Rites of Passage (And Thoughts on Becoming a Woman)

Posted on January 21, 2014

At the onset of young girls’ menstrual cycle, the Luiseño Indians of Southern California would announce to the community the beginning of an initiation rites ceremony known as weghenish. This ceremony was designed to mark their transition into womanhood. During weghenish, the girls were placed in a communal circle with heated rocks laid on their stomachs. The elder women of the tribe gathered around to share what it meant to be a good woman, of which included giving to the poor and needy.

Similar ceremonies happen in other cultures. For young Jewish girls it is their Bat Mitvah. And in Latin communities, Hispanic adolescent girls celebrate their becoming a woman through a Quinceañera. In our American culture we have many moments that can be defined as rites of passage. Marriage would be one of those defining moments. It was during my first marriage when I realized how far removed I was from womanhood.

By Northeast-American standards I was a young bride, married at the age of 25. At the time of my wedding none of my close female relatives were married, which meant I had very little example on how to navigate my new role as a wife. Making things worse, I came with a ton of baggage: I watched my parents go through a tumultuous divorce; I experienced varying forms of abuse and abandonment at the hands of people who were expected to love me; and I carried a know-it-all-independent woman attitude I developed to protect myself from being hurt at the hands of men. I didn’t have a clue what it meant to be a wife, much less a woman.

The first year of marriage was like entering a civil war zone every time we crossed the threshold of our tiny one bedroom condo. We argued, we stone walled and we became very good at treating each other more like enemies than husband and wife. On the outside I looked like the perfect spouse. I kept a clean home and cooked meals every evening. I was industrious in that I pursued my career with diligence. I was trying to do the best I could, working with the little I knew. We both were, honestly. But, when it came to the emotional stewarding of my former husband’s heart I failed miserably.

There were times that I was flat out disrespectful to my former spouse. And there were several moments I lorded my past over him, expecting him to fill voids that only God could. I was insecure, broken and filled with rage trying to overcompensate for my inadequacies. So, I watched my marriage burn to the ground. As much as I tried I couldn’t smother the flames. I could say a lot regarding my ex-husband’s role in setting our matrimony ablaze. But, I’ve realized that my victim mentality, was the very thing that kept me from growing up and it was the very thing that would become collateral damage in my subsequent relationship after my marriage.

Yes, I started life at a disadvantage and the things that happened to me were unfortunate.  I experienced a lot of pain at the hands of people I thought could love me. Each heart break and moment of abuse crippled me. But, in order for me to become a woman–the kind of woman God intends–I had to stop using my past as a crutch.

Becoming a woman wasn’t marked by the first time I got my period, or when my body began developing. It wasn’t when I went to college, earned degrees and climbed up the corporate ladder. My womanhood wasn’t defined by wearing makeup and putting on fancy clothes. I didn’t become a woman when I began exploring physical intimacy with men, when I got married or heard the quiet ticking of my biological clock.

None of those things made me a woman. I had to mature emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

The day I became a woman was the day I stopped making excuses for my inadequacies. I learned that being a woman is being a person who can healthily and graciously let go of things out of my control. Becoming a woman meant humbling myself enough to apologize when wrong and ask for forgiveness. It meant making peace as much as I can while forgiving relentlessly. Becoming a woman meant no longer playing the role of victim and being a victor over things that could have killed me. It meant adjusting my baggage and carrying it with a sense of pride rather than shame. Walking into womanhood meant giving more love than I take. It meant serving God and His children with humility. Being a woman meant being held accountable to those more mature than me. And it meant that I gratefully accepted God’s correction as another form of His blessings.

I became a woman the day I learned to face myself, love myself and accept myself.

I’m embarrassed to say that this has been a recent transition. I know I still have much further to go. I know I will always be a work in progress. But, I’m grateful I’ve finally gotten here and that becoming a woman, entering a life filled with wholeness, is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

Now it’s your turn: When was the day you realized you became a woman or man?

Tell me in the comments section below. I love hearing from each of you.

6 Replies to "Rites of Passage (And Thoughts on Becoming a Woman)"

  • Aminata Steele
    January 21, 2014 (5:07 pm)

    So beautifully written, Shakirah. I, too, became a woman when I decided to no longer let my circumstances or past define me; and, instead, started to define my circumstances. There is no rule book for this life thing, so the painful experiences have allowed me to both reflect on what I could have done differently (if anything at all)–and, as a result, make better decisions moving forward. Still, I am awfully thankful for those experiences because they make me value the lesson(s) learned, and serve as the foundation of my gratitude. I’m still here, I’m still learning, I persevered and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Perspective keeps me grounded; prayer keeps me focused. God bless you for sharing this, too. You will certainly touch many others. 🙂

    • Shakirah Adianna
      January 21, 2014 (6:20 pm)

      Hi Aminata,

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences. I know transparency is a vulnerable thing, so I don’t take it lightly that you’ve opened up here. You’re absolutely right, life doesn’t have a rule book. And the best perspective is one of gratitude. One of my favorite bible verses is Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”

      Living in a fallen world means we will experience pain, but as we continue clinging to God, His goodness and love He will use every circumstance and work it to make us more like His son. That’s a beautiful thing.

      Keep growing!

  • Sherri
    January 21, 2014 (11:45 pm)

    Whew, Powerful stuff. As always I feel like you are harder on yourself than you should be.Still I understand and relate to the loving and accepting oneself. I must say, you may not always feel like it but I am proud of the dignity with which you’ve handled all that has been placed before you. I know many young women will profit from your transparency and journey. Love you. Keep up the good work.

    • Shakirah Adianna
      January 22, 2014 (9:18 am)

      Hi Sherri,

      Thanks for reading. What’s funny is I had a thought you would say exactly what you said in your comment.

      There’s definitely a fine balance between not condemning yourself, but also holding yourself accountable. And that’s where I’ve learned to walk. There are times when I can be hard on myself but I had to accept the hard lessons and as a result embrace becoming a better disciple for Christ, daughter, sister, friend and one day partner.

      Thank you for your comment and support.


  • D
    January 28, 2014 (7:34 am)

    After reding such great insight I always love how you flip it back to us, now it’s our turn. Based on your own personal definition of becoming a woman, I can whole heartedly say… I’m not quite there yet. However, the description you used helped bring to words what this process should look like. But I’ve accepted the challenge that it’s a process. The word passage is defined as movement from one place to another. I love this because it means that the passage to womanhood is fluid, always changing… That means I know I’ll never be perfect, but it means I’ll have something to strive for each and everyday.

    • Shakirah Adianna
      January 28, 2014 (11:16 am)

      Hi Danielle,

      Never you fret. We’re always going to be growing and maturing. This is why the bible says we go from glory to glory. That’s a beautiful depiction of what it means to see your growth as a passage rather than a static moment.