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In which I am learning to own my authority

When I initially finished writing Jesus Feminist, I handed it over to Brian first. He is my best critic, truly making my work better than I could do on my own. After he spent a weekend reading it, we went through all of his suggestions, edits, and notes. He is particularly helpful with articulating or clarifying some of the theology behind the prose more accurately, as well as asking me hard questions, testing my work out.

 

But one criticism he made that night bugged me. It bugged me because he was right, and he called me out. (Talk about iron sharpening iron…)

In nearly every chapter, I had a paragraph along the lines of: “Oh, my, gracious, I’m no scholar, I’m not a pastor, I don’t know, but here’s what I think. No one should listen to me, la-dee-dah.

At least fifteen different times in this manuscript, I felt the need to make sure the reader saw me stuffing my hands in my pockets, kicking rocks, looking down, and apologizing for my opinions.

Brian said he didn’t know if it was because I’m just another Canadian prone to over-apologizing  (somewhere in the Canada Act is the requirement that all Canadians say “I’m sorry!” a minimum of 12 times a day) or because I have a lively horror of appearing prideful or like a know-it-all.

Or maybe, really, it was because I’m a woman still learning how to walk in my authority as a daughter of the King. I’m not supposed to apologize for what God has shown me or done in my life. But here I am, dulling my voice, fitting into a too-small box of God-breathed womanhood, shrugging off.

I do that? Still? Really? Apparently, yes.

After all this time, after all the “I’m loved and I’m free” stuff and commissioning for others, I still default to self-deprecation for humour, I still turn my declarative statements into questions, I still minimize the work and goodness and grace of God in my life out of fear.

He felt it was a huge blind-spot in my work. Because I am writing about a thorny issue, and because I am nervous about how it will be received, my fear was coming across in my tone more than I realised. And that tone – apologizing, fearful, “hey, here’s an idea…” – was undermining the very message and intent of my work at its very core, disproving my very thesis.

Sarah, you need to own your authority,” he said to me. “The authority does not come from man, I’ll give you that, but this is a different kind of authority. You need to step into it, babe. This authority comes from the Holy Spirit. God has called you for such a time as this. So start writing like it.”

I felt the jolt of truth from my husband’s words: I have authority for such a time as this, given by the Holy Spirit. As soon as he said that, it was like that birthright rose up in me and said HELL YEAH.

I was reminded of how often people remarked on Jesus’ teaching as one of authority. “We’ve never heard anyone speak or teach like this!” they would say. I highly doubt that first century Palestine was lacking in authoritative men and leaders: so what was the difference with the authority of Jesus? His authority did not derive from the honour of men or from his finely tuned rhetoric or subversive theology, always available in abundance.

No, it was Holy Spirit authority, wasn’t it? It was authority rooted in the love and power of our Abba, not in any other source. It was authority, not for flaunting or power, it was authority for servanthood, for the purpose of giving life and freedom, for the purpose of invitation to God’s way of life, and his Kingdom ways.

So I may not have much authority in my own self, sure. I may not have much authority in the eyes of the world or even the Church, particularly the dwellers of The Table. I may not have authority of rhetoric or debate, arguments or prose, PhDs piled behind my name alongside womens’ studies or biblical literature notations. Even if I get slammed by critics, even if I’m wrong, even if, even worse, no one reads it ever, even if: I want to be faithful. I want to be faithful to the work God has given me to do.

Yet, I have authority, but it’s not my own. it’s the authority of the Holy Spirit, isn’t it? It’s a different authority than what we think: it’s the authority of Love. It’s the authority of grace. It’s the authority of being a daughter of the King. It’s the authority of living loved, walking close to the Father, knowing that when I take a step or make a move, it’s the authority of paying attention to the Voice in my ear, saying this is the way, walk in it, and remaining faithful to that Voice. It’s the authority of Narnia, perhaps, therefore a true privilege, who knows.

But I know this: I want to own it. I want to stand in it.

