Are you Jo, Meg, Amy or Beth?

It is a natural response after watching Oscar-nominated drama Little Women to ask the question: “Which of the four March sisters am I most like?”

In fact, director Greta Gerwig expressed in an interview recently that she asked the same question while making the film.

Jo is strong, able to say “No”, extremely loyal to those she loves and honest in her relationships.

My three daughters and I couldn’t help but do the same when we watched the film last week.

In the same way that most women I know desperately want to identify with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, they want to identify with Josephine March in Little Women.

Jo is strong, able to say “No”, extremely loyal to those she loves and honest in her relationships. She is a writer who enters a male-dominated profession and finally achieves her dream of having her book published. Played in the new film by Saoirse Ronan, she even bravely negotiates a fair deal from her editor.

I have long thought that Christian ministry is better suited to the Josephines and Elizabeths of this world. Sustaining the demands of a needy church family and, possibly, a husband and children is draining. It requires strength to serve and an ability to say “No”, even to negotiate as Jo does.

But I am not made of such public strength.

There is a pivotal moment in Gerwig’s acclaimed version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic book. Beth March, the quiet introverted sister of a boisterous collective of four daughters, goes to visit a needy migrant family, the Hummels. The other sisters are busy and their mother away, so it falls to faithful Beth to continue helping the needy family. She brings a morsel of food to the mother and is handed a screaming sick baby. Beth is ably played by Australian actress Eliza Scanlen and the look on her face at this moment of great vulnerability – when she is handed an armful of vulnerability – is a heartbreaker.  And the scarlet fever Beth contracts from that moment alters the direction of her life.

The same scene was powerfully depicted in Australian director Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version of Little Women. Claire Danes’ quivering lip and terrified eyes portray Beth’s vulnerability so well too.

This snapshot of Beth is also the best visual depiction of my hard days of ministry.

I am Beth March. And I am vulnerable when you hand me an armful of your vulnerable.

It is an oversimplification of Alcott’s story to say that Josephine March is the “strong one” – for the beauty of her story is to show how the four very different daughters and also their mother, “Marmee” and house helper, Hannah, are all strong in their own way.

I am Beth March. And, in Christ, I am strong.

Alcott’s March family are a family of Christian faith, and they remind me of the famous Corinthian passage where Paul uses the metaphor of a body to explain our differences and yet unity in the church.

“… Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty while our perishable parts need no special treatment.”

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26)

So, I will cease thinking that I have to be Jo, though it is wise to learn to know my limits and to be able to say “No” so I am not overburdened by needy people.

And I will take confidence from that other encouragement of Paul: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I am Beth March. And, in Christ, I am strong.

Kirsty Kurilowicz is married to Ariel. They have four children. Kirsty was a “ministry wife” for 19 years, as Ariel worked in Anglican ministry in Melbourne and pastoral church ministry in Sydney. They are currently active members of Grace Church, Bega.

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