At my prenatal appointment yesterday, the nurse came in a second time to draw blood from a finger prick. She thought she made a mistake the first time. No, not a mistake. My iron was very low. The doctor asked, “Haven’t you been feeling extremely tired?”
Well, I had been, but…. As with most moms, laundry needed to be done, kids needed to be fed, homework needed finished, so I had been ignoring my tiredness, sneaking naps when I could, and trying to get through. I had been really disappointed with myself because my usual 5 AM wake time had become 7AM, and my quiet time with God had really suffered because of it. The low iron explained my tiredness!
And, there is an easy remedy- I need to take my prenatal vitamins loaded with iron! I have been a “bad girl” and not taking them. No wonderful excuses- just that I sometimes “put off” taking care of myself. Instead of just stopping and taking the vitamin, I would say, “I will do that as soon as I make breakfast for the kids.” Well, I would get busy and it would be lunchtime. As soon as I make Aaron’s lunch, or finish this load of laundry, or after I do this… Never actually stopping to take time to take the vitamin.
I thought about how easy this is to do with our spiritual lives, too. How depleted we can become because we are taking care of others or working or finishing all of the tasks that need to be done. We forget to take our “spiritual vitamins,” or even worse, like me with my vitamins, we know we should be, but keep putting it off. We know we should be reading the Word and spending quiet time before the Lord, but there is something else that needs to be finished. We become “spiritually deficient,” or tired or empty. We can become crabby or tired, short-tempered with our family. We can become critical and judgmental. We can lose hope and faith. We can begin turning to the “world” to fill us our give us a quick fix.
Just like our body, our spirits NEED this filling of the Lord! Just like eating and sleeping, our souls absolutely need to be refreshed in His Word and by His Spirit. In John 15, Jesus talks about Him being the vine and us being the branches. When we are ABIDING in Him and His Word, we will bear much fruit, and we are being filled by Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control. When we are being filled by Him, He nourishes us and our fruit is healthy, plentiful, good for all around us! So, I encourage you today to “take your spiritual vitamins.” Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burden laden and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” He wants to refresh us! And, it is only in our relationship with Jesus Christ, spending time with Him and in His Word, that we will be filled!
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. HE WILL NOT GROW TIRED OR WEARY and His understanding no one can fathom.
(Listen to this!) HE GIVES STRENGTH TO THE WEARY AND INCREASES THE POWER OF THE WEAK. EVEN YOUTHS GROW TIRED AND WEARY, and youths may stumble and fall, BUT THOSE WHO HOPE IN THE LORD WILL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH. THEY WILL SOAR ON WINGS LIKE EAGLES; THEY WILL RUN AND NOT GROW WEARY, THEY WILL WALK AND NOT BE FAINT. –Isaiah 40: 28-31
Father, we praise You and glorify You. You are awesome! Thank You, Lord that You never grow tired. Thank You that You never are weary. I pray that each one of us will come to You today to be filled and refreshed! Make us Lord, “those who hope in You.” Where hope has been lacking, renew it and strengthen it. Help us to remember that we MUST abide in You, we must continue to be filled by You so that we do not become tired and weak spiritually. We love You, Lord! In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.
At my prenatal appointment yesterday, the nurse came in a second time to draw blood from a finger prick. She thought she made a mistake the first time. No, not a mistake. My iron was very low. The doctor asked, “Haven’t you been feeling extremely tired?”
OK, time to be completely honest. I have a quiz for you to take to think about where you are with this “beautiful thing” we as women are faced with everyday. Don’t worry, no one will see your answers and you won’t be graded by your responses.
1. Have you ever ripped up a photo that wasn’t flattering?
2. Have you ever “hid” from someone at the grocery store because you weren’t put together or looking your best?
3. Have you ever found yourself riveted to the TV in front of an informational or the Home Shopping network debating about spending money on a “miracle beauty product?”
4. Have you ever avoided looking at your reflection in the mirror because you were unhappy with it?
5. Have you ever called yourself words like, “ugly, disgusting, gross…”?
6. Have you ever battled feelings of inadequacy?
I recently gave this quiz to a group of women at a conference where I was speaking. I was surprised by their reactions- lots of laughing and nodding to first three questions. I was glad because I thought I may have been the only one to hide from someone at the grocery store! But, sadly, by the tears in the room, I understood that many women had also answered “yes” to the last three questions.
Sad to say, I have answered “yes” to all of these questions at one time or another. I have battled with accepting myself and seeing myself as God sees me. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, or to God that I had these feelings of inadequacy. Beth Moore says, “Unless we find our identity in Christ, Christian women are just as prone to insecurities as unbelievers.”
I wonder how many of us, as Christian women have felt NOT GOOD ENOUGH? How many of us have been caught up in this trap of the WORLD, looking for our self worth in our outward appearance, and many times not measuring up, feeling inadequate? We can have these feelings of inadequacy in many different areas of our lives. For some of us, it IS trying to reach that outward perfection that the world claims we must reach in order to be worthy. For others of us, we have felt inadequate or not quite “good enough” in other areas of our lives. I’m not a good enough mother, or daughter. I’m not a good enough friend. I’m not a good enough wife. I’m not good enough because I don’t have a husband… And, for many of us, seeking our self worth in these areas has led us into bondage, robbing us of joy and peace and confidence.
