Some years ago, I read a parable of three women that became my guide for how I wanted to live Christian womanhood--but, unknown to me, that story poisoned my vision of womanhood.
This was the parable, as I remember it.
Three women are praying, observed by a watcher and a heavenly messenger. As the women pray, Christ comes to them.
For the first woman, He is tender and attentive toward her, showering her with assurances of His presence, touching her shoulder, whispering in her ear.
The watcher says to the heavenly messenger, "Why, the Lord must love her much if He treats her with such abundant affection!"
For the second praying woman, Christ also makes His presence known, but not nearly as lavishly. He rests his hand briefly on her shoulder, nods toward her to assure her of His pleasure, and moves on.
The watcher observes: "This woman, also, must be greatly loved, though not, perhaps, as much as the first."
The third one He sweeps by with hardly a word, barely a look. He seems almost cold and distant.
The watcher, horror-struck, turns to the heavenly messenger and gasps, "What great sin has this woman committed, that the Lord treats her with such hostility?"
"Child," says the messenger, "You have misunderstood. The first woman, though she loves the Lord, is weak in her faith, and needs all of His love and assurance to strengthen her. The second woman has more fortitude, and so needs less attentiveness. But the third is being fitted for the highest and noblest of sufferings, the narrowest of roads where the ways will be lonely and hard. She does not need Christ to constantly hover over her with His presence; she is faithful despite the seeming lack of His love."
When I first read this parable, it seemed to me so clear. I wanted to be that third woman. I had seen the waxing and waning of faithfulness in various Christians around me. Their obedience and joy became dependent on the Lord following through on certain expectations and meeting certain conditions. I did not want to make the mistake of confusing experience with truth.
"Yes, Lord, I'll follow You if..."
"Yes, Lord, Your will be done if..."
My greatest desire was to become fit for whatever service the Lord required of me. I did not want to be a fair-weather warrior.
So I spent years honing myself into the third woman. If the Lord would not answer my prayers, so be it. I should not require an answer. If the Lord gave me pain, it was my training for greater things. If the Lord was distant, it was only because He was making me strong enough for the hardest battles.
But eventually, questions began to plague my warrior mindset.
If the Lord will not answer my prayers, then why do I pray?
If the Lord gives me pain as training for more pain, oh God, why would I want more of that?
If the Lord is distant, how can I go into any battles without Him? Why should I go into any battles at all?
I recall the day yet another battlefield occurred in my heart.
The third woman spoke with her calm, emotionless voice, telling me to obey, to take the pain, to be silent, to not let myself be swayed by my feelings.
And then another woman emerged from the smoke of my striving, with a truth like a sword flashing fiercely and her eyes burning even fiercer, and in her mouth were words that I had forgotten.
You are not made to be the third woman--brushed by, ignored for some mysterious "higher purpose."
Have you forgotten that the Lord delights in you?
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph. 3.17)
Have you forgotten that you are a daughter?
To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
Have you forgotten that He goes with you?
Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
You have trained yourself not to need His love--and yet you were made to crave it. You have trained yourself to see yourself as an expendable casualty in His war--and not as His daughter, privileged to partake in His battles with Him. You have trained yourself to believe that your loneliness is some badge of honor earned, rather than recognizing that your Captain and Father joys to have you at His side. It is not the obedience of the Lord that is your strength, but the joy of the Lord (Neh. 8:10).
What child does not desire--indeed, need--its parent?
You are of a chosen generation and a royal priesthood (2 Peter 2:9). Do not desire to be simply faithful. The Pharisees were better keepers of the law than you; but they did not have sonship. Desire the goodness of His company, the delight of His presence, the laughter of His fullness in you. Desire Him, for that is a desire He will always fulfill abundantly.
In Christ, you will always be the first woman. Noticed. Lavished upon. Delighted in. Beloved. Desperate for grace. Needy for communion. Named as His daughter (Matt. 9:22).
Be Mary. Sit at His feet. Soak in His presence and be at rest. (Luke 10:38-42).
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.