Here is a round-up of some of my all-time favorite thoughts on real beauty. Some of these influenced the second chapter of my books, all of them have influenced me. I hope you’ll save them and savor them when you have the time.
(All images are pinned to and sourced on my 10 Things Chapter 2 Pinterest board here.)
Lupita Nyong’o's acceptance speech:
“And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.” (link)
The Aunties, by Anne Lamott:
“”I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly whenever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach, that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.” (link)
Swimsuit Ready or Not, by Shauna Niequist
“I’m not going to give in to the cultural pressure that says women’s bodies are only beautiful when they’re very, very small. I’m going to take up every inch of space that I need, even though our world is obsessed with the idea that women should only take up just the tiniest bits of space. I’m going to practice believing that I am more than my body…” (link)
The Danger of Always Looking at Ourselves, by Karen Swallow Prior
“But therein lies the paradoxical power of beauty. It has the power – whether because we possess it or because we lack it – to trap our gaze forever upon ourselves, like Narcissus. At the same time, it also has the power to draw us to the ultimate source of all beauty. We are, after all, made in the image of God, which bestows us with the kind of beauty that Dove can neither give nor take away. As image-bearers of God, our gaze should be directed toward the source of that beauty rather than the reflection. We can treat the beautiful as idols, and thus as the endpoint of our gaze. Or we can treat beaut”y as an icon, the means through which our gaze is directed to God.” (link)
Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry, by Jazz Brice
“Dove was right about one thing: you are more beautiful than you know. But please, please hear me: you are so, so much more than beautiful.“ (link)
Beauty Routine, by Glennon Melton
“Today I will FILL UP WITH THIS BEAUTY. I will SEE this beauty and really NOTICE IT and smell it and hear it and roll around in it and soak it all up. I will allow all of this beauty to become a part of me- to BECOME ME- and by the end of the day I will be so freaking beautiful from the inside out that folks will stop and stare, probably. If you do not feel beautiful then FILL UP, Precious Sister.” (link)
This week we’re talking about modesty over on my FB page, because it’s a topic I discuss in the first chapter of my books.
The books explore a very specific slice of modesty (the way we dress) for one reason: that was the first point on my list of “Things I Want to Tell Teenage Girls.” In the book I talk about things like:
-Expressing yourself with fashion, and dressing intentionally.
-Rejecting the idea that the sexualized parts of women’s bodies should ever be the source of frustration or shame.
-The superpower that is femininity.
-Rejecting the notion that women are responsible for the thoughts and behaviors of men, and rejecting that “modesty” is somehow a tool to protect ourselves from degradation.
-The difference between attention and respect.
I suspect that this chapter might find itself a little bit controversial, but I stand by what’s in there, and I think it’s important.
That said –
It would be a serious oversight, not to mention offensive, to end the conversation there. Because modesty is not a “feminine virtue.” And for crying out loud, it’s not about clothing. The catchphrases coined by the uber-conservatives hoping not to be viewed as misogynistic are way off, too. “It’s not about hiding,” they say, “it’s about revealingdignity.”
Except, no. It’s not. We have to stop insisting that modesty is about “revealing dignity” and “having self-worth,” as if people who feel comfortable in clothing we wouldn’t personally wear simply don’t value themselves enough. Real modesty isn’t about “revealing dignity” because it isn’t about revealing anything.
Here is what modesty is:
Modesty is humility applied.
It’s humility in a tank top, wisdom in jeans.
It’s a healthy dose of it’s-not-about-me as you go throughout your day.
Real modesty is meekness, which is a human virtue that begins on the inside, and, as we mature, is unstoppably, unavoidably reflected in every area of our lives.
Modesty is about killing that thing inside of us that wants to steal glory, revel in attention, and to see ourselves hoisted onto a pedestal. The pedestal of “hottest” or “wealthiest” or “most hipster” or “most fit” or “most chic” or “most anything.”
Modesty is about stepping out of the way so that The Thing You’re Living For gets to stand in the spotlight.
Dressing provocatively is certainly one way of drawing attention to yourself, which is how the word “modesty” initially got attached to the idea of COVERING EVERYTHING UP. But that’s not what it means. That is one possible implication.
