I had just spent the majority of the last 36 hours at a Christian women’s conference. The conference was well done with inspiring speakers, moving worship, beautiful ambiance, and, most importantly, the coffee was really good! I was glad I went. But once I returned home I couldn’t seem to get out of the car. I just sat there in my husband’s (not awesome) 1998 Infinity with no air conditioning. Although I was burning up in the Texas heat, I just couldn’t go inside. I was stuck in the seat with my seatbelt still wrapped around me. Over and over again I kept asking myself, “How do I describe to my husband what I’ve just experienced?”
He had sacrificed a lot that weekend to make it possible for me to attend the conference. I was certain he’d love hearing about the beautiful worship I heard. He’d love to hear the glowing reports of women being challenged to be what God made them to be. I know for a fact that news of the good coffee would be a welcomed report.
How in the world could I tell him the truth--that despite all the beautiful words I heard, despite all the perfectly arranged songs I sang, and despite all the perfectly brewed coffee I drank. . . I wasn’t satisfied. I was still bored. I was still wrestling with something very deep inside my heart. Although I couldn’t quite name it, I knew it wasn’t something I was proud of.
Eventually I did manage to collect my pamphlets and gift bag and get out of the car. As I took a deep breath and walked in the door, there he was, my husband--smiling from ear to ear! I could see the excitement on his face, his excitement to hear of my excitement. Rats! Typically I might lie a little bit. Not a bad lie. . . just a little twisting to make myself look better. I really didn’t want to seem unrighteous or ungrateful, so I wish I could’ve come up with something wonderful to say. Instead, I chose to tell the truth as best as I understood it. I know now the Holy Spirit was working powerfully to give me these words, but at the moment, it was a little weird! Are you ready for it?
Here’s what I came up with: “I am Noah’s wife.”
Yep. Insert the creepiest looking emoticon you can think of right here.
I am Noah’s wife.
You may, like Jonathan, be wondering what in the world I meant. Truthfully, it’s something I’d been chewing on for a while, but right then and there I understood the reason for my boredom. Let’s me explain.
Years ago I participated in a bible study of the book of Genesis. Oh sure, it was an amazing study. I am sure I learned a boatload of amazing truths. Wanna know what I remember most? Genesis 7:6-10:
“Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth.”
Let’s think about this together. Who is Noah? Duh.
Who else was on the boat? Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives.
What were the sons’ names? Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Yep.
What was his wife’s name? Think. . . think. . . think. . . I got nothin’.
Noah’s wife was nameless.
Hey, writer of Genesis. . . are you kidding me right now? I can understand leaving out the daughters-in-law’s names, but the wife? You can remember names like Shem, Ham, and Japheth but not the wife’s name?
I’ve always been sad for her. I mean, maybe she wasn’t as awesome in the whole “righteousness” thing as her husband, but she must have done something right. Right? I mean, she was good enough for righteous Noah to fall in love with her. She raised their children in such a way that they got access to the boat. Something must have been noteworthy about her. Right?
Well, the author of Genesis decided to leave her nameless. She’s known forever as simply “Noah’s wife.” The unnamed wife of one of the most well known men in history.
Back to real time--and here’s where it gets uncomfortable to talk about. It’s the truth though. . . and since I’m being truthful. I sat there the whole weekend trying to engage my heart in worship, but all I could think about was how much I had in common with Noah’s wife. How utterly unknown I was. Over and again I thought about my different titles: “Owen and Ellie’s mom,” “Teacher helper,” or “That girl who sews things.” Oh, I can’t leave out the most popular one, “Pastor’s wife.”
It’s crazy, but no matter how well I know a woman, no matter how many hours we spend together, and no matter how many laughs or tears we share, she will always introduce me as her pastor’s wife. Occasionally the title of friend comes in at the end, but first and foremost I’m her pastor’s wife. The nameless companion of her pastor. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
Well, the real heartbreak came on as I watched the women on stage. Please put your grace cardigans on because this is vulnerable y’all. It might not be pretty but it’s what I got. They were all friends, and were all exercising their unique gifts on stage--together. As each one was introduced with a glossy photograph, it was like a parade of comrades who gave themselves away to us so that we could know them too. This was not at all their intention, but as I watched I became increasingly and painfully aware that not only did I not know them nor they know me, but my gifts were lying dormant in the room as if they were nonexistent. All of a sudden I saw what I had been suppressing in my heart because I didn’t want to believe it:
When I’m alone and have time to think (also known as either house cleaning or showering), I’m confident I’m a strong leader. I’m pretty certain I’m an able public speaker and teacher. I know hands down that I can throw a pretty good party. I mean come on. . . I’ve been a Christian for 25 years, so I’ve had time to accept my talents and figure out my spiritual gifts. They’re part of me, they’re who I am.
At the conference, I realized, however, that to most people I’m known differently. I’m known more generically.
The woman in the back.
It’s one thing to fear being unknown, it’s altogether more painful to realize that you are unknown. It was devastating. In fact, my fingers are still a little shaky just typing about it. I don’t enjoy the truth of it, but it is the truth.
If I weren’t baptist, I’d make a bet that many of you reading this feel the same way.
WHAT'S AN AVERAGITE TO DO?
