A woman after God’s own heart

In these times, there is so much literature and self-help books marketed to women. If a woman has an issue, there are at least 10 books to help her with it.

Mar 11, 2022

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19, 1911. German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed the Day in 1910, at an International Socialist Congress in Copenhagen, with delegates from 17 countries unanimously agreeing.

In 2022, 111 years after its founding, images and jpegs are shared on social media platforms, lauding women and our contribution to the world. Much has already been written about how, in theory, womenkind’s position in society has improved. Women can work and are no longer shackled to home and hearth. We can vote, and apply for the same jobs our male counterparts do (don’t get me started about the glass ceiling). Women in industrialised nations have a say about our bodies and reproductive health, and the decision of pregnancy is becoming more a joint one than a responsibility thrust on an unwilling womb.

And yet, there is still so much to do for the advancement towards gender equality, and more importantly, parity of the sexes when it comes to issues which more greatly impact one gender. But this column is not about these things. Or, it may be all about these things, depending on the way we look at it.

In these times, there is so much literature and self-help books marketed to women. If a woman has an issue, there are at least 10 books to help her with it. In fact, I sometimes feel that I need to have an issue in order to stay abreast with the pack.

And that is sometimes an issue. Women have been encouraged and then pushed, and now, sometimes steamrollered by society to be the kind of women society thinks they need to be. But not all women are made in the same mould or cut from the same cloth. In this age of women CEOs and power wives (think Melinda Gates, Michelle Obama, Priscilla Chan), go-getters, and women of industry, female thought leaders and women influencers (slight eye roll), young girls are told they can be anything as long as they strive.

Yet, this forceful push towards striving has sometimes left behind the essence of womanhood, of femininity, of what it means to be a true woman. When I was climbing the corporate ladder, I had also committed to the sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church. At 26, I was already the occupant of the corner office overlooking the Twin Towers, where I could see the fireworks on Merdeka night. Back then, I never considered why I had to be in my glass-paned office on the 19th floor on Independence Day, a public holiday, and so late that it was dark enough for fireworks.

It was only after great scrutiny of my life: did I really care if my radio station got to play the latest hit by the current flavour of the month before any other station; was the resurgence of asthma from sick building syndrome a fair trade for a salary that allowed me a Versace wallet each month — did I realise how fortunate I was that my faith life was flowing alongside my corporate life? The sometimes intersecting of the two made me realise which gave me greater joy. Therefore, to paraphrase Deuteronomy 30:19, I chose Life.

I chose not to have to deal with office power plays and politics. I chose not to have the stress of acquiescing to the demands of spoilt, arrogant deejays, I chose to keep the people I really liked from the organisation, without staying in that organisation. Today, 22 years later, those people I decided were worthy of my continued trust and friendship continue to be in my inner circle.

In walking away, I learnt that I never needed to compromise to belong anywhere, because I belonged to the Father. Being a child of the most high brings greater satisfaction and peace than a key-card to any Google office.

A malaise for women of our times is the myth that we can be, should be and should want more. However, the ways of the world are very often contrary to the ways of God. While God promises His people good things, “pressed, and shaken, and running over”, this vow of provision is prefaced by the exhortation to first, give.

Many women in the modern world give so much that we feel quite drained of more giving. It was only when I realised I was giving in the wrong capacity, to the wrong people, to people who did not want or need my giving, that I realised how easy it was to fall into the false giving trap. A lot of the giving women make is acquiescence to something. We give our children nuggets so they will eat their side salad and corn. We give up retreat time to run fundraising cafeterias, we give up on pedicures and hair treatments which uplift and make us happy so that tuition bills aren’t such a big financial drain. All this, while prudent and sometimes necessary, isn’t the giving up that God requires.

The kind of surrender that brings quiet joy, strength to weather life’s storms and emotional fortitude is the kind where we lift up to, as opposed to giving in to. To be a woman in this time is to be a woman with a heart modelled after God’s own, which is reflected by the very human, and thus imitable goodness of His son.

For me, in this day and age, celebrating women means celebrating a heart created for love and compassion. Empowered womanhood does not mean the suppression of the gentler instincts of compassion, nurturing and maternalness in order to be a cold-hearted top executive. On the contrary, it means harnessing the power of these attributes to bring change to a work system known for chewing and spitting out people with no consideration of their latent worth as co-beings in the bigger body of Christ.

A woman who has chosen to dedicate herself to the service of her family should be supported by women who have decided to leave their homes and children in the capable hands of other women. There should never be unjust apportionment of regard or credit given to women who choose to scale the corporate ladder, or those who prefer to tend the home fires, because “some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary (1 Corinthians 12: 22).

As women, sometimes the biggest threat to our growth is not the patriarchy, but other women. It is only when women die to the more common fault of our sex to spread slander by classifying it as “sharing”, only when women stop judging other women for their choice of not having children or having too many, or of owning their sexuality, or the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice of spouse, children’s education or cut of yoga pants, can women, on the whole, rise and progress.

While the Bible can be seen as archaic in alluding to the perfect woman as one who continually busies herself with flax and wool, Proverbs 31 when read in the modern context does actually outline today’s woman, because as women, we do “get up while it is still dark; providing food for our families” (Proverbs 31: 15), “set about our work vigorously” (Proverbs 31:17), and see that our “trading is profitable” (Proverbs 31: 18).

Now if we can only follow through with the rest of Proverbs 31. “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” (Proverbs 31: 20), “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come”, “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue,” we will all be further along the path to International Women’s Day.

(Karen-Michaela Tan is a poet, writer and editor who seeks out God’s presence in the human condition and looks for ways to put the Word of God into real action. You can connect with her at: [email protected])

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