In the Arms of God (Jan-Feb 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Deborah J. Shore
January – February, 2003

W.O. These two letters have been a source of much personal confusion and pain. And, no, it’s not because I was dumped by William Owens in high school. It’s because these two letters are what separates me from “man.”

Frankly, they’ve spelled, “Ow” to me. A little backwards, I know. A less dyslexic rendition could be the ogling “Wo,” as in, “Whoa, baby!” That’s not much better. Really. Even if I could live up to current ideals of beauty, even if I was deeply fulfilled by attracting attention in my low-cut shirt and my body-hugging pants (a phase I did go through in my relatively modest way as I searched for a sense of worth), the satisfaction wouldn’t last. Fetching drool of another sort—in motherhood—had I sought that as my source of identity, would not have provided a healthy sense of well-being either. Somewhere along the line I’ve come to the realization that all the plastic surgeons in Hollywood would not be able to erase the scars “W” and “O” have left on my heart, and neither the liberal nor conservative interpretations of “woman” and their respective identifying roles could fill my heart’s void, though they might assuage the hunger for a time. But God can.

The healing process has been gradual. It started, I suppose, during my rebound from anorexia. My body chemicals were confused and imbalanced, and so was I. I began to swing the scale in the other direction, overeating. After lonely evenings raiding my roommate’s food-stash, I would stand in front of the mirror and let God tell me I was beautiful and loved. Now and then I believed His words, letting Him alleviate my emptiness and shame.

But I was slow to uncover the depths of pain and frustration and slower yet to remember or acknowledge their geneses. Meanwhile, my discomfort with my gender led me to wield false strength.

True strength is when we offer all our weakness and brokenness to God. Then, as Jennifer Knapp sings in “Hold me Now,” “She is strong enough to stand in My love.” I yearn for this vulnerability and strength.

A watershed for me came the day I admitted before God that words like “femininity” felt like curses. Inspired, I paced around with a pencil in hand jotting acronyms for “woman” according to the misogynistic expectations women often believe and the fallen ways we sometimes react to these.

Wweak, wayward, wanton, wily, willful
Oobjects, oppressed (reality; victim mentality), overbearing, obsessive
Mmanipulative, materialistic
Aanxious, all-attitude, ashamed
N“needy,” nagging, narcissistic

But as God brought to mind Deborah and Jael, Hannah, Esther, Rahab, Ruth and Naomi, and the heroines of Judges 9:51-54 and 2 Samuel 20:15-22, I began to feel light. I continued: Abigail, Mary mother of Jesus, Elizabeth, Anna, the woman with the issue of blood, lavish Mary, Lydia, Priscilla, Nympha the church leader, and Dorcas the compassionate seamstress. Some esteemed women were traditional; others weren’t. Some were noted for beauty, others for valor. Their commonality was their responsive relationship with God which enabled them to find and follow their true purpose in life. Naturally, a new set of acronyms flowed.

Wwhole, wise, watchers, waiters on God
Oopen (receptive, emotionally vulnerable), to offer (hospitality), obedient
Mmature (versus the stereotype of puerile), malleable (teachable)
Aable, authoritative, adaptable, aggressive (in prayer and God-directed action)
Nnurturing, need-each-other

As God heals the “W” and “O” scars on my heart, He is writing these words in their place. What’s God’s bottom line? “Wow!”

Clearly Satan has worked hard to transform that “Wow” into an “Ow” and a “Wo.” Why? The most important reason is that if we do not appreciate femininity, we limit our understanding of God. “Man” in Genesis 1:26 is adham, which “usually refers to mankind in the collective sense,” according to Zodhiates’ WordStudy Old Testament. Women, not only men, are created in God’s image, and Satan covets the glory of the One we represent. While speaking at “Father Loves You,” a 2002 conference at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, Denise Jordan pointed out that God encompasses the best of masculinity and femininity alike. He is masculine, however, in relation to all of us because initiating, as He did at Creation and continues to do to this day, is a masculine strength. Certainly, initiation is not limited to males, but the point is that Jordan’s teaching underscores what Psalm 66:11-12 has ministered to me:

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.

God speaks one unified message. That message conveys two basic attributes, strength and loving kindness—in essence, masculinity and femininity.

Likewise, both men and women are designed to carry masculine and feminine traits in various proportions,
Jordan says. Eve could be taken out of Adam, for her essential characteristics were already a part of him to one degree or another. Masculinity initiates and knows about something or someone while femininity knows in relationship with. Through Satan’s distortions and attacks on masculinity and femininity, he wants to hinder both sexes’ abilities to realize our truest selves (e.g., for fathers to nurture children, for women to make decisions) and to relate to one another.

Once, in a writing workshop I offered a poem for critique in which God held me and “gave me the breast.” One poet perked up at the thought that I might be abandoning my Judeo-Christian God for a female one. No. I was merely using a metaphor which my Father Himself implies:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” … “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you….” (Isaiah 49:15; 66:13, NIV)

Since I’d been broken down to a place where all I was capable of being was a nursing baby in the Father’s arms, drinking in His comfort, richness, and strength, it was natural for me to make that feminine reference in my poem. What I didn’t know at the time is that one of the very names of God, El Shaddai, declares His mothering heart. In The Cry for Spiritual Mothers & Fathers, Larry Kreider explains, “El comes from the root meaning might and strength. Shad is Hebrew for breast or many-breasted one.” With numerous sons and daughters to nurture, it is a good thing He has many spiritual “breasts.”

This in no way suggests that we should call God “She.” But it is an important metaphor. David learned to hope and trust God at His mother’s breast (see Psalm 22:9-10; 131:2-3). Our capacity to hope and trust—to receive and contain love as Denise Jordan puts it—is directly related to the feminine.

In Isaiah 43:10, God has called us to be His witnesses foremost so that we would intimately know and believe Him. This is tied to our ability to receive and contain God’s love. For if we know God, that means we have received from Him, and we only believe God to the degree we are capable of holding onto (trusting, containing) that experiential knowledge. Our knowledge about God flows from this. In other words, our masculine attribute of gathering knowledge about God is meant to be secondary to our feminine receptivity. Likewise, our authority and our strength to make firm stands spring from receiving the Father’s heart. Accordingly, the Church, of which Jerusalem is a type, is feminine:

“Rejoice with Jerusalem…. For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts, you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance” … For this is what the LORD says, “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees…” (Isaiah 66:10-12, NIV)

So the church is not only feminine in relationship to God; her destiny is to mother the world—to give away that love she has received and contains. She does this with every cup of water, every prayer, every kind word, every exhortation or teaching, and every bold action. Satan loathes the thought that the Church would embrace the “wow” of femininity because, Jordan says, he wants us to miss our destiny to mother the world.

If Satan confuses us on the individual level so that men and women alike get stuck in either machismo or spineless role-playing, we will be ineffective on the corporate level. Yet there is hope for anyone to step into their destiny of true masculinity and true femininity if we remember that God took a Rambo-style, knowledge-obsessed Pharisee and converted him into our exemplar: “…We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well…” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, NIV; see 5:14). That’s the purpose of the feminine. Wow.New Wineskins

Deborah J. Shore lives in New Jersey. The “J” is for Joy. Among her dreams is that her fledgling manuscript, A Spacious Place: loosening the grip of religious strongholds, might someday become a book. She has mostly published poems, recently winning first place in Alsop Review’s 2002 Winter Poetry Competition. [Email her at shoredj-1999@miamialum.org]

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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