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May 28, 2021

Why Being a Strong Woman Is Not Enough

Strong woman. -This term is thrown about so much that I’m even a little sick of hearing it.

Were the pioneer women, the immigrant women, the slave women who are the foundation of this country, who built this country with their raw, bare hands, not strong women? What does a strong woman mean anyway?

All this may sound ironic coming from a woman who touts strength. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these women were strong. My great-grandmother, born in the late 1890s was one of the strongest women I know.

Yet women of her era were undervalued, their strength taken for granted. Still, despite birthing babies with no assistance, toiling the land, washing clothes with no washing machine, and tending to their sick, women have been seen as the weaker sex.

Now, in this modern world, we are “strong” with our words. We use our keyboards and phones. Our fingers touch buttons to get things done for us. Where, in fact, is the strength? Could any one of us strong women survive a day in the life of a woman born hundreds of years ago?

I don’t believe that feminine traits- empathy, vulnerability, listening are weak. I believe that both masculine and feminine energy is necessary to make this world go round.

But yet we do still fight. We fight the inequality, we fight being paid less for the same job. But are we really strong? What then does that mean if the women before us were even stronger? Is strong enough? Whew!! So many questions swirling around my mind this week.

More questions- in addition to being strong, can we be well-rounded? Can we be women of integrity? Can we honor our feminity and our intelligence?

Can we let go of the cliched image of a strong woman, because when we try to emulate her, we fall short. Because sometimes the phrase is not a complimentary one, but one that celebrates a woman’s ability to put up with things she should not- questioning her need to change when she really should. Being strong doesn’t mean accepting the unacceptable. When we say a woman is strong, it can also sound like “meh, it’s fine, she can handle it” when maybe she really shouldn’t be handling it- when maybe she should be allowing herself grace to slump under the burden and ask for help.

Strength is not about carrying more. It is not a challenge and it is not a badge and it is not masculine. When we use the term strong female or strong woman it indicates that she is an anomaly- not like other women. We don’t say strong man unless we are referring to his unique or increased physical strength. And yet, I do want to see myself and other women I admire as strong.

What we need to strive for is wisdom and discernment- those aren’t flashy sexy words, like strong. That’s not clickbait for sure, but if you want to know what I’m praying for, it’s wisdom. Strength is a moment-by-moment choice. But wisdom? That needs to be cultivated and forged. That takes some real intention.

Strength without wisdom has no foundation in my opinion.

So, as I tout strength, I am at the same time seeking to understand it better.

To use an athlete’s analogy, bodybuilders appear on the outside to be the strongest among us. The diameter of their biceps and quads are impressive. Their ability to push a weight against gravity is unparalleled but rarely do they compete in anything other than a unilateral lifting of a super heavyweight. There is no knowledge in their muscle memory of how to pivot and shift outside of its line of movement as the weight moves. There is no flexibility in their strength. The compensatory muscles are often ignored in a quest to push the weight in a singular direction.

I hope you get what I’m talking about. Pushing a singular weight in a unilateral direction is what women do when they are just trying to survive and often that is touted as strength. Don’t get me wrong, it does take a lot of strength to hoist that weight. And it can be overwhelming and exhausting.

But although impressive and honorable to heave that much weight, I think God has something more for our lives. He wants us to develop a different kind of strong where we learn to pivot and bend, demonstrate flexibility as we move boulders. And to me, that looks like wisdom.

As I have pondered the woman I want to become, which I do often and I hope you do too, I think of what qualities I want to ask God to cultivate in my life and I keep coming back to wisdom. I have been praying for wisdom for years and suspect that I will until my dying day.

A little basketball player may not seem so strong, but in any other athletic competition, he will outperform and outlast a bodybuilder any day of the year.

We don’t need to look strong to be strong, we just need to practice carrying our weight in all the different ways, with the wisdom of when to pass the ball and to whom, with the discernment that sees steps beyond our next move.

True strength is not loud, but it roars in its own kind of impenetrable way. It’s not afraid to yell but never chooses it as the first line of defense.

So, how do you gain wisdom?

1. True wisdom is not close-minded. Remember all the questions I asked at the beginning of this episode? Consider other perspectives as possible truth in order to increase wisdom. Being close-minded leaves us completely ignorant, blind, to the best path. Wisdom is open to all possibilities and considers every angle before coming to a conclusion. So as you think about what you believe to be true- as you think of options when you are decision making, be aware of the ideas that you quickly dismiss without consideration. Dig a little deeper and ask yourself why? Sometimes we are programmed early in life to believe a certain thing or a certain way. Challenge yourself. Know why you believe what you do and you will believe it more deeply.

2. Release your fear of mistakes. I once heard that someone was asking their mentor, “how do I get over my past mistakes.” And he said, “ Focus on making new ones. That helps.” The truth is that you have many more mistakes to make and you will for the rest of your life. We become paralyzed when we allow ourselves to do nothing in fear of making a mistake.

There is a quote that says “The woman who made no mistakes never made anything.” I made some liberties with that quote, but Theodore Roosevelt said it first about a man.

And unfortunately, this is the truth. Wisdom is certainly gained from the lessons learned through our failures – and why we should honor them as the skilled professor that they are. I share my wins and fails as a practice of accountability for forced reflection and to help you as you honor yours.

3. Seek God for wisdom. I used to be afraid of asking for things like wisdom, increased faith, even strength, because I worried that God would put more difficulty in my path to help create that. But this was an immature line of thought. The difficulty is not the only way that wisdom is developed and if you desire it, I suggest you ask God for it.

4. Learn yourself first. Before you set out to impart your wisdom, get to know yourself deeply. Who are you? What drives you? What things are good and what things are detrimental to you? What are your strengths and what are your deficits? What are your passions and what motivates you? Knowing yourself better sets a firmer foundation for all of your other wisdom. Without self-reflection, we miss a lot of cues in our environment that help us to make wise choices.

So let’s not shout out our indignation to the world, although I do believe there is a time and place for that. Let’s go inward and find a different kind of strength- one steeped in the wisdom of the ages. One that will see the course. One that knows when to rest and when to push, when to confront and when to stay silent. A wisdom that can pivot with weight and not break.

May we be women of quiet strength who can recognize the value of an internal holding up and not be swayed by the lure of an external display of force.

You’ve got this!

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