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For Girls

Battling the Image Beast

By Beth Bryant

Today’s “artificial” culture, preoccupied with outer beauty, aesthetic, and trying to make things look better than they generally are, can be pretty tough to navigate.

And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with paying attention to the outside, scripture warns against focusing too much on outward appearances. We have to know what we’re dealing with. Two of the main areas of image obsession currently plaguing adolescent girls are physical appearance and social media.

Beauty and the Image Beast

It’s hard to battle the image beast when there are so many voices telling us to feed it.

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

Here, two truths are revealed: Humans tend to see the outside, and God sees our hearts. Often, when we look in the mirror, we have more negative thoughts than positive. We spend a lot of time comparing the reflective glass version of ourselves to other individuals, from models on magazines to the girls at school. These physical comparisons make it nearly impossible for us to have a healthy view of ourselves.
Outside pressures from advertisements, celebrities, shows, movies, social media, or even from trying to win affirmation from people at school or guys can all tempt us to make outer beauty our focus. Again, there’s nothing wrong with a new outfit, a manicure, or haircut. But it is of utmost importance to make our heart the focus—what God sees, and where true beauty lies!

…the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3:3-4

All the best that physical appearance has to offer can’t compete with the beauty of holiness. Real beauty is not dependent on image—real beauty comes from a gentle and quiet spirit that honors, obeys, and worships God.

Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! 1 Chronicles 16:29

Social Media and the Façade

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

While Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and other social media platforms have done good things, like increase our connection to friends and family far away and give us new outlets for self expression, one of the downsides is revealed in our natural human tendency for competition. Selfish pride motivates girls and women of all ages to try to present something that appears better than reality.

Filters can be fun, but it’s important to remember that edited images do not represent reality. When we see women who appear to be perfect on social media, remember that images rarely—if ever—tell the whole truth. When we feel a compulsion to edit and layer every single photo we post with filters just to create an “acceptable” image, maybe it’s time to take a step back.

Social Media Use Is Best When….

  1. We honor God with it. Post wisely, follow others wisely, and apply the principles found in scripture to your social media activity.
  2. We avoid the pride and comparison pitfalls. Don’t post to brag or self-promote. Don’t allow envy or comparisons to creep in when you see posts.
  3. We realize that it’s not usually the most honest picture. Remember that images are photoshopped and the person posting the photo took tons of pictures to get just the right shot. People mostly only post the good and leave out the bad, so social media doesn’t show the whole picture.
  4. We use it with moderation. Like many good thing, excessive use of social media can lead to image obsession and causes us to lose our focus on what’s most important—who we are inside.

Remember, it’s okay to care about how you look on the outside. Scripture warns against focusing too much on outward appearances. Jesus doesn’t mince words. What’s inside is most important.

Bonus! Check out this handy list of tips for battling the image beast.

For Adults

Heart vs. Mirror

By Diana Bryant

One of the first things we realize as parents is that our children watch every move we make. They learn by imitating us. It’s how they learn to talk and walk. Eventually, they even pick up our attitudes and habits, both good and not-so-good.

What we actually do speaks much louder to our daughters than anything we say.

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with the mirror or the scale. If you’re a mom, your daughter is watching you very closely, even when you think she can’t see. Our culture tells your daughter that her body was made to be admired and pampered and that beauty is the guarantee to popularity and success.

We may quote verses about “being fearfully and wonderfully made” from Psalm 139:14 and remind her that “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart” from I Samuel 16:7 … but what she will memorize is how we approach our own relationship with our bodies.

Here are a few things to think about:

1. We must decide whether we really believe that physical beauty will never really fulfill us.
We tell ourselves this, but do we believe it deep down? We have to be convinced that “feeling pretty” is really just that – a feeling. Both our feelings and our physical appearance will change, and neither are as steadfast as God’s unwavering regard. KNOWING that we are valuable to God is a fact. Facts are dependable, feelings are not.

2. Be careful of the things you say about yourself.
How you judge yourself – your criticisms of your size, your features, your complexion – is how your daughter will think you judge her looks. Your expectations of yourself will become her measuring stick, only probably more exaggerated.
We are created in God’s image and He called His creation “good.” To be overly critical of our appearance to is to be critical of how God knit us together in our mother’s womb.

