Sometimes when our 6 year old objects to some limit we’ve placed on him and protests loudly with whining, my husband, Steve, will mimic his tone saying, “Teddy, imagine if I went to my boss like you’re doing and said, ‘Daaa-aaan, I don’t waaaaant to come in early at 8:00. I’m tiii-iiiired of working so hard. I don’t liii-iike the way you organize the office!’ I’d get fired.”
Teddy gets the point. There are limits and restrictions and expectations placed on us throughout life. While a few may be illegitimate and call for protest, most are part and parcel of living in a well-ordered society.
Yet Always-brand feminine products is out to persuade a generation of young women that limits are best exceeded, authority is best defied. The popular Always #LikeAGirl campaign pictures girls, tweens and young women talking about all the limitations they feel in their lives because they’re girls. The savvy interviewer asks them to write their limitations on oversized white boxes that she later urges them to kick down.
“Really?” responds one incredulous young woman. The camera pans to her and other girls running and kicking through cardboard stacks and walls, while her voiceover plays, “I think that you need [to] keep going with whatever you love to do and do anything you want … conquer any fear you’ve had, and just live your dream and do whatever you want to do … that’s why I love the word unstoppable.”
It’s compelling. Like so much effective propaganda is. They’re not marketing a product (remember what they sell). They’re promoting an attitude, a view of the world that life is intrinsically unfair to girls, and the only right response is defiance and self-determination.
Always brand paints with too broad a brush. Life is unfair, and naysayers who try to bully girls into passivity should be ignored. But life is unfair to everyone — girls and boys — and not all limitations or restrictions are bullying. The solution to a peer’s playground taunt isn’t to cast off all restraint forever — regardless of its source or content or intention.
The point of the campaign is to boost girls’ confidence. But confidence in whom? In legitimate authority exercised on their behalf? In parents lovingly guiding them toward adulthood? In the God who made them? Sadly, no. The message of the stirring video is that the only person you can trust to know what’s best for you is you. This is all about self-confidence.
It’s not a new message. Just a more inspirational version than the one I heard growing up watching Sesame Street puppets singing “be the best you can be” songs. And even that wasn’t new. This message goes all the way back to the garden. Always should have interviewed Eve.
Interviewer: “Are there things you can’t do?”
Eve: “Yes! God said I can’t eat of the best tree in the garden!”
Interviewer: “What does He know? Go ahead and eat!”
This age-old lure to self-determination was tempting to Eve, and it’s still tempting us today. Christians are not immune. We don’t like it when people tell us there are things we can’t do. How much sweeter is the song of the one who says you know what’s best for you. Aim for the sky. Be all you can be!
Too Low and Too High
The problem is that our best isn’t that great. The belief that we can maximize ourselves utterly apart from God and that our self is worth maximizing, aims too low. If the best I can be is the outer edges of my own potentiality, then I am doomed. Isaiah 64:6 tells us the truth about our potential: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
God wants to do more in and through us than we could ask or think not so we will get the glory, but so that He will (Ephesians 3:20-21a). Lest we think too much of ourselves, God is forthright about our status:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
The belief in self-as-ultimate also aims too high by over-esteeming the self. Each individual has inestimable worth as God’s image bearer, but God commands us to walk humbly, to consider others more significant than ourselves, to die to ourselves, and to serve Him alone. David said, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1).
God will share His glory with no other (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7). He created us in His image, but not so that we would be puffed up with pride about it. We are able to flourish as human beings only when we have Him at the center, only when we are submitted to His lordship. Any other way of living leads sooner or later to disappointment and ultimately, destruction.
Living for Self or for God
After college graduation, I headed to D.C. and an internship that led to my dream job in the House of Representatives. After two years, however, it was clear that striving to achieve my potential with excellence wasn’t a straight path to fulfillment or happiness.
Part of the problem was that I could only control so much. My job was often tedious, frustrating, even boring. The hours were long, political progress was slow, and the people in my office were often difficult to work with. There were things I longed for — things that felt necessary to becoming everything I was capable of becoming — that I couldn’t make happen. Though I was well-paid, I never seemed to have enough money to do all that I wanted to. There were trips I couldn’t take, books I couldn’t buy, and experiences I couldn’t afford. And at the top of the list of things that felt necessary, but as yet unrealized, was a relationship leading to marriage.
I was experiencing the normal human life. Jesus warned us it would be this way. “In this world you will have trouble,” He said (John 16:33). What do you do when things aren’t going well?
If you believe doing whatever you want is your right and that your potential is the best you can hope for, then there is no grace for challenges. No awareness that God often allows painful circumstances in order to work through them. No confidence that He is able to redeem failures. You’ll be tempted to quit, to move on, to despair. But if you believe your life exists to bring Him glory, then when things get hard, you can persevere in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing you can trust His goodness, and submit to His sovereignty.
What about when things are going well? If you’re living for yourself, striving to be the best you can be, then you have you to praise. But if you believe that “apart from Christ you can do nothing,” then when things go well, you know there is only one way that is even possible: Christ is at work — to Him be the glory.
My problem wasn’t a disappointing job. The job was disappointing because I was looking to it to provide satisfaction — something it never could.
Start With What’s Ultimate
Our chief end, the purpose for which we were created, is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That’s the way the Westminster Catechism summarizes what Scripture reveals about our purpose. Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 16:33). God commands us to start with what’s ultimate — to seek His kingdom first — and promises to give us everything else we need; in fact, “everything we need for life and godliness” “according to His riches in glory.”
Your circumstances may not look the way you hoped they would — God measures success differently than the world does — and He is glorified in doing more through you than you could do on your own. For the child of God, “He is working all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28, emphasis added). For those who are called, who are trusting in Christ alone, it means both our best days and our worst are part of His plan for His glory and also for our good.
Self-love is evidence not of human fulfillment, but of fallenness. Paul warned us, saying,
… in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, emphasis added).
We are all at risk of placing ourselves at the center of our lives. But we are not able to fulfill ourselves (Romans 3:10b-12, 5:6, Luke 10:10, Ephesians 2:1-2). God alone will satisfy. Psalm 73:2 says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” David wrote, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
We don’t reach our potential by doing whatever we want to do. We were designed to do everything for the glory of Another. And we don’t glorify Him by being the best we can be but by dying to ourselves and being what He wants us to be: conformed to the image of His Son. You must decide who will be at the center — you or God. Your life depends on it.
Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.