One of the lures some Christian teachers use– especially women teachers– is the outward appearance of their lives.
A generation ago, a baby-holding woman with stair step children beside her– girls in collared dresses and boys in slacks– graced the fronts of homeschooling magazines. Inside were articles about her life-changing daily schedule, plan for chores, how she gets her children to be best friends, or why her husband had his vasectomy reversed.
These days, it’s the big-earringed, quirky-clothed, messy-bunned mom on Instagram or YouTube with fashionably-dressed kids doing the zipline in the backyard, talking vulnerably about her “messy” life, her fitness routine, and how much she loves “doing life” with her “peeps.”
Whether it’s Amish-looking, or the cutest-quirkiest “fam-bam,” when externals are used as the lure– the hidden message beneath the article or “real talk” is this:
My life looks unconventional and good.
Your life could look like mine.
We sometimes fail to see this as idolatry. If she’s a Christian woman, her choices in life are easily equated with “God’s way,” and we can call idolatry “wisdom.”
With our eyes on the lives of others, we might begin to feel:
- If we find a megachurch, maybe our older kids will stay in church.
- If we attend a small church with only like-minded families who make choices like ours, then my kids will be protected and stay close.
- If I show my husband this video, maybe he’ll do “family worship” — the way her husband does.
- If we use this homeschool curriculum (or send our kids to that Christian school), then our kids will grow up to love God like hers do.
- If I loosen up my convictions, maybe my young adult children won’t think our faith is cold and stale.
- If I get a good side hustle, we’d be financially set the way they are.
- If we have the maximum number of children, we can feel better about our choices, because we’re “letting God plan the family.”
- If we don’t let our kids “date,” they won’t struggle with sexual sin.
Honestly, though, let’s consider that for a moment.
Does God promise us that if we live “A Certain Way,” our lives will have good outcomes? And we’ll avoid suffering? And we’ll retain the illusion of control?
Does God tell us that if we pick the right church, curriculum, or formula for life, our children will deeply love God and won’t struggle with sin?
OR, as we seek to know and obey God, learning from the Scriptures, and heeding the conviction of the Spirit, is there grace and peace for us as we go through the decisions of life?
My contention is this:
we should be wary of Christian-sounding messages that are actually formulas for outward conformity.
Because the heart of the Gospel is this: God brings unity among people of all sorts!
We come together weekly to celebrate the Gospel of Jesus NOT because we all dress, live, educate, or work the same– but because we all have been bought by the blood of King Jesus and treasure Him as supremely valuable.
A while ago (I’m not sure how long– Covid skewed my sense of time), a homeschooling mom made a video while peeling potatoes, talking about the holy heartiness of cooking and taking notes in one’s cookbook… while taking two older women, and their ministries, to task for their supposedly liberal theology.
Because she is witty and has a platform, it was widely shared. But the message was deeply flawed.
Both women she mentioned (like the video-maker) primarily teach the Bible. They are women who LOVE the Bible. They do not share all of her convictions, but both love Jesus and have dedicated their lives to teaching God’s Word.
Their lives look different from hers for many reasons, one of which is that neither of them has young children underfoot any longer.
While I don’t like her approach to raising concerns about a fellow believer, what stuck out to me was the underlying idea that if women were godly, they would (like her) be focused on prepping meals. They would be living according to her convictions.
Essentially, she was saying:
“If you obey God, your life will look like mine.”
But let’s humbly acknowledge:
this attitude could creep up in any of our hearts.
It’s easy to huddle up with your “tribe” and cultivate a heart that scrutinizes the lives of others in order to criticize and condemn.
It’s easy to take something in your life and start to believe, “if someone else really loved Jesus, they also would do XYZ.”
It’s easy to take pot-shots at people “outside” of your tribe. That’s an easy criticism to deliver, and people in your “tribe” will pat your back and think you’re really standing up for truth.
In the evangelical context, “discernment bloggers” evaluate and grade the ministries of others, down to minutiae, so that others can quickly “unfollow” those who don’t make the grade. “Ex-vangelicals” do the same thing, from the opposite vantage point.
THE DOWNFALL OF “MEASURING UP”
Whatever our background, we can probably each compose a list of the underlying messages we’ve been taught of how to measure up.
But what we sometimes fail to see is how whatever system/”tribe” we are currently embracing is subtly teaching us NEW ways of measuring up.
Sadly, it’s easy to embrace the idols in whatever “corner” we’re in, because we don’t even think to hold them out to examine or question them. Familiar messages (even legalistic ones), delivered by familiar people, often sound “good” to our ears and look “good” to our eyes.
I pray we would each have discernment!
God can help us see the hidden messages in what we read and hear, AS WELL AS in our own heart beliefs, if we ask.
