Like any teenage girl, I struggled with my body image. I didn’t like my legs, nose, chin, etc. I counted fat grams (yes, fat grams. It was the 90s—that was the thing) and exercised to Tamilee Webb videos (you betcha. Abs of Steel on good ol’ VHS). However, as a college student, I became much more comfortable in my own skin, gaining confidence in myself and my abilities. I stopped counting fat grams and enjoyed life and cafeteria food (occasionally working off my nightly ice cream with Tae Bo). Into early adulthood, it seemed I had let go of obsessive thoughts about my appearance. Even after my first baby, I thought those insecurities were dealt with for good, but I was wrong.
In my early thirties, self-image issues came back with a vengeance. I don’t know if it was the sleep deprivation that comes with mothering young children, the way cleaning up varieties of bodily fluid each day makes you feel slightly sub-human, or the lines permanently making themselves at home on my forehead. Maybe it was the extra surface area on my thighs or that, after 6½ years of non-stop pregnancy and nursing, my already meager endowment had even less volume than I remembered. Perhaps it’s the external influence of the “perfect” mommas exalted in the media, especially the real-life ones on Facebook and Pinterest. Or maybe it’s the somber realization that my most externally beautiful days are behind me; I am aging and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Perhaps you can relate?
If so, this would probably be the right place to reassure you of your inner beauty, the importance of your role as a mother and wife, the treasure of wisdom that comes with age or how every laugh line on your face has made you who you are today (thank you, Martina McBride). While all of those things are certainly true and worth meditating on, that’s not where this is going.
I could encourage you to be grateful for what you do have—your health, your ability to move, your beautiful children, your home, your husband, food on your table, the chance to live another day, etc. Thankfulness is huge for cultivating contentment and should not be minimized, but that’s not where this is going either.
I could point you to your value in Christ, who bestows worth that surpasses beauty, age, performance, status, accomplishments, etc. It’s his unconditional love that gives peace and fulfillment. There is rest in knowing you are loved, accepted, and valued apart from your appearance, performance, or other’s opinions. Strike three—not what you will find below.
I’m going to warn you—the next word is hard to swallow.
It ultimately comes down to…
S U R R E N D E R.
As I was praying about my self-image and ruminating on my frustrations over my imperfections, I was overwhelmed by a familiar feeling. I was angry. I was discontent. I was ungrateful.
I was rebellious!
In my mind and heart, I was like a rebellious toddler throwing a tantrum over the boundaries set by her father. God, my father, made me exactly the way he wanted me. My pear shape, my nose, the wrinkles that bear the image of my heritage are all boundaries set by God for a reason. And you know what? I don’t get to know the reason. He is, after all, God. He’s the Creator—my Creator. I am simply his clay. My job is to submit.
I had submitted to his Lordship in many ways. My future. My relationships. My marriage. My career. My geographic location. My miscarriage. The death of loved ones. And numerous other circumstances that were not part of my plan. Yet I had never thought to submit to who he had physically made me to be. I could focus on the good in myself. I could try to love my imperfections. I could get so lost in his love that my external appearance would be of no concern. And those are all amazing, but at the end of the day, especially the pre-menstrual ones, there will always be things I don’t like about myself. At its root, it comes down to surrender.
Surrender: one of the great paradoxes of God’s kingdom. The more I surrender, the more I am free. When I first surrendered my life to Christ, I experienced a new freedom like I had never known. Each time I surrender something more to Christ, there is an instant weight off my shoulders and a sense that I can breathe a little easier. 2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Making him Lord means surrendering, which is where true freedom is found.
Surrender is not a one-time deal. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians that he dies (surrenders) daily. I’m certain I will continually need to surrender not only to what God wants me to be, but who he already made me to be. But every time I do, I find myself unshackled from the very physical limitations that used to bind me. My prayer is that you, too, would find freedom through surrender, whether it’s the size of your jeans, bank account, home, family—whatever might be binding you. May your surrender bring freedom today and glorious hope for tomorrow.