An Open Letter to Women Straining under the Burden of Expectations

This article is part of the Open Letters series.

Dear sister,

Are you tired as you read this letter? Are you worn down by the weight of the countless roles and expectations in your life? Are you feeling the pressure of doing more and striving harder to please the people around you?

My answer to each of the above questions is Yes, without a doubt and without hesitation. I am tired. And I’m not sure I’m doing life right. Am I too much? Or am I too little? We only get one chance at this lifetime, and I don’t want to mess it up.

Here’s what’s hard: life and people are fickle. As I study our cultural landscape and look to the left and to the right to see how other women are living, I see constant change and evolving currents. Like waves of the sea, the expectations placed on women today build, crescendo, collapse, and swirl. The waves roll in and the undertow rushes out. If they would just stay still for a second—just freeze in time long enough for me to know exactly how they should look—then I might discern how I should look too, or at least where I should aim.

Cultural Counterfeits

Jen Oshman

Jen Oshman casts a vision for women to reject the idols of our age and find real hope in Jesus, embracing their identity in Christ and recovering his design and purpose for their lives. 

Not only is the culture around us ever-shifting and constantly changing, but we are too. Our bodies are limited and vulnerable. We continuously grow—sometimes in ways that are advantageous and sometimes in ways that are not. Our circumstances never stay the same. One season leads to the next and our capacities and callings transition with them. Like the culture around us, we too are fickle.

If you and I make either the culture around us or our own capacity within us the foundation of our peace, we will never find rest. Neither the standards of this world nor our own abilities are solid ground. We must stand on something far more certain, something permanent, something unchanging and eternal.

Created by and for the Creator

In order to be well, we must have an accurate understanding of who we are and what we’re here for. Rather than looking to culture or to our own conceptions, we must look to the God who made us and died to save us. It is in him alone that we find our source, meaning, and peace.

God created us imago dei, in his image, that we might know him, relate to him, and walk in the attributes that he shares with us. We see in Genesis 1 and 2 that we’ve been called to cultivate and create alongside our Creator, and we’re called to commune with him and other people. Jesus says he came that we might have abundant life in him (John 10:10), that we will thrive and bear fruit as we abide in him and him in us (John 15:4–5). Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us that we were created through Jesus and for Jesus (Col. 1:16).

So then, here is the crux of why neither our culture nor our own capacity can tell us why we’re here and if we’re doing it right: neither is our maker. Neither is our sustainer. Neither is our source of life, energy, and satisfaction.

Our search for acceptance can only be satisfied by Jesus, our Creator and Savior. If we want to be well, we must look to him. Acceptance in Christ—over culture or self—is good and trustworthy. It will never change, and it affords us countless benefits both now and forever.

3 Reasons Why Jesus’s Acceptance Is Better

Jesus’s acceptance means we are hidden with Christ in God—Colossians 3:3.

If we are Christ-followers, it is no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20). When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he took our sins upon himself and paid the penalty that you and I deserve. Not only that, but he exchanged our sins for his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). When the Father looks at you and me, he sees the perfection of his Son. This scandalous and great exchange frees you and me from the pressure of having to perform. We do not have to try and be perfect. Jesus already is. And we are hidden in him. The work of Jesus is finished. We can rest in that.

Jesus’s acceptance of us will never change or waiver.

When you and I hear the gospel of our salvation and believe, we are immediately sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). As soon as Jesus reconciles us to the Father, “no one is able to snatch [us] out of the Father's hand” (John 10:29). Nothing in all of creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Rather than looking to culture or to our own conceptions, we must look to the God who made us and died to save us.

I find this to be such comforting news day in and day out. When God tells us that nothing in all of creation can remove his love from us, this includes our actions and sins. While our behavior and performance may push others away or draw others in, God’s love and acceptance of us is immovable and unchanging. We cannot outrun his grace. We are firmly in his good and compassionate hands and nothing—nothing!—can snatch us out.

Jesus’s acceptance imparts great benefits to us now and forever.

Because we are hidden with Christ in God, we have access to so many good gifts. The gifts of God are more enduring than the temporary praise of man. When I worry about how I may not be living up to others’ expectations, I rehearse the blessings I have in Christ Jesus, not because of my own doing, but because they are the gifts of God (Eph. 2:8–9). I remember that:

  • The work God has for me was prepared by him and it honors him when I walk in it (Eph. 2:10).
  • What Jesus has begun in me, he will carry on to completion (Phil. 1:6).
  • All things in my life will work together for good and shape me to be more like my Savior (Rom. 8:28–29).
  • I am adopted and dearly loved by my Father in heaven (Rom. 8:15).
  • God will never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5).
  • The Holy Spirit lives in me and he is my Helper.
  • Jesus has left me his peace, which cannot be shaken (John 14:26–27).
  • When Christ comes back, I will appear with him in glory (Col. 3:4).
  • We will dwell with him in the new heaven and new earth and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:1–4).
  • Our current afflictions are light and momentary, and our outer selves are wasting away. Jesus is renewing us inwardly every day and preparing us for eternity with him (2 Cor. 4:16–18).
  • Jesus makes known to us the path of life; he gives us a fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).

Our Eternal Acceptance in Jesus Frees Us in Our Relationships Right Now

Here’s some very good news: the pressure’s off. We are dearly loved and accepted by the Father through Jesus, and that will never change. The permanent and fully satisfying acceptance of God affords us tremendous freedom in our work, relationships, and callings now. We don’t have to fret or worry or perform. We’re accepted by the Father, so we do not have to clamor for acceptance by others.

Friend, the abundant life in Jesus gives us true and deep rest. We are not required to bear the weight of countless roles and expectations in our lives. We do not have to do more and strive harder to please the people around us. God is already pleased with us. And that will never change.

So then, let’s remember, because he loves and accepts us, we can confidently—and even light-heartedly—walk in the callings he has given us—for his glory, for our joy, and for the good of others.

Resting in Christ’s acceptance with you,

Jen Oshman is the author of Cultural Counterfeits: Confronting 5 Empty Promises of Our Age and How We Were Made for So Much More.

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