Tyndale House Publishers
“Daily I live with [one] fear—a healthy fear. . . . [It is] that I will miss something God has for me. . . . I don’t want to be robbed of even one of God’s riches by not taking time to let Him invade my life. By not listening to what He is telling me. By allowing the routine, pressing matters of my minutes to bankrupt me of time for the most exciting, most fulfilling relationship in life.” Carole Mayhall, From the Heart of a Woman
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; SHE shall be called ‘woman.’” Genesis 2:23, NIV (emphasis added)
she\'shē\ pronoun 1: The use of lowercase she indicates the informal title every female receives the moment she is born.
SHE\'SHĒ\ pronoun 1: The use of the uppercase SHE is a title bestowed on those women who seek more from God, submit themselves to His transforming work, and commit to a lifetime of being reborn into His original design. The result is a safe, healthy, and empowered SHE.
And as she fights to catch her breath between all her duties, she is bombarded with conflicting messages every time she turns on the TV, fixes dinner, runs on her treadmill, or sits down to a meeting at work. These messages attempt to define where she fits in the world, as well as her relationships, her spirituality, and her very identity as a woman. She struggles to feel beautiful when she’s probably not the superfit woman the media portrays as ideal. Intimacy eludes her, and the feeling of being unprotected overwhelms her in a generation ravaged by the breakdown of the family. She wrestles with loneliness in an age that has lost the art of mentoring. She is confused in trying to figure out what it means to be truly feminine amidst the feminist messages screaming all around her. Purity of both body and mind is a battle for the married as well as the unmarried, and the younger as well as the older woman—when sex sells and the world treats it so casually. She finds physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries rare or nonexistent. Purpose is difficult to discover in a time that glorifies worldly success and downplays faithfulness to family, friends, and God. And freedom is tough to find even for the woman who has fought to overcome past hurts and baggage.
It’s no wonder she struggles!
Maybe you’ve read books, listened to talk shows, or joined Bible studies to find answers to the dilemma of the modern woman. Whatever the case, you know what it’s like to be her, right? Like every other woman alive today, you have a lot on your plate. You want to be your best give and get the most from life . . . but just what does that mean? And how do you accomplish those things?
Women are crying out for answers that today’s culture simply isn’t giving. Fortunately, we can know where to find the truth about what it means to be a modern woman. And in that truth, we’re sure to discover the help we’re all looking for in this adventure called life.
Before we dive in to the heart of this subject, let’s back up for a minute. We as its authors see this book as a journey, a coming together of sisters from different walks and backgrounds. It’s a joining of hands and hearts to access God’s practical, empowering truths for our life today. Between the two of us, our individual life experiences have brought us to a place where we’ve seen the need for a book like this one.
Rebecca: I’m originally from Australia, but for the last ten years I’ve traveled as a Christian music writer and performer, so I’ve had lots of opportunities to meet women from all over the world. I, like so many of the women I’ve met, love being a woman. The mix of femininity, a caring and nurturing spirit, strength, and sensitivity we are naturally gifted with is a joyful thing for me. Though I’m fulfilling many of my life goals now, I love dreaming about my future husband and how it will feel to be protected and treasured by him. I imagine one day being a mother and teaching my own kids the lessons I’ve learned through my adventurous life and my role as the oldest of seven children.
Lynda: I love being a woman too, but having lived nearly twice the number of years as Rebecca, I see my SHEness through slightly different eyes. And I’ve realized that life doesn’t always turn out as we hoped it would.
I did find and marry my Prince Charming—Sir David is his name—but not until I had put in more than fourteen years as a single mom. Through my work as an author and an editor of Focus on the Family’s Single-Parent Family magazine, I heard from women from nearly every continent about their struggles, concerns, and the things that kept them from celebrating life to the fullest. I found myself constantly amazed at the different stories that all echoed a common search for our identity as women, our spirituality, and an overall balance in life.
“She” refers to a woman, uniquely and wonderfully made. Not only are we distinctly different from men, but every woman is an original and unlike any other female in history. Our differences are something to celebrate and something that we the authors have enjoyed while writing this book!
