In a day and age where the norm sounds like: “I took three photos just in case,” and “Check it to see if you like it,” it’s no mystery what the culture deems to be important. In today’s digital world, few values compare with beauty and appearance.
And when we conform to the culture, even just slightly, it’s often much more subtle than our hearts can detect.
Jen Wilkin describes pregnancy as taking on a season of physical weakness. No matter how fluent a lady is in taekwondo, when she’s pregnant, she won’t be a threat to anyone.
I chuckled when I heard this and whispered a small amen in agreement. This season is one of physical weakness, and this physical weakness provides a new battleground on which the stage of personal spiritual warfare takes place. Nausea, fatigue, uncontrollable changes, hormones – these all heighten the feeling of weakness, and that doesn’t stop at the physical.
Upon becoming pregnant, my waistline immediately expanded. It was wild how rapid the changes took place, but because my style is “loose and flowy,” I was able to make most things work. But not for long.
The summer heat and the queasiness of hormones and a growing baby left me without the gusto to carry out my regular exercise routine outside. Days would pass before the energy to go on an evening walk arose, only to be squashed with a scorching 111-degree heat index still burning at 8pm.
Weeks passed with a walk here or there, but overall, I was not able to exercise regularly and I was steadily gaining weight – eating more than normal to keep the nausea away and to care well for my sweet baby.
The new changes in my body provided the stage for my heart to be exposed. I believe I expected the changes to come in my body (those are pretty obvious for us all). The newness that I didn’t expect, however, arose in the area of caring about my body image.
I began to feel shame and sadness in my body. My clothes didn’t fit, and trying on new clothes was no longer exciting but draining. I began noticing despair when I would see myself in pictures – either before pregnancy or currently.
To be honest, body image was not a struggle I’d really engaged in my life before. I have a mom who encouraged me to eat regularly, never judging what I ate, always for the purpose to recover the calories I’d just burned after five hours of practice for various sports. I was generally unconcerned about my body, latently secure with the way playing sports had shaped it.
Several friends confessed dealing with this area of body image throughout their lives, and it had always been a place I was eager to learn more about, aiming to understand their hearts and situations so that I may encourage, because I lacked the history of experience to relate.
Some of you reading this may be tempted to think I’m a bit crazy – that pregnancy is a reason for gaining weight and experiencing change in your body. So body image struggles are naturally put on pause for this season of our lives. Because everyone knows and understands that pregnant bodies are going to be changing, for the bigger.
I would think I’m a little crazy, too. But before getting pregnant, I had the privilege of being near a handful of pregnant women, almost all of which confessed this area to be a struggle. And since becoming pregnant, when I begin to share with other pregnant women that I’ve wrestled with body image, 9 times out of 10, I’m met with, “Oh my goodness, me too.”
And as I’ve sought the Lord about the sin that this struggle has exposed in my heart, He keeps whispering that I lay aside my pride, expose my heart a little bit more for the sake of other sisters I don’t know personally, and share the ways He’s been redeeming this vulnerable area.
So I don’t hope to give a full theology of beauty or a tailor-made counsel that breaks apart a complex heart-issue. I simply hope to offer a bit of encouragement, praying the Spirit would graciously use it to enlighten and uplift you as we fight to live for something greater than ourselves.
And I offer them all with great humility, as I know firsthand that it is much easier to write these things than to experience the personal uprooting of sin and the planting of His Word in its place.
LOOK TO JESUS
In any and all of life’s circumstances, we have the privilege of looking to a God who humbled Himself to identify with His own creation. We know that Jesus was never pregnant, but I have been encouraged in this season by looking to and worshiping the One who experienced incredible change in His body for the sake of many.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-9
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Jesus, our Savior, took on the appearance of a man. He cast aside His esteem and honor and took on the nature of a servant. He used His body to bear the weight of our sin and sorrow and grief, and He endured death in His body on a cross that we might have life. And He rose, in a resurrected body, full of splendor, all the while retaining His humanity.
I don’t mean to sound as if our pregnant situation applies totally, but I have found great encouragement in the condescension of Jesus, the way He willingly and joyfully lowered Himself to bear the weight of the Cross to reconcile us to Himself. The way He took on weakness to bring forth life. The way He offered us grace, in order that His workmanship (us!) might have His very Spirit within us to be our Helper, Comforter, and Teacher as we live this life in bodies that are fading away.
For the joy set before Him, He endured what only my human words fall short in describing as miserable, humbling, horrific, dreadful, shameful – and this He did without sin.
