Q: I had a query in relation to the concept of biblical womanhood. I am a doctor (graduated from medical school just over a year ago) and work fairly long hours in an ER. I find that I have to be fairly assertive at work and was wondering how does someone who is not married
and in a career be a biblical woman?
A: It’s interesting that you’ve just asked this because I was with a group of single women meeting with Janelle on Sunday at Covenant Life Church and discussing this very topic. Janelle has responsibility for developing the single women’s discipleship course at Covenant Life, and
this is a common question from the women who’ve completed the course in the past.
First, I think we all need to acknowledge that on the job we may be more easily influenced by the world’s values than initially we may be aware. Our mainstream culture assumes that career is the priority and that advancement is everyone’s goal. And some around us assume that single adults are going to be more devoted to the Siren call of success than even their married colleagues would be. But if we look at Scripture, we see a different definition of success. The most concise portrait is the Proverbs 31 epilogue. You may object, because that’s about a married woman. Yes, it is. But it has everything to do with a single woman because it is the wisdom of King Lemuel, based upon what his mother taught him—presumably as a young boy. What’s not clear to us in the English translation is that these 22 verses are a Hebrew acrostic (“a” is for apple, “b” is for boy—that kind of thing). So while this mother was teaching her son his Hebrew alphabet, she was also teaching him the virtues of an excellent wife, or a wife of noble character (depending on your translation). The Hebrew word that is translated there as “wife” actually means “woman,” but it can be understood in terms of a role, too. When his mother was teaching him, King Lemuel was obviously not married. But he was learning by heart the qualities he should be looking for in a godly single woman.
I find this so refreshing because it means that there is not a separate path for single women in the Kingdom. The Proverbs 31 woman shows us a seamless portrait of biblical womanhood that is applicable for every season of life. The Proverbs 31 woman is a savvy investor, a charming hostess, a loving wife, a hard worker, an entrepreneur, a gracious speaker, and a fruitful mother. We see that she is not lopsided. She is capable of making a profit, but she has a purpose in it: to be a blessing in her many relationships. We see that she has in mind her
family, her household, the poor and needy around her, and most importantly, her Lord.
As single women, we have the same reasons for working hard, too. We want to be able to provide for ourselves and our household—including the household of faith, our church—as well as the poor and needy. While we’re not married, the Lord has given us many relationships in which to invest, including the various children in our lives. It’s tempting to work long hours and not maintain our homes or make time to serve others, but that’s not the well-rounded portrait we find in Proverbs 31. Her model helps us to evaluate our career decisions and
the stewardship of our time through the lens of biblical wisdom and what will really matter most in light of eternity.
There’s one particular verse, however, that I think is immediately helpful on the job and addresses one of your specific questions. It is verse 26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” This is where I’m most challenged at work.
Under the pressure of deadlines and other expectations, I can so easily forget the impact of women’s words on men. Whether they are our bosses, peers, or subordinates, we still want to model godliness and Christian womanhood to all men, not just in the the pecking order of the world. Working in an emergency room, you have the added pressure of REAL life-or-death decisions. You are being paid to be assertive about triage care. But wouldn’t you say that those truly dramatic moments don’t make up the bulk of your speech at work? I’m just guessing. Though I’ve spent some time in the emergency room myself, I’ve never observed it to be like television dramas portray. It doesn’t appear that people are barking life-or-death orders to each other every minute.
So for all of us, we have to consider where we are making room on the job for the natural leadership of the men around us. I’ve learned the hard way that sentences that start with, “No, I think…” are probably not helpful or signaling respect to them. It’s not that having a differing opinion is wrong. It’s just that if we speak graciously and offer input in the form of questions, it models the overarching role of women to be counselors and helpers and leaves room for the men to consider our advice and make a decision. This is especially important in relating to men who aren’t our superiors at work: “That’s a good idea. I see where you are going with it. But what would you think if we approached it in such-and-such a way?” Going back to the Proverbs 31 woman, I realize that this is a collection of virtues and not a real woman, but if we put her into the context of her times, she would have traded widely and no doubt interacted with men of varying stations in life. Yet she is characterized by godly wisdom and kind speech. By God’s grace, we can all strive to grow in her example.