3. Time and money is an indicator of the importance we place on our looks.
We tell our daughters that they are valuable because they belong to God, but then we can spend an awful lot of money enhancing those looks, often based on the culture around us! To put so much emphasis on appearance and to be overly proud of our appearance is not “walking humbly with God” or giving Him the glory for His creation. It’s good to look our best, but there must be a balance.
We do need to take care of ourselves for our health, to put our best foot forward, and ultimately, to honor God’s creation. Sometimes it does cost money to stay well groomed, but it can get out of hand pretty quickly. Stewardship comes in to play in every area of our lives and our children see it all.

4. Avoid reality TV—in all forms.
Celebrities get attention from their looks, which our daughters do not realize is greatly enhanced by lighting, camera angles, and the biggie: hours of work by professional makeup artists. We understand that “reality TV” is anything but reality, but nowadays, reality TV spills beyond the television and into Instagram stories, Snapchat videos, YouTube, and more. Girls may not realize just how much time and money these stars spend to build carefully manicured public appearances–even in so-called “behind the scenes” Instagram videos.

5. Encourage attributes beyond looks — focus on doing rather than appearing.
Admire strength, manners, kindness, determination, or creativity. “I love it when you help your sister!” is still encouraging, but also emphasizes valuable traits like cooperation. “Tell me about your day” invites sharing information and feelings. Look for ways to take the focus off of self.

Give your girls opportunities to serve. Does your church or youth group have activities that focus on community service? Maybe a food pantry ministry or elderly who could use help or even a friendly visit? Fill their hearts with good and positive things. Teach your girls we were made for God’s glory, not our own.

Helpful Resources:

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Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

For Adults

Tips for Making the Most of Your Family’s Summer

Summer! Ice cream and cook outs. Staying up late and sleeping in. No homework and no alarm clocks. With all of the fun and freedom of the summer season, it will pass in the blink of an eye. How can we make this summer count in the lives of our teens and the story of our family?

1. Talk about it.

Set a goal for something you want to achieve this summer. Would you like to learn a skill? Explore a strength your teen has? Find a new way to serve as a family? Build on a relationship? Go on an adventure? Try something new? Take time to talk about it as a family and brainstorm your ideas for goals you can set as a family. (Bonus Handout: Check out our list of summer activities for inspiration.)

2. Schedule it.

Set realistic goals and mark it on the calendar. For most teens, summer is only 11 or 12 weeks long. That means there are only 12 Saturdays to make the most of! When you add in summer camps, family vacations, and church events, much of the summer is already planned out.
Choose one thing to focus on this summer with your teen or family, then put it on the calendar. Scheduling it gives you the best chance that it will actually happen. If your schedule is tight, you may only have one or two Saturdays this summer to set aside for your goal. If you have more open time, you might be able to spend one day each week or month focused on your goal. If you are a parent, you may still work full time, or if you are a youth leader, you may be seeing your students even less frequently in the summer. Don’t be discouraged if you only have a small amount of time with your teen! Even a small amount of time is powerful if we invest it wisely.

3. Look to the future.

Go ahead and start planning a fall schedule for your family. Make sure your your calendar reflects your priorities. Whether is it serving together, learning together, or spending time together, block out a time every month to continue to grow with your teen.

We only get 5 summers with our teenagers. Let’s invest these days, not just spend them.

Start a Conversation with Your Teen

  • What do you think is the most important thing on our schedule this summer?
  • Is there something you have always wanted to try, but never gotten the chance?
  • If you had $100 to do something new, what would you spend it on?
  • What is something that you could spend time doing this summer that you would be proud of?

Need help with coming up with a goal for your family? Check out our list for inspiration!

We also have a blog post on making the most of the summer geared for teens! Share this post with your teen daughter or a teen girl in your life.

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For Girls

How to Have the Best Summer EVER

By Rachel Bryant

“I’m so bored!”

We have all muttered that at some time or another, especially in summertime. The summer becomes an easy time to feel this way – your friends are out of town, you’re stuck at the house all day, your phone battery died… It’s easy to forget summer is actually a pretty great time! Not to sound too much like a grown-up, but, seriously, summers are AWESOME! All that free time to do whatever you like, see your friends at camp, sleep in, go on family vacations—the list goes on! (#alittlejealous)

BUT.

You have to decide: Are you going to waste the whole summer? Or make it count?
Summers are so full of opportunities that you will only have in your teenage years; don’t miss out on them! The Bible tells us over and over again to “make the most of our time,” to not waste our days, and to be “good stewards” of the time we are given (Ephesians 5:15-16, Colossians 4:5, Proverbs).

Now, I give you full permission to spend the first week or two sleeping in, catching up on Netflix, eating junk food, and just taking a mental break from the brain-melting cramming for exams. But don’t let one or two weeks turn into the whole summer—before you know it, you’ll be saying “I’m so bored!”

