Pursuing Your Dreams As A Woman
Updated: Aug 26, 2019
As women, we are among of the most self-sacrificing people.
Women were the ones who followed Jesus from Galilee, stood afar and beheld the sights of the cross, grieving in pain (Luke 23:49). Women were also the ones who stood at the foot of the cross, endured the pain of witnessing Jesus suffer (John 19:25) and brought spices to anoint Jesus’s body the next morning (Mark 16:1-2).
An example closer to our time is Mother Teresa (1910-1997), who was known for her devotion towards the poor in Calcutta. In Singapore, the caregiving professions such as the nursing and teaching professions are female-dominated. The nursing profession has a gender ratio of 8.5 females to 1 male (see Singapore Nursing Board annual report 2017) while the teaching profession has a gender ratio of 2.5 females to 1 male (education statistics digest 2017).
Even in many of our lives, women are the ones who sacrifice for their children, sometimes even at the expense of their health. We heard of many heroic child-bearing stories that women went through to bring forth a child. I remember sacrificing my dream of spending three months to travel around the world as a newly graduated student, to land myself the most stable job as soon as I graduated so that I could help out with my family’s finances.
We often think that our dreams in the world cannot be fulfilled when we become Christians. Contrary to this thinking, these dreams need not be sacrificed. They can be pursued regardless of the stages in our life and more often than not, with God’s timely intervention.
For me, I started out with two lists of dreams: Dreams in the kingdom and dreams in the world. Over time these two lists merged as I realised my purpose of having these dreams. Though some were rooted in my sins of insecurity and pride, at the end of the day, God has made them His while I became a tool to glorify His name.
Below are examples of three women who walked their dreams with God, embraced the meanders that came along their way in the pursuit of their dreams and bided their time to realise their dreams.
My journey in pursuing my dreams was brought to bear when my mum had a ruptured brain aneurysm. She was only 63 years old and was holding down a stable job going through a typical day at work. She experienced a thunderclap headache and fainted on the toilet floor before she was discovered and was subsequently sent to the nearby hospital.
As the hospital lacked adequate facilities and equipment to diagnose her condition, she had to wait until another hospital with specialised neurological instruments had available beds before she could be transferred over. The treatment for brain aneurysm ruptures is time sensitive, and a delay in treatment meant dire consequences. As she could only be transferred after eight hours of waiting, the damage done to her brain was acute. Once warded into the specialised hospital, she underwent several harrowing brain surgeries, and after three months in the hospital, my mum was discharged bedridden, uncommunicative and with a nasogastric tube as her only means to eat.
If there was any guilt that I felt, it was my prayer to God to keep her alive, for her to become a Christian, as the mum I faced after the episode was a shell of who she was. It was a dream that I held for 21 years since the day I got baptised in the Central Christian Church. She has changed from one whom I could communicate with to one who is completely uncommunicative; one who could carry my children and play with them to one who could not move her limbs; one who enjoyed cooking for others to one who needed to be fed through a nasogastric tube. Finally, one who is entirely mobile to one who needed to be turned every two hours to prevent bed sores.
My mum lived for seven years after the incident with a dedicated caregiver and my dad. On bad days she would look past me as if I was not there, while on good days, she would notice my presence. She had refused to study the Bible when she was mobile, and she continued to be adamant against studying the Bible after her hemorrhagic stroke, giving me a deadpan face whenever I asked her to study the Bible. But as I poured out my grief to God daily, crying whenever I opened my Bible, in search of verses to soothe the pain in my heart, God moved her heart.
With the help of disciples in the church who visited her weekly to sing songs to her and by the grace of God, she managed to study the Bible, blinking her eyes twice to indicate “yes” and keeping her eyes opened to indicate “no” to the Bible study questions posed to her. After six months of weekly Bible study, each lasting 3 hours, my mum was baptised on 6 October 2014.
My mum’s baptism has deeply impacted my dad who witnessed God’s miracles and decided to become a Christian. What started out as my insignificant dream to keep my mum alive to have a fighting chance to study the Bible had been used by God for a greater cause, to create a miracle that impacts those who witnessed the miracle to follow God - an event similar to Jesus healing the paralytic (Mark 2:19) where everyone present was amazed and praised God saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” My dad was subsequently baptised on 11 January 2015.
1. Walk Your Dreams with God
(1 Samuel 1:1- 2:21)
The woman who exemplifies walking her dreams with God is none other than Hannah in her longing for a child. Elkanah’s response to Hannah’s pain, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8) exacerbated Hannah’s pain and isolation. The shame of being unable to do the sole role of bringing forth a child as a woman had led to her feeling inadequate and guilty.
Women who could not bear children often feel insecure and have to face the stigma of childlessness in society.
Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany during her campaign to become chancellor, was accused of being “an unfit representation of womanhood.” Although married, Merkel was (and remains) childless, with some even questioning whether she adequately represented women or human beings in general (Moss and Baden, 2015, p. 1). This vilification of woman that occurs today would have been inconceivable during Hannah’s time. Many would have associated infertility with sin, curse, disease or even moral failing.
Hannah walked her dreams with God. She did not give her maidservant to Elkanah to bear offspring through her, like Sarah did (Genesis 16:2). Instead she poured out her heart of grief to God and through this constant outpouring of pain in her heart via her continuous silent prayers, she realised that her son is not just hers but God’s. She thus decided to dedicate her only son to God.
“Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11)
God fulfilled Hannah’s dream and opened her womb. She gave birth to a son, named Samuel and dedicated him to serve God under Eli when he was old enough to take solid food. Though what started out for Hannah was merely wanting a child, in the eyes of God, it was to bring forth the last judge in the history of Israel, one who did not just anoint one king, but two - King Saul and King David. Also, despite the insecurity, and shame amidst the pain that propelled her in her prayers for a son, God purified her motives as she pursued her dreams.
Thus when we walk with God, our dreams, the motives that we started out with will be refined, and the seemingly insignificant dreams that we conceived will be used for a higher purpose by God. All we need to do is to walk the dreams with God, not to take matters into our own hands and embrace the meanders that come into our lives.
2. Embrace the meanders
(Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:43-48)
The woman in the bible who embraces the meanders in her life in her quest for a cure (in my opinion) is the woman who has bled for 12 years. Known throughout the gospels only by her condition, this woman's affliction was so terrible that it identifies her - her characteristic, behaviour, societal status and community (or lack of), etc.
This woman has bled for 12 years. What started off as a private affliction becomes a public record as whatever she touches becomes a defilement (Leviticus 15:25-27). This ranged from the cup she touched, the seat she sat on and the people she associated with. The ability to transmit her defilement to others had made her an outcast. As such, she could neither live with her family nor enjoy the intimacy of her friends as whoever comes in contact with her will be considered unclean.
What made her situation worse was that she had spent all her wealth on physicians (Matthew 5:26) and instead of getting better, she got worse. Women with intermenstrual bleeding were usually associated with increased odds of infertility, and long and irregular cycles were also linked to miscarriages during pregnancy (Rowland et al., 2002). Other than the physical ailments of bloatedness, tiredness and the incessant flow of menstrual blood, women undergoing bleeding felt that they accomplished less, took extra effort to perform their work and experienced moderate to very severe painful abdominal cramps (Kadir et al. 1998).
Compound this with the marginalisation that she experienced from people around her, the feelings must have been unbearable.
She never gave up and embraced the meanders that came her way. On knowing that Jesus had arrived in town and was stopped by the synagogue leader, whose daughter had passed away, she seized the moment to snake her way to the front of the crowd, and from behind Jesus, touched his garment. Immediately, her issue of blood was stanched.
I have asked myself a counterfactual question - What if the physicians that she spent her wealth on had healed her? Would she have met Jesus? The answer to that is “No”. This is because the physical pain and the emotional shame would have been resolved. I believe she went through all these so that Jesus would lift her up from her physical pain and societal stigmatisation; and be used as an example to change the mindset of people towards such afflictions, and to believe in the power of God.
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:47-48)
We often experience meanders in our lives as we pursue our desires and dreams. This could range from an absence of opportunities or the repeated closed doors that we've faced. Just as the woman who has bled for 12 years spent all her savings in search of a cure but to no avail, we may feel expended of all our energy with no semblance to the things we have in mind. Yet, as Jesus did not allow her to disappear quietly into the crowd, but called her out to share her faith and the whole truth of her plight, our embrace of life’s meanders will also not quietly disappear but bear much fruits: Fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) in our lives.
3. Bide Your Time
When I think about a woman who bides her time, I think of Esther. Esther is a shrewd woman, one who brings along no special aids other than what the eunuch of King Xerxes, Hegai, who was in charge of the harem had suggested (Esther 2:15). She thus won the favour and approval of King Xerxes and all who saw her. This is because they saw that trait in her which Vashti so critically lacked: the capacity to “model herself in others' dreams” by yielding and conforming (Berman, 2001). Furthermore, to navigate the politics in the harem and made Queen despite being a foreigner of the Persian Empire was no easy feat.
