I was all of twelve years old, full of preteen spunk and good ol’ American dreams when I stopped to study the smooth contours of the cover model’s hips and buttocks. She smirked at me from her magazine stand while my mom paid for our groceries, and, that night, I remember trying to imitate her pose in the mirror. Why did my butt look so much floppier than hers? What were all those little dimples and lines on my thighs?
And so began the entanglement of my self-confidence with my body image.
Actually, it began before that, when I wanted to start shaving my legs and wearing makeup like the other girls at summer camp. And surely every pretty actress and the skinny doll had made an impression on me, as well. But I remember that specific incident in the grocery store because that was the moment that I decided my body was not good enough. I was not good enough.
While I’ve told myself over the years that the cover model was airbrushed, nobody really looks like that, I still find myself putting on makeup each day, a sort of self-airbrushing. I spend more time frowning at myself in the mirror than smiling. And, even though I avoid extreme diets, I still keep tabs on my weight. It’s all quite normal--even “healthy”--for today’s Western Woman, but I’ve always wrestled with knowing that it’s not how my Father sees me.
Then, three years ago, God drew me into a significant time of spiritual renewal. It was an awakening, a rebirth of knowing Jesus as my first love after years of ministry and motherhood fatigue that had nearly crushed me. During this springtime of the soul, I discovered Jesus’ heart for me, his beloved bride, through the Song of Songs. Chapter 8, verse 6 crowned the entire book for me:
“Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.”
That final word, “flame”, in Hebrew is shelhebetyah and specifically refers to the fire of God. His love is like a blazing, unquenchable fire for me! I knew then, that the fiery love of Yahweh was the only thing I wanted to let define me. Nobody and nothing else could tell me my worth. I am sealed by his eternal love.
To fly that message right in the face of my body-image issues, I decided to take verse 6 as literally as possible. I tattooed God’s fiery love right over my heart. I’ve never wanted a tattoo before and I don’t know if I’ll ever get another one, but I felt so deeply convicted of my need to see his love as the crux of my identity that I wanted to emblazon it permanently on my chest.
Now, a few years later, a couple of miles wiser, and a lot of wrinkles more beautiful, I’m still on this journey to understand the depths of Christ’s love for me. But I know--and I have a reminder for when I forget--that my value and identity have nothing to do with this fading body and everything to do with his unchanging love.
Corella Roberts makes her home in Northern Thailand where she and her husband partner with an international school to "Serve the Servants." Their first missionary teaching assignment landed them in the remote bush of Alaska, which you can read about in her book, Colliding with the Call. From tundra to tropics, her life of following Jesus has been nothing less than story-worthy, and she loves using her experiences to encourage others to connect deeply with God at corellaroberts.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram, or meandering their local produce market in search of mangosteen and lychee fruit.