Myth of the Mean Girl: Living without Masks

I recently had a couple of conversations with a man about relationships between women. In one conversation he talked about his young daughter and her best friend and their love/hate relationship with one another, and in the other he mentioned the ever complex friendships between his wife and her friends. In both conversations he eventually ended his observations with a hopeless sounding statement of, “But you know, girls will be girls.”

He was talking about women hurting one another other with words and actions, about spending unhealthy amounts of time together until we blow up at one another, about betrayal and competition and unforgiveness. He’s bought into the myth of the Mean Girl. Our culture is built upon the idea that women are “Bridezillas” and “Real Housewives”, that we are “Gossip Girls” and “16 and Pregnant”, or that we are participants on “The Bachelor”, competing with one another for the attention and affection of a man. Young girls today watch tv and are taught to treat one another as competition at best and mortal enemies at worst. Girls believe this is how women are to behave, and so that is how they behave.

I used to believe the myth, too. Even in the church, all I had really seen was gossipy competition and hurt feelings, with excuses ranging from hormones to home life, but never hearing that there was another option for how women could behave.

But then I spent some time in a little town called Wake Forest (my parents kindly refer to it as the “seminary bubble”), surrounded by people who, for the most part, were genuinely pursuing Christ and desperately seeking to serve Him and be conformed to His image. There, I found a group of women who were more interested in pleasing God than pleasing one another, who were seeking Christ more than a husband, and who desired to learn from one another more than they desired to prove they were better than everyone else.

Does that mean we were without drama? Of course not! I distinctly remember one tear-filled confrontation between myself and two friends that ended in my throwing a pencil at one of them. I cried on a professor when she compared me to another student and I defiantly declared that I was NOT that person and then intentionally completed a project the way I wanted to, just to drive the point home. We had hopeless crushes on indecisive men and sometimes responded to the corresponding broken hearts with a frustrated “I told you so”. I was jealous when I friend was chosen for a position over me, and had many snarky conversations about “those girls”; the cute, and therefore shallow, ones that we were convinced were not “serious students” like us because they only came to seminary to land a husband. Sometimes, girls will be girls.

But there was a distinct difference in that time of life compared to previous times, and I have tried to carry it with me since I left that precious circle of friends. The difference is that, when we walked in the flesh and hurt one another’s feelings, we didn’t just move on with life, piling offense upon offense. We faced the moment and faced it together. We sought the wisdom of Scripture, we confessed our sins and shortcomings, we asked for forgiveness, we prayed together. Then we worked to walk together in the Spirit. We studied the Word together. We confronted weaknesses in our friends’ lives before they became strongholds of sin. We opened ourselves up to humble and transparent examination and offered the same to one another.We lived for a season without masks, and it was life changing. No one had it all together, and no one expected anyone else to have it all together. In fact, we called you out on it if you started acting like you did!

In short, we lived lives of discipleship together. We desired to be more like Christ and we expected our friends to help us along in that journey, not hold us back from our goal. The Christian walk is the only race in which every person who crosses the finish line is a “winner” and in turn, makes every other finisher that much more victorious. We are “more than conquerors” because we are not competing against our fellow runners; we’re all on the same team!

So will girls be girls? Yes, as long as we believe the lie of the world that we are competition for one another and as long as we hold one another back, pursuing goals of our flesh and our pride, devouring one another with our words and deeds. But if we will commit to humble discipleship, to encouraging one another, if we will transparently walk alongside one another and bear one another’s burdens as teammates and not enemies, then the type of girls we become will be more like Christ and not like the world.

Women don’t have to “be girls”. We can be like Jesus.

How have you fought to overcome the “myth of the mean girls”? How does your circle of friends lift one another up instead of tearing one another down? Can women walk in the Spirit together, in grace and Truth, or will girls be girls?

