The Standards We Erect

She’s down there. At the bottom of the well at the bottom of my heart breaking her fingernails to climb out. My self. The real one, the one I actually am. She gets flooded though, by the mainstream waters always rushing in and covering her up. By the seeming need to look beautiful and have stuff and go places. Some rains are harder than others, but it’s flood season for me.

In my last post, I discussed feeling unworthy of my husband but ultimately recognizing the wonder of grace and learning to accept his love with Divine understanding. A fraction of responses I got to this included pitiful hugs and the reassurance that I really am all that great. I appreciated these touching reminders, but was discouraged that my message may have been clouded by my insecurities.

Here’s the thing. I hate that I have insecurities and sometimes I’m ashamed. But, mostly, I attribute them to the human condition and kind of sweetly embrace that we all experience some shade of their wrath. Author Anne Lamott, in her book Traveling Mercies, rightly identifies this affection in a chapter titled “The Aunties.” The Aunties are her flabby, albeit beloved thunder thighs. She writes:

“First I was alone, and that was nice because I got to practice acting as if it was OK for a person with middle-aged thighs to stand around wearing only a swimsuit like other people…

And then out of nowhere, like dogs from hell, four teenage girls walked toward me… They were lovely and firm as models…

In my mind now I looked like someone under fluorescent lights and felt in comparison to these girls like Roy Cohn in his last days… They looked at me standing there in my ill-fitting swimsuit…

But then they made a fatal mistake. They looked at each other with these amused looks–the kind I must have given flabby women in swimsuits thirty years ago. And it gave me time to have two thoughts. One was not even a thought exactly: I just looked directly back at the four of them and heard the phantom clock playing in the background of their lives, ‘Tick tock…tick, tock.’

The other was the realization that I knew their secret: that they didn’t think they were OK. They were already in the hyper self-consciousness of the American teenage girl, and this meant they were doomed… My heart softened, and I could breath again. I felt deep compassion for them.”

About every day I get up and try really hard to put on something cute, and try really hard to get my make-up perfect. I try really hard to twist my hair into something acceptable and get to work on time so everyone will believe I didn’t try all that hard.

I was thinking about this yesterday. Thinking, and feeling horribly confined. Then I began to wish so badly that I didn’t wake each morning to the warden telling me I don’t look perfectly wonderful just as I am when my feet first hit the floor. And I know somewhere inside myself that this warden of the world will never tell me how fine I am. He will only point out my shortcomings and seeming disabilities. Perhaps, I am listening to the wrong warden.

Last night I was prompted to think about a life apart from God, and try to formulate the best possible life scenario therein. But when I tried, I was confronted by one very complicating thought. If I am apart from God, then I am missing the mind even to discern the most important elements of living. For instance, suppose I do entertain this “best possible life scenario,” I would inevitably suggest that lots of money, beauty, respect, and control will make my life good; a fancy home to sleep in, trendy clothes to wear, a nice car to drive, and somewhere tropical to spend the summers.

By this measure, I would suggest that physical appearance, socioeconomic status, and material goods determine quality of life. This may further include an experience-factor in which one’s financial status allows him/her to travel extensively, enjoy fine dining, drink premier wines, live on a sailboat and endlessly seek myriad electric adventures that infinitely expand the mind. Or never leave the spa. Whatever your imagination procures.

A life such as this is only good if judged by the standards erected. But how do we erect our standards?

I heard something from a friend who’s recently gone through a break-up that unsettled me. As she talked about why and how come the relationship ended, she told me that she thought he was happy; that this man made her happy and she thought she made him happy too. That comment got under my skin and burrowed around, making me itch. It ate at something I believe.

I believe we enter into intimate and committed relationships to know God, not to get happiness, and I believe that because I’ve come to know God. Completely circular reasoning to which my logic professors would mark off substantially, but I’m not worried about the standards of my logic professors because they didn’t invent existence. The point is not necessarily that I take a particular stand on intimate relationships, the point rather, is that the stand I take on intimate relationships is ruled by my spiritual beliefs.

The standards I erect don’t come from this world, from the lies and plastic things we cling to. Before I came to know God, I would have likely agreed with this friend. Agreed that making each other happy is the most important component of staying together and that somehow another person is actually responsible for my disposition here on planet earth.

You know, I think that’s what we’re made to believe, by TV shows and divorce rates. Sometimes by well-meaning family members raised in the dawning age of individualism.

