The following post is a guest article written by Rachel Dinkledine. Rachel works as a registered nurse in Indianapolis.
Reckoning with personal vulnerability, human depravity, and the call to serve.
Growing up, I was taught to expect suffering. Head colds, flat tires, false accusations, and betrayal are all part of the Christian experience. Yet as I entered adulthood, I encountered a kind of suffering I couldn’t fully explain, that of sexual harassment. The suffering of harassment was compounded by my confusion--how should one united to Christ think about harassment anyway? I knew that if I couldn’t articulate a biblical answer to this question, I probably wasn’t living a biblical response either. For years, I searched the Scriptures and wrestled with ways to apply the principles God provides. Assuming others wrestle with this matter, I’ll recount some of the questions I’ve asked, and I’ll share the truth I’m learning to preach to myself. I invite you to listen in. Only promise me this--that you’ll read my conclusion at the end of the article. Actually, please read it twice. Think about it. Talk about it. Act on it. But first, my musings . . .
About 10 years ago, I entered the healthcare field. While I didn’t realize it at the time, it is a well-documented fact that healthcare workers experience high levels of sexual harassment, mostly from patients. I quickly learned techniques for managing the harassment. Take two people into Mr. X’s room. Stay between the patient and the door. Stand where he can’t grope. Ask for a change in patient assignments.
While these techniques were valuable, they only helped when I was at work. Harassment showed up other places too--at the gas station, in my neighborhood, and occasionally even in church settings. I began to ask questions. How do I treasure what is pure while facing the ugly realities of life in a sin-stained world? Should I avoid harassment at all costs? Should I live in my parent’s basement until I’m no longer seen as an object? How would such isolation fulfill the Great Commission? Is there a place for Christian women to take calculated risks to serve others? How does Jesus want me to respond to harassment? Can I have a “gentle and quiet spirit” and still stand up to harassment? (1 Peter 3:4).
There were times I desperately wanted to make my life harassment-proof. Will God receive the most glory if I cloister myself away somewhere safe? As tempting as this sounded, I knew this was a desire rooted in fear. In Luke 19, Jesus tells the parable of the master who entrusts his servants with money to invest. The servant who buried his money kept it safe, but the master rebuked the servant for not investing more wisely. I didn’t want to be that servant.
So how was I to invest my life? Over the years, I’ve met a few women who adopt a mindset rooted in false-assurance. Because they are serving God, they believe He places a forcefield around them. As faith-filled as this may sound, it’s a bit naive. Evil is real. I’m petite. How was I to reckon with my own vulnerability and God’s call to serve?
When Jesus commissioned His disciples, He commanded them to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). What is shrewdness? In the context of Matthew 10:16, shrewdness renders the idea of a piercingly accurate judgment that responds rightly to evil. I began to wonder if shrewdness, rather than “safety”, is what I needed. After all, is it even biblical to expect I should be exempt from harassment? If Solomon warns his son to expect and resist seduction (Proverbs 5), should not a woman prepare for and resist harassment?
What does that preparation look like? Proverbs 22:3 states: “The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naive go on, and are punished for it.” What does it mean to “see the evil”? Over the years, my parents and brothers have helped me learn the art of situational awareness. Who is around me? What are they doing? What could go wrong here? When something is awry, a tactical retreat is generally my best option.
At times, tactical retreat is impossible. So I need more shrewdness. Physically, I am an underdog. Mentally, I’m not. I use my body language and words to deliver a clear message. I square off my shoulders and assert control over the situation. If someone I do not want to hug is approaching with both arms outstretched, I offer a hand and gracefully initiate a handshake instead. While I use no more force than necessary, I am ready to escalate the message to meet the need of the moment. I rarely need to deliver anything more than a very firm: “That’s inappropriate, and you may not talk to me like that.” It’s not easy to speak this way, and I don’t enjoy it. Gentle and quiet is my default, but biblical shrewdness is my conviction.
What if the situation ever got worse? Should I exercise force to protect myself? Doesn’t God call His people to turn the other cheek? Like Joseph, I understand I have the obligation to do everything in my power to protect myself from the sinful advance of another (Genesis 39:9). In doing so, I protect myself, and I protect the perpetrator from fully executing sinful intent. We’re never called to make peace with sin.
Conclusion (yes, please read it twice!)
So what’s my point? In a broken world, Christians should expect suffering, even suffering in the form of harassment. Shrewd women accurately discern and respond to harassment. While every woman should strive to develop more shrewdness, women find themselves in different places on the spectrum of shrewdness. That’s ok. God gifts women differently. Some women may be ready to serve as missionaries in a war-torn country. Others may volunteer to give rides to that single mom who lives in a rough section of town. Still others may simply be willing to say “hi” to the person with disabilities who frequents the local coffee shop.
Why am I writing? My aim in this article is to start conversations. Are the young women in your family and church asking questions about safety, shrewdness, and service? What does calculated risk look like for you or for those women you love? This article cannot calculate risks for you. That, my readers, is your homework. In the contexts of your families and congregations, talk about these things, and identify ways to live them out. May God be pleased to raise up a generation of gentle spirits and shrewd hearts.
Disclaimer: The aim of this article is to impart wisdom, not judgment. To those suffering the pain of past assault, an article on harassment prevention and management is not the balm that your soul needs. May you instead find help and comfort from godly friends and appropriate church leadership. I realize that many Christians have been marginalized when seeking to deal with the pain of past assault, but I pray your story is different. May you find lasting healing and hope in Jesus Christ.