Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Maybe You're Not the Only One

What I'm loving most about this Esther Bible study is how I can relate to so many of the emotions these characters experienced centuries ago. An even bigger surprise is that I'm not the only one who feels that way. There are about 250 women in this study, 12 at my table, and it seems that this study is hitting home with nearly everyone.

The History
Yesterday's theme was: "It's tough being a woman in a mean world." Beth explained the history of the rivalry between Mordecai the Jew and Haman the Agagite--the villain of the story. We learned that generations earlier, King Saul had disobeyed God's order to annihilate the Amalekites. He had spared King Agag, and Haman was a descendant of that king. (1 Samuel 15:10-23, 30). The Amalekites were fierce enemies of the Jews who had attacked them when they were defenseless in the wilderness--picking off the stragglers at the back of the line, most likely the elderly and the sick. (Deuteronomy 25:15-17, Exodus 17:8-16). This is why God vowed to destroy them completely.

Haman, therefore, had come from a long line of wrathful, violent people, and he utterly hated the Jews. When Mordecai refused to bow to him, he became enraged and ultimately plotted the annihilation of all the Jews in Persia.

The Reasons
This was all very fascinating, but I really took notice when Beth started talking about the mean people in our world today, specifically the mean girls. About mean girls, she said:
  • Meanness always has a history. When you come up against a mean girl, consider that there is a reason behind her hatefulness.

  • Meanness occurs when we perceive a threat. Women measure themselves against other women who feel like a threat.

    When you catch yourself being mean, identify why you feel threatened. Talk to God about it.

  • Meanness catches like a virus. Proverbs 22:24-25 warns that if you hang around with angry people, you may learn their ways. (I've seen this over and over at work. One person gets riled up about something, and suddenly an entire team is whipped into a frenzy of righteous indignation.)

    Coming into contact with a mean girl raises up your own mean girl. This is especially true when mean girls mess with one of your daughters. (I dread experiencing this when Allyson starts school.)

  • Insecurity is at the heart of every rivalry. Anger feels like a source of power for those who feel helpless.
The Cure
The good news is that "meanness is curable." Romans 12:17-21 admonishes us not to repay evil for evil, but to live at peace with everyone. We are not to take revenge when we are wronged, but leave the revenge to God. We can overcome evil with good.

Beth challenged us to love the mean girl--even that girl who wears provocative clothing and tries to get our man's attention. If we consistently love her with Christ's love (which is probably the only way we could love someone like that), either it will just drive her crazy, or it might prick her conscience. I've experienced this scenario numerous times, and I've always failed the test miserably. I pray the next time I feel threatened by a mean girl who seems to be after my husband, I can put this lesson into practice.

When Beth talked about women comparing themselves with other women, my mouth dropped open. You see, only a couple of hours earlier, I'd been talking to God about that very thing in the shower, asking him why I can't stop comparing myself with other women. I was feeling down because I'd spent some time with a few acquaintances that day, and as always I felt like an outsider--by my own choosing.

My Struggle
Lately I've been trying to develop new friendships, but it is a constant struggle. I find myself comparing everything and finding that I am different for some reason: maybe she has more money or less money, maybe she's thinner or heavier, maybe she's a perfect mom and I am not, maybe she seems more or less spiritual than me, maybe her hair is always absolutely perfect, probably she's younger. Whatever the reason, I conclude that I just don't have anything in common with this woman, and I find it very uncomfortable to make conversation. I'm fine in a group setting, but when I try to take the next step and get to know someone, it feels like a blind date, and I just can't relax.

I've been pushing past this awkwardness because I really do want to make new friends, yet I find it discouraging that I can't seem to overcome this struggle and just ENJOY being with some very nice, very interesting people.

This morning I cried during my quiet time and admitted that I can't change this about myself. I acknowledged that I am weak, and I asked God to teach me to love as he loves, to see the women around me through his eyes. I asked him to help me not just tolerate my time with acquaintances, but to actually enjoy the beauty of all the diversity around me.

The Revelation
Later in the morning, my friend Gentle asked me about my thoughts on the study. As we talked over the shouting children in the McDonald's play area, I confessed to her that it took me a very, very long time to really feel comfortable with her. I told her that when we first started taking walks together a couple of years ago--has it been that long?--I had to force myself to go. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy talking with her once I got there, it was just that I felt safer and more comfortable at home. I wondered if she liked me, and I wondered if I was going to like her. I wondered if I was going to let myself love her, and then she would let me down.

Gentle told me something that absolutely shocked me: she said she had felt exactly the same way! Her husband Sean had had to push her to make the effort. "She's a nice lady!" he'd told her. "Get to know her better."

We're both so glad that we pushed past that "blind date" phase because we are dear friends now. Hanging out with Gentle is like putting on my faded, frayed comfy jeans. More importantly, I know I can go to her when I need prayer or advice, or simply when I need a hug. (I drove over there a couple of months ago just for that reason.) And I hope she feels the same way.

Gentle said, "Now that you know that we both had a hard time at first, yet it turned out so well, try to remember that the next time you're struggling with a new friendship."

How About You?
Do you ever watch other women talking and laughing, and think, "Why is it so easy for them and so hard for me?" Do you ever feel like you're just different from everyone else, or that there's something wrong with you?

Guess what? I'm beginning to think that most of us feel that way. But we don't have to let that stop us from loving each other--indeed, Jesus has commanded us to love one another. And that is the key to everything.


Melissa Irwin said...

i can't wait to start the Esther study in August!

I love the way you express is very refreshing and helpful in my life!

Anonymous said...

From Aunt Judy...

I can relate to this, all my life I had trouble fitting in because I was afraid to make the first move. I think it was shortly after I went to work at Wal-Mart that I finally overcame this and it happened because I would see new people come in and they didn't know anybody. I started introducing myself and others and told them they were free to join me if they wanted to at lunch and breaks. I wish people would have done this for me. With age I finally figured I could make the first move and if they didn't want to join me that was their choice. People have to take me as I am with all my warts because I'm too old to change now. You know most of the time this works out well as if they are worth knowing it will work out.

Jara said...

Sarah, I think we've all felt this way from time to time, and...we've all had to deal with mean girls, unfortunately. My prayer is this...that I've never BEEN a mean girl, or if I was that I knew it and apologized, I'd hate to be known that way:(!!!


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