Every Tuesday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is Letting Go of Perfect: Women, Expectations and Authenticity (kindle version) by Amy Spiegel. Instead of me writing this review, my wife Katie was kind enough to share her thoughts on this book hoping to serve the female readers of this blog. You can follow Katie on twitter here or friend her on Facebook here.
I let go of perfect quite a while ago, with four kids 7 years old and under, perfect is not a word that I would use to describe my life or a standard that I strive for much anymore. A better word may be awake or present. I was excited to read this book because although the backdrop of my life is not perfection, there are times that I expect much more out of myself and life then actually happens. Those are the things that I was hoping the book would address. Letting Go of Perfect, although not entirely what I expected, covers some great topics.
From the first page of the introduction Amy Spiegel is transparent with her past and the struggle she is facing, “My life: one minute I love it and know I am right where God wants me; the next minute I loathe it and feel that I have been misplaced and forgotten.” A place that I think every wife and mother feels. Each chapter chronicles a topic in which she trying to lay hold of the freedom she knows is promised through a life in Christ.
Chapter one deals with marriage and kids, and how God uses these close relationships to sand off the rough edges and make us more like Him. “Rather then seeing them as obstacles to be removed or reshaped, we must embrace them as instruments of grace being used for our own betterment. Our identity as God’s children isn’t one of perfection, yet, but a picture of His grace. This perspective, along with a firm grasp of our own sinful nature, should humble us in the face of relational difficulties but also encourage us in the face of adversity.”
I really enjoyed the second chapter, and Amy’s spin on modesty and values. “Going to the gym or the neighborhood pool may be a challenge for men to keep their thoughts pure and lust-free. But I would venture to guess that just as many women struggle to keep their thoughts free of envy and pride.” Too often this conversation is left to the wandering eyes of men, and totally downplays the responsibility we have to other women. “I have a responsibility not to create a competitive or hostile environment for my fellow females. By dressing more conservatively, we lessen the temptation to envy and compare, allowing the spirit to overrule the flesh, so to speak. I have noticed for myself that both my inner and outward dialogue tend to be more edifying while chatting in baggy sweats rather then in my ‘skinny’ jeans.” “Whatever the focus of your vanity, there is nothing wrong with looking nice, but we need to consider our motives and the impact our actions have. …We are called to swallow our pride and vanity for the good of the body or push away our freedom in order that others might not stumble.” “I try to concentrate on whether or not this outfit makes my values look small.”
This next chapter deals with parenthood, and although difficult, we give our children what they need, not what they want or will make them happy. The author relates this to our relationship with God. “So why does God bring these hiccups and monsters into our lives if all they do is make us feel bad about ourselves and make us question whether or not He cares? Why doesn’t He simply shower us with sunshine? The answer to that goes back to giving birth. In order to bring forth the greatest blessing in my life, save Jesus and my hubby, I had to voluntarily enter a room labeled “labor and delivery.” I suppose given the choice at the time I might have been tempted to go back, to reverse course and head for the hills. But were that possible, I would have done so empty-handed. In order to get the blessings, I first had to do the labor. For it is through the pain and the blood that I was delivered.” “This is true of our spiritual labor too. But the amazing thing is that the labor has already been done for us. When Jesus groaned and suffered on the cross, He was bringing us out of death and slavery; He was paying for our lives with His own. Whatever pain we suffer here is just the extraction of our new selves from the old. The pain is real and certainly nothing to joke about, but it is fleeting and simply part of the process of giving birth to our new nature. It may hurt like heck, but it will pass. And in our agony, we are not alone. Because He suffered, we can cry out for relief and be heard. It may not stop the pain but it will give us the strength to carry on.”
Chapter four discusses the practical matter of simplifying our life. “Our life’s work is to be just that- work. I want to run into the gates of heaven out of breath and dripping with sweat not because my effort gets me in but because it is the destination I have been running for all along. May our lives reflect the words of the classic film Chariots of Fire ‘I believe God made me for a purpose… and when I run I feel His pleasure.’ While the film refers to physical running, I think it can be applied to any effort we pursue for the right reasons.”
Chapter five deals with the delicate balance we have to follow God’s commands without becoming legalistic or blasé. “The fruit we bear in our lives should blossom out of a deep trust in God’s provision, not an attempt to repay the great debt we owe.” I love her description of trying to muster change in ourselves by picking and choosing what characteristics we want to add or change in our lives. “When I attempt to take life not from its true source-my Father’s will and purpose- but my own, the results are not pretty. Like some mad Frankenstein scientist, I frantically create the person I think I should be. I look at those who I admire and respect not with appreciation for God’s work in their lives, but with green eyes of envy seeking to acquire what is not mine. I piece together all these enviable attributes and sew them on, not in the spirit but in the flesh. The result is not the new creation I am called to be but a hideous monster of rotting flesh that roars in frustration and despair. I create not a better version of myself but an enemy to my very soul.”
