As women, we are constantly bombarded with voices which tell us we are not enough. Voices come from within and from without. Voices come from our past and from our present. Voices come from ourselves and from our culture.
These voices can lead us into several traps:
1. The temptation to compare
As women we constantly compare ourselves to one another – we always have done. But today we live in full view, 24/7, of one another because of social media. And yet of course Facebook, Twitter and Instagram don’t give us a true picture of one another’s lives – they only give us the picture that others want us to see. Often that is a picture-perfect glimpse into others’ lives and so if our lives don’t shape up, we are left feeling woefully inadequate.
2. The trap of perfectionism
My house isn’t tidy enough, my kids aren’t smart enough, I am not pretty enough…the list goes on and on. I spend my days trying to reach the mark. And I never do. But in the attempt, I become anxious and fearful – anxious that I am not good enough and fearful of being found out. I’m striving to please, always striving to please. We call it people-pleasing; psychologists call it peer pressure; the bible calls it fear of man.
Ann Voskamp, in her book ‘The Broken Way’, says;
‘Perfectionism is a slow death by self. Perfectionism will kill your sense of safety, your self, your soul. Perfectionism isn’t a fruit of the Spirit – joy is. Patience is. Peace is.’
3. The lure of consumerism
I might try to bridge the gap between where I think others live and where I live by consumerism. If it means buying clothes and shoes and make up which I think will make me look more like others around me, then that’s what I will do. If it means choosing a holiday which I can’t afford in order to keep up with my friends, then somehow I will justify it. Consumerism drives us to possess more and more in order to impress. The trouble is that the promises it makes are empty – we may get an adrenalin rush as we make that longed-for purchase, but it won’t last and we will end up feeling less satisfied, always wanting more.
4. The attraction of status-seeking
Some of us acquire status rather than possessions, whether that is academic status or status in the workplace or even status in church. In a vain attempt to overcome our own inadequacies, we feel that ‘if only’ we can prove to ourselves and to others that we can reach the standard, we will be content. But we never are.
What effect does this have on us as Christians?
Nowhere is this striving to impress more ugly than in the church. We as Christians ought to be able to be ourselves with one another; we ought to be able to remove our masks when we come into church. Yet it can be one of the hardest places for people to be real. If I think you and your family have got it all together, then I’m not going to be able to admit that I haven’t. We don’t dare to share on a very deep level – because of what people might think. Also, we don’t want to burden others with our problems. When we are broken and struggling, it is easier to avoid community than to try to remain a part of it. So we withdraw until things are OK again.
We have forgotten our identity. Those voices that tell us we are not enough, those voices that tell us we are imposters, they are lies. But because they shout loudly in our heads, we listen to them – and they can drown out the still, small voice of God. Ann Voskamp talks about a school teacher who told her that she only made it into her class by the skin of her teeth and she should never forget that. Ann says this:
‘All of my life I’ve felt like a fraud with skin on….later on in some way, those words formed me. They’ve become like my own name engraved right into me. Fraud. Phony. Not Good Enough.’
What does God say about this?
Who does he say we are? In Matthew 3, when Jesus was baptised and came up of the water, the Father spoke from heaven and said ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased’. God has become our Father and he speaks the same words over us:
‘You are my beloved child; in you I am well pleased’.
What do you think, what do you feel when you hear those words? May I suggest that in the measure that you feel uncomfortable, in that measure you do not believe them. Allow God to speak them over you, meditate on them, soak your soul in them, until they sink in and you begin to believe them, until you begin to allow yourself to let go of the lies of our culture and of your past and of the evil one. Allow yourself to believe what God your Father speaks over you. You are beloved. That is your identity. Ann Voskamp says:
‘Belovedness is the centre of being, the only real identity, God’s only name for you, the only identity He gives you.’
A. When you think you are not enough, remember who you are
You are the beloved child of God.
Instead of the superficial fix of a Facebook or Instagram ‘like’ or comment, which says I am or I have done something good, I can choose to listen to God’s voice telling me there is nothing I can do which can make him love me more – and there is nothing I can do which can make him love me less. I am enough. I don’t need to compare myself with others. I don’t need to strive to be better and to do better. The Father loves me. I am His beloved.
Instead of the transient surge of pleasure which comes from a quick purchase, I can choose instead the deep security of hearing the Father remind me that he has bought me with the blood of his Son and I am precious to him.
I don’t need to seek status. I am enough. I don’t need to prove to myself or to anyone else what I can do or be. God – who knows me best – loves me most. I am accepted. I am secure in his love.
In the well-known story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, the Father leaves home twice: once to invite the younger son home and once to invite the elder son home. That is who our Father is. He desperately wants to welcome us home – to the place of security and peace, where our quest for acceptance and unconditional love is over.
Henri Nouwen, in his book ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’, says this:
‘I am the prodigal every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found’.
Our heavenly father invites us to come home – where we can rest in the knowledge that we are his beloved children.
B. When you think you haven’t enough, remember who God is
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? ….Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matthew 6.
God as Creator looks after the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. How can you think, that as your heavenly Father, he would do any less for you? He knows what you need. And if he knows, he will take care of it. That’s it – because he is your heavenly Father.
We know this – we know who we are and who God is – but how do we remember it?
When I find myself chasing after affirmation from others, craving the praise of others, seeking to please others; or when I find myself overcome by voices which are telling me I am not enough; or when I am anxious that I don’t have enough, I need to remember who I am and who God is.
We start by recognising the lies which we are believing – and then we replace the lies with the truth of God’s Word.
Imagine you are stressed and anxious about money. That worry will lead to a certain kind of behaviour: you will either be striving to get money or you will be anxiously saving money and may become stingy. That leads to the belief that it’s all down to you – and that leads to a view of reality which says either that you can’t make it happen (so you will be angry) or that you can make it happen (so you will be proud).
Imagine instead that, with that same anxiety about money, you choose to live by the truth of God’s Word instead of your feelings. So you will perhaps go to these verses in Matthew 6 and remind yourself that your heavenly Father knows your need. Now that will lead to the belief that, if your Father knows your need, you can expect him to take care of it. And that will change your behaviour so that you are expecting God to provide, while you do what you can to increase your income or reduce your expenditure. The feelings that accompany that will be peace and confidence – so very different from the anxiety which you started out with.
Or when I am craving the praise of others, I can choose to remember that God calls me His beloved. I don’t need the affirmation of others. I am secure in his love. That restlessness which sends me to social media to check my popularity ratings is telling me that I am only as good as the number of people who like my status. I can choose to reject that lie and rest secure in the knowledge that my heavenly Father calls me his beloved.
C. If you know who you are and who God is, you are free to love others
I John 3 tells us this:
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…..By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
As we learn to live out of our true identity as beloved children of God, then we are set free to love others. Our community as Christians becomes authentic. We are not hiding behind masks. We are free to be real. And as we are real with one another, we learn to trust each other with our brokenness. We don’t need to impress, we don’t need to please. We are free to be – to be the beloved children of God together, all equally loved, all equally accepted, all learning to live in that love. Ann Voskamp says,
‘All there ever is to see is Jesus. All there ever is to hear is “Beloved”.’
He is enough.