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In the 1963 Walt Disney film Summer Magic, Hayley Mills sings an adorable little song that would have ended up on the cutting room floor in this day and age—if it had even made it that far, which is doubtful. She and Deborah Walley cheerfully instruct another girl on the wiles of womanly allurement as they are getting ready together for a party:

You must look feminine, dress feminine, you’re at your best feminine!
Compliment his masculinity, that’s what every girl should know—
If she wants to catch a beau!

Now, we all know that there’s much more to being the girls and women that God has made us to be than merely ‘catching beaus’—I would scarcely promote that occupation to any of you! But there’s a sweet truth in the simple lines, in the colorful scene of swirling petticoats and fluttering girls, in the breathless appearance of each be-decked and be-ribboned young lady at the top of the stairs and in the smile of her respective suitor down below: men like women to be womanly, and women like men to be manly. And God likes us to be attracted to that in each other.

His design is a culture of men and women secure in their distinctions and incomplete without each other.

Fulfilled and yet unfulfilled. At the risk of being unnecessarily basic, I believe that it’s a point worth underscoring in a time when the rudimentary characteristics of the two have become so blurred as to leave us all in a state of unprecedented confusion.

These days the striking and beautiful differences between male and female are treated as abnormalities; disfigurements on the face of an otherwise completely neutral and genderless society. Enemies of God’s design have worked tirelessly to shame these distinctions into obscurity, to the point that many growing up now have no reason to suspect that the differences have ever existed at all. It’s no wonder that the woman roused to her innate calling to be a woman is confronted with a confusing mess of conflicting messages. It grieves me to no end to consider all of the girls and young ladies out there who have been immobilized in their awakening quest towards true womanhood by the pervasive and pernicious idea that there is no such thing. It’s all the stuff of dreams and fairy tales, but in the Real World women have to protect themselves and make a successful life for themselves. There are no knights in shining armor to rescue and defend. There are no beautiful princesses who live happily ever after with their loving prince. Not in the Real World.

But as Christians we base our convictions about what’s real on a foundation much surer than current public opinion. The principles we have to rely on are grounded in solid rock—Jesus Christ Himself. In Christ and in His relationship with His Bride the Church we see the ideal of masculinity and femininity. He nurtures and protects. She reverences and adores. He stoops to serve her. She is raised to a position of honor by her acceptance of his leadership. Is there anything more beautiful—or more romantic?

Femininity is a thing of great beauty and worth, valuable and inspiring to the men in your life, edifying and ennobling to the women coming behind you, and most of all, unutterably precious to God. Femininity is a thing of great beauty and worth, valuable and inspiring to the men in your life, edifying and ennobling to the women coming behind you, and most of all, unutterably precious to God.

The essence of true womanhood supersedes all discussion on the implications of such.

The point to keep in mind is that we seek to please the Lord himself by living in our specific roles. If we are a woman, than there’s none better than the one who thought up womanhood in the first place to show us how to live as a woman. Many of our personal applications will be different. Our job is not to try and convince other women to live the way that we do but to convince ourselves to live in obedience to God. There are clear, simple absolutes in Scripture—I don’t say easy, for it’s ever so much harder to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, to honor our fathers and submit to our husbands, than it is to adhere to a certain standard of dress or interactions with young men.

Not that these personal distinctions don’t enter in to the equation, but let us not confuse them with the solution itself. I’ve had wonderful, fun friendships with guys, and my dad had some very reasonable and practical guidelines for my sister and me in our days under his roof. I’m also a Romantic of romantics, and I happen to feel most ‘me’ when I’m wearing a long, flowing skirt with flowers in my hair! But it isn’t about being ‘me’ so much as it’s about being ‘His’. God is most glorified in the expression of my femininity when my heart is in accordance (or is trying to be!) with His standard of womanliness. As a wife, a huge part of that means living in submission to my husband, which, He tells us, is in a direct line with our submission to Him.

Marriage is as close a picture as we’re going to get in this life to what our union with Jesus Christ actually looks like.

I went to the wedding of a dear girlhood friend last Saturday. All weddings make me teary and sentimental—especially since I’ve been married myself—but this one was notably dear. I always scrutinize the groom, seeking for indications in his face and manner of a radiance to match that of his beautiful bride. I love that moment of unguarded tenderness when everyone else is looking towards her triumphal appearance and his face lights up with a wonder that shouts, ‘Is this really for me?’ This groom recited his vows to my friend with an entirely love-filled demeanor. The very tilt of his head as he gazed down at her was eloquent with devotion. And her little rapt, upturned face was absolutely glorified. It was almost too sacred to look. I dropped my eyes to the program in my lap as the tears gathered. There, printed for all to see was St. Paul’s audacious and controversial little discourse on the roles of man and woman in marriage from Ephesians 5.

