I bought ‘Holiness for Ordinary People’ just for Sharon Drury’s chapter on gender and it’s worth it for that chapter alone. (The rest of the book, written by her husband Keith, is also very good!) Drury argues that the quest for holiness is often spoken of in masculine terms as a fight against selfishness, pride and desire for power. While some women will struggle with these, “for a variety of reasons, cultural and biological, many women tend to already live a life oriented to others... A call to surrender self and serve others, for many women, is to call them to do the very thing they are already doing and perhaps have done too much. Some women have so negated themselves they hardly have a self. Many women have such low esteem that their self is nowhere available to surrender.”
Do you know women of over-active conscience? Perhaps you are one. I have been at times. I’ve tortured myself searching my life for sin of which I might repent, and often seeing it where there is none. As a Bible teacher, I’ve seen it in others as well. I’ve been grieved to have godly women come to me after a sermon I’ve given, convinced that the application was directed to their vast unholiness, when it was nothing of the sort. Of course the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and we must listen to his voice, but so too does Satan attempt to deceive us with false guilt that distracts us from pursuing genuine holiness.
This is Drury’s concern. She believes that our language of service speaks to issues men are more likely to struggle with than women. Take for example, the woman who has made her whole life about keeping her home immaculate for the sake of ‘hospitality’, or the already exhausted woman who says ‘yes’ to very favour because she ‘wants to serve’. If selflessness is the goal, these women fit the bill. However, in reality these things can be a guise for idolatry, or an excuse for poor boundaries. Drury says that for women, total devotion to Jesus “may not mean giving up self -- it often means becoming a self.”
If we understand holiness as becoming more Christlike, more like Jesus, the True Human, some of us will connect with the traditional language around holiness, because we need to have our view of ourselves lowered as appropriate to human beings. However, for others of us, especially women, becoming holy will mean having our view of ourselves elevated, to see the glory and dignity of what it means to be a human being.
Drury paints a picture of what the sanctified woman looks like and it’s inspiring:
“the sanctified woman will enlist in God's life-changing work and she will be focused, undistracted, bold and risk-taking for God. She will resist letting her ego be merged and blurred until it's swallowed up in the lives of others. Instead, she will come to stand as a whole, responsible person under God.”
If this sounds 'unnatural for women', she says you're right, just like it's unnatural for men to become 'tender-hearted, meek, humble and easily entreated -- all the things we expect from a sanctified man.' I loved that this chapter called me a more robust version of holiness. I loved that I could recognise the struggles of myself myself and many women I know in it. Drury lets no woman off the hook, but she does it in a surprisingly relevant and uplifting way.
Tamie hails from Adelaide and lives in Tanzania with her husband and son. In partnership with CMS Australia, they work with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES).
Buy Holiness for Ordinary People from Koorong here