From the time we were children, we all sought approval, from our family, friends, teachers, priests, and almost anyone else we came in contact with. The approval of some people outside our immediate circle of friends, family, and acquaintances were less important to us because the people are further away from us, but that didn’t mean we didn’t want their approval.
It’s normal, I think, to seek approval, but it’s so much nicer when I don’t have to. Oh, it’s nice to be approved, that’s really great. But over the years it’s become more and more apparent to me that the two that I really need the approval from are myself and God. Hopefully God approves, but I’m not egotistical enough to think everything I do pleases God and that I’m his favorite rosebush in the garden. In fact, I’m darned sure I’m not. But still, I know I also have to approve of myself, and that’s when I run into problems.
Sometimes, like now, I read books, especially those written by women, that picks me up, shakes me up, and sets me down again with a feeling of “Wow! I feel/understand/know/have said that.” The endorphins flood my system, and I feel vindicated, because someone else has been/done/experienced the same or something similar to my own experience. It’s a woman speaking to a woman, in a way that I can respond to in a way that I can’t always when a man, no matter how erudite or empathetic he seems, can do for me. It’s giving voice to me and perhaps thousands or even millions of other women, in a place and time when I (or we) feel we aren’t heard, valued, or even accepted. Someone saying “Wow!” because someone has put words to things I have felt but couldn’t enunciate for myself. It’s a validation, and it feels good!
Jesus was a great validator. Look at the women who surrounded him and whose stories are recorded in the Bible for us to read today. The woman with the hemorrhage, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and all the others who came to Jesus or on whose behalf someone appealed to Jesus for assistance beyond what they themselves could provide. These were women who were looked down on, often ignored, and relegated to the corners of the house when visitors showed up. These women were more or less outcasts of society because of health, economic status, lifestyle choices, and cultural custom and opinion. But Jesus talked to them, healed them, treated them as if they were worth his time and attention. Even the woman who corrected Jesus about being the crumbs under the table. He listened to her and accepted the criticism. In all the women, he validated their existence, and in so doing, gave a model for his disciples and those who came after him.
Unfortunately, the lesson was set aside, whether it was because it was threatening, or because it was truly felt that women were too weak, stupid, or unsuited for things outside of housekeeping, breeding, and being used as a showcase of a man’s wealth. It was a long time before we heard a lot of Bible stories about women and with women as central characters, not just as an additional prop for Jesus to use to get a point across. The daily readings used to skip over many of the female stories, and very seldom did we hear about any woman other than the Virgin Mary on Sundays. When Ruth, Rahab, Jephtha’s daughter, Tamar, and others began to appear, it was liberating, just as it was when, in the Eucharistic prayers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah began being included along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Suddenly, some of us got chills and realized how much we had missed hearing those names for all those years.
There are still lots of times when we as women aren’t heard, aren’t acknowledged or even seen because we are felt to be less than capable of doing jobs traditionally reserved to men. It’s not saying that all men are bad, misogynistic, or simply uncaring. What I’m saying is that many times, what we as women do is devalued and discounted because of the traditional mindset of even the disciples at times. “Men know best.” “It’s a man’s world.” “Women belong in the kitchen, church, and having children.” I wonder — is this something of which Jesus would approve? What if he had totally ignored women like Mary and Martha, Jarius’ daughter, even his mother Mary? The Gospel stories would look and sound very different. There would be great chunks of stories missing and a whole gender not represented at all.
This reflection is an opportunity for me to let my voice be heard, whether or not anyone listens. It is how I work out how faith, God, the world and I work together to try to make things better. I know, I’m a small voice, much as Rahab standing on the walls of Jericho, speaking to the wind and hoping that the words would be carried to God. I’m grateful that the Gospels record women’s stories, and that Jesus gave such a good example of what it meant to be not just a great teacher and healer but a man who modeled what he and God wanted the world to be like.
So this week I’m going to look inside for validation of my worth, not waiting for someone else to do it for me (even if they could). As I said before, I just need God and Jesus. The rest is up to me.
Image found at Reading Acts
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and a homebody. She is also owned by three cats. She claims the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale as her church home. She is grateful to have found the Episcopal Church over half a century ago.