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him.James 1:5
Ultimately we can have confidence that He will help us grow in discernment.
The Spirit will help us not to put hope and confidence in our own actions. He will help us move away from legalism and formulas, and will help us grow in knowing and loving God.
Externals are tricky. Once we feel at home in a “tribe” we may start to use externals as a filter. We can think that by looking at someone’s outsides, we are able to:
- tell what’s in a person’s heart,
- make wise decisions about who we’ll spend time with,
- know more accurately who is pleasing to God,
- decide whether they’re “with us” or “against us,” and
- see clearly what’s happening around us.
We can fail to see the harm of focusing on externals. Externals can:
- mask who people really are,
- lull us into trusting the wrong people,
- make ungodly people look cleaned up,
- make us harsh and judgmental toward those who don’t keep “standards” we deem good and right
- give us a false sense of safety, and
- (and this is the most dangerous of all) cause us to trust in our own externals (and our “convictions”) rather than walking by the Spirit and trusting the Lord.
As a Christian, while I absolutely want to live in a way that pleases God, I do not want even an ounce of hope or strength or joy or confidence to rest on me and my “good” choices.
In my “corner” of the Christian world, fighting this tendency means that I actively work in my heart to not put my hope in:
- the number of children I have/the size of our family,
- my ability to cook/sew/save money (or not),
- whether or not I got married to a godly man,
- my clothing (whether trendy or Most-Decidedly Modest),
- the decisions we make in rearing our children, or
- the means we use to educate them.
While these choices AFFECT my life, and while I can (and should!) seek His input and wisdom as I make decisions, none of it saves me– only Christ.
None of it is to become a point of personal pride or repository for my joy and confidence– only Christ!
If a sister in Christ asks about a woman’s– especially a teacher/writer’s– theology, we can sit and talk. There may be problematic elements in her theology, and it may be appropriate to warn another believer.
We ARE to be discerning, and it is RIGHT to carefully evaluate the people to whom we listen. But her theology is not wrong because she’s not (at this precise moment) living life in the same season and manner as me.
Implications like that HARM the Body of Christ.
A woman is not automatically wise because she:
- writes books, speaks, or has a “platform.”
- was raised by someone famous.
- has been married for X number of years.
- got abused/divorced/experienced X tragedy.
- follows a particular set of dietary guidelines.
- has a financially-successful “side-hustle.”
- is married to a pastor.
- makes X parenting/schooling/birthing decision.
- looks really hip and trendy.
- looks really homely and circumspect.
- has Connections With The Right People.
- has gotten pregnant more times than you.
- or peels potatoes while making a video.
A WARNING TO MY SISTERS IN THE LORD
Beware of messages that stir up idols in your heart– idols of schooling, or a perfect marriage, or attainable behaviors, or a certain external “look”.
Beware of any message that prods you to invest your joy, identity, and value in your own efforts & decisions.
Run from it, Sister. Run!
Run to the cross.
Find your identity
and long-term stability
and inner peace
and motivation for life
and hope that will not disappoint
At the cross of Jesus, alone, we find a LASTING HOPE for our hearts.
A hope that does not depend on us.
The cross of Jesus does not tell us, “TRY HARDER. DO BETTER. RUN FASTER.”
No! The cross says exactly the opposite: no matter how hard you try, no matter how disciplined you are, no matter how much you beat your body, soul, and spirit to try to get it to do rightly, you could never be holy, righteous, or good on your own. You needed Jesus to do that for you, and He did!
Instead of giving us a formula for life, the cross of Christ bids us to come and die to self, give up our hope for self-righteousness, and walk by the Spirit.
It’s a hard cost, no doubt. But it is vastly easier than bearing up under the weight of someone else’s trendy, or super-holy, or gastrological, or fertility-focused, or social-justice, or Amish-lite yoke.
Whether she looks trendy or bag-lady-ish, if the woman you are listening to is adding in things you must BE in order to please God or win His favor or live “God’s way,” she is acting like a Pharisee.
This is how Jesus described them in Matthew 23:
“they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” ~Matthew 23: 3-5
Let us not give our ears to such women,
and let us not BE such women.
The woman Jesus commended was not the “hospitable” woman running around preparing food —
–but the one who sat at His feet, worshipping, listening, spending her time focused on His Words.
God, help us to be THAT sort of woman, whatever other details are true about us!
I pray that we would be women who center our whole self– all our value and HOPE — on the precious and freeing news of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised as our righteousness.
Grace and Peace,
18 thoughts on ““If You Obey God, Your Life Will Look Like Mine.””
Loved this! I think so many of us need validation in one way or another. I don’t have children and I realised I spent a lot of time helping my mum friends not because I truly wanted to ease their burden but to seem like a nice woman, a motherly person, as a reaction to the accusations that as a childless person I am selfish.
