The Freedom of Embracing God’s Pattern
By LESLIE LUDY
Exercising early in the morning isn’t one of my favorite things to do. I’m not one of those people who leaves her running shoes right by the bed and energetically pops awake as soon as the alarm sounds the first “beep,” charging out into the frosty morning air for a five-mile run. But, just like spending time with God, exercise is one of those things that is a lot more consistent when I make time for it in the morning rather than trying to somehow fit it in later on in the day. At 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. I’ve found that I really need the extra motivation of someone peppy and excited reminding me to work hard and push myself. On one of my favorite morning workout DVD’s, the energetic instructor encourages her viewers with the statement, “Don’t ask less of yourself — ask more! Just when you feel like giving up, that’s when you need to think like an athlete and push even harder!” Hearing that little reminder always helps me “go the extra mile” and work as hard as I possibly can to make the most of my thirty-minute exercise session.
When it comes to a work-out coach, most of us appreciate being exhorted to work hard and give our very best. We wouldn’t have much respect for an exercise instructor that said, “You don’t need to try very hard this morning. In fact, you should probably just take it easy on yourself today! Why don’t you just forget about working out and go get some extra sleep!”
Yet, when it comes to motherhood, we would usually rather hear the statement, “Take it easy on yourself” than “Rise up and give your very best!” Christian moms today are often drawn to messages that imply, “Oh, you poor thing. Your life as a mom is so hard! God loves you just the way you are — you don’t need to change a thing!”
This causes me to ask the question, why do we readily accept the “go after a higher standard” approach in areas like physical fitness, yet balk at anything that would suggest we could be doing better in our mothering?
I believe it’s because we moms so often feel the suffocating pressure to pursue “motherhood perfectionism.” It’s all too easy to start comparing ourselves to others and feeling like we’re always falling short in one area or another. Whether it’s viewing the spectacular homemaking skills of other moms on Pinterest, observing homeschool supermoms whose homes seem to run flawlessly, or measuring our decorating abilities against a Pottery Barn Kids catalog, the temptation to become insecure in our mothering and homemaking role is never ending.
I have noticed that when I allow the pressures of motherhood perfectionism to influence my perspective, I become hyper-defensive toward anything that might challenge me to work harder and rise up to a higher standard in my motherhood role. Instead of willingly and joyfully pursuing God’s pattern for excellence, I can easily fall into a mindset of apathy, using the justification: “Motherhood is so hard. I just need to take it easy on myself and not worry about trying to become better in any area of my mothering. Mediocrity is all that I can handle during this season of my life!”
But this mindset quickly causes my home and family life to go downhill. While God doesn’t want us to pursue perfectionism and unrealistic standards in our mothering, neither does He want us to accept carelessness and apathy in this all-important role of raising children and running our homes. Our families will suffer if we throw up our hands in defeat and allow mediocrity to become the norm.
God’s pattern for motherhood is one of excellence and diligence, not sloppiness and lethargy. A study of Proverbs 31 reveals a woman who is vigilant and watchful over the ways of her home, attentive to the needs of those under her care, energetic and hard-working, and purposeful and strong in everything she does.
God’s Solution for Perfectionism
If you have ever felt the pressure of motherhood perfectionism, it’s easy to scoff at Proverbs 31 and reason, “I’ll become the Proverbs 31 woman just as soon as I get all those Proverbs 31 servant girls!” or “When does this woman ever sleep? She never has time for herself! It’s totally unrealistic to live that way, and I’m not even going to try.”
But I have discovered that there is a big difference between the world’s pressure toward motherhood perfectionism and God’s pattern for motherhood excellence. One is based on human strength; the other is supernaturally enabled. One is based on people-pleasing; the other flows from a personal relationship with the King of all kings.
If you are feeling pressure or condemnation in your motherhood role, remember that the solution is not to swing in the opposite direct and embrace mediocrity. Rather, the solution comes from shifting our focus from the world’s pattern to God’s, and trusting Him to equip and enable us to fulfill the sacred calling that He has placed upon our lives.
Let’s take a look at the difference between motherhood perfectionism and God’s pattern for Christ-enabled mothering:
Perfectionism says: You need to impress everyone with your children’s impeccable behavior, your dazzling home management skills, and your flawless family life.
The result: Frazzled, exhausted women who are feverishly trying to build up their social media fans and Pinterest followings in order to show everyone that they are amazing moms and homemakers. Women who spend more time blogging about motherhood and posting photos of their family on Instagram than actually being moms in real life because they are trying to “prove something” to the world.
