Wrestling Until Blessing

Feminist or Proverbs 31? On Learning to Leave Labels Behind

Alison Kjergaard / 5.25.21

It was a public speaking class my junior year of college when I decided to be extremely vocal about my opinions. It wasn’t a particularly unique speech, I didn’t make any ground-breaking observations, and it certainly wasn’t scripture-based, but it suited me, and it was all about feminism. After that speech, for the next two years I cheerily chirped I was a feminist, but a Christian feminist. It was trendy; on a small Christian campus boldly stating I was a feminist made me feel cool and hip. By even saying the words “cool” and “hip” reveals the nerd I really am. What’s more than just being “cool,” my personal definition of feminist suited my personality. It gave me permission to be me.

In post-grad I kept the feminist title, but dialed it back. I still would roll my eyes at Proverbs 31 quotes in church, the cheesy posts about being the “godly woman,” and would cast aside anything that made me uncomfortable with the box I had put myself in. But some of those posts and verses made me uneasy. Maybe I shouldn’t be so cemented in my ways?

My pastor recently used the analogy that we should think of ourselves as a smart phone with lots of apps downloaded onto us. I’m a woman, a daughter, a friend, a sister, an aunt, etc. But when we become a Christian, it’s not just downloading another app. It’s installing an update that is going to rework every system and app. Some of those apps are going to change drastically because of this new update, and others won’t be compatible anymore. In college I convinced myself that my “Christian app” carried more data than my “feminist app,” but the two could function together. Eventually I realized I was clinging to the feminist app, not for healthy biblical reasons but for my own pride. I was obsessed with the way the term gave me permission to be myself, and I didn’t want to lose it. What would I be left with if I was wiped of being a feminist? Even with that fear I deleted the title anyway.

So I moved in a different direction, but it wasn’t with the glee and ease I experienced while claiming the feminist title. Everything around me seemed to be telling me that passivity was a godly characteristic of a woman; she was quiet, meek, mild, she checked all the boxes of a Proverbs 31 woman. I wanted to be that, I did. I wanted to be right with God, and so I tried. I tried so hard to be all I thought those Christian posts were telling me to be, which meant abandoning my personality.

As I read C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength (which is a wonderful book) my heart sank. The heroine (antiheroine?) in the book was being rebuked for lack of obedience, and it appeared she was also going through what I was going through, a sort of rejection of who she was. She was becoming the ideal godly woman, and she seemed so joyful about it in the end. I was becoming what I was supposed to be, right? Then why didn’t I feel joyful? Sure, maybe the old “feminist” title wasn’t the most biblical, but why did this new passive role feel so much worse? As the self-inflicted pressure to be a neat and tidy woman mounted, so did my anger at God.

I was becoming quieter, milder, I kept to myself, but I was less me. Everything about me seemed to be smaller. I remember asking God, “Why would you give me this personality and then burden me with this mandate to be meek and passive?” It wasn’t under the guise of feminism anymore, but this new path felt like quite the trudge.

In this new attempt to be a “godly woman,” I focused a lot on how a good Christian woman submits to a man, but I hadn’t really thought much about submission to God. God graciously and mercifully refocused my eyes, not on what submission in a human relationship looks like but on what it would look like to be faithful to the loving will of God.

I had been viewing it all through a lens of scarcity. If I gave up my feminist badge, I was going to give up all of my personality that identified with that badge. There simply wasn’t room in the Kingdom of God for a personality like mine, I thought. But we don’t serve a God of scarcity. In His perfect will there is abundance. I join the ranks of Deborah, Ruth, Lydia, Esther, Mary, Martha, and Priscilla, women with different talents and gifts but nonetheless servants for the Kingdom. It turns out there are some really incredible women God used, none of whom he called to be particularly passive or small.

He doesn’t ask me to be other than what He created me to be, but He does ask me to give up my illusion of sovereignty. Before I’m worried about my role of leadership in church, in a relationship, in my work, I need to be asking where do I stand with God? The feminist title was frantically earned; I had to constantly be feisty and fiery, lest anyone doubt who I was. There wasn’t much allowance for my softer, tender side.

How often I have felt like Jacob wrestling with the angel: “I can’t let go until this blesses me.” A painful wrestling match, but in the end, Jacob is renamed and is blessed for the struggle. Now I want my title to be “servant” and “vessel of Christ” long before I ever try to pick up a label like feminist. After fighting so hard against the concept of submission, it finally struck me: I am supposed to be submissive, wholly and completely. But it’s to God, before anything or anyone else. Who doesn’t kneel or feel humble and meek before the One who is perfection? And upon submitting to Him I realized I’m still me, but more so. All my gifts and traits are in His hands, not mine. He will file and refine the traits that are contrary to His character, but it shouldn’t be surprising that there are some traits He gave me that are good, and He expects them to remain and to be used to His glory, not to suit my own agenda and title.

I’m not here to discuss female leadership in the Church, political ramifications of “feminism,” or submission in marriage (those topics are all too big for this meager post), but I will say that whoever you are, submission to God comes first. All the labels and titles that follow after don’t feel as burdensome because things are in their proper order.

Those who enter God’s kingdom do so humbly bowing before Him and knowing that He is God and we are not. We are free to be all that He created us to be, and that has brought me far greater joy than my feminist title or my half-hearted attempt to be the “perfect Christian woman.” I think I finally understand Jane from That Hideous Strength and why she was joyful in the end, I’ve found some of that myself now. Kneeling before Him in a new submission I have found something more important than all my labels and titles, and it is Him. I think this quote from The Screwtape Letters sums it up nicely:

One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself — creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.