We have a crummy way of treating people who change their minds, and I think it sucks. Here’s a little bit of my story of a (slow, uncomfortable) change of mind.
All posts in category Faith
Posted by melissajenna on April 9, 2017
Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve been criticizing 50 Shade of Grey since before it was cool. Given the recent release of the film adaptation, several of you have suggested to me that I repost that original post, and I would, but the fact is that I’m not a huge fan of my tone. You can read it, but hear that I’m sorry for my tone.
So this time, I’m less interested in whether or not Christian women should consume 50 Shades (we ought not to), and more interested in this question:
In a culture that is increasingly sensitive to sexual violence, while also championing female sexual empowerment, shouldn’t the very story of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele be offensive?
If you’re not yet familiar, 50 Shades is about two characters: Christian Grey, an self-professed sexual dominant who maintains a room in his home devoted to BDSM practices, and Anastasia Steele, a naively innocent young women; literally a virgin. That’s all you really need to know to make sense of the rest of this post.
When I survey our cultural landscape, here’s what I see:
- A society that has elevated female sexual “empowerment” as a value, placing it above the development of actual personal character
- A society that has effectively disconnected the sexual act from its emotional and spiritual ramifications
- A society that increasingly misunderstands masculinity, and attempts (actively or passively)–even from boyhood–to feminize men
Could the popular reception of 50 Shades be a (misguided) reaction to America’s sexual climate, and our unadressed issues with masculinity?
I struggle with how to explain the popular reception of 50 Shades in a culture that at once proclaims “Men: It’s On Us,” and also venerates the Beyoncés of the world. Why would women lust for a sexually violent man (Christian Grey), and place themselves in the role of the naive, innocent virgin (Anastasia Steele)? It just doesn’t make sense.
Most of you will not like where I’m going with this, and trust me, intellectually, I understand where you’re coming from. (For starters, you probably don’t agree with the three premises I’ve outlined above.) I think you’re wrong, and you can think I’m wrong, and that’s okay. Just be decent and respectful in the comments, is all I ask.
Is it possible that enough women yearn for their sexual innocence, that they align themselves with Anastasia Steele? That they–even subconsciously–feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods?
Is it possible that women long to be in a relationship with a “powerful” man, and that Christian Grey is just a warped caricature of our idea of masculinity?
Could the success of 50 Shades be directly aligned with the fact that deep down we sense that something is wrong with the way our culture treats sexuality? Could E.L James’ work be a ham-fisted response to what’s wrong with our perception of masculinity, as it relates to female sexuality?
If you know me personally, you know that I don’t have any answers. There are a few books I’ve read that have helped me identify what I’m observing around me; one of them is John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Another is Dannah Gresh’s What are You Waiting For? Both of those books are written by believers, and neither are perfect, but I found them really helpful, and maybe you will too.
What do you think? Any resources you’ve found particularly helpful? Do you think I’m way off base? I always welcome respectful discussion.
Posted by melissajenna on February 16, 2015
You guys left some really thoughtful, really insightful comments on my previous post about charitable giving (I would expect nothing less from you smarty-pantses). Your comments have been rolling around in my head for the past few weeks, and have sparked some new ideas, so here’s a follow-up post, and I’m sorry if it rubs you the wrong way.
A couple of you expressed a similar point, and that’s that giving isn’t about me and my growth (or us and our growth), so much as it is about providing for the needs of others, and I have to admit, at first I was a little stung by the implication that I’m giving selfishly. But then I thought about it some more, and there’s a couple things I see happening:
- I didn’t explain my thoughts completely the first time. This is a bad habit for me. This might sound like a cop-out, but here it is: in my head, one idea expands into a giant web of interconnected ideas so quickly, that I rush though explaining how I got from point A to point B (and C, then D, then E), in favor of writing everything out as quickly as I can, lest I forget everything. The result is too many big ideas that lack sufficient background or explanation. I’m trying to improve in this area, but also, I want to keep my posts under 500 words, so….It’s a tough compromise.
- I bit my tongue, and censored myself, because I don’t want to piss anyone off, or alienate you wonderful people. I have some things to say about automatic giving, and I’m afraid of how it will be received. More on that in a moment.
That all being said, let’s do this thing.
To the point that “giving is about meeting a need, and has nothing to do with what I get out of it:” I don’t think God is concerned with the bottom-line, when it comes to giving. An easy example of this is the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44, wherein she gives far less amount-wise, but far more in terms of sacrifice. This shows her great faith and gratitude. Jesus says she gave more than all the rest, though in dollars, she gave a fraction of a penny. So when I talk about not giving “enough,” I don’t mean enough in terms of the dollar amount, but in terms of expressing my faith and gratitude. In this regard, my family is very much like the wealthy folks in that story, throwing in our excess money and not even thinking about it. And boy, is that humbling.
Giving is a Discipline. Disciplines Take Practice. (Maintain a Loose Grasp.)
Our nature (and this is strictly my opinion here) is to keep a firm grasp on what “belongs to us.” You can see this in children, who are reluctant or unwilling to share toys, out of fear that the toys will never be returned, and the feeling that those toys belong to them. I think grown-ups are kind of like that, only that we’ve learned to put a smile on, and share just enough to be socially acceptable.
Because of our very human inclination towards maintaining a tight grasp on our material possessions, I know that I need to practice giving. I need to practice putting my hand into my pocket, pulling out some money, extending it to another person, opening my hand, and not expecting a single thing in return. I need to practice remembering that none of what I have “belongs to me,” and I need to practice letting that understanding overcome my will, and my desire to give just enough to be socially in the black.
(Question I like to ask myself, to check-in on the state of my heart: “How tight is my grasp on “stuff” and money, right now?”)
Automatic Giving/ Auto-Tithing Stunts Our Spiritual Growth
Someone in the comments said that automatic giving is great, because it shows that I’m “disciplined” in my giving. I would argue that the opposite is true. It’s not “disciplined giving” if it’s automatically withdrawn. “Discipline,” by definition, results from training, and training takes effort and thought. (Interesting that “discipline” and “disciple” share the same root.)
Automatic giving/auto-tithing circumvents a spiritual process of recognizing that what I have is not really mine, and really only serves the legalistic purpose of meeting the bottom line. And like I said, I don’t think God is at all concerned with the bottom line. I think God can, and does, work miracles with even the smallest portion, given from a full and loving heart. (Loaves and fishes, for example.)
I think God is more concerned with the condition of my heart, than whether or not I’m giving a lot of dollars, and in that regard, giving is more about me than meeting a need. I think God wants me to go through that process every single time: saying thank you, counting my blessings, and giving what I can for the benefit of others. And I can’t do that if my church is automatically drafting tithes from my bank account. The very reason people use auto-tithe is because it simplifies the process, and they are assured that they’ll fulfill their giving obligation for the month. And I just don’t buy that line of reasoning.
(The pastor of the church my family used to attend would remind folks, in the weeks running up to summer, that they should consider enabling auto-tithing before they go on summer vacation, that way they don’t “forget to give.” This would always make my ears ring “so the money is more important than the act of worship?” Perhaps, rather than treating the symptoms (tithing slows to a trickle over the summer), we should treat the illness (congregants don’t understand giving)?
(Um. Also, how reverent is my worship when my automatic-tithe gets the same amount of my attention as my student-loan payment?)
Giving is an Antidote to Greed.
This one is pretty easy. Habitual, intentional giving breaks us of our habit of greed, and keeps us from tightening our grasp too much. And one of my favorite things Jesus said, can be found in Matthew 6:19-21 — “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Bingo. I’ve heard this said and re-said (“Want to know a person’s priorities? Take a look at their checkbook”) so many times over the years, and it is as true today as it was when Jesus said it.
Other Assorted Bits That I Can’t Be Bothered to Organize Right This Moment:
Giving is meant to be a joyful expression of thanks to God from the heart, and not a legalistic obligation.
Amy (in the comments of my previous post) said “I think sacrificial (truly joyful) giving comes from a truly thankful heart. If we come to understand that everything given us is completely unmerited, then I think GIVING then becomes a true act of worship. It’s not the amount…not at all…it’s our attitudes behind the gift.”
And now I’m 600 words over my self-imposed limit.
I hope you’re happy. 🙂 But seriously, I want to continue this conversation, because I think we’re beginning to touch on some really sensitive issues. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard anyone address finances in a church-setting (not counting Dave Ramsey), and I think there’s a lot of unresolved tension in this. Wanna sort this out with me? Lord knows I have more blind-spots than I can count. Say what’s on your mind in the comments, below.
Let’s be friends!
Posted by melissajenna on December 26, 2012
Being that the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about generosity, and giving, and what it means to give “sacrificially.” In meditating on the idea of sacrificial giving, some light was shed onto a dark part of myself, and though it revealed an ugly truth, I’m better off for it, and I hope that you will be, too.
I like to think of myself, and my family, as the generous sort. As the type of people who will forgo some of our own wants, in order to provide for the needs of others. But when I peek behind that veneer of generosity, reality doesn’t match up.
