“What do you fear, my lady?”
“A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.”
For those of you (less nerdy people) who don’t know the Lord of the Rings story, this quote is from Eowyn, a woman who feels trapped in the role society has given her. Having watched evil come over her city and snatch away the ones she loves most, she desperately wants to be a part of the fight to protect her people and stand against the forces that have wreaked havoc on her family. Instead, she is expected to watch the men ride off day after day and simply wait. To her, the inaction—imposed upon her by society’s constraints for a woman, she feels—is worse than any death on the battlefield.
Eowyn’s story is very different from my own. I don’t live in a pre-medieval society, and I have no desire to fight in a war. For those reasons, I never really connected with her in this scene, until I began to realize—and experience—the “cages” in my own story. At this stage in my journey, I am in seminary and so questions about a future in ministry are often on my mind. I’ll share two perceived “cages” I fear just when I imagine my future:
“Pastor’s wife:” The moment I begin to envision myself in this position, my insides turn upside down. Me? In that cage? Doesn’t that mean my house will always need to be clean, I’ll need to participate in the bake sale and host ladies’ luncheons, and be docile and pleasant? Doesn’t that mean I’ll have to be a stay at home mom and be so good at it, in fact, that I write books on the topic and take Q&A’s about domesticity on stage? In other words, doesn’t that mean I’ll have to meet everyone’s expectations?
“Pastor:” The moment I begin to envision myself in a career ministry position that “weds” me to the church in an official way, my insides turn upside down. Me? In that cage? Doesn’t that mean my home and family life will be turned upside down, I’ll never be able to take a vacation, and that Sunday morning worship will become “business as usual?” Doesn’t that mean I’ll have to spend hours in a study every week coming up with something impressive to say, and be good at answering difficult questions on the spot in front of lots of people? In other words, doesn’t that mean I’ll have to meet everyone’s expectations?
What I’ve begun to realize as I pray through these fears and anxieties is that they are largely driven by my perception of others’ expectations—what they think I should be like, do, or not do—and wanting to appease everyone’s opinion of me. Ironically, therefore, the cages I fear are actually self-imposed. God’s good news for me in the gospel is that He determines my destiny, not others’ demands or expectations. If He calls me to be a pastor’s wife, in other words, it will be in a way that is Hannah, not anyone else. And as Creator and Redeemer of Hannah, God gets to be in charge of what that looks like, not the PTA or the womens’ ministry at a church. And if He calls me to be a pastor, it will be in a way that is Hannah, not anyone else. And God gets to be in charge of what that looks like, not “Celebrity Pastor A” or even my own congregants.
This calls me to repentance of my fear of others’ expectations as the driving force of my life, and to step out behind the bars of their (spoken and unspoken) demands; to choose to fix my eyes on Christ, my True Master and the determiner of my destiny. It calls me to follow Him in freedom to whatever future He has laid out, and to trust and obey Him through the difficulties—because I know they will come, no matter what the future holds. And it calls me to sleep in peace each night, no matter what Betty Lou or John Doe might currently think of me.
Whose expectations do you fear? How has that maybe driven you in one direction or another? What would following Christ instead look like for you?