The Redeeming Qualities of Edward Cullen

When I taught a middle school girls Sunday school class, we used to play what I referred to as the Good/Bad Game. I would describe something, usually a common situation taken to an extreme, and then identify what was good and what was bad. By taking a situation to its logical end and setting things in black and white terms of good and bad, it helps us make decisions in the all-too-common gray areas of life. It was an exercise intended to help them guard the intentions of their heart so they would learn to keep good things good by keeping them ordered correctly in their lives. It also was good to teach them how to find the redeeming qualities from any part of life; sort of a practical separation of the wheat from the chaff. It is a good thing to do because it keeps us from being blinded by the shortcomings of the things we like and prevents us from overlooking the good in the things we dislike.

I bring up the Good/Bad Game because I have been informed by some of my friends that I demonized poor Edward Cullen by only warning of the extreme danger instead of teaching girls how to enjoy this fictional saga in a right manner. In light of that accurate and constructive criticism, I offer to my readers the Twilight version of the Good/Bad Game.

If you enjoy reading Twilight because you enjoy creativity and good story line and you enjoy being transported to a different world for a time, that’s GOOD.
If you enjoy reading Twilight because it is an escape from reality and you wish it was your reality, that’s BAD.

If you’ve read it more than once because you missed some good details the first time, that’s GOOD.
If you’ve read it more than 5 times and have memorized large chucks to use as a comparison to all the men you date or because you can’t go to sleep at night without reading it, that’s BAD.

If you look for a boyfriend like Edward because he steadfastly protected Bella’s honor and refused to have a heavily sexualized relationship until after they were married, that’s GOOD.
If you look for a boyfriend like Edward because you want to find someone who so completes your soul that you would rather die than live without them, that’s BAD.

If you wish your husband was a little more like Edward because Edward had moments of endearing and self-sacrificial love, that’s GOOD.
If you wish your husband was a little more like Edward because Edward was willing to sacrifice even common sense and Bella’s health and well-being to ensure her happiness, that’s BAD.

If you think Edward demonstrated love toward Bella because he protected her from harm, that’s GOOD.
If you think Edward demonstrated love toward Bella by controlling what she wore and who she hung out with and where she went, that’s BAD.

If you love Edward because he met Bella’s physical needs and spoiled her a little to show his love for his lady, that’s GOOD.
If you love Edward because he sits in her room all night and stares at her while she sleeps, that’s BAD.

If you find yourself thinking that you are worthy of being treated well by a man and won’t settle for less because you appreciated Edward’s love and respect for his “normal” lady, that’s GOOD.
If you find yourself rejecting every guy who tries to pursue you because he just isn’t as perfect as Edward, that’s BAD.

If you’re really excited about going to see New Moon because it’s a night out with your girl friends who also enjoy the books and the movies, that’s GOOD.
If you’re really excited about going to see New Moon because all of your fantasies will finally be put to live action on screen, that’s BAD.

If you wish your husband would get into shape because he has a history of heart disease and diabetes in his family, that’s GOOD.
If you wish your husband would get into shape because he’s just not as yummy and hot as Edward (or Jacob, depending on which Team you’re on), that’s BAD.

If you recognize Edward as a type of Savior character and appreciate that a character like that should point us to our true Savior and make you thankful for his unconditional love and sacrifice for His bride, that’s GOOD.
If you recognize Edward as a type of Savior character and go out seeking a man to save you the same way, that’s BAD.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. And 95% of the people I know who enjoy the Twilight series are 99.99% in the GOOD on this game. My worry is for the 5% who miss the One to whom a character like Edward should point us. I stated in a previous post that stories like the one of Bella and Edward appeal to the hearts of women because we are created with a desire to be saved, and, deep down, we all recognize our need for a Savior.

So if you are one of those mature, grounded, believing women who enjoys Twilight for all the right reasons, take the opportunity to be a mentor to some younger ladies. Go with some girls in your youth group to see New Moon (again, by now, since it’s been out 48 hours—you know they’re all gonna go see it more than once) and then go out for coffee or ice cream and talk with them about that they like about it and why they enjoy it and what they can get out of it for their own lives and loves. Take the chance to engage their brains instead of allowing them to think they are passively enjoying “brain candy”. Don’t be naïve to think any of us take in entertainment and remain neutral to it; anything we passively take into our minds shapes our perceptions and outlooks on life.