Christ-enabled mothering says: Stop trying to impress other people and live instead for the applause of Heaven. His opinion is the only one that really matters. As Paul summarizes in Galatians 1:10: “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”
The result: A happy, peaceful mom who is not striving to impress others or win God’s approval through perfectionism. Rather, she simply trusts Him with child-like faith, loves Him with all her heart, and everything she does flows out of her personal love-relationship with Him.
Perfectionism says: It’s all up to you! You need to figure out how to become the godly, hospitable, nurturing, frugal, healthy, disciplined, organized, giving, creative mother that God wants you to be. If Proverbs 31 is the picture of a truly godly mother — you better get your act together, and quick!
The result: Burned-out women who scoff at Proverbs 31 and decide they are not even going to try anymore. They are tired of hearing about all the ways they just don’t measure up. They would rather celebrate chaos and excuse defeat than kill themselves trying to attain an impossible standard.
Christ-enabled mothering says: The only way to truly become a godly woman is to stop trying to perfect, and instead become completely dependent upon the only One who is. We must lean wholly upon the grace of God for this high calling—believing that what He calls us to, He equips us for. By His strength, we can live lives that would otherwise be impossible, and we can do it without exhaustion and burn-out. Why? Because it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Galatians 2:20 summarizes this principle:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
Oswald Chambers beautifully expressed the difference between human perfectionism and Christ-enabled excellence with his statement: “We are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, not by struggle and effort, but by the impartation of that which is Perfect.”
By the enabling grace of God, we can be set free from the unhealthy pressure of human perfectionism while embracing and pursuing His pattern for excellence in our motherhood role! I have found that there are always new areas of motherhood in which He is challenging me to rise up to a higher standard and pursue greater levels of excellence. But rather than feeling overwhelmed by the things that need improvement, I must simply rely on His strength to do in and through me what I could never do on my own. And when I fall short, He doesn’t condemn me. Rather, like a patient father teaching his toddler how to walk, He gently reaches out His hand to steady me, strengthen me, and give me the encouragement and hope that I need to try again.
From Perfectionism to Excellence: Making the Exchange
If you aren’t sure exactly how to shift your focus from perfectionism to Christ-enabled mothering, here are some practical ways to begin.
1. Ask for His Grace
Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” If you feel exhausted or frazzled in your motherhood role, chances are you are leaning a lot on your own efforts and abilities rather than letting the grace of God enable you to do the work He has called you to. Remember, grace is more than the merciful hug of God; it’s the enabling strength to live the victorious life He has called us to live. This applies to the calling of Christian motherhood. Don’t try to muster up the willpower or energy to be a better mom. Rather, take each area that you are struggling with, lay it at Jesus’ feet, and ask Him to pour His grace over that area of your life, so that you can rise up to a higher standard in His strength and not your own. 1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies.” Godly motherhood is truly a ministry and calling from God. May we never forget that God supplies the ability to carry out His calling upon our lives when we look to Him and not ourselves.
2. Guard Against People-Pleasing
While social media, mommy blogs, Pinterest, and other such mediums can offer encouragement and inspiration to moms, they can sometimes also be pitfalls of perfectionism. If we choose to blog, post, or pin about our motherhood and/or homemaking journey, we must keep our heart motives in check. Anything we share with others should flow from a desire to point them to Jesus Christ, not draw their attention to us. Ask God to show you whether any of these areas are causing you to fall into a trap of people-pleasing or impressing others with your insights or abilities. If they are, consider taking a season away from these things, or changing your approach to deflect attention away from yourself and onto Jesus Christ.
3. Study Heroic Women
We don’t often hear testimonies of heroic, victorious Christ-centered womanhood these days. But taking the time to study the lives of Christ-enabled women throughout history can go a long way in expanding our vision for the calling and impact of godly motherhood. I love the book Great Women of the Christian Faith, by Edith Deen. It chronicles the lives and examples of hundreds of Christ-centered women through multiple generations, starting from first century Christianity to recent decades. Some of my favorite examples of godly mothers include Catherine Booth and Elizabeth Fry. Both of these women had numerous children and yet they influenced the world tremendously for Christ. Their secret was in not relying on their own strength, but on the enabling power of God. Read more about these amazing women at SetApartGirl.com. If you are struggling to gain a vision for what Christ-enabled motherhood can look like, I encourage you to study the lives of these and other great women and be encouraged and inspired by what is possible when a woman submits her life completely to God.
When you deliberately choose to become set free from the unhealthy pressures of human perfectionism and embrace the life-giving, hope-filled pattern for godly excellence, motherhood can go from mundane and mediocre to beautiful and victorious. Truly, His ways are perfect!