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BOOK REVIEW: A Year of Biblical Womahood

2 Nov Year Of Biblical Womanhood Cover

I know I’m not the first person to review Rachel Held Evans‘ new (and apparently controversial) book A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”. But I might be the first person to emphasize that this is a singles-friendly book.

Let me admit this right up front: my first reaction, when I see a book written for Christian women, is to turn up my nose. Oh, look, another book about how to be a great wife and mother, I think. I bet it talks about praying for your spouse or, if you aren’t married yet, your future spouse.

Year Of Biblical Womanhood Cover

Year Of Biblical Womanhood Cover

And no, Rachel doesn’t write a great deal specifically about singles, and she does write a great deal specifically about marriage. She is, after all, married. But she is clearly a married woman who is aware of the concerns of single women.

The premise of the book, for those of you who are male or have been living in a media vacuum, is this: Rachel Held Evans spent a year trying to imitate, as literally as possible, various Biblical depictions of women. A lot of people have disparaged the book as mockery of the Bible, while a lot of people at the opposite end of the spectrum have disparaged the book as old-fashioned or unnecessary. But if you’ve truly read the book, it should be obvious that for Rachel, this was a labor of love.

She didn’t set out to mock or disprove the Bible. She set out to wrestle with it. She set out to live in the tension. She set out to surrender to God’s stories.

And in the end, she didn’t come away with a blueprint or job description of a Biblical woman. She found plenty of descriptions of women in the Bible, though, and she found that the Biblical concept of womanhood is simply too complex and varied to be summed up as a to-do list.

Case in point: the chapter on the Proverbs 31 Woman. Did you know that in Jewish culture, it isn’t the women who memorize Proverbs 31? The men do! It isn’t a recipe for how to be a great woman, it’s an example of how men should praise their wives. The Hebrew phrase used in Proverbs 31, eshet chayil, is best translated as “valorous woman”, which means a lot more to me, as a single woman, than “a wife of good character”.

What really made me, as a single woman, love Rachel’s approach, however, was when I reached page 178 and saw this quote

Growing up in the Church, I must have heard a thousand times that my highest calling as a woman was to bear and bring up children. While men could honor God in varying capacities through work, family, and ministry, a woman’s spiritual aptitude was measured primarily by her ability to procreate. Even as a child I noticed that the church deaconesses hosted dozens of wedding and baby showers each year, but never a housewarming party for a single woman or a celebration dinner for a woman who passed the bar or graduated from medical school.

That passage told me two things: Rachel Held Evans understands how single people are overlooked in the church, and Rachel Held Evans doesn’t view me, as a single woman, as someone who’s worth less than a married woman with children.

I could go on and on about what a great book this is, but frankly, there are lots of people who’ve done a better job than I could–Ben Witherington, for one. I could talk more about the controversy that has grown up around the book, but Rachel Marie Stone has done a great job of discussing that.

I just want to recommend that single women not pass this book over thinking, “Oh, it won’t address single women.” I want to recommend that men not pass this book over thinking, “Oh, it won’t address men.” It does both.

And I, for one, am living for the day someone calls me eshet chayil.

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Book Review: Five Love Languages for Singles by Gary Chapman

9 Jun

When I started this blog, I decided I need to read as many books written for or about singles as I could. Years ago I read a few books that I probably will refrain from commenting on, because my memory is short, and all I remember is that I hated them. (When God Writes Your Love Story, I am looking at you.)

Side note: I’ve been hampered in this effort by the local library’s poorly developed collection of books on single life; there are six books on singleness in the online catalog, and one of them is Jennifer Love Hewitt’s book about needing to be in love. Yeah, seriously.

Anyway, the first book I read on this topic was Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages for Singles. It was probably a good book to start with, because Dr. Chapman gets a lot of things right.

For one thing, he didn’t write a book that ought to be subtitled: Why You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You or How to Get a Spouse. In the introduction, Chapman writes,

Married or single, young or old, every human has the emotional need to feel loved. When this need is met, we move out to reach our potential for God and good in the world. However, when we feel unloved, we struggle simply to survive. I am deeply convinced that the truths in this book will enable single adults to learn the skills that lead to loving and being loved.

But he’s not talking just about finding a spouse. His book acknowledges all the relationships in a single person’s life, from family to friends to roommates to coworkers, and, yes, to romantic relationships. Though there is a slight emphasis on dating and marriage, he doesn’t sideline all the other important relationships in a single person’s life.

In fact, in the situations he writes about where a single person wants to find a mate, he actually teaches them about the five love languages, then instructs them to try learning the love languages of their parents. This would seem to imply that Dr. Chapman knows singles are whole people regardless of our marital status, and that a romantic relationship might not be the most important one in our lives.

If you’re not aware of the five love languages, Chapman defines them as Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. I believe I’m a Quality Time person myself, but my mom is an Acts of Service person, and my dad, I think, is Words of Affirmation. Mom and I have discussed this, though, and neither of us is sure about his language.

Something I really liked about this book was that I could immediately apply what I took away from it. I didn’t have to wait until I was dating someone. Learning to speak someone else’s love language is useful whether you’re trying to win over a stubborn coworker, get a messy roommate to be more considerate of your neat-freak habits, or just show your parents or friends how much you appreciate them. Since reading the book, I’ve tried to focus more on performing acts of service for my mom, whether it’s helping her with her yard work or designing a logo for her new market garden business. We’ve always had a great relationship (my mom is my best friend), but I can honestly say I think it’s better now that I’m speaking her language.

Something else I like about the book is the chapter for single parents. I’m not a single parent, and I hope never to be, but I’m glad Chapman doesn’t overlook the fact that a huge number of people are either having children without ever marrying, or becoming the sole provider and caregiver for their children after a divorce. I had a friend and coworker my age who had three children, none of whom shared a father. It gave her some unique challenges to face. Love languages can be applied to kids and teenagers as well as adults, and Chapman gives clear ideas on how to do this.

Chapman categorizes single adults in five ways, and admits there may be other categories they fit. He writes about singles who have never been married, who are divorced, who are separated but not divorced, who are widowed, and single parents. He acknowledges just how many single people there are in the world today, especially in the United States (as of the book’s publication in 2004 he cited 4 out of 10 adults as single. I think we’re closer to 49% of the U.S. population now). And he makes it clear that we single adults matter to him.

I confess, Chapman also got points for quoting my favorite Christian scholar and writer, C.S. Lewis:

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you love someone, you will presently come to love him. (Mere Christianity)

This has got me thinking, even more, about how I deal with some of those Christians I was talking about earlier this week. I need to remember, as Bird pointed out, that a gentle answer turns away wrath. And I need to act as if I love them, whether I’m angry at them or annoyed with them or not. And that will lead to me being a more loving person.

That can only be a good thing, right?

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