A quick Google search reveals a disturbing timeline for how women have been portrayed over the years. In the 1920s, for example, companies selling things like flour created personas of the “perfect woman” to help market their products (Betty Crocker ring a bell?). Fast forward a couple decades, and Rosy the Riveter—with a pulsing bicep and red lips—toiled outside the home in the war effort, yet kept the inside tidy, with drinks at four in clinking tumblers and dinner on the table when the clock chimed five.
After WWII, it was back to the kitchen with a floral apron and matching blush. Images in the media showed women in ironed blouses with pleated skirts, managing a sparkling household with yellow rubber gloves and a smile.
By the 1960s, the pressure on women only increased. We had to do it all: keep the house and raise the children, take care of aging parents, protest in the streets, volunteer with the PTA, garden, and work successful careers outside of the home. And do it all in stiletto heels with our tired waists bound in panty hose, the modern corset.¹
Where Do I, a Modern Woman, Fit in Now?
If you are like me, you are more familiar with this era: the one where women not only have to do it all, but be it all. The new Perfect Woman: Domestic. Accommodating. Nurturing. Keeps a clean house and a weekly meal calendar. Strong (preferably with a body builder’s booty). Feminine (but not too girly). Smooth skin. Straightened hair. Funny (but not crass). Kills it on TikTok with synchronized dance. Classy (and meek). And perhaps, most importantly: sexy.
Everywhere you turn there is a woman doing something totally awesome (think Superbowl performance) wearing glittery underwear. “Dressing up” now means being very cold in shirts with large holes or skirts that are only a couple inches long, with makeup so thick we look like circus performers.
For me, this era for women is confusing, complicated, and dangerous. But it’s not just about the stuff or pressure to look a certain way. It goes deeper. The message from the world today that I need to filter through isn’t just about what I need to look like or do, it’s about who I need to be.
How Do I Find My True Purpose?
It started when I was 19: a sudden heaviness in my lungs and edginess I couldn’t shake. As soon as I left home, the weight of the world’s toughest questions began needling me like a three-year-old. The world’s pressures of womanhood becoming equally as frustrating. Suffocating. I’d lay in bed at night in angst and visualize scenes captured by the Hubble telescope: a galaxy, a multitude of galaxies, that speak to the infinite. I’d think about the world and its enormity. The endless possibilities. And then I’d ponder this strange reality, in contrast: the one where I, a woman, had a little path to find. A way. A purpose.
I couldn’t help but wonder, in the context of such vastness, and at the same time the contradiction of the little woman box I somehow needed to fit nicely in: who am I and what, as the poet Mary Oliver said, “am I to do with my one wild and precious life?”
Taking Time to Wonder
The panic subsided by my 20s as the time I had for pondering was replaced by college, rent, car payments, and boyfriends. Whether I was ready or not, I was growing into being an adult. I soon learned that there wasn’t much time to wonder.
Fast forward and my life looks much different with kids, a husband, and all the trimmings. And still, this time to reflect alludes me if I let it. But every so often, in the graceful space of things, I do have some space (if I will put my phone down and allow it) to wonder. If I am quiet, I can reach into the stars and ask: What is the purpose of life?
Is it something grand? Deserving of its own procession or parade or a hundred, thousand, million likes—shared and re-posted as Reels and TikToks, a multitude dancing? Or is the purpose of my life minuscule? A drop in the ocean. A sprinkle on a cupcake. A grain of sand against the backdrop of eternity. Something that happens quietly in the distance like morning mountain dawn.
Can the purpose of my life be found in the monumental things? The mountains of marriage and childbirth or diplomas and career and high-heel clicks down long, marble halls? Or is it in the valleys of death and hardship? Scraping by with stacks of unpaid bills. Falling against tombstones. Mascara puddles.
Is my life defined by my parents? My family? My friendships? My children? My spouse? Or the vacancy of these people in my life? An empty seat at the dining room table. Or am I what I do? How I spend my waking hours? Cleaning. Cooking. Talking. Mothering. Writing. Laughing. Sharing. Yelling. Building. Singing. Bathing. Teaching. Plowing. Crying. Sorting. Walking. Lifting. Driving. Painting. Cursing. Ad infinitum.
Am I what I believe? The faith I hold—or don’t? The God I struggle with or praise? Run from or snuggle in to? The God whose hands rest on my shoulders either way.
Will my life be measured by what I have or buy or show? Matching pajamas. Marker brows. Sparkling filters. Steps of children. Miles per hour. White kitchen. Barnwood. New. Shining. Rotting. Or will my legacy be defined by the people I have touched and helped and loved?
What is the purpose of my life and how am I defined? Do you decide? Or, does the algorithm? Or, do I?
What God Says About My Purpose
Can I walk away from both of these cramped places: your expectations and my own for what my life needs to be or how I find my purpose as if it is something I’ve lost along the way like an old earring?
Instead, can I listen to the God who says: I have been made in His image. I am precious in His sight. I have been created to do good works that have been prepared in advance for me to do. I am his child, his daughter, his sister, his beloved friend.
What defines me is love. Like the Son, my purpose is to glorify. Shine. Praise. Worship. Seek peace and extend thankfulness. Pick up my cross and defy culture. Pray without ceasing. Laugh with my enemies. Wash my neighbor’s feet. Rejoice and mourn. Heal and weep. Live with mercy and die with grace. Balance on the edge of Kingdom come.
To love and be loved, that is all. That is enough.
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16
Need some more help pinpointing your purpose? Check out this podcast episode: How Do I Know What Defines Me? – 078