Breaking the Bonds of Impossible Standards
by Holley Gerth
She walks up to me at a conference with a smile on her face but eyes that tell a different story—one of weariness from what it takes to hold it all together.
She writes a note that lands in my inbox, telling of how she keeps trying harder but she still doesn’t feel good enough. Everyone in her life thinks she’s fine.
She posts another photo on Facebook from what seems to be a flawless life. But her status update should really say, “I think I have to be perfect for you to love me.”
Why are so many of us locked in invisible chains of our own making with bars made of standards that are impossible to meet? And even more importantly, how do we get free? After connecting with thousands of women around the world, I think I’ve found the secret—and it’s probably not what you think.
An old story goes that quilt makers used to intentionally put flaws into their work to remind them that only God is perfect. In a craft where every stitch counts, those women were declaring, “I’m not even going to try to be perfect.” While we’re not going to be imperfect on purpose, it’s still inevitable.
Like the errors in the quilts, when we let our mistakes and shortcomings be visible, we remind those around us that we are only human. I once encountered a group that encouraged people to plaster on a smile even when they were broken. We were told not doing so could “hurt our witness.” In other words, we’d make God look bad. But the opposite is actually true. When we cover up our wounds, hide our failure, and refuse to ask for help, we give the impression that we belong to someone who must not really love us. We also lead others to feel they have to hide their weaknesses as well.
When we say, “I’m broken. I’m weak. I made a mistake,” then we are also saying, “I’m not God.” The places we feel most vulnerable are often where God can show his love through us the most. You don’t have to be afraid of being honest about who you are or what you’re going through. God can handle it, and by opening up, you just might help someone else feel safe too. You will not make God look bad—you will show that he is good because he loves his children even in their most difficult moments.
There’s an old story about two pots. One was perfect in every way. The other had cracks and broken places. Each day a woman filled the pots with rainwater she collected and then carried them down the path to her home. The first pot felt proud that she never leaked a single drop. The other felt ashamed because no matter how hard she tried, she spilled a lot along the way.
One day the two pots overheard the woman talking with someone who lived nearby. The neighbor exclaimed, “The flowers along your path are so beautiful! What’s your secret?”
The woman answered, “One of my pots is broken, and the water that spills out helps the flowers grow every day.”
We think that we have to take what’s broken and make it perfect in order to be used by God and bless others. But God thinks in a completely different way. He took what was perfect, his Son, and made him broken in order to bring us healing.
So if you’re sitting there wondering if God can use you because your life is not as it should be, and your heart is aching—know that your greatest hurt will probably be your greatest ministry. Like the disciple Thomas who doubted until he touched the scars of Jesus, some people in your life need to see your broken places more than your victories.
We’re all like the second pot in the story. God sees purpose in our brokenness even when we don’t, and he can use it to bring forth beauty that blesses those around us.
Here’s the surprising secret: To break the bonds of impossible standards, we must embrace and share our brokenness. Only then can we experience God’s love and grace for us as we are—which sets us free to become all he created us to be.
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