So, what is there to do? To answer that, you have to figure out what you want out of your summer and what resources are available to you.

Some activities require planning far in the future. Being a part of E-TEAM or Truth & Peace Leadership Conference are really great experiences that can have a big impact on your life, future, and friendships—or even your college and career path decisions! However, to participate in these, you have to plan months in advance. (I highly recommend both of these opportunities. Plan now and you can apply for 2019!)

Other summer plans don’t take as much planning, but still require some effort. What kinds of things are you are really interested in? Maybe there are internship or volunteer opportunities related to your interests in your community.

  • Do you like animals? Call around to local veterinary clinics to see if they need to hire a part-time kennel assistant, or maybe the zoo in your city has a volunteer program.
  • Are you interested in medicine? Most hospitals have student volunteer programs.
  • If you like clothes or fashion, look for opportunities to blog or write about products you enjoy, or get a summer job at a store where you like to shop.
  • Love to read or help others learn? Plenty of libraries have summer reading programs for teens to help tutor kids.
  • Does your church have a VBS? They might need teen volunteers to work with the kids.

You never know what can turn into a paid job or get you connected to new opportunities. No matter what kind of opportunity you pursue, you are sure to learn a lot of new skills and ideas that can help you in the future as you apply for colleges, trades schools, and jobs. Plus, any jobs, volunteer positions, or internships will look great on a resume or college application!

Lastly, there will be some activities this summer that all you have to do is show up for!

  • What is your church youth group doing this summer? Are they planning a mission trip or a ministry opportunity? Make sure to attend these things and help out where you can.
  • Is your family going on a vacation? Google the destination so you can suggest a cool place to eat or visit to while you’re there.
  • Are there things you would love to learn? I know, I know, you’re on summer break! But I don’t mean like school—things you want to learn because you’re actually interested! Thanks to the amazing Internet, you can stay home and learn a new language, learn photography or how to cook, or learn all kinds of DIY things. (Maybe you can even sell some cool DIY projects and make $$!) Check out Pinterest for summer activity ideas and DIY tutorials.

Summer is here and it will be gone before you know it. Think about all the possibilities! What are you going do with the time you are given?

A Few Things to Think About

  • If you could do anything in the world you wanted to, if money, time, and logistics were all possible, what would you do? Where would you go?
  • Have you thought about what you want to do when you grow up? Or what your dream job would be?
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us there is a “season for everything.” What do you think this “season” is in your life? What is God’s purpose in this “season”? How are you seeking Him and His plans for this season of your life?
For Adults

6 Steps to Triumph Over Stress

by Elizabeth Hodges

Stress is a familiar part of life for all of us. We may express stress in different ways, but we are all know the familiar tense reaction to the tough or busy parts of our days and weeks. When you feel that stress pressing in on you, do you deal with the root of your stress or just the symptoms? Do you try to alleviate stress at its cause, or just delay dealing with it?

One of the tools Satan uses to keep us defeated is STRESS. So how do we overcome stress? As believers, we are meant to depend on God—His Word and His strength. We must be able to admit that we are weak, vulnerable, and not self sufficient in order to accept God’s help with our stress.

1. Sit at Jesus’ feet — Study the Word

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll once described an anecdote about his friend, Bob. One day, Chuck went to visit Bob at Bob’s office. As Chuck approached the office, he heard the melody, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” When Chuck looked in the office window, what he saw made an indelible impression on the young Chuck. Bob was on his knees, in his office, with his open Bible. Seeing Bob, Chuck felt as if he was standing on “holy ground.” Bob never knew he was being observed, but what an impact he had on the young Chuck Swindoll—who in turn has had such an impact on the Christian community.

Susanna Wesley, mother of 17, would throw her apron over her head when she needed time with her Lord. I’m sure we have all felt moments like that! Her children knew not to disturb her at those moments she spent with God. Wonder what impact that made on John and Charles? Just read the lyrics of the many hymns penned by these brothers.

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus contrasts the choices of Mary and Martha. Do you ever find yourself “cumbered about”—juggling way too many balls at one time? A friend once shared with me, “If I must be a Martha, please give me a Mary heart.”

Being busy seems to be my lot in life, like Martha. But I want to know when to be quiet. To kneel in solitude, throw an apron over my head, or simply sit, like Mary, at my Savior’s feet.

2. Trust in the Lord

Have you seen the saying, Sometimes the Lord calms the storm; sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child?