Q: I am a single girl of 23, and I am happy and busy and having lots of fun in my first “real” job after college. Here is my problem: I want SO BADLY to get married. I have always known that I was made to be a wife and a mother. I couldn’t have more faith in this truth if God had stood in front of me in human form and told me in plain English. But I go through periods where I want to get married so badly that it makes me miserable. This ache distracts me from what I should be doing at this season, which I think is growing closer to God, concentrating on my job, and maybe growing up a little more. So what can a single girl do when the ache of wanting to get married drowns out the joys of being single? I completely trust God’s plan, and I know that He gets to decide when and how I meet a man that may become my husband. Truthfully, I want Him to be in charge as He is, because I believe that He is planning something far more wonderful for me than I could have planned for myself. But how do I develop patience and make these miserable feelings go away?
A: As a fortysomething single woman, let me assure you that I am well acquainted with living with a deferred strong desire. I can greatly empathize with you and your reactions. But as I read your comments, I have to say I had a comical image pop in my head. It was of a young woman, with all your passion and capped letters and yearning-turned-misery, bursting forth these emotions on a young man—and him, in alarm, with wide eyes and flushed cheeks, turning tail and fleeing from the weight of these expectations. I know you don’t know my sense of humor, so pardon me for thinking like a cartoon strip. But perhaps that word-picture can help us get started putting those emotions in check. Just in the human sense, that’s a lot to put on one man’s shoulders, no matter how wonderfully wide and strong they are!
Seriously, I think there are two perspectives we should consider here. The first is what I alluded to above. With all our yearnings to be married, we have to keep in mind that if the Lord has marriage for us we’re not going to marry Prince Charming. He doesn’t exist. We’re going to be marrying another weak, sinful being, though—assuming we follow the clear biblical teaching to marry only in the Lord—this man will also be a co-heir in Christ and a clay vessel containing amazing eternal treasures. Like ourselves, he will no doubt want to do good, but find himself falling short on a daily basis. He may be an answer to prayer, but he will not be all-satisfying. It’s not possible, period. To walk into marriage with all these expectations and emotional fantasies is to put a tremendous burden on such a relationship.
Second, I want to be a kind sister to you and gently show you that to want something so badly that you feel miserable is a warning sign. It is an “idolatry alarm.” What it means is that you’ve pinned all your hopes for happiness and fulfillment on something other than the only source for this: God. If you’re not familiar with the idea of modern idolatry, you may think I’m over-the-top here. But let’s stop and consider it. When we look at any created thing (a shrine, a “divine” figurine, another human being) and lavish upon it all kinds of emotions and expectations for our happiness and fulfillment, this is what the Bible calls idolatry. It doesn’t honor God and it always backfires on us.
But God is the one who created the institution of marriage and He did it before the Fall. So obviously marriage is a good idea, even though Scripture also tells us it is a temporary institution (Matt. 22:30). So it’s not wrong to desire a good and godly gift like marriage. In fact, in a modern culture that thinks so lowly of marriage, it’s commendable that you and I desire it! But we have to guard ourselves from falling down the slippery slope where desire morphs into a demand, because when a demand is not met on our timetable or our terms, we become disappointed and lash out in punishment. (I’m grateful to biblical counselor Paul Tripp for this insight.) The key is to hold our desires in open, worshiping hands before the Lord. He can then take our desires and place His provision in them—which sometimes is different than we expected. But if we have already begun to make a desire a demand, our open hands will close around our demands in clenched fists. And thus we are no longer in a worshipful posture.
