It’s no secret that I adore Rachel Held Evans. She’s an incredibly gifted writer and an important voice for women in the evangelical world. So when her most recent book came out and I discovered she would be speaking at a college only an hour away, it was a no-brainer – road trip!
Her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, is a must-read. I know that as a fan, my opinion is biased, but it’s good stuff. Funny, insightful, and deep all at the same time. I think my favorite part of the book is where she takes on Proverbs 31. If you’re not familiar with the passage, it’s the last chapter of Proverbs, which talks about a virtuous woman who, among other things, wakes up early (v. 15), plants a vineyard (v. 16), makes her own clothing (v. 22) as well as clothing to sell (v. 24), cares for the poor (v. 20), and is never idle (v. 27). Women in Protestant circles constantly have this set of verses shoved upon them, creating an impossible standard for them to live up to. The result is one of two things – women idolize it and strive for it (see: countless books and conferences about it), or they turn it into a joke. All I have to do is read the verses about sewing and I already know that I’m a lost cause.
Rachel’s Jewish resource for the book shares with her that within her culture, that passage is not seen as a standard or a to-do list, but as a blessing that husbands sing over their wives, celebrating them not because they’ve fulfilled every single task on the list, but because they want to honor them. In addition, the phrase “eshet chayil,” or “woman of valor,” is used within her faith community to honor all women, celebrating things both big and small that they do.
In the book and on her blog, Rachel talks about how she wants to bring that tradition into her understanding of the phrase, and begins using it to celebrate other women and what they do. And she does, celebrating women from all walks of life who are doing their best to be faithful to God’s call in their lives, whatever that may be.
Back to the “the day I met Rachel” story. After hearing her speak, I had the opportunity to meet Rachel and have her sign my book. I was geeking out just a little bit, and managed to stammer out that I was a woman in ministry and appreciated her words affirming women. Before I could finish the sentence, she yelled out, “woman of valor!” and gave me a high five.
I’d read the blogs about it. I knew where that phrase came from. But to have it said to me, celebrating simply that I was a woman in ministry, not based upon any listed accomplishments or anything…it was so affirming and liberating to hear those simple words.
As a woman in a still mostly male profession, I feel the pressure to make sure I work twice as hard and preach twice as good just to make sure I stay on the radar. Not exactly fair, but it’s the truth. So the emotions I felt when Rachel called me a woman of valor were indescribable. It was months ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
Fast-forward to today. I’m in a group conversation about A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and the only woman in the room. It was overall a positive conversation with good insights and questions. I shared that story of having Rachel call me a woman of valor and how it made me feel. A few moments later, another member of the group was talking about something related to “what about men of valor?” and said (paraphrased), “if you (general) need someone to say woman of valor and give you a high five, I guess you’re still working on some issues.”
(Side note: I have the tendency to zero in on and over-analyze throwaway phrases like that, especially when they tie in very specifically to something I’ve said. And assume they’re about me. They could mean nothing, and often aren’t about me. I’m working on that as part of this whole “growth” emphasis.)
To try very hard NOT to be offended by those words, I’ve been chewing on this question: do we need to celebrate women of valor? I’ve had my own struggles with an emphasis on women in ministry, longing for the day when gender is no longer part of that equation. (I’m all about celebrating men of valor, too, and this post is a great addition to the conversation!) But the more, I think about it, the more I have to emphatically say, YES, we need to celebrate women of valor.
We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still girls who feel the beginnings of a call to ministry and will be told they can’t because of their gender.
We need to celebrate women of valor because we still spend too much time watching reality shows like the Bachelor and judging the “hot messes” that are on the screen.
We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still girls who think they are fat because of the airbrushed standard set by magazines.
We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still too many invisible lines and glass ceilings within a variety of professions that make it difficult for women to pursue their passions.
We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still single mothers doing everything they can to help their children who receive dirty looks when they pull out a food stamp card or have a manicure.
We need to celebrate women of valor because women who are raped are still being asked, “well, what were you wearing?”
We need to celebrate women of valor because single women in the church are still being treated as second class citizens.
We need to celebrate women of valor because the “mommy wars” between career mothers and stay-at-home mothers is still vicious.
We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still women who are made to feel inferior because, for whatever reason, they aren’t mothers.
We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still women who are earnestly trying to live up to the Proverbs 31 “standard” and feeling like failures when they fall short.
We need to celebrate women of valor because we still don’t believe that a woman pursuing God’s call in her life can look like any number of things, and we turn to judgment and criticism and meanness rather than listening and loving.
We need to celebrate women of valor because they are here. And there. And everywhere. And our culture would rather draw boxes and battle lines and incite conflict than celebrate the beautiful diversity and creativity and the very image of God that already exists within this half of the population.
I am a woman of valor. I have claimed that phrase, not because of what I have accomplished or what’s on my resume, but because I am a child of God, and I am trying to be faithful to God’s call on my life as best I know how. And I celebrate my sisters who are doing the same, whether that means professional ministry or another occupation or being a housewife or motherhood or singleness or whatever their calls may be.
And that’s cause for me to shout, “eshet chayil!” and offer a high five.