Me, My Sisters and the Ideal Christian Woman6:50 PM
When we were little, and naughty, and (come to think of it) just a step below what we are now, our mother used to tell us, “Think of the X family! Why can’t you be like them?” Part of me—the part that wasn’t mortified, the large part—disliked that charge to the extreme. I knew that family. They weren’t perfect. They shared our sibling woes as much and more than our own imperfect selves. That was excuse enough to sidle out from the not-so-subtle command of “shape up and be good.” After all, the X family wasn’t perfect, either. And if we were to be like them, we could be imperfect, too.
I mention that because I heard the most hilarious scrap of conversation the other day. We girls were putting our lives together for the day, retelling funny stories, sharing our side of the same event—sister stuff, you know. I don’t remember how it came up, but someone said that “E’s mom always tells them when they’re being bad, ‘Why can’t you be like the Bergmanns?’”
We fell over laughing. And it is laughable—the Bergmann children have just as many bumps and bruises as the rest of the world, our own miserable pitfalls and temper tantrums, our rough edges and sharp tongues. I pity the mother who encourages her children to emulate us—not because I don’t love my siblings, not because we’re all bad, not because we weren’t brought up right, but because we all the know the secret that others won’t admit about us: We’re imperfect. And nothing more.
Comparing imperfect children to imperfect children—that’s silly stuff at age eleven. I thought I was far above that. However.
A couple months ago I read the courtship story of a godly young man and woman—and even though I love those sorts of things, the only thing that stood out to me was my own failure. I wasn’t like the girl described—nothing close. I didn’t feel mature, godly, Bible-infused, Holy Spirit driven, wise, principled, disciplined, worthy, anything of that sort. And part of me—the large, unmortifiable part, you’ll remember, that’s stuck with me since birth—didn’t want to be just like her. She was in a high-profile circle, held up as a paragon of biblical womanhood. I wasn’t like her, and I knew I was out of the paragon.
There’s so much of the comparison game going on in conservative Christian circles—especially with the stay-at-home daughters. This is such an untrodden path that we need the network of well-spoken young women who are able to teach the word and live the life, blazing a trail all the way as sisters holding hands down the line. We girls who aren’t as confident and aptly-spoken—we’re scared. We don’t know what this looks like. Our fathers don’t work for Vision Forum and our mothers weren’t born knowing the ins and outs of homemaking. We want so badly to follow the Lord and obey His word. We just don’t know how.
And because this is so radical, because the larger culture rejects us and because we don’t want to be rejected and weird—there’s a pressure to conform to people instead of Christ Himself. Instead of searching the Scriptures and holding our own convictions, we turn to the latest stay-at-home blogger to make sure that what she believes is widely accepted enough for us to emulate. In a zeal to follow Biblical standards, we teeter far closer to molding ourselves into what we think is the Ideal Christian Woman.
Some will say that promoters of stay-at-home daughterhood and motherhood force legalism onto their “followers.” I think that’s overstepping it. Living a Christian life is hard in a world that either hates or muddles the very things we ought to cherish. Even Christians—so-called, self-proclaimed or sincerely misguided—make it hard to see the light. Rhetoric is somewhat easier to understand than actually life itself: practically walking the talk. So human nature jumps at the chance of emulation. “What would Jesus do?” translates itself into asking that of whoever we think best exemplifies Jesus: our mother, our mentor at church, our Christian BFF—or our favorite blogger.
Legalism comes when we base our beliefs on what others think and how others act and not on Scripture alone. Humans can only see the outward—not the inner—of even the most transparent Christian woman writer out there. Naturally, we copy that, neglecting the core of her message in favor of the outward packaging.
Case in point: I adopted weird ideas of what I could and could not wear, to the point where my mother was frustrated because I refused to touch the modest denim skirt she bought or to put on a pair of snowpants when tumbling around in Wisconsin’s five foot drifts. My ideas came from a book on modesty—and I missed their entire message of dressing femininely and discreetly in lieu of a hardline, No pants, no denim, no black—bad girl. To my shock, a later photo of the authoress showed her wearing tasteful makeup, earrings, layered hair and a black sweater which wasn’t pink at all. No, she hadn’t messed up. No, she hadn’t crossed her standards. I had just focused on the outer, without taking into consideration that she was dressing for the Lord, using her Christian liberty and understanding of the Scriptures.
Actually, I think our biggest pressure isn’t one living, breathing person. It’s that elusive, alluring Ideal Christian Woman. Whatever we think the Ideal Christian Woman ought to be—that’s the standard we hold ourselves to. Much of it is a conglomeration of ideas and impressions we get from flesh-and-blood acquaintances and inspiring manifestos: the servant heart of that lady at church without her inclination to gossip; the various blog writings of Stay-at-Home Daughter Exemplar; the freshness of the young Christian mother without her naivete; the winsomeness of another Stay-at-Home Daughter Exemplar. This Ideal Christian Woman is so devoid of faults that she discourages the fully fallible girls who make her up.
Then despair kicks in, and we doubt whether the whole Christian woman thing is even viable. We resent those who are held up as “role models” because all we can see is the impossible height and our own past falls. We back away from the whole “holy and set apart thing”—we don’t fit that cookie cutter, without ever considering that the Ideal Christian Woman is not the sum and substance of redeemed womanhood.
It’s the comparison game—with a spiritual twist. Instead of asking if my haircut is as cute as Suzie’s or my clothes the latest style as the Jones girls’, we fret about whether we’re modest enough, womanly enough, godly enough. Not because we desire to seek after Christ’s heart but because we want to be accepted in the Christian circle, to reach a manmade goal of perfection, to feel good about our spirituality without taking the hard road of self-examination, the mature road of responsible liberty. It’s then that we are far from God, so wrapped up in our brethren’s opinions; it’s then that our sins grow worse, so spiritual on the outside that no one looks into our heart—or encourages us to do the same. It’s a breeding ground for pride, legalism, stubbornness and ultimately guilt.
Christ is freedom. Not rules. Not regulations. Not do not taste, do not handle, do not touch.
Don’t be like the X family. Don’t follow the Ideal Christian Woman. Follow Christ alone. It’s harder—and easier—than you think.