One Shade of Love (But Four Imposters)

I know, I know. Everyone else has already jumped into this party. I’m a tad late. And no one wants to read anymore about Fifty Shades of anything. (Although, in fact, I’m not late. I was early, a few months ago with this previous post. This is merely a follow up to me being ahead of the game. Truth.)
But we must, because this thing is not going away. I want so badly to say it’s just a movie and three terribly written books. I want to believe it will fade quickly. I want not to offend my friends by telling them they are wrong to consume and advocate for “Hey whatever you prefer as long as its not hurting anyone” media.
But I can’t. I’m a mom, and a pastor, and in neither capacity can I afford a don’t rock the boat stance on this one. Because I don’t believe it’s going to be a one night stand of a movie with our culture or our young women. I believe it’s a barometer of what’s already there and a bar setter for what we believe about relationships.
I have to at least tell the young people I love that that bar is at a level they can’t live with. Literally. And that they can totally change it if they choose. So here, young women I know and any I don’t who give me the honor of reading this, are the things I want you to know as the amazing women you are.
To my daughters (literal and otherwise),

1. You are not responsible for making another person happy. 


This is true in any relationship, not just a romantic one. If a parent, child, friend, or partner pins all his or her happiness on your actions, that’s not adoration. It’s manipulation.

You may feel adored. It feels beautiful, and powerful, to believe you alone can make him smile, and only you can fulfill his dreams. But think about that. Do you really want someone who cannot find it in himself to be happy and fulfilled without relying on you? Would you want to be a person who could not find joy apart from a specific relationship? How limiting is that?
Is there nothing in the entire rest of his life? If not, that’s kind of scary. Maybe there’s a reason for that. It sounds quite romantic for a man to tell you you’re the sole reason for his existence. But really? Maybe you don’t want to be that. It’s a lot of pressure.
And, more importantly, what happens when he’s not happy anymore? Because anyone who has no sense of who he is outside of you has no capacity to be happy, long term. Eventually, there will be chinks. Cracks where dissatisfaction leaks through. Big, gaping holes where you were supposed to make his dreams come true and you failed. And then what?
Don’t mistake those feelings of power for feelings of love. A real relationship is never about power. It’s about mutual, loving care.

2. You cannot rescue anyone. 


For this Fifty Shades thing, millions of women are excusing what in any other context would be rape and torture because, in the end, the guy is “redeemed.” It really is a love story, see, because he turns out great in the end. Never mind the means taken to get there.

So, it’s OK for a woman to submit to any sort of violation of her dignity, physically and emotionally, if it all turns out well in the end. Not only OK, it’s a good idea. Go for it. You won’t be sorry.
Except not.
Hear one woman’s story on this topic, one woman who was nearly killed by the man she would redeem: “I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead, I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on Earth who could help (him) face his demons.”
That’s the fantasy. Young women buy into it every day. Usually young women who themselves feel powerless, unremarkable, even unloved. The needy but otherwise awesome boy chooses them, and they will rescue him.
I’m a mom. I’ve read the stories. They are horror stories, every one of them, to a mother. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the stories in the news. Girl gets new boyfriend. Girl spends all her time with him. Girl drops all other contact in order to keep the boy she plans to “save.” Girl goes missing. You know the end.
Young women, it’s a lie that you can save someone from himself. Only God can do that. You’re not God. You are not even close to the pay grade. A romantic relationship is a terrible arena for helping someone who needs counseling. It is never OK to submit your dignity and well being for any reason. No one who asks that of you short term has your long term good in mind.
Being a friend to someone in pain? Pointing a person to help? Supporting a troubled soul? Yes—those are things worth spending your time on. But not in a relationship that hurts you. Not in a way that makes you the only one who can help. Leave the salvation to Jesus. He’s good at it; we’re not.

