Growing up, I had never heard of John and Stasi Eldredge's Ransomed Heart Ministries and their co-written book, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, which Amazon.com describes as a groundbreaking book that "shows readers the glorious design of women before the fall, describes how the feminine heart can be restored, and casts a vision for the power, freedom, and beauty of a woman released to be all she was meant to be."
I borrowed a copy of the book and read it in a crowded coffee shop in the middle of an Indiana winter. In it I learned that as a woman, I was designed by God to be a princess who longed to be romanced, reveal her beauty, and play a part in a grand adventure.
I'll be honest with you -- it was a pleasant daydream. I think that an overwhelmed, tired college student would take any diversion from her coursework, and if the diversion showed up on a white horse with a sword, so much the better. It was, apparently, God's will. I packed my bag, a little encouraged and a little deluded, and stood up. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.
It was, I think, God's firm but kind reminder of the reality I was living in. In that mirror I saw who I really was -- a fallen image-bearer of God in a room full of other fallen image-bearers, no better or worse or more worthy of love than any of them. The world did not need my beauty -- in that moment, it needed me to throw away my coffee cup so someone else could relax with a book and hot chocolate at my table for a while. And in order to be a good steward of a college education, I was not going on any fantastic adventures, but would have to complete the long, icy walk back to my dorm room, heat something up for dinner, and work hard. My life isn't a fairy tale, but God never promised me one. God promised me a hope and a future. I'll take it.
I'm not a princess (though I suspect my Dad will fight me on this point when he reads this). And I don't think it's cynical of me to say it. It's not bad news. It's great news, actually. God has called me -- has called all of us -- not to a life of childlike sentimentality, but to concrete hope and service through discipleship. In this way I encourage women, when they're tempted to think of themselves as royal, to think of themselves as royal priests (1 Peter 2:9). Here are the present pitfalls of being a princess -- and God's alternatives, which are so much better.
A Princess is Proud.
There's a reason why so many leaders of women's retreats hand out plastic crowns and tell women they are princesses. It is exactly what everyone wants to hear. In our fallen state, we like to be flattered and coddled, to be let off the hook of responsibility, to feel entitled, and so forth. A princess is the heroine of the story -- the perfect, untouchable character. We want to hear that "the whole, vast world is incomplete without me. Creation reached its zenith in me" (Captivating,25).
A daughter of God, on the other hand, is a beloved, hard-working, and self-sacrificing servant of her God. She imitates Christ by loving and serving others without self-entitlement.
A Princess is Pretty.
I have seen, heard, and read more Cinderella renditions than I can possibly count, and every Cinderella character seems to have one trait in common: She's pretty. Cinderellas can also be active or passive, bold or shy, rebellious or submissive, outspoken and strong, or worn out and broken down. None of these qualities really matter because the only attribute she actually needs to get the prince is beauty. Christian princess culture has handily absorbed the "pretty princess" cultural phenomenon to the point that it's the underlying thesis for the Eldredges' Captivating. The Eldredges assert over and over again that the world longs to enjoy the beauty of a woman, and that every woman has it to offer.
A Princess is Passive.
Remember how Sleeping Beauty wins her prince? Hint: It's right there in her name. She's beautiful. And she sleeps. For years. Good fortune just comes to her after she's been lying there for awhile. Snow White sleeps too, waiting for someone to show up and remove her curse. Cinderella actually goes to a ball to get her man, but only with the princess paraphernalia provided by her fairy godmother. Rapunzel waits in a tower and functions as her own ladder for someone to rescue her. And so on.
Noticing a pattern here? Being a princess comes with the guarantee that you don't have to venture out and take risks -- that someone else will rescue you from servitude, or a tower, or a coma. Stationary princesses are rampant in the world of fairy tales. They are in a position of waiting to be rescued. That's it.
Thankfully, God has a much higher calling for us! Certainly there is an element of rescue in the Christian story -- God has saved us by the gift of his wonderful grace, with no assistance on our part (Ephesians 2:5). But God has given us another gift as well -- the gift of work. The first couple was put in the Garden of Eden to "work it and take care of it" (Genesis 2:15). Solomon calls finding satisfaction in one's work "the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 3:13). And Paul commands new Christians to "work, doing something useful with their hands, that they may have something to give to the poor" (Ephesians 4:28). A woman's confidence should not come from a label that denotes value in title only. She has value because she has been "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). Works prepared in advance for us to do -- what an indescribable gift!
Now, if this doesn't sit well, remember that if our God is still King, then we are still royal -- all of us, men and women alike. Women are not princesses but "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession" in order that they "may declare the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). Being a priest is a hard, high-responsibility calling that has been extended to every member of the church regardless of his or her gender. God has given us a new identity, and the hard work that comes with it is incompatible with the self-absorbed Christian culture of fairy tales, crowns, and princesshood.
When Paul speaks of love, he reminds us that when he grew up, he put childish ways behind him (1 Corinthians 13:11). And when the elders worship at the throne of God, they take off their crowns and lay them before him (Revelation 4:10). Playing pretend is all right for little girls, but when we get to the throne of God, we too have to set aside our playthings and worship God, not ourselves. This is why I am choosing to be a priest and not a princess.
Laura Robinson is graduating from Indiana University in May with majors in English and religious studies and a minor in history. She will begin a masters program in biblical exegesis at Wheaton College in the fall. She interned for Christians for Biblical Equality in the summer of 2010.