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In practice, it wasn’t actually happening. She believed now that it was because she did not fit the expected look or personality or gender of their education program.
Another woman shared about how she has welcomed and celebrated the shift in the churches of her context towards women in leadership and ministry. Yet she has noticed that they are all young and beautiful women with identical outgoing and big-smiling personalities. The glass ceiling remains for her because she doesn’t fit the standard or “target audience,” so she cheers on these young women, the age of her grandchildren, with a selflessness that amazed me.
Women told me about how hard it is to be middle-aged or to be considered unbeautiful in a church culture that values youth and energy and talent. In a sea of hipsters and motivated young people with self-promotion apparently engrained into their DNA, they feel invisible and overlooked, slow and ignored.
Ever since I read their emails, I’ve been haunted by their stories. I asked older women in my life and found the same was true. Once a woman reaches a certain age or if a woman is not considered beautiful or outgoing or charming, she often disappears in the eyes of her community. She still has a rich and meaningful life, don’t get me wrong, but they all said, sadly, that yes, they are well-educated or experienced or wise, and yet they are never asked, they are never invited, they are rarely noticed. Many of them told me that they were “back-stage” while the beautiful and young were celebrated from the front, so they worked and they served in beautiful obscurity, and they found that God was faithful there, too.
It’s bothered me because, of course, I believe that God looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. I long for our communities to be a tangible representation, a sign along the road, of what it looks like when men and women of all ages, nations, experiences, intellectual abilities, socio-economic backgrounds all gather together to glorify God.
It’s an idealist view, a dreamer’s dream, but if there is one place where women of a certain age or women who do not fit the cultural expectations of “beauty” should feel valued and affirmed, celebrated and acknowledged, honored and even just seen, oh, my goodness, let it be within the body of Christ!
So I’m thinking of you a lot now, ladies. I’m thinking of the women 20, 30, 40, 50 years older than me.
I’m thinking of you and I’m wanting, somehow, to repent for how we’ve shunted you to the side, bought into our culture’s insane standards of beauty and aging, to ask for your forgiveness. I’m thinking of you when I sit in church, and I’m looking for you when I’m preaching from the stage now, and I’m thinking of you watching the rest of us run around striving, and I’m not sure how to fix it. But I’m sorry. And I’m watching for you now. I won’t make this mistake again, and I want to be a better listener, and I want to be a noticer. You aren’t invisible to me, not at all. I want to give honor where honor is due. When I talk about not waiting for permission anymore, about being loved and free, about not waiting for a seat at the Table, I’m thinking about you.
I am thinking in particular of the tremendous beauty and strength of this generation of women. I’m thinking of how much I have to learn, of how much passion and laughter, anger and goodness, stories and sermons, resources and energy they carry within them. Can you imagine, friends? Can you imagine what would happen if we made a little room for their voices and experiences in our communities?
Sarah Bessey is a wife, mama of three tinies, a writer, popular blogger and a happy-clappy Jesus lover. She lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Her first book, Jesus Feminist (Howard Books), has just been released.
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