The Barbarian Woman
Dan Swaningson, Hope Chapel 3-12-17
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
In this chapter I am, with fear and trembling, going to tackle the really big subject of the Barbarian woman. Having been married to one (my Norwegian wife) and raised by one (my Swedish/Irish/English) mother— and having raised three Barbarian daughters, I have made a few observations—things necessary for survival, my survival.
As you know, I have contended that the Barbarian approach is more of a state of mind than it is a genetic disposition, but when you are directly descended from those for whom the term Barbarian was first coined—those unconquered peoples living in the northern forests of Europe--you are, perhaps, a little more predisposed to Barbarian ways.
When Donna and I got engaged she was worried about telling her Norwegian and proud grandmother that she was marrying a Swede. With a name like Swaningson it was pretty hard to conceal. My grandfather, Andrew Svenningsson, migrated here from Sweden and later Americanized his name. Why the Swedes and Norwegians have had this animosity towards each other is still somewhat of a mystery to me but it didn’t matter, when you make a Barbarian mad, they are mad for a very long time—especially the women. As the old Swedes like to say, ‘You can always tell a Norwegian, but you can’t tell them much!’
I joke with my girls that if they feel an inner turmoil sometimes it is because the Swede and Norwegian within them are fighting each other. And no, you don’t want to cross them, not only did they inherit the heart of their Barbarian ancestors but I raised them to be strong and to take care of themselves, to demand and expect respect and to be treated like a lady. They can skin a buck and change a flat tire but they shouldn’t have to if there is a man around who knows his place.
A Barbarian woman knows how to let the Barbarian man be the hero he desires to be and is strong enough to not allow herself to be bullied or to find herself without recourse. A couple of years ago I got a call from my daughter Jessie, she was at a convenience store buying oil for her car and wanted to add it but couldn’t get the oil lid off on her engine. I told her to try and find a rag and use it to grab a hold of the cap for a better grip, I said if that doesn’t work find a guy that doesn’t look scary and ask him to help you. Most any decent guy will jump at the chance to help a damsel in distress. It’s our nature to want to help the ladies, it’s what a gentleman does. Society is trying it’s best to wipe out that chivalrous code but it is still deeply ingrained in the heart of the Barbarian that lurks within us all. Sure enough, she soon had a helpful young man cheerfully helping her get the stubborn lid off and he even offered to put the oil in for her.
You see, there’s a give and take there. I have tried to teach my girls to be strong and independent but at the same time to allow the male of the species room to be the gentleman, to do the dirty stuff they are good at if they are in a place where that can be done safely. That’s one of the things I have always admired about their mother; she’s not a girly girl who can’t do anything for herself but greatly appreciates it if I do the things for her that I might be better at.
I am very proud of all my daughters, they are all strong willed and courageous in their own unique ways. Sometimes they learned things the hard way, and sometimes they actually listened to their Barbarian parents. They have become women of real character with amazing work ethics, strength of character and naturally loving hearts that have been shaped and strengthened by their love for their Savior, and his love for them.
The heart of the Barbarian within a woman can cause real trouble, just as it can in men, unless we learn how to harness it, using its strength to magnify the Lord in us while tempering the flesh which, left unchecked, can consume us. So, let’s explore this woman Barbarian notion some; just how do we manage these wild women?
A little background first.
Hearth and Home In the Barbarian tribes of old, whether it be the Celts, the Brits, the Franks, Goths, Germans or Norse, etc., the woman always played a vital role in society. They were not considered to be inferior except in Physical strength and sometimes that was even debatable. There are notable examples in Celtic and Norse histories of women leading men in battle as raiders and defenders. The men having no qualms about following a strong woman who had proven her mettle in battle and proffered sound strategies. The even keeled stoicism and courage of the Barbarian woman was very conducive to leading warriors on the field of battle.
