When my friend posted a link to the story of Joel Northrup—the 16-year-old Iowa wrestler who defaulted rather than wrestle a girl, Cassy Herkelman, in a state tournament last week—I was floored when my athletic, competitive friend said she had "mixed emotions" about his decision. I imagine this friend, had she pursued wrestling and not track and field in high school, would've wanted the opportunity to wrestle. Even if it meant competing against the boys.

My reaction to this story was decidedly unmixed. I think Joel should have wrestled Cassy.

Not that I don't get some of the issues at play here. I understand that teenage boys, as a rule, are stronger than teenage girls. I understand that boys wrestling girls could introduce some sexual awkwardness. I agree that the best-case scenario would be for Cassy to be able to wrestle in an all-girls wrestling conference.

But in this world, best-case scenarios almost never exist. So our job as Christians is to figure out how best to live and behave in these broken scenarios, how to be "salt and light" in every arena.

Which brings me back to Joel, since he cited his Christian faith as reason to default.

In his statement, Joel said, "Wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner."

I applaud Joel's decision to back away from any seeming violence toward girls. But I wonder why he thinks the Christian faith smiles on violence-for-fun against fellow boys. I'm confident that it doesn't. My guess is that his decision to default has more to do with his view of who is against him on the mat than it does with actual violence. And I think his refusal has more to do with his cultural view of girls than his Christian faith.

To those who are sympathetic to Joel's decision, no matter how strong and tough Cassy may be—after all, she made it to the state competition with a 20-13 record—she is still a girl. Therefore, she is too weak. Her girl-hood prevents her from being seen as someone who is gifted by God to use her body and her muscles and her spirit to wrestle. She is a would-be victim on the wrestling mat. Or, she's a sexual object. But a contender? Nah.

Every time I've thought about this story over the past couple of days, I think of my husband, Rafael, on his first day of class at the University of Illinois. To most students, having a girl sit down next to you wouldn't have been any big deal—a thrill maybe even. But Rafi was coming from an all-boys prep school. He hadn't sat next to a girl in school since eighth grade. He was thrown for a loop.

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Rafi told me that he couldn't think during that whole class period. He was so preoccupied with how to behave next to someone of the opposite sex. It was weeks before he focus if he sat next to a girl in class.

But Rafi overcame his issue by reminding himself of a startling truth: "She's just a person."

This story cracks me up. (Had I gone to college with him, I'd have been sure to sit extra close in class just to make him nuts.) But it's very revealing, I think, to how we are as sexual, gendered beings.

We screw things up when we focus too much on gender, when we forget that while we are each male or female, and that's a wonderful thing, we are also just people.

Jesus seemed to remember this well. He never saw women the way his culture did. He never treated them as they were "supposed" to be treated. Women who were not to be touched, Jesus touched. Women who should have been shunned, Jesus included. Women whose opinions didn't matter, Jesus sought. Women who were not to learn, Jesus taught.

That was the way Jesus behaved in a terrible-case scenario for women. He provided opportunities. He didn't shirk away because things could be awkward. He didn't ease up because women were weak. Jesus treated women like humans. Like breathing, feeling, thinking, capable people.

When Joel refused to wrestle Cassy, he took an opportunity away from her. An opportunity for her to shine using her own God-given strength and ability. An opportunity to win or lose, fair and square.

I don't mean to harp on Joel. I'm sure he's a good kid who clearly meant well. These thoughts aren't so much for him as they are for the rest of us as we wrestle with these sorts of issues all the time.

As Christians, when faced with less-than-best-case scenarios, we need to be in the business of affording others equal opportunities. Usually this means expanding our view of other people beyond how our culture would have us see them or how we think they are and getting it more in line with how Jesus sees them. Doing this usually means things get awkward. Doing this means we're stretched way beyond our comfort zone.

Doing this means we might need to step onto a mat and wrestle, not despite our faith but because of it.

Caryn Rivadeneira is a writer, speaker, and mother of three, and the author of Mama's Got a Fake I.D. as well as a book forthcoming from Tyndale House. She has written for Her.meneutics on parenting, boycotting Amazon, Halloween, burqas, fathers, Mother's Day, spanking, happiness, and pregnant Olympians.