Superwoman Syndrome

Superwoman Syndrome

Getting over feeling we have to do it all and learning to say yes to God instead.
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In the 20th century, women broke more glass ceilings than any other time in history. Horizons for us have broadened dramatically due to events such as the suffrage movement, World War II, and even the reality of modern-day economics. Women can do—and become—nearly anything imaginable.

Of course, freedom for women is ultimately a positive shift in a world where many women are still under strict cultural and religious oppression. Many of us can now vote, pursue any vocation, and explore a number of ministry opportunities. In theory, we should be happy and fulfilled by the options before us. So why are we so exhausted?

The weariness theme weaves its way through many articles, books, and other resources for women. For example, our sister blog, Gifted for Leadership, a resource for women leaders, is a safe place to discuss this topic. When we talk about burnout, rest, saying "no," and exhaustion, readers again and again share their frustrations and engage us in robust conversation. Many Christian women, myself included, stretch ourselves too thin, like the taut, fragile skin of a drum. We can do it all, so we assume we should do it all.

Where does this "superwoman," I-can-do-it-all compulsion stem from? It is deeper than a desire for approval or admiration from others, though this often plays a large role, especially for women. We look in the mirror, we don't match up. We look at our families, we don't match up. We look at our spiritual lives, we don't match up. The enticing parasite of comparison gnaws at the fibers of our personhood and our identity in Christ.

But the compulsion doesn't end there. At its root, being too busy, looking "spiritual"—even when we thirst on the inside—is our own way of pleasing God. This desire to delight the Lord isn't wrong or sinful. But when we shift the focus to ourselves and our actions, we distort the tender, pure nature of this want.

God wants our service, our actions, our whole lives. He wants us to say "yes" to good, holy opportunities that refine us and shape us into the image of Christ. First and foremost, however, he desires our hearts and our "yes" to him alone. Simply. Without all the good stuff we accomplish. The psalmist says, "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:15-17, ESV).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a woman who said "yes" to God without fully knowing the costs or what she would eventually do and give up for him. Her life was marked by receptivity. When Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, first tells Mary the earth-shattering news that she will bear the Messiah, she is understandably skeptical: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34). Gabriel then explains the miracle she will experience, and Mary, cured of unbelief, responds with, "I am the Lord's servant … May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38).

When Mary said "yes," she received God into her very person. She carried God in her adolescent womb, and although she did great things for the Lord, her first step was a simple, yet strikingly profound one: she said "yes."

We're not called to Mary's same task, but we can allow Jesus to live in us, abide in us, and make his home in our hearts (John 15, Ephesians 3:17). Being connected to Jesus doesn't automatically give us less to do or mean we won't feel overwhelmed or exhausted. However, saying "yes" to him again and again in big decisions, or in the seemingly minute details of daily life, draws our weary eyes to our source. We say "yes" not because we must, or out of compulsion, but because his love impels us to live in and through him alone.

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