Harvest House Publishers
Decide to Decide
You Make Your Choices and Your Choices Make You
Alberta Lee Cox was just in the eighth grade when she wrote: “It’s not enough to be good if you have the ability to be better. It’s not enough to be very good if you have the ability to be great.” I believe women were designed for greatness. However, often on our way to greatness we find ourselves in a depressed, despairing, disillusioned, or discouraged place.
I was at a simple gathering of friends. All of us were standing in the kitchen and chatting, as women often do at a party. Our conversation had drifted to the subject of vital areas of need in women’s lives. Just then, a friend, a successful businesswoman, grabbed my hand and said,“Pam, I know a book you should write. Women need a book that shows us how to be successful without being so hard on ourselves! I have a friend who listens to self-help tapes—you know, the ones that say: ‘You are the master of your own destiny. You can achieve anything. You are all powerful. You… you…you.’ The focus is all wrong! She’s been feeding herself for months on this junk, as though she is the god of her own universe or something. She thought it would help boost her self-esteem and empower her, but just the opposite has happened. She just keeps hearing how she can make all her own successes, and when she doesn’t have the results the tapes promise, she feels as though she is more of a failure than ever before. I think she’s going to end up in a padded cell. She’s driving herself to the edge of a nervous breakdown!”
That’s where we live. Waves of women’s empowerment material are cresting, but most of this material neither empowers nor frees us. Instead, we are burdened with the unrealistic expectation that we are supposed to ride every new wave. Many women just give up. Instead of making life happen, instead of chasing the dream of their heart, they just let life happen. Day after day, the same old same old rut and routine, living their lives out in quiet desperation.
When you live your life accidentally, just meandering along, don’t be surprised if your life becomes an accident. Drifting produces depressing results. Neglect relationships, and you’ll see people walking away from you; neglect personal growth, and you’ll see others pass you up on the ladder to success; neglect your health, and you’ll see your energy and vitality diminish. To not decide is to decide, but often the results are tragic. Instead, decide that today you will see life through new eyes.
As I have traveled and spoken on women’s issues, I have come to some startling conclusions. The first I knew years ago: Women can do some incredible things with a little equipping, encouragement, and inspiration. But I was surprised by the next conclusion. I speak to some of the most together, tenderhearted, loving, and motivated women in the world. These women are responsible and hardworking. Some are wonderful mothers, others are wonderful businesswomen or ministry-minded leaders, and all are great friends and assets to their communities, yet they often feel fragmented, unsure, and discouraged. I think many of us can relate to them. They need to decide to see themselves and their life through new eyes.
Many of us today also struggle with feeling as if we are one big disappointment to everyone. For the most part, we are exhausted as we frantically try to please everyone in our world: our husbands, our children, our parents, our bosses, our clients, our friends, and our coworkers at work and in volunteer work— all while trying to please God too. Sometimes we might even be trying to please ourselves, but we are usually very low on our list of priorities.
I asked women in a survey who they feel they disappoint most often, and the choices included parents, husbands, children, friends, coworkers, bosses, volunteer or church leaders, themselves, and God. The overwhelming majority marked that they thought they disappointed God most often. That answer ran three to one to the second-place answer. How can this be? If God created us, if God desires friendship with us, if He really is all-sufficient and self-existent in and of Himself, then can it really be so easy to disappoint Him? Or could it be that we have a warped view of what God expects from our lives, our relationships, and us? Do you want to be a woman God can use, but you don’t want to feel used up in the process?
The average woman today feels as though her life is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. There are lots of important pieces—she is even convinced there is a beautiful picture—but she’s looking for the puzzle box lid because she’s not sure where to start or what she’s really aiming at.
The scary thing is that our lives are jam-packed with activity as we frantically try to balance all of life’s demands. We are trying to please those around us, but most of the time we feel as though we are always letting someone down. Are you one of these women? Do you feel that someone is disappointed in you even as you read the words on this page? Do you wonder if God is pleased with your life? Are you pleased with your life? Are you wondering, “Is this all there is to life?” Have you been pushing yourself headlong and are now wondering, “Why?” or “Was it worth it?” Or maybe you have just been drifting, doing the next thing that came along, and now you find yourself far downstream or off course from the place you thought you’d be at this age or stage of life. Decision number one: Decide to decide to make things different!
In the fairy tale Snow White, the queen kept checking in with a mirror to determine her standing in the community. Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? When I was a little girl, I always despised the queen. She was dark, foreboding, and selfish. But now I think that’s what happens to women who look to a false standard to check on their significance. Every woman is looking in a mirror. The question is, what mirror are we using? We might not stand in front of the mirror in our bathroom, asking “Mirror, Mirror…” but we do look around and compare ourselves to others: to women in books, magazines, movies, or television; to friends who are more talented in areas where we feel insecure; and to mentors and public leaders to whom we ascribe the attributes of “the perfect woman.” Sometimes we even compare ourselves to us 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or more. Could it be we need a new mirror?