I realized this some nights ago. I was feeling really anxious, the way I used to feel when I was a kid, and I had done something wrong, and was about to get busted for it, except in this case, I didn’t have any idea what I had done wrong, or who was going to bust me. All I could think about was Kalkidan, our Compassion Child, and how there are so many children just like her, whose basic needs aren’t being met, and how completely unjust that is. And that’s when I got busted.
You Won’t Even Notice
When I tell people about Compassion, and how they should sponsor a child, the first thing I say, every single time is “$40 a month might sound a lot, but I swear to you, won’t even notice it.” “You won’t even notice it” is not only true, but it’s tragic. (I have the same feeling about auto-drafting tithes from one’s bank account, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)
Here I am, feeling somewhat proud of our family, for giving some of our money to a child in need, but really, how sacrificial is it if we don’t even notice? It’s not like we’re giving our excess money away. We’re giving the excess of the excess. How noble. (I’m okay being sarcastic if I’m levying it on myself.) Needless to say, I’ve been humbled.
But here’s the thing: when we first began giving to Compassion, it felt like a sacrifice. Instead of buying a bottle or two of wine during the month, we’d send money to Kalkidan. But is forgoing wine really a sacrifice? I mean, when so many people don’t have access to clean water, is my skipping out on wine really sufficient?
The fact of the matter is that I’m completely comfortable giving, so long as it doesn’t inconvenience my family too much, and that attitude has come to really disgust me. Why does my child deserve nutritious, organic, GMO-free food, when so many children around the world don’t have enough food, period?
Light Chases Out Darkness
I want to notice that I’m giving. If you’re the church-going type, you’re familiar with the idea that giving is an act of worship. It’s a way of acknowledging that we only have what we have because God gave it to us in the first place, and showing gratitude and love by giving some of that away to others. And if you’re not the church-going type, no doubt you believe in some form of “paying it forward.” Can I really consider our monthly gift to Kalikidan sacrificial if we don’t even notice it? I mean, I guess an easy answer is to turn off the automatic payment every month, and choose to do it manually. That’s a start.
I remember what it felt like growing up, always having to do without, and I’m so blessed to be in a position as an adult to choose to feel the burden of sacrificial giving, rather than the aching pain of an empty stomach. And it’s somewhat embarrassing to reveal the ugly parts of myself, but I think there’s a lot of truth to the phrase that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” And if previous conversations with you all has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not the only one feeling this way. I’m curious to hear if you guys “give without noticing it,” and which organizations you support.
If you haven’t heard of Compassion, please do check them out. Like I said, $40 might sound like a burden, but if you can “sacrifice” some trips to Starbucks, or pack a few more lunches, I don’t think you’ll suffer. 🙂 Also, in the coming weeks I’m going to talk a bit more about another organization I love, Heifer International. If you have some minutes, do yourself a favor and look into them, too.
Let’s be friends!
Posted by melissajenna on November 19, 2012
As I sit here, I’m in a sort of funk. Have you ever felt completely wrung-out? Just tired on every level? Well that’s where I am today. (But I’m not here to moan and groan, I promise.) Even though this is a lesson I’ve already learned, sometimes it takes re-living it to give the lesson new meaning, and deeper truth. The lesson is simple enough: It’s really hard to remain joyful when you’re exhausted.
I’d call myself a typically optimistic person, except that’s not giving credit where the credit is truly due. My “optimism” (which a lot of my friends and acquaintances find naively endearing) isn’t so much an inherent trait, but rather an all-or-nothing trust I have in the joy and promises given to me by our heavenly father. In my mind’s eye, I read “they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength…” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…” “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…” and so many other words and verses, shining like tiny little gems, and hidden away in my heart. And those words sustain me throughout my days, and into my long, late nights. In a way, they’re old friends that I can call on at any hour of the day, for a reminder of what is true.
But something happens to me when I’m tired. And not sleepy-tired, but wrung-out tired. Emotionally raw and sensitive. It’s as if my body knows there’s no rest in sight, so it instinctively reallocates resources to maintain its basic operations. I draw into myself, and those warm familiar words in my mind’s eye grow dim, and disappear. And it’s at that moment that I’m the most vulnerable. It’s at that moment that I lose sight of joy, and of the peace that’s being continually offered to me. And that darkness–that sort of brief, spiritual death–is terrifying.
Not to mention that when I’m that tired, all of my flaws and nasty traits flare up: I become judgmental, short-tempered, impatient, anxious, I eat too much/too little, my stomach hurts, and I usually catch a cold. It’s very Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde, and I’m not proud of it.
So knowing all of this, I feel pretty dense for allowing it to happen. But I’m sure I’m not alone. Most of us (women especially) have bitten off way more than we can chew, continually say “yes” to responsibilities when we should say “no,” and overwork ourselves to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. What I didn’t realize, until this time around, was how much my being exhausted all the time effected me, spiritually.
Can I really offer my family, and offer God, the best of myself, when I’m this tired? Or are they getting what’s left over after all the work is done? And what kind of message am I sending to my daughter about what a grown woman’s life looks like? I don’t like these questions much, because they poke me in a sore spot, but maybe you guys can relate? Do you have any habits for refreshing yourself throughout the day that you’d like to share? I’ll try them all. 🙂
Let’s be friends!
Posted by melissajenna on September 27, 2012
“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I love words, and because I love words, I get defensive when they are misused. (And yes, I know how dorky this sounds.)
I don’t mean that I’m the type who gets all bent-out-of-shape when someone uses “who” instead of “whom,” or “can I” instead of “may I.” I get defensive when people use terms like “pro-abortion” rather than “pro-choice,” or “anti-family” instead of “pro-equality.” It irks me so much, I find myself defending groups I do not even associate or agree with, when they are mischaracterized by the willful abuse of language. Calling the pro-choice movement “pro-abortion,” for example, immediately creates a hostile environment in which to carry on a conversation. No one that I’ve ever met that identifies themselves as pro-choice has ever been pro-abortion, and to insinuate that they are is insulting, and is evidence of how disinterested one is in hearing the convictions of others. Just because we do not agree does not give me the right to characterize you as something that you’re not.
So. When I hear the term “flip-flopping” being tossed around (in the context of political or moral convictions or beliefs), I usually become irritated. Because when people say so-and-so is a “flip-flopper,” the connotation is usually that the person in question is pandering to their audience, in an effort to remain likable by all involved parties. The connotation is that the person in question is a shill. Or a ideological whore. Whatever floats your boat. And sometimes that is genuinely the case, and in those circumstances, I’m all for “calling a spade, a spade.” But usually? Usually people throw out the term “flip-flopping” as a way of discounting the journey one has made to come to the conclusion one is at.
A personal example: I’ve often been called a flip-flopper because of my conversion from Atheism to Christianity. Those that label me a flip-flipper, in that regard, are looking to devalue the experiences that led me to a point of conversion. They are establishing security in their beliefs, by choosing not to acknowledge my experiences, and instead, insinuating that I haven’t thought the whole thing through entirely, or that I am weak-minded, because I changed my mind. It is much easier to label me as as weak-minded, spiritual flip-flopper, than to consider that I’ve actually changed my mind based off new information and experiences.
In the same way, I hear people calling politicians flip-floppers all the time. Yes, sometimes politicians are flip-floppers–in that they’re compromising themselves for the sake of winning votes–but often, they’re just changing their minds based off of new and better information. (The way any sane person should.)
What’s So Threatening About a Changed-Mind?
To acknowledge that someone weighed an issue thoroughly, and then changed their mind, is to acknowledge that you might change your mind also. And for many, many of us, the very idea that there is a possibility that we might someday change our mind, is all-out frightening, because so much of our identity is wrapped-up in the labels we stick on ourselves. So, as a preemptive defense, rather than asking someone how they came to a point where they changed their mind, we quickly call them a “flip-flopper,” and continue sheltering ourselves from new experiences and information. (And if you ask me, that’s no way to live.) And please understand that I am not pointing fingers here: just as many Christians do this as Atheists, and just as many Republicans do this as Democrats. We are all equally guilty of not listening to the stories and journeys of others, and considering their implications.
Seeing the Value in Others’ Experiences
This is all to ask that the next time you’re about to label someone as a “flip-flopper,” that you stop for a moment and consider what you’re saying. Do you really believe that the person in question is pandering to an audience, or is there a chance that the person actually changed their mind? And if there’s a chance that the person legitimately changed their mind, what makes their journey any less worthy or valid than your own? And, if you’re in a place to speak directly to the person in question, maybe ask them how they came to their decision, because I guarantee you there is a great story there. There is so much to be learned from the journeys of others, if we would only ask them. We will find ourselves much better able to communicate with others, if we simply make an effort to understand their story, rather than shutting them down, and moving on. We will find ourselves better able to love others if we would only listen to their journeys with open hearts.
When we humble ourselves, and open our ears to those that we do not typically align with, we’re venturing out into fertile ground, and that’s the first step to cultivating a non-adversarial relationship. And if there is anything this country needs, its fewer adversaries, and more allies.
