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P1070624The Myth of the Submissive Christian Woman, Walking with God without Being Stepped on by Others

by Brenda Waggoner. Tyndale House, 2004.

I bought this book not so much for myself, but to see if it would be a good book to recommend to Christian women. I’ve always had a feisty streak, and a lack of assertiveness or having boundaries has not generally been a problem for me. When I was younger my quiet persona (yes, you can be both quiet and feisty) sometimes led to occasional assertiveness issues, but even then I could stand my ground if push came to shove.

I was a nurse for 18 years, so excuse my quote from Florence Nightingale:

“The martyr sacrifices themselves entirely in vain. Or rather not in vain; for they make the selfish more selfish, the lazy more lazy, the narrow narrower.”

Nightingale was a wonderful nurse, the lady of the lamp, who served others, but she understood some differences. There is a difference between being dependable and being a doormat. There is a difference between being responsible and being a martyr. Some women have problems differentiating the two and spend their lives being stepped on by others – allowing the lazy to be more lazy and the selfish more selfish.

I’ve encountered too many women, Christian and non-Christian alike, who are doormats and martyrs. This problem can be more overt among evangelical Christians. After all, Christians are to be submissive, deny themselves, and serve others. Right? I address this in a past blog post: Be a doormat for Jesus? Is your selfless behavior actually selfish?

I’ve been saddened and frustrated over the years to see Christian women ultimately harm themselves through a lack of boundaries and assertiveness. My attempt to offer advice fell on deaf ears and was perceived as anti-Christian. But this book…

I do recommend it. In case the title makes you nervous – the myth of the submissive Christian woman – the author’s point is not that being submissive is a myth but rather it has been misunderstood. Each chapter addresses a myth or misunderstanding about submissiveness. It is divided into 3 parts: Exposing the myths, Exchanging myths for truth, Dying to self & becoming alive to God. The end of each chapter has exercises to help you assimilate the material through prayer, questions, and looking up Scripture passages.

Here is sampling of the myths addressed:

  • Biblical submission requires that I give up being “me.”
  • Dying to self requires that I always put others first, even if it means compromising myself and my own needs.
  • Biblical submission requires that I follow precise biblical role descriptions for relationships, even if it means ignoring my instincts about safety and emotional well-being.

The back cover accurately states: “Brenda also shatters the misconception that good manners, niceness, and passivity equals godliness and reveals that true biblical submission does not mean submitting to everyone else’s wants, needs, and opinions while ignoring your own.”

Being a Christian often requires having a backbone, the God-given strength to stand alone or speak truth.

The book is written for everyday women. It is honest, as the author appropriately shares situations in her own life and in the lives of others. The real life examples make it practical, and not theory only, yet it is also biblically based with Christ and the Scripture given precedence.

No matter where you stand on the complementarian or egalitarian spectrum, this book is a good one. I purchased it through Christians for Biblical Equality and they would not sell a book with a faulty view of submission. Yet the author evades the issue of comp vs egal entirely. I found myself trying to analyze the author’s personal stance, and could not deduce it – which I think is the book’s strength. It could be read by those who identify as mild/moderate comps or as egals and both would appreciate it. (In my opinion at least.)

If you have never heard the words complementarian and egalitarian, no worries – the book does not get into that! Rather, it is a practical, biblically based book about the struggles some women face with self-identity, self-assertion, and self-care.

In close, here are a few excerpts from the book:

“What mazes of distraction draw you away from God’s best for you? Often they start out as good things…doing good deeds for others, taking on responsibility, caring for people…Yet in your sometimes overly diligent efforts, without really being aware of it, you somehow step over an invisible line. Caring becomes over-caring, and you end up enabling and weakening the people you care about.” page 45

“Ignoring our own safety instincts is often a sign that we’re putting ourselves on the cross and trying to make sacrifices that only Jesus could make, trying to do what only Jesus could do. Self-imposed martyrdom never works because it makes us too big and God too small.” page 63

“God gives gifts to his children at his own discretion. Sometimes it’s a bit irregular, as when God called Deborah to serve as a judge in Israel in Judges 4. Or consider Anne Graham Lotz’s calling as a minister. Part of dying to self is responding to God’s call and surrendering all that we are to him.” Page 126