I needed a new mirror because my expectations, others’ expectations of me, and God’s expectations all seemed to be jumbled up together. I couldn’t tell when realistic expectations stopped and unrealistic expectations started. My mirror was so warped that when I sat down to think and plan, my list grew; when others talked with me, my list grew; and even when I read the Bible, my list grew. Sometimes it felt as though God were making my todo list longer and longer. Because my perspective was so distorted, I thought God’s expectations of me were impossible to fulfill. I found myself consistently angry with Him, even though I knew He loved me.
And it’s not just me. I often talk with women who seem upset or depressed because life isn’t what they thought or dreamed it would be and they are not sure what to do about it. We need to decide that things will be different. We make our choices, and our choices make us. What are some choices you need to make? I pray your decisions will lead you to the life God designed for you—a life full of the future and hope God promises (see Jeremiah 29:11).
One of the most freeing experiences in my life was a set of quiet times I had many years ago. I tried to let God be my mirror as I read passages where He describes people. I looked up all the places in the Bible where the words, “You are…” pop up. I found hundreds of passages that proclaim who God says we are. Then I made a list of the ones that seemed to be direct revelations of what He expects of us. The results gave me a new lease on life! A close friend even said to me, “Pam, what’s different about you? You seem happier, less stressed…it’s almost as though you aren’t as frantic as usual. I don’t know, but it seemed that you were trying so hard to make everyone happy all the time. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone around you is still doing well and feeling great about you—no, maybe we’re all feeling better too. It’s like whatever God has done in your life has made you freer and that’s allowed us to be freer too.”
I thought that observation was pretty amazing because she hadn’t known what I’d been studying in my quiet times that year. She wasn’t saying I had been legalistic, judgmental, or harsh before, because those characteristics have never been ones I thought were productive. What she was saying is that I discovered a gracious calling and a renewed sense of fulfillment, and it had impacted her life too. That is my hope for you. I hope you gain a wonderful fresh view of yourself as you look at God’s view of you and gain a heavenly perspective on life. I truly believe women are more successful with their goals and dreams if they have an accurate view of God and a clear reflection of how He sees them.
The by-product from this vital connection with God is that we then can truly find, focus in on, and fulfill His significant calling on our lives because we will know what is significant to Him. We will be women God can use in truly amazing ways.
Can We Really Have It All?
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Our expectations regarding ourselves can easily fall to one extreme or another.While some women are on welfare, on drugs, sleeping with men who aren’t good for them, ignoring their children, and really aren’t caring what anyone expects from them, most women fall in the other extreme—they care too much. Patsy Clairmont, author and Women of Faith conference speaker, says,“We wouldn’t care so much what people thought of us if we realized how little they do!” This concern over how other people view us feeds into the fact that we are our own harshest critics. I asked women to tell me their description of a woman who “has it all.” These are my favorites because they made me smile:
She is never running late or misplacing anything. Well, I can never be a woman who has it all then because there are days I hunt for car keys, lost cleats, the pancake spatula, and sometimes my kids or husband.
She’s unwrinkled. This one knocks all of us over 40 right out of the running.
She has a perfect figure. Okay, this one’s tough because it keeps changing! Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16, and I think supermodels today shop in the toddler section. Isn’t beauty supposed to be in the eye of the beholder? Maybe that’s it—everyone needs to get special 3-D glasses, and maybe then I’d have that elusive “perfect figure.”
She is talented, gorgeous, and wealthy with an easy life and no job, and she is the mother of three well-adjusted kids. This one is a classic example of what we do to ourselves all the time—contradict our values. If I were talented and gorgeous with wealth I didn’t have to earn, would I really have three well-adjusted kids? (And why three kids?) And if I were so wonderfully talented, wouldn’t I want to use my gifts in some way? Would I be well-adjusted if I had “an easy life”? I have experienced just the opposite. Women who have gone through hardship and come out on the other side are some of the easiest women to be around because they are low-maintenance women. Their expectations are grounded in the real world.
She’s on top of the world. Everything always goes in her favor. She never fails. Never? Some of the women I have met, interviewed, or read about in history have had lives filled with failures and setbacks. Often those very failures became part of the fiber that formed them into a woman God could use in a significant way. Helen Keller was left a blind deaf-mute by a childhood illness. She definitely didn’t have it all—she had almost nothing—yet she became one of the most famous women of the twentieth century because she overcame what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. She gives us this glimpse into her success: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens: but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” In my own life, I have found that when I hit obstacles, failures, and roadblocks, it is then that I am in the classroom of heaven and I learn more about who God is and who He says I am.
