Revive Our Hearts Podcast

It Takes a Lot of Strength to Be Soft

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: "Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of."

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss quotes a popular children’s rhyme to show how much the image of womanhood has changed over the years. Women used to be told they needed to be sweet as sugar and spice.

Nancy: But I’m not sure how many women today would want to embrace the image in that rhyme. We receive messages all the time that say women should be strong, independent, aggressive. But nice? Not so much.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, May 31. Are women supposed to be nice as sugar and spice? Is that what womanhood is all about? Nancy and Mary Kassian explore that question in their workbook True Woman 101: Divine Design. Nancy and Mary got together with some friends to discuss true womanhood. They recorded the conversation on video—perfect for your small group to watch together. To find out how to watch it, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

We’re going to hear some of that conversation. Now this is the kind of quick give and take that Nancy and her friends have when they get excited about an important issue. So expect a fast-paced conversation. Nancy and Mary are joined by their friends Holly Elliff, Dannah Gresh and Kim Wagner. Here’s Nancy to get us started.

Nancy: Okay girls. "Sugar and spice and everything nice." That’s not exactly the image of womanhood that our culture promotes is it.

Mary: Not at all the image. I think that culture has intentionally tried to change the image. I mean, the Mother Goose rhyme from way back when. I remember when I was a girl. “Sugar and spice and everything nice is what little girls are made of.” But you know what comes to mind on that is that cartoon, The Powerpuff Girls. You have girls. Are you familiar with that cartoon?

Dannah Gresh:  I am, unfortunately. 

Mary: It just strikes me how intentional culture is being about changing the idea of what womanhood is about. Because sugar, spice, everything nice, in that particular cartoon, the three little girls have an encounter with three boys who are called the Rowdy Rough Boys. These boys come in and they are larger than life—big, mean, tough boys. And then the girls figure out the way to subdue them is by giving them sugar, which is kisses. Then when that doesn’t work anymore, they see that every time they insult the boys and really insult them as boys—basically emasculate them and insult their manhood—these boys get smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. And so our young girls who are watching these messages.

Nancy: And how true to life is that? When we act that way toward men, what are we doing to men, making them smaller and smaller and smaller in their own minds.

Mary: Exactly. It just seems that we have such an issue in our culture with this and girls that are sassy and in-your-face and not just towards men, but towards each other. Insolence and arrogance is really seen as girl power, and that is seen as something that is very, very positive.

Dannah: One of the things that really bothers me is just television commercials, because the guy is always the brunt of the joke. He is always the dummy. He is always the one who doesn’t know how to order pizza or use a tissue or open a can of something. Why does he always have to be the dummy? And why is she always so smart and the one that solves the problem? I mean, just something in my spirit goes, “This is just not fair! It's not right.”

Nancy: I think we underestimate the impact that these messages are having on women, teenagers, little girls.

Mary: And on men. I have a house full of boys. It was difficult raising them with countering the messages that they were hearing about their identity. Girls now are just really being poured into and lifted up and given all the prominence and given the funding. And certainly it is good that we are paying attention to the women, but it’s often at the expense of the men. The attitude of this superiority. It’s just so fascinating to me because really what the women’s movement was complaining against was that men were seeing themselves as superior to women, and they wanted to equalize the playing field.

Dannah: And that’s the double-mindedness of the feminist movement, isn’t it? They have achieved many of the things that were useful. I’m grateful I can vote. That’s good. But why does my son have to be treated like a second-class citizen so they can feel good about themselves? That infuriates me.

Mary: As the oppressed has become the oppressor in our culture.

Nancy: And yet there’s a sense, don’t you think, among women that nice doesn’t cut it? "Sugar and spice and everything nice." Thinking that if you’re going to have a gentle spirit, be kind, be gracious, be nice, that you’re going to get walked all over in the work place, you’re going to get taken advantage of. That’s a way of thinking that we see everywhere. It’s in the air we breathe that nice girls don’t get anywhere. You can’t advance; you won’t be respected. You have to stand up for yourself, be strong.

Mary: Nice is really seen as weak. Nice is wimpy. Women can’t be nice and can’t be gentle spirited because that’s seen as being doormatish.

Holly: What’s applauded for younger women, or for any age woman is to be aggressive, to be in charge, to be in control of the situation regardless of who is around you. And it’s pervasive. Not just in television shows or movies, but it’s invasive across our whole culture. I’m thinking of my daughter, Jessica, who in our youth group is surrounded by girls that are from all different avenues of life.

