Whenever I talk to women, I find that most of them are battling an issue that I believe has been trying to beat women down for a long time. I find that most of us are confused about who we really are, what our role in society is supposed to be, and how our lives can have significance. I think the women of America are in an Identity Crisis.
Starting at a very early age, we are inundated with messages about what it means to be a girl. At first these messages seem simple and clear – girls wear pink, girls play with dolls, girls cry, girls wear dresses, girls are pretty, girls will be moms someday. I know when my granddaughters were pre-school age, they had a simple answer to the question of how boys and girls are different. They would simply say, “Boys are stinky!”
Once we start school, however, that picture starts to blur a little. The lines become less defined. The rules seem to bend a little more. We become a little less sure exactly what our role in life is supposed to be, but we are pretty sure what we want it to be. I have 7 granddaughters and although they are all more grown-up now than I’d like them to be, there was a time when everyone of them would get all starry-eyed when the princess in the movie got married to the prince and they embraced in a kiss.
As we pass through each season of life, we can all find reasons to be angry. As we focus on ourselves, it will always seem that someone else has the life we want, or the body we want, or the job we want, or the family we want, or the spouse we want. We will be filled with discontent. We will no longer know who we are outside the context of all the roles that define us.
We live out this lack of identity in great insecurity, feeling that around each corner disaster awaits because we are unable to be what others need us to be. We will surely fail because we are not pretty enough, not smart enough, not good enough. We feel a growing sense of fear about what the future holds for us, knowing that we are only growing older, weaker and less pretty. Each day we have less to offer to our families and to society. What if we completely lose our usefulness?
We also live out our lack of identity in an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. We feel unable to measure up to those around us. As we compare the beauty or the skills of others to our own, we feel inferior. As we witness the accomplishments of others, we feel insignificant in the big picture of life. As our sense of worth deteriorates, we fear we will be rejected.
As our insecurity and inadequacy threaten to drive us to despair, we find that there is one way to survive. We become insensitive. We pretend it doesn’t matter. We become driven to learn new skills that will help us stay competitive. We do whatever we have to do to preserve an appearance of youth. We become overly-focused on self improvement, which serves to further highlight our inadequacies and insecurities, and the whole process feeds off itself, as we sink deeper and deeper into the question of “Who am I really, and why am I here?”
We can all relate to at least some part of this downward spiral. Women seem to have a universal bent for seeing the worst in themselves and dwelling on their weaknesses. Unfortunately we tend to compensate for those feelings by also noticing and pointing out the weaknesses of others.
Women are losing their grip on who they were created to be. I think this is greatly due to the changing perception of who Mom really is and what she should look like. Over the years of my life I have watched a steady stream of motherhood role models march across my TV screen. Thinking back on my childhood, I grew up in a time when most people believed that moms should be home with their kids and not out in the marketplace. We saw this perceived role portrayed on “Leave it to Beaver”. Hopefully there are at least a few people out there who are old enough to remember the Cleaver family. Each day when Wally and Beaver came home from school, June Cleaver would be waiting in the kitchen, ready to greet them with an after school snack, and hear about their day. Women of that era found some identity with what they saw in June Cleaver, and yet, I don’t think it answered all their questions about their role in society.
Another TV Mom that came into our living rooms, shaping our ideas of motherhood, was Marion Cunningham. How many people remember Mrs C from the TV show “Happy Days?” Mrs. C wasn’t quite as serious a mom as June Cleaver. She gave us the feeling that moms should be fun and maybe just a little crazy – after all, what normal mom would allow a hoodlum like “The Fonz” to live over the family garage? This mom made us laugh at times, but she also gave us the feeling that most of the time she was somewhat clueless about what was really going on with Richie and Joanie. She was entertaining, but I don’t think most women really identified with Mrs. C as a role model for motherhood.
Then before long we had “The Brady Bunch.” Carole Brady seemed ready to solve any problem the kids might be facing, but, of course, she had help. Alice, the faithful housekeeper, was also there to pick up where mom left off. Watching Carole and Alice in their sort of “tag-team mothering” must have given some women the subconscious thought that moms deserve hired help. It was almost as if there were two moms in the house.
Then a new TV mom appeared on the scene and looking back at that time in our society, it seems to me that a shift in our perception of motherhood began to take place. We began to get messages that moms can have it all. Being a mom didn’t necessarily mean you had to give up being something else. It was possible to be a mom and still have a successful career. This was played out perfectly in front of our eyes on “The Bill Cosby Show” as Clair Huxtable skillfully directed her household, nurtured her children, built a successful law practice, and met the needs of her doctor husband. She was perfect --perhaps a little too perfect. She opened up a whole new world. The question is: was it a real world or a TV fantasy world?
