It's (Not That) Complicated by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin
Can We Have a Braver Princess, Please?
Posted July 2, 2012
Twenty years ago, our mother walked down the Walmart Pink Aisle, past all the Disney-heroine Barbies, Disney-movie-inspired vanity playsets, sequined polyester fish-tail skirts with seashells, and itchy yellow off-shoulder Belle dresses, and decided, “Not for my daughters.”
We were 4 and 6, and like most little girls, were each on our quest for the holy grail of femininity, the all-inspiring vision of who to be when we grew up. Like many mothers, Mom realized that the entire panoply of Disney “woman” options, from Snow White to Ariel and Belle, were not it. Unlike many mothers, she ditched the entire franchise, tossed Barbie, and made us beautiful cloth dolls based on our intrepid Swedish-immigrant great-grandmothers, and taught us how to make clothes for them ourselves.
Seven years ago, Disney-Pixar also saw a problem with their insipid line of princesses. “I love fairy tales, but I am tired of the message of waiting around for your prince to show up and you’ll live happily ever after,” said Brenda Chapman, writer and co-director of Disney-Pixar’s newest movie. “[M]y goal was to offer up a different kind of princess — a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn’t be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they’d be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’”
So last week they unveiled…
…Princess Merida of “Brave,” a fiery-haired, fiery-tempered, arrow-shooting, teenaged tomboy, who doesn’t want to get married, doesn’t want to mind her manners, and hates being a princess. She takes after her boorish warrior father instead of her polished power-woman mother, who tries in vain to shape her into a responsible and proper future queen. Merida’s head-butting with her mother turns into all-out war when she’s faced with an forced marriage to her choice of three slobbering buffoons in order to keep the kingdom’s peace.
To make a long and rather weak story short (you can read our brother Isaac’s analysis of it here and here), Merida strikes a spiteful and reckless bargain with a witch to fix her mother-problems, which endangers her mother’s life and causes a national crisis. She then has to fix her mistake, which involves reconciling with her mother, and the two then overrule the kingdom’s tradition together in perfect, heartwarming mother-daughter harmony.
This spunky new princess is supposedly breaking all kinds of stereotypes, and presenting a brave new kind of role model for America’s daughters. But is she really?
Let’s first ask why this even matters, as some might complain, “Merida is just pretend,” “’Brave’ is just a movie,” or “It’s just entertainment.” Disney knows better. Interviews with any of the writers, directors, or producer make it clear that their goal was not to entertain girls. They wanted to inspire them. Nor did they ever mean for “Brave” to be just a movie. “Brave” is an advertisement. It’s trying to sell something, and we’re not just talking about billions of dollars’ worth of Merida merchandise. What it’s offering is a new product in Disney’s catalog of personalities, attitudes, and identities. If you didn’t want to be the singing scullerymaid, the vapid plot-vehicle, the defiant teenaged mermaid, or the daydreaming bookworm — now you can be the Amazonian spitfire!
Analyzing Merida matters because she was designed specifically to be a model for others to follow, by people who know girls will. So what did they put into the package, and how brave is it really? Let’s examine Merida’s example.
• Whining for time off from responsibility, rules, expectations, and having to be a role model: not all that brave.
• Resisting self-discipline, education, and training for the future in favor of outdoorsy hobbies: not all that brave.
• Defying parents (while freeloading off of them): not all that brave.
• Refusing to follow basic rules of manners: not all that brave.
• “Making things happen” in your life (instead of sitting around) by causing mayhem in others’: not all that brave.
• Fighting for your own way over anything else: not all that brave.
• Confessing and actually repenting for her catastrophic mistake at the end: very brave.
• Realizing that her mother was a person too, who could be terribly hurt by her daughter’s selfishness: extremely brave, for a kids’ movie about parent-child conflict.
• Refusing to marry any of her suitors: Sorry, we’re saving our thoughts on this one for the next post.
Yes, there were some points to her example that we were happy to see, but honestly, doing no more than owning up to and fixing the mistakes she herself made hardly makes her a hero. We’ve seen little toasters braver than this.
Nor does her example rise above stereotypes of femininity – it just creates one new one (which isn’t even that new). Not only is Merida not as brave as a toaster; she can’t even make toast. That is to say, she’s yet another heroine with excellent motor skills in the woods but who’s totally incompetent indoors. She can sit the trot, but not sit up straight in her chair at royal functions (nor walk without lumbering, eat without gobbling, and so forth.) How are all these socially and domestically challenged heroines who swing swords but fumble with teapots broadening society’s expectations for what a girl can do? How is this a more empowering womanhood?
Full-orbed biblical womanhood should involve more than pouring tea or singing with forest creatures, of course – but should also involve more than spending all day shooting arrows into nothing (which is maybe why our mother used to buy us tea sets and bows and arrows.) The helpless someday-my-prince-will-come vision and the autonomous barbaric tomboy vision are both narrow, unhealthy, and most of all, unbiblical. In other words, “Brave” can just join the roundup of usual suspects for creating unhealthy stereotypes for girls, along with Queen Victoria, Aristotle, June Cleaver, Rousseau, Rosie the Riveter, and Barbie. And like our mother, we can just say “no” to all of them, because they’re all inventions of man and they’re all wrong.
There is a vision out there that is bigger, better, and braver, and it is because it’s God’s.
It requires a lot more than being the kind of “heroine” that “girls [can] look at and not feel inadequate” (the goal of Merida’s creator Brenda Chapman), because it was designed by a God Who wants us to become more than we are. We all start out immature, foolish, weak, clumsy, and yes, inadequate, but He calls us as women to move on and develop courage, compassion, wisdom, knowledge, strength, dignity, discretion, diligence, gentleness, resourcefulness, entrepreneurship, generosity, submission to authority, and sacrifice for others.
The Bible tells tales of women who were intelligent, brave, beautiful, and who acted like women instead of little barbarians. Of women who didn’t fit inside personality-type clichés like “the lovable klutz,” “the beautiful bimbo,” “the steely battle-ax,” “the mealy-mouthed Mary Sue,” “the defiant teen,” “the snarky geek,” or “the tomboyish wildcat.” The godly deeds of these heroines never included teen rebellion, ruling over men, or “following their hearts,” though they did include a lot of things that would have shocked Queen Victoria.
Of course, our culture will keep trying to give us new “role models” to expand our catalog of options, but the spread is still too small, and always will be until the Bible becomes the basis for a new vision of femininity.
Now, as soon as Disney gives us a princess who can put tent pegs through enemy generals’ heads, hurl millstones at invading armies, defy pharaohs, shelter spies, rebuild walls, work in the fields, water camels, and risk her life for her people, as well as sew and cook and raise a family — then we’ll call that a brave princess.
1 (Respectively, Jdg. 4:24, Jdg. 9:53, Ex. 1:15-21, Josh. 2, Neh. 3:12, Ruth 2, Gen. 24:19,20, Esth. 4,5, Proverbs 31, Acts 9:39, Gen. 18:6, Tit. 2:4, 1 Tim. 5:9,10, and Prov. 31:27.)
Our Response to Rapunzel
Posted April 19, 2012
Thank you for your email. We happen to already be familiar with your story as presented in “Tangled,” and even know a little more about your backstory than you do, and so we do have some thoughts for you.
