“Anyone who is reasonably good at organizing, step right up!”
I didn’t step up. For those of you who don’t know me, my ability to organize anything is…extremely limited. That’s a magnificent bit of understatement, right there.
Two weeks ago, the youth group I help out with was assigned the task of taking mounds of random, unsorted donations and coming out with tables of neatly folded and categorized items for a church garage no-sale (where we donated items to people who needed them).
I was given the task of folding baby girls’ clothes that were pre-sorted by the organizing types. I didn’t give orders. I didn’t create systems. I just haphazardly tucked pink dresses into some semblance of neatness and set them on a table. (I figured any mom with a kid that young wouldn’t be particular about my folding job. They’d be too focused on staying sane.)
As I folded, I thought about a theology of gender.
(For those of you who are super impressed with what I think about as I sort clothes for a garage sale, I spent most of the time thinking about how glitter is the most evil substance created by mankind and why any mom would ever pay hundreds of dollars to outfit her toddler in designer jackets. This was just a small side-note.)
It was sparked based on the fact that we were creating different tables with boys’ and girls’ clothing, which reminded me of the recent controversial Target decision to remove gendered signs from their toys.
So I thought about why most of the baby clothes I was folding were pink, and why girls’ Halloween costumes are “sassy” and “sexy” unlike the male version of the same costumes, and why there was something fun about wearing a tutu skirt the whole time I sorted clothes (it was a dare; don’t ask), and why the first comment the jr. high boys made when we played games on a break in the service project was “Let’s run around! And tackle each other!” and the jr. high girls gave me looks of extreme skepticism about this course of action. And what the Bible has to say about all of that.
Then my mind wandered back to whether a three-year-old would find fur-lined boots ticklish and how sweatpants with words on the rear should not be a thing.
As I faithfully went about my task of (badly) folding clothes, there were some people who actually did have the ability to organize: several of the adult volunteers, mostly moms used to commanding order out of chaos, and one of the teen girls in particular. She was telling people where to put stuff and coming up with more efficient ways of doing things and organizing like a real pro.
Although she wasn’t being pushy or obnoxious at all, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to tease. I joked about how her oldest child tendencies were coming out and picked up a shirt that said, “I’m not bossy, I have leadership skills,” saying we should get one in her size, and so on.
It was all 100% in good fun.
It was also 100% a really bad idea. And really bad theology.
Because what I was really doing with those jokes was telling this young woman that it’s not really okay for her to use her gift to glorify God. In a way, I was contributing to doubts she probably has, that I think many of us do—Am I coming on too strong? Are there certain lines I can’t cross? What will people think of me?
The worst part of it was that I knew what it felt like to be on the other end of comments like that. I’ve had Christians tell me (jokingly and not-so-much) that it’s great that I have the gift of hospitality “as a woman,” that I’ll never get married because I’m too much of a leader, that I’d be great at discussing theology if only I didn’t get so emotional.
I have heard those words, and it’s a little scary and a little hurtful and it makes you question what you believe about God, as if he might be the one who’s wrong instead of other people. And even if you don’t question your beliefs, you question your worth.
I knew all that…and I did the same thing to someone else.
This is not okay.
If you’re going to force me to work with labels, which I don’t like, I’m a complementarian. (And what I mean by that is someone who believes that God created men and women with different roles to better image his nature and his glory.) But I want to be a complementarian who seeks to affirm both men and women as made in the image of God, of equal worth and value. People of both genders ought to be out there bringing glory to God, and one thing that makes it hard for women to do that is fear. Fear that Christians like me sometimes encourage without meaning to.
I think it’s because of all the lies around us. Our larger culture either objectifies women or tries to strip our gender of any meaning, depending on the day. Christian culture sometimes (maybe accidentally) reacts by going to opposite extremes, and because of that, I think a lot of Christian women are a little insecure and uncertain about their value and their role.
Here’s what I want to say to this: Women, let’s speak life to each other. Please. Let’s think carefully about our words and stop saying things that lie about God’s view of us as his beloved daughters.
You know what that looks like? It’s the woman who assures another that she doesn’t have to have a “theme” for her one-year-old’s birthday party just because Pinterest has told her she does.
It’s the older lady who makes a point to compliment little girls on things other than their sparkly shoes or pretty hair to teach them early on that there is more to them than what they look like.
It’s the friend who repeatedly reminds other women in her life that their identity is not in being a woman or a wife or a mom, but in who they are in Christ.
It’s anyone who takes away the pressure to perform, who tells you to stop paying so much attention to the scale or the mirror, who encourages you to live confidently in who God made you to be instead of holding back or imitating others.
I’ve met these women. I’ve learned from them. Apparently not enough just yet, because I continue to say stupid things like I did at the garage sale. That night, I spent a lot of time thinking about abstract concepts of gender and theology…but I missed a chance to live out what I believe about who God is and what he says about being a woman, using our gifts, and living without fear.
Which goes to show that we can have all the right doctrines—the correct interpretations and logic and stances—and, if we’re not careful, not let those doctrines influence the way we treat each other.
There’s a pretty good ending to this story: I apologized to my friend for being a jerk, and it was a chance for me to be challenged and humbled. And that, too, is grace.
But next time, I hope I remember to think before I say something thoughtless…and speak life instead.