YOU’RE PERFECT THE WAY YOU ARE

 


MYTH #3

YOU’RE PERFECT THE WAY YOU ARE

THE PARADOX OF PERFECTIONISM

Remember middle school? What a weird time. Everyone is so painfully self-conscious because we don’t understand our bodies and we don’t know what to do with our hands. These are what I call personality-building years. The cuteness that helped us get our way has faded, and we’re forced to develop a sense of humor to make friends and cope with the awkwardness of life.


As girls, we start to want to do things that make us feel older, like wearing makeup or shaving our legs. For me, one of those things was getting my eyebrows waxed. I really wanted to, but my mom wouldn’t let me. She said I didn’t need it, and she was right. But that didn’t stop me from taking a razor from her shower, standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom and slashing one of those babies in half. Immediate regret. And, of course, school pictures were the next day. Not my best.


It’s early on in our lives that we women are caught up in what I call the paradox of perfection: hearing and believing we’re perfect while simultaneously hearing and believing there’s something else we need to do or have (or not do or not have) to make us perfect.


Girls are told from a young age by our parents and teachers that we’re perfect the way we are. And to some degree, we believe it—even in our awkward middle school years. We’re confident that if we could just get our hair to crimp the right way, if our parents would let us wear just a little bit of mascara, if we could just get our eyebrows waxed, then maybe—just maybe—we’d finally be able to manifest the beauty and perfection we know is there.


The paradox of perfection follows us throughout our lives, showing up in more profound ways. Today, we most often see it in the online culture of self-love and self-help. In her bestselling book You Are a Badass, Jen Sincero writes:


“You are perfect. . . . You are the only you there is and ever will be. I repeat, you are the only you there is and ever will be. Do not deny the world its one and only chance to bask in your brilliance.”


Sincero’s sentiment is a popular one in this world of trendy narcissism: who you are on the inside—who you really are— is perfect. And all you have to do is manifest that perfection, and you’ll be happy, successful, and whole.


The “manifesting” is often in the form of things like reading a book, repeating positive mantras, applying certain principles, organizing our belongings, or cleaning up our diet. The paradoxical messages tend to sound something like this:


“You’re perfect . . . and this book will help you realize it.” “You’re perfect . . . and you need to understand your sign to manifest that perfection.” “You’re perfect . . . and repeating these ten mantras will convince you it’s true.” “You’re perfect . . . and mastering your personality type will prove it.”


“You’re perfect the way you are” is often a Trojan horse for a product or a program that promises to make our lives better. This means that without these products and programs, it’s an empty mantra. If we were perfect just the way we are, we wouldn’t need their quick ten steps to make any improvements on ourselves or our lives.


Motivating this paradox is a philosophy that views self-discovery as the road to self-acceptance, or to the actualization of our perfection. Along the road of self-discovery are all kinds of external forces holding us back from realizing, embracing, and manifesting our true perfect self.


Consider these quotes from two popular self-love-centric Instagram accounts:

“Society has led us to believe our goal is to be beautiful, because according to the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, beauty = value.” @recipesforselflove

“Our dominant culture actively profits from you believing that you are not worthy of love.” @emilyonlife

The common theme is that society’s standards, social constructs, stigmas, your parents, your boyfriend, capitalism, the patriarchy, mercury in retrograde, and so on are all repressing your true, uninhibited self and are therefore damaging your potential for a great life. If you can just relieve yourself of the unfair burdens these people and systems place on you, you will finally discover your authentic self and find the fulfillment you’ve been longing for.


From this perspective, you don’t have flaws—you have underappreciated qualities. You haven’t made mistakes—you’ve made decisions the “shame culture” wants to guilt you for. You’ve never failed—you’ve simply rejected society’s unrealistic standards of success.


In Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis argues: “For the average woman, the story goes something like this. When you came in to the world you were totally and utterly yourself. It wasn’t a conscious decision to be exactly who you were; it was instinct. Then, something changed. Something big happened, something that would shape the rest of your life, even if you have been aware of it at the time. You learned about expectations.”