So setting our sights on the joy ahead – not only on the baby to come, but primarily on the day when we will see our Risen Savior face to face; when joy will crown our heads, and sorrow and sighing will flee. When He will take away the reproach of His people, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and He will be the delight of our hearts as we dwell with Him at last in imperishable bodies that only bring Him glory.
These things teach me about the way I view my body. My body is to be used in service to the Lord Most High to carry out His purposes. This affects the way I think about my body, the way I use it, and the way I allocate value to it. Value is not derived from outward beauty, but from the One who created it and redeemed it and made the way for His Spirit to dwell in it. Jesus died that my body may glorify Him – and when I grow concerned about my image, I am living for (and worshiping) something much too small, something that is like the flower of the field, here one day and gone the next.
FEAR THE LORD
This has been my biggest prayer as I walk through this season of pregnancy: that my fear of the Lord would increase.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30
Let not the familiarity of this verse lose its effect on us.
As I was working through this struggle with a friend, the Spirit brought this verse to mind as I found myself saying, “There is nothing more fleeting than living to look good for a 9-month season.”
The deeper I’ve gone in this wrestling in my heart, the more I’ve seen that my caring about my appearance is actually associated with the opposite of fearing the Lord. I’ve created scenarios in my head about what other people are saying or thinking. I’ve compared myself to the pregnant women who have muscular arms and legs. I’ve shied away from pictures in the case that others might keep up with how large I’m growing.
Do you hear the fear of man underneath all of these?
We treasure the opposite of what we fear (except in the case of fearing God). In this case, what I found myself treasuring is the praise and approval of man. With every experience of shame and despair that I mentioned earlier, the Lord began exposing the place of my trust and my worship – the glory of self, the beauty I could achieve by exercising regularly, the fleeting worth of the praise of another created being – patterns of this world that esteem and prize external beauty.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3-4
To fear the LORD, to value what God values, to use my body as a living sacrifice for His purposes of carrying a sweet child, to renew my mind by rooting what I believe is true in His Word and not in the culture – these are the places I’ve experienced life.
FIND TRUE LIFE
We are hard-wired to look for life.
This season of pregnancy has exposed how often I look for life in the created things. Fearing man makes this obvious, but there’s another facet to it that has been important for me to see.
Tripp’s explanation takes a mystical, spiritual, ethereal concept and makes it easy to grasp and understand. We live searching for life. It happens in the moment by moment of our daily lives, and it happens in the big, overarching story of our lives. And as I’ve walked through changes beyond my control, I have found myself grasping for fleeting treasures, such as a fit body and cute clothing, to give joy, peace, and security.
It’s often hard to see where we’ve looked for life until our misplaced hope brings disappointment. When exercise and clothes fail to relieve the shame and insecurity, where do we go? Without the experience of change that pregnancy has ushered in, these false hopes were lying in secret in my heart. But, praise the Lord; He never leaves His children to trust in false idols.
What grace it is to see our hearts. Often it feels painful and hard, and we can be tempted to hide in shame. But remembering that our Savior came to us, His enemies, and shed His blood to redeem and reconcile us to Himself – this is worthy of our hope. This is worthy of our faith to allow the light of His truth and grace to illumine our dark hearts. Because in His mercy, He does not break; He gently repairs. He renews. He restores.
I mostly pray the Spirit would allow these words to be a balm to your heart and a ministry of encouragement if you have or currently wrestle with body image—pregnant or not. As I’ve walked through this exposing and redeeming process (and still am with an ever-growing body), the Lord has become more precious to me. I eagerly desire the same to be true for you.
Because there is no sweeter place to rest our weary, exposed hearts than in the One who fashioned us, became like us, redeemed us, and anticipates the day to give us bodies full of glory, like His own.
And since I’ve been chewing on this for 20+ weeks, I know it may be hard to take in all at once. Because my desire is to humbly serve you and our Lord, I wanted to end with reflection questions.
1. How do you view your body? How do you allocate value to it?
2. How does the fact that our Savior entered in, took on His own creation – a human form, and lives today in glorified humanity affect the way you worship Him? And the way you think about and understand the purpose for your body?
3. Do you (like me) see patterns of fearing man/treasuring man’s approval in your struggle with body image?
4. How might being transformed by the renewing of our mind to value what God values bring victory in this area for us? Was there a portion of Scripture I shared that gripped you that may be a good place to start?
5. From Tripp’s quote, do you see any of the things you’re searching for appear in your body image struggle?
6. Do you ever experience disappointment or despair in your body? How can these serve as triggers to ask of your heart, “Where have I (mis)placed my hope for life?
grace & peace,