Lynda is married; Rebecca is single. Rebecca looks forward to having children, while Lynda looks forward to the patter of grandchildren’s feet. Rebecca deals with PMS, and Lynda deals with hot flashes. Neither of us has heard of the music the other listens to. Rebecca goes to sleep at night a few hours before Lynda gets up each morning.
Yet we’re both modern women just like you, trying to find balance and joy and purpose in life. Our differences represent the brilliant mosaic of womanhood. Our lives join at the depth of our common passion to be safe, healthy, and empowered SHEs who live each day to the fullest and help set the pace for future generations of women.
Now that you know a bit about us, let’s get back to the question, who is she/SHE?
On a field trip to a large bookstore chain, we discovered that some of the most popular books and magazines for women reflect the stressed-out, hurting, searching feelings of our time. Many magazine titles such as Glamour, Self, More, Black Book, and Millionaire appeal to our culture’s self-centeredness. And books addressing our never-ending desire for self-improvement have become best sellers:
Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out, Dr. Phil McGraw (New York: Free Press, 2001)
Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting: The Astonishing Power of Feelings, Lynn Grabhorn (Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 2000)
The common theme that struck us most, however, was the many titles we saw that addressed the failure of the feminist movement and the overwhelming load we have convinced ourselves we need to carry. Talk magazine featured an article titled “Love, Sex, Family, Career—It was all supposed to be so easy for the modern woman!”
We found editor and compiler Cathi Hanauer particularly intriguing, as she emphasized the common theme of dissatisfaction. She writes: “Women today have more choices than at any time in history, yet many smart, ambitious, contemporary women are finding themselves angry, dissatisfied, stressed-out.”
She quotes Kristin van Ogtrop in the same book:
Here are a few things people have said about me at the office: “You’re unflappable.” “Are you ever in a bad mood?” Here are things people—okay, the members of my family—have said about me at home: “Mommy is always grumpy.” “Why are you so tense?” “You’re too mean to live in this house and I want you to go back to work for the rest of your life!”
Danielle Crittenden, founder and editor of The Women’s Quarterly magazine, authored a best-selling book called What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. Crittenden writes: “Talk to women under forty today, and you will hear that in spite of the fact that they have achieved goals previous generations of women could only dream of, they nonetheless feel more confused and more insecure than ever.” This author goes on to examine big topics in the life of a woman: sex, marriage, motherhood, work, aging, and politics. She argues that a generation of women has been misled—taught to blame men and pursue independence at all costs. “Happiness is obtainable,” Crittenden says, “but only if women will free their minds from outdated feminist attitudes.”
Unfortunately, Christian women haven’t fared much better. In fact, Christian women can struggle even more with depression and anxiety than women who don’t know God. Not only do we experience the heavy demands of family, work, and self that all women face, but on top of this, many of us feel that we can’t show our weakness or confusion. A Christian woman surely should not feel overwhelmed, angry, and at times (gasp!) bitter. As a result, we heap guilt and shame on ourselves. And our discouragement grows.
Rebecca: Recently I attended the graduation of a friend who had finished an in-depth biblical healing course through a well-known ministry. As I watched the graduation unfold, I couldn’t help but pick up on the untouchable aura surrounding the ministry’s female president. Here was a woman who epitomized the successful modern female. She had a flourishing, worldwide ministry; she was trim and toned; she was a confident leader. But instead of being impressed by her accomplishments and leadership, I left the ceremony feeling sorry for her. She exuded a hard, overly independent, “I can do it all” air about her that seemed to push me away. I felt that deep inside her tough shell was a sensitive, insecure woman who had been lost in the midst of being strong for everyone else.
We all battle this tendency toward cultural hardness in a world where Satan’s lies about womanhood run rampant. When we look around us, we see the turmoil in the eyes of women everywhere. Somewhere deep inside of us is the knowledge that this is not what God wants for us. Something is wrong! Will the real SHE please stand up?
We haven’t found all the answers, and we’re not here to wallow in our pain, share our communal tears, or simply feel better. This book isn’t a quick fix, but rather an encouragement for us to rethink the ways we define and live out our womanhood. We’re looking for something permanent—a new way of viewing ourselves and our role in the world, in our family, and in our career. We’re looking for a new perspective on what it means to be both strong and feminine, gentle and assertive, compassionate and inspiring, nurturing and nurtured. It’s a perspective that flies in the face of the feminist jargon that has subtly impacted us in ways we may not even realize.
