We’re nearing the finish line for this series, and today we look at the specific ways women struggle because of the sin nature that invaded the species at the fall of man in Genesis, chapter 3. It turns out that woman is no different than man in that regard. We’ve already seen that man, under the influence of sin, is prone to controlling woman. And that control works its way out in two forms. The first is passivity, where man forces woman to take over responsibilities God gave him, and the man just does what he wants while the woman carries the extra burden. The second way is aggression, where the man dominates or intimidates the woman with his superior muscle mass and brawn.
Now, I suspect some of the men reading this might be a little stunned by how women are brutalized by this sin nature. I surely was. But my wife is confident that no woman will be stunned at all—you might just be surprised that this pretty much affects all women, and not just you. So, let’s dig in a see what God says about this. Our starting point in scripture was:
Gen. 3:16 - To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
The first way sin messes up women is through increased pain in childbearing. I’ve not yet met the woman who tells me that having a baby is just a piece of cake, that she never felt a thing. I’m of the opinion that God brought this pain into play, just as a reminder that we now live in a fallen world and are fallen creatures. And, lest women conclude that men get off easy, nothing could be further from the truth. Work for men was not supposed to be really difficult. But God saw to it that work has become very hard—it’s blood, sweat, and tears. Sound a lot like childbirth, doesn’t it? Nothing cooperates with man’s effort to be productive—even the natural world works against him. So, these consequences are pretty easy to understand, for both men and women.
I found that the second consequence to require a little digging, and it shows up in the second part of Gen. 3:16—Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. As we’ve discovered earlier in this series, a very solid interpretation of this sentence is that the woman, with sin running the tables, will seek to control or manipulate the husband and that he will, in turn, seek to control or rule over her. This is hardly the great partnership and complementary relationship God had in mind and that existed originally for that first couple. It’s much more of a competitive relationship, with each vying to get what they want out of that relationship.
While all that is true, another angle to this “desire” needs to be ferreted out. Remember, at creation, man and woman were under the authority of God, the Creator, who made them in His image to represent Him as they established dominion over the earth. Their desire was to seek the Lord in all things. All of a sudden, we see the woman’s desire turn that attention from God and to the man. This is, in reality, the distortion or the disordering of what things were supposed to be. We get a glimpse of what happens when our desires are out of whack in the book of James, written by Jesus’ own brother.
James 1:14-15 - But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Can you see the consequence of disordered desires here? All of a sudden, it’s as if the desires now control a person, lead them to do what they shouldn’t. James goes on later in scripture to elaborate on this in a real, down-to-earth way. He starts with a couple of questions to get us thinking
James 4:1 - What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
Yeah, we’ve all been there—arguments, disagreements, verbal fisticuffs, anger, even hatred. What the heck is behind those things at home, at school, behind the wheel, at work, in the Christmas shopping frenzies at Best Buy? What’s behind all that? What’s the root cause? James explains it.
James 4:2-3 - You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
It’s simple—distorted and disordered desires lead us to fighting and quarrels, to do what we know we shouldn’t. And this disordered desire that women now have to focus her attention on man, not God, leads to some misery for our gals. Women will now place men on some pedestal, expecting them to provide what only God is able to provide. But since her attention is not now on God, she’s going to be extremely disappointed and frustrated. Man, even in his pre-sin perfection, could never complete woman; and now, with sin in the mix, man has no chance of accomplishing that for her. But, in her desire for that man, she will have two proclivities that show up. And what was interesting to me is that the world at large has noticed these tendencies and agreed with scripture about them, even though it doesn’t know it. So, let’s get down to them. The first is:
An article in The Telegraph (a UK newspaper), entitled, “Why do girls check out other girls?” highlights studies that show women are constantly checking out other women, that women don’t really even dress for men. They are dressing for how they will be seen by the women—the competition. Dr. Caroline Walters, a body image and women’s sexuality specialist, says that this comparison extends beyond just dress, but includes "every aspect of another woman’s appearance, from hair style, to tan, to shape, to size, even body hair and fat distribution. Whatever we deem most important ourselves, we check out in other women.” The article goes on to state that this competition will lead women to use their bodies, or whatever culture considers a strength, to get the upper hand.
