You are married and single, career women, homeschooling and full-time working mothers, grad students, professional counselors, church and ministry leaders, supermoms and supergrandmoms, and homemakers extraordinaire.
You are the "everywoman" in the church pew, and last week when I posted on how it feels to be an Atypical woman in the pew, you responded. What you said in the comments section and the church hallways surprised me.
It isn't just the single and the childless who often feel the sting of not fitting in when they approach the church doors. It's all of us. Whether you fit into a church's biggest demographic or not. Whether you are young or old. Whether you have ankle-biters pulling on your yoga pants or a boss pushing you to work 50 hours a week. You feel it. But like me, I don't think you talk about it much.
I think Pam described the problem best:
You asked what the church might start doing differently to welcome every woman. One thing is to stop pitting us against each other by emphasizing how we're different. I may have more in common with scholars and career women than with a homeschooling mother of six, but I know I have much to learn from her--and perhaps she might gain from that interaction as well. But as long as churches define womanhood narrowly by marital/parental/career status, we will always be at odds with those whose situations are different from our own.
Despite all those differences, we still share so much in common. What we really need is the support of other women, but we won't be able to give our sisters that support if we can't get past those differences.
In Anne Jackson's honest (and frankly tear-provoking) book and website about the church, Permission to Speak Freely, she talks about the "gift of going second." I wonder what would happen if we as women in the church approached other women who are probably feeling alone as well and started a conversation. Any conversation. If we opened up, perhaps they would follow.
If our Bible studies and outreaches were designed to help us find common ground, if leaders got up and talked very openly about their struggles to fit in and to be a part of a diverse community, to make the church a place where we live, eat, and breathe together, things can change.
This is the vision Jesus had for all of his daughters and for the church as the whole. Sometimes we will have to do parts of our lives alone, but I believe the church was and is God's answer to loneliness. We just have to start acting like it, with the Holy Spirit's help.
I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder when I attended last weekend's women's ministry retreat. My demeanor changed when the speaker, a woman who is so put together and seemingly perfect, started talking about periods of deep heartbreak, temptations to sin, and a God who is constant through it all. I led the discussion around my table with five women at completely different places in life, and one woman, with whom I outwardly appear to have nothing in common, encouraged me the most. Barb was quiet and unassuming, a servant with a deep joy behind her eyes that gives hope to all who come in contact with her. I'd never have met her otherwise. And that, sisters, would have been a real shame.
What are you willing to risk to reach out to other women at church? What might that look like? Let's keep the conversation going.