Daring Greatly through women... with the courage to be real
Charmaine Howard writes:
“What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Morpheus
There are many definitions of reality and in contemporary society 'keeping it real' is considered to be a good thing. We seem to base this judgement on the premise that 'reality is the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them'. At the same time we accept that reality is filtered through our perceptions, created within our own minds and so is different for each person. We hold simultaneously the beliefs that reality exists in its own right and outside of ourselves, and that reality is created by us in our minds, through our perceptions. Absolutism and relativism held in tension. I would like to share with you the ways in which this tension is played out in the lives of some women, as I explore the theme of daring greatly through women with the courage to be real.
Jesus cured Mary Magdalene of seven demons. This changed her life, set her free and gave her the courage to follow Jesus as he performed miracles, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, teaching the crowds. She stood by and watched as they crucified Jesus, making a note of where they buried his body and determined to return to make sure his body was properly prepared for burial. Mary had encountered Jesus and he became her reality, the lens through which she viewed the world. And I believe that it is the same for all who encounter Jesus. Our lives change and the living God becomes our focus as we adopt kingdom values. That is the reality that we have in common – the absolute reality that exists outside of us – but we each experience and live out that reality in different ways.
For Clara in Cyprus, keeping it real means visiting night clubs every evening, befriending women who have been sold into the sex trade and letting them know that she offers them the opportunity to leave. This is dangerous work for Clara as the traffickers are prepared to maim and kill to maintain control of the women they see as their assets. Yet Clara lives out her call to be good news for the oppressed and marginalised by creating safe houses for those who are able to escape, and setting up pre-owned clothing stores where the women learn new skills and a means of earning to support themselves.
In London, young women campaign to change laws that penalise women who are trafficked. They follow their call to give voice to the marginalised as they point out that the laws on prostitution mean the women are arrested, imprisoned, fined and deported (only to be put to work somewhere else), while the traffickers remain unscathed. Young Christian women support those who are treated as commodities to be enjoyed, used and thrown away when finished with.
Mary of Bethany had a deep personal commitment to Jesus. She sat at his feet hungry to hear his words, to learn from him. She was overcome with love and gratitude that she washed Jesus’ feet in expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. She had faith in Jesus – that was her reality.
I have visited many churches over the years, but one that stands out in my memory is a Sri Lankan Christian Fellowship. In this large church of over two hundred people, only two were men. The women had left their children, husbands, parents, friends and way of life to find work in another country. They were mainly in domestic service. Their wages were small, their hours long and their work hard. Their employers could be capricious and cruel. Wages were often withheld on a whim. For this church, reality was complete faith in Jesus’ ability to take care of them and the families they had left behind. They were hungry to hear God’s word and sang God’s praises with ardour and passion in their native tongues. At the end of the service every person wanted to be prayed for. They queued for long periods patiently waiting, secure in the knowledge that God will answer their prayers – a simple, uncluttered faith that, despite their circumstances, Jesus continued to work for their good.
Joanna was one of the women who supported Jesus' ministry. She was one of the women who accompanied Jesus for much of his ministry and was probably present when Jesus was laid in the tomb. Reality for her meant quiet unobtrusive service to her Lord and Saviour.
Our churches are blessed with women like Joanna who quietly serve. They make tea and listen to our concerns – quietly supportive – allowing us to unburden and offload. Women who notice when someone has not attended for a couple weeks, and call just to check they are ok. Women who quietly sit with the frail and fragile, spending time with them, listening to the same stories again and again, saying without words “you are valuable”. These women are the backbone of the church – leading and supporting work in foodbanks, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and home groups. They give generously of their time, energy and resources.
One of the joys of being pastor is that I am able to spend time with older members of our church family. I enjoy hearing their stories and learning from them. I often hear our older ladies bemoaning the fact that, physically they were not able to do the things they used to. This is a source of frustration for them as it invariably leads to a loss of independence. Elizabeth was one such lady. She could no longer bear her own weight and her sight and hearing were failing. She found depending on others for help extremely difficult. Her life had been one of service. She served God by serving others. She had been deacon, organised the soup runs, provided meals on wheels, helped in Sunday School and generally served wherever she was needed. She was convinced that God must have use for her since he kept her alive. She could not do the things she used to, but she could pray. She decided to serve by interceding on behalf of the people in her community. She prays for the shopkeepers, schools, businesses, voluntary groups and neighbours. She prays that God will bless every aspect of their lives and in particular that they would come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Portia suffers from a range of complex mental health and personality disorders. Her encounter with Jesus did not cure her, but it changed her life. When times are really bad, and Portia finds herself locked in darkness, terror, despair and doubt, when she is confused and does not know what to believe or trust, she turns to Jesus and finds him there in the centre of her internal maelstrom. For Portia, reality is clinging to Jesus her rock, literally the anchor that holds her steady and keeps her safe. He gives her light and hope. And it is this hope that Portia shares with the nurses, doctors and patients that take care of her needs at home or during the time when she has to be in hospital. Being real for Portia is witnessing to others, telling them what Jesus does for her, so they might turn to him and find that he provides what they need in life.
For these Christian women (and I suggest for all Christians) reality is found in Jesus – the one who has always existed, exists now and will exist forever. The courage to dare greatly, the courage to be real, flows from an encounter with Jesus. The way each person responds to that reality is dependent on a range of factors including personality, experience, circumstance and context. It is my hope that these stories have encouraged you in your faith journey, as you explore what daring greatly with the courage to be real means for your life.
Until recently, Charmaine Howard
was pastor of Northolt Park Baptist Church in London, where she served for seven years.