It is possible, and frankly a lot more common, for a PERSON (not just a woman) to have all their assests covered, and still be shouting “NOTICE ME! NOTICE ME!” with their clothes and their lives.
Notice my bank account.
Notice my trophy spouse.
Notice my business success.
Notice how cute I am.
Notice how cultured I am.
Notice how MORAL, and RIGHTEOUS I am.
There’s nothing wrong with being noticed, but it works better when we notice each other instead of noticing ourselves. There’s less competition, more connection. There’s less looking in the mirror, and more looking up and out and forward. There’s more appreciation of the beauty and gifts and skills around us – because when we aren’t preoccupied with our own hooting and hollering, we can finally, finallysee it.
Real modesty happens when we side-step out of the spotlight, making space for the things that we’re passionate about to shine. The stuff that’s bigger than us. The stuff that matters more.
For me, that’s the gospel of Jesus.
Here is the question I’m asking myself this week:
What would it look like if I made one small, practical change to live more modestly? To stop trying to draw attention to myself for whatever reason?
I’m a little tender about it, because it’s forcing me to examine all the places I try to be the center of the story. It’s so ugly, glory-hogging. But it’s tender because it matters. Humility, modesty, selflessness – these are holy, sacred things. They matter, and I’ve decided that pursuing them is worth the discomfort it costs. I’ve got to look my own ugly in the face.
Will you join me in considering?
How might it look to live more modestly on social media?
How might it look to speak more modestly?
To spend money more modestly? Not just necessarily less, just different.
How might it look to “church” more modestly? Oh, snap.
And, yes, to dress more modestly. Not frumpily, not puritanically, not to hide, or to shame, or to protect boys. But to draw less undue, self-indulgent, and, often, not-the-healthiest attention to ourselves.
A few weeks ago I received my favorite text message ever:
It was like a dream come true. DO WE GET TO OVER-ANALYZE THIS FOR DAYS, GAILY BEATING THE DEAD HORSE INTO THE GROUND WHILST EATING ICE CREAM IN OUR PAJAMAS?
Since then, we’ve talked a lot about healthy relationships, pacing things, guarding hearts, et al. The only real difference between college and now is that today I have the benefit of having been married for seven years. So, GAME CHANGER.
One of the things I told my anonymous friend, and something I really believe, is that time and pace are just tools to make sure you get real answers to the right questions.
So – we’re having this conversation and I’m feeling maybe a little too enlightened when my friend says,
“So, what are the right questions?”
Yeah. Here’s the thing about that. NOBODY KNOWS.
But I spent a few days thinking about it, and I asked some married friends that are smarter than me, and so, together, we give you:
10 Right Questions to Answer About the Person You’re Dating
1.Listen to him eat a bowl of cereal. Is that sound something you can tolerate for the rest of your life? THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Treat this issue with the respect it’s due.
2. Does he exhibit self-control? You do not want to be married to someone with no self-control. Think finances, think housework, think fidelity, think EVERY AREA OF LIFE.
Look for: Does he put off or blow off other responsibilities to spend time with you? If so, it’s easy to feel “Yay! Chemistry! I’m a PRIORITY.” But it can be a red flag. Does he push boundaries physically? If he does, don’t think, “Yay! He can’t get enough of me!” Instead, ask yourself, “Is he exhibiting self-control?”
Now substitute “self-control” with another character trait – maybe kindness, or patience, or courage, or honesty. All the right questions will point you to character. Chemistry and compatibility matter just as much, but they’re easy to see. After just a few dates, you know. The right questions don’t answer, “Do we fit? Do we click? Is there something special here?” Because, duh. The right questions answer “What kind of character does this man have? What kind of habits? What is he made of, on the inside, through and through?”
3. Is he investment-minded? Relationships die if they aren’t tended. Committed to stay and committed to work are two totally different things. It’s very 2014 to “chill” and “hang out” and “do something.” But listen – if someone asks your guy “What are you going to do this weekend?” and he says “I’m going to spend time with my girlfriend, because that’s important,” MARRY THAT DUDE.
