One morning this summer, a memory I had long forgotten popped up in my mind. I wonder if God brought it back to remind me of something important.
When I was in the 9th grade, I ran with a large group of girlfriends. We had known each other since elementary school. We loved slumber parties, roller skating at a local airplane hangar that was converted into a rink, our junior high dances that were held after school and going to the movies – which was always followed with pizza at our favorite place.
We were super social – our parents devised elaborate carpools to get us to and from all our activities. We had so much fun – it was truly a magical time.
One of the girls in the group had a very difficult home life. I’ll call her Bonnie. Her father was detached and her stay-at -home mother was an alcoholic. She often complained to us about her mom and we all felt bad for her.
Bonnie was one of those friends who you were careful with, because she could be volatile. “Hurting people, hurt people” as the saying goes – and, even though we were young, we instinctively knew to be careful with Bonnie. We loved her anyway.
One day Bonnie came to school very upset. Her father and mother had a knock-down, drag-out fight the night before. Her dad took off and she didn’t know what was going to happen next.
I remember feeling heartbroken for her. I wanted to do something that would help, so I did what every young teenage girl did in the 1970’s; while in class I secretly wrote her a note, folded it up in a little square, and had a friend deliver it. No texting or snapchat!
I wrote what I intended to be an encouraging message. I told her how sorry I was and that my heart went out to her.
Turns out – that was a big mistake.
When the bell rang for lunch, I walked to the center hallway of our school where my friends were gathered. As I approached the group, suddenly Bonnie turned toward me in a rage and started screaming – right in the middle of the hall and right in front of everyone.
Remember? I was in junior high school – I was mortified!
Bonnie completely misunderstood what I had written to her. She told me she didn’t need my pity and how dare I even imply she was hurting!
I looked to my friends and all but one of them began to gang up on me. They were yelling, taking up Bonnie’s offense and ripping me to shreds.
I was given no opportunity to explain, no benefit of the doubt and no grace. The girls stomped off and I was left alone in the center hallway with the only friend I had left – Marylou.
For weeks following that awful encounter, I stayed home after school because I wasn’t included in the fun activities anymore. I was never part of that group of girls again.
Marylou stuck with me like a sister, helped me make sense of the whole thing and encouraged me to move forward. I made new friends, who turned out to be faithful and kind. Life went on.
For me, it was such a profound life-lesson. My mom would remind me of it over the years. She would recall that on the day those girls turned on me, I learned who my true friends were, and that it was a blessing – painful as it was.
She also shared with me that having a few good girlfriends who love you in spite of yourself, who stick with you through thick and thin, who extend grace when you say the wrong thing or forget something important, are the ones you want to travel though life with.
There were many other lessons too. Mom and I reflected on my judgement, my choices and the changes I needed to make to grow up and mature.
And…truth be told, I can trace all the way back to that very experience the beginning of what would later become my heart for women’s ministry. For some reason, that painful and humiliating day did not cause me to become afraid of women – instead, it actually deepened my heart for them. For us.
But that isn’t the case for everyone…
The truth is, some women say no to any and all invitations to join women’s Bible studies, attend women’s conferences, retreats or other activities. The reason they give is that long ago, usually as a teenager, they were hurt by a group of girls. The sting and pain from that far away time is still vivid, so they choose not to come along. They will simply not risk it again. It’s understandable.
And of course, some of the hurts are more recent – they have encountered women who were not open to allowing someone new into their circle. We have all experienced groups like this; they like their friends, they like the way it is, and there is no room for someone new. I wish it wasn’t true but, in some places, it is. Even so, here’s the thing – we can’t stop there, throw up our hands and declare all women’s groups are exclusive. That’s not true.
Yes, cliques hurt – but we have a choice whether to let that be our story or not.
Do you want to know the truth about all the past hurt? The enemy wants us to believe we are invisible, and we don’t belong. He will bring up and bring up and bring up all past offenses, so we will not step out and try again.
He loves it when we are perpetually offended.
He is very skilled at convincing us that we are hurting and have no hope of getting past it. Other women have a place in the circle, but not me.
He’s counting on us being side-tracked, sidelined, tied up, nailed to the floor, and preoccupied with anything that will keep us from taking our place among our sisters. He is constantly trying to move our gaze to ‘back then’ instead of something new.
And, the enemy certainly doesn’t want us to ever allow that pain and hurt to become our ministry! That is why he is so determined to keep us from our rightful place.
Sister, if I have just described your experience and your hesitation to join other women who gather together to grow in their faith, there is something else you need to know: we need you.
There is a spot only you can fill. We need your distinctive and special voice – the one perfected and honed by your unique life, your lessons learned, your failures and your triumphs. We can learn from you – and we will all miss out on your valuable contribution if you are not there.
The enemy will tell you the circle is closed, but that is a lie.
The truth is, there is room for everyone. There’s an open spot that is a perfect fit – a place in the circle, reserved just for you.
May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir – not only with our voices, but with our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus! Romans 15:5-6 (MSG)