Friday, June 8, 2012

Grace for this good girl... and for you too!

Summer Book Club begins today with the first three chapters of Grace for the Good Girl.
The titles of these three chapters:
Chapter 1: Are you a good girl in hiding?
Chapter 2: Chasing Expectation: hiding behind her good performance
Chapter 3: My not-so-extreme make-over: hiding behind her good reputation

{Release heavy sigh here} I am just one of many, many women that feel like Ms. Emily Freeman climbed into my head and heart and opened my deepest locked boxes.... exposing me and thereby turning me inside out.
My copy of Emily's book is a bit worn now... this is my fourth read through. There are highlights and notes in the margins. Frowny faced doodles, hearts and big thick exclamation points and arrows that I've penned....
Allow me to share some snippets I highlighted from the intro that fit me like skin--
"I thought life with Jesus meant trying to become who he wanted me to be, but it always felt like something was missing."
"I felt the heavy weight of impossible expectations and had the insatiable desire to explain every mistake.... instead of recognizing my own inadeqacy as an opportunity to trust God, I hid those parts and adobted a bootstrap religion. I focused on the things I could handle, the things I excelled in, my disciplined life, and my unshakeable good mood."
"... As a good girl, every choice I made was dictated by a theology of self-sufficiency. Life was up to me, and I was prepared to get it right. And then Jesus."

My heart dropped to my toes after only the introduction. I knew right then and there this book was going to etch itself right inside of me.

Chapter 1: Are you a good girl in hiding?
"My idea of who I should be is at war with who I am. I want to be perfect in every situation...."
"... And so I work and I labor and I do the right thing. I stay strong when I feel weak and I fake happy when I want to cry because my ideal image has everything to do with put together and nothing to do with falling apart.
Because i care so much what you think, my hiding has everything to do with you. I desperately want to manage your opinion of me.... If you wonder what gives you the authority to define me, I will say it is because you exist... It doesn't matter who you are; I want you to like me and I will hide my real self-- with all of my real problems and issues and fears-- so you can see what I consider to be my best."
"....I hid behind fine and good. I hid behind strong and responsible. I hide behind busy and comfortable and working hard toward your expectations. And if I do not meet your expectations, I hid behind indifferent." [from pages 17-18]

Me. This is me. I cringe now as I type.... because in typing this- in sharing this, I can no longer hide behind this me I tried to create... this die-hard people-pleaser.
But the pain and the fear is good here because I no long wish to be this person. I simply cannot be this person. Jesus says I am not this person. It is not me. He wants me to be the me He designed me to be- not the me I think you want me to be.
I wanna be God's girl most of all.
And so I begin this change... and Emily walks me through more parts of me....
"And before I realize it, there has been a holy shift. My insatiable need to prove my own goodness to God and the world fades in the background, and instead I receive truth and offer worship to the only One deserving of it." [pg 19]
I have decided to rebel. I want to live authentically free and no longer allow the people around me to be my measuring sticks for my goodness. Believing in and following Jesus by no means makes me perfect... and I most sincerely need to stop trying to be it. This Christ-following life is a messy life... it's time for me to LIVE MESSY.
--- I'm following Emily now- nodding my head and getting ideas. I go deeper into chapter two right to the end.... right to this: "He had in mind a particular you. A true you. An authentic, accurate expression of himself. A woman who is more than just a watered-down version of good." [pg 23]
Ahem. "Do you know her?" [pg 23] She's all up in my business now. Do I know her? Harrumph! Sweetie- I AM her. I'm done in now- she's cracked me wide open to the depths and there's nothing to do but move forward. I'm feeling smooshed and pushed and put upon but I cannot put the book down because the ending's gotta be better than the beginning... right? She's gonna share with me how to overcome myself.... right?
Oh me, oh my. I'm only through chapter two.
On to chapter three.
The first time I read this book it took me a week to read chapter three. Or should I say that I was stuck re-reading chapter three for an entire week. It was like sitting down to a big meal with a huge steak on my plate that was slightly tough and required a lot of chewing.
I had to chew on chapter three. I had to pray on chapter three. I had to tell Jesus- okay, I see where you are going with this, be patient awhile longer with me, Lord as this is hard to see, hard to feel....
From Emily: "Good means I can handle everything. I don't look like a fool... Good means I am enough. My goodness is all about me.... I want to be good and I want you to know it...."
"If I fail to live up to my own standard of good, I label myself a failure...." [pg 25]
Emily shows me that living behind my good girl facade is living safe. Living safe is not living free- its bondage and it's heartache and its pain. Living safe doesn't  grow you closer to God but puts up a barrier. I have lived most of my life battling to be the good girl I portrayed to everyone. Like Emily, I have "lived in a constant state of high expectation." In case you didn't know- that's an exhausting way to live. It's impossible to maintain and so I would hit the bottom where I was wrung-out and spent trying to live a try hard life.... when burn-out hit my family suffered, my home suffered. I would be a worthless grump for a couple of days (or more) until I could shake it off, pull myself up by my bootstraps and put my masks back in place and start the cycle over again. Performance became my life- I must be that good girl.