When was the last time you listened to the journey of someone with an opposing perspective? Have you ever shared an unexpected connection with someone of an opposing perspective? What was that like? Share your stories in the comments below. 🙂
(I’ll be back tomorrow with a little bit more on Sincerity.)
Let’s be friends!
Posted by melissajenna on August 13, 2012
Love is the virtue of the Heart,
Sincerity is the virtue of the Mind,
Decision is the virtue of the Will,
Courage is the virtue of the Spirit.
Hello, friends! I am so happy to be back. The move was…challenging (perhaps more on that later), and now that it is behind us, I am getting back into the swing of things. Thank you so much for your supportive and encouraging words. Though I have not responded much, I have read all of them, and they have been a source of renewal for me and my family. We really appreciate you, and your hearts. 🙂
Onto the b’iness.
Before I took a break for the big move, I asked you all some questions:
- In what type of situations are snark/sarcasm/contempt your “instinct” reaction?
- Is it possible to have a productive dialogue when snark/sarcasm/contempt is being employed by the involved parties?
- Why is it sometimes difficult for us to speak sincerely? Do you think that, culturally, sincerity is perceived as weakness?
And you guys really came through with answers. In order to be succinct, I’m going to distill the responses down to three main points:
- Snark/Sarcasm are often employed, harmlessly, among close friends, as an expression of acceptance into the “group.” In these instances, it’s a form of friendly verbal-jousting that doesn’t often lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings.
- Snark/Sarcasm, when flowing from a spirit of malice, frustration or anger, is never productive. It’s often an instinct reaction in situations in which one feels threatened, insecure, or misunderstood. And contempt is never productive, period.
- Sincerity is becoming rare, and it’s often avoided because it’s powerful, and because many of us aren’t sure how to respond to it. It can be off-putting.
For the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus on the virtue of sincerity. (It seems we all understand how snark and sarcasm can get out of hand, so no need to dig into that much further.)
My Sense of Humor is Broken
Here’s an annoying trait of my personality: I usually don’t “get it” when people are joking sarcastically with me, or are saying something snarky. Here’s how a situation like this might play out:(Husband hands me a breakfast burrito, and I bite into it.) Me: Wow, this is delicious! You should teach me how to make these! Husband: I dunno, it’s pretty complicated. Not sure I can replicate it, actually. Me: Oh. Well, next time, let me watch you, and I’ll write it down. Husband: … … What? I was joking. I just throw things together, and it takes me about three minutes. It’s a completely ghetto breakfast burrito.
See what happens there? I look like a dummy, because I can’t hear that he’s kidding. This kind of thing happens nearly daily (though usually not with my husband, because he’s aware of my “condition”). I don’t know what happened to me, because I used to be sarcastic to the point of intentionally hurting people’s feelings (not proud of that), and now I just can’t hear it. It’s as if my ears are broken. Nowadays, I just believe people, because why would they lie to me, you know? (This is far more problematic and embarrassing than you might initially imagine.) When this happens, my standard line is “sorry, my sense of humor is broken.” (I say it a lot.) I’m not sure why, but my instinct reaction is to believe that everyone is being sincere, all of the time, which is almost never the case, so I end up looking foolish quite a bit. So, let’s talk about sincerity.
I’m Bringing Sincerity Back
I like what Frank Lloyd Wright said, about sincerity being the virtue of the mind. Back when I was a Big Fat Snarker, it was so much easier to respond quickly with a sarcastic barb than to actually process something and respond with sincerity. Not only that, but sincerity felt uncomfortable, and uncool. And it was so easy to tease someone who was being sincere. (Is there anything more weak than snarking on someone who is being totally sincere? Blech. Please God, don’t let me become that person again.)
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Doesn’t that sound beautiful, and fair? But what about conversations that occur outside of one’s usual friend-group? What about interactions that turn into arguments/debates? What about Sincerity on the Internet?
Something is Broken
Sincerity is the four-leaf-clover of the Internet landscape. It exists, but it’s rare, and when you find it, you better consider yourself fortunate. But why is that? The Internet offers us the ability to communicate with, and learn from, people of all different backgrounds and perspectives. We should have the broadest understanding of people-groups and their beliefs of any culture in history, yet it feels as if we’re the most insulated, and the most hostile.
Something is wrong. Something isn’t working the way that it should. I propose that part of what’s broken is our ability to accept and process sincerity, and to respond in-kind. Sincerity takes more effort than sarcasm and snark. Sincerity requires the suppression of one’s ego, and the investment of one’s mind, to give due and equal weight to an idea that one does not agree with. Accepting and processing sincerity takes work, and requires some amount of respect.
What would happen if we traded our malicious sarcasm and snark for sincerity? What would happen if we quit expending our energy on tearing things down, and attacking, and entered into every interaction thinking “innocently and justly”? Rather than instinctively snarking in response (and then giving ourselves a mental high-five for our amazing wit), what if we stopped, processed, and then formed a sincere thought in response? What if we sacrificed the self-gratification of doling out a particularly spicy one-liner, in order to sincerely demonstrate love and respect for someone whose beliefs are different than ours?
I really like what Rick Warren had to say in this regard:
Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.
Though Warren never said the word “sincerity,” I feel like the ideas are parallel. It is possible, even in a completely detached, anonymous conversation on a message-board, to disagree with someone, while extending love and respect. It is possible to receive another’s sincere thoughts and feelings, without compromising your own beliefs. That is how bridges are built. That is how we nurture and cultivate relationships with those that are on opposite sides of the belief-spectrum.
Dealing With Hostility
“But what about when the other person is being a sarcastic, disrespectful jerk?” I can hear you asking. Well, words are not like math, where a negative times a negative makes a positive; in other words, two wrongs do not make a right. If you’ve read through some of the vitriolic comments I’ve responded to, and ever thought I did a decent job at handling nasty criticism, let me tell you this: responding well, without bitterness, or snark, or sarcasm, or contempt, does not often come naturally to me. Not when I’m being viciously attacked. In those moments–and I know how cheesy I sound–I pray and ask God for his wisdom, peace, grace and mercy in the situation, and I keep petitioning for those things until I feel moved by the Holy Spirit to say whatever it is I should say in response. I pray that God helps me to love the other person more than I love myself, and my ego, and my desire to be “right,” and to have the last word–and I ask him to speak through me. And when I’m faithful to that prayer, God always comes through. Always. (I cannot emphasize that enough.) And it’s awesome! (Though sometimes it pains me to write the sincere, loving response that’s put on my heart.)
Do I execute this perfectly every time? Absolutely not. Do I sometimes get so worked-up that I have to let it go for a few days (or weeks) before I can form a loving, respectful, sincere response? You betcha. But let me be clear about this: when I fail at being sincere, it’s because I failed at being faithful. When I say snarky, sarcastic, ugly things, that is not God speaking through me. In fact, that casts a terrible impression of the God who doesn’t need snark, or sarcasm to speak the truth.
So what do you think? Do you see the value in sincerity? What prevents you from speaking sincerely? Can we all agree to strive for greater sincerity in our interactions, especially on the Internet? It’s definitely uncommon, and as such it often feels like an uphill slog, but sincerity paves the way for authentic, loving interaction, so isn’t it worth it? The comments section is all yours, so have at it. I love reading what you all have to say. 🙂
(I’ll be back again on Wednesday with a sponsored post.)
Let’s be friends!
- How to Kill the Snark (stoiclawyer.wordpress.com)
- Why We Value Sincerity & How It Influences Culture (bigthink.com)
- The Snarky Voice in Your Head Is Killing Your Productivity, Here’s How to Stop It [Snark] (lifehacker.com)
Posted by melissajenna on August 6, 2012
I am not talented enough, or clever enough, or righteous enough to deserve to reflect Jesus to the world, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try and do my best. I used to believe that most people were that way, that most people had the audacity to know that they don’t “measure up,” but to carry on anyway, putting one foot in front of the other, not letting the unattainability of that calling deter them. But that’s not the case. For so many people, it’s easier to sling insults, and to disparage, from the comfort and safety of their iPhones, or computer screens. It’s easier to tear something down than to build something up. It requires zero sacrifice of self, and offers no vulnerability. Those people are the armchair-quarterbacks of the writing world.
I’m Not Doing Enough
I often am often told by the armchair-quarterback types that I’m “wasting my time,” and that “the church has bigger issues to tend to” than the ones I choose to write about on my blog. “So why bother?” they ask. But here’s the thing about that kind of talk: it is impossible to fix (or even address) all the issues of the church with a single blog post, and if it were possible, I’m certainly not the writer that’s gonna do it. Additionally, it defers responsibility for action and change onto everyone else. “Why are you writing about _______, when you SHOULD be writing about ________!?!?!” they rail on.
What if, rather than spending their time criticizing me, and telling me that I’m not doing enough, the armchair-quarterbacks of the world were doing what God was calling them to do? If you have a heart for a thing, and you feel God calling you to speak up– do it! If you’re annoyed that I don’t write enough about sex-trafficking, or water projects, or food deserts, then maybe those are the things you should be writing about. Suddenly you’ll find that you don’t have the time to criticize complete strangers on the Internet, because you’re too busy doing the little bit of work that God has put on your heart. If we all did that, what would the church look like? What would the world look like?
