The Wisest Woman I Know

2021 had one job.  And it was to not be 2020.

In retrospect, I don’t know how we could have anticipated a different outcome. I will own my own sense of eternal optimism, or at least belief in my own grit. So here we are. 2021 squeezing me to the point of emotional and spiritual dryness. I have been looking for new ways of letting water into my well.

But is this really 2020 and 2021’s fault? Surely there must be more. And I have been investigating.

This includes where I am listening to stories. As I am wading my way through the podcasts—the new oral history—I find myself leaning not into stories of resilience (or Dateline, to be fair), but into cautionary tales of how we got “here.” Stories illuminated in Revisionist History or The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill reach past the pandemic to sift through cause and effect. What stories did we tell and believe that positioned us for this present pressing? What images are telling our story?

With every “a (fill in the blank) woman never/always” meme, it’s hard to not roll my eyes. Who writes this narrative? We have sublimely shifted away from the images of women needing coffee or chocolate before they go crazy to a “rose all day” oft-pastel vision of “YASS QUEEN” that I struggle to see myself in.

I have also seen a recurring theme. What does it mean to be a “______” woman? Godly, good, wise, strong, fierce. In the squeezing and the listening, I can recognize the latent layers of what being a woman really is. And according to the stories and images we share, we:

  • Wear a crown that we should never let people see fall
  • Get right back up whenever we fall
  • Let no one take advantage of us
  • Think like a man/boss/CEO but behave like a lady
  • Should be wise, but not clever or cunning

Can you hear the narrative? An invincible, good girl, who is bad ass. In order to be strong, she has to code switch in gender. Vulnerability is not an option. In a male-dominated circle, this is the stuff of locker room posters. Yet for women, this is the forwarded post in the public forum. It is the story that we click “share.”

I am looking for a better story for women like me in 2021 and beyond.

Growing up in the old evangelical environment, this is not new. Brandishers of bad theology often used Proverbs 31 as a weaponized means of helping women “understand” their role in Christ’s kingdom. Could you imagine if some of our forebears had Facebook? I grew up hating this fictitious woman for how she was swung like a club at my shortcomings. But believe it or not, I find myself wandering back to the roots to really see the power this woman has.

First of all, this whole descriptor? Not from some meme-generating king. King Lemuel’s mom gave him the language of what to look for. His mom is calling out greatness in women—wise, strong, fierce. This is what strength and force looks like in women. She has purchasing power and owns property. She loves her family and handles their affairs well. She is capable and unafraid. She considers her options. She has found her passions and is investing in them.

This is not a threat. This is goals. Find the stuff I like to do and that brings me joy, and then get my hands dirty? Yes. Use my prophetic eyes to scan the horizon, and feel bravery and courage rise in my chest when fear tries to choke me down? Yes. Have the freedom to weigh out my options, and pursue what I need and desire? Absolutely. To be known, and praised, for living into who I am. What a gift.

Why would I settle for a diluted and diffused social media description of what it means to be a woman? To be me? Especially when I can shoot for a narrative that is unfettered the meager words some of my contemporaries have to offer? No way. I reach for the wisest woman I know. I reach for Proverbs 31, for the wise woman, for her.

And when I think of the stories I am hearing now, I look for her adjectives, her descriptors. In conversations over coffee. Under the lights of my back porch. In meeting rooms, war rooms, dreaming sessions. I am finding her in text exchanges about how to storm the gate and how to hold my child. When I can reclaim her, then I find her story coming to me.

Eliza Cortes Bast is a fierce and honest follower of Jesus. She is a pastor and denominational executive, dedicated to helping churches think missionally. She lives into her passion by connecting people, advocating for the community, and helping organizations think strategically so they can be healthy, vibrant, and sustainable. Eliza lives in Michigan with her patient and handsome husband EJ, and their two boys. Her loves include her home country Puerto Rico, her interracial marriage, a good steak, salsa dancing, writing, empowering emerging leaders, making the impossible possible, Diet Coke, and mentoring. She is not a big fan of anger without action, generalizations, basketball, and saying you can’t live without coffee. She believes you can because she believes in you.