“Now as the church submits to Christ , so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything…Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her… This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church…”

That, of course, is precisely why it is so incomprehensibly delightful to witness a marriage of such mutual devotion. It’s as close a picture as we’re going to get in this life to what our union with Jesus Christ actually looks like. And that’s what it’s all about, after all.

I encourage each of you to seek the Lord and seek your own heart about your personal expression of femininity. It’s a thing of great beauty and worth, valuable and inspiring to the men in your life, edifying and ennobling to the women coming behind you, and most of all, unutterably precious to God.

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo! the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth and the time of the singing of birds is come. Arise, my love, and come away…” (Song of Solomon 2)

Photography: JenniMarie Photography

28 Comments

  1. Old_Fashioned_Lady says:

    I agree, Whitney! 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    Lanier,
    What a beautiful post. Thank you for reminding us that God has made us women for HIS purposes and delight. The ways that we each express that will be as individual and unique as we each are. No two women will have the same look or spirit. God works out our salvation through individual graces and divine circumstances that create and result in beauty and femmininty that pleases Him in its variety. I am convinced through many conversations with my brothers and thier friends that men like and are attracted to all kinds of “looks” and femmininity. What we need to focus on is how to realize the fullness of beauty that our Father has for us both in spirit and in physical appearance. That fullness of beauty will be what our future husbands will cherish without even knowing it. Please keep encouraging us …you are a glory to your Father in your spirit and beauty.

  3. Adrian C. Keister says:

    What? Are there no men to admire this post? Then I shall add my voice.

    What you have described is nothing more nor less than the way God made you. And what could possibly honor women more than to acknowledge the way God made you? Public opinion, as you have called it, is interested in closing the so-called “power gaps”, which exist because we men, alas, have fallen in our roles. We do not treat women as they should be treated: fellow worshippers of our God. We do not serve them as we ought. We do not love them in the sacrificial way that we ought. We are either domineering and tyrannical, or wimpy and abdicating. No wonder the ladies are angry!

    Ah, as you have said, it is for each of us more to think on our own sins than upon the sins of others. That is why I am commenting more on the sins of men than of women. Perhaps I do think we men have sinned more, since our sins have often been a temptation to the ladies to sin in the way they have. May God deliver us from this body of death!

    Keep up the good work.

    In Christ.

  4. In fact, I’m so old-fashioned that I often think (and feel) that I have been “misplaced” in time…I think I would’ve fit in better in the 1700’s or 1800’s than in today’s society. People in past eras seemed to appreciate beauty, grace, and goodness more than they do now. They also admire their politeness, manners, and the beautiful dresses that the women wore. Gotta go!

  5. Old_Fashioned_Lady says:

    Whitney, it is really good to know that there are other old-fashioned girls out there! 🙂

    Laura Leigh

  6. “I think that when you live in Christ’s presence, you can’t help but reflect that love and beauty. Only when we are truly His can we truly give ourselves to another in love.” — katie

    Those are my thoughts.

    I sometimes think the word “beauty” can be deceiving, because there are so many worldly connotations. When speaking of Christian beauty, I believe it is a countenance that shines from believers that is way beyond looks.

    To me, this seems to contradict the notion that we are supposed to dress ourselves up in fancy clothes, ribbons, or other things to be beautiful. For me, I feel as though that is in a big way buying into the notion that our value is in our appearance. I think that focus is the opposite of scripture.

    I am not saying we need to be ugly or frumpy! We should take care of ourselves, and how we portray ourselves to others. If women enjoy little accessories here and there, to accent their feminine traits, I think that is lovely. I really enjoy that type of thing. But I think we might be entering a dangerous zone by saying that that is what we are “supposed” to do to be a true woman or a godly woman.

  7. That was a wonderful post. I think that I will have to reflect on it for a while before I fully grasp all of it… but I do agree, true femininity brings about true beauty. And, Sarah and Leslie, I think that when you live in Christ’s presence, you can’t help but reflect that love and beauty. Only when we are truly His can we truly give ourselves to another in love. And I believe that when we grasp the concept of true introspection, that is, true communion with Christ, then, as Elizabeth says, the balance between being Mary and Martha comes. You cannot serve as a Martha if you have not first sat at His feet with Mary. In our women’s Bible study at church, we are studying “Spiritual Mothering” by Susan Hunt. One thing that she says applies well to this discussion of spirituality and femininity: “When the Holy Spirit produces faith in a women, she becomes a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). A dramatic result of her newness is her even greater potential for the development of this female capacity. The Christian woman not only has a new Pattern, she has a new Power.” Through Christ, we are given the power to serve others with our femininity. That is why Christ says that we must be Marys before Marthas–if we don’t sit at His feet first, then we will not have to power to serve others.

