It’s challenging to look at what’s really behind the plastic, passive niceness that passes for Christianity in many women’s lives, and then to boldly choose to be authentic instead. But, as you’ve seen, that’s the only way to truly experience the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10. You are in the driver’s seat, ready to roll, but before your drive out of sight, here are a few reminders for the road:
- Know where you are headed. For all of God’s Good Women, the destination is the same: being like Jesus Christ, in all his glorious 360 degrees of salty sweetness. In order to keep this destination clear in your mind, you will have to get to know Jesus better and better so that you recognize who he is and where he is at work. Prayer and getting involved in a Bible study are great ways to get to know Jesus better, along with regularly worshiping and fellowshipping with other believers. Just make sure that you are doing these spiritual disciplines to get to know Jesus better, not to earn God’s approval or love. God already loves you—it’s a done deal—so you don’t have to earn his love.
Be aware that when you reveal your destination to others, they may not like where you are headed. Some will even point you in a different direction, back toward where you came from. These people think they are giving you helpful directions, but in reality, they want you to go back to being a Christian Nice Girl because God’s Good Women make them uncomfortable. Just thank them for their interest, and ignore their directions that will take you to the backside of nowhere, also known as Nice Girl City.
- Pack only what you will need. God’s Good Women don’t want to travel with too much junk in their trunk, so pack the essentials and leave the rest behind. Your first essential: courage, which means you’ll have to leave behind the cowardice.
Courage grows when you act in spite of your fear. You actually can’t be courageous unless you feel fear. So to grow your courage, be aware of your anxiety and then discipline yourself to listen to the Holy Spirit saying, “Something is at stake here that is more important than your fear.” A courageous spirit us a mark of the Holy Spirit: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Power and strength are nearly synonymous with courage, so God actually gives you a spirit of courageous strength.
Here are some Scriptures that are worth packing if you could use a whole trunk full of courage:
“Be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7).
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13 NLT).
To handle your newfound courage well, you need to be aware of rashness, or stupid courage. Rashness is when you do something daring but dumb—you acted without wisdom. The Bible says to do the right thing when it’s within your power to act. Sometimes you won’t have the power to change a situation for the better. For example, in some extended family situations, it might be best not to speak the truth in love. When your motive for holding your tongue or not acting is based on wisdom, not fear, you are choosing an intelligent behavior called “active passivity,” such as when you choose to give an armed robber your purse instead of foolishly refusing.
In addition to courage, you’ll need to pack a sense of humor. You need to be able to laugh at yourself because you are going to make some mistakes along the way, some of which will be doozies. However, don’t hide them, because often your best life lessons will come out of your biggest mistakes, and your silliest mistakes will produce your funniest stories.
Packing that essential sense of humor means you will have to leave behind your need to appear perfect, and instead, be appropriately transparent with others. It takes practice to find that balance between hiding everything and sharing too much, so be patient with yourself as you practice healthy transparency. Occasionally, ask a trusted friend for feedback on whether you are hiding too much or sharing too much so that you can monitor your progress.
- Choose your travel companions wisely. God’s Good Women rarely journey alone for long, so pick carefully who gets to ride next to you. Spiritually mature people should be occupying your passenger seat because when the driver gets lost, who does the navigating? That’s right, it’s the person riding shotgun. You want people nearby who can read a map—in particular, people who read and understand The Map, also known as the Bible. You want people who know the Way. If they don’t, they won’t recognize your destination, the 360-degree Jesus, so they are likely to direct you right back to Nice Girl City. And who wants to go back to that saccharine-sweet place?
It takes time to find and cultivate relationships with spiritually mature people, but they are out there. Look for women who speak the truth in love, laugh easily at themselves, talk openly about their faith, are trailblazers in their own lives, and can both celebrate and cry with other people. You are looking for Balcony Women: women who will cheer you on and give you courage and confidence by hanging over the railing of your life, declaring, “I believe in you! You can do it!”
My wife Sandy knows how crucial Balcony Women are to God’s Good Women. She created what she calls “Balcony Girls,” a group of around twelve elementary-school-aged girls who get together once a month to do a craft, eat some fun food, and learn valuable life lessons. Balcony Girls groups help girls form a group of friends at school who can help them withstand damaging peer pressure or bullying. They can learn easily in life how to grow into Balcony Women, the kind of women who genuinely love and support each other. Your journey will be much more energizing and fun if you have a Balcony Woman buckled in your passenger seat.
Now, sometimes you can’t avoid traveling with “getting there” people in your backseat, perhaps because God has clearly told you to let them ride with you for awhile or perhaps because…well…you gave birth to them or are related to them in some way. So, there they are—occasionally providing you with spiritually stimulating conversation and occasionally fussing and whining like kids stuck in a station wagon backseat. “Are we there yet? When are you going to stop changing? I liked you better when you were nicer. I need you: to help me right this minute, to do my work, to lend me money, to listen to my endless complaining, and (of course) I need to go to the bathroom.”