For now, let’s toss aside the self-help books and magazines and go straight to the timeless truths found in the Bible. After all, who better to know what a woman should be than God, who created us?
The Bible teaches that we can experience real and lasting change only by looking to God and allowing Him to change us. Yes, we might in our own power be able to set better boundaries, build more discipline into our lives, and raise our self-esteem as the magazine headlines at the grocery checkout lines promise. But the Bible says that God offers the way to permanent change and real joy, hope, and peace.
As we prepared to write this book, we made a trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, for a week of undistracted work. Girl, how we suffered for the ministry there in our ski lodge! During that time, we compiled a list of both our felt needs and the concerns we’d heard from other women around the world through e-mails, letters, and personal contact. We also threw into the mix quotes, magazine articles, excerpts from books we’d read, and Scriptures we’d discovered. We input this information into the computer, printed it, and literally cut it up and placed it randomly across the floor of our cabin. Then we organized the copy into categories as it seemed to fit. Out of that exercise and a lot of prayer, we uncovered nine key areas of particular struggle for today’s women:
Then we went out to dinner, praying that God would show us our title for this book. Soon we had not only our title, but the overarching themes the book would cover as well:
And so SHE was born.
The common thread woven throughout it all is that we as women have believed certain lies—lies the Bible says Satan throws at us. What’s the result? Mediocre, overcommitted, self-centered, ineffective, and joyless living.
But, thankfully, there’s hope. It’s time to redefine feminism. We call it the “new feminism”—a rediscovery of the timeless truths for moving beyond lies that weigh us down, pressure us, and stress us out. No longer will those lies keep us from breaking free of the nagging claws of exhaustion, dissatisfaction, lack of fulfillment, and anger. As a result, we can live what the Bible calls “abundant” life. Together, let’s peel back the layers and discover all God wants for us as women.
Jesus Himself reveals that the secret to transforming from an unsafe, unhealthy, and unempowered she to a safe, healthy, and empowered SHE is in refusing to fall for the lies of Satan and, instead, embracing and living out God’s truths. In John 8, Jesus warns us about the bad news of the lie:
[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.
But Jesus also gave us the good news:
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
God is good and loving and greater than all the circumstances, relationships, and heartaches that threaten to overwhelm us. All we have to do is recognize the lies and replace them with truths. That’s when freedom comes.
The Beginnings of SHE
Jesus was known for applying timeless truths to contemporary life in ways that people could understand. So let’s follow His lead and go back to the beginning to understand the way it was supposed to be before everything went wrong.
First there was God, who made Himself a world. He filled His special place with all the beautiful things in the heavens, in the waters, and on the earth. And He described it all as “good.” But God wanted more. He wanted the “very good.” He also wanted someone made in His image to whom He could show His love. So He created man and assigned him the job of naming everything that He had created. Then God made woman, a “helper comparable to [man].”
Man and woman were bonded together as one in a lifelong, committed relationship. They were naked in who they were before God and each other. They were not ashamed because they were not distracted by things that didn’t please God—not ashamed and distracted, that is, until sin cut into their world and enticed them to look away from God’s truths and toward Satan’s lies.
Satan promised power and wisdom and beauty and life. But as soon as the couple fell for his act, their bond was divided. Their eyes were opened, and they felt ashamed and tried to hide from God. No longer could they be naked and unashamed before their Maker.
The man blamed the woman. The woman blamed the snake. The man and the woman—and the snake—were forced to accept the consequences of rejecting what was right for the temporary pleasure of what looked good but was actually wrong. The deception led to separation from God and eventually to death.
This is the heritage that Eve, the first she, passed on to all the other shes to follow. God’s best—a pure and full life—was given as a gift in the beginning but became a prize to be sought after like mad by all the women who have followed.
