on being a helper instead of needing one.

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The helpers have been in the news a lot lately: the people who ran towards the bomb blasts in Boston, the neighbor with McDonald’s. As much as I would want to be the person who runs to help after a bomb goes off, the truth is that I think I might have run the other way looking for safety. To follow this train of thought is disconcerting. Would I have helped get those women out of that house in Cleveland, or would I have held back and not wanted to get involved? What would I do if my students and I were actually in danger? Am I content to report to my superior or will I be the person who calls the police? In retrospect it is easy to say of course I would have done the right thing, that I would even have known definitively what the right action had been. The truth is that I probably see smaller-scale tragedies every day and let them slide. I fear I would be out of practice if I encountered something greater.

My unwillingness to dive in could probably be attributed in some ways to my introverted nature, but as I have thought about it the past few weeks, I wonder if there isn’t something else going on as well. I was raised in a church that taught certain things about men and women. Women’s lives should center around the home. They are to submit to their fathers or husbands or their church leadership simply because of their gender. Men have certain roles and women have certain roles and neither the two shall meet.

This was a damaging message for me to learn as a young girl. When we teach–whether implicitly or explicitly–that women are weak and passive then we are directly creating an environment where young women don’t learn how to stand up for themselves or to stand up for others. When we teach girls and women that they are the weaker sex, that men are the leaders, that they have to submit, then we are teaching them that they are less than. I believe this is why I am not the first to jump to help others: I was taught to to think of myself as someone who needs help, not as a helper. I see myself as vulnerable while others are strong.

Even Mike was surprised when I brought this up. I don’t present myself to the world or consciously think of myself as someone who needs to be rescued. I knew even as a teenager that those princess in the tower books were not for me. But I absorbed those messages just the same, took in the idea that I should wait for directions.

This is also a damaging message for boys to learn. There is a lot of talk in churches about depending on God alone, but the truth is that we are teaching both men and women to depend on men. When women must rely on men to make decisions it is surely no surprise that they learn to need help rather than being helpers themselves. It’s also no surprise that these same men learn to treat women as inferior instead of as equals.

As I listened to this week’s sermon that focused on courage, I thought about how Biblical heroes like Daniel and Esther were brave and flawed. I have no idea what I would have done if I found myself in those stories. My husband is someone who advocates for me by encouraging me to stick up for myself, and the support I have gotten from him and from my church has helped me to realize the importance of being an active helper. At the same time, I know that not everyone has such a wonderful partner who will walk beside them and shine a light when things are dark.

When I ask myself whether Jesus would have wanted me to hold back from helping others because of my gender, I have to answer that question with a resounding no. As I try to learn a new way, I see that we as a culture still have a lot to learn.

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