The Aggressive Christian Woman

If you’re not part of the evangelical Christian community (I’m a survivor of it), then no doubt you look at the title and think, “Aggressive Christian woman? They’re all aggressive, male and female. Look at the tea partiers.”

This post has nothing to do with tea party politics, and come to think of it, beautiful things like tea parties need to be disassociated with politics. Tea by the Sea by Steve Henderson

I’m sorry. This post won’t make sense to you.

But if you do live within the cultural boundaries of evangelical Christianity, and you’re a woman, then you’ve probably heard the term “gentle spirit.”

If you’re like me – outspoken, analytical, a little pushy, ambitious, dreaming dreams that you want to see come true – then you’ve battled with that term because, deep down, you know that you’re not submissive, meek, gentle, self-deprecating, and fully “under the authority of your husband” – all vague mandates that, despite it being the 21st century and not the 17th, contemporary evangelical Christian women labor under the burden of fulfilling.

Everyone, male and female, harbors a natural sense of aggression – in even the meekest of the gentle spirit meek it comes out when someone pushes your three-year-old into the sand box – and it’s time to admit that it’s okay, as a Christian woman, to be aggressive. Wanting something, asserting yourself, standing up to a male, any male and including your husband, doesn’t make you a bad Christian.

Just as there are many types of homes, there are many, many types of homemakers, from the traditional to the contemporaneous. Bayside by Steve Henderson

I bring this up because I have transitioned from being my generation’s idea of the proper Christian homemaker – wife at home, full time; husband at work, full time – dinner on the table by five, house tidy, kids scrubbed clean – to running a business with my partner in life.

In order for this situation to work, I had to alter my notions about what it meant to be the “wife” part of the Christian marriage, and it helps that I never bought into the system in the first place. Although for years I felt sadly lacking as an official Christian wife, I never did defer to my Norwegian Artist’s every judgment (nor did he expect me to) or wait for his every pronouncement before echoing and embracing it.

We always ran our marriage as equals, which goes far in explaining why we never fit in to the conventional evangelical paradigm. My ambitions exceeded being named deaconess of baby showers and table centerpieces. I was too forward, too outspoken, too questioning, too unwilling to accept any one’s word – other than God’s – as law.

Does this sound harsh?

It is actually gentler, kinder than the unseen strictures placed upon many women of faith, many of whom, like me, are intelligent, articulate, aggressive. We have strong ideas of places we want to go and things we want to do, with our husbands and with our children, and without the unseen, unspoken, undefined but very real fetters placed upon us by breathy-voiced women’s seminar speakers, shepherds from the pulpit, and the nebulous community itself.

"Gentle" and "weak" are not synonyms. It takes great strength to be the woman that we are uniquely meant to be. Riverside Muse by Steve Henderson

A gentle spirit is not the unique province of woman alone – and I speak as an outsider, who was formerly an insider, of the evangelical Christian lifestyle. We are all – male and female – called to be servants of one another, loving our neighbor as ourselves, putting the needs of others before our own.

And we all – male and female – have an assertiveness, confidence, aggression, and boldness that is not evil, but natural. Like any natural tendency, it can go too far, but not going far enough is just as bad.

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
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39 Responses to The Aggressive Christian Woman

  1. kzackuslheureux says:

    I like you! I imagine from you post, we’ve grown up in similar backgrounds, and just like you, I take no bullying, unless our good Lord needs to put me in my place. Best Regards! ~KL

    • Thank you. Our good Lord is very good — and gentle — about nudging and directing us toward the type of people we have the potential to be.

      I’m glad that you stand for no bullying. It took me awhile to recognize some of that bullying for what it is. It is so deceptively benign.

  2. oldswimmer says:

    Ah yes. I tried from about 1963 until about 1980 to put myself in the role assigned by tons of really loveable, godly people who knew that a wife’s place was in submission to her husband, and that she must not teach (unless among her lower peers or children), preach (at all), take the lead in decisions, etc. etc. I even mingled with those who always wore hats in public and who expected to be on one side of the church with the men on the other! I didn’t learn to behave like the required Christian wife easily, nor altogether successfully. I am naturally way too maverick to contain, the Lord knows, and He has bumped my nose with all sorts of things because I didn’t fit into the box properly. That He had to teach me bluntly some serious things caused some of my angst with the rules for females. But it was not submission 101 that He was aiming at. I DID the submission 101 course, but He said I should move on…now that I tried that view.

