“Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness in purpose.” —Priscilla Shirer
“What are the most difficult challenges girls your age have faced since March 2020?”
I fully expected there would be a few seconds of uncomfortable silence after I asked this question to my advisory board last month. We had gathered over Zoom to brainstorm future content for Body Truth, a ministry that helps girls see themselves with love, as Jesus sees us.
But to my surprise, girls started speaking over each other as soon as I finished asking the question. Each girl either had experienced or had seen their friends experience some pretty hard stuff in the last twelve months. Of these eight girls, ranging in age from 16 to 20 years old, 100 percent of them were ready to share.
“I’ve seen girls really struggle with how they feel about their bodies. Because we’re all learning from our professors from behind screens and not getting out as much, it’s harder to be active. A few of my friends are saying mean things about themselves because they have gained weight, what they’re calling the ‘COVID-19.’”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that, too, on my college campus. It’s harder to take care of yourself when you have to be SO careful about going everywhere. I’ve also heard a lot of people saying they feel isolated and alone. I keep hearing the word ‘depression’ come up.”
“So, at our high school, it’s similar but different. Even though we get to go in person a few days a week, we’re all in masks and have to stay distanced from each other. I had no idea how important it was to be close to people. Like, even just close enough to hear each other. I’m ready for COVID to be over.”
“Relationships are hard, too. Friendships especially. Social media helps, but sometimes it actually causes problems.”
Although each girl responded by building on the previous girl’s response, each response was distinct. No two answers were the same, and that is par for the course in our board meetings. Collectively, we belong to a variety of cultural backgrounds, family structures, and places of worship. Some girls attend public school, and some attend private school. Our girls live and go to school in neighborhoods across the country, representing a mix of Asian, Caucasian, African, African-American, and Latina heritages. Our Catholic, Episcopalian, and Evangelical worship experiences do not divide us but instead enrich our conversations.
Conversing with these unique young women taught me that there are steps we can take toward healing from a hard year. When we share authentically with one another while embracing our differences, we can grow stronger together as a community who wants to please God.
Here is what I have learned from the young women in my life about what we need to do to begin healing in the midst of a hurting season.
Talk to Each Other
In the last year, I’ve struggled with that lonely feeling so many of us have identified with since COVID struck our shores. I felt the most lonely when I was silent and scared about what I was processing. Only when I started sharing my bottled-up fears could I release the weight of loneliness. I had to make the effort to call a friend and share, and I realized that most of the time she had been feeling the same way—disconnected, frustrated, and also a little lonely in this unprecedented time.
We just survived coronavirus chaos, a brutal presidential election, heated conversations about social justice, and countrywide marches protesting racial inequities. Every single one of us has questioned, “What do I think about that?” But have you spoken about what you think? Have you found or hosted a safe place to begin healthy dialogue about what you believe?
Whether you gather with your closest friends over Zoom or with your family around the dining room table after dinner, consider some of the questions you have and ask them of people you trust. And don’t overthink the conversation. Start with some of the thoughts that have been swirling in your mind and begin there. Talking about our questions and listening to the responses of others is a great way to release tension that can otherwise build up when we keep all of our thoughts inside.
Celebrate Your Individual Strengths
As a young woman, I loved to write. In my spare time between cheer practice and homework, I penned poems as a way to help me understand what otherwise confused me. Also, I copied quotes that resonated with me into a sketchbook, using whatever was nearby—Sharpies, watercolors, oil pastels. Creating was simply a hobby; it was not part of my identity. I never asked the question, “God, will You help me own how You’ve made me unique, different from everyone else?”
But it’s a question I’m asking now. By answering the question for yourself—”What do I love?”—you get to explore all of the ways God has made you a creative and unique young woman. In pursuing activities where you are naturally gifted by God, you get to explore endless possibilities for healing that you might not otherwise experience if you don’t engage in the creative work God has gifted you to do.
Do you enjoy painting? Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, setting aside time to paint something for yourself during the weekend might help you process your thoughts in a new way. Or do you enjoy cooking? Slowly following the steps of a new recipe could grant you a few moments of much-needed reprieve from the external pressures you’re feeling right now. Consider how your unique strengths are God-given. And remember, your strengths might not be the same your best friend’s, your sister’s, or even your mom’s, which I hope you find wildly freeing.
Only Hold What Is Yours to Carry
You are walking along a new path. You are actually paving the path that will eventually lead us into a post-COVID culture. Your responsibilities might seem unclear, but let me tell you what is not yours to carry on this journey.
You were not made to carry all of the hurt that is swirling in our world. All of our striving to make sense of why people say what they say or storm like they storm or murder like they murder—we cannot make sense of it. Making sense of other people’s sin is not what we were created to do.
You were made to carry God’s love for His people. He made your heart big, and you have plenty of space to love and embrace differences. Embracing how God has made each of us unique will lead us to do something powerful and unifying; it will lead us to give Him glory for creating us differently. It has been that way from the beginning.
As daughters of God, we have been invited to acknowledge and praise our Maker for being the good Creator of our differences. We can be one and not the same. With solidarity, we can choose to move forward as one body of believers who are learning how to struggle, hurt, and heal together—for such a time as this.
I’m learning more about this as I read Oneness Embraced, penned by none other than Priscilla Shirer’s father, Dr. Tony Evans. I get fired up just thinking about how our uniqueness (and, of course, that includes our unique and beautiful bodies) can help build the church to be a beacon of light.