Article by: Bethany Jenkins
In a recent performance review, one of my girlfriends was told to stop apologizing because she was losing credibility at work. Last week, another girlfriend apologized to me for—of all things—apologizing: “Sorry I keep saying sorry.”
Two years ago, responding to research showing that women say sorry more than men, Pantene released a commercial, “Sorry, Not Sorry,” that showed women apologizing to colleagues, spouses, strangers, and friends. Wanting to empower women, the hair care company touted, “Don’t be sorry. Shine and be strong.”
On Sunday night, bestselling author and popular speaker Glennon Doyle Melton announced she’s now in a lesbian relationship. As a self-identifying Christian active with the Belong Tour, Melton anticipated that her followers would be confused by her news. On Instagram, she shared that, although there was a time when she “cared so much” about their opinions of her, it’s now her job as a leader “not to concern myself too deeply about what you think and feel about me—about the way I live my life.” This is what she hopes for all her fans—that they would not say sorry for who they are.
“The most revolutionary thing a woman can do,” Melton heralded, “is not explain herself.”
We Need Outside Affirmation
All of us are looking for the stamp of approval that says we’re okay. We’ve been broken and bruised. We’ve messed up. And we’re longing for acceptance.
Melton is right that our stamp of approval cannot come from other people. They aren’t the authors of our worth and dignity. Our identity cannot be tied to their verdicts and evaluations. Their standards are not ours to follow.
Instead, Melton says, you are your own stamp of approval: “You are allowed to think and feel WHATEVER YOU NEED OR WANT TO FEEL!” You don’t need to explain yourself, since your opinion is the only one that matters.
But there is no peace in self-affirmation, since we’re not reliable sources. We’re fickle, vacillating daily between accusing and affirming ourselves. Our hearts are deceptive, seeking ways to embrace our selfish desires. Like Eve, we crave the words of the serpent: “Make yourself happy. Don’t worry about what anyone says. Do it your own way.”
We need someone—someone outside of us, someone who isn’t fickle or deceptive—to tell us who we are, what we need, and that we’re okay. In short, we need God. He is the only one who tells us that we’re far more broken than we think, but far more loved that we can imagine. His stamp of approval is the most affirming, since it is the most accurate.
God is the only one who tells us that we’re far more broken than we think, but far more loved that we can imagine. His stamp of approval is the most affirming, since it is the most accurate.
All Truths Are Not Equal
Truth matters. It guides us and makes us wise. It gives us a ballast to say no to popularity and whims. It sets us free. In her post, Melton encouraged her followers to follow truth:
I want you to refuse to betray yourself. Not just for you. For ALL OF US. Because what the world needs—in order to grow, in order to relax, in order to find peace, in order to become brave—is to watch one woman at a time live her truth without asking permission or offering explanation.
But truth isn’t relative. All values aren’t equal. And we know this, whether we admit it or not. If one woman’s truth is to be racist and hateful, we wouldn’t tell her to follow it. If another’s truth is to starve the poor or sell her body parts for profit, we would advocate for her to stop. Everything isn’t up for grabs.
Since God is coherent, life is not arbitrary. Following personal truths is cheap. Seeking revealed truth is costly. It requires the hard work of discernment, weighing alternative truth claims and counting the cost of discipleship.
Following personal truths is cheap. Seeking revealed truth is costly.
Yes, truth exists, and wisdom is available. But it doesn’t start with pursuing our own truths. It starts with fearing the Lord, elevating his opinion as revealed in the written and incarnate Word. Indeed, it will demand everything of us—our comfort, our money, our popularity, our identity, anything that’s more precious to us than Jesus (Luke 9:56–62). But when we find it, it’s worth more than jewels (Prov. 3:15).
Self-Love vs. Selfless Love
Melton says the “most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself.” Similarly, 19th-century Oxford scholar Benjamin Jowett encourages us to “never apologize, never explain,” and Love Story tells us that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
But real relationships require restoration because everyone errs. What we say gets misinterpreted. What we do hurts another. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but other times it’s not. And when this happens, we talk about it. We explain ourselves. And we apologize.
No true relationship can survive without subjugating your will to another, without finding your happiness in their happiness. The height of love isn’t self-love but selfless love—a love that counts others above ourselves (Phil. 2:3).
The height of love isn’t self-love but selfless love. . . . In the kingdom of God, repentance isn’t an impediment to love; it is the foundation of love.
Yet explaining ourselves isn’t enough. We’re also called to submit to God’s truth and, when we don’t, to repent—to agree with him that we’ve been wrong and that we desperately need him to restore us. In the kingdom of God, repentance isn’t an impediment to love; it is the foundation of love.
Holy Love Wins
Melton signed her post, “Love Wins.” And she’s right: love does win. But the kind of love that wins isn’t self-affirming, fickle, and unapologetic. It’s self-sacrificing and self-giving. It’s holy. It’s based on the unchanging, objective truth of the gospel. Only this type of love can refine our rough edges and make us whole persons. Only this kind of love can give us the power we need to lay down our lives for others (1 John 3:16)—to love our enemies (Luke 6:35), to bear one another’s burdens (Eph. 4:2), to care for the poor (Deut. 10:18–19).
Can this love be exploited? Yes. It can be manipulated, abused, and rejected. And where we see it violated by injustice, righteousness and truth speak up to protect it (Ps. 85:10). Yet the beauty of the gospel is that love is not finally a feeling or an experience, but a person. It is Jesus Christ, whose self-donating love was victimized and beaten on a Roman cross. He gave himself for the other, and the other destroyed him.
This is why the most revolutionary thing a woman can do is to love others as Christ has loved us. It requires risk of rejection and failure, sacrifice and suffering. But it also leads to resurrection and glory, embodying the love of the unseen God as he creates a people who know and adore him.
Bethany L. Jenkins is the Director of The Gospel Coalition’s Every Square Inch, the Director of Vocational & Career Development at The King’s College, and the Founder of The Park Forum. She previously worked on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill. She received her JD from Columbia Law School and attends Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, where she is a current CFW Fellow and a former Gotham Fellow through the Center for Faith & Work. You can follow her on Twitter.
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