Works

This is a guest post from my wife, Jaime Riddle, about how God delivered her from works.

Ever since I got saved, I knew I was saved by grace and not by works. Not anything I had done (except refusing to believe) had kept me from Christ.  And nothing i did (except agreeing to believe) had gotten me in. I knew my good works were like “filthy rags” before God and I was not supposed to be proud of them. But I also knew God expected His children to do good works for some sort of heavenly reward and because they demonstrated the love of Jesus to the lost on earth.

And yet, I was still in works.

I didn’t really know it until I got out. Now that I am out, I see that my works mentality was closely related to people-pleasing.  I felt trapped by other people, by their appraisals and emotions. I didn’t want to make anybody upset, I never wanted to disagree. Of course I did at times, but I hated it every second because of the conflict it caused. Especially within my family where the stakes were high. Having my mom mad at me–or knowing I had caused her grief–was earth shattering, and so was disappointing my husband. I felt constrained by my extended family too, like I had to keep them happy but they never were. And I tried to be as agreeable as possible with others, at least on the outside. It wasn’t like I didn’t think for myself as much as it was that I always weighed the cost of expressing what I felt/thought.

This ended up being my god.  In the name of agreeableness (or submission, when it came to my husband), I kept bending what I wanted to what others wanted. Not when it was immoral, but at least on the little things if not the big. Then I had kids, and I started bending to them. First I bended in all the areas moms naturally have to: yielding your body, breasts, sleep, cleanliness, schedule. Then my boundaries were gone and I bended everywhere else.  After seeing how emotional babies and toddlers were, and how much resolve it took to teach them things, I didn’t want to discipline them because I didn’t want to make them cry. I didn’t want to deprive them of things they wanted, or let them have things that I wanted only in moderation, because I didn’t want to disappoint them later on. I hated even asking them to clean up at night. It’s not that I never did these things, because I knew such and such were good standards, but I did them always with a bit in my mouth and always oversensitive to the emotional responses that I knew would follow. I felt like I was letting people down 24/7, and that I was stuck in the Bad Cop role I’d never signed up to follow.

Eventually I got to the point where I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know whether I wanted to homeschool anymore, to move to a certain city, to find a new church, to start a new life. I didn’t even know what restaurant I wanted to go to for lunch! I had lost myself, first on the outside and then on the inside. I seemed normal to everybody else but I wasn’t. I felt hollow.

About this time, I listened to the Jim Richards’ series on Works Righteouness. And it revolutionized my life. I also read the Boundaries series (by Cloud and Townsend) and found the section on boundaries in marriage and children especially helpful. I read “From Bondage to Bonding” and repented of codependent thinking. I began trying to separate myself from others’ opinions, even God’s, and trying to find a healthy balance between submission and self-expression. The expression piece was especially difficult because I didn’t want to be a reactionary person, a feminist, a self-rights enthusiast. I didn’t want to trade oversensitivity to my family for insensitivity. Nor did I even know who I was anymore, to argue for the things “I wanted.” I realized that only God knew who I was supposed to be and what pieces of myself that were fractured needed to be put back together again into His vision for me.

Another challenge was the fact that I am naturally an introvert.  Telling someone, as Jim Richards did, that “faking” a good image is worse than having a bad one but being honest about it–was incredibly difficult to believe. As a child who faked it well, when my parents were arguing or dealing with chronic illnesses, I prospered. I got good grades, had great friends, enjoyed great opportunities. Never mind the fact that I was depressed on the inside, suicidal, fearful, anxious, insecure, and obsessed with body image. At least I was at the top of my class, well-liked, and going to a great college! Then as an adult and seeing the virtues of “keeping things rolling” when my husband was uncertain, my kids were crabby, and my family was disapproving, faking it just became habitual. Besides, I was supposed to be thankful and happy as a Christian… what good would complaining do? I had gone a long time being a phony but enjoying the peace it kept.

Then, as a genuine introvert, I didn’t even process things well when other people were around and life was rolling along.  Only when I had time by myself — falling asleep, going out, taking a short vacation — did I get the sense that something was wrong.  I felt so “alive” when I left home, and so confused when I spent the evening on the couch, that I wondered what I was doing wrong. I did love my family, so I knew that wasn’t wrong. But I didn’t seem to be able to make any changes that I wanted to, like taking a shower every day or cooking dinner.  And I realized I was insecure about some moves my husband wanted to make, and was dreading talking to him about it. I wasn’t getting a lot of private “recharging” time but when I did, I either felt euphoric or lost.  Bad sign.

So going through a season where I was heightened to my works problem was life-altering. I heard a message by Naomi Beard where she talked about God being able to assemble the dry bones when the pieces were flung all over the field, and that really spoke to me. I had some talks with my husband about sticky issues like feminism and staying at home, and got some things out in the open, I practiced not necessarily feeling what others around me were feeling, keeping up my boundaries, not personalizing attacks or crying, and focusing on changes I could make instead of keeping the peace. And I started to explore a whole different avenue in life.  I found I didn’t have to be a chameleon. I was actually a pretty happy and optimistic person! I didn’t have to feel chained to a plan that I thought was necessarily the only Godly way. God actually was happy with multiple options. And I didn’t have to fake it or keep all the emotions in. There was liberty to express things, even if they weren’t the ones I’m most proud of.  😉

Today, I am almost over the works problem that I believe is very common to women, wives, and moms. Naomi Beard said almost all the young mothers in her church have struggled with it because life and identity change so much, so fast, in that time. And each woman has to navigate the path differently, discovering the key things that hold her back and the biblical truth about those things. But now I can see from the other side of the fence, and I know that bombing my works mentality has made the most difference in my happiness in life… not my kids, house, church, money, etc.  It was one of my big shackles. Now I feel so much freedom in my heart to do big things, take chances, try some spontaneity… all the things I used to hate. And the big Worrywart inside is dead. At least, mostly =)  When I feel that works demon creeping back up, I can see it for what it is and kill it before it gets too far. And I see other women struggling with it everywhere. So if this is you, please take heart: God has the breakthrough for you coming. Whether you are tied to image, mother, husband, security, job, kids, or standards, the Works Breakthrough is coming and will change your life. Freedom is a reality, and it is possible for you.

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3 Comments

  1. This is a very powerfull testimony and one that the Church needs to hear. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Alastair

  2. J, I enjoyed reading your testimony because I can definitely relate to what you’ve struggled with and some of the ways it manifested in your life. As a fairly new wife and a very new mother, and with only a few years in the job force in a career that I spent a lot of time and energy preparing for only to discover that I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would, I’m in the midst of sorting through a lot of “should” thoughts which bind me in a people-pleasing and God-pleasing (but motivated from anxiety and not from love) mess. “As a Christian I should be or think a certain way”, “as a wife I should do such and such, or want such and such”, “as a mom I should be getting such and such results”, etc. Although I am sensitive to what other people are thinking and feeling, especially if that doesn’t line up with what’s going on inside of me, my struggle comes more from trying to line myself up with this ideal way to be that I have in my head, which comes from all different sources, some good – like the Bible – and some bad – like standards promoted by the world. And, of course, (I’ve recently realized) my battle is mostly fought in my own strength. I very much desire to more fully understand what it means to be saved by grace and not by works, especially in an every day, practical, and experiential kind of way. So, I’m encouraged by your breakthrough.

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