Modern Women Embracing an Ancient Calling
by Kristi Meyer
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. (Genesis 2:18-20)
Earlier this week, we took a somewhat academic look at a word study of “helper” (ezer, pronounced ay-zer) in the Old Testament. What we found was enlightening: God most often acts as an ezer or gives ezer, this ezer is given to those undeserving of it without any expectation for reciprocation or repayment, and the role of ezer in no way indicates inferiority. This type of academic study is useful for a proper understanding of the role of ezer, and it’s a valuable exercise to work through.
This type of study doesn’t always remove the baggage that is so often associated with the role of helper, however. Knowing that God acts as an ezer doesn’t always make it easier for us to act in the same way. Knowing that being an ezer in no way indicates lesser worth doesn’t always erase the feeling of inferiority that sometimes lingers when the phrase “head and helper” is used. So how can we deal with this baggage? How can we get past our hang-ups and our misgivings and instead willingly and gladly embrace our helper role?
Acknowledging the Baggage
Let’s start with a quick trip through the good old Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED defines “helper” as “one who (or that which) helps or assists, an auxiliary.” There aren’t exactly negative connotations here, but looking at the entry for “auxiliary” is interesting: “an organization which is subsidiary to a parent body, frequently performing ancillary or associated functions.” And going one layer deeper, “ancillary” is defined as “subservient, subordinate, ministering (to).”
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere; we’ve come to the crux of the matter. Tracing all the way back up through the definitions could indeed indicate that the role of “helper”—the role for which Eve was created—is a lesser or lower position. When we as modern-day English speakers hear that we too were created for a “helper” role, it’s entirely understandable for the thought to fester that our role is therefore lesser or lower. But is this truly accurate? Was Eve created as a subordinate to Adam? Yes… and no…
When we as modern-day English speakers hear that we too were created for a “helper” role, it’s entirely understandable for the thought to fester that our role is therefore lesser or lower. But is this truly accurate?
Yes, Eve was Adam’s subordinate in the sense that he was her head. Yes, she was his subordinate in the sense that she ultimately depended upon Adam for direction and guidance. Yes, she was his subordinate in the sense that she was under him and provided assistance for him in the things that he needed to do but ultimately could not do by himself.
However, if subordinate is understood as being of lesser importance, worth, character, or quality, then Eve was absolutely not subordinate to Adam. Perhaps the best word to describe Adam and Eve’s relationship is complementary. As we learned in a previous devotion, God created an interdependent partnership for Adam and Eve: a partnership in which each needs the other, in which each provides something unique and different.
Joyfully Living Out Our Calling
We too are blessed to be in partnerships where we serve in a “helper” role—complementary partnerships, interdependent partnerships, partnerships where we can provide our male counterparts with something they need. When considering our various partnerships, the home is often at the forefront of our minds. Husband and wife—male and female—naturally work together to create a loving environment, raise their children, and keep Christ at the center of their marriage.
I’m certainly not the one to tell you what that should look like for you, because it’s going to look different for everyone. There isn’t one list of “husband/head” jobs and tasks and a separate “wife/helper” list. No, each family unit will have to figure out what it means for the husband to act as head and the wife to act as helper—always keeping in mind that neither role is of greater or lesser value. But when open and honest conversations occur, when husband and wife strive to celebrate each other’s strengths and support each other’s weaknesses, God is honored and the family unit becomes a place where Christ dwells.
These complementary partnerships also manifest themselves in the church. Later this summer, we’ll consider what it means for men and women to come together as the body of Christ and how this specifically relates to our unique callings. For now, it’s sufficient to note that there are again many ways for women to serve as helpers in their local congregations. I’m not just talking about the traditional ways such as serving on Altar Guild or singing in choir. Chances are if you can think of a way to help, it would likely be welcomed and appreciated at your congregation.
Chances are if you can think of a way to help, it would likely be welcomed and appreciated at your congregation.
Again, this is going to look different for every woman in every church, and it’s not my place to dictate what it looks like for you. I can, however, tell you what it looks like for me: answering questions, solving problems, and working behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly. In short, I try to take what I can off my pastors’ plates so that they have more time to carry out the aspects of ministry that only they can do. And when I willingly embark on that partnership—when I serve in a way that is both helpful and that utilizes my gifts of focus and organization—I find myself living out my helper calling in a way that brings joy, both to me and to those around me. I’m confident the same will be true for you.
When Our Calling Isn’t Recognized…
It’s not so easy, though, in an unbelieving world. We aren’t always surrounded by fellow Christians with whom we share a common goal of building each other up in the faith. We aren’t always interacting with friends and acquaintances who understand that our desire to help is not a weakness but is a strength as we live out our role. We aren’t always dealing with a culture that sees the blessing that helping brings.
It’s tempting to throw in the towel and limit our helper role to the home and the church. But as we discovered in the very first week, the unique callings of men and women do not only apply in the home and in the church. This means that we are called to act as helpers—even when it comes to how we act in an unbelieving world.
Note well what I am and am not saying here. I am not saying that every act, every task, and every interaction between a woman and a man is an instance where the woman is helping. Neither am I saying that every woman is called to act as a helper to every man, nor that it is always inappropriate for women to be in positions where they are in authority over others—both males and females. I am, however, saying that our helper role applies both in Christian and in secular environments. That shows itself in our mindsets, in our willingness to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others, in our desire to have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5).
That shows itself in our mindsets, in our willingness to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others, in our desire to have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5).
I’ll close today as I did earlier in the week: for me personally, joyfully living out my helper role is an ongoing struggle. My old Adam delights in whispering “Inferior! Restricted!” in my ear, and my new man is often woefully unequipped to deal with such accusations. A trip back to the Garden of Eden and through the pages of the Old Testament quiets these claims, but the whispers of “Outdated! Old fashioned!” still continue. If I’m being honest, what helps the most is simply finding a way to serve—a way that I’m good at, that fills a need, that brings joy to others. What a blessing it is for that joy to be contagious and make its way back to me!
For Further Reflection
- The term “complementary” implies an equality, a correspondence, and a difference. How do we see each of these in the relationship between Adam and Eve? In our relationships today?
- Sometimes it can be hard to find ways to live out your helper role in your congregation. Think of something you’re particularly good at, of a skill that you have been particularly blessed with. How could you use that skill to help at your local congregation? With whom could you talk in order to begin serving in a way that makes use of that skill?
- How does your attitude change the way you view your helper role in an unbelieving world?
Lord God, our sinful nature never ceases to attack our faith and challenge our worth. When these challenges come in relation to our helper role, remind us that you have uniquely created this role for us. Keep us always mindful for ways that we can faithfully live out this calling, and quiet the world’s claims that serving as a helper makes us of lesser value and worth. Amen.
When you visit nph.net and purchase the Heirs Together of God’s Gracious Gift of Life student workbook, you’ll also receive the Heirs Together downloadable leader’s guide FREE. Be sure to add both products to your cart, and use the code CALLINGS21 at checkout. Offer expires 9/15/21. Please note that only one discount code per order may be used.