Book Review – A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

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This is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time and it did not disappoint. I was familiar with Rachel Held Evans’ writing through her blog – mostly posts circulated by friends. And while I’ve never followed it religiously (pun!) I’ve generally appreciated what I’ve read from Evans.

A Year of Biblical Living (Thomas Nelson, 2013) chronicles Evans’ year spent attempting to live as closely as possible to the Biblical model of womanhood. Or at least, the Biblical model of womanhood as it is perceived today. (Comparisons to A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically are apt but the female perspective is crucial here.) While Evans doesn’t follow everything through for the full year, she does devote each month to a particular facet – from Purity to Obedience to Silence. She calls her husband “Master”. She attempts to cook her way through Martha Stewart in an effort to be a better wife. She remains completely silent in church. At the same time – and the part I enjoyed the most – Evans’ delves into research. She explores the roots of where we get our ideas about Biblical womanhood today. Through interviews with Jewish women, Christian scholars, and the women around her, Evans attempts to pull apart what’s Biblical and what’s cultural. It’s an important distinction and one I was able to learn a lot from.

As an adult, as a woman, and as a Christian, I’ve struggled with many of the concepts that Evans addresses and I appreciated her honesty as much as her investigation and exploration.

“…in our efforts to celebrate and affirm God’s presence in the home, we should be wary of elevating the vocation of homemaking above all others by insinuating that for women, God’s presence is somehow restricted to that sphere.

“If God is the God of all pots and pans, then He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms. Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation.”

Right there, Evans articulates a problem I’ve long struggled to identify amongst evangelical, conservative Christians. In an effort to elevate and value the role of a woman who stays home to care for her house and family (something I believe is fully worthy of respect), there are those who seem only able to do so at the expense of the working woman. As if a career is something you only do because you’re not married. Yet. Or you don’t have children. Yet. And not because you’re happy and fulfilled in your job. Or because you feel called to your chosen career. Or even because, at this point in your life, work is the best thing for you and your family.

I’ve been asked a few times recently if I plan to stay home after I have children. My honest answer is, I’m not sure. And I don’t want to answer that yet. Yes, I would love to be at home while my kids are young. I would love to be able to provide that for these kids and for my husband. But I also know myself and I know that in a year or two or less or more, I might miss working. I might miss the stimulation and challenge of a job. I might miss the regular contact with the outside world. I might even realize that I’ll be a better parent when I have a day or more a week away from my home and in a job. And that’s okay. I want to give myself permission now to have that option down the road.

I’ve sat and listened to Christian lecturers tell me that my ultimate role exists as a wife and a mother. That I shouldn’t desire anything more. That my family will suffer if I work outside of the home, if I send my kids to public school, if my husband comes home to a dark house and I rush in from work and make him Kraft Dinner. I believe that’s a lie. I believe that God created me (and every woman) with deep complexity. I believe He instilled in me skills and gifts and desires of all kinds. Some serve me well in my home and benefit my husband and will benefit my children. But others are laid deep within me and are there to benefit society, those in the community around me and maybe the world. I don’t think those desires are wrong; I don’t think they should be hidden away. I sat in a lecture like that next to a dear friend of mine, working on her Masters degree in Public Health, who told me afterward that she was sure being in school was the right choice for her, was what God had planned for her. And I applaud her. I look at so many of my Christian girlfriends who are smart and driven and who are changing the world.

I think of having a daughter of my own one day and what I’ll tell her about her future.

“God has big plans for you,” I’ll say. “God has good plans for you. He might take you anywhere. You might be a wife, a mother, a missionary, a doctor, a chemist, a researcher. You could be an accountant or a proof reader or a grocery store clerk. You can be more than one of those things at once. Don’t let anyone – even in the name of God – tell you to dream smaller.”

“As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ.”

I think my favourite part of the book was when Evans addresses Proverbs 31. If you’ve been a woman in the Christian church for a fair amount of time, this chapter has hovered over your head. While beautiful, it can also be the Biblical equivalent of the magazine covers in the grocery story checkout line. Here’s what you should be. Here are all the ways you fail to match up. I certainly have never bought land or made clothes. And while I hope my husband and children rise up and call me blessed, it’s more likely to be for my chocolate chip cookies and sense of humour than because of my profitable trading.

But Evans goes to the source and examines the Jewish tradition of Proverbs 31.

“I looked into this, and sure enough, in Jewish culture it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in song.”

Doesn’t that change everything? Instead of Proverbs 31 being a laundry list of requirements, of ways that we should act and aren’t, it’s a celebration. It’s a blessing. As Evans puts it, something to be given unconditionally, not earned.

“A woman of valour” – that’s what the Proverbs 31 woman is. And she might be a woman who brings by a meal for a friend who’s sick. Or who is up all night with a colicky baby. Or who comes home from a long day of work and kicks off her shoes. It is a woman who does things – any thing – for God.

Ultimately, that’s who this book is for: women striving to worship God. Though it probably be of interest to men and women curious to know what the Bible really has to say about the role of women.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review – A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

    • That whole chapter is terrific! She describes how she and her female friends will call each other “Woman of Valour” when they do anything remotely noteworthy. I think it’s a practice we should all adopt!

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