We Will Never Be “Good Enough”
I understand the underlying concern: there is too much wrong with the world, and the church, for me to have any sort of significant impact. Here’s what Mother Teresa has to say about that
Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
God doesn’t require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.
My responsibility, and your responsibility, is to figure out what God’s calling for us is, and then to do it to the best of our ability. Even though we’re not talented enough, or clever enough, or righteous enough. Let me encourage you with this: God’s calling for your life is not to passively criticize other believers. It’s not to sit back and say “you shoulda said this…” It’s to take what little you have to offer, and offer it, letting God work through your offering. Think of the story of the boy with the loaves and fishes in John 6: 9-11
Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
You might think my offering isn’t sufficient. That I’m not talented enough to make a difference. And if we’re talking about me, as a person, separate from God, I agree with you. But when we offer up our imperfect and insufficient selves, God will do the rest.
Do you trust God to work though your offering? Are you ready to listen and respond to the Lord, and refuse to be intimidated by the circumstances? Are you ready to look a little bit foolish, offering up your measly loaves and fishes in front of a crowd of 5,000?
Remember what Jesus said to his disciples?
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
I think part of “denying ourselves” is giving up our need to feel “good-enough.” Giving up our need to feel like we’re making a big stinking difference in the world. We have to understand that it is a privilege to die to ourselves in order to live for him.
(And I promise that you will be far more satisfied in fulfilling God’s calling for your life than you ever were armchair-quarterbacking on the Internet.)
I’ll be back on Friday with this week’s update on the 40 Day Makeup Fast!
Let’s be friends!
Posted by melissajenna on July 18, 2012
(Saturday, July 7 through Thursday, July 12)
This week, to avoid redundancy, I’m writing about the entire week as a whole, rather than updating you day-by-day. (You only have to hear “I hate my face” so many times before you’re OVER IT, am I right?) Let’s get to it.
More unexpected perks to barefacedness
- If I’m feeling a little sleepy, or I want a quick pick-me-up, I can splash some cold water on my face. I never understood why people did this in old-timey movies, but I get it now: it feels great! Try it, you’ll like it!
- I can shower at the gym without having to lug all of my makeup along with me. I am ALL for packing lighter.
- My husband can kiss me without fearing that he’ll end up wearing my “lip gunk.” (That’s lip gloss, for those of you that don’t speak Dude.)
Occasions where I notice myself wishing I were wearing makeup
- Meeting new people (I find that I want to hand them a disclaimer like “usually I don’t look like this. Just so you know, most days, I have eyelashes, and my skin looks nice.”)
- Running into people I know when I’m oot and aboot.
- Every time I look in the mirror
That last one is a bit of an exaggeration, actually. Lately, especially after I wash my face, or splash it with some cold water, I’m kind of liking what I see. Not like “hubba hubba, look at that foxy mama,” but more like “oh look at her, she looks sweet.” I think if I were to meet me, I would find my bareface kind and approachable. And I like that.
There’s no graceful way to talk about one’s ugly traits, is there? If I try and dance around this, I’m basically trying to “put lipstick on a pig.” So here goes: I think makeup-Melissa felt (perhaps subconsciously) that she was in competition against every woman she met. Not necessarily in a mean way, but in a comparative way, for sure. Constantly measuring myself against others, to see how I stacked up. And why? Because I was letting my prettiness (or not-so-prettiness, depending) define a significant amount of my value. You’re probably thinking “no, duh.” But it took me TWO WEEKS of fasting from makeup to see this. Because I am stubborn. And sometimes slow to learn a lesson.
After being “off” of makeup for 16 days now, I find myself simply enjoying other people’s company, without some weird subtextual dialogue running through my head at all times. Honestly, most of the time I’m not even aware that I am barefaced. And not only do people seem not to notice my barefacedness AT ALL, but I think maybe people are being nicer to me now? (I’ll sit on this one for a few more days, until I can say conclusively whether or not this is the case.)
My Face is Not The Point
I cannot say that I “like” my naked face yet, and I am beginning to think that maybe that’s not the point. Ever since I began this fast, God’s presence has been thick, and I’ve felt a closeness to the Holy Spirit that I’ve never felt before. It’s working, just like they say it does (fasting, I mean). You want to draw closer to God? Cut something out of your life. Something that scares you. That requires sacrifice of yourself. Let that margin open up, and watch God fill it. Let the fast cause you discomfort, and then feel God comfort you. The fast has made me more vulnerable to the nudges of the Holy Spirit, and through following those nudges, my trust in God is growing, and I find myself looking for his approval first. Naturally. (I guess for this to be a big deal, you have to understand that this is not my character.)
The questions that I entered this fast with are being answered loud and clear, and I know this sounds strange, but I am really looking forward to the next two weeks of the fast.
In case you’re considering participating in the fast yourself, it is never too late to start! Our Facebook group has more than 40 members now, and it has been awesome to read their posts, and commiserate about our barefacedness. There are some AWESOME ladies in the group, and the more the merrier!
For details on the “Fresh-Faced for 40 Days” makeup fast, check out this post.
If you’re interested in participating, join the Facebook group where we can keep each other updated on our progress, post links to our blog posts, and generally hold each other accountable. Obviously, we’ll all be starting on different days, so it’ll be fun to cheer each other on through the different stages.
Let’s be friends!
Posted by melissajenna on July 13, 2012
All The Single Ladies
“All the good ones are taken.” If you’re a single gal, or you’ve ever been a single gal, you’ve either A) said this yourself, or B) heard another single gal say it, and nodded your head in agreement. (Maybe even adding a sassy little “Mmm-Hmm.”)
Well, it’s not true. And? It’s offensive.
All The Single Fellas
I, personally, know of several upstanding, successful guys, who have been single for at least a year, minimum. Why? Because they’re waiting for the “right” lady to come along, and aren’t interested in dating, just for the sport of it. You heard me right: they are not looking for a hookup. They are looking for the real-deal. “Single, mature young men, without commitment issues? Openly looking for a long-term relationship?” They are not unicorns, ladies; they are real, and when you hear what they have to say, maybe you’ll think twice about all of that “all the good ones are taken” business. (Before I go too far, what I have to say is aimed at Christian young women, but regardless of your spiritual beliefs, the struggle I’ve described is universal, and is worth some consideration.)
Let me share with you something that a male reader recently wrote me, in regards to 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike (don’t worry, I have his permission to post this quote):
It is hard enough being expected to be a respectful, godly, and upstanding man on one hand, and seeing the women that we are interested in often fall for the exact opposite of what they say they want. But it is completely maddening to see women fall for the same type of cheap objectification and destructive appeals to venal human nature that men have been plagued by for generations, and to have that celebrated as progress rather than being viewed for what it truly is: degrading for both the producer and the consumer.
Hindsight is 20-20
When I read this, I got so frustrated, not because it’s not true, but because I see it happening all around me. I WAS one of those girls, falling for the exact opposite of what I said I wanted. Honestly, his comment was simultaneously a slap-in-the-face, and a push forward. Immediately I was confronted with visions of my past-self, and I figure that two or three of you out there might be able to relate, so allow me to get real vulnerable, real fast.
Facing visions of my past-self is always difficult. It’s getting easier, but I can’t help but hurt for young-me. How many times had I compromised myself in an attempt to win the affection of someone that was totally undeserving? How many times had I turned my back on what I knew was right, just because I wanted some cute guy to think I was cool? How many times had I made myself ultimately vulnerable to a guy who I knew wasn’t interested in me in a “real” way? (All the while griping about how “all the good ones are taken.”) Looking back on it, I see that I was looking to other people to define my value, rather than knowing my value, and standing firm on it. In retrospect, I thank God that he didn’t introduce me to my husband in that season of my life, because I hadn’t even become myself yet. I feel like God was waiting for me to get my act together before he’d deliver me a “good one.”
A Disposable Heart
If you allow an unworthy guy to define your value, do you know what your value will be? Zero. Nothing. Less than nothing. Disposable. And that’s exactly how I felt. And when you allow yourself to be treated as if you’re disposable, you begin to believe that you are disposable, so that when you do cross-paths with a really amazing, godly guy, you will not feel worthy of his affection. Not only that, but I’m convinced guys have a sixth-sense about this kind of thing; they can “smell” when a girl doesn’t value herself, and generally, they keep their distance. Like I said, the “good ones” are looking for the real-deal. Are you preparing yourself for that, or are you caught-up in pursuing guys who will ultimately treat you like you’re disposable? When you meet a “good one,” will he see a girl who knows her value and stands firm on it, or will he see a girl exhausted from chasing down the shadows of her self-worth?
(Some quick questions: If you are identifying with me at all right now: do you see the extent to which this cycle is damaging your ability to begin and maintain new, lasting relationships? Are you ready to dramatically shift your way of thinking? What will it take for you to be ready?)