We will have stress in our lives because we live on this earth. There’s no way around it! The good news is, we know the ONE who is in control (John 16:33). How often do we come boldly to the throne of God with our problems and petitions, only to pick them right back up when we walk away? Yet we know God clothes the lilies of the field, feeds the birds, and has our hairs numbered….will He not be concerned about the things that trouble us? Are we not more valuable than the flowers or birds? (Matthew 6:25-34)

Paul challenges us in Philippians 4:8 to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. How much of our “thinking time” is invested in these categories, and how much is devoted to worry?

3. Rest

REST: Sleep is a gift from God. How often do we thank Him for this everyday, yet priceless, gift? Sleep does for our bodies what nothing else can do. When we are sick or have surgery, we sleep to heal! But when you are in distress, troubled, stressed, do you find yourself spending more hours fretting than sleeping? Do you let stress keep you awake at night? Lying in bed only to roll and tumble with your mind going 90-to-nothing? Amy Carmichael said, “In acceptance lieth peace.” This may be easy to say… but oh so hard to practice in our daily lives!

Jesus drew away from others to spend time with HIS Father as HE ministered here on earth. If even He, being God, needed to be refreshed, how much more do we need rest and refreshment? We must rest knowing God is in control and does all things well. Deuteronomy 33:27 tells us no matter how heavy the load, there is always room UNDERNEATH for the everlasting arms of God.

4. Encourage others

Philemon 7 tells us that Philemon ministered to Paul, and Paul has in turn ministered to us through his pen. Who could say that you refreshed their heart and spirit?

Share what God is teaching you with others. They may be in desperate need of what you have learned or are learning. Do you have an accountability friend who will love you regardless of anything you may bring into discussion? A close friend who can see more clearly than you when you are IN the forest, a friend who will guard your confidences? Thank God for such a friend, then express your gratefulness to that person. Are you such a friend to others?

Romans 16:1-2 tell us briefly of Phoebe. She was a sister, a servant, and a succourer, or a great help. Who can you serve and minister to?

Take a moment to reflect: Do I encourage others in tangible ways in their love language?

5. Strengthen the “inner woman”

REFOCUS: Step back from your normal routine and refocus your priorities. Are you spending time and effort on things that ultimately do not matter? Or are you spending time on things that will strengthen you, build up your family, or encourage others?

RECREATE: What brings you relief, enjoyment, and pleasure? How many hours of your time are devoted to this pursuit? Make some of these activities, including relaxation, a priority.

Balance is key. Work hard when it is time to work and then enjoy your relaxation and recreation time. It’s easy to feel guilty when there is more to be done. But we will never get it all done! So we must do our BEST, then TRUST God with the rest.

6. Serve others

When you are serving others, you cannot be self-centered. Selfishness and service do NOT occupy the same “heart space.” If we model Jesus’ servant heart, we will develop a sensitive spirit. We will listen… not always talk. We will be available when needed. When we are “others-focused,” our own problems do not seem quite so overwhelming. Isaiah 40:31 is God’s promise to us.

Triumph over stress in this fast-paced world where we live and serve is found in a quiet heart. We must pursue and develop a quiet heart that is stayed on/focused on God. This heart must then be housed in a vessel fit for the Master’s use. May God help each of us as we develop such a heart.

Sit at Jesus’ feet — Study the Word
Trust in the Lord
Rest
Encourage others
Strengthen the “inner man/woman”
Serve others

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For Girls

Stressed Out: A God’s Girl’s Guide to Streamlining Stress

By Beth Bryant

Let’s be clear about one thing: stress is a part of life.

It affects every human, and teen girls are certainly no exception. With so many different activities, commitments, and social pressures, girls are susceptible to plenty of stressors—especially when you add in hormones, technology, and relationships! It’s important for God’s Girls to learn how to manage everyday stress in order to be healthy and focused—and better serve the Kingdom of God.

Unmanaged, chronic stress can lead to depression or anxiety. Stress can come from many directions, and it can be helpful to figure out where the greatest amount of stress is coming from so that you can better deal with it. For teen girls, stress can come from a demanding schedule, physical health and hormones, relationships with family, friends, and boys, or even from a sudden transition, like starting a new school or moving to a new place.

