Friday, August 12, 2011

for the girls. (and it's a doozy.)

(Publication note: Since I wrote this post on Wednesday, social media has really gone crazy over this entire issue, in part because of Rachel Held Evan's response here. I seriously considered not publishing my own response due to the rather controversial nature of the discussion -- and the semi-nasty comments people seem really keen on throwing around. I asked myself if my words were grace-filled and intent on healing. I edited, and edited some more. I sought advice from those I consider wise. And I thought about the girls I know. And I hit publish.)

 Kiss me, kiss me/Infect me with your love and/Fill me with your poison/Take me, take me/
Wanna be a victim/Ready for abduction.

- Katy Perry, “Extraterrestrial”

Guys, you know I love Donald Miller, right?

Because I do. I really, really do. Blue Like Jazz rocked my world, and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years changed my life.

But if I hear one more man telling a woman how to live her life of singlehood, I am going to scream, not because men don’t really know a woman’s heart and therefore their advice is inherently bad, but because the advice they so often offer isn’t constructive. Instead, it’s contributing to diminished self-worth and increased insecurity.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a (somewhat brief) recap.

Last week, Donald Miller posted a two-part series about living a great love story on his blog. Since One Million Miles, Miller has devoted a lot of time and effort into this idea of living our lives like a story; it’s a concept I really appreciate and value. And, since becoming engaged a couple of months ago, Miller has also begun to turn his attention to dating and marriage, writing a few posts on the subject. It makes sense to me that he’d combine the two.

But just a few paragraphs into Miller’s first post in the series, “How to live a Great Love Story, Vol. 1 (For the Girls),” I was a little turned-off. I stopped reading. It’s not that what I had read was super offensive; I just felt like it didn’t really apply to me anymore. I’m married. The dating phase of my life is over. I’m moving on.

So I stopped reading, ignored part II, and went about my merry way.

Then my Twitter account kind of blew up with responses to his posts.

Apparently, people were ticked.

I went back and re-read, and honestly? I could see why some people were upset.

Here’s the thing: Lately, I’ve come across a lot of broken Christian women.

It’s nothing new, I know.

I taught and mentored teenage girls for three years — and have successfully been a girl for a little over 25 years — so I know: the soul of a girl is a fragile thing.

But now that I’m meeting women well into their 20s and older who are still hurting, confused, and insecure, I’m realizing yet again how much we (the church, society, you name it) are failing our girls.

Absolutely failing.

Maybe that’s why, according to a recent study by the Barna Group, so many women have stopped going to church.

Maybe we’ve hurt them so badly that the damage can’t be undone, and instead of fleeing to, they are fleeing from churches in droves, because deep down, they know: This is not how it’s supposed to be.

In his post directed to girls, Donald Miller writes that there are five principles to a good love story:

Boy meets girl.

Boy falls in love with girl.

Girl is a bit hesitant knowing her heart is tender and could get hurt.

Boy proves himself strong enough to handle and defend her heart.

Girl trusts boy and they live happily ever after.


If you’re a boy, you’re probably thinking, yep. Sounds about right.

If you’re a girl, maybe you’re thinking, wait… what?

Look, I’ve read the books. (I’ve also chucked some across the room — that means you, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.) I know that as a woman, I was not created to pursue man. (Although, can I just say for a quick minute: Isn’t that exactly what Ruth did? Okay. Moving on.) Instead, I was designed to be pursued.


But here’s where I think I lose a lot of Christian writers (male and female, by the way): What’s a girl supposed to do while she’s out “not pursuing” a man?

If Miller and other writers are correct, a girl is supposed to wait and trust until she finds the boy that’s “strong enough to handle and defend her heart.” In other words, the role she plays in her love story is almost entirely passive.

There are a lot of problems with that ideology, but here’s one: No man is strong enough to handle and defend your heart.

Almost a year ago, I taught a class on dating to the high school girls at my church. It was a really humbling, awesome experience. Looking back, I wish I’d been able to say more, because, guess what? Girls are getting the wrong message.

