Some of my best encounters with Jesus seem to be born out of my busiest moments. When I’m in between errands or homework assignments, He whispers down into the chaos and speaks truth into my hungry heart. There’s been a message lingering for quite some time now, and it’s the one about the image we see when we look into the mirror. I know this isn’t the first post you’ve read on the topic, and it surely will not be the last, but I hope maybe something you read here will resonate with and encourage your own heart today!
Several years ago when I started wearing makeup, I would sneak into my mom’s bathroom to “borrow” her mirror. You ladies know the kind I’m talking about – it’s the double-sided mirror of doom that has the ability to zero in on every blemish, every pore, and every follicle on our faces. Over time, borrowing turned into outright possession, because each day I had the pressing need to see my face at 10x magnification.
Today, that mirror still sits atop my vanity counter in all it’s worn out glory. It has sustained its share of drops and scratches through the years, but I’ve learned to see past the cracks in the mirror. A couple of weeks ago as I went to apply my makeup, I flipped it over to its less terrifying magnifying side only to find it shattered, and I wondered to myself exactly when that had happened.
This morning as I rushed out the door for work, neglecting to brush my hair or change out of the leggings I slept in last night, I took a glance into my large bedroom mirror and lingered there a while, feeling the same way I’ve felt for years every time I have caught my own reflection: inadequate, unlovely and some days, if I’m honest – ugly.
I drove to work with tears in my eyes – a terrible collaboration of stress, exhaustion and disappointment – and I asked the Lord why the girl that meets me in the mirror is one I can hardly stand to look at some days. I hate my crooked smile, random freckles, chubby cheeks and tired eyes. I hate my laugh, my controlling nature, my biting tongue and my broken, crooked fingers. If I’m honest, what I hate more than the baggy clothes and the broken smile is the girl who wears them.
That’s when He reminded me that my broken self-identity happened much like my broken mirror – one fracture at a time.
I was fourteen years old, working my first job at the Chinese restaurant up the street from my house. I was most assuredly smack dab in the middle of an awkward phase; a face covered in acne and teeth covered in metal. But I was a hard worker. I showed up on time and worked my heart out, committed to only doing my very best, determined to save up for a car I knew I would soon need. My determination always outweighed any opposition I would face, so I purposed myself to take customer’s rude comments and co-workers bad attitudes and allow them to spur me on towards a better work ethic. One Sunday afternoon, I showed up for work, dressed in a skirt I had stayed up making the night before. It was busy that day, and in the middle of a lunch rush, my boss’ mother took me aside and told me in broken English that I was fat, and that the skirt I was wearing did not do me any favors. She told me that Asian girls were naturally much prettier, smarter and thinner than me, and if I wanted to keep my job I would have to work harder, lose some weight and be more efficient. My “brush it off” mentality dissolved in an instant. Today, that is a story we laugh about in my family, but to be honest, it still stings a little. Looking back, at the time, I remember the devastation that washed over me with the sound of those words. I went home that day and stood in front of the same mirror I looked into today, and for the first time, I hated the girl I saw. It was the first crack in the mirror.
Highschool introduced me to some incredibly difficult seasons in my life that caused me to seek and search for identity in human approval, good grades or attention from boys to fill the open void in my heart. But like any earthly thing we place our hope in, those things failed me, and the mirror cracked a little more.
Diet pills made promises they could not keep, starvation was a futile endeavor, and every moment spent crouched beside the toilet with a finger down my throat was nothing but idle. Yet with every setback, lonely night, and hope deferred, I filled myself with calories, along with the lie that I would never be smart enough, pretty enough, or thin enough to fit society’s ever shifting standard of beauty. Years of this vicious cycle in the fight for an identity apart from Christ culminated slowly into a shattered self-image that follows me to this day.
I’ve talked to enough girls to say with all confidence that we are all looking into a broken mirror of sorts. We stare into that reflective glass and remember life shaping, identity shifting words. We remember the boyfriend that was constantly analyzing, the mom that was always comparing, and the internal dialogue that continually reminds us of our flaws, whispering lies into our already vulnerable hearts.
Many of us are quick to point a finger at the confused culture of our time, because commercials, magazines and supreme court rulings fight ferociously to tell us who we are. But as society screams, the devil whispers – the small lies, the slightest variation of the truth – and we wake up one day to find our identities completely misplaced.
Much like the realization that lasting, effective weight loss can only be achieved through proper diet and regular exercise, so goes the same for discovering who we are. There are no shortcuts, no magical overnight solutions or easy roads to travel. Instead, we must do the hard thing. We must crack open the Word of God and let the Bible be our baseline for defining beauty and biblical womanhood. When Jesus is given the authority to define the terms of beauty, it allows us to glance into the mirror and see a few less flaws and a lot more of the God whose image we were created to bear.
When we discover what it looks like to bear the image of Christ, we are unleashed into freedom to use our bodies as the gifts that they are, as vessels that bring Him ultimate glory. The ability to exercise, to dance, to sing, to worship, to create – all are gifts to be celebrated. And as our bodies grow weaker and show signs of age, perhaps their greatest beauty will lie in the scars and the stretch marks that remind us of the beautiful way He created us to sustain life inside. And today we may struggle to see beauty in the stretch marks, the tired eyes or the calloused feet, but I know one day we’ll gaze into His eyes, and stare at the scars on His nail-pierced palms that bear remnants of redemption, attesting to the truth that there is beauty in a body worn.
My prayer for myself and the girls and women just like me is that we would know the difference between love of self and loving ourselves. That we would reclaim our identity as women and daughters of Christ, who boldly lock horns with the darkness of our day and fight to see His kingdom come. I pray that we would be reminded that the inheritance that awaits us lasts forever – far beyond a whitening treatment, a summer tan, and the flaws we perceive today.
May we leave our shame, our insecurities and our self-hatred at the foot of the cross today – the place where Jesus died so that these things might too.
I remember today the gift it is to be stretched, shaped and changed by Love. Each morning I am met by a mercy that does not shift with the size of my jeans, and I praise Him that my beauty lies not in a toned tummy, clear skin or straight hair, but in my heritage as His beloved.
Let us throw away and replace what is broken.
“…and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”