My discovery that nothing is beyond the reach of a woman whose faith and identity are in Christ
I have a confession to make. I used to hate being a woman. And I hated God for making me one. But it wasn’t always that way.
My parents brought up my siblings (a brother and two sisters) and me equitably, with absolutely no sense of privilege based on gender. “Aim for the stars, and you’re sure to hit one,” was Dad’s constantly quoted axiom. So throughout my school years I competed favorably with my peers, male and female, and felt inferior to no one. My girlhood fantasies alternated wildly between becoming President of Nigeria and performing adorably before millions of fans—movie star, sports champion, politician, whatever—I just knew that I could and would be great. Nothing was beyond my reach.
But as in all sweet dreams, harsh reality jerked me awake.
As my body budded into womanhood, my inner senses caught on to things I’d never really noticed. I became aware of the gender inequalities in society and marriage, particularly in the African context, and even in my parents’ relationship. In the sitting room playing with my dolls, I’d often hear Mom’s visiting friends lament their marital woes.
This bothered me. Were all women to end up as docile caterers to the caprices of men? It certainly sounded like it. Did the dispassionate competition and camaraderie of our early carefree years end at the marriage altar?
My answer to these questions left me with only one “safe” option. I encased my heart with a veneer of toughness and militancy. I wasn’t going to allow any of the sons of Adam to hurt me or use me as they did other women who were foolish enough to let them.
As a college freshman, on my student ID card in the place where it asked for marital status, I wrote “divorced with five children.” I envisioned an initial period conforming to social respectability by marrying one man, having his children, and then, of course, dumping him. In my exotic fantasy, I’d then go off, holding my head high and making it as a brilliant, globe-trotting diplomat.
Yes, I would have men in my life, but always and only on my terms, with me in the pilot’s seat.
Disappointment In Love
My flight crash-landed in 1982, my second year in college, when I fell in love. I was swept off my feet in the ecstasy of a wonderful love affair with the Lord Jesus. I had never experienced anything like it.
For the first time, cracks appeared in the wall I’d built around my heart. I could feel only tender love for my brand-new family of Christians, male and female. Everything and everyone was new and different. The future was bright. At last, injustice against women would cease! The church would be a safe haven and protector of our interests and dignity. I could freely aspire to any high calling. I could reach for the stars. Everything would be perfect.
How naïve I was! And what a massive letdown awaited me.
First came the shocking realization that I was still very much prone to sin. That was sheer agony. Then I felt the final pull on the hangman’s noose: in the church of Christ, women and men are not really equal. I practically gagged on seeing some of the discrimination, injustice, prejudice, and suppression in society perpetrated in the church in God’s name.
From fellowship meetings, church services, and Christian literature, I heard and read again and again the same things from those who controlled the pulpit and the pen: Women were to be silent, subordinate, servile, submissive, and shamefaced. The bright vision that had stretched out before me suddenly grew bleak. What was I to aspire to? Marriage to a lord? What was I to reach for? Domesticity and the rearing of children?
But what about the stirrings and yearnings in my spirit to be suffused with God’s Spirit and to cry aloud the gospel story? I wanted to exercise the dominion given to humankind—both male and female. I longed to devote my life to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word.
My World In Turmoil
I wanted to fight and hit back, but I couldn’t muster the old me. All my defenses lay shattered at the graveside of my old self. Pain, more than I could ever imagine, twisted in my heart like a knife. I felt God had taken the club out of my hands and put it in those of my enemy. Helpless, I sank into despair. Depression engulfed me like a dark, bottomless pit.
I desperately wanted to escape the prison cell of womanhood. I didn’t desire to be a man, but I detested being trapped in a female body with all of its social restrictions and encumbrances. I felt like a beast caged in a private world of torment. The anger and bitterness I previously had toward men I now directed toward God—the buck ended right there. He was to blame for my plight.
