As I discussed yesterday, I have been pondering the ideas in this letter for weeks, ever since I read Glennon Melton’s newest book Love Warrior. Then the events of this past weekend happened, and our crazy American election only managed to further remind me just how hard it is to be a girl in today’s world.
The sheltered, innocent little girl I was so many years ago, would have understood so very little about what is going on today–but she would have still known the deeper, scary truth.Men can break rules and be forgiven so much easier than girls ever can. Click To Tweet
Dear Teenage Girl,
I remember that this is where it started.
12, 13 years old…
This is the time where the simple truth of childhood began to be buried under the avalanche of messages the world started sending you.
These messages came with all kinds of rules, some direct and others hidden, for how to be a girl in this world.
For girls like you, the good girls who grew up in the small, safe world of fundamental, evangelical Christianity—it seemed to tell you:
There are good people and bad people.
The good people are inside your circle. They do life like you. They want the same kind of life like you. They look like you.
The bad people are the outsiders. They look different. They do life different. They believe differently. The more different they are, the worse they must be.
It will take you decades to slowly realize how simplistic and mistaken these childlike conclusions of people were.
The outsiders that you do come into contact with call you:
Pastor’s daughter. Sheltered homeschool kid. Miss-goody-two-shoes. Naïve.
You didn’t even have to go to school to know those were said about you.
The insiders see those same traits as good, saying:
Servant’s-heart. Obedient. Modest. Caring. Giving. Innocent.
No matter their bite or praise, your soul knows people's expectations have a hidden rule. Click To Tweet
Whatever you get noticed for, whatever you get praised for, whatever you see gets others that same reaction, or whatever an outsider criticizes you for—these are what the people who matter want from you.
So, what did you do? You became a rule follower.
Try harder to be nicer and even more perfect.
Trying to stay modest and figure out how to dress is like navigating a minefield. Click To Tweet
Dress the way your father or future husband would approve of.
Dress in a way that attracts good men and brings glory to God.
Never dress in a way that attracts the wrong kind of male attention.
Remember men are visual and you are your brother’s keeper, so you are responsible to never cause them to stumble.
So dress for men, but don’t dress for men?
How you always agonized over this, because the spiritual and moral implications of how you dressed and how men responded to it, felt so important and terrifying if you ever got it wrong.
What made you conclude that? The way all the women, girls, and other men around you talked about the outsider women who didn’t dress modestly.
The little you learned about sexual and immoral behavior between boys and girls, men and women—made you conclude that somehow in someway it was more often than not, the girl’s fault.
Other rules you learned during these years came from watching how all your friends, family, and adults acted towards outsiders—you saw it mostly in how they were talked about and how they were prayed for.
You quickly learned what was allowed and what was not.
More rules followed.
Don’t question too much. Don’t doubt your faith. Don’t rock the boat.
As an older teen, you began to meet more and more girls who grew up in the outside world.
Just as you slowly began to realize that outsiders were not synonymous with bad, you also slowly realized that even though the rules they learned were different–the poison in them was just the same.
Be quiet. Stay small. Stay thin. Smile.
Be sexy, but not a slut.
Be ok with being objectified. Boys will be boys. Men will be men. They are just words. Click To Tweet
Be smart, but not too smart and boring.
Be pretty, but not shallow and dumb.
Be truthful, but not too sensitive and never preachy.
Be bold, but never angry or dramatic.
Be committed and loyal and devoted to relationships, but not too possessive or insecure or needy or presumptuous about the future.
Twenty years later, you suddenly realize that from the first verse of the be this, but not that, do this, don’t do that—the song of being female seemed to be a familiar stanza repeating itself over and over with the silent rules of who to be.
You didn’t realize how twisted it all was until years later.
In trying to avoid what scared you, or threatened you, or what you thought would disappoint someone, or would be perceived as failure you ran from some of the very gifts in your soul.
The real truth: the world doesn’t need more girls who are silent and hiding away.
The world needs more girls, who realize that some rules need to be broken. Click To Tweet
The secret garden is never discovered until a brave girl is willing to go beyond the wall.
So today, I am writing to ask you to start paying attention to the messages life gives you.
You don’t have to just mindlessly assume these are the rules you have to follow.
You can get curious about them and see what fruit they actually produce.
Whatever the message, whatever the rule, whatever the expectation—ask yourself, what kind of person will I be if I follow it?
Do I have to hide?
Do I have to stuff part of myself away?
Do I have to silence any part of myself?
Does it place blame on me that is not mine to own?
I know it is easier to hear from everyone else what you should believe, but I invite you to be brave enough to find out what you really believe deep down inside and to speak that out loud.
It is ok to go against the norm.
It is ok to question and to doubt.
The people who truly love you in life are the people who show up in big ways and small ways to accept everything about you—even your worst moments and darkest fears.
These are the people you invite into the front row seats: to be on your team, to cheer you on, to give you needed feedback, to live life with you.
Anyone else who can not handle all of you, who can not give you grace and kindness—they do not get to be the rule makers.
Don’t let fear and pain and anger have so much power over you that your only responses are to hide from them, run from them, deny them, or numb them.
Instead, try to get curious about why those negative emotions have such power over you in the first place.
Life is going to be scary, painful, and hard. Life is also going to be thrilling and wonderful and beautiful.
Learn to love all of life, instead of always running from the former like it will somehow help you catch the other.
Running from something never helps you catch anything.
Be brave. Be wise. Be strong.Be aware of others, but not compelled to be others. Click To Tweet
Be in touch with all of your thoughts and feelings, not just the nice ones.
Be full of faith and hope and kindness, and when the day comes that you are not–know that you will be ok.
Darkness has its own hidden beauty because it helps us remember why we love the light.
BE LOVED, child of God.
That is where your real worth will always be found.
Me, almost 20 years down the road.
Join me next week for a new letter, this time to my future self: Dear Mom of a Teenage Son.
This letter is the third installment of my series Letters to Myself.