It was like ice water to the face, I became a pastor’s wife at 22 years old. I was not prepared for the onslaught of busyness, spiritual warfare, and expectation. I had no coping plan. The brunt force of my own idealistic expectations and other’s real and perceived expectations hijacked my identity.
"Pastor’s wife" became foundational to my identity instead of solely my calling. These impossible expectations personified into an inner coach who barked orders and criticized when demands where unmet. This inner voice was my constant companion choking out truth.
The ability to meet these demands became the measure of my value. I gobbled down man’s affirmation, seeking fleeting moments of peace only to burnout and become discouraged when the opinions of others flat-lined or when my self-expectations proved unattainable.
Through our self-talk we are always assigning ourselves an identity. Questions of self-doubt will always come:
“Is who I am enough?” “Am I strong enough?” “Am I faith filled enough?” “Am I godly enough?”
I have often shopped for these answers horizontally in people’s opinion of me or from my ability to perform, plunging myself into a frenzied cycle of busyness and perfectionism. This cycle mobilizes an attack of discouragement, burnout, depression, or anxiety.
I remember a breaking point I had during the beginning days of our first church plant. I had been running hard on the hamster wheel of perfectionism, chasing every expectation. One Sunday morning I found my self-fueled endurance depleted and I dragged myself out of bed feeling like a zombie. I felt an inner panic as I got ready that morning, trying to gather my scattered thoughts and emotions. It felt impossible, even unbearable, to walk into those two doors and be “on”. I wanted to hide from the world, from people, and from my weakness. I looked in the mirror and saw a failure. How did I get to this place? How do I get out? And how do I protect myself from returning again?
If I could sit across a living room from you, I would tell you that four disciplines have helped as I continually ward off false identities.
1. Preach truth to yourself.
Be proactive with your self-talk. When the questions “Am I enough?” or “Can I do this?” come, may the truth of Christ and who He has made you to be, be your ready answer.
God calls me by name and I am His. I am his workmanship created for good works that he has prepared in advance for me. He gives me everything I need for life and godliness. I am called a daughter and a friend of God. I am free from sin. I have peace with God through Christ. I can come boldly into his presence and find help in my neediness. My life is hidden in Christ. His love, patience, and strength are unfailing.
Fire your inner coach. May the inner voice assigning your identity be Truth.
2. Extend Grace to Yourself.
How I have belittled God’s grace by refusing to extend it to myself. If we passionately teach and advocate for God’s grace everywhere else but our own hearts, the hypocrisy of our perfectionism and self-sufficiency empties our message. I even made a sign to hang in my office to daily remind me of this discipline. The sign simply read, “Extend grace to yourself today”.
3. Give yourself permission to be needy in Christ.
I hate the idea of being a needy woman. I would rather a southern bell “Bless my heart” about pretty much anything else. “Bless her heart she hasn’t lost her pregnancy weight.” “Bless her heart she is just plain tacky.” “Bless her heart she can’t cook worth a lick.” These would all be welcome if I could just not be NEEDY! But we must put this aversion aside in humility and be needy before Christ. We are and will forever be in desperate need of his strength and help. May we not be afraid of our weaknesses, but embrace them as they drive us to the feet of Jesus and give us all the more reason to boast in him.
4. Embrace your design.
What a waste to spend our valuable energy on being sorry for what we aren’t. Our enemy seeks to entrap us in jealousy and insecurity through comparison. All the while we scoff at our own design in discontentment and approach our God assignments with a sense of self-defeat. A mighty woman is one who chooses to embrace her design. This woman’s fearsome boldness translates into great kingdom influence.