Monday, November 25, 2013

As a woman, what do you want from the Church?

I have been a devoted follower of Preston Yancey's blog for well over a year now. As a church history minor, I have adored his examinations of theology and find myself a bit miffed that I have to wait a whole calendar year for his book to be placed on top of my reading book stack--I have no more shelf room. It is also a source of constant amusement to me that one of my friends went to the same graduate school as him and my RD's wife's little sister is his fiancĂ©e. Small world. Just last week, however, he issued something that made me stop and mull it over. I have been pondering and meditating on it for days, as well as which arm I should sharpie 2 Corinthians 4:8 in Latin to, but that is separate. 

He posed this question: As a woman, what do you want from the Church?

As a woman, what do I want from the church? As surprising as it sounds, I have never been asked this question before and I find this troubling. Preston spoke about it in discussion of giving women open mic on his blog about the thing or things, they want from the church, and is accepting submissions on a rolling basis. His word limit, however, is 600-800 words, something I am not totally comfortable with, so I am going to dry run my thoughts here, with myself, God, and I think the seven people that read this regularly and there may not be that many of you. But I have recently become reacquainted with this single frustrating trend within the Church and I think somebody has to call it out, so I am going to. After all, lux ex tenebris invictus, right? Light triumphs out of darkness.
As a woman, I want the Church respect the definition of "personal life."

I suffer no delusions that the fact that I address relationships often has not escaped notice. I would apologize for that, but it is the stage of life in which I find myself: surrounded by relationships. I believe, at last count, that the number of single girlfriends I have do not outnumber the fingers on my left hand. Now, before you raise some white flag, bracing for a single girl to beat you over the head about how to own your singleness or make you feel bad for being one of the many in my life who are married, I invite you to stop and breathe. This is not about any of that. This is about an attitude within the church that affects both married and single. Let me paint a picture of both sides, the one I am getting and the one some of my best friends are receiving.

Single side first: 
"Do not worry, you are young, you have plenty of time to marry."
"Maybe guys do not date you because they see your purity ring and assume it means something else."
"It is quite obvious that he likes you because of…."
And my recent favorite: "Is there anything going on between you and…"

Dating & Married side:
"Have you guys talked about when you're getting married?"
"When do you think he'll propose and how?"
And recent married friend favorites: "Have you guys talked kids yet?"

I am just curious as to where everyones' tact and upbringing in conversational boundaries has gone. I mean, even if we're friends, in what way is this any of your business? I have a very specific, small group of women that I confide such matters to, and unless I tell you otherwise, you are not a part of said accountability group and neither are you the person I am dating/engaged/married to, and therefore, it is definitely none of your concern. Something attending a small, Christian university taught me is that the gossip mill loves grist and relationship news is always plentiful, juicy, and changing. 

As I am currently standing on the single's side of the line, I can comment more intimately about the phrases I wrote because they have all been said to me since the beginning of the month. Those are the best of all of them, but I promise there were more. The first two occur a lot because I am a sales consultant in a bridal salon and by the end of a bridal appointment, there are almost no secrets between yourself and some brides. When you are helping them in and out of dresses for four hours, stories get shared back and forth. 

The one I hear the most is that it is okay that I am not married because I'm still young (two months from 23) and they are surprised at how little single girlfriends I have remaining. Oh the things Christian college will do for you, if not bestow an MRS degree. As much as I appreciate the sentiment and can feign kindness in response, telling me I still have plenty of time really does not help me feel any better. As "Save the Date" cards continue to come (three 2014 weddings already, with more to show up), I have a whole batch of friends who I am waiting to announce the first round of pregnancies. All us singles have placed bets, don't you worry. All your married friends have too, I promise. 

Do you want to know why it does not help for you to tell me that? For me, it promotes an insecurity. I have no success stories to tell except my only ex and I, together for two weeks, are very good friends, but it took over a year for that to be true. You want to know what insecurity it promotes within me? That I might still have time, but maybe not enough time to figure out how to keep a relationship moving forward. It promotes fear in my life because I am so far behind so many of my friends in my personal interactions with men and have no love life to speak to. It might sound ridiculous to say that, but it took nineteen years for me to go on my only date. If I am engaged, let alone married at 25, I will consider it the greatest triumph God may have worked in my life to that point.

