Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. — Proverbs 4:23
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I’m trying to remember when I first knew in my heart that I was no longer a girl, but had become a woman. Like so many other women I was left alone to navigate my way through adolescence. No counsel was given for the journey into womanhood. I was encouraged, however, to eat less. My father pulled me aside and told me, “No boy will love you if you’re fat.”
I joined the feminist movement in college, searching, as so many women did in the ’70s, for a sense of self. But no matter how much I asserted my strength and independence as a woman, my heart as a woman remained empty.
And as for romance, I stumbled through that mysterious terrain with only movies and music as a guide. My last year in college, I fell in love for real, and this young man truly loved me back. John and I dated for two and a half years and then became engaged. As we made wedding plans, my mother gave me a rare bit of counsel, in this case, her marriage advice. It was twofold. First, love flies out the window when there’s no pork chop on the table. And second, always keep your kitchen floor clean; it makes the whole house look better. I caught her drift. Namely, that my new position as “wife” centered in the kitchen, making the pork chops and cleaning up after them.
I somehow believed that upon saying, “I do,” I would be magically transformed into Betty Crocker. I imagined myself baking fresh bread, looking flushed and beautiful as I removed the steaming loaves from the oven. No matter that I hadn’t cooked but five meals in my entire life, I set about preparing dinners, breakfasts even, with determination and zeal. After two weeks of this, I lay on the couch despondent, announcing that I didn’t know what was for dinner and that John was on his own. Besides, the kitchen floor was dirty. I had failed.
My story is like most women’s stories — we’ve received all sorts of messages but very little help in what it means to become a woman and very little guidance as to what a real woman even is. The church has not been a big help here. No, that’s not quite honest enough. The church has been part of the problem. Its message to women has been primarily, “You are here to serve. That’s why God created you: to serve. In the nursery, in the kitchen, on the various committees, in your home, in your community.”
Seriously now — picture the women we hold up as models of femininity in the church. They are sweet, they are helpful, and their hair is coiffed; they are busy, they are disciplined, they are composed, and they are tired. Think about the women you meet at church. They’re trying to live up to some model of femininity. What do they “teach” you about being a woman? What are they saying to us through their lives? You’d have to conclude that a godly woman is… tired. And guilty.
We’re all living in the shadow of that infamous icon, “The Proverbs 31 Woman,” whose life is so busy I wonder, when does she have time for friendships, for taking walks, or reading good books? Her light never goes out at night? When does she have sex? Somehow she has sanctified the shame most women live under, biblical proof that yet again we don’t measure up. Is that supposed to be godly — that sense that you are a failure as a woman?
I know I am not alone in this nagging sense of failing to measure up, a feeling of not being good enough as a woman. Every woman I’ve ever met feels it — something deeper than just the sense of failing at what she does. An underlying, gut feeling of failing at who she is. I am not enough, and I am too much at the same time. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough, not gracious enough, not disciplined enough. But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong, too opinionated, too messy. The result is Shame, the universal companion of women. It haunts us, nipping at our heels, feeding on our deepest fear that we will end up abandoned and alone.
After all, if we were better women — whatever that means — life wouldn’t be so hard. Right? We feel unseen, even by those who are closest to us. We feel unsought — that no one has the passion or the courage to pursue us, to get past our messiness to find the woman deep inside. And we feel uncertain — uncertain what it even means to be a woman; uncertain what it truly means to be feminine; uncertain if we are or ever will be.
Aware of our deep failings, we pour contempt on our own hearts for wanting more. Oh, we long for intimacy and for adventure; we long to be the Beauty of some great story. But the desires set deep in our hearts seem like a luxury, granted only to those women who get their acts together. The message to the rest of us — whether from a driven culture or a driven church — is “try harder.”
And in all the exhortations we have missed the most important thing of all. We have missed the heart of a woman. And that is not a wise thing to do, for as the Scriptures tell us, the heart is central.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. — Proverbs 4:23
Above all else. Why? Because God knows that our heart is core to who we are. It is the source of all our creativity, our courage, and our convictions. It is the fountain-head of our faith, our hope, and of course, our love. This “well-spring of life” within us is the very essence of our existence, the center of our being. Your heart as a woman is the most important thing about you.
God created you as a woman. “God created man in His own image… male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Whatever it means to bear God’s image, you do so as a woman. Female. That’s how and where you bear His image. Your feminine heart has been created with the greatest of all possible dignities — as a reflection of God’s own heart. You are a woman to your soul, to the very core of your being. And so the journey to discover what God meant when He created woman in His image — when He created you as His woman — that journey begins with your heart.
