Does feminism have a monopoly on the “strong woman?” Sometimes that appears to be the case.
Third wave feminism grabbed a few words from the English vocabulary and never bothered to give them back. The church – understandably hesitant to align with secular feminist jargon – has since abandoned those terms. We don’t hear much praise for “strong willed women” in the Christian sector of society, primarily due to how our culture has defined those terms in recent years.
Granted, I don’t think we should throw feminist jargon around without discretion. But I think we have reason to ask the poignant question: Is it possible to be a strong-willed woman – and also a Christian? And from my study of Scripture, the answer is yes.
We all have a will; the capacity to act upon a desire. Our will is the engine of our actions. Once a decision is made it is our will that sees it through. To have a “strong will” literally means a woman is motivated to see her decisions to fruition. Once a choice is made, she sticks with it, neither distracted nor discouraged from her goal.
In its raw form, a strong will and biblical womanhood are not at odds with one another. But our culture has created a universal image for the strong-willed woman and when we hear those terms, we immediately picture the woman we know so well. She’s pushy. She’s brash. She is disrespectful in the name of humanitarianism. She’s offensive in the name of acceptance. And she’s stubborn in the name of strength.
It’s easy to be strong-willed and fit the mold of feminist ideology. But it’s also very possible to be a strong-willed woman of God. The only difference between the two is which direction a woman’s will is bent.
Bent to the Will of God
Being strong-willed, by cultural standards, requires dedication to your personal convictions – no matter subjective those may be. The virtues of kindness, self-control, and love come in second to stubbornness and “getting what you want in life”. This woman’s will is submitted to no one but herself, and her actions reflect that selfish allegiance. But the woman whose will is surrendered to Christ upholds a standard beyond herself. She is held accountable for how she treats others, and her strong will is bent to the will of God – not her own opinion.
We need more strong-willed women. We need more women of conviction and grit in the ranks of the church. But we don’t need more women whose wills are bent to their own selfish intentions. We need women of God, whose wills are surrendered to the will of Christ and as such are motivated to the kind of love that changes the world. These women are stubborn in their obedience to God. They are unbendable in their devotion to Him. And they are strong because they have access to the strength of God Himself.
When our will is to do God’s will, we have the wisdom to navigate the intricacies of life:
If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17)
When our will is to do God’s will, we know what direction we should go:
The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:1)
When our will is to do God’s will, all of our efforts end in victory:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
Christ loves the strong-willed woman. Throughout the Bible we see women like this used as part of God’s kingdom plan:
- Sarah, hoping when hope seemed pointless.
- Ruth, faithful when she had nothing to gain.
- Hannah, persevering in persecution.
- Deborah, leading when no one else would lead.
- Abigail, stepping up to save her household.
There are many more I could name, but their names are remembered in the pages of your Bible. You can read their stories for yourself – and you should. You should let these women inspire you to embrace your identity, if you are a strong-willed woman like me. But your will is only as useful as the Person to whom you submit it. Submitted to yourself, it can only be used for selfish gain. Submitted to God, it is a weapon of His warfare.
My own strong will has been both my greatest asset and my biggest enemy. But when I seek God and submit the force of my human will to His… that is when I see His hand most clearly – because mine is no longer in the way.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification… that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” (1 Thess. 4:3)