A friend of mine gave me a book to read yesterday because she wanted to know my opinion of it. I knew she had some concerns, but I wanted to try and read it without any bias. So, I sat down and began to read. I read some and skimmed some. I started to notice some commonalities in the way the author wrote about different topics. I found that I had some concerns, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what they were. I read a passage to my husband and he thought it was fine. Still, something didn't seem quite right. So, this morning I called my mother in law and explained that I wanted to talk through something with her. I apologized beforehand and explained that it might not all make sense the first time it came out of my mouth. She was fine with this. Then, I told her what the book was about. It was about teenage girls and inward beauty. She said she really wanted to talk through this with me. So, we began going back and forth. I explained some of the ideas in the book, read a passage to her, and we discussed our concerns. I'm going to try and summarize what I learned through our discussion and what came out in light of this particular book.
The book that was given to me is Leslie Ludy's book The Lost Art of True Beauty. The book was written for teenage girls to encourage them to focus on inward beauty rather than outward beauty. She addresses having social grace, dressing modestly, being hospitable in your home, and guarding your heart. She talks over and over about inward beauty and being selfless. These are all good things to desire. She goes on to give many examples of young women she's seen who profess to love Christ, but don't act "Christian". This was interesting to me. God knows our hearts, but as an outsider we can't truly know what's going on in the heart of another. I began to notice that Ms. Ludy makes a lot of blanket type statements. Here are two examples from page 45: "I've seen many Christ-professing young women...I've known many..." about how the hearts of young women operate. She also makes a lot of assumptions based on her experience of the world. We all do this, but I think we need to be careful about what we assume. Later on page 45, she says that "Very few of us understand how to behave socially in a way that truly brings glory to Jesus Christ..." I didn't catch that statement the first time I read the book. But, now as I read it again, my heart hurts. We have to be really careful about how we share the lessons we've learned--especially as an older woman wanting to share with a younger woman.
When anyone presumes to teach it is a grave responsibility. Because God doesn't teach us the same lessons in the same order, we can't presume what a younger woman has or hasn't experienced and learned--or what they think or what motivates them. We have to understand that God teaches us each different lessons at different times in our lives. Generally, I think we shouldn't assume that we have learned something that someone else hasn't. A lot of what Ms. Ludy says has a lot of truth in it, but as we get older I think most women, including myself, realize that we only have experienced a little part of the world and that God doesn't work in all of our lives the same way.
Leslie Ludy and her husband, Eric, wrote the book When God Writes Your Love Story, a guide to relationships for Christians, and When Dreams Come True, about their own story. I began to realize that Ms. Ludy talks about her own story as if she and Eric have gotten it right. But, the problem is that there is no "right" formula. It is a blessing that God has given her the marriage and family that he has. It's interesting to realize why she advocates that young women focus on being selfless and working on themselves rather than focusing on boys. As a mom, I realize that the wounds I have from my childhood are opened afresh when I watch my children get rejected or struggle. I have to set them aside and think about what's best for them. Ms. Ludy was hurt as a teenager by boys. And her husband regrets his relationships when he was a teenager as well. I can understand them feeling like the answer to not having those regrets is to just not think about the opposite sex when you're a teenager and wait until your prince or princess comes along. Why not avoid all that pain?
It's a good question and an important one. I realized that there is an underlying assumption in this book that all teenage girls think about is teenage boys. There is also the message that they shouldn't. Instead, they need to focus on Christ and inward beauty.
I have a couple of concerns about this.
Here's the first... God created us as men and women. God says in Genesis 2:18: The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." In Song of Solomon and multiple scriptures throughout the Bible, we know that marriage is a good thing. The love between a husband and wife is a good thing. So, the attraction between young men and women is not in itself a bad thing. It's a completely natural part of life. The key is helping our daughters learn how to talk with young men--how to relate to them, what are wise boundaries, how to understand them. And I am not on the same page as Ms. Ludy. I think it would be difficult for a young woman to suddenly figure out how to do this when she's twenty-five and meets a young Christian man that she wants to get to know better.
I have this crazy story that I share with people about when I moved to Denver after college. I went on 22 first dates in the first two years that I lived there. I only went on one second date. It was a blessing. I learned how to talk to guys and how to listen. I think I learned a lot. Then, I had a boyfriend for four months. I thought I loved him, but he said I was unlovable. I was wounded. But, there was a silver lining--I learned that I could love someone and when I met my husband three years later, I was able to trust God when the relationship didn't look the way I expected it to. My husband is four years younger than me and I never expected that one!
Do I think every young woman should go on 22 dates? No way! That's not at all what I mean. But, do I think it's okay to go on a date? Yes. I think going on a date can help young women and men learn about how to relate to the opposite sex and it also helps them learn about themselves and how God created them.
