It had been a crazy morning. Like many high school girls, I spent extra time primping in the bathroom before heading off to school, meticulously trying to cover every last pimple with makeup. Each outfit I tried on just wasn’t quite right, and before I knew it, my bed was strewn with less than adequate attire options. My room quickly looked like a tornado had blown through, or at least resembled someone ransacking every corner looking for something of value.
I rushed out the door already clearly tardy for school and trying to figure out how in the world I might be excused for my lateness. Later that day, after the school hours were over and we sat down for dinner, my mom informed me that my grandparents had stopped by during the day to do a few things around our house. Apparently after taking one look at my disaster of a room, they were appalled.
“What kind of mother or wife will Jenifer be if she keeps living like this?” my granddaddy had asked my mom.
I was crushed. The innocent words from my precious grandfather, who was the sweetest, most generous man, came flooding in and fell onto my heart with a thud. There was not much I aspired to more than being a wife and a mom someday. The words spoken became less about the state of my messy room, and more about my personal character. I am not even a messy, unorganized person by nature, but somehow I felt everything was being questioned about how I could successfully perform the task of being a wife or mom if there was any disorder in my life.
What kind of mother or wife will Jenifer be if she keeps living like this?
Inadequate. That’s how I felt that day. It became, in a lot of ways, my title and the lens in which I began to view not only myself, but others. And what do we do when we fear that we are not enough? We work hard to prove our significance and our capabilities, grappling for worth, straining for perfection and control. Be better, be more, be perfect.
I had begun the slippery slope of allowing my own perceptions to define me, rather than God. Unknowingly, I began to hold other people to that same standard of perfection as well. Be perfect. Don’t disappoint. Don’t screw up. Don’t miss my expectations.
It’s almost a little unnerving to think about the lack of grace, freedom and love I spent so many years of my life living in or extending to others. It grieves my heart even to this day and is mixed with embarrassment and shame, especially for all the people that stood in the wake of it. All this time later, I now know that those years were spent understanding only a portion of the Gospel.
I still remember a specific afternoon that I had been with my high school boyfriend’s family for lunch. We had an argument – about what, I don’t even remember – but there was a moment as we walked outside that I will never forget.
What do we do when we fear that we are not enough?
We work hard to prove our significance and our capabilities, grappling for worth, straining for perfection and control.
I can remember experiencing a giant conglomeration of feelings…hurt, angry, embarrassed, and ashamed…and found myself completely unaware of how to even respond. I’m pretty sure I just left in a hurry and ran away from the confrontation, which was par for the course for how I handled situations like that. But it was a comment that I have replayed many times, and each time, I shrink back and cringe.
And you know what? I have come to the conclusion that he was right. “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.” (Prov. 17:10) His discernment was precise, and I was that fool. I stood there self-righteous, but I was too blind and prideful to see it clearly, completely lacking understanding and humility. I was too worried about being perfect that the thought of being imperfect was unacceptable. I was too consumed with trying to establish my own righteousness, that I was unable to submit to and seek God’s righteousness that only He could perfectly offer (Romans 10:3). Cue my unawareness and disillusionment of the Gospel.
Isn’t it funny how much words affect us? The words spoken by ourselves and others carry so much weight; they have the power to breed life or death. But what I have slowly come to realize over the years of people pleasing and worrying so much about measuring up to others’ expectations, is that the words God speaks about me are the ones that should carry the most clout and be what defines me.
I was too consumed with trying to establish my own righteousness that I was unable to submit to and seek God’s righteousness that only He could perfectly offer
Am I a bad mom because the laundry piles up sometimes? Am I a worthless wife because the house is in shambles occasionally? Am I lovable even though I struggle with pride, self righteousness, insecurity and perfection? It sounds so silly, but comments and words often stick with us and begin to distract us, pushing us to believe ridiculous things, especially when they are not filtered through what scripture has to say about our identity. Our imperfections and sin do not define us, only the God who breathed the very breath in our lungs can define us.
We often live in believing the untruths that have no merit, which is precisely what the father of lies and the great deceiver would use to discourage, discredit and condemn us. The great HOPE we have in Christ, as believers and new creations in Him, is that we do not have to claw and grasp for perfection, because He has already lived perfectly (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We do not have to measure up to others’ expectations or feel disgruntled when ours are not met, because He has already justified us and bought us back from our sin at a great big price that we can not help but exude gratefulness (Romans 3:24). We do not have to wallow in self-pity, or be consumed with feeling less than and insecure, because the Creator of the universe says that we are sealed with the Spirit and there is nothing that can remove us from His grasp or separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38,39).
Our imperfections and sin do not define us, only the God who breathed the very breath in our lungs can define us.
We get to live in the good news of the Gospel. Oh the freedom in experiencing God’s unmerited favor, and that what He has to say about us, because of Christ, is life changing. God’s love for us is something we could never earn no matter how much we try, yet we often do not live as though that is truth. In our imperfections and daily failings, grace is the greatest gift we have been given in Christ, and it is the greatest gift we can give and extend to others.
How have you been allowing the words that people speak to define you? How have you been striving and straining to measure up, when you could be resting in God’s perfect grace and love for you? How are you extending the same grace you’ve received to others?
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Image Credit: Gloria García, Creative Commons