  8. By the way, old_fashioned_lady…I know exactly what you mean by being “old fashioned”…I’m quite like that myself!:) We should be proud to be so!:) I’ve got to go, but I just wanted you to know that you’re not the only “old fashioned girl” left in the world…:)

  9. Wonderful post, Lanier! Great topic- it’s encouraging to be reminded that God’s ideal of feminine women and manly men can be realized in today’s society (despite what the world says). I have only known you indirectly, through your writings on the YLCF, but you give me the impression of “living what you speak”. Your posts are all the more encouraging for it.:)
    Sarah, Leslie,Elizabeth, and old_fashioned_lady…I agree with much of what you guys posted. You all brought up some very interesting views on this topic.

  10. Lady Marie says:

    Fabulous post!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Beautiful, Lanier! Your insights into being a Godly woman never cease to bless me and encourage me. Keep it up, sister!! 🙂

  12. “His design is a culture of men and women secure in their distinctions and incomplete without each other. Fulfilled and yet unfulfilled.”

    When my husband read this post tonight, he made the comment that the above statement might come across as sounding like I’m saying that single people are unfulfilled…I just want to clarify that I was speaking in generalities–I was refering to the human race as a whole, not individual ladies that God has single for a reason right now…I would never want to imply that an unmarried girl is ‘incomplete’. 🙂

    Just to clarify…and keep up the good discussion, girls! 😉

  13. Old_Fashioned_Lady says:

    “I think rather than an outward appearance, which will be different for all people, Godly womanhood is a reflection of the inner life coming under Christ’s submission. And that is a beautiful, feminine thing because it is what God created us, as women, to be.”-Bethany

    Bethany, I think you “hit the nail on the head” with that definition of Biblical femininity. Wow!!

    “But at the same time, we don’t want to always be serving others and miss out in personally connecting with God-being a Martha, when sometimes we need to be a Mary.”-Leslie

    Leslie, I agree with you. I know that when I am too busy-whether serving God or just clutting my life with activities-I tend to become discouraged, and lose my focus on the Lord. I need time to recharge, take a few moments alone with Him, and maybe just enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, or read a book, or relax with music or a cup of tea. I don’t want to be self-centered, but I also think that it is important to have a balance in this area of my life. Without balance, everything, perhaps even service, can become a hindrance to me.

    Here is another aspect of femininity that I have been thinking about a lot recently. I believe with the rest of you that true beauty and femininity is not found in the clothes one wears. However, I am going to talk about clothes for just a moment. When I get dressed in the morning, I ask myself, “Is this modest? Is it appropriate for the occasion? Is it *feminine*?” If a stranger saw me, from a distance of 10-20 feet, walking down the street, would he be able to distinguis me as a man or a woman, based on my clothing? If not, then it is not feminine. I don’t believe this is about pants vs. skirts; I don’t exactly know my opinion on that issue myself. But I do believe that we should strive to commend even the “smaller” differences between men and women, including the way we dress; especially in our society which tries to crush the vital differences between men and women. Any thoughts on this?

    ~*~Laura Leigh~*~

  14. Thank you for the post!

    Femininity is a lost thing these days!

    Thank you for encouraging us girls who are trying to be feminine, it has renewed my efforts!!! Thank you!

    God Bless!

  15. You are absolutely right, Elizabeth.

    I guess I was just thinking of practical application. For instance, we are told that when we serve other, we serve Jesus. So, practically speaking, being selfless toward others is focusing on Him through our actions. But at the same time, we don’t want to always be serving others and miss out in personally connecting with God — being a Martha, when sometimes we need to be a Mary.

    But, I totally agree. If our focus isn’t on God first and foremost, the rest is pointless.

  16. Elizabeth J says:

    Lovely post, Lanier! I couldn’t agree with you more…

    Leslie, I don’t think it is so much finding that balance between selflessness and introspection, but rather, having our focus on God first and foremost… the balance will come naturally if He is the center of our focus. After all, are we the ones really maintaining our own growth, or is He the One who is faithful to complete the work He began in us from the beginning? With your eyes on Jesus, you will find selfless love for others is something He begins to work into your heart…

  17. In response to Leslie’s commemt about how being a woman is a state and not something that needs to be cultivated: I would agree with you that God created woman, but because of the Fall femininity is under attack, and that is something that now needs to be cultivated because the devil is out there trying to attack the way God created things to be. We see this in a very strong way in the homosexual movement, the obscuring of the way God created man to be. That is why biblical manliness and womanliness must be strived for and it is not something that always comes naturally because the world is full of sin.

