Week of Mutuality: The Voice and the Echo

I am linking up today with Rachel Held Evans in her Week of Mutuality: a week long exploration of the beauty of men and women living as one in Christ.

The theological words associated with this are “complementarianism” (the belief that the Bible requires Christian women to submit to male leadership in the home and church) and “egalitarianism” (the belief that Christian women enjoy equal status and responsibility with men in the home, church, and society). But I love this word “mutuality” and the way it points to our need for each other, the different ways we speak to faith, the necessity of each and every voice. This is my post about that.

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The first thing you need to know is that he was dreamy. The second, that he was a senior, tall and traveled, just back from a month-long mission trip at the far end of the world.

I was a freshman, working hard to be brave about my faith, to let my Jesus Freak flag fly. In many ways, I still felt like the 10-year-old girl who sat against the wall at school recess to read Laura Ingles Wilder books alone. But for him, it came easy.

He held his open Student Study Bible with one outstretched palm as he led our church small group. He said, “Let’s sit in the parking lot tonight!” and we said YES! He was the center of our ragged circle in that expanse of rolling concrete. He was as bright as the streetlamp that buzzed fluorescent above us as he talked about David. Goliath. Taking risks for God.

I thought, ‘This is a leader.’ I was aware of the way that people gravitated toward him. He was magnetic and charismatic and I decided early on that it had something to do with his height. His strength. Those broad, steady hands. In short, his maleness.

While he steered the Bible study at a neighboring high school toward the triple-digits, the school Bible study that I led languished. A brave, tired few gathered at 6:30am in Mr. Strand’s biology room where it smelled of chalk and formaldehyde. It felt stunted. Awkward. I spoke questions into the classroom, and the silence was heavy and marked.

I believed in my heart that it was because I was a girl.

I felt myself a placeholder, prayed daily for a “man of God” to take over, make it awesome, make it grow. I had never encountered a woman leader, strong in her own skin, a woman who glowed from a pulpit as she moved us towards God’s grace. I’m not sure I realized it was possible.

But it didn’t really matter because, in a stroke of unbelievable luck, he decided he liked me, maybe loved me. We were sort-of-not-quite dating, and I was next to him in church, comfortable singing the woman’s part to worship choruses.

I was the echo to his theme, the harmony to his melody, and as our voices spiraled to the heavens, I felt romantic and hazy about the whole thing. I thought how wonderful it sounded when we all sang our special part. I thought, this is what they must mean when they say “submission.”

*

He said we should break up, and I sadly but willingly retreated. He said we should get back together, and I sang wildly into it. Another break-up, and my lament was a mild variation on his repeating theme. I forgot how to sing a new song, only the same old part over and over.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot that I was not made to echo a man. I was made to echo the wild love of God.

I got used to the sound of my voice reverberating the words of others, and I didn’t notice for years the tinny edge to it all. The way it was always a little untrue.

In a small church classroom in China several years later, I heard it: that hollowness. We’d joined up with a group of young Christians, and the men had signed their names on a pad of paper, each taking a week to give the message. Sunday after Sunday, they spoke on things like mission and calling. On faithfulness and Bible reading.

But what I was feeling was hunger. I was starving in all the cold rice and unfamiliarity. I was lonely and empty, and I wanted someone to talk about the Israelites. About how they wandered and hungered and wanted something more than this. No one was saying what my heart needed to hear, so I suffered alone. I grew a little pale, a little unhealthy, a little sad.

*

I am no theologian, no expert in Greek, no big reader of commentaries. But I am beginning to understand that submit does not mean silence. It doesn’t even mean echo. It means love.

And love is about giving. It’s putting other people before you not by default because you don’t know who you are, but on purpose, precisely because you do.

It is to be fully yourself and to give your whole, beautiful heart to those around you.

To be a Christian, I believe, is listen hard for the notes of grace and love and light that pour from the Hidden Holy and to sing it back as best we can to the world. Man, woman, child – we, all of us, belong to this music.

It is not one, echoing chorus with a man’s part and a woman’s part, but a hundred thousand songs sung by a million voices.

And one of them is yours.