I went through my beloved heart-won book all over again before I submitted it to the publisher, prayerfully. And every time I deleted one of those undermining sentences or rewrote an entire chapter from the place of Holy Spirit and love-rooted authority, instead of the place of apology and fear, or even a place of man-made authority, I sensed God’s pleasure.

This is His work, not mine, I’m learning to believe it.

I’m learning, slowly, but I’m learning. I’m also laughing a bit ruefully over this from Paul in 2 Corinthians: “Now I, Paul, appeal to you with the gentleness and kindness of Christ—though I realize you think I am timid in person and bold only when I write from far away.” 

I hear ya, Paul. Gracious, yes. Hopefully it will also show up in my life, like it shows up in my words.

 

(P.S. I see the negative of this, too. After all, I come from a charismatic tradition where any one who felt like preaching or teaching was more than welcome to hop on up there and give it a go, claiming a lot of unearned authority. We had a lot of crappy teaching, veering off into Crazytown as a result. So I’m not anti-authority of wisdom and scholarship, elders and community, not at all. That’s not the point.)

 

 

Jesus Feminist, writing
  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    oh sarah, this is beautiful and true, and i am so damn proud of you the tears fall on my cheeks. we need this word. thank you, sister, for lighting a good way. xo

  • Amanda Pittman

    Sarah, I too am a woman trying to learn what it means to walk in the authority that comes with a call to service in God’s kingdom, even and especially when part of a church tradition that does not affirm that calling for women. I have heard similar supportive (and challenging!) words from my husband, words for which I am deeply thankful. I love your blog, though I’ve never commented before, and I pray that your book is read by those who need to hear its life giving, spirit lifting words most. May God’s peace be with you as you step forth in Kingdom service!

  • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

    Yes, yes, yes!!!! “even if, even worse, no one reads it ever” – I think you have some remnants of Crazytown right there ;)

  • http://www.gritandglory.com/ Alece Ronzino

    Yes. This. My overly apologetic heart needed to hear this. thank you.

  • Sharon O

    sounds like a very interesting book when it is finished.

  • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

    I struggle with much the same issues with my writing – brilliant of you to be able to see this and share it with the world. Love your honesty and vulnerability. Your husband is an amazing man.

  • http://lilablackbird.tumblr.com/ Charlotte

    Oh Sarah this is wonderful! I have a habit of minimizing things I’ve done, so I am totally there with you. When I make statements about things, I’ll often say “But what do I know, I’m just a…”. Maybe I need to cut that out a bit?

  • Sarah Curran

    This is so me, too, Sarah (Maybe it’s the name?). Thank you for saying it, and you go, girl!

  • alisha sanvicens

    Good words! I feel like I’m learning this too. I was reading somewhere the other day (can’t figure out where!) that even though it’s uncomfortable to sound authoritative (“Who am I to proclaim this or that?”), readers actually love it when writers make strong assertions and put a bold statement out there. It is so easy to diminish ourselves and our words. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • AnnaC

    Love. This is something I’m just starting to learn too, though I still have a long way to come. And the part about how it’s God’s work, His message- yes yes yes.

  • http://www.creeksideministries.blogspot.com/ Linda Stoll

    your husband is some godly, discerning man, isn’t he … how blessed you are to have each other ..

  • Corrie Merricks

    I love this! And I do the same thing. :)

  • http://twitter.com/lpippus Lisa

    yes. yes. yes. my canadian, female tending to minimize myself soul needed this.

  • Merry Evans

    I really empathise with this. It is a real struggle, who am I to speak of the greatness of my Lord and yet God calls and then he equips. I really appreciate your sentiments and I hope that you recieve joy in abundance for sharing a little more of our Christ given liberation, freedom and love though this post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelly.chripczuk Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    When I first started working as a hospital chaplain, I totally envied the catholic priest who had his “vestments”, his collar, his rosary and book of prayer and a long, dangling cross – to me, these were all symbols of authority that I as a lowly protestant armed with a bible didn’t have and besides that I was a woman and pregnant and didn’t fit the bill of what people were expecting to see when the chaplain walked in. During that time I came up with a phrase that I repeated over and over in my head “I’m not powerless. I have authority.” Over time I learned that my authority came from my presence (and the spirit of God in me). I still repeat that phrase sometimes when I need courage to speak out and speak up.

