Tears for Fears (and Hopes)

IMG_1289Last week, I had the opportunity to teach on the topic of women in leadership to a roomful of saints at a church in Portland, OR. For me it is always a joyful privilege to challenge Christians to embrace an egalitarian understanding of the Scriptures.

It’s also a deeply personal experience, and I mean that in a couple of ways. On one hand, I’m on this journey of understanding both my male privilege and how men and women are meant to partner together in ministry. And teaching or training on that presses into what God is doing in and through me.

On the other hand, engaging around this topic hits me as a dad of three little girls. As I told the crowd last week, it matters to me a great deal what kind of a church these girls will eventually enter into. Will it be a church that is open to the gifts that God has sovereignly hard-wired into them, or will they face limits and barriers by virtue of their gender?

And so I’m desperate to help the church become the former.

A few years ago, our oldest daughter, Lucy, qualified for the fourth grade district finals in cross-country. It meant that she would compete against 120+ other girls in the big district race. As a runner, I was so excited for her to compete!

On the day of the race, I dropped her off at the start line and then went out to find a place to cheer her on, about halfway along the course. When I got to the perfect spot, I looked back toward the starting line, with my little girl somewhere in the masses, and…

I cried.

Or, more to the point, I bawled. Like uncontrollable sobbing. It caught me by complete surprise, and so I started to ask myself why I was in tears. I had two conflicting emotions going on inside of me that day.

First, I knew Lucy was about to suffer. I’ve done enough racing in my day to understand the pain you have to endure if you want to be successful in a running race. And so there was this empathetic, fatherly thing at work in me. No matter the context, it’s hard for this old “feeler” to watch our kids struggle, and I knew Lucy was destined for about 4 minutes of suffering.

Second, I had this fierce belief in Lucy welling up within me. It’s sort of hard to explain the emotion, but it felt like this intense conviction that Lucy could do this. Maybe it was some sort of vicarious or surrogate emotion, since I know she was full of self-doubt as she toed the start line.

When I think about our girls engaging a church context that I fear will be all too hostile to them using their leadership gifts, I feel these same two things. Simultaneously, I feel hope (“they can overcome!”) and fear (“they are going to suffer”).

And that’s one big reason why this stuff is personal for me.

Want to know the end of the story? Lucy finished 22nd that day, good enough to earn a district ribbon. Me?

I was crying the entire time.

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