    Well, He taught me a larger God. He showed me the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. (check it out.) He showed me the wits and wisdom and insights of Esther. And He introduced me to the Marys and the Marthas and the Ruths and the Annas. If one gets past the convenient list of do’s and don’ts prescribed (variously) by certain sections of evangelical Christianity, one learns that it is not by the law on a piece of paper, but by the spirit of Christ that all humans in Christ live.

    My Father has been always there, even when I was pinned to the wall by a dear friend who lovingly told me I was “not repentant enough” for what she saw as grievous error. He knew what she did not, and He knew that I knew. That was enough, I found, and grew because of it. He never said I should live by the conscience of another. He and I understood together that it is MY conscience that is my project, and He “gets” my individuality because He created it!!!

    How big is your God? Mine gets bigger all the time, and He stays consistent at the same time. It’s our own minds that need stretching, and we need to see that the truth that makes one free is truly liberating! It’s HUGE!

    Thanks, Carolyn, for bringing up this subject, dear to my heart.

    PS: No one worships a doormat, she proclaimed, stamping her feet!!!! 🙂

    • Susan: This is beautiful, an essay in itself.

      I love that: “How big is your God? Mine gets bigger all the time, and He stays consistent at the same time.”

      Wise words that I take deeply to heart.

    • Love your observations and love that you are seeking to know the true God, and you’re willing to NOT fit in with the expectations of well-meaning people. Wow, you’ve come a LONG way! We, Christians, love to TRY to put God in a box. He just won’t fit. Oh how glad I am! I need an infinite, unchangeable God!!!!!! Gods who fit in boxes are idols and are, quite frankly, impotent. I need the God who is unfathomable, completely trustworthy, faithful and Higher than the Heavens.

      May Yahweh Ropheka (our healer and restorer) continue to heal your body, and fill you with all wisdom and spiritual understanding so that you may know the depths of His love.

      • oldswimmer says:

        Alecia, I am so encouraged by your comment. Thank you… I feel you “rooting for me” in my current trudge (step…step). It is wonderful, isn’t it, to find fellow travelers among the folks around you? You will know they are Christians by their love, right? 🙂

  3. Dianne says:

    Amen to that! If one is going to be a Christian, one has to step up to the line and demonstrate it, in a “Christianly manner”. You are not a subset. You cannot stand in anyone’s shadow if you are to stand for good.

    • Dianne: There is much freedom in Christ — we talk about it all the time, but I think that a lot of people are afraid of it. So much easier and more comfortable to fall in line with the rules and do what you are told.

      As Susan says in her comment, God is always pulling us forward, prodding us on, walking beside us at a pace that we think we can’t meet, but we can.

  4. Tammy says:

    I agree completely and I am so happy that you aren’t willing to comply to the popular cultural Christian view of what women should be. God has made you unique and beautiful and I’m thrilled you aren’t hiding your personality and gifts in a box. The world and your friends and family would really be missing out!

    • Thank you, Tammy. Being away from the fray, experiencing some solitude that at first was agonizing but grew to be a gift, has enabled me to ponder, question, think, dream, imagine, wonder, and rest.

    • Yes! Yes! I echo that. I love that God has given us the freedom to be unique, while simultaneously calling us to live a life that is holy and pleasing to Him.

