How a girl changed my worldview

“It’s a girl?!” I blurted out.

Three pairs of eyes peered over their masks and fixed themselves on me. Those were not the right words for the moment.

“Girls are OK too, you know,” was the firm response through one of the masks.

It had never occurred to me that girls weren’t OK. I had just known this was to be a boy. It was one of those “knowings” we have – a deep confidence that something just is.

It may have come from the fact that I had grown up in a boy’s world. With three brothers, I had lived in a gender-simple farm world. Oh, there were women in the household: mother, aunt, and grandmother. And I had friends with sisters, but these seemed to move about in a parallel universe, real but distant. Like the stars and planets. That worked pretty well for me.

Two different worlds

Like all young men, I did, of course, eventually discover girls and the exhilarating alchemy that came with this. And for a time, my world was split in two. On the one hand, the world of boys with its boyish pleasures, and on the other, the mind-boggling complexity of the world of women.

But they were two different worlds.

So as I prepared for our first child with the calm assurance we would have a son, I filled in the details with what I knew: hunting trips, fishing trips, fixing cars, and so on. I had it all planned out.

But…it was a girl! My dream world exploded.

As quickly as this happened, I was overwhelmed by the astonishing, extravagant miracle of life that was soon squirming in my arms. I was so proud of my daughter.

But the comfortable coexistence of the male and female worlds was forever shattered.

That was 31 years ago, and in those years, I have learned a few things.

I learned that girls really are different. It sounds trite, but though I grew up in a comfortable world of parallel realities, in university I was told the difference between men and women is merely plumbing. We are clay shaped by the environment. It’s a simple fact, they said; society determines our roles and the powerful use them to abuse. With a new paradigm, we can create a new abuse-free world. “Trust us: we’ve studied this and we know.”

It turned out their simple answers weren’t that simple.

Created male and female

As our daughter grew and we had sons, I remember being struck by the incongruity of this genderless paradigm. The biblical claim – “God created mankind in his own image…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27) – became self-evident.

And the differences are very good. I suspect I wouldn’t have realized these without a daughter. The ultimate celebration came on the day I walked with her down the aisle, and a new household came into being.

But as she grew older, I learned something else. She was not merely a girl.

During this period, leaders rose up in the church who told us that because God has created us male and female, we must insist on leadership restrictions in the church for women. That notion didn’t even fit the world of my childhood.

It’s very simple, they said. The Bible teaches that women must not be in leadership over men. The church needs men to lead and women to submit. This is God’s design. “Trust us: we’ve studied this and we know.” They promised this teaching would restore a damaged church.

Like my university professors, these teachers carried themselves with self-confidence and authority. I may well have been happy enough to take them at their word, but a daughter was growing up in our household. The idea that her leadership gifts should be restricted because she was my daughter and not my son came up against the same incongruity as my university teaching had. It just didn’t add up with what I now saw every day. Why restrict her?

And their biblical explanations weren’t that simple either because Scripture also said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). That truth too became self-evident.

As I celebrate my daughter’s unique womanhood, I also celebrate the fundamental equality we share in Jesus Christ.

I don’t think I would have learned this without a daughter.

Now, I have granddaughters carving out their space in my world; I wonder what they will teach me.

–James Toews is pastor of Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.

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