    I think that gody femininity comes in different forms for everyone but that it is something that is important, and something that most of the time does not just appear naturally in a life. I think rather than an outward appearance, which will be different for all people, godly womanhood is a reflection of the inner life comming under Christ’s submission. And that is a beautiful, feminin thing because it is what God created us, as women to be.

    I am not saying that any of what you said is wrong, I’m just hoping to shed a little more light on the subject.:)

  18. “Is that love, then? To be so concerned with the other’s well-being that one forgets oneself? There is no need to exert one’s will if all one’s desires are fully met. Is that what we have been talking about all along with submission and marriage?” – Sarah

    What an insightful quote!

    I think you have something. Selflessness is an act of love, and I think you explained it very beautifully there.

    But I think there is a flip side of the coin. Although we need to be selfless, we also need to ensure we are introspective. We need to keep up our personal character growth, to continue challenging ourselves as believers, to honestly confront our weaknesses, and pursue our gifts and strengths. By having a healthy focus into our own lives, to maintain ourselves, I think we are better able to serve others.

    Do you know what I mean? Having some alone time to do some devotions, think about our lives, or doing something we enjoy, and then returning to other duties? Do you ever find in doing such things, you are more invigorated when returning to your duties in life?

    I guess I think, like everything, we need a balance. If we are just thinking of others, we can slip in our walk or maintaining personal growth, and loose sense of our purpose. But if we focus too much on ourselves, we become arrogant and selfish. I think we need to be in between. I think that is the best balance to maintain loving relationships. Well, that is what I feel like. Any thoughts?

    Sorry if this is off topic. Perhaps it has little or nothing to do with femininity. But Sarah’s comment got me thinking…

    -leslie

  19. Lanier, you do indeed have a beautiful writing style!

    I, too, think it is sad that women think they have to reject something because it is feminine. On the other hand, I have equal difficulty with the idea that women are supposed to “accept” something because it is considered feminine. What is feminine today might be different from what was feminine 100, 200, or 500 years ago. I don’t think we are called to be something that changes definition from time period to time period.

    I confess that I have trouble with the concept that looking pretty is something we should strive for. I think we are taught by our culture to always try to look pretty – that looking the part will makes us truly feminine or truly a woman. I don’t, however, think we are called to be decked out in beautiful accessories, or that our outer appearance is what makes a woman. I am reminded of 1 Timothy 2:9: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes”. Our attraction comes not in how we look, but our character.

    I personally think my calling is to be a believer, not to be a woman. … because, well, I already *am* a woman. 🙂 I am naturally made in a womanly way. Kind of like, I am not called to be a human; I am a human. Therefore, I don’t have to strive to be what I already am. I know that looking what is considered “feminine” today, or doing activities that are considered “feminine” don’t make me a woman. I just know I am woman. For me it is not a calling, it is a state.

    But my calling is to follow Christ. I personally think that if I was focusing on being “feminine” in certain circumstances, I would have missed out in several opportunities I have had to serve God, and see others come to know Him. So, I personally don’t try to focus on those types of things, but focus on serving God and my calling as a believer.

    Please don’t take this is a challenge to your post or your position. I just thought I would add some seasoning to this hearty discussion. You ladies have shared such wonderful things!

    -leslie

  20. But it isn’t about being ‘me’ so much as it’s about being ‘His’.

    That is so well-put. It is exactly right. When I am serving God, I forget all about discomfort to myself. All such discomfort is the result of a fallen world trying to distract me from my purpose. Physical pain, little slights… they are all the results of sin. Those times I am wrapped up in God, I hardly notice the rest.

    Is that love, then? To be so concerned with the other’s well-being that one forgets oneself? There is no need to exert one’s will if all one’s desires are fully met. Is that what we have been talking about all along with submission and marriage?

  21. Lanier, that was a beautiful post. As a child, I was quite the “little lady” but, as I approached high school, I was teased about my femininity and good manners and informed that it was a hindrance and “lame”. Thank you for reminding us that God designed us to be feminine and that he delights in us when we freely express our femininity.

  22. Lanier,
    Thank you for being willing to speak what is good and true- and you do it so beautifully and whimsically:-)

  23. Wow thank you Lanier! It was buetiful! Thank you!

  24. Wow…thank you! That was an excellent post…very encouraging and so true.

  25. I just finished reading your post, Lanier.

    Wow.

    Thank you for putting femininity into words.

    And knowing what I do of you, I know the way you live is a testimony to the words you wrote.

    True femininity is a beautiful thing…

  26. You’re welcome! 😉
    I’ve loved watching the discussion unfold this week…

  27. What a delightful post, Lanier. I love your writing style. Your recollection of your friend’s wedding was especially poignant. This is a much-needed message in our society!

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