Back in February, I decided to only read female authors for the month (insert joke about of course giving women the shortest month).
Anyway, I picked up three books:
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor
It was one of my favorite months of reading ever. Each book is written with expertise, grace, insight, and tenacity. I learned from all three authors, and it got me to thinking —
I’ve been learning a lot from women lately.
Not that I haven’t always learned from women.
I’ve enjoyed it in institutions all my life — nearly all of my teachers were women, as were almost all of my church leaders (although in my tradition they weren’t likely to carry the title of “leader”). I’d name them all here, but there are simply too many. Needless to say, most of what I know about math and Jesus and cursive and the Old Testament I learned from a woman.
Still, and to my shame, I don’t think I’ve put myself personally under the tutelage of a woman nearly as often as I should. There are so many authors, speakers, mentors, and businesswoman from which I can glean unmistakeable wisdom. Not just names like Angelou and Obama — lesser-known women who have learned hard lessons that they are ready to pass down.
People whose names you’ll never know even if I said them, but have delivered an enormous impact in my life in recent months.
Like my spiritual director — a gray-haired, wild-eyed, sort of nun/hippie combo — who said spiritual director-y stuff like “This unraveling is a grace” and “God must be so pleased to see you struggling.” Or like my counselor, the first I’ve ever seen in an ongoing way by myself who is kind of like the dentist for me — I don’t like going, but if I missed I’d eventually find myself in a world of hurt.
Of course, if the ladies that have taught me the best lessons are the ones with whom I have the closest relationships.
My mother taught me countless lessons — serving me exceedingly well in the first half of my life with many of those lessons still re-educating me today.
But in terms of raw years and lessons learned, I’m not sure anyone has taught me as much as my wife. She has lived a twisty experience of her own. I’ve learned her life story in bits over two decades now.
Oh, the education.
She’d be the first to tell you she doesn’t have it all figured out. But in a way, that’s what I have needed to learn from her the most. I have hidden behind certainty and comfort and an “I’m good” persona all my life:
- Make everyone else happy, hide my real self, keep moving.
- Perform. Behave. Get rewarded.
- Sacrifice more when more is called for.
It’s how I survived in the world. Until it stopped working.
My “unraveling,” as my spiritual director called it, happened only about a year after my wife worked through some really difficult things of her own. I can honestly say I would not be making it through my own middle-life disordering if I hadn’t witnessed her middle-life disordering and if we hadn’t traveled that tough road together.
She was with me, and she was teaching me. Up close and for real. And, like with my spiritual director or my counselor or even my mother, it wasn’t all pleasant.
Most true education isn’t.
But I do think it has been good.
What do you get when you take a man who has hid a lot of his life behind his maleness — performance, stability, rightness — and he submits himself to a different way of seeing things, influenced heavily by female teaching and guidance and personal experience?
I don’t know what you get, but I get me.
A more honest version of me.
An incomplete version of me.
A grateful version of me.
Don’t tell me women can’t teach me or lead me.
I know better.