We will be unusually blunt, because we know you are not a real person with feelings; you are the carefully written, cast, voiced, sketched, sculpted, scanned, painted, rigged, animated, rendered, and composited brainchild of John Lasseter, Glen Keane, and the Disney scriptwriting committee. We’re talking to you, polygons.
And not only were you meticulously handcrafted by others: Your entire universe was built around you, detail by detail, by these same imagineers. Your particular situation, down to Flynn’s serendipitous appearance in your window – your moral dilemmas, down to your conflicts with your mother – the characters you ran into, down to the last pub thug – didn’t just happen, but were deliberated over by a bunch of businessmen for approximately ten years. Everything about your world, including the ethical system by which it operates, came out of somebody’s head.
But here you are, in the middle of it, and you need advice. Let’s get down to helping you out! We would like to propose the following course of action for you:
Kill your mother with her own dagger (for poetic justice), run away from the tower once and for all, reunite with Flynn Rider (and propose to him – why not?), rally the thugs to your side, storm the castle together, throw out the authorities that were trying to imprison Flynn (doesn’t that make them the villains?), and establish yourselves as the ruling elite, where your word can be law, now not only for you, but for everyone.
No, of course that’s not the right answer. But why not?
Some might say that since your universe is a fantasy universe, God’s ethical system does not apply. But if His moral standard doesn’t have jurisdiction over this film – if, since this film isn’t a “Christian” film, we shouldn’t require it to line up with the Bible – then who could dare say bumping your mother out of the way would be wrong? Who’s to say any other solution would be morally better? Are we admitting that there is some overarching standard after all?
We’ve got good news for you: You, Rapunzel, imaginary creature though you are, are not ultimately under the lordship of Disney Studios, but of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 commands all men to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” – which means every imagination, every script page, and every film frame. Christ demands that every man’s mind and the stuff in it bow the knee, and that would include you. And His moral system – His law – is still the standard by which your moral system must be measured. In other words, stabbing your mother would be wrong, not because it’s not the sort of thing a nice girl with a dream would do, not because it would be politically incorrect, not because it would disturb children – but because it breaks one of His commandments (Ex. 20:13). And that’s why, even though you’re a fairy tale creature, we’re going to respond to you as though you were a real person.
What makes advising you tricky is that the brains who crafted your universe and situation never presented you with a good option. The film offered you two choices at the beginning: 1. Rot your useless life away in the tower with the world’s most detestable mother; or, 2. Defy your mother and run away from home with a thief. Your only visible choices now are: 1. Rot your useless life away in the tower with the world’s most detestable mother; or, 2. Follow your feelings, denounce your mother as a kidnapping imposter with no evidence, and leave again. Yes, it does occasionally seem that the only options life presents are bad ones, but in reality, doing right is always an option. Film has the power to create dishonest moral scenarios, forcing its characters to play a version of the lifeboat game (Who will you throw overboard, passenger A or passenger B?) and never offering a third option. And by making your option A look unspeakable, while making your option B look irresistible, “Tangled” draws us in so deeply that by the time your first moral dilemma comes around, we’re rooting for you to do (what we would normally call) the wrong thing.
So what is the right (biblical) thing for you to do, now? Here are a few (serious) suggestions:
1. Check the facts regarding your identity.
Feelings, hunches, and childhood drawings are a bad guide (and insufficient evidence), especially in such high-stake situations. There are ways to figure out who you are. We, the audience, of course know that your Mother is actually an evil kidnapper and the villain of your story; but you, the protagonist, currently have about as much reason to suspect this as every girl in the audience does her own parents.
If you were wrong, and she turns out to have been your biological mother all along:
2. Apologize sincerely for disobeying, deceiving, and defying her.
Some protest that you were justified in breaking the 5th commandment because she wasn’t really your mother, but let’s be honest: You didn’t leave because you knew that. You didn’t leave because you knew your mother’s command was biblically unlawful. You didn’t leave because you thought it would be wrong to stay and submit to the unbiblical tyranny of a kidnapping sorceress. You left because there was something you really wanted to do, the authority over you forbade it, and you decided to do what you wanted to do it anyway. You actually believed, and said, that it would be wrong for you to go. In your mind, you were as guilty of rebellion as the girl whose parents forbid her to go to a wild party and who sneaks out to go anyway: You left because you didn’t care.
We’re truly sorry that the filmmakers gave you such a loathsome creature as a mother. But if it’s wrong for her to be a law unto herself, you need to hold yourself to the same standard. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Sam. 15:23)
3. Biblically examine the legitimacy of her commands.
Even if she is your biological mother, however, that doesn’t mean you have a duty of unconditional submission to her whims. “The requirement of unquestioning obedience by any human authority is a sin and defiles the very intent of God’s Word,” writes R.J. Rushdoony. “The unquestioning obedience which Scripture requires is only to God, never to kings, rulers, employers, husbands, or parents. To render unquestioning obedience is a sin.”
There comes a time when, in the words of our founders, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God!” What you need to ask yourself is: Is your mother forcing you to sin, or is she forbidding you to do something God has commanded? In either case, you must disobey. (By the way, God didn’t command you to go see the floating lights.) And if she is physically abusing you or endangering your life, you have a duty to not be an accomplice to her crimes. You need to get out of there. Thankfully, you are fit and resourceful, as well as handy with your lasso hair, and you’ve gotten out of tougher scrapes. We’ll root for you.
4. Appeal to her regarding her sins against you in the spirit of Matthew 18:15:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” If she refuses to be reasonable, the biblical answer is not to simply walk away from her forever. Verse 16 continues, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Use your resourcefulness to bring in some authorities to handle the situation – and, yes, submit yourself to them. Unaccountable autonomy is an alternative Scripture never offers anyone, man, woman, or child.
However… If she is not your biological mother, but instead a kidnapper:
2. Employ your resourcefulness to go to the authorities.
God condemned kidnapping as seriously as murder (Ex. 21:16, Deut. 24:7), and she needs to be brought to justice. This is bigger than you and your feelings; she has sinned against God and your parents as well as you, and right must be done.
However, if justice is really your concern, then…
3….You also need to report the most wanted thief in the kingdom, who has also stolen precious items (the tiara) from your parents.
Flynn has also sinned against God and your parents, and again, this is bigger than you and your feelings. Biblically, he wouldn’t be hung or have his hands cut off, but there are consequences for stealing (Ex. 22:1-4, Lev. 6:1-7, Prov. 6:30,31).
This is not, of course, to assume that Flynn couldn’t repent of stealing. If he did, though, he would certainly go further than saying he’s sorry and never doing it again: He would make restitution to everyone he robbed, as many times over as biblically required. It would be nice if repenting meant not having to suffer the consequences, but God is a God of justice Who requires that things be made right. That He is also a God of mercy means that He does give second chances to those who repent, confess, make things right, go their way, and sin no more… and we can too.
4. Don’t embrace thugs just because they’re nice to you.
This film for young girls contained an interesting message: That everything your mother taught you was wrong. One interesting example was your mother’s caution that the world contained dangerous men. No one would dispute this fact in the real world, but it was a point the film pulled some tricky stunts to prove wrong. At the end of the day, the openly brutal and violent thugs were proven to be harmless to pretty blond girls. The ones shown to be the real villains were parents.
