I've noticed something lately - while deep in my own thoughts, while interacting at church, while talking with sisters and friends - and it bothers me. I see it in myself first of all, but now that I'm paying attention I can see it lurking darkly inside many of my fellow women too. It mocks us and taunts us and sucks everything that is energetic and positive and good out of our spirits.
It's this tendency we have as women (and maybe men do, too, but I'd rather stick to what I know than risk venturing into those waters) to put on blinders, to zero in and obsess over one great, horrible thing:
What we are not.
Let me tell you a story.
I knew a girl once who grew up as a tomboy on a farm, without natural knowledge of any self-dissatisfaction whatsoever. But then, as so often happens, she grew a little older and realized she was growing out of tomboyishness and into womanhood - only to be met there by an instinct to stand in front of the mirror every day with a scowl, fretting and criticizing and complaining about nearly every feature of her body. At fifteen years old, five foot seven, and 130 pounds on an athletic frame she considered herself "not thin enough," even though her only points of reference were her peers and the people she saw on magazine covers, all of whom had entirely different shapes and sizes from herself. At eighteen years old, five foot eight, and 140 pounds on an athletic frame she considered herself "not thin enough" and "not pretty enough" because she didn't look like her classmates or roommate at Bible school. And in her desperation to reach a point of self-satisfaction, she starved her body while working it like a mule - not understanding that no amount of weight loss, no amount of hunger, no number of hours running stairs could compensate for the emptiness and vanity that she allowed to drive her. And as anyone's body would, hers rebelled against this abuse, until suddenly one day she found herself broken and immobile in her desk chair for six silent weeks.
Those six weeks were the breaking point, the catalyst, the fork in the road where I - yes, this story is about me, surprise surprise - knew I could choose: choose to continue living by the law of superficial self-obsession and worldly measures of success, or choose to relinquish control and acknowledge what I am in Christ. In some ways, as my poor exhausted muscles atrophied from lack of use and my body gradually made up for months of lost sleep and calories, I was forced to choose the latter - all semblance of control I had was taken away from me when I could do nothing to stay in shape, when I could only eat what others brought to me, and when I had little to do but sleep. But with the drastic change in routine slowly came a change in heart, and when I finally put my crutches away, it was as if the years of lies I told myself had been wiped away, and I could see clearly again.
The "I'm not...."'s still plague me sometimes, don't get me wrong. Some days it's I'm not outgoing enough, I'm not interesting enough, I'm not professional enough, I'm not qualified enough, I'm not self-sufficient enough, I'm not adventurous enough, or just I'm not enough. And there are still even days when it's I'm not pretty enough or I'm not thin enough.
But I have chosen, and continue to choose every day, not to be defined by things that God clearly did not create me to be defined by. I choose to eat for health and moderation, not for self-abuse in either direction. I choose to exercise because it makes my body feel good and strong - but when I'm tired or busy, I don't feel bad about not exercising. I choose to keep a scale in my house (and use it) because I am not afraid of the numbers on it anymore. I can't describe it in any better way than I feel like I've been set free - free to seek after God's standards because I have let go of the world's and my own.
And when I am with other women and the things coming out of their mouths are all "I'm not..."'s, it breaks my heart. When I hear them apologizing for themselves in subtle statements like "Back when I was ten pounds lighter...." or "Cute outfit! I could never pull that off" I just want to stand up and scream: THERE IS MORE TO YOU THAN THIS.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible that speaks directly to women is Titus 2:3-5:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
Look at the potential that women have in Christ - look what we are and what we are meant to be. We are called to a specific purpose: to honor the Word of God by encouraging and teaching each other, by loving our families, and by revering our God.
Women, it doesn't help you or anyone in your sphere of influence to hear you complain about your body or fret about your appearance. It doesn't build anyone up to see you comparing yourself to the women around you and constantly trying to "measure up." Your family doesn't benefit when you wallow in the I can'ts and I'm nots.
My favorite phrase in the passage is "workers at home." Literally, this just means keeping busy at the work set before you to do, keeping things in order in your domain - pretty straightforward. But for a Greek reader, the word would denote something more specific: a gatekeeper, a guardian of the home - like the lions and lionesses that were carved into Greek architecture to stand as sentinels at the gate of a wall.
If you are a woman and follower of Christ, I don't want to hear about how you're not thin enough, not pretty enough, not paid enough, not competitive enough, not athletic enough, not hired for the right jobs, not treated the same as men, not capable of the same things as men, not independent, not interesting, not influential, not making history, not important, or not impacting others.
You are the lioness that stands guard over your domain - whether your domain is your own heart and mind, your home and family, your church, or something bigger. You do not answer to petty or worldly things, you do not bow to anything except your God, and you do not let the evil of self-absorption enter your abode without a challenge.
You are freed from the ideals of the godless world. You are free to seek God's instead.
So pick your head up, stand tall, and step into the role you were created for.
Woman, the lionheart.