Look for: Does he ask intentional questions? When you’ve told each other all your stories, will you have made your own, together? Is he relationally intelligent? (When I asked my married friends what questions they would recommend asking/discovering/settling at least 85% of them said: ”DOES HE SPEAK HER LOVE LANGUAGE? DOES HE VALUE SPEAKING IT? WILL HE TRY TO LEARN HER LOVE LANGUAGE? IS HE EVEN PHYSICALLY CAPABLE?” So, that’s kind of a huge deal.)
4. Do you respect his decisions and his decision-making skills? Not whether or not you can influence them, or whether he is willing to defer some things to you. I mean, THAT, obviously, but don’t stop there. Ask, as my very wise friend Sarah suggested, “Left to his own devices, does she trust him enough that she can respect and submit to the decisions that he makes? If not, don’t marry him.”
Look for: The things he values, the way he spends his time. If you can’t get on board with his life decisions so far, do not pass go; do not collect bridal shower presents.
5. Does he apologize? This question is the one that garnered the most vociferous, vehement, visceral reaction amongst my married friends. Does he apologize? How? It speaks to humility, respect, self-confidence, and a willingness to work at relationship.
Look for: Does he apologize to other people? (I only recently learned that there is a “Languages of Apology” book/assessment, in the same vein as Love Languages. Worth looking into.) And listen: apologies are sexy.
6. How does he fight? Hot or cold? Right away or the next day? In straight-up specifics, or in softer generalities? Does he call names? Is he sarcastic? Because IT’S GONNA HAPPEN, LOVE BIRDS. And you need to know, is this the man I want to fight with for the rest of my life?
7. ”It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party” -Nick Hornby If you had to listen to his music on a road trip, how soon into the drive would you try to throw yourself from the window of a moving vehicle?
8, 9, and 10. The three things that couples fight about the most (and the worst) are money, sex, and kids. That’s it. The trifecta. Money, sex, and kids. There are one million questions wrapped up in money, sex, and kids, and one million blog posts that explore them. I’m not adding to that number today. Google it, find a list, ask them all.
What you really need to know is, when you’re all twitterpated, and in love, and your hormones come out to play, you can’t think clearly anyway – so if you’re reading this you’re probably already screwed. But it’s okay. It can be pretty wonderful. :)
What would you add? What do you think is the most helpful, absolutely-must-settle-before-progressing, dating question? My anonymous friend and I want to know!
This may be the most wonderful, significant thing I’ve heard about beauty this year. I cannot add a word to it, just my tears this morning.
“My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.”
“I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful.”
“And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.”
“And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you.”
“And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”
Thank God for Lupita, and her beauty, and her talent, and her bravery, and her compassion, and her strength, and her struggle, and her words.
On the last day of Sports Camp I was walking around the outside of the baseball field with my charge, Hunter, holding his hand so that he wouldn’t make a break for the woods – or the road.
We were dragging our hands along the fence to high-five the kids in the lineup when I heard the coach shout, “Miss Kate, could you go get Jackson*?”
I looked up and there was Jackson. A sandy-haired eight-year-old who’d gotten mad, slammed his mitt into the ground and stormed off the field. He was grinding his foot into the grass with his bottom lip stuck out so far he could have tripped on it. I handed Hunter off to a teenager who was helping me shadow and thought,
“Here we go.”
Jackson had been a tough cookie all week: whining about every injustice, every inadvertent bump at the water cooler. He argued about his place in the lineup, which bat he received, and he made a big fuss about having to hit off a tee during practice. And now, here was Jackson, running off, pouting, and exhibiting 27 types of selfish, attention-seeking, childish behavior**.
My instinct was to launch into Mom-mode and make this a teachable moment. The plan was to ask him why he was mad, find a solution, give him a firm speech (in a caring tone) about how throwing fits is a waste of time and energy and not a productive way to get what you want. (Neither is it socially acceptable for an 8-year-old and no one will want to be your friend if you keep pouting.) Then I would shoo him back onto the field where he would wait his turn with renewed patience and be reconciled to his teammates. End scene.
But on the way over there something caught inside my heart – I did not go with my gut.
I found myself thinking, “Nothing that could have happened on that field warrants this reaction. He’s reacting to something else. Something bigger.”
