Every girl I’ve ever met owns a small plot in the Land of Apology.
I’m sorry that I’m too much. I’m sorry that I’m too little.
Forgive me that I didn’t do enough, or that I’ve done the wrong thing.
I apologize for taking up space beyond my allotted energy, time, focus.
For women with leadership gifts, that kind of guilt only screams louder over time. We listen, and we second-guess our way out of the spotlight, burying our talents in the fields of not the right time, or what will people think, or I couldn’t offend or outshine someone else.
We find moments of courage now and then, digging our gifts back up to hold them to the light, only to bury them deep down inside once more.
God couldn’t have meant me. Not here. Not now.
But God made us women with skill. He called us good. Why do our souls keep whispering bad?
How God writes His story through women leaders
God, on the other hand, never apologizes for choosing women to do His work. He calls them and takes care to name them in His Word.
God spoke through the prophet Huldah, the great Queen Esther, the judge Deborah, the prophet Anna. He worked through the apostle Junia, through the deaconess Phoebe, and through Euodia and Syntyche, who fought on the front lines of the gospel side-by-side with Paul.
In scripture, we also meet Joanna* and Susanna, who supported Christ and the disciples financially and traveled along with them. We meet Priscilla, who helped host a church in her home, and Mary the mother of Jesus, whom God trusted to guide the most important Person in history into His adult life and ministry. We read about God’s plan for a Savior preserved through Miriam, Ruth, Abigail, Rahab, Jehosheba, and Elizabeth. We see that women were among the last at the cross and the first at the empty tomb.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Joel foretold that both men and women would be filled with the Spirit and speak the truth of the Lord’s great mercy, and the apostle Peter repeats Joel’s words at Pentecost: Your sons and your daughters will prophesy…I will pour out my Spirit on women and men (Acts 2:16-18; Joel 2:28-29, emphasis mine).
God continually writes women into the front lines of the story, and He longs to do so with the gifts He’s granted to women in the present. Just as it would have been so for Esther or Priscilla or Mary, it is sin to use fear and apology to cross our own God-written lines out of the script.
How Jesus met one woman leader in the middle of her regret
Mary Magdalene is one of the most shocking women leaders in scripture. Jesus frees her from possession by seven demons, and she repays His mercy by following Him all of her days, even to His brutal death and lonely grave.
Her name is mentioned in the gospels more than most of the apostles, and — in an era when the testimony of women was dismissed as unworthy and unreliable — she was chosen by Jesus to be the first to know He was no longer in His tomb, the first to see Him alive, and the first to carry the good news of His resurrection to others.
“Woman,” spoken to Mary Magdalene, is the first word out of His mouth after His death and resurrection.
As citizens of the Land of Apology, we can hear ourselves in her moments of distress and regret at the empty tomb in John chapter 20. Peter and John have run away in astonishment, but Mary stays to personalize the problem.
“They have taken my Lord away,” she says, crying, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. It’s my fault I wasn’t here.
“Sir,” she says to Jesus, not really looking at Him, thinking He must be the gardener. “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”
I did too little. I should do more. Let me make it right.
Mary’s name means both “bitterness” and “beloved,” and with a single word, Jesus rewrites her story from the former to the latter.
With one word, He knows who she is — a woman who is thwarted by grief and doubt, both in Jesus and in her own weaknesses.
With one word, she knows who He is — He is her teacher — Rabboni! — He is Lord, He is alive.
He is also her friend. He has just conquered death in all ways, for all people, for all time, and He still cares enough to call her — a girl — by name.
How to leave the Land of Apology
Jesus is our friend, and He is calling us out by our names, women of God. He is writing us into His plans and His purposes. He wants to use your life and mine, and all of the gifts He has given us, to tell the world that He is alive.
Beside the empty tomb, Jesus sends Mary out as the first missionary of the good news. He calls her — and us — to move beyond the emotions and what ifs and apologies of the moment to carry the truth of His victory to all people:
“Do not hold on to me…go instead to my brothers and tell them” (John 20:17).
Lead out of my grace instead of your guilt, Mary. Don’t focus on yourself in this moment, just go tell them about me.
We must leave the Land of Apology, dear sisters of God, and move from all our potential bitterness to live as one who is beloved.
We must use our gifts without guilt, not to point to ourselves, but to say boldly, as Mary did, that “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
Otherwise, we’ll expand the small plot of our fears into a vast, patchwork field of insecurity and regret. And soon, the biggest apology we’ll owe is to our God and to ourselves, the women who were made in His image, too.
*many scholars believe that Joanna and Junia are the same person, with Joanna being her Hebrew name and Junia being her Roman one.