But someday God will return and make Himself a new world. He’ll fill it with special HEs and SHEs who chose to live their life His way—whole and unashamed before Him. Together we’ll exist forever, free from mistakes and wrongs and confusion. Any of us who choose to know Him will one day experience real freedom and (snake-free!) joyful life with Him. Until then, lots of snakes run wild, tempting and trying to pull us away from God’s best and even costing us our life.
All of us are on this journey, regardless of the color of our skin, the age of our body, the status of our job, or the nature of our past. Every day we make choices—we can fall for Satan’s deceptions and try to hide our mistakes from God, or we can ask for His guidance and begin to follow His ways.
Lynda: I admire the Rebeccas in my life, who have chosen from their earliest days to stay on the naked-and-unashamed paths before God. I didn’t. Though raised in a Christian home, I “ate the fruit” when I was about twenty-one years old, which sent me down paths that led away from God. More than a decade of wrong choices followed, robbing me of the joy and wholeness I had felt from God in my younger days. Then fear of facing the future as a single mom without God’s guidance brought me back to Him. In September 1985, I took a walk in the field behind my home with a Bible tucked under my arm, sat down on a rock, and looked up at the sky. I asked God to forgive my sins and to take over my life—not just my single-parent needs. That prayer changed my life and has affected everything for me since. The experience left me with a driving passion to help other women choose God’s ways and avoid making similar mistakes. I also want you to get to know the good God I’ve come to know. When we mess up, He’s ready to forgive us, heal us, and help us move on in a relationship with Him. I bring that passion to my part in writing this book. I want to grow with you as we become the SHEs that God planned from the beginning.
So what qualities did the first woman possess that God can help you and me regain? Before Eve’s first sin, SHE was Safe, Healthy, and Empowered. We can be too.
Safe: To Be Held Securely
In the original Garden, Eve never worried about her safety. When we are safe, we are freed from risk, danger, harm, and injury.
Rebecca: I learned the meaning of safety from a little girl in Ecuador when I joined my brother Joel on a trip to meet the child he sponsors through Compassion International. We visited the smiling Compassion children in remote villages, helping to serve food at one of the projects and singing worship songs as we traveled by bus through beautiful, mountainous scenery. In one village classroom, my attention was drawn to a little girl about eight years old. A large, blanketed lump covered almost half of her small frame. With her permission, I furrowed into the blankets and discovered the tiny face of a baby who was only weeks old. At the intrusion to her safe little haven and the awakening by cold air and a strange face, the baby started to cry. The substitute “mom,” whom I later discovered was the infant’s cousin, quickly took the child to her real mother, who was a teacher at the project.
It hit me that in similar ways, I too long to be protected, cocooned in love, and tucked away from danger.
Security is a basic human need. But either intentionally or unintentionally, people and circumstances jerk back our covers of safety and expose us to the cold winds of life. That exposure destroys our sense of security and leaves us feeling vulnerable to further danger. To compensate, we scramble to other sources of protection, hoping to regain some sense of safety.
We women can be especially susceptible to this coping mechanism simply because crime rates prove that women are often targets for predators. But we need emotional safety as well as physical safety. We tend to be fairly in touch with our hurts and feelings. To find emotional security, we often settle for less-than-whole sources, if only for the temporary feeling of being cared for. The media tells us we’re strong if we can do it all on our own, so we sacrifice the true intimacy that comes from meaningful relationships and even more so from God. Ultra-feminist views tell us we need to break the glass ceiling to prove our worth, so we accept misconceptions about what it means to be feminine, assuming that to be so would make us even more susceptible to danger.
God, however, offers us real safety from the storms that life blows our way. It’s possible to know that you are being cradled by God, held warm and tight in His arms through all circumstances.
Lynda: I once read a story about a chicken coop that caught fire. Once the flames had been extinguished, people who were sorting through the remains found a hen with her wings spread across the nest to protect her eggs. Though the mother perished, the protection she had provided allowed her eggs to make it safely through the danger.
Jesus provided a similar image in Matthew 23:37. He told Jerusalem how much He wanted to gather His people together and shelter them as a mother hen does her chicks. Jesus wants to do the same for us today. We can continue to fight the fires on our own by relying on other people and things, or we can crawl under His wings. The Bible tells us, “He will shield you with his wings. He will shelter you with his feathers. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”
In the coming chapters we’ll discuss how this is possible: how to become a protected, feminine, wholly safe woman whose heart knows firsthand the joy of true intimacy.
