No Bows, Please!

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sara terry -no bows please4By Sara Terry

Every Tuesday morning in Nashville, TN, a group of women gathered in an old, poorly-insulated house on Music Row. We stumbled in with bedhead and morning breath, burned our mouths on the coffee because we needed the caffeine, and settled into well-loved couches. We were the Nashville YoungLife Book Study, led by a faithful woman with depth and integrity.

The women in that room were not my best friends. We came from different universities, jobs, friend groups, relationship statuses, hometowns, struggles and dreams. The group changed from semester to semester, with veterans like me dragging new team members or friends to that holy room at an ungodly hour. Our honesty and vulnerability with each other transformed us—young women, broken yet careful to conceal our brokenness—to women of grounded faith, confident in our place as Beloved daughters and empowered to transform our communities, not through perfection but through authentic, messy friendship.

Book Study had some unconventional rules. Alecia, our leader and mentor, wasn’t messing around. She would not let us waste time performing for one another and exercising our well-honed coping mechanisms. No, ma’am! So we laid out the rules on the first day of every semester. I could write a book on all those brilliant rules, but my favorite rule was this: No bow tying.

Bow tying (noun): the act of trying to wrap something messy, incomplete, unrefined, and painful in a nice, neat bow-statement that offers no personal encouragement or hope to the one struggling but makes the people around that person feel more comfortable with the truck load of yuck that just got dumped on the ground in front of them.

At Book Study, no bow tying was permitted.

I have found bow tying to be a largely universal impulse for women. We share something a little “TMI” by the world’s standards, so we finish by tying a bow around it so that others feel more comfortable. A friend is honest about a need she isn’t sure she is allowed to have, so she ties a pretty little bow around it. When women express something heavy or deep or unfinished, what do we do? Tie a bow!

Here’s how it looks: I tell my friend I am fearful about an upcoming work assignment. As I am sharing, I feel a little uncomfortable, like I am complaining or unfaithful because I have those fears. Therefore, I end by saying something nice and empty like, “I know God will make it work out for the best, and I should just be grateful for this opportunity.”
Yuck. My bow tying helped exactly no one!

Even worse, I tie a bow for someone else. A friend tells me she feels very lonely in a new city and doesn’t know how to make friends. Instead of saying, “I have been there and that’s hard,” I tie a pretty bow by saying, “Isn’t it so nice that you have this time to get settled in?”

That, my friends, is bow tying, and it is a sure-fire way to keep groups of women from experiencing the joys of true Christian fellowship and sisterhood. Bow tying negates our courage and vulnerability, figuratively taking that dreaded step back after the two brave steps forward. Bow tying exposes distrust in our company and our God and confirms in women’s hearts that they must protect themselves.

But where did our impulse to tie bows come from? It began at the same place and at the same time as all other brokenness and pain.

Way back at the beginning of time, Adam and Eve took a deadly bite. With their new knowledge of good and evil, the first thing they noticed was their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). They felt exposed, unprotected, and unworthy, so they hid. Years and years down the line, the sons and daughters of Adam still hide. The same feeling that made Adam and Eve cover themselves in fig leaves makes women today tie bows.

Shame.

That toxic, overwhelming, heavy sense of just being wrong–not doing something wrong, but being wrong. Shame makes sure I know that I will never be right: I will always be too much or I will never be enough. Women tie bows as a way of putting their fragile, exposed hearts back in hiding because we are afraid that we will be seen as unworthy and unlovable.

Semester after semester, I sat in that poorly-insulated house on Music Row and practiced honesty and vulnerability with no bows. I can tell you from experience that refusing to tie bows is a difficult, terrifying choice. But my whole world changed when week after week, other women saw the mess inside me, cried with me and rejoiced with me, and told me in no uncertain terms that I am the Beloved, holy and blameless in my Father’s eyes.

_______________

About Sara:
Sara TerryI am the girl you want to be with at a wedding: I find the door where the hors d’oeuvres come out and strategically position my body between that door and the room of guests. I am a travelling consultant, recovering perfectionist, and wife to sweet Ben. I love taking part with God in the restoration of His daughters to Him, not because of their work but because of His.
Follow me on Instagram: @sarabterry

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  • What a great rule for a small group — and for every conversation. It reminds me of the opening words of Rilke’s poem about loving the questions:
    “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart . . .”
    We’re so quick to reduce a conversation to the lowest and safest platitude, but I see the wisdom of letting the “unsolved” just hang in the air so that we can enter into the speaker’s pain and wondering.

    • Sara Beisswenger Terry

      What a beautiful line! Thank you for encouraging me to be patient with my own fragile, human heart. Even now, I sit in the unsolved, unresolved, and unknown and remind myself that God is near!

  • Brenda Scott

    Never heard this term before, but now that you’ve spelled it out for me I hear myself doing a lot of pretty bow tying around the “not so perfect” stuff in my life to conceal its imperfection. I think this happens in an attempt to place a positive spin or outlook on not so positive reality. Maybe the bow tying is a weak cry of faith trying to declare, “but God”, in an effort to express sense that he knows what he is doing in the mess of our lives? You are fortunate to have had a group of wise women surrounding you who are not afraid of the imperfections of your life and faith. Thank you for sharing your insights.

    • Sara Beisswenger Terry

      Thanks, Brenda! I am so grateful for my wise group of women! You are so right that sometimes our “positive spins” are our way of reminding ourselves of truth! When we purposefully turn out eyes to Jesus even in tough situations, that is not a bow – that’s a prayer. I have found that when I keep my eyes on myself or fixate on what others think, then my “positive spin” is nothing more than an attempt to hide! Sometimes only we can know the difference!

  • I love this rule! I always look for the life lesson – the bow – at the end of an experience. But life is messy and sometimes there’s not even string to tie a bow. What freedom in letting our journeys twist and turn.

    • Sara Beisswenger Terry

      Annie – I totally agree! I am all for celebrating the beauty of what the Lord is doing in our lives, but only when our praise is intentional and real! When I tie bows for safety or because of shame, I am cheating God of glory, cheating others of knowing me, and cheating myself of being exactly where God has me! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jamie

    I love that you (or your group leader) have given this phenomenon a label. I completely understand the sentiment of this post but it can be hard to explain to people why we don’t actually want to wrap our issues up in bows like this. I always talk about it in terms of sitting with the uncomfortable, letting hard be hard, but I love this interpretation. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Sara Beisswenger Terry

      I totally agree, Jamie! Once you see this phenomenon in yourself, you see it in everyone else, too. It can be difficult to explain it and encourage other women to let themselves be known. I hope this “bow” image can help us share freedom and truth with our communities!

  • That is such a great rule! No bow tying — I love it.

  • Lisa Sands Scandrette

    Amen to no bow tying! I have been sitting with the practice of mourning and lament lately–and realizing that I would rather move too quickly to solutions. But sitting in the messy is important (Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted). “No bow tying” is a great reminder to sit and keep company in the mess and discomfort long enough. Thanks!

  • I don’t think I even realized how often I do this, for others of course 😉 I’m often accused of being to “honest” so I didn’t think I was a bow person. Maybe my bows are smaller than others but their still bows. Looks like I have some untying to work on. Thanks Sara.

  • Carey J

    Love this so much, dear friend! I hope you write that book (or more posts, at least!) on some of the other rules your wise leader had for your group. Thank you for sharing your wise and earnest heart so lovingly!

    • Sara Beisswenger Terry

      Thanks, Carey! Appreciate the encouragement!

  • Kelly Christian

    YES.