I am sure we all have stories that we reflect on from our childhood and see how they shaped us, molded us. This is one of those.
I wish I could remember all the details, but honestly, they’re a bit fuzzy. I think what is most critical for you to know is this: I received this letter when I was a young teenager. And, honestly, I think the letter will tell you the rest better than I ever could. Pay careful attention to the lines I have bolded; we’ll discuss them later.
I thought that I should write a letter to you concerning our son, [Redacted]. [Redacted] and I know a lot about the situation that both of you have faced.
First of all, it does break our hearts when one of our kids’ hearts are broken. Let me tell you a little bit about what has been going on with him. We realize that you are content with being “only a friend” to him and he would like more. The thing that has torn him apart was that he believes that you are not being truthful with him. He doesn’t know what to believe because a few months ago you admitted that you did like him and just recently you said you never did and you only wanted to be friends. Then there was the time when you told your friends that you could “date” when you were fifteen and then it was sixteen. He didn’t know what to believe. [Redacted] is the kind of guy who doesn’t like to play games like this.
Grace, you are really a great girl. We just wish that [redacted] didn’t have to go thru this. He still says that he loves you to death. There are times that he can’t sleep at night or even eat. We know that he stays away from [Redacted], because it hurts him so much when he sees you. We, and [Redacted] have tried to explain to him that he can’t make you like him, but he says he won’t and hasn’t given up on you. We’ve never seen [Redacted] like this – not even with [Redacted]. We realize that you both are still young.
[Redacted] does not know that I am writing to you. I felt that I should do this because it would be what a Christian should do. I’m sure it has been pretty tough living the life you have been living (having to grow up faster than most girls). You have a wonderful family. Be sure to cherish that forever. I guess I am also writing to you because I feel my son’s pain when he hurts. I hope that you and [Redacted] can still be friends. It’s probably going to take a while. Right now he is hurting and thinks that ignoring you will show you what you have done to him. His dad and I have told him that that’s not the way to handle this. Please don’t take this too hard or be upset with him. This is his way of getting thru the hurt.
Grace, I don’t think you really know what you do to young men. Your personality is like a magnet. I had a roommate once who had over 100 dates and she could never decide who she really liked. She ended up being stalked. It was a horrible situation. Remember that right now is the time to grow into the Christian young lady that God wants you to be. I hope that you don’t mind me writing this letter to you. There were times that it was hard being around you because of my son’s hurt. We do care about you and are praying for you. Maybe someday [Redacted] will heal. Just continue being his friend, even if he acts wrongly toward you. He will still care about you for a very long time – that’s just the way he is.
Have a good day,
P.S. You may write back if you want.”
I have read this letter so many times over the years that I probably have it memorized. You may wonder why I still have it. I have often asked myself the same thing. Truthfully though, I think it felt too powerful, too much a part of me to do away with.
While the details are fuzzy, I vividly remember receiving this letter. It was at church, and the mother of this boy found me in the parking lot after the service, pulled me aside from my friends, and said, “I left you something in your pocketbook.” I remember being a little bewildered, primarily because I had no idea what a pocketbook even was. However, I thanked her and went back to my friends. Yes, I thanked her. When I went home that afternoon, I did indeed find an envelope hidden inside my sparkly purse. Realizing it was a letter addressed to me, I sat down on my bed, opened it and read.
Here it comes. The crushing, stabbing sensation of shame. The microscope examining me, finding me ugly, unworthy. On display, in delicate cursive, here was my evil on a college-ruled notebook page. Disgraced. This mother’s pained words still hurt my stomach as I read through the lines. I genuinely hate hurting people, and even reliving this moment makes me want to write out explanations to you about how I tried not to do so, about how I thought telling him plainly I was no longer interested was the kind thing to do. But that’s really not the point. I am not sharing my deeply personal letter with you because I want to justify what I did or did not do. I share it because we need to talk about it.
I felt that I should do this because it would be what a Christian should do. It is interesting to find a writer that feels the need to justify what she knows she should not be doing. It is more interesting still that she felt that it was the Lord’s will for her to do so. If she had said it was because she felt it was what a mother should do that would be one thing, but instead she takes our most unifying trait and weaponizes it. In not so many words she claims that “Grace, I am calling you out and causing you deep pain and guilt in an attempt to make you love my son. And that is what Jesus wants for you.” Therefore, I fill in the rest. If I do not choose to love her son back, I am not doing what a Christian should do. I am a liar. I am a whore.
Grace, I don’t think you really know what you do to young men. This comment was particularly damaging to my teenage psyche and I knew it even then. She had disguised a threat within her compliment, and it was terrifying. Grace, you’re so great, but you’ll probably end up dead because of who you are. Every social interaction after that felt laced with the dread that came from this letter. I must never forget, my very essence can offend – not just the men I reject, but the women that care about them. Live small, Grace, or you may not live at all.
