To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?[To the Women of India (Young India, Oct. 4, 1930)]
– Mahatma Gandhi
Once upon a time I became an Ironman. That June of 2010 day, I swam and rode and ran my way through the beautiful, breezy, countryside of Idaho to claim the title for myself. After training and fighting and sweating through nine months of preparation, I achieved the oft-assumed, impossible goal. The long coveted announcement, Jennifer Jepsen! You are an Ironman! resonated deep as I stumbled across the line, my smile as wide as the arms raised high above my head.
I had beyond decent equipment. My wetsuit was buoyant; the time trial bike new and cutting edge, fitting my aerodynamic form; my clothes were cute and moisture wicking – perfect for a long day of sweat and photographs. Triathlon requires strategic pacing, particularly for the IM distance where the race may last anywhere from nine to seventeen hours. Since running is my strongest of the three events, I wanted to sustain a solid and strong marathon, which required restraint on the bike and swim. I ate and drank according to plan, stocking up calories for the latter parts of the day when digestive systems oftentimes call a strike. I controlled everything I could, trusting in the hours of training and ability, surrendering the remainder to the benevolent IM gods.
While on the bike, over the course of the 112 mile ride, I was passed by many, mainly men, with their aero helmets and state of the art equipment – where minutes and seconds are purchased by the hundreds of dollars. I resisted the temptation to prove and press harder, remembering the inevitable marathon, for which my strength and desire awaited.
I wonder how often we think we should excel and push into areas that do not reflect our giftedness or our desires. I wonder if we, as women, especially those of us employed in a man’s world, think we need to become like men, going against our natural bent, to succeed and accomplish our calling.
Last week, I attended the “She is Called” conference in New York City. Thirty-five female church leaders gathered from around the world to engage the conversations, discussing our unique giftedness and the presenting complications women in American church ministry must face. As I embark upon this church plant, entering into the world of church leadership, I was encouraged. My giftedness is not male, it is wholly female. It was good to rest in a space that knows the softer skills of generosity, mercy, justice seeking, and faithfulness are to be as elevated and recognized as those of the stereotypical skill set of men.
We experienced a sisterhood among leaders, a realm of goodness that had no room for winning or stacking or measuring. A space for each of us in our uniqueness and femaleness.
Scarcity was not invited.
These three dozen tender and kindhearted women are brilliant and tenacious. Each in her own right is accomplished and remarkable and well educated. Yet, only 10% of senior leadership in churches is female. How is this? How has the genius and beauty and wisdom unique to women been so leveled?
My friend, Paula always says, “Men have no idea how much the world is tilted in their favor.”
Of the 400 triathletes who whizzed past during the cycling leg that June day, the majority were men. But by mile 14 of the marathon, I reclaimed those slots. And then by mile 26 I passed more. The beauty of triathlon is the balance. If you blow up in the early miles, as glycogen and adrenaline course, the temptation is to forget the long haul ahead. I knew my giftedness and my desire did not lie in the water or on wheels. My giftedness and desire rested in the turnover of legs, pumping of arms, and the rhythm of my breath. My giftedness and desire rested in the simple, the soft, the unsexy. My giftedness and desire matched the pad of my feet and the determination of my body. I was not passed by many men on that run.
Men, please, step aside, let your women shine. Notice us and move out of the way, notice our gifts and our hearts. Avail yourselves to discovering the realm of feminine leadership, the beauty and mystery of our ways. Seek what you are missing. And remind yourself routinely that we are far better together.
Women, we are powerful. We have the remarkable and blessed gifts of God to fuel and power love. We have the talent and knowledge in the depths of our bodies, in the core of who we are to carry the load, to relieve the burden, to live into our calling. We know this, don’t we?
She IS Called.