If pulling over and putting them all out on the side of the road is not a legal option in your state, then you’ll have to set boundaries on what is and what is not acceptable behavior in your car, that is, your life. You have to set limits with “getting there” people, or they will tend to take increasingly large amounts of the energy, time, money, and talent God gave you to accomplish his purposes.
If some of them are backseat drivers who enjoy criticizing your every move, feel free to “turn up the radio” to drown out their discouraging words. This means that you distract yourself from truly hearing and taking in their unhelpful criticisms, perhaps by determinedly changing the subject, or by reciting scriptural truths or singing praise songs in your mind to counteract their negative words. It’s almost like you become the limo driver behind the glass partition—you can lower the glass when you want to listen, and raise it when you don’t. You’ll see their lips moving, but you won’t really hear them.
Beware of picking up hitchhikers. They are the “spiritually immature,” the shark-like Mr. Wrongs, the selfish users of this world who want to flag you down and hijack your life. They will do everything in their power to convince or coerce you to go back to Nice Girl City. Why? Because you were much easier to manipulate back there.
- Don’t turn back just because difficulties occur. It’s impossible to drive for any length of time and not run into road hazards. The same is true for your journey to becoming god’s Good woman. You are going to encounter difficulties. Expect construction delays because major changes are happening—you are under construction, becoming more like the 360-degree jesus. You can expect other drivers to frown and complain if your new construction causes them even a moment of inconvenience. And, you’ll get some rubbernecking too. Some drivers like to slow down and stare as other people work hard, so try not to let the occasional shocked look or swiveled head keep you from your work.
Your road hazards may be sudden, jarring potholes that rattle your spirit, like unkind words or deeds that come from unexpected sources, even friends. In Psalm 55:12-14, David shares how this shook him:
If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.
It really hurts when your friends (particularly Christian friends) unfairly criticize your efforts to become a healthier, more Christ-like woman. But don’t let your hurt stop your journey. Keep moving toward your destination.
Sometimes you have to pass slow-moving traffic, just like you might have to pass some of your friends who choose to stay spiritually immature. Outgrowing friends is never easy, but it’s going to happy when you choose to grow and they choose to stagnate. You are changing, becoming more like sweet and salty Jesus, and they aren’t. You now value the truth—they don’t want to hear it. You now make pleasing God your first priority—they want pleasing others to remain your first priority. Gradually, sadly, you just have less and less in common. Keep praying for them, but when God lets you know it’s time to move on—move on.
This means that you may have some lonely times on the road to becoming God’s Good Woman. It’s like when you are driving at night on a crowded highway, and then you slowly pass the pack of cars that surrounds you. Then, before you know it, you are driving in the dark, seemingly alone, with no headlights in your rearview mirror, and no taillights up ahead. It’s kind of scary to suddenly find yourself alone, but keep your foot on the courage accelerator. There are spiritually mature people up ahead who will become your traveling companions and who will match your spiritual pace.
- Check for the blue lights before you pull over for the police. Not everyone who pulls you over for a supposed violation on the God’s Good Woman journey is actually legitimate. You are human, you are going to make mistakes, and sometimes you are going to need a correction to get you back on track. If one of God’s Good Women or Men gives you a needed rebuke, they won’t yell at you or shame you. It’s like when a legitimate police officer pulls you over—they won’t disrespect or attack you even if you really messed up.
I have had my share of blue-light-in-the-rearview-mirror moments. In college, I was a waiter at a Hilton hotel and showed up very late for work several times in a row due to school obligations. My supervisor’s boss, a woman who knew how to be both firm and caring, called me into her office. She had dealt with many college students before: stressed out, living from paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make it on their own. I can’t remember the exact words she used, but I do remember how she didn’t belittle or shame me. She didn’t brush my tardiness under the rug, nor did she rub my nose in it. Instead, she did an outstanding job of making my tardiness the problem—not me—and she used the meeting to show me that she cared about my larger dreams and aspirations. I walked out of her office thinking, “This is very strange. I should feel hurt after being corrected by someone. But instead I feel…good.” I was blessed by this rebuke from one of God’s Good Women who knew she could treat others well as she advanced up the company ladder.
When someone attempts to correct or rebuke you, always check for the blue lights because there are Self-Appointed Deputies of all That is Wrong in the Throng (they are called SADTWITs for short) who will try to pull you over on your journey and give you a citation. They enjoy pointing out other people’s mistakes, real and imaginary. It’s their hobby. And unlike the legitimate police officers that God will send your way to deliver a respectful rebuke, the pretend police hand over their citations with a side order of shame, disrespect, and condemnation. You don’t have to accept these harmful rebukes. You can ignore their words, change the subject, or even say, I do not receive that from you.”
