Made in God's image but struggling against the world

Girl With a Satchel SELF LOVE...

To my mind there are few words sweeter than David's beautiful Psalm for the Lord: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." (Psalm 139: 13-14).

Sometimes, looking in the mirror, I forget these words and default to feeling yuck about myself, even though I know I am a (relatively) intelligent, creative, energetic girl of God. Those guilty feelings about feeling so silly in the first place, and so terribly female (a joyous privilege if ever there was one!) in the second, are hard to shake.

Every girl bares beauty scars – mine are focused on three areas: my nose, my legs and my stomach. Each of these is tied into some comment made in my formative years designed to strip me of my dignity and focus my energies on things I couldn't really change without a lot of expended time, money and energy.

I'll save you the details (what point to dwell?), but those things hurt. If we don't nip them in the bud early on, they can linger, fester, consume... and they can turn into self-hate and plastic surgery and eating disorders and promiscuity and a general devaluation of your WHOLE self based on your body if you are one of the vulnerable, sensitive ones, like I was...

A cautionary tale

I grew up immersed in messages about the body beautiful. If I wasn't looking at my reflection in the mirror at ballet lessons I was trying on my mum's shoes (note to mums: not a precursor for eating disorders!). My mother is beautiful and slim; I have my father's bottom and tummy (and nose, eyes, ears...). When I was 13, my mother moved out of home. I saw her fortnightly. A deep bond was hard to form.

My dad did his best but had his own struggles. The new domestic dynamic played out as I attended a private girls' school – fearful of bringing anyone home lest they see the reality of my dire situation – and watched Dad work two jobs and have a heart attack. Those were not easy days, so I escaped in books and school and dancing and other "girlie" things.

As an insecure teen, I was drawn to certain media: namely, magazines, which I pored over and collected in my bedroom, as I listened to Take 40 Australia's top hits of the week. Before I knew the Lord, they were my gospels. I lived and breathed by the dictates of first Dolly and Girlfriend, and then skipped on over to Vogue, Nylon and Harper's Bazaar (so advanced!).

Soon my vision of a career in dance became blurred by boys and social events and shopping... every girl's favourite pastime, so I thought. By the time I got to university, I was like a kettle on the boil... all those pent-up emotional issues, coupled by life's disappointments and some bad choices, a lack of sure direction and a perfectionist streak, combined to pour themselves out. I was bulimic.

Unable to control my feelings, let alone share them with a friend (a move interstate at the age of 12, coupled with embarrassment over my home situation made forming long-lasting friendships hard), I hit the books hard, barely coming up for air. I had a nice boyfriend, but knew that relationship was going nowhere. I was screeeeaming for help; but nobody could hear. Bubbly on the outside, but a mess within.

Then an angel: a psychologist who helped me vent my angst and nip unhelpful thoughts and habits in the bud, and a beautiful new friend to share life with, and a job I could believe in with a beautiful network of female support (my people, my people!). The bulimia disappeared. Life was too full of other things to participate in that physical act of controlling and self-loathing.

But the disorder lay dormant for these wonderful interim years; I was loathe to admit, but it hadn't disappeared. Those beauty scars, in my mind, were seared, along with the emotional hurts and pains. All it took to come unhinged was a radical life change.

I had absorbed information about diets, exercise and calories while working, ironically, on a health and wellbeing project for a teen magazine called "Self Respect". That was like giving a crazed fundamentalist a bunch of bomb-making instructions; but who was to know?  

Life pressures weighed down on me – who had I become? what was I doing? what have I signed up for? stop the ride, I want to get off! – and I lost a lot of weight. And very nearly disappeared off the face of the earth. Down, down the rabbit hole into anorexia I fell, grasping desperately for the Lord's help, for some saving grace. Hello, wasn't He meant to save me?

Well, He did. But before He could remake me, He had to break me.

"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me," spoke David. "Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place... You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are... a broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51: 16-17).

"Stop trying to reinvent what Jesus did on the Cross!" was the message I got from God, loud and clear. No striving, no want of trying, no amount of martyrdom or self-pity could heal.

I had lot to unlearn and learn all over again. I had a self-love to cultivate not based on any attributes of my own, nor on longings for a mother's love (displayed, I might add, in her own way) or a husband's approval or a fashionably slim physique, but a deep-rooted knowledge that I was God's and God's alone, and through Jesus Christ he was calling me home.

And, you know what? All the silly knowledge I had, of diets and food labels and calorie intake and such things... all that useless stuff from my slate, used to control my being and my world, was wiped clean, the more of God I gleaned and the more weight I gained. My mind became filled with God's truths and sweet promises and the other things were washed away.

"I am going to put breath into you and bring you back to life. I will give you sinews and muscles, and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and bring you back to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:5-6)

Recovery takes time. Particularly if you are disobedient, or rebellious, or intent on holding onto your old self because it's comfortable, or, heavens to Betsy!, the newer, shinier, brighter one might be ALL TOO MUCH. What a terrible shame this fear of being someone who could bring glory to His name. Of being a bit too bright. Too female. Too much reveling in God's delight. But what right, what right, to hide such light?

"This is the judgement: that light has entered the world, and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. Everybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But everybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God." (John 3: 19-21)

The crevices, nooks and hidey-holes where sin makes its home are dusted out, one by one, as God lovingly remakes the work that was wrought wrong by the world: first sit, then crawl, then walk, then run... sometimes, you will fall down again, but as you progress you see visions of way He wants you to be, wanted you to be, before the world stepped in and mucked up the plan.

All the parts of you – the intellectual, the creative, the physical, the relational – start to sync together as you let go of your grip. And the person you become, in unison with Him, is more likeable and more ALIVE, because that person is created in God's image, not the world's.

"The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 'Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words'. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." (Jeremiah 18: 1-4)

God knows and loves every hair on your body, every freckle on your face, every inch of your being – including your gifts, abilities and the desires of your heart. We were created on purpose, for His purpose: to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind, and the body by extension.

You and I have been made just how he wanted us, to live in unison with his will and righteous ways, but the world pulls and persuades: drop weight, wear this, zap that, run on that treadmill, pop this pill, get a better job, buy these clothes... is it any wonder it saps your energy, strength, dignity, life? It's a useless fight. But God is there, willing always to clean up your mess, take your hand and make things right.

It is such a terrible shame that we are found wanting – someone else's life, someone else's body, someone else's hair colour, someone else's happiness – when what we have been given by God is all ours to enjoy and nurture and share. But it's a project, this self-care, this walking in God's ways – but the more the self-love is cultivated through the Lord, by pressing into His word and singing his praises, the more that love outwardly emanates.

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3: 3-4).

For the first 25 years of my life, I didn't know the Lord, nor the love He had for me, nor His will for my life... and it took me FIVE whole years to know it and feel it with my innermost being. To know thy creator is to know thyself; to love the creator is to love the self, for we were created in His image... and, hello, you only have to look around this glorious world to feel awestruck at that.

To reiterate, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Now, that's something to celebrate!