The desires that God has placed into our hearts are clues as to who we really are and the role that we are meant to play. Many of us have come to despise our desires or at least try to bury them. They have become a source of pain or shame. We are embarrassed of them. But we don’t need to be. The desires of our heart bear a great glory because they are precisely where we bear the image of God. We long for certain things because He does!
Think again of women like Tamar, Ruth, Rahab — not very “churchy” women, but women held up for esteem in the Bible. Every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things:
- to be romanced
- to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and
- to unveil beauty.
That’s what makes a woman come alive.
TO BE ROMANCED
I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far — I will find you. — Nathaniel to Cora in The Last of The Mohicans
One of my favorite games growing up was “kidnapped and rescued.” To be the beauty, abducted by the bad guys, fought for and rescued by a hero — some version of this had a place in all our dreams. Like Sleeping Beauty, like Cinderella, like Maid Marian, or like Cora in The Last of the Mohicans, I wanted to be the heroine and have my hero come for me. Why am I embarrassed to tell you this? I simply loved feeling wanted and fought for. This desire is set deep in the heart of every little girl — and every woman. Yet most of us are ashamed of it. We downplay it. We pretend that it is less than it is. We are women of the twenty-first century after all — strong, independent, and capable, thank you very much. Uh-huh… and who is buying all those romance novels?
When John and I began to “date,” he wrote me letters, lots of letters. Each one filled with his love for God and his passion for me, his desire for me. He loved me. He saw me and knew me and pursued me. I loved being romanced.
Now, being romanced isn’t all that a woman wants, and a woman ought not derive the meaning of her existence from whether or not she is being or has been romanced by a man… but don’t you see that you want this? To be desired, to be pursued by one who loves you, to be someone’s priority?
Most of our addictions as women flare up when we feel that we are not loved or sought after. At some core place, maybe deep within, perhaps hidden or buried in her heart, every woman wants to be seen, wanted, and pursued. We want to be romanced.
AN IRREPLACEABLE ROLE IN A GREAT ADVENTURE
There is something fierce in the heart of a woman.
Simply insult her children, her man, or her best friend and you’ll get a taste of it. A woman is a warrior too. But she is meant to be a warrior in a uniquely feminine way. Sometime before the sorrows of life did their best to kill it in us, most young women wanted to be a part of something grand, something important.
Think of Sarah from Sarah, Plain and Tall. A man and his young children need her; their world is not right until she becomes a part of it. We are awed by the nurses in Pearl Harbor, how in the midst of a horrifying assault they bring their courage and strength to rescue the lives of hundreds of men. The women in The Lord of the Rings trilogy are valiant and beautiful — women like Arwen, Galadriel, and Éowyn change the fate of Middle Earth. And what about women like Esther and Mary and Ruth? They were biblical characters who had irreplaceable roles in a Great Story. Not “safe” and “nice” women, not merely “sweet,” but passionate and powerful women who were beautiful as warriors.
Women love adventures of all sorts. An adventure that is shared. We do not want the adventure merely for adventure’s sake but for what it requires of us for others. Sometimes the idea of living as a hermit appeals to all of us. No demands, no needs, no pain, no disappointments. But that is because we have been hurt, are worn out. In our heart of hearts, that place where we are most ourselves, we don’t want to run away for very long. Our lives were meant to be lived with others. As echoes of the Trinity, we remember something. Made in the image of a perfect relationship, we are relational to the core of our beings and filled with a desire for transcendent purpose. We long to be an irreplaceable part of a shared adventure.
BEAUTY TO UNVEIL
The king is enthralled by your beauty. — Psalm 45:11
Lovely little six-year-old Lacey was visiting our ministry outpost the other day, going from office to office, swinging on the doorframe, and asking with a smile, “Would you like to hear my song?” Her faced kissed by the sun with charming freckles, two front teeth missing, and eyes dancing with merriment, who could refuse her? She didn’t really care if she was an interruption. I doubt the thought crossed her mind. She sang her newly made-up song about puppies and kitties, fully expecting to be delighted in, then skipped down the hall to grace the occupant of the next office. She was like a ray of summer sun or, better, a garden fairy, flitting from office to office. She was a little girl in her glory, unashamed in her desire to delight and be delighted in.
Remember twirling skirts? Most little girls go through a season when they will not wear anything if it does not twirl (and if it sparkles, so much the better). Their young hearts intuitively want to know they are lovely.