Once the source of stress is identified, you can take practical steps to get it under control:

Managing Your Schedule

  • Prioritize your activities. Even if an activity is good, it might not be a wise idea to add it to an already overflowing schedule. Prayerfully and critically consider what can be cut from your schedule to give you more free time.
  • Make time to relax. Spend a small amount of time each day, even just 20 minutes, on something you enjoy. Do you like to read? Ride a bike? Color, draw, or crochet? Low-key activities you can put down and pick back up easily are great for getting some “you” time.
  • Sync a family calendar. If you can see everyone else’s commitments in the same place, it will help you be more prepared for things like meals and rides, and cut down on stress.

Staying on Top of School

  • Keep a planner that contains due dates and reminders to keep track of tests and projects. (And actually USE IT!)
  • Plan your day. Make sure you schedule time to study—if you can, the same time each day.
  • Ask for help. If you’re struggling with algebra or writing a paper, ask a teacher who can help you or give you pointers.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute.

A Healthy You

  • Track your periods. You might not be completely regular, but that’s okay. If you can figure out when they’re coming, you can prepare emotionally and otherwise.
  • Get the right amount of sleep. Both too much and too little sleep can be damaging physically and emotionally. Studies show 9-10 hours is about the right amount for middle and high school age girls.
  • Get some sunshine! Take a walk, sit by a window.
  • Eat for nutrition. Toss the junk food (most of the time!) and opt for nutrient-packed foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grain.

Real Relationships

  • Communicate with your parents/guardians. It may seem annoying, but lack of communication causes stress and plenty of arguments. Let them know what’s going on at school and how you’re feeling emotionally. Make sure you’re clear on what’s expected of you and do your best to honor them.
  • Steer clear of “friends” who make you feel bad about yourself or pressure you into acting different from who you really are.
  • Limit time with any one particular friend. It’s great to have a BFF, but even besties need space. Try to spend time with different people.
  • Limit time on Instagram, Facebook, and other virtual social networks. Remember, people only share their highlights. Everything on social media isn’t real life!
  • Focus on friendships with guys instead of intense romantic relationships—at least in this stage of your life. This will keep the stress level down and allow you room to figure out who you are and what you want in a guy when the time is right.

Big Changes

  • Find a project to focus on. In the middle of big change like moving, starting a new school, family changes, or another life event, keeping up with a reading list or a creative project can help you stay centered.
  • Talk to a trusted adult who can help you sort through your stress or hurt.

So, what now? Even after taking these practical steps, we aren’t guaranteed that everything will be easy. Life is still tough! Sin in the world messes up God’s perfect plan, so we have to deal with stuff like stress. But God loves us and promises in Hebrews 13:5 that He will NEVER leave us alone. Jesus understands what you’re dealing with, and in Hebrews 4:16, He tells us how to respond to our stress:

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God tells us to ask for His help when we need it! The result?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7)

When we take practical steps to manage our stress and rely on our relationship with God to give us the strength we need to respond to it properly, we can face stress with peace and confidence.

For a printable version of this list, check out the Resources page.

For Adults, For Girls

The eXit Strategy

By Rachel Bryant

The eXit strategy is a pre-planned strategy that gives teens a way out of uncomfortable or unsafe situations without the fear of being made fun of for wanting to leave.

So what’s the plan?

If a teen is at a friend’s house, a party, or anywhere else, and wisely decides, for whatever reason, that she needs to not be there anymore, this prearranged agreement can help her exit the uncomfortable situation. When the teen realizes she needs to leave, she sends a text with a pre-planned code to a parent or trusted adult. This can be one word, number, or even just one letter (example: X).

When the parent or adult receives the “code word” text, they immediately call the teen and tell them there is an emergency at home and that the teen either needs to come home now or the adult will come get her right now.

Once the teen is safe at home, the parent or adult allows the teen some time to think over the situation. After a period of time, such as the next morning, the adult and teen sit down together to discuss the situation calmly. They discuss what happened, the teen’s good decision to leave the uncomfortable situation, and how to make good choices in the future.

And how does the plan work?

In order for this strategy to be effective, both you and the teen must commit to stick to the plan. When you and the teen discuss this strategy beforehand, you both must make agreements:

Parent/Adult Agrees To:

  • Quickly call teen back with “emergency”
  • Don’t ask questions on the phone
  • Be calm when you pick them up or when they arrive home
  • Validate the teen’s decision to use the exit strategy and text an adult
  • Give teen time to think about situation and be ready to listen calmly during discussion

Teen Agrees To:

  • Text adult as soon as you feel uncomfortable
  • Answer your phone when they call back
  • Listen and be honest during discussion
  • Think about ways to better handle or avoid similar situations in the future

For a printable version of this, check out the Resources page.