God, Life & A Woman’s Heart
Is it a woman’s world?
Ask most men and they would say ‘yes’. Ask a woman and she would probably hit you.
Maybe for men, their world seems stress free and perfect (smile), but for most women the demands, pressures and pain seem to mount daily and feel overwhelming. ‘Overstressed’, ‘overworked’, ‘under-appreciated’, ‘underpaid’, and ‘burnt-out’ are life descriptors I hear often from today’s Christian women. When you look deep inside her heart, it is easy to see why. So much today competes for her time, even tears at her soul.
A Wounded Heart
Abuse. Domestic violence. Miscarriages. Pain-filled marriages. Single parenting and poverty. Caring for aging parents. An empty-nest. PMS. Menopause. Money problems. Breast cancer. These are but a few of the many unique challenges in a woman’s world. I find it sobering that at least 33% of women have been physically abused, forced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime;1 and that 25% of women in North America were molested in childhood.2
According to the prestigious Guttmacher Institute, 43% of American women will have had an abortion by the time she reaches 45.3 Usually left open and unhealed, such wounds only add turmoil and stress to her everyday life and closest relationships. As a result, it’s easy to get angry. To feel cheated. To want to stay in bed. No wonder women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression and 20% of women can expect to suffer from clinical depression at some time in their lives.4 The lifetime risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome is about 30%5 and as many as 5-10% of both women and girls suffer from an eating disorder.6
Everyday I come across single (and single again) women struggling to find a life partner, married women frustrated with theirs and living with the tension of longings unfulfilled. Further strain is added by a culture that devalues women in one aspect and a radical feminist movement that seeks complete control and domination over men in another.
Medicating the Pain
Noted psychologist Ernest Becker7 wrote not long ago that “modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing.” The shopping piece pinched my toes. Interestingly, statistics reveal that today women control 80% of household spending, a market worth $3.25 trillion. And the average debt for a woman with a credit card exceeds $2,300.8
But it’s more than the drinking, drugging and shopping. Food, sex, perfectionism, fantasy and romance novels, an obsession with makeovers and external beauty, emotional affairs are daily chocolates we try to delight in. But they are all false impersonations – temporary imposters of real life (2 Cor. 4:18). Empty, exhausted and yearning for something more, you can’t blame her for reaching for anything to calm, soothe and fulfill longings deep inside that scream to be met.
Sadly, this pathway of escapism has drowned women from the spiritual fresh air they need. Dallas Willard alluded to this in his book on spiritual disciplines stating, “Obviously, the problem is a spiritual one. And so must be the cure.” 9
Hope for Her Heart
Amidst all of the trouble seems to be a fresh move of God sweeping the country, breaking ethnic, socioeconomic, racial, and denominational barriers, drawing women closer to His heart. Peer into the BankAtlantic Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL in February, 2006 for the Women of Faith (WOF) National Conference and you will see it packed out. Nearly 400,000 women attend a WOF conference in any given year and they are typically sold out even up to a year in advance.10 Or consider the Beth Moore conference in Birmingham, AL, also sold out early for February. Our Extraordinary Women (EW) conferences continue to soar in influence and attendance. Over 100,000 women participate in the annual EW simulcast and nearly 15,000 churches now use our EW curriculum.
Hundreds of thousands around the world are locating Kay Arthur’s writings and over 900 stations in 30 countries tune in to her television and radio broadcasts. Religious writings have recorded the most impressive growth in the book publishing industry in the past four years and women are the core consumers. In 2004 alone the sale of religious books increased 11% to $1.95 billion. 11 Joyce Meyer’s books are a prime example. Battlefield of the Mind and Approval Addiction have become arguably her two most popular books and raise two more issues today’s Christian women are struggling with—negative thinking and people pleasing. Her works have soared to the NY Times bestsellers list.
One of the great Christian mystics of the 14th century Meister Eckhart said that “the soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love; but if the soul cannot yet feel this longing, then it must long for the longing. To long for the longing is also from God.” If God did not love us, and He was indeed not good, He would not put that longing for Him in our hearts. God is the safest Person, and Eternity the safest and most loving Place in existence, a God who did not love us would not place a longing in our hearts to be there. A lot of women are reaching upward to find answers to life, but there is growing confusion too.
Questions of the Heart
Abuse lies. Violence lies. And culture lies.
When you are pounded by a troubled past or a perpetual pain-filled life and reaching toward heaven you experience little or slow change, it’s easy to question whether God cares, ‘is all you need’ or if He even exists. “I don’t want to be entertained anymore; I want answers and need clear direction. HELP from God would be good……where is He when I need him? Why doesn’t he help me?” is what one woman asked recently.
John 8 describes the story of a woman found to be sleeping with another man. She was brought exclusively into the town to be stoned as an adulteress. Diane Langberg12 shared this Biblical story at an EW conference not long ago and asserted, “She stood alone. The fear, the shame, the reproach must have been excruciating…She was reduced to the most shameful thing about her [and] some of you live in that spot privately. You live defined by one thing.” She’s right. John and Stasi Eldredge13 explain in Captivating, that many women have been living their lives feeling as though they are either “too much” or “not what they should be.” In the midst of the emotional self-degradation are questions of why God would allow them to feel so worthless. Such brokenness and discontent shouts of resolve.
A Change of Her Heart
Living in ongoing shame can be debilitating, paralyzing, spirit-deadening. Believing lies can wreck marriages, families, and careers. Struggling with an addiction can stifle the heart’s cry. Many women can relate to David’s cry in Psalm 6:6, “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.”
