I once read in Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings that plain girls learn to shield themselves with an aura of "unavailableness" as a defense tactic. That's certainly true of me.
There is a man at church that I'm interested in. We're becoming friends, and we get along really well, but I'm starting to recognize that as interested as I am, I'm not letting him know that, and I'm actually putting up walls in my heart out of fear. I'm afraid that he would reject me if he knew how I felt.
The other night during church I met him in the back of the sanctuary where we had both gotten up to get Bibles, and when he saw me he smiled and threw his arms open to give me a big bear hug, and I suddenly felt terrified. I would have loved to have given him that hug, but all I managed was a little side-hug and no conversation at all. I couldn't believe it. It was a moment that was so close to being exactly what I wanted, but fear crept in and I could barely register the warmth in his greeting.
In thinking and praying about it today, I realized for the first time that I have a lot more fear in my life than I knew, and it's starting to get in the way of my life. I'm 26 years old, and I'd like to be married, but I think I'm standing in my own way. I'm going to start praying about this more, but do you have any practical advice for what a girl can do to set herself up for success emotionally? How do you get over years of shielding yourself from hurt?
Though you sidestepped the bear hug for the wrong reason – fear – take heart that it wasn't necessarily the wrong response. I have some very dear friends who are engaged who are still opting for side hugs, choosing to save the full body (bear hugs) for after their wedding. I realize this is an odd standard in our day, and may even be more cautious than is necessary, but I respect their desire to choose the most conservative path. (Contrast that with the countless Christian couples who take the opposite tactic: They walk as close to the line as they possibly can, and if stats are to be believed, cross it more often than not.)
I share this to offer you some comfort and encouragement. What you know is fear, he may have interpreted as decorum. And for centuries, when it was time to take a wife, it was the demure woman who was respected and sought after. If you are unafraid to be his friend and to smile when you greet him, even if you never touch, there is every reason to hope that he (or another godly man) will pursue you for marriage.
I suspect that a quick survey of the married women in your church would reveal a range of personalities and differing responses to affection. Some women are more shy than others. And yet even shy and reserved women get married. So my first suggestion would be to develop friendships with the married women in your church. Ask them about their courtship stories. Did they have fears? How did they overcome them? What would they do the same, or what might they do differently? As you get to know them, likely one (or two) will emerge as trustworthy confidants and mentors. Tell her about your fears. Ask her if she notices any off-putting behaviors on your part. Ask her for help in overcoming these fears. Something as simple as having her pray with you, encourage you and possibly even join you in a conversation or two with this young man can go a long way toward alleviating your anxieties. This is just the sort of situation that reminds us why we need the body of Christ in day-to-day living and relating.
In addition to asking her about your weaknesses, as she gets to know you, ask about your strengths. What does she see are areas where you shine? Lean into these. Are you comfortable when the conversation focuses on Scripture rather than personal matters? If so, start there. You can build on what you do have, while taking the focus off what you don't.
For all her accolades, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, though artful, is still just one woman's perspective on life. And certainly not the definitive source for a woman saved by grace alone, in Christ alone. While it may be true that women who can't rely on good looks, humor, intelligence or some other exceptional trait may consider themselves plain, I suspect it's not just plain women who find ways to defend themselves from the pain of rejection and relational failure. We all fear that; it's the human condition. And mercifully, God's Word – His revelation to us about himself and our place in the world He made – has much to say about such fears and desires.
In her article, "Whom Do You Fear?" author Carolyn McCulley writes,
We don't have to be slaves to the opinions of other, fallen creatures. We can be set free by seeking the approval and praise of God. This is what defines a godly woman: "Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:3-4).
That gentle, quiet spirit is not limited to a certain personality type. This passage echoes the wisdom of that Proverbs 29:25 verse: "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe." Some translations say whoever trusts in the LORD will be protected or exalted. The literal translation is "raised high" — either to a protective place or to an exalted place.
The point is, a gentle and quiet spirit is one who trusts in the Lord.
The key to overcoming fear is to put your hope and trust in the Lord. The more you grow in your knowledge of Him, the closer you'll grow in relationship with Him, experiencing what John talked about in 1 John 4:18:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
The way to grow in knowledge of Him is to study His Word to us, the Bible. Meditate on passages like 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control," and Hebrews 13:6,"So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" Make it your daily discipline to read the Bible and pray, asking the Holy Spirit to sanctify you. When what you're asking – to be more like Christ – is aligned with God's will, you can pray boldly knowing "Nothing is too hard for God" (Jeremiah 32:17).
How blessed we are to serve a God who tells us not to worry. To fear not. And to not give way to anxiety. Not only that, He tells us how to do it.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. … I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:6, 13).
He is indeed a loving Father. Run to Him. He will not disappoint you.
Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.