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Does having a gentle and quiet spirit mean being a doormat?

This is the part I’m not sure how to talk about.

This is the part I have wrestled with for thirty something years.

This is the question I can no longer put off finding an answer for, now that I have a daughter…

How does a gentle, quiet spirit fit together with strength and dignity?

As I celebrated my 39th birthday this week, holding my daughter not even a year old yet, reflecting on the decades behind me and all the news is saturated with – there is one truth that I have heard echoing within…

As a woman, as far as it is up to me, I will choose when I am vulnerable.

And I will teach my daughter it is her power to do the same.

In the Facebook group where we are learning and living out this call to gentle and quiet, the question has been raised, “Is an exuberant woman outside of God’s will? Is the Biblical, feminine ideal soft spoken and seldom heard?”

I know I grew up within a culture that, purposefully or not, conditioned me to feel that I was less than pleasing to my Maker because life was bursting at my seams. I was Anne Shirley and my words, daydreams and mistakes could not be contained. Aside from my mama, and a few friends I’m not sure I ever won anyone over as Anne did. Instead I fell beneath the shame of not being what I thought Christ expected from me. I lashed out, and pushed back.

My personal experience has been as Jane Eyre said, “I know no medium; I never in my life have known any medium in my dealing with positive hard characters, antagonistic to my own, between absolute submission and determined revolt. I have always faithfully observed the one, up to the very moment of bursting, sometimes with volcanic vehemence, into the other.”

I have been sharing about lessons learned from a gentler, quieter way of parenting, but that is not where this struggle was born for me. I began to raise my voice against the influence and authority of men in my life.

And this is where it gets tricky… My dad never abused me, however early on I fell hook line and sinker for the lie that I needed a man to complete me, and that led to seeking love apart from my Heavenly Father.

As I grew into a young woman I was in and put myself in positions where I was vulnerable. This wasn’t healthy physically, emotionally or spiritually although now I look back and thank God that the worst never happened.

At the same time I raised barriers of defense to keep the most vulnerable part of me sheltered, to keep my heart from others, from the males who seemed to only want to control and use me, and in the end I made myself so impenetrable that there was a rift between my Savior and I, between even myself and my own heart.

I listened to the newsstands, media, movies, high school conversation, condemnation from supposed followers of Christ, my own shame and insecurities, and everything other than the One who loves me. It is my pattern to try to submit to the pressures all around about my worth and who I should be, until I burst with “volcanic vehemence,” feeling weaker than ever after revolting in desperation instead of standing in strength.

And then I married a wonderful and broken man, a fellow sinner and brother in Christ, and I carried all this baggage right into our marriage.

This is not what I want for my daughter.

So as I sit with the quiet, as I am gentle with my own heart, truly listening as one can only do when the door is barred against a raging wind – this is what I hear…

I am no less worthy or desirous of respect than a man. I must speak with respect to the men in my life – husband, father, brothers in the human race – because they deserve respect as image bearers of God and I myself as a fellow image bearer only speak in strength when I speak truth with respect and love.

When I take my emotions to Christ instead of letting them escalate out of control or fester unseen, I am choosing dignity instead of a broken vulnerability.

When I let Christ purify my thoughts, desires, and needs and am open about them, I am choosing a strong vulnerability.

There are times when the fiercest word we can say as women is no word at all, and times when we are called to speak love and forgiveness seventy times seven million it seems, all because Christ first loved us.

As a Jesus follower I have been called to love long, suffer injustice and seek goodness. That doesn’t mean allowing another to harm, but us Jesus people, we will not always get our way. His way is one of sacrifice, but in a culture where they were invisible Christ came to the women. He drew women in and heard their hearts, making them an indispensable part of the drama. I believe He wants no less for me and my daughter.

How will I hear what Christ has to say to me if I do not draw near at the well, in the quiet garden, calling out for Him alone? How will I hear him if I am disrespecting his sons, his brothers, and demeaning myself, his sister, his daughter?

It is hard to know any medium – a way of balance. There is an enemy of my soul that would love nothing more than for me to listen to any voice other than the still small one speaking within – the voice of the First and the Last, the voice I can only hear because Jesus.

Often in this world we do not get to choose our vulnerability – cancer strikes, pregnancies are lost, marriages break, people and circumstances harm, children lay bare our hearts…

But as a woman whenever it is up to me, I will choose my vulnerability. 

I’m tired of swinging from submission to revolt and back again. I choose now a journey of gentleness and quiet, to speak and act with strength and dignity.

I grew up in a culture filled with supposed Biblical mandates for men and women, and now I’m raising a daughter in a culture of “I am woman hear me roar.” Yet I hope for her the happiness that Jane Eyre eventually found. Young and old, single or married I hope that she will dance as a daughter of God always with this song in her heart…

“I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth.”
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Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.

– Proverbs 31:25 about the “virtuous woman”

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If you’re reading this and want to join me, or would just like to listen and glean encouragement from others, please feel welcome to join us in the Gently + Quietly FB group!

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photos by the amazing Sidney Morgan