Earlier this week, I was sitting in my living room enjoying the company of my mom and my sister. Riley was napping, and my 3 year old niece was playing on the floor with our 5 year old neighbor, a beautiful, sweet hearted little girl.
All was well, until I had a reality check that smacked me in the face. I’m talking about the kind of reality check that makes you realize that you (meaning me here) are still pretty messed up and do stupid things.
My mom, sister, and I started talking about diet and exercise. It started with a comment about my weight (a positive one), then progressed to the areas of our bodies that we wish to change. I led the way in this conversation: “Well I know that I weigh less than my pre-baby weight and I’ve toned up, BUT I still really want to get rid of this remaining little baby pooch, so I’ve cut dairy out of my diet because I read that works quickly for weight loss.” And thus started the downward spiral of each of us pointing out things about our bodies that aren’t “good enough” and need to change.
And then it hit me. I realized that this sweet little 5 year old was staring at us, soaking up this conversation like a sponge.
And I’ve wanted to cry every time I think about it since then.
I think of this sweet little girl, full of life and joy, whose ears just heard what may make her start to question herself. I had just contributed to spreading the very message that I hate that our culture spreads so rampantly. That women are as valuable as their bodies. That bodies should look a certain way, and should be fixed if they don’t. That food is an enemy or a tool for accomplishing this mission of looking like Hollywood.
And it sobered me.
Yesterday, it brought me to my knees in repentance before The Lord. I was forced to face my own vanity.
I once heard vanity described as being like an annual sandcastle building competition. Every year (I forget what beach, but I’m sure there are several that do it), people come from all over the state to compete in a huge sandcastle building competition. And these people are serious about it. They build unbelievable structures, paying attention to the tiniest details. Across the shore, viewers will see exquisite castles, buildings, even things like a veterinary clinic with little sand animals and parking lots with cars made out of sand. And yet we all know where this story ends. Before the end of the day, the tide moves up the shore, eventually diminishing all of these impressive sand designs.
And that is vanity. Whenever we put all of our stock into something that is simply going to be washed away, and very soon.
And yet, these people still come out every year to build these sandcastles, even knowing this. But I think the knowing this is what allows them to enjoy it for what it is. Because it is ok to enjoy the process of building the sandcastles! As long as the participants don’t start banking on the longevity and security of their work, they are able to have fun with it and celebrate, not being shaken to their core when it gets washed away.
So I’ve been thinking about that in terms of image this week. It is ok to enjoy the process of caring for our bodies and decorating them. So long as we remember that “beauty is fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30) and we accept the fact that no matter how much we pay attention to detail, it is going to be wiped away from the tide before we know it.
While it’s ok to enjoy and celebrate the process in a healthy and God-glorifying way, it cannot be where we put our stock, unless we want to go bankrupt.
Because there is only one investment that is going to pay off in the end.
‘All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of The Lord remains forever.’
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
-1 Peter 1:24-25
And that is what I would tell my little 5 year old neighbor, should I have the opportunity to talk to her about what she overheard. That our bodies are a gift from God, and they are beautiful because they are created in His image. I would tell her that actually, our bodies do much greater things than look good! Healthy bodies can help take care of other people around us. I would tell her that it is ok to want to take good care of our bodies, and we should, but that it was wrong for me to speak so negatively about my body and treat it like it is what I live for and what makes me important. I would tell her that the most important thing is that we know that we are loved, no matter what we look like! We are loved by the One who designed us, and sent His son to die for us on the cross and rise from the dead in order that we can have a relationship with Him. That relationship with God is really what makes us important, and it is the only thing that will truly satisfy us. Getting rid of a little pooch on my stomach is not going to give me anything deeper or more fulfilling in my life. But knowing Jesus more will give me more joy than I could ever imagine! I would ask her to forgive me for setting a bad example for her, and tell her that I want so much more for her in life than worrying about what she looks like. Life is shorter than we realize. But joy in Christ outlasts time and will carry you through eternity!
In an address given to ministers and workers after his 90th birthday, George Mueller said this of himself:
“I was converted in November, 1825, but I only came into the full surrender of the heart four years later, in July 1829. The love of money was gone, the love of place was gone, the love of position was gone, the love of worldly pleasures and engagements was gone. God, God alone became my portion. I found my all in Him; I wanted nothing else. And by the grace of God this has remained, and has made me a happy man, an exceedingly happy man, and it led me to care only about the things of God. I ask affectionately, my beloved brethren, have you fully surrendered the heart to God, or is there this thing or that thing which you are taken up irrespective of God?”
I pray that at the end of my life, I am able to say the same thing of myself. That I did not chase after vanity, spending my life building sandcastles that only got swept away, but that I found such a deep love for God that nothing else mattered to me in comparison.
I also pray that for my Christian sisters today, for my daughter, and for future generations of women.