I think as women we sometimes tend to have a desire to be a certain way at all times…or at the very least to present ourselves as such to those around us. You know, like perfect? 😉 We’re the ones whose house looks like a magazine picture, we serve gourmet meals at least 5 times a week, we’re strong at all times – never a weak moment here! If you catch us by surprise, no matter how early or late in the day, you will find us dressed neatly and stylishly, our hair done (and not in a ponytail either!), our makeup on, nails polished, house spotless, the aroma of homemade bread filling the air, children neat…clean…dressed…and smiling (but of course!), our adoring husband by our side and even the dog sitting obediently nearby. Not a thing out of place, not a challenge to be found. And it’s like that 24/7 365 days a year, don’t you know? Never a bad day here! Somehow we think anything less than that is a failure on our parts. But you know what? While that may be nice, it’s not real.
No matter what we tell ourselves, or others…no matter how often we may succeed in showing only our best to other people…it’s not real and we know it. Sometimes the house is a mess. Sometimes the children are cranky and we eat cereal for dinner. Sometimes we’re grumpy and our husbands are less than perfect. Sometimes we look around at all there is to do and it’s totally overwhelming. Sometimes life hurts and it’s hard to see past the humanness of those who have wronged us.
Why do I say all that? Because something happened here a few months ago that changed me forever. I remember one day our neighbor showed up to drop off some much appreciated bags of clothes that her daughter had outgrown. When they showed up I took a look around and was instantly on edge. My house was a bit messy and I was uncomfortable about her seeing it that way. As a result I wasn’t as warm and welcoming as I could have been. I was in a hurry to take the bags and see them on their way. I don’t know if they were even aware of my uncomfortableness but I was and it bothered me.
A few months later the tables were turned. As the children and I got into our van to go to their art class I suddenly realized that I’d locked my keys in the house. It was winter and I needed Jonathan to bring me his keys. I headed over to the neighbors house and knocked on the door, praying she’d be home. She was and when I explained that I’d locked my keys in the house and needed to use her phone to call Jonathan, she immediately invited me in. She was so sweet and before long Jonathan was on his way. But as I stood there I realized something. She has 3 children and you know what? Her house was a little bit messy too. Only she didn’t let that stop her from inviting me in and making me feel welcomed. She could have had me stand out on the porch to call but she didn’t. She invited me in and she was happy to help. I was surprised to realize how relieved I was that her house wasn’t perfect. How grateful I was that she was real and not afraid to let me see that realness.
The next time she comes over I know I will smile and welcome her in. It doesn’t matter if my house isn’t perfect. I’ll be happy to see her. How did that change take place? By her willingness to be real with me.
When we strive too hard to appear perfect to others we not only put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves but we also put pressure on those around us to live by the standard we appear to be living by.
I remember listening to one mother talk about her children to a group of women. She proudly declared that her children (now grown) had never acted up in public…ever. I looked around at the other mom’s there and with a sad heart I thought “Do you have any idea what you are doing to these moms who have suddenly all been made to feel like failures because of your unwillingness to be real?”
I knew a woman once who went months feeling discouraged and overwhelmed with no help because every time someone asked her how she was she was she’d smile and say she was well. By choosing to put on a perfect front instead of being real and admitting that she was feeling down and could use some help, she not only hurt herself but stopped those around her from being able to “bear one another’s burdens” as we are instructed to do in Galatians 6:2.
(And just in case someone reads this wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t strive to have clean homes or well behaved children. I’m speaking about the inability to allow others to see that we or our children are anything less than perfect at all times.)
The next time we are tempted to put on a perfect front with those around us, lets consider offering them the gift of realness instead. In doing so we may very well be offering them the strength to be real with us as well.