Maybe all of the “good ones” aren’t taken. Maybe you’re blind to them, because you’re involved with a bad crowd. Or maybe they’re blind to you, because they’re looking for a girl with maturity and self-respect, and a solid foundation.
I know these might sound like harsh words, but here’s the thing: I know how you feel, because I have been there. Maybe I’m subconsciously writing this to my past-self, because the fact of the matter is that no one in my life was telling me the truth about this kind of stuff. (Even some distant stranger’s voice from across the Internet would have been better than nothing.) So I figured it out on my own, and was completely obliterated along the way, and eventually came back to square one: where, and what is my identity?
Living In The Tension
Before we get there, let’s address a very real tension that exists for women: from day one, many (most?) of us feel “less than,” as compared to women in the media. Many of us had fathers who openly lusted after women that the culture deemed worthy (or our fathers flat-out abandoned us), and though that’s not the only cause, it’s one reason why many women feel that they NEED to be more like women “of the world” than women of God. We’ve seen our fathers, step-fathers, church leaders, political officials, etc live in a way that says they place more value on “worldly women” than godly women. And over time it has caused many of us to harden our hearts, and choose to live in a way that says “Oh yeah? Well two can play at this game.” (Therapist-types call this “acting out.”)
Whose Am I?
No matter how hard you push back, nothing you do will ever undo anything that has happened to you. It won’t bring your father back; it won’t restore your trust in men. All “acting out” does do is move you further and further away from the truth, and build massive walls around your heart. It prevents you from healing, from growing up, and from moving forward. What’s left, after all of this trauma and subsequent acting-out, is a population of young women who have very little of their identity rooted in God, and most of it rooted in their worldly value.
Reversing this cycle of brokenness, claiming your identity in God, and discovering your real value takes time. But just in case you’re thinking you can cut corners and “fix it” as soon as you meet Mr. Right, let me prepare you: I’ve seen it happen so many times (I’m one of them) where a “worldly” Christian girl meets a godly guy, and changes her tune SO FAST. Suddenly she believes in modesty, purity, the whole shebang. The problem is that she is doing it to win a man’s heart, and once that has happened, she no longer has an identity. She has abandoned her worldly ways (which often means severing ties with poisonous friends), but has no identity in God; usually the relationship fails because she gets drawn back into “the world,” and the guy leaves, or she puts her identity in the relationship, and that scares the guy away. Then he leaves, she feels betrayed by (yet another) man, and the cycle repeats itself.
This cycle might be the greatest tragedy facing the young women of my generation, and the next generation, and it breaks my heart.
And lest I forget to mention them: I do know that there are young women out there who do have their identity firmly rooted in the love of God their father, alone. They are beautiful in their security, and they are choosing not to approach dating as a sport. They are serving God with their time and talent, thereby blessing their future husband and future family with a life spent in truth and light. And what an example they are to those around them!
Decisions, and Moving Forward
It is never too late to choose to begin making right decisions, and there is no shame in recognizing your mistakes, turning your back on them, and starting fresh. And depending on what, exactly, you’ve been through, I highly recommend seeing a therapist*. Most insurance plans have coverage for therapy, and it will cost you a minimal amount of money.
I would love to see a real call-to-action for change in this regard. I have this vision of fathers who have blown-it coming forward and confessing to God, and then to their daughters, and of daughters choosing forgiveness and allowing God to soften their hearts, and confessing themselves to their Father in heaven. It’s beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s realistic. It’d be amazing if we all reconciled with our fathers, but in real-life we often have to choose forgiveness, even if the other person hasn’t seen their error. Even if the other person isn’t apologetic. And it’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Does any of this resonate with you, or am I just shouting into the wind, here? Though I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through the kind of junk I put myself through in my late teens/early 20s, I think one of the reasons it all happened is so that I can share my experiences with others, for their benefit. From that perspective, I’m very happy everything happened as it did, and I hope you were able to glean something from my experiences.
As always, feel free to say whatever you want in the comments below. 🙂
PS- Well after posting this, I was brushing my teeth and remembered this verse in Proverbs 31 (sorry to trot out Proverbs 31 :/). It’s verses 11 and 12: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” (Emphasis mine.) For some reason I never understood that ALL means ALL. That means she brings her husband good and not harm before she ever meets him. So simple, but so profound. 🙂
*A quick note on therapy: Therapy was able to provide me with the tools I needed to understand what I had been through, and cope with it on an intellectual level. I couldn’t have healed if not for therapy. But even after therapy, my heart still didn’t feel right. I was bitter, and cynical, and couldn’t seem to forgive. Therapy was only one big piece of the puzzle, but the other piece was God. God was able (and continues) to restore and revive my heart. He has, as the cliché goes “created beauty from ashes.” I could not be the person, wife and mother that I am today if not for the work God did in my heart, and the work he continues to do in my heart. (I put it in bold because I am that serious.)
Let’s be friends!
Posted by melissajenna on July 12, 2012
The comment thread on “50 Shades of Magic Mike” is about a mile long. I’ll never do every excellent comment justice, though I wish I could. There were so many valid concerns raised, and so many worthy questions asked, that I could spend the next year writing about just that stuff alone. (But rest assured that I won’t.)
One particularly insightful commenter mentioned that telling Christian woman to “just say no” to temptation in the form of pornographic novels, and sexually objectifying films doesn’t actually address any underlying issues, and I think the commenter is right. I think the commenter’s point was that we have to ask ourselves why we feel drawn to that type of media in the first place.
Nobody Wants to Be “The Dirty Girl”
One (of the many) reasons Christian women consume media like “Magic Mike” and “50 Shades”, the commenter speculated, is that many Christian women feel sexually repressed, and when offered the opportunity for some socially-acceptable “release,” they’ll pounce. This does not sound unreasonable to me. Though I personally do not identify with this behavior, I am aware that many women have been raised to view sex as dirty, or shameful. In the church’s effort to promote chastity, many women have been made to feel that sex, in general, is wrong, and while you might not see the harm in a 13 year old girl walking around with that opinion, what happens when she grows up and gets married?
While sexual repression is certainly not the only reason Christian women have flocked to see “Magic Mike” in droves, or lost themselves in the “50 Shades of Grey” series, it is definitely a reason. And one worth exploring.
Celebrating God’s Gift of Marital Sex
I understand the social awkwardness of preaching on the beauty and pleasure of sex in a Christian context. (Our culture doesn’t seem to have a problem of doing so itself, so can we blame so many for following the culture’s lead on this?) But if we do not honestly communicate the awesomeness of God’s gift of (marital) sex, and instead limit our talking on the subject to “sex is wrong until you’re married,” we’re handicapping generation after generation of women. (I say women, specifically, because generally men are not taught that sex is “wrong,” they are simply told to “wait,” whereas much of a young woman’s identity is wrapped-up in remaining pure. When women are taught about sex, it’s often shrouded in an element of dirtiness, as if “only bad girls think about sex.”)
If you’re not feeling “in touch” with your sexuality, or maybe you were raised to think of sex the way I described above, you need to know that it is good for you and your marriage to improve your understanding of sexual intimacy, and devote some time to unlearning any unhealthy messages you received about sex growing up. It might be the single greatest gift you can give to your marriage, to have a healthy understanding of God’s design for sex.
One particularly great resource I’ve found is Sheila Wray Gregoire‘s (of “To Love, Honor and Vacuum“) book “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex: (And You Thought Bad Girls Have All The Fun)” which you can pick up off of Amazon for just over $10. Here’s a snippet of the description:
Whether you’re about to walk down the aisle or you’ve been married for decades, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex will lead you on a wonderful journey of discovery towards the amazing sex life God designed you for.
With humor, research, and lots of anecdotes, author Sheila Wray Gregoire helps women see how our culture’s version of sex, which concentrates on the physical above all else, makes sex shallow. God, on the other hand, intended sex to unite us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Gregoire walks through these three aspects of sex, showing how to make each amazing, and how to overcome the roadblocks in each area we often encounter.
At present it has 63 reviews on Amazon, and the average rating is 5 out of 5. (It’s rare that a book on such a “racy” subject averages 5/5, in case you are unfamiliar with Amazon’s book-rating-system.) If you think you might like to read it, I suggest reading through some of the reviews people have written, to ensure that it’s a good purchase for you.
And if you’re not feeling like buying a book on sex (can’t blame you. What if your kid opens the package before you get to it?), but you’re interested in improving intimacy with your husband, you might like Sheila’s series “29 Days to Great Sex,” which is available for free, online. (Even if you and your husband are already, um, “proficient,” you should check it out anyway. It never hurts to refresh your perspective, and you might get some fun ideas. I’ve read her post for “Day 9” several times since she posted it, and I always come away with, um, “renewed zeal.”)
We Are Not “The Church Lady”
Being a Christian woman, one of the most irritating stereotypes that’s perpetuated is that we’re all like Dana Carvey’s SNL character “the church lady.” Sure, some of us are. But most of us are not. God created sex, and it’s obvious how much our culture LOVES (even idolizes) sex. One way Christian women can do a better job of reflecting God to the world is by having amazing, healthy sex-lives with our husbands, and not being afraid to talk about sex, tastefully. (And I have to admit, of all the ways we can reflect God to the world, having a healthy sex-life is probably my favorite.)