As regards both Flynn and the pub thugs – of course they have souls! But it’s no amazing discovery that the more villainous elements of society also have feelings, dreams, even artistic impulses. Hitler was sensitive and introspective, wrote poetry, loved music and art, collected artifacts, had a dream (a big one), and liked pretty blonde girls. A penchant for collecting ceramic unicorns doesn’t make a criminal innocent. It also doesn’t prove that your mother was wrong about the world – even if she was wrong about how people should respond to it (i.e. hiding in a tower). Unfortunately, neither you nor she figured out what it means to be in the world but not of the world, or the right way to be a light in the darkness.
5. If you are found to be the Lost Princess, step up to the role of royal daughter, and all that that involves.
As the daughter of such obviously wonderful parents, you will obviously not have any excuses for running off to attend events they forbid, or becoming romantically entangled with young men they disapprove of. (If you never had an “authority problem” to begin with, this shouldn’t be a problem for you.) As a princess, however, your new responsibilities go even further than this. As soon as you put on that tiara, you have to stop being the main character of your story and let your subjects take that place. Instead of being slave to a tyrannical mother’s whims, you must now be a slave to duty and the needs of your people. Dancing with the peasants and drawing pictures with them on the sidewalks will not be enough. Whatever your feelings may be, you have to set an example of law-upholding conduct to your people. Whatever your (or others’) dreams may be, you have to impartially uphold justice. Whatever your diplomatic power may be, your word cannot be law.
And Rapunzel, we’re afraid this means that you are going to have to become a different kind of girl.
Your example, unfortunately, can no longer be what it has been throughout the whole movie. You may be one of Disney’s most appealing recent characters, and you may have done some admirable things (such as try to sacrifice your life for Flynn). But your character is nonetheless an extremely dangerous one for girls to relate to.
Why? Because although your situation is so different from ours (our parents generally are our biological parents, and they generally aren’t locking us up in towers), and your universe operates so differently from ours (none of us have magic hair), your struggles, feelings, and questions are just the same. “Tangled” tackles the biggest issues in a young woman’s life: relationships with parents, attitudes toward authority, relationships with young men, the outside world, the use of our time, and our bigger purpose in life. It raises the questions every young woman is asking. Then it gives the exact wrong answers.
When a girl sits down to watch your movie, she is about to vicariously live your story with you, feelings, attitudes, romance, temptations and all. She is “you” for the next 90 minutes. And what is she learning along with you? That our parents are wrong about everything. That all will turn out well if we just follow our hearts. That no man is so bad he wouldn’t “turn it all around” just for us. Through you, we tangibly feel the temptation to reject our parents’ instruction, keep secrets from them, and defy them – and then, through you, we give in to temptation. Through you, we feel pangs of guilt, shame, and fear of hurting people we love – and then, through you, we learn to stuff those feelings down and ignore them. Through you, we learn: What I want is more important than what I believe is right.
And at the end of your story, everything turns out beautifully to prove that when you chose to follow your heart rather than your conscience, you made the right moral decision.
Some might still point out that, in order for your story to work out, you had to. True, but next time any of us want to “pull a Rapunzel,” and do something we know is wrong to make things right, let’s remember that our stories are not Disney movies; that our world is not populated with Disney characters; that we are not Disney heroines whose universes revolve around us; and that our Creator has rigged things to work differently. We’ve had to watch girl after girl after girl make the same decisions you did, give in to temptation the way you did, sear her conscience the way you did, and run off with scoundrels like the one you did. Unlike you, they discovered that the real world revolves around a God Who isn’t them, and that He has built into His world rewards for sin that don’t generally include “Happily Ever After.”
We admit, we don’t typically write emails to CG models representing imaginary people. The reason we’re writing to you is because for many girls, you’re much more than that. Though you’re just a figment of someone’s imagination, a mere idea – ideas are real. And that’s why “Tangled” matters. After all, girls don’t really love “Tangled” because it’s “just a movie.” The reason we love it isn’t because we just can’t, practically or morally, put ourselves in Rapunzel’s shoes. We don’t love it because it’s a totally un-relatable fantasy that has no connection to our lives. If we love it, it’s because it does strike a chord with our lives. We laugh and cry along with Rapunzel’s joys and woes because we can relate to her. And when we passionately, emotionally tell critics to leave it alone because “It’s just a movie!” we are proving that down inside our hearts, it’s much more than that.
You may be just an idea, an imagination, a thought – but thoughts (not people) are exactly what we’re commanded to take captive (2 Cor. 10:5). “Arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” are exactly what we are supposed to destroy (v. 5). Strongholds are exactly what we are supposed to tear down (v. 4).
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, we’re not condemning you.
We’re just trying to take you captive.
Anna Sofia and Elizabeth
“Trapped in a Tower” Asks for Advice
Posted April 7, 2012
Dear Botkin sisters,
I just turned 18 years old and I have a question for you. My name is Rapunzel and I’m in the middle of a very challenging situation. I’ll give you some backstory.
I’ve spent my whole life living at home in a tower with my mother, who told me that the tower is the only place that I could be safe from people who want to steal my hair. I’d always been happy at home, and felt like my mother and I had a fairly good relationship, until recently. A few days ago, I mentioned that I wanted to leave the tower for my birthday. You see, I really wanted to go see some mysterious lights that always appear in the sky on my birthday – ON MY BIRTHDAY – which of course has always made me think that they were somehow for me! Mother said it was a bad idea, that there were ruffians and thugs out there, that I couldn’t handle myself, etc. I tried to convince her otherwise, but then she exploded and said that I could never leave the tower.
Does that seem fair to you? It didn’t to me! I was still just as determined to see the lights! So I came up with an excuse to get her to go on a trip for a few days, and then I carried out a brilliant plan. Right before the fight with Mother, I had knocked out a thief who climbed in my window, and trapped him in my closet. (Can’t handle myself out there? Tell that to my frying pan!) After Mother left, I made a bargain with him: that he take me to see the floating lights and bring me back safely, and I would return to him a tiara that I had taken out of his satchel. He basically agreed. We’d be back before Mother returned and she would never even have to know.
I admit that I had a lot of conflicting emotions before jumping out the window. I just had to do it. I admitted that I shouldn’t. And then I did!
Being completely free for the first time was AMAZING!!! I consoled myself that what Mother didn’t know wouldn’t kill her. Then I realized this would kill her. I was having so much fun! And yet I felt like a horrible daughter. I decided I was going back. I decided I was NEVER going back! I felt like a despicable human being. I felt like it was the Best. Day. Ever! I was alternately laughing hysterically and sobbing uncontrollably. My guide, Flynn Rider, tried to play on my feelings of guilt, to get me to give up and go back, but that’s when I really strengthened my resolve to just put those feelings behind me and stick to my dream, and I didn’t have any qualms after that.
I got my first taste of what people in the world are really like when Flynn took me into a pub. The men there seemed worse than the kind of ruffians and thugs my mother had always warned me about! As they were in the middle of trying to kill Flynn, I begged them to FIND THEIR HUMANITY and asked if any of them had ever had a dream. Guess what? They all had! It turned out that beneath their scary exteriors, they were just people, with feelings and hobbies and dreams, like me! I guess they just needed a nice young girl to draw it out of them. That’s when I first started to wonder if my mom had always been wrong about the world.
