A few nights ago found me at a dinner theater, silently viewing the musical Annie from a darkened front-row table. I watched with mixed emotions: A lot of nostalgia, yes; but high school also marked the upturn of one of the most challenging years of my life, replete with ostracizing social experiences, mostly of a “mean girls” theme.

I remember many vignettes from that year. There was the day when someone said, “Wow! You actually dressed cool today!” Or the time when I walked away from a group of girls and heard them mimicking things I’d said. I recall the fear that seized my heart whenever certain girls would pass me in the hall and the jealousy when people admired them. Even more, I remember the cute guy a grade older than me who made barking noises at me as I passed him and his friends during lunch hour.

A handful of pubescent pounds added to my social awkwardness and the middle of the year saddled me with oral surgery and braces. More critically I hit a crossroads in my faith: I was trying to pull out all the stops to serve God. Why was He letting me suffer like this? It was then that I discovered passages like the end of Isaiah 40, gently swathing me in God’s compassion and faithfulness.

At the end of the year, it shocked me as much as everyone else when I was handed a lead role in the musical. I’m sure this made some people more irritated than ever. But during the long evening practices, I made a few friends in high places and began to walk with a little more ease between classes.

There in the audience last week with memories swirling with each tune, I contemplated what I’ve come to know of God since then. After all, that certainly hasn’t been my only era in the outside circle. He knew I’d eventually face it at work, occasionally at church, and in college. I probably always will periodically, though it’s taking a break. Most of us know well the pain of being outsiders in some way.

God has used my times as an outsider to prepare me… to grow me into the woman He wants me to become. I am changed (am still being changed) because—like many of you, like many of your daughters—He has asked me to trust Him even when I am excluded, mocked, snubbed, ignored, unappreciated, marginalized, or in pain. And THAT is something He knows well. After all, He was like one from whom men hide their faces. But with Him, I’m always an insider. I can approach Him with confidence. And because of Jesus, I am always embraced.

4 ways to help your daughter through a mean girls experience:

1. Keep communication lines open, and be a safe place. Grant her encouraging, compassionate care. Do things she enjoys and invite friends with whom she feels secure. Without preaching, reassure her where her value comes from (i.e. God!)… making sure it’s modeled in your own life. (Tip: This is groundwork you can lay before anything bad happens—talking with her frequently, and praising her apart from her achievements and ability to win others’ approval.)

2. Pray with and for her.

• Pray for her wisdom and discernment.

• Pray that she would unfailingly return blessings for every insult, like Jesus did.

• Pray that God’s comfort, peace, and strength would surpass anything people can dish out.

• Pray that she’d have everything she needs to be godly.

• Pray for friends that will be a tangible expression of God’s love to her.

3. Help her to bless her enemies. Pray for the girls who are being so cruel. Remind her of what they may be going through (one of the girls who disliked me so strongly saw her parents divorce shortly after I left high school). Speak about the girls with respect; encourage her to guard her thoughts of them, never losing sight of their need for a Savior—and her own.

4. Look out for signs of depression or other clues that she may need to see a counselor. And if present seek help.

Editor’s Note: I think many of us can identify with at least part of Janel’s story. Mean girls (and boys) are everywhere. What would you add to the list above?