29 thoughts on “Week of Mutuality: The Voice and the Echo

  1. Love this. Brought back memories of my own small little Bible study in a classroom in high school.

  2. You knocked this one way, way out of the park, friend. I’m crying and smiling in recognition, in the ways I’ve woken up, in the truths that came hard and lies that came easy. Sometimes it takes a lot of pain to get there, and you have a lovely way of telling the story. xo

  3. Addie, this is beautiful and hard and bright. Thank you! Loved this —> “Somewhere along the way, I forgot that I was not made to echo a man. I was made to echo the wild love of God.”

  4. I got used to the sound of my voice reverberating the words of others, and I didn’t notice for years the tinny edge to it all. The way it was always a little untrue.

    This. A thousand times, this.

    I have always had questions, thoughts, opinions, but did my utmost to squelch them and repeat the party line for years.

    I carry in my head and in my heart the voices of a thousand preachers, a hundred Sunday school teachers and summer camp staff “parents” and mentors and peers and parents, all telling me what God is saying. But I can’t find my voice. I can’t even find His voice. And those are the two voices that I care about the most.

    1. My own voice and his voice. Yes. There is a place for listening and learning and even for quoting, but it must always come down to Him and me.

  5. You mean it’s not about power and control? Ha!

    I love how you put this. Suddenly Paul and the words of Jesus fit together in perfect harmony.

  6. “It is not one, echoing chorus with a man’s part and a woman’s part, but a hundred thousand songs sung by a million voices.

    And one of them is yours.”

    This is a beautiful post. Thank you so much for this reminder. We are not defined by our gender, but by the individuals we are created to be.

    Blessings.

    1. “We are not defined by our gender, but by the individuals we are created to be.” This is a lovely summation. I would add to it, “We are defined by the God who loves us.”

  7. Thanks Addie, for capturing the heart of the Lord of the church. Loved this:
    “And love is about giving. It’s putting other people before you not by default because you don’t know who you are, but on purpose, precisely because you do.”
    Wow! Yes! As love is…SO IS SUBMISSION!
    It is the model of Jesus: for the sake of all people, He chose to intentionally lay his life down for the glory of the Father and out of love for me! This chosen submission is the strongest demonstration I can find in history.

  8. Oh, Addie. I have tears in my eyes. My “amen” resounded after so many lines. This is beautifully written and so powerful. I love the imagery of belonging in and through our differences.

  9. You wrote in such a way that no matter what one may believe theologically, they would find truth in your words. Unity. This is what this often hard-firing debate of words needs: a call to love. Male and female, we are all first and foremost called to echo God’s love.

    I was just looking for something I would quote back to you hear, but I don’t know what I would choose. It is all. so. good.

    Thank you for adding your beautiful voice to this discussion.

    1. Thanks, Stephanie. Ultimately, that’s what I want most: unity in the love of God.

  10. Addie, you give me so much hope.
    In all honesty, I am overwhelmed by a sense of being lost at the moment, in a super-evangelical church, surrounded by people who are totally fine with the cliches and the easy answers and all of that. And I used to be.
    But this year, in particular, I have found myself asking so many questions and feeling hugely unsatisfied with these snappy one liners that are supposed to make me feel okay again. I feel alienated, really. I am sick of the cliches. I am sick of being that voice repeating back what everyone else says is the way, and pretending it’s fine. I just want Jesus. And it’s hard to find His voice, when I can’t even find my own!
    Reading your blog has been more of a help than I can express. Little by little, I’m getting there. Wherever ‘there’ may be!
    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for this kind comment, Clare. I resonate with where you are–feeling sort of isolated. All those tiny steps hopefully adding up to some kind of movement. You are not alone!

  11. I, like Stephanie, was looking for something to quote which stood out … it is all so outstanding.

    Absorbed in the imagery, I could hear you singing … improvising … trusting in faith that each note would arrive and sing through your soul in time with the beat of God’s heart and in harmony with our Creator’s redemptive purposes.

    And the more voices we have singing THIS song, the better this world will become.

  12. So true, Addie. I love that phrase “Hidden Holy.” I think having eyes to see that, lives that have space for us to notice it when it comes, and the ability to sit with it in a way that’s not about action but about BEING is a great way to think about our calling, what we’re all doing down here visiting earth anyway. And there’s nothing hierarchical about noticing together. 🙂

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