Tripping over our pedestals of personal power


I carried the baggage of my childhood around for years

I grew up in a mostly normal, somewhat entertaining, occasionally bellicose, often denial-ridden Italian-American household. If your family is dysfunctional, take a number; it all goes back to Adam and Eve. Although I made a deliberate choice to follow Jesus at age fifteen, I continued carrying the baggage of childhood around for years.

My paternal grandfather was a harsh disciplinarian, and my father, though loving and affectionate, tended to be critical as a result of his own upbringing. So I absorbed the message that I had to jump through certain hoops, do all the right things, and check off the correct boxes in order to please my parents. (I’m not blaming, just explaining.) Eventually, my goal was to please everybody, which explains my almost past predilection to attempt to be all things to all people.

I was a Brownie, then a Girl Scout.
I was a four-letter athlete for all four years of high school. (Yes, in the old days—we had four sports seasons.)
I was a student council officer.
I served on specially appointed committees for the principal as well as the superintendent.
I was crowned homecoming queen. Well, almost. I lost by seven votes, but I’m not bitter.

Later I continued to shine at Boston College, where I graduated magna cum laude with a double major. During my college years I received a prestigious award for being an exemplary Christian. (Woe to those who dare accept such awards.) As my friend Pastor Brett Fuller likes to say, I was “all that and a bag of chips.” Or so I thought. My armour had a few chinks.

Increasingly, it seemed my determination to please everyone failed to bring happiness to anyone, especially me.

I wonder if you can relate to my chronic sense of frustration and inadequacy.
How much stress in your life comes from trying to launch yourself into the role of Superwoman?

Do you feel compelled to not only bring home the pancetta (that’s Italian bacon, in case you’re wondering) but also turn it into a gourmet meal, while simultaneously preparing your study lesson, ensuring your third-grader’s diorama accurately reflects the flora and fauna of New Zealand, and flipping through a catalogue to find a pair of jeans that will lift, support, and minimize in all the right places?

We women have been sold a bill of goods from Hollywood and Madison Avenue. We tend to believe that we can do it all, that we are superheroes in waiting who simply need to claim our own pedestals of personal power.

Not convinced of this?

Billions are spent each year instructing the American woman in what she needs, wants, and deserves. The solution to all her problems? More! More of what? Everything, of course.

Consider a recent ad line for the Visa card: “The power to get.”

What we “get” from trying to have it all is more exhaustion, more dissatisfaction, and more stress.

Maybe it’s time we stop peering over the proverbial fence where the grass is always greener. Those folks have more mosquitoes and a much higher water bill anyway.

The Bible clearly shows that ours is not the first generation of women whose pursuit of more has left us with less of the things that matter most.

Eve pursued enlightenment apart from God’s help. Her approach to life was “I see, I want, I get.” In chasing after that one more thing she thought would bring satisfaction, she lost everything, including her garden paradise and her intimacy with God.

Rebekah had a romance made in heaven, but when she did not see her favourite younger son Jacob being elevated and celebrated, she deviated from God’s perfect plan and took it upon herself to orchestrate His promised blessing. Rebekah’s single-minded obsession left her family in shambles.

And then there’s Lot’s wife. The few brief references to this woman reveal volumes about her attitude toward life. She was addicted to comfort and self-sufficiency and having what she wanted. When God sent an angel to safely deliver her family out of the burning city, she was told not to look back. Her body moved ahead with her husband and daughters, but her heart stayed behind with her possessions. She stepped toward flight but not toward faith. Because of her misplaced priorities, she never caught a glimpse of the blessings God had in store.

God included the stories of these women in the Bible to show us the dangers of always reaching for more, and yet so many of us repeat their mistakes today.

I know I have. By the time I turned thirty-five, I had been married ten years and was a mommy to three little ones under the age of five. If you are paying attention to these numbers, please also note that by that point in time, I had been walking and talking (and occasionally balking) alongside Jesus for twenty years. But some days I behaved like a spiritual two-year-old.

  • Like Mrs. Lot, I began looking to people and things, rather than to God, for my sense of security and importance.
  • Like Rebekah, I became comfortable making self-serving chess moves in the game of life.
  • Like Eve, I had grown fairly adept at pointing fingers of blame in every direction except my own.

God used motherhood to change me

God used motherhood to change all of that, to make clear my inability to succeed at everything and to please everybody. Finally I was forced to review, regroup, and re-evaluate what bearing the Word of God really had on my attitudes, my decisions, and my priorities. As He did with Moses, the Lord showed me that I was a somebody who needed to become a nobody so that He could demonstrate His specialty of lifting people up in His time and in His way.

  • I didn’t need to perform.
  • I didn’t need to jump through the hoops and check off the boxes.
  • My only assignment was to please the audience of One; God Almighty.

My faith finally grew up, and so did I.

Ellie is a speaker, author and Bible teacher. She has written five books, with a sixth on the way. She has touched the hearts and funny-bones of women since 1984. Ellie has been a featured guest on James Dobson's Focus on the Family, James Robison's Life Today, and CBN, among others. Ellie was the speaker at Beauty for Ashes 2012 & 2014.


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