It was another one of those incidents where I tried to stay out of what was going on around me, but got pulled in anyway. I was browsing through a bookstore when two women engaged in a conversation about books they would like to read.
“I just love romance, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said the other woman, “but I’m more interested in reading something historical, like Gone With the Wind.” She turned to me and asked, “What would you like to read?”
“Probably The Lord of the Rings,” I said. “It was recommended to me in college.”
Their jaws dropped. Indignant, one of the asked “That’s it? You wouldn’t want to read something more romantic?”
“No, that bores me” I said.
They continued their conversation without me, while wandered away and wondered once again why I couldn’t be more like other women. That conversation may sound like an isolated incident, but it is actually an echo of what I have been hearing my entire life. I’m different. I’m not like other women. It comes from men as a compliment and women as an accusation. Every time I find myself in another one of these awkward moments, I ask God “Why am I so different?”
On the surface I look like a normal woman, but if you talk to me for even a short time, you will see that I am different. In school, I was more of a math and science person than an English and history person, which is rare for a girl. As I grew up, I found that I got along with men better than women because of my interests. I like science fiction and fantasy. I enjoy college football. I would rather get outside and do things like hiking, boating, or fishing than sit inside and watch talk shows or soap operas. In fact, I find many traditionally female interests like shopping, sewing, decorating, and cooking to be dull, if not aggravating.
I suppose this could be because men have always had a powerful influence on my life. My mother and maternal grandmother were wonderful people and taught me many invaluable lessons, but when it came to social development, the men definitely had an influence. My father spent a great deal of time with me, especially helping me with my schoolwork. He was determined that I would not be a girl that couldn’t do math and went to great efforts to make sure that my performance in this area excelled. I also have a brother six years my senior, and he definitely socialized me in those critical early years. I often joke with my parents that having an older brother served two purposes: He kept me from being overly feminine, and he raised my IQ by at least ten points. I always had to think about whether his “brilliant ideas” would make us millions or get us both sent to our rooms. The fact that my best friend in school had two brothers didn’t help either – in fact, it was probably why we had so much in common.
This may explain a little of why I am the way I am, but the truth is that I am what God made me. Despite genetic makeup or environmental influences, I believe that each of us is sent to this world for a purpose, and God made us the unique individual we are in order to serve that purpose. It is our differences that make us valuable not only to God, but to the world as well.
The problem is we live in a world that demands conformity, so there is a tendency to hide those differences from other people. This is where I ran into a problem with my own individuality. I could see how my differences made me unique, but it was hard to see how God could use such an unusual person. How can I help or serve people that don’t understand me? The incident with the two women in the bookstore was a perfect reflection of how people reject and fear what they don’t understand. But instead of letting it make me feel bad, I decided that it was time that I came to terms with my individuality.
In my studies, I came across a gem of advice in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he explains his transition of blasphemer turned apostle. Instead of beating himself up over former actions, Paul tells the Corinthians that “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10) . I admire his attitude. Instead of being held back by who he was, Paul simply accepted forgiveness and accepted himself as God made him.
This verse opened my eyes to a problem with humanity in general. I don’t believe there has ever been a person alive that did not suffer from fears of inadequacy. It is human nature to focus more on what is wrong than on what is right. The pressure to conform is especially hard on women, especially in an age where we are expected to do more than in generations past. I feel the pressure to keep my life in perfect order every day. We are expected to be loving wives, keep our homes in perfect order, and be caring children to our parents and driven employees at our jobs. Sometimes it seems there just aren’t enough hours in the day to work for 8 hours, put a meal on the table, grocery shop, clean dishes, do laundry, tidy up the house, pay the bills, run errands – it seems the list is endless! I admire women that are able to add motherhood to all of these expectations. I see women I work with that have children, and I can tell you that God blesses them with wonderful gifts of patience and time management. In the face of all these expectations, it’s no wonder that we lose sight of the things that make us unique.
I came to realize that we live in an imperfect world that is constantly trying to squeeze us into the illusion of perfection. The problem is that the world’s definition of success is also the same as the definition for a nervous breakdown. Perfection simply does not exist in this world, so you may as well give up trying to attain it and accept what it real. Just as we cannot live up to all of the expectations placed on us, we also cannot change who we are. God loves us just the way He made us, and Christ did not die for our sins so we could continue to be bound by worldly expectations. It’s time to start living the life of joy we were given by accepting Christ as our Savior. The first step is to see ourselves as God sees us, not as the rest of the world sees us. That is really the only opinion that matters.
When I looked at myself as I felt God would see me, I was shocked to find that my differences have not only shaped who I am, but how I serve others. I have a wonderful husband that loves me and appreciates how I am different from other people. I have a college degree because my parents made me believe that I could excel in higher education. I have a job licensing landscape architects and soil classifiers, which are fields that more women are entering, but are still male dominated. Most important, I am confident that, with God’s help, I can do anything He sets before me.
Despite the heavy male influence, I’m not totally devoid of feminine characteristics. I have long hair, I never go out without make-up on, and I dress nice for church, work, and special occasions. I do have manners and can be a proper lady when the occasion calls for it. But I am still more comfortable in jeans and hiking boots than panty hose and high heels any day!
Incidentally, I did read The Lord of the Rings, and I loved it. And now that I’ve read it, I can’t help but wonder if those two women in the bookstore that day have any idea of what they are missing.