  5. WOW, Carolyn, I love what you have to say…..for some reason, why I’m not sure, my posts don’t seem to make it to you. This is the second time–remember when I tried posting from White Castle while waiting for my son to get his requisite weekly junk food??? And last night I wrote at length, a well thought out response to your essay. It didn’t make it from the iPhone to the blog (but I did have close to 3 glasses of wine–naughty Christian woman that I am :). I had reason to attempt to quell my pain–my beautiful dog was just diagnosed with cancer–cancer throughout his wonderful body. I don’t understand many things of the Lord and His ways. But I do know that all things work together for good for those who love Him….and I know we all do….at least the women here making comments on you blog. We are painters, writers–mostly artistic types and we don’t fit neatly into a box. I have struggled for years to feel like I “fit in” in Christian circles. I was aggressive, swore way too much, and didn’t spend daily quiet time with the Lord everyday. But I know that God called all of us to Him so that we could proclaim His goodness to those who don’t know Him. It takes all kinds and I sort of think that funky, raggedy Christians like me invite funky, raggedy lost people to know the Love He has for us all. I used to think only the weirdos (wearing white socks in the 60s) were the people cut out for this faith of ours. I now know that to be an outright lie. God loves spunky women who aren’t always perfectly submissive (did I say “always”? i don’t think I have ever been submissive) and longs to mold us in His image. We invite types who wouldn’t otherwise come to the faith. It is a daily process as we work towards being more and more Christ-like and I think I am growing…growing as a Christian woman, growing as a wife, mother, daughter and friend and most of all growing in my faith. I just don’t know how to handle the pain of watching my dog die…….In Him, Melissa

    • Hi, Melissa: I love your thoughts and analysis — an interesting point about many aggressive women being creative ones. We push ourselves, move forward, and then stop in surprise when the people around stop and stare, mouths open, expressions askance.

      “Did I do something wrong . . . again?” we’re tempted to ask.

      You know that term, “Quiet time with the Lord”? I hate it. I’ve been bludgeoned by it for years, and yet, ironically, I spend much quiet, reflective time in His presence, every fiber of my being just longing to understand what He’s trying to say. In and out throughout the day I talk with Him; stop, bring my directional mind back to north; block out the white noise and truly try to understand some very difficult, very foreign concepts.

      Reminds me sometimes of my days in high school trig class. So much to absorb, and most of it leaks out before the next chapter.

      I love your posts and your comments. You have a fun, open attitude that shines like a beacon through your writing.

      • Carolyn,
        Thank you for appreciating my words…..I love to write….and have always been an unfiltered sort of “out-there” type…..I wonder why I feel (and you said this, too, above): “did I do something wrong….again?” TELL ME!! I feel like that often. Maybe because we just are so different from the masses (I mean, I have the audacity to tweet about my disdain of Barrack Obama when it is not the politically correct posture to do so especially in the arts–obviously no way to make friends and influence people but sometimes I just don’t care!!! Our country is going to hell). My son’s friend’s mother told me last night that I have a gift that is one in a million! When I queried her further she said, “…it’s just your personality, Melissa. You are so gregarious and real and you have passed that on to your darling boy.” That warmed my heart when it needed warming. Why? I wonder, do I need to endure experiencing another painful loved one die? If they need to die, why can’t they just fall over into the arms of Christ, not shrink away, mentally and physically while I watch and wait, the rest of the family working and playing and castigating me for “dramatizing” things as usual. Why? Where and how, I wonder, is this middle-aged woman (me) supposed to use her gifts? How can I affect the world with goodness, love and light? xx

        • These are valuable questions, Melissa — deep, thought provoking ones that will not be simply encapsulated in one experience or sentence. The answers come day by day, gently, as Christ molds and shapes you through your thoughts, desires, hopes, fears, sadnesses, actions, desires, hopes. It is our willingness to listen, our desire to change, than enables Him to work in us. Mere words are difficult to get this across, perhaps because I grasp and work with these very same issue — “Where and how, I wonder, is this middle-aged woman supposed to use her gifts?”

          Trust Him that He is showing you what to do now, and training you what to do for the future.

    • Melissa, I pray that the Lord would comfort you as you walk through the pain of watching your dog die. I am asking our compassionate and loving God to show mercy on your dog. He knows what that looks like. I don’t. I pray that you would experience deeper depths of His love as you walk through the valley and shadow of death, because He is near to the broken hearted.

