wholeness, not shame.

August 12, 2011

I recently came across Donald Miller’s blog post, “How to Live a Great Love Story, Vol 1 (For the Girls)” and felt confused. I’ve asked for opinions from others. I’ve read the whole thing multiple times. I’ve tried to find a way to justify his words and his tone, but I just can’t get over the fact that I’m offended.

First, let me say that this is going to be a long post, but I do hope that you’ll read the entire thing. I’d love to hear your responses too!

Second, I need to preface this response by saying that I really do believe he had good intentions with this post. He is a talented and wise writer who has transformed the spiritual lives of so many, including myself. So rather than talk about how ridiculous Donald Miller is (because he’s not), I’m going to unpack my thoughts on the content of the post. This is a response about the writing, not the character of the man.

Now that we cleared that up, here are my issues with it…


The first thing that caught me off guard was how much this post deviates from his usual tone and language, which is filled with grace. Instead of offering women encouragement during their season of singleness, his language inflicts feelings of shame, guilt and regret:

“…guys don’t hook up with girls they would marry. They marry the girls they get nervous around and are made to pursue. So, if you become a “hook up” girl you get labeled, in the minds of guys as a girl you really don’t have to fight for. And when your husband finds out you were the “hook up” girl he’s going to have to have a lot of grace, which is fine, it just puts you in the category of “charity” in his mind and not “equal” or “partner.” He may still love you, but he will have serious questions about whether you’re in the kind of shape it takes to [live a great love story with].”

Oh gosh, where do I begin? I have no regrets and have dealt with my past, yet I find myself feeling so ashamed and unworthy after reading that section. Charity? Not an equal or partner? That is harsh beyond harsh, and so untrue. In fact, ladies, if you ever meet a man to puts you in the charity category, he’s not the man to marry–no matter what you’ve done in your past! And regarding the need for a lot of grace…don’t we all need a lot of grace? What about pride, or lust or envy? Don’t those sins require a lot of grace? I can’t help but think of the parable of the adulterous woman in John 8:

At dawn [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery…When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”…

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Yes, we are accountable to our past. And yes, that can be difficult to share with a man who you are going to marry; however, we are all sinners and in desperate need for grace. Some sins are public and some sins are private, but sin is sin. Whether we have been intentionally promiscuous or were victims of sexual abuse, there is never a reason for anyone to throw stones. It’s important to deal with the past, but also to understand that a man worth living a love story with would never make you feel ashamed.


According to this post, single women need to “be willing to suffer” in order to live a great love story:

“What this means for you is that your love story needs to have a lot of lonely crying in it. Believe it or not, there will come a day when a man will fall madly in love with you and you will have the honor of sitting down with him one special night to explain that, while you weren’t perfect, you turned down plenty of guys and and cried yourself to sleep hoping somebody would come around and treat you with respect.”

Lonely crying? Is that really the only option for single women who want to experience true love? If so, then I certainly did everything wrong. Yes, some yearn for love more than others, but does that mean that in order to live a real-life love story we need to sit at home and cry about how desperate we are for a man to come rescue us from the pain of being alone? No, not at all.


After all of that nonsense above about how to live a great love story, the blog post then addresses what to do if you’ve “completely screwed this up.”

Be honest about it. Don’t hide it. If you went through a slutty season, don’t act like you were a helpless victim, a sweet girl who got caught up. You probably weren’t…

You shouldn’t share a bunch of details, but you should definitely share you went through a slutty season and have very few, if any, excuses…

You’re going to marry a man, not men. So cut the slutty dresses and Facebook photos…

Is it ever okay for someone to refer to a woman as “slutty,” let alone an influential Christian writer? I didn’t think so, but maybe that became okay language to use in the past few years while I’ve been distracted by my kind, respecting husband Brian. Regardless, it’s not okay in my book and I really don’t appreciate it. How can someone expect women who have already “screwed up” to ever grasp their self-worth when they are referred to with such degrading language?

Did you read Donald Miller’s blog post? What’s your response?

UPDATE (August 12): Shortly after I posted these thoughts, Donald Miller removed the offensive blog post and issued a public apology on his blog in response to the many who sent feedback to him. You can read about his deletion of the original post here.

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  • Reply Karen August 12, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Well said. And respectfully so. Wish DM had displayed that sort of respect in his post.

  • Reply theoneyearchallenge August 12, 2011 at 3:36 am

    Wholeheartedly agree. He succeeded in making me feel completely worthless – and I’m not a slut, not even a reformed one. I’m a woman who is trying to correct my relationship course and make better decisions and those condemning words failed to encourage me that there is even a remote possibility of being part of a great love story. I lost all respect for him.

  • Reply cody August 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    If a man lies habitually, is it ok to refer to him as a liar? Or is that too offensive? Is it wrong if your lady friends warn you to stay away from him because he’s bad news, or is the proper response, “Hey, we’re all sinners, God forgives”?

  • Reply natalielynnborton August 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you for your comments! I appreciate hearing your responses.

    Cody, I think you bring up a valid point. There is definitely a fine line between recognizing that sin happens/extending grace, and condoning sinful behavior. I’m not suggesting that women should be able to be promiscuous and not be accountable for it, but rather refuting to two major issues: (1) the statement made that women who have gnarly pasts are not equals or partners, and (2) the use of shame-inducing language that only makes the problem worse.

    I think the big problem is that we shouldn’t define others by their sin, nor define ourselves by our sin. We are always one prayer away from a clean slate.

