I have started, deleted, and restarted this post no less than 25 times. There is a war waging inside; it’s a war between being misunderstood versus the deep felt emotion that runs through my veins. It gives my stomach a bit of a sick feeling and a slight lump in my throat. It is a physical reminder of the investment, deep care, and tension that I feel.
Have you ever felt like the elephant in the room? I remember being a young 20-something in the middle of my Bible college coffee shop, and like many days, a group of guys was debating whether or not babies went to heaven or hell. I remember thinking that I didn’t even know that was even a question to ask; it honestly wasn’t something I had ever questioned before. They volleyed the conversation back and forth with their arguments and defenses. I went on with life and didn’t think much about it until one day as I was laying on my apartment bathroom floor hemorrhaging from a miscarriage and grappling with the Truth that now my baby was hanging in the middle of that coffee shop debate.
The days that followed were a battle of the soul where it was no longer a two-sided conversation, but instead was the very wrestle of my soul. My theology would dictate my grappling with one of the most vulnerable times of my life. The next semester, sitting in the coffee shop, there were newer, younger faces, but the same debate topic of where do babies go, and once again I felt like the elephant in the room.
That wouldn’t be the last time this feeling would overcome me. I have been an elephant in the room again these last few weeks. Just now, instead of babies, the conversation is once again back to women and preaching. The wrestling, the wanting to speak, the questioning, the vulnerability of being talked at instead of talked to. It isn’t a new conversation, and honestly, I am all for having it, but what I have found is that we don’t converse anymore, instead we attack.
We use theological debates to throw fiery darts at one another, and as a result, we have more friendly fire than iron sharpening iron. This isn’t just to the issues of women, this is to all things. We attack a faithful brother with impulsive conclusions on his theology and spark a fire, that as James says, quickly ignites a firestorm of brother attacking brother. People are used as pawns and blanket statements are made in efforts to push an agenda and create camps. We are all bleeding out from friendly fire within our own family, and the casualties are our brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters who have served faithfully and earnestly.
I just wrapped up a 6-week study of walking through the book of Philippians (teaching women if you are wondering). It has been full of sobering Truths. Paul urges the church, then and today, to be a people who advance the Gospel (1:12-20), who are humble both in attitude and action (2:7-8), and who even in the midst of disagreement are to remember to agree in the Lord. And despite differences, at the end of the day, we are coworkers whose names are in the Book of Life. (4:2-3) The imagery Paul uses to describe God’s people is one of both athleticism and militaristic strategy. “ Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel,” Phil. 1:27.
We have lost our way. We have lost our mission.
Am I insinuating not to discuss theological meanings and interpretations? Absolutely not. I was so encouraged by a post from my brother Steve Bezner who I think so beautifully put together a response to my elephant feelings. His tone, graciousness, and overall tact were a breath of fresh air to hollow bones. There have been moments of hope and rest. I am saying that the conversation has to change.
My soul is weary of the same conversation, the quick remarks, the sarcastic replies. There is so much more to talk about. A day that Hallmark commercializes to celebrate moms is a day that the church has the grand opportunity to display the beauty, creativity, and strength in the image of God of women as they are Spiritual Mothers and Servants all across the globe, and yet for some it was drowned out by coffee shop talk. We have lost sight of the souls that are attached to our words.
May we grieve over the damage our words have spilled. May we choose to do the hard work of repentance and self-control. May we choose to celebrate, serve, protect, and care for one another. Can I even suggest we get off our phones and computers and have actual conversations with humans? Where we look them in the eye, we listen well and not just to respond.
In the wake of these last couple of weeks, I have had to go back to what I have seen over these last few months in the SBC Women’s Leadership Network. Now more than ever, I see the tenacity and grace of the women of the SBC. As I have said before, I LOVE celebrating the work of women in my tribe. So to begin the shift in conversation, I want to share just a small picture of my coffee shop talk.
Here is what I have learned and know about SBC Women:
- They are deeply devoted. From Sunday afternoon classes teaching GA’s and Acteens, to packing up bags, and hugging loved ones to take the Gospel across the ocean, our women are devoted to telling/sharing/displaying the Gospel of Jesus. I hear every annual meeting, “We need to get back to our great commission values” and when you look at the numbers, 54 % of our missionaries are devoted women, both married and single, who choose to take the Gospel to all nations.
- They are fiercely resilient. I have known several women who show up on Sunday mornings to their volunteer positions while their bodies are plagued by chemo as they fight cancer. They walk the halls of our churches with strength and dignity as their head wraps are full of bright colors and characters to bring a smile to a child’s face. There are widows who are making sandwiches for Disaster Relief meals to those that wouldn’t eat otherwise.
- They are brilliantly creative. In the past few months, I have read thread after thread of women who are leading organizations that tackle adoption, healing for post-abortive women, starting reading programs to fight poverty and crime in the inner city. They are ministering to women coming out of prostitution, to the homeless, and to the abused.
- They are humble & teachable. Seminary, books, training, networking. Women are hungry to do the work, and do it well. They are utilizing their extra moments between full-time jobs, child rearing, and community service to grow, learn, and develop Kingdom citizens. They are hungry for knowledge, experience, and expertise to serve their churches, workplaces, and communities well.
- They are not oblivious. Women are reading your responses. They are internalizing the phrases used and the tones portrayed. They breathe a little easier when they see a brother offer grace and encouragement, and they cringe when they are compartmentalized into a one-sentence statement. Although the majority of the conversation and responses may not be online, I can assure you that texts, phone calls, and conversations are happening both from inside our tribe and outside the SBC. They have felt your words deeper than you can imagine.
This past Sunday (and every Sunday) women were rocking babies, greeting new visitors, setting up photo-booths, teaching small groups, holding the hands of scared toddlers, leading in worship, giving welcomes, praying over broken stories of infertility and loss, and who dedicated children to the work of the Father. Women, they faithfully served for the Church and for Jesus.
How gracious God is to give us one another, let’s not take that for granted.
Contending with you and for you.