I grew up in the company of men. With a father, three brothers, a husband and two sons, my closest human bonds throughout my life primarily have been male. As a child, the kids I played with on my street were boys, and most of the kids in my class at church were boys. I didn’t really spend a significant amount of time with other females until I moved into a women’s dorm in college, which came as a bit of culture shock.
Growing up with boys, I have to admit those relationships were highly competitive. As the lone female, I couldn’t compete at their level in sports, but I felt the pressure to earn their approval, so I played football and baseball and basketball. I joined them in climbing trees, building forts, jumping off bridges, and fighting bottle rocket wars. I also competed with them academically, with the result that all four of the Williams’ kids were named salutatorian of our respective high school classes.
The lone exception to this high testosterone, highly competitive world was my mother. From her, I developed my self-image, my sense of humor, my parenting style, even my choice of career. I learned that women need other women to come alongside them to feel whole. With her, and her alone, I could let the need for perfection slip and just be myself.
The church I grew up in was another arena for competition. Although we often sang 10 stanzas of “Just as I Am” following sermons, the overriding message I heard as a child was not that I could come as I was. Rather, I developed the sense that God’s love is based on performance.
Enter the Proverbs 31 woman. The subject of this 22-line poem found in the last chapter of the book of Proverbs was often held up in my youth as an example of what it means to be God’s woman.
There is no failure in “P31”—no vegging out in front of the television, no bad hair days or fast food dinners or weakness of any kind. She is Barbie-perfect living in a Barbie dream-house world, and not someone most of can easily relate to. She does, however, feed my neurotic drive for perfectionism that leaves me at the end of the day feeling like I am flunking life.
So when Rachel Held Evans introduced me to the real woman of valor a few years ago, she changed my life. If you are not familiar with Rachel, she was a Christian blogger and author who died earlier this year at the age of 37. In her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel humorously committed one year to following all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible. So she grows out her hair, learns to sew, covers her head, calls her husband master, and even camps in a tent in her yard one week each month. Her book is playful and snarky, but insightful.
Following her leading, we will spend some time at the North Central Women’s Retreat, Sept. 13-15, taking a fresh look at what it means to be a woman of valor. The goal for the weekend is not to model ourselves after a “Pinterest board come to life,” but rather to come alongside each other, to share our stories, to worship together and encourage each other. The last day to sign up is Sunday, Sept. 1, and scholarships are available. I hope you can join us.