.)

    My team is more understanding than some, but I did have some problems.  I was confused about what being a nice Christian woman meant, and I thought I couldn’t really say no to requests to do things for the team.  I was getting really unbalanced in my time, and it was showing up in some negative behavior from my children who needed my time and attention.

    Seeing my children’s needs was part of what helped me examine my choices.  Another part of what helped me were some really unrealistic expectations that I COULDN’T meet.  They helped me by forcing me to stop and take a really good look at myself and my motivations- pleasing people and wanting to be liked?  Wrong motivations!

    It’s been a process of learning to find my identity in God.  (I have a special playlist of songs to remind me and I have a little saying about being the daughter of the king taped up by my desk!)  Also prioritizing and learning to say no to things that didn’t help reach those priorities, etc.  Figuring out where to draw that line is still not always easy, and as aspects of life change, I have to reevaluate.  But I have learned that the people who really care about me as a person have been understanding when I explained my reasons for not doing certain things.  It’s helped us to grow into a deeper relationship, which is an added bonus.

    And for a very few others, they really dislike me now and have let me know that what I’m doing (setting some limits, saying no at times) is hurtful and unforgivable.  That’s where I have to rest in God’s love and plans for me.  They are better than any person’s plan for me!

    1. Elizabeth March 18, 2015

      There is so much wisdom in this comment, Anna, where do I even begin?? First off, I LOVE that you have a special playlist of songs about your identity as Daughter. I would love to see that list! Would you mind sharing the titles? 🙂

      Secondly, “I was confused about what being a nice Christian woman meant, and I thought I couldn’t really say no.” This is huge! I think so many of us think we can never say no, and it leads to a lot of heartbreak in a lot of areas.

      Then you continue with, “I was getting really unbalanced in my time, and it was showing up in some negative behavior from my children who needed my time and attention.” This. This, this, this. I always know when I haven’t been paying enough attention to my kids (either because of outside ministry or because of home-based writing ministry) because they are more needy and clingy than usual. And what I need to do, each time, is pull back and pay attention to the precious souls in my care.

      “Another part of what helped me were some really unrealistic expectations that I COULDN’T meet.” This one made me chuckle. There’s nothing better for impossible expectations than realizing they are impossible! I think Amy talked about that on Tuesday’s book club discussion. So glad it didn’t get you down, but actually helped free you from them.

      “They helped me by forcing me to stop and take a really good look at myself and my motivations- pleasing people and wanting to be liked?  Wrong motivations!” Oh.my.goodness. Yes. God’s been teaching me these things this past year, too. One thing that helped was Paul Tripp’s book “Dangerous Calling” where he asks the question, “Whose kingdom am I building?” Such a succinct way to check myself and my motives on a daily basis. And even today, I read in my Henri Nouwen Lent devotional about God’s glory versus human glory and how we seek after human glory all too often. Too much to say here, but check out Psalm 115:1 and John 5:44, which really hit me hard. . .

      So glad the hurt and pain of people disliking you is not getting you down and that you are resting in Him. As I said in an earlier comment, I know it sounds juvenile, but depending on the eternal truth that Jesus love me, He loves me, really helps me in these times. It’s good to hear it helps other people too 🙂

      1. Anna March 24, 2015

        Thanks for sharing those verses.  I will check them out.  I don’t mind sharing the play list, but it is a little on the long side.  Partly it’s songs that I really like that make me think about who I am in God.

