“‘Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. ‘Cursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God in pity made man beautiful and alluring, after [God’s] own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid from its very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and detested.’”
~ The creature, speaking to its creator, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
I first imagined myself as a preacher when I was a little girl of four. I listened to a missionary share his exciting stories of preaching overseas and knew that was what I wanted to do, too. As I got older, I never considered any life path that wasn’t ministry. I would dream about what it would be like to talk to crowds about God, faith, and spirituality. I would watch myself in the mirror to see how I might look to those listening to me speak.
Of course, as a woman, I knew that I couldn’t really preach. Each time I looked in the mirror, the gathered listeners I envisioned were all women, because my body — the very one I saw in the mirror — prevented me from speaking about God to men. Sure, I could lead a women’s Bible study, I could teach children’s Sunday School, I could even speak at women’s retreats. The best way to use my gifts, I was told, was as a pastor’s wife. I was told there was one best way to be the person God wanted me to be: by marrying a man of God and living my life as his “helpmeet.” So I did.
But my call wasn’t to be a pastor’s wife.
My call was to preach, to lead, to pastor. I knew it, somewhere deep down, though the words never made it to my tongue. I did everything I was allowed to do at church, but still felt unfulfilled — more than that, though; I was not the person I needed to be. It wasn’t just about what I wanted to do or how I was gifted. My turmoil wasn’t about who was in the audience or the degree I was to pursue; it was about my embodiment. It was about me as a person. It was about how my body both prescribed and restricted how God could use me. It didn’t make sense, though: Why would God give me the deep longing to pastor then create me with a body that would not allow it?
I had always heard that “God doesn’t make mistakes”… and I fully believed that was true. I did not think my body was a mistake… I thought it was some divinely cruel trick, a cosmic joke of which I was the punch line. No, I wasn’t a mistake; I was a monster.
In Mary Shelley’s original novel, the creature Frankenstein created desired beauty. Desired relationship. Desired community. Desired to receive love… and to give love.
When this creature chased his desires, he was rejected. He thought that, of all people, his creator would understand and would help explain his existence. He believed his creator would be a refuge for him and would vouch for him to the world he longed to love. Instead, he felt abandoned and scorned by his creator — the very one who shaped him and knew him, who breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Because his body was grotesque, he could never be truly free.
I felt the same way. When I looked down and saw the shape of a woman’s body, every curve taunted me, telling me that its very existence proved I wasn’t worthy. Every facet of my womanhood reminded me of how my body was ill-equipped to do the work it longed to do. I was told by the world that the feminine body is beautiful, but I felt trapped inside a cracked vessel.
My form prevented me from using all my gifts, and it required me to act like “a godly woman” should. My mouth was to be used to pray for my husband, not preach where others could hear; my hands were to be used to wash his dishes and cook his dinner, not to break bread behind a Communion table. I believed the monster’s voice that this was how I could show my love for God, this cursed Creator. I was miserable, but I thought that misery was a part of the curse handed down from Eve in that garden… ever longing to lead, but never able to. I tried to find pleasure in the tasks of life, but I still dreamt of being a pastor.
Even when my theological understanding of Scripture changed about women in ministry, it did not change the monster inside me or how I felt. Deep down, in a dark place in my heart I didn’t want to acknowledge, I didn’t believe that God was as good as I professed. How could God be good and make me this way? Why would a benevolent Creator shape my body into something that desired something it couldn’t have?
Then, suddenly, the monster’s voice left me.
I can’t explain exactly why or how it happened, but it was like a switch flipped, and I began seeing something different when I looked in the mirror. My body was the same, but what my body meant for me was not. Unlike the creator in Shelley’s novel, who did indeed abandon his creation, my Creator didn’t need to change; my perception of the Creator did. The monster wasn’t what was in the mirror after all; the monster was my distorted self-image, whispered in my ear for too many years. I began seeing myself as God sees me: unlimited in what I can do, unhindered by my form.
When I look in the mirror, I see the body of a woman who does preach, who does pastor. The God who spoke light into existence and gave me my call also gave me a body fully worthy of that call; a body that can stand behind a pulpit and at at the kitchen sink; a body that can sit with an agenda at a board meeting and with a book of sight words snuggled up with my kindergartner. And today, I feel more whole, more free, and more human than I ever thought possible.