But it’s only right if we say so. It’s only right if we, in our own hearts, examine the standard proposed, find it acceptable from the gentle place in our core, and allow it to serve as our scale. Sometimes I think, maybe, we skip the steps in between. Those ugly insecurities start sludging up toward the surface, and then suddenly we realize, Hey! I never meant to put that thing up, to let it slip in and start calling shots.

We’re only bound if we let ourselves be, and we’re only measured by the standards we choose to erect.

So there she is, me, sitting at the end of that dark hole with bloody fingers and ears perked to the rushing sound, starring up at the little circle of light much too high above her. Self! I say, dam off those flood waters heavy with the silt of a restless phantasm!

And lower a rope to the broad at the bottom of the well.




What standards do you live by? Where do they come from? What encouragement do you have for someone who feels like they don’t ever measure up?




  1. Beautiful heartfelt post, Jane. I’ve recently been reading the books written by Brené Brown, “Daring Greatly”, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, and “I Thought it Was Just Me”. She’s studied shame and vulnerability for about ten years, spoke with a thousands of people about these measuring sticks we use, how they make us feel, how they interfere with making meaningful connections and that in being human- we’re wired for connection. To feel disconnection is to feel unworthy of love or being loved for who we are. Our human condition longs for others to be real, authentic, and sharing truths courageously (she has her own definition of courage- meaning telling your story with your whole heart) but yet when it comes to our own sharing, we protect, let our wardens polish up a post leaving out crucial details/feelings, we pretty things up to make it look like we’re not taking effort, when in reality we’re taking a huge amount of effort to control perceptions about ourself (this is the universal we) because we don’t accept ourselves for who we are.

    I am a deeply spiritual person and I understand your timidness is sharing your beliefs, but I want to thank you for it. It shows courage to take a stand in what you erect in your life, from your core. I too feel I know God from a committed intimate relationship, but that person is my little girl. Never have I been filled and felt so much unconditional love, as I have for my little girl. This sent me on a quest to find out why I felt or received love with conditions in other relationships. I bought into the good lifestyle i.e. “if I’m thin, pretty, have enough money, successful enough, etc etc” external value systems (societies erected standards) versus my own internal value system, which most definitely centers in my faith and beliefs; the good life. Be well, Jane!

    • Thank you for this heartfelt response. You know, I think that is courage… telling our stories with our whole hearts. That’s all anybody really wants to do, and all anybody really wants to hear. I am grateful for the journey you’ve been on and the love you’ve learned from your relationship with your little girl. It certainly is a journey, often arduous, but mostly beautiful.

  2. It took me a few years into our marriage for me to accept that Sarah loved me just because I am and not because of anything that I had done or hadn’t done. Those feelings of unworthiness still rare their ugly heads at me even 12 years later. Accepting grace seems to be so much more difficult than extending it–or perhaps both are somehow related.

    Thanks for your words. I hope you check out the poem my sweet wife wrote for my birthday over at sonofliberty.

  3. Anytime I struggle with insecurities I remind myself to simply stop measuring. 2 Corinthians 10:12 says “they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” God made each of us so different and it’s so important to embrace those differences, accept how God made us, and be thankful for EVERYTHING.
    Yes, it’s harder to do sometimes, but knowing that God made me just the way I am and that He loves me like this…well, that’s all that matters!
    Loved this post. Thank you!

  4. karem

    Were you looking into me when you wrote this? I love it when someone can write what i feel.

  5. Beautiful piece of writing, Jane. I agree with what Rian wrote above: I’m not religious myself but I enjoy an honest piece of writing inspired with something the author deeply cares about. And that’s what you do here 🙂

  6. Just speechless because you said everything exactly right.

  7. “We’re only bound if we let ourselves be, and we’re only measured by the standards we choose to erect….Self! I say, dam off those flood waters heavy with the silt of a restless phantasm! And lower a rope to the broad at the bottom of the well.” So, so good. This is really beautiful, Jane. I saw your comment on Cécile’s post about sharing your beliefs on your blog and how that can be scary because not everyone shares them. I just want to assure you that a lot of what you write about resonates with me, and I’m not religious in the conventional sense. Morality, deep understanding, meaningful connection and detachment from the material are all ideas that I’m deeply interested in. What I love about blogging is that it allows us to reach across barriers (geographical and religious) and openly share our ideas. And you share yours in an honest, beautiful way, which is such a gift.

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