In this six-week in-depth Bible study, Kimberly Dunnam Reisman helps women to find balance at every age and stage of life. Confronting the daily chaos of competing demands from a new perspective, she asks not “How do I juggle my responsibilities?” but “How do I make choices that reflect my relationship with Christ and his direction for my life?” Using chapter three of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians as a biblical foundation, the study identifies barriers to balanced living and explores what the Bible teaches about Christ-centered living. Women will discover how being centered in the Savior can help us contemplate, sort, and prioritize our callings. Through it all, we come to experience Christ as Rock, Solace, and Guide and find him the calm center from which we can wisely navigate the responsibilities of our lives. The Participant Book guides women in a biblical study of Christ-centered living, using Ephesians 3 as a foundational framework. Five devotional readings are provided for each week. The interactive format includes space for responding to questions and recording personal reflections.
Other components for the Bible study, available separately, include a Participant Workbook, Leader Guide, DVD with six 21-26 minute sessions featuring closed captioning, and boxed Leader Kit.
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Breaking Stereotypes and Embracing "Good Enough"
As we begin our journey together, it is important to acknowledge that we all do not begin at the same place. As I mentioned in the Introduction, some of us may be searching for our center — our place of balance in life — but have yet to fully embrace the notion that it can actually be found in Jesus Christ. Others of us may have a relationship with Christ but have not yet made that relationship an integral part of our interior lives. Still others of us may have been following Christ for a long time and are looking for continued depth for our journey. Perhaps many of us are somewhere in-between.
Regardless of where we begin our journey, however, each of us is bound to encounter obstacles along the way. This is the nature of the spiritual process. These blocks can come both from within ourselves and from without; and though the details of our stories may be different, many of the obstacles are common to us all.
I want to begin our journey together by focusing on the outer means that hinder us from moving toward being centered in Christ. These are ways in which our culture, specifically American culture, works overtly and covertly to move us away from our true center, which is found in Christ, and toward the distraction of the superficial. Although this is not a study about how to get organized, a great deal of what distracts us has to do with our responsibilities in the world and the expectations the world has for us. Because of this, it is impossible to work toward Christ-centeredness without spending at least some time discussing the issues of ordinary life — motherhood, careers, vocations, household responsibilities, and societal expectations.
We will begin this week by looking at Proverbs 31:10-31 and discussing two specific myths that secular and religious culture offer us that, if believed, hinder us from experiencing Christ "at home in our hearts" as Paul describes in Ephesians 3. As the week progresses, we will see that Scripture offers us alternatives to these myths and moves us closer to the wholeness God desires for our lives, and we will explore the first of our six spokes — "Good Enough."
Let's begin by looking at two myths I call Susie Homemaker and Superwoman. You will probably recognize these amazing women quickly.
Day 1: The Myth of Susie Homemaker
Read God's Word
10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
Reflect and Respond
Our Scripture focus for today and tomorrow is found in Proverbs 31. No doubt you've heard of the Proverbs 31 woman. Sometimes she's called the virtuous woman. Today we might call her the "really good" woman.
What does it mean to be a "really good" woman today? What attributes do you think are characteristic of a "really good" woman? Professor, writer, and lecturer Mary Ellen Ashcroft often begins her workshops by asking just that question. Drawing from a variety of settings — from small, radical liberal arts colleges to gatherings of conservative women — comprised of women of all ages, denominations, and backgrounds, she has compiled a surprisingly homogenous description of this "really good" woman. This woman seems to live all over the country, is a member of almost every church, knows no economic boundary, and inhabits both the countryside and our cities. We all seem to know and love her. Who is she? I will let Ashcroft introduce her to you:
Her children are clean and neatly dressed.
... She bakes for her kids' lunches and for after-school snacks. The smell of dinner is usually wafting around an hour or so before hubby comes in. Often concerned that there might not be enough, she cooks more than she needs to. After everyone is seated, she keeps scurrying around, making sure everyone has what they need.
She's the one who is usually waiting to pick up the kids in the van after school.
She worries quite a lot about her weight. It would be bad if she put on too much and became unattractive to her husband. She exercises a bit to keep her weight down.
She hates to keep people waiting. For her the feeling of causing even the smallest inconvenience for someone is very hard. She apologizes a lot, as if even her existence is a nuisance. "I'm sorry," she says. "Excuse me." "I seem to be in the way." "Can you see okay?"