She’s someone who has a maid that someone else pays for! (This is my all-time favorite description of a woman who has it all, and I think I hear a hearty Amen! rising from women across the world on that one!)
This one was followed closely with: She’s a woman who has plenty of babysitters. But the one who sums up “the woman who has it all” wrote: June Cleaver. You know the rest! Oh yes, the June Cleaver-Carol Brady-Clair Huxtable-Jill Taylor syndrome. Every generation of television watchers has their icons. The problem is some of the people we put on a pedestal are not even real women, and we really want to keep up there the ones who are. The real women, like Martha, Oprah, and Dr. Laura, only give us a glimpse of their everyday lives. We don’t walk in their shoes, so we don’t really know all the choices, regrets, and feelings they might be experiencing. Oprah Winfrey, who tops the American talk show circuit and sits at the helm of a multimillion-dollar empire, said once, “People think because you’re on TV you have the world by a string. But I have struggled with my own self-value for many many years.” Oftentimes we simply glamorize these women, and that makes the bar we must hurdle ourselves over even higher.
The “Martha Stewart” Syndrome
Because we all have friends in our lives who seem to have a knack for creating a wonderful atmosphere around them, we sometimes think we must also have that same ability or we’ve failed. A friend with two small toddlers at home e-mailed me this letter to help us both lighten up a bit on our own expectations:
A Letter from Martha Stewart! Monday, 9:00 A.M.
This perfectly delightful note is being sent on paper I made myself to tell you what I have been up to. Since it snowed last night, I got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a glue gun. I hand-painted it in gold leaf, got out my loom, and made a blanket in peaches and mauves. Then, to make the sled complete, I made a white horse to pull it from some DNA I just had sitting around my craft room. By then, it was time to start making the place mats and napkins for my 20 breakfast guests. I’m serving the old standard Stewart 12-course breakfast, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I didn’t have time to make the table and chairs this morning; I used the ones I had on hand. Before I moved the table into the dining room, I decided to add just a touch of the holidays. So I repainted the room in pinks and stenciled gold stars on the ceiling.
Then, while the homemade bread was rising, I took antique candle molds and made the dishes (exactly the same shade of pink) to use for breakfast. These were made from Hungarian clay, which you can get in almost any Hungarian craft store. Well, I must run. I need to finish the buttonholes on the dress I’m wearing for the breakfast. I’ll get out the sled and drive this note to the post office as soon as the glue dries on the envelope I’ll be making. Hope my breakfast guests don’t stay too long—I have 40,000 cranberries to string with bay leaves before my speaking engagement at noon. It’s a good thing.
P.S. When I made the ribbon for this typewriter, I used 1/8-inch gauze. I soaked it in a mixture of white grapes and blackberries which I grew, picked, and crushed last week just for fun!
I don’t know who wrote this original caricature of Martha, but the author understood the “Martha Stewart” syndrome of high expectations we often experience. In all fairness to the real Martha Stewart, she has done a wonderful job of releasing women to be creative (and in recent years she’s had her own set of issues to deal with—so reality reminds us it isn’t all about having a life that is magazine glossy).
The bigger question is: Why do we, as women, feel bad about ourselves when we see a woman using her God-given gifts and talents well? Why do we sometimes feel that if we are not doing the same thing in the same way, we must be a failure? Why do some of us fall into a pattern of jealousy or, worse, apathy, if our life isn’t what we see in others’ lives? Decide to decide that you will not fall prey to the negative but rather choose to make some positive changes to gain the life you have always dreamed of, or, better yet, the one God has dreamed up for you!
What Do We Think Is Significant?
To start with, we need to decide some things. Ask yourself: What really is significant to me personally? What is my unique contribution to the lives of others? What are those most significant relationships in my life and how can I protect them?
I surveyed hundreds of women in several states and asked them to respond to some questions. One of the questions was: “What is your definition of significance?” Over half of those responding included the words: “making a difference,”“impacting others,” or “enacting some kind of a change.” Half of the women felt that if something is significant it benefits others. About one in six said that something significant was important or outstanding. About 10 percent tagged on that if significance were truly significant, it had to have eternal value or it had to somehow please God. The words “positive,”“special,” and “meaningful” were also commonly used in the definitions. About one-quarter of the respondents defined significance in a way that was personal for them. Below are some of their definitions. Which ones do you connect with?