    • pastordt

      Love this, Kelly. LOVE it.

  • shaunanagins

    Oh goodness. This resonates so much with me (and my fellow Canadian-woman curse). In high school, I remember a teacher come up to me and ask me if I truly believed the thesis of an essay I had written. I said “Yes, absolutely.” And she responded with “Then you need to write like it. You have all the proof, and all the ideas, so why do you keep writing “maybe…”?

    I like my maybes, and my self-deprecation, and my “I’m young and sheltered and this is really really fallible.” But if I feel like the Holy Spirit is involved in something I write in the future, I will try to take a cue from this and own it. Can’t wait for your book, Sarah!

  • pastordt

    Dear girl, you did not need that last APOLOGY IN ITALICS. We know you’re not ‘a scholar.’ But you are smart as a whip, intensely articulate, and called and commissioned for this very work you are doing. We’re not looking for an academic tome. We’re looking for what you’ve been learning about how God created you and then laying that out there for us to take heart/courage/hope from. Go, girl. NO apology. EVER. (How is it possible for me to love someone I’ve never even met? Tis a mystery to me, but there it is.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/bkaty.larson BKaty Larson

      THAT’S THE FIRST THING I THOUGHT….no need for the last apology. But this piece is beautiful…but of course that is true, because it’s real. I tend to write and speak this way, still, as well…out of fear, because if I saw that God showed me this or revealed to me that…well someone might say I’m lying or that I’ve heard wrong or that I’m prideful. Thank you for speaking this truth of the authority of the Holy Spirit…he’s in me and when I tells me to write or speak, I want to…unapologetically.

      HELL YEAH.

    • Mar

      Agree! The image of hands in pockets kicking rocks … Perfect. I too find myself speaking with what I know is grace and wisdom, even comfort, and then follow it up with,”was that too much? Am I too much?” Your voice matters.

  • http://dramaticelegance.blogspot.com/ Rachel

    sweet Sarah, i am in your shoes and in your heart here. I find myself apologizing a thousand times, as though I don’t know what He told me I know. continue to move forward. don’t be afraid, for He has overcome and ripped the apologies to shreds and triumphed intensely. sing into the light, boldly. much love to you, precious sister.

  • http://twitter.com/HeatherCaliri Heather Caliri

    Amen, sister. May we all own the voices God gave us.

  • Sarah Westphal

    Remember: Woman of Valor! Eshet Chayil!

    (We over-apologize don’t we?)

  • http://www.travismamone.net/ Travis Mamone

    That’s my problem, too. I’m always saying, “I’m not a theologian, so please don’t take me too seriously.” Either that or I act like I know more than I really do.

    • Mar

      For you, Travis, “but when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus, (acts 4:13)

  • http://www.facebook.com/almon.cc C.c. Almon

    Sarah,
    This spoke to my heart and to who I am. Thank you for your continued words of wisdom & your amazing voice!
    C.C.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

    HELL YEAH. PREACH IT SISTER! May the breath of the Holy Spirit be your breath. May SHE speak through you with power and truth!

    • http://twitter.com/thatsjackstoyou Jackie Turner

      Amen.