Friendship and relationships are the topics discussed in chapter six. She states that we can us truth to combat our feelings of ungratefulness and being left out and come to a place of gratefulness. She reminds us that it is in the hands of God that we are truly transformed and that it is often through human relationships that we are sanctified.
Chapter seven focuses on sifting through the opinions of others through books, blogs, people’s advise, etc. to find our true identity in Christ and allow the Bible and His opinion of who we should be shape us. “Keeping the goal, to glorify God with our lives… … helps us to practice discernment when processing influences and advice.”
Chapter Eight deals with relationships, a struggle everyone knows. “As Christian women, you and I desire to be defined ultimately by our relationship with Jesus but so much of our satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) with our lives comes from our earthly-rather than heavenly- relationships. …But how do we maintain a healthy balance between investing and nurturing relationships-especially with our male counterparts- and still stay rooted in our identity as brides of Christ?” This chapter delves into boundries in relationships before marriage as well as a few truths about marriage.
Chapter Nine deals with the job description of a mom. “This is when I have to remind myself that it isn’t really my kids that I am making all these sacrifices for. They are not my Employer. They are merely the tools He uses to mold me into His finished produce. Too often, I treat my relationship with Him like a union negotiation rather than a covenant based on mercy. I feel entitled to certain wages for the hours I have put in. But this isn’t Let’s Make a Deal; this is about servanthood and death to self.”
Counter culture living is addressed in Chapter Ten: “When we truly set our eyes on Heaven, it will put us at odds with the culture around us, but if we do so in humility and faith we ultimately have nothing to fear.” She lists and expounds on 3 principals in which we consider being counter cultural: stewardship, discipleship, and the importance of the mind.
Chapter Eleven starts with a lighthearted example of breaking away from addiction and the idols that we so easily turn to, specifically materialism. “I can live my live like that, filling it with so much activity that it’s hard to see God’s hand in it all. I say I am living for Him, but in the end I am just going through the motions and failing to remind myself for Whom all the motion is supposed to be. Though I wouldn’t consider myself materialistic, if I tend to value the material over the immaterial I might need to rethink that assessment.” This chapter had some bite that was appreciated and appropriate
Chapter Twelve talks through standard for yourself and family as to how you approach pop-culture. She lists some very practical guidelines for decision making. And encourages you to make your own decisions, knowing that there will be consequences to the choices that you make.
The final chapter is all about your calling as a mother and how to rest well. “True, God-focused resting might feel like self-indulgent inactivity as well, but that is far from the truth…” “Reading the Bible and praying aren’t the only ways we can seek God and the power His presence and blessing bring. The truth is like a spring of water which bubbles from God and flows in many directions. It can be found in the laughter of a friend, the witty turn of a phrase by your favorite author, a touching scene in a well-made movie. WE all need to drink from this fountain but while the water is the same, our ways of collecting it differ. A big part of maturing is coming to understand what activities or disciplines you personally find refreshing. I have friends who come back from a weekend with friends beaming with energy, having been refreshed and encouraged. I am more of a one-on-one girl and enjoy spending time doing physical activities like hiking or riding bikes.”
He whose life is one even and smooth path will see but little of the glory of the Lord, for he has few occasions of self-emptying, and hence, but little fitness for being filled with the revelations of God… but they who ‘do business in great waves,’ these see his ‘wonders in the deep.’ Among the huge Atlantic-waves of bereavement, poverty, temptation, and reproach, we learn the power of Jehovah, because we feel the littleness of man… your trials have been the cleft of the rock in which Jehovah has set you, as he did his servant Mosses, that you might behold his glory as it passed by. -Charles Spurgeon
I appreciate the author’s desire to create an atmosphere where you feel like she is walking alongside you, but this is the part of the book that I had the hardest time with. In doing this I feel like the great gospel truths that are discussed in the book were short lived… and overshadowed in some of the stories that quite frankly came across as whining. I assume that it was in jest, but whenever anyone jokingly makes fun of someone else there is a sliver of truth to it. It really bothered me and set my teeth on edge when she called her kids barbarians. I realize that this may seem nitpicky, but God has moved mountains in my own heart to lovingly train my kids and enjoy it. And so it seems like she is belittling them through this one statement.