Last week I had the privilege of attending the Q conference on Women and Calling. For one day, 12 women delivered 18 minute messages on the topic of calling, and it was SUCH an encouragement to me. We heard from women like Lauren Winner, Kathy Keller, Rachel Held Evans, Shauna Niequist, and my lovely friend Katelyn Beaty. The perspectives were delightfully varied, each woman contributing her own unique perspective, her own colorful shard to the mosaic of Christian womanhood.
There is no way I can distill the entire day into one single post, but I want to share three highlights with you, three treasures that I will continue to ponder in my heart.
1. Calling is born out of grief
In her message “A New Understanding of Vocation,” Kate Harris discussed the development of calling through the lens of Jesus’ witness. Drawing on the example of the cross, she noted that, for many, hardship and tragedy are not distractions from calling, but the very soil from which it springs.
Trials often feel like detours, snatching us away from the real work of ministry and life, but they have the potential to be much more. Among my own circle of friends, I have witnessed powerful ministries be birthed out of adversity and grief.
Not all callings begin with brokenness, but it’s important to remember that many do. If you are enduring a spiritual valley or a dark night of the soul, this is not the end of your story. All of history shifted upon the bleakness of a rugged cross, and that redemptive arc runs through our lives today.
2. Female Calling is Not What You Think
Rachel Held Evans led a session titled “Is There a Biblical ‘Model’ for Women?” In it she challenged some evangelical notions of “biblical womanhood,” drawing on ideas from her most recent book. I was already familiar with most of Rachel’s arguments, but her final point hit me square between the eyes.
Rachel noted how many female characters in the Bible didn’t satisfy cultural standards of femininity. To demonstrate this point, Rachel highlighted the life of Ruth. Ruth, a member of Jesus’ lineage, endured a long season of singleness and childlessness. Women of her day were expected to marry and have children, but Ruth is remembered for neither of these things. Instead, Scripture focuses on the season of her life that conformed the least to cultural expectations of women.
Ruth is not unique in this. Recently I’ve been reading about the Shulammite woman in Song of Songs, and she also challenged cultural notions of femininity. She was bold and brash. She pursued her beloved. She was the primary speaker in the Song. And all of these behaviors were uncharacteristic for the women of her time.
These women remind us to hold cultural notions of femininity with an open hand. They also show us how tame our notions of womanhood have become. Although Scripture certainly exalts the beauty of marriage and the nobility of parenthood, the callings of biblical women were typically larger and more complex than these two roles represent (consider Esther, Deborah, Rahab, and Joanna). Rarely did these women conform to cultural expectations of womanhood (Mary was pregnant out of wedlock, for Pete’s sake!) and we forget just how scandalous such radicality can seem.
What a comfort, when some part of ourselves does not fit with cultural notions of femininity. And what freedom we have in this “biblical womanhood”, for which there is no uniform mold. Although conformity to Christ remains our blueprint, Scripture makes room for wide-ranging diversity. Whether you are married or single, a parent or not, God invites women into His church for a special purpose. It may be different from anything you ever imagined, but it is sure to be good.
3. Calling follows fear
In her session “Face Yours Fears,” Bobette Buster explored the relationship between calling and fear. She emphasized the importance of facing your fears, a process by which we develop the “spiritual muscle” that is courage.
However, facing your fear is not as simple as it sounds. Bobette shared a clip of The King’s Speech in which King George reveals his true, deep down fear. Surprisingly, his fear is not public speaking. Instead, this fear is only a mask for a greater fear, which is his fear of being king.
Like King George, our biggest fears are frequently a mask for deeper, greater fears. Fears about the future, of financial instability, of not getting married, of not having children, even fears about the death of a loved one–each one of these fears is only the tip of the iceberg. Lurking just below them are fears about God’s goodness, His provision, His love, His sufficiency, even His existence.
It’s not that our fears about money, health, and death are not valid or real, but they can prevent us from digging deeper and examining the root. And the root is what matters most. It not only determines the fruit we bear, but the pruning of our “root fears” can yield the courage and conviction necessary for the Christian life.
As a final note, one of my favorite sessions was a panel titled “Two Vocations Under One Roof.” The panel was composed of husbands whose wives have a separate calling from their own, and I cannot express what a blessing the panel was to me. Each man had his own calling, but he celebrated the gifts and calling of his wife as well, and it was just…awesome. It’s worth watching the video just for that.
I am so grateful for each woman who spoke at Q and her unique contribution to the conversation. I hope these few highlights bless your heart as much as they blessed mine!