“No,” I lied. I am not a good liar in general, let alone when it comes to my parents. I remember the first lie I ever told my dad. I told them the first time I kissed a boy, when I had my first drink. I am an oversharer, not a liar. But in fifth grade I lied, trying to blink at my mother, like some deformed fish.
“I can see the redness where you plucked,” my mother hissed at me across the table and then she laughed at me. “They aren’t even!”
At school, the girls asked me if I had done something to my face. “Nope,” I told them. I understand that you may not believe me when I say I was not a liar, especially when I just gave you two examples of times I did lie.
“Hmm,” the girls replied and I knew, like my mom, they saw through me.
The next day, I admitted to them that I plucked my eyebrows. “Thank goodness!” they cried. “We’ve been wanting to tell you to do it for so long now.”
So I knew they’d talked about my unibrow behind my back. I was embarrassed in a way I could not pinpoint then and proud that I had done something about my ugliness at that same time. I felt alone, isolated. How long had they kept the secret of my ugliness from me? How many other ugly features did I have for them to talk about?
If you are a woman and you say you have never felt the cutting words of a mean girl, you are lying or very fortunate. But if you are a woman and you say, you’ve never been a mean girl, you are liar. I have to tell you the truth here because there are two types of mean girls–those that thrive on meanness and those that do it out of adolescent fear and loneliness and just sheer appreciation that the herd is not focused on them. Most of us fall in latter category and as for the first, I think there is probably fear involved for them too. I’m just not confident going deep into their psyche when I relate to the latter.
It’s hard for me to remember the moments when I was a mean girl–the time I wrote a letter to a girl who moved away and called my teacher an awful name, a word I never used before aloud in my life, but wrote in the letter just to seem cool. The teacher found it and confronted me, shaking with hurt and anger. I shook with shame. I hurt someone deeply and it still leaves me feeling ashamed.
Still, there were plenty of times when I chose kindness instead. I was raised to be a good kid. I befriended a muslim girl who was abused by other muslims because she did not wear a headscarf or know arabic and yet could not break her way into mainstream popularity either (I use this example because in my mind, this is metaphor for adolescence. You know the phrase you win some you lose some? During puberty, I think most of just lose some).
I was never the “nice girl.” I was kind (most of the time). I was good. I liked to use humor and sarcasm. I was honest (most of the time). Making people laugh is a kindness. It took me a long time to realize, the “nicest” girls were often the meanest.
I’m not here to defend myself. In fact, I didn’t need to tell you any of this. I’ve spent so many years ashamed of the moments when I let fear and my own differences lead to ugliness–how often I cried over the fact that I was the first girl to go through puberty, the first one to wear a bra, the one the boys made fun of and not in the teasing way that crushes do. When I realized I could have a personal relationship with Jesus, my whole world view changed. It continues too.
But I still don’t like the word “nice.” I am not called to be “nice” as a Christian. It’s funny because for so long that’s all I wanted to be, “a nice Christian girl.” Now, I see I am called to be authentic. Nice will forever signify (at least to me now) something superficial. I know plenty of people–Christians and every other box you can tick on a survey–who are nice for the sake of it. See, people say and do things all the time for sake of being “nice.” What I’ve realized is that “nice” can be an idol. When Paul talks about being a servant to all, he says he does it all for the sake of the Gospel. He isn’t trying to be nice at all. He is trying to serve in love by way of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9). When we do things from the heart, nice has nothing to do with it. Love does.
Perhaps the place I have seen the epidemic of nice bother me the most is the church. Part of this is my fault because for a long time I held it to a perfect standard when it is made of imperfect people (including myself). When I was in ministry and now that I am part of a christian blogging community, it’s not the mean people who hurt my feelings. At least they are honest. Most of the time it has been “the nice christian girl.”
But Nina, what’s wrong with being nice?
I’m still figuring it out because my whole life I wished it came easy to me. We have to acknowledge that there is conflict between Christians (and there is conflict…look no further than Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41) these “nice” girls use passive aggressive words and an “xo”, maybe an emoji, to make sure I still think of them as “nice.”
Though Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways I am a big believer that conflict can grow into something beautiful if we let it. God works all things for good, even conflict. Why don’t we get out of our own way?
I mess up all the time. That’s the thing you have to know. I try my hardest to be authentic. I just told a close friend that the people I struggle the most to be empathetic with are those who are ill informed about the world around them, who choose to not read the news (what would women a hundred years ago say about this privilege!). But hey, God doesn’t say I get to love everyone except those people. So I am working on it and I know he is working on it because he has promised to finish his good work in me (Philippians 1:6).
I don’t want to be thought of as nice. I want to be thought of tenderhearted and brave–both of those things at the same time. The more time I spend online and blogging, the more I realize that maybe those things are incompatible with the word “nice.” In 1 Thessalonians, Paul, Silas, and Timothy thank the Thessalonians for “[their] work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope” (1:2). Nice had nothing to do with it.
When and if I have daughters, I don’t want to use the word nice. I want to use words like tenderhearted, bravery, and courageous in equal measure.
We aren’t called to be nice girls. We are called to love.
The Holy Spirit and I…we’re working on it.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31).”
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