And what they desire is so different than what my older daughters would have encountered fifteen or twenty years ago. These gals have grown up watching the Disney channel. So their dress is mature. I mean at thirteen they are dressing like mature women that are twenty-five. And their goals in life are very, very drastically different from a thirteen-year-old’s goals twenty years ago.

Dannah: Right. Well, let me tell you what is heart-breaking to me because this is where my heart beats. Years ago I was saying, “Lord, let me grow up and minister to women,” because I was ministering to teens. He goes, “How about eight-year-olds?” And I was like, “Really, Lord?” And I was obedient to that, and my heart has become so impassioned. But those little girls, when they dress to look like they are seventeen when they are eight years old, when they are listening to these songs, “Don’t You Wish Your Boyfriend Was Hot Like Me?” which you can hear lots of little elementary school girls running around singing, when they are becoming so consumed with beauty image issues; they are most at risk of eating disorders, body image issues, depression, and an early physical debut, an early sexual debut as teenagers.

Which means by the time they are married women in their twenties or thirties, their bodies are so broken and they have so many scars on their hearts from sexual sin, and they have so many body image issues that they can’t enjoy the gift of marriage that God has gifted to them. And on top of that, they don’t want to enjoy the gift of marriage.

In the eighties, there was a survey was done about how many men and women in the church felt like they wanted to emphasize the role of motherhood for their daughters. And it was a majority of the church. In the last decade, the same survey, the vast minority wanted to emphasize the roles of motherhood and being a wife for their daughters. And you talk to the average teenager today, even my girls . . . I have to work so hard to be counter-cultural to plant in them the desire for motherhood and being a wife. We are just dismantling the passion to be in the marriage relationship which is a picture of Christ and the church.

Nancy: And as women have embraced these new models of womanhood, that’s had a strong impact in relationships, on men and in male-female relationship. Here at Revive Our Hearts we get a lot of letters from women, but we also occasionally hear from men talking about how this whole revolution in womanhood has impacted them.

I’m thinking of an email that a man sent to us here at Revive Our Hearts. It’s really tragic when you think about it. He said,

I haven’t been out with a real woman in many years. The reason is simple. I haven’t found a real woman in years. The so-called modern woman is aggressive, controlling, rude, loud, overbearing obnoxious, unfaithful, disrespectful [and this was what was sad to me,] even women at church. I miss the strong, but feminine woman of years gone by.

He misses that. I think our culture misses something. I think our relationships miss something by not having that courageous, strong, but feminine woman of years gone by. And so as we think about womanhood and what our culture says and its messages, the Bible has a whole different message about womanhood. And of course, that’s our authority. That’s what we are looking to if we are to be true women, we need to think biblically, think “Christianly.”

And in this week’s True Woman 101 lesson, we looked at several things that are at the core of what it means to be a woman from God’s point of view. Now, these are counter-cultural. They are radical. They are not messages that women are getting today, but they are messages we need to be taking in, embracing and communicating to our daughters and granddaughters and other young women.

The first of those core aspects of womanhood that we looked at this week is “softness.” Softness. Now talk about counter-cultural.

Mary: That is so counter-cultural, isn’t it? But when we go back into Genesis, we see that God created the sexes differently and at different times and in different ways. We can glean so much truth out of what Genesis says. We studied this verse also in this past week’s lesson where Adam is presented with his wife. The Lord brings her to him, and he goes into this amazing, spontaneous poem, this “Wow!” and “Amazing!” And he says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And here is the critical part. “She shall be called woman” which in Hebrew is isha, “because she was taken out of man,” which is ish (Gen. 2:23).

There’s just so much depth in there, even in what Adam recognized immediately to be true. And the word for “man” there, being based on the Hebrew root for “strength.” “I’m the strength. I have all this strength to give her and pour out into her. And her name being really based on, scholars believe, “softness.” Ao that isha means “soft” and ish means “strength.” And what an incredible picture here, right in Genesis, right in the very beginning of how God created women to be different than men.

Nancy: And yet, when you start talking about softness for women, that evokes some fears in a lot of women’s hearts. What are they thinking might be the downside of being the soft woman.