So how do we live in the tension of desire and trust? One key is found in Romans 12:12. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” The hope that is referred to here is for far more than earthly blessings. It is the hope of future glory that the apostle Paul refers to earlier in this book (Romans 8:18). It’s not that hope for marriage is wrong, it’s just not the highest aim. So aim for the greater thing, and you will find patience in the trial of unwanted singleness. (Yes, I do believe there is a bit of trial or suffering in unwanted singleness, but we have to view it in proportion to what we’ve already received in our salvation.) Then be constant in prayer—about marriage, about everything. Just this morning I was reviewing a prayer journal from 2001 and I was marveling at all the prayers, large and small, that God had already answered in these past few years. Though the various entries about a husband for me have so far gone unanswered, I couldn’t be discouraged when I saw how many other requests the Lord had answered for both myself and others.
I’d like to close with a quote from Charles Spurgeon about Ephesians 3:20-21. This verse says: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21). Spurgeon’s comment is:
“People often misquote Ephesians 3:20. They say, ‘God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think.’ The truth is that we could ask for the very greatest of things, if we were only more alert and had more faith. Ephesians 3:20 really says that God ‘is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we do ask or think.’ God is willing to give us infinitely more than we actually do ask.”
Isn’t that great news? I rejoice in it, because I know I never would have thought to ask Him to sacrifice His Son for my own sins and thus display the lavishness of His grace and the riches of His mercy before all of creation. A husband, by comparison, is a FAR lesser need and one we can restfully trust in Him to provide, if it is His will to do so.
We received another question regarding the spiritual disciplines and children:
“At what age did you and C.J. really start encouraging your children to be having quiet times on their own?
From the time our children began to read comfortably, we taught them to make a quiet time part of their morning routine. They had to read the Bible or a Bible study book, even if it was just for five minutes a day. As young children, they received most of their biblical intake and instruction from C.J. and me on a daily and weekly basis. The primary reason for insisting they have a quiet time was to train them to make the spiritual disciplines a part of their daily life. Chad, who is twelve years old has a quiet time every day, and two times a week, C.J. has devotions with him.
At some point, when our girls became teenagers, their quiet times became something they pursued themselves, although we sought to encourage and provide direction for their study. Each of my girls have said that helping them make the spiritual disciplines a habit at a young age assisted them in eventually taking full responsibility for their own pursuit of godliness.
Before we answer this week’s question, let me thank all of you who have sent in questions recently. We have received a number of thoughtful and weighty questions, and we will attempt to answer as many as possible in the weeks to come. Thank you for your patience and your great questions!
For today, Kathy emailed us and asked, “what do your times with the Lord look like, particularly since you each represent different seasons of life?”
Over the next few days each of us will post our personal practice of the spiritual disciplines. However we thought it might be helpful to first post some helpful, practical thoughts about the spiritual disciplines from one of our favorite authors, John Piper.
Dr. Piper says: “Many good things do not happen in our lives for the simple lack of planning…. Most Christians neglect their Bibles not out of conscious disloyalty to Jesus, but because of failure to plan a time and place and method to read it” (emphasis added).
“I earnestly recommend that it be in the early morning, unless there are some extenuating circumstances. Entering the day without a serious meeting with God, over his Word and in prayer, is like entering the battle without tending to your weapons. It’s like taking a trip without filling the tires with air or the tank with gas. The human heart does not replenish itself with sleep. The body does, but not the heart. The spiritual air leaks from our tires, and the gas is consumed in the day. We replenish our hearts not with sleep, but with the Word of God and prayer.”
“Pick a place of seclusion…. It needs to be secluded so that you are not distracted, and so that you can speak out loud and sing and cry. If your family situation or home does not have such a place, then create it, not by space, but by rule…. One saintly mother with a large brood of children would use her apron to make a tent for her head and her Bible at the kitchen table and the children were taught, when mother is in her tent, make no noise.”
“There are many ways to read the Bible. Any is better than none. Coming to the appointed place and time with no plan for how to read the Bible usually results in a hit-and-miss approach that leave you feeling weak, unreal, and discouraged. For many years I have read through the Bible once each year following The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan.... The design is to read daily from two Old Testament and two New Testament books. I find this variety helpful. Others don’t, and would rather use some other approach. That’s fine.”
