Each morning when I wake up, a myriad of thoughts about what must be accomplished fill my mind. As a mother and wife, thoughts of laundry, dinners, packed lunches, sports activities, and cleanliness of my home (or the lack thereof) are overwhelming. As I drag myself out of bed, the issues keep flooding my mind. One particular spring morning, the reminder to sign my children up for their summer camps spiraled into something like this: “Summer camps means summer… ughhh that means wearing a bathing suit.” I immediately thought of every part of my body that I did not like: My small chest, my varicose veins, the bumps on my face. Immediately, I tried to figure out how I could find enough time to exercise and somehow, within the first five minutes of being awake, I started the day discouraged by realities I cannot control and that should have no power over me.
Many busy mothers I talk to have the same feeling of being overwhelmed by responsibilities coupled with the general discouragement of where we find ourselves spiritually and/or physically. As bathing suit season approaches, I often hear women dread the upcoming warmth. Guilt falls upon us if we do not exercise enough or if we eat a donut for breakfast. It is an acceptable social norm for us to belittle our bodies to one another as part of normal conversation. It seems natural and normal to always be “working” on our physical bodies in some capacity. Often, when discouragement fills our thoughts about our bodies, we convince ourselves to work harder and perfect ourselves a little more. Only then will we be happier or more content.
On the particular spring morning when I realized it was time to purchase my summer bathing suit, I found myself immersed in Galatians 3. In this passage, Paul is exhorting Peter and the believers there to remember the FULL meaning of the gospel. In verses 2-3 Paul says, “Let me ask you this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?” In this passage, the Greek word for perfected can also mean completed. In other words, you have believed in Christ’s work on the cross to ensure your salvation but now you are striving in the flesh to complete God’s work in your life. Tim Keller expounds upon this in his book, Galatians for You, by describing, “functional saviors”. He suggests that COMFORT, APPROVAL, and CONTROL are three common functional saviors we turn to in our own efforts for contentment, satisfaction, and hope. Anger, discontentment, and resentment abound when our functional saviors are blocked.
As Christian women, we live in the tension of being both body and spirit. How they interact at times and how we cultivate a beautiful spirit and a beautiful physique is something with which we wrestle in a culture driven by image. Are we trusting in functional saviors to achieve peace and contentment or are we trusting in the Gospel that completes us in every way? How does the gospel of grace intersect with our physical image? How does the gospel inform your understanding of your body image and physical beauty? In many ways it has become acceptable for our “functional savior” to be health and wellness to complete us. Within the many circles of women with whom I interact, much time is spent considering diet, exercise, and our physical image. These are areas that we can often “control” as well as find “approval.” Are you trusting in control, approval, and comfort when it comes to your image? If we are honest, the answer is yes. The desire to complete ourselves is strong.
When thoughts arise about our body and the discontentment it can cause, we need to look to Scripture and the Gospel. We will never be content if we start with creation rather than the Creator. As we consider what His Word says to us, we will begin to see our bodies and our beauty (and other people’s body and their beauty) as He sees them. “I appeal to you, sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Our physical bodies and our physical beauty is a gift. The brokenness of this world has severely distorted this gift and as we come to Scripture, our understanding of beauty will be directly shaped and transformed by his goodness and grace. Our bodies are to be presented to God as a sacrifice.
Allow the Gospel of grace to finish its work in your life. He is faithful to complete the work he has started. (Phil 1:6) He has given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance that includes a perfected body at the completion of time. (Eph 1) Caring for our bodies through exercise and proper diet is a good endeavor. However, if we trust in these things for control and approval, they will act as functional saviors in our lives and end up enslaving us. Ask God to transform your understanding of beauty and your body as a means of glorifying Him and trust in His completed work on the cross. Then, go have fun at the beach!