“I want a wife who will stay home and take care of the kids,” he said, earnestly. He was breaking up with me, even though we’d never defined ourselves as a couple. We’d been getting to know each other for a few months. Hanging out with mutual friends, watching movies, studying. I liked him, and he liked me, that much was obvious.
We’d had a few conversations about the future. All of nineteen years old at the time, I had some thoughts of going to medical school, some dreams about medical missionary work. I might have said I was interested in botany, or ballet, or becoming a spy; what he heard was not a housewife. This was a problem, because it was his belief that as a Christian woman, a Biblical woman, my role was to raise children and care for my home, and apparently nothing beyond that.
Once, at a party, he introduced me to a girl who was planning to go to Russia that summer. She gushed about how she was so excited to have an adventure now, because later she planned to be a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but later it struck me as an odd thing to say. Adventure now, mom later?
Looking back, I wonder. Was the girl at the party supposed to sway my opinion?
I’m pretty sure I dodged a bullet there. I’m nothing but grateful that he broke things off; most likely one of us would have eventually. But I do find it incredibly odd that he, or anyone else, would judge a woman not by her personality, interests, intellect, even her appearance, but by her role. I didn’t think much about privilege or subculture then. All I really heard was that my dreams were less worthy of consideration.
I think about that moment in contrast to many others. All the times I’ve dreamed out loud with my now husband, all the times he’s affirmed me, and I him. How we take turns pursuing our dreams. I am so incredibly grateful to have married someone who didn’t look at me and see a role. He saw Emily, a person who will change with the seasons. At times, like today, home with yoga pants on, bathrooms to clean, and two babies to snuggle and direct. At times, leaving the house for a night shift at the hospital, assisting women through labor, wrapping up newborns, teaching new mothers, working toward a professional goal. At times, writingwritingwriting because I need to. We are a great many things.
Three cheers for my feminist husband, full of dreams himself. We’ve evolved, we’ll keep evolving, we’ll make a way for each other. And here’s something important: this doesn’t conflict with our Christianity. No, it’s informed by it. At our wedding, we took communion while our dear friends sang these words:
Jesus, You are
Jesus, You were
Jesus, You will always be
a perfect servant to us
a perfect servant to death
even death on a cross.
Give us the picture of Your face
show us the measure of Your grace
reveal the love of the Father
put within us tenderness
release from us all selfishness
we’ll consider them better
give us hearts of servants.
I didn’t know those were prophetic words. I just thought they were beautiful, and we wanted to honor and include Jesus in our ceremony. We’re eight years in, and we haven’t always been Jesus-y in our treatment of each other. Sometimes not even close. We’ve fought about all the usual things. Through it all, the goal remains, and while I’m open to people interpreting these things differently, it’s my personal conviction that the best way to be Christlike to our spouse or anyone else for that matter is to see them as a whole, varied, evolving person. No one person nurtures, no one person provides; it’s all mixed together and messy and beautiful.
This is my experience with what Sarah Bessey calls Jesus Feminism. It’s a term that she made up when concerned people asked her wanted to know what kind of feminist she was. She writes:
Throughout the records of the Gospels, I saw how Jesus didn’t treat women any differently than men, and I liked that. We weren’t too precious for words, dainty like fine china. We received no free pass or delicate worries about our ability to understand or contribute or work. Women were not too sweet or weak for the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or too manipulative or prone to jealousy, insecurity, and deception to push back the kingdom of darkness. Jesus did not patronize, and he did not condescend. (Kindle loc 17)
Sarah herself is a stay at home mom (or mum, as she would say) to three children, by choice. She enjoys and honors this work while recognizing that it’s not everyone’s calling, nor is it even an option for everyone. “If the title can’t be enjoyed by a woman in Haiti, or even by the women hailed in Scripture, the same way it can by a middle-class woman in Canada,” she writes, “then biblical womanhood must be more than this.” (Kindle loc 100)
If I could have a cup of coffee with the girl from the party, I’d want to know if motherhood has turned out to be one of her greatest adventures, if she’s now a mother. It certainly has for me. I’d want to know if she defines herself singularly, or if her husband does, if she’s now married. I’d want to ask her a lot of things. I hope she’s happy. I hope she knows now that to be a woman is a gift; not something to be martyred, but lived out fully.
This is my contribution to Sarah Bessey’s synchroblog, in celebration of her new book Jesus Feminist.
The song I mentioned above is Hearts of Servants by Shane & Shane.