The only thing better than a good biography is SEVEN good biographies, and that’s what Eric Metaxas offers in 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness. Through touching down at seven distinct historical and geographical points, my mind was coaxed beyond its tendency to “see everything in the dark glass of [my] own era, with all its blind spots, motes, beams, and distortions.” Eric chose women whose greatness derived from their ability to “exist and thrive as women,” with accomplishments rooted in their “singularity as women.” His list is broad and diverse, including Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa.
Without a doubt, each of these valiant women rose to meet the challenges of her day with grace, whether it was the careless ruination of European monarchs, the vise grip of Nazi Germany, or the slow discouragement of a huge family and an incompetent husband, my reading turned up seven virtues that these women shared and, by their example, throw forward into our day as a light in our present darkness:
- Vision: Joan of Arc quite literally had visions, but all seven of Eric’s subjects shared an ability to see beyond their circumstances and to live in possession of a calling that served to focus their activities and decisions like a laser. Susanna Wesley spent twenty years teaching her children at home, and was fiercely diligent in overseeing their character development as well as their education. Rosa Parks launched the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott with her refusal to see the world in the literal black and white that her forty-two years of life in the segregated South had planted before her eyes.
- Perseverance: I fell in love with Mother Teresa and her determination to “do small things with great love.” Her recruitment tactics distill down to the riveting question that went along with her sweet smile: “Would you like to do something beautiful for God?” Saint Maria of Paris, a woman who was introduced to me for the first time through 7 Women, seemed to have had a limitless fountain of identities, never allowing herself to be captured by a stereotype. Divorced single mother? Look again, and she’s mayor of St. Petersburg. Fifteen years later, she turns up in France as a Christian monastic where her activity on behalf of the oppressed Jewish population landed her in Ravensbruck until her death in 1945.
- Faith: Susanna Wesley was herself a catechized woman who believed the promises of God from a well of sound theology and biblical literacy. This provided a foundation for “worldview teaching” in her homeschool which serves as a model for those of us raising and educating our children in an increasingly post-Christian culture. Joan of Arc challenges my assumptions about what constitutes orthodox theology, but I see in her words an absolute openness to truth from heaven. When asked by her inquisitors if she was in a state of grace, her reply was, “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”
- Influence: Hannah More lived in a time in which women were expected to fulfill only “certain roles”, and even to write only about “certain topics.” Nonetheless, as a single woman, she found her voice among the political and cultural movers and shakers through her writing. Because she “did not lose her wit when she found God,” she was able to speak hard truth against the slave trade and was instrumental in its abolition in 1833. By the same token, Rosa Parks is called the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” and Susanna Wesley, the impoverished housewife, is known as the “Mother of Methodism.”
- Refusal to conform: There are times in history when women need to sit down when they are told to stand up (Rosa Parks), to speak up when they are told to be quiet (Hannah More); to protect what is about to be destroyed (Corrie ten Boom); and to value what culture says is worthless (Mother Teresa). This is not in order to make a name for oneself, but in order to be the agent for change God created us to become and to be obedient to His calling.
- Devotion to God: When Maria of Paris finally turned her heart toward God, she never again wavered. When Corrie ten Boom saw that people whom God loved and valued were being oppressed and eliminated, she put her own life at risk to help them. The quiet strength that Rosa Parks exhibited came from a life-long belief that, in her words, “the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face.”
- Leadership: I wonder how many tiny nuns would dare to approach Calcutta’s city authorities to ask for a building. I wonder how many women (or men) in Hannah More’s day agreed with her stance on slavery but feared the social backlash and grief that came with opposing it. I wonder if Susanna was ever tempted to just teach her three boys and save herself the labor of teaching seven daughters how to read and how to think when the practice was frowned upon anyway. In every case, the seven women Eric Metaxas has profiled were willing to stand alone against social pressure, and because they did, society as a whole was impacted. This is godly leadership.
I’m grateful for the extraordinary women of history who achieved their greatness because they realized that the sovereignty of God had placed them in a certain place at a certain time in order to make a difference. It is my prayer that my sons will spend their lives loving women with these seven virtues — and that their mother-in-law will lead the way.
This book was provided by Thomas Nelson through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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