      • oh, my, Alecia…THANK YOU FOR THOSE WORDS! You have me weeping with the deep-rooted knowing that God is Good and this world is so so tough. I think what delights me most is knowing that the communion of saints–with my friends who love the Lord (and even those that don’t know Him yet but will) is the connection that drives us, thrills me, gives me joy; for it is in understanding the connectedness of us all, God’s children, who sustains us, is what makes the world and her people, His people, so beautiful. We can share our joys and our pain.
        Excuse me. I can’t write a coherent sentence. FINALLY TALKED TO MY VET….not just the internist. My baby has a few weeks at best and she said when she saw him two weeks ago that he was experiencing some discomfort. She wants me to start on prednisone and a pain med asap. Oh, Lord……here we go…..but this weekend, we are taking our boy to our summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, the place that he loves more than anything, to celebrate Easter, likely for his last time. Do you think it’s bad that he sees me cry? I should say, hyperventilate, when I love on him???

      • oh, i forgot to tell you all my new blog chronically the journey of letting go of the beautiful dog:
        http://www.thezoltonchronicles.wordpress.com

        i’m just starting it but it is hopefully going to continue after my baby passes (into the arms of Jesus, I hope and pray, as well as into the arms of my father, who loved him immensely and has also just passed). The reason I started writing, beyond it being a way for me to have some sort of catharsis, was that there is such a void on this stuff–the decline–on the internet! I couldn’t reach my vet for 4 days and was simply looking for answers….and I’m afraid. xx

        • My sweet friend, though I’m not a “pet person”, my family and experienced the loss of our long time pet, Jentleman a little over a year ago. You reminded me when my 6’2″, big 15 year old completely broke down wailing when we found that Jentleman had passed. He was completely broken. It breaks my heart to think of it. And I am absolutely convinced that God is near you all. We felt the grace of God is such an amazing way. Our dog died right after the death of two family members. One week, my husband’s grandfather died. While at his funeral my aunt died. And then a week later our dog died. I literally felt like I was in the middle of a bad country western song. 🙂 Because we had such amazing peace through it all. It was so unbelievable! I kept wondering if I was in some kind of shock or something. We all just felt, “covered”. It was hard, but soooo good. I experienced God in ways I had never known Him in the past. So I pray that for you. May you feel “covered”. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

  6. oldswimmer says:

    Sometimes the quiet time with the Lord is arranged for us… and we think it’s a penalty. But it’s not! I’ve spent four months mostly in bed, looking up. This has been an instructive time for me, even though I whined quite a lot. I have had enforced meditation! And I will long for that kind of opportunity in the future, I am certain. Being ill is no fun, but it sometimes serves a very good purpose.
    Thanks for the nice comments on my comments. I am wordy, I know, but the inner thunderbolt just breaks out, y’know?

    • You are not wordy, my friend. “Wordy” happens in college English essay exams, in which the students throws out as many words and concepts as he can in order to, hopefully, touch bases somewhere on the “right” answer.

      Your words are carefully chosen, your thoughts cohesive, your observations well worth reading and digesting.

      I hope that your health improves, and I pray for patience, perseverance, acceptance, trust, and hope in the process.

  7. Wow, what a GREAT subject! Thanks for bringing it up. I love that you, and others have acknowledged that only God’s word matters. Absolutely! I am on a journey myself, of letting go of what I’ve been taught, and asking God to teach, and even re-teach me. Many things He’s confirmed, but taken me MUCH DEEPER. Other teachings, He’s exposing to be cultural expressions of following Him. Not bad, but not the only way to express love and devotion to the One True God. We do have to be careful when we start taking God’s word and creating rules from them. We turn into Pharisees who pick and choose what we will obey. We major in some things, minor in others, and completely ignore others. I’m guilty. So are you. It’s our humanity. Yet, when the Holy Spirit exposes this hypocrisy, as Jesus did to the Pharisees, how do we respond? Hopefully, we ask for forgiveness and receive the complete forgiveness from our Lord. If we’re like the Pharisees, we ignore, make excuses, get mad, or whatever… I pray daily that my heart might be teachable enough to receive God’s best for me.