After several more scrapes, I was starting to feel really bonded with Flynn. To be honest, I was starting to really like him, and he seemed to really like me. At that point, you’ll never guess who showed up to end my adventure but Mother! She tried to get me to come back home. She called Flynn a wanted thief. I told her that he liked me. She laughed at me. She said a man like that would just leave me as soon as he got what he wanted (the tiara). For the first time in my life, I openly defied her! I refused to listen, or to go back with her, and so she went off without me.
The next day was my Big Day! Flynn and I went into the kingdom together, we saw the townsfolk, we danced and drew, and at sunset… we got to see the floating lights! I found out they were lanterns sent out every year to commemorate the birth of the Lost Princess. It was magical, and extremely romantic, and I knew then that I had to be with Flynn.
But then my dream began to turn into a nightmare. Though I had felt it was wrong to run away, everything had seemed to be turning out so well as a result. Suddenly things started to become awful! Flynn seemed to have abandoned me, some truly bad thugs tried to kidnap me (well, maybe they have dreams on the inside too, I forgot to ask), and then Mother showed up just at the right moment. Now it seemed like Mother was right about Flynn, right about the world, right about everything! There was nothing left for me in the kingdom. So I went back to Mother. And I felt terrible about how everything had worked out.
So I sat on my bed back in my tower to think over everything that had happened. I was looking at a little flag Flynn gave me that had the kingdom’s ensign of the sun on it – and I suddenly realized that I’ve been drawing shapes like that my whole life without even knowing it. !!! Then I had a flashback to a mosaic I had seen in the kingdom, of the Lost Princess as a baby with green eyes and blonde hair, and I realized I have green eyes and blonde hair. !!! And then I had a flashback to when I had tried on the tiara that I found in Flynn’s satchel and it looked amazing on me. !!! What are the odds? Couldn’t this only mean one thing?! I’m starting to get a very strong feeling that I’ve always been more special than I thought. And I don’t actually remember being born to my mother. What if… she’s been lying to me my whole life? What if she’s not really my mom? What if she kidnapped me at birth? What if I’m actually the Lost Princess?
So, I was feeling very tempted to go tell Mother that I’m on to her, and then I stumbled across your website, Visionary Daughters.
Now I’m confused about what a girl in my situation should do. Should I trick my mom and run away secretly again? Or should I be more upfront in my defiance this time? Wouldn’t you agree that I was justified in running away the first time, since she wasn’t actually my mom, even though I thought she was at the time? Should I go try to find Flynn again? Should I present myself to the king and queen and say I’m pretty sure I’m their daughter?
On your website, you don’t appear to give any advice to anyone in my particular situation, which makes it seem like you don’t realize that there are people out there with different circumstances from yours. I like the principles that you lay out, but I don’t think it’s possible to obey any of them because I don’t think that God has given me the ideal situation. And I seriously doubt that God has given biblical guidelines for girls in situations like mine. What do you think?
What would you say to Rapunzel? Check back in a few days for our response.
Another Excerpt from It’s (Not That) Complicated
Posted March 4, 2012
We’d like to share with you another excerpt from our new book. This one is pulled from “Chapter Eleven: “Will You Be My It’s Complicated? How to Just Say No to the Wrong Kind of Relationships.”
Let’s Play Romance
There are plenty of people who have technically kissed recreational dating goodbye, but are still looking for romantic flings outside of marriage. They want the fun of being in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships without purpose or commitment. Enter flirtship, the popular new alternative to dating and courtship. It’s like dating, only you don’t go out – you use email, chat, or phone, or just pair off whenever you’re in the same vicinity. Either way, you’re definitely – though not officially – well, apparently, anyway – boyfriend and girlfriend.
These are classic “It’s Complicateds” because they’re not defined at any point, and no one, including the involved parties, knows exactly where they’re going. Let’s use Deanna and Gabe as an example. How did Deanna let herself get so entangled with Gabe? Answer: deliberate romantic encounters and emotional fire-stoking. The reality is, our hearts crave to be in a relationship, starting long before we’re ready to get married. Deanna was enjoying her “romance fix” and the warm fuzzies of being loved with no strings attached. It wasn’t until she became dependent on Gabe’s interest that she realized this kind of romantic free-for-all meant that there would be no strings attached to Gabe either. And because Gabe was also only in it for a good time, he was free to move on once the relationship wasn’t meeting his needs and a better time appeared on the horizon.
Sometimes people justify taking each other for a romantic spin by saying, “We have to try a lot of people out to see which one would be the best match,” or “I thought it would be a good idea to secure him just in case.” But test-driving someone romantically, whether for kicks, for science, or for strategy, is not how we keep romance in the context of marriage, where it belongs. We can invent a thousand excuses, but at the end of the day, we don’t do it because it’s wise. We don’t do it because it’s loving. We don’t do it because we’re pursuing purity. We do it because it’s just so much fun.
Proverbs 9:17 tells us that “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” It’s natural for us to want things that we’re not supposed to have (yet). And we have a natural desire for somebody to be the prince so we can be the princess so that we can have a love story. But the correct response to this desire running out of its proper context (whatever Taylor Swift may say) is to Just Say No.
Why Do Bad Boys Happen to Good People?
Ashley’s situation was an easy one to unravel because it was entirely one-sided. But often it takes two to tangle, and there are times when it’s the young man who’s leading the girl into it. There are such things as scoundrels and rakes; there are young men who genuinely don’t know the right channels; there are good boys who aren’t ready to get married yet; there are guys who are more interested in fun than commitment; and there are nice guys who are just way too friendly with girls. How do we handle them?
Girls often come to us distraught over problems like, “He keeps telling me he really cares about me, but I know he hasn’t talked to my dad…” “He’s too friendly and I don’t know what to do about it…” “He asked me for a date, but I’m committed to courtship!” “He keeps sending me gushy Facebook messages!” “He’s not marriage material yet but I hate to push away someone who likes me so much…” “He stopped me in the store and asked me for my name and phone number…” “He follows me everywhere and asks me really personal questions!” “He is just so sensitive and sweet and affectionate toward me – I know he’s pushing his boundaries, but I’m starting to fall for him anyway…”
These sorts of situations can be uncomfortable to deal with, but they don’t have to get truly sticky unless we let them. We often have more power to direct this sort of situation than we realize. Young men have told us time and time again: Girls really are the ones who set the tone for the interaction. Young men tend to unconsciously defer to what the young lady seems comfortable with (e.g. if she seems to be enjoying his attentions, he’ll ramp it up; if she thought his coarse joke was funny, well, he’s got more where that came from…). Most often, they let us set the terms; they let us establish the boundaries. The kind of young man above usually tests the waters to see what kind of girl he’s dealing with and what he can get away with. You don’t have to play his game.
You need to talk to your parents about how they would like you to handle situations like the ones below, but here are some general principles our parents gave us.
If Don Juan accosts you in the dentist’s office waiting room and tries to charm you out of your phone number, a firm “I don’t give out my personal details to people I don’t know” is usually sufficient.
If Lancelot might be a possibility someday, but is acting like he wants to be married now – pushing the boundaries of your friendship and letting it get a little too emotionally intense way too early – it’s usually possible to remind him of what’s appropriate in your own respectfully reserved conduct. If he doesn’t take the hint, you can ask your father to talk to him about it.
If Romeo seems smitten with you and showers you with attention and compliments (and is exactly the sort of Montague your parents do not approve of), you can make it very clear in your cool but respectful manner that you are not interested in sharing a balcony scene with him.
