The Steel in my Back: Strength and the Weaker Vessel

I love strong women! I think they are magnificent testimonies to Christ. Because if they are complementarian – which I hope they are at our church – then they are combining things the world can’t explain. They are combining a sweet, tender, kind, loving, submissive, feminine beauty with this massive steel in their backs and theology in their brains! I grope for ways to celebrate and articulate such magnificence in women. ~ John Piper

Ah, to be that kind of woman! I was not too surprised to find the above quote in a book I’ve been reading, as God has been bringing to my mind the contrast between strength and weakness a lot lately.

I recently had a conversation with a guy friend about the differences between men and women. My position, grounded in 1 Peter 3:7, is that the woman is the weaker of the two. My friend argued for equality in strength. In the end, we agreed to disagree.

Not long before that, another guy friend attempted to complement me for my strength during a particularly difficult situation. I was somewhat confused, since strong was the last thing that I was feeling at the time.

Throughout my life, I have wavered between strength and weakness. Growing up on a small hobby farm, I learned at a young age to handle hard things. I’ve always been squeamish, and I’ve always had a weak stomach, but I learned that if I grit my teeth, there are few things I can’t do.

But as empowering as that sounds, I don’t have a heart of stone. Life is bumpy, and more often than not, it’s painful. As a Christian, I’ve found myself frustrated sometimes by my womanly emotions. I’ve wanted to be the kind of woman who walks through persecution with praises on her lips and doesn’t bat an eye when her world gets turned upside-down. But, as hard as a try, the best I can do most of the time is make a good show of strength in the day and have a good cry at night.

For some reason, the past few days I have found my emotions identifying with a scene from the classic movie, Gone With the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara runs out on her job at a military hospital, leaving a doctor waiting for her help with an amputation.

Scarlett: Let him wait, I’m going home, I’ve done enough. I don’t want any more men dying and screaming, I don’t want anymore. …

Dr. Meade:
What is this? You ain’t planning on running away?

Scarlett: And don’t you dare try to stop me. I’m never going back to that hospital, I’ve had enough of smelling death and rot and death. I’m going home, I want my mother. My mother needs me.

Sometimes I feel like I am working in a military hospital, walking up and down rows of dying people, listening to their screams of pain. I am blessed if they let me wash or bandage a wound. Most of the time, they refuse help at all, maintaining there is nothing wrong.

Most of the time, I’d rather be in that hospital than anywhere else. Most of the time I pray that God will give me more patients. Most of the time I am strong.

But sometimes, I’m tired of the dirt and blood. I long for clean things and healthy, happy people that don’t need help. Like a spoiled southern bell, I feel like stomping my foot and saying, “I don’t want anymore. I’ve done enough. I want my mother.”

Sometimes I don’t feel strong.

Then it occurred to me. Strong isn’t a feeling.

Being strong doesn’t mean I’m not weak. It doesn’t mean I don’t cry. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel pain. Real strength is right action despite pain. Strength is a part of grace, a gift from God. Jesus, who was God Himself and Strength incarnate, is known for His passion – His pain. Yet, He was sinless. He didn’t pout or say He wanted to go home. He didn’t get tired of our dirt. Instead, He shed His own blood, washed our wounds, and made us well.

As a woman, I am the weaker vessel. I feel emotions differently than a man, and I am overwhelmed by them more often than a man would be. Yet, God made me that way. It is part of how I image God. For, in that weakness, God is all the stronger.

Recently, as I was wishing I didn’t have to work in this hospital, a fragment of Matthew 9:12 flooded my mind: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”

We aren’t here on earth to feel happy all the time. Christians, particularly, are called to a life of suffering. Jesus called His followers “those who mourn.” He also called them “blessed.”

And sometimes, in that mourning, we feel weak and hardly able to overcome. But, the yoke we carry is easy and light – easy and light because it is His massive steel in our backs. In Him, we can be magnificent women.

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