No Bows, Please!


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.


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