“I look so old!” We were at the Sears photography studio in Kitchener and my grandma had just been given her portraits. We had been tasked with getting her passport pictures and my citizenship pictures taken. For my twelve-year-old self, this rare chance to have my grandma all to myself was the best afternoon I could think of, even if it meant sitting at Sears for several hours.
I looked again. The pictures had really washed her out, I noticed. They had failed to capture her sparkling blue eyes, and she was not smiling. The gray wrap they covered her shirt with was likely the worst color to put under her.
At that point in my life, I had not learned tact. “But Grandma, you are old,” I said honestly. She laughed and admitted, “Yes, I guess I am!”
Her words, and even her acceptance of her aging, were, and still are, such an encouragement to me.
I remember her collecting rainwater and covering her hair with a scarf when we went out. Years later, I remember her asking me to comb, braid, and pin up her hair when her arms were too weak to reach. I was shocked to find blond roots still at the nape of her neck and her gray hair still as silky and healthy as my own at seventeen. I remember trimming and polishing her nails and massaging her long slender hands that were worn from years of service. I have started to notice the shape of her hands in my own hands as the years go by.
Today, when body image and body shame are so prevalent in our culture, it is so hard to not take these messages to heart. We’re promised that if we just lose a few pounds, try a few products, or wear the latest trends, we will suddenly appreciate the skin we’re in.
It’s equally hard to believe what God says about our bodies, young or old. To invite His gracious eyes into our ideas of our physical selves. To value our bodies, not to ignore them or worship them, but to see them with His eyes.
When I was in my mother’s womb, being knit together with skill and intention, streaking her body with stretch marks that would scar her for life, He knew what He was doing. He knew me. He meant for me to be who and what I am. And as I am. Every curve and every smile, every habitual gesture, and the tendency to hold or shed weight.
He made my body and He doesn’t make bad things. Everything He makes is good, planned, and purposed for exactly what He decided is its purpose — in this case, my purpose. “Behold, I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14), the psalmist rejoiced. Made as an image bearer of the very God of heaven.
We are living, breathing reflection in this world of who God is. Not like the graven (man-made) images of idols that show powerless deities, but a God-made image of the high and holy God of Heaven Himself. My body, along with the rest of me, is made in His image. Does my body image match how He sees me?
When I was born, my mother rejoiced over her little girl whose body was finally ready to come into the world. Meanwhile, my God did too. He loves me. He loves what He has made, He loves who I am, He loves what I am, exactly as I am.
Even before I ever received Him as my Savior, He set His love on me and called me an image bearer. “But even the hairs on your head are numbered” (Matthew 10:30). Is it so hard to believe that my pounds, my smiles, and scars are numbered too?
God forgive me for being ashamed of the body He created.
Last week, I went to visit my other grandma, whose mind is trapped in her body by Alzheimer’s disease. I had not seen her for years, believing the last time I saw her in California was my final goodbye. But recently, my family moved her to Michigan.
Instead of three days away, she is now three hours. I slipped into the chair next to her as they locked her wheelchair in place. She looked up at me, surprised, and gave me a clear beautiful smile. Then she was gone.
I sat there, letting her hold and squeeze my hands and answering her rambling questions as she re-lived moments from long ago, completely absent to me. Do you know what I loved in those moments? The raising of her eyebrows, the habitual way she used to pat my hand when she spoke to me, the concern in her voice when she was late or we forgot something important. Her.
I sat and cried tears of grief and joy because this slice of time with her, years after I said my goodbyes, was a gift. She is precious to me even if all I have is her body. I never cared what size she was or how quickly her hair was thinning or whether or not she was in style. I loved her for her soul that I can’t access now. And now I treasure her body that is left.
What He created didn’t stay perfect, did it? But just as we treasure our imperfect children, my God treasures me. Are they fallen? Yes. Am I? Yes. Does that affect my value in His eyes? No. Sin, suffering, age, pain, and disease have marked our bodies, haven’t they sisters?
I remember when they starkly typed “recurrent miscarriages” into my chart in the doctor’s office. I remember feeling like my body had somehow failed those little lives. We grieve over what we could be and ache for what we will be. But He planned even that and hopes that we continue to see ourselves, even our broken bodies, through His eyes and not through the demanding eyes of the world.
We do carry suffering in these tents of earth, don’t we? But that suffering is never wasted, only translated into glory in His coming Kingdom.
Our scars are signs of suffering that produce endurance, endurance that produces character, and character that produces hope. May the signs of suffering on our physical bodies not be a source of shame but a source of hope that does not disappoint because it points to Christ Himself.
Lord, let us be used up in joy for your glory until we exchange the corruptible for incorruptible and what is earthly for what is heavenly. Let us use what is mortal to grow that which is eternal, not use what is eternal to shore up what is earthly.