The underlying premise is that who you are deep down is perfect and pure, like a diamond in the rough, and when you chip away at the layers of social norms and arbitrary expectations that have held you back, you’ll actualize that reality.


Where’s the lie?


First, let’s acknowledge what’s true about this mind-set. Some expectations are repressive and harmful. You don’t have to be a size 2 to be beautiful. You don’t have to perfectly balance work and motherhood to “have it all.” You don’t have to be independently wealthy before you’re thirty to be successful. You don’t have to be quiet to be kind or loud to be bold. Society shouldn’t dictate who you are or what you should do.


You are an individual, which means your life isn’t going to look like anyone else’s. You have your own talents, your own personality, your own strengths and weaknesses. Some people’s criticism of you will be misguided or a result of simply misunderstanding you. These criticisms can be ignored.


Therefore you will have to make hard choices, take responsibility for your own life, and get out of unhealthy relationships.


But none of these things will ever make us perfect because “who we really are” isn’t some flawless goddess marred by unfair societal standards or unhealthy relationships.


You are not perfect the way you are, and you never will be.


Scripture reveals this fact to us plainly. Biblically, there are only two kinds of selves: the old self and thenew self. The old self is enslaved to sin, lost, looking for love and satisfaction in all the wrong places. The old self is totally depraved, hopeless, an enemy of God, and bound for destruction. This is who we all are apart from Christ.


The new self has been redeemed by Christ and is enslaved to goodness, free from the bonds of sin. The new self has everlasting hope, steady joy, and unsurpassed peace because her soul has been saved by God. She is reconciled to him, friends with him, and will spend forever in his presence. The new self has been given a righteousness that’s not her own, but one that comes from Jesus.


The new self follows her Maker, understanding that it’s not the “universe” that gives her strength and direction, but the God who made it. In his Word, he tells her what is “good, right, and true,” and through his Holy Spirit, he empowers her to pursue it. She knows God (Ephesians 5:9) has expectations for her life, and she seeks to meet them: expectations like truthfulness, purity, hard work, generosity, cheerfulness, and self-denial. He has expectations for men and different ones for women. He has expectations for parents and for children, for married people, and for singles.


The new self sees these expectations as good boundaries set by the Father who loves her, not inhibitions hindering her “true self,” because her “true self” is the person God calls her to be, empowered to love him and others and to pursue holiness. This means mistakes and failures and sins do exist. They’re not just experiences to learn from, and they’re not other people’s fault or harmless habits typical of our personality type; they’re choices to regret. Not everything taboo needs to be “destigmatized” or “normalized.” For the Christian, some behavior has a stigma and is abnormal because God says it should be.


In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul rejoices in a “godly grief” over sin that leads to repentance. Without sadness over sins, we won’t be moved to turn from them and realign ourselves with God’s will. If God cares about sin so much that he sent his son to die to pay the price for it, we should care about it too. Romans 6 reminds us that God’s grace isn’t an excuse to sin but is actually the very reason we resist sin.


Obedience to God in all we do is the goal of our lives, which may mean our definition of success doesn’t come to fruition. Our call is to do “whatever [we] do, in word or deed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” and to “work heartily as for the Lord, and not for man” (Colossians 3:17, 23).


There is great benefit in creating healthy habits that tend to lead to a successful life. In fact, the book of Proverbs is replete with warnings against laziness and commendations to work hard, plan for the future, and make wise decisions. These things are for God’s glory and our good, but they don’t guarantee what the world says is our “best life.” They’re fruit of the obedience of the new self, not the manifestations of the “best self.”


“You’re perfect the way you are” leads us into accepting parts of ourselves that we should be rejecting, making excuses for ourselves when we should be repenting, and believing things about ourselves that hold no lasting value.


The toxic culture of self-love is filled with empty platitudes that are handed out not because they’re true but because they’re profitable and clickable. It makes us feel good to imagine that we’re perfect and enough. But, as we’ve established, we’re neither one. And that’s okay because God made us needy for his strength and salvation. This is a much better comfort than the delusion that we’re flawless.


Even for the Christian women who are aware of our imperfection and need of the Savior, there are still other facets of this “you’re perfect the way you are” lie that we need to look out for. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are entranced by the idea that “who we are” deep down inside us is in need of discovery. So we turn to personality tests.

