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?

“Superwoman Syndrome” in the world

In my last post, I wrote about my own tendency to bow down toward my idols of self-sufficiency and mini-Messiahship. This week posted an article about the impact of the “superwoman syndrome” on today’s women.

As women, we are beginning to recognize that abandoning family to chase after the American feminist ideal leaves us with an unfulfilled God-given desire. However, in this arena we are doing the same thing we do in other parts of our lives– we want it all. We want to fulfill our God-given desire for family life and motherhood AND have the full time job and maintain the lifestyle to which we have grown accustomed. Trying to do it our way and God’s way leaves us exhausted. Feeling as though everyone else expects us to do it all leaves us feeling hopeless.

This article highlights the stories of a few women who met their need to do it all through medicinal assistance; none of them had medical reasons to take the medication they took and they admit it was generally for an extra “boost” to get done all they thought they had to do.

This article brings me back to a question I have struggled with myself; when your To-Do list requires you to take medication in order to get it done, is your To-Do list God-imposed or self-imposed? I’m not talking about medication required to cope with trauma or those who have chemical imbalances that require medicine while learning coping skills. I’m talking about taking medication to give you the extra “boost” needed to get done what you want to, not just what’s required.

How do we as women in 21st century America know when we have crossed the line from using the blessing of God’s general revelation found in medicine to help us better serve Him, to abusing it by using it to enable our worship at the alters of busyness and self-sufficiency?

Singleness Wears Steel-Toed Boots

When I arrived in Raleigh Sunday night, it was after 20 hours of travel over 4,000 miles, an ocean, and two continents. Those who know me well understand that when I am tired I tend to revert to my toddler self: weepy temper tantrums are not rare when I am fatigued. So I was not surprised when I arrived in baggage claim and was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to plop down on the floor, throw my backpack, and cry.

What did surprise me, however, was my physical, emotional, and spiritual response to seeing that the baggage claim was full of the wives, children, mothers and fathers of some of my team members. There was an instantaneous feeling like I had literally kicked in the stomach– the physical side effect of loneliness. My first, self-pitying thought was, “Singleness not only kicks you when you’re down, it wears steel-toed boots.” Aloneness is never more glaringly obvious than when you realize that you have no one to go home to.

When I lived in Chattanooga, homecomings from mission trips were a big deal. We would arrive from Honduras to a baggage claim full of friends and family. I’ve now come “home” to Wake Forest from two mission trips, and my immediate response has been the same both times– I’ve experienced the physical emptiness of being kicked by the army boot-wearing enemy, Alone. Being that I tend to be a people person to a fault, this never sits well with me. The last two years I have truly made peace with my singleness; I enjoy being able to serve the Lord however He sees fit to use me. But contentment does not always mean steady, unfailing joy in the situation. Paul may have been content in the Lord while in jail, but I’m certain that he still would have preferred his freedom.

But while I was standing at the baggage carousel waiting for my bags, I couldn’t shake the image of my singleness treading on me in steel-toed boots. I instantly shut down and isolated myself in my thoughts, desperately crying out to the Lord to perform a miracle and ensure that I not cry in front of all of these people. And in that moment of solitude amidst the chaos, the Lord gently expanded my understanding of those work boots I felt were walking all over me.

I thought about Emily, who spent a couple of days in tears because it was the first time she had been away from her son for more than a night. I remembered how much Jason missed his son while we were in Amsterdam. I thought of Rob and Nick and Mitch and Bill and Dr. James, who had all made comments about wanting to get back to their wives and families. And then I thought about how I hadn’t really missed anyone the 15 days we were out of the country. Living in Wake Forest is a discipline in missing my family; I didn’t miss them in Amsterdam any more or less than I would any other day.  And then I thought of the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 when he addressed singleness and ministry: “But I say to the unmarried and the widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I…. Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk….But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of this world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of this world, how she may please her husband. This I say not for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7: 8,17,32-35).

We are encouraged to serve the Lord in whatever circumstance we are in when He calls us into His service. For me, I was and, at the moment remain, single. That is how I am to serve Him, and when I am focused on Him, His kingdom, His glory, and not myself, I find no greater joy than giving Him my undivided attention. Even in my weary state, I recognized the still small voice of the Holy Spirit convicting me to a closer relationship with Himself, calling me away from me and back to Him and His all-sufficient grace and mercy.

I still think my singleness wears steel-toed boots. But now I think of them as the footwear essential for wearing the full armor of God at this time in my life. And the only time I am going to get kicked by them is when I get in the way of the work the Lord is doing in and through me.