    So I want to venture into this discussion with a different perspective. God’s word says we are to submit to our husbands, to the authorities placed over us, and to each other. I never liked the word (submission), nor the teachings either, because I’ve always been strong and independent. (I still am) My Dad treated my mom like a doormat, and I vowed never to allow anyone to treat me like that. So early in my marriage I told my husband, ” I know the Bible said I’m supposed to submit to you, but I can’t do it.” Oh, my! Why did I say that? I think God commissioned a whole team of angels to work on me. And long story, made extremely short, now, I absolutely LOVE submitting to my husband. (Most of the time. I’m still human. :o) )

    What does submission look like? Jesus. Jesus submitted Himself completely to His Father’s commands, purposes, and plans. Perfectly, and completely. He wasn’t a doormat. That’s passive. That looks like a nervous little mouse, trembling in a corner. He was powerful! He was powerful BECAUSE He submitted to the Father. We are POWERFUL when we submit to our Heavenly Father. His commands to us are to bring blessing into our lives. Not to handcuff us. Not to put a foot on our necks. He commands us to submit to the authorities that he placed over us, and yes, that means our husbands. I know you’re rolling your eyes. I used to feel the same way. Believe me! My husband can tell you some stories! I could say more, but if you’d like to respectfully dialogue, e-mail me @ instrumentofgrace@yahoo.com.

    Find out what God says about submission for yourself. Read about the life of Jesus, particularly the gospel of John. Judge for yourself, and come with an open heart and mind asking God to teach you. But I have to warn you, you won’t grow unless you’re willing to let go of what you think know. That’s the hard part. Letting go, so that you can receive something FAR BETTER.

    By the way, I can’t leave the discussion without mentioning the following scripture from God’s word:

    Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

    Either you believe it all of God’s word, or we reject all of God’s word. I choose to believe, for His word brings me life! Blessings to you all!

    • Alecia: the beauty about our individual walk with Christ is that it doesn’t look like anyone else’s. Through the years, people have looked at me and made the judgment that, because I don’t look like I submit to my husband the way they think that I should, then I’m not submitting to him. I do. He’s my equal; he’s my partner — he’s my Adam to his Eve. We walk this journey together, side by side, with Christ in the middle fusing us together into one.

      On a companion site — http://middleagedplague.areavoices.com/2012/03/29/the-aggressive-christian-woman/ — reader Lori Woodward brought out something absolutely brilliant about the whole Ephesian thing, which, in my experience and that of many a woman, usually stops with Ephesians 5:22 and ignores that there is also an Ephesians 5:25. Here’s an excerpt:

      “Lastly, when it says that husbands should love their wives enough to give up their lives for them… I don’t think it means “die” necessarily. Husbands will often readily state that they will gladly die for their wives, but once during a Bible study, I mentioned that it said, give up their lives…. Christ gave up his life too, in that he lived a life he did not deserve for us. Anyway, when I asked the husbands of the group.. What things in your life would you give up in order to better love your wife… There was complete silence until one guy said, “I feel so convicted”.”

      Absolutely brilliant.

      • Great, great observations Carolyn!!!! The only reason I pointed out that one verse, is because we were specifically talking about women. I just wanted to make the point that women submitting isn’t something men came up with to keep women “down”, it’s God’s idea. Just like my husband cannot make me submit to him, I can’t make him love me as Christ loves the church. He chooses to love me that way. And I am so blessed that he does.

        And I’ll tell you that what often looks like submission isn’t. Wearing Little-House-On-the-prairie clothes doesn’t make you submissive. Looking docile, and not expressing an opinion doesn’t make you submissive either. I’ve seen that, and believe me it’s not submission. My mom was that woman, and she was extremely manipulative and she undermined my dad continually. But never in front of him directly. Always behind his back. Yet, she looked submissive.

        People tend to be Pharisees. We judge people by outward standards. That’s dangerous because we become like the pharisees. We become overly obsessed with appearances, or “looking” godly based on man-made standards. (Remember the Pharisees were the ones who came up with the rules that determined if one was “keeping” the law.) Jesus refused to follow their man-made traditions. We, too, should at least be asking questions about our traditions. Especially, if we are more concerned about impressing people, than pleasing God. On the other hand, we don’t want to go about pleasing ourselves either. That’s wrong. It’s about pleasing God. That’s the path to blessings, and Jesus clearly demonstrated this attitude.