But for the most part Barbarian women found their satisfaction as the keepers of the home and hearth, overseeing the business of making the house a home; keeping her kids and her man in line. She did this while enjoying a measure of protection found in the superior strength of her men, coupled with the knowledge that she could also defend what was hers against whatever enemy, if need be, herself. You don’t mess with bear cubs or the children of the Barbarian woman, the results will be about the same.
Often times this was of a necessity as the men would be off hunting, fishing or raiding, leaving the women largely alone to be the overseers and defenders of the homes, families and villages. Not only were the women capable but they proved time and again that they were not to be trifled with especially when it came to defending their children or their honor. The mighty Viking warrior and explorer may have ruled the seas but at home he was just Sven, the man with the Barbarian appetite who made messes and brought home fish and fowl smelling britches that needed washed.
If he didn’t bring home the fish or treat his woman right he might just find himself out in the cold; Viking women were actually allowed to divorce their husbands, if they felt they were being mistreated or not adequately provided for or protected. But for the most part, a mutual respect and love in the Barbarian home—a condition that was essential simply to survive in the natural and often unfriendly world— prevailed.
The Barbarian family needed a strong woman who was grounded in reality and not afraid to face the world with her head held high while being supportive of her man with whom she reared strong confidant children; children who were prepared to face the world knowing they were loved because they saw love lived out before, and for them, in their mother. The Barbarian woman exudes confidence, and this is a beauty that cannot be outshone. This confidence—not worrying about pleasing everyone, measuring up or worrying about if others find her attractive—frees her to love, to give, and to recognize her blessings.
In the first chapter of Luke we find a woman who recognized her blessings and clung tenaciously to what was important; her faith, her husband, and the promises that brought her hope and did not disappoint.
Elizabeth The Lord showed me the heart of the Barbarian woman in what seemed to be a very unlikely place, the story of Elizabeth, the wife of a Priest named Zechariah. A woman who deeply loved her husband and her God, who never gave up hope despite appearances, and didn’t desire anything of life but that she could be a wife and a mother, to have and to hold a family of her own.
Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. …
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. Luke 1:5-7, 11-13
John and Elizabeth had a faith and a determination that got the attention of their Lord. You can bet that Elizabeth had prayed daily her entire adult life for a child, and now the Lord had answered her passionate prayers, prayers that she had surely been tempted to give up on ever being heard as the years passed. But she knew the story of Sarah, and Hannah; her God was a God of miracles. So when her husband came home and finally managed to communicate to her what had happened—that he had seen an angel of the Lord in the Temple who had promised him that God would indeed bless them with a son— her hope blazed anew. Her faith, held passionately and securely within her heart rejoiced and she accepted the promise from the Lord even when her husband’s faith had wavered, leaving Zechariah mute for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy.
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1:45
She didn’t worry about whether or not she was worthy. No doubt she had heard for years, ‘There must be sin in your life or else God would not have shut your womb!’ She was righteous in the sight of God; blameless, still, she had no children—yet. Who knows why they didn’t have children, but we know it wasn’t a punishment, you need to hear that; sometimes things just happen, it doesn’t mean you are bad or that your faith is too weak. Elizabeth trusted God’s goodness and God noticed this, the quiet resolve of this humble woman who didn’t blame God or herself for her desires not being granted and decided she was just the one he needed, to raise a Barbarian prophet named John—it was time to grant her the desire of her heart.
God chose a woman with a heart of simple purpose, who had a spirit determined to fulfill her singular mission--to raise the prophet who would proclaim the coming of the Lord; John the Baptist. The radical prophet who would live in the desert shunning all the comforts and trappings of the civilized and religious, eating locusts and wild honey and wearing camels’ hair robes; an Israelite living like a Barbarian, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah who would open the Gates of heaven to everyone--even to the Barbarian gentiles.
I think only a woman with the heart of a Barbarian could raise a man like that. A heart that loves fully because it is uncluttered with the unnecessary and meaningless, unburdened with lies and condemnation. Let’s read some more of the story from Luke.