      2. Anna March 24, 2015

        1. Be Still My Soul- Kari Jobe
        2. Beautiful- Mercy Me
        3. Beautiful, Beautiful- Francesca Battistelli
        4. Better Than a Hallelujah- Amy Grant
        5. Born Again- Third Day
        6. Busted Heart- For King and Country
        7. Do Life Big- Jamie Grace
        8. Everything Glorious- David Crowder Band
        9. Fall Apart- Josh Wilson
        10. Fighter- Jamie Grace
        11. Free to Be Me- Francesca Battistelli
        12. He Said- Group 1 Crew
        13. Hello My Name Is- Matthew West
        14. Help Me Find It- Sidewalk Prophets
        15. His Kind of Love- Group 1 Crew
        16. How He Loves- John Mark McMillan
        17. I Refuse- Josh Wilson
        18. I Saw What I Saw- Sara Groves
        19. Little Ol’ Me- Jamie Grace
        20. Live Like That- Sidewalk Prophets
        21. Made To Love You- Toby Mac
        22. Me Without You- Toby Mac
        23. Only the World- Mandisa
        24. Overcomer- Mandisa
        25. The Proof of Your Love- for King and Country
        26. Someone Worth Dying for- Mikeschair
        27. Something Beautiful- Need to Breathe
        28. Stand in the Rain- Superchick
        29. Strong Enough- Matthew West
        30. This I Know- Crowder
        31. This is the stuff- Francesca Battistelli
        32. Whatever You’re doing- Sanctus Real
        33. Wholly Yours- David Crowder Band
        34. Worn- Tenth Avenue North
        35. You Love Me Anyway- Sidewalk Prophets
         

        1. Elizabeth March 24, 2015

          Thanks for this list Anna! A lot of them I don’t know, so it will be great to get to know them. Thanks again!

  6. Pam G March 18, 2015

    YES!, draw into God, and live as His Daughter.  That is the place of Grace & Freedom.

    Also…on the practical side, I think we need to define our work differently. Elizabeth, you touched on this.  One role in the Father’s Body is not greater than another.  And all are a part of the whole…the whole Body, the whole Family, the whole Community, the whole Purpose of His Kingdom.  When any one of us tries to be more than we were created to be (or more than we CAN be), we become less and Holes in the fabric of the wholeness are created both in our own heart and in our community, family, team marriage….

    What does it look like to live wholely in community and family in the context of our overseas life?  To me, it means that we define our “work” as the whole 100% of the family.  Each job, task, activity, role that the members of my family fill are a part of the whole 100% of the Father’s ministry through us/me in this place.  The roles will change as our family goes through different stages of life.

    I worked through this when my family was living on a remote island in the South Pacific.  With four growing children, a house to run, and homeschooling to do, I got really overwhelmed and wondered what the heck I was doing out in the middle of nowhere doing the same things I might do back in the states, only with a LOT more effort.

    Then I realized that  what I did everyday made life possible for our family in that remote place, during that season of life….and that my contribution was an ESSENTIAL contribution to The Ministry that we were there to do.  In order for my husband to do what he did well, I needed to do what I did everyday…and all the better if I could do it while creating a positive environment in our home.

    I DID go out into the village daily and visit with women. Eventually, as our children grew older and more independent, I even got a women’s literacy project going. But the list of “ministry” things that I did NOT do during our 10 years on that island was much longer….until…I stopped comparing myself to others, defined “my job” and “our work” differently, and determined to live in the grace of My Lord’s directive each day:  “Abide in Me.”

    1. Monica March 20, 2015

      Amen.  And thank you for the role model you’ve been to so many of us Pam.  Grateful.

    2. Anna March 24, 2015

      Yes!  All parts of God’s family are important.  Sometimes it’s a reminder I need.  I start to believe the less visual is the less important.  Not true!

  7. Elizabeth March 19, 2015

    Oh Pam, this paragraph: “Then I realized that what I did everyday made life possible for our family in that remote place, during that season of life….and that my contribution was an ESSENTIAL contribution to The Ministry that we were there to do.  In order for my husband to do what he did well, I needed to do what I did everyday…and all the better if I could do it while creating a positive environment in our home.” Yesssssssss. Yes yes yes. I feel exactly the same way, even though I know it might sound chauvinistic to say it. Let me explain —

    My husband is great at the local language. He’s put in the time (while I was caring for the kids), but he also has this unexpected almost miraculous ability at the language. So he is fully equipped to work in the local language, while I, with only 6 months of language, am most certainly not. Plus he’s gifted at seeing people’s hearts and really listening to them and being able to see what the underlying issue is — and he can do all of that in a second language.