  • Reply Kenna August 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    You speak life Natalie! Thanks for sharing your encouraging thoughts. As for that blog post… it is now a 404 error message and DM wrote this in its place.

    This is quite a testament to take in all information you come in contact with on a daily basis with the utmost discernment. You never know if something that you read was written on a whim – with little thought, research and consideration – then posted for the masses to see.

    The good news is that God loves His daughters in the midst of everything, including decisions that do more harm that good. Which means he also loves DM in the midst of a blog post that also did exactly that.

  • Reply natalielynnborton August 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Ahhh, thanks Kenna!

    I noticed last night that the post was deleted…more on that in the next blog post :)

    Thanks for reading and for sharing your reflections. You are a true sister of mine in Christ and I’m thankful always for your wisdom. Looking forward to our next lunch date :)

  • Reply Catherine August 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Natalie this was a great post, I am glad you wrote this. And as to your selection from John 8 – that is SUCH an important message to help us understand the difference between shame and guilt. Was the woman guilty? Yes. But notice how Jesus silently waits for every single other person to leave before he goes and talks to her. Her guilt is nobody’s business but His and hers, and there is nothing holy about the public shaming she was slated for.

    I think a lot of Christians go nuts about sexual sins when, as you point out, they require the same grace and forgiveness that ALL sins do. Why do we see sexual sins as the ones that “taint” us, the ones for which Jesus’ love isn’t enough? I know many girls who think of themselves as “dirty” because of a few unfortunate events even though they’re willing to hand everything else over to God. Miller’s post is the kind of thinking that fans that horrible flame, and I am so glad you addressed it and brought him to take it down.

  • Reply Rebecca August 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    i love this!!

  • Reply Lindsey August 12, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I am thoroughly disgusted and pissed off he would write such an offensive article. That really fires me up. I don’t believe one word and I have a great husband who loves and respects me and never once did I feel that way when I was single! Come on DM get it together.

  • Reply cody August 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm


    I see what you mean about pushing back against the idea that just because someone has a bad past, they’re not equal partners with their mate. That’s a good point.

    At the same time I still think hard, offensive words need to be spoken into this issue, though. If you see a guy around town picking up a new girl every week and hear stories about how he uses women for sex, and then see that same guy hitting on your good friend, is your response, “He’s your equal”?

    I hope not. I hope you tell her the truth. That man is a womanizer. He’s sleezy, he’s conniving. He’s a straight up liar. Are these offensive terms? You bet. We need offensive terms for offensive situations. For offensive behaviors. Since when are TERMS more offensive than the behavior behind the terms?

    Can sleezball be forgiven? Of course. But is that the word he needs to hear right now? Doesn’t he need someone in his life saying, “Dude, I know all your friends think it’s cool what you’re doing, but I gotta be honest, I think it’s pretty disgusting. You’re not fit for a good woman. There is no way I’d trust you with any of my sisters, or my friends for that matter. They deserve better than you.”

    Can this guy change? Of course. Can he be forgiven? Of course. But his wife is going to have to have a lot of grace, isn’t she? What if after 5 years of marriage they walk into a restaurant and it turns out he hooked up with half the waitresses, including the one serving his family? Will she feel proud of her husband?

    Don was saying, Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that girl. Because you bring those issues into your marriage. Don’t ever hook up with someone you’re not married to. And if you are, stop and don’t ever do it again. And don’t pretend that it happened to you. You made the choice, and your spouse is going to have to have a lot of grace, because that’s not an easy thing to deal with.

  • Reply natalielynnborton August 12, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Catherine & Rebecca – Thank you!!

    Lindsey – So glad you have a good husband to affirm and respect you. What a blessing it is!

    Cody – I agree with nearly all of what you’re saying, with the following exceptions:

    1. I don’t think offensive words are required to express much-needed change in someone’s life. I think this is especially important when those offensive terms are used in an over-generalized manner and published to millions of people. Have I ever used offensive words to help a friend realize her wrong-doing? I’m sure I have. But that was in private, and it was tailored to the way she needed to be communicated with. I’d say it’s more of an exception than a rule.

    2. As someone who is married, and as a human being who has made a million mistakes, I understand just how much grace is required to live a good love story; however in Don’s post the stress was on how much grace men need to have for women who have messy pasts, rather than on the need for BOTH partners to have grace for one another because we all bring baggage into relationships. There’s a difference, and an imbalanced emphasis in my opinion.

    Ultimately, Don and you both have very valid points about the importance of pursuing purity and of owning up to our behaviors, but the way the points were communicated was the downfall (i.e. language and tone). Like I’ve said, good intentions, poor delivery!

  • Reply cody August 13, 2011 at 1:31 am

    On point 1, you seem to be saying that because the audience was a large crowd, non-offensive language is the best way to go. But when the behavior is offensive, the truth should be told. Hundreds of people told Don that they needed to hear what he said even though it hurt.

    Point 2: Don was addressing women in this post. That’s why he mentioned how much grace their future spouse is going to have in this area. The post was about sex.  Don didn’t say that men are faultless. That is something you read into it. 

    I think the delivery and tone were spot-on, evidenced by the hundreds of people who thanked him for the posts exactly as they were. It’s actually really good to see that in our don’t-offend-me-culture, Don was willing to speak hard truth into it and it worked. Unfortunately his blog is part of his livelihood, and when people get offended they won’t buy his books, and he ultimately had to apologize. (He spent the first week defending his posts, only to take them down after too many people were offended.)

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