Our girlhoods were full of promise, weren’t they? For us girls born in the seventies and eighties, our coaches, teachers, and parents cheered for our bright and unprecedented futures. They celebrated new realities that they barely glimpsed on the horizon when they were young.
Our mothers and grandmothers marveled at all we could do then, from girls’ sports to girls’ STEM clubs. They are still marveling at all the doors open to us now. Looking both backward and forward, I eagerly anticipate what my own four daughters might dream, discover, and do in the decades ahead.
“It turns out that we are not enough. We desperately need the God who is.”
As hopeful as our growing up years were, though, here’s what plagues me now: we women are not living out the futures we imagined we would. Something has gone terribly wrong. Though we are better paid, educated, and resourced than any generation before us, many of us are despairing, depressed even, disillusioned with what life has given us. This is not the way we thought it would be — this is not what the adults promised us decades ago.
Some of this disillusionment is normal. Whose adulthood turns out the way he or she expected, anyway? But the depth of our despair is unique. Suicide rates among us women have doubled in the last two decades. More than one in five of us are on anti-depressants. And we’re twice as likely to experience anxiety as our husbands, brothers, and fathers are. Truly our souls are cast down within us.
Facade Versus Reality
On the outside, we display manicured nails and manicured front lawns. Our facades are an array of degrees, careers, and leadership roles outside the home, as well as organic homemade baby food, Etsy-perfect décor, and smiling toddlers inside the home. We are climbing corporate ladders, raising kids, taking vacations, and sharing it all on social media. Life looks good.
But the truth is, most of us are collapsing on the couch at night, exhausted and alone (emotionally, if not physically). We scroll social media and compare ourselves to the other women who appear to have it all together.
The cultural air we breathe convinces us that we can do it; we can have all that too. Surely we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make our reality match others’ facades. From coffee mugs to home décor plaques, from bestselling authors to talk-show hosts, everything proclaims, Girl, you got this. True fulfillment must be just around the bend — right after this degree, this promotion, this new house, the arrival of this new baby.
“We are God-made, not self-made.”
In the quiet, though, we admit these finish lines aren’t delivering on their promises. Our exteriors may be shiny, but our interiors are ringing hollow. Mental health statistics paint an undeniable reality.
Here’s where I think things went wrong for us: inherent in the new opportunities offered to us girls as we launched into adulthood was a hope we mistakenly placed in ourselves. The adults in our lives said, Look at what is available to you now. Look at how far you can go. You can have it all if you try hard and work hard. In agreement, we proclaimed (sometimes out loud, but more frequently in our heads), Yes, my future is up to me. I can do this. I am my hope.
That hope has run out, though. We’ve awakened to the reality that believing in ourselves was not enough. We found we are finite, fragile even, weaker vessels than we thought. And some of these “opportunities” weren’t even right for us in the first place. Looking within for our worth and identity and power for living has proven to be soul-crushing. We need something, Someone, outside of ourselves to send help.
Our weariness, though, is really a gift. Our downcast souls, as painful as they are, are blessings from above. They are tools in the hands of our Maker to draw us away from our frailty and toward his enduring strength, away from our sin and toward his salvation, away from our disappointment with ourselves and toward the never-ending glories of our Savior and his “yoke” for our lives, rather than the world’s (Matthew 11:28–30).
We humans were made by God and for God (Colossians 1:16). That truth remains, whether we surpass our goals or fall woefully short. God himself is the one who gives us life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25). No wonder our souls are downcast within us. We’ve expected ourselves to behave as only our Creator can, to do what only he can do: to provide our reason for being, our hope for living, a home for our hearts, the joy our souls long for. We are God-made, not self-made.
Hope in God
The psalmist asks the same question we’ve been asking: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5, 11). And so far, we’ve been answering with self-help. But these attempts at self-sufficiency have led to self-despair, even self-loathing and self-harm. It turns out that we are not enough, and we desperately need the God who is.
The psalmist’s response to our despair is simple: “Hope in God” (Psalm 42:5, 11). Hope is found in our Creator, who made us in his image, to be in relationship with him, to be fueled by his power, for his glory and for our good. God, not ourselves, is our salvation, our hope.
“When we place our hope in Jesus, our hope lives, it endures, it is eternal.”
To my sisters who are heartbroken by what hasn’t been: let’s hope in God. He made us. He knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), the number of our days (Psalm 139:16), where we will live, what we will do (Acts 17:25). He knit us together (Psalm 139:13) and he holds us together (Colossians 1:17). We’ve invested decades in hoping in ourselves, and it has led to our ruin. We must place our hope in our Maker.
Living Hope, Inevitable Joy
Our hope in God is secure because our God yet lives. With the apostle Peter we rejoice that “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). When we place our hope in Jesus, our hope lives, it endures, it is eternal. This hope is everlasting and strong, not limited by you or me.
When we hope in ourselves, that hope goes only as far as we do. But when we hope in our Maker and Savior, our hope is as boundless and promising as he is. And he is almighty, everlasting, perfect, good, beautiful, and true.
So we fix our eyes on our risen God, and our hope rises too. Finally, we see. It’s not on us. We are not expected or required to save ourselves, to make ourselves, to do it ourselves. This life is not our own. Rather, we have a kind Maker who holds us in his capable hands.
Our frailty leads us into the arms of our Savior. His burden is easy; his yoke is light. We have a Creator and King who is reconciling all things to himself (Colossians 1:20). And where he is, there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
Our Salvation and Joy
To my friends and sisters and peers across the nation: We were blessed, in many ways, to be raised amid the mixed bag of new freedoms and opportunities for women. What a time it was (and is) to be a girl. But we took a wrong turn when we believed that our hope and satisfaction was dependent on ourselves, or our degrees, or our careers, or our productivity and performance inside or outside the home. Never has that been true, not in any era, not for either sex, not with any opportunity. Abundant life is found only in Jesus (John 10:10).
To begin to find our way out of our current crisis, we must hold tightly to him who is able, to him who saves, redeems, and fulfills. We must allow him, and not the voices around us, to define what the abundant life looks like.
Though we have walked many years with downcast souls, there is hope ahead. Jesus says, “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28). Hope in God, sisters. He is our salvation. He is our joy.