Hatred of self—of the way we look, the way others see us, the way we see ourselves—guarantees misery. Sometimes our own negative internal dialogue can be worse than anything anyone can say to, or about, us. In a Glamour (Shocking Body-Image News: 97% of Women Will Be Cruel to Their Bodies Today) magazine survey, it was reported that young women had about 13 negative body-shaming thoughts a day!
Does this survey shock you? It’s not just women; you might be surprised to know how many men look in the mirror and can’t bear what they see. Far too many people see the wrong shaped nose or ears, bone structure, bad skin, too tall or short, wrong hair, wrinkles from aging, and on.
Add to that height issues, weight problems (too little, too much), and even a hundred possible deformations. Virtually anyone (except possibly a hard core narcissist) will find aspects of their physical appearance difficult to accept. This hatred can extend to the sound of their laugh, the way their voice sounds to other people, personality quirks—you name it. This self-hatred flares up and burns the whole forest down very quickly.
For the believer, who acknowledges that God is sovereign and almighty, that he knows everything and can do whatever he wants at any time, resentment can set in against him because of our personal imperfections. If God is all-powerful, he could have made us differently, after all. Right? The logic is hard to escape. Who better to blame than the One who designed and built us?
But this is a dead end. Don’t go there. Once we decide to blame God for whatever it is that we don’t like, it never ends. We can blame and accuse him for everything that’s wrong in us and the world. Too many do. The end result so blinds us to his character and will that we can’t even begin to see his goodness and grace in our lives.
Over the years, we’ve heard of people who rejected their bodies, so that it eventually developed into an obsession. It came to dominate their lives to the extent that their resentment squeezed out any sense of thankfulness for the great things God had done for them: paying the price for their sin on the cross, forgiving them utterly for every foolish thought, intent of the heart, and act, giving them credit for Jesus’ righteousness, and granting them a free pass into his eternal kingdom.
I’ve watched as the beginnings of self-rejection in many grow steadily into a full-blown rejection of God and his gifts, leading to a departure from the church, the faith, and, even in some instances, to a denial of God’s existence. For some cases, I blame the parent or parents.
My friend’s mother couldn’t find one good thing about her son’s physical appearance. He was a stellar scholar, top of his class, and inspired the lives of many. His one dream was to find the right woman, get married, and settle down with a family of his own. Unfortunately, every time he met a woman, his mother’s caustic voice would register in his mind, “Who would ever want you?” These words rang loudly in his ears each time he got close to a woman that he would turn around and leave. Eventually, he also left the church.
Parents don’t realize how easily they can push their children out of the faith, either by being too legalistic, self-righteous, or by not living up to the call of being Christ-like at home. I want to pull a parent aside when I hear them speaking down about their children: He can’t do anything right. She’s done better. Words are powerful, and they can’t be unspoken. And these words end up part of the permanent inner dialogue.
But why is it that there are people who’ve been dealt a much worse hand than most of us and who still manage to maintain their faith and love of God? Not only that, but they advance into full-blown spiritual maturity, along with a genuine contentment and joy, precisely because of their circumstances.
Many of you have heard of or read about Nicholas James Vujicic, an Australian preacher and conference speaker, who was born with Tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of all four limbs. He’s encouraged and inspired thousands.
Another inspiring story comes from Daniel Ritchie born with no arms, but who states the following:
“Being born without arms might be the single greatest thing that has happened to me, apart from my salvation. God has taken a disability that many would see as a disaster and used it to mold and shape me as a man and a believer. My disability and the pain that came with it has allowed me to see more distinctly the character of God. He comforted me, assured me and strengthened me when there seemed to be no source of hope.”
Both men are Christians, both are public speakers, (even popular motivational speakers), and neither carries in his heart any blame or resentment against God for his condition. How is this possible? How do we rid ourselves of our destructive inner dialogue?
It’s possible by the power and the miracle of gratitude. Just as oil and water can’t mix, so gratitude and resentment can’t be in the same place at the same time. It’s one or the other. It seems obvious that they didn’t reach this maturity overnight. Many deep struggles must have marked their journey, but when you add God to the mix, anything can happen.
Either God is real or he isn’t. Either Jesus is alive and dwelling among us or he isn’t. Where Christianity is found full strength, undiluted by compromise and disobedience, this is exactly what we may expect.
Do you remember the story of the blind man in the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel? The disciples had a few theories of their own as to why the man was born blind, but Jesus brushed them aside, and made it clear that this condition was for the purpose of bringing glory to God. This sort of thing bothers us—a lot! How could God allow or bring such suffering to someone just for his glory? This kind of God runs contrary to what we hear about from popular television evangelists.
But the Bible reminds us too many times to count—summarized in the Shorter Catechism—that we exist for God, for his glory and pleasure. Fortunately for us, his glory and pleasure works for our good and our pleasure in many ways, but the primary emphasis is upon God’s glory.
So what’s the point? This bit of theology means that the body (and the life) God has given us are his gifts to us, whatever our condition or appearance. Like it or not, our bodies are intended to be the vehicle for honoring and exalting God and his kingdom. We’re called to praise him: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14). What he wants from us is to say to him, “I thank you, Lord for what you have given to me; I accept your will, and I intend to glorify you in my body all the days of my life.”
When, by God’s help, we reach this level of maturity, we’ll then start finding the ways in which our unique physical frame will bring pleasure to our Creator. And this just so happens to put us on the road leading to joy and happiness. This is the four-thousand year old, thoroughly road-tested formula preserved in the Bible.
To God be the glory!