I’ve done it again. I dropped out of a women’s ministry activity- this one directed at moms in particular. Anyone who knows me already knows way too well all of the frustration I’ve had “fitting into” the stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), upper middle class, Southern Christian conservative suburgatory I’ve found myself in the past year. I’ve tried so hard to give it all a chance. I joined many local play groups, bible studies, book clubs, serve teams at church, a dog park, and an exercise club. Each attempt at making some meaningful connections in this lifestyle was a comically miserable failure in some way.
My attempts bear amazing similarities to the plight of Violet in the show Private Practice, who is even a mental health professional like me. After many failed attempts to assimilate to SAHM culture, she calls a work colleague who she previously had a strained shallow relationship with, but whose company she prefers immensely to beating her head against the brick wall of SAHM culture. Her colleague replies to Violet, “Why would you expect to fit in with a group of women when all you have in common is your ability to bear children?” A-MEN! Well I’ve officially give up on it all. I stopped attending my local play groups a long time ago. I successfully signed up for an online serve team at church aligned with my skills instead of a mom/kid based one. And today I withdrew from the women’s ministry mom’s book study. PHEW! I feel unburdened. I had several concerns about that women’s ministry even before I signed up, and I tried and tried to give it a fair chance, to overlook the warts. But the concerns were just too numerous, and it simply is NOT a fit. I found myself looking for excuses not to go each week. It’s another unfortunate example of how women’s ministry can completely miss the mark sometimes. It reminded me of a post I wrote when I last took a chance on women’s ministry- FIVE YEARS AGO (when I was actually pleasantly surprised). My opinions about the majority of women’s ministry haven’t changed:
On Friday I attended a women’s conference here in Houston called Inspire Women. Anyone who knows me knows this is a very strange event because I never attend those things. I’ve been so disappointed in almost all Christian women’s events that I’ve been to in the past. Women’s issues is an important topic to me. I’ve always envisioned a strong component of my career path to be psychology of women and women’s rights. In addition to the typical pain that every human goes through, women often have another layer of pain associated with gender biases/roles/expectations, abuse, or discrimination. So I had high hopes for any ministry directed towards women, and was constantly surprised to find many of the events to contain just FLUFF if not MORE discrimination and abuse. At worst, I witnessed a convention leader respond to a sobbing woman who revealed long-standing physical abuse taking place in her marriage by saying “God never puts more on us than we can handle, and this is the burden you must carry.” But more typically, the conferences do not talk about anything painful at all. It’s entirely flowery pant-suits and flowery words, and a few jokes about laundry and the busy schedule of soccer mom-ing or what to do while you’re waiting for your prince charming.
What I think about constantly at one of those fluff conferences is the astounding pain that I know of in my life and all of women I know. We are not sheltered in our kitchens baking cookies and waiting for a gent to ask for our hand. In my limited social networks I’ve personally known women whose families were torn by unimaginable tragedy: murders, suicides, and other deaths, sometimes at the hands of other family members; run away children; decades of drug and alcohol addiction; women enduring abusive marriages while watching their own mothers complete several decades of one; women enduring or committing adultery; work lay-offs, homes and cars taken away; the death or sickness of loved ones……and many more situations that simply will be a daily source of pain for a long time.
These circumstances are not isolated, and most are not uncommon. Each affects not only the women mentioned, but the whole community surrounding these events as well. At these fluffy women’s conferences, I am certain that most of the women attending have encountered many of these situations in their own lives and communities. And personally, I have never gotten to know anyone, a man or a woman, who did not have some kind of heavy pain in their past or present. So I feel it is a tragic failing that pain is discussed so little at these conferences. In my experience, pain is mentioned in passing like, “Joy comes in the morning.” And “God wants to deliver you today.” And “stop being bound by the devil and believe God for your spiritual and emotional healing today.” As though when you walk out of the conference, your runaway child will be at home or perhaps you will just pick daisies and not think about the fact that she’s not.
I understand clearly that God brings TREMENDOUS emotional healing and takes care of us, because I’ve experienced it in my own life, but it’s a *long long process.* Healing is not always “today,” despite faithful prayers, and the joy does not always come TOMORROW morning. I always wished that conferences would talk about the process- the meantime- the suffering part instead of skipping to the happy ending. Surprise! the happy ending is not the difficult part. We don’t need help with the happy ending.
I happened to attend this conference because the women’s organization hosting it set up a booth at school offering free admission to students. I had a hunch- a unreasonable instinct- to check out the booth. When I read about the conference, it sounded different than others, with the featured speakers mentioning these types of real-life pain situations in their bios. They were also associated with organizations that aid abused women, so I guessed they must discuss pain in a realistic way. I considered. I examined the brochure thoroughly. Reluctant and skeptical, but curious, I decided to check it out.
It was great. 🙂 I was so pleasantly surprised. I had positioned both myself and my car such that I could leave in the middle if the typical nonsense began, but I stayed through the end. I even bought a copy of the message because I was so thrilled to see a women’s ministry of this type taking place. Everything that I mentioned above was kind of their point. The last big presenter spoke about tangible long-term suffering in our own lives and also the experience of women internationally, like the many Christians being killed in India right now. (Really the women dying on both sides of these conflicts.) The point of her talk was a correction issued to her by her then seven-year-old daughter. After being seriously hurt in an accident, her daughter referenced stories her mother had taught her about God being aware of even the sparrows. “Mommy, you shouldn’t tell people that the sparrow never falls, because that’s not true. You should say a sparrow never falls without the Father.” I like the message that pain is not unusual, and they didn’t claim that if you’d just pray with enough faith, the pain will go away. There was good soulful music, good speakers, and I even spoke to the strangers sitting on either side of me as the conference ended because the atmosphere was so warm and the message had been so good. There is hope for women’s ministry.