Tyndale House Publishers
What were the dreams you had for your future? Are you realizing them?
When I was much younger, I liked to imagine my life as a well-directed movie being filmed for the big screen. I was sure that my life story would depict the wholesome American dream with the cast of characters carefully scripted to create the plot that would fulfill my desires. I had a long list of things I wanted to do and experience. For a time in my twenties, it seemed like things were going to work out as I wanted.
But, of course, that’s not the way things played out. As you probably know, life is not neatly packaged. Our dreams often turn out to be just that—dreams. In fact, at times it feels as if living is more like a movie where the projector has malfunctioned, making the scenes fly by in a panic and the conversations sound like a maniacal Donald Duck. And I can’t find the switch that slows everything down.
You probably have stories from your own life that fit what I’m describing. If you’re a working woman, you most likely have some point of stress at your job that keeps you off balance. Certainly, if you’re the mother of preschoolers, you know the experience of seeing chaos spread faster than you can run behind to create order. And my heart goes out to you if you are in the turmoil of parenting teenagers.
One of the dreams I had in childhood was to live in a beautiful house with my husband and children. In my thirties I realized that dream! My husband, Bill, and I were living in a gorgeous home that resembled a Moorish castle in the exclusive area of Bel Air, California. We were just minutes from the UCLA campus and were involved in the lives of hundreds of young men and women who would be tomorrow’s leaders. For a girl from the little town of Coweta, Oklahoma, this was a greater realization than I had envisioned for my life.
But if you had peeked behind the closed doors of my castle, you would have found that I thought life was more ideal for Bill than for me. I felt overwhelmed with all my responsibilities. I was a new mother of our son, Zachary Dale, trying to adjust to a very different pattern of living dictated by this tiny being who had such a tight grip on my heartstrings. At the same time, our ministry to students was growing like a fresh seed planted in fertile soil. That meant that we had students coming in and out of our house at all hours.
At first, I took on the extra housework as a challenge. Because I had graduated from college as a home economist, I believed I had the necessary skills to manage the job. With the fervor of my youth, I was absolutely confident that I could keep a twenty-room house running smoothly, see to all of little Zachary’s needs and wants, plus find time to maintain a full schedule of meetings with female coeds. I’m sure you can guess what happened. The whole spectacle turned into that out-of-control film, and I soon felt depressed, discouraged, and even put upon. Many times while 250 students and friends laughed and visited in the other rooms, I stood at the kitchen sink staring at stacks of dirty dishes and lamented, Why isn’t someone in here helping me?
Don’t get the wrong idea; this scenario was not a case where my husband was insensitive and expected his wife to do the behind-the-scenes work while he got the glory. I was privileged to have married a kind and humble man who considered me a treasure that God had given him. Even back then, my heart was beside his in the ministry we were sharing. Yet there were many times when events worked out to what I thought was my disadvantage.
Because of my bad attitude, I didn’t put much weight on all of Bill’s responsibilities and problems, but my own I could describe in minute detail. At those times I found that I couldn’t control my feelings of resentment and martyrdom. Even more troubling, I wasn’t sure how I could change my attitude. Sadly, I had achieved my dreams, but now I felt unhappy.
How things changed is central to the story I want to tell you, but first, let’s explore the problem by considering what women face today.
During my adult life I’ve seen many transformations in our society. One of the most significant is how the role of women has changed. When I first attended Texas Women’s University, most women had limited career options such as nursing and teaching. Since then, the women’s movement has helped change people’s thinking.
I’m all for women being able to use their talents and follow their desires to the fullest extent, but we have let the feminist agenda and other social pressures pile on stress and problems that our predecessors rarely experienced. We have been told that we can “have it all”—a career, family, and plenty of leisure time. Many women are discovering how unfulfilling it is to live an overcommitted, hectic life.
Do you remember a singer by the name of Karen Carpenter? She was a young, attractive woman who had a voice so pure that many people considered it the most expressive in popular music. She and her brother, Richard, reached the top of the music charts in the 1970s and early 1980s and were a best-selling group. Career, success, fame, fortune, a fan club—Karen seemed to have it all.
It wasn’t long, however, before the media uncovered a problem in her life: she suffered from anorexia nervosa. She deteriorated from a vibrant, healthy young woman to a walking skeleton. Her loved ones were panic-stricken and tried to help her in any way they could. Karen finally recognized the harm she was doing to herself and started on the road to recovery, but her efforts were too late. On February 4, 1983, her weakened heart gave out; she was only thirty-two years old.
