The Time I Was “That Girl” and How It Freed Me Forever
As great as getting together with family can be, these gatherings can also be stressful. Based on stories I hear from especially women I minister to, there are many reasons. Often it’s because we think we need to change for others. We sometimes strive to be who we think others wish we were. We feel unacceptable and unaccepted.
To try to win approval, we can find ourselves talking about our successes more than we wish we were. We may hear ourselves make excuses for deficiencies we think are obvious and a blight on our identity. Then, or later when our head is on the pillow at the end of a long day, we may be angry with ourselves for playing this game.
My friend, Jerusha Clark, wrote an important book because she cares deeply for women. She reminds us that God does not define Himself with reference to any quality or person. “He is, and that is enough.” In contrast, we tend to describe ourselves in terms of how we relate to people (friend, coworker, wife) or in terms of our accomplishments (title, accolades). Perhaps you can relate to her conclusion: “When our identity is wrapped up in these external things, we inevitably (and exhaustingly!) strive to prove ourselves worthy of love, attention, or affirmation.”
Jerusha shares insights here for us today. Her book, Every Piece of Me: Shattering Toxic Beliefs and Discovering the Real You, is full of many more. Especially if you’ve tried to hide because you’re not sure the real you is enough, I highly recommend it. If you’re raising preteen and teen daughters, consider reading it with them. Jerusha’s illustrations and insights will generate valuable discussions.
Will I Be Good Enough?
Few things make me feel “less than” quicker than walking into a wedding or event that’s clearly “out of my league.” I mean, I’m not quite riff-raff, but I’m no society queen either, so when the invitation to my girlfriend Tammy’s Malibu wedding arrived, oozing swank with every hand-embossed letter, I was faced—once again—with the haunting question: Will I be good enough?
Of course, I didn’t really ask this out loud. Like a lot of women, I just carried around the nagging sense that I wasn’t quite cutting it (and never would) as a mom, as a wife, in my work…even in my faith. I wanted to teach my own daughters how to settle the “good enough?” question. But, perhaps like many of you, I found that wasn’t so easy. Kids seem to fight the “less than feelings” earlier and earlier. I wanted my kids to be different; I wanted to be different.
Here’s how a posh wedding and a bit of red napkin changed me forever:
Tammy’s wedding started in forty-five minutes. I was speeding down Pacific Coast Highway on my way to her ritzy affair, pink sponge curlers bouncing in my hair (yes, I still use these hairstyling relics). It was 90-plus degrees this particular July afternoon, and I had opted not to unroll my hair or put my dress on until I neared the Malibu Cliffs.
I scanned the road for a nice-ish gas station where I could change. Spotting one, I pulled in, gathered my things, and stuck my foot out the door. I instantly realized (with horror) that I had forgotten my wedding shoes. I was wearing—go figure—the tackiest flip flops I owned, the kind you sport around the house long after the flap peels away and the straps thin ominously.
Eek! There was no chance these were going to fly at a Malibu wedding. I hurriedly grabbed my cell phone and tracked down a Payless not too far away.
Alright; it would have to do. Hopefully I could find something halfway decent. I ran into Shell’s bathroom, yanked the curlers out, calmed my ringlets into a respectable wave and put on my dress.
Miles out of my way, I dashed inside the shoe store, found some strappy white dress sandals, and paid (somewhat grudgingly, but also gratefully).
The wedding was every bit as classy as I had imagined. Still, no amount of glitz can alter the temperature, and the eager July sun beats down on the glamorous and unglamorous alike. I sat, patiently awaiting the bridal march, well aware that I do not “glisten” or “perspire” like some females. I flat-out sweat. Really I should all-caps that. Armed with a cocktail napkin, I dabbed furiously at the beads forming on my face.
After the vows and the kiss and the triumphant recessional, I chatted with some family members and friends of the couple. I didn’t know many people, so I basically talked to people around the hors d’oeuvre and beverage tables.
Before dinner began, I ducked into the ladies’ room to wash my hands. When I looked into the mirror, however, I gasped with alarm. Perhaps you recall that I had been using a cocktail napkin to hold back the tide of my sweat. Well, said napkin was red. Said napkin was also strewn around my face in splotches of damp, ruddy cotton. Apparently no one I’d been conversing with felt they knew me well enough to tell me I had patches of red napkin stuck to my face. Seriously, people?!
The ordeal was embarrassing, but not tragic. I peeled the napkin off and decided laughing would be better than adding post-crying mascara stains to my humiliation. That said, I emerged from the bathroom determined to avoid anyone I had talked to previously.
It may sound odd, but I’ve thought about that napkin a lot over the years. The whole experience helped me realize how often and how desperately I’ve tried to avoid being “that girl,” (you know, the one with sweaty napkin on her face). I don’t mean that literally, of course. What I really mean is that I don’t want to be exposed; I don’t want to feel foolish or incompetent. I want to be the perfectly-put-together guest at the Malibu wedding, not the one in half-a-size-too-small Payless shoes with red napkin splotching her features.
We’ve All Been “That Girl”
At some time and in some way or another, though, every one of us has been “that girl.” We try our best to hide our weaknesses or mistakes (my propensity to sweat, for instance), but covering up actually leaves us with figurative patches on our face and heart. The more we hide—the more our kids learn to hide—the louder the question becomes: am I good enough?
I spent years (Ugh! Let’s change that to decades) working to shut off the “not good enough” reel in my mind. Like many of you, I tried to make my kids the most well-rounded beings on the planet, tried to carefully curate the “happy Christian woman” image, tried to do something meaningful for the Kingdom. The one thing it took me far too long to do is accept the truth that it’s okay to be the girl with napkin on her face. It took me a long time to look at myself and believe, “Yep. Good enough, just as I am.”
In John 14:6, Jesus proclaimed himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” We are created in His image; if He is the Truth, we are to be truthful and live out truth as well. This involves risk and vulnerability (and, in my case, sometimes allowing people to see me a sweaty mess).
Embracing truth is the pathway to peace and to secure identity. If we want to silence the “good enough” questions that plague us or plague our kids, if we want to experience the abundant life Christ died to give us, we have to ditch the red napkins of life, the things we’ve tried using to cover up.
I invite you to join me in discovering and learning to love what’s real, including the real you. Remember, you can’t teach your kids something you haven’t learned yourself. Turns out, “finding yourself” concerns more than just you; when your identity is secure, you are free to love and serve the people around you with no “please make me feel better about myself” strings attached.
Jesus proclaimed, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Doesn’t that sound good? Freedom! Freedom from the tyranny of “less than” fears, freedom from shame, freedom from hiding (or filtering or posturing), freedom to be not just to seem. Start leaning into truth and savoring freedom today.
You can learn more about living in authentic freedom, being rather than seeming, and embracing life to the limit in Jerusha’s book, Every Piece of Me: Shattering Toxic Beliefs and Discovering the Real You (Baker, 2017).
Jerusha Clark co-authored four books with her husband, Jeramy, including three bestsellers, prior to launching her own writing and speaking ministry, focused on helping others glorify and enjoy God, one thought at a time. On quiet days, you can find Jerusha body-boarding, reading, or singing around a bonfire at the beach, her absolute favorite place. Jeramy and Jerusha have two amazing teenage daughters and love ministering together at churches, retreats, schools, and conferences. You can learn more at www.jandjclark.com.