What other resources are available that deal with God’s plan for sex, and maintaining an awesome sex-life with your spouse? Do you have any favorites? Share ’em in the comments!
Let’s be friends!
Posted by melissajenna on July 9, 2012
Today should be day 7 of 40 of my makeup fast, but since I’ve already declared day 7 as a do-over, I thought I’d hijack today’s makeup-fast post, talk a little bit about fasting, specifically, and explain a bit why fasting from makeup is a step that I needed to take.
What Is Fasting, And Why Should I Fast?
“Fasting” (abstaining from all or some kinds of foods or drinks, especially as a religious observance) though common in the biblical times, is not as common among contemporary Christians. One reason, I think, is that we’ve forgotten (or never learned) why one might fast in the first place. I really like Jen Hatmaker’s explanation of fasting, in her book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Jen explains
“A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing or routine of comfort jars us off high center. A fast is not necessarily something we offer God, but it assists us in offering ourselves.”
She also lists six circumstances in which one might initiate a fast to “summon God’s movement in [their] life:”
Fasting From Makeup
“I feel as if I’m at a crossroads with my work, yet I can’t see a clear path ahead of me. I have a cloudy picture of where I might be headed, and I want to know for sure that it’s something God is calling me to do, not something that I simply want to do.”
- Fresh-Faced for 40 Days: Because You Should Love What You Look Like Naked (melissajenna.com)
Posted by melissajenna on July 4, 2012
I’m sitting here at my computer, collecting my thoughts, and on the surface, everything is exactly the same as it was yesterday. Same feeling of disapproval when I look at my face in the mirror (explanation). Same anxiety about leaning into the words that have been put on my heart. Heck, I’m even drinking from the same coffee cup (I washed it, don’t worry).
But below the surface, I’m overwhelmed. I’m completely humbled by the incredible outpouring of love and support I’ve received from strangers.
You know, when I first sat down to get that 50 Shades/Magic Mike post out, I’m going to be honest: it felt as if I was unloading a burden. I didn’t write it so much to please God, as to get him off of my back. (I wish I could say I had more righteous intentions.) I put off writing it for several days, but whenever I’d sit down to blog, or work on my book, or email a friend, I couldn’t write the words I wanted to write, because the whole 50 Shades/MM thing kept bubbling up. So late one night, annoyed that I couldn’t get any “real” work done, I finally addressed the issue that had been niggling at me for the past week. And I am so glad that I did.
God is Proving a Point
It is interesting, how even in the community of believers, one can feel so alone. At least, that’s my experience. I didn’t see much purpose in writing that post, beyond showing God that I was willing to let him interrupt my plans, even though I didn’t see a real point in it. (Though I’m well-known in my field, outside the tech-world, I’m nobody special, so the its not like anyone was going to read it anyway.) And in hindsight, I wonder if God’s purpose for me wasn’t necessarily just to address the 50 Shades/MM issue, but to show me that I’m not alone. That there are sisters (and brothers) all around me, and that I don’t have to feel so isolated.
So thank you. And “thank you” are pretty measly words, compared to how I feel. I am so grateful to each of you who has extended herself/himself in support, and has encouraged me to continue saying “yes” to God’s “interruptions.” You have blessed me immensely, and God is using you to prove a point to me: I can trust that I am not alone. I can find community and love in a group of people who used to intimidate me. A group that I used to openly despise. (Maybe sometime I’ll talk about my pre-Christian life a bit. What a change.) That I’ve been adopted by such a father, into such a family, moves me to tears. What a beautiful, beautiful gift that I absolutely do not deserve.
This is not to say that there has not been resistance. I knew when I wrote it that it was not going to please everyone (and would probably upset some), but should pleasing people be my primary concern? Like so many people, I place too much value in how others regard me, and I often prioritize others’ comfort to a fault. Saying “yes” to the words that were placed on my heart was a way of willfully pushing myself out of my comfort zone, recognizing my error in allowing others’ opinions of me to dictate my identity, and deciding to place my security in the opinion of my Father alone. And it was hard. And just because I did it one time, doesn’t mean that it’s over. I’m afraid and excited that in this regard, my journey has only just begun.
Feel-goods aside, I’ve learned a lot from the spectrum of responses I’ve received.
- We can turn nasty when our earthly desires are threatened.
- We are prone to justifying behaviors to satisfy our ideas of what is good, rather than God’s.
- Many people have said that admonishment of wrong behavior is “why they left the church.”
“It’s people like you that caused me to leave the church.”
That third point, “Many people claim that admonishment of wrong behavior is “why they left the church,”” is an interesting one. I can see a lot of myself in that statement. Like I said earlier, even in the community of believers, I often feel alone. There is a lot that bugs me about Christians; some of it is vestigial frustration from my pre-Christian experiences, but some of it is rooted in legitimate concern. Probably the greatest factor that has influenced me to stay in the church over the past several years is that at one point I realized that authentic faith is not rooted in one’s feelings about Christians; deep, meaningful, authentic faith is rooted in one’s love for God their Father.
If your faith is tied up in people-pleasing, and following rules in order to be accepted by people, your faith is in trouble. I used to resent Christians, because I didn’t feel like I needed to live a certain way in order for God to love me. And that’s the truth. God loves you, no matter what. But here’s the thing: if you believe that God, your Father, loves you, and only wants the best for you, it follows that you would, out of respect and love for Him, do your best to live in a way that honors Him, and brings glory to his name. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be happy living that life if you are looking to others for validation. So many of us have tried doing just that, and failed miserably.
So to those of you who would say that being admonished by other believers is pushing you away from God, I encourage you to reorganize your priorities, and begin making decisions through the lens of God your Father. If you love God, seek after Him, and his will, and his purpose for your life. It will follow naturally that you will make decisions based on His approval alone. (Though that doesn’t make those decisions easy.) Once that becomes your new normal, I believe you will have a whole new perspective on admonishment from other believers.
God, The Dictator
If you’re trying to live under God without loving him, or without knowing his love for you, you’re missing out entirely, and you’re going to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall. If you feel as if God your Father is demanding, and oppressive, and you’re constantly struggling to please him, you’re not getting it, and my prayer for you is that something will happen that will reveal God’s overwhelming love for you, because it will change your life.
Thank you, again, for encouraging me, and for correcting me that sharing God’s truth doesn’t have to be “quick, like a bandaid,” (my words), but “loud, and clear, like a trumpet call” (words of a particularly inspiring commenter.
I love you. I really do. And that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that for our big, crazy, sometimes loud-mouthed family. (Even though there are a few of you that fall into the “crazy uncle” category, and a few of you who I’m SURE would argue with me about politics over the Thanksgiving turkey.) 🙂
So this is brotherly love, huh? It’s a whole new world.
- Looking For An Exit From The Journey With Jesus (internetmonk.com)
- 50 Shades of Magic Mike (In Which I Am VERY UNCOOL) (melissajenna.com)
Posted by melissajenna on July 4, 2012
This is a post that will not make me any friends, and will alienate some of my existing friends, and generally make me look like a complete stick-in-the-mud. Do people still say that? Stick-in-the-mud? How about killjoy/spoilsport/wet-blanket, etc? You get what I mean.
The only reason I’m writing this at all is because I feel compelled to do so. I’m not sure if you ever had this feeling, but sometimes there are words that I need to write, only I don’t want to write them. So I push them deep down, underneath all of the other words I actually want to write, and beneath my mental-list of chores and errands, so far down that I think they basically don’t exist anymore. But that’s never the case. Something always causes them to spring back up, and this will continue happening until I sit down and write the words out. Then I can move on with my life. That’s what this is.
“50 Shades of Grey” is an erotic novel, and “Magic Mike” is a movie about male strippers, and both are very, very popular with women right now. In fact, they’re being called “Mommy Porn.” (I won’t go into more detail, because there is enough about them both on the Internet already.) I can’t check Twitter or Facebook without reading another enthusiastic update about both of them. Seems like every woman I know is into one of those works, or both. I am not surprised that both of these works are being celebrated so openly; there are so many equivalent works that are aimed at men that garner major public attention that I’m actually surprised it took women this long to get their own “thing.” I am surprised, though, at how completely accepting Christian culture is to both of these works. I’ve read a few dozen different updates from Christian women regarding “50 Shades” and “Magic Mike,” and the verdict? They love them. I mean they really looooove them. They can’t stop talking about them.
(Quick, like a bandaid:) This is not okay.
Christian women need to reject both of these works, and instead, use our voices in support of what is good, right and true. It is our responsibility, as daughters of the Heavenly King, to remain set-apart from the poisons of our culture, to rebuke temptation, and to celebrate and honor righteousness.
