Naughty or Nice?
I just Googled “Naughty or Nice” and - oh dear - well just let me say, DON’T! I’m terrified of the pop-up ads that I’ll have to protect against going forward.
I was doing research on the origination of the phrase. You know, where it came from and how it got so assigned to girls. While I didn’t unearth the answer, I sure did discover the point I was suspecting: if a girl isn’t nice, she goes straight to naughty. Don’t pass Go. Don’t collect $200. And naughty is not a nice thing for women. It seems these days that those of us of the female gender who opt out of the nicey-nice posture are pretty much evil women of the night. There’s no in between.
Why is it so unacceptable for women who want to look like God – godly – to be other than nice? Or maybe even a more piercing question is how did “nice” become equated with “godly” for women? And how did naughty become our only other option?
I have Southern roots. While I was actually born in San Francisco, most of my growing up occurred in the South. Think Steel Magnolias here. Down South a phrase is used to – winky winky – criticize other women without veering from a certain sweet shellac: “Bless her heart.” Bless her heart can mean anything from “What a loser!” to “Look what she’s wearing!” to “She’s a tramp!” All in the garb of niceness.
I was pretty nice all the way up through high school. Then I became a Christian and I had to figure out what godly would look like next to nice. It was so confusing! Was Esther “nice” when she walked before Mordecai for “such a time as this”? Was Ruth “nice” when she lay at the feet of Boaz? Was Rahab “nice” when she covered up for the spies? Was Abigail “nice” when she told her foolish husband about David’s anger?
I Peter 3 talks about having a “gentle, quiet spirit.” Is that nice? Oh dear again. Does that mean that women who advocate for justice aren’t godly? Or those who peg the Enneagram 3 “achiever” are less than Jesus-like?
In recent history I’ve discovered a tendency to define nice as the absence of conflict. A seemingly perfect zone where my behavior produces no one disliking me, being mad at me or correcting me. Oh, and nice also results in others mirroring back the same version of nice. My husband. My kids and grandkids. Even my co-workers. I draw nice around me like a great Christian bubble that keeps all the bad away.
At what cost?
To be nice, I’ve been silent rather than speak up about troubling realities around me. To be nice, I’ve overlooked blatantly harmful choices in the lives of those I love. To be nice, I’ve actually denied that reality is reality – as if my refusal to admit it means it doesn’t exist.
Life is messy. People step off the edge of right and fall sometimes gradually and sometimes bombastically into wrong. So do I. Opinions differ inside and outside of the walls of the church. We will be disappointed and hurt and frustrated and grieved at the actions of those we love and at our own missteps. In the process of living life, we can make it our goal to be nice – or we can choose instead the goal of being real. Polite as possible and graciously honest – yes – but real.
Naughty or nice? Nice or naughty? Caught between these options, we women have a choice between varying less-thans. That’s it. Neither option calls us up to all we were created to live – in the image of our Maker.
I want to be like Jesus. There. Perhaps that settles the matter. Naughty or nice? Or nothing short of sold out.
Elisa Morgan is the author of You Are Not Alone. She is the cohost of the podcast, God Hears Her. She is also the cohost of Discover the Word and contributor to Our Daily Bread. Her other books include Christmas Changes Everything, When We Pray Like Jesus, The Beauty of Broken, and Hello, Beauty Full. Connect with Elisa @elisa_morgan on Twitter, and @elisamorganauthor on Facebook and Instagram.