Healthy: Check the Pulse of Your Life
Feeling safe and cared for is only one part of being complete. Being emotionally healthy is another big must.
Lynda: When my husband left, I was pregnant with my third child, and my girls were one and three. I didn’t want to be divorced, so my natural reaction was to curl up in a ball, feel sorry for myself, and nurse my wounds. But one day, my little boy rolled over for the first time and my two girls chased each other through the house. I realized at that point my children were excited about this business of living, and I needed to be there for them. Holding on to my hurts would only perpetuate more hurts and poor choices that would affect all of us. In order to raise healthy children, I needed to get healthy myself. So the becoming-healthy process began for me.
To be healthy is to be strong and thriving, able to bounce back from tough times. And tough times can be plentiful. Society constantly tells us to look good on the outside whatever the cost. It also tells us to go ahead and do whatever feels good, which breaks down the rules of our conduct. And when it comes to reactions to other people’s wrong treatment of us, the world tells us we’re justified however we respond. If we heed this kind of advice, we’ll never bounce back from the hardship.
To make things worse, the self-centered theme of our day marches on screaming such propaganda as “Have it your way” and “You’ve come a long way, baby.” This message results in one of two responses in us: We say, “It’s my turn now,” and pursue our own desires, regardless of who we have to hurt, neglect, or trample in the process; or we decide, “It will never be my turn,” and we continue serving, overcommitting, and neglecting our own dreams and desires—all the while feeling life has gypped us of the things we deserve.
Either way, we sink into unhealthy responses that leave us with unresolved feelings and emotions and keep us from moving on with our life.
However, God offers another choice. The Bible says that He brings health to us—“‘I will give you back your health and heal your wounds,’ says the Lord,” —and that He wants us to prosper and be in good health.
Beautiful, pure, and free can be words to describe our emotional, physical, and spiritual health—when we let God heal our wounds and teach us how to conduct our life.
Empowered: Having What It Takes
Finally, a safe and healthy woman is on her way to having what it takes to live an empowered life. She knows her limits, she invites learning from other women who’ve been where she is, and she knows what she’s about and Who she’s living for.
Rebecca: On a family vacation years ago, I learned to windsurf. For someone who had never surfed before, this experience could have ended in disaster, but fortunately it didn’t.
We were staying on the lovely Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. The weather was beautiful, the beach lay just a few minutes’ walk away, and the sparkling lake beckoned me. I was determined to conquer the Windsurfer and not let it conquer me. So after a few lessons from the instructor, I gave it a go. I lost my balance a few times, but eventually I found myself sailing solo across the water, feeling the exhilaration of being powered and propelled by the wind.
This windsurfing thing required some serious concentration for a novice like me. Each muscle had to stay alert and work overtime. But even an experienced windsurfer would say that to really go places, to be fully powered by the wind, you must be focused and listen to instruction, apply strong concentration, and put consistent effort into it. Unless your objective is to slow down or stop, you have to give it all you’ve got.
Trusting yourself completely to God and then giving the Christian life all you’ve got is what it takes to be an empowered woman. To experience all the freedom and joy God has in store for you, you can’t coast or stop. None of us can. We must keep moving by allowing God to empower us, and He does that by changing us. Through mentoring, He allows other godly people to teach us. Through building godly boundaries, we prevent intrusions from dangerous people and events. Through discovering and pursuing our God-given purpose, we stay on track and away from distractions that take our focus off of Him and that rob us of the power He offers.
As you allow God to change you in these areas, negative people and situations can change as well. Conflicts are settled; obstacles are destroyed. Instead of wasting time and energy waiting for other people and circumstances to change, you can remain empowered as you count on God to change you. How freeing to know that your empowerment depends on no one but God. You’ll see that reality develop as a major theme of our book.
God’s kind of empowerment means He’s the One who invests, authorizes, and equips us. In a world that emphasizes power, it seems contradictory to us that as we let go of the controls and give them to God, He actually empowers us. But that’s the way He works. He provides the power: “God is awesome in his sanctuary. The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!”