Major, a really big deal
Having a purpose
Significance is relational
Passionate to you
Exceptional, beyond ordinary
When I have finished something I worked very hard doing (giving birth was significant!) An event worth retelling
One respondent really took this a step further:
Significance is an influence or a life-changing experience like:
Comfort when comfort is needed
Support when support is needed
Encouragement when encouragement is needed
Laughter when laughter is needed
Tears when tears are needed
To be there when needed
This beautifully written poem contains a wonderful sentiment, as did most of the definitions I received. Some of you read the words above and knew instinctively how to apply them to life. Many of you, however, may have found the definitions intangible. For example, how would a woman know when and what was needed? I find that this is one of the most confusing issues in a woman’s life. There are so many needs—how can one person fill them? What is average, let alone above average or superior? What exactly constitutes “a wow!”(Sometimes this is easier, because people will actually say “Wow!” when they hear of something amazing, special, or meaningful.)
I especially liked these two:
I think everything I do as long, as I let God lead me, is significant.
Significance must be defined by who we are and not what we do. (And to that I say “Ditto!” The premise of this book is to help us gain a more heavenly perspective so we can see things from a better and broader point of view and make decisions that will have a positive impact on us and our loved ones.)
We Are More than a Résumé
The problem of seeing ourselves as the sum of our work, however, is epidemic. John Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey, authors of A Time for Life, note that “Many Americans have become virtual walking résumés, defining themselves only by what they do.” We are more than the sum total of our dossier. Os Guinness calls us all to replace “You are what you do” with “Do what you are.” The goal of this book is to help you discover who and what you are, and then you can make decisions based on that calling. This approach leads to wiser choices and a life where we sense God’s pleasure—and that is significant.
Are you sensing why our heads are swimming? Why our Day-Timers are jammed with to-do lists? Why we might be feeling that we are very busy and yet wondering if we are accomplishing anything of value? Significance is so subjective. What is significant to one may be insignificant to another.
When I was a competitive gymnast and diver, I was judged by a panel of men and women and then given a score. It was common for the same dive, the same vault, or the same routine to receive a variety of scores. Each judge was receiving the same information, but a large or small mistake was subject to his or her view, his or her liking, his or her priorities. Significance is like that. So often we feel that our lives are being judged by a panel—husband, friends, leaders, church members, coworkers, bosses, children— and all of these people look at us from their own point of view. Because the judging is subjective, each gives us a different score.
The many voices in our lives can sometimes be a distraction that keeps us from truly sensing the significant. When you listen to too many voices, significance starts to become elusive. You don’t know whom to please. But God’s view of you is concrete. Genuine significance is rooted and grounded in Him.
A significant woman bases her identity on who God says she is, and she is committed to do nothing more and nothing less than what her identity demands. In other words, as I line up my thoughts to God’s thoughts about me, I will become a woman He can use. When I see myself through His eyes, I realize my value. I am nothing more than a woman saved by His grace, but I am nothing less than a new creation.
When I see myself through God’s eyes, I realize His plan for me is found only in obedience. I am nothing more than a servant and am nothing less than an ambassador. I’m not the master, so I don’t make up the rules. There is one God, and it’s not me! All that He requires from a servant is obedience—there is nothing more I can add. Being an ambassador opens up opportunities. The more God can trust me, the more He will entrust to me. So anything less than obedience means I risk missing out on precious pieces of His plan for me.
When I see myself through God’s eyes, I realize my calling and that He has a unique place for me. If I am driven to do more than my calling, then I’m not being the me God designed. If I am so busy trying to be someone else, then who is being me? If in fear I do less than my calling, I miss out on the adventure of being me. Nothing more and nothing less will gain God’s applause for me. Decide to make the decision: God, I will be whom You created me to be. Nothing more, nothing less, than being the best possible unique me! I am deciding to line my life up with Your view of me. I choose a connection with You so I can connect to what You have for me.
Today, decide that you will decide. Don’t let life happen— make life happen! Decisions move you forward by a series of wise choices. Decide to choose. Victorian novelist George Eliot was ahead of her time when she wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Decide to be different. Decide to make things different.
Plug In Instead of Plugging Along
As I nurture my connection to God, I gain the desire, ability, and motivation to obey. Out of obedience I will sense and experience a life of significance. When I agree with God’s view of me, I gain the ability to grasp which opportunities are significant from heaven’s vantage point. I see which relational connections are significant from His box seat on high. I even see what daily, seemingly insignificant actions and decisions might have significant impact from an eternal perspective. As I see myself from God’s point of view, the pieces fall together easier because God holds the box top to the puzzle. He already sees the completed picture of me and my life. My relationship with Him is the key that unlocks the puzzle’s solution. Each decision will put a piece in place. Decide you will decide to put the pieces of your life together. Now, let’s sort out the pieces—and find the framework for your life.
How would you describe a woman who “has it all”? How is the description different from your life right now?
Reflect on this thought: We make our choices and our choices make us. What are some wise choices you have made? What are some choices you should have made as you look back? What choices do you want to make to move forward?
Excerpted from 10 Best Decisions a Woman Can Make by Pam Farrel. Copyright © 1999 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.