Last fall, I attended an insightful Bible study. The message resonated with me long after I left that afternoon.
The Bible Study was for my 5th grade daughter and her classmates. The leader was Donna Greene, who has ministered to girls for 40 years here in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Besides the fact that she’s amazing, Donna knows girls like the back of her hand. Her message that day – how to build bridges, not walls – was perfect for 5th grade girls. Using true stories to illustrate, Donna explained how beautiful friendships form when girls lift each other up and act as encouragers instead of tearing each other down.
Soon after the Bible study, a garden club asked me to speak. And as I considered what messages women my age might find helpful, I kept going back to Donna’s words: Build bridges, not walls.
To me this theme is as relevant to moms as it is to 11-year-old girls. It applies to every stage of life, because of all the barriers that prevent women from having deeply loving, rich friendships, two things that top the list are 1) our tendency to take our insecurities out on each other (knowingly or not), and 2) our reluctance to show our authentic, genuine selves.
I love girls, but the reality of what goes through our minds and comes out of our mouths sometimes to hurt others deserves mention. Unless we’re aware of our thoughts and habits, we can’t control them. Hurting others also hurts us because real friendships can’t develop when someone feels the need to keep a guard up. Building bridges mandates TRUST, and only when both parties feel safe to let their guard down can a true connection form.
Following are points from my speech, 10 ways women can build bridges, not walls. This list is far from exhaustive, so feel free to share (in a comment below or on my Facebook page) other ways we can lift each other up.
10. Choose COMPASSION over COMPETITION. When I was pregnant with my first child, a friend pointed out a phenomenon she’d noticed in her playgroup of first-time mothers.
At the beginning of each playgroup, the conversations had a competitive undertone. As everyone compared their baby’s developmental milestones, tension in the room built. But once someone admitted a problem they were having with their child, that competition turned into compassion. As moms opened up to share their hard experiences and advice, the tension melted away.
I see this phenomenon a lot, and I wonder why it sometimes takes a person struggling or going through a hard time to make women drop their guards. Consider what happens when you hear about a mom diagnosed with cancer. Doesn’t your heart soften? Don’t you automatically replace negative thoughts with kind, loving thoughts? Don’t you start cutting her more slack and letting things go?
Women have so much compassion, but we’re also competitive. And while compassion brings out our best, our unhealthy competitive side brings our worst. That’s why I propose that we treat other moms as kindly as we would if we just learned about a hardship they’re facing. It shouldn’t take an actual event to change our heart because the truth is, everyone IS facing something hard. Even if they’re not struggling personally, someone they love is, and that can weigh just as heavy on their heart.
We all have the same life purpose. We’re all trying to get to heaven and get our families there, too. By focusing on this shared goal, we can remember how we’re allies, not competitors.
9. Forgive easily and often. My priest, Father Bob Sullivan, once said in a sermon, “We’re told to practice forgiveness on a small level every day so that when something big happens, we know what to do.”
Forgiveness is a habit. It’s a muscle we strengthen daily. When we don’t forgive and hold grudges instead, we get resentful. Resentment leads to anger and hate, making it impossible to love the person who hurt us.
There’s a saying that resentment is like “drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” It hurts us more than the other party. In AA, a program I’m a big fan of because the 12 steps represent healthy living, members list their resentments daily so they don’t build up. Since the root of many addictions and problems is resentment, it’s important for everyone to recognize theirs.
A good place to practice forgiveness is on people we don’t know. Because there’s no history, it’s easier to let go of a slight. Rather than show rudeness back to the grouchy cashier at the fast food drive-through, we can smile and say, “Have a good day.” Or we can silently pray for them. Hurt people hurt people, and when someone lashes out for no reason, there’s usually an underlying reason.
Many people are quick to anger, but how many are quick to forgive? How many friendships could be saved if we refused to let bitterness control us?
8. Accept the imperfect love of others. I’ve always had great friends, but when I was growing up, I sometimes put unfair expectations on other girls. I’d get a little miffed because nobody was meeting all my needs.
What I finally realized was that the perfect friend doesn’t exist. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses (like me), and by keeping a wide circle, I could get everything I wanted. This took the pressure off any one girl to be my everything and helped me appreciate the gifts different friends bring to the table.
Only God offers perfect love. The rest of us do the best we can. And if someone has real love to offer, I suggest we take it, because real love can be hard to come by.
7. Put grace before judgment. It’s easy look at other people’s sins before our own. It’s tempting to compare ourselves to those we think are doing worse than us so we can feel superior.
But as Mother Teresa said, “If you judge others, you have no time to love them.” While we can’t always control judgmental thoughts, we can cut them short by remembering:
1. It’s not our place to judge. That is God’s job.
2. Sin is sin. No one sin is better than another.
3. The antidote to judgment is grace. Grace is the one-way love God lavishes on us even though we don’t deserve it. What we receive from Him, we’re called to pass on.
