Pain seared my senses, leaving my mind momentarily blank. I heard myself gasp and my gasp was echoed by others around the small church auditorium. My jaw dropped. My pain was emotional, but it felt worse than a physical blow.
Jeffrey, the pastor’s son, stood beaming on the stage. His words rang in my ears. “I want to announce my engagement to Megan! We’ve been courting for a month and she is the one! I also am quitting engineering school and going into full time ministry.”
I felt like I had taken a blow to the gut, leaving me breathless. In the three years that I had attended the church, I had been interested in and a little infatuated with the pastor’s son, Jeffrey. He was tall, dark, and handsome with striking blue eyes. I knew hardly anything about him, but he was appealing to me and I had tried a couple times to get him to notice me, but to no avail. For the three years we had attended, I had waited and waited for him to notice me, trying to be the perfect good Christian girl and not be flirtatious or go out of my way to make him talk to me. Now the news I heard made me sick.
Jeffrey was engaged. Though disappointing, that wasn’t what had upset me. Jeffrey, the son of a pastor and supposed perfect example of godliness, was marrying a recently converted pregnant girl. The child wasn’t Jeffrey’s, but still. It was a very unwise decision, at best, but it wasn’t the decision in itself that hurt. It felt like a slap in the face. Here I had waited all these years for him to notice me. I had been close to his family, best friends with his sister, and I had remained invisible to him. I had tried to do everything perfect so he would notice me. Despite everything, and even people in the church telling me they thought we would be perfect together, a pregnant, brand new Christian girl walks in the door and he wanted her. I felt rejected, invisible, unwanted, and unimportant. His decision crushed me. I was happy for the girl, but wounded that he could pick someone like her over me.
You could have heard a pin drop. I looked at the small congregation of familiar faces around me and saw my shock mirrored in their faces, which was slightly comforting. One thought screamed in my head. How could Kelly, my BEST friend and Jeffrey’s SISTER, not have told me this? How could she not have given me some warning that this was coming? I felt betrayed. Years ago, Kelly had PRIED the confession out of me that I liked her brother. I had resisted her questions many times but finally after multiple attempts to get me to confess who I liked, she succeeded. The fact that she had known all along what was transpiring between her brother and Megan and had said NOTHING to me made me sick.
I felt like I was going to burst into tears. Numbly, I watched our congregation halfheartedly applaud Jeffrey’s announcement. I had to get out of there. I was going to lose it. My painstakingly built up self-confidence had been shattered in one devastating blow.
In a haze, I found myself moving slowly towards the door, trying to get through the crowd of people congratulating Jeffrey and Megan. Megan, the girl I had befriended and taken under my wing. The girl no one had wanted to be friends with except me. I was happy for her and shocked by Jeffrey’s choice at the same time.
I moved like one in a dream, hardly aware of what I was doing. I smiled and congratulated Megan and Jeffrey and headed for the door. It was blocked by all my girlfriends, including Kelly, who were all exclaiming over the announcement. When they noticed me, their words trailed off. I could see the pity in their faces. I wanted to die. All of my girlfriends knew I had liked Jeffrey all these years, thanks to Kelly’s prying it out of me in front of everyone. Some friend she’s turned out to be! I turned tearful eyes to Kelly’s face and grabbed her arm, getting her attention.
“Kelly!” I hissed in a low tone, “How could you not have given me a head’s up about this? You know how I feel about Jeffrey.” Tears threatened. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Kelly shrugged. “Sorry, I was sworn to secrecy. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”
I was stunned, torn between wanting to slap her and burst into tears. Without another word, I fled, climbing into our car outside and locking the doors. I hunkered down on the floor of the car so people wouldn’t notice me, pulled my knees up to my chest and let my tears fall.
The bitter sting of rejection combined with the utter ludicrousness of Jeffrey’s choice was a difficult pill to swallow. It wasn’t just my pride that had been hurt but my self-confidence. With his announcement, Jeffrey had unknowingly brought down years of the convincing I had done in my mind. Over and over I had comforted myself with thoughts like I won’t flirt with him, flirting is wrong, if it is meant to be then he will notice me somehow. I had been taught by the church that initiating any conversations with men was flirtation and not what godly young women did. Obviously, I had been deceived.
It pained me to realize that what I had been taught was not right and to realize that if I would’ve been more myself and talked or even flirted a little bit with Jeffrey, as Megan had done, he might have actually been interested in me. My entire belief system about guys and how to behave had collapsed around my ears. If I would’ve just acted the way I WANTED to act all this time instead of forcing myself to conform to the stupid teaching at this church, I might have stood a chance.