Dannah: This was a big thing this study for me this week as I looked at those two words and just the fear that there really is in our culture for a woman to be soft. I’ll tell you what my "eureka" moment was. It was in looking at those words and in looking at the Hebrew and saying this is fact. This is what God says. Men are created to be strong. Women are created to be soft. And I think that doesn’t mean we are wimpy. I think it means we are soft toward. We are soft toward God. We are soft toward our husbands. We are soft toward truth. This is fact. It says, “man” is strength; “woman” is soft.

I was at a conference on family that I spoke at and there was a national pastor that made kind of a passing joke for singles. He said, “Let me minister to the singles for just a moment. If God could find a spouse for Adam, He’s got a better chance for finding one for you.” And it was just kind of a moment of fun and humor, so I posted that on my Facebook page.

A lot of single women were saying, “Wow, that really did encourage me and minister to me. I’m going to pray again.” And then one woman said, with I think a feminist heart, “It offends me that you would post that. Why didn’t you take note of the fact that God equally created Adam for Eve?” And I thought, “No, He didn’t. No, He didn’t.” We’ve got to get back to the facts of the Scripture.

The fact is that God made her for him, and He made her to be soft for, soft towards, tender towards. I think in the Scriptures it also talks about when we delight in something, we are soft towards it. And we are supposed to delight ourselves in the Lord.

Mary: And our whole bodies. Even our physical bodies, you know the way the parts fit together, the way that women are . . . we’re softer. We’ve got curves. (laughter)

Nancy: Do we ever! (laughter)

Mary: Curvy, sometimes too much, but we’ve got that softness, that welcoming. We’ve got the womb. We’ve got the space. And in the lesson, I talked about the curve in our arms. It’s so amazing.

Dannah: You know, I got my husband and I said, “Stand next to me.”

Mary: Stand next to me. Right.

Dannah: Let’s compare it.

Mary: Right! And the woman has this carrying angle, which is why we can’t throw footballs.

Holly Elliff: And that is why men cannot carry children for long period of times in their arms.

Mary: That’s right.

Holly: It’s so much more uncomfortable for them, but women can.

Dannah: I always wondered what that was about. (laughter)

Holly: But women hang on to that baby and tote it all over town like this in their arm and on their hip. Men cannot do that. They are physically built in a different way.

Mary: Physically, they are different. But I think that is such an image. When I think of womanhood, I think that God created us to create this nurturing space, a welcoming space. And even when we hold our arms, there’s a space, our wombs are a space. And whether you’re single or whether you’re married, there is a softness about womanhood that God finds very, very precious. And He talks about that in 1 Peter chapter 3 that this is very precious to God.

Holly: But it is not applauded anywhere.

Nancy: So what are some of the blessings and benefits of embracing that mindset rather than resisting it?

Dannah: Is it all right if I confess something? This softness has been something that has been very hard for me and the Lord has really had to do a work in my heart. I can remember as a young married woman believing that I was submissive. I would never have called myself a feminist. If my husband asked me to do something big picture, I was on board, “Amen. Let’s do it.” He asked me once, can we move from my little home town across the nation fifteen hours, and I said, “Yes. Absolutely. Amen.” Submit, submit, submit. But God forbid should that man try to choose our parking space on Sunday morning.

Mary: Ugh. I’ve been there.

Holly: I think everybody can identify there. (laughter)

Dannah: It’s the little things. I wanted to micromanage every little decision. We were on vacation about ten years into our marriage, and God really just got a hold of me. I was seeing how I was breaking my husband’s spirit. I was breaking his heart. And I remember waking him in the middle of the night and just getting down on my knees and saying, “Can you forgive me for this?” And you know, I think he didn’t believe it. But the next day, I started to just . . . You know, it took a lot of strength to be soft, let me just say that!

Mary: I know. People just don’t understand it’s a sign of strength.

Dannah: But here’s the benefit that came out of it, because your question was, “What are the benefits?” As I submitted to the little things, as I was soft and just let him lead, suddenly he started rising up to do all the things. Little things like opening the door for me, putting his hand in the small of my back and leading me along. I think that is what we are forfeiting in our hardness. We are forfeiting that protectiveness in them that they will rise up to bring if we could just shut our “pie-holes” once in a while, and be soft, instead of saying what we think is the smart and fast thing to do.

Holly: But there is so much fear related to softness.

