But I’m Just a Girl . . .

wellsprings_youngervoice

Jasmine Rose Smothers, North Georgia Conference

After many years of struggling with my call to ordained ministry, I finally responded to the call of God in my life when I was a senior in college. Even though I had served during most of my teen years as a leader in my church, schools, and annual conference, I felt woefully out of place when it was time for me to take active leadership roles as a church staff person and in conference roles as an adult. There were many days that I begged God to release me from this call. I had a myriad of excuses: I’m young, I’m female, I’m black, I’m introverted, I’m not ready! I, like Jeremiah, kept reminding God: “but I’m just a [girl]!” [1]

Since then, I’ve learned that God calls and equips in all situations. Your existence as “just a girl” is no reason to back down from the movement and direction of the Holy Spirit. This journal’s theme speaks to the empowerment of all. Yes, it is true that as the Scriptures say, “God rounded you up from all over the place, from the four winds, from the seven seas.”[2] Because it was God that “rounded you up,” there is no need to back down from who you are or to try to fit in a mold of who someone else thinks you should be. God called you. God equipped you. God sent you. And God did all of this knowing who you are, what you are like, and the stage of life  you are in now. And God did not round you up to leave you. God rounded you up and is with you.

It gives me pause that the Psalmist included the detail that God rounded up from “the four winds” and “from the seven seas.” This means that God intended to “round up” people who are “other” and different from one another. Oftentimes I find myself in meetings and worship spaces in which I am the only “something.” I am the only female; I am the only African-American; I am the only young person; I am the only clergywoman; or I am the only African-American, female, young clergywoman. At times, it is hard to be sure that God sent you to a place as the “only.” Loneliness, fear, trepidation, and uncertainty can set in quickly. And then the self-doubt: Why am I here? Who am I to be here? Then God: “Because I said so.”

God does not need more of the same person at the table. God created us all in God’s image and as unique individuals. God created you with special gifts, with a unique personality, and with a plan for your life.  In the book of Esther, Queen Vashti was banished for disobeying her husband the king. At the urging of her cousin and guardian, Mordecai, Esther tried out, along with many other women, for the role of the new queen. Hesitant Esther went only because her protector, Mordecai, insisted that she be the one. Esther had to keep her heritage secret and quickly become a person she was not used to being. Yet, during the many months of testing and preparation, it became clear that God created Esther with unique gifts for such a time as this. Esther not only ended up being queen, but she ended up saving her people, the Jews, from the persecution that one of the king’s workers was plotting against them. God only sent one Esther. Only one Esther could become queen. Only one Esther could be used by God to set her people free. Only one you can go where God is sending you and do what God is calling you to do. God sends you where your unique gifts are needed. Be who you were created to be. Be who you are. It may take people a while to understand you or even to understand why you are present; but seek to be understood, and be present anyway.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, recently came under fire for her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. In the book, she urges women to push beyond traditional gender roles and expectations so they can be true leaders in society. She challenges traditional understandings of the gift sets of women, and she points to some traits that have been criticized as weakness in professional women and turns them on their heads as strengths. She urges women to move beyond their comforts zones and seek opportunities that they may not have thought about or sought out. In one chapter she quoted Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s chief techology officer, who said, “There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” [3]

In the subtitle of chapter 1 in Sandberg’s book, she asks women, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” [4] What would you do if you were not afraid? That is the question for women in ministry today. What would you do if you were not concerned with what your next appointment would be? What would you do if you were not concerned that you would be perceived as a mean person or one who is hard to work with? What would you do if there were no limitations holding you back? What would you do if you were not bound by a society-imposed category, like Black, Asian, Hispanic, White, Woman, Clergy, or Young? What would you do? Now, ask yourself—what is God calling me to do in this season? What is holding me back?

When Jeremiah said to God, ““Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,” [5] the Lord responded, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” [6] The Lord promised Jeremiah that it was God doing the gathering, the sending, and the equipping. When God sends, God sends with a mission. Jeremiah’s mission was to “pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” [7] What is God rounding you up to do? Be clear about your mission. Then show up! God will do the rest.

This is not to say that this task is easy. If it was easy, everyone could do it. However, God did not send everyone. God sent you. In her book All about Love: New Visions, bell hooks has written: “When we face pain in relationships, our first response is often to sever bonds rather than to maintain commitment.” [8] It is no secret that the church and our society have a history of disenfranchising. In fact, when serving as a board member on the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church, I learned all too well the places where our church and society have caused pain and have acted in sin toward God’s people. I also learned how disinterested our church seemed to be in correcting those wrongs. When we get hurt, the human response is to fight or flee. Many young clergy are choosing to flee. Hang in there. Your commitment is to God and God’s purpose for your life. Stay committed even when it is clear that no one else is committed. Stay at the table when everyone else is pushing away or whispering about why you should or should not be there. Weather the storm and grow in the process.

One of my favorite theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote: “There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” The Psalmist wrote, “God rounded you up from all over the place, from the four winds, from the seven seas” for a journey such as this. God created you for the journey you are traveling, and God has given you every gift you need. So, you are just a girl? Girls have done remarkable things throughout history. Girls have challenged the status quo. Girls have fought for and won rights throughout history. Girls have set the captive free and made the blind to see. Girls have done great things with God!

So, you are young? So, you are old? So, you are a disenfranchised person? So you are [insert description here]? So, you are just a girl? Thanks be to God! Live in that legacy. Be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Know that you do not stand in your shoes alone but as a part of a long history of empowered people. You stand on the shoulders of people who went beyond what they were allowed or expected to do. Even now, there are people cheering for you, praying for you, and making room for you. You walk in the legacy of people who misbehaved, by cultural standards, in order to live into God’s preferred future for God’s people. Be “just a girl”! Stand on that identity because “just girls” have accomplished feats for God, God’s kin-dom, and God’s people that no one could have imagined! Thanks be to God!

 


[1]  Jeremiah 1:6.

[2]  Psalm 107:3 MSG.

[3]  Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (New York: Knopf, 2013), 35.

[4]  Ibid., 12.

[5]  Jeremiah 1:6.

[6]  Jeremiah 1:7–8.

[7]  Jeremiah 1:10.

[8]  Bell Hooks, All about Love: New Visions (New York: William Morrow, 2000), 159.

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