Growing up in a home with 3 girls and a mother as a midwife meant there was always a degree freedom to discuss the delicate workings of the female anatomy around the dinner table if we chose to do so. We were equipped with knowledge and sent to school with a small pouch of menstruation pads from a young age and were able to fairly much look after ourselves when our periods did arrive.
For many women I talk to, periods were a ‘taboo’ topic.
This freedom was a great advantage—my younger sister felt so empowered she went on to pursue midwifery and has helped countless women welcome their babies into the world in the midst of blood, pain and beautiful life.
However, in the years since this date and conversations with other women around their experiences, I have recognised my story is fairly unusual. For many women I talk to, periods were a ‘taboo’ topic and they felt ill-equipped and unsure what was happening to them when their monthly periods began.
Sermons have been another place where the topic has been off-limits. Even sermons on characters like Sarah and Elizabeth skirt the issue, instead choosing to simply say that these women were ‘beyond their childbearing years.’
A Biblical Perspective is Vital
For Rachel Jones, writing in her new book A Brief Theology of Periods (Yes, Really) (The Good Book Company, 2021) this is a taboo that needs to be broken. As she writes at the start:
…for roughly 50% of the population, for a large section of our lives, periods are a regular reality. 400-500 times in your lifetime—and for 60 days of the year—you’re on your period. (p.10).
What a staggering statistic. A women’s period shapes her choices, her emotions, her energy-levels, and in our churches—generally filled with more women than men—it means that, on any given Sunday, many are experiencing their period, or the lead up or aftermath of it. A biblical perspective on this is vital, so too is discussing it in a more open way. As Jones’ says:
Let’s be honest, your pastor probably won’t be preaching about periods anytime soon. But there are plenty of other people who will. The last few years have seen an increasing number of voices talking about periods in our culture. … Here’s the thing: nothing we read or watch or listen to is ideologically neutral—it’s all subtly (or not so subtly) telling us how to think and how to act. … So if we’re not proactive about thinking Christianly about a subject, then we’ll just end up having our thinking shaped by what the world tells us. (p.13)
The Bible, in all its beauty, speaks into all of life, wisely guiding those who seek God’s perspective (2 Peter 1:3). We need to open it in order to have God’s light shine onto all topics, particularly those that we feel uncomfortable talking about.
The Bible Talks About Blood—A Lot
God isn’t afraid to talk about blood.
From the first sacrifice of animals to clothe the naked Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:21, to the book of Revelation (7:14) with saints washing their robes in the blood of the lamb, the Bible talks of blood. There is sacrifice, there is shedding of blood, there is the ultimate gift of life in Jesus by his gruesome death and glorious resurrection. God isn’t afraid to talk about blood.
In A Brief Theology of Periods (Yes, Really), Rachel Jones opens up this theme of blood shed and traces it through the Old and New Testaments. She urges her female (and male!) readers to see a woman’s monthly period as a testament to the gospel: when we feel unclean, it isn’t really because we are having our period and shedding blood; it is because our spiritual condition in and of itself is unclean. She writes,
Perhaps this is what periods are an opportunity to remind ourselves of: the uncleanness of our hearts comes from deep inside of us and flows into our actions, seeping into even our best endeavours and relationships, and staining everything we touch… But, as uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I do need to remember it; because it’s only when we’ve appreciated the depth of the problem—when we’ve felt appropriate shame not at menstruation but at our unclean spiritual condition—that we’re ready to hear afresh the words of peace offered by our Saviour. (p.65-66)
Here, Jones helps us see that periods are a regular occurrence that we can use as a visual picture to point us again and again to Jesus. She succinctly and with surprising depth, allows us to be reminded of God’s promise of a Saviour born in the line of Judah, to crush the head of the serpent, offering us peace with God. She also reminds all people that Jesus calls us to make disciples through childbearing and under the new covenant, through declaring the gospel to all people.
A Theology of Periods
We aren’t meant to be controlled by our monthly periods or subjected to a weight of shame over them; we are to look to Jesus.
Periods demonstrate the cultural mandate for man and woman to fill the earth and subdue it. They show the call of God to procreate and remind us that women and men are biologically different. The pain, shame, emotional ups and downs and malfunctioning of the body that is associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle demonstrate that we live in a fallen world.
When we view this in light of the saving work of Jesus, we can see that our life has purpose beyond the functioning of our bodies. We can see our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We aren’t meant to be controlled by our monthly periods or subjected to a weight of shame over them; we are to look to Jesus. Our periods can also work as timely reminders that one day the pain and impact of the fall on our bodies will be no more. We can look forward to the day when we will be with him forever; a day when periods will no longer exist because in our new bodies we will not be given in marriage and as such will not exchange sexual relations (Matthew 22:30).
A Book for Women and for Men
I have two daughters and I have often thought when they reach an age of menstruating, I would love to give them a period gift pack, filled with all sorts of goodies they may enjoy (including chocolate!) A copy of A Brief Theology of Periods (Yes, Really) by Rachel Jones will definitely be part of this pack.
I also have talked about this book with countless women and I will be lending it out just as soon as the ink dries on this review. While I didn’t feel comfortable reading this book on the sideline of my son’s soccer training games (a bit of a wuss I guess), I do feel this is also a helpful book for men to read too. At a conference I was recently involved in, a woman purchased this book and joked that her husband would like her to get a copy, and have a read of it himself too.
This makes sense—a woman’s period doesn’t just affect her. It affects men she comes in contact with too, and I believe a book like this can help men become educated on a Biblical view of this topic just as it is for women. May we start seeing wonderful resources like this as a way to equip us as saints in gospel-living. When we lift the veil on these topics, we allow God to shine his wisdom on parts of our lives we often keep hidden.