Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman—remember that song? I’m not at the “giving all your love to just one man” stage, but I am called to have that relationship with the Lord. Sometimes I struggle to “stand by my man” with love and not fear. Don’t get me wrong, that’s my desire, but I find that it’s hard to be a woman in matters of will sometimes. I can get real cagey about waiting on the Lord, surrendering my will to God—in fact, that’s what I’ve been working on for the past five months since I became a disciple. It’s been one, long, hard difficult mantra—trust God.
It wasn’t very hard to trust God in some of the bigger matters—I actually didn’t have that much trouble trusting God in the financial arena. I had a thriving business that I didn’t worry too much about leaving behind—I knew God would provide. I have a lot more trouble trusting God in matters of the heart—with my LIFE! I’ve never really had an authority figure in my life that I could trust to know me and do what is best for me, which is just what God promises to do for us.
I was spaced in my family so that I was alone a lot—my parents are both doctors and had me just before they started working crazily and incessantly for about eight years; then they had my brother and sister in quick succession and because I was a mature, early-reading only child they just kind of let me be. Then when I was eight we moved to Iowa, where I spent the rest of my childhood. I was an anomaly—the only black kid in my elementary school, so I was visible but not naturally someone who wanted to be visible. I got very good at hiding. I hid in a book, or in a particular friend and later I hid out for a very long time in an altered state of mind.
And then when I was 14 I was raped by my boyfriend. This was very confusing because it was within the confines of a consensual relationship, but the act itself wasn’t consensual. I had no idea how to comprehend my role in what had happened and instead of asking for help or even laying blame, I just continued in the relationship, getting myself involved further and further with someone who did not have my best interests at heart. He seemed like a nice guy too, so no one disapproved of him and in fact they encouraged the relationship, so it lay on me to call foul. I never did. Then I repeated that pattern in my marriage—not the rape, but the dependence on other people’s opinions. On my wedding day I let forth a storm of tears that I didn’t know were in me; I think somehow inside I knew I was making a huge mistake, but since no one stopped me, I went ahead with it. I had learned to put my security in what things looked like, doubting my understanding of what things were like. I wanted to study out a little bit today how this idolatry that leads to pride plays out for some women in the Bible. All of these women are in Genesis, so we can take it that these lessons are “first things first” kinds of lessons.
In the beginning there is a problem: Adam is alone. Eve solves the problem by her very existence. Adam is pleased with this solution—he marries her, names her and calls her his own (our modern version of this is taking your husband’s last name, becoming part of his lineage. Tellingly, I never did this in my marriage!). I wonder if this first experience of being able to be the answer needed has gone to her descendant’s heads, because we can find ourselves thinking we are sufficient to fix problems that are way out of our league. After all, it was God who really fixed that first problem, but you could forgive Eve for not quite seeing that in the excitement of the moment.
When we get overly involved in our material circumstances and believe that we can solve all our problems ourselves—through our own effort or sacrifice—we turn to evil. God intends us to be a help to those around us, but also to be faithful to Him, to wait on Him to establish our plans. We have to bring our plans to the foot of the cross and surrender them to Him. Whether you’re married or single it’s part of our responsibility as women to put God first and not to try to do His work in our lives. In fact, the devil would be happy to supply us with plans if we don’t want to wait on God. Satan first tempts Eve by confusing her sense of order and then tricks her into believing that God is keeping her from an experience she should have. He first asks her, Is God really God? “He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The devil creates a sense of doubt—did he really say?—and deprivation “you must not eat from any tree,” that plays on Eve’s emotions. You can imagine this being a “heyyy, wait a minute” moment. Did God really say that? Why doesn’t he want me to have that? Maybe I want that. Should I be hungry and not fed? Maybe there’s something going on here that is not to my benefit.
Eve does try to be dutiful and righteous. Still, she gets tripped up, “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” says the serpent, and then he hits her with the doozy—“God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He promises her an instantaneous result and the ability to be truly discerning, to really know what God is up to. The quiet poison in his words is the idea that God doesn’t really love her and might leave her deprived and unsatisfied. Satan posits that it is God preventing her from seeing and achieving all that she could have. This is equivalent to Satan offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world—you could have all this! …If only it weren’t for God, who you are allowing to needlessly control you. He’s giving the old “I could set you free” play. But this kind of “freedom” denies the basic fact of our nature—freedom for us is through God, not apart from Him. He made us! There’s no us without Him, only illusion.
But Eve is tricked by the illusion; she assesses her options and goes for the sin. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Gen 3:6 Adam eats some too and then they have the horrible experience of realizing who they are without God. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked” This reminds me of the language of Revelation 3:17, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
We see this same pattern repeated in Sarah’s life in Genesis 16, when she is still Sarai. Sarai has become convinced that it is God keeping her from achieving what she wants—“the LORD has kept me from having children,” though he has told Abram that he will make his descendants plentiful, so she decides to take matters into her own hands to bring about the desired result. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar, so she said to Abram, ‘The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave, perhaps I can build a family through her.’” (Gen 16: 1-2) Sarai uses Hagar to give Abram the children God has promised him. This must seem like a sacrifice to her and it probably feels noble. I can’t imagine that she wants Abram to sleep with Hagar, but she’s willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the larger good. We as women do this all the time—we martyr ourselves for the wrong reasons, attempting to be humble and actually being very prideful. Notice that she says, “perhaps I can build a family.”