The second one, that my purity ring throws men off, I'm sorry, I have to call it, so cover your ears: bullshit. What utter nonsense. Total hogwash. One of my best friends from high school professes the same thing I do, saving ourselves until marriage, and she has always opted not to wear a ring because she holds that tenant to herself. Nothing wrong with that in the slightest. I, in contrast, like having the ring. It is a good conversation starter, number one. And the other perk, I have learned, is that it appears to limit frivolous attentions, which I have told you baffles me. To say that wearing the ring, though, detracts from my perceived availability is ridiculous. Any man that has ever spent any time with me in public or in person, knows that I read single loud and and clear. If not, I have probably called them obtuse in general conversation. And as a general standard, Christian culture is familiar with the concept of the purity ring--it may be a dying breed, but it is still recognized. A ring is not a turn off. It can all be solved with a single question.

So I think he likes me and based off of my deeply biased account of the facts and conversational snippets, you completely agree with me. This is where you, as my friend since I am confiding these childish girlhood scenarios to you, need to put me back in my place and remind me that nothing is final until a date is involved, and even then, life is not set in stone until you're dead. I have run up against this wall frequently since this summer. Talking to friends about extended conversations with one man tends to raise a lot of questions, especially after weeks of back and forth. You know what my friends did when I asked for council? They told me to stuff my fear, take a risk, and see where it goes. Not bad advice, because what is the worst that could happen? He does not like me. Okay. 

But they did something worse than that, a few gave me a list of conclusive evidence that proves he must like me, even a little. Thank you for that. I can certainly maintain my perspective now. Talk me down a road and then they get frustrated when I take it upon myself to maintain that perspective. He has not asked me out. We have no understanding. Unless said otherwise, he is my friend. And then there is the nagging for the "DTR" which is poison in its own right. Here is my advice, the next time one of your friends gives you a list of conversational snippets that indicate he must like her, tell her that there is nothing wrong with seeing where the friendship leads and stop there. Do not fluff it up. Remind her to keep her boundaries, to not let her heart get ahead of reality, and hold her accountable. Do not cut her brakes and berate her when she is hurt that it did not go where people assured her it would because "the signs were all there that he liked you and he must be an idiot not to see them too." She is your sister in Christ, protect her like she is one.

Lastly, and one of my favorites with the previous: Is there anything going on between you and…? No. You ask if I am sure? Of course, I am. I am one half of the equation just described and I have not gone out with him, so the answer is a conclusive and resounding NO. And beyond that, even if I have gone out with him, more than once, if it is not public knowledge yet, why do you assume that asking me will grant you access behind the curtain? I have had friends that dated for months before they announced exclusivity. Did most everyone know by then? Of course, they were no longer trying to hide it either, but no one ever asked. You can ask me seven different ways to Sunday if there is anything going on between me and whomever you choose, but my answer will always be the same, "Unless you know something I do not, the answer is no." Sure, I might like him. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. But if I did, I would not tell you. It is not public knowledge for a reason, mind you. Remember what I said, small group of girlfriends know the whole truth. You are not them or my mother, therefore….

And for the dating/engaged/married whom I count as close as any other, since a majority of my best friends are categorized as such, I think I and everyone else, owe you an apology in some shape or another. I apologize for all the times I asked about when you two are getting engaged. I was raised by parents who did not waste any time and one year just seems like a ridiculous amount to decide whether or not you want to live with someone who will become your closest confident for the rest of your life. But on the same playing field, my heart breaks for you every day too. I know what expectations you have because you have confided in me and you are tired of waiting for the proposal because that is all you are waiting for now. Or worse yet, you are barely engaged and friends and family are talking children. How utterly ridiculous. 