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. Luke 1:57-64
I love this part of the story, I can just picture all the grey beards and sanctimonious busybodies gathered for the ritual of circumcision and the all-important official naming of the first and only son. I can just hear the family of Zechariah proudly and solemnly proclaiming him to be ‘Zechariah Ben Zechariah’, thinking they are honoring the old man and doing him a favor in making the proclamation since he has been rendered mute ever since that day in the Temple nine months earlier.
But Elizabeth speaks up and says, ‘No! His name is John.’ Imagine the looks that went around the room, ‘who does this woman think she is?’ Women in this culture did not tell men what to do, certainly not in religious matters or the all-important family name to which their whole heritage was tied both spiritually and materially. Israelites took their name very seriously, it spoke not just their identity but tracked their past and determined their future—their forever.
But Elizabeth was not to be cowed. She knew what God had planned for her and tradition and protocol be darned. Interesting that God chose not to loosen old Zach’s tongue until the moment that he confirmed his wife; both the Lord and Zechariah came to her defense, ‘Listen to her, she knows a thing or two.’ Because she had the courage of her conviction to speak out what she knew to be right—because of the Barbarian heart of Elizabeth—God’s purpose was accomplished.
Imagine if she had given up, just towed the mark, kept her head down and embraced the pressure of a thousand years of her male dominated culture and tradition silencing her and brow beating her into passivity, or the condemnation that must have been all around her as a childless old woman. Picture the looks in the market place, the condescending remarks in the synagogue, but she kept her head up, kept moving forward always knowing that tomorrow was another day to live and to love and to hold on to hope. And her hope was not disappointed.
So, what motivates the heart of a Barbarian woman in the Kingdom? Love
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
To me this verse says everything you need to know about the Barbarian woman in the Kingdom. She is love personified, not the mushy everything is sunshine and roses fragile kind of love that can be shaken to the core at the first sign of trouble, but the passionate deep down ingrained love that can overcome anything the world or the enemy throws at her. A love that can bear all things and come out stronger in the end. A love that is patient and rational when all others around her are lost in emotional chaos or jealous pettiness.
She does not rejoice in the hurt of others but is strong enough to allow even those she loves to experience the consequences of their own foolishness should they refuse to listen to her warnings. And she will be there to pick them up when they land in the mud face first, with a firm hand and a gentle smile offering another chance to choose the right.
The Barbarian woman is not given to hysteria or panic. Her emotions, though deeply felt, are not on the surface causing her to lose control; if she does you had better run for the hills, but for the most part she is in control. This allows her to think through, to listen and observe, seeking truth and resolution before running or attacking. The fight or flight mechanism prevalent in the man is controlled in the woman by an instinct to protect and nurture. She knows that she can best serve her family by remaining calm, she often has to be the eyes and ears of her Barbarian man to direct his sometimes-misguided fury. She is the radar he needs to hit the mark without destroying the village. I’ll let you figure that one out…
The woman hears and understands things—call it a spiritual discernment or woman’s intuition—that men sometimes blissfully miss. The danger in this is that women can also be offended a little too easily and hold grudges way too long. They are very tuned into the perception of others, particularly what others think if them.
Self-worth This brings me to a very important point. The key reason why we need to adopt the Barbarian mindset in order to engender emotionally healthy women in the Kingdom of God, women who are able to accept the love of a Father God who loves them for who they are; if you want to be a woman that is able to be strong and courageous, even-keeled—even stoic when need be, while at the same time loving passionately and unselfishly--you cannot, and must not, allow your sense of self-worth to be determined by what others think of you. This is the biggest pit that women fall into starting as little girls. The very first time a little girl comes home from school—probably Kindergarten—crying it’s because another little girl did not like her, told her that her dress was ugly, her hair was ugly, she was stupid or she didn’t want to be her friend anymore… she starts the descent into that pit of self-doubt.
