A Call to Womanhood: Discernment

Dig in, Sisters. (photo found here)

Over the next year I will write a series of essays under the title of, A Call to Womanhood. Ruminations on the simple and complex. Thoughts about modesty, sex, gender roles, learning to drive in high heels and making our voices heard. Read the first post here.

I hope you join the discussion. I hope this becomes a place of further enlightenment. You all have so much to teach me.

I used to say that women could have it all.

I don’t know where I first heard that phrase. Perhaps one of my teachers or a book or a particularly prone to cliché episode of Oprah. I do know upon hearing it, I believed it. I suppose I thought that to believe anything different was to believe something less. And I would not be found believing in less. I wasn’t the only disciple of the pursuit of everything. I read earnest tracts and listened to assured lectures that told me that “having it all” was a birthright of my generation. It was the pot of porridge for which the women before me had marched, sacrificed and battled in the home and office. I wanted to be worthy of my birthright. I wanted to become the woman I had been taught it was my duty to become.  And I wanted all my sisters in arms to do the same. So I spouted my ideal through high school, argued it in classrooms in college, entered marriage with it held high in my fist and walked dazedly through the first parts of motherhood with it tied around my finger.

And then, as with all false things, the time came for me to realize it simply wasn’t true. For a great while, I thought I didn’t “have it all”, simply because I wasn’t trying hard enough. Surely, if I just worked more diligently I would find a way to make motherhood, political awareness, wifedom, travel, writing, perfect housekeeping, activism, faithful service to the Lord, perky breasts and thin body, interior design, local eating, organization, creative space, balanced budgets, garland bedecked party throwing, demanding career, advanced education, culinary mastery and straight teethed smiles compatible with one another. So I worked harder. And stayed up later. And cried more. And everything – all those things that I thought living could not live without - crowded in on me, each one demanding its turn.

I couldn’t breathe.

I thought at first that there must be something wrong with me. Perhaps women truly could “have it all” as long as they weren’t women like me. Perhaps I was one of “those” women, the ones I was taught about in college classrooms. The women that welcomed oppression and mediocrity in high heels and lipstick. Of course, I had heard of women like that, but had never met any. It occurred to me that I had, really, only met women more or less like me. Women that wanted to find a place, wanted to know their value, wanted to create something good with their time here. And then slowly, ever so slowly, I realized that not everything taught in the approved canon of womanhood was sacred. I discovered that there were things I can question and in the questioning I can find truth.

So, at the risk of accusations of heresy, I offer one of my dearest found and hardest fought verities. The worth of the feminine life is not in her ability to have, do or be everything. This pursuit of complete attainment is not only not required of us, it is, in fact, a fool’s errand. And we are not fools. No, as women we are given a much deeper and, at times, much more difficult task.

We are asked to choose.

That choice is our true birthright as women. We have been given the charge to choose what matters, delights and sustains. And then we get to leave the rest - perhaps just for now, perhaps for good.

Sisters, we have been sat at a great feast, with platters of gold filled with diverse foods that are delightful and bitter and sweet and distasteful and savory and filling. Any simpleton can grab at the platters and rip at the centerpieces until their plate overflows with bits and pieces of the great offering. Any animal can eat the good and the bad and the better without discernment. It takes patience and understanding to approach the meal course by course. It takes restraint to eat when hungry and to stop when satisfied. It takes a true connoisseur to understand palate and pairings, to find the coq a vin behind the over-baked macaroni and cheese.

It takes a woman.