I came across this article this afternoon about the pressure a lot of women feel to be perfect and make it look effortless. I’m fairly certain that a lot of women can understand this, and thinking about it took me back down memory lane for a bit.
Attending Spelman College (HBCU, all women), I vividly remember the competitive atmosphere. We were all told that we were the best and the brightest around the country, but I think it just hyped up all of our expectations when we hit the college campus. Of course you always saw the girls who were beasts in their majors. You were pretty well aware of the people who would get tapped for Phi Beta Kappa and would probably be the top 10 of the class. But outside of that, you also had the girls who were dominated student government, class councils, and sororities. Then you had the girls who were emerging entrepreneurs, starting businesses while succeeding in classes and involved on campus. And on top of that, you had the girls who participated in sports or at least wanted to maintain their appearance. They were the ones who were up at 5 am, running through the campus or hitting the gym even until the late night hours. And often times, you could find girls who seemed to have it all: looked great, had a great relationship, did well in their major, active on campus, and already starting a successful business venture on the side.
Trust me, it was a lot to take in, but it also gave room for a lot of resentment, negativity, and destructive behaviors. How? Well, often times, if you weren’t feeling like you measured up or were as “successful” as some of the other girls, you and your friends may resort to just talking about her. Eventually, that led to someone trying to point out at least one thing about that person that wasn’t that great, and everyone would jump on the criticism bandwagon. Left unchecked, that criticism led to resentment and bitterness. You would become negative toward that person (hostility) and even towards yourself (destructive behavior). Looking back, it was a vicious system that never actually dealt with a person’s lack of personal satisfaction and the pride and glory that we innately desire to “measure up” and “be somebody” in our own eyes, as well as the eyes of others.
Well, now that I’m several years removed from that environment, I realized that the vicious system only morphs as you grow older and move into different phases in your life. Even as a stay-at-home mom, I struggled with being the “perfect” homemaker…….like there is one! Even taking my daughter to her first play-date this week, I was anxious. Sitting with two mothers who each have only one child, granted my daughter was the oldest by 3 weeks, but the unspoken pressure was there. The conversations meandered through stories and then parenting practices. We talked about whether or not we adhered to standard safety practices, sleeping schedules, cry-it-out techniques, etc. And though I tried to remain open-minded, I felt like everything I was saying was being assessed and examined by these other moms and that they would form some kind of judgment of my parenting……and I felt this way because I knew I was doing the same thing. ……gotta call a spade, a spade, and a sin, a sin. Well, I felt bad about that, about doing that. I felt bad about the way I felt about myself too. I realized that I can always get frustrated with these other moms for random reasons, but at the end of the day, I need to deal with the matters of my own heart because that’s where my problem lies.
A couple of weeks ago, I was just reflecting on my life, thoughts, and feelings, and I made the statement: “Oh, I do that because I’m just a perfectionist. I’ve always been a perfectionist.” I began to continue my thoughts elsewhere, when I was mentally confronted about what I had just stated:
“Yes, you’ve always been a perfectionist, but why are you still a perfectionist?”
Trust me, I had to think about that for a moment. Truth be told, I’ve never seen a problem with it before. It’s been a fact of my life, but I reconsidered it. In that moment, various Scripture passages came to my mind reminding of the old man versus the new man, of being a new creation in Christ, of laying aside our old sinful nature, and even of personal righteousness being filthy rags. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had thoroughly accepted being a perfectionist as part of who I am and have never thought about having that part of me submitted and subjected to the authority of Christ and redeemed. It was just a part of my nature, but I’m claimed to have a new nature in Christ. It was just a part of my personality, but my goal and focus is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And though being a perfectionist didn’t seem that bad, being a perfectionist meant that I was constantly focused and consumed with my own actions and behaviors. It made me look to my own abilities and praise myself for meeting some external standard and measure that I personally derived that ultimately caused me to glory in myself and in my own abilities, rather than being completely dependent and focused on the gracious work of God. Perfectionism causes you to look inward, rather than God-ward.
Well, after wrestling through it, I did repent and thanked God for making me more and more aware of my sinful self and the general deceitfulness of sin. I also asked that the Lord would continue to make me more and more aware of when I was slipping back into that sin too, and of course, the moment you ask God to make you more aware of your sin, He graciously obliges you. Soon, I was constantly made aware of the slightest ways that I was entering into sin, and the play-date for my daughter was just one of those many times.
Whether it’s trying to be “perfect” or trying to measure up or even trying to be a perfectionist, you only look externally at others and at yourself. You deal with personal dissatisfaction about your own perceived failures, beat yourself up when you don’t make a goal, and punish yourself or withhold things from yourself because you don’t feel like you deserve it. Our eyes and thoughts become consumed with what we see others do, what we don’t do, expert opinions from people who don’t know a thing about us (for all of you article and blog readers), and every other thing you can possibly imagine except for Christ Himself. And I think that’s the biggest tragedy. We fail to turn our eyes back to the One who sees and knows us perfectly. We forget that our standard in all things and in every way is Christ Himself because only He has walked this earth perfectly. And if we did everything as perfectly as we personally desire, we would never depend on God the way that we do now.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions…But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:1-3, 6-7)
Outside of that, just being real, being that focused on yourself and how you measure up compared to others doesn’t really lead to Christ-like love anyway. I mean, I saw this in myself immediately. Instead of edifying each other, we either find ways to tear each other down OR we withhold godly encouragement when it could be really needed. We don’t think the best of each other, and we withhold genuine kindness. Basically, we just fail to love each other the way Christ commanded us to, and it’s so hurtful to the body of Christ! Proverbs 14:1 says: “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” Do you want to be the foolish one? Do you want to be the foolish woman that tears down the church of God with your own hands because you are selfishly consumed with yourself, rather than focused on Christ alone? God knows, I have no desire to be that woman, to even be associated with that woman, but I have to admit that unfortunately I’ve often shared her company.
If I can offer any exhortation and encouragement to my sisters in Christ today is to not make what is common in the world common within the household of God. Crucify your flesh, your selfish and sinful desires, and run to the cross! Cling to the cross! Make Christ your only standard, the only one you are measuring yourself by. Give up on trying to be perfect or comparing yourself to another woman. Only Christ is perfect, and all you can do is aspire to live a godly and holy life now. Remember that His blood cleanses you and that He has given you a new life, a new focus, a new goal…..to be conformed to His image, not the image of anyone else. And trust me, even that journey isn’t smooth and perfect. We’re told to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the hope that we can hold on to, with confident assurance, is that He who began a good work in us, will complete it ‘til the day of Christ. And what an amazing assurance that is! He will complete it, we will get there, and we will look like Him!
So, if that helped absolutely no one, it really helped me to sit down and go through all of these things and encourage myself. I remember a beautiful saying that I learned at my Colorado church: “All the ground is even at the foot of the cross.” We all stand in the same need of Christ, and all of our eyes should be looking upward at Him. Lord, help me to keep my eyes on You alone.