A couple weekends ago, I went on a retreat with the ladies at my church. It’s been years since I’ve done a retreat like this, and the last time I did was before I had kids. Let me tell you the difference between a single gal in her teens going on a retreat and a gal in her 30’s:
- Ten years ago, we would all fight over the top bunk. Now? We all fought over the bottom bunks. Nobody wanted the top bunk. (For the record, I took a top bunk for old time’s sake. And all I could think of on the climb up was, “Ugh, this is going to suck at 2 a.m. when I have to go to the bathroom. Also, there’s no plug for my iPhone up here. Shoooooooot.”)
- Ten years ago, we would not have slept. At all. We would stay up, eating candy, drinking pop, talking, laughing, running around in the woods with flashlights, screaming and giggling. Now? I think everyone was in bed before midnight. Some read on their kindles (oh, how the times have changed!) before bed, but otherwise, it was lights out and silent by 12am.
- Ten years ago, we would have talked about boys, our classes, our big plans for the future, etc. Our conversations now revolved around our jobs, life’s trials, our joys, our disappointments and how maybe life is not going quite the way we dreamed it would now that we’re in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Not bad. Just different. Life tends to do that.
- Ten years ago, I would have stayed in my sleeping bag until the last possible minute. Now I tried to get out of bed early to go for a run to make up for my slowly shrinking metabolism to cancel out the cupcakes we enjoyed the night before. I also wanted to make sure I got a cup of hot coffee before it’s gone. (I wouldn’t have touched coffee with a nine-foot pole ten years ago).
- Ten years ago, a retreat might have been labeled a youth event. Now? It’s a women’s retreat…a gathering for the church ladies, if you will. I am officially a church lady.
The theme for the weekend revolved around the lies we believe about ourselves. Do you have those? You know…the negative self-talk we all do sometimes. Have you ever paid attention to it? What are the things you tell yourself constantly that are quite possibly not true at all? You might be surprised what kinds of thoughts are holding you back. So we spent some time trying to identify these things about ourselves.
Ten years ago, our lies might have been, “You’re not thin enough…you’re not pretty enough…you’re not smart enough…you’re not capable enough…you don’t fit in.”
And you know what? They actually haven’t changed at all. Those lies are the same today for nearly all of us, ten or twenty or thirty years later.
I didn’t think my own lie was a big deal until I started sharing it with my group. What I had to share was simple enough. The lie I tell myself a lot is that I am incapable. Doesn’t matter what it is: parenting, freelance writing, a new endeavor, etc. I fall for the lie that I am incapable of handling whatever life decides to throw at me. This often causes a lot of anxiety and unwillingness to throw myself into new and ambitious projects. It keeps me from keeping calm when things begin to take a turn for the worse. It also causes lots of anxiety over “what if’s”….most of which never happen.
And as I began to share about where this lie may have originated, something cracked a bit inside. I found myself fighting tears. Whether it’s a personality quirk or that bully I had in 7th grade or that one time I failed at something big…or all of the above…I have been telling myself for a long time that I, along with my gifts, am incapable of life. As I shared, I realize how ingrained it is in my daily thoughts.
We each wrote our lies down on post-it notes and stuck them on a board in front of the room. And I was a bit surprised to find we all struggled with the very same things:
Out of place
Can you relate? There were 36 women at the retreat. Each of those 36 women not only shared their lies but wrote their lies on post-it notes for all to see. Many of their lies were exactly like mine. And it was hard to believe that anyone in that room full of gorgeous, faithful women I see every Sunday at church felt unloved…out of place…incapable…unworthy…not useful…forgotten.
Over the course of the day, we shared our stories. We prayed. We reassured each other we truly were loved, useful, wanted, needed and beautiful.
There was something powerful about us doing this together. I think as women, we can be each other’s harshest critics without even realizing it. We get jealous of each other, critical, judgmental and competitive. We compare our bodies, our schedules, our jobs, our marriages, our kids. Girl drama is a real thing. But for all of us to sit in that little room and share a very tender part of our hearts…and to hear nearly everyone else struggles with the exact same thing…really levels the playing field and made us realize we are really all the same.
Because you better believe that the girl across the room who I think has a perfect life and makes things look so easy wrote a lie or two on those post-its and stuck it to the board with tears shimmering in her eyes the whole time. Maybe her lie was the same as mine or different, but regardless, we are the same because we struggle to believe we are good enough. We have a hard time believing God made us with everything we would need for a joyful life full of gratitude.
The exercise we did next was to find scripture in the bible that literally made all those lies obsolete. And not only did we find these scriptures that told us how precious and valuable and whole we are, we prayed them over each other and we helped each other find new labels, new names, new words to live under.
All of us church ladies went home that evening with new names on our name tags: strong, beautiful, HIS, loved, capable, worthy.
I think we all realized we need God but we also need each other. We need others to remind us who we are, who God made us to be. It’s too easy to listen to the world telling us how much we don’t measure up. We also realized we don’t always have the whole story about each other. So when I look across the gym Sunday morning next time, I won’t assume that mom rocking a sleeping baby has it all together. I will try to reach out and offer a helping hand so she can get a cup of coffee. Chances are the night before was likely a tough one. And when I see that single gal who looks so much more put together and rested than I feel, I’ll try to remember I don’t know the whole story and that she still might be hurting and longing for a friend to notice she’s not feeling like herself. But I won’t know that until I extend a hand, a kind word and an open heart.
We won’t know anything about anyone unless we reach out first. You might be surprised by what you find. I am finding that I really love my church ladies. And I’m also finding that I can live under my new name too….brave.
“So here is what I see when we reclaim the church ladies: a woman loved and free and beautiful. She is laughing with her sisters, and together they are telling their stories, revealing their scars and wounds, the places where they don’t have it figured out. They are nurturers, creating a haven where the young, the broken, the tenderhearted, and the at-risk can flourish.
“The gift of being vulnerable is something we are trying to give to our daughters, to the young and old women around us. We are creating a world where every woman can be who she is, without apology, in freedom.
She is loved. She is rising. She is awake at least, and as the Chinese proverb says, when sleeping women wake, mountains move. She is secure in the love and freedom of her God; she knows the voice of Jesus down to her bones. And therefore, she loves.” -Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist
3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son….1-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. -Ephesians 1