... She is very sweet. She tries not to lose her temper. Just under the sweet exterior is an air of anxiety, of distraction. Where did I put that recipe? Where should I buy the pork chops? What if Joey has forgotten his homework? Should I serve the salad before the main course or with it?
I have met this woman. Haven't you? You might think that the uniformity of our perceptions of this woman and the command they have over us stem from Proverbs 31 — or some other biblical teaching. Certainly it would make sense. Strangely enough, this isn't the case. This woman, who embodies the Susie Homemaker myth, is not the result of Old Testament Scripture; she did not arrive on the scene in biblical times. Rather, she was born in the Victorian era, and she's been with us ever since.
What do you believe are the qualities of a "really good" woman?
Why do you believe these qualities are so important?
Reread Proverbs 31:10-31. What similarities and differences do you see between the woman described there and the myth of Susie Homemaker?
The power of Susie's myth has not diminished over the years. Television, movies, books, magazines, cartoons, and commercials have enhanced her perfection and solidified her power over us. Rachel Held Evans is one of many popular Christian women writers and bloggers who have recognized Susie's continued hold on us. Commenting on how the media perpetuate this myth, Evans writes this:
The magazine aisle dazzles us with photo shopped images of super-skinny models, next to impeccably arranged place settings, next to actresses praised for losing their baby weight in five minutes, next to Martha Stewart holding a perfectly frosted chocolate cake.
Evans goes on to direct her critique at Christian culture as well, asserting that many Christian books and conferences emphasize the details rather than the message of Proverbs 31. I don't believe Evans' critique applies to all of Christian culture; however, I agree that this emphasis gives the impression that many Christians believe the media is correct — that fitness, domesticity, beauty, and success are the ways women earn the favor of God and men.
Though I've finally reached a point where I can filter the messages the media sends, I know all too well not only the feeling of falling short of the media ideal but also the pain of watching my daughters struggle with those feelings as well; and I find it discouraging that Christian culture does not offer more to counteract such messages.
Do you agree with Evans' comments? Why or why not?
What messages about being a woman have you experienced or observed in secular culture?
What messages about being a woman have you experienced or observed in Christian culture?
Because of Susie's continued presence both in secular and Christian culture, it is important to understand her myth and the power it holds. We can do that by looking at how society generally viewed men, women, and work before she was born. This may seem like an unnecessary history lesson, but I assure you it is extremely relevant to our study and to gaining a right understanding of the challenges and hindrances we face when living as Christ-centered women. I believe you will discover some surprising insights that may change your view of Susie Homemaker and perhaps help to set you free from the unrealistic expectations of her myth.
Before the industrial revolution, the focus of work for both men and women was the household. This was where things were made and used. Work was hard for everyone; there was always a lot of it, and men and women worked side by side to get it done. The Protestant traditions especially supported the idea that each person's hard work was a virtue and was intimately connected with salvation. Our term "the Protestant work ethic" originated from this outlook.
With the rise of the home as a haven came the rise of the idea of the sexes as polar opposites, each existing in a completely separate domain. The male realm was the dog-eat-dog world of work. ... The home front was naturally an opposite type of environment from the working world, a place of peace and refuge from the rat race that raged outside.
Over decades, however, things began to change. Separate spheres of work began to replace shared work. The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century is the most obvious marker in this process of change. This revolution, which began in Britain, not only created gigantic advances in technology; it also led to immense changes in lifestyle, not the least of which was the birth of the middle class. In a culture that had always been characterized by a rigid class separation, societal anxiety began to arise as money and possessions blurred the distinctions between business owners and the aristocracy.
According to historians, the anxiety caused by class mobility as well as other factors is central to understanding Victorian culture. Anxiety highlights the Victorian response, which was to search for secure footing in the face of rapid change. The rock on which British (and later American) society began to stand for security was the home.
Home as a focus was not a new idea in and of itself. The home had long been the center of life, the place where you slept and ate and worked and lived.
Read Deuteronomy 6:6–9. What significant activity was to take place in the home? Make notes about what you find here.
In contrast to the biblical notion of the home as a place of teaching and spiritual growth, the Victorian age focused on the home as a refuge amidst the storms of life, and one person in particular belonged there: the wife. Susie Homemaker had arrived, and with her came the creation of separate spheres of life and a new sense of "otherness" between the genders. Like Susie Homemaker herself, the idea of men and women being polar opposites with separate domains — as opposed to co-laborers with a variety of gifts — has been with us for so long we often mistakenly believe it's biblical. Actually it's another Victorian concept that has a stranglehold on our consciousness.
