True beauty

girl looking in mirrorI have a ten-year-old daughter who is beginning to be obsessed with fashion, make-up and yes, dare I say it, her figure.

I love the growing opportunities for girly shopping days together, as we have a huge amount of fun and the one-on-one time is priceless. But I am alarmed at the preoccupations that are already surfacing. She is thin, but apparently not as thin as one of her friends. She has some fantastic outfits (mainly from her older cousins, which is such a blessing), but is apparently not as ‘fashionable’ as that same friend (outfits are ‘judged’ at school discos).

Right from an early age, I have been teaching her that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, but as she is growing ever closer to teenage-hood I can see the message ‘you must be thin and beautiful to be worth anything’ beginning to penetrate her mind. Alarmed, I have started to ask myself: Am I perpetuating the acceptance of that silent message somehow?

Yes, as I’ve hit and passed the ripe old age of forty, I’ve uttered the words ‘Oh no! I’ve put on weight!’ as I’ve tried to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans, and have also asked ‘Does this outfit make me look fat?’ And guys this isn’t just a female-only problem: the message of the media is that you need to be toned and beautiful to be successful. The male grooming industry has exploded in recent years, so I know it is not just we women who obsess about such things.

I recently read a tweet from Stylish, quoting Helen Mirram: ‘I hate the word beautiful, I wish there were another word for it’.

That got me thinking about what true beauty is, and what I want my daughter to think about when she asks herself: Am I beautiful?

I do believe that the media’s constant use of glamorous models, whatever it is they are advertising, drip feeds us with the idea that we need to try to attain what, for some, is an unattainable goal. Here’s some of the ideas I’ve been using to combat the unhelpful messages we find all around us:

• Ask yourself: Am I happy in my skin?

When we remember that God has knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13–14), and that each one of us is totally unique, it is time to accept ourselves for who we are. We can each strive for acceptance and affirmation from others (yes, my spirit is lifted when someone says ‘you look nice today’!), and yet God has a never-ending supply of both, if we would just look to Him.

Here’s an excerpt of the verses from psalms, taken from The Message. If you find it hard to accept your body shape, why not spend some time meditating on this, speaking it over yourself, because you are a marvellous creation:

‘Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration—what a creation!’

Learn to be positive, and celebrate you for the person God made you to be; the real you.

• Stop obsessing about what you wear.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good, or enjoying the process of dressing smartly (and putting on make-up if you like wearing it), but allowing it to take over your focus isn’t healthy.

I have written previously about dressing our spirits; we can spend so long choosing what to wear but do we daily make a conscious decision to put on those garments that God has laid out for us?:

‘So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.’ (Colossians 3:12–14, The Message)

beloved cover

• Change your idea of what beauty truly is.

As part of my daily reflections I am working through Rachel Gardner’s great book Beloved. Just today I got to her chapter on beauty, and loved the way she turned the definition of beauty on its head. She explains how our society has reduced beauty to glamour (outside, superficial, skin-deep beauty), and has some great, quotable lines on the difference between the two:

‘If glamour is the blusher painted onto your face, beauty is the inner radiance that lights you up from the inside.’

‘If glamour is the outfit that helps you make an entrance, beauty is your generous heart that makes your presence change the atmosphere.’

‘If glamour is the perfume clinging to your clothes, beauty is the fragrance of your life that lingers long after you’ve left the room.’

It is interesting to see how the Bible speaks directly about the importance of inner, rather than surface, beauty:

‘Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful.’ (I Peter 3:3–5, NLT)

Taking the time to cultivate that gentle spirit has, so far, been a lifelong journey for me, so I’m taking these verses as an encouragement to keep on going!

It is this overall message that I hope to convey to my daughter, and it has also challenged me to think about the way that I live. Later on in her beauty chapter Rachel also says: ‘The goal of glamour is to make everyone feel envious. The goal of beauty is to make everyone feel loved.’ Isn’t that so true? We can get a fleeting feeling of contentment (or smugness – let’s call it by its true name!) when we know people are looking at us enviously. But those we look up to, those we describe as having a ‘beautiful spirit’, are those people who go out of their way to make others feel loved and accepted. They are the true successes; and the true world-changers.

• Remember your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

I am certainly not saying that we should let our bodies go to wrack and ruin. They are a gift, and we have a responsibility to look after them and keep them healthy, which often takes more work as we get older. I know the following verses from 1 Corinthians are in a passage about refraining from sexual immorality, but I think they are a good checkpoint for us to see what our attitudes to our bodies are:

‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NIVUK).

The Holy Spirit is in us; is our attitude towards our bodies and the way we behave towards those we are in contact during the day honouring to Him?

This article first appeared on the Christian Today website.

Why do we always want something different?

On Friday my two new books are published. I am taking a moment to celebrate that fact – to thank the editor who asked if I would like to write them, and to acknowledge all the hard work it took to put them together.