It is always one thing after the next: you're talking to a man, they want to know when you will date. You're dating a man, when will you marry him? Engaged, how did he propose? Because no proposal is official until it has been Youtubed and announced on Facebook. Yet another thing to consider as a part of your "personal life" for a time. And then married to a man, are you pregnant yet? On and on the train goes. Many of my own friends find themselves in that last category, one of numerous married milestones. The problem is the emphasis that they feel is placed on it, akin to the emphasis they felt as singles about getting married. Why the rush to have children? Let them enjoy being a married couple. They have plenty of time, right? 

Nothing about the relationship process is any of your business, unless you are included. That, as a woman, is what I want from the Church. You preach constantly about boundaries here and boundaries there, but then fail to understand that boundaries are not exclusively personal, they are interpersonal too.  Asking my friend when she and her husband are having children has nothing to do with you. Their bringing forth life does nothing for you and you asking may be doing more harm than good. What if they have miscarried? What if they cannot conceive? And if they are simply waiting, what then? It does not make things any better to offer your comments. 

And do you want to do know what else I want from the Church, in regards to respecting personal lives? I want you to be honest about how hard it is. That is something I do not hear about enough inside these sacred walls and yet I see it demonstrated every day and become more and more aware of it. Only since returning from grueling, eye-opening, culture shocking understudy in Colorado Springs this summer, have I began to understand just how challenging so many things in life truly are, especially marriage. A plethora of married friends will offer a vivid insight. 

I have begun to realize just how exhausting it must be for my mother to have my father working out of state, approaching four years now. The way I talk about my father working in a separate state, new friends might assume they are divorced, but they are not. Approaching thirty-four years, next summer, in fact. It is a window into the life that some of my friends, who are military wives, have. A small window, but a glance none the less. And it makes me hurt for you and pray for you and wish for you in ways I may not for other people. Whether that is wrong or right, I cannot say, but it is for you and that is what matters. And I see how still other friends have fought it out over finances and when they should start trying to have children and if going back to school is even an option. I know that I do not know the full story--how can I? I am not married to their spouse and I am not them.

However, despite my fears that I have no idea how a relationship practically looks for me, because I think myself a special kind of awkward that may be impervious to the "normal" rules of dating and relationships, seeing them work through it, fighting or smiling, gives me hope. It grounds me in reality seeing the struggle of sharing life with another who is just as fallen. Marriage is not utter bliss. I will not always like my husband and vice versa. We will fight. I will make it worse more than once by not being so good at communicating. Despite what I have been told, I will not regret saving myself for my husband. However, the sex will not break the headboard (I am looking at you, Twilight). Although, I refuse to discount the idea that it wouldn't be fun to try, if only for the story. 

That is what I want and need more than ever as a woman in the Church. I need to know that it is okay that I am not dating and married like most of my friends. I need to know that you do not see my worth defined against whether or not the ring on my finger ties me to someone specific. I need to know that my worth is not found in how grand my engagement story is because I like it simple, because what is being proposed is the grand gesture. I need to know that it is not easy. Not as a deterrent, but as a way to keep me grounded. A happily every after does not end at, "You may now kiss your bride." Happily ever after are stories that have no finished yet, to quote Mrs. Smith. I need you to be honest with me. I need you to speak into my life so I am not tempted to elope with that guy I like within the realm of fantasy, divorced completely from what is real, which can be so very far from the truth.

I want you to stop saying those things you think I want to hear. They are not for me.
I want you to stop asking those questions you want the answers to. They are not for you.
I want you to be honest with me when I ask for advice, even if I become angry at the answer.
I want you to know I will be honest with you, even if I deny you the answers to the question you want.

Call me a bitch for speaking to you this way. Trust me, it is not the first time, nor the last.
Call me naive for wearing my purity ring. Your insistence does not change my mind.

Ask my friend one more time when she will be pregnant and see if she lays a hand on you before I do. She and her husband may have fought about it earlier that day and you are rubbing it raw.

Ask us something real, for once. Something that has nothing to do with our jobs or our relationships or our thesis paper or our plans after graduation.

Show that you care about us more than just that. 
Show us that our worth to you goes beyond that.
Show us that you see us. 
Show us that who we are, is not invisible.