This morning, our worship service was youth-led. Members of the youth group did everything; they led the music, read scripture, talked about their experiences at youth conferences and on mission trips. Our church is quite small, but I really don’t know any of the kids there because they either attend a different service or only attend youth group. I was thrilled to see that they are a sincere group of kids exploring some deep Christian values and theological concepts.
One charming, lovely girl stood up to speak about her struggle with negative self-image. She said that even though people have told her that she is beautiful, she doesn’t believe it, doesn’t see beauty when she looks at herself in the mirror. This particular girl found inspiration and guidance from a Christian singer/speaker who struggled with similar issues. Now this girl tries to focus on God’s perception of her – on the idea that God truly knows her and finds her beautiful.
That’s a GREAT thing to understand and we should take comfort from it, but somehow I don’t think it addresses the root problem. We should not be complacent in the knowledge that God loves us and finds us beautiful. I would venture to say that knowledge should move us to action. Loving God means working hard, and sometimes sacrificing, to please him. Self-love and love for our fellow-man means the same thing.
As girls and women, the way we look can play so much into the way we feel. Many of us wouldn’t care to admit how much we value ourselves based on our bodies, faces, hair. It is terribly difficult not to cave to negativity, depression or self-pity when we’re unhappy with our appearance. That sounds so petty, but in this culture where certain standards of beauty are revered and admired, it isn’t such a leap. Women go to incredible lengths to make themselves “beautiful.” They sacrifice their money, time and perhaps their health to tanning beds, diets, make up, clothing and accessories, exercise equipment, cosmetic dentistry, cosmetic surgery… the list goes on.
So, what if we spent half as much time trying to make ourselves beautiful, not for other men and women, or in a competitive way, but for God. What if we could accept that God is our creator and admire his creativity and craftsmanship, both in ourselves and others, and then stop dwelling on the way we look? Yep. I’m already beautiful, just by virtue of being your creation, God. Now please help me overcome my ugliness. If we spent all that time, money and emotion caring for the creation around us, what a collective force we could be! How many companies and people have become rich and powerful simply as a result of our obsession with the way we look? Are these the people in the world who should wield power? Can we take it back, and place it where it belongs?
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, here. I think we should care for our bodies and make them beautiful… for the right reasons. I know that is easier said than done. We’re so immersed in our culture that it can be difficult even to discern our motives. But think about it. The next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you have acne or cellulite (guilty!), refocus by doing something positive. Grow your mind. Grow someone else’s. Grow a vegetable. Grow your compassion. Grow your heart. Grow your strength. Grow your outreach. Grow your confidence, but not your ego. Don’t tear yourself down. Don’t tear anyone else down. (Ooh, that all sounds really bossy. I promise this is a pep-talk for me as much as it is for anyone else. :))
And along those lines of growth and outreach, I heard someone say recently that we don’t take care of things we don’t like. It struck me. It’s true; on a physical level and on a deeper, people level. And yet, those are so often the people and things that most need care. That socially awkward person who makes me more than a little annoyed or uncomfortable needs someone to reach out and be a friend. If I’m overweight and dislike my body, I might decide it isn’t worth caring for and not make the changes I really do need to make. I don’t know how we can overcome that, except through prayer, willingness to let God use us, and lots of practice, but it is also worth thinking about.
And to close, the benediction our youth group gave today, which went something like:
“Go out and give everyone you meet love and joy. Have a great Sunday!”
Psalm 139:13: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.