The subject of Godly femininity has fascinated me for a number of years. It’s well nigh impossible to be a woman in the church without reaching the point where you’re comparing yourself to Proverbs 31, and if we’re honest we rarely (if ever) feel we measure up to that standard. The picture of a virtuous woman is not meant to discourage us, but that can still be how we feel.
Similarly, reading New Testament verses addressed to women can make us feel like it’s impossible to be a godly woman, or even make us angry that God’s idea of femininity has so few elements of feminism. It is not always easy to hear, much less heed, admonitions for women to have “a meek and quiet spirit” (1Pet. 3:4, KJV), submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22), and wear “modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety” (2 Tim 2:9).
Many of the words used to define Godly femininity in the Bible have come under attack in modern times. When we hear “submission,” we think doormat. When we hear “modest,” we think frumpy. When we hear “gentle and quiet,” we think shy. Often, this type of reaction shows a misunderstanding of God’s intention for feminine conduct. As discussed in “Redefining Meekness,” our current definitions fall considerably short of the Biblical standard. The Greek words translated meekness carry the idea of strength of character that balances our emotions, expresses anger properly, behaves with gentleness, and helps establish our relationship with God.
The subject of modesty has been thoroughly covered (perhaps “done to death” would be a better phrase) by many other writers. So all I’m going to say about it is, check out Olivia Howard’s Fresh Modesty blog for proof that you can dress modestly and attractively. And honestly, even if modest does sometimes look “frumpy,” would we rather be looked down on for being too covered than for dressing slutty?
Content With Quiet
In Western culture, gentle meekness and silence are seen as negative qualities. They may be okay in principle, but in practice it holds you back from reaching your full potential (whatever that means). It is generally the loudest person in the room who gets the most attention, and we often assume that is an ideal we should strive for.
I’ve touched on this subject before, when writing about introversion. Both shyness and introversion are generally considered “bad” traits (though that is starting to change in regards to introverts). In Susan Caine’s words, “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.” They are not the same, but share quietness as a trait. Many people assume this quietness is a sign of weakness.
Also, shyness implies submissiveness. And in a competitive culture that reveres alpha dogs, one-downsmanship is probably the most damning trait of all.
Yet this is where the shy and the introverted, for all their differences, have in common something profound. Neither type is perceived by society as alpha, and this gives both types the vision to see how alpha status is overrated, and how our reverence for it blinds us to things that are good and smart and wise.
All too often, we hear people twisting Godly traits beyond recognition to make them seem less appealing. We also see traits that God hates exalted by society. I have a hard time finding balance between these two extremes. I struggle with shyness, but I can also speak before I think and wish I had exercised the virtue of silence. I intend to dress with modesty, but sometimes settle for frumpy or wear something a bit tighter than usual because I know guys will notice. I seem to go from walk-all-over-me peacefulness to stereotypical red-head temper with nothing in between.
We can’t let ourselves pick and choose qualities we admire (I like this trait from the Bible, but I like this idea from feminism) to make a “self” that we feel comfortable with. Christ calls us to get outside our comfort zone and follow Him, not matter what outside pressures say. In many cases, our challenge as Christian women is to move past the negative reactions society has to Godly traits and follow His teaching in spite of what the world says. God doesn’t ask us to be shy, frumpy doormats, but neither does he want us to hold on to worldly ideals that conflict with His way of life. He wants daughters clothed with strength and dignity who submit their lives to Him and know when to keep silent and when to speak.