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02 October 2013

Empowering an Esther generation

Empowering an Esther generation

Claire Rush, Girls Brigade

by Claire Rush

I want to introduce you to a young woman who had no concept of who she was and whose she was...

This is a young woman who even tried to conceal her true identity from other people. Instead, she believed how other people defined her and did not challenge it. She forgot her true purpose and became an enslaved people-pleaser.

Hmm... I wonder who this reminds you of? Yourself? Some of the young people that you work with? These words could describe Queen Esther. We usually perceive Esther (named Hadassah at birth) as the strong woman who stopped the genocide of the Jews in Persia but when we first meet her in the Bible, we meet a very different Esther. Esther allowed herself to be defined by others and was lulled to sleep by the culture which surrounded her; a culture where her beauty, popularity and compliance define her existence and purpose. Esther had to undergo one year of beauty treatments before she spent the night with the king; perhaps during that year she began to realise that her worth and identity was only defined by her appearance. When her cousin Mordecai urged her to use her position of influence to help prevent the genocide of the Jews, her first reaction, caused by fear, was: 'no way'. Esther forgot Hadassah who was made in God's image with a purpose.

Thousands of years ago, a woman's worth depended on how she looked. Esther was a metaphorical slave of her culture. Has it really changed for girls and women today? In my ministry, I meet many young women who are enslaved by the culture surrounding them, which eschews their true identity. As a result, they are blinded to God's purpose for their life.

We live in a media-saturated world which is communicating thousands of messages every day, consciously and unconsciously, to us. Advertisements, magazines and music videos teach girls that they are to be 'living dolls'; that their worth lies in their physical appearance. The result? Girls see their bodies as projects to be worked on as they strive to meet an unrealistic standard of beauty. I will never forget the young woman who told me at a youth group that as a result of the magazines that she consumed: "I am not enough."

Psychologist Steve Biddulph argues that young women are more depressed and stressed than ever as their self-worth is manipulated by the corporate world. We live in a world which argues that the over-sexualised performance at the MTV Video Music Awards by former Disney princess Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke is liberating and empowering towards women. Sex is treated as disposable and valueless; so valueless that it is used to sell jeans, fizzy drinks and even crisps.

There are many girls and women who are crying out to discover their true identity and drown out a culture which enslaves them and eschews their God-given purpose. Just like Esther when we first meet her in the Bible. But look what an amazing purpose Esther had. She was really placed in the King's court for "such a time as this". A voiceless Esther, whose identity relied so much on what other people thought of her, eventually did take a stand and used her intelligence, strength and courage to prevent the genocide. I want to let you into a secret: I was once just like Esther. My own cultural enslavement meant that I had no sense of my true identity or God-given purpose. But I was able to break through those chains because of leaders who invested in me (and are continuing to invest in me today).

Our world needs a new generation of bold Esthers to rise up who will speak God's truth into the culture which surrounds them.

And we have an important role to play in empowering and releasing this generation.

So how can you and I raise the next generation of Esthers?

1. We need to ensure we know who we are by having Christ at our core. Do we have a daily rhythm with God?
2. We need to ensure that our sessions and discussions are culturally relevant and addressing the 'taboo' hot topics. Don't ignore culture, use it. Equip young women to consume culture actively, not passively. We need a generation who are media-literate and are able to distinguish the valuable messages from the trash. (There is value in single-sex youth work as it provides spaces to explore gender-specific issues).
3. We need to equip young women as leaders... and then we need to release them into their leadership. We need to give them opportunities to lead and to take a step back by maintaining a mentoring role. They have been placed in their communities, schools/workplaces for "such a time as this".
4. Finally we need to realise that we can't do it alone – only God can bring true transformation. We need to pray He will increase in us and that we will decrease. It is His work and all we need is a willingness to be used by Him.

We have been called to speak God's truth into the lives of the next generation of Esthers in a relational, responsive and relevant way in order to see restoration of identities and lives transformed.

Living in a post-Christendom culture, you and I have been placed in young people's lives for 'such a time as this'. Which 'Esther' are you investing in? Who are you releasing into leadership today?

Dr Claire Rush is the participation and advocacy co-ordinator for The Girls' Brigade England & Wales and trustee of the Sophia Network. She is team leader of her local GB group in Northern Ireland and is passionate about seeing lives transformed. 

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