I know this is NOT my heritage! I am a daughter to the King of Kings, chosen, adopted, accepted in the Beloved, precious in His sight. He sees me as beautiful! These are HIS Words, not mine! But, I had to come to a place to receive this. I knew these truths in my HEAD, but I was not living them out, truly believing. I was not walking in joy, in freedom and victory. Recently, God began to reveal to me that my concern with my appearance and feelings of inadequacy had been a stronghold in my life, and He wanted to release me. He doesn’t want ANYTHING to keep us from experiencing all He has for us. God doesn’t want ANYTHING to keep us from being the women He has created us to be. That is what strongholds do in our lives- keep us from victory and keep us from living out our identity in Christ.
I wish I could say that this is the first stronghold I needed to be delivered from, but the truth is that since childhood I had gone to other things in my life, worldly pursuits, for comfort and security and satisfaction. I had not yet learned to depend on Christ, to cling to Him, to allow Him to fill me, heal me, and deliver me from the trials and tragedies of life.
Like every little girl I dreamed of being a beautiful princess, but, like so many others, my childhood wasn’t a fairy tale. My father died in a boating accident when I was a baby. My stepfather was an alcoholic and abusive to us. As a child and adolescent, I felt broken, unloved by a father, and scared, so, I hid myself. I turned to food to comfort me. It became my “safe place.” Whenever I felt scared, sad, unloved, overwhelmed, or vulnerable, I would go to food for my escape and my comfort. Usually I would grab something sweet, and hide myself away, either watching TV or reading. I never talked about how I felt, but just buried myself, denying my feelings and losing myself in stories of other people- either in TV or books. I wouldn’t overeat in front of my friends. Only in secret. And, that is what the enemy encourage us to do- hide. He deceives us into keeping our secrets hidden in the dark. But, we can never be healed until we expose these things to God’s light, which heals and restores.
So, food gave me comfort- for a little while, and then when the feeling was gone, I would go and get more. As you can imagine, this took its toll on my body and I soon became an overweight child. This led to more pain. Kids at school made fun of me. All I wanted to be was invisible, but my weight drew unwelcome attention.
By the time I hit junior high, I did not want to be overweight anymore. I wanted boys to like me. I did not want to be teased. So the summer before 8th grade, I stopped eating. I began exercising. My weight dropped quickly and dramatically. And, I began to enjoy the attention I received with my new found body. Everyone commented on how good I looked. Boys began to notice me. I found something new to fill this emptiness inside of me- the attention and the praise I received. I craved compliments and enjoyed flirting with guys. It was like a high, and the more I received, the more I wanted. Like food, when the “feeling” was gone, I would seek it out again.
So, now my safe place became my appearance. As long as I was “skinny” and looked good on the outside, I felt like I was OK. Exercise soon became another stronghold. I needed it to maintain the thin body.
This continued through high school and college. My personal worth was directly related to my outward appearance. I guess you could say my “hang-ups” could be attributed to my childhood. I could put the blame on my broken childhood, the absence of father, abuse by a stepfather, the desperate feelings of needing to find that male affection and attention. True, these things created a longing in me, but instead of turning to God I turned to the worldly pursuits to fill me. Instead of filling me up and giving me a satisfaction, they only created more of longing, a deeper hole to be filled. That is how it always is when we look to the world to fill us up. We may feel a temporary satisfaction, but the need, desire, and longing comes back fiercer than before.
Well, with this deeper hole needing to be filled, I found another pursuit to make me feel accepted- working hard and achieving success. I began seeking approval of my professors by striving for academic perfection. I began receiving recognition through my work and my accomplishments. I sought my worth in my performance.
This continued even after college when I became a teacher. I needed to be the best. I needed to be perfect. I continually compared myself to everyone around me. I had this competitive spirit, striving to be better than everyone around me, to be the best teacher, always with this underlying feeling that I wasn’t good enough.
By this time, I was married to my wonderful husband, Brian. We had our first child, Andrew, and we were expecting our second when we moved from our home in Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was lonely, moving to a new place far from home. And, I found a new thing to try to fill the longing of my heart… activities. I jumped right in, joining every club, organization, and play group. I was so busy with activities, trying to fill the emptiness in my soul.
Wow! I had set up such strongholds in my life. I didn’t think there was anything wrong. In fact, I probably thought I had it all together! Even though I would have considered myself a Christian, I DID NOT have an intimate relationship with the Lord. I prayed every night before bed and we went to church. Instead of feeding on God, hungering after Him and pursuing Him, I was feeding on these worldly pursuits. I was looking for my self worth in all of these things, but never quite measuring up. I never felt complete.
