“Do not let your adornment be merely outward…rather let it be…the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” 1 Peter 3:4. (NKJV)
How did this verse get so twisted and taken out of context that it stopped meaning having a heart that trusts Jesus and started meaning having a soft voice and quiet demeanor? I have no idea. Welcome to the crazy place where I lived during my teens and early twenties.
When you spend a decade or more being told that your personality, gifts, and abilities are sin, it takes a while to recover. But I’m working on it.
I know that I’m not the only strong woman out there who has been shut down by the traditions of religious Christianity. I’m not here today to argue theology, but rather to share my story in the hopes that it will encourage you. I want to encourage strong women to flourish in the gifts God has given them, and I want to encourage men to stand up and support women of strength as co-laborers for the kingdom!
A year ago, my husband and I started attending a small group with our new church. It was amazing to meet with these people who were honest about themselves and accepting of us on our journey. God put that small group together and I loved it.
But as we drove away that winter night, I was curled in a ball in the front seat, tears running down my face, my heart breaking and terrified. I’d done it again. The bad part of me had escaped and now they wouldn’t like me.
“What is wrong with me? Why can’t I keep myself contained?” I moaned. Then it got real. “How can they like me,” I asked my husband in desperation, “when I don’t even like myself?” Gut level stuff was spewing from a wound that I didn’t even know I had.
Even as I said it out loud, it hit me. “I don’t even like myself.” It was true.
What terrible thing did I do to cause this trauma? It was simple. Our group leaders had shared their stories and, along with the rest of the group, I asked some questions and made comments. Everything was fine until our leader complimented his wife for answering “when Christy came on strong.”
And that’s when I freaked out and shut down. I hadn’t meant to be strong; I didn’t even know I’d been strong! My strength had gotten me in trouble so many times before…
I’ve always wished I was naturally sweet, quiet, and gentle. I even spent three years in my teens pretending I was. But I’m not. I’m loud, and blunt, and passionate. And I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut.
I’ve learned over the years to keep myself in check, but the strength still occasionally escapes. Mostly because I’m not really a quiet pushover. I have strong feelings and opinions. I love truth. I care deeply about people…sometimes too much. I identify with Elsa from Frozen. When my strength finally blasts its way to the surface, it’s usually unhealthy and unhelpful. It gets me in trouble. I do and say things I shouldn’t…
“Why do you have to control and hide your strength?” my patient husband asked. “Why can’t you just be who God made you?”
“Because it’s bad.” was my quick reply.
My experiences, both during my ultra-conservative season and even more recently, told me my strength was dangerous, unwanted, and possibly even sinful. How could God have made me this way?
“Why can’t you just be who God made you to be?” It was a valid question. What would happen if I accepted my strength and lived out of it? What if I stopped stuffing it down until it exploded? I decided it was time for help.
Our church has certified counselors on staff. Isn’t that amazing?! I went to see of them. I wanted to know if it was possible to be a strong woman and love Jesus at the same time.
The counselor listened patiently, like great counselors do. Then he made two observations and one suggestion.
- “I think you have a deep need to be heard.”
I’d never thought about it that way before, but it was true. In fact, just about every big conflict in my life has happened because I didn’t feel heard or understood and then responded with negative strength.
- “I like your strength and your passion.”
Being told my strength was good, even likable, was amazing.
- “Try to let your strength come from a place of brokenness rather than a place of needing to be heard.”
Brokenness…I’ve got lots of that! But, it is interesting to stand back and recognize the way Jesus has used every bit of the brokenness I’ve experienced in both my recent and distant past to make me who I am today. He has humbled and softened me through pain. It’s funny how that works.
Being broken myself allows me to understand other people’s brokenness a little better. I have more empathy and less judgement. Embracing my brokenness seems to stabilize my strength on a deep level. It is good.
Probably the most healing part of this journey of living in my God-given strength is the men in my life recently who have encouraged me. It was a patriarchal society that originally told me I was bad, and unfortunately that same attitude often trickles into traditional Christian circles as well.
My wonderfully-opposite-husband, who never even heard the word patriarchal before he met me, has always supported and even pushed me to be the woman God created me to be. He’s never been intimidated by my strength, and from the beginning of our relationship knew how to lead and guide me in a way that encouraged rather than suppressed me.
I’m at a church right now that wants me, with my strength. When I was honest about what happened that night in small group, our leader not only acknowledged my feelings, but let me know that he didn’t mean strong in a bad way. The counselor I spoke with (who is also a pastor) told me he liked me with my strength and gave me pointers to use it well.
We were recently talking to our pastor of young adults. My husband mentioned a conversation the two of us had where I had called him out on something. The pastor laughed, and said, “Christy doesn’t beat around the bush, does she?” But there was no condemnation in his voice, just appreciation. He went on to say, “I want Christy and her passion in this ministry. I am excited to have you guys working with us.”
I’ve got tears in my eyes right now as I write this. Being accepted and loved like that…being appreciated and wanted…is an amazingly powerful thing.
These days I am embracing words like strong, passionate, and fierce. I am passionate about truth; God has gifted me with strong faith and the ability to love fiercely. Strength can be a beautiful thing when it isn’t exploding in unhealthy ways, even in a woman.
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