It occurred to me that this might be it. The reason he was at Sports Camp, or the reason I was. It occurred to me that Jackson had been at Sports Camp all week and this conversation about to take place between us was likely the first (and last) opportunity for anyone to really hear him. So I bucked against all of my instincts: I made it my goal not to react.
“When he tells me why he’s mad, don’t react.” “When he tells me what he really thinks about the coaches, don’t react.” “When he mouths off, don’t tell him he’s wrong or suggest an appropriate way to express it. No teaching. Just listening.”
Jackson must have been expecting me to go with my gut because when I took him for a walk up to the top of the bleachers, he looked at me out of the corner of his eye and asked with surprise, “Am I allowed to be up here?”
I smiled. ”As long as you’re with me, it’s okay.”
He knew I was on his side. Then it all poured out – and I listened.
Jackson talked all about his baseball team, his big sister, his summer vacation, his favorite memories with his uncle, and all the injustices of Sports Camp.
In less than 10 minutes I heard what I was listening for: Jackson’s mom was in the hospital. His parents split less than 6 months ago, and he was afraid.
I get that. I lived that.
That afternoon, Jackson didn’t need someone to put him in line. He didn’t need someone to shoo him back onto the ball field with a stern pep talk. Maybe he needed shooing the day after that and the day after that and the day after that – but on the last afternoon of Sports Camp, eight-year-old Jackson needed me to tell him about forgiveness. He needed to see the hope of Christ in my life, and he needed me to tell him how much a good church can be like a family.
The point of Sports Camp is not to teach kids how to play sports; it is to teach kids about Jesus using sports. If getting a kid back on the baseball field interferes with an opportunity to tell him about Jesus – baseball can wait. The point is Jesus.
“Don’t miss the point.”
That’s what I learned at Sports Camp this year.
*Names changed to protect the precious. **To be fair, he is a child.
1. Eating small sack lunches for five consecutive days is better when you are not pregnant.
2. Sleeping on a partially deflated air mattress is better when you are not pregnant.
3. Running around a baseball field in the sun all day is better when you are not pregnant.
4. The ability to drink 3 cups of coffee a day helps. A lot.
5. There is an inverse relationship between pregnantness and the experience of sports camp. The less pregnant you are, the more enjoyable camp is.
6. There is also an inverse relationship between hours of teenage-girl-flirting and the experience of sports camp. The less hours of teenage girls flirting with teenage boys who live in other states, the more enjoyable sports camp is.
7. There is an inverse relationship between the number of rats in the field house and the experience of sports camp. The less rats sneak into the field house, the more enjoyable sports camp is. (This year there were zero rats. There was a frog, but the data shows no correlation between midnight frog sightings and the experience of sports camp.)
In all seriousness, this year was really, really special. There are three short lessons burning in my heart that I’m excited to share here. Here is the first; the rest will follow this week.
Kids are not the future.
Children and teenagers are not the next generation. They are the current generation. They are not the future of our country; they comprise our country. Young people are not the future of the church; they are the present of the church.
I just spent a week watching a hundred high schoolers get up before sunrise, dress in gym clothes, and spend six hours sweating it out in the sun teaching kids to play basketball, baseball, soccer, football, track and field, gymnastics, softball, cheerleading, golf, and ultimate frisbee. I watched them lead small group lessons over their lunch breaks – learning names, telling stories, and sharing the good news of Jesus. I watched a hundred high school students care more about connecting with kids than being cool. They sang songs and performed all accompanying motions/dance moves; they cheered for kids enthusiastically. They exhibited responsibility, patience, kindness, and maturity.
They paid money for the opportunity to come and serve. What have you done this summer?
Teenagers and children are not the future of the church; they are the present of the church.
-Do not patronize them; expect great things from them. (Their lives don’t start at 18-years-old.)
-Do not dismiss their preferences; listen to them. (At times it seems they speak a different language; it’s worth learning.)
-Do not tolerate them until they “grow up;” expend yourself to engage them now. (You can learn from them, just like they can learn from you.)
-Do not babysit them; teach them. (Kids are young, not stupid.)
The children and teenagers in your community are not the future. They are the present. Don’t lose them.
Sometimes we play a game called “Scar Wars” with our teenagers.
