As you may remember from last week’s column, gender-constraints placed on an individual’s life can be highly paralyzing. I recalled from my childhood, however, that the risk of pressing for freedom from those constraints is a risk worth taking.
In understanding the struggle for freedom biblically, I found myself resonating with the woman at the well, in John 4. She lived under social constraints, which is why she made her daily trip to the well at the hottest, most isolated point of the day. She wanted to avoid gossip and disdain from other women because of her sinful lifestyle. She understood that, because of her lifestyle and previous marital decisions, she had no place among the other women. Although I can’t say I entirely identify with this woman and her specific sin, I am no stranger to the same isolation she put herself through as a result of it. On the other hand, she and I are entirely alike because my fears have, like hers, dictated my behavior and my willingness to take risks. This fear is my sin, for I have lived in the shadows due to fear of social critique of my gender which has placed enormous constraints on my life. This fear, quite literally, paralyzes me because of the possibility of what I could be.
I grew up with a family in which gender equality was a given. It went unsaid. When I began going to church as a young teen, I found it confusing that there were no female pastors. Over time, I began believing that women should submit to men because I was told it was biblical. Recently, however, I’ve resumed the mindset of what I’ve always believed growing up—that men and women are created equally in the image of God. Even so, I still continually face opposition and constraints when I use my voice, in positions of leadership and more.
Jesus presents the woman at the well with the truth of her life, and in return, she begins to live by the truth of his life. She is set free not only from her marginalized status as a sinner but also as a woman. Forgetting the constraints of her social position she now thinks only of spreading the good news—telling others what Christ has done. Her life must have been markedly changed because “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39, TNIV). Notably so, her boldness was rewarded.
I too receive Jesus’ truth about my life—that my gender in no way constrains my voice. I receive Christ’s forgiveness for doing God a disservice by focusing more on gender constraints than on my freedom. Christ has offered me living water, so that I might never thirst. As a woman, I must know that with the living water comes freedom that may be frightening. This kind of freedom exponentially surpasses the limitations of this world that are placed on me. The question now is, what will I do with my freedom?
To discover the insurmountable freedom I have in Christ is not enough. As the woman at the well did so fearlessly, I refuse to complacently live a life of constraints. I commit to freeing others from these constraints as well.
Remembering the time when my roommate found me in the library and asked me the question, “We were just talking about what we would be like without any constraints, and I wondered, what would you be like without any constraints?,” I can only be grateful. What a thought provoking question! What truth has arisen as a result! It is my hope that next time she finds me in the library she will say something like this: “We were just talking about what we would be like without being confined by gender prejudice. And we thought of you.”