Remember that right now is the time to grow into the Christian young lady that God wants you to be. This one. This one, I think, is the reason I still have this letter. Why every time I sort through my box of memories, I decide to keep it one more year. Who is the Christian young lady that God wants me to be? This hurting mother seemed to know what it should look like much better than me. At the very least, she was very certain what it should not look like. It’s hard to not read that letter and wonder, have I done it? Have I grown into the Christian young lady that God wants me to be? Guess who doesn’t get to answer that question? This boy’s mother.
Just continue being his friend, even if he acts wrongly toward you. Nearly the last line of the letter, and quite powerful. She makes it abundantly clear that she recognizes he was being terrible to me, but that she felt I deserved it. Though she thinks I’m “great”, though she knows I’ve had a “tough” life (a quick nod to the death of my mother), I am deserving of cruelty from her son because, well, I didn’t love him back.
I will not pretend to understand for even one moment what it must be like to be a mother. I have no idea the pain you feel when your son is hurting; how could I? I do, however, feel the need to say: this was wrong. I was not deserving of this letter. I understand that hurt people hurt people. Here it is on display for all of us to see. It doesn’t make it right. By telling her son that I did not reciprocate his affection, I had suddenly risked everything. According to her, I was risking even my own safety, but most certainly I was certainly risking my reputation, my “goodness”.
I don’t think this mother has any sense of the impact she had, and if she does, maybe even after reading this, maybe she’ll be glad. Maybe she’ll be glad she made me question my personality, my happiness, my freedoms. Maybe she’ll be glad she was able to control me in this way. But I wonder if she knows that eyes are watching, and that there is a ripple effect when you cause such division. This painful pay-it-forward never ends where you intend.
The next week I received another note when I went back to church. This one in an envelope with green font that read “Grace” and two exclamation points with a small smile that connected the two. It read like this:
I’m kinda mad at you. p.s. very mad! [Redacted] didn’t write this. There’s two of us that wrote this. You broke his heart. He was crying [very] hard. He did love you Grace Pilet. And I know you liked him [too]. At least we think you did. He gave you 25 bucks worth of [presents]. You [probably] won’t even wear the [jewelry] he gave you. Or maybe you will and won’t care about him. Half the church knows. Before you know it the whole church will know. [You’ll] feel [embarrassed], sad and guilty. Why don’t you go say sorry. Get back together right now!! Why don’t you tell him you were wrong. Grace how could you do this.
p.s we still [like] you.”
I remember, at the time, just being tired. While the first letter had the most lasting damage, this one felt like a fresh cut on a deep wound. I had always loved the younger kids at the church and suddenly it was as if I wore a scarlet letter. Things were never the same, even if they “still lik[ed]” me.
There was no measure of grace given. This was my community; these were my friends. And then they weren’t. Not just unfriended by this woman and her family, but by the friends to whom they shared “their truth”. I was a teenage girl figuring out who I was, and it was clear from this group of Christians that I was not acceptable or welcome.
I want to believe that not every child has received a letter like this. Unfortunately, I suspect many (if not every) child has been attempted to be controlled like this. This culture has, for some unknown reason, been given a license to manipulate and emotionally abuse the generations that follow in the name of Jesus Christ. They perpetuate the cycle of brokenness. We see it here plainly as her daughter follows in her shadow. Please understand I harbor no hatred towards these individuals. Like the Andrew from the story before, these are merely illustrations in order to showcase the words and pain being shared in secret.
This is, however, a reality check. If the Christian community is comfortable doing this to a cis white girl, what else are they capable of? I have been privileged enough to be perceived as pretty and meek. That perception resulted in an attempt to control me. But what happens when they perceive you as something else, when they know they can’t control you? We know the answer to these questions. We’ve seen them lived out with examples so much more profound than mine. No wonder so many have left the church, no wonder so many walk away from Christianity. Not only do we have to ask who would want to be a part of this toxicity, but who are we actively damaging and pushing away through our actions and words?
This woman’s standard, written in ink, is not attainable. I am not a doll. You cannot dress me how you choose and put me on a shelf to take down when you please. I have thoughts and dreams that pulse through my body. I am a living, human being created in the image of God. And you are, too. This woman and her daughter, too.
Stop. Recognize the unifying beauty and power in that.
As I continue to process these experiences, I wonder why. Not why did they do this, but why do I still care? Time and time again this religion, this community has rejected me, and yet, I am still here. I can promise you right now that it has nothing to do with my strength, resilience, or naiveté. It all comes back to the same thing. Jesus is greater; His grace is sweeter. He is the Son of God who healed the sick, wept with the broken, embraced the marginalized, and opposed the proud. I want to be abundantly clear, friends, He is not what these people have portrayed Him to be. It is this culture that crucified Christ, and I won’t stand for it.
I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.Acts 20:24