ONE WITH A TWO WING

Every time I’ve taken the Enneagram test, I’ve either gotten “one with a two wing” (the “advocate”) or an eight (the “challenger”). It used to frustrate me to no end that the result was never consistent.


If you’re unfamiliar with it, the Enneagram is a personality test that categorizes people by nine different “types.” You can have “wings,” which means you have components of two adjacent numbers. So my being a “one with a two wing” means that I am a one, with characteristics of a two.


I got really into the Enneagram in college. A girl who lived on my hall sophomore year talked about it all the time, convincing everyone who’d listen of its accuracy and incredible insight into the human soul. After taking the test myself and getting one with a two wing, I agreed. I bought a couple of books on the test and for years would make everyone I knew take it.


I believed the test had a little more substance than your typical personality tests, and there seemed to be a spiritual component to it, too. I’d even heard that it had been developed by the ancient church by analyzing the nine parts of Jesus’s character. To me, it was a beneficial tool to understanding myself and relating to other people that aligned well with our biblical mandate to love other people as we love ourselves.


It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to notice the Enneagram’s popularity in Christian circles. I saw several ministries and churches selling resources on the Enneagram and even conducting Bible studies and sermon series on the nine types. That’s when I started to wonder: Is this healthy?


In his book The Road Back to You about the Enneagram, Episcopal priest Ian Morgan Cron writes, “For three years [as a new pastor] I tried everything short of surgery to transform myself into the kind of leader I thought the church needed and wanted me to be, but the project was doomed from the start.” Until he discovered the Enneagram, he writes, he felt lost as a pastor, as if he weren’t a good fit for the job. After discovering his type, he realized he didn’t need to change a thing. He just needed to be “awakened,” to know himself better.


Cron asserts that the test is helpful for sanctification. He writes, “Every number on the Enneagram teaches us something about the nature and character of the God who made us. Inside each number is a hidden gift that reveals something about God’s heart. So when you are tempted to prosecute yourself for the flaws in your own character, remember that each type is at its core a signpost pointing us to travel toward and embrace an aspect of God’s character that we need.”


It’s this mentality about the test that I began to observe (and grow concerned about) among Christians. This isn’t biblical at all. The idea that the God of the universe can be limited by nine man-made personality types is silly at best and blasphemous at worst. The Enneagram isn’t our source of knowledge about God; the Bible is. Introspection doesn’t take us down a path of sanctification. That’s a New Age idea, not a Christian one.


As it turns out, the Enneagram is a relic of New Age philosophy. It was first made known by the early twentieth-century Russian-Armenian mystic philosopher and occultist George Gurdjieff, who believed that humans exist in what he called “waking sleep,” and that they can awaken the true, full self by learning the discipline of uniting body, mind, and spirit to achieve a higher consciousness. Gurdjieff and his pupils emphasized the importance of the self: self-actualization, self-betterment, and self-empowerment. His ideas were spread to the West by his own efforts and those of his followers.


It wasn’t until later in the twentieth century when another occultist, Oscar Ichaso, and his student Claudio Naranjo developed the Enneagram of personality that was considered a tool for personality analysis with the aim of aiding self-observation and transcendence of suffering. Ichaso claimed that the enneagram was revealed to him by “Metatron, the prince of the archangels” while he was in “some of ecstatic state or trance.” Naranjo, who spearheaded the integration of psychotherapy with spirituality and fantasy-enhancing drugs, was a leader in what is known as the “global human potential movement” of the late 1900s, the end goal of which was a life of personal happiness and fulfillment for each individual. In the 1970s, Naranjo’s students brought the enneagram to Catholic communities. It is still promoted by a few Catholic leaders today, such as Franciscan friar Richard Rohr, as well as embraced by many evangelical Christians.


To constantly focus on our unique attributes is to totally miss the point of what God calls us to do. God calls each of us not to be our “best selves,” but to be filled with the fruit of the spirit, which, according to Galatians, is made up of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are called to embody all of these qualities, not only the ones that come naturally to us.


