Thirteen year old girls don’t take women seriously who wear ugly shoes.” At least that was the argument I gave my husband when he commented on the sudden increase in my shoe collection shortly after I started teaching middle school literature. While I’m not above stretching a bit to justify a great pair of heels, I was only half-kidding in this particular instance.
I, like many of the writers in this edition, find the concept of “spiritual formation” a bit difficult to nail down. If we’re talking about the desire in all of our hearts to see our students mature into, instead of away from, Christ while simultaneously sharpening the minds with which they serve him, then I offer yet another question or two to contemplate. What is drawing them away from Christ? And are we presenting a compelling alternative?
As much as we would like our students to pick their role models based on logical analysis filtered through biblical standards, we know they don’t. In fact not many of us do. Take a good look at what kids today find attractive, cool and worthy of imitation and then take an equally objective look at what the church, and our Christian schools by extension, offer instead. I see two primary alternatives. There are the churches where the worship team’s jeans are just as faded, music is just as loud and videos just as slick as those on MTV. The unspoken message is that Jesus is cool and Christians can be too. At the opposite extreme, are the churches that seem proudly, even aggressively uncool, unmodern, and suspicious of anyone who isn’t equally so.
I see very few healthy, appealing role models for young women today inside the church or out. It’s one thing to tell a young teenager that the appearance and behavior of the latest wild child pop star are unhealthy, unbiblical and inappropriate. It’s entirely another to make sure she has an alternative that she just might want to emulate. Every time I step on campus, I am aware that I, like every teacher or administrator, have the opportunity to offer one potential alternative. I have an opportunity to present womanhood as the high calling that my own strong, educated, elegant, Christ-centered, southern mother demonstrated for me.
Stilettos aren’t the cure-all of course. I pray that my students will occasionally see in me a woman who enjoys sharpening her mind as much as her wardrobe and whose standards and expectations are just as high as her heels. Most of all, I want them to see that femininity, intellectual capacity, attractiveness, and joyful Christianity are not mutually exclusive and are all unearned gifts from God. Just maybe a few of my students might want to follow in my well-shod footsteps.