Scar Wars is a great game in which each participant tells the story of one of his or her scars.
Ideally, you would tell your best scar story. The scar story that is the most gruesome, the most shocking, the most idiotic, the most suspenseful, or the most hilarious. As you might imagine, the game quickly becomes an exercise in storytelling, exaggeration, one-upmanship, and vocabulary. The winner is often the one who can come up with the most convincing description of pain – “searing, excruciating, blinding, debilitating” – that sort of thing. If not, then it’s the person who was doing the most moronic thing when they got scarred. Like the last time we played, Caleb won for holding a gas can too close to a fire in his back yard when it combusted in his hands, giving him a tiny cluster of perfectly round scars where the drops of burning gasoline landed.
(You can see why this is a great game for middle schoolers. And boys. And those with a flair for the dramatic.)
Sometimes we use a bracket system to determine the winner, and sometimes we use a trusty applause meter, but no matter the method, winning Scar Wars comes with the respect and bragging rights due a good scar.
Today, in honor of Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you”) I decided to share some of my best Scar Wars stories with you.
Most idiotic: One afternoon, as my little brother and I were playing unsupervised in the basement (all good stories start this way), we decided, “Let’s take these old couch cushions and stack them in a big pile. Then let’s stack these books onto this folding chair onto this swivel chair and use our masterfully constructed tower to climb up on top of the deep freezer. Then we can jump off the top of the freezer onto our cushion pile!”
And that is what we did.
The thing I like about this story is that it is impossible to predict where the injury occurred. Did I fall off of the book/folding chair/swivel chair tower? Did the deep freezer tip over? Did my brother land on me? Did I miss the cushions? The possibilities are endless. Here’s what actually happened: I made it up the swivel chair, then the folding chair, then the books and onto the freezer successfully. I was perched on top of the freezer, crouched down so that my head wouldn’t go through the ceiling tiles. I launched myself off of the freezer and landed onto the soft, springy pile of couch cushions. In fact, the cushions were so springy, that they in turn launched me (and by “me” I mean “my forehead”) right into a protruding corner of the wall.
At this point I had a very intense multi-sensory experience. First I heard my brother go “WHOAH!” Then I felt my head pounding, then I saw swirly blackness, then blood. Then a lot of blood. A minute later we were upstairs and my dad was gently cleaning my face and saying, “You got a little boxing cut right in your eyebrow. It’s really small, they just bleed a lot. What were you guys doing anyway?”
“Oh, we were just jumping off of the deep freezer.”
I think that all kids should play unsupervised in basements so that they can amass these kinds of character-building experiences.
One afternoon, my little brother and I were playing unsupervised in the cul-de-sac. We were building bike ramps with Erica and her brothers. You know bike ramps – where you put a cinderblock in the middle of the street and 2 big pieces of plywood going up one side and down the other. As bike ramp professionals, we knew that the trick to getting some serious air was to back all the way up to the end of the street, pedal as hard as you could (so that your bike reached maximum velocity by the time you hit the ramp), and then jerk up on your handlebars just as your front tire hit the peak.
Why did our parents let us do this?
You might not know this yet, but there is an irrational, first-born, competitive, insecure, perfectionist monster living inside of me. I have a problem saying no. I want to be the valedictorian of everything. I wanted to be the valedictorian of bike ramp jumping.
I stared intently down the street at our make-shift ramp. Focus. I leaned forward onto my toes and pedaled with all the strength in my thighs and calves and abs and arms. And just as my front tire crossed the little black line where the two sheets of plywood met, I yanked up on my handlebars with gusto. And I flew.
Then, in slow motion, I flipped. An X-Game-caliber 360°.
Then I landed.
Then my bike landed on top of me.
Then my friends rushed over with great concern.
Then I looked up and said, “Did you guys see that? I flew like 3 FEET in the air!”
Then I hobbled inside and my mom poured peroxide on my knees and I hated her.
Then I was a legend.
(You absolutely should listen to comedian Brian Regan talk about his bike ramp experience here. Laugh out loud funny.)