I have spent the last five decades working with women across the spectrum of life and observing how they handle life’s issues. One thing I’ve noticed: not one of them “has it all.” Some prominent women have acknowledged the impossibility of this goal. Recently, Karen Hughes, advisor to President George W. Bush, resigned her position at the White House to move back to Texas and spend more time with her family. She is an example of a person who had to make a hard choice, but I believe the more rewarding choice.
You may be in a place right now where you know how hollow the promise is that you can “have it all.” Most of us, at some point, will encounter daunting problems in life. Can you find your situation in any of these?
• Going through the pain of divorce
• Grappling with a life of singleness
• Engulfed in the death of a loved one
• Wrestling with a rebellious teenager
• Stuck in a demanding, unfulfilling job
• Struggling with a debilitating illness
• Haunted by a poor self-image
• Wallowing in depression
• Depressed by mountains of household chores
• Fearing disaster around every corner
• Living in an empty nest
• Drowning in loneliness
• Devastated by widowhood
Even reading this list can make a person feel discouraged. I’m sure you could add a few items from your experiences. Have you ever felt that your “woman within,” the tender place inside your heart that feels the pain and the joy, is crying out but no one can hear? Do you feel as if your inner self is being suffocated by the circumstances of life or the demands of others?
In my parents’ day, women often lost themselves in their husbands and children and may have neglected their own needs because they were too busy serving others. They ignored their own personal growth, and consequently many felt depressed, lonely, and unfulfilled.
Have things changed that much? It’s true that women now have so many more opportunities and can develop their talents and abilities and achieve success in their own right. But having a career, financial success, the ability to follow your dreams, and the life of a “super mom” do not satisfy the inner longings of the soul. Have we just replaced one set of oppressive obligations with another? Before you think I’m describing a life of hopelessness, let me tell you that there is a different way to exist. I have lived with incredible stress for most of my life, but I have enjoyed the journey with total abandon. Many of the women I admire most are fully satisfied with their lives and experience a deep joy in daily living. But their success is not due to balancing a career, family, and everything else. Instead, successful women have faced tremendous sorrows and mountainous problems and have been victorious in spite of it all. That’s because they have relied on God for the solution to their problems.
I have experienced this truth in my own life and have seen it transform women struggling with despair into excited, optimistic, life-loving women. It all comes down to finding the spiritual purpose and plan for your life.
In this book I want to encourage you to follow a new way of living—according to God’s plan. He created us as we are, with intricate feelings, desires, and hopes. He understands the pressures we face and the society in which we live. And most wonderful of all, He is vitally interested in every hurt we experience, every dream we abandon, every temptation we struggle with. Because He formed each of us as a unique creation, He has an intimate knowledge of every desire in our hearts and thought in our minds. And He loves us more deeply than we can ever imagine.
As we seek together to learn what God says in His Word and what He is waiting to do for us, we will discover the perfect plan He has created for you and me. Our journey of joy in knowing God will require four steps of faith:
1. Admit your need to God.
2. Accept His unlimited grace.
3. Acquire skills to live a full life.
4. Achieve your ultimate purpose in life.
No worthwhile journey is ever taken without a willingness to endure to the end. As we search the mind of God revealed in the Scriptures, be prepared for challenges and insights that will change the way you think and live. I urge you to make a commitment right now to place your life in God’s hands and open yourself to what He has in store for you. Don’t be afraid; He is the gentle shepherd of the Bible and will always handle our inner desires and hurts with the greatest tenderness. But also be prepared to grapple with areas of rebellion or indifference to God’s will that you may uncover.
I’m excited about your journey to discover the woman within.
Over the years I’ve found God to be faithful and merciful. He has given each of us the privilege of knowing Him as an intimate friend—something for which I am so grateful! And I know you will be too.
As you read this book, I encourage you to find one or more friends with whom you can share your journey. As women, we have a tremendous capacity to form relationships that build us up and help us to be accountable to what we know we should do. I like to call these friendship ties “Sister Circles.” You will enjoy reading and applying the principles in this book so much more if you share your adventures in spiritual growth with other women.
However, if you find it impossible to create a Sister Circle, begin a diary in which you can record the discoveries God leads you to and the areas for improvement that He brings to mind. In this diary write out your prayers, list your praises, or just describe your sorrows and joys.
Turn to the list of resources in the back of this book to find other materials to help you on your journey.
Before you begin the next chapter, take a moment to thank God for how wonderfully He created you and for how much He loves you. After all, in Christ we truly do “have it all,” for we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10).