three paths to travel

There are certain writers that seem to be able to lead people to their own healing, simply with their words. Henry Nouwen took me on a profound journey of self discovery as he opened up the story of The Prodigal Son. Ruth Haley Barton restored the soul of my leadership through the story of Moses and Gene Edwards helped me navigate complex relationships in his book The Three Kings, based on the story of David and Saul.

While I’d love to write like these authors, I am not naive enough to attempt to draw close to them. However, I have been greatly inspired by their contemplative reflections on storylines from scripture. Each of them seemed to sit with certian stories for a long time, finding themselves in scripture.

Finding ourselves in a story

There are some special moments in our lives when one can receive a download of revelation from scripture. It appears to come alive to you and speak to the very heart of a situation you are facing. Not only that, somehow you find yourself drawn to particular characters whose story lines give you hope for your own personal odyssey.

Since encountering the love of Jesus in my late teens, I’ve repeatedly found myself in many of the characters of scripture. I’ve been where the woman caught in adultery has stood as I’ve faced my own sin but encountered undeserved grace. I’ve felt like the ostracised woman at the well; welcomed by a saviour. I’ve put my foot in it like Peter, doubted like Thomas and missed the point completely like the Pharisees. As often as I can, I try to emulate Jesus. Yet, one of my most profound encounters with scripture happened as I read the story of two mothers wrestling for the life of a child in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

Many years ago, I was grieving deeply after being shut out of a male-only Eldership team for a church I had helped to birth. Despite being a woman with leadership gifting and a genuine God-given call to plant and nurture churches, my motives and character had been questioned. My heart stung at being left unable to bring up, what felt like, a beloved child. As I opened 1 Kings 3 and read of the wisdom of God on display through King Solomon, it was as though the same Holy Spirit who had inspired the recording of this historical event, was now brooding over the verses; enlightening them as a metaphor for my own predicament. Two immoral women are brought before the King. Locked in dispute over a child they each long to bring up, their maternal claim fiercely opposed. I found myself set down in the midst of this story.

My own desire to raise the beloved church I had laboured to birth had been met with ongoing contention. The complementarian* church network I belonged to, drew a theological line at women being elders and some churches went further and excluded women from preaching. Since I desired to lead and felt called by God to take responsibility for the whole church family, I had initially found their stance difficult and puzzling. At various times, I had felt wounded and in my private anger I wrestled with Jesus over my unhealthy desires to justify myself. As an external processor I began to realise any divisive words I spoke, if left unchecked, had the potential to build me a secret power base amongst those who shared my views but could also cause the carving up of a church or a network of churches, much like the child in this story.

As I read the tale of the two women I realised Father God was showing me what was occurring within my own heart; the ‘flesh’ and the ‘new creation’ were at war with each other. I was being allowed to choose the trajectory of my life. Would I become like the false mother who grabbed for power in the dark, willing to tear apart the family to get what I wanted? Or would I be like the true mother who yielded her individual rights for the good of something greater; the health of the child, my beloved church?

The true mother’s motives are made clear to The King and his verdict is what ultimately resolves the harrowing dispute. Observing this truth, among others, assured me that my King Jesus saw who I was and what He had called me to. No person could stand in the way of His plans for me, if only I could resolve the dispute going on within my own soul. Jesus showed what really needed resolving wasn’t whether I could or should be an Elder and allowed a governing role within the church, rather he was more concerned about was what was going on within me.

Through this story of two combative women, Jesus brought me peace and healing, as well as a pathway to navigate conflicts going on both inside and outside of myself.

The account in 1 Kings 3 arcs through three sections and some of my following posts will do the same. Firstly, it traverses places of wounding and lament as the child born, taken unjustly and then fought over. The story then passes through moments of mystery as the two women feud before a silent King. Finally, the tale makes sense of mystery by looking within at the hearts of those involved in dispute, eventually arriving in places of God-inspired wisdom.

To heal what is hurting and resolve contention in our midst, we too must pass through places of wounding; acknowledging the pain we have both caused and received. We must lament it and own it, if ever we are to move through it. Taking time to acknowledge places of mystery is also important on the journey. The King took time to listen to both sides of the argument, then allowed further testing before pronouncing a verdict. To the bereft women this must have seemed like an eternity. We too may feel confused by opposing theological interpretations of Gods words around the roles of men and women in scripture. Often this leaves us wondering what God himself intended and why doesn’t he get more involved to resolve our conflict? Embracing mystery is a key part of the healing journey, as is, eventually arriving in places of wisdom. While hard-fought and often slow to appear in our real lives, Godly wisdom is available to all who ask (James 1:5). We, like these women, have a King who sees deeply into our very being and wishes to help us discern the route towards, healing, dignity, truth and freedom.

I hope to present this story to you as the Holy Spirit gave it to me; as a contemplative invitation to inner transformation. May it heal you and guide you as it did me.

*’Complementarian’ is a stance that some church streams take when it comes to interpreting what the bible says around the God-given roles of men and women. This stance would take the position that the bible says men and women are equal, yet have different but complementary roles and responsibilities.

For a summary of different views read ‘Two Views on Women in Ministry’

Abi held a funeral for her design career after birthing two churches and three children. She now helps lead a local church alongside her husband John and a team of great people, as well as working for her larger network of churches as their Communications Manager. Life is full but fun.