Cathy Madavan sniggered her way through the first event she attended that was focused on women, but today is full of praise for those done well. Here she shares the benefits she has enjoyed when meeting with a room full of other women
The first event for women I ever attended was truly unforgettable. At the time, my husband was a Bible College student and I was working for a Christian charity, so I was invited to a conference for women either in ministry or (more often) married to those in ministry.
I am embarrassed to report, I sat at the back and giggled helplessly throughout. I just didn’t get it! There was I, a young woman who wanted to change the world for God, and the speaker talked sincerely about the “ministry of the handbag” – the things we could carry in our bags to help us share about God’s love.
Honestly. It was well-meaning and perhaps it was helpful to others, but it also set up a stereotype in my mind that meant it took a while for me to realise the incredible benefits of meeting with other women.
1 The ‘me too!’ effect
There is something deeply reassuring and empowering about being alongside others who just ‘get it’. Whether we are talking about parenting or being the only women speaker at an event or dealing with the menopause or how we try to juggle a million balls while maintaining some semblance of sanity – suddenly we realise there are others like us out there.
Somebody else also feels guilty about letting people down, somebody else spends too much time worrying about what to wear for work – and almost everybody else feels like an imposter at times. And then there are the more significant moments where one conversation about mental health, sexism or prejudice becomes a catalyst for change. What power there is in knowing you are not alone.
2 Filling our tanks
Is it just me, or are our energy tanks always emptying? We willingly give ourselves to others, we answer emails, we solve problems, we do chores, we create lists, we cook food, we run meetings…Whatever we do there always seems to be a lot of it and sometimes this means our limited resources run dry.
Stepping out of the chaos into a place where we can receive, revive and refocus is nothing short of transformational. Nobody lives well on the dregs of their energy; we all need to replenish sometimes.
3 Living multi-faceted lives
Thankfully, the days of twee conferences for women have largely passed (not a handbag talk in sight!). Events for women are so often inspirational and brilliantly organised, and reflect the fact that women are multi-faceted changemakers – in the home, in our communities, churches and workplaces.
We are called and gifted to be a blessing in all kinds of places, and it is wonderful to see so many resources, events, books and online communities that speak into all these areas (as well as others such as wellbeing, relationships and health). What a blessing that we can be equipped and encouraged to be all God has created us to be.
4 Breaking competitiveness
I confess, it is so easy to look sideways on social media and marvel at the perceived fabulousness of other women around us. We see their far-flung holidays, their fitness goals, their incredible cakes, their fancy work trips and their adoring families (really?!), and we can so easily feel inadequate, isolated or even a bit jealous on a bad day. But meeting together helps us to pull back the façade somewhat.
When we meet face to face, we realise we are all doing our best and we all have challenges. Yes, it’s good to be inspired and to aim high, but, for me, the best gatherings are those that also elevate authenticity, vulnerability and courageous living. What a relief to dispense with competitiveness and to embrace compassion instead.
5 Refuelling faith
It is a joy to be surrounded by women who each have their own story and their own challenges, but who have chosen to join others to worship, pray, laugh, learn and be honest. Something special happens when we gather as women – on retreat, around the dinner table or at an event. As we stand together, our faith is refuelled and our strength is renewed. What woman doesn’t need more of that? I know I do.