    But the stability I provide as a stay at home mom is invaluable to him. I take care of the house, the kids, and their education, and I’m able to keep myself sane enough to take care of him too. I enable him to continue doing what God has called him to. He tells me all the time he couldn’t do this thing without me. I know to a modern world that sounds archaic, and believe me I’m all about men and women being equal, but this is the division of labor in our home, for now. And it is valuable and worthy work. So anyway, long explanation of how I really resonated with that paragraph!

    Oh, and one more thing — I laughed at this statement — “With four growing children, a house to run, and homeschooling to do, I got really overwhelmed and wondered what the heck I was doing out in the middle of nowhere doing the same things I might do back in the states, only with a LOT more effort.” I’ve occasionally had the same thought, wondering what any of us cross cultural workers are doing!

    Thanks again for sharing your experience here, and reminding us to define “my job” and “our work” differently. “My job” in “our work” may look different from “his job,” but they’re both heading toward the same work. That was very insightful, thanks!

    1. MaDonna March 19, 2015

      I, too, loved that same paragraph! It is so true and I’m so thankful that my husband remembers to thank me and remind me of what I do at home helps him to do what does best. *whew* I’m not alone. 😉

      We are currently in a larger city and started a small school to help others in need of schooling options, but will be moving to a smaller city in the fall and homeschooling – that paragraph will be put in my back pocket to remember when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed from it all (meaning, my comparing myself and rating what I do on the lower end of things..ya know what I mean). HA! Thanks ladies!

      1. Elizabeth March 20, 2015

        MaDonna, I am SO glad your husband is grateful for you and tells you on a regular basis! That is so important and it’s wonderful he does that!

        I also know from hopping over to your blog that you have a special needs child, and I just want to say, YOU GO GIRL. I think living in a foreign culture without some of the resources you might have in your passport country sounds would be harder, so I just want to say to you today, you are doing an amazing job!!

        And thank you for all your comments this week 🙂

        1. Elizabeth March 20, 2015

          And ignore my typo of the word sounds 😉

        2. MaDonna March 21, 2015

          Thanks Elizabeth for the encouraging words. We are able to get quite a bit of resources where we currently are – she was born overseas, and we’ve never lived anywhere as a family other than Asia, so maybe not really knowing what we are missing has helped me. HA! I should probably write more about it, but I’m such a processor and where is the time to process it all? I should go back and look at my old journals – cause that is where the processing is for me…in writing (if you can’t tell, from this response!)

          Anyway, thanks again!

          1. Elizabeth March 21, 2015

            Totally agree! Writing = Processing. 🙂

  8. Holly Newman March 20, 2015

    Reading through your articulate essay and the heartfelt responses, I can’t help but feel a bit sad about how we overseas workers treat each other.  And who expects friendly fire from your “team”, when you thought the challenges would come from the ministry itself?  There is much wisdom here from the women in the trenches, and so much for each of us to learn no matter where we live and what we do.  How can we not offer to others the grace that we have so freely soaked up? I love Gail McDonald’s book High Call High Privilege where she talks about living our life to an audience of one.

    1. Monica March 20, 2015

      “Living our life to an audience of one.”  That is so beautiful.

    2. Elizabeth March 20, 2015

      “I can’t help but feel a bit sad about how we overseas workers treat each other.” I know. Sigh. Some people are SO supportive and loving, and others, not so much. It is sort of a reflection of the Church in general. Most of the time I want to focus on the supportive aspects of church and overseas workers, but I can’t deny the unsupportive aspects. 🙁

      And thank you for the book recommendation! I will have to go look that up now!

  9. Angie March 22, 2015

    Amen, amen, amen! Good stuff. Very true. I was reading a book recently called Powerful and Free about women hotting the glass ceiling in the church leadership, and while it brought me to tears with the stories which hit home, it also worked me up with some frustration at injustices. Spending more time with God and focusing on Him has helped me keep an un-offended, free Spirit even while recognizing things that need to change.

  10. Angie March 22, 2015

    Hitting*

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