If your friend Han Solo asks if he can take you for a ride in the Millennium Falcon and you are affronted because it is a bucket of bolts and you’ve already kissed romantic intergalactic joyrides goodbye (and you’d rather kiss a wookiee anyway) – you don’t have to tell him so rudely; there is a polite way to say, for example, “Have you checked with my dad on that?”
If Edward Cullen is stalking you in a creepy manner, always staring at you across the room and trying to corner you so he can ask you creepy questions about yourself – you can respond so honestly (“Yes, I believe in Total Depravity”), seriously (“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God judges sin”), and confidently (“What is your position on supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism?”) that he will probably never come ask you questions again. If something firmer is needed, your father or brothers should be able to do the job.
If Willoughby wants to take you on a solitary ramble to read Shakespeare’s sonnets and then have you stay home from church so he can ask you a Very Particular Question, you’d better be sure your father or father-figure is fully behind what W. is doing. If you know that W. is not playing by the rules, you can point him towards the right person to ask, or ask your father to talk to him.
If girls would realize that they don’t have to go on romantic rambles, tolerate creepy questions, welcome inappropriate flattery, laugh at crude jokes, accept dates, allow over-friendliness, or give away their phone numbers just to be nice, everything would be a lot simpler for them.
Complicated things will happen to us – but “It’s Complicateds” will only happen if we’re playing along. We will make things a whole lot more difficult if we enjoy the attention, become emotionally entangled, lose our level-headedness, relish the drama, or encourage the misdemeanors.
When a ball of this kind is hurled into our court, this is a test. What will we do with it? No matter how outrageously a young man is behaving (and trying to get us to behave), we still have to stand our ground and do what is right. The standard is still to act like Christ, Who knew when to be firm and forceful, but Who never sinned. This means that cruel or haughty comebacks are not ok, but neither is going along with a young man when he’s pushing the limits. Remember, the most truly loving thing we can do for him is to point him to what’s right – even if it means saying, “You’re talking to the wrong person,” or “No, I’m not interested in going out with you.”
In the case of Lauren and Marshall, Lauren is feeling overwhelmed with confusion over how to handle Marshall’s clear interest, knowing that he’s not marriage material yet, and hasn’t approached her father. The solution, however, is very simple. Lauren simply needs to do three things:
Talk with her parents about the situation, and let them know her true thoughts and feelings regarding Marshall. Our parents can help keep us accountable if our own hearts are swaying. Our fathers are also our secret weapons in the area of dealing with guys. They are the strength that we don’t have – they are the ones that can force the issues for us, the ones who can find out what a young man’s intentions are towards us, the ones who can make sure no one leads us along. What if Marshall was only playing with her while he waited for something better to come along?
Interact with Marshall as a sister and not a girlfriend, as though nothing is going on… because nothing is, right? Our pure and sisterly conduct can remind young men what their own should be.
Resist the urge to keep a candle burning for him in her heart just in case. We don’t know who God intends for us to marry; we don’t know who God intends for them to marry. What’s important is that we keep our hearts open to what God wants… and that’s going to be a lot harder if we’ve already filled that spot with a certain someone.
A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing?
Posted February 10, 2012
Dear Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin,
I’m 16 years old, I’m home schooled and (surprise) I love to read . I’ve always read ANYTHING I can my hands on from Jane Austen to Stephen King to John Steinbeck to Anthony Burgess and back again. My Mom and Dad, never prohibited me from reading anything, from the time I was about 11 years old, I pretty much took control of my reading censorship, and I’m not afraid to say I’ve had a awesome time with it.
My Mom and Dad are good God fear people who put a great love of Jesus in me, and I don’t want you to think they haven’t given me guidance, because truly they have. In fact, I think by giving me that intellectual freedom, they gave me “so much more” than if they had only allowed me the “proper” or “age appropriate” literature. I’ve been exposed to ideas and opinions few people encounter until collage. Some of them made me doubt my Christianity, for a short time I considered myself somewhat of an agnostic. But in the end that doubt made my faith stronger,
as it says in 1 Peter 1:7 So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Basically what I’m trying to say is, I think you may be doing a disservice to the young women reading your blog. By telling them to so carefully guard they’re hearts, you end up turning them from learning. If your Faith is true, it will survive any false opinion, idea, or doctrine. Instead, you should more vehemently encourage curiosity about the world and its ideas. I realize young minds can be pliable, but only through the observation and study of things, can we understand them. I.E. We cannot understand redemption unless we understand sin. We can’t understand what it is to be saved if we’ve never been in trouble.
God Bless the both of you.
Your sister in Christ
Thank you so much for your thoughtful email! Anna Sofia and I really appreciate hearing from girls with the self-discipline and gumption to take their educations by the horns, and much of what you said struck a personal chord with me. Like you, I’ve always been a bookworm, and also like you, I was blessed with parents who encouraged me to read widely. I also liked Animal Farm better than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, so I think I know where you’re coming from.
When you saw our post about our new audio message, “Jane Austen and Vampires: Examining Girls’ Literary Appetites and Literary Eating Disorders,” you might have been concerned that we were warning girls away from books that would expose them to a broader world of ideas than found in standard “safe” girls’ literature. Maybe even to stay in the safe realm of books about bonnets and dollies and far away from the danger zone of the war of ideas. If your point is, “You’re not getting a full or useful education if you only read Amish princess novels or Victorian sermonettes,” Anna and I couldn’t agree more.
In fact, one of the key points to this message is that it’s time to re-think the merit of what most consider “proper” or “age-appropriate” literature for girls. Young women have a long history of insulating themselves from the reality of the spiritual warfare around them with fantasies of a world all in pink – a world made up entirely of chick lit. components (romance, girlfriend rivalries, love triangles, clothes/parties/feminine pastimes, etc.) instead of the things that actually make the world go ‘round (war, politics, economics, agriculture, theology, etc.) And from Green Gables to Mansfield Park to Forks, Washington, this is the world most girls’ literature takes place in.
This is not the real world. The Bible gives girls a thumbnail sketch of the world as God sees it, and it’s a pretty robust saga of tyranny, slavery, economics, warfare, jurisprudence, and crime, which includes very few bonnets. Besides being infallible on all other points, it’s the perfect model for the breadth of universe girls should immerse themselves in.
The premise of this talk is that girls need to read books that will equip them for this real world, rather than mentally loll in a safe, pretty, imaginary world of dainty hobbies and romantic fantasies. This is why I would be more likely to give my daughter One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch than Daddy Long Legs, and it would be because of the gritty realism of the content, not in spite of it.
The problem with Twilight, for instance, is certainly not that it shows girls too much of the big bad world. Its problem is that it plunges them more deeply into a world that doesn’t line up with the rules of reality. And in this way, it’s not that much different from Amish romance novels (except for the buttons) — both let us wallow in an extremely artificial world instead of dragging us into reality – a world of duty, consequences, and people at war with our faith.
I’ve always admired John Milton’s summary of “a complete and generous education,” as “that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.” But why stop with men? Women also have vigorous roles to play, both in public and private, in peace and in war; any woman who wants to discharge her duties on the world stage is going to need an education with teeth. If we’re going to be useful in the great fight of faith, we have to understand the terms of the fight, and the weapons of our – and the enemy’s – warfare. We have to know about the ideas that have been warring against Christianity through all history. But more importantly, we have to know how to identify them and how to combat them, or we’re going to be worse than useless soldiers. We may end up on the other side.