Beth Moore14, in her description on the characteristics of a woman, expresses the freedom of being created by God as an emotional being—the woman’s ability to cry herself to laughter and her ability to laugh herself to tears.
I consider the ability to feel to be a core gift of God but it can be a destructive road of low self-worth and spiritual purposelessness. Instead of living in the freedom of healthy emotions, we can become emotional wrecks. And as Beth Moore so correctly affirms, “Biblical brokenness should not be confused with emotional wreckage.” Emotional wreckage breaks a woman down. It handicaps her from being able to function. This is not where God designed women to live!
Victory of Her Heart
The “I am too needy, too emotional, too strong-willed” and the “I am not pretty enough, efficient enough, kind enough” lies that so many women live by are not birthed from a heart of joy, but instead from a heart of shame, deceit, and guilt.
Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (5:1).”
In coming to set us free, Christ’s desire is for the woman’s heart to be satisfied in Him and conformed to His image. In order to carry out His plan He uses life’s difficulties to reveal our needs, weaknesses, and sin. As we are brought to this profound awareness we are captured by a refreshing breath of repentance, finally recognizing the yoke of self, the yoke of addiction, and even the yoke of control that held God back from completing His full work in us. The yoke of slavery is replaced by the yoke of Christ, and we are introduced to a love better than life itself.15
Living from Her Heart
Mary Magdalene was bound by the yoke of slavery. Having had seven (the number seven refers to perfection) demons cast out of her, she was a woman named for being the perfect slave to evil. People secretly talked about her behind her back. She was defined by who she was.
After Jesus sets her free Luke honors her, by naming her first in Luke 8. But he names her “Mary, from whom seven demons had gone out.” Why would she be called upon by the one thing she wants to most rid from her existence? Diane Langberg16 suggests that “Mary’s history is the black velvet on which the diamond of Jesus shows most clearly. Remembering her captivity points to the greatness of her freedom. Remembering her darkness highlights her new life and the light she now knows.” Even the Israelites are told to remember where they came from. The principle of Scripture is to remember the slavery so that we can remember The One who has set us free. Living from the heart does not mean we dwell on the past. Instead, living from the heart is remembering the Great Redeemer and Restorer of Brokenness who set the heart free from the past, and now embraces the freedom found in Christ’s suffering. Recognizing this truth can help us understand why the God we serve tells us to rejoice in the sufferings and names attached to us.
Romans 5:3-5 records it beautifully, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” True joy expressed in the midst of trials and tribulations is birthed from the confidence “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). It is through this confidence that we persevere for the righteousness that God promises through our faith.
Perseverance and character require forward movement. Biblical brokenness is the spark that fires the engine; that is to rejoice in suffering so that perseverance and character can be used to transform our lives. We cannot rejoice in suffering when we are an emotional wreck—the brakes are applied and forward movement ceases. Hope is diminished. We must find power—power that God will freely deliver for the asking—to break through to a wonderful finish.
Her Heart of Righteousness
Finding joy in the midst of worry, shame, guilt, physical illness, disease, or a broken relationship can only be found in the hope that does not disappoint. Offer that life to her. When the war for a woman’s heart is waging, God promises perseverance and character if we remain obedient to Him. As perseverance and character are formed in our lives, hope is restored.
Paul found this hope and lived out this faith; “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8b-10, italics mine).
Answering God’s call to righteousness can only be attained through faith in Christ and trusting Him in the midst of the sufferings. The only way for a woman to know if she can trust Him is to try. In so doing, her heart is free to taste of the life she has always wanted – free in the one who made and loves her with an unending love.
1 Family Violence Protection Fund. (2005). Domestic Violence is a Serious, Widespread Social Problem in America: The Facts Retrieved from http://endabuse.org/resources/facts/.
2 Newton, C.J. (2001, April). Child Abuse: An Overview. TherapistFinder.net Mental Health Journal, Retrieved from http://www.therapistfinder.net/Child-Abuse/Child-Abuse-Statistics.html
3 Guttmacher Institute. (2005). Abortion Statistics Retrieved from http://womensissues.about.com/cs/abortionstats/a/aaabortionstats.htm
5 CureResearch.com. (2003, May 30). Statistics about Irritable Bowel Syndrome Retrieved from http://www.cureresearch.com/i/irritable_bowel_syndrome/stats.htm.
6 Eating Disorders Statistics on Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder. (2005). Statistics on Eating Disorders Retrieved from http://www.annecollins.com/eating-disorders/statistics.htm.
7 Ernest Becker. (1973). The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press).
8 Sandra Guy. (2005, December 15). Shopaholics, Take Heed: Psychologists Say Deep Emotions and the Need to Please People are at the Root of Over-Spending at this Time of Year, Retrieved from http://hartfordadvocate.com/gbase/News/content?oid=oid:136964 on December 15, 2005.
9 Dallas Willard. (1988). The Spirit of Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row), Viii.
10 Juli Cragg Hilliard. (2005, August 17). Women of Faith Café Merchandise Kiosks to Launch, Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA635576.html on December 13, 2005.
11 Book Industry Trends. (2005). ForeWord This Week 5/17.
12 Diane Langberg. (2005, April 9). On Being Female. Presented at Extraordinary Women’s Conference, Pensacola, FL.
13 John & Stasi Eldredge. (2005). Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers).
14 Beth Moore. (2003). Celebrating and Safeguarding the Uniqueness of Women.
15 Beth Moore. (2003). Celebrating and Safeguarding the Uniqueness of Women.