Women: at any given time in our lives we are told, subliminally and literally, so many different things about who and what we are.
We are bold. Brilliant, brave, divine. We are loving, lovely, fierce and fine. We are game-changers and culture-makers and world-shapers. We are capable. We are good.
And also, we are objectified. Sexualized, looked at, sold. Admired for superficial things. Told to be bold and attractive and at the next turn told to be quiet and less. Told to be wildly desirable, then told to be careful.
In so many ways, we're prompted to be satisfying- then we wonder why we never feel satisfied.
In so many ways, we perform.
How can we expect to feel filled if we're busy proving, hustling for, and constructing our worth?
When I think about this, about how so many women let their identity rest on doing- what they can provide, how they can create security or appeasement or comfort for others (whether their motives are healthy or unhealthy), how their success in whatever their field determines their ultimate worth- it's no wonder we all know women in our lives (girls, mothers, friends, co-workers) who struggle silently with guilt, shame, not-good-enough-ness.
Not wanting to be vulnerable, not feeling safe being seen. Keeping up that image. Feeling really really up and confident one day, then depressed and down the next. Wanting to share, and wanting to hide.
I guess while I'm talking about openness and vulnerability as a woman, I should preface by admitting that anything that looks like the suggestion of a solution to this problem is new to me, relatively speaking. I personally spent the first half (well, more than that) of my 29 year old life proving myself: at times, that looked like being an excellent student. At times, it looked like being learned and collecting academic accolades.
At times it looked like being super-skinny and beautiful (however I defined that ever-changing standard). At times, like being a smiling and subservient girlfriend in relationships that were not necessarily driven by love, and left me completely unfed. At times, suppressing my creative ability and inner voice to earn a career and present to the world proof that I was a put-together, financially successful, independently-made and totally self-reliant human being. All very exhausting things.
Maybe some of that sounds familiar.
In hindsight, it's little wonder that having no clear direction in life would lead down a road of self-construction: like a lot of people, men and women alike, actually, I was trying to derive a sense of ultimate worth from what I could do- and what I could manage to hide.
Which is dangerous, inauthentic, and superficial.
But what I was really constructing was merely an image. It wasn't anything real. It was a flimsy, faulty, purposeless mirage that could at any time collapse. And it did, repeatedly and over and over and over again. Maybe that sounds familiar too.
And I think like a lot of women, I got sick and tired (sometimes literally both sick, and tired, actually) of that feeling of never being good enough. Except I didn't know what else to do other than keep trying harder.
But slowly, I started to realize something about that horrible disease of self-reliance that made the Gospel, which came into my life several years ago, more real to me. Driving deeper and deeper into myself wasn't going to do me any good. I needed to get deeper and deeper into God. There became something humbly heartbreaking about running through life with no direction that made me stop, take inventory, and head back for the right road. A kind of beautiful, breaking pain.
I needed to realize that the bravest thing I could do as a woman was not to keep saying what I didn't need or could get by without or could handle myself. And it wasn't to demand from others- women, or men- that they meet my needs either. The bravest thing I could do as a woman was to rely on Christ to fill me where the world couldn't, to define me as the world's standard changed, and to make me beautiful and strong in the important ways that count.
Becoming a person who values the things of God is a process that requires the desire to know more about God than self- and sometimes God can only get us to see this this by taking things away, by crumbling our well-constructed life as we know it.
Getting things down to the essentials is getting them down to a truth we can't see with too much stuff in our way.
This is how Jesus calls us to live and love: freely. It is what He has done, not what I can do, that my worth rests on (now, that is). It goes back to Him, not me. It goes back to love, not me. It goes back to a higher purpose, not mine. There's no performance, no striving, no proving. Just rest that comes from God, and so glory that goes back.
As a woman, that's particularly a gift. God wants us to be vessels for His love, not to feel like we have to do the work for Him. When we allow space for Him in our hearts, and when we invite, He will come. It is about the filling we so desperately need in order to give.
Especially now, living in a culture where more people get their ideas about the integrity and worth of women through politicized news stories and mediated culture than through Biblical understanding, we need women who are sure of who they are beyond what the world is telling them. For ourselves- our friends, our families, our loved ones, our husbands, our children- first.
Women who aren't afraid of being overlooked, even though they will be, because they embody modesty and purity in a culture that glorifies sexuality and attention, because they know that their worth isn't dependent on either.
Women who will sit with other women who are hurting, no matter what. Women who will pray to the God they know listens and works. Women who love others because they know they are loved by God. Women who uphold men in stepping into God's version of themselves, who help them heal, who encourage, who build up.
This is our real work, but how certain we must be that we are loved before we are bold.
If there are any women reading this right now who need the affirmation that they are worthy, I hope it is consoling to know that independent of what you have done, are feeling, or are going through that you are. No matter what your relationship standing, you are. No matter your financial status or what other people think of you, you are.
In Christ, you are, you always are, because this is about being, not doing.
Please remember that of all the identities, titles, and labels available to you, you are always free to make loved the most fundamental, and let your entire life flow from there.
"When a woman has a kingdom heart, she has an active understanding of what matters most to the heart of God. She lives in the balance of passion and contentment. She learns to love well, give without regard to self, and forgive without hesitation. The woman with a kingdom heart may have a duffel bag full of possessions or enough treasures to fill a mansion, but she has learned to hold them with an open hand. Hold everything with open hands. I don’t think we are ever allowed to grab hold of anything or anyone as though they matter more than the kingdom of heaven. When you hold relationships with open hands, then people come in and out of your life as gifts of grace to be cherished and enjoyed, not objects to be owned and manipulated. And then when you hold your dreams with open hands, you get to watch God resurrect what seemed dead and multiply what seemed small."