Some Scriptural Support
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
If your enemy thinks he can snare you with something as “acceptable” as 50 Shades or Magic Mike, you better believe he will take advantage. Don’t let the culture’s acceptance and celebration of these works confuse you, or put you off your guard.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-9
(Emphasis my own.) Do not conform to the patterns of this world. In other words, just because everyone else is reading it/watching it, that doesn’t make it acceptable.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23
Is what you’re putting in front of your eyes healthy? Is what you’re putting into your imagination healthy?
Put Yourself in His Shoes
To gain another perspective, imagine your husband (or father/brother/church leader) going around bragging about how much he loved reading last month’s Playboy magazine, or rallying all of his guy friends to go see “Magic Meghan” for the third time. If our husbands were drooling over a movie about female strippers, we would be livid. It wouldn’t be tolerated. Church leaders would be publicly denouncing men’s sudden acceptance of pornography and erotic films. (Why aren’t church leaders publicly denouncing 50 Shades or Magic Mike, by the way?)
Make Good Decisions
If you’re a Christian woman, and you’re reading this, know that I am not judging you. (I own 50 Shades myself. I bought it before I knew what it was, on the recommendation of a friend, and after reading some pages and discovering that it’s pornography, I cast it aside.) We all have poor judgement sometimes, and leave ourselves open to temptation. But we can also use our agency to make good decisions. Like throwing 50 Shades away (don’t re-gift it!), and not going to see Magic Mike. (Or if you’ve already seen it, stop encouraging all of your friends to go see it.)
Rather than causing each other to stumble by putting our sisters in the path of temptation, what if we decided to use our voices to celebrate our marriages? Or the marriages of your friends and family? What if we championed healthy relationships?
Taking Things Up a Notch
(This next paragraph talks about sex a little bit, so stop reading if you don’t want to read about sex.)
What if we invested our time and energy into spicing things up in our bedrooms? Rather than spending $12 on that movie, or the book, why not save the money, and instead, wear something sexy to bed, just because? And what if all the time that you would have spent reading 50 Shades, you instead spent making love to your husband? (Though probably not all in one day…unless you’re, like, training for a marathon.) We can definitely kick things up a notch without resorting to reading pornography, or lusting after celebrity-strippers.
It is not okay to sexually objectify people. Just because evidently this summer we’re all about objectifying men, that doesn’t make it okay. It’s not like there’s a scale, and all these years, it’s been heavy on the objectification-of-women side, and we need to balance it out by objectifying men now. It doesn’t work that way. The only way we “balance the scale” is by quitting objectifying anyone, and leaving the scale empty. Oh, and that saying “you are what you eat?” I’d say the same thing goes for media: you are what you consume. Pornography is unhealthy. There, I said it.
Do I win some kind of prize for being the least popular person on the Internet for this? Like I’ve said: I did not want to write this. Please be nice to me in the comments, because if you know me at all, you know that this is totally out of character for me. I don’t preach at people…well, ever. I’m just glad these words are out so I can finally write the things I want to write.
[Edited to add a link to a follow-up post I’ve written]
If your faith is tied up in people-pleasing, and following rules in order to be accepted by people, your faith is in trouble. I used to resent Christians, because I didn’t feel like I needed to live a certain way in order for God to love me. And that’s the truth. God loves you, no matter what. But here’s the thing: if you believe that God, your Father, loves you, and only wants the best for you, it follows that you would, out of respect and love for Him, do your best to live in a way that honors Him, and brings glory to his name. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be happy living that life if you are looking to others for validation. So many of us have tried doing just that, and failed miserably.
[Edited to add additional links on the subject, if you’d like to read more]
Why is a nun always* talking about sin? Because sin is real. And it’s bad. And it hurts us. And it’s mean. As “Sister” from Late Nite Catechism sez: “Sometimes we feel guilty because we are.” Guilt is good! It’s an indicator that something is wrong! And then we can do something about it! Yay, guilt! Just like we get aches and pain as symptoms that something is wrong in our bodies. But of course we need a healthy conscience, not a lax or scrupulous one. That’s why we need “formation of conscience.”
I’m Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey – From Dannah Gresh at purefreedom.org
Over time your body becomes conditioned to self-stimulation and gratification. It’s not just a preference. It’s physiological. The lust cuts a literal pathway in your brain tissue that’s kinda like a rut. A rut you better be prepared to get stuck in. While at first a little bit of erotica might give you a taste for your spouse, overtime that rut reminds you how great you are at self-stimulation and how powerful your imagination can be.
Fifty Shades of Great Sex With Your Husband – From intimacyinmarriage.com
The landscape is cluttered with shiny things masquerading as pathways to authentic intimacy, and I’m fairly certain that Fifty Shades of Grey is merely finding its place in the mix.
Escape into Grey – from the-generous-wife.com
The problem is that reading erotic novels is like eating Twinkies to stop your hunger. It’s sweet. It’s gives you a sugar high. It makes good food taste bland. It doesn’t give your body the nutrition it needs and all you do is crave more sugar, more Twinkies.
The Fifty Shades of Magic Mike – from Fatherhood and Other Unknowns
I will be the first person to tell you that we, as men, are called to a much higher standard and have to do our best to protect our ears, our eyes, and our mind from the gutters of junk that surround us on a daily basis and we also have a responsibility to, by doing that, protect the hearts and image of the women in our lives.
Shades of Grey: Media Choices and Marriage – from Mulberry & Magnolia
Praise God (for own my broken self and for every other broken person out there) that GRACE ABOUNDS and repentance is just a prayer away. Let’s all aim to be quicker to recognize danger zones and flee from them, and let’s turn to God and do our best to filter all of our decisions through His Word. Will we do it perfectly? Heck, no! But, I think if we ask, the Holy Spirit will file the junk far away before we come close to damaging our hearts or our husbands.
- Stop Grey From Becoming The New Black And White (theromanticvineyard.com)
Posted by melissajenna on June 30, 2012
First, the point: I am quitting makeup for 40 days. I began today.
(Actually, I’m calling it a fast, but for those of you who do not subscribe to a set of spiritual beliefs that engages in fasting, you can just think of it as quitting, and that’s fine by me.)
Next, the ugly truth: I do not like my naked face. I think it is ugly. Showing my naked face in public terrifies me, and that makes me sad, and I think that is a problem.
And finally, the rules: I will not wear anything that alters or obscures the natural appearance of my face for 40 days. (June 27, 2012 – August 6, 2012)
- This includes all standard makeup products, but also tinted moisturizer, tinted lip-balm, and pore-reducing or anti-shine lotions and potions. If it feels like cheating, it probably is.
- This does not include: my standard moisturizer or regular old chapstick. A girl’s gotta stay hydrated, am I right?
- On days where I am to appear on camera at work: I will arrive to work barefaced, apply my makeup just before filming, and wash it off once we’re through. (Washing it off will take every last ounce of my will power. God help me.)
- I will not avoid having my picture taken while barefaced, and I will continue to video-blog, au naturale.
Okay, that’s basically the gist of it. The rest of this is supporting exposition that I’d love it if you read, and I insist that you read before you make any sort of comment whatsoever.
The rest of this is the story behind this insanity.
We all tell little lies. The biggest lie I tell every day is my face. My face says I’m well-rested (I’m not), that I’m well-hydrated (I’m not), and that I am poreless, and without blemishes (I most certainly am not). My face says I’ve got it all together (I don’t), that I’m not aging (I am), and that being pretty is effortless (it isn’t. Well, it isn’t for me.). I put so much time and energy into telling lies with my face, that it’s making me sick. What a complete waste of time and money, and what a terrible example to set for the women who know me. And what an affront to the God who created me. (N.B. You and I might not subscribe to the same spiritual beliefs, and that’s completely cool. Please do not let my spiritual beliefs stand in the way of you, perhaps, learning to love your naked face a bit more than you do now. Deal? Read on, friend, read on.)
I know, I know, you’re thinking that I’m being too hard on myself. “It’s JUST MAKEUP” you’re saying. “We ALL do it.” Trust me, I hear you. Really, I do. But something inside me has snapped, and there’s no going back to the way things were.
I Love Makeup.
I LOVE makeup. I’m a makeup-aholic. Is there anything more fun than taking the time to do your makeup really well? Sephora is my favorite store of all of the stores, and every time I walk in there I get giddy with the excitement of hunting out a new product and sampling all of the goodies. I love the artsy quality of makeup. I love what can be communicated by makeup: how you can be a blushing, natural-looking girl-next-door one day, and a smoldering femme fatale the next, just with some smudges of highlighter or blush, or some well-placed lashes. I enjoy makeup for many of the same reasons that I enjoy fashion. Many of you already get me on this point, so I’ll leave it at that.
Applying my makeup in the morning, while enjoying a cup of coffee, used to be one of my favorite parts of the day. It was fun, and somewhat artistic, and who doesn’t enjoy looking lovely? But at a certain point, I can’t really pinpoint when, I began putting on makeup not because it was a mode of self-expression, but because I felt that I needed to cover things up, because I wasn’t proud of my face the way it naturally looked. It became less and less about choosing to put “my best face forward,” and more and more about keeping up appearances (and yes, I can appreciate the irony of this). Rather than making an informed and empowered decision, I had become a slave to my daily makeup routine; I watched as hundreds of dollars slowly dripped out of my checking account, and hours were lost in front of my bathroom mirror, painting over my blemishes and accenting my best features. I’m not sure when it happened, but eventually I lost sight of all of the good and healthy reasons why women use makeup, and I had become dependent on it, maybe even addicted to it. It became so that I could not see myself as pretty when I wasn’t wearing makeup, and that’s where I’m writing from today. (Of course none of you have this problem, right? Riiiight.)
