by Jennifer Hackbarth

My 5-year-old daughter picks out her own clothes every day. I’m always impressed with the way she chooses appropriate clothing for the weather, even if she hasn’t looked outside before getting dressed. I often mention her amazing dressing ability to my husband–who doesn’t find it nearly as remarkable as I do–and I continue to marvel at my daughter’s self-awareness. She chooses clothes because they feel soft or warm or they’re bright or sparkly. She doesn’t fight with her body; she listens to it. I’ve vowed to ask myself this question when I stand in front of my closet in the mornings: What clothing will feel good and right to me today?

Criticism of women is unrelenting, from others and from the voices in our heads. It’s oppressive and never-ending, often causing us to second-guess every decision we make. Is this skirt too short? Should I have dessert? What will happen if I ask for what I need? Is my biggest dream a possibility for me? Will I ever be confident in my decisions?

Acknowledging needs with confidence

mother-429156_1280.300As a parent who works outside the home, I struggle every day with my choices. I painfully weigh every option and fretfully guess at every outcome. I agonize over the hours I spend at my office away from my family and I stew over the hours I spend at home away from my work. I feel like I’m only half present as both a mother and a pastor, and I wonder if I’m letting everyone around me down. For a long time, I ignored my own needs and wants. I was terrified of them and of what would happen if I started to name them. But once I began exploring them, I discovered what I want most is to claim my own voice, to listen to my gut and to acknowledge my needs with confidence. To do so not only affects me positively, but it inspires those around me to claim their own voices and needs too.

Jesus’ humanity reassures me: his need for prayer and rest, his uncertainty in times of pain, his grief at the death of loved ones, his loneliness in his mission. Yet Jesus’ confidence inspires me.

Jesus had a voice and a perspective that directly opposed the powers of the world, yet he didn’t worry about offending those around him. His powerful voice took him to the cross, but it didn’t negate his humility or his compassion for others. His confidence not only inspired those around him, but it changed their lives: People were restored to community, given new identities as children of God, stirred to leave everything behind to follow him, and given hope that oppression would no longer rule their lives.

Jesus’ confidence and powerful voice were also contagious. Peter, the bumbling disciple and three-time denier of Jesus, became a fiery preacher who spread Jesus’ message. The Samaritan woman sprinted away from her encounter with Jesus at the well, proclaiming to her neighbors–who had shunned her for years–that Jesus is the Messiah. Even after Jesus ordered people to keep silent about him, they couldn’t help themselves and the news of his healing powers flashed throughout the region. People who knew only oppression suddenly saw themselves as worthy of new life and respect. Those who had been silenced learned to speak.

Claiming one’s voice, caring for others

Claiming my voice doesn’t negate my ability to be compassionate; acknowledging my needs doesn’t prevent me from caring for others—the opposite is true. Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly that when doubt lurks behind our choices, our inner righteous critic will spring to life–because if we can’t be perfect, at least we can be better than someone else. Confidently choosing my own path doesn’t mean the chosen paths of others are wrong. I find joy and purpose as a working parent but others thrive at home with their children; I need plenty of alone time to function but others find life in crowds of people; I’m drawn to speaking for certain issues and others are passionate about different causes. As women, let’s inspire one another to claim our individual voices, needs, and choices with confidence and to discover what is good and right for us, knowing that our compassion for ourselves enhances our care for others, following Jesus’ lead– even if it takes us to the cross.

Discussion questions:

1. What is your greatest need right now, today? What is your greatest dream?

2. What is it like for you to make choices for yourself? Tell about a time when you made a risky choice for yourself. What happened? How did it affect you?

3. When have you felt tempted to criticize other women? What are ways women need to support each other today?

Closing prayer:

God of power, your son came to earth full of both compassion and confidence. Inspire us to claim our needs and encourage others through our strong voices. Amen.

Jennifer Hackbarth is solo pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake, Minn. She enjoys cooking, reading, travel and spending time with her husband and two kids, ages 5 and 9. You may find her other reflections on faith and daily life at