Learning with F21_Prayer Learning with F21_Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it also makes me long for the day when the book I have burning within me makes it out of my heart and mind and onto the bookshelves. You see, so far I have four books under my writerly belt. But each one I was asked to write. The ideas did not originally come from me. Yes, I ran with them, developed them, put my all into them – but they don’t feel like they are quite ‘mine’.

I also look around at the Christian non-fiction authors who have huge followings, bestsellers and sell-out tours. I look and wonder – will I ever get anywhere close to that? And does God even want me to? In the times when I get frustrated, I have to consciously take my eyes off of another’s path and focus on my own. Because God has called me to walk out my own life, not someone else’s.

God really challenged me recently. I was considering whether I could feasibly take on the leadership training that I had been offered. So often we are told to look at our priorities, to check where all our time goes (yes I’ve previously written about doing a time budget – we got partway there!). I know that working parents will probably relate to what I’m going to say next: most of the time I feel like my whole self is being simultaneously stretched in at least four different directions.

Writing and editing make up my ‘job’, but I also believe they are part of my calling. I also know that first and foremost I am to love my God above everything and everyone – and then my husband and my children. I also now have a deep passion for those who attend our church. I want to see them reach their full potential, walk free from those things that have bound them and be all they can be. I am also fired up by worship and long to see people engaging with God in new and creative ways.

And yet so often I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface with each of those areas. That I’m just treading water rather than taking ground. I wonder whether I’m selling people short by not giving more – but then I know that, realistically, I haven’t got any more to give. So how can I take on anything else? But then that quiet small voice whispers to me, encouraging me and telling me it could be the one thing that equips me to serve others better, and gives me the time to actually stop and check my priorities.

To read the rest of this post please click here.

 

 

I would rather be a doorkeeper…

My body and mind are still trying to process the amazing, but frantic, week of conferences I had last week. I was at the HTB Leadership conference, then the ‘All that we are’ conference for women at the Christian Resources Exhibition and at the end of the week we travelled to Nottingham to hear Dave Fellingham speak on deliverance ministry. I had such a blessed week and learned a great deal. I had hoped to blog about my thoughts throughout the week, but it was all so intense I know I’ll simply be filtering through the things I’ve picked up and am mulling over during the next few weeks. And so much has already been tweeted and blogged about that I’ve decided to avoid going back over old news now!

Today I woke up feeling pretty under the weather and, in a manner so unlike my usual busy Martha self, I surprised myself by deciding to send the kids off to school with my husband and crawl back into bed with my bible. I just felt that small, still voice, pointing out that yes, I only had a couple of hours free before my son would need picking up but no, there was nothing I desperately needed to get done for work so I could actually simply relax and spend time catching up on a little bit of sleep and then catching up with God 😉

The passage of scripture that really struck me today was from Psalm 84:

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favour and honour;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose way of life is blameless.

I realised that yes, my soul was yearning for that place of rest only found in Him, and that I can trust His provision for me personally. The mention of the sparrow immediately made me think of the passage in Matthew that urges us not to worry, reminding us that the birds of the air are looked after by God and the flowers of the field dressed more finely than Solomon. That is certainly a challenge to me as I am naturally a worrier. I’m learning to lean more on God though as the amount of stress we’ve been under recently would have caused me to explode otherwise!

The next part of the passage that really spoke to me was the part about being a doorkeeper. I was really challenged by that – would I rather be a doorkeeper in God’s house than be someone more noticed and important elsewhere? One of the things I’ve been wrestling with recently is where my role lies and exactly what I’m supposed to be pouring my time and energy into. That was mainly borne out of the tension of trying to support my husband while he works as the only full-time member of staff and looks after the church, as well as me working and being a mum. As I said, we’ve had a particularly stressful few weeks so that has caused me to think about everything I do – and both of us to realise we need to take a long, hard look at our priorities. Another part of it, though, came out of a disappointment over a long-term freelance job I went for. It was something I felt led to by God, something we prayed about and agreed I should go for, and also something I was told I almost got. So, understandably, I felt some disappointment, also questioned myself – and asked God a few questions too! I also saw many women at CRE last week who have a higher profile than me in the writing and editing fields and, while I know in my heart I’m not running after recognition or position, it is a lot easier to get work when you are ‘known’. I loved catching up with all the women I saw, but I also knew I had to let go. Let go of any striving to get to a certain place, to be a certain type of person – and to trust that God knows my future, knows where I am going and only asks me to be faithful with what I see put before me each day rather than worrying about what work I may or may not have two months down the line.

I was really encouraged by particular words I received last week that affirmed some of my heart’s desires – I had been getting to a place of wondering whether God was asking me to lay down my dreams for now in order to concentrate on building the church alongside my husband, but that burden has now been taken off me. A lot of what is on my heart does involve my ministry within the church, often working alongside my husband, as well as encouraging and equipping people in the wider Church through my work but I realise now that God is cheering me on in all of that. And, while I don’t know what form it is all going to take, I do realise that being a doorkeeper in His house is far, far more precious than trying to be something I’m not. I may never be as ‘recognised’ as some of the other people I work with – but that’s okay. I have my Father’s approval and today I’ve realised I am actually totally content with that. 🙂