Motherhood, Body Image, and the Gospel
A mix of happy coos and angry screams startled me from sleep. I stumbled into the bathroom and glanced in the mirror as I put in my contacts. The reflection looking back at me was startling. A night with the toddler teething and a cold had left me with dark circles under my eyes and snot all over my pajama top. I quickly grabbed a brush to run through my hair before running in to collect my boys for the morning. Ninety-seconds between feet touching the floor and the beginning of my morning, I thought back to the slow mornings with coffee, a hot breakfast, make-up, and hair routine before hopping in the car and driving 20 minutes to work. An hour and thirty minutes from feet touching the floor to go time.
It’s hard to resent the morning wake-up when the joyful faces beamed up with fat little arms outstretched joyful shouts of “mama” greet me when I step in their door, but the podcast I listened to the day before echoes in my mind. Angrily I shake my head, “We all know that the good looking skinny people are the ones who are given what they want and get further in life, Why did I spend an hour listening to something with data and case studies that reminds me of that?” I think back desperately to my own reflection as I start to fix breakfast.
God created us to rejoice in beauty: a breathtaking sunset, a well-decorated home, a delicate flower, and a beautiful baby all cause us to stop mid-scroll and often double tap. God created us to appreciate and value things that are beautiful. He tells the movement of rejoicing in our hearts is to point to Himself and should cause us to rejoice in His love for us.
Sadly, sin has corrupted even this thing that should be a beautiful way to rejoice in our Creator. However, in our fallen world, we tend not to just rejoice in beauty as a reflection of the Creator, but also to take pride in as if it is our own achievement. We also tend to give people things worth based on external beauty as if it was within the control of that person.
It seems as women, we have reacted to this in different ways. We either work as hard as possible to meet the standard and live in self-loathing as we fail, or we declare everything to be beautiful ignoring the marks that the fallen world has left on our bodies. Each of these still treat our lives and the here and now as final, rather than acknowledging these lives we live are temporary.
All of this became more real when I gave birth to our first son. I looked down at my body and didn’t recognize what it had become. Stretch marks now ran along my hips; stretched skin covered my stomach. And right when I had adjusted to this, my hair started falling out. Everything I had used to assign myself worth and a place in the world had changed.
Of course, people tell me I have "I am enough", “I am worthy”, and “I am beautiful just the way I am.” Or they say I am beautiful for what I have created inside of me. Others tell me beauty comes from the inside. Still, I can't help but notice there is no one lining up to have their skin stretched—no plastic surgery is out there to create bald spots on your head or make your skin saggy. Even the allure of Anna Karenina’s beauty in the classic Tolstoy novel was partially due to the fact she had two babies and still looked youthful. This isn’t something new that glossy magazines and TV have invented. These comforting words are well-meaning and kind, but at best paper thin. Mostly, these lines made me feel worse for feeling bad about myself.
My husband, two small boys, and I are blessed to attend a multi-generational church. I have been observing something about each of us who attend. We are all becoming more broken as time passes. Each of us feels the effects of sin on our lives in a very real and daily sort of way. Our muscles get weaker, eyes dim, boobs sag, and stomachs grow softer. This doesn’t include major health problems of cancers and diabetes that force us to decide if we would rather risk relapses and infections or amputations. My heart rebels at the thought of these earthly “treasures” being taken away from me.
I lost two grandmothers in two years. These two lovely, strong women moved from enjoying time with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, lying in bed longing for Heaven! It was in this that I begin to see the beauty that aging and brokenness provides us. If the amount of depth and reliance on Christ I have now is all I have to take me through the valley of death, I will crumble with the weight. My hope in Christ at 18 was passionate but still was very reliant on what I looked like and who I thought it was. But slowly, self-reliance is being taken from my heart. The stripping away of externals is leaving me with only the need to turn to Christ in faith even more.
Every day, every night, and after every birth, my body weakens and becomes less beautiful, but the inner peace and reliance on God are built stronger in this sanctification. Godly character is being developed in my heart little by little in this way. As I become weaker it requires me to press more closely into the one who will sustain me into eternal life. The weakness causes me to live for eternity and the Creator, not for today and the people I know right now.
I can rejoice to know that His strength in me will become stronger, and the beauty of my heart will keep forming to His likeness, until the day when He calls me to Himself. I can find His perfect beauty forever in His presence.
“By our tribulations, God weans us from excessive love of this present life.” – Calvin’s Institutes
Most days you can find Elizabeth with a cup of tea at her side. She loves watching her two boys play in the sandbox as she cooks, cleans, and does her Bible studies. In her writings, Elizabeth hope to inspire mothers to create a home full of love and compassion for those who live with them and those they welcome in. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the daily tasks, and she hopes to remind you of the beauty we are given every day. She wishes she could hand you a cup of tea as you pop over to sunshineinmynest.com and join the conversations there.