They’re being taught — sadly, if they’re being taught anything about dating at all — that somewhere out there is a man who can guard and protect their heart. (Sidenote: Is anyone else having flashbacks to Kasey from Ali’s season of the Bachelorette? Just me? Okay.)

I’ll tell you what I told the teenage girls at my church: No one can protect your heart but you and the God who created you.

Unfortunately, I don’t really think Christian pastors, authors, and teachers stop with that one misguided principle.

In his post, Miller goes on to offer a few suggestions for what women can do to live a great love story. They’re not groundbreaking principles; in fact, they’re mostly recommendations I’ve heard before. Things like “don’t hook up,” “make him work for it,” and “weed them out.”

I understand that women — and men, for that matter — should be reminded of the principles of purity, that promoting abstinence is a way of telling girls that their bodies are important and valuable, worthy of protection. The problem is that this is about the extent of what we (the church, in particular) tell our girls about sex and relationships. If they can just protect their physical bodies, they’ll be fine. Their hearts will be safe. I hope you’re shaking your heads right now, because surely you know: Intimacy can be had outside of sex. My heart breaks for girls — and their parents! — who think their girls are safe from bad men simply because they haven’t gone to bed with them. Meanwhile, they’ve given their hearts away. They’ve talked intimately about marriage and shared their deepest secrets. Without giving away their bodies, they’ve given away their souls.

What it boils down to, I think, is a woman’s self-worth, and I know plenty of virgin Christian women who have a self-worth of about zero.

Girls are being taught — by society, Disney movies, church — that their role in a love story is inactive and submissive, that we’re all supposed to behave like Rapunzel, waiting for just the right guy before we can let down our hair. Unlike so many of our Biblical counterparts, we’re told to wait, to sit back and have faith that our happy ending will come true. In the meantime, up in our castles, we should, according to Miller, “be willing to suffer.”

Miller writes, “What this means for you is that your love story needs to have a lot of lonely crying in it. Believe it or not, there will come a day when a man will fall madly in love with you, and you will have the honor of sitting down with him one special night to explain that, while you weren’t perfect, you turned down plenty of guys and cried yourself to sleep hoping somebody would come around and treat you with respect. He will be honored by this, and he will love you and feel humbled. If he doesn’t have the same story, he will feel intensely convicted and unworthy. You’ll really be giving him the foundation he needs to love your heart.”

I feel like I know guys pretty well. I have a husband, and I have a brother. I’ve got a great dad and a slew of uncles. In college, I had quite a few “guy friends.” In all of my conversations with them — and I feel like I’ve had some good ones — not one of them asked me if I’d ever cried myself to sleep over a guy. (The answer, by the way, would have been no.)

My parents did not raise me to cry over disrespectful, “unworthy” men.

They raised me to have more self-worth than that.

Did a guy ever hurt my feelings? You bet. Did a guy ever say things that haunted me for days that followed? Sure.

But this idea that in order to have a decent love story, you’ve got to suffer? You’ve got to let your heart be dragged through the mud, beaten up by men who don’t respect or care about your well-being?

I just don’t think it’s true.

And, as my husband reminded me, most girls don’t need to be told to cry themselves to sleep at night. Many of them already do. They’re lonely, and their hearts are aching, and the last message they should be hearing is one that condones the heartbreak. One that tells them their hearts might need to be torn in two just a few more times before it’s finally ready for “the one” who will make it all go away.

Girls instead need to be reminded of the strength they possess through the Father. In their singlehood — and, for that matter, in their marriages — women are capable of greatness. But in their admonitions to wait, evangelical leaders fail to mention that women can and should be pursuing their own adventures. Rarely is there talk of mission work, of prayer, of surrounding yourself with like-minded, loving friends, of experiencing nature and finding God in the quiet. Meanwhile, I think men are often encouraged to pursue these things prior to marriage. Can’t girls have that same luxury?

Traditional, societal feminism often teaches that women can do it all on their own, while modern evangelical thought tells us that women can’t do much without a man (and, in fairness, that man can’t do much without woman. The two are incomplete without each other, a thought in complete conflict with the oft-misquoted I Corinthians 7). The idea behind Christian feminism, I think, is that women simply cannot do it alone, but it is not man that fulfills. It is Christ.