It turns out that women compare everything, including other moms, marriages, and relationships. Corinne Sweet, a relationship psychotherapist and author of Change Your Life With CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), agrees. Again, I note that Ms. Sweet is not a Christian and doesn’t believe in the truth of the bible. But she sure agrees with what we’ve found in the bible. She says, “First, it is only natural to compare yourself as it gives you a point of reference which can be reassuring. However, the harsh reality is that it is a cattle market out there, and the commodity is male attention.”
In the end, this competition and comparison can have women creating a faux veneer of who they are to beat the competition. And that, dear ladies, is an identity gone bad. You want to appear to have it all together, not based on God’s design and purpose for you, but based on the standards of our current age. And you end up living in a fantasy world, imagining a different color of hair or skin or a different sized waist or chest, a different husband or boyfriend. It will make you discontent and insecure, neither of which are good for you or any man.
Secular observation also shows that women with disordered desires will tend to a level of perfectionism that can be brutal. And it shows up in amazing ways. In an article in The Atlantic, entitled “Closing the Confidence Gap,” it says this, “Under qualified and under prepared men don’t think twice about leaning in, about getting into opportunities. All the empirical data can say 'I’m going to break this and sink the company, but I still deserve a shot.’" Ladies, that’s men. Note the different approach women have. The articles reveals what you women already know to be true: “Yet, overqualified and over-prepared, women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect or practically perfect. Study after study has shown that perfectionism is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer. We don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam We don’t sign up for that triathlon until we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We fixate on performance at home, at school, at work, at yoga, even on vacation. We obsess as mothers, as wives, as sisters, as friends, as cooks, as athletes.” This is a huge difference between men and women.
Under the weight of having to be perfect, women will see any conflict as a signal that things, maybe even they, are not perfect. And this is unacceptable. Moms even buy into the sad, false theory that, if they can just be the perfect parent, they can keep their kids away from drugs, cigarettes, drugs, and sex. Even Christians fall for this by throwing a bible verse onto the heap: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. It’s a general truth, not a universal one. You cannot make your child believe and trust in Jesus. Sure, be a Christian, teach your kids, have them watch you do ministry, pray with them, talk to them about Jesus. But never conclude that if you just do it all perfectly, you can make them believe. That’s ultimately on them, not you.
You’re not going to be perfect. You’ll lose patience, with your husband, with your kids, with your co-workers, with others in your neighborhood, in your church, in your extended family. Get over it. Do what you’re supposed to do—confess to God and to those you’ve wronged, ask forgiveness, and then get up and move on. Moms, it’s amazing how forgiving kids can be. You don’t have to be perfect. Show them how an imperfect sinner can rely on the perfection that’s only found in Christ. You don’t have to be a perfect wife to be a great one. You don’t have to be a perfect mom to be a great one.
Here’s another quote from Lynn Hirschberg, the managing editor of W Magazine, and a notable casting agent in Hollywood. Listen to this incredibly successful woman describe the internal battle against perfectionism--"I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, and then I get to another stage and think I'm mediocre and uninteresting. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that's what's always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I've become somebody, I still have to prove I'm somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”
Man, this level of perfectionism is brutalizing women. It’s why women are twice as likely as men to commit suicide, by far wrestle with anxiety and depression than men do, are overwhelmed far more than men over body image issues. One college campus surveyed the women on campus, finding that 83% of them were dieting, and 50% of them were at the “perfect” weight. What is that? Ladies, it’s perfectionism that enslaves. I mean, how could you ever be happy if everything had to be perfect? How could you ever rest? How could you ever feel at peace? How could you ever see yourself as lovely if perfection were the standard? Because imperfection is going to surface with every outing, every vacation, every interaction with your kids, your husband, and it’s going to be there every day of your life.
Take a deep breath. Hold it. Breathe it out slowly. Maybe do that again. You’re not perfect. You don’t have to be. Let Jesus be all the perfection, His righteousness be your righteousness. Follow Him and know that He’s already forgiven you for every imperfection. Rest in that, and stop the comparing and the drive for perfection.
We’ll be closing out this series next week, and we’ll be talking about the solution, both for the hurdles men and women face in dealing with the ravages of sin that have attacked God’s design and purpose for us. So, stay tuned. I hope I’m not giving away too much by saying it might just have something to do with Jesus.