(Sorry to disappoint some of you, but the title is referring to something other than what you might be thinking…)
One of my all time favorite movies is the teen comedy/satire Mean Girls. Although the movie has its share of crude language and humor, I love watching it because it portrays the destructive power of female cattiness so perfectly. It is a clever and telling illustration of human fallenness, and the way in which that fallenness has resulted in broken relationships.
In case you are not familiar with the plot, the movie is about a teenage girl who has been homeschooled in Africa for her entire life, until her parents move back to the States and she is thrust into an American high school. What she discovers is that the jungles of Africa are not unlike the jungles of high school. Like the African savannah, high school is all about survival of the fittest, and the girls seem to be most adept at this game.
The analogy between Africa and high school is a brilliant one to make. I’m sure we can all remember wanting to fit in, and the measures we took to attain that goal. Unfortunately, this sometimes occured at another’s expense, and that is the conflict of Mean Girls–the young girl so desperately desires to be popular that she tramples on any one and everyone to get there.
Well as perfectly as this movie depicts the high school experience, I have to admit that it also depicts the more general female experience in life. For me, that cattiness did not end in high school–it followed me on into college, into adulthood, and even into the church.
As much as I would like to say that the meanest girls of all were the immature teeny-boppers from high school, I must confess that the worst treatment I have ever received was at the hands of other Christian women. And I know I am not alone in this. When it comes to female fellowship, this is one area in which we are not being a light to the culture. On the contrary, we could learn a thing or two about loyalty from the women on Sex and the City, and when it has come to that, we are at a very bad place.
For some reason, our identities in Christ have not set us free from competition and cliques. Instead, we have continued those behaviors, but under the banner of Christ, which is all the more detestable. Using the subtle tactics of manipulation, we hurt others to get ahead. We “forget” to invite one another to social events, we exclude one another from Bible studies, and we become territorial about our male friends.
And while we may try to excuse our actions, claiming, “I didn’t know that would hurt her feelings” or “I just didn’t think to invite her,” deep down we knew all along. I cannot tell you how many times I have thought, “She might perceive this the wrong way” or “If I say this to her it might hurt her,” but considering my friend’s feelings meant making a sacrifice of time and energy that I was not willing to give, so I instead did what I wanted at her expense.
So I will be the first to admit that I have participated in this kind of ungodly behavior. I will also be the first to admit that it is unacceptable. Ladies, we are sisters in Christ, not enemies in the competition to find a husband. We are not rivals in some Christian popularity contest to be the best Bible study leader, worship team singer, wife, or mom. In theory, we have been released from all of those strivings, but we instead perpetuate them all the more.
Most likely, you know very well if you have ever bought into those lies. You know if you have hurt someone in the past for your own selfish gain. In fact, it may not have even bothered you at the time. That is perhaps the most appalling thing of all–we can hurt our sisters in Christ without batting an eye. This should disturb us greatly, because that kind of behavior, a behavior in which we are willing to steal, kill and destroy all for our own sake, comes directly from Satan.
As I write this, I have to admit that it is coming from a place of anger and frustration in my heart–I recently spoke with a young woman who has been hurt by her friends for no good reason at all, but hers is not the first story I have heard. I have had many, many conversations with young women who have been trampled by their Christian friends, and after awhile, it gets old. As a minister to women, it is frustrating to feel as though I’m working against other Christians, rather than with them. My job would be considerably easier if women didn’t hurt each other so much.
BUT, my anger does not legitimize bitterness, and this is an area in which Christian women struggle just as much. When someone hurts us, especially someone we trusted because of their professed faith in Christ, it is hard to move past that wound. However, the way in which we respond to such situations says just as much about our faith in Christ as it does when we willingly hurt others. Just because someone hurts you does not permit you to slander them. Nor is it healthy to ignore or ostracize that person when you see them in church. I have tried all of those tactics, and they only serve to cement the bitterness, rather than dissolve it. What’s more, they secure division, instead of moving toward reconciliation.
That said, we must accept the reality that as long as the Church is populated by sinners, we are going to be hurt by our Christian friends. And while that does not excuse the behavior, we need to set our minds on the best way to redeem such circumstances. When you get hurt, will you wallow in self pity and spend countless hours thinking about what a hypocrite your friend is, or will you love them anyway, in the same way that Christ loved you? Will you harbor bitterness in your heart, or will you forgive them seventy times seven, given the infinite sin God has forgiven you?
We may not be able to control whether or not someone hurts us, but we can control two things: 1) Whether we hurt another person, and 2) Whether we will stop the cycle when someone hurts us. What it ultimately comes down to is that we as women need to take more ownership in the integrity of the Church. Too often we forget that we are all leaders and ministers of the Gospel–we are half of the Church’s very identity, after all, so we have a powerful hand in the Church’s work. We can either strengthen the Church’s witness, or poison it, but it is up to us. So let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that one small wound to another sister’s heart is of little consequence. On the contrary, in doing so we have tarnished the very name of Christ. Let us love one another with that degree of reverence and urgency.