Look up the story of the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2. What was God's desire for the man?
Even after all the animals were brought to the man, none of them was "just right" for him. What does that indicate about the relationship between men and women?
Read Genesis 2:23. What does the man say when he awakens?
Does this indicate a sense of opposition or connectedness? Why?
According to an influential writer of the Victorian era, Susie may have been gentle and motherly, but she also was instrumental in influencing men. She carried the responsibility of raising morally superior children because she herself was morally superior: "So far as she rules, all must be right, or nothing is. She must be enduringly, incorruptibly good; instinctively, infallibly wise — wise, not for self-development, but for selfrenunciation."
It may seem as though Susie Homemaker was created alongside Eve in the garden, but it helps us to recognize that she actually arose in Britain from the Victorian belief that God had authored an unequal dependency between the sexes that resulted in division-as opposed to the biblical idea of an interrelatedness that results in unity. We gain strength through the realization that God is not at the heart of Susie's myth; Victorian thinking is. And though Susie may have originated in Britain, she was not limited by geography. She quickly departed for America, where she took hold of our collective consciousness as well.
Is it any wonder guilt has plagued women over every choice and decision they make? Is it any wonder that we often feel responsible for everything within our realm of experience?
Which of these two beliefs describes your own view of the differences between men and women?
How would you explain the difference between an unequal dependency that results in division and an interrelated dependency that results in unity?
Now that we understand Susie's origin, let's consider her impact on society. Both men and women suffered from her stature as a middle-class ideal. For example, a woman's status as a "lady" depended upon her not working. Men became pressured to work longer hours to solely provide for their families, causing them to see their families less. Unmarried women had an especially raw deal. If they missed out on marriage, they couldn't even take up meaningful work without sacrificing their image as "good women." This led to the "spinster's" marginalized role in society and a child's game named in her honor: Old Maid.
"Now we can talk about self-fulfillment, career or profession, now we can have ambitions, disappointments, economic responsibility. ... Then we had only vicarious accomplishments, vicarious triumphs and failures. We had limits on our growth, limits on our potential, limits everywhere."
In reality, few women beyond the upper classes could achieve the Susie Homemaker epitome of womanhood. Living on a single income was as distant a dream for most families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as it is for many families today. The poor especially were excluded from the ideal, but as in our own time, few voices were raised in defense of those who were too poor not to work.
Despite this reality, the myth of Susie Homemaker remained the standard for women, especially in the mid-twentieth century in the West. The "traditional" family, which originated in the fifties and sixties and was led in the home by Susie Homemaker and in the work force by her husband, took its toll on women. As astounding as it may seem now, society largely viewed women as unable to comprehend — or at least to be completely disinterested in — the arenas of the mind, of intellect and ideas, of soul and spirit.
We shouldn't be surprised, then, at the stir Betty Friedan caused when she wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Researching, interviewing, and writing for five years, Friedan simply wanted to answer the question: Why are so many women unhappy when they supposedly have it all? According to the media, happy housewives abounded in America; women everywhere were content to stay at home, tending the house and children while their men were away at work. Though this may have been true for some, Friedan found many housewives suffering from everything from simple boredom to depression. She witnessed a "nameless aching dissatisfaction" among the women interviewed. As a result, Friedan's book exposed the myth of Susie Homemaker and its power over women, highlighting the fact that trying to live up to her myth often cost them personal growth and robbed them of the opportunity to explore their interior selves-their minds and their spirits.
Susie's mythical power placed limits everywhere for women, even in the area of Christian service. Susie was so ingrained in our religious consciousness that even today many Christians believe that to be like her is the God-given calling of all women. What has actually happened is that these Christians have swallowed hook, line, and sinker the Victorian cultural artifact of Susie Homemaker and accepted her image as gospel truth when in fact secular culture created this image, not biblical teaching.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Christ-Centered Woman"
Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Women.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
Week 1 Breaking Stereotypes and Embracing "Good Enough" 11
Week 2 Fighting Fragmentation with Temperance 49
Week 3 Finding Your Identity Through Self-Discovery and Authenticity 77
Week 4 Valuing Your Calling 109
Week 5 Recognizing Your Power and Purpose 139
Week 6 Being Flexible 175
A Final Word 205