You can apply diligence and consistent effort to be the mentored, boundaried, and purposeful daughter God intends you to be. Then you’ll see the sails of your life fill with God’s wind, propelling you to new, totally empowered destinations with Him.
Before we can find safety, health, or empowerment, we need to understand where we’ve been unsafe, unhealthy, and unempowered in the past. Take a look at the questions below. Be as honest with yourself as possible. Try not to overthink the questions. Your immediate response is usually the most valid. From 0 to 5, choose where you stand, rating as follows:
1. How often do you feel overwhelmed with feelings of anger or hurt?
[Please place “Never” under 0 and “Always” under 5.]
0 1 2 3 4 5
2. How regularly do you experience immoral thoughts or temptations?
0 1 2 3 4 5
3. Do you struggle with fear when it comes to allowing others to know the real you?
0 1 2 3 4 5
4. How often do you say yes to unnecessary demands?
0 1 2 3 4 5
5. How often do you feel that your life is out of balance?
0 1 2 3 4 5
6. Do you feel unsure about your unique giftings and purpose on earth?
0 1 2 3 4 5
7. Do you hold on to disappointments and find it hard to forgive?
0 1 2 3 4 5
8. Do you feel offended or uncomfortable with a man’s chivalrous acts, such as when he offers to open a door for you?
0 1 2 3 4 5
9. How often do you feel dissatisfied in the area of your own spiritual growth?
0 1 2 3 4 5
10. How often do you struggle with your self-image?
0 1 2 3 4 5
11. How often do you watch, listen to, or read things that contain impurity?
0 1 2 3 4 5
12. How often do you feel envious of another woman’s appearance, either in real life or in the media?
0 1 2 3 4 5
13. Is there a lack of mentoring (both giving and receiving) in your life?
0 1 2 3 4 5
14. How often do you struggle with needing people too much or too little?
0 1 2 3 4 5
15. Do you feel vulnerable at home or at work?
0 1 2 3 4 5
16. How often do you feel discouraged or attacked by the enemy?
0 1 2 3 4 5
17. How often do you feel snowed under by your own and others’ expectations of you?
0 1 2 3 4 5
18. How often do you feel unworthy of God’s love?
0 1 2 3 4 5
19. Does your family make you feel unsafe emotionally?
0 1 2 3 4 5
20. Do you ever think there must be more to who you are and more to life than what you’re living?
0 1 2 3 4 5
Now add up your score.
1–25 You are amazing! With God’s power, you have been standing strong amidst incredible cultural pressure. You have a godly perspective on life and are strong in His power. Keep on keeping on.
26–50 You’re doing well. This book will be a good reminder for you in areas you understand, but you can always grow and deepen.
51–75 We’re glad you’re reading this book! You’re obviously seeking help in many areas, and God will speak His wisdom and truth into your unique life situation.
76–100 Sister . . . it’s time to figure out some important things! The coming chapters will give you a lot of biblical insight and help, but they should not replace one-on-one mentoring. Don’t wait! As soon as possible, seek out a wise, older godly woman and share your heart with her. And please don’t put off getting professional help if necessary. You are too valuable to continue missing out on God’s best for you.
This exercise will help you know a little about where you stand today in your quest to live more fully tomorrow. Together, let’s start where we are and head to where we can be. Let’s become the SHEs God designed us women to be.
I know too well what it’s like to be the unsafe, unhealthy, unempowered “she” that I don’t want to be anymore. Lord, You’ve made me aware that there is more to womanhood than what I’ve seen and experienced. Free me from the burden of my past failures. I long to know completely how much You love me. I want to soak up Your love, finding my security and wholeness in You. Change me, Lord; tear away the old habits. Let the faulty mind-sets melt and be replaced with truth. Break the power Satan’s lies have had over me. Help me grow from she to SHE as I trust You to transform my life. I love You, Lord. Do what You want in my heart and mind. In Jesus’ name, amen.
SHEism: The old “she” ways of thinking and living haven’t worked. Only God can make us truly safe, healthy, and empowered. Only God can make us SHE.