Moreover, followers of Jesus know our identity, value, and purpose without taking a personality test. We understand that each of us was made on purpose with purpose by a Creator who does nothing arbitrarily. Our unique talents and gifts are important and are to be used to help the body of Christ for his glory. Our bodies are dwelling places of the Holy Spirit and therefore are to be in submission to God’s will as outlined in his Word. In this sense, we are special. We matter.


But Christians also understand that we are depraved sinners in need of a savior. Contrary to the core assumption of self-love culture, we are not good deep down, and nothing we do could ever merit God’s mercy. Jesus’s followers were “chosen in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) and therefore can take no credit in our salvation or sanctification. We are irreversibly and eternally secure in him, knowing that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). We weren’t chosen because of our good works, but rather for good works. No matter how much we introspect, we will never find our good and perfect selves, because they don’t exist.


The call for Christians is not to be the best version of their personality type, but to be like Christ. No matter what our natural inclinations, strengths, or deficits may be, we are all called to live holy lives. We are all to repent sin. We are all to be obedient. No quirk or characteristic makes us exempt from the standards God has set for us.


Until you realize that the reason you matter is because God created you and sent his Son to die for you, you’ll be running a rat race toward the prize of perfectionism that doesn’t actually exist. You’ll keep trying to be enough for yourself—smart enough, accomplished enough, thin enough, organized enough, and so forth—only to realize sufficiency was never in your nature. It’s better to face the facts now: you’re going to disappoint yourself.


That we are not called to constant introspection and self-discovery is good news. We can finally be relieved of the duty to constantly search for ourselves. We don’t need to search for our purpose or the meaning of our lives. We have worth and our lives matter because the God who made us says so.


Unlike the authors of personality tests who don’t even know your name, God knew you before time began. He is intimately acquainted with your thoughts, motivations, desires, dreams, what makes you laugh, and what makes you anxious. He wrote every single one of your days before any of them came to be (Psalm 139), and he is with you in each of them. His love for you gives you the comfort you’ve been needlessly looking for in personality tests and your journey to “find yourself.”


The world of self-love tells us that knowing ourselves is essential happiness. We’re told that our inner perfection, once found and unleashed, will empower us to succeed and have peace. God tells us something different: that knowing him gives us the peace we’re looking for and that his love gives us the confidence we’re looking for.


Once we realize just how not perfect we are, and how little self-discovery contributes to our fulfillment, we begin to see just how unreliable we are as masters of our own fate and rulers of our lives.


This means that rather than follow our hearts, as we’re so often encouraged to do, we should question them.

YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID . . . OR ARE THEY?

I recently came across a post that read “Your feelings are valid . . . all of them. Especially the negative ones.” I stopped scrolling and thought about it. Is this true? Are my feelings of anger or jealousy or fear valid?


On the one hand, it’s comforting to hear our emotions are justified. There is nothing—and I mean nothing—more aggravating than being told to “calm down” when we’re upset. Obviously, if we were able to calm down, we would have taken that option already. No one tries to react in a way that’s disproportionate to the situation at hand, and even if we do, we don’t want to be patronized. We want to hear that our tears or rage or fear is understandable and acceptable.


But is it true that all the feelings we have are valid? Valid means legitimate, having a basis in logic and fact. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had plenty of feelings that aren’t based in reality at all.


I think back to times in high school when I was convinced my parents hated me because I had an eleven o’clock curfew while most of my friends had none. I think of all the times in my life I’ve been envious of people for being prettier, more accomplished, more fit, more “together.” I can easily recall quite a few moments I’ve been frustrated with my husband for not meeting my (unstated and therefore unrealistic) expectations.


What about the feeling that no matter how much weight you lose, you’ll be valuable? What about crippling anxiety that the grades on your exam are going to determine the rest of your life? What about feelings of desperate attachment to the boyfriend who abuses you? What about lust for another woman’s husband? What about thoughts of murder or suicide?


Are these feelings valid?


Of course not, because they have no basis in truth. Your value isn’t based on your weight. A set of exams can’t determine your future. Your abusive boyfriend is bad for you. Another woman’s husband isn’t yours to want. Nothing in your life will be made better by hurting yourself or someone else.