  • AbbyKNorman

    My freshmen year, I had exactly one session with my speech coach before she informed me that the up-speak so as not to sound authoritative would be beaten out of me. I am so grateful for that gift, but I still catch it, I still am afraid of the authority. Thank you for this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.b.clemmer Jessica Buckwalter Clemmer

    Oh Sarah…I am so in tune with exactly what you are saying. (I’m telling you, if there’s a parallel universe or something, I swear you and I are living parallel lives somehow…) Just today, I sat with the elder team that I lead and told them I felt God was shifting something in me. Largely, it is that I need to just step up and LEAD…which is what I’ve been doing, but apologizing all the way, and hoping to not ‘put things on’ others…and, as a result, not really leading. I was able to articulate to them both what I need from them as my team, and what I’d like to challenge myself to, and in turn, what I want to challenge them to. I feel like this year God is truly calling me to simply step into my authority. Just freakin’ get over it all, and be comfortable with who I’m created to be. Not to be arrogant or prideful (which I have held back out of fear of COMING ACROSS that way…not even that I actually think I am arrogant or prideful…but didn’t want to be PERCEIVED that way…for no other reason than being a woman who is leading)… The team’s response was that of relief, to a degree, for them to be able to hear me put out clearly what my desires and expectations are, and they totally welcomed the challenges that I put out. Who would’ve thought…?!? (Other than, ya know, the Bible actually SAYS in Judges 5:2 “Israel’s leaders took charge, and the people gladly followed. Praise the LORD!”…)

    I’m excited to be living with courage this year, and blessed to find such encouragement here as you walk through many of the same things!!

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  • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com Erin Adams

    This is an encouragement and a kick in the pants for me, Sarah. Thank you! And thank you, Brian!

    I am so excited for you for your book. And, excited for myself, since I’ll get to read it.

    You have been a very influential voice for me. I am feeling more and more drawn toward helping the women in my own church body speak the truths they know and to use their voices. I don’t want to be ashamed or be afraid, if God gives me wisdom to share. (But, I am hesitant about it. I do think I am still mostly in the reading, learning, not quite ready to speak too much part…)

  • http://www.facebook.com/adrienne.butler2 Adrienne Butler

    Sarah, wow, so simple but so good!! Authority is hard to understand and grasp in the ways Heaven intends, and you’re right, it’s so important, and can “make or break” our assignments here. Thank you for your words, thanks for being bold (but your boldness is actually akin to what I feel is meant to be in all of us).
    I want to start a school soon, and have totally been struggling with feelings of inadequacy and smallness (I don’t even have a degree in education!), but your words have His breath on them, reminding me of truths, and really encouraging me as I also begin to step out into the unknown.
    Thanks again, and blessings for you and your family.

  • Natasha

    I hear you on this! I am constantly starting sentences with “I think maybe” and ending them with “I don’t know . . . what do you think?” I still suffer from the top scholar student fear of being labeled a know-it-all and declarative sentences sound so authoritative these days. Reminds me of that awesome youtube video of Taylor Mali’s slam poetry “Speak with Conviction” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCNIBV87wV4

  • Emily

    Yes. Good, good..

  • http://joannadobson.wordpress.com/ Joanna Dobson

    ‘The authority of Narnia’ – there’s a phrase full of wisdom and creativity and born out of deep thought. I absolutely love it.

  • mizmelly

    *Doing a little dance* *and another* *and just boogying over here a little bit too*

  • http://twitter.com/thatsjackstoyou Jackie Turner

    This is just a phenomenal post. Your real, genuine, Jesus-inspired humility comes through as you lay out the issue for us, even as you ARE so clearly claiming and accepting that Spirit-given authority. Gives me goosebumps. Thanks for being so honest.

  • Rachel

    Oh gracious, yes. Was just having this conversation with my husband this weekend, about the importance of valuing in our speech the things we value when in conversation with others who don’t necessarily share our values. I’m so quick to do the same toe-kicking and looking down when people ask what I do “Oh, ya know, just raising kids and blogging a bit here and there.” As if it’s some silly pursuit to be at home shaping little lives. Your words and viewpoint have so much to offer – so preach it, sister!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000714631926 Erika Morrison

    I needed this post today. AND, I canNOT wait to read your book!!!

  • http://jacquelinegardner.wordpress.com/ Jacqueline Gardner

    First, your husband is wonderful and everything he said is full of beautiful, life-giving, you-affirming, truth-laced goodness…oooh there is something intangible that shifts in a woman’s spirit when a good man advocates on her behalf. It is empowering in the loveliest way.

