By Don Meyer
WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 23, 2010) – Nice girls versus good women – that was the contrast painted Friday morning by author, much-in-demand speaker and global engagement advocate Lynne Hybels as she addressed hundreds of women filling the ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel as part of Triennial XIII, which concludes Sunday.
The author of Nice Girls Don’t Change the World, Hybels used the image of nice girl to describe her own early life – “you know, the nice girl who is socially acceptable, one who follows all the rules and tries to please everyone,” quickly adding, “there is nothing wrong with the nice girl when you consider the alternatives.”
The problem, she explained, is that although on the outside she appeared to be this well-adjusted, well-liked and pleasing person, on the inside she felt she was just going through the motions of life, feeling empty inside and not at all happy. She was raised in a Christian home and wanted nothing more than to feel close to God. What she heard most often, though, was a message of hellfire and brimstone, creating the image of an angry God, a God that one constantly had to strive to please.
“How could I keep in God’s favor?” she asked repeatedly. She prayed and read scripture. “And I worked harder and harder, hoping one day I would feel God’s love. But, after 17 years, I was exhausted with the trying – not just tired, but seriously depressed. I went through the motions, but something was seriously wrong inside.”
It was at that point that she turned to a good Christian counselor for help and, through the process, learned that there is a healthy alternative to the nice girl approach – being a good woman. She realized she needed to move past the nice girl stage and seek the strength of womanhood, especially if she ever hoped to become a force for good in the world. “The goal is to be part of God’s redemptive plan,” she said, but that first required her to understand who it is that God created her to be.
She shared three characteristics that help define what a good woman should be.
First, a good woman is grounded in the love of God.
“I realized that as a child, I was striving to earn God’s love, but not living in God’s love. My first step was to get off the treadmill and rest.” It was at that point that she decided she needed to “give up the God of my childhood. But, I could not have done this without the spirit of the true God whispering to me to do that.”
Many months of quiet reflection followed – sitting by the window and drinking in the beauty of creation. Stoking a fire in colder months. Leafing through art books and just reflecting. “My soul was coming to life and I found I was longing for something other than the God of my childhood.”
The defining moment came as she lay on the deck of a sailboat, staring at the clouds in the sky and whispering, “It’s me.” She says she sensed a clear presence and voice saying simply, “I love you.” It was at that moment she realized that God had been concerned and involved all along, watching her downward spiral and trying to redirect her. It was then that she sensed an overwhelming measure of God’s love for her. “To be truly embraced by the love of God changes everything,” she said.
Second, a good woman is loved by God as a unique individual.
In reflecting on her earlier years, she realized that she knew more about her husband, well-known Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels, than she knew about herself. She knew his values, his interests, his passions. “I grew up believing the woman’s highest calling was to lift up her husband,” she observed. “As Bill’s life became more complex, I let my things go to provide support for him, for my family and for the church.”
Her counselor helped her to understand that the real issue was trying for years to exercise gifts she didn’t have and living to other peoples’ expectations. She describes her primary gifts as encouragement, mercy and discernment, not administration, handling details and hospitality or entertaining. “Nice girls don’t ask for help – they don’t focus on their own dreams,” she said, noting that although scripture says we are to die to self, “we are not to die to what God called us to be.”
Third, a good woman joins the global sisterhood.
“The alternative to a nice girl is not just a good woman, but a downright dangerous woman who opposes anything that seeks to thwart God’s work,” she said to the obvious delight of the audience. She quickly ticked off startling statistics that confirm the disproportionate impact of problems on women: 60 percent of HIV/Aids victims are women, 70 percent of extremely poor people are women, and 80 percent of refugees are women.
“These great global issues are disproportionate as they involve women,” she noted. “Therefore, women need to be disproportionately involved in responding to them.”
Picking up on a theme introduced earlier in the service – the power of one individual to make a difference – Hybels concluded by quoting a familiar saying that suggests even just one person can make a difference. “What we should be asking God is, What is mine to do?
“Imagine what a difference we could make in this world if every woman here prayed this prayer.”
Earlier in the service, Kathy Wilson, development director of New Day for Children, shared how that ministry is making a difference in the lives of young girls rescued from the abuses of human trafficking. A facility in northern California is now operating, thanks in part to support from the Break the Chains initiative supported by the Department of Women Ministries, which organizes Triennial events.
The challenge is large, Wilson noted, with an estimated 27 million women worldwide caught up in forced slavery and trafficking.
New Day offers licensed therapy, college preparation training, life skills instruction and food and housing for the girls who are served – four are currently at the facility.
Editor’s note: The accompanying photos, taken by event photographer Robert Tilman who attends Cedar Creek Covenant Church in Maple Valley, Washington, show Hybels at top, the worship portion of the early service, and Wilson.