This is a question and a story.
And an opinion.
(What can I say? This is a blog).
The question is mostly posed to the ladies, but, I’d be happy to hear gentleman-opinion, too, if any guy wants to jump in.
The question requires pretend. And the pretend is this: there is a difficult and tumultuous journey ahead, like something out of a Narnia adventure, and you are at the beginning, seeing off a young person on this journey. And, where you are, at the beginning, you have the ability to give a singular lotus blossom to this young person (and, maybe, if you’re really feeling the imagination exercise, the young person is young you). And this warm, magical lotus blossom is imbued with a singular virtue of your choice–which virtue would that be? Courage? Empathy? Determination?
That is the pretend, then. And the question is: if you could go address a group of young people, maybe in middle school, maybe about to enter high school or college–what do you think is the single most important virtue you would stress to them? And especially if they are young women?
To ask it more personally: what message does middle-school you wish you had heard stressed more emphatically (or at all?)
I am all ears.
And now, a story:
A few weeks ago I was asked to give a talk to a gaggle of teens-plus-preteens at a conference, and I did.
(Insert: and no one cares.)
After I gave my first talk, I sat in on another talk, for the young ladies.
It is important to note that the presenters were fifteen-years-old, and they didn’t do a bad job. And they were fifteen. And they didn’t do a bad job. And they’re fifteen. And I’m not angry at them.
They kind of gave the modesty/ chastity talk I remember hearing from when I was in high school half-a-lifetime ago.
Again, it wasn’t the worst.
Here’s the thing, though–I used to be asked to give those modesty/ chastity talks to young women. Slowly, I’ve been asked less and less. Probably this is because I am getting older and less relevant; and, honestly, I don’t mind that much. Even more honestly: I’m not sure that, if asked to give a modesty talk to a group of preteens/ teens that I would feel comfortable giving such a talk.
Hear me out.
This is what such conferences look like: all the guys and girls are separated from each other. I have no idea what the guys talk about (porn? Maybe?) but, with this special time of girls-only time we talk about…modesty.
And. I’m. Not. Against. Modesty.
I work at a church-y place. I wear tops with straps the width of my palm, nothing that dips four finger-widths beneath my clavicle, no crop tops ever in the history of never, i.e. I know all of the modesty rules, and I follow them (mostly) by golly!.
But. Talk to me, especially you women of faith. While I will agree that modesty isn’t bad or wrong, I also think that we’re shorting a beautiful group of young women who have boundless potential for grace and courage and compassion and strength and wonder when we pretend like the highest virtue they can attain is making sure their hemlines hit a certain place around their kneecaps.
“Hello, captive audience of young women. We’re here to talk about young women things. And the most important thing of these young women things is: your clothing.”
I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying: imagine what our church would be like if we picked a different virtue to tote.
*It’s a conference, all the boys leave, all the girls stay behind. A keynote makes her way to the podium*
“Listen, ladies,” she says, “I know that this is going to be hard, and that your other friends at school might make fun of you, but, what is sooo important to the boys in your life (somehow this is always mentioned, and it has some place, so for this illustration, I’ll leave it) is that you are…COURAGEOUS.”
And then what if there was an hour session of a woman encouraging young women to bring the relentless, godly courage of Joan of Arc and Mary and Catherine of Sienna to their broken middle schools/ families/ communities.
What if there were nights in the youth group dedicated to being a courageous woman…or a compassionate woman or a hopeful woman or any. other. virtue besides how your swimsuit fits.
And I’m not saying modesty isn’t an important thing…just, it’s not THE MOST FEMININE VIRTUE OF ALL TIME AND OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE FOR WOMEN EVERYWHERE, even though, listening in on the way the church talks about women, we might sometimes be tempted to believe that.
Just…imagine. Imagine what the church (and the world) would look like if we picked…a different virtue.
So, then, the question remains: what do you wish you heard when you were in middle school? What do you wish you could have taken along for your journey?
I wait. I listen. I learn.