Little boys will laugh insults off or punch each other and move on, but a little girl will hold on to this hurt for a good long time, and it will build—snowball—as the years go by; cliques are formed, peer groups of the cool girls, the sleep overs that you were excluded from, never being able to wear the right clothes or wear the right shoes. Middle school is a living nightmare and High school is just something to bear as your loser status is now engraved in stone. Or, if you are one of the chosen ones, the cool kids, you get out of your everybody worships me world and discover that you really don’t have the world by the tail and no one cares who you hung out with in school.
The little girl who was convinced by others that she was either a loser or a princess is now totally without an identity. She doesn’t know who she is and will never be happy, never be satisfied with the person she sees in the mirror. This leads to all sorts of disastrous ends: eating disorders, drug addictions, depression, promiscuity—even suicide.
Ladies, mothers and Fathers, this is something you both need to work on; your daughter’s need Barbarian mentoring just as much as young men do and it has to start as soon as they become self-aware. As soon as they hear the words, ‘What a beautiful little girl’, and know what it means they have to be taught that who they are, their worth, is not tied up in their looks, their style, who likes them and who doesn’t. They have to know that their worth is not tied to what other’s think about them.
Barbarians do not connect their self-worth to what others think of them. They do not care if everyone does not like them. Barbarians know what is inside of them, what is in their hearts, because they have been taught what is right and wrong, it is written on their hearts and the person laughing at you, calling you stupid and ugly does not, cannot, know what is in your heart—only you can. With the exception of one other Person; Jesus.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; Psalm 139:13, 14
He created your heart, he made you who you are for a reason and he loves you. He created you to love and to live with a passion that is a reflection of him, that is driven by the ability to love with a determination and a fierceness that can burn through any darkness anyone would try to throw at you. You are perfect because God made you that way, and whatever you messed up along the way… he has redeemed—so you are still perfect!
14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” Hebrews 10:14-16
Your strength, your value as a person, your worthiness to be loved, to be honored—to be—is found within, deep within, your heart where the Spirit of Jesus dwells and flourishes. If you are a Barbarian woman in the Kingdom, you belong to Jesus and you have the power of Christ, coupled with an innate sense of confidence that makes you dangerous—dangerous to the enemy who would try and mess with you or yours.
Confidence Confidence: that’s the thing that sets the Barbarian woman apart. The Barbarian woman in the Kingdom of God who has not succumbed to the unnaturally civilizing notions of taming the Barbarian with religious expectations that only serve to leave her feeling like a failure, the woman who has held on tenaciously to the spark of confidence and strength that God has planted in her soul and accepted the love of her Father through Jesus Christ, is a woman of confidence. She knows that her worth does not come from what others think of her. She knows that she is able, that she can do whatever she sets her mind to, that nothing can stand in her way—unless she allows it too.
In any situation, in any place, she has an inner peace and calm because she knows that she is a precious soul, that she is loved, first and foremost by her Father God. And that is a love that can never be taken away or lost, it is a love that will never end.
So how do you get a woman to that Barbarian notion of confidence, of liking herself? It took a lot of prayer and pondering as a man trying to figure out what I don’t think most women even understand about themselves, but I think I finally put my finger on it. Just like a guy needs to hear from his father that he is proud of him, that he is a man, a girl needs to know that she is beautiful, and I don’t mean just on the outside but also on the inside. We don’t want girls to base their image of themselves based on what others think of them, but we want them to know that they are beautiful.
For the young woman, the two are intricately intertwined, if she thinks she looks good, she will feel good. But you know what? Listen to this; if a woman thinks she looks good- she will look good—seriously, there is nothing more beautiful than a woman who is confident. It puts a spark in her eyes, which truly are the window to the soul. If the soul is healthy and beautiful, it will emanate from the eyes and light up the whole face. The posture will be better, the smile will take up residence on the face and the love that engenders love will shine through.
I tease my daughter Jessie once in a while, “Everybody loves you!” It’s true; if you know Jessie, you like her almost right away—why? Because she is a raving beauty? She is beautiful but so are a lot of women that not very likable. They like her because she is always smiling, her big hazel eyes sparkle and she just puts out the sense that she is always joyful, people are drawn to that. That’s confidence.