By now you may be chomping at the bit to get in the car and go, but do you have time for one more list? It proclaims the freedoms that are available to drivers on God’s Good Woman Road. You might even want to copy these freedoms and tape them to your dashboard or to someone’s forehead for quick reference.
A driver has the freedom to pick who rides shotgun with her. As long as the relationships are beneficial and in line with God’s Word, you have the freedom to associate with people of your choice.
A driver has the freedom to say when she needs a break. Some women find it near impossible to rest because they equate taking a break with being selfish. But Jesus sequestered himself from others to get some much needed rest and refreshment. Drivers who push themselves too hard for too long become a hazard to others. You have the freedom (and the responsibility) to rest. So, take a nap.
A driver has the freedom to choose the radio station. You are free to ask for and choose what you enjoy and what brings you pleasure, as long as those choices are beneficial and in line with God’s Word, and you have listened respectfully to and considered prayerfully what others need (not to be mistaken with what others usually want).
A driver has the freedom to change lanes or take an alternate route. You have the freedom to change your mind as long as those decisions are beneficial, in line with God’s Word, and don’t permanently harm the people around you. The decisions you make about your life might hurt other people, but remember, there is a difference between causing someone necessary hurt and causing someone permanent harm. If you suddenly change lanes to avoid an accident, your wise swerve could cause your passengers some necessary hurt, but it would be far worse to stay in that lane and foolishly cause them lasting harm.
For example, a woman might find herself continually overwhelmed, short-tempered, and sharp-tongued because of the competing demands of marriage, motherhood, working outside the home, volunteering at church or school, and running a home. If she stays in that same fast lane, she may end up doing permanent harm to her health and her relationships. She has the freedom (after consulting with god and her family) to change lanes—to make helpful changes in her life such as reducing her number of work hours/stepping completely out of the workforce/hiring a cleaning person/getting off a committee in order to reduce her stress and improve her mood and relationships. This choice may cause hurt temporarily to her workplace or family budget, but it’s unlikely to cause permanent damage (harm). On the other hand, if the same overwhelmed woman chose to abandon her family in order to reduce he stress, her unwise choice would permanently harm her husband and kids.
A driver has the freedom to grow spiritually. This freedom, also a responsibility, allows a change in Bible study teachers, denominations, or churches without finger pointing or apology.
A driver has the freedom to say no. You are free to say no to an unfair, disrespectful, or dishonest request for your time, talent, or treasure, without an apology or long explanation on your part.
A driver has the freedom not to answer every question. You have the freedom not to provide an answer to every question that comes your way. Jesus didn’t answer every question posed to him, and you don’t have to either.
When you have left Nice Girl City far behind and are moving into God’s Good woman territory, you’ll notice a distinct change in landscape and atmosphere. You won’t walk on eggshells anymore, emotionally or spiritually. There’s a kind of spiritual ease that will tell you that you are moving in the right direction. You’ll have room to stretch and grow, or as Oswald Chambers said, “…when God elevates you by his grace into heavenly places, instead of finding a pinnacle to cling to, you find a great tableland where it is easy to move.”
So, what are you waiting for? You’ve got a journey to get started! Crank up the radio—hey, that’s Rascal Flatts playing your new theme song: “Life is a Highway.” Roll down the window. Feel the breeze in your hair. And smile…a genuine smile that comes from your heart. Feels good, doesn’t it?
Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous Faith, No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying.
Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: http://www.reluctantentertainer.com
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About Paul Coughlin
Paul Coughlin is a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including the No More Christian Nice Guy, and Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying—Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, (www.theprotectors.org), which provides a values-based and faith-based program that combats the cruelty of adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, Sunday School, and other places where bullying is prevalent.
He is a popular speaker who has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, 700 Club, Focus on the Family, C-SPAN, The LA Times, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord with Jim Burns, The New York Times, Newsweek and other media outlets. He is a regular keynote speaker with Iron Sharpens Iron Men’s Conferences.
His freedom-from-bullying program is used by hundreds throughout North America as well as in England, Australia, Uganda, New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa. The Protector’s has partnered with Saddleback Church’s Justice & Trafficking Initiative in creating the first-ever Justice Begins on the Playground seminar that helps both faith-based and values-based organizations diminish bullying.
He is a Boys Varsity Soccer Coach in Southern Oregon, where he was voted Coach of the Year twice, and where he is also a member of the Board of Trustees. He and his wife Sandy have three teenagers and live in Medford, Oregon. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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