This is because ideas aren’t neutral. Every idea is either true or false; every thought either lines up with God’s truth or defies it. And every time we come in contact with a book, as we point out in this message, we’re not just coming in contact with a story – we’re coming in contact with another mind, a mind with its own worldview and religion, a mind that’s either with Him or against Him (Luke 11:23). The question for us is: Which mind will be the dominant mind? Are we grounded enough in our knowledge of the Lord’s mind to see where the other falls short? Or will this new mind become the standard by which God’s mind will be weighed in the balance and found wanting?
I’d love to know more about your story. You say that some of the ideas you encountered in your reading made you doubt your Christianity. Do you mean that you were a believer, and then you stopped believing, and then started believing again? Or that through your reading you came to realize you were not a believer, and were cut to the heart and born again? What exactly did you doubt, and what convinced you to believe? When your books made you doubt God, did God come make Himself more real to you, or did the books make Him more real to you? What was it that proved to you “that He exists and that He rewards those who seek him”? (Heb. 11:6)
If false ideas force us to acknowledge our lack of a spiritual foundation and drive us to Scripture to find our footing – wonderful! But if we know we aren’t grounded enough in the Word to know how to process confusing new ideas, the answer is not to drink more deeply of those wells. If our faith is weak, Romans 10:17 tells us what Book to read to strengthen it: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
On the strengthening of our faith, you quoted 1 Peter 1:7 (one of my favorite verses) – but there’s a difference between embracing the trials and tests God sends to try our faith (James 1:2-4), and willfully flirting with ideas that we know will undermine it. Experimenting with dissenting beliefs until we realize that we don’t know what’s right anymore may sound intellectually fair and scholastically noble, but it’s not a virtue; at least, not in God’s eyes. The Bible actually does tell us to avoid chasing certain kinds of ideas. I didn’t say it; 1 Timothy 6:20,21 did. “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.”
Willful doubt is not one of the steps to higher faith or higher wisdom. “[T]he one who doubts,” according to James 1:6-8, “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” We may need to doubt whether we “are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5), but if we doubt that God is real and His word is true, we’ll never find truth.
Getting familiar with His Word – the field guide to every heresy in the world – is square one. After all, our job is to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) The right attitude isn’t, “If you see a false idea, pretend it isn’t there and maybe it will go away” (or even “If you see a false idea, close the book!”). The attitude of someone fighting firmly on God’s side is to recognize a false idea, see it with God’s eyes, call it out, and prove it false. There is no alternative option; at least, not for someone who wants to claim, “I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113)
In other words, I believe every girl should know the Bible’s answer to agnosticism, to existentialism, to transcendentalism, feminism, chauvinism, socialism, fascism, racism, mysticism, Darwinism, Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, Swedenborgianism, and every other notion books have to offer.
The point is that our minds, as well as our hearts, as well as our bodies – have to bow the knee. Our minds must acknowledge that Christ is Lord of the world of ideas. Our minds, howsoever intelligent or rational, must accept that they are not the standard – the mind of Christ is.
“Man must think God’s thoughts after Him if he is to know anything,” wrote William Blake in The Foundations of Christian Scholarship. “How does one know whether he is thinking God’s thoughts? To the extent that God’s thoughts are revealed to us in Scripture, to this extent can we think His thoughts after Him.” The goal, as John Calvin put it, is to “give up our own understanding, and renounce the wisdom of the flesh, and thus we must present our minds to Christ empty that He may fill them.”
There is indeed a verse (Prov. 4:23) that tells us to guard our hearts “with all vigilance.” Does that mean shielding our hearts from knowledge? Proverbs 15:14, 18:15, 22:17, and 23:12 all say to do the exact opposite. We just don’t have the option of leaving our hearts open to loving the things God hates. In other words: If you felt like you needed my permission to read Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book, you have it. If you want God’s permission to love it, you don’t.
But then, we should also ask, to what end do we read books like this? This is where I got it wrong in my reading habits as a girl. If we read to amuse ourselves, to get away from it all, or to make ourselves feel smart, then we should ask ourselves how well we’re doing at “taking every thought captive” and “redeeming the time.” When I was in my mid-teens, I became convicted that I needed to be much more deliberate about what I put into my mind and why. Our goal, I realized, should be to look for the books that are the most profitable, the books will equip us to be a more faithful soldiers of Christ. And the goal is also to grow in our appreciation for the perfection of God, God’s reality, and God’s law – and how far superior that is to any invention of man.
You say, “We cannot understand redemption unless we understand sin. We can’t understand what it is to be saved if we’ve never been in trouble.” True – the fact is, we’re born already knowing sin and in trouble. It’s not something that should require much further study. And every girl saved by grace understands that she is sinful enough to be justly condemned for ever, without needing to study sin or experience new varieties of trouble to know that she needs a Savior. She sees enough blackness in her own heart to know that what she needs to pursue is the light. The other fact is, we clearly still don’t understand redemption if what we mostly want to understand is sin. We clearly still don’t understand what it is to be saved if we prefer trouble. “And this is the judgment, declares John 3:19: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
I’d like to send you a copy of the “Jane Austen and Vampires” message. I think you’ll find that the heart of it is to “vehemently encourage curiosity about the world and its ideas” – and more importantly, to encourage girls to see that world and those ideas with God’s eyes. I’d love to hear what you think – please write and let me know. And again, I very much appreciated your email and your concern. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to clarify a message very close to my heart.
May God bless you richly as well…
Your sister in Christ,
[By the way, congratulations to Leah C. for winning the giveaway for a copy of "Jane Austen and Vampires"! We hope the message is a blessing to you.]
What Will You Read this Year?
Posted January 13, 2012
Our friend Howard Phillips has often quoted to us the maxim, “You will be the same person each year except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
This concept had a pretty big effect on both of us. Obviously, we don’t want to be the same people this year that we were last year. This is why we’re beginning this year (as we do most every year) by plotting out some major goals for ourselves, including relationships we want to develop and books we want to read.
As we both change and grow each year, the books we read and appreciate change each year as well. We both grew up loving to read, and voraciously devoured all books of all ilks and genres. Some we loved. Some we hated. Some we loved and shouldn’t have. Some we hated for bad reasons. Some we positively binged on. Some we tasted and spat out. And along the way, we’ve realized that girls’ natural literary tastes cannot always be trusted.
Last year we revisited some of these beloved and be-hated books from our childhoods and did a brief study on women’s most popular literary choices, and then put together a message for a conference we were speaking at. We titled it, “Jane Austen and Vampires: Examining Girls’ Literary Appetites and Literary Eating Disorders.”
What do handsome heroes, bonnets, and vampires have in common? Not much, but they’re all pieces of the most famous and influential girls literature of all time — literature that has revamped the way thousands of young women view reality, the world, themselves, and romance. In this audio message, we attempted to analyze authors from Jane Austen to Janette Oke to Stephanie Meyer, and lay out the basics of a healthy literary diet. (Click here for more information.)
Well, to celebrate this whole new year we all have been given to read books, study, and nourish the little gray cells, we wanted to give a copy of this message away to one of you! To enter the draw, simply write to us (damselsATvisionarydaughtersDOTcom) and tell us three books you’d really like to read this year. Giveaway ends January 20. (By the way, congratulations to Brielle, winner of a copy of It’s (Not That) Complicated ! We pray the book will be an encouragement to you.)