        Submission is an attitude of the heart. It is the heart of Jesus. It expresses itself through love and service. It’s an attitude that thinks of itself last because we are promised that God will take care of us. The God of the Universe is our advocate and He will fight on our behalf. So that leaves me free to love, and to be loved.

        So, I guess I end with this. I know its already long, but please indulge me just a few more sentences. I am fully confident that if we make the decision to be fully obedient to God in this matter of submission, the Holy Spirit will teach you what that looks like in your life. You won’t do it perfectly. NO ONE DOES. God is pleased with a heart that desires to obey him no matter what. Even if its uncomfortable. Even if that means he changes my whole paradigm. Personally, I’ve committed to bow my knees to the King of Kings. He’s my Father, and He knows what’s best for me, and He promises to take perfect care of me.

        So I trust him.

        Love and blessings,

        • An astute observation, Alecia, about the manipulation, and how one can look like one is sweet and gentle and meek, and yet pulling strings. I think it’s a way that many women use to get around the browbeating of the verse in question, as opposed to reading the verse for themselves and coming to an understanding of what it means based upon their intelligence and analysis. And it will probably mean differently from what many of them have been told.

          I love the part in Peter (somewhere) when he describes Paul’s writings as difficult and easily mis-applied. I also love Paul’s words that we are to examine everything he says and not accept it without question. If only more people would do that with the words they hear every week from the pulpit!

          Interesting how much freedom Christ gives us, and how it takes more work and effort to use that freedom wisely as opposed to slavishly following other people’s rules. It’s quite a journey, isn’t it?

          • oldswimmer says:

            Carolyn, you remind us: “…I love the part in Peter (somewhere) when he describes Paul’s writings as difficult and easily mis-applied. I also love Paul’s words that we are to examine everything he says and not accept it without question. …”

            Hear Hear.
            We humans so often set our eyes upon specialty verses and major in those to the neglect of the rest of the whole counsel of Scripture. We forget sometimes to use our heads! Just like the goof-ups our Bible Heroes and Heroines noteably made, we get overbalanced one way or the other and while we try to hide the goofs, the truth does come out eventually. And it humbles us…as Sampson, and Abraham, and David, and Saul (later Paul), and Peter, and Moses…all those guys did some time in shame because they thought they knew the ropes, and found out that though they were self-made specialists in chosen areas, they were really ignorant in others.

            Saul became the instrument of God starting at the moment he was stoning Stephen! And he was stoning Stephen in righteous indignation! Go figure! God is gracious, wise, and patient with us. Merciful. 🙂

  8. cabinart says:

    Loved the post, enjoyed the comments too. Have nothing to add but wanted you to know I’m here, reading, lurking, enjoying!

    • Lurking, Jana? Such a sinister word for such a good, gentle in the good way, honest person.

      I agree with you — the comments are amazing. Strong, honest, deeply sensitive women walking a narrow, difficult path, holding out their hands behind them to draw others to their side.

      • oldswimmer says:

        Carolyn, such a beautiful picture you paint with these words. “…women walking a narrow, difficult path, holding out their hands behind them to draw others to their side.” Hug.

        • Thank you. I feel it more and more, as I scrabble and scrape and push myself up a very steep path. Ahead of me I see a hand that grabs mine and hauls me up. As I rest, I see a hand reaching from below.

          We need each other down here. So very very much.

  9. abbies1mom says:

    ah, thank you sister survivors, all. you gave me a banquet to digest, when i had forgotten i was starving. xo!

  10. Thanks for your honesty with this. Appreciate it when people are honest. Maria, UK (http://womaninlondon.wordpress.com)

    • Thank you, Maria. Honesty’s a tough one, isn’t it, because it leaves us vulnerable to others. But without it, we walk around with plastic shells over our faces. I have read the two articles on your blog, and I commend you for your voice and compassion. Christ wants us to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, but there are a lot of people waiting to knock us down.

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