An Open Apology to ‘Karen’
But now, this is what the LORD says–He who created you … He who formed you … :
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine’ (Isaiah 43:1–NIV).
Confession: The name Karen hasn’t been a favorite. That’s not to say it’s outrightly disliked. I simply mean that I’d probably not have chosen it if I were naming a daughter or, let’s say, helping pick a name for a grandbaby.
Honestly, I feel guilty even admitting this. After all, I know and have known many wonderful Karens (no matter how it’s spelled), but more on that in a minute.
Truth is, the name Karen has gotten a pretty bad rap lately, apparently because a woman with this name acted shamefully–tattled-tailed and got her feathers all in an uproar. Gaining media attention, Karen’s now equated with white privilege–though I’m sure there are plenty of African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American Karens out there.
Karen as a pejorative hasn’t always been. In the early 1990s, it was Becky–and I know some pretty amazing, beautiful Beckys, too. If one desires to know more concerning the origin of such, or perhaps needs, as I did, the definition for ‘pejorative,’ there’s a Wiki for it. (Click Karen!)
In a nutshell, the current definition of a Karen is–entitled, selfish, and complaining. In a word, a Karen is a curmudgeon, minus the part about necessarily being old, though I’m certain there’s a plethora of elderly Karens out there, too. I happen to know at least one.
So, back to my personal experience with Karen, because I will only speak from personal experience.
I guess the reason this particular name hasn’t been a favorite has something to do with my earliest experience with someone bearing this name. Spelled Karyn, she was a childhood friend. Our moms were pals, and she had an older brother named Brian. He, too, was a chum.
As I recall, Karyn was nice enough. Younger than me, she wasn’t bossy, though I faintly remember that she may have had the disposition to be so. Of that I’m not sure, but she did something that I’ve never forgotten, though, being a maturing Christian woman, I’ve certainly forgiven.
On one occasion when we’d visited Karyn’s home in a neighboring town, my mom packed for us–my sister and me–several books. One, a Golden Book entitled Little Mommy, was a favorite of mine, perhaps beyond any other.
Somehow, when it was time to depart, that particular picture book was forgotten. I have no recollection when I realized it was missing, nor do I remember how long we were separated. All I know, the proof being in the pudding, is that this precious book which belonged to me–even had my name inscribed by my mother right inside its front cover–was claimed for Karyn’s own, simply because it was left behind. (The nerve!)
This offense, minor as it may seem to most, sadly threatened to forever taint the name Karen, at least for me, and it’s taken many more Karens, spanning many years, to redeem this name, I am very sorry (and somewhat embarrassed) to say.
But here I am–nearing the completion of my fifty-first year and still hopelessly imperfect, but for the grace of God.
Thankfully, He sent many wonderful Karens to my life, and to each of them, as well as to my childhood friend, I want to offer this–
An open apology.
First, to Karyn who tried to steal my favorite storybook–I ask for your forgiveness for harboring any ill will toward you. I don’t blame you for the times I struggled as a young mom–when I tried in vain to get my sleepless son to slumber. It wasn’t your fault, and Little Mommy offered no help in this area anyway. I’ve long since forgiven you for attempting to take my book. Karyn, let’s allow bygones to be bygones, hence forth–now and forever.
To Karen–my first co-worker at the clothing store where we were both employed, whose infant son became a regular in our home when I was seventeen … I enjoyed our time together. I’ve never told you this, and I’ve never held you responsible, but I must now confess, all these years later. You left a cigarette lit in the back storeroom, and I snuck a drag on it, though I didn’t really even inhale–just kind of puffed on it to see what it would be like. That was the one and only time I’ve ever smoked, if it can really even be called that. I bore the weight of guilt immediately, and I’m relieved now, simply getting this off my chest. To you, Karen, I’m sorry for the cigarette incident.
To Caryn–one of my dearest friends when we both taught at LCA … you were and are beautiful inside and out. So artistic and talented–a lover of Jesus to the very core, just being with you made me want to know my Savior more, and I’m forever grateful. One time you confided in me something having to do with your late husband. My Bill was his friend, and I, feeling insecure and afraid, shared with him what you’d shared, which stirred up some troubles between the two of them for a bit. Perhaps I did the right thing; perhaps not. Either way, I ask for your forgiveness for any strife I may have caused you. You were and always have been, though miles have separated us for more than twenty-five years, so dear to me. A true prayer warrior, you are, Caryn, as written by the late Elisabeth Elliot–
one of God’s hidden ones whose strength lies in nothing explainable by personality or heredity, but in Him who is Rock, Fortress, and Might, who is, ‘in the darkness drear their one true light,’ whose distant song of triumph steals on our ears sometimes and makes our hearts brave again and our arms strong (from Keep A Quiet Heart, p. 128).
To Allie’s pediatrician and my friend Karin … Thank you for being an attentive physician, always caring for your patients. We loved having your children over several years ago–picking blackberries with them, swinging and swimming in the pond. They’re dears, like their momma. I’m so sorry we haven’t done that again. Let’s rectify that! Anytime you want to take a day off and splash with me, I’m game–perhaps prior to school starting. Which brings me to another apology, Karin–though over this I hold no control. I’m sorry your kids can’t experience their first year of high school live and in person. I’m sure they’re disappointed. As a loving, devoted mother, I know you are too.
To our sons’ friend’s mom Caryn … To my own dear friend’s mom Karen … To the fun-loving wife of our electrician Karen … To our fellow small group sister in Christ Karen … To the wife (also my friend) of our former pastor Karen …
To every Karen / Caryn / Karyn / Karin everywhere …
I am beyond sorry for the negativity your name has gained because of one woman bearing that same name who tainted it for many. Perhaps she was having a bad day. Maybe, sadly, she is a racist. Undoubtedly, she, like me, is sinful and in need of a Savior.
Tomorrow it will be someone else. Like Becky of the 1990s and Kyle, which is apparently the male version of “Karen” today, another name will be defamed and tainted and run through the dirt.
But there’s something I desire for each of you to know if you know nothing else. No matter what others might say, no matter what negativity your name might bring, your name was known long before you were born. Not only that, but the One who knew it knew you–inside and out, with all your faults and frailty.
And He loves you–no matter what. More than that, He calls you–
That’s what your name really means.
So, the next time you hear someone on the news use your name in a derogatory manner or you happen to read a meme that bears the phrase “Don’t be a Karen,” remember the true meaning of your name. And then, hear the words of your sweet Savior, as he reminds all of us–
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8–NIV).
Then hold your head up, and hear Him speak His promise over you, saying–
You are Mine.
Karen–what a beautiful, beautiful name! (Definitely one of my very favorites!)
Dear Jesus, please help us be more like a Karen. Help us desire purity in our lives that we might …
See You more clearly …
Love You more dearly …
Follow You more nearly …
Day by day.
P.S. For my hippy friend Karen who loves and appreciates anything groovy, here’s a link to Day by Day from the 1973 production of Godspell. Peace, sister!