I was standing in our kitchen, looking out the window into the yard at the bare trees. The early morning light was flooding through, highlighting the edges of my windowsill succulents. But I wasn’t thinking so much about the sunlight. I was trying to keep panic and fear from overwhelming my heart and mind.
We were into day four or five of influenza with all four of our kids. On top of sleepless nights, multiple trips to urgent care and the ER, my husband was out of town. I was exhausted, emotional, and scared for my kids who had soaring temperatures and wracking coughs that just didn’t want to relent. I leaned against the counter, head down, fighting tears, praying, “God, I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this. I need Judah home. I can’t go on much longer.” And in that moment, the Lord gently spoke to my heart: Judah needs a strong woman, Heather. Your kids need a strong mother. And I’ve given you what you need to be strong.
There were still more tough days to come, but I felt as if iron had been infused into my soul. My body showed signs of the stress, fighting hard against panic attacks. But time after time, as I could feel my vision blurring and breath becoming short, I would literally say to myself, “No. I have a job to do, and you, anxiety, have no place here.” And as quickly as they would come, they would dissipate. I was seeing firsthand God’s close, real, all-sufficient strength in the midst of some of my greatest physical, emotional, and mental weakness.
I don’t think words can describe the relief I felt when Judah came home and the kids started improving. But the Lord used that short season of intense trial to teach me things I wouldn’t trade for anything. He showed me on a deeper level what it looks like to be a strong woman–His kind of strong.
It’s something I’ve been thinking of often since then. The world is constantly talking about strong women. I see it all over the place. Some of their definitions of strong womanhood are good. Others… not so much. But so many of the lines are blurred here. As Christian women, how do we discern what we should embrace and what we shouldn’t? It all goes back to the source of the strength, and how we define it.
You know, strong womanhood is actually God’s idea. He’s the One who created women to be strong. Proverbs 31:10 says, “Who can find a virtuous woman? Her price is far above rubies.” The word “virtuous” there in Hebrew means: strength. But His version of strong looks so, so different than the world.
God defines strength as being humble (Jas 4:6); as someone who serves (Mar 9:35) Someone who forgives (Col 3:13). A strong woman submits to God’s authority structure (1 Pet 1:3; Heb 13:17). A strong woman is gentle (1 Pet 3:4). A strong woman is diligent (Prov. 31:13). A strong woman cares for the needy (Prov 31:20). A strong woman considers others’ needs more important than her own (Phil 2:3). A strong woman is teachable (Prov 19:20). A strong woman speaks the truth in love (Eph 4:15). A strong woman “turns the other cheek” (Matt 5:39). A strong woman allows her emotions to come under the reign of the Spirit, exercising self-control over them (2 Tim 1:7). A strong woman acknowledges when she is wrong (Jas 5:16). A strong woman isn’t ruled by anxiety (Phil 6:6). And a strong woman knows that her strength actually comes not from herself, but from her God–she it’s the Holy Spirit who, in our weakness, is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
The world wants us to buy into the notion that we are enough in and of ourselves–that strong women do what makes them happy, and don’t bend to anyone else’s desires. The world screams that proud women are the strong ones, that women who cast off the “shackles of authority” and pursue their own dreams regardless of the consequences are the ones we should be following. The world’s version of “strong” is all about self–putting self first over everything and everyone else.
But friend, let’s not buy it. True strength isn’t serving ourselves–It’s serving and loving the King of Kings and those He puts in our paths. True strength is found in surrendering ourselves to the purposes and power of a Heavenly Father who has an eternal view, and knows exactly how best to use us in His grand, beautiful story. When we allow Him to make us strong, He comes in and transforms us into radiant, confident, kind, loving, bold, fearless women who are on mission for Him. And there truly is no better way to live.