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It’s time to be transparent: Women need close, Christian friendships

It’s Sunday morning. Our hair is perfectly combed. Our children are clean and dressed up. We’re carrying our Bibles and smiling prettily.
We are fine! All of us! We’re happy and doing well and glad to be at church!
That’s what we tell people, anyway. It’s the part we play on a stage where Christians gather each week to worship and — perhaps unintentionally — size up each other.
Millions followed the Winkler case, intrigued by the idea that a seemingly idyllic marriage and picture-perfect family could be shattered in such a violent way.
And yet, at the same time, some of us women watched with a sick, perhaps indefinable feeling in our stomach. Because many of us struggle with issues in our marriages that at times consume us with worry, fear and disappointment, though we try to hide it.
However Matthew Winkler died, whatever circumstances preceded his death, his three children lost a father. His family lost a son, a brother, a grandson. The members of the Fourth Street church in Selmer, Tenn., lost their preacher. Teens lost a role model, and some of lost a friend.
Meanwhile, Mary Winkler’s losses are still being calculated. Her conviction on voluntary manslaughter could cost her freedom, her children and millions of dollars.
Did this have to happen? Worse yet, have we helped create the environment where it did — and may again?
As ironic as it is for the gender that’s known for its love of chatting, the fact is that it’s tough for most women — especially those who are married to ministers — to speak as openly and honestly as we should with our friends and our church families. (In this space next month, one minister’s wife will offer a first-person account of the challenges of balancing family life and ministry.)
Why can’t we, or won’t we, talk to one another like the generation of women before us, and the one before them? In part, the demands of being a woman today are more complex, more varied and more pressure-filled.
• We are busy, running nonstop to meet work deadlines, make it to soccer games and keep a household running. Making and maintaining true friendships requires time. But we don’t always make it or take it.
• We are hesitant to use our unique skills or develop interests to serve the Lord and our communities for fear that we’ll be criticized. If teaching children isn’t our gift, we’ll do it just to avoid making waves.
• We are afraid of rejection or judgment because our choices, personalities or lifestyles may not mesh seamlessly with those around us. In our deep-seated desire to be accepted, we don’t reveal much anymore about how we feel or think on many issues of politics, religion or social matters.
The summation of these three items is that we pressure ourselves as Christian women to behave in a certain way, to live up to an artificial ideal. If we can’t measure up, we retreat, giving up the chance to have even one female friend with whom we can share our confidences without fear of reprise.
It’s even more true for ministers’ wives. Not only is their personal sense of happiness and security within their church community under scrutiny, but their family’s very livelihood depends upon the perception of others.
We have heard from many readers since news broke of Matthew Winkler’s slaying in March 2006. Even when there were no developments in the case, we’d get e-mails. Some continued to wonder why. Others offered their own possible reasons or motives.
But the bulk of those e-mails was, and continues to be, an outcry: Give a voice to the stress faced by women in the church today, especially for ministers’ wives, they said. Provide a forum for women to communicate on deeper levels about meaningful subjects. Encourage women to speak and expect that their voices will be heard.
In short, care. Listen. Ask. Answer. Find women with whom you can be yourself, and make time to be together.
We assume that if a girlfriend smiles our way during Bible class that she’s also smiling as she pays her bills, disciplines children or cares for an aging parent. But we don’t ask if that’s really the case, because we’re too busy to listen to anything other than the standard reply.
Maybe we’ll catch her later, we reason. We have gadgets that make it convenient for us to stay in touch: E-mail, cell phones, instant messaging and video chats connect us every day. These are our constants. We are consumed with the knowledge that we can reach anyone at any time. And we’re smug, thinking that we’ve got all our relationships in order because they’re part of an address book or bulk distribution list.
But in the process, we’ve quit reaching out and stopped revealing ourselves. The capabilities that should increase our abilities to interact with people actually isolate us. We don’t know when our friends’ marriages are falling apart. We can’t determine when our family members are hurting, because we don’t know what’s really going on in their lives. And can you really cry on someone’s shoulder when you haven’t seen her face-to-face in months?
If only it were possible to adopt our Savior’s model of being truly candid, open and accepting all at the same time. Maybe then life on Sunday mornings would be as it should.

TAMIE ROSS is associate online editor of The Christian Chronicle. She and her husband, Bobby, the Chronicle’s managing editor, have three children, Brady, Keaton and Kendall. They are members of the Edmond, Okla., church.

Filed under: Staff Reports Views

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