The premise of Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman is that “Somewhere along the way I got the message that salvation is by faith alone but anything after that is faith plus my hard work and sweet disposition” (p. 14). Even though those of us who have embraced the gospel know better (or should), deep down somewhere we feel like we need to put up a good front of having it all together spiritually, and so we hide behind masks that Emily discusses in depth: good performance, good reputation, a “fake ‘fine,’” acts of service, spiritual disciplines, strength and responsibility, our comfort zones. Some of these are fine in themselves, but they are not meant to be masks. Spiritual disciplines, for instance, should be a part of our communication with Christ, not something we do for appearance’s sake.
I’ve marked multitudes of quotes that really hit home. Here are a few:
I constantly worried that my imperfect status would be discovered. I often experienced guilt but didn’t know why. I felt the heavy weight of impossible expectations and had the insatiable desire to explain every mistake (p. 13)
Instead of recognizing my own inadequacy as an opportunity to trust God, I hid those parts and adopted a bootstrap religion. I focused on the things I could handle, the things I excelled in, my disciplined life, and my unshakeable good mood (p. 13).
I taught the people around me I had no needs and was secretly angry with them for believing me (p. 13).
I have the expectation of myself to be a good girl, a good Christian, a good wife, and a good mom. Not such bad things, until you understand my own personal, twisted definition of “good.” Good means I never mess up. Good means I weigh the perfect amount. Good means I can handle everything. I don’t look like a fool, and I never lose my patience. Good means my husband will never be disappointed in me, my kids will always obey, and everyone basically likes me…If I fail to live up to my own standard of good, I label myself a failure (p. 25).
Feeling scared meant I needed more faith. Feeling anger meant I needed more control. Feeling confused meant I needed to get it together and figure things out. In theory, I knew I was supposed to cast my fear, anger, and confusion on the Lord. But after “trusting” him with my circumstances, I thought it was my responsibility to change the emotions and keep myself from experiencing them again (p. 55).
Since when does the awesomeness of my testimony depend on the extremity of my rebellion? (p. 100).
Where are you? God asks, not because he doesn’t know, but because he knows I have to come out of hiding in order to be found (p. 114).
Having a quiet time sometimes left me feeling as if I had accomplished something rather than related with a person. I equate it to working out: I don’t do it very often, but when I do I feel better about myself and slightly superior to those who may not have done the same that day (p. 151).
The mask-wearing good girl is all about herself. In her most secret place, she wants the glory. But it is only in him that we have been made complete (p. 157).
Part of the solution is:
It isn’t me doing work for God, but it is me trusting God to do the work in me (p. 63).
The story of redemption and healing is that Jesus came to exchange my not-good-enough with his better-than-I-could-ever-imagine (p. 137).
He still asks for our obedience, but it is no longer obedience to the law. Now we are called as believers to be obedient to the truth…This obedience to the truth doesn’t come naturally or automatically. There is laboring. There is striving. But this striving has the potential to be new and light and joyful (p. 135).
The work is not according to the mask we wear; it is according to his power that works within us. It isn’t an external attempt, to live up to the law; it occurs on the spirit level where we are united to Christ (p. 135).
These last two quotes, to me, set apart this book from a lot of what I hear and read about grace these days. Some take it so far as to deny that there is any kind of obedience or striving, and that makes me wary of any grace-based or grace-emphasized talk (not wary of the basis of grace, but how some apply it). But I think Emily struck the perfect balance.
I was also a little wary because I can’t endorse some of the people she quotes, but I think I pretty much agree with just about everything she said herself.
It’s so easy to fall into doing (or not doing) things because good Christian girls do (or don’t) rather then letting what we do or don’t do flow from love for Christ and His power that works in us. We need frequent reminders. In all honesty, I still struggle at times with what’s God’s part and what’s my part in dealing with certain besetting sins: I know I can’t defeat them on my own, yet He doesn’t just come in and remove them all at once: there is a process of growth and there has to be a measure of obedience, yet even that comes from His strength and not my own. I “know” these things in my head, yet I’m still working them out in daily life.
And if I can step away from the book for a moment, we need to have grace for other good girls as well (maybe that’s an idea for another book, Emily. ) Often I’ve seen and experienced ways that Christians react when we show that we don’t have it all together that reinforces that performance-based lifestyle rather than coming alongside them in empathy and helping them regain Biblical perspective.
This is another difficult area because the Bible does tell us to provoke one another to love and to good works, to restore one another when we’ve sinned, to even rebuke each other when we’ve done wrong. But I don’t think that means that when one speaks of worrying over an issue, another says, “Well it’s a sin to worry, you know” or just pats them on the back and quotes Romans 8:28. Our pastor shared a perfect example of this recently. He said he was with someone when he received bad news, and at first there was a lot of what he called “spewing,” wondering what was going on, why had God let this happen, etc. As my pastor said, “It wasn’t a time for platitudes.” Later, when things calmed down, then he could help him gain perspective by reminding him of God’s presence and promises and power. And I think that should be our response as well.
Some years ago in a prayer meeting, someone said that so-and-so just found out he had cancer and his wife wasn’t handling the news very well. He didn’t elaborate, but I wondered what he meant by “not handling it well.” Fast forward several years to when I contracted transverse myelitis and was involved in an e-mail support group which contained many nonchristian people. I thought that to be a good Christian testimony I needed to always approach things in faith and victory with a smile. At some point a new lady came into the group who was also a Christian, but she had a different view: she felt it was more honest, more human, more empathetic to let people in on the struggles, to acknowledge when life hurt. And I think she’s right. How often I’ve been comforted by the Psalms because they show a range of emotion and even anguish, yet they almost always end with resting in God.
Perhaps I should have saved some of the above for another blog post. This book has provoked thoughts in a number of areas, but I’d probably better stop before I quote half the book or make this any longer. I’m still processing some of it, but overall I’d recommend it.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)