“Be the kind of woman who makes other girls step up their game.”
This is a quote which, seemingly unperturbed by the implied lack of sisterhood, has been trailing around my Pinterest feed lately. Less offensive, but still mildly hectoring, are quotes such as this, and this.
Pinterest really seems to be honing in on the self-flagellation front lately. Or maybe it’s just my feed in particular. These days, I come away from my regular morning browsing sessions faintly bruised by the constant, brutal admonishments to not bother getting up today if I’m going to be mediocre and the decisive command to enjoy life because I might just die today. OK then.
This is generally the moment when I want to throw my Kinfolk magazine collection out the window, screaming: “Is this really what fourth-wave feminism is meant to look like?”
How did we end up here?
I find this vision of a brave new world filled with visions of a stellar start-up career with a book deal on the side, a perfectly minimalist wardrobe, a tastefully hygge-d apartment and enough energy to start my own Tracy Anderson-inspired Instagram equal parts compelling and nauseating.
I’ve often wondered if the key to happiness is setting the bar low, ambition-wise. When I was a kid, my answer to what I wanted to be when I grew up was: “Rich enough so I can eat chocolate bars everyday.”
This is the voice of a (poor) child forced by her hippy parents to drink shots of green barley juice every morning, and encouraged to nibble on Brazil nuts and dried banana as a treat. TAKE NOTE, future parents. To this day I sigh with joy at the fact I get to live out my consumeristic childhood ambitions every time I unwrap a Snickers bar.
Now, of course I want to live a meaningful life. Of course – despite all declarations to the contrary – I’d like to be fit and healthy and occasionally wear an ironed shirt. Of course I have goals and aspirations. But when these goals start becoming a rod for my own back, when the line between inspiration and castigation gets blurred, as it so often does, I think there’s a problem.
I find myself like Henri Nouwen, feeling like I’m living my life on a tightrope: “Trying to walk on a high, thin cable from one tower to the other, always waiting for the applause when I had not fallen off and broken my leg.”
I get that these Pinterest quotes are just trying to be helpful – and they often are (well, maybe not the one about women stepping up their game – that just still seems horrible). But in moments of weakness it’s so tempting to use the world of “inspo” as a stick to beat yourself with, as you imagine a perfect, essential-oil-scented world where you’re never overstretched or stressed, where your prayer life is mountain-moving and you never confuse Elijah and Elisha when you’re leading Bible study (a Christian facepalm moment if there ever was one).
And it would all be just so achievable if you would stop. Being. So. LAZY.
Because that’s the essential message here, isn’t it? Behind all these Pinterest quotes, magazine editorials and perfect blog posts is a call to striving. To working hard for everything. To never letting go of the perfect Pinterest vision that your life could be, even if it’s killing you.
It’s a call to mortify the flesh again, and again, and again. And unfortunately, if you’ve grown up in church this may very well be sounding familiar.
But what if we dared to change the narrative? What if we dared to imagine that we have enough? What if we decided that before we embark on missions to change our lives every new year/new season/new week, that we first embark on a mission of believing that Jesus has made us enough? And that actually, if society chooses to label self-acceptance as ‘being mediocre’, then we need to start telling society where to go?
Because shouldn’t we as Christians be the most free, the most grace-filled, the least rule-bound people of them all?
Perhaps this is part of what Brennan Manning, a former priest and ex-alcoholic, meant when he said: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.” Because I can kinda see that my picture-perfect aspirations and rule-heavy anxieties about my future don’t make a compelling case for a life transformed by the power of Christ.
I think as a Christian, if I’m honest, I struggle to believe that I don’t have to do anything to have my Father’s approval. I often believe the narrative that striving and struggle are the only way to gain acceptance. And so I dutifully consume and curate. And I’m kind of sick of that, really.
So if like me, you struggle to accept the message that grace has already got you – no matter where you are – then here’s another quote from Brennan to replace those militant Pinterest quotes this International Women’s Day:
“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”
We’re chatting more about success as women at our Lean Out event on Wednesday 21 June. If you don’t have tickets yet, get them right here!