This post is an excerpt from Hannah Anderson’s book Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image.
One of my favorite literary heroines is Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables. Anne is that spunky kind of girl who can never quite find her place in the world and often too smart for her own good. In the opening scenes of Kevin Sullivan’s 1985 film adaptation, we meet Anne walking through the woods with her nose in a volume of Tennyson. Lost in another world, she returns late to the Hammond homestead where she is working as a servant.
An already irritated Mrs. Hammond becomes livid when she discovers Anne’s book and exclaims, “Well! If you paid more attention to your chores than poring over them fool books of yours . . .” She throws the offending book into the wood stove declaring, “If I catch you reading any more of those books of yours while you’re supposed to be lookin’ after my young’ns, they’ll feed the fire too, missy!”
This scene sets up one of the key plot functions of the story and encapsulates what has been a tension for many women throughout history; when it comes to learning and education, a woman’s place is in the kitchen, not the academy.
Interestingly, Luke 10 records a similar encounter between two women during Jesus’ earthly ministry. But instead of minimizing the importance of learning, this account strikes at the heart of the “don’t bother your pretty little head” mentality that can sometimes be directed toward us. A mentality that we sometimes adopt for ourselves.
The story opens as Jesus is teaching in the home of the sisters Mary and Martha. As was typical, His disciples were surrounding him, hanging on His every word; but on this particular day, Mary was among those sitting at His feet. In first-century Judaism, this would have been unusual for a woman because sitting at Jesus’ feet indicated that she was learning from Him the same way that a student learns from a teacher.
In the background, Martha buzzed about, trying to fulfill her role as hostess, trying to feed all the extra hungry stomachs, trying to do what she knew to do. At some point she became frustrated and came to Jesus. “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” she said. “Tell her then to help me.” In Martha’s mind, Mary should have been serving not learning. That’s what women do after all, right? We’re the nurturers, we’re the hostesses, we’re the caregivers. Mary needed to be in the kitchen, not at Jesus’ feet.
But Jesus said something surprising. “Martha, Martha,” He said, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.” And with these words, Jesus turned the idea of “women’s work” upside down. For Him, the greatest work Mary could do that day was to sit at His feet and learn from Him. The greatest work she could do was to become like her teacher—the Logos Himself.
This truth has startling implications for how we study Scripture. Too often as women, we have restricted ourselves to the “pink” parts of the Bible. When we identify first and foremost as women, we can begin to believe that knowledge of ourselves will come primarily through passages that speak to women’s issues or include heroines like Ruth or Esther. But when we do this, when we craft our learning and discipleship programs around being “women,” we make womanhood the central focus of our pursuit of knowledge instead of Christ.
And we forget that these “pink passages” were never intended to be sufficient by themselves. We forget that we can never understand what it means to be women of good works until we first learn about the goodness of a God who works on our behalf. We forget that nothing about them will make any sense if they are not first grounded in the truth that we are destined to be conformed to His image through Christ.
Because you are an image bearer, you must allow the entirety of Scripture to shape your sense of self. You must begin see every verse as a “pink” passage because every verse speaks to who God is and therefore who you are as His daughter.You must begin to believe that theology and doctrine are not men’s issues but that they are imago dei issues because they reveal the God in whose image you are made.
And when you do this, when you pursue knowledge of Christ the Logos of God, you will be transformed from the inside out. You will adorn what Peter calls the “hidden person of the heart,” which will naturally express itself in your womanhood as quickly as it will into every other facet of you life—from your unique personality to your closest relationships to the work He has called you to do.
When Jesus approved of Mary sitting at His feet, He invited all women to do the same. And here, all that Eve lost when she was deceived and fell into ignorance, He redeems by enabling us to become women who can open our mouths “with wisdom” (Proverbs 31:26). In the end, we pursue learning because God is a God of knowledge and thought and wisdom and in order to reflect and represent Him, we must become women of knowledge and thought and wisdom. This can take a variety of forms depending on context and personal giftedness, and it may not necessarily include advanced degrees or groundbreaking theories; but at the very least, becoming women who image Him, becoming all that we are created to be, means learning to love Him, not simply with all of our hearts, but with all of our minds as well.