There was a lot of giggling in my house last night. At 10:00 p.m. When little bodies should have been tired and seeking sleep.
I am stepping into the world of raising girls. The world of hair bows, complicated outfits to match the complicated emotions, screaming, giggling, and thinking.
I can see it behind my five-year-old’s big brown eyes. The pondering, the deciding, the conflicting emotions, the interior mystery that is the “feminine genius.”
I’m not saying boys don’t think. I have three boys, and they are definitely thinkers as well. But the manifestation of their brain power is undeniably different than that of my girls. There tends to be more hitting, wrestling, hurling of objects through the air, and dismantling of anything that can be unscrewed, pulled apart, or otherwise disassembled. And don’t get me started on their LEGO-building abilities–now that’s truly a mystery to me! Yes, my boys have their own kind of genius that will serve the world and God well some day.
But my girls seem to have a secret language. The language of woman. A language that has been written on their hearts along with the X chromosomes. A language that has a power all its own.
“In fact, woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church. It is certainly not a question of comparing woman to man, since it is obvious that they have fundamental dimensions and values in common. However, in man and in woman these acquire different strengths, interests, and emphases and it is this very diversity which becomes a source of enrichment.” John Paul II, Angelus, 23 July 1995
As I watched my one-year-old daughter push a little chair around our living room last night, she would stop each time she crossed her big sister’s path, and they would both erupt into fits of giggles. As a woman myself, I completely understood what was happening, but I still can’t explain it. I knew what they were doing, but I wasn’t quite sure how to transition their behavior into preparation for sleep. They were just, well…being girls.
Girls are different than boys. Women possess different strengths than men. This fact is written into our very biology.
I heard on the news not long ago that the Marine Corps is once again reevaluating their personal fitness training requirements for women, especially in the area of upper body strength. Many women simply cannot perform the same exercises that men can. They were not created to do it, no matter how much they train. “As Richard Liegy noted wryly in the Washington Post: ‘Putting physiology, social policy, behavioral theory and military doctrine aside, it appears that for reasons known only to the Maker, men and women are different.’” [source]
Perhaps women’s arms weren’t created for the front lines of combat, but they do possess a different kind of strength.
In fact, just as I penned the previous sentence, I had to take a break from writing. My husband had taken our one-year-old daughter out for a ride in the jogging stroller, hoping the movement would put her to sleep for the night. But it wasn’t more than ten minutes before I could hear the wailing, growing louder and louder as it approached our house.
Yes, my husband has arms that are strong enough to push a heavy stroller up and down hills, legs that are capable of sprinting an unhappy baby back to her mother, and a body that can unlatch seat straps and scoop up a bundle of tears and sobs faster than he can look at me to say, “She wants you.”
Because in that moment between day and night, when the world is veiled by the delicious uncertainty of twilight, my arms are the only ones strong enough to soothe my daughter. My legs are the only ones that have the power to rock her just so, and my body is certainly the only one that can nourish her with the sweet milk of motherhood–the only nourishment that truly satisfies both her tummy and her weepy heart.
This is the “feminine genius” displayed in all its glory. We can describe my actions in that moment with my daughter as “nurturing”, “sensitive”, and “compassionate”, but the real essence of it–the way her sobs immediately subside as soon as she transfers from my husbands arms to mine–this is the mystery of motherhood that is too often overlooked, taken for granted, or simply under-appreciated.
Yes, women are strong. Yes, women are powerful. But God created us to define those words in our own unique way. He gave us a womb to be receptive to life, curves to evoke the gentle nature within, and a sense of beauty and detail to match the care He took to design our outward appearance.
Praise God that I was raised in a faith that honors and cherishes the way God created woman, right down to the very last detail! Praise God that this faith has guided my marriage, my family size, and my vocation in life! Whether a woman physically bears children or not, her unique gifts, her biological make-up, and her shape were designed to nurture life in the way that only a woman can.
“Motherhood is woman’s vocation. It is an eternal vocation, and it is also a contemporary vocation. ‘The Mother who understands everything and embraces each of us with her heart’: these are words of a song, sung by young people in Poland, which come into my mind at this moment. The song goes on to announce that today the world is particularly ‘hungry and thirsty’ for that motherhood, which is woman’s vocation ‘physically’ and ‘spiritually’, as it is Mary’s.” John Paul II, General Audience January 10, 1979
While bemoaning the challenges that come with raising a big family, some of my friends and I have joked about the notion that Mary only had one child–and He was perfect!
But we know better, because we understand how a mother’s–a woman’s–heart works.
Not only did Mary suffer tremendously as she watched her only Son being tortured and killed, but she suffers now every time she sees one of her spiritual children stepping away from Jesus.
Jesus didn’t need a mother, but God chose to glorify the full potential of woman by bringing His Son into the world through the selfless “yes” of the feminine genius. Woman’s strength and power were realized by a “yes” that was humbling, uncertain, scandalous, and impossible. Mary was unwed and poor, but in a single moment, she demonstrated that life is sacred above all else. She demonstrated that not only does new life begin at conception, but it begins with God’s call to conceive–that to do His will means to say yes to any request He places on our hearts, even if we don’t fully understand His ways.
This silent ability to “ponder these things” in our hearts is woman’s roar. This is woman’s strength. This intertwining of new life implanted in heart, mind, and body is something no man will ever be able to do.
This is what it means to be a woman. This is God’s way. This is the Catholic way–to lift women up as the cherished, sacred, life-giving beings that they are. To treasure their bodies the way God made them, and to reveal the feminine genius that lies within.
Do you want to read more about the “feminine genius” and how the Catholic Church recognizes the unique value of women? I highly recommend Danielle Bean’s new book, Momnipotent, available through Ascension Press.
Copyright 2014, Charisse Tierney