Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Body: Enthralled

Today I went to a forum for women at my church entitled "What is it to Have a Women's Body?" This is the blurb about it:
The female form often stands judged, critiqued, and condemned. How can our physicality be known, nurtured, and celebrated? Age, vigor, beauty... history, hurts, and illness. Join other women to examine our flesh and bones from all angles, and seek a sense of health and peace as you live in your own skin.
I wish I had spoken up more. There were a few girls at my table who had enough things to say that filled up the time, but for me, the discussion questions were so loaded, I didn't know where I would start, or how much I could get out coherently before we were cut short by the next speaker. By the time I got up the nerve to start speaking, time was up. Maybe this is what "older and wiser" actually is: life has dealt you so much experience, you just don't know where to start. So you keep your mouth shut.

Not that I'm older and wiser. Yeah...sometimes I'm older, sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I find others are "none the wiser" and I know a whole world of things I wish I didn't. But let me remind myself that it's how much I let God use that to change me, and to see things from His perspective that qualifies me as "wiser".

Another reason I didn't speak up was because I didn't know if my answers were 100% relevant to the forum. People were talking about back pain and surgeries, and all I could think about was how my crazy journey of a thousand betrayals has changed the way I view God and my body and my spirit, and how it is all intermingled. How I have been exposed and humiliated and vulnerable in front of strangers, naked before God in my little sewn-together fig leaves. How He has clothed me in a different skin, and given me contact lenses to see better.

So...this is my do-over. I'll write it all out here, and it will hopefully make more sense in this context anyway. I'll start with the little souvenir the host of my table left us: a flowery bookmark with a verse on it that has, ironically, been a key part of my journey.
"The king is enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord." Ps. 45.11
The use of "lord" there is also translated as "husband" and is the same word Sarah used for Abraham in Genesis. God is speaking to us as the bride of Christ; Psalm 45 is a wedding song. I can't remember when it was exactly, but a few years ago a friend of mine gave me that verse, printed out in a cheap silver frame that didn't match my decor at all. I remember thinking that I needed so desperately to believe those words, that I didn't care what they were written on. I put it up where I could see it every day, in the bathroom, where I was most critical of myself; next to the toothbrushes, so I couldn't ignore it. I resolved to read those words every day until I believed them, thanking God that it was true, confessing my disbelief.

Oh, how I struggled with those words. Let's just start with beauty. Now, I knew there's wasn't a single thing beautiful about me. Well, my eyes were ok. And sometimes I had a good hair day. But I was fat and lumpy after having four children, every inch of my skin had some blemish on it. I could go on and on. And as for inner beauty, I was angry, lazy, depressed, and perverted. One of the things that has grieved me the most has been the sexual immorality I adopted in order to rationalize the changes I saw in my husband. I wanted so badly to have his love and attention, I intuitively knew that demoralizing myself was the way to get it. But in the end, even that didn't work, and I was left feeling ugly to the core.

And yet I knew I was a child of God. If He says I have beauty, there must be a shred of something He is clinging to. After all, when God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. (Gen. 5.1) I was sure I was nothing like God...and I really couldn't wrap my mind around beauty being about anything other than the body. My husband had abandoned a relationship with my heart and soul and was abusing his own, and all that was left to attract his attention was my body, and like I said, that was an ugly mess. I had fallen hook, line and sinker for every lie the culture tells about the woman's body, and was convinced I was pretty much the opposite of beauty. Every important man in my life had confirmed these lies as true, and I knew my mom believed them too. I'm pretty sure I can safely say I was at zero hope for ever posessing beauty, much less enthralling anyone with it.

But here was God, telling me I had it, and that He was enthralled. Enthralled? That's a pretty strong word. But then there's that second half of the verse: honor him, for he is your lord. I know God doesn't lie. If He thinks something is beautiful, then it is. Even if I don't see it. And by trying to believe God's word-- even if I don't see how it's true-- I knew that would somehow be honoring him, as weak of an effort as that was.

Eventually, these baby steps toward God brought me into the light, and God started to heal what was broken in my spirit. As I believed more and more that God loved me, I began to regard whatever little beauty I had as something God wanted me to honor Him with. If I used my body to appeal to a man who was living in darkness, that meant I had to go into that darkness myself. Contrasted with the enthralled gaze of my lord, I started to need my husband's distracted attention less and less, and I would slowly stop pursuing his approval...

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