Nancy: Kim, I remember when we had that conversation a number of years ago, now, where I asked you, “Is it possible that you intimidate your husband?”

Kim Wagner: Yes.

Nancy: And you looked at me like, “Who, me?”

Kim: I am so thankful you asked me that question, Nancy, because when you first said that, I think my response was, “Whew! Right.” But that question kept going over and over in my mind. And sure enough, it took a while before my husband admitted it to me that I did intimidate him with my strong will, my determination, with “I have the right answer and this is the way we need to go.” And I, too, would say I was a submissive wife. But in the little decisions and in the recesses of my heart, I was not submissive. I did not have that openness, that receptivity.

I think the greatest benefit is, when we are living out our design, the way God has designed us, as you’ve shared, and as this chapter has opened out, then we are able to demonstrate to others God’s glory. When we have that relationship with our husband that people can look at and say, “That’s a transformation. Only God can do that.” That brings Him glory and that is what we are called to do.

Nancy: And we demonstrate the responsiveness that the church is supposed to have toward Christ, our heavenly husband.

Kim: Right.

Nancy: As the bride of Christ, we are picturing for the world, giving an earthly picture of that heavenly spiritual reality that the church is to be responsive, tender to Christ, and not weak, not run over. Christ doesn’t run over His people. He loves them. He nurtures them. But it makes it a lot easier, don’t you think, on the guys, if, as women we will be malleable, responsive.

Holly: It makes it impossible for a guy, for the shepherd to be strong, if the woman is insistent that she is in control. It makes it impossible for him to do what God has called him to do.

Mary: I feel so bad for the women today because really they are shooting themselves in the foot. More than anything they want to have good, healthy relationships that last and that are fulfilling. So in a sense, it is the same goal. I mean, all of us want to have those types of relationships. But the way to go about getting that type of relationship is by following God’s design.

And I just think that women are so relational that if we don’t have that softness that welcomes relationships, we are going to really cut off what we need the most—what we want the most. Because I believe that we were created for relationship and that women yearn for relationships in a way that is very unique to what it means to be a woman.

Nancy: You can see this. I mean, when was the last time you were out with couples for dinner or whatever. You never hear a guy stand up and say, “I’m going to the restroom. Would anyone like to go with me?” (laughter) But women are going to do things in groups. We are just wired for relationships, which doesn’t mean men can’t be relational, and some of them are very good at it. But it means in our DNA is that connectivity—that bent toward relationships.

Dannah: I was doing some research recently for teenage girls. One of the things that is undeniable across the board is that when sex, the gift of sexuality is misused, a woman is hurt. It’s not so for a man. He might feel some shame. He might feel some conviction. He might feel some regrets, but there is not an overwhelming sense of woundedness that permeates him for years to come sometimes.

I’ve worked with women in their eighties that are still wounded from something that happened when they were sixteen. And one of the facts is— this is just biology—the part of the brain that stores relationships, that stores particularly the romantic emotional relationship of man and woman, but all relationships, my friendship with you, my friendship with Nancy, is the deep limbic system.

Though the male brain is typically larger than the female brain—which don’t let them know that, we don’t want that out. (laughter) But the part of the brain, the deep limbic system which stores memory and emotions and relationship is two to three times larger in the female. There’s simply more geography for her to store all of that relationship. There’s more potential for deep healthy union. And there’s more potential for hurt if we don’t do things the way God designed it.

Mary: She’s the softer one. There’s more potential for connection, and there’s more potential for hurt.

Leslie: God designed women to be in relationship. We’ve been hearing about ways to use that God-given desire in healthy ways. Our guests today include Dannah Gresh, Kim Wagner, and Holly Elliff. They’ve been talking with Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss, authors of the workbook, True Woman 101: Divine Design.

What you just heard was part of a discussion about chapter three of that book. The workbook includes a lot of places to follow up on the material you just heard, reflecting on your own life. It will lead you in practical steps to take in living out God’s design for your life. We’ll send you a copy of this helpful workbook, True Woman 101: Divine Design, when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Ask for True Woman 101 when you call 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

If you have a small group at your church, keep in mind that True Woman would be a perfect study. You can see parts of today’s conversation on video together as a group and discuss all your learning in the workbook. For details, just visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, in order to live out God’s design, do you have to squelch your personality? Our guests will discuss that tomorrow when we hear part two of this conversation on true womanhood. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

 

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