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A wholehearted woman—11 November 2012

A non-lectionary reflection today as the congregation remembers a woman who showed us what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, to mark the occasion of laying a plaque in her memory in the church garden.

Proverbs 31.10-17, 28-31
John 4.4-15, 28-30, 39


Wholehearted living is…the journey of a lifetime…courage, compassion and connection—the tools we need to work through our journey.

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

We heard some verses from Proverbs 31 today. We don’t often dip into this chapter. In fact, I ducked preaching from it when it came up in the Lectionary readings about six weeks ago! How can any woman, even Lynn, live up to this idealised picture?

Did you notice we changed the words of the NRSV? It begins this way:

A capable wife who can find?

But Karen read:

A woman of valour who can find?

‘Woman of valour’ seems to be a better translation of the original Hebrew. (This insight comes from A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I thoroughly recommend that you read this book!) And while I know Lynn was a more-than-capable wife to Gary, to all of us she was a woman of valour.

But what about this Proverbs 31 woman of valour? How can any woman ever match up to a woman who ‘rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls’…[who] ‘considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard’…[whose] ‘lamp does not go out at night’, [and whose] ‘household are clothed in crimson’. (And I don’t even like wearing crimson!)

The thing is, the Proverbs 31 early to rise–late to bed–busy all the while in between–woman isn’t meant to be an example of what women should do. She is an example of a ‘woman of valour’ or—as I want to say—a wholehearted woman. (I found this word in Brené Brown’s wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Read it too, and anything else you can find by her!)

A woman of valour isn’t someone who drives herself and those she loves mad by working 25 hours a day. A woman of valour lives wholeheartedly. She gives from her heart, and receives from others the same way. Lynn was a wholehearted woman.

And interestingly, in the Jewish tradition the women don’t memorise this poem about the Wholehearted Woman. The men do! Husbands are encouraged to sing it to their wives every week at the Sabbath meal. (I’ll have to practise. A lot!)

So often people have changed this poem about the Wholehearted Woman in Proverbs 31 into a job description. It’s not, it’s a song of praise to wholehearted women. Like Lynn—and so many others right before my eyes today.

Brené Brown suggests three qualities a wholehearted person needs. And Lynn had the these three qualities in abundance: they are courage, compassion and connection.

Lynn had the particular kind of courage Brené Brown means: the courage to speak straight from the heart. You always knew where Lynn stood on something! In speaking from her heart, Lynn allowed her inner self to be more transparent. She made herself vulnerable to the opinions of others. That’s courage.

To have compassion is to suffer with another. That’s what the word ‘com-passion’ means. It’s not always our first response to people who are in pain; sometimes, our instinct is to walk away or change the subject. Lynn had a heart of compassion. We saw that in her desire to reach out to people, especially young people, in Zambia and India. I also saw it personally while I was going through a time of depression. Lynn gave me her time and supported me, even while she found it hard to understand. She did that in the midst of her own trouble and distress. I never felt any criticism or judgement from Lynn. Just compassion.

Lynn was great at connecting with people! She let others into her space literally and figuratively. You knew you belonged. Lynn had an inner strength that she shared with others. At the same time, she valued what others gave her. You knew you were valued.

The courage to tell our story, the compassion to give our time, the sense of connectedness with one another, are everyday practices to embrace on the journey of our imperfect lives. They build community and help us to build something beautiful, even where there is pain.

Let’s turn very briefly to the woman at the well. All I want to say today is: she also had these three qualities of courage, compassion and connection.

The way she responded to Jesus, the way she ran to tell her friends and family about him mark her as a woman of courage, a woman of compassion, a woman who connected with people. She—like Lynn—is a model for us to follow.

How do we gain these qualities of courage, compassion and connection? By entering into life, into relationships, wholeheartedly. By practising daily. By knowing we’re imperfect, but that with the Spirit of Jesus we have all we need. So how do we practise these things? By doing them. Brené Brown says you learn courage by couraging, compassion by compassioning, connection by connecting. She’s right.

We’ve heard a lot about Lynn today, a lot about a woman who wanted God to mould her into the person God wanted her to be. We can share that wholehearted openness to the Spirit that she had.

I think Lynn would disown a lot of what I have said today. She’d point out other people who are wholehearted in their approach to life. And she’d be far more aware of her faults and shortcomings. She shared those with us too! But we have been speaking of what God can do with a life given to him. God can work in each one of us just the same, so let us give our lives wholeheartedly to God today. Every single day of our lives, we too can learn courage by couraging, compassion by compassioning, connection by connecting.


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