So, fellow averagites, what do we do now? Do we stay in our seats and either shake in fear or seethe in bitterness? Do we hurl insults and cheap commentary on those women who are known? Do we hide our gifts away as we decide that if no one’s gonna notice we’re just not going to perform? Oh Lord please no! I don’t want that. I don’t want that!
In the days that followed, I cried out to the Lord in a way that only a lonely soul can do. The privileged voice of helplessness was crying out to him asking him to make sense of my selfishness and sorrow. I was asking him to turn my mourning to dancing. To use my gifts and remove my desire to make a name for myself. I refused to live a life of jealousy, but I had no idea how to exercise it. And then I watched a video. I remembered the unnamed, and, soon, I called out for his name over my own. It’s exciting. If you are or have felt like me--average, unnamed, unknown--I hope you’ll read on.
I WATCHED A VIDEO
My husband recently co-wrote a book on the resurrection of Christ called Raised? to help engage doubters and skeptics. A movie was made about the spiritual journey of a dear couple Ben and Jessica Roberts. The story the Lord has written for them is truly amazing. I have personally watched them walk from darkness into light and have witnessed the corresponding life change that is gifted to those who know Jesus as their resurrected King. It’s been an amazing gift to observe this process in them and celebrate what the Lord has done. I know that this couple is just at the beginning of something amazing.
A week after the conference, I was watching part three of the movie. In this part, Jessica tells of her return to church. She chose our church because “it met in a bar.” She goes on to share what I’ve heard about twenty times before, but this time I heard it with keen hearing, like it was the first time I’d ever heard something so amazing.
She said something like, “I sat with my son in the children’s worship. They were singing Father Abraham, which has no spiritual significance, but somehow I met Jesus. I knew then that I was loved, that I belonged, and that I could be cleansed.”
Averagites--that was ME leading children’s worship! Even though I swore I’d be the only pastor’s wife in the history of pastor’s wives to never ever lead the children’s ministry. . . that Sunday, I was in charge of leading the children’s ministry! I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember feeling stupid for choosing to sing that song, but it was the best my ineptitude could come up with so I went with it. I remember meeting Jessica. I remember her son’s uncertainty there. And I remember seeing her facial expression change from fear to comfort.
As I sat there watching the video, tears begin to fall uncontrollably as I began saying to myself, “That was you! That was you! That was you!” I became completely aware that the Lord had used me and my service to him to change this family’s life.
Jessica never said my name nor did she even hint at it. . . but I know it was me! I am so happy for the Roberts’ faith and influence so the realization that my unnamed status had a part in their faith is overwhelmingly wonderful! In all honesty, I’d love to have a million more of those stories where my unnamed, unknown, and even inept self is used to bring others from darkness into light. What a privilege!
That moment, the Lord taught me that being unnamed is not the same as being unknown. I felt the love of my Father pour over me in such a way as to bring purpose to my generic status. Like Hannah, I felt completely seen. I felt known. He knows me and is using me in mysterious ways! I am unnamed but I am not unknown. What a joyful distinction.
THE HOPE OF BEING UNNAMED
Come to think of it, the world is overflowing with powerful no-name Christians. We call them missionaries, Sunday school teachers, doctors, neighbors, parents, and friends. When I think of the people who have had the greatest impact on my life, I don’t think of the amazing conference speakers I’ve heard or the great authors I’ve read. Nope. I think of the family in Minneapolis who taught me how to open my door to strangers. I think of the couple in Boston who showed me that all of life is repentance and discipleship. I recall the gentle rebuke of a church planter’s wife who pointed to me to Christ and away from bitterness. I think of my aunt who lived well and died even better as she drew nearer and nearer to Christ. Each of these have made an indelible mark on my faith--yet to the world they will always be nameless. The nameless souls who teach other nameless souls to proclaim the name of Christ.
All of this unnamed searching led me to where else...the cross. (And this is where I hope I camp out for the rest of my life!) There we meet two of the most powerful unnamed characters in all of Christendom- the two thieves on either side of Jesus.
Two men. Two criminals. No names.
One chides Jesus, refusing to repent. He wants to save his own life, his own name so to speak. I’m certain he’d be happy to use Jesus’ power for his own name’s sake but he wants nothing of the Christ as Lord. Forever unnamed. Forever unknown.
The other, however, is altogether taken with Jesus. He places no demands on Jesus, and instead, he asks Jesus to be who Jesus says he is...the Forgiver. He loves Jesus just as He is. He accepts his calling as a thief on a cross. He asks for the glory of the Lord to shine on him and give Him grace. Forever unnamed. Instantly known.
Fellow Noah’s wives we can get a name for ourselves or we can get Jesus. One leads to death, the other to beautiful life. May we strive for the popularity of our King and not ourselves. May we be content to use our gifts in secret knowing that our God sees us. Let us delight in being unnamed yet fully known.
Robie Kaye Dodson lives in Austin, Tx with her husband Jonathan and their three young children. She’s a horrible cook and a worse housekeeper…but she loves Jesus who gives her worth and meaning in the majestic and mundane of life. When all else fails, she makes dresses! Read more of her craft at www.sosewsomething.com. Follow on Twitter: @RobieDodson