So how do we get our young Barbarians there, to that beautiful confident place? I have always wondered when I tell a little girl—and we have several very pretty little girls in our church— ‘What a pretty dress you have on today, I love the braids in your hair’ if I am doing them a disservice. Am I not teaching them that their worth is tied to their looks? But I think I might have figured it out, actually I think the Lord opened my eyes; it’s okay for little girls to hear how pretty they are, as long as they are also hearing it from the ones in their lives who matter—their parents. The people they love and trust, who know them better than anyone else does, theirs is the opinion they need to hear.
Barbarian mothers, you need to continually reaffirm that your little girls are beautiful, the mother’s role differs a little from the father’s; you need to teach them and model for them that their beauty isn’t dependent on what they wear, how much makeup they put on, how much skin they show. Your girls need you to teach them how to be beautiful, inside and out. If the world teaches them you will not like the results, I can guarantee you that.
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3,4
Father’s, here’s your part; you need to tell your girls, including your wife, that they are beautiful. Even if they act like they are embarrassed or they don’t believe you. They need to hear it from you and here’s why: if they do not hear it from you, dads, they will be constantly trying to hear it from someone else, and it will never be enough. I don’t fully understand this, but it’s true. A young woman who does not have her Father’s approval and love, expressed verbally—a woman needs words, she doesn’t speak grunt like men do--will be forever trying to measure up and will never be happy with what she sees in the mirror. She will never have confidence and will never feel fully loved.
More Beautiful All who know my oldest daughter Cally would probably agree that she is confident. She has been tackling the world head on since the day she graduated from High School, and before. I remember the day this whole concept of telling the girls they are beautiful really hit home with me. We were hunting near Silesia MT, driving along from one place to another, Donna was in the front of the pickup and Cally was in the back seat, she was probably 16 at this time. She was leaning forward to hear us and I turned around to look at her, all decked out in her finest blaze orange clothes, and for some reason it just struck me that she was really becoming a beautiful young lady. I looked again, and then again deciding to use this opportunity to bless her. She leaned back in the seat and said, “What!” “Every time I look at you, you get more beautiful!”
I can’t really explain what happened at that moment but I sensed in my spirit that it was big. She didn’t say a word but I could tell by the look on her face that something happened right then, I think this may have been one of those pivot points between self-doubt and self-confidence. I decided right then and there that I needed to make sure all of my daughters know how beautiful they are; I even wrote them a book telling them so; To My Girls.
So, find a woman, find a little girl, and tell her: “You are truly beautiful.” And make sure she really hears you. All of God’s daughters are beautiful—including you.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.
Song of Songs 4:7
In a Nutshell I want to close this chapter with a little blurb I wrote as I was pondering the barbarian woman; a synopsis—to use the word I used in in the previous chapter—of what a barbarian woman in the Kingdom is.
The Barbarian Woman The barbarian woman shares the passions of the barbarian man- feels and fuels them longer and deeper than her male counterpart and fights to defend her own in her own way. She loves deeper, laughs louder, burns fiercer and is unconcerned with the pettiness of the civilized. She is comfortable in her own skin and does not measure her worth by what you think of her or by how expensive her wardrobe or accessories are. She loves her man, her children and her God and speaks her mind.
She says what she means, means what she says and doesn’t say anything just to be mean. If she lays you out with her words than you needed it. Like the barbarian man, she prefers her life to be uncomplicated and uncluttered. Her weapons are her even tempered determination, unshakable sense of what is right and true, and a steely eyed look that will put the fear into the heart of any who would get in her way.
The Barbarian woman perseveres through times of hardship and trial, her resolve is strengthened by challenges, she faces them head on and always--holds on to hope because she knows the sun will always come up tomorrow and she will have another chance to live, laugh and love, without shame and without apology.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
The Barbarian woman loves fiercely and engenders a fierce love in return; a love that overcomes all things.
That’s why we need Barbarian women in the Kingdom.