Go forth, enjoy Edward (or Jacob) for all the right reasons, and guard your hearts against loving them for all the wrong ones.

Tony Dungy is my Hero

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who hare spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3, ESV

I watched the press conference yesterday morning in which the Philadelphia Eagles formally announced their signing of Michael Vick. There has been great public outrage since word leaked Thursday night that the Eagles had signed him to a two year deal. One person in Philadelphia wondered aloud on a radio program why Vick had not been executed for his role in a dogfighting ring. The fact that, as a society, we are more outraged at dog fighting than we are of child molestation or spousal abuse is outrageous to me, but that’s another subject for another time. What impressed me during this press conference was Michael Vick’s mentor and adviser, former NFL coach Tony Dungy. Coach Dungy is an outspoken Christian. In fact, one of the reasons cited for his decision to leave coaching was the fact that he wanted to have more time to contribute to the lives of young men who needed guidance and direction. He left a multi-million dollar job to pursue the work of mentor ministry.

The Eagles have been blasted in the media for giving a second chance to Vick when he hasn’t proven that he deserves one. Last time I checked, that’s why we called a “chance” and not a “guarantee.” Michael Vick doesn’t deserve a second chance. None of us do. But Coach Dungy didn’t provide Michael with a second chance, he extended to him the grace of Christ. He didn’t sit at his home in Tampa and pray that Vick would contact him. He went to Leavenworth and extended grace to him where he was. Grace doesn’t say, “There’s help available to you after you do this list of things to prove you deserve it.” Grace says, “You don’t deserve it, but I’m giving it to you anyway.” What Vick does with the grace extended to him is ultimately up to him. What we do with the grace extended to us by God is up to us.

I understand the world’s reaction to Vick; those in PETA who have set animal life as their idol have no concept of the grace and mercy of Christ to work in and change the life of a person. What I don’t understand are those who claim to be Christians who join in the verbal lynching of a man who has done what he can in the limited amount of time given to him to show himself to be broken and contrite. What he has done to “deserve a second chance” is that he has been willing to confess his sins, apologize for them, humbly speak out against them, and then allow a mentor to walk through life with him. I don’t know too many of us average joes who will allow someone to truly mentor us, for to be mentored you must first admit you don’t know it all and second, submit to the guidance of another.

Part of the problem with the prison system in America is that it is not truly designed to rehabilitate offenders. It’s used to mark them with the Scarlet Letter of “Felon” and then, as a pridefully blind society, we force them to carry that stigma for the rest of their lives. If you tell someone they’re nothing but a worthless ex-con enough times, they will believe you. Coach Dungy has set an example for his fellow Christians of how we should respond to those who have paid their debt to society and need to be brought back into society with the goal of making them productive members of society.

Mentoring takes time, it takes wisdom, it takes commitment. But it’s a command of Scripture that applies to the lowest of criminals, to the most famous of criminals and to everyone in between. After all, Scripture tells us that if you are guilty of breaking one law, you’ve broken them all in the eyes of God, so none of us is really aren’t any better than the dog abuser, the child molester, the thief, or the murderer. Before Christ, we are all criminals in the eyes of God, and we all need a mentor to guide us through this life.

Put in the wrong circumstances at the wrong time with the wrong people, I’m sure I would be capable of anything. May I never think so highly of myself to look upon anyone caught in sin and say, “That would never be me.” Such a self-righteous attitude is the first step down the slippery slope to entanglement in atrocious sin. I know. I’ve been there before, and it took someone willing to walk with me back up the dirty slope to get me out. And if, God forbid, there is another lesson I must learn in this life that must begin in the pit, I pray there is a Tony Dungy standing there who is willing to walk that road alongside me.