I have recently begun the application and interview process for doctoral programs and, with that, am having to answer questions about my dissertation research. I have had a thought rattling around for years about researching the weight of Christ-given identity in college-age women in the church and how the lack of ownership of that identity leaves all these girls running around apologizing for everything they do, think, say, and feel.
More on that another time.
I used to not own my identity. Sorry was the most frequently used word in my vocabulary. I apologized for sneezing, coughing, talking, walking, going through a door, closing a door, eating, breathing. I said sorry to everyone for everything.
One of my students apologized four times in 45 seconds this morning for absolutely nothing, and it got me thinking about how I ever got to that point. And how I got out.
Before I was sorry for existing, I was a rambunctious, albeit an orderly and rule-following, child. I was told that little girls are quiet. Little girls don’t yell. Little girls don’t talk too much. Little girls don’t always raise their hand when they know the answer to the questions in class. Little girls don’t compete with the boys. Little girls don’t question authority. Little girls don’t make the boys feel bad by telling them to stop snapping their bras or pulling their hair in class. Little girls should act like less so that boys feel like more. Little girls should be demure and submissive.
I learned how to be quiet. How to not speak up or stand up for myself. How to push down whatever I was feeling to make boys and grown-ups feel stronger. How to do as I was told without question. How to make other feel smart by not showing how smart I was. How to not tell anyone I took the ACT at age 12. How to not tell anyone my grades because other people had to work harder than I did for less achievement.
I was a little girl lost. I did not believe in my Christ-given identity, but I held fast to stifling my identity to keep from rocking the boat. I don’t blame my parents or my teachers or pastors for this. It was the culture of the time, and is a culture that still exists.
This isn’t meant to align myself with the current movement of feminism. As with all movements, this one has its own flaws and exclusions that I don’t wish to be a part of. This also isn’t meant to align myself with the current Republican party as all political parties have their flaws, too, and I have grave reservations about things where they stand on all sides of the aisle. Last, this isn’t meant to condemn the church or the people in it. I love my faith and my Baptist people, shortcomings and all.
Nothing and no one is perfect, and nothing and no one is beyond redemption.
Even that little girl who resigned herself to being sorry for even existing. God redeemed even her. So where I’ve landed is in this place of wounded/healing fire. My heart aches for little girls who apologize for existing. My student killed me this morning with her whispered “sorry” over and over for doing absolutely nothing wrong. My belly is consumed with fire in frustration at people who perpetuate the belief that little girls are less than. Because God, this God I seek to serve and study and follow, does not see them as less than. He sees them as whole people.
Little girls are brave. Little girls are beautiful. Little girls are sometimes made for things other than, or alongside of, dating, marriage, sex, childbirth, cooking and cleaning (and in that order). Those things are beautiful and wonderful and holy things in their own right. People so often think that because I am educated and working and excited about it and encourage other women to explore career paths that I am denouncing the traditional female role.
Naysayers, haters, and critics, let me tell you something. Since I was that little girl, I wanted nothing more than to marry, have loads of babies, and bake biscuits for my man. I still want that life with all that is within me. For whatever reason and despite my best efforts, it is a life denied to me up to this point. I will never know why. I grieve for the things I have never had. I long for a husband with which to make a life of service together. I cry over every abused or abandoned baby and child I read about on the news and I ask God why He would allow such awful people to have the privilege of motherhood, but leave me alone and childless when I would love and cherish my husband and any child in my care.
He hasn’t answered me yet. But I believe in His goodness, His faithfulness, and His reasoning for my life’s journey. I lived outside of His will for a long time and it is not a place I wish to return to.
I don’t have a traditional life. I never have. I grew up moving around and I have lived my adult life moving around, knowing that the Lord has made me something of a nomad and has used those moves and experiences to grow compassion and understanding I would never have had if He had left me to stay in one place. To settle down and be a wife and mom and biscuit-maker sounds like a dream that has faded over time. I don’t want it any less now than I did when I was five. I also understand now that sometimes the Lord calls little girls to different things and I am on my own journey wrought so clearly by His hand.
And by His hand, little girls are on journeys not meant to be compared. Little girls might be teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, counselors, professors, senators, pharmacists, and presidents. Little girls might be mamas and stepmamas. Little girls might have husbands, or they may not. They might have children, or they may not. They may be like me, living their Plan C (educated and working) instead of their Plan A (stay at home mom with six kids, bearded husband, and a cabin in the woods). Or maybe educated and career-driven was their Plan A (and the Lord’s plan for them) all along. Little girls might just have it all: education and family and career and service to a community. Little girls might be loud. Little girls might be soft and tender. Little girls might play it safe or jump off every cliff they come to (like I learned to). Whatever their path, whatever their personality, they are not less. They are made whole and have an identity given by a Savior who loves them beyond all imagination.
Little girls are brave. Little girls are beautiful. Little girls are made to live lives full and wild and wholeheartedly. Little girls don’t have to be sorry.