I think makeup is an amazing tool that women have at their disposal, and it can be used to increase confidence, but at some point I traded my actual confidence for my makeup bag. I’m not sure why it never bothered me before; maybe I was really good at justifying my makeup use to myself, but when I think about how much I dislike my naked face, and how scared I am to be seen in public without makeup, I get really really angry. Who is this unconfident, sad little woman? And why is she so afraid to bear the face God gave her? Does she really think she can improve upon the creation of God? It’s a terrible comparison, but I keep imagining somebody walking up to the Mona Lisa and gluing on some false eyelashes, or increasing the size of David’s “manhood.” Am I saying that I am unique, and beautiful, and artfully created by the Master of Creators? Well…Yeah. (Aren’t we all?) So why can’t I look at my face in the mirror, and thank God for it, and tell him I like what I see? (Something in my head is broken, that’s why.)
Confronting My Fears
Nowadays, the idea of leaving the house without makeup is (literally) terrifying. And this is a big, ridiculous problem. For perspective: Looking back through my photos, I can’t find a single picture since junior high where I wasn’t wearing makeup. Summer camp, 12 hour dance rehearsals in the heat of the Texas summer, doing missionary work in rural Mexico, I’m wearing makeup in every single picture. The photos taken during the labor and delivery of my child? I’m totally wearing foundation, bronzer and mascara. (I remember applying it before my contractions got too painful to concentrate.) It’s the bronzer-whilst-birthing that makes me realize I have a serious mental-problem.
I remember my reasoning for applying makeup before I gave birth to Ellie: “these pictures are going to be around for who knows how long” I told myself. “They define this moment of my life. Why not have an even skin-tone and pretty eyelashes?” It all sounds harmless enough, but if a woman can’t feel at ease with her face while she’s giving birth to a child, what hope does she have for feeling at ease with her face in any other circumstance in life?
Are You Like Me?
If you’re not getting me yet, here’s a fun little exercise: if you’re a woman, close your eyes, and imagine yourself as a man (maybe your husband, or your father, or your brother, or even a coworker). Now imagine yourself getting out of bed, and getting ready to go to work. What do you do? You probably shower, shave your face, brush your teeth, apply some deodorant, and fiddle with your hair (if you have any) for about seven seconds. If you’re fancy, you splash on a bit of cologne. Then you get dressed, and leave for work. You don’t think to yourself, “my eyelashes are so light, they’re practically nonexistent!” You don’t inspect your pores thinking “if only I could make them smaller.” You certainly don’t apply that lip-gloss that makes your lips sting because of its “plumping agent.” Doesn’t that minimalist morning routine sound absolutely liberating? (And to you women out there who already have very minimal morning routines: I salute you. I also hate you a little bit, because I envy your confidence and grace, but it’s a loving kind of hate, if that makes sense.)
I feel like I need to repeat myself again, because someone out there is not hearing me: I love makeup. I love being pretty. I love making a good impression. I love “going the extra mile” and polishing my appearance. I love that with a few products from my makeup bag, I can stack-up against the likes of hollywood starlets. I’m a die-hard makeup fanatic; I get all of the reasons why makeup is awesome, and I am not judging you, or your relationship with makeup. But my reliance on makeup not just to feel beautiful, but to feel acceptable to be seen in public, is crushing my heart, and is preventing me from seeing myself the way God sees me. The only way I am going to break free is to give up makeup cold-turkey. Not for forever, but for long enough that my vanity can be completely uprooted, and a healthy appreciation and respect for the face that God gave me can grow in its place. I approximate that this will take (at least) 40 days.
Why 40 Days?
Surely a week or so would be good enough, right?
I have a couple of reasons for setting 40 days as the minimum duration of my makeup-fast.
- I am stubborn, and it takes me a bit longer than some other people to get over things.
- Most research says that habits can be broken or formed in 21 days, and since 40 days is roughly double that, I feel confident that real, lasting change can occur.
- In the Bible, a 40-something time period, whether days, months, or years is always a period of testing, trial, probation, or chastisement (but not judgment) and ends with a period of restoration, revival or renewal (for example, Jesus 40 days spent in the desert, fasting and being tempted by the devil). There is a lot of hocus-pocus-ey sounding stuff on the Internet regarding the significance of the number 40 in the Bible. Honestly, a great deal of it sounds superstitious to me, and I am not an adherent to any kind of superstition, but, if Jesus chose to fast for 40 days, I see no problem with mimicking him.
- But mostly numbers 1 and 2.
For several months I’ve prayed that I would grow to love my naked face more than my “made-up” face. And guess what? God has not blessed me with an appreciation for my naked face, which comes as no surprise to me, because that’s not really how God works. What God did do, however, was push Jen Hatmaker and her book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” across my path, and slap me in the face with this question: “What, in my life, if taken away, would alter my value and my identity?” Yikes.
And you know, at first, the only things I could come up with as an answer to this question were 1. My husband, and 2. My daughter. (Then I gave myself a mental-high-five for being so level-headed, and so in-tune with God’s priorities for my life.) But then, later, as I was putting on makeup to take Ellie to the pool (yes, I’m that mom), it hit me: I am the most vain person I know. That is not an exaggeration. I don’t think I’m the hottest lady on the block or anything, but I place so much of my value in the fact that, when made-up, I can be very pretty. My identity? When made-up, I am a Pretty Lady. What kind of crap identity is that? And temporary, to boot. Once I realized this, I might have shame-spiraled a bit, and sought comfort in my guys Ben & Jerry. (Don’t ask me why I’m confessing this to you. I guess when I start telling the truth, it just all comes out.)
So that’s the seed that sprouted this whole insane, scary, exercise in self-torture. Jen’s book “7” inspired me in many, many other ways, but the only thing that actually scared me was the idea of going makeup-less. I know how trivial of a problem this might sound to some of you, and I get that. I get how trivial and petty and self-absorbed I sound. “Privileged white-girl from beautiful Coastal California chooses to fast from her makeup collection that probably costs more than some people’s cars.” Please believe me when I tell you that I know this exercise epitomizes the expression “first-world problem.” But I also know that each little step I take is valuable, and just because other people might think it’s silly doesn’t mean it’s not important. I need to get over my vanity. I need to get over myself.
Concerns and Expectations
What will people think of me when they see me barefaced? Will people assume that I’m lazy? That I don’t care enough to put effort into my appearance? Can I handle being told I “don’t look so good” every day? Or that I look tired? Or being asked if something is the matter with me? Will people hear about my fast and think I’m some holier-than-thou crazy-lady? Or a militant feminist with an anti-makeup agenda? Will people look at me and think, “Gosh, if she just tried a little, she could be kinda pretty?” Or, “I feel sorry for that uggo’s husband?” It’s my obsession over what others will think about me that really upsets me. My primary concern shouldn’t be what people will think of me, it should be what my Creator thinks of me. This verse keeps coming to mind: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14) And this lyric by the David Crowder Band: “You make everything glorious, and I am yours. What does that make me?” I know in my head that’s what I should believe, but my heart puts so much value in how others consider me, that this whole idea of simply not putting makeup on has my stomach in knots. It’s ridiculous, and that’s why I have to do something about it.
What do I expect at the end of the 40 days? For one thing, I expect that I’ll be thrilled with how much time I’m saving by abstaining from makeup. And of course I’ll also be saving some money. But bigger than that, I hope I’ll grow to love what I actually look like, without all the cosmetics, and come closer to seeing myself the way God sees me. And I hope that I’ll have more grace for the rare makeup-less women I come across in the world.
And for the record, my husband thinks this is my best idea yet. He thinks it’s crazy that I don’t like my bare face. He’s a keeper, that Mr. Godsey.
So, for the next 40 days I invite you along with me. You can participate as passively as cheering me along (I will need lots of encouragement), or as actively as joining me in fasting from makeup for the full 40 days. I would love to have some ladies on this journey with me! If you’re interested in joining me, I’ve made a Facebook group where we can keep each other updated on our progress, post links to our blog posts, and generally hold each other accountable. Obviously, we’ll all be starting on different days, so it’ll be fun to cheer each other on through the different stages.
If you’re joining me on this fast, of course you can be as flexible as you want to, but I encourage you to go Full Monty on this one. Also, feel free to use the button I’ve made (up at the top of this post, or in the sidebar) to link-back to this insanely long post, so you don’t have to do all of the ‘splaining to your friends if you don’t want to.
Or, you can just subscribe to my blog over there in the sidebar, or follow me on twitter @melissajenna.
If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to share them. I always love hearing what you guys have to say.
Posted by melissajenna on June 27, 2012