Much is known about Esther for her trust in God, as seen in these words in Esther 4:16-17:
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
But not much is known about how Esther bided her time in pursuing her dreams to plea for her people and herself to be saved. She had first approached the King in the inner court of the palace hall, and instead of putting forth her request immediately to spare her life before the King, she had requested for Haman and the King to attend the banquet that she had prepared. “If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.” (Esther 5:4)
Esther bided her time because she was completely aware that King Xerxes would be compelled to make a hasty decision in front of his court officials when she approached him in the inner court and her request to save her people would henceforth be used as a political agenda. Thus she had invited Haman and the King to a more private setting, a banquet that she had painstakingly prepared, to put forth her request. King Xerxes lost no time, and his response to Esther’s request was immediate.
“Bring Haman at once,” the king said, “so that we may do what Esther asks.” (Esther 5:5) So the king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared. As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, “Now what is your petition? It will be given you. And what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.” Esther’s reply was for Haman and the King to join her for dinner the next day. It was only on the second day after they had dinner and were drinking wine did Esther present her petition before the King.
Esther could have hastily presented her request to the King but she knew the time was not right and she waited for an opportune time. Her delay was not that of procrastination but a deliberate attempt to wait for a favourable moment to put forth her request to spare her life and her people before the King. Unbeknownst to her, God was working behind-the-scenes to pave the way for her request.
God had orchestrated the events that followed. He instilled in King Xerxes the desire to read the book of chronicles to discover the laudable actions of Mordecai who thwarted an assassination plan on King Xerxes. The records in the book of chronicles predisposed the King to look favourably upon Mordecai, and he acceded to the request put forth by Esther for Jews to protect themselves and destroy their attackers.
Very often, in our quest to realise our dreams, we want immediate gratification with an inadequate discernment of their timeliness. As such, we bite more than we can chew, we overcommit and fall headlong into a vicious cycle of pursuing our dreams at the expense of everything else. We forfeit ourselves the opportunity to examine ourselves, our motives, and the chance to seek the collective wisdom of others by asking for advice.
Take a leaf from Esther, who prioritises the timeliness over the earliness of realising her dreams and in doing so, enabled God to work behind the scenes to fulfil that dream. This humble request, in God’s plans, extends beyond the survivability of her entire race and the alleviation of the Jews’ position in Persia.
My mum’s episode has brought forth another dream, the pursuit of a higher degree. Though there were many earlier opportunities to pursue a higher degree, they could not accommodate my commitment as a Christian, a spouse and a parent as most of these courses occur in the evening for working adults.
What amazed me was the way God had worked behind the scenes to enable me to find a job whose scope of work encompassed my higher degree research with no loss of income. The flexibility to leave my work at 3pm to visit my research site to conduct my research had enabled me to not compromise on my commitment as a Christian, a spouse and parent. The timeliness of this job to realise my dreams could not be understated.
Just like how the delay in Esther’s request has allowed God to work behind-the-scenes, my delay in pursuing my Doctor of Philosophy has allowed time for me to mature in my experience and craft in teaching that enabled me to secure a secondment to the National Institute of Education, NTU where research was part of the job scope of a teaching fellow.
Did I know that God had paved out the way for me to realise my dreams only in my late 30s and early 40s? No, I did not know, and in my younger days, I refused to see His plans since I was blinded by my ambition. But God had helped me bide my time through the collective wisdom of the church when I sought advice. In the same way, let’s bide our time and ask for advice in areas of pursuing our dreams. It could be in areas of finding a spouse, caregiving, conceiving a child, baptising our loved ones, etc.
Take heart as we have seen time and time again (through the earlier three examples) that our insignificant requests, the meanders that we go through and the biding of our time goes beyond ourselves. It was meant for a greater purpose in God’s scheme of things.
This work would not have been possible without God’s faithfulness in opening my heart and my eyes to all His works, the opportunity given by "Straight From Her Heart" and the inspiration by Derek (my husband) on the topic to share.
Berman, J. A. (2001). Hadassah Bat Abihail: The Evolution from Object to Subject in the Character of Esther. Journal of Biblical Literature, 120(4), 647-669.
Kadir, R. A., Sabin, C. A., Pollard, D., Lee, C. A., & Economides, D. L. (1998). Quality of life during menstruation in patients with inherited bleeding disorders. Haemophilia: the official journal of the World Federation of Hemophilia, 4(6), 836-841.
Moss, C. R., & Baden, J. S. (2015). Reconceiving infertility: Biblical perspectives on procreation and childlessness. Princeton University Press.
Rowland, A. S., Baird, D. D., Long, S., Wegienka, G., Harlow, S. D., Alavanja, M., & Sandler, D. P. (2002). Influence of medical conditions and lifestyle factors on the menstrual cycle. Epidemiology, 13(6), 668-674.
Yanfen became a Christian as a teenager and has served faithfully in the church for decades despite her busy schedule as a wife, mother and working professional. She recently completed her Doctor of Philosophy.