Maybe I should commit suicide. The thought kept at me all the following year. Attending fellowships and church did little to ease my pain. I felt especially bitter when, during one campus fellowship meeting, the preacher cracked a joke that stung me to the core. Apparently, in ancient Israel, one of the three routine declarations Jewish men made in the synagogue was, “Thank God I am not a woman.” From their loud guffaws and the smirks on their faces, it was obvious the men in the room shared that sentiment. And why not?
I bent my head and wept. Oh, how I hated God for making me a woman and, worse still, for standing by while women were belittled in this way. But what could I expect from a God who was a “he”? My sense of despondency and dejection was complete.
I have nobody to turn to. I am nobody. I am nothing.
On the outside, I maintained a façade of normality, going about the business of studying for my degree. Inside, I was a fire of hurt and rage.
The Beginning Of A Miracle
Then I met Collins. Slightly taller than me at 5’ 8”, slender, eyes always creased into a smile, Collins was a “man after God’s heart.” He was a good chap who wouldn’t get off my back. He wanted to know about my prayer life, my quiet time, my walk with the Lord, and on and on.
“What do I owe God, anyway?” I wanted to know during one of Collins’s routine “checkups.” “What does any woman owe him? He’s been so unfair to us, and I hate him.” I saw Colllins wince as I spat out the word hate and felt a tinge of satisfaction.
I hope that hurt God, too, I thought. Maybe he’ll hurt me some more. Well, I don’t care.
But I did care. And so did God. He reached down and lifted me up from the abyss of despondency. How? First, he sent me godly women and men with sound counsel. They showed me the starting point was to offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for his wonderful work of creation: a woman created in the image of God.
The Lord chided me with the words of Isaiah 45:9: “Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’”
This lesson was hard for me, because I expected God to apologize for the rough deal I had as a woman in the world. I thought he would join my pity party until the time of vengeance had come.
But God would have none of it. I was to humble myself and acknowledge him as my Creator, who is just and holy in all his ways and works. Though I didn’t feel like it, I swallowed my pride and, through gritted teeth, I thanked him for making me a woman. That’s when my miracle began.
Suddenly, I had this insatiable hunger to know God’s thoughts about women. I would wake up at dawn and spend hours digging into the Scriptures. I claimed the promise in John 16:13-15 that he would teach and guide me into all truth through his Spirit.
God kept his promise. I’d often whoop aloud with excitement and do funny jigs around my one-room bedsitter at the discovery of some mind-boggling Bible verse. Joy surged through my heart at the newfound priceless nuggets of gold tucked away for God’s daughters. Psalm 97:8 says, “The daughters of Israel rejoice at your judgments, O Lord” (kjv). No wonder! The Lord opened my eyes to see things my culture-bound “spiritual leaders” could not fathom. I learned that I was to seek to understand what God meant, not what others thought he meant. I learned not to confuse Jewish or Graeco-Roman culture with God’s thoughts about women.
As I sat at the Master’s feet, I began to realize that he wants his daughters to be students of the Word, like the Berean Christians who searched the Scriptures for themselves (Acts 17:10-11). I would go to the Lord every morning with a hungry heart. “Open the eyes of my understanding that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Ps. 119:18) was my constant prayer.
I made up my mind to make intensive Bible study a lifelong priority. This was the only way I could find out God’s master plan for women. Every other sacred duty became secondary to this high calling to sit at the Master’s feet to listen, hear, and receive.
Mary understood this, Martha—probably a scrupulous housekeeper—did not. A well-kept home is a wonderful testimony to the kingdom, yet I often noticed how married Christian women let eternal matters slip into the background as the church encouraged them to leave spiritual enquiry to men.
To be honest, that’s easy to do in the face of the many mundane responsibilities that eat up a woman’s time and limit her scope of influence. “How on earth does a woman cope, Lord? How can she win?” I asked. It was time for some practical lessons. Was I in for a surprise!
Fresh out of college, I went to visit a Christian woman who had just had a baby. Her husband, she said, was away on a retreat in preparation for an evangelistic outreach. The thought of him free to go and come as he pleased, preaching the Word while she was stuck at home changing diapers, irked me. That may sound outrageous to women whose ultimate dream is to “marry and rear kids.” But remember: my dream was to teach and preach the Word to anyone and everyone. All I saw was single women, zealous for God, who simply disappeared into anonymity after marriage.
