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Feminine Role Models

A guest post by Karen Kovaka.
Karen is the author of the blog Rhetorical Response where she discusses worldview, literature, apologetics, and effective communication. She currently lives with her family in Indiana.

Christianity is beautiful because it can provide adequate answers to man’s most troubling questions. When people ask, “What is my purpose in life?” Christianity answers, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Living the Christian life is as difficult and as simple as glorifying God and enjoying him forever. Fulfilling this purpose takes three distinct forms: bringing glory to God on the level of humanity, on the level of masculinity and femininity, and on the level of individual gifts and talents. Here, my concern is with glorifying God by developing biblical femininity.

A large part of the way in which Christian women fulfill their purpose in life is by exhibiting biblical femininity. Femininity (and masculinity, too) means becoming a person who truly does live to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The issue at stake is nothing less than that of fulfilling the purpose for which God created us. Its importance is vital, tremendous, and comprehensive.

As with anything of great importance, the enemy tries to distort the meaning of femininity by encouraging extremes, by convincing women and girls that appearances are more important than character, and by distracting our focus. The result is that it’s hard for us to know what femininity really is, much less to develop the characteristics of a woman of God. We yearn to be women, in the truest sense of the word, but the essence of womanhood, or femininity, is elusive.

So what do we do? How do we capture a clear vision of womanhood that we can follow with our whole selves? We do a lot of things. We pray; we search the Bible; we learn from others. I suspect we all have role models as well. These role models, be they historical women, famous women, or women in our own homes, teach us, by example, what it means to be truly feminine. I know that God has placed in our hearts a desire to be feminine, and I believe that because of this desire, our souls give a cry of delight when they encounter an example of true femininity. When we meet or hear of someone whose life shows what it is to be a woman of God, something inside of us recognizes it and responds to it. We identify with women who are feminine, and we long to be like them.

If we can understand this truth, we can be more intentional in our quest to become godly women. We can discover what it is about our role models that draws us to them, and with this knowledge, we can seek to develop those same qualities in our own lives. I admire many, many women, but there are three in particular who have showed me the true essence of womanhood: Phyllis Wheatley, Sacagawea, and Edith Schaeffer.

The first is the African-American poet, Phyllis Wheatley. At the age of eight, Phyllis was brought from Africa to America and enslaved. She was a slave for almost her whole life, and never enjoyed formal education, yet she became a poet. In fact, she became America’s first great black writer. Her talent was so great that George Washington himself recognized her work.

I admire Phyllis Wheatley because she chose beauty over bitterness. She endured unjust slavery and deprivation and had every right to be angry with her captors, but instead, she chose to trust in God’s sovereign control and to demonstrate forgiveness. In one of her poems, called On being brought from American to Africa, Phyllis wrote,

“Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither fought or knew,
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”
Phyllis refused to surrender to the oppression of bitterness. Rather, she chose to cling to beauty, and so made her life meaningful and praiseworthy.

As a result of this choice, Phyllis became a true cultural influence in her world. Her poems inspired the men and women of her time to honor God and to value truth and freedom. Even over two hundred years after her death, her poems have not become obscure. She chose to accept the position in which God placed her, and he glorified her because of her faith. Phyllis probably accomplished more in her lifetime than any other colonial American slave, all because she chose forgiveness and beauty over bitterness.

The Shoshone Indian woman Sacagawea is another of my role models. Like Phyllis Wheatley, Sacagawea was taken from her home at a young age. Due to a conflict, a neighboring tribe kidnapped Sacagawea from her village. Separated from her family for years, she later married a Frenchman, Toussaint Charbonneau, and eventually joined the Lewis and Clark expedition with her husband. While traveling with the expedition, she gave birth to a child, guided the explorers, salvaged many of their medical supplies when one of their boats capsized, and helped Lewis and Clark negotiate with various Indian tribes.

Throughout her life, Sacagawea demonstrated incredible womanly courage and calmness. She faced dangerous and tragic circumstances and met each one with fearlessness. She impressed all the men on the Lewis and Clark expedition with her bravery. Her courage was never mannish or vulgar; she united fortitude and ability with perfect womanly grace. As this courage made her calm during tense situations, she became an invaluable resource to Lewis and Clark as they explored the Louisiana Purchase.

A third woman whom I admire is Edith Schaeffer, the wife of the great apologist Francis Schaeffer. Edith was unfailingly devoted both to her husband and to intellectual excellence. Her commitment to these two things made her life a shining example of biblical femininity.

From the early days of their marriage, Edith supported Francis’ ministry however she could. When Francis was sick, she took notes of his college classes. She lived in a tiny, stifling apartment, and helped earn money as Francis finished his seminary training. She assisted her husband in creating evangelistic children’s programs, and when he decided to move from America to Switzerland and become a missionary, she went gladly. Edith raised four children while supporting Francis’ missionary efforts. As the Schaeffer’s ministry grew, Edith found herself keeping house, not only for her own family, but for the numerous unexpected guests who visited their “shelter,” L’Abri, for spiritual guidance. Edith was a hard worker and a devoted wife, but she was also committed to intellectual excellence. She often found herself discussing complex philosophical issues with young college women while shelling peas for supper. Edith enabled her husband to have one of the greatest Christian ministries of the twentieth century because of her devotion to him and her commitment to education. While her mind was invariable intellectual, her heart was unwaveringly womanly.

These are the women – Phyllis Wheatley, Sacagawea, and Edith Schaeffer – who have shown me what it is to be feminine. These are the qualities – love of beauty, cultural influence, courage, calmness, devotion, and intelligence – which have shaped my understanding of the essence of womanhood. This is the foundation on which I have built my conception of the godly woman. Because it helps me fulfill my God-given purpose, this foundation is vital to who I am and to what I do

As a human being created in God’s image, I glorify my Lord by behaving like an image bearer. As an individual who possesses God-given talents and abilities, I demonstrate the Lord’s grace and glory by doing my utmost to develop his gifts. As a female, I desire to reflect God’s character by living as a true woman ought. To realize this desire, I look to the example of women who have already modeled femininity in their own lives.

Beautiful post, Karen!

Phyllis Wheatley especially intrigued me and I'm looking forward to researching and learning more about her.

When we meet or hear of someone whose life shows what it is to be a woman of God, something inside of us recognizes it and responds to it. We identify with women who are feminine, and we long to be like them.

Thank you, Karen, for this post. I enjoyed reading it!

What an encouragement! Thank you, Karen.

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