And just for fun, we’re going to give you a peek at all the great cover ideas schemed up by our sibling design team. We liked them all so much it was hard to choose a winner. Which one do you like best? You can enter the giveaway a second time by writing and telling us your immediate reactions to each cover (e.g. #1 is the most punchy, #4 gave me the willies, etc.). We’d love to hear your thoughts!
What will you be reading this year?
Giveaway: It’s (Not That) Complicated
Posted December 2, 2011
We’re giving away a signed copy of It’s (Not That) Complicated! To enter the draw: Just write to us (damselsATvisionarydaughtersDOTcom) and tell us what you’d like to see us write a book about next!
To enter a second time, either 1: Put our nifty “It’s (Not That) Complicated” sidebar button (see left) on your own website sidebar (see here for instructions), and send us an email telling us, or 2: simply “like” the “It’s (Not That) Complicated” page on Facebook and write and tell us. Best yet, you can enter three times by doing all three.
Giveaway ends December 9.
Anna & Elizabeth Talk About Boys, Beauty, and Emotional Purity on Generations
Posted November 26, 2011
Last week we were honored to talk about our new book with Kevin Swanson on his radio program “Generations”. You can listen to the interview online here.
Excerpt from It’s (Not That) Complicated
Posted November 8, 2011
We’re excited to share with you a number of excerpts from our new book. These next few chunks were pulled from “Chapter Seven: The Heart: Victim or Perpetrator? Getting Your Heart to Follow YOU.”
Emotional Purity Revisited
We’re very grateful for the groundwork that has been laid by the Emotional Purity advocates, people who first began to seriously address the problem of handing out bits of our heart with reckless abandon. We, for two, needed to hear about the concept of guarding our hearts, keeping our emotions under control, and being faithful to our future husbands in thought and deed. But we believe this foundation needs a little more built onto it. For many, the concept raised more questions than it answered.
As one girl wrote to us: “My friend + i hav both decided that wee r neva goin 2 d8 + we want our 1st kiss 2 b on our weddings. …[but] i was tellin sum of my friends @ school about the decisions ive made and another question came up, is it wrong to have a crush on a guy? my friend says that you can’t control whether u have a crush on sum1 or not and im not 100 % sure how 2 answer that. Can u guys help?”
Once the idea of emotional purity is introduced, the questions breed like rabbits. “Can you keep from having crushes?” “Is it wrong to have a crush?” “When is it technically a crush, anyway?” “Whatever it is, is it a sin?” “Will they come back to bite me later?” “Will each crush that I’ve had make me love my future husband less?” “Do I need to go find and marry the first boy that I ever liked?” “Did the crushes I had when I was two count against my emotional purity, or do they only start to count at age 13? Is there a crushing age of accountability?” “I’ve given away my heart so many times – is it too late for me to even care?”
To those on the outside, these sorts of questions might sound like silly wranglings over definitions to see what we can get away with, or the perfect ten in female ditziness. But these questions are actually legitimate, and the confusion a big deal, because at the heart of it, we’re talking about our moral responsibilities. When we don’t understand our actual moral responsibilities in this area, we can feel ridden with guilt over things that aren’t actually wrong, and completely unpricked by things that are. We can have a fatalistic “It’s too late to guard my heart because I’ve already botched things so badly” attitude towards doing right in the future. And we can develop an unbiblical fear of doing the things we are actually commanded to do.
We torture ourselves over quandaries like, “At exactly what point in my thought process did my favorable thoughts towards a young man turn into sin? Did I cross the line when I started naming our imaginary future children? …or was it back when I was wondering what color the bridesmaids’ shoes should be? How about when I first admired what a servant’s heart he has?”
We ask the wrong question when we ask, “Is having a crush a sin?” The Bible doesn’t actually say, and the reason is because “emotional purity” is a made-up moral category. And it’s giving a lot of us feelings of (unbiblical) guilt for committing some dreadful nebulous crime that there is no definition for, when the answer would actually be very clear if we phrased the question using biblical terms. There are plenty of real moral categories for real sins – like lust, covetousness, idolatry, fear of man, vain imaginations, and presumptuous sins. How much clearer would things be if we would just go ahead and say, “I’ve made an idol out of a young man; is that wrong?” or, “I’m having lustful thoughts for this guy – is that a sin?”
The Bible gives plenty of clear commands, both positive and negative: Guard your heart. Love the brethren from a pure heart. Think on what is pure and what is true. Don’t covet. Don’t lust. Have self-control. Take every thought captive. Going against any of these clear commands is a sin. This should answer our questions.
See? Now it’s not that complicated again.
But keeping our love in its proper place is easier said than done. Our hearts want to love. They want to fasten themselves to someone. As woman was taken from the side of man, she yearns to be restored to the side of man. We’ve all known since our highchair days that that’s where we belong. We’re wired to find them fascinating, attractive, and loveable. This is why one of young women’s biggest struggles is keeping that desire to love under control.
A girl once wrote to us, “For a long time I have struggled with unrequited love. I just cannot get over this one young man I know. I love him, but it seems that God has just not ordained that he should love me in return, and I am having the hardest time trying to accept that.”
There is no pain quite like realizing that what we desire most is not what God desires to give us – a pain we’re both keenly familiar with.
The truth is hard to accept, especially when we’re hurting, realizing that we made a mistake when we staked our hopes, our futures, our love, on someone who had no commitment to us in return. The girls who write us such emails are hoping for advice on how to get the young man to return their feelings, but truly the kindest (and hardest) thing we can tell them is this: that their own affections are out of place to begin with. The earlier girls would realize this, the more pain they would be spared. Love doesn’t have to go out of control and harm us. The young men God has placed in our lives don’t have to be sources of pain and heartache. There is a better way. And it requires learning to set boundaries for our own feelings.
But even those who recognize that little schoolgirl crushes are immature and fruitless can still wonder, “Is it wrong to deeply, sincerely desire a young man who is really worthy? One we could really marry?”
One thing our father taught us is that it’s not wrong to respect and admire a godly young man; not even to realize we could marry a man like him. But our legitimate and pure-hearted regard crosses the line into out-of-place love when we stray into one or more of these five mistakes:
1. Seeking our will above God’s
God already has a plan for what must happen with you and every young man you know. In His grand design, He knows who should be married to whom in order for His will to be accomplished, and your duty is to embrace that design as surely as you embrace God Himself. If we really, truly, sincerely love God’s ways, we will be able to do the impossible: Rejoice even if God gives Brandon to someone else, and take joy in the plan He has for us instead. Whenever we feel that we would not be happy with God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, if that will is different from ours, we’re out of place. If a young man becomes more important to us than God’s will and preferences, he has officially become an idol.
2. Thinking we have a claim over the young man
It doesn’t matter how much we think we understand him, appreciate him, love him, deserve him – if we do not have his ring on our finger, he is not ours. In God’s bigger plan, this young man we’re lavishing so much devotion on might be another woman’s husband. And we might be another man’s wife. If there is no marital commitment, we don’t belong to one another.