    Second, if we’re being honest, your fears aren’t completely unfounded. Chances are you’ll get slammed by some critics. Chances are some things you’ve written are wrong. Chances are some people won’t read the book (though lots will). You know all of those things and I totally get the shaking-in-your-shoes kind of trepidation that wants to meet in the middle with qualifiers and compromises and mediation. Pinning your heart to a book deal usually means people get out their red pens. But there is so much brave in this post (and in the book, I expect!) So much brave and courage and Holy Spirit indwelling and there are so many who don’t know you and who are so proud of you for putting words to our hearts.

    So. In which we commission YOU: “We continually ask God to FILL YOU with the knowledge of his will through all WISDOM and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that YOU may live a life WORTHY of the Lord and please him in every way; bearing FRUIT in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all POWER according to his glorious might so that you may have great ENDURANCE and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has QUALIFIED YOU to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:9-13)

    Write on! =)

  • JennaDeWitt

    Yeah, it is a hard balance to find. In college I was constantly told (for some reason, especially by my male profs/mentors) that I needed to be bolder, more hardcore, more outspoken and even have a certain kind of arrogance (in the right way). Then in the real world, I was told by my leaders/mentors to tone it down, be more humble, be more soft and tender, be more tactful…

    Both sides can be true at times, but it is difficult to discern when I need to chill or handle things delicately and when I need to let my fire burn bright. Still learning.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    We’ll know it when the Holy Spirit’s authority shows up. That’s what’s tricky. We can’t make it come out, but once we open ourselves to the Spirit’s voice, there will be speaking…

    And one other note, any draft will have issues. So don’t feel too bad about this. I had a first draft once that made me sound like a know it all! It’s good to be a little cautious in books from the standpoint that you can’t take it back once it’s printed… just not Canadian cautious.

  • KathleenBasi

    You know, Sarah, something else to consider is that this tendency to self-deprecate is an indication of humility, and as such it is a gift. We none of us have the answers for sure. We can only give the best we can give.

  • http://twitter.com/ThePeacePastor Marty Troyer

    Sarah, “So start writing like it.” What a great line, and what great truth!

    I wonder if your apologetics (ha!) are embedded in the very structure of your blog. Here’s what I mean: Lately I’ve been reading my 5yo some classic Winnie the Pooh. It’s my assumption (perhaps misguided) that you’ve consciously or unconsciously associated yourself with Pooh and/or A.A. Milne in the recurrent titling of your posts that each begin with, “In Which…” The Pooh books/chapters also do this. In Pooh we find the consummate anti-hero, one who masterfully embodies the beautiful image we all “get” in our insides, “stuffing my hands in my pockets, kicking rocks, looking down, and apologizing for my opinions.” If I’d have seen that quote as a stand alone, I’d have thought in my head, “Pooh”!

    You are absolutely faithful in saying that you need to start writing with the authority God/we/you have granted. Perhaps, to the degree you do or don’t associate with Pooh, it’s time to find another hero? Writing as Pooh likely demands 12 apologies. Writing as an empowered women of God doesn’t.

    Grace for the new year. Can’t wait to read your book!

    Marty Troyer (The Peace Pastor)

  • http://twitter.com/AnnVoskamp Ann Voskamp

    The Canadian thing? In the Canada Act?

    About apologizing?
    And making everything into a question?
    I wonder if it’s true? ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/lina.neufeld.33 Lina Neufeld

    I love this! I agree no ps needed:)

  • Casey

    I am writing a blog about churches. I have been searching for many years for a church where I feel comfortable in the area where we now live, and have been unable to find one. So, I am on a one-year journey to find one. In the meantime, I am writing. There is some theology, of course. I am unnerved by this, as “I am not a pastor” either. Thank you for sharing this, today. I believe I am called to write this blog, and I have been reminded to not be led astray into false teachings– but it still unnerves me, the non-biblical scholar, to write and share this blog. Thank you for reminding me I am a Daughter of the King. The blog is 52prayersand52voices.blogspot.com if you are interested.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=714357575 Caren ‘Benson’ Swanson

    YES! I think this post is a kick in the pants for many of us. I once read of a woman who came from a patriarchal tradition where women are not allowed to speak, and in a vision Christ came to her and said, “Who do you think you are, allowing these men in your life to quiet the voice *I* gave you?” What a powerful challenge!

