A Note from Mary Margaret West: As women who lead and love teen girls, hard conversations are inevitably a part of the equation. As we point girls towards Jesus, we have an incredible opportunity to speak truth, Scripture, and encouragement to them, even when it’s hard. As you prayerfully have these conversations, make sure you are approaching the situation from a position of humility and kindness. Emily Katherine gives some great helps today as we explore having hard conversations with girls.
I saw her post. There were girls on her futon she is now discipling and pouring into. She described the hard parts and the beautiful parts of doing life with these girls in the caption. My heart swelled with pride, knowing what an incredible discipler she is.
Two years prior, I sat across the table from her. Her small group was on the fringes due to unresolved conflict, unmet expectations, and some opportunities for growth. Ever the people pleaser, I had to put my big girl face on that day and lean in. I painted a picture of what a more humble and empathetic approach could look like. I challenged them to step up and step into all of the potential I knew they had.
That day she left angry and I wasn’t so sure she would ever again call me a friend. I pushed hard, not willing to give up on the plan God had for her and the small group she was a part of.
But over a year later she slowed me down at a coffee shop to tell me thank you and that our conversation which took every bit of courage I had deep down in my gut, was one of the most influential in her life. And now she is an incredibly gifted leader, pouring out into younger girls.
She hugged me and thanked me, as tears filled her eyes. “You are one of the only people who took the time to confront me,” she said.
These words brought me back to a dining hall table over a weekend retreat. This gentle, caring soul spilled out some abrasive comments to her team over the weekend. She was interrupting and speaking over people who she would usually meet with care.
I played with my salad and prayed over every word as I said, “I’ve always experienced you as so gentle and kind; yet, this weekend I’ve experienced some abrasiveness and interrupting your team. What’s going on?” She melted and burst into tears, opening up that she felt overlooked and unheard, returning to her team to apologize for her behavior over tears of vulnerability and courage.
I am a third child with two older brothers who had to learn to at least fake a backbone from day one, but if I am honest would love to stay in my comfort zone when it comes to the people I love and disciple, telling them how great they are and commenting #GOALS on all of their Instagram posts.
But I have come to learn the people who God has put in my path have enough followers and even enough critics; yet, they are desperate for people who are committed to being in their corner, to lean in and say what they sometimes don’t want to hear. As disciplers, we can illuminate blind spots in those we shepherd that if not pointed out early on can wreak havoc in the life of our girls.
So how do we have hard conversations well?
- Lead with curiosity.
- Anyone who feels accused becomes defensive or shuts down. Hard conversations that are the most fruitful are conversations wrapped in safety that create space for vulnerability. Rather than leading with, “Why did you post this?” Lead in by saying, so what’s been going on with this friend?
- Only confront as much as you support.
- In my experience, when girls feel only corrected and never accepted, they stop seeking acceptance and stop letting you into their life. What girls share with us in our ministries, over coffee, and on the bus to camp is sacred. We cannot lean in and call them to a higher standard of potential, without first leaning in and seeing them as daughters and people.
- Don’t take the easy road of behavior change.
- The goal of discipleship is not checking off boxes of reading their Bible, going to church, and retweeting great pastors. The goal of discipleship is faithful, fruitful followers of Jesus. If we focus on changing a girl’s behavior like the way she dresses or the shows she watches, we may totally miss her heart. Behavior change is a result of transformation which can be sparked by hard conversations and catalyzed by intimate relationship.
- Apologize when you don’t handle hard conversations well.
- Hard conversations peel back layers of defense mechanisms when prefaced with safety, care, and curiosity. In this space our girls are extremely vulnerable and at times no matter how great our intentions are, we may not meet them perfectly. We may misunderstand them, be suddenly pulled away by a family emergency, say something that we later realized was triggering, or project our own unprocessed junk onto them. I am of course not recommended any of these things, simply describing mistakes I have made. And I’ve learned to apologize. To tell these girls I’m sorry and I’m so honored by how they opened up and offered some really sacred parts of their life and story with me. They deserve for me to have treated them better in that moment and I apologize. I’ve learned justifying myself only makes girls back away more, but apologizing teaches them I make mistakes too and they are worthing going after.
- Communicate how you plan to continue to walk with them through this.
- Whether it’s a relationship that’s toxic, treatment of an adult that’s disrespectful, signs you see that she is in danger to herself, or a change in attendance you are worried about, be clear in your conversation. Start with curiosity. Consistently communicate safety. Finish with care. Offer open ended questions like, “What can I do to help you?”, “What are good questions to ask you as you walk through this?”, “Do you mind if I text you every Tuesday afternoon to check in on this?”, “How can I love you best through this?”, “If I experience _________ again, what’s the best way for me to hold you accountable?”
All this to say, I’m with you in the difficulty of pursuing these conversations, going about them well, and following up with faithful care. But as we lean in to not leave people where they are, but call them to a higher standard to live lives “worthy of the calling they have received,” we can best embody the gospel. May we be teachable and moldable, receiving well the hard conversations those we trust initiate with us and modeling well that we too are always in need of repentance and sanctification. But most importantly, may we never get over the incredible and relentless grace of a God who will not leave us as orphans, but comes to us and calls to a life that is filled with a love that is higher, deeper, and wider than anything we could have asked or imagined.
Emily Katherine Dalton grew up in Spartanburg, SC and now lives in Rome, GA where she graduated from Berry College, studying Psychology and Spanish. She now serves as an assistant coordinator with the WinShape College Program as she is pursuing a Master of Divinity in Christian Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Emily Katherine loves volunteering with middle school and high school girls in her church’s student ministry and working in college ministry. She is a coffee lover, book reader, blogger, and a big fan of a paper planner.