It’s really hard to be a mom in today’s culture, even while living in Christian community. In some ways, it may actually be worse. Almost every mom I know fights the temptation to place these crushing expectations on themselves- to be, as one of my mom friends says, “supermom, superwife, super-career woman (for many), superfriend, saying ‘yes’ to every good thing.” Pastor Matt Chandler says the two greatest struggles for women are unspoken competition and comparison with other women, the death cycle of trying to be as thin, or as put together, or as great a mom, or have kids who are as accomplished, as your friends. You know deep down you shouldn’t feel this way, that there’s no truth there, but, try as you may, you sometimes can’t seem to help yourself. You feel the pressure of others’ reliance, their expectations on your life. In the midst of the crushing pressure, if you’re honest, you also feel another desire, a desire that at times can be an idol- the desire to be needed, to be wanted.
Life would be great if you could just be perfect.
Guys have their own issues, but not these. This quest for perfection in all the roles they play is pretty unique to women, and especially to moms.
I was prayerfully reading a book, fittingly, on prayer, by Richard Foster, the other day, and he was talking about spiritual disciplines. He mentioned one practice of spiritual transformation, almost unheard of in this modern age of peppiness, narcissism, and the relentless pursuit of positivity, that I think might actually be a completely unconventional cure for this pressure for perfection. He calls it “peering into the abyss”- the contemplation of one’s own death.
I know, this sounds really morbid, but hang with me for a minute. What would happen if you or I were to die today? As Foster says, “One of the most sobering insights from such a meditation is the realization that life would continue right on without us–and quite well, for that matter. The sun would come up the next day. People would go about their normal duties. Nothing of substance would be changed.” The roles you and I play really don’t matter that much in the overall scheme of things.
How can I say this? What about your kids? Even your kids. My mom lost her dad when she was seven years old. That loss impacted her significantly, but God is faithful and provided for her, and made her strong in her weakness to be the strong matriarch of a flawed, but mostly strong family. I’ve seen God do this in the lives of kids who lost parents again and again. Even in what may be the most important role you play on this earth, you are not the center of the universe. Life would go on without you.
And, this is truly amazing news. Because even though the roles you play don’t make you the center of anyone’s universe, the fact is that you do matter. You matter deeply to your Abba, the author and creator of the universe, so much so that He did not withhold even His own Son’s life for you. And, if it had been only for you, and not for the rest of us, too, He still would have done it. Because you are His precious one. You matter deeply to God.
Your true value is not a transactional one or a role-oriented one. It’s not wrapped up in what you do at all, whether you’re perfect at it, or whether you really stink at it. You are not your Father’s Beloved because of what you do. If you weren’t able to read this right now because you were in a vegetative state, unable to do anything, you would still be God’s Beloved, still be the one in whom He is well pleased.
Your highest and greatest value is not about roles; it’s about relationship. This is also true for your family, your loved ones. If you’ve ever lost someone who meant anything to you, who you truly loved, you never look back on their lives and say, “man, I really miss the way they washed my clothes, or always had food on the table at the right time, or always signed me up for the right singing lessons.” You miss them–her presence, her voice, and their lives on your life.
This means you have the freedom to slow down. Breathe. Say “no” to some things that cut down on your ability to be still before the Lord, your wellspring, and that rob you of relational bandwidth to be present for others. Free yourself up from perfection in your roles, because those roles aren’t what are ultimately important, anyway. Fast from social media one day a week, or one week a month (if you can stand it)–take some time away from what David Brooks calls “other people’s highlight reels,” and relieve yourself from the false press of other’s image management.
Spend time in solitude with the Lord. Foster says, “To be sure, at first we thought solitude was a way to recharge our batteries in order to enter life’s many competitions with new vigor and strength. In time, we found that solitude gives us power not to win the rat race, but to ignore it altogether.” Finally, contemplate life without you from time to time- contrary to being depressing, it will be tremendously freeing and allow you to focus on what really matters- loving well, investing deeply, and building lifetime and eternal relationships.
Roles won’t last; relationships are forever.
Jay Ferguson, PhD, writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.