Sometimes I wonder what the real problem is. I know the presenting problem is often a constant and subtle feeling that I don’t really belong, or that I don’t deserve things, or shouldn’t want things, or well, pretty consistent thoughts that I’m not worth it in general. The promotion, the applause, the recognition all end up haunting me and turning up the volume of the dissonance in the foundations of my life that resonate with a big booming question – is this a mistake?
Apparently most women have this accompanying dialogue. A church I know started to transform the way they do ministry a few years ago. In order to empower everyone, specifically women to lead, they discovered some research that helped them understand why it was so hard for them to get women to come to the leadership table.
This research also starts to make sense out of this internal (and sometimes external) dialogue so many women struggle with in their own life. A female’s self-confidence peaks at 9 years old. You read that right. According to the most recent research, girls at age 9 are as self-confident as they are ever going to be. The reason? Well, there are many. But consider what puberty itself does to every girls sense of self, followed by the dynamics of high school and then the harsh and present realities of a dominant culture that continues to objectify and harass women. I know it sounds intense – but it’s true.
1 in 3 girls will be sexually abused in her lifetime according to the most recent stats. 1 in 3. The felt reality of those statistics mean that it’s almost ‘normal’ for girls to feel disempowered. But that’s only half the story.
When I first heard the journey of the church I mentioned above, I was a little conflicted. They say it was hard for them to get women to come to the leadership table. Is it possible that women don’t want to lead? Maybe this confirms those ideas we’ve all heard, that women weren’t meant to lead? It’s so hard to understand the problem this church leadership team had when I’ve been a witness to so many incredibly gifted, capable, educated, equipped women who want to lead and just can’t seem to get a seat at the table.
How can there be so many women who are able and willing to lead and so few places for them to do so? How can there be so many male leaders who want women to lead and can’t find them? Rather than dismiss one group as the problem, I think it’s a deeper truth to understand disconnection itself as the problem. How have we become so disconnected from each other? There is something fundamentally broken at the heart of how women and men connect. And it’s been like that for a very long time. Think back to the story we are so familiar with from the very start of the Bible (Genesis 3). When humanity severed their connection to God the next thing that broke was their relationship with each other! That’s a deep wound.
Much of our current culture’s conversation around this very topic is rooted in fear. The ‘#metoo’ movement saw over 19 million women publicly express their story of harassment and abuse in a little over a month and it seemed hardly anyone was spared. Leaders, businessmen, hollywood tycoons, fathers, churches, husbands, non-profit champions, governments, systems and structures – so many people implicated and the pain so overwhelming. What do we do?
The temptation is to allow fear to lead us. And that would be such a terrible mistake. Fear is a tyrannical oppressor who will seek to silence, separate and pit us against each other. If we are motivated by fear – what we do or don’t do will become a tool for even more oppression. But there is another option – a Divine one. It’s how Paul the apostle describes the Good News of Jesus to the Corinthian church (a church that knew all about divisions and fear). He describes it as the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (see 2 Corinthians 5:11-21) and this is such good news to our current context.
There is a way women and men can heal the divide and work together to transform the future. It’s the way of Jesus. And I don’t mean some pie in the sky kind of ‘fairy dust’ solution. What I mean by the ‘way of Jesus’ is the hard and beautiful work of making wrong things right again. The work of forgiveness (letting go of past hurts) and repentance (being sorry and willing to make things right again) and transformed relationships (doing things differently and together). When we become infused with the love of God we start to see how Jesus is turning our wounds into healing, our past into learning, our future into hope, our relationships into collaboration, our diversity into celebration, and our differences into mutuality – making our reconciliation the best collaboration for transformation the world has yet to see. And the world is so desperately hungry for help on this one.
I’ve never been more hopeful at the possibility of a shared future because I know we are not people motivated or stuck in fear. We are the children of God. We are the redeemed. We are the brave ones, who, with God’s presence and invitation can confront our fears and transform our reality with perfect love. We receive that love through Jesus and then we become that love with Jesus so that we can love this world into the wild, beautiful, fruitful, peaceful place it was always created to be.
I pray that this hope of the Gospel silences the whispering voices in the backdrop of women’s lives that keep insecurity a blanket they hold onto. I pray it releases men to genuine repentance that leaves no regrets. I pray that it unleashes the church to be a light on a stand, a city on a hill for the world to witness the possibilities of hope in a cynical time. But most of all I pray it makes a way for our children to live a future God has always dreamed for them – a reconciled future of collaboration for a transformed world.
Danielle Strickland is an author, speaker, trainer, and global social justice advocate. Her aggressive compassion has served people firsthand in countries all over the world—from establishing justice departments for the Salvation Army to launching global antitrafficking initiatives to creating new movements to mobilize people towards transformational living. Affectionately called the “ambassador of fun,” she is host of DJStrickland Podcast, cofounder of Infinitum, Amplify Peace, and Brave Global, and founder of Women Speakers Collective. Danielle is married to Stephen and lives in Toronto, Canada, with their three sons.