It didn’t surprise me when I read that over 70% of women with children under 18 years of age are working or looking for work. Most of my friends are busy, even those who are not working outside the home. What drives us to keep pushing ourselves until we’re on empty? It feels like we are trapped in a cycle where there’s no reprieve. Thankfully, in Christ there’s freedom. Yet, we can’t live by faith alone. It takes work to change.
From my experience, many of us get into a performance trap that says, “I must perform to a certain standard to have worth and value.” If that trap doesn’t get us, then it’s this one: “I must be liked and have the approval to have self-worth.” So, we keep on working and meeting everyone else’s needs until at the end of the day there is no time left for ourselves. Does either sound familiar to you?
Let’s look at the first trap: fear of failure. It comes out in different ways for many of us. One person relentlessly works at something until it is perfect. Others are frozen, thinking, “If I never try, I can’t fail.” We get encouraged to stay in this cycle when we receive recognition for a job well done. It feels good to our self-esteem. Then when the recognition doesn’t come or even worse when our work is criticized we either push ourselves harder or quit. This is because our performance is enmeshed with our self-worth.
Do you know that you became pleasing to God the moment you were saved? Romans 5:1 & 2 says since, by faith we’ve been made right in God’s eyes, we should have peace with God because of Christ’s work on the cross. Our faith in Christ has brought us into a place where we can stand confidently and look forward joyfully to sharing God’s glory. We should now find our self-worth in a quiet acceptance of ourselves in Christ. We no longer need to try to be perfect!
Here’s the other trap: fear of rejection. For those in this trap, it may be hard to say “no”. Overwhelmed by what is already bulging out of our day planners, we still find ourselves saying, “yes” to one more person. We may think, “How could I say no? They really need my help.” On the other hand, others in this trap find themselves rejecting people. “If I reject you first, then I can’t be hurt.” Both types of people are driven by a desire to be accepted. Their acceptance of me means I have self-worth.
Just like with the fear of failure, through Christ, there is freedom from this trap. In this case, through our acceptance of Christ, God has accepted us, just as we are. We are now free from accusation. Colossians 1:22 tells us through Christ’s death on the cross, He settled the debt we owed for our sin. As a result, He has brought us into His own presence, and we are holy and blameless as we stand before him without a single fault. The good news is that we don’t have to keep striving to be accepted by others because the creator of the universe already accepts us. What more do we want or need?
Some of you may already know this information. You’ve known that Christ is more than enough. You already know that Acts 17:25 says Christ gives life and breath to everything, and He will satisfy all of our needs. Yet, every day we seem to fall right back into that burdensome trap. It’s not about faith for you; it’s about making a lifestyle change. For others, this is new information; it may take time for it to sink in. Whether this is new information or something you’ve already known, today can be a new day for you. All you have to do is take the first step.
First step: assess your goal. What do you need to change? Exercising? Eating right? Spending time in daily devotions? For one of my friends, she rarely shops for herself. Everyone in her family will get new clothes, but her. Her goal may be to take time to shop for herself. Can you relate? Take a moment and prayerfully think about what it is you need to do to take care of yourself. Next, take a piece of paper (or in your journal) and write your goal as if you’ve already done it. For example, “I spend 20 minutes every morning reading the Bible.” Or “I shop for clothes for myself before everything is worn out.”
Second step: stop sabotaging yourself! Just realize it is a natural part of the change process. Instead of denying it will happen, take a serious look at how it might happen. For instance, let’s say you’re trying to change your eating habits. Cookies are your temptation. If you were to look through your cabinets right now, would you find cookies? You might say to yourself, “They’re for the kids.” Yes, but how many have you eaten out of the package? Ok, cookies may not be your weakness, but I’m sure you get the point. Take a moment to think about ways you sabotage yourself. Is it your environment? Your thought life? Your habits? Or maybe your relationships? Most likely, you will sabotage yourself in a combination of ways. On a separate piece of paper (or again in your journal), write down your thoughts.
Step three: add structure. What do I mean by structure? Think of it as scaffolding to support your goals. Go back to your list of ways you might sabotage yourself and assess each area. As you go through each area, think of a way that you can support yourself. For example, if cookies are your weakness, when you go to the grocery store, don’t buy cookies. Or at least don’t buy the kind of cookies you like. I’ll admit it, “I love cookies.” Growing up, my mom would hide a package of cookies, but somehow I could still find them. It was like a sixth sense for me. With my own son, I learned that I couldn’t keep cookies around the house or I would eat them until they were GONE. My solution was I would buy snacks that he liked but I didn’t. Other examples may be to post notes for yourself, find inspirational quotes or pictures or track your progress on a chart. Some women find journaling a great way to add structure. Whatever you decide, it needs to be something that is natural for you. Particularly, remember to plan ahead and schedule time for your self-care goal every day. Protect your goal as if it is the most important thing in the world because in God’s eyes you are important.
Fourth step: be accountable. Ecclesiastes 4:9 & 10 tells us two people are better off than one because they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can support and help. The person who falls alone is in real big trouble. Accountability helps ensure success. Find a friend that you trust. Ask her if she will be your accountability partner. Then tell her exactly what would help you stay accountable. It might be that you need someone to email you once a week to remind you of your goal. Again, this has to be something that feels natural for you. If you don’t read your email regularly, then an email once a week would be worthless. There are other ways to find people to be accountable. You can join a support group such as Weight Watchers or Workaholics Anonymous. Whatever you decide to make it an important part of your life. Schedule a permanent time in your daily or weekly routine for accountability. If you don’t schedule the time, other obligations will creep in and you will be right back in the same trap. Remember what Proverbs 15:22 says our plans will fail without sufficient advice, the more people supporting us the greater our success.
An important thing to note is how our changes will affect those around us. Sitting down and having a conversation with our loved ones, boss or friends will be in order. Maybe your goal is to leave the office at 6:00 PM every night instead of 9:00 PM. Your boss may take notice. Make an appointment with your boss and explain that you are making changes in your life to take better care of yourself. Or if you stop buying double stuffed chocolate cookies, tell your family why. In most cases, people just want to know. If you tell them, they will probably be supportive. However, if they are not, remember God’s plan for your life. Our lives are the primary testimony to our children, spouse, and others. What are you saying to them?