Most miraculous: When I was 17, I was in a car accident that should have wrecked me. I was driving at night, in the rain, on the freeway, heading home from a show downtown. I realized, through the sheets of rain, that my exit was coming up quicker than I thought. I should have gone on to the next ramp and circled back through town, but I didn’t. I switched lanes in a hurry and my car hydroplaned.
I fishtailed the whole way down the exit ramp, all my efforts to regain control in vain. In slow motion I spun twice and hit a tree, right on my driver’s side door – I must have been going at least 45 miles per hour.
I remember seeing flashlights, a blonde woman inside the ambulance, watching them cut off my clothes, waking up inside a CAT scan on a bright orange backboard and picking tiny shards of glass out of my shoulder. Then I woke up for good and my Dad was there.
When we went to see the car, we were stunned. The drivers side seat was gone. The impression from the tree was so deep that the door was bent in past the center console. My steering wheel was sticking out of the drivers side door – right through the metal. The roof had waves in it; it looked like half a car. The tree struck right where I was sitting.
I didn’t break a single bone. I didn’t have a single cut on my face. In fact, I didn’t really have any cuts at all – a couple little nicks from glass, a tiny one on my shoulder and one on my elbow. I walked out of the hospital that night a little nauseous, a little bruised, and on A LOT of muscle relaxers, but largely, miraculously, fine.
The scar, formerly known as the black crater of burnt flesh on my forehead, formerly known as a pyogenic granuloma, formerly known as skin cancer, formerly known as “what the heck is that bump on my head?” (Story here.)
So happy Star Wars Day, and happy Scar Wars day.
May the fourth be with you!
(Share your best Scar Wars story in the comments and I’ll do the applause meter in my house. I’ll also share my favorites in a post next week. Spread the word. #Scarwars)
We humans are chronic over-correctors. Recent circumstances have brought this tendency of ours to the top of my mind again. But first, a few thoughts on going viral:
1. There are some really skillful, talented cussers out there. To the lady woman who called me a self-involved, half-witted !@%^$# *@%$#% @$&***^%, bravo. That’s a new one.
2. People can bring Hitler into any conversation. Even conversations about teenage girls and motherhood. This is a direct quote (which I deleted) from an old post: “Hitler was breast fed.” Really?! Okay moms, everybody just BE COOL. We’re all on the same team.
3. Sorry Twitter and Google, but Facebook rules the internet. For 5 days straight the Teenage Girl post was getting 2.5 views per second, averaging 200,000 views a day, and at least 95% of them came from Facebook.
4. It doesn’t matter how many people read your blog, your kids still don’t take care of themselves. C’mon guys, Mom has writing to do. It’s like they’re 4 years old or something. Wait…
5. I am committed to staying on the side of the creators, not the critics. (Read this. And this.)
6. Advice and opinions are cyclical, which brings me back to the over-correctors thing:
C.S. Lewis used to say that for every current book you read, you should read a really old book.
He listed a lot of great reasons, but his point that I can’t shake this morning is this: people are far too quick to develop chronological prejudices. As in, “It’s newer, therefore it is more relevant. The way we do things now is better, smarter, and more efficient than the way our parents (and grandparents) did things.”
I think about this a lot at church when I hear things like “This is not your grandparents church.” ”We aren’t afraid to be authentic, real, raw.” ”We believe in engaging the culture.” “We hate hypocrisy.” ”We believe in community and doing life together.”
As if our generation invented authenticity. Like all the Christians who came before us for hundreds of years loved hypocrisy and judgement and nobody before us ever thought of using the New Testament church as a model.
When you take a step back the pattern is obvious.
And it has been painfully obvious in the 1,000+ comments on the “Ten Things I Want To Tell Teenage Girls” post. I’ll use point #8 (Your reputation matters, and you should care what other people think about you) to illustrate what I’m getting at.
A couple generations ago, this hardly needed to be said – it was obvious. People lived in smaller, more rural communities. The internet didn’t exist. Your word was your bond. You shook on it. People got married younger.
But people, when left to their own devices, tend to go too far. People went from building a good name within a community (wise) to finding their worth in what others thought of them (damaging). And everything got all messed up.
People became chronic people-pleasers.
People were afraid to say “no.”
People felt overwhelming pressure to conform.
People put as much stock in a stranger’s opinion of them as they did in what they knew to be true of themselves.