Maybe it could help to look mostly for the good in others instead of tearing others down. Take what we can use for inspiration and leave what we don’t feel comfortable with.
thanks so much for this!
That makes so much sense Sara. I can look back and see so many times where I wanted to do X good thing but also subtly down deep inside I wanted others to know that I was the sort of person who would do X good thing.
I’m thankful for the way God grows us to be able to peer deeper inside our own hearts and understand our motivations more deeply. Thankful, too, that He knows them already and made a way so it’s not all dependent on me figuring it all out.
Good word! I feel like I had this conversation yesterday with another sister who felt judged because she doesn’t homeschooling, or do A or B. It can at times feel daunting to try to live up to the standards of other believing women. It also has adequate me question if many of those same people raise believing daughters. How do they know if their scale of righteousness is the ability to can peaches and darn a sock… its not Little House on the Prairie… its eternity.
Interesting thoughts. I do wonder how high-control environments affect the genuineness of faith professions, and how deep it drives fears and genuine questions about faith.
It’s sad the way these externals-based judgments create divisions and sorrow among believers.
I’ve noticed this in my heart and have asked God to reveal it even further. He used you! Thank you for putting to words the ways I’m self-righteous, and convict and encourage me to grow in discernment and repentance ♥️ What a better hope!
This is a such a great reminder to not compare our lives to others just because they have a platform. Some things are wrong because their biblical. But other things are more gray areas and we don’t have to mimic other people and think we’re not enough. Thanks so much for sharing Jess. This is a big message these days.
As a homeschooling mom in the 80’s and 90’s, I had to cancel my subscriptions to homeschooling magazines because they made me feel so inferior and I couldn’t measure up. One of the best compliments I got one day was in a conversation with someone. The topic of homeschooling came up and when the other person found out I was homeschooling my four children, they responded by saying, ” but your kids are so normal”. My kids are grown with beautiful families of their own and are all very normal in their own way.
Thank you for your wise insight. We women so easily fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with others when we should only be looking at Jesus. We are made in his image, we are daughters of the King of Kings. That should set our hearts soaring in praise and confidence in his love for us.
Vanessa, regarding your first sentence I can’t tell you how many women have told me that exact same thing about homeschooling magazines!!
It’s such a shame — and yet, anything used as a “measuring stick” will end up bringing condemnation because no matter how hard we strive, we eventually realize that we can’t measure up.
Ditto with the homeschooling magazines!! 🙂
It’s a really common response.
Definitely a good lesson to keep ahold of and remember anytime I find myself judging those around me by the externals you’ve mentioned. What stood out most was your comment about the dangers of focusing on externals: “…cause us to trust in our own externals (and our “convictions”) rather than walking by the Spirit and trusting the Lord.” That paired with recent reading has struck a chord and caused self reflection.
Thank you! Truth that I know but need reminding of. So easy to look at and focus on externals. As a homeschooled child growing up,in the 90s, I used to look at the pictures of “perfect” families in those magazines( we didn’t subscribe, for the most part, but would still see some) and wish our family was like that. Now I have my own family and still sometimes find myself wanting my life to look like others , but I realize that God has given each of us a different path to follow while we all walk heavenward together. I desperately need Him, and slowly, slowly, I see that more and more. Lord, turn my heart toward you!
I am elderly now (78) and have fallen to many of the idols you mentioned over my life’s journey. The one thing that you said that resounded to me was the fact that men’s burdens placed on us are crushing, whereas, if God places a burden on a person, His are easy and light and a delight! I have had my share of judging myself by looking at the lives of others and my husband would always say to me, “Barbara, you don’t know what goes on in their family!” I would always come out on the losing side of the comparison and would often feel as though I must be the only “loser” in our homeschooling program. But God motivated it, gave daily strength to carry on, and now, looking back, I am so thankful to Him that He uses us weak ones to do His work of loving and training these precious children He gives us! I am so glad that I got to be a mom!
Late response on my part, Barbara, but I wanted to respond to your husband’s wisdom:
“Barbara, you don’t know what goes on in their family!”
It goes hand in hand with a quote I saw today- (over a picture of astroturf)
“If the grass looks greener on the other side, the grass might be fake.”
Silly quote but it makes a true point. Sometimes the reason other things look so “good” on the surface yet are so unattainable is because the picture is not showing the whole reality. Your husband’s comment is spot-on.
When I was down trodden by some of these same things one time, a friend gave me a note card with this verse on it. It’s helped me again and again not to compare my life to someone else’s standards or pressures.
Romans 14:22 “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.”
I’m so glad I stumbled into your blog! Your words are a balm, and you are such a delight! Keep writing!!!