As Dr. Piper indicated, there are many methods for prayer and Bible reading, and so please keep this in mind as we post for the next several days. There is no one “right” way to do the spiritual disciplines, and we certainly don’t think our way is the best. However, our hope is that you are freshly inspired to pursue the spiritual disciplines on a daily basis.
All quotes taken from John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 115-117.
A mother of school age children wrote to ask: “Would you be able to provide a sample conversation that you might have with your child when they have done something wrong? There is a phrase that I often hear said, “showing them their need for a Savior.” How do you go about doing/saying that exactly?”
When our child sins—and sin they will—it’s an opportunity to teach them about the gospel. To do so, we must not simply correct them for disobeying Daddy and Mommy in the particular situation. We need to point them to their bigger problem: their inclination, and their pattern of sin against a holy God. They haven’t just disobeyed their parents. They’ve disobeyed God. This particular sin is simply another piece of evidence that they need a Savior—just like Mommy needs a Savior. But the good news, the best news, is that God has provided just such a Savior for Mommies and their children in His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. We must tell our children that if they repent from this sin, and from all other rebellion against God, and trust in Christ as their salvation, they will be forgiven from all their sin and disobedience.
So you see that what can often begin as an unpleasant situation caused by our child’s sin can be transformed into an ideal moment to “show them their need for a Savior.”
In short, there are three essential points we are trying to communicate to our children:
1. God – He is the Creator of the world, and because He is perfect, holy, and pure, He cannot tolerate sin (Ps. 5:4-5).
2. Sin –All human beings are sinful from birth and our inclination is to evil all the time (Gen. 6:5, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:23).
3. Cross – Because of His love, God sent Jesus Christ to earth, to live a perfect life and die in our place that we might be forgiven from our sins and reconciled to God (John 3:16, 1 Cor. 15:3-4).
How can we weave these three points into a real-life conversation? The following is one possible way. But let me issue a disclaimer: this is not a script! This is merely a sample of how a mother might apply the gospel in a situation where a child has sinned. It will sound different EVERY time and for every age group! But let’s just say, for example, that our child is disrespecful:
Mom: Do you realize that you were disrespectful towards Mommy?
Mom: Do you know what the Bible has to say about what you have done?
Mom: God says in His Word that disrespect toward parents is a sin against Him. It isn’t just breaking Mommy’s rules. It’s breaking God’s commands. But this isn’t your biggest problem. You and Mommy both have a bigger problem. Do you know what it is?
Mom: Well, God says that if we break His law even once, we deserve death. But you and Mommy, we haven’t just broken God’s law once, have we? We’ve sinned many times. In fact, the Bible says that we were born sinful, and that because of our sin, we deserve the judgment of God. This is a big problem, isn’t it?
Mom: But what do you think God did about our problem?
Child: He sent His son Jesus to die for us.
Mom: That’s right. Jesus lived a perfect life. He was never disrespectful toward His parents! But that’s not all. Jesus died on the cross. He took the punishment that we deserved for our sin. He endured God’s wrath for our sin. And then He rose again from the dead. That’s good news, isn’t it?
Mom: You and Mommy both need a Savior. But God has provided a Savior! So what do you think God would want us to do?
Mom: Yes, God says if we repent from our sin—not just disrespect, but all sin, He will forgive us. So would you like to pray to God and ask Him to forgive you?
In the preceding conversation, I am assuming that the child is demonstrating a humble, responsive posture to the correction and teaching. But this is not always the case with our children, is it? That is why each conversation with each child will sound different. But if we keep the main objective in our minds of showing them their need for a Savior, we can practice gospel-centered mothering.
This week, a question from a mother of daughters, Rebecca:
Do you have any comments/thoughts on doing hope chests? Is this something you did? I like the idea to point my daughters’ hearts ahead to the time of their life when they will be investing in homes of their own, but not sure of how to forge ahead with this.