    PS: I strongly do NOT agree that self-deprecation has anything to do with humility. True, authentic, Christ-centered humility gives us the courage to be honest about our strength and our weaknesses both, without judgement. Jesus never shuffled his feet and said, “Aw shucks, who ME???”

  • http://twitter.com/mwestramke Megan Westra

    this post could be alternatively titled: “in which Sarah Bessey says exactly what a number of powerful, beloved women need to hear.” thank you so much for your timely reminder. i love how the Holy Spirit uses the internet to link so many hearts and journeys!

  • http://www.LucilleZimmerman.com/ Lucille Zimmerman
  • Christine Dalessio

    so – I stumbled upon this, bc a woman in a fb group I’m in mentioned it. And I was cautiously interested, but not quite convinced until I read your “p.s.” Now I need to know more. All the best with your book, and kudos for your courage. It’s hard to own your voice sometimes, but yes, you’re right – the Holy Spirit is our strength… can’t wait to read what you have to say.

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  • Megan (FriedOkra)

    PROUD. And excited. And grinning from ear to ear. I love these out loud moments of realization of yours and how they make you pound your proverbial chest and curse. xxx

  • http://twitter.com/Piano_Jo Jo Inglis

    This is SO good (& the bloke ain’t half bad)

  • Wendy

    I can’t even tell you how much I needed to hear this today friend. I have been struggling with something I am writing all day. I’ve stopped and started about a bazillion times. Sometimes it feels a bit like standing on a diving board…the high one. Thanks for your encouragement. Blessings.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    I’m applauding you and my shoes are off because, dear Sarah, this is holy ground. For such a time as this, friend.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

      My shoes are off as well. This is definitely a burning bush among us.

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com/ Kelly @ Love Well

    This is so good. I, too, am infected with “I’m sorry” syndrome. It just feels right, when you want to avoid self-rightouness and dogmatism at all costs. But maybe it’s an overreaction.

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  • Melody

    I am feeling so blessed by these words right now, Sarah. Thank you. From a young soul in Tennessee, thank you.

  • Sara Harless

    Don’t worry, I will read it!

  • http://twitter.com/truebluebrenda Brenda W.

    This is one of my core struggles and I’ve really been trying to address it lately. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://InkyJazz.com/ Bridget

    Standing up and cheering for you Sarah!

  • Puzzled

    Why, oh why, do you negate your powerful message by saying “Hell yeah”? I don’t get it.

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  • Mar

    I think you took a step in this direction when you transitioned from “emerging mummy” to sarahbessey.com … This is my name and this is my voice … Yes.

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  • Nic

    Jesus´authority came from the fact that he was and is GOD. When he spoke, the actual words of God were spoken. That is rather different from the confidence of a human author, though God may choose to use the words you write. Or do you claim direct inspiration in the Biblical sense?

  • http://www.idelette.com idelette

    Even just your headline has been sitting with me for days … Owning our authority is part of standing in our rightful place as women on the earth. I want to own mine too … Thank you for “going first.” How beautiful that it came as part of writing this important work. May it be an anointing on this book–that everyone who reads it, finds and owns her authority + voice. And I want to holler, Amen!

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  • http://www.gabbingwithgrace.com/ Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    what an amazing gift from your hubz! On a super side note, I love how you Canadians -especially Jim Carrey- say sorry but it sounds like “surrey” just. love. it. =)

  • Terrie (Bessey) Baldwin

    Dear Sarah, I loved this post and am sorry it has taken me so long to tell you this. It is in our vulnerableness that we are most strong. Your strength is revealed in this post. It is a struggle I share with you as woman, and a “French Canadian” background :)

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