It’s important to distinguish between real and valid. Our feelings may be real in that we truly feel them, but they’re not valid if they’re not based in reality. Our feelings can be very much irrational. If followed, they can send us into a spiral of discouragement and despair. They can lead us to resent people who don’t deserve our resentment. They can fill our minds with fear that doesn’t need to be there. Worse yet, they can compel us to say or do something that we’ll regret and will hurt those around us.


To determine whether our emotions are truly justified, we should ask ourselves a simple question: Why? Why are we upset or fearful? What are we really worried about? What are we actually hurt by?


The other day I was in the car on the phone with my husband. We were talking about a problem I was having at work, and I was off on a passionate diatribe. In the middle of my monologue, he switched from his phone to Bluetooth then asked if I could repeat the last sentence I said.


I was inordinately mad. “Are you serious?” I said (yelled?) before hanging up on him. I fumed for an hour after the conversation and ignored his calls until I got home.


The question I considered hours later was: Was I really upset by the minor inconvenience of having to repeat a sentence? Had he really done anything wrong in switching to Bluetooth? I had to take a deep breath and ask myself: “Why did that make me so mad?”


Once I thought about it, I knew I wasn’t really frustrated at him. I was mad at the situation at work. I was stressed out in general. I had three speaking engagements that week plus a deadline for this book, and my patience was thin. I wanted my rant to go uninterrupted, and I had no grace to spare when I was momentarily thrown off course.


My anger toward him was real in the moment, but it wasn’t valid, because he hadn’t done anything wrong. And because I followed my invalid anger, I lashed out and caused a fight where there didn’t need to be one.


While all valid feelings are real, not all real feelings are valid. That means we can acknowledgeour emotions without affirming them. The question of “Why?” can help us determine the difference between valid and invalid feelings. Sometimes we just need to dig a little deeper and realize that we’re not being logical. Hanging on to an illogical emotion is only going to make us and those we love feel worse, not better.


The culture of self-love tells us our feelings are valid because deep down we’re perfect. Therefore, we can and should trust ourselves. But this is both irrational and unbiblical. As we’ve already established, we’re actually fundamentally flawed, which means our feelings are too.


The Bible is clear that while our capacity for emotion is God-given, feelings aren’t to be unconditionally followed. Rather, they’re to be bridled by truth and subjected to the authority of Scripture.


The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about ruling our feelings rather than allowing our feelings to rule us. Proverbs 14:29 says this: “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”


How true is that? When we’re quick to validate our anger, we often say and do stupid things. Most of us have blurted out something hurtful or harsh in the moment that we didn’t really mean. God wants to spare us and those around us from making choices based on our fickle, and at times, invalid feelings.


Sometimes our feelings—not just our outward reactions—are not just illegitimate but also sinful. In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches us that sin starts in the heart. He makes clear that hate and lust are sins, not only the murder and adultery that may follow. In the same chapter, he reminds his followers to let go of anxiety and fear. The ninth commandment God gave Israel was a command against covetousness. Ephesians 4:31 instructs Christians to abandon all “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander.” This means some of our feelings need to be both discounted and repented from.


Jeremiah 17:9 warns us that our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” The emotions that flow out of our hearts can be the opposite of valid: they can be based entirely on lies. Why follow a heart that God promises will lead us astray?


Those who worship the god of self have no option but to validate their feelings, because feelings are their only arbiter of what’s true. This is exhausting and self-defeating. People eager to agree with every emotion that consumes them are characterized by a lack of commitment, selfishness, and broken relationships because their anger, insecurity, or jealousy continually gets the best of them.


But those who bow down to the God of Scripture know that our emotions don’t have the final say in our lives, God does. While our feelings change, God doesn’t. Every thought we have is to be held “captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This doesn’t mean we pretend our emotions don’t exist; it means we assess them, examine them, and weigh them against reality and God’s Word. We surrender them to our compassionate, attentive Father, who hears us, sees us, and knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8).


The untrustworthy nature of our feelings points to our insufficiency. We’re not enough to know which feelings are valid and which ones are going to lead us in the wrong direction.