This is why our girls are confused. We’ve got a feminist society that tells our girls to be strong and bold and brave, all while Katy Perry is singing on the radio about wanting to be a “victim” of some kind of alien love. (Have you ever listened to what’s on the radio? Really listened? No wonder our girls are broken. The world isn’t doing any better job of raising our daughters than the church is.)

We tell our girls we want them to grow up to be creative, loving, kind, courageous individuals, but we suck the individuality right out of them. We tell them we want them to go do great things, but then we tell them if they want a husband, they better just wait patiently. We want them to be strong, but at the same time, hey, not too strong, because that’s intimidating. But, wait a second, not so weak, because then men will just treat you like a victim.

My heart is heavy over the number of women I know who have bought into these lies, and the number of little girls who are destined to follow suit.

This love story that Miller and others describe doesn’t sound that great to me. It doesn’t give the strong, bold, beautiful girls I know anything to do. It locks them up in their castles, journaling and crying until their prince shows up at the window, ready to save them.

It leaves the girls I know and love with a low self-worth, with the belief that they’ve just got to sit, suffer, and wait until their life can really begin.

One day, if Jordan and I ever have a little girl, I want her to know that she is so much more than a victim. More than a princess. More than a future wife and mother.

She is beautiful proof of an all-knowing and loving Creator, designed for her own separate and unique purpose.

And if she gets to live an earthly love story with a righteous man? Well, that will just be icing on the cake.

 {photo by Darcy Hemley}


Laken said...

I agree with this post on so many levels, but I won't take up comment space to name them all off.

I'm glad you decided to go ahead with this post because I think it's something that really needed to be said and you're one of the best people I know to say it.

You're truly a great writer, Annie and I felt thankful that I get to read your words all of the time. When the day comes that your book gets published, I'll be there with bells on :)

Staley Mc said...

I totally agree with you Annie. As a single Christian woman, I really feel like a lot of Christian writers just don't get it! I haven't read the Donald Miller post but I have a feeling I would get angry.

I'm glad you ended up posting this, it is a beautifully written post.

Alyss said...

I almost wish I would have read Donald Miller's posts before reading this. I'm going to go read them now though!

I agree wholeheartedly with your opinions on what's wrong with how Christian single women are often viewed by Christian authors, small group leaders, pastors, etc.

Beautifully written and I'm glad you posted!

AbbieBabble said...

I've read this twice now, first on Wednesday and and again right now, and all I can say is: amen, sister. (And I normally hate that phrase.)

monster cakes said...

I was shocked to find myself tearing up while reading this. Then I realized that this is one of the first and only times I've read something on this topic that I agreed with. Something I always feel like shouting from the mountain tops. And the fact that this message isn't already being shouted by mentors, churches, and parents everywhere? That saddens me. Kudos to you for not just being brave enough to speak the truth, but for finding the truth by fixing your eyes on Christ and not on what others say. Oh dear Annie, now I'm going to have to write you a long e-mail. ; ) Thank you for this. Truly, thank you. I want all my girlfriends to read this.

chet said...

*~*~IsN't KaTy PeRrY So AwEsOmE?!?!*~*~

katie said...

please tell me you have a book proposal in the works on this subject - you know exactly what to say and how to say it. brava, annie!

Cheryl said...

At 38, I haven't regularly gone to church in years. Recently, I have begun to understand why; as I read Don's post, and your reponse, my feelings about being a woman in the church have begun to crystallize. I always felt like I didn't quite fit in to the church mold of what a woman is supposed to be and do, and it both saddens and encourages me (strangely, both)to find out that I am not alone in this feeling.

I have begun to pray that God would raise up a generation of his daughters to fully claim their citizenship, and break out of the bonds that this world, and the church, would keep us in.

Betsy said...

Annie, this is a truly beautiful response. Completely grace-filled yet completely honest at the same time. One that builds up, not tears down. And one that I will be sharing with friends and family. Thank you for posting it. :)

Annie said...