We are not here to condemn each other; we are here to encourage and hold up a magnifying glass to the good we see. And when we treat others according to their good, we draw out more good – which in effect makes them easier to love.
6. Quit Taking It Personally (Q-TIP). I once heard a mom share an epiphany she’d had on her 30th birthday.
“I’ve just come to realize it’s not about me,” she said. “I’m not the center of the universe. I used to get so upset if I was friendly to someone in the grocery store and they weren’t friendly back. I’d worry the rest of the day about what I did to make them mad. Now I know everyone has their own problems, and if someone’s short it might have nothing to do with me.”
It’s a sign of maturity when we accept that others aren’t thinking about us nearly as much as we assume. Our relationships grow because 1) we don’t get upset over trivial matters, 2) resentments don’t build, and 3) we stop assuming the worst about people and instead give them the benefit of the doubt.
In a world where we’re all quick to judge and take offense, it’s important to Q-TIP. By taking ourselves out of the equation, we’re able to keep a compassionate heart for others.
5. Reveal our weaknesses. We all have uncomfortable truths we like to hide. Whether it’s a bad habit, a character flaw, or a circumstance, we’re scared to open the curtain. We fear that if people knew the real scoop on us, they’d run the other way.
But it’s impossible to have genuine relationships without full disclosure. Only when when we’re honest, vulnerable, and transparent can true friendships emerge. Brené Brown has written great books on this subject, and one thing she advocates is sharing our secrets with those who have earned the right to know. This means opening up to our innermost circle about our imperfections, fears, and insecurities.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive,” Brown says in her book Daring Greatly.
To find love, joy, and a sense of belonging, we have to be brave in revealing our true selves and allowing others the same opportunity, because it’s through our deepest and most personal truths that powerful connections are made.
4. Seek to understand. My oldest two daughters are polar opposites, and for years this prompted a lot of fights.
I always told them, “If you two can learn to appreciate each other’s differences, you’ll be set in the friend department, because if you can along with someone who’s not like you, you can get along with anyone.”
It has taken time, but they’ve finally approached a peace point. They now understand each other’s triggers and know what to expect. They’re the ones who pointed out to me recently how little they fight compared to the old days. Things that once irritated them can now be shrugged off with a statement like, “That’s just Ella” or “That’s just Sophie.”
Seeking to understand a person means learning what makes them tick. It means listening to the stories they share to better understand them. The more we listen, the more we learn, and the stronger our friendships grow.
3. Love each other’s talents. Often when I’m jealous of another woman, it’s because she has a talent I don’t. A great cook, for example, can trigger my insecurity over culinary deficiencies. Somehow, I manage to burn toast, overcook noodles, and forget vanilla extract in the cookie batter.
What I’ve learned, however, is to put my inferiority complexes aside and be THANKFUL I know so many amazing and talented women. No one’s out to make me look bad or show me up; they just want to share their gifts like I want to share mine. It’s good that none of us excel at everything because then we wouldn’t need each other. God designed us to be interdependent and create community by pooling our resources together.
Everyone wants to make important contributions, so when we see someone pouring their heart and soul into something, let’s support them. Let’s refrain from being snarky or critical because their gifts make us feel inadequate. Taking pride in the creations and accomplishments of others is freeing. It also adds trust to our relationships.
2. See each other as God sees us. Generally speaking, women are visual creatures. We recognize beauty, appreciate beauty, and celebrate beauty.
Sometimes, however, we get so caught up in noticing the beauty (or lack of it) in a woman’s appearance that we miss the beauty inside. We pay more attention to her size-two figure or the fantastic shoes on her feet than the size and capacity of her heart.
But God doesn’t see that way. God doesn’t look at a woman and burn with the desire to ask where she got that fabulous handbag. He burns with the desire to hear what she’s thinking, how she feels, and what her hopes and dreams are. He’s not a harsh critic, and He certainly won’t call anyone out for a fashion faux pas.
Yes, appearances matter, but only the soul has permanent significance. As C.S. Lewis put it, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Since God looks at us and sees our soul first, we should do the same. We should care more about the substance below the surface than what’s visible to the eye.
1. Feed our spiritual life. To love others, we must love ourselves first. We have to keep our love tank full so we have something to give.
When my tank gets low, it’s usually because I’ve let my relationship with God slide. Maybe I’ve missed a few Sundays of church. Maybe I’ve neglected my prayer life due to unnecessary busyness. Either way, I lose clarity and start to feel sad for no reason. I don’t have much to give because there isn’t much to spare. Even my writing seems to be affected, because I’m not writing from a place of love and grace.
The good news is, it’s as easy to jump back into my spiritual life as it is to fall out of it. God will take me back anytime because the bridge to Him is always open. And maybe that’s what we women should model, an open invitation that keeps the bridge down, allowing us a way back to each other no matter how long we’ve been apart, how much water there is under the bridge, or what it is that’s finally brought us home.
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Posted by Kari on March 31, 2014 at 1:16 pm