For those who may be unfamiliar—a hope chest is a tradition of purchasing and setting aside household items (such as dishes, flatware, kitchen appliances, bedding, heirlooms, etc.) for a daughter’s future home.
I did hope chests for each of my daughters with mixed results. It definitely served, as Rebecca noted, to point my daughters’ hearts toward the home. And in this day and age, I’m enthusiastic about anything that will encourage young women to glorify God by loving the home. However, styles and preferences for household goods change so rapidly that many of the items I purchased when my daughters were teenagers no longer appealed to them by the time they moved into their own homes.
If I had it to do over again, I would probably do a variation of the traditional hope chest. Instead of purchasing items, I would set aside money each year. When my daughter got married or bought a home of her own, I would take her shopping with that money to purchase the items she needed. It would be a special memory and also fulfill the practical need for household items. It’s not cheap to set up a house these days!
Let me emphasize that these thoughts merely come from my own personal experience. I am sure many women out there are far more creative than I am. However, I would want to encourage all mothers to think strategically like Rebecca. If not a hope chest, what are other ways you can encourage your daughter to love the home? How can you prepare her, practically and spiritually, to manage a home and possibly care for a family one day? Even though these skills might not be tangible—like a hope chest—they will be a valuable legacy for your daughter.
This week’s question comes to us from Tatiana in Chicago:
Q. Is biblical femininity applicable to single women, because I most often hear it spoken of in the context of marriage and motherhood?
A. This question deserves a much longer and more thorough answer than I can give in a brief post. But let me say, emphatically, “YES!” Biblical womanhood is just as important for single women as for married women. Here are some excerpts from our book, Girl Talk, to more fully explain my answer.
“The important point here is that God created us. We are the planned and foreordained determination of an all-wise, all powerful, and all-loving God. It is not mere chance that we are female; our gender is not accidental. We were intentionally and purposefully created.
When God created the first woman and every woman thereafter, He made fully feminine creatures. You and I did not become feminine because our moms gave us dolls and put pink dresses on us. We were born feminine because we were created feminine.”
“[When] God created the first woman, Eve, [He] assigned her the honorable task of helper. As a fully feminine creature, she was stamped with a helper design. She was created both complementary to and yet distinctly different from man. She was created equal in worth and yet different in function…And your helper design isn’t something you cash in come marriage. For you were born feminine…Your helper role is called for today.”
So then, you may ask, what does it look like for a single woman (or teenage girl for that matter) to display biblical femininity? Jeff Purswell, the Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors College provides us with a definition for all women:
“Biblical femininity suggests an inner disposition that is supportive, responsive, and nurturing in its various roles, responsibilities, and relationships.”
Supportive — (Gen. 2:18) “an inclination towards giving help and assistance.”
“As women, we have been specially equipped to provide strategic, effective, and valuable help to those around us….So consider, whom God would have you assist and support in this season of your life.”
Responsive — (Eph. 5:23) “an inclination to cooperate with and respond to appropriate leadership structures”
“God has set up authority figures in our lives for our good….Spend a moment in self-evaluation. How well do you cooperate with and respond to the authority God has placed over you?”
Nurturing — (Prov. 31:27-28, Titus 2:3-5) “an inclination to provide care and strength to others.
“God has created us with a heightened sensitivity to the needs and pain of others and a large capacity to express compassion.”
The bottom line is this: “Although femininity may look a little different for a teenage girl or a single woman than for a married woman, we are called to fully express our helper design, no matter what our age or marital status is.”
All quotes taken from Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre, Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood (Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL, 2005) pp. 105-111.
On this note, I want to highly recommend an outstanding book on this topic by our good friend Carolyn McCulley, Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?: Trusting God with a Hope Deferred . Carolyn’s life and example backs up the message of her book which provides a pattern of biblical femininity for single women to follow.