I read the first part of Donald Miller's series, and even retweeted it. And I don't want to sound defensive about why I did, but I do want to explain myself, because it correlates with what I have to say about what you wrote.

When I read his post, I liked it because I think he's got the right idea, for the most part. I did not, ashamedly, stop to pick it apart. As you say, there is no man strong enough to handle our hearts. But I think what I liked there was the idea that for most of us, God has a plan to bring us a man who will cherish it tenderly. Does that mean he will always do right by it? No, but I think it means he will do his best to do right by it, as much as he possibly can, as much as He lets Christ give him the strength to do so.

Also, in regards to Miller's idea of suffering, I like what you've said. I think I saw the word have there not as an obligation to suffer, but as something that was generally going to happen. Have I cried over the boys who have broken my heart? No. Do I think girls should? No. But we will find ourselves lonely, perhaps, before we meet "the one"? Yes. Ought we to comfort ourselves with the fact that we'll meet "the one" someday? No. We ought instead to flee to Christ, to let Him banish the illusion of loneliness that haunts us because we aren't in a relationship.

I think, too, that we are often misled by the idea of a love story in general. I think it serves to make us girls think more of ourselves instead of others. You're right - the modern day love story the church seeks to promote is one that doesn't encourage girls to look outward. It encourages them - us - to look inward. And we become powerless, self-pitying creatures, rather than the strong, Christ-warrior women we were meant to be.

I actually just read a post written by the tiny twig about looking outward. I don't know if you read her blog or not, but either way, I think you'll consider it worth the read. It's short but compelling.

Megan Elizabeth said...

The link that you hooked up to his post doesn't work :/ but I'll be looking for it when I'm done here!
First off, Annie you're an incredible writer! And there are -0 other women (on this post alone) who agree with me.
Second, I really enjoyed your post. I wouldn't for a second consider myself a dating expert, but I do feel like I've got some notches in my belt.
I feel really strongly about 'love and marriage' in today's society especially Christ followers. Women (like you said) are so bombarded by the secular world to be the 'I am woman hear me roar' girl, where as the Bible tells us (whether we like it or not) to be dependent on our hubby's. But what about the single girls, and how do we married women find a happy medium? Thanks for the great post and encouragement, and to get my brain goin :) have a great weekend!

jenna said...

I wholeheartedly wish you were in Huntsville to work with me and my girls at Mayfair. You are right. We are failing out girls. I want to be a part of the solution. And I wish I had your help! Since you aren't here, I will just have to continually reference your blog. :) Love you!

Cheryl said...

Megan Elizabeth, I do not agree with you when you say "...the Bible tells us (whether we like it or not) to be dependent on our hubby's." I don't think there is anything in the Bible that tells us that we must be dependant upon our husbands. My salvation comes from Christ alone, not my husband, and my spiritual growth comes from seeking Christ. While the Bible does say we must submit to our husbands, that is a long way from being dependant upon them. This is a perfect example of the church (sometimes) training girls in passivity.

Jilliebeanie said...

Absolutely brilliant!

Julianne said...

So glad you decided to write this Annie! It's something that needs to be talked about and that girls need to hear. So... when does your book come out? :)

Kate said...

That was, indeed, a doozy, but it was a good one! Thanks for sharing that. It was something I needed to hear!

Sabrina said...

Since I do not read much by Donald Miller I will not say much about this. I guess I will just say that Christian authors are just flawed people like me....who have a gift for writing. I personally am getting so much more grounded guidance and lasting reminders about my faith journey by re-reading my Bible than by any book/blog/note that is being published on Biblical topics. Though these can be and are helpful, in the end they miss the mark just as often as they hit it in my opinion.

Olivia Clark said...

Amy was a fighter! :-)

Erin said...

Beautiful Annie! What a gift you have. Grace laced wisdom. the teaching of kindness on your tongue.
I came over via your link in the comment section a EE's. I am now going to follow your blog.
You made so much sense of this whole mess here. I am SO grateful that you are actively mentoring young women. We need you.