For those who are forming resolutions for the New Year, they’re likely to include getting fit or getting organized. But housecleaning may be neglected when it comes to spiritual matters not subject to the scrutiny of others.
Looking at others
A 2010 Barna survey found that 50% of Christian women identify the sin they most struggle with as disorganization, and 42% list inefficiency. At the same time, only 8% of those women say they struggle with lust, 16% with arrogance and 25% with selfishness. The study further found that while only 13% say their most important role in life is as a follower of Christ, and only 16% say their faith is their top priority, just 1% admit they don’t feel close to God.
These ratings of satisfaction with their spiritual lives coupled with much lower emphasis on relationship with Christ don’t seem to mesh.
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, concluded, “The way women describe themselves reveals something: They seem to know how they want to be perceived by others. Women seem to be laying claim to a life they want, even if it is not always current reality.”
An analysis of a video titled “Real Beauty Sketches,” part of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, defines the problem as an externalized self-image. Liberty University English professor and writer Karen Swallow Prior describes in an April 2013 article for Think Christian, “The ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ video tells women, first, that their view of themselves (already likely to be based on how they perceive others perceive them) is inaccurately negative. It then corrects that perception [to improve the way they look at themselves].
“Yet here is the real problem: women looking at themselves,” Prior added. “For each woman still judges herself by her own image. Each woman continues to self-objectify [evaluating herself based on appearance because that’s how she believes others evaluate her].”
This motivates women to grade themselves, even in the privacy of home, on how others see them. But when women present a guarded image to the eyes of the world, they obscure the power of God working in their lives, as women’s mentor Barbara Bancroft has learned in 30 years of ministry.
“I think often people regard Christians as the finished product and can’t figure out how we got there, so they conclude there is some set of principles responsible for the relationship with Jesus they find attractive,” Bancroft told AFA Journal. “If I was trying to sell makeup, my job might be to look really good whether I was old and wrinkly underneath or not. But with the gospel, I want people to understand what Jesus has done for me and can do for them. To model that, I have to be real.”
Looking at self
Stasi Eldredge, a well-known figure in ministry, suggested women peel through makeup – and wrinkles – with self-examination using a few simple, soul-searching questions:
• Who am I? –“Knowing who you are is essential to live the life with God you are meant to live,” she said. “In Christ you’re meant to become the fullest expression of your unique self. It’s not about rejecting who He created you to be, but embracing that woman.”
• Who am I becoming? –“Ask God for a vision of the woman He intends you to become, and write it down – areas you want to grow in and God wants you to grow in,” she said. “You are not forever bound by your past or by sins that may have defined you – or by what other people think of you.”
• What would you love to be free from? – “In general, the things women in the Barna study said they are struggling with are the things that are going to surface,” she said. “Maybe it’s fear – fear about what will happen or not happen, fear that prevents you from being able to share your ideas or speak or dream or laugh or hope. There are probably many things, and those are the things God wants you to be free from too.”
• What are you pondering? –“The thoughts going through your head all the time affect how you perceive your life, other people, your circumstances,” she said. “If those thoughts are not good, if they’re not true, if the result of thinking them is not bringing life, hope and the kingdom of God to others around you – you need to replace them. When the Scripture says take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, it means it.”
Looking at God
But, Eldredge added, the answers to all those questions are dependent on one additional question: What is God really like?
“This is especially going to come out in your thoughts when things go wrong,” she said. “Examine what you really think God is like, and ask Him to reveal Himself.”
Debora Coty, Christian author and speaker, shared how devastating grief after six miscarriages brought her to a season centered on just that question.
“I felt I had been betrayed,” Coty told AFAJ. “I didn’t want to go to church. I didn’t want anything to do with God. And I had to ask hard questions: ‘Is God there? Is He listening? Is He in control?’
“I spent two years in this horrible time of grieving and basically banging on Papa God’s chest and screaming at Him,” she said. “I used the Psalms, I used David’s words to be my own because I couldn’t come up with anything to say to Him. But they softened the rock that was my heart, and it crumbled from the inside out, and I was able to resume a relationship with God that was better than ever.”
Eldredge agreed that a healthy self-image and identity are based on a healthy idea of God and a relationship with Him.
“The more we know God, the more we love Him, and the more His we become,” she said. “We’re meant to be whole-hearted lovers of God.”
However, the relationship with God we’re meant to celebrate and thrive in can also be distorted when the focus is on performance, externalizing image even before God through a form of works. Bancroft shared how the woman depicted in Proverbs 31 seemed an impossible standard, as it may seem for many Christian women, until she came to understand that the significance of that passage centers not on the woman’s deeds but on her relationship.
“It is from the wealth of the king [Lemuel] and her position as his wife that the virtuous woman is able to be and do all the things in this passage,” she explained. “Proverbs 31 is a description of Jesus’s relationship with his bride, the church. The idea is that we are connected to this King who is very wealthy, who has all these resources for us to use. And that is something we can get excited about!”
The image shown to the world, then, can trap the gaze on self, or it can draw the eyes to a relationship with the One who illuminates identity.
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
Author Ann Voskamp is a farmer’s wife and homeschooling mom to six children. Her book addresses issues critical to all women, such as:
• How does one slow down enough for the soul and God to live in sync?
• How in the world do we learn to find God and live fully?
Complementary materials include a study guide and a DVD series. Available at afstore.net or toll free at 877-927-4917.
▶ Becoming Myself
▶ Free to be Me
by Stasi Eldredge
▶ Too Blessed to be Stressed
▶ Too Loved to be Lost
▶ Faith, Fear, and Chocolate
by Debora Coty
▶ Running on Empty
by Barbara Bancroft