Criticism felt like a personal attack.
People lived as slaves to the opinions of others.
So we over-corrected – again. The next generation of people held high the banner of “It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks about me!” Which is freeing and healthy – to a point. Not caring what other people think is great in terms of determining your value and worth, in terms of being creative, in terms of doing what’s right even if it’s not popular, and standing up for what you believe in. But in our zeal we took it too far, and everything got all messed up again.
People sacrificed relationships with parents (and friends) because they didn’t care what their parents (and friends) thought.
People became hardened to advice (and often common sense) because they “didn’t care what anyone thought about them.”
People jeopardized their futures because they were too self-involved in the present.
People started to uncensor themselves, voicing rude or gossipy remarks under the guise of “I don’t care what anyone thinks; I’m just telling the truth.”
People became selfish. They made their own opinions the standard. ”It only matters what I think.”
Because adolescence is a time when kids are testing boundaries and discovering themselves, teenagers are especially susceptible to the lure of “I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me.” I hear teenagers saying this stuff all the time:
”I’m going to get this face tattoo and if my boss has a problem with it, then she’s shallow and cares too much about appearances.”
“If Suzy thinks I’m too snobby then she doesn’t have to be hang out with me anymore, nobody’s forcing her. I know I’m a nice person and that’s what matters.”
“I’m going to take the job at Hooters even though my parents don’t want me to. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me; I need a job.”
That kind of reasoning is short-sighted, self-centered, and immature. I love what Dr. Ted Roberts says about maturity. He wrote, “Maturity is not a vague philosophical concept, but a trained ability to meet the demands of reality.”
Not getting a face tattoo isn’t being a conformist, it’s being mature. Meeting the demands of reality.
Caring what Suzy thinks (in order to reconcile a friendship) isn’t weak, it’s mature.
Being nice to someone that you don’t like isn’t hypocritical, it’s mature.
Keeping your mouth shut isn’t cowardly, it’s mature.
Listening to your parents advice and preserving your reputation isn’t letting other people control you, it’s mature.
I have no doubt that people will take the advice “Your reputation matters; you should care what others think of you” too far. They’ll swing wide like so many generations before them and run themselves ragged, thread-bare, trying to get everybody to like them. They’ll make themselves crazy thinking about it, and that will be a tragedy.
We’re over-correctors. We are kids on a balance beam, trying to get to the other side of life uninjured and unembarrassed. We wobble one way, then the other, trying to find a balance that’s sustainable – a way of living that will get us from one side to the other without all the violent back-and-forth.
I think the balance is grace.
Grace for ourselves, grace for others.
There is no other way.
In fact, I got quite a lot of hate mail about my urging women to dress with some self-respect and not “saying anything” to young men about respecting women. To which I replied (respectfully, in my head) “Um, that’s because the post was written TO GIRLS.”
I decided not to write a “10 Things” for teenage boys for 1 reason:
I’m not a guy.
I’ve never been a guy.
I don’t know how guys think.
If I wrote a list for guys I would have to call it, “Ten Things Girls Want Guys to Know.” Which, come to think of it, might be kind of helpful, but not at all the same thing as man-to-man advice.
(I guess that’s 4 reasons.)
But my husband, who is a guy, has been a teenage guy, and knows how guys think, wrote his list of “Ten Things I Want to Tell Teenage Boys,” and I think it’s awesome.
Also, my good friend T.J. (who is a guy, has been a teenage guy, and knows how guys think) wrote a list on his blog, and it is equally awesome. You should go read it here right now.
Here is Dan’s list, for all the young men (and not-so-young men) out there, and those who love them.
Ten Things Dan Wants To Tell Teenage Boys
1. There are no shortcuts to respect. Shortcuts to popularity? Maybe. Shortcuts to hype/cred/fame/swag? Sure, whatever. But shortcuts to respect? None. You earn it or you don’t. You earn it by giving it to people that deserve it. You earn it by giving it to people that don’t. Men, women, kids, the elderly. Teachers, parents, the greeter at Walmart. You earn it by the way you carry yourself. The sooner you realize it’s what you really want, the quicker you can quit looking for shortcuts that don’t exist.
