Most women remember when they first got their period. More often than not, it was an embarrassing and mildly traumatizing experience. I remember asking my mom how long I would have to deal with this and thinking that menopause sounded awfully far away. “You mean I have to experience this for DECADES???” The average woman feels inconvenienced by and sometimes plagued by menstruation. It can be painful, uncomfortable and inconvenient, and we are often embarrassed and ashamed of it. Culturally we are taught to hide it. Feminine products base their marketing campaigns around how their brands will help women be discreet and act as if their period isn’t even happening. In many ways we believe that it’s gross and something that we have to overcome.
But what does God think about it? In Leviticus 15 we find God’s laws for both men and women on how to respond to bodily discharges. If you’ve ever doubted whether God does indeed care about everything, read this chapter. God is so closely involved with His children that He even gives us guidelines for how to handle our bodies when they do weird and unpredictable things. God isn’t ashamed or embarrassed by us, He created us to be physical beings and equips us for life on earth. When we read through this chapter, especially with our 21st century lens, it’s easy for women to feel a renewed sense of shame about menstruation.
19 “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. 20 And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. 21 And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 22 And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 23 Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. 24 And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.
On the surface this feels like women are to be shunned from the community during their periods and are contaminated in some way. We should first note that there was more than one form of uncleanness. In this case women were ceremonially unclean but that did not mean they were sinning against God. They could not participate in religious ceremonies but that did not imply that they were morally unclean in God’s eyes.
If we continue reading through Leviticus, chapter 17 sheds more light on this conversation. The passage centers on eating animal blood, which God forbids.
14 For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.
This command is about eating practices, but reveals a profound truth. Blood is a sacred thing because it represents the life that only God can give. To consume animal blood is to act in the place of God and to take ownership of a gift that belongs solely to the Creator. Blood is not gross, it is our very life.
If animal blood holds these sacred properties, how much more so does menstrual blood? This is the substance that brings new life into the world and which contains incredible power to nurture and sustain. It is the representation of the way that women bear God’s image in our unique ability to create life and bring something new into the world that has never been before. (For more on this, see my post “Created #LikedAGirl”) Rather than God commanding the Israelites to abhor women’s menstruation, I think God is commanding a reverence for blood that is sacred. God is the one that brings life into the world, and menstrual blood is evidence of the power and value of life. Women were to be set apart during their periods because something special was taking place as their bodies mirrored God’s image.
As Satan is threatened by women and the way they are like God, I think he is behind our struggle to view menstruation positively. He wins when we are angry and annoyed at the way in which God has set us apart. Think about how many women loath their periods, how many times women say out loud, “I hate my period.” When we are ashamed and embarrassed about our bodies in this way, we are experiencing shame over God’s image within us. Take some time to reread Luke 8:40-48 and watch how Jesus does not withdraw or rebuke the woman with the flow of blood who touches Him (making Him and anyone that she touched in the crowd unclean), but heals her and publicly restores her to community. The Lord draws near to His daughters, equipping us to handle the hard aspects of reproduction and blessing us with His creativity. Let’s stop believing the lie that we are gross and rejected, and encourage one another to believe the truth that we are called and loved. For both men and women, let’s affirm the sacred gift that God has placed inside women’s bodies, and rejoice in the beauty and power of life.