Last summer John and I attended a ball. It was a stunning affair. Black tie. Candlelight. Dinner. Dancing. For weeks — no, months ahead of the affair — I, like every other woman who attended, asked the all-important question: “What will I wear?” (As the special night drew closer, I also wondered if it was possible to lose twenty pounds in seven days.) The evening turned out to be glorious. But the highlight by far was the women. “You look beautiful!” “You are gorgeous!” “What an amazing dress!” “How lovely you are!” We were delighting in each other’s beauty and enjoying our own. We were playing dress up for real and loving it.
Now, we know that the desire to be beautiful has caused many women untold grief (how many diets have you been on?). Countless tears have been shed and hearts broken in its pursuit. Beauty has been extolled and worshiped and kept just out of reach for most of us. For others, beauty has been shamed, used, and abused. Some of you have learned that possessing beauty can be dangerous. And yet — and this is just astounding — in spite of all the pain and distress that beauty has caused us as women, the desire remains.
And it’s not just the desire for an outward beauty, but more — a desire to be captivating in the depths of who you are. An external beauty without a depth of character is not true beauty at all. “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (Proverbs 11:22). Ruth may have been a lovely, strong woman, but it is to her unrelenting courage and vulnerability and faith in God that Boaz is drawn. Esther is the most beautiful woman in the land, but it is her bravery and her cunning, good heart that moves the king to spare her people.
Don’t you recognize that a woman yearns to be seen, and to be thought of as captivating? We desire to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, worth fighting for, a beauty that is core to who we truly are. We want beauty that can be seen; beauty that can be felt; beauty that affects others; a beauty all our own to unveil.
THE HEART OF A MAN
As described in Wild at Heart, there are three core desires in the heart of every man as well. For starters, every man wants a battle to fight.
And look at the movies men love — Braveheart, Gladiator, Top Gun, High Noon, Saving Private Ryan. Men are made for battle. (And, ladies, don’t you love the heroes of those movies? You might not want to fight in a war, but don’t you long for a man who will fight for you?) Women don’t fear a man’s strength if he is a good man. In fact, passivity might make a man “safe,” but it has done untold damage to women in the long run. It certainly did to Eve.
Men also long for adventure. Adventure is a deeply spiritual longing in the heart of every man. Adventure requires something of us, puts us to the test. Though we may fear the test, at the same time we yearn to be tested, to discover that we have what it takes.
Finally, every man longs for a Beauty to rescue. He needs someone to fight for. There is nothing that inspires a man to courage so much as the woman he loves. Most of the daring (and okay, sometimes ridiculous) things young men do are to impress the girls. Men go to war carrying photos of their sweethearts in their wallets — that is a metaphor of this deeper longing, to fight for the Beauty. This is not to say that a woman is a “helpless creature” who can’t live her life without a man. Men long to offer their strength on behalf of a woman.
Now — can you see how the desires of a man’s heart and the desires of a woman’s heart were at least meant to fit beautifully together? A woman in the presence of a good man, a real man, loves being a woman. His strength allows her feminine heart to flourish. His pursuit draws out her beauty. And a man in the presence of a real woman loves being a man. Her beauty arouses him to play the man; it draws out his strength. She inspires him to be a hero. Would that we all were so fortunate.
BY WAY OF THE HEART
The longings God has written deep in your heart are telling you something essential about what it means to be a woman, and the life He meant for you to live. Many of those desires have gone unmet, or been assaulted, or simply so long neglected that most women end up living two lives. On the surface we are busy and efficient, professional, even. We are getting by. On the inside women lose themselves in a fantasy world or in cheap novels, or we give ourselves over to food or some other addiction to numb the ache of our hearts. But your heart is still there, crying out to be set free, to find the life your desires tell you of.
You can find that life — if you are willing to embark on a great adventure — a journey of the heart. A journey toward the restoration and release of the woman you always longed to be. This is not about what you ought to do or who you ought to be. It’s about discovering who you already are, as a woman. A woman who at her core was made for romance, made to play an irreplaceable role in a shared adventure, and who really does possess a beauty all her own to unveil. The woman God had in mind when he made Eve… and when He made you.
Glorious, powerful, and captivating.
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Those words are so compelling: glorious, powerful, and captivating. Do you recognize your desires to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a grand adventure, and to unveil beauty? Do you long for the restoration of your heart in the areas where sorrow, disappointment, abuse or loss have damaged it? Are you ready to start a journey of the heart? We’d love to hear about your story. Please leave a comment!