Elizabeth Bennet and Biblical Womanhood

I’ve loved to read my whole life, and I’m studying for my masters degree in English literature, but I’m not a literary snob. I love anything from Les Miserables to Lord of the Rings to Gone Girl.

I was very pleased recently to read a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, titled Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfield. It’s a fun read, and it helped me realize why I like the original book and the 2003 film version so much: Elizabeth Bennet is the character I identify with the most out of all the books I’ve ever read. She is eerily similar me, and that was easier to see when she speaks with modern words and does modern things, like in this retelling.

You’d think identifying with her would be good, because Liz ends up with one of the most famous leading men ever. Mr. Darcy’s name is synonymous with a dream man. Yet the realization that I’m so similar to Liz made me sad, and it made my insecurities about my failure as a “biblical woman” creep back in to my mind.

It sounds like I’m doing the annoying blogger thing by arbitrarily picking something in pop culture and connecting it to Jesus, but I promise this is true and it legitimately upset me for days. One Eligible passage in particular that made my heart sink is something Darcy says about Liz: “You aren’t nearly as funny as you think you are. You’re a gossip fiend who tries to pass off your nosiness as anthropological interest in the human condition.”

Elisabeth_Bennet_(détail)

Ouch. I think that description is a lot like me, even though I want to be like Liz’s sister Jane, who’s beautiful, kind and loved by all. All this brought back to me my insecurities and misconceptions about who I should be as a woman who loves God.

In my early 20s, I was part of a Christian group that talked a lot about “biblical manhood and womanhood.” Striving to be like Christ as a man or woman is a very good thing, but biblical womanhood was often defined as personality traits that I don’t possess. I took what I learned and twisted and inflated it more in my mind.

Years later I still have the subconscious idea that a true godly woman is quiet, sweet, never sarcastic, usually dressed in soft and feminine pastels, bakes cookies for everyone in her church and is quickly married to a wonderful Christian guy, with whom she will go on to have a beautiful marriage as a stay-at-home mom with perfect kids. I’m pretty quiet sometimes, but I’m not very sweet, my sense of humor is very dry and sarcastic, I prefer to dress almost exclusively in dark neutral colors, I rarely bake cookies and I’m almost 26 and still single. I’m more like Liz Bennet, with sarcasm and pride, than Jane Bennet who has goodness and love.

All the qualities and traits I idolize are wonderful, and God really did make lots of women like that, some of whom I have the pleasure of knowing personally. That’s exactly who I wanted to be, but I’m just not.

Needless to say, my description is nowhere in the Bible. Even saying it seems silly, especially when it comes to stupid ideas I have about the way this woman dresses, but that truly is the way I find myself thinking sometimes. The truth is, though, there’s not one path of life or personality that’s the real definition of “biblical womanhood” or “biblical manhood.”

My narrow definition excludes women with different personalities, and it also excludes women from different cultures or socioeconomic situations where staying at home as a mom or baking cookies for fun will never be an option. Even more than that, my definition totally leaves women who will never be married out in the cold.

God calls all of us to follow him and to keep his commandments, and he has made us a certain way to fulfill a specific purpose in his kingdom. I may despise my personality because it predisposes me to certain faults and sins, like the ones described by Darcy above. God made me this way not so I could commit those sins but so my personality could reflect him. Even if I exactly matched my idea of what a “biblical woman” should be, I would still struggle with sin – maybe not the sin I currently struggle with, but it would be no better.

Second Corinthians 4:7 is helpful when I’m tempted to be too hard on myself for not fulfilling my own unrealistic and often silly expectations: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” The treasure I have is the gospel, and it’s housed in the “jar of clay” that is my imperfect and breakable body and mind. My weakness and faults, even my wrong tendency to perceive neutral things about myself as faults, are just an opportunity for God to shine brighter. Just like Elizabeth, who learns from her mistakes to become a better version of herself, I can learn too and become a godly person without resenting the way God made me.