The Captivating women's course
The invitation to the course nearly put Ellie Philpott off going, but in fact it proved to be a very affirming and helpful experience
It’s a Tuesday evening and I’m getting ready to go to my friend Helen’s house for my first Captivating course meeting. The questions running through my head are: should I be wearing a dress? Who else will be there? Am I going to cry in front of everybody? Should I put some make-up on? Do I have any make-up knocking around somewhere? Will I be the only single woman there and feel left out? Will God meet with me? Why am I doing this?
I was doing it because Helen had handed me an invitation a few weeks previously that read as follows:
Join John and Stasi Eldredge as they journey into the deep mysteries of the feminine soul in order to recapture the heart. Through teaching sessions, films, music, guided periods of reflection and journalling, worship and beauty, you will be invited to take the risk of coming alive as a woman ... God’s Captivating woman.
UNVEIL THE MYSTERY OF A WOMAN’S SOUL
To be honest, if my decision had been based on the invitation alone, I may not have chosen to go. But another friend, Curie, had recently attended a Captivating study group and I’d seen the dramatic changes in her life that resulted from it.
So what is Captivating? It’s a 10-week course for women based around the best-selling book of the same name by Stasi and John Eldredge. Every week, participants are encouraged to read a few chapters of the book. During the meeting, which is usually held in somebody’s house, they follow Stasi and a group of her friends via a series of video clips, as they discuss issues raised in the book. Afterwards, there’s time for reflection, aided by questions in a study guide, then a group discussion.
The book’s premise is simple: “Most women think they have to settle for a life of efficiency and duty, chores and errands, striving to be the women they ‘ought’ to be, but often feeling they have failed. Sadly, too many messages for Christian women add to the pressure; ‘Do these ten things, and you will be a godly woman.’ The effect has not been good on the feminine soul.” Its aim: to help Christian women discover what God has created women to be and to do.
Another friend of mine, Karen, who’s just completed a course, describes it much better than I can. She said to me, “So many women’s self-esteem, confidence and femininity seem sadly to have been eroded over many years, whether through childhood traumas, or latter-day life events including divorce, or repeated knock downs from many aspects of life. Captivating took a group of diverse ladies through 10 weeks of peeling away all the lies many of us had taken on board about our beauty, our femininity, our purpose for life in all its abundance.
"It allowed each and every one of us the confidence to tap into our vulnerability, in a safe environment. Tears did flow, anger did get expressed, and areas we would not have normally talked about were spoken of, sometimes for the very first time! This was a risk for some, but in the end became a positive step forward in releasing some pain we had been locked into for many years. There were some comical times too, and a great sense of humour that created the well-needed balance when talking about some very hurtful periods in our lives.”
WHY WAS I STILL JITTERY?
As I walked to Helen’s house, I wondered what it was that felt so daunting about joining this course and why I felt rather ambivalent about the ‘mystery of a woman’s soul’. I’d been a Christian for over 25 years and attended plenty of Bible study groups. Why was I so jittery about this one? I realised it was because it focused on being a woman, and my normal reaction to any kind of women’s events at church was a mixture of ‘OK, I can see the point of women talking about things they relate to best, but it all gets a bit girly after a while and I’m glad when the men turn up’. I realised something deeper was going on. Why did I feel so uncomfortable at women’s events? Because deep down, I didn’t feel totally at ease with being a woman. To me, some aspects of femininity felt rather, well, girly and over the top.
The initial chapters of Captivating and our first week at the course did nothing to dispel my unease. I was plunged into a world of women wanting to be rescued, yearning for a deliverer and also desiring to be beautiful. We were asked to write in our journals about how these topics made us feel. I wasn’t the only one squirming in my seat that evening.
What was reassuring was that when I chatted to others who had done the course, that reaction was pretty much standard. Curie described her feelings at the beginning of the first course she did, “I knew most of the people in my group, which helped me. At the first meeting, I thought the whole thing was really cheesy. It was nice to see the other people in the group but I didn’t really like the course.
“After week two I came back home and ranted about it to my husband, saying I thought it was rubbish, pointless and girly and I wasn’t going to attend any more. Chris encouraged me to give it another go, so I agreed to have one more try before I gave up with it. After week three I came back and told Chris I wanted to take back everything I’d said the previous week. The evening had been phenomenal ...”
So what is at the heart of this struggle? Why do some of us feel uncomfortable with our femininity or with the way we have been told we should act as a woman? Why is Captivating so powerful? And what do women need freeing from? Stasi and John Eldredge take us back to our childhoods; where the story of Cinderella waiting for her handsome prince resonates through many little girls. Their premise: every woman longs to feel desired and wanted for her beauty. It is in the heart of all of us. And it is only in God that this longing can be fulfilled. God sees our inner beauty, and can affirm us in a way that no man can.
Coupled with this is the understanding that women were also created to fight for a cause. In Captivating, we are reintroduced to Genesis, at the point at which God is creating woman. The myth that Eve is simply a ‘helpful friend’, designed to do the washing-up and darn clothes is dispelled as the book explains, “When God creates Eve, he calls her an ezer kenegdo. ‘It is not good for man to be alone, I shall make him [‘an ezer kenegdo’] (Genesis 2:18 Alter). Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, who has spent years translating the book of Genesis, says that this phrase is “notoriously difficult to translate”. The various attempts we have in English are ‘helper’ or ‘companion’ or the notorious ‘help meet’. Why are these translations so incredibly wimpy, boring, flat? Alter is getting close when he translates it as ‘sustainer beside him’.
“The word ezer is used in only 20 other places in the entire Old Testament. And in every other instance the person being described is God himself, when you need him to come through for you desperately. Most of the contexts are life and death, by the way, and God is your only hope ... A better translation therefore of ezer would be ‘lifesaver’. Kenegdo means alongside, or opposite to a counterpart.”
A WOMAN'S ROLE IN THE GREAT ADVENTURE
Curie summed up the way the course had opened up her life for her as a woman of God, “For me, the emphasis of the course is about God making woman as well as man. I have a purpose in life that is different but just as valid as a man’s. There were three keys that stood out for me: women have a role in the great adventure that is life, a woman’s beauty is not superficial, but is in the heart of each of us and at the core of who we are and, as women, we bring life to things. So what does God want me as a woman to birth?
“Taking the example of the ezer kenegdo – it was only used of God and then only in times of terrible trouble. To have that trait as a woman that mirrors that is amazing. It gives us a sense of value and standing as a woman of authority in Christ. It was extremely empowering and restoring to learn how we were created to be.”
I completed my 10-week course and, like Curie, and so many others who have been involved with Captivating, I also experienced healing and became more confident about my status in life. To answer my earlier questions – I never felt I had to wear a dress; I deepened old friendships and made lovely new ones; I did cry, but it didn’t matter; I didn’t wear make-up and it was OK; I was the only single woman there, but I found in my group a safe place where I could pour out my anguish and heartache at my single status and yes, God did meet with me.