In her disappointment at the length of time it’s taking God to fulfill His promises, she puts her faith in what she can see—she’s too old for childbearing, Hagar is fertile, Abram is running out of time—and boldly tries to get the job done herself. And what happens? She hurts her marriage, punishes herself without cause, is hated by Hagar, becomes bitter and abusive and her sin travels down the generations causing rifts in the family. There are real consequences!
Using people—seeing them for what they can do for you rather than what would be best for all: “Perhaps I can build a family through her”—is a good tip off that we’re in deeper waters than we should be. In Genesis 19 Lot’s daughters do the same—because they feel they have needs that are not being served and that have not been planned for they begin to look at their father in a wicked way. That can be a cue for us as to when we are not being godly but trying to be our own gods.
God also seems to be showing us here that we can get men to go along with our schemes—Adam eats the apple Eve offers, “Abram agreed to what Sarai said,” (Gen 16:2) and Lot “was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up” (Gen 19:33)—we can effectively bamboozle them, but it’s wicked to do so without putting those plans before God. We do have power and power in our families, but just not the power to bring about what we actually want to happen! That power belongs to God alone.
The interesting thing to note is that in each of these examples the women are sincere; but we all know that sincerity does not equal truth! In my own life, I have been sincerely wrong in this area for a long time. My pain and hurt turned me into an adulterous woman; one whose words drip honey, but in the end is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword (Proverbs 5:3-4). Why do you think there are so many warnings about adulterous women in the Bible? Satan uses our God-given power against us by eroding our faith in God and tempting us to overly depend on ourselves, i.e. “I don’t see this happening, how can I make it happen? How can I provide the experience I need?” A wayward woman is dangerous! To both herself and others. She’s dangerous because she believes she is more powerful than she is and because she’s convincing. She can appear powerful, can promise life, but she’s not able to deliver those things because although God gave her a portion of power she isn’t really all that powerful in the scheme of things.
What I did in response to being raped was give myself away. Sarai thought she was doing a good thing, Lot’s daughters probably thought they were being sacrificial, but all it did was breed sin.
For me, I internalized a sense of worthlessness and found my worth in what other people thought about me. My unconscious thought was, “perhaps I can build a self through you.” But when you give yourself away you know you’ve given away something of great worth and now you’re waiting to see how that worth will be reflected back to you. I learned to be someone who traded up—I would leave one boyfriend for the next if he reflected more positively the self I was looking for. I was seeking myself outside of myself so I couldn’t be satisfied or feel fulfilled. Eventually nothing became good enough and I was super critical of myself and other people. There was no way to please me. Because I had taken God’s gift to me—me!—and given it away like it was nothing, I was hateful and hungry; like Esau I traded my inheritance daily for a mouthful of food. The thing about giving yourself up to another person is that eventually you expect to be repaid. That’s what I had been looking for in a partner—someone worth giving myself away for; a “twin soul,” a self to see and feel and touch. And then I thought I’d found him.
I started reading tarot cards (and eventually studied the Bible and got saved!) because of a budding relationship that went astray. I had just gotten out of an eight year marriage that had at the end felt like a prison and I immediately met someone who seemed perfect for me—we had the same schooling, a similar background and the same taste in poetry. The poetry part sounds silly, but it was not, mainly because the little bit of space I had kept back for myself over the years was around my writing, it was the only place where I allowed myself to have true convictions and perceptions. So for me someone understanding the lines that I loved was like them understanding my heart.
He was someone who on the outside seemed like the perfect package: tall, dark and handsome, very well-educated, gentle; but really he had almost no character at all. Just because he understood poetry did not, in fact, mean that he understood my heart or wanted much to do with it, it turned out, but it took me a very long time to see that. And in the meantime I was determined to make it happen! When he stopped pursuing me, I didn’t just say amen and let it drop, I just about lost my mind. I poured my heart out to him in words, by text and e-mail, I anticipated seeing him around every corner and eventually I started reading cards to find out how this would all work out. For me, I got so intoxicated by my own “power” that I literally let demons into my life rather than accept God’s timing and wisdom.
That steely determination—this will work out the way I want it!—that’s not good, sis. That way lies the grave. Or, if you’re lucky, the symbolic grave of baptism. Because the good news is—God is faithful! Look at Sarai—all along God had a plan for her! A plan to honor and bless her richly, turn her from Sarai to Sarah, mother of believers. He still carried his plan out, despite her sin.
But He needed her to get on board, to stand by Him and know that He was standing by her. Once we have that unity with God, we have a shield against Satan’s illusory freedom and can wait on His plan. Unity is something I was terrible at in my worldly life: I was not unified in my thinking—I rarely shared my real feelings or thoughts and I never called people to account when they hurt me, though I would take them apart in my mind. I was afraid to lose relationships, even if the relationships were bad. Though that made me accommodating, it did not make me loving. I was separated even from myself, often confused about how I felt. I misused God’s great gift of empathy that He had given me to give myself away and value other people over myself. That sounds like a nice thing to do, but it was not. It made me bitter, resentful, treacherous and untrue. I was completely alienated from what love means. But one thing that God shows us over and over is that love is unity. God is love, God is the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit—multiple and the same; “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11), “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24), “All the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:44). It makes sense that unity and love are the same, in the way that we are all striving for the same destination, to be made new in the image of His Son, so that we can be lifted up to the standard of the God who is love and made new in Him. Not allowing temptations to brew into regrettable actions requires keeping our eyes fixed on God when we are frustrated, standing by Him when we don’t see how to get our way. We have to not only remember that God is God but rejoice in the fact, knowing that His plans for us are better than anything we could put together.