Years of ingrained behavior flashed through my mind, scenes from my life parading in slow progression. All those times when I had been in public and a cute guy smiled at me…When guys on my volleyball team had tried to talk to me…When I noticed an attractive guy and he caught me looking at him…My response had been the same every time. A response that had been drilled into me from childhood. Don’t act interested. Don’t smile back, you’re being flirtatious. Don’t talk to strangers, they’re dangerous. If a guy looks at you with interest, it must mean you look bad or that your dress is too provocative and you’re causing him to lust.
Enlightenment burst upon my mind. It was brutal, and it was sickening. All of the times when I had come into contact with an attractive, friendly guy in person, I had unintentionally shunned his interest. I did this because it was what I had been taught to do, trained like an automaton to do. Because being a good Christian woman meant that you should never look sexy, never be flirtatious, and never act overly friendly. Because if you did, you might cause a man to stumble and lust after you.
I began to tremble, emotion overwhelming me. How could I have been so blind? Why did I believe these lies all these years? I felt like I was seeing the world with new eyes. Not viewing men as carnal creatures without self-control, but as brothers in Christ, as people. People, not animals driven by lust. I was frozen by the realization.
For my entire life, I had been taught that it was my responsibility to help men guard their eyes by not wearing provocative clothing. To that end, up until the past year, I had dressed in clothing that resembled potato sacks, shapeless homemade hideousness to hide my blossoming figure and womanly curves.
More recently, I had begun to dress fashionably, trying to look both modest and attractive. But still, I struggled with my deep seated sense of guilt. I feared that if I looked too attractive or was too appealing, I would cause men to lust and it would be my fault.
My child…A still small voice whispered in my head. I created you to be beautiful. You should dress without fear, without guilt. What men choose to do when they look upon you is their decision. It’s not your fault.
Tears ran down my face. I felt as though chains were falling from my mind. The chains of guilt and shame and fear that had always been associated with my appearance and how men responded to me. It’s not your fault…The words echoed in my mind. Countless times when I had been in public, grocery shopping or running errands, my body had been raked by licentious eyes. I felt the gazes crawling over my body and I had wanted to hide. I had always felt it had been my fault they desired me. I must have dressed too provocatively. I assumed full responsibility for their roving eyes and felt ashamed and guilty, like I had committed a crime for looking attractive.
I was wrong. How could I have believed this for so long? I wept bitter tears, regretting every moment I had raked myself over the coals and chastised myself for accidentally being the cause of a man to stumble. It’s not your fault…I embraced the words, hugging my knees tightly to my chest.
I dried my tears and sat up straight. People were beginning to amble leisurely from the church building and get into their vehicles. I felt dazed, overwhelmed by all I had just contemplated. I saw Jeffrey and Megan walking and laughing and felt a stab of pain. That could have been me, if only I had BEEN me. If only I had been myself instead of stifling normal and natural behavior.
I unfolded my legs and got up to sit in my normal seat. My family was coming. I silently buckled my seatbelt, absently listening to them talk as we drove home. My emotions had wrung me out completely. I felt dead to the world.
“I couldn’t believe Jeffrey when he said he was quitting engineering school. He had ONE semester left! What an idiot!” My dad was saying.
“I know! That was very unwise of him, especially since he’s getting married. He could have used that degree to get a much better paying job.” Mom shook her head.
Mom turned to look at me. “Did Kelly say a word to you about Jeffrey getting engaged before he made the announcement?”
My gaze hardened into an angry scowl. “Nope. Not a word.”
“What?! Why?” Mom demanded.
“I have no idea.” The words wearied me just saying them. I felt betrayed by Kelly. And I was reaching the end of my rope with tolerating her behavior. This latest irritation was nearing the final straw.
The car eased to a stop before our little brick home and we climbed out. Once inside, I quietly went to my room, shut the door and climbed into bed. Burying my head in my pillow, I closed my eyes. Soul weariness weighed down my spirit.
A knock sounded on my door. “Come in!” I said without bothering to move.
Mom entered and laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Honey, are you ok? I know the news about Jeffrey had to have been a low blow.”
I forced a laugh. “You have no idea.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I let out a long sigh. “Right now? Not really, but I really appreciate you asking. What I need is a distraction. Have any funny chick flicks?”
“I know just the one. How about if I make your favorite brownies and we watch a movie?”
I smiled for the first time all afternoon. “That sounds amazing! Thanks Mom!”
She gave me a hug. “It’ll all be ok, Lotte. You’ll find someone better than Jeffrey.”
Her kindness brought more tears to my eyes. “Thanks.”
Mom left to whip up a batch of brownies and I sat up slowly. I have the best mom ever! She always knows how to make me feel better.
With my family’s love supporting me, I knew I would be all right. Time heals all wounds. I felt better already.
© Laura Schoonover, 2015-present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Laura Schoonover and https://cupidchroniclesblog.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.