Today we see magazines filled with stories and photos of celebrity moms and our confusion about the role of a mom grows even greater. Our country is facing an identity crisis among women. Where can we find our true identity? Of course, we are intelligent enough to know that what we see played out in television sit-coms is not reality, and yet, often those shows contain just enough reality to make us wonder. What if? What if I had a husband who made lots of money? What if my children always listened to my good advice? What if I had a home with a spacious kitchen and a housekeeper to keep it spotless? But then we compare the what-if’s to the reality of life and we tend to lose hope that we will ever have the kind of success we expect to have.
Perhaps this is why we are so fascinated with the so-called reality shows that seem to dominate our TV screens today. We watch the “real life” scenarios on the tube and somehow find some sense of relief in knowing that we aren’t the only messed up people in the world.
So how do we climb out of this abyss of insecurity, inadequacy and insensitivity? How do we gain a healthy perspective of what a successful woman really is? Where are we to find our true identity?
We have to start with reality. Not the kind of reality we see on reality TV, but the kind of reality that’s real. The reality that teaches us that our value comes from being created in God’s image. The reality that our significance is evident in the fact that when we separated ourselves from Him in sin, He was willing to sacrifice His Son, a part of Himself, to make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him . The reality that we leave behind a legacy as we use the life He’s given us to serve His purpose, and that purpose has no dependency on whether we are a mother, a career woman, or some combination of both. He created us to serve Him by making a difference in the lives of other people.
What does all that really mean? How can we, as women, live lives that have value and significance and also leave a legacy beyond our lifetime -- because isn’t that really what gives us identity? Isn’t that what helps us define who we are and what our purpose is?
I think God gave us the perfect formula for answering these questions by including in His Word a letter from a mother to her son. Some woman are intimidated by Proverbs 31, but what we have to keep in mind is that this is not a description of an actual woman, but rather a list of attributes that the mother of King Lemuel wanted him to refer to in his search for a wife of noble character. These verses are a formula this mother gave her son to help him move past his hormones and his chemistry to look for a woman with true value. I believe it is God’s intent that as we become women of noble character as outlined in these verses, we will also display our true identity in Him! Below is the Sue Wilson paraphrased version of the Proverbs 31 woman:
A woman of value is trustworthy, generous and kind. She looks out for the best interests of others. She is a woman who makes the best use she can of the talents God has given her. She works hard at whatever task she’s been given. She wants to make her home a place that welcomes others. She reaches out to those in need. She does all she can to prepare for the future. She ages gracefully, not in bitterness. She speaks with kindness and wisdom. She lives in a way that earns respect. She is humble.
I think we would all agree that a woman like this is one we could admire and appreciate. A woman like this has no reason to feel insecure, inadequate or be insensitive. A woman who displays these characteristics is a woman of value, who has significance and who will leave a legacy for future generations. But you may be thinking, “Yeah, right! I could never be all that!” Well --me neither, which is why we are going to try and simplify the whole thing a little more.
Look at Titus 2. This passage is part of a letter from Paul to Titus outlining his leadership role in the church. I think it also speaks to us as it begins in verse 3 by saying , “Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.”
Although this verse refers to “older women,” keep in mind that no matter what your age, you are older than someone. What you have to ask yourself is whether or not younger women can look at you and see the attributes it talks about here. Is the church body respected because of what they see in you, or do you give Christianity a bad name?
I have always been fascinated, but also dismayed at the ability of women to smile at someone in their presence and then rip them to shreds behind their back. I love being a woman, but I hate this part of us. This type of behavior does not display the identity of Christ. As we scrutinize our behavior, we find so many clues that we are still searching for significance in the eyes of the world instead of recognizing that we already have significance simply in being daughters of the Creator of the Universe. The way we look, the things we do, the places we go – everything about us should be a reflection of who we are in Christ, not who the world thinks we should be.
Look at 1 Peter 3, starting with verse 4: “Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in.” Then let’s skip down to verses 10-11, “Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth.”
Isn’t that truly what we want – to embrace life and see the day fill up with good? We can have that by cultivating good instead of evil. We can have that by following the example of the life of Jesus. We can have that by finding our true identity in Him.
Once we have accepted the reality that our true identity comes from living in the humility of being simple, genuine and unpretentious, we can find freedom from insecurity. As we live out God’s purpose for our lives by making a difference in the lives of others, we will be filled with a sense of worth. We will know that we are valued by the Creator of the Universe and that no matter what anyone else thinks of us, His opinion is all that matters.
We will also find that, in this true source of identity, we will be completely adequate to meet whatever may come our way, because the Bible tells us that when we are weak, He is strong. His strength is sufficient for all that we will face. He will be our wisdom when we don’t know what to do. He will help us take the next step when we feel paralyzed to move ahead.
As each of us learns to embrace the uniqueness of who we are in Christ, we will no longer find ourselves insensitive to those around us, but we will instead be filled with a desire to reach out to them; to share the love of God with them and to embrace the many ways He will show Himself in them; to rejoice with them in victory and to weep with them in times of trouble. But even more than that, we will recognize that this IS our identity; this is what we were created to do — love others with the love of Jesus and share with them the Good News of our forever life in Him.