As one of many young women who recently graduated college without much pomp and circumstance, I have been home pondering questions about my future and role in this unpredictable world. One of these questions is about the nature of womanhood. This question, and others related to it, led me to read Let Me Be Woman by Elizabeth Elliot, the wife of missionary Jim Elliot who was martyred in 1956.
Originally published in the 1970s, I believe her wisdom is still applicable today. The book is a compilation of Mrs. Elliot’s advice to her only daughter, Valeri, who was engaged and preparing for marriage. Woven throughout her writings are personal memories, stories, and biblical principles for modern women. She addresses many topics, including femininity, womanhood, and motherhood. Elliot ponders the delight of girlhood, discusses the loneliness and joys of singleness, the excitement of dating and engagement, and the sacredness of the marriage covenant.
I know I’m not alone when I say that being a woman who is both Christian and conservative in the 21st century can be challenging and at times exhausting. If I speak up boldly and lead, I risk coming across as a mainstream feminist or anti-men. But if I hold back passively, I am perceived as oppressed and brainwashed by the patriarchy. So, what is a girl supposed to do?
Elizabeth Elliot presents what it means to be a woman who is passionate and strong for the Lord but likewise meek and gentle in her femininity. The purpose of her writing is not to consider what it means to be independent or someone’s girlfriend, fiancé, or wife, but what it means to be a woman. Although these are important subjects to consider in their own right, Elliot recognized that if women do not understand what it means to be a woman and the way that God has specifically created us, we will not do any role we find ourselves in well.
Therefore, I chose to read this book because more than anything, I want to be a God honoring woman, and this begins by understanding God’s unique design and purpose for women. As much as I desire to be a wife and mother one day, becoming a wife or mother is not what makes me a woman. Amid the numerous convictions, encouragement, and insights I gleaned from Elliot, there are three pieces of wisdom that I would like to share. I believe they represent timeless principles for all women but are especially relevant today.
First, Elliot reviews the creation story that explains how God created the first man and woman. After creating Adam, God, in His wisdom, sees that it was not good that man should be alone and created Eve. It is important to note: Woman was created from man for man. Not for his whims, wishes, or wants; but as a helper. When women are who they are called to be as a helper, men can be who they are called to be as leaders. In the same way when men are strong leaders, women will want to follow.
This leads to the second insight from Elliot when she addresses masculinity and femininity, topics that are often misunderstood. She quotes Gertrude Behanna who says, “Men are men. They are not women. Women are women. They are not men.” For the modern-day woman, I believe it is far too easy to forget this “simple truth” as Elliot puts it, that men and women are not the same. When we come to admire the differences rather than resent them, we not only grow in appreciation for one another, but in gratitude for God’s good design. Later Elliot says, “What a real woman wants is a real man. What a real man wants is a real woman. It is masculinity that appeals to a woman. It is femininity that appeals to a man. The more womanly you are, the more manly [men] will want to be.”
Third, Elliot considers the pursuit of equality between men and women and the potential threats to male and female relations. Culture seeks to encourage the pursuit of equality as a virtue, but Elliot reminds her reader that equality is more that capability. She writes, “‘Equal Opportunity’ nearly always implies that women want to do what men do, not that men want to do what women do, which indicates that prestige is attached to men’s work but not to women’s… This is a hideous distortion of the truth, and an attempt to judge women by the criteria of men, to force them into an alien mold, to rob them of the very gifts that make them what they were meant to be.”
It is far too easy for women to blame men for all of the problems or disadvantages that women face. However, I believe that Elliot encourages her reader to remember that both men and women are equally responsible for the problems of the world and have a shared duty to work for a better one.
May Christian women seeking to honor God begin by loving, learning, and embracing who He created us to be, by honoring the virtues of beauty, grace, and meekness that are godly attributes of femininity, and may we never forget that we are not called to do everything that a man is called to do or capable of doing. Rather, we are called to be women who should not let the desire for power override our desire to honor God. I’m grateful to Elizabeth Elliot for these reminders, and pray that in this chaotic and confused world I remain a woman of God and not of the world.
Molly Carman is a Policy and Government Affairs Intern at Family Research Council whose research focuses on developing a biblical worldview on issues related to family and current events.