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The experience of pain

July 16, 2009

Some thoughts

This is not an easy subject for any of us.  We all have our share of suffering in the world.  Some of it is suffering that is common to all – it is part of our human experience.  One that Jesus also shared in.  And this is something we need to recall.  When I think back on my first year of seminary, I felt that part of me was in a flat spin (imagine a fighter plane from Top Gun).  There were several aspects to this – part of it was my own awareness and acknowledgement that I had held myself back because I am a woman.  And the other part was because what I expected did not take place.  I realized the invisible wall that reflected that as a woman people just didn’t quite know what to do with me, this was alongside a system that values expertise and qualification for ministry.  At some point the one hand that encourages and affirms spiritual giftedness and discipleship as qualification for leadership and ministry is confronted by the hand that determines leadership and ministry by expertise and proficiency.  No wonder some feel “in” and some feel “out.”

When I began my study I figured I would interview men and women about women in ministry leadership.  I was hopeful that women would want to engage and interact and share with one another about their experience.  Months later I finally feel I am now at a place where maybe I know enough to ask questions and I still wonder what questions should be asked?  What questions will be answered? As a woman responding to God’s call I am realizing that suffering marks our journey.

Paul described the Church as a body and said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (I Corinthians 12:26).  I wonder how are we doing in this regard.  Do we even think about those in the body of Christ that are in pain and suffer because who they are as part of the Body is not welcomed or acknowledged (and yes this applies to many areas)?  For women that have been affirmed in their ministry calling and had doors open for them what is it like to think that other women leaders do not share their experience?  Do we rejoice with and for women that have opportunities to let their gifts utilized when that may or may not be my experience?  Could a disconnect take place among women leaders that is more than generational?

In several conversations this year I have become deeply aware of how painful it is for women responding to God’s call when that requires adapting and fitting within the constraints of an existing system that expects women leaders to fit within certain roles or expectations.  Nancy Beach recently wrote about this on her blog as she sat at an airport after speaking in two cities in Canada.  From June 20, 2009 she wrote:

In both cities, I had the privilege of speaking to women leaders in the church.  These were women of all ages, both staff and volunteers, who fill a variety of roles in their ministries.  I was recalling today that in the past 10 months I have led workshops for women leaders in Chicago, London, Bristol (England), Melbourne, Sydney, San Francisco, La Mesa, Dallas, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.  Every one of these events surfaced similar issues, and frankly, a lot of pain.  It seems that once women are given permission to describe what their experience has been trying to lead in the church, they are freed up to express a level of disappointment that still catches me by surprise and troubles me.  I’m amazed at the stories I have heard, and even more astounded that these same women continue to faithfully serve, persevering for the cause of Christ.  Many of them are hugely under-valued and under-utilized (and under-paid if they are paid at all).  Some of them are shamed for ever bringing up issues about title or job description or salary, told that if they were true servants, they wouldn’t be displaying such prideful character.  My emotions vary from anger about the injustice to sadness for my sisters in pain to inspiration for their determination to continue in ministry.

I am trusting that God, who knows every one of these stories, will be faithful and provide wisdom.  And in the meantime, I will continue to gather these women together in a room if only to let them know they are not alone, their issues are shared by others, and their ministry matters more than they could possibly know.

This work among women leaders is not a calling I ever sought – in fact; I have only entered this arena reluctantly.  But if God has used me this past season to bring any encouragement to these incredible leaders, then I am profoundly grateful for that privilege.  So many of them are now heroes to me.  Assessed 7/16/09.

Throughout this year I have begun to realize I am not alone in my experience of suffering.  And part of my experiences as a woman in the Church responding to God’s call is part of the cross I carry in following Jesus.  What I experience, Christ has experienced in greater measure.  We need one another.

  1. July 16, 2009 7:50 am

    It truly shocks me how deeply the suffering can go in a person. So deep that a woman may not even be aware of this undercurrent to her insecurities and doubts. If not for my own recent experience (and I have it easy!) I doubt I would understand it in other women.

    Thank you Carol, for “going there”.

    • pathwayjourneys permalink*
      July 16, 2009 1:06 pm

      Hi Faith,
      What you have shared is so very true. I thank you.

  2. July 17, 2009 8:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing the experience of pain. It is really very shocking that how deeply the suffering can go in a person.

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