See my blogging issue? I start a multi-part post, then only complete part 2 because I have a puker that got me out of going to my day job today! On to my #2 point: We believe that we will be more attractive to the world if we show only those parts of us that we have prepared for company.
I left off my cleaning analogy with this point that I truly believe is an issue that is a common hurdle for women in our relationships with others. We are concerned with presentation, with looking good, with others’ opinions. Maybe not all of us, and not all the time. For example, I don’t care about cars. I never have, and I probably never will. I hate spending money on cars because they serve a mere utilitarian purpose for me, and I do not care what people think about what I drive to work every day. Besides, my kids tend to turn my car into a mobile closet/trash can every week anyway. That being said, I do care about other aspects of my presentation. I am embarrassed to leave the house without eye makeup, because I have these dark circles that I was born with that grow with every sleepless night of motherhood. I keep cover-up and mascara in my car…yup, I care about my eyes. If I forget it, I have to roll through a Rite Aid and remedy the situation. I don’t think it hurts anyone that I wear mascara every day, but I do think it is harmful to do all of this in an effort to project an image of perfection that separates me from living an authentic life.
I see this issue very clearly when I look at myself and my husband, or my friends and their husbands. If other husbands are like mine, they are NOT concerned with what is on the floor of the living room or what the kiddos wear to church. They do not see those items as reflections of their inmost being or testaments to their personal hygiene or issues that a neighbor might judge. I, on the other hand, view every aspect of my life through a lens of what I think other people want to see in me. I concern myself with all the what if someone sees/thinks/decides __________ about me. I try to project an image that is comfortable for all and hide the realities that don’t reflect what I want, so I create a version of myself based on others’ opinions rather than the most important Opinion.
This is a dangerously precarious house of cards to balance, and it is one that creates barriers rather bridges and fosters jealousy/sadness/incompleteness rather than wholeness. I’m not saying that we cannot “prepare for company” as in my cleaning metaphor. I like to entertain; I like to use my china, and buy flowers, and execute my best recipes for others. But, if I do this in my life to the extent that I hide my daily reality, I am doing a disservice to my company and to myself. Some days the best I can do is paper plates and a CrockPot meal. If I can admit this, and those around me can admit this, then we can encourage each other on those mismatched-sock/cereal-for-dinner/family-feud-on-the-way-to-church days that we too often try to hide.
So, can I get really real about this problem for a minute? There was a time I cared so much about my image that I missed opportunities to deal with a really-real issue in my life. Nick was struggling with his alcoholism, and I was struggling with his alcoholism too. I was alone, and it was a self-imposed prison. I don’t think that I would have recognized then that it was my fear of my own image that kept me from seeking help, but I certainly recognize it now. I look back and wonder if I would have had support if I had been honest about the struggle; if I could have better helped Nick find a way out sooner if I had been willing to lay it all out there; if I might have used my struggles eventually to help others. I don’t dwell in that place of the past, and Nick and I are celebrating six sober years this summer that have been full of all kinds of healing, but the biggest healing did not come until I could be open. Going back to the thing about husbands, the day Nick admitted his alcoholism was the day he chose to live in complete truth, but it took me at least another year to begin to open up about our issues, and most importantly, my issues, because I couldn’t let go of my pretenses.
I have decided that living in a way that allows the truth to show always will do three things:
- Admitting imperfection allows us to let go of fear. The thing about maintaining images is that it is sometimes a fruit of pride, but more often it is actually a fruit of fear. We are afraid to put reality out there because we don’t know how others might take it, or whether we will have people who will be able to, or even want to, help carry our burdens. The truth is, when we can bravely face whatever demons we are trying to hide, we can be released from the fear of judgment and loneliness.
- Admitting imperfection allows us to foster trust in authentic relationships. When we let go of the fear and come clean in our relationships, we can foster real trust. I have made some of my most honest and true relationships when I have cast aside fear and worry and allowed myself to be fully honest and own my experiences. In fact, when I have done that, I find that those around me shed their pretenses as well. It is then we can find authenticity that leads to true caring and healing.
- Admitting imperfection allows God’s perfection to shine through us. I have been in those moments where I sit in the back of church and see the perceived perfect images of women all around me and feel inadequate. And I have also been the woman who perpetuates that inadequacy by pretending I have it all together. Neither position is a good one. God wants us to be as “jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing gift is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7). God doesn’t need me to be perfect; He is perfect. He can complete His work in and through me if I am willing to put aside appearances and focus on His glorifying work in me.
It feels freeing just to get this on paper (well, screen). Let us focus on God’s grace for us and pass that same grace on to one another.