When we look inside ourselves, we don’t find a heart worth following or a perfect goddess worth worshipping. We find an inadequate girl who needs guidance from her Creator. He tells us who we are and in so doing keeps us grounded and steady. Influencers telling us we’re beautiful and great will never give us that.


And yet as women we long to be told—even by strangers on the internet—that we’re acceptable and attractive. So when we hear the messages of the “body positive” movement telling us to love ourselves as we are, we listen.

BODY POSITIVITY

I gained sixty pounds during my pregnancy. Just a tad over the twenty-five-pound recommendation. It was part baby, part water weight, and a huge part Chick-fil-A. I was never really self-conscious about it, though it wasn’t easy watching pregnant bloggers I follow gain a total of, like, eight pounds. But because I enjoy working out, I knew I would get back into the swing of things once she was born. I was fine. Until one day I decided to look at the comments on a Facebook video I’d just posted.


“Okay—there’s baby weight, and then there’s BABY WEIGHT. Come on.”


“Stress can cause people to overeat. It looks like that’s what’s happened here. Maybe take some time for yourself.”


“Wow. You’ve really gained a lot of weight.”


“You’re freaking fat.”


These are just a few of the comments—verbatim. Until then I’d never cried over something mean said to me online. I’ve been posting videos of my social and political commentary for almost four years, and I’ve had my share of hate mail and nasty comments. Sadly, it comes with the territory when you share your opinions with the public. But at seven months pregnant, I was more sensitive than usual. I was aware that I didn’t look my best. I was stressed about work, nervous about birth, and anxious about what life would look like when the baby got here. The comments pushed me over the emotional edge, and I crumbled.


I could have sought comfort in the many “body positive” messages strewn across social media that tell me my body is perfect and beautiful no matter what, and that I need to love myself to the point of not caring what people think. And all of that may have eased the pain for a little bit. But I learned through my eating disorder in college that superficial affirmation only goes so far.


So I had to remind myself of deeper truths: God made me and has blessed me with a child, and he’s masterfully created my body with the ability to carry her this far. Sure, I could have eaten more salads and worked out more often, but I can’t change that now. I have greater tasks before me than obsessing over the comments of strangers. I’m to be the best wife and mom I can be, working hard and remembering where my worth lies.


I truly appreciate how our society has evolved in the representation of different shapes and sizes on social media and advertisements. It’s true that a size 2 doesn’t have a monopoly on beauty. Though there have been instances of the “body positivity” corner of the internet condoning what appear to be unhealthy lifestyles, I think the new steps toward unphotoshopped and unfiltered depictions of a variety of real women are steps in the right direction.


The problem is the message this movement seeks to convey, which is the lie we’ve been uncovering this whole chapter: you’re perfect the way you are. Again, our perfection is not where we find our comfort. And when we try, we end up more insecure and sad than we were before.


Take Angelica’s story, for instance.


Angelica’s obsessive diet started to consume her life. When she was eight years old, her father passed away, and she grew up with a desperate sense of longing, but for what she wasn’t sure. Throughout high school and college, she learned that attention from men satisfied that longing—but only briefly. Falling in love with a man became her goal. “If I wasn’t talking to a boy, I literally felt like I was going to die,” she said.


She came to believe that if she wanted to find true love, she’d not only need to become beautiful, but she would also need to believe that she was beautiful. Insecurity was unattractive, she learned, so she would need to figure out a way to love her body as it was—while also working endlessly to perfect it. “I was told by culture that if I wasn’t okay with my looks, and confident in my intellect, and whatever else, I wouldn’t be able to have a healthy relationship,” she said. “If I didn’t love myself in a radical way, then true love wasn’t in the cards for me.”


She started the keto diet. This time last year she was as thin as she’d been in her whole life. She went on a date with a different boy every week, and by culture’s standards, she was “living her best life.” What wasn’t apparent, however, was the fact that she was drinking herself into oblivion nightly. Despite her physical beauty and the attention she received from men, she was starved for real love—both from herself and others—and the void inside her soul remained.


