In seventh grade, there were two boys in my class who were bigger and taller than me. I was the tallest kid in my elementary school, so this phenomenon was new. I was friends with them and even flirted occasionally. Well, I didn’t know too much about flirting, but I tried. One day the bell rang and I was slow to gather my things. The teacher left and I was alone with the guys. I don’t know how it started, but they ended up chasing me around the room (fun and a little exciting) and grabbing my butt (um, NOT fun). Shocked and a little frightened, I scooted outside fast. This happened repeatedly and their actions escalated until I made sure I was never alone. What started as an innocent flirtation turned terribly frightening.
What did the teacher or my parents do about it? The answer is: nothing. They did nothing because they never knew. I didn’t tell anyone.
My family and church taught me to be sweet and kind, to overlook offenses, forgive, and do all I could to make each day a good day. Good lessons when they aren’t taken to the extreme. The extreme is what caused a lot of hurt and pain in my life. The extreme kept me silent when I should scream and it led to all sorts of dysfunction. Today I’m grasping at the truth, trying to absorb it, but unlearning is hard to do.
Sadly, the story above repeated itself many times. I blamed myself for flirting and accused myself of leading the offenders on. I thought I couldn’t complain when someone crossed the line because before it happened, I laughed with them and seemed easy-going. Of course, I had no idea laughing or being friendly and easy-going gave anyone permission to paw at me, but I still decided it was my fault. Plus, I was sure they didn’t really have bad motives. They would never really hurt me. I needed to get over it and be quiet or I would create trouble.
The truth is, their actions DID really hurt me. They crossed the line. They did something inappropriate and unacceptable. And I reinforced their behavior by keeping quiet. Rather than speak up, I insulated myself. I gained weight. I gave mixed messages to men, leaving them wondering who I was or what I wanted. The truth is, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I was too busy trying to figure out what everyone else wanted and thought.
God is teaching me who I am in Him and I’m a slow learner. Who I am, what I think, and what I want IS important. I’m learning that it’s okay to express myself to others, even before I know who they are, what they think, and what they want. I don’t have to adjust myself to fit in. It’s too exhausting to live that way.
I don’t want to come across as too godly and ostracize myself from one group. I don’t want to come across as too worldly and offend another group. I don’t want to be too flashy in the way I dress, but I don’t want to dress too conservatively. I don’t want to be too opinionated for a woman. I don’t want men to think I’m unable to hold my own in a conversation at work. I don’t want anyone to think I’m arrogant about my education. I don’t want anyone to think I’m uneducated. And the list goes on and on… It’s ridiculous and impossible to balance.
How about if I just figure out who I am and be that person? How about if I learn how to be okay with myself and let others feel what they want to feel about me?
The problem is that the truth hurts sometimes. It can be painful to know you aren’t included in a group because you’re different from them. It can be painful to let someone know you think differently than they do. Differences of opinion often lead to anger and resentment. Speaking up and telling things that are difficult can make you seem like a trouble-maker.
But keeping silent often leads to something that kills our souls.
Grocery shopping about a year ago, I smiled in a friendly way to two men in my path. To them, that apparently meant an invitation to harass me. They followed me down several aisles, making catcalls and loudly expressing themselves. They got closer and closer, more and more bold. I wanted to run, but something rose up inside me and I decided I was not going to let them get away with their offensive behavior. I stopped very suddenly and they were so close they ran into me. Stunned, they backed up as I turned to face them. All I said was, “Excuse me!” with a look that left no doubt about how I felt. As they sputtered apologies, I turned and walked away. I didn’t see them again.
As I grow to understand more of who God has called me to be, I grow in boldness. I am a Christian, a minister, anointed by God to lead others in worship and to administer the sacraments of the church. I’m not called to celibacy, but I am (as every Christian) called to purity, which means my sexuality is reserved for the man I will marry someday. That means no one may touch me inappropriately or say degrading things to me. If they do, I have every right and responsibility to correct them. There is nothing unladylike about it. It also means I will boldly speak the truth of God’s word when I speak or teach or preach or write on my blog.
As challenging as this post was for me to write, I hope my sharing will help someone else stop excusing the inexcusable. I hope this post will help someone start loving the person God made them to be. I hope someone will speak up, say the hard things, and allow God to work out the details.