It was my sophomore year of high school, and I was sitting around with my cross-country team listening to the older girls compare fat grams in bagel brands. If you have ever looked at bagel labels, you know that there is not any difference worth noting—unless you are obsessed with your weight.
The Lies of Appearance and Achievement
Little did I know how influential that conversation, and many more like it, would become in my life. Add to that the billboards, magazines, and other media that boasted model-thin women all around me, and I bought into the lie “I have to look like ‘her’ in order to be beautiful.”
At the same time I was running cross-country, I was also playing basketball. Unlike the girls on my cross-country team, my teammates could down a fast-food burger in no time at all and not think twice about it. And my coach certainly thought I could use a few burgers myself in order to put on some weight for my position as forward or center. Add to that the fact he could fire off a cuss word, stomp his feet, clap his hands, and throw water, attempting to motivate us to play better and harder and I began to believe another lie: “My worth is based on my outward performance.” Failure to perform well led me to inflict punishment on myself—if I didn’t live up to my coach’s expectations, then I didn’t deserve to eat.These twin themes of body image and performance are still at the heart of young women’s search for beauty and worth today. But it is not just young women. Women of all ages struggle with defining their significance by their appearance and achievements.
ELLEN DYKAS|CONTRIBUTOR Several months ago I smiled as I sat on the front row alone, again, while at my home church. As one of the lay leaders in our church family, I have the honor of leading our congregational prayer at our worship service a few times a year when our elders don’t. I smiled… Read More
Nora chuckled, but laughing didn’t stop her from crying. Her friend, Allie, had a knack for soothing awkward situations. She knew just what to say to lighten the mood. Nora knew Allie wasn’t uncomfortable; teasing was just her way to ease tension. Nora dabbed at her tears with a napkin and looked for the waitress, “I should go,” she said, “Rob will be home soon and he’ll wonder where I’ve been all afternoon.”
The two women had agreed on this lunch date weeks ago. Nora had no idea her husband’s explosive outburst the night before would shadow their pleasant afternoon. His timing to hurl some rather choice insults—laden with words she would never repeat—was impeccable. His disgusting taunts still echoed in Nora’s mind. The shame of it all made her cry.
Allie was a friend Nora could lean on. Sometimes she advised her in the worst way… “Nora, if you would just…” and then tell her to do something that implied she had control over Rob’s oppressive behavior. But nonetheless, Allie’s love for Nora was genuine.
Women like Nora need friends like Allie. The circumstances of their abusive relationship are isolating. It keeps them at arm’s length from other people. To have a friend who respects them as an image bearer is invaluable. I’ve heard many victims express this need. If oppressed women could share how we can help, this is what they might say:
Please, treat me like an adult.
One characteristic of an abusive home is that the husband treats his wife like a child. In an oppressive marriage, he calls the shots and determines direction. He’s the king of his castle and his wife is there to serve his every desire. A woman in this kind of relationship loses agency; her God-given right to make her own decisions. Eventually, if she remains in the marriage long enough, she forgets how to make choices on her own.
Everyone will stand before the Lord one day…
When 2019 ended, I raised my glass and rejoiced at the conclusion of one of the hardest years of my adult life. I was thrilled to enter into 2020, seeing it as a new year filled with new potential. The first half of my year was planned to the max with travel, speaking engagements, conferences, teaching Bible study groups at my local church, and the publication of my first solo writing project. There was excitement, joy, and expectation; after a season of wandering, I felt as if I finally had direction and was gaining traction.
During the first weekend of March, I was on a trip with friends in South Carolina when I got word of the first COVID-19 infection in Nashville, my hometown. As I traveled home on Monday morning, I found myself walking through empty airports and flying home on empty planes—the spring of 2020 had officially begun. Over the course of the next two weeks, my 2020 calendar went from full to numbingly blank, as every event I was attending or leading was (understandably) canceled. I spent hours on the phone with friends, crying about lost events, anxious about firings and furloughs. And I, like so many, had to learn to work from home in a job which was never meant to be done through a flat, cold, computer screen.
On Monday, March 23rd I finally hit a wall. It became apparent that no amount of wealth, education, or social connection could prevent the experience of loss. This beast was going to deeply affect us all in some way. Any semblance of control seemed to be slipping away, and—if I am honest—the collective experience of loss left me feeling as if I were swimming against a rip tide of grief and fear….
If someone asked you in 2015, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” would you have said, “In the middle of a pandemic?” More than likely, it never crossed your mind. Suffice it to say we are all not experiencing what we expected. Here is the big question #1, how do we deal with the gap between what we expect and what we experience? Sometimes it feels as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. Big question #2 follows closely behind, what will fill the gap? Since we are all riding this fluid wave of uncertainty, the potential fillers are limitless. Here is my real-time confession of what has filled my gap since March.
Fear of getting sick. Fear of suffering. Fear of disappointing others in a cancel culture. Fear a scratch church plant named King’s Cross we sought to launch in March will not flourish. Fear of the unknown. In Latin anxiety means “to choke.” There are more than a few days when these fears feel like they are strangling me. But when I look across this insurmountable chasm, I ask my Father for faith to fill the gap. I know without it, it will be impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6).
I am a long-range planner by nature. Last year I traveled to locations all over North America working with Hinged teams to make our conference plans. I remember praying with teams, but I am not sure any of us quoted “if the Lord wills” (James 4:15). These past six months, I have led these teams through a disappointment discipleship course. It was the class we never wanted to attend. It is a gospel classroom where we ask God to transform us in the gap. The curriculum is designed by the Spirit to produce endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5)…
“Get rooted.” It’s a quiet whisper the Holy Spirit impresses upon my heart when my mind starts to spiral or I’m tempted to react irritability or angrily to my outward circumstances, namely my kids. I’m thankful for this kind, yet bold reminder that stems from Isaiah 26:3 – “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts you.”