Our society’s only solution for the Angelicas of the world is self-love. If she could just love herself more and care for herself better, if she could think positive thoughts and remind herself of her own greatness, she’ll be happy and do great things. If she convinces herself that she’s perfect and beautiful and special, she’ll be confident enough to stare down her foes.


It’s our natural inclination to look for what’s going to make us feel better immediately, especially in our culture of purposelessness, individualism, and instant gratification. We want what’s going to work, what’s going to move us from where we are to where we want to be. And it seems convenient to find that in ourselves—or from other people. Then it’s in our control. Then it’s just a matter of making a choice and flipping a switch. If the problem is that we hate ourselves, then, of course, the answer is to love ourselves.


But here’s the big question: What happens when the self-love runs out? What happens when we look in the mirror and we still don’t like what we see? Or how about when we’ve done something we really are ashamed of? What if we’re caught in an unhealthy lifestyle that we feel we can’t escape? What happens when the motivational messages and positive mantras and self-affirmation and self-care just aren’t enough to give us peace?


Then we’re back to the drawing board, wondering why we can’t get it together. And in that moment, we don’t need to hear that we’re perfect the way we are.


Angelica eventually realized, by the grace of God, that placing so much stock in her identity, as successful as it seemed to outside observers, was actually only exacerbating her insecurity and desperation. The skinnier she got, the more she realized being skinny wasn’t enough to make her happy. She was trying to love herself as she was, but it wasn’t working.


In her book Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey explains why Angelica’s attempts at gaining confidence were failing. “To be obsessed with our body is not to accept it,” she writes. The abusive cultural practice of physical self-perfection encourages an “adversarial relationship” with our bodies. Instead, Pearcey reminds us, “our actions should be motivated by the fact that the body is a gift” from God. “We have a stewardship responsibility before God to treat it with care and respect.”


Confidence, therefore, is not something to be achieved. It’s a gift from God to accept. Unlike confidence derived from the opinions of boys, our female friends, and representations of the “ideal body” on social media, in movies, and in pornography, the gift of God’s confidence is permanent and real.


This means that, yes, of course we can exercise, lose weight, diet, change our hair and all the rest—but only if we do so in an effort to truly care for the bodies that God has given us. Only in order to glorify him, not in order to worship ourselves. Motivation matters.


The same God who made us is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and that’s the only thing that’s rescued me in seasons of self-obsession and moments of self-deprecation. Neither his love nor his plans for his children change based on the numbers on a scale. While we are to steward our bodies responsibly as dwelling places of the Holy Spirit, we aren’t obsessed with our appearance, knowing that though “man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Samuel 16:7). We understand that charm and beauty are fleeting, but fearing the Lord is praiseworthy (Proverbs 31:30). So instead of focusing on what we see, we fix our gaze on what is “unseen,” because “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).


Our identity, our significance, and our confidence come not from what we see in the mirror or what others say online, but from who God is and what he says we are.


Only the one who created us can tell us what we’re worth. And he says that we’re worth so much that he sent his only Son to die for us, paying for your sins, which are profound and many, so that we could spend forever with him. He did this all for his glory, and for our good. Because of this, we are no longer defined by what we think of ourselves or what others think of us, but who he says that we are.


He says that, in Jesus, you are a new creation. As a new creation, we operate as God calls us to operate: in humility, in love, in forgiveness, in self-control, in diligence, in joy, in mercy, and in justice. As a new creation, we pray for our enemies and bless those who persecute us. As a new creation, we are free from the pressure of fitting in or looking like the rest of the world wants us to look. Who we are meant to be, as followers of Jesus, are self-sacrificial disciples who take God at his Word and are empowered by his Spirit to live in peace and confidence in who Jesus is and what he’s done.


These are truths I have to preach to myself often. Every mom knows the pressure of “snapping back” to our prebaby selves, as if the prospect of pregnancy and birth were presented to us without the promise of scars, tears, extra skin, and stretch marks. These are part of the package, which means they’re worth thanking God for, not fretting over.


These truths are bigger, better, and longer lasting than the superficial lie that you’re perfect the way you are. You’re not. None of us is. And that’s okay.


Once we let go of the myth of perfection, we have another lie to combat: we’re entitled to our dreams.







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