Listing in the storm

I may not be CEO of this house, but I am certainly Managing Director. I am overwhelmed with checklists. I need a shower and breakfast every morning to function. My doctor wants me to exercise daily. My physio wants me to do a range of stretches for every 30 minutes I sit. Nutritionists want me to eat a ridiculous amount of veges every day and drink 2L water. I need to invent, plan, shop for and balance all the meals for all the family (adding for variety, seasonal availability, and budget). I need to monitor all the rooms, the cupboards, and the fridge for items that need replacing, trying or adding. I need to water the plants every day. I need to keep old food out of the fridge, clutter from the surfaces, dirty dishes done or queued to be done. A certain amount of housework and cleaning should be done – toilets, floors, benchtop etc. I need to marshal all the people in the house who do chores to actually do them. I need to memorise and plan around everyone’s schedule, including my own. I need to take care of the emotional needs of my family and be sure to spend time with them. There is a brief five minutes of bliss at some point when all the laundry is done. If I go out, I need to check the petrol (and once a month the oil and tyres). I need to pass on/pay the bills. I need to pray and read my Bible. I need to be involved in church and be diligent with my ministry.  I need to be in a life group. I need to not neglect my friends. I need to run my business/job/career. And I need to find time for self-care. Smiling, and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. All of this, every day. And I’m supposed to look pretty while I do it.

We were raised with a checklist, girls like me, pre-feminist. There was always this sentence in the back of your mind: “You’ll never get a husband if you don’t …”  These days a girl has more options for her future security than the acquisition of a sugar daddy. But she wants to be loved, she wants to be cherished and found fascinating. She hopes that the man she chooses, or who chooses her, will be the repository of all the beauty in her heart, as well as the eager recipient of her bodily favours. Sometimes, she chases him until he catches her.

The invisible checklist sits at the front door, but it can sometimes lurk in the bathroom and in the small hours of the night. Many of these items become automatic as time goes by, but I’m listing them because when you think about the number of considerations a woman has to have in play, every single day of her life, it’s quite overwhelming and you understand why we’re stressed and sometimes resentful. The fear is that if we don’t keep this checklist humming, we’ll “let ourselves go” and become frumpy or skanky. We run the risk of contempt. As we age, it’s hard to let go of the list, even though on some level we realise that nobody expects us, in middle age, to look fabulous. We’re aware that this is all very superficial. We’re aware that it’s not very feminist. But it’s written into us and it’s hard to break free from it. It’s hard to want to. So, if we navigate this list well, we kinda want kudos for it.

It’s variations on the following:-

  • Have you showered?
  • Thoroughly?
  • Today?
  • Washed your hair?
  • Styled your hair?
  • Does your hair colour suit you?
  • Does your regrowth need doing?
  • Does your hairstyle give maximum effect to your face?
  • Is it sitting nicely with enough product to give it shape but not so much that it’s like a piece of armour?
  • Need a haircut?
  • Put on deodorant? Maybe add some perfume.
  • Are your clothes clean?
  • Ironed?
  • Fashionable?
  • Do they go well together?
  • Are they appropriate for the occasion?
  • Do they make the right statement?
  • Do the colours work for you?
  • Are they too old/young for you?
  • Do they accentuate bulges you’d rather hide?
  • Do they cover what they should cover?
  • Are you being a stumbling-block?
  • Are you being yourself?
  • Are you representing Christ well?
  • Does your handbag match your shoes?
  • Do you have everything in it that you or your companions may possibly need while you’re out? (Purse, keys, phone, paracetamol, tampons, nail file, tiny scissors, lipstick, chapstick, comb, mirror, business cards, USB, safety pin, hair tie, toothpick, mints, tissues, wet wipes, sanitiser, water, reusable shopping bags, cards and/or card app)
  • Are your nails clean?
  • Well shaped?
  • A matched set?
  • All chipped nailpolish removed?
  • How about your toenails?
  • And your heels?
  • And your elbows?
  • Do you need sunscreen?
  • Have you shaved/waxed/lasered/depilated your legs?
  • Are they brown?
  • Have you done your armpits?
  • Is your bikini line tidy (or non-existent)?
  • Have you brushed your teeth?
  • Flossed?
  • Cleaned your ears?
  • Are you toned?
  • Checked your jewellery matches your outfit?
  • Have you plucked your eyebrows?
  • Checked your face for pimples?
  • Blackheads?
  • Stray hairs?
  • Cleansed and exfoliated?
  • Put on moisturiser? You want to stave off wrinkles as long as you can.
  • Do you need makeup?
  • Is it too thick?
  • Too thin?
  • Too dated?
  • Wrong colours for you?
  • Is there lipstick on your teeth?
  • Do your lashes look long?
  • Are you wearing a bra?
  • Is it working?
  • Does it show through your clothes?
  • Are you drinking enough water?
  • Do you look pretty and well-put-together?
  • If you ran into an old friend would you feel confident in your presentation?
  • Is your period due soon? You might need to watch your tone and reactions, and the condition of your skin, and pack extra supplies.
  • Have you taken your Pill/medication/vitamins?
  • Are there pet hairs on your clothes? Do you smell like dog? Have you washed your hands?
  • Are there any baby poo/vomit/food/milk stains/dark circles visible?
  • Do you have enough time/energy/relationship stock/cash/petrol/toll credit for this outing?
  • Put on a smile. Be nice. Blend in. Keep up.

Some men will argue that they are unaware of and not at all looking for completion of this list. Others will add to it (there are men out there who will judge a date on the quality of her nether trimming, to which the only proper response is, if you’re lucky enough to get invited there, take what you’re given with profound gratitude, bozo!) The point is that there are lots of expectations on women – far more than those on men. Whether or not we are judged by men, we feel judged by society at large, because we have been taught to judge ourselves. We’re pretty certain other women are judging us. We have internalised a paranoid system where we scan ourselves every day for flaws, and feel the need to apologise or hide if we accidentally overlook one. And our partners wonder why we lack confidence.

Not every woman, of course. But women like me. Anxious, impressionable, prissy me. I know a lot of this is pride.

Right now, on the cusp of a challenging season, I am low on steam, and I am finding my strength in God for perhaps the first time. List aside, I am desperately asking for Him to be my refuge and to lend me His strength. And He’s doing that. He’s wonderful. I am clinging tightly to Him, and I am managing not because I am heroic but because He is all-sufficient. I don’t want to ride His coattails only until I am “strong enough” to do life without Him. No. He and I, we don’t want to do life separately. I want His strength every day. Continuing to ask for it will be a test I’ll have to pass when today’s trials are over.

In a normal parent-child relationship, the parent delights in the autonomy of the grown child. He expects the young person to individuate and become their own pilot. But my relationship with Jesus is not precisely or only that of a parent and a child. It is also a Lover-beloved relationship. And in that kind of committed covenant, the goal is not increased independence, but increased intimacy. And weirdly, I’m finding that the more of Him I borrow, the more myself I can become – that is to say, who I am expands. It’s not a case of not growing up, but of growing outwards, growing new skills. Leaning on Him does not limit or stunt me in the slightest. He is not a crutch. He is an armoury.

People used to say cryptic things to me like, “Don’t do it in your own strength,” and “Rely on God.” I had NO IDEA what they meant or how to implement that. Without context, they sounded like nonsense phrases. But in this place of desperation I feel a closeness to God. I feel Him helping me.

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