2. Person not parts. Often, you will look at a woman. Your teenage years are a good time to master the habit of seeing a person and not just body parts. The girl you’re checking out not only has a nice butt – she also has a name, a personality, parents, goals, dreams, and a life that doesn’t involve your staring. Plus, that respect thing will be easier if you look her in the eyes first.
3. Control your sexuality or it will control you. With the right boundaries, sex is cool. And for a teenage guy, sex seems like this overwhelmingly huge part of life. But it is NOT worth wasting your whole life for. Sex is best in its proper time and place – if you rush and do things your way, you’ll regret it. Sex can drive you to do stupid things. As cool as you think it is, remember this for a little perspective: your parents did it too.
4. Laziness is a disease. Other men will treat it that way too. Men may disagree with your opinion, your values, or your lifestyle and still give you some credibility. Let them believe you’re lazy, and you might as well not open your mouth again. They’re not listening.
5. There is fine line between confidence and arrogance, but a canyon between confidence and insecurity. Act like you’re supposed to be there. When you believe yourself, others believe you too. People look for someone willing to take on challenges, willing to say ‘I got this.’ Be real, be yourself, but be the best version of yourself. The best confidence of all comes from knowing that whatever happens, I’m coming out the other side. After all, what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger. ( FYI: the respect from #1 will kill arrogance before it starts.)
6. Whatever you’ve been asked to do, do just a little bit more. Exceed expectations. If your Mom’s expecting a ‘C,’ fight, claw, and scratch for a ‘B.’ If Dad asks you to wash the dishes, wash them AND take out the trash. I know this sounds like nothing but extra work. But in business, this gets you new customers. In basketball, this improves your free throw percentage. In relationships, it builds trust and responsibility. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is only five letters. Just a little ‘extra.’
7. Women do not think like you do. You think you look cool because you’re wearing a new shirt. She thinks you look cool because you actually ironed it. You think ‘I love you’ means ‘I think you’re fun.’ But she’s thinking about words like ‘forever’ and ‘always’ and ‘The Notebook.’ Speaking in this romantic language as a teen guy is like trying to speak to hostile Latin King gang members after watching an episode of Dora. You don’t really understand what you’re saying, and you’re going to get yourself shot.
7b. Oh, and those women want you to pull your pants up.
8. Speak up. Sometimes you have something meaningful to say. Say it. Say it where people can hear you. Speak up! Speak up when you say hello, when you ask the girl for her number, when you’re answering a question. If it’s not worth saying proudly, it’s not worth saying. (This doesn’t apply to cell phone conversations)
9. You will not fail if you do not try. In other words, feel free to avoid failure at all cost. But only if you’re content being single, broke, jobless, uneducated, unknown, and unaccomplished. If that’s not what you’re looking for, you’re going to have to buck up and give it a shot. And sometimes, you’ll screw up. That’s part of life. Remember: if you failed two times out of every three times your entire career in baseball (and hit a .333 average), you’d be in the top 26 all time! (http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/batting_avg_career.shtml)
10. Real men. For the rest of your life, you’re going to hear about all kinds of real men. They are going to be described to you as men with superhuman strength, impeccable taste in fashion, loads of cash, and the charisma and charm that every woman wants. You’re going to hear how real men wear pink, real men drive Fords or Chevys or Porsches, real men grow beards, real men drink this, or go here, or use that. They’re going to use this kind of language because you were made to be a man. And for someone to question your manhood is to deny you a valuable part of who you are. The last thing you want women or men or society or culture to think is that you are somehow ‘less of a man.’
Here’s the secret: this real man that you’re supposed to measure up to doesn’t exist.
The only man that you’ve got to worry about striving after is the man you were created to be.
You’ve got to wake up in the morning determined to meet your potential head on, to no longer judge your success by the products that they’re peddling, but to judge yourself by standards that have existed since the beginning of the time:
Am I going to make excuses or am I going to make something happen?
Am I going to make my life count or am I going to waste it?
Am I going to make my life about what I have or about who I am?
After all, answering these questions well will get you the best kind of respect there is: True, solid, ‘conscience-clear,’ left everything out there, self-respect.
Go read T.J.’s list too, and start encouraging and building up the young men in your life.