Being married to my husband has taught me many things, but one of the biggest is that marriage and life is not a formula. We want to do it the one "right" way, but there is no one "right" way. I don't know any adult who could say that their life is just what he or she thought it would be. What's important is that we seek God, trust Him, and walk with Him.
My second concern is about the goal of this book. The purpose of the book is to help young women learn how to be ladies. This book tries to give teenage girls the maturity of a thirty-five year old woman. The problem is that you can't just do that. Growing in maturity doesn't work like getting well with the help of antibiotics when you're sick. Maturity is gained from experience and happens in the process of growing up. Teenage girls aren't thirty-five year olds, nor are they supposed to be. They're supposed to be teenagers who are figuring out how to talk to boys, how to dress modestly, what their style is, how to take care of themselves, how to love people well... But, all of these things come from one's heart. In James, we learn that faith without deeds is dead and deeds without faith is dead.
James 2:18 "But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
We can't just tell teenage girls how to be and who they should want to be. I believe we'd be wiser to talk with them along the way about who they are, how they dress, why they dress that way, and pray. As moms, we need to love our daughters well and walk with them. Again, there's no formula to this. God gave these daughters to each of us individually because of who He created them to be. He matched us purposefully. As moms, we can help them understand what's going on and love them well. What I have said here is not just from my heart but is gleaned from the wisdom my friends who are several years ahead of me and some who even have grandchildren have shared with me. My girls are young. I have not walked through the teenage years yet with them. But, I am excited that the Lord has prompted me to consider all of this now. I feel as if he's preparing me.
A few weeks ago, I was teaching my kids a science lesson and Autumn questioned why something was true. Science is not my strong suit and so I answered "because it is". I was frustrated because I just wanted her to believe it, but even as I replied to her, I had a yucky feeling. If I tell her what to believe without discussion and without allowing her to sort out what she thinks, it won't become her own thought. I've known of many kids raised in Christian homes who go wild when they leave their parents' homes. Many simply walk away from their faith in God. I hear a common theme about these kids-- that they are questioning. What would happen if we allowed our kids to respectfully ask questions when they have them and let us help them sort things out as they are growing older instead of telling them what they have to believe? I don't mean that we should stop teaching our children the truth of God. On the contrary! I believe it is vital. But, I also think that we need to help them understand the world too and answer questions they have. As a teenager, I was so afraid to be judged that I wasn't a Christian because I had questions. God did bring someone into my life when I was 21 who showed me grace and listened to my questions, but I spent several years troubled about my questions. I believe that my daughters, Autumn and Sami, love God and His Word. Eli seems to be still very much figuring things out. They all have questions. I heard a speaker once say that compliant children are actually harder to parent than strong-willed ones. This is because it is easier to steamroller over them. I have to be careful not to steamroller over Autumn and force her to comply. I need to let her think, question, and discuss--respectfully when it comes to matters of her heart.
Lastly, to address the question of avoiding pain.
As parents, we want to minimize the pain our children have to go through. We love them so much. But, we also parent out of our own issues. I have seen the hurts from my childhood surface when my children get rejected or struggle. I guard my heart and try to be very careful to be aware of my issues so that they won't bias me in my parenting. Just a few weeks ago, my husband brought an issue to my attention and explained to me where he felt I was going wrong in what I was teaching our girls. It was rooted in my desire to help our girls avoid the pain of social rejection and knowing how to handle it.
Pain is a part of life. Suffering is a part of life. In many ways, it is the wounds and God's healing of them that constantly remind us of His love, mercy, and grace. Pain comes in the process of maturing as girls make decisions that are not easy and sometimes make decisions they regret. And when that happens, they need us, their parents, to walk alongside them.
There is a lot of great information in this book. Good, solid suggestions. But, we need to be careful about how we approach young women about these topics. They not only hear, but they see, too. In the case of this book, there are some inconsistencies which concern me that I think young women will notice. The focus of this book is on inward beauty and yet, every young woman in Ms. Ludy's online magazine or on the cover of one of her books, or is a part of her ministry in Colorado Springs (as identified on her website) is all thin with medium to long hair. That sends a certain message without ever saying a word. I don't know if Ms. Ludy realizes this. Ms. Ludy herself is a beautiful, trim woman. We need to be aware of how what we say and do can affect people.
So, those are my thoughts in a very, very large nutshell. Thank you for bearing with me as I sorted them out on paper so to speak. I did review a similar book a few years ago, which I'm going to reread, titled Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild. You can read my review here if you're curious. I gave away my copy so I ordered a new one this morning and I am looking forward to reading it in light of these reflections.
If you have any thoughts about what I've shared, please comment. I'd love to discuss this with you. I don't pretend at all to think I have all the answers--not in the least! I have reread this several times, so I hope it is clear, but if it is not, please let me know!