No freedom there.
And here comes my epiphany moment... right at the end of chapter three half way down page thirty-six: "But Jesus is calling us to a deeper, truer, freer identity. All he wants is simply you-- minus your good works, minus your perfect attendance, minus your politeness. When you really believe that, you may discover that all you want is Jesus, simply Jesus."
And there I sat and chewed. For days. 
Simply Jesus.
I couldn't continue. Right then and there I had to tell him, I had to cry out to him--
Empty me! Break me wide open and clean me out! Empty me of all of me and fill me with You. All You. I don't want this try hard life. I surrender me. All of me for all of you, Jesus.

Wouldn't the story just be ohsovery beautiful if that was the ribbon that tied the pretty bow? If that defining moment was all I needed to shed my stock of good girl masks and move forward with simply Jesus?
But life is messy and never neat. And stepping out of my good girl skin that I'd been wearing for thirty plus years has proven more difficult than anything. That good girl skin doesn't fit me, it's gotten awful snug, but it's safe. And good girls like me, like safe. Good girls are taught you must keep it up. You don't want to be known as the "bad girl". You don't want that reputation. Shame, shame, shame.
And so I began the change-- the working on changing those masks, that good girl skin... but having been the good girl so long, even when I take off the masks, the skin- I would carry it with me in a heavy burden bag... just in case something should happen and I have to quick slip it back on again in order to function "normal".
Its a process.
Hence the fact, I'm re-reading this book....

I've gotten myself to a point where I don't always carry the burden bag back-up with me. Jesus is helping me with that. He's showing me myself. My true, loved by Jesus self.
I gotta tell you... its pretty scary amazing.

I still revert. Its my safety net, ya know. I get mad, oh so mad at myself for reverting... and Jesus and I have to have a meeting.
I've taken to pouring myself out to Him any ol' time. I don't wait for evening prayers or morning quiet time. I've found the best way is right away.
I'm still a mess. The biggest difference is I no longer try to hide the mess in fear and shame.
I'm learning its okay to not be okay.

Yeah, I still allow others to stamp me with their expectations at times and I fight with myself over my need to be needed. There are still days I let my to-do list dictate my life instead of letting Jesus have the to-do list and prioritize it his way. I still allow other people's opinions of me to matter way too much. way, way, way too much....
Like I said, I'm still a mess.
This messy me? It's a Jesus' girl mess and that's the best kind. Of that I am certain.

I am reminded of this quote from John Newton (author of Amazing Grace):
I am not what I ought to be;
I am not what I wish to be;
I am not what I hope to be;
but by the grace of God I am what I am.

I'm not there yet.... it's a process. I'm learning to go slow. To be kind to myself as I learn this new thing. To embrace what I am right now able to embrace and not kick myself for the parts I'm not yet ready for....

So what about you? Do you struggle with being a good girl? What/Who do you allow to define you? Are you being kind to yourself as Jesus takes you through this letting go process?


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