Our love may feel pure, perfect, transcendent – but once it lights on a brother in Christ and says “He’s mine – hands off,” it has become selfish, possessive, and jealous. And this is part of the reason we need to resist crushes – because they’re incompatible with real love. That’s right – real love for the young man, and also the people around us. Do we truly love Brandon, enough to want the very best for him? Enough to want something better for him than… us? (If we truly cared about a fellow, would we necessarily think, “Brandon is so amazing… he needs a really special girl. I know! Me! Why, he couldn’t do better!”) How about the other girls? Do we love Amber enough to hope that she will also get a really amazing husband? Even if it’s… Brandon? (“But she can’t have him! I deserve him!”) If we love the other girls around us, it really will change the way we love the other boys. Because true love conquers all – even crushes.
3. Forgetting who the man is
We’ve all heard it a thousand times, and yet we still forget: It’s the man’s job to choose, the woman’s job to be chosen. And no amount of active searching and window-shopping on our part will actually make our chosen chooser choose us any faster. Wrapping ourselves up in a bow and throwing ourselves at his feet doesn’t count as letting him be the initiator, either. It’s hard to feel powerless, but now is our time to learn patience and trust, to be at peace with the fact that it’s the man’s call. For a girl to “pick” a young man who may never be an option for her is presumptuous, at best. It can be asking for heartbreaking disappointment, at worst.
4. Building castles in the sky
The truth is, we open the door for heart wrenching pain when we stake all of ourselves, all of our thoughts, our whole world – on something that we have no guarantee will happen. Even in a courtship-type situation, when the young man’s interest is certain, it doesn’t guarantee that your future with him is. God may still have other plans (Jas. 4:13-15), and it’s best to be emotionally prepared for them.
5. Letting your brain go out the window
…as our father always put it. Dad taught us that when you’re facing one of the biggest decisions of your life is the time when you most need your wits about you. We all know infatuation is blinding; during this season of getting to know young men as friends, and especially in the next season of getting to know one of them as a potential husband, we will need to have our minds prepared for action (1 Pet. 1:13) and our eyes wide open.
Moreover, as appealing as it may sound, we shouldn’t expect God to lead us through our infatuations. Our hearts, feelings, “intuitions,” and romantic inclinations can all be wrong, no matter how strong they are or how right they feel. One friend of ours was so convinced that her feelings for a particular young man were a sign from the Lord, that she wouldn’t let them go even after his engagement to someone else. On his wedding day, she confronted him for going against the will of God, and told him it was still his destiny to marry her. Obviously, her feelings weren’t proof of anything but the fact that… she had feelings. God leads us through the truths in Scripture, not though our fickle human hearts.
We learned a lot from watching our dear friend – now sister-in-law –Nadia face all five of these temptations. It wasn’t long after Nadia became one of our family’s closest friends that she realized our older brother David was exactly the kind of man she had been praying for. As she describes it, “I was gripped by his humility and purity of heart before the Lord and his passion for proclaiming the Word of God.” She’d never met another man she thought she could help, follow, and complete as well. And yet… she had no guarantee that David was really the man God had chosen for her. Any girl in this situation would be tempted to check out from reality, fixating, wishing, speculating, wondering, hoping… To place her happiness in the contingency that it would work out. To view the young man as “hers.”
But Nadia knew the battle in her heart that she had to fight and win had nothing to do with David. It had to do with finding her satisfaction in God alone. She knew that no matter what happened – even if she married David – she could not be happy until she learned to love God more, know Him better, and desire His will over her own, even if His will for her future didn’t include David. She wanted to learn to love David rightly and desire what was best for him, regardless of whether it would involve her or not. She wanted to be focused on reality – growing and working to be more like Christ and serve Him in the here and now – not distracted by possibilities or fantasies.
Some girls think if there’s a chance the relationship could work out, they should hold on to their infatuations… just in case they were to need those feelings someday. The angst in their hearts isn’t even over “I just can’t stop loving him!” but “Should I stop, or shouldn’t I?” In Nadia’s mind, the question was “Are these feelings right before God, right now? Am I putting my hope in marrying David, or in God? Has my sisterly regard crossed the line into idolatry?”
Wash Me and I Shall Be Whiter Than Snow
Some girls fear that they will have permanent scars from mistakes they have made. They fear that part of them is gone and they can never be made whole again. But the concept of inner purity deals more with the present state of the heart, the mind, and the affections than it does with the past. What we need to be doing is developing a state of heart and mind that is self-controlled and faithful to one man. It’s never too late to repent and do what’s right.
Going back to Ephesians, we see that the Church of Christ was not naturally pure, but had to be sanctified and cleansed “by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26) before she was ready to be presented before her Groom. David cried, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7) Being clean means having been washed. Being pure means being purified – tested, matured, and refined by fire.
More than that, it means being forgiven. Our hearts, if not the rest of us, have all played the harlot, committed murder, and sinned against God. But what did Jesus tell the woman taken in adultery? “Go, and sin no more.” The same love that was extended to her has been extended to us by the same Savior. “If we confess our sins,” says 1 John 1:9, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
When Christ saves us, He gives us His righteousness so the Father can accept us as righteous and see us as completely pure – as He is. This is the essence of forgiveness in Christ, which makes us clean in God’s sight. If we have been purified by Christ, we need to learn to dwell in this forgiveness rather than dwell on our former impurity. So think about your future, ladies, not your past. We should live every day in the comforting assurance of this position, and in a way that honors the Savior who bled and died to exalt us to such a place! Once you understand your forgiveness in Christ, you will be able to think and act like a pure woman, and your future husband will be able to truly see you as such.
In King David, we see a heart that was already “after God’s own heart,” but still needed constant maintenance. We should take a lesson from the way he cried out to God in the Psalms to give him continual heart surgery: “Let… the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD.” (Ps. 19:14) And after his affair with Bathsheba: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10)
Some girls have fallen so deeply for someone in the past that they feel they’ve lost that part of their heart forever. But does he own real estate in your heart, or is he just a squatter? We say we can’t get that part of our heart back, but it’s not gone. It’s still in us – still generating special thoughts and feelings for that someone, cherishing sentimental longings and wistful regrets, not letting go. But we can get this corner back. As with conquering sin, this could require taking a knife and cutting away a part of our life. It’s not easy, and it’s not painless – but it’s not impossible. The most emotional, impulsive, anxious, romantic, or vulnerable girl is not powerless to rule this area of her life. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us how:
Do not be anxious about anything
Not even Brandon.
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
He hears your cries for a godly husband.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding
He can envelop even the most stressful, anxious area of our lives with His peace.
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is why it’s possible to guard our hearts and minds: because He makes it possible.
Why So Complicated?
Posted November 5, 2011
Boy-girl relationships are hard. They’re hard because they’re made of people, not mathematic equations, formulas, or quantifiable factors like numbers. When talking about relationships, we’re dealing with fluctuating factors like motives, irrational feelings, and a nature that was made by God to be one way and twisted by sin to be another. Numbers are easy because they are predictable, but the heart, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, “is deceitful above all things… who can understand it?” And if one person wasn’t complicated enough, just add another person, multiply their sin natures, and we’ve got an equation too hard to solve in our own strength. When we do try to boil these relationships down to simple rules and formulas, they can come out looking something like the diagrams below. Because when it comes to each of these quandaries of the heart… it’s just (not that) simple.
Here are some drawings that didn’t make it onto the cover of It’s (Not That) Complicated, but we wanted to share with you anyway:
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