Greetings from your occasional-blogging friend. Life has been crazy busy here and I haven’t written as much as I would like to but seeing that this is the month in which we honor mothers, as well as Mary, the Mother of the Church, I really wanted to finish up this series. I also thought I should step on it because we’re expecting another little pink bundle of joy in the next month or so. I just pray that God will help us to actually put some of this stuff about women I’ve had on my heart to use since we’ve been given this mess o’ girls (in addition to our wonderful firstborn son.)
So as I finish up this series on the lies the world tells about women that drove me crazy and to which I could never find a satisfying answer as a Protestant, I want to address one last issue. This isn’t something that is necessarily exclusive to women, but I do think that women face it in a unique way, and it’s the idea that to be a successful (whatever that even means) woman in today’s society means to embrace total autonomy, no matter what the cost.
The bulk of my childhood was spent in the 80’s and early 90’s, in which I was caught in the middle- to tail end of the “You can do anything and have it all!” propaganda blitz. Being the ever-skeptical child, I found the wisdom of that ever- beating drum to be questionable: Everything? Really? No trade-offs? No compromise? Even a child can figure out the defective logic there- you can’t hoard all the goodies without dropping something. Kind of dumb. Something will have to give at some point. And while that message caused plenty of its own damage, I think it is far less destructive than the message girls are being sent now, which is that to not have everything your little heart could possibly desire is to not be true to yourself. It’s kind of like “Carpe Diem” on crack.
Like I said earlier, this is an issue that isn’t gender-specific, but it plays out differently for men and women; women now have the choice to delay motherhood later and later or even indefinitely, if they marry at all, (And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with not getting married; the problem is not getting married for the wrong reasons.) With all these options on the table women are now able to seriously consider whether or not they ever need to be beholden to anyone but themselves.
As a Protestant, I really struggled with this idea that being completely unfettered to anything was good for anyone. I recall, for example, a few years back reading an article authored by a woman in an evangelical publication about getting her tubes tied when she got married because she didn’t want to deal with children since her husband already had one child from a previous marriage. It disgusted me that at the end of the day what can you say to a person who has no authority to answer to but their own- to people who believe that the Bible says to be nice and love Jesus and others, and as long as you do that, you can do whatever the &*%$ you want. What strikes me about this type of “freedom” is that it usually ends in goals that aren’t really aimed at anything of substance… other than to be happy and, parenthetically, nice.
You would think, wouldn’t you, with all that freedom flyin’ all over the place that there would be some kind of, oh, I don’t know, encouragement as to how to put that freedom to good use. I’m not saying that Catholics are cranking out the saints like they should either, but what I do find very compelling is that within the Church, I have found that there is an admonition to everyone to try to live lives of heroic virtue. Living a holy life is not just possible for the special, pretty people, or the “called” ones, or even those who can pray in that really holy-sounding voice. It’s for everyone.
What does that have to do with women and total autonomy, you ask? Well, I think that an explicit and constant call to sanctity can help women keep things in perspective (and men, too. But heck, they’ve had much longer to deal with the temptations of freedom vs. the pull of responsibility to others so I’ll leave that up to them.)
Within the Church I’ve found three things that can be especially powerful in keeping a woman from going off the rails and running toward a life of self-affirmation and Oprah-worship.
Jesus– That’s it. I’m just going to lay it out there right away. Jesus is the focus of our worship whenever we participate in the Mass. The message is not muddled by cutsie stories or guitar riffs. Christ in the Eucharist is what we encounter every time we attend Mass. His Body and Blood strengthen us to live out our calling in this world. It’s also kind of hard to think of myself when I look up and see that crucifix right above the altar.
The Saints– Again, when I’m sitting in Mass, I’m surrounded by beautiful images of Saints, many of whom have laid down their lives as their Savior did before them, but by others too, who sacrificed to live out the Truth in countless other ways. I love that there is a constant stream of Saints to celebrate throughout the calendar. Our family is continually encouraged by stories of people who gave up all comforts of this world to live lives of total self-giving. And it doesn’t hurt to know that they’re cheering us on, wanting us to succeed.
Mary– As a Protestant, I was completely cut off from the treasure that is found in considering the life of Mary. Protestants tend to focus more on the problem of Eve. Eve was the bad girl, the one who chose to take the road on which we all end up travelling. It’s as if the story began and stopped with Eve’s attempt at self-preservation. What a mess Eve made.
Au contraire says the Catholic Church. Jesus came to offer salvation and to free us from the mess brought about by Eve, but he allowed another player to be part of the drama. A woman, Mary, stepped in and reversed the first “no” spoken to the Creator with her resounding “yes” and thus she bore the Redeemer to an ungrateful, unreceiving world. Mary as a second Eve? Hadn’t really heard about that as a Protestant. So what does that mean to me now, as a Catholic?
It means that instead of avoiding “being like Eve” I have the positive example of Mary, a girl who cooperated with God. It seems to me that cooperating with God actually takes more effort and sacrifice. It means that I have to listen to God instead of plowing ahead with my own plans. It means that I may have to do things I might not really want to do, whereas avoiding being all sneaky and selfish like Eve has a slightly more nebulous objective- I mean, with nothing positive to fill the void left by the first sinful woman, people can make up whatever they want, correct? So it seems that the “avoiding Eve” tactic can still easily slide into a life of self-absorption in the search for comfort. “Nice” self-absorption, maybe sometimes, but likely not even remotely aligned with God’s purpose.
Eve connived her way into getting what she thought would bring her ultimate fulfillment, despite the fact that she already literally had everything she could have wanted. Mary, on the other hand, having no idea what her fiat might cost her, said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Ultimately, I think that true autonomy is the ability to offer one’s self up for the good of the other. It’s a choice. To refuse such a mission and to grasp at all that you can “get” out of life merely means that the world is your master, and that, my friends, is the opposite of freedom if you claim to be a Christian.