An Unexpected Ache

The picture made me so unexpectedly sad that I just sighed. And my shoulders slouched. Then my heart got heavy. It was such a surprising reaction on my part to what was actually quite a happy photo that I knew I needed to pay attention to it. To what it was revealing in my heart.Older, younger woman hands

It was a photo of a not-too-old-but-older woman and a not-too young-but younger one, together on an outing. The photo showed the two standing side by side with the younger’s arm resting on the older’s shoulder. And the older woman was tenderly and affectionately grasping the hand of the younger. I know a little bit of their back story. The older came alongside the younger when she needed some help. A soft place to land. A safe relationship to sort some things out. A season passed. The two became friends. Then the younger one figured things out and launched out on a new trajectory – one that will lead to an intertwined and sweet continued relationship with the older.

My emotional response had nothing to do with who the women are, but from what the picture represented. And what it surfaced in me came from such a deep heart desire on my part I almost feel a bit too vulnerable writing about it here. I am confident however that the desire is a very common one among women, so I’ll take a chance and share.

I read Titus 2:3-5 (below) and it describes something so beautiful, so natural and life-giving, that it should be a part of every woman’s life. It talks about how older women – those who have walked with God well, who have learned through the years how to love their husbands and children without bitterness and resentment, who have managed to end up closer to Jesus and more healthy in all sorts of ways than when they started – are to come alongside younger women. And love them. Share life with them. Teach them the things that we are supposed to know how to do, but that we have no clue how to do. To become spiritual friends. Sisters. Moms where the role is unfilled. Mentors. Wise counsel. And older women are supposed to initiate.

I long for this. Greatly. In fact, it almost aches within me. To have a godly older woman see something in me. To want to invest in my growth. To see a future me that I may not be able to see just yet and to say to me with her life, “I want to be a part of the unveiling of who God has made you to be. Of helping you figure things out. And I’d like to spend time with you, to be the place you can come when you feel like it is all falling apart. I can help you sort through the pieces. And then help you put it all back together. And I might even make cookies for us to share while we do it.”

I have spent the better part of my adulthood learning to be the older woman for others. It has been a source of great joy and unless the Lord has some unexpected twist upcoming in my future, will always be a part of what I do. But there is still something in me that feels like the younger woman. Like the one who really doesn’t know what she is doing and just wants an older woman to hold my hand for a bit and help me figure things out.

While there have been those in my life over the years who crossed my path at pivotal times and filled parts of this role to some extent,…this relational void in my life feels huge.

To be honest, Jesus and I wrestle about this. I worry that I am unlovable and not worthy. He assures me that He loves me and that He is enough. And so I work through the tension of wanting/needing something and Him saying either no or not now and trust Me.

The photo pushed this bruise on my heart. And it hurt a bit.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (Titus 2:3-5)

Women, Dignity, Choice and Jesus (Jesus pt. 25)

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Mark 5:27-28  

(Jesus asked) “Who touched my clothes?”  “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ “But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.”  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mr. 5:30b – 34

In Mark chapter 5, we find a powerful story of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, how she meets Jesus and how He heals her. It is one of my most favorites in all of scripture. Perhaps because it involves a woman at her most vulnerable, with the life literally flowing out of her –  and Jesus at His most compassionate, with life literally flowing out of Him. Perhaps because it is about a woman, dealing with very womanly things – and a man who chose not to play the stereotypical man card and excuse Himself from the situation.

Recently I was teaching at a university student retreat on this particular story to an audience of both young men and women. And that evening, I had one of the most eye-opening, most heart-breaking experiences I’ve ever had as a Bible teacher. I was commenting on how awkward this story is – a bleeding woman. Is there anything more gender separating than this? As I said something like, “You men just cannot understand how this must have felt for the woman…”, a young man piped up and said, “Amen!” Everyone giggled. Ha ha. But this only proved my point.

At that moment, that young man unknowingly did something very destructive, very emotionally damaging. He introduced shame into the room. While trying to get a chuckle, to prove his masculinity, he actually told more than half of the room that it wasn’t ok to be a woman. That the things that give shape to our femininity are not ok.

Yes, I know all about what we mention in polite conversation. Yes, I know all about cultural and social mores and norms. But this story is in the Bible. Jesus wasn’t embarrassed by it. And if Mark, the author was, he still included it in the scriptures.

The passage tells us that she had suffered for twelve years from a debilitating disease with no medical cure. No man could ever understand what this type of vulnerability, wired into a woman’s very body, feels like. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met the man secure enough in his masculinity to even try. And I have to wonder if she was afraid of the men who guarded access to Jesus. I’ve seen men actually take pride in how little they know about women – as if who we are and how we were created is shameful or less than a man. Was this part of the reason why she hid and kept her distance? Is it possible this still happens in our churches today?

She experienced deep shame. The narrative tells us that she came up behind Jesus in a large crowd and touched His cloak. She wanted to “remain unnoticed”. (Luke 8:47) Surely her condition, her gender, her fear, her uncleanness, her helplessness, her poverty-both financially and emotionally, led her to hide, as it does for many of us today. Who among us hasn’t wanted to deal with our issues quietly, hoping no one else has to know?

Into this situation, Jesus does something unexpected. He is busy and actually on His way to perform a miracle for someone else – a respected religious leader who, on the surface, was everything this woman wasn’t. Yet, when He knows power has gone out from Him He stops, asks who it was who touched Him, and refuses to move on until that person reveals themselves. We all know that He wasn’t asking this question because He didn’t know the answer. Of course He knew who it was. He knew her name. Her story. The depth of her pain and desperation. He wasn’t seeking information. He was seeking her.

And He didn’t call her out. He asked for her – then He waited till she was ready to engage Him. He let her choose how she approached Him. He gave her dignity.

As a woman in a male-dominated culture, as a victim of a shame-inducing medical condition of which she had no control, as a non-person according to the culture around her, He gave her a voice. A choice. And choice, or lack thereof is almost always linked to dignity. He chose to wait on her, when we all know He should never have to wait on anyone.

I can see that in my relationship with Jesus today, 2000 years later…even though He still holds all the power, even though my relationship with Him is started and sustained by His grace and not my efforts, even though He knows all about me, my name, where and how I am, even though there are many reasons I could give for hiding or giving in to hopelessness…He asks for me. He waits for me. He doesn’t want me to hide. And He gives me choice in how far I go with Him, in the depth of relationship He and I will have. He gives me dignity. He gives me Himself. As much of Him as I choose.