I’ve ruminated on the gospel of Mark quite a bit lately. A major theme I’ve noticed is the crowd that follows Jesus, literally, everywhere, day and night, constantly pressing in with their needs. I’ve noticed that Jesus responds quite differently than I tend to – He has pity, He shows compassion, and mostly, He stays at peace.
Even their constant need, and I mean constant need (check out Mark chapter 1), doesn’t disturb His inner peace. It doesn’t disturb Him abiding in the Father’s love. Anybody else have a posse of little kids? You can quickly relate to the constant following, the never-ending need, and even franticness when they think the need will not be met.
And yet, Jesus.
Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that Jesus was not only fully God, but also fully man. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was made like us, in every respect:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16; also see Hebrews 1:10-18)….
This is a fish story. This is not a grandiose tale of record-breaking sizes nor of hard-fought battles of rod and reel, waves and wrestling. The scale is smaller and the location is my daughter K.’s apartment, in an aquarium that is home to Bob, the longear sunfish. Bob’s home is lush with green plants, their leaves wave gently in the water. The rugged stones on the floor of the tank afford him places to hide, rest, and dart about. Floating through the water are smaller fish, the same kinds he was used to eating in the Tennessee waters from whence he came. All in all, a pretty good life for a fish. Except it wasn’t.
In case you are wondering if maybe you’ve stumbled onto the wrong blog (fish?) let me assure you that I think I’m on pretty safe ground using a fish for an illustration. The world God made is rich with objects, analogies, comparisons, and every wonderful thing to use as a picture to help us know him better. Camels, sheep, lamps, and coins – when we have eyes to see – help us to understand abstract truths in a concrete way. Think back to your favorite Bible stories and I’ll bet you can think of a fish or two.
A Certain Death
This fish was dying. The problem seemed obvious. Bob suffered from an ailment called “popeye,” where a fluid build-up caused his eyes to bulge out wildly, marring the appearance of his beautiful turquoise and orange body. Blinded, he kept swimming straight into the glass walls of the aquarium, unable to eat, and slowly starving to death. My daughter tried to give him different food, improve the condition of the water, and even treat the water itself with medicine— all futile efforts. Bob’s blindness was due to an underlying infection, and without treating that, he would not make it.
The problem was, how do you get medicine into a fish that won’t, or can’t, eat? K. sought a solution. Thanks to the Internet, You Tube, and a knowledgeable pet store owner, she found it. First she had to create a paste made of bloodworms (larvae that fish love to eat) and antibiotics. Next she put the medicated food into a syringe. Afterward she gently reached into the aquarium, took hold of the fish, and with her other hand used the syringe to squirt the food into its mouth.
What a beautiful illustration of the gospel! Here are some truths I noticed. Perhaps you can find even more!
A host of problems plagued this fish. He was blind, ill, and starving. Fixing the obvious problem— his blindness— wasn’t enough. The greater, underlying infection needed to be dealt with. What a picture of our hopeless, sinful selves! Remember what Jesus said to the paralytic, handed down through the roof by his caring friends? “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Paralysis was not the worst of his problems. And the problems that paralyze us are minor compared to our overarching problem. Our sins need to be forgiven. Friends, whatever problem or need initially drew us to Jesus, we needed to realize our real problem was our separation from God. We needed to be reconciled with him….
While this post is somewhat about motherhood, it’s more about mothering. And while I will be talking about my perspective as a mother, I hope there is something here that will encourage you— whether your mothering is in the biological realm, the spiritual realm, or both. To embrace our God-given design as lifegivers is a joyful expression of who we were created to be.
I’m a mother of five and a grandmother of eight. I’m fortunate that my own mother was able to come stay with us when a new baby arrived. Having her there to help in all sorts of ways made those first crazy days survivable. As terrifying as it was to bring that new little person home from the hospital, it was nothing compared to watching Mom drive away and knowing I was now on my own. When my own daughter began having children, I couldn’t get that airplane ticket fast enough. Every passenger between Houston and Nashville knew that I was going to meet my newest grandbaby! From my experience of being both on the receiving and the giving end of this special kind of caretaking, I can’t help notice some similarities with our role as spiritual mothers as well.
We all know the intensity of a newborn’s cry for food. Eating is serious business! But a new mama needs to eat as well. Remember that early fog? When you feel like you just ran a race and want nothing more than to sleep, unless that something more is food? Labor and delivery were only the beginning of this marathon! Having mom there to shop and cook and do the dishes and make all our favorite meals was more than just help: it was nourishment for our weary, hungry souls. The last thing on my mind when I was a gazillion-weeks pregnant was making things look pretty, yet here Mom was: putting the jam in a pretty dish, folding napkins, and making our time around the table a celebration.
When my own house was full of little ones, my older children knew the best part of having a new baby was the meals from our church friends. Every night was like Christmas as these dear saints blessed us with dinner (usually with plenty of leftovers!). I will never forget the morning that Miss April brought over a platter of freshly fried chicken. I don’t remember why she was there at 10 AM, but I do remember that those drumsticks didn’t make it to dinnertime! After spending a week with my daughter last month, I was reminded how much hungry kids can eat. What fun to bake and cook for a crowd again!
If you are in a spiritual mothering relationship, you know that one of the best ways to care for your daughter is through the word of God. It is her food and she needs to eat. Sometimes we model that by showing her what a beautiful feast looks like: a specially prepared Bible study or devotion, a lesson from our own life that we can share. Sometimes we show up with that “emergency meal” and remind her that no Christian can survive on a starvation diet…