I’ve been reflecting lately on what it means to be devoted as I prepare for the Devoted Women’s conference in April at the Underground Network. The concept of devotion in English has taken on the meaning of love and loyalty. Probably the most common use is in marriage or romantic relationships. When we devote ourselves to someone, we forsake others. We choose a person to focus our affection and link our lives with. Or maybe we devote ourselves to a cause — putting time and energy into changing the world in some way.
Devoted — 1) very loving or loyal 2) given over to the display of. From the Latin de- and vovere — to formally vow, devot — to consecrate
What does it mean to be devoted to Jesus, specifically in the context of being a woman? Certainly it means maintaining Jesus as the object of our love and adoration. Like a faithful married woman who doesn’t let her heart be swayed by other men who cross her path, so we do not let other loves supplant Jesus in our lives with other loves. And even in the second sense of the word, like a museum devoted to a certain artist, our lives become displays of Jesus’ work in us.
But to go deeper with this concept, the Latin root of the word devoted resonates with me. The Latin devot carries a heavier meaning of a formal vow — a consecration. This carries the weighty meaning of single-minded, whole life commitment. There are so many voices in our culture telling women who they should be. Women in America have more opportunities today than any other time in history and with that come choices, pressures and mixed messages. From an early age, girl power is promoted — we can choose whatever career we want. At the same time, messages of beauty and ideal weight in the media bombard us at every turn. Maybe our parents have expectations or we meet a boy who expects us to act a certain way. Maybe we see women in limited roles in churches and get the message that our only role is to marry and bear children. Maybe our softness is seen as weakness or our strength and leadership as pushiness. We are told we can have it all, but then we come face-to-face with our limitations and social restrictions.
Women in the church are not immune to voices that might distract us from devotion. For those of us who are single, we get the message that we are somehow less than the full woman we could be. Or that somehow we don’t have our priorities straight. For those of us who are married, we constantly navigate the complexity of having a godly marriage without losing ourselves. For those of us with kids, we fight fear that we are doing it all wrong as we serve our family and cope with the limitations parenting brings to other areas of our lives. For those of us in the workforce, we navigate a largely male world where our way of leading isn’t always accepted or promoted. For those of us in ministry leadership, we struggle with voices that shame us and tell us that the Bible doesn’t affirm our call. For all of us, the murky waters of our sexuality and vulnerability to abuse, with the accompanying general silence of the church world, brings deep pain. For many of us, navigating the truth through all these messages can be a crippling and confusing burden.
I felt this acutely as a young married women in a church where gender roles were quite traditional. Having come out of college ministry leadership and a recent overseas experience, I was eager to serve in the church. My only option was with kids ministry, so I jumped in. I was terrible at it. I had no concept of how God works in kids or how to manage a classroom. At the same time, I saw no other women in leadership — not teaching, not serving communion, not leading worship, not even ushering. The only place I saw them was in kids ministry. This was a very different world from the broad range of female leaders I had been exposed to. The message from the pulpit was also that women were weaker (physically and emotionally), shouldn’t speak in public, should submit to their husband’s wishes and have limited opportunities to serve. This church was very supportive of our college ministry, but I personally was confused as to my identity in Christ and my role in the church. It caused me so much distress that I had a full meltdown in my little Sunday school class —complete sobbing meltdown. Children’s ministry was not for me.
But I learned a lesson that has been a guiding light as I navigate the complexities of life, marriage, motherhood and ministry. My first commitment is to Jesus. His is the voice I listen to — not church, or husband, or society, or family. Those gifts have contributions to who I am and the opportunities I have, but they are not my identity. My highest vow is to be a daughter of the Most High God.
Devotion, in some ways, is a yoke that we choose to take on. But it is not a burden. We forsake our sovereignty to make a vow to someone else. And yet it is in devotion that we find freedom — the freedom to hear the voice of Jesus filling us with His purposes and love. When we hear and embrace that voice and tune out those other voices, we discover our true purpose.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- What voices might distract you from hearing God’s call on your life?
- What are some areas in your life that need to be re-devoted and consecrated to Jesus?
- How can you empower women to keep their devotion focused on Jesus?