Tears of frustration stung my eyes. I asked whether it didn’t bother her that she was tied down with domestic duties while her husband stayed on the mountaintop enjoying the strong breeze of the Spirit. She gave an answer I don’t remember; but as I sat there, God spoke to me. He reminded me of the widow and her mite. I pictured her throwing into the offering plate her poverty, and the rich men throwing in their abundance. The Lord seemed to whisper, “I do not see or judge as humans do. Give me all you have, and see what I will do with it. Like the five fish and two loaves, I will multiply. All I need is your availability.”
A woman—weak, poor, despised, at the bottom of society. Men—strong, rich, acclaimed, at the pinnacle of the social ladder. Yet, Jesus’ verdict was that the poor widow gave more.
The tears in my eyes gave way to a bright smile as understanding flashed across my face. For the first time I saw it: God is much more concerned with who we are than with what we accomplish, and the value people place on us is no sign of God’s estimation of our worth.
Bisi was another minister’s wife I visited at that time. She refused to define herself only in terms of wife and mother. She shared with me how one day, while doing housework, she had had a strong desire to pray. So for thirty minutes she prayed and read Scripture, then went back to her chores. That evening, during family devotions, her husband opened to a Bible verse and asked if anyone had anything to share. Bisi shared the insights she had gained from reading that very verse earlier. Her husband’s eyes bulged in amazement. Alone in their bedroom, he confessed that he had been studying and praying over that verse for three days without discovering anything.
I felt warm all over. I think I’m getting this, Lord. Bu t there was more to come.
Soon afterward I met a woman struggling to serve God despite the resistance of a chauvinistic Christian husband. I knew others like her, and I couldn’t understand why God allowed men such leverage. They were always using verses such as “Wives, submit to your husbands in everything” to keep their wives where they wanted them, stifling their gifts and talents.
One day I went to visit this woman and her family. They were about to eat and decided they wanted to drink some pop, so they sent a younger sister across the street to buy some. “Buy orange soda,” said the wife. “No, buy Coke,” said the husband. “All right,” she responded, “the ‘head’ says buy Coke, so buy Coke.”
My stomach was in knots, and I seethed inside. Why couldn’t they buy both? Do even my tastes have to be censored by another Homo sapiens? Here we go again, Lord.
The girl returned, with orange soda. “What happened?” they asked.
“They were out of Coke.”
Relatively insignificant, right? Perhaps. But I could hear the Lord whisper, deep down inside, “If you entrust yourself to me and my way, I will uphold your rights and your cause, even in the small things.” (Ps. 9:4). That meant so much to me, because many of the injustices women face are in the seemingly insignificant areas of daily life. Yet God sees and cares. In numerous ways he has shown me that he has a plan and a place of honor for women.
A Willing Heart And A Capable God
Now, as a wife, a worker, a preacher, a teacher, and the mother of three vigorous children, I treasure God’s promise of spiritual vibrancy more than ever. Balancing the legitimate needs of family, ministry, and career is a constant challenge. I’ve learned to see homemaking not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end: the building of God’s kingdom.
When people come to my home, I want to nourish their bodies and their souls by being in tune with the Spirit and immersed in God’s Word. I often transform domestic chores into seasons of praise and prayer, and I’m so grateful to live in a cultural context where I get additional domestic help. I also make it a point to let my son and two daughters in on the housework in a way that does not suggest any gender preference or discrimination.
As an editor, I meet many people with whom I can communicate the reality of God’s presence in my life.
As a minister’s wife, opportunities present themselves for me to speak in meetings and church services. What a thrill it is to be blessed with a husband and children who recognize and affirm God’s gifts and calling on my life!
To God be the glory! He calls on women everywhere to look beyond impossibilities to himpossibilities. We can bring our yearnings, aspirations, dreams, and resources to be transformed into something worthwhile.
A willing heart and a capable God are all it takes for a woman to reach for the stars.