None of the ladies in my family shrink back. Distinctly southern, full voices fill the room when we enter. We’re known for our loud laughs and warm embraces. We aren’t afraid to speak our minds and take the lead. We see a space and fill it. We see a need and fill it. I never grew up with the misconception that, as a woman, I wasn’t capable.
I grew up with a mom who worked equally as hard outside the home as my dad to provide for our family. She worked full-time as well as nights and side jobs at various points in mine and my sister’s childhood. Despite that, I remember her being present at every event. Each dance recital or band competition, game or school function. She showed up. She volunteered. She was known and beloved by all my friends. She appeared to do it all with ease.
I’ve always prided myself on being part of a line of strong women. It wasn’t until I was a young working mom myself, wracked with anxiety brought on by all the things I believed I should be doing but couldn’t manage, that I realized a weakness I inherited, too. The waters of all the expectations I placed on myself were rising higher than I could swim. I was going under.
When I started admitting my feelings of failure, the women around me echoed back my anxiety. “Why can’t we do it all?” we said. We all felt weak, believing the strength of a woman meant being all the things to all the people all the time.
My mom admitted the disquiet she lived with as well. She never let us see it as children, but she struggled to keep her head above water, too. When I looked at her as a real person and not just Supermom, I saw the crack in the facade, the weak place I’d missed before: her inability to rest.
Just like the women before me, I was weak when it came to caring for myself.
I’d let myself believe that feminine power means carrying everyone else. If our muscles start to tremble, we must power through it. If someone else is in need, we must deny ourselves. We give our all to our partners, our children, our churches, our communities. We come last.
This sounds good and right. It sounds biblical. And it is. And it’s not. Power doesn’t come from constant movement. Strength doesn’t mean we always show up and always say “yes.”
Jesus served and commands us to serve; we do it whole-heartedly. Jesus also rested and commands us to rest; we aren’t so sure about that one.
This is a weak area of my life I’ve been trying to strengthen for years, a wounded place I ask God to heal constantly. Letting go is work for me every single day. Over the past weeks, I felt the darkness closing in again.
Do you feel it, too? The pressure to be everything? Wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend. Enough but not too much. Strong but vulnerable. Worthy of being at the table but fighting for your place there anyway.
Sisters, I know some of you feel it, too. The knotted muscles in our backs, the tightness in our chest and shortness of breath, the sick and feverish feelings we have that aren’t from a virus we learned to fear over the last few years. They’re from forgetting where our power comes from.
We were daughters before we were sisters. We were children before we were mothers. We were the creation before we were creators. We were receivers before we were givers. God knows our weakness and fills it. God knows our desire and meets it. God knows our hunger and satisfies it. God knows our weakness and provides connection to the Source of strength.
Maybe for you, it’s getting moving or finally being still. It’s creating something beautiful or ceasing activity. It might be finding God in the silence of centering prayer or finding community in the Body of Christ. It’s writing, reading, or a movie cuddled up on the couch. It’s messaging a friend or staying in bed all morning.
It also looks like calling my mom to see how she’s doing after the surgery that keeps her off her feet. She longs to be back out there, bringing meals to others. That’s what strong women do. Today she was watching a movie with my dad, bemoaning all the things she needs to be doing and that someone needs to bring her a meal. That’s also what strong women do.
Our powerful hands stir and knead, tidy and sweep away, teach and mold, give and serve, motivate and raise up, create and enable. Our tender hands also cradle and nurture, comfort and encourage, still and quiet, bind up and heal.
May our open hands also fold in prayer, find times to be still, and stretch to the sky to receive what we do not have the power to do on our own.