Most of us aspire toward a life of meaning, purpose and contribution. Heroic acts of compassion by people such as Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day invite our spirits to rise up a notch. Great competitive athletes and performers inspire us to pack stadiums, arenas and living rooms across the globe. Many of us even put on their work uniforms – their jerseys – and buy shirts and hats with their names on them. Something in us is drawn to greatness.
Most of us have heard of the Proverbs 31 woman. She is virtuous, strong, wise, entrepreneurial, the perfect mother, the model wife who is married to a well-known community figure…AND she’s beautiful. While she inspires us and offers guidance regarding what it means to be great women of God, for some of us, the bar seems sadly out of our reach. As I reflect on The Proverbs 31 Woman as my model, I begin to feel somewhat discouraged as I recognize that I fall short in many of the categories in which I should excel. Can you relate? Many women are plagued with self-doubt, questioning our abilities and beauty, and wondering if our contributions are valuable. Are we enough?
This month, in honor of Women’s History Month, we have the opportunity to reflect on who God has called us to be, and trust that in Him, we are enough. The Bible is filled with examples of women who have left a lasting legacy. They were not perfect, but they had a purpose. Similarly, each of us has been given unique strengths that allow us to contribute to God’s master plan in a special way, according to our unique life purpose.
While there are over a dozen women in the Bible who come to mind when I think of greatness, I will focus on three: Deborah, Esther and Mary.
The only female to have ever led the Israelite people, Deborah is also recognized as one of their most noble leaders. Judges 4 tells the story of how Deborah led the Israelites out of oppression under a cruel leader. After selecting a general to conquer the ruler and lead the Israelites to freedom, she provided the strategy and engaged in the battle herself to lure the opposing army to the best place for her troops to fight. In addition to providing guidance and collaborative support, she encouraged the general by cheering him on and reminding him that God will provide victory.
Women are called to be leaders. Some are positioned best to lead our families by loving and supporting our husbands, training our children to know God and build godly character, orchestrating the many aspects of running a household and creating a beautiful, hospitable home environment. Investing in the next generation and supporting a nurturing, stable home life is a foundational element of any strong community or nation.
Other women are called to be leaders in the workplace. Their unique gifts may allow them to influence others in a way that brings out the strengths of each individual and inspires others toward service. They may contribute through their gifts of strong relational skills, scientific knowledge, public speaking or writing abilities, ability to heal others, ability to teach and inspire learning, organizational skills, or other specialized area of expertise. Leadership is not about a position; it is about a commitment to serve and an ability to influence others toward a common goal that serves the greater good.
A second example of leadership, Esther’s legacy is covered in the Old Testament book of Esther. In chapter 7, Esther, an orphaned young woman, is taken as one of King Xerxes’ wives. While in the palace, she learns that Haman, a leader appointed by the king, has developed a plot to kill all the Israelites. When she finds out about the plan, she is torn between protecting her personal power and status and risking everything to try to save her people. Esther digs deep and finds the courage to transcend her own interests and fears. She prays for wisdom and carefully plans her strategy to approach the king with authenticity and passion, revealing Haman’s underhanded plan and begging the King for mercy and justice. Her people are saved and she is honored.
Women are called to live with courage and serve the interests of others. We are not called to do this in our own strength and wisdom. Esther prayed for God’s guidance and God parted the seas of her fears and self-doubt to allow her to be used by God to save her people. Where has God uniquely placed you, and how is He calling you to serve others with your gifts or life experience to bring forth justice, mercy and hope? Your service will require you to lay your own self-interests at His feet…but God will reward you with far more than you will sacrifice. Step forward in confidence, knowing that your shortcomings and doubts are God’s business. He will equip you for all that He calls you to do.
Finally, many of us have heard the story of Mary and Martha told in Luke 10. When Jesus comes to their home to visit them, Martha busily works in the kitchen preparing the meal and their home for the special occasion. Mary, on the other hand, sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him speak. Martha turns to Jesus and asks, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work?” Jesus, to her (and our) surprise, responds by gently noting that she is distracted by things that are not that important.
How often are we driven by our to-do lists, busily trudging through life with a laser focus on accomplishing seemingly never-ending tasks? Are they all of eternal focus? Women of influence live with purpose. They know what is important to them and they prioritize those things that align with their calling. Then, with wisdom and discernment, they delegate or let go of those things that are tugging on their shirt sleeve, but not essential.
This month, as you reflect on the woman God is calling you to be, take some time to consider your strengths and how you are best positioned to serve. Write down your priorities, put aside unnecessary tasks and take time to listen to the still small voice who equips you for the call. Today, let go of perfection and run with perseverance the race marked out specifically for you.
Image Credit: Peter Olsen, Artist from his series of “Women of Biblical History Illustrated”
Terry Morrow, Ph.D. is the president of Morrow and Associates Partnership for Leadership and Transformation. She is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at [email protected].