When I could not take off my pregnancy weight after our second child, Ashley, was born, I became depressed. Now, remember, for years, I had sought my worth in my outward appearance. As I continued to seek comfort in food, I gained extra weight instead of losing it when I returned from the hospital. I literally did not want to go out of the house! This was probably because none of my clothes fit. By the time Ashley was 6 months old, and I could only wear my husband’s sweat pants or maternity clothes! I was desperate.
I heard about a bible study that helped you lose weight, so I began facilitating it in my home. Wow! Did God open my eyes through that bible study! It taught about strongholds and filling up on other things instead of filling up on a relationship with God. I learned that I needed to seek a relationship with Jesus, instead of filling my heart with all of these worldly pursuits. He wants our hearts to be totally devoted to Him, so He will help us to work these things out, setting us free to be the women He created us to be! God began setting me free from these areas of bondage by filling up on Him! It is only in this relationship with my Precious Savior that I find my true worth.
I had never experienced this RELATIONSHIP with the living God before! Yes, I had gone to church and prayed, but to make Him the Lord of my life, my strength, my redeemer, my deliverer, my very best friend, and my 1st love was completely new to me! To experience His presence daily, to be intimate with Him, to commune with Him daily… Whew! It changed my life forever!
So over the next eight years, God continued to reveal to me strongholds in my life, areas of bondage that were keeping me from living in victory- keeping me from living the abundant life God had already given to me! He helped work through the process of being set free, living in complete liberty and joy. Thankfully, it has been a process and He slowly has revealed each area He wants to refine. God had so much work to do in my heart, that if He showed me everything at once, I probably would have had a breakdown! So, He would heal an area and I would think, “Whew! That’s done!” And then, He would reveal another area that He was going to refine.
Then, last summer, God began working on this last area of bondage. He has freed me from has been the need to “beautiful” according to the world’s standards, and defining myself in that, instead of believing who I am in Christ.
Honestly, talking about this area of bondage is not easy. I mean, come on, I’m a Christian woman! I shouldn’t be worried about how I look- that is so shallow, so vain. So, for a long time I had been denying I even had this stronghold. I stuffed all of it down and refused to deal with it. But, when there is something deep down, God will bring it to the surface for us to deal with it. And, that is what He did.
God began showing me that I cared too much about how I looked through a few very HUMBLING experiences. As God begins to reveal our hearts to us, He gives us object lessons in our lives to begin teaching us. That is why daily time with Him is so important. He teaches us so much when we are still and quiet before Him.
The first experience began with my 10 year old son, Andrew. Andrew had become more focused on his appearance, and began saying things, like, “Mom, my hair makes me look like a dork. I want to look cool. I want to grow my hair long.”
I began saying all the “right” things to Andrew. “Andrew what is important is our hearts, not our outward appearance. Man looks at the outside, but God looks at our hearts.” He would retort that although God looked at his heart, his friends still made fun of his hair! I, of course, would counter with something like, “true friends do not care about your appearance, and they love you for who you are….”
I was so excited! I thought this was such an opportunity to share my parental, godly wisdom, training him in “the way he should go.” I was telling him all the right things, quoting from the Word. I thought, “I am such a wise parent! I’m teaching him all of these truths now, teaching him what is really important in life!”
Well, it all came back to me one day. We were going to the pool, and I was standing in front of the mirror wearing my SWIMSUIT. Need I say more? The dreaded swimsuit, that no one likes to wear!
After waiting at least a half an hour, Andrew began to get impatient, wanting to get to the pool. When he came in to see what was taking so long, I began to complain, “I don’t like how I look in this suit. Do you think it makes me look fat? Maybe I should just change into shorts.”
Andrew looked at me with a smile on his face, and began repeating my words back to me. “Mom, it doesn’t matter how you look, remember? God looks at your heart, not your swimsuit. What’s important is the inside, not the outside.” You get the picture! Busted by a 10 yr. old!
The second lesson came from a good friend gifted with so much godly wisdom. I was telling her that I had gained some weight, and that I wasn’t happy with how I looked and shared with her this “Andrew story”.
She asked me a question. “Does Brian like how you look?” Brian is my husband, and expecting our 5th baby, I can most definitely and confidently answer “Yes, he loves how I look!” She then asked, “If God is pleased with you and Brian is pleased, then who are you trying to look better for and why?”
I knew I couldn’t avoid this any longer and I needed to get honest with myself and with God about how I was feeling and what I was believing. Did my walk match my talk? Definitely not with Andrew! I had to get honest and realize there was an area of bondage- that I wasn’t walking in liberty, that this was stealing my joy. I knew (in my head) that because I am in Christ, I am complete and should be feeling completely confident in Him.
God continued to prod at my heart. He continued to turn up the heat, so to speak. There was one point I would not look at my reflection in the mirror. I hated what I saw. I saw myself as flawed, as disgusting. My circumstances seemed to be getting worse and worse. I had to get honest about this being a stronghold.
When God began this whole process, He not only wanted