3. You are not responsible for the actions of any man. 


Period. That goes from the way you dress to the plans you make for your future to any words you speak. You are responsible for your actions, he for his. In a documentary on domestic abuse, I recently heard one woman, who declined to press charges on her boyfriend for punching her against the wall. Her reason for his behavior? “I just kept running my mouth. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Her mouth didn’t force his fist to hit it. The laws of physics argue against that.
Young women, you are brought up to believe this bullcrap. And yes, that’s what Im calling it. There are not fancy words for it. If a man chooses assault, abuse, or any other behavior, he chose it. You did not entice it. You did not bring it on. You did not ask for it. 

Can I get you to believe one thing today? That’s it. Please believe that. You make your choices, and I know some of them are lousy ones. I know, because some of mine are. But you don’t make choices for anyone else. Good grief, your own are enough of a load to bear. Don’t take on someone else’s, too.

4. You are not meant to be the center of anyone’s world. 


See #1 above. When God created human beings, indeed he did say that it was not good for man to be alone. He created woman to be his partner, his equal worker in this thing called life. But there is a difference between being a partner and being an idol.

The first step in any relationship that is headed for abuse is for the abuser to tell her he loves everything about her. She is the most important thing in his world. If she ever left he would be destroyed. He’ll make a million Facebook posts about how perfect you are. How could anyone that adoring be bad?
It can be bad because it’s setting you up to feel responsible for his welfare. And women, we eat this up. We like to feel responsible. We love to feel that able to heal and nurture and make someone whole. We love to be told we are the center of someone’s universe. It makes us feel like, maybe, we are valid human beings ourselves. If another person feels that way about me, could I deserve to be loved after all? So this must be love.
Fact—if a man is telling you this, you are not the center of his universe. He is. There is no room for anyone else in his universe who is not willing to be controlled and used to make him feel better. He’s making you responsible for his life, because he knows that will make you stay.
You are not responsible. Step out of the center and off the pedestal, no matter how heady a feeling it is to be put there. The fact that someone put you there should be a hint right away. Never agree to go where you didn’t put yourself.
I said at the beginning of this post you could totally change things, didn’t I? So don’t leave on a note of discouragement.
Young women, you are the ones targeted by this nonsense you are told is empowering. But I know a secret. I know it, because I gave birth to three girls I have watched grow into truly powerful women. I know you are smarter and stronger than that. I know you can see through the bullcrap. And I know you can end it.
“In the United States, women ages 16 to 24 are three times as likely to be domestic violence victims as women of other ages, and over 500 women and girls this age are killed every year by abusive partners, boyfriends, and husbands in the United States.”
Your population is the one most affected. So you are the ones who can stop it.
If you’ve read any recent posts on this blog, you know I’ve been running a series on identity. It would have continued today, but I thought this was more important. Yet, it is also part of the same topic. The truth is, if you, young women, know who you are, you are not going to fall into the lies about who you should be. You will not accept the role of being responsible for someone else’s dysfunction. You will stand up and tell other young women to truth and help them out of this cycle. But you have to know.
In order for you not to be enticed by the power, the pedestal, the attention disguised as love, you have to know without doubt that you are already loved. You are already powerful. You are already chosen and destined and accepted. You are already enough. If that goes deep into your soul? You will recognize the false love when you see it.
So today, I’ll leave you with this. It may seem like an easy out, to quote Scripture and just say “that’s all folks.” Sometimes, it is. But this time, I believe it says all it needs to. More than I could. Will you allow these verses to sit in your soul? To bury deeply into whatever scars you have? To not let go of you until they have wrestled through whatever lies you have believed about what you need to do to be good enough or accepted and loved? That’s all I want for you, my daughters.

O Lord, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.


You know what I am going to say

even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!


I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!

If I go up to heaven, you are there;

if I go down to the grave, you are there.

If I ride the wings of the morning,

if I dwell by the farthest oceans,

even there your hand will guide me,

and your strength will support me.


I could ask the darkness to hide me

and the light around me to become night—

but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.


You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!

Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,

as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.


You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.


How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

They cannot be numbered!

I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!


selling our daughters at the Super Bowl

And now, for those who care–which would definitely not include me–we know the participants for Superbowl 2014. I won’t be watching. The Bears are not playing. Although my three-year stint living in Seattle does at least give me a team to root for. 


Its advent reminds me of a conversation I heard almost a year ago while watching my daughter in gymnastics. I doubt much will have changed this year. But one can hope.

Interesting conversation among parents at the gym aren’t unusual. Eaversdropping, especially for a writer, is almost required. Not surprisingly, the talk that week spun around the Superbowl halftime show. I mean, what else do people have to talk about on a snowy Monday night for 2 1/2 hours while waiting for our daughters to finish learning forward rolls and back handsprings and hurtling themselves at immoveable objects?


The ladies were noncommittal. “So, what’d you think of Beyonce?” 
“Well, you know . . . she sure can dance.” 
“Yeah.”
“But it was kind of . . . I don’t know. What did you think?”
“Uh huh. Lots of people weren’t too happy.”


Then one of the dads jumped in. “I thought it was great. I didn’t have a problem with it. Loved that dancing. But hey, I’m a guy. So, it’s just OK with me, you know?” 


The moms smiled, shrugged, and went back to watching the window. I couldn’t gauge their opinion.  


Meanwhile, his daughter performed cartwheels out on the gym floor just past that pane of glass. My daughter was there, too, learning giants on the uneven bars, a skill she had feared and now loved. I put my daughters in this sport partly because I knew, in a world that would attack their body image cruelly, gymnastics would teach them that those bodies were strong and capable. 


I wanted to ask. I really did. So, random guy, if your daughter out there started performing Beyonce’s dance moves instead of flips, would it be just OK with you? If she came home and informed you she had a new role model that no longer involved Olympic medals but gyrating lady parts in Victoria’s best secret, would that be just OK with you? 

I’m sorry–I didn’t quite hear your answer.


I’m guessing not. But if not, the message you’re communicating to her on Sunday staring at the TV isn’t matching up with the one you’re paying big bucks for on Monday. And I hate to tell you this, but little girls and big girls alike don’t have a hard time figuring out which message will get them adoration faster.


“But hey, I’m a guy.” Said like it’s some kind of an excuse for having a lesser moral compass than the average not-guy. Which is, if you ask me, a giant insult to guys everywhere who do seem to know the difference between their brains and their other body parts. 


Still, why does it matter? It’s just a show, just an opinion. It doesn’t mean anything.


Unless it does. The US Attorney General estimates that over 10,000 women and girls are forcibly brought to the Superbowl each year to be sold, up to fifty times a day, for the pleasure of “guys.” Some of them are twelve years old. About the age of this guy’s daughter. 


While Beyonce sells sex on the field, pimps sell it in the shadows. We create a difference in our minds, to make us feel better about enjoying the show, but there is no difference to those girls. As long as we’re “just OK” with a culture that teaches our girls their bodies have a market value and our boys that girls are available solely for their pleasure, we’ll continue to be OK with selling children and women. And for some reason, we never seem to connect that with our daughters on the other side of that window, whom we believe aren’t touched by it. 


This kind of in-human trafficking, using women and young girls like disposable sex toys, won’t stop as long as guys are just OK with “being guys.” 


The enslavement of women and girls around the globe will not end as long as guys are just OK with “being guys.” 


The chances of your daughter being sexually, physically, and/or verbally abused will continue to escalate as long as guys are just OK with “being guys.” 


Yes, women can and should play a huge part in ending this. But ultimately, it’s men who must step up and not hide behind “being guys.” It’s men who have to say, “That could be my daughter, wife, sister. It’s not just OK.” It’s men who need to stop being guys and start being men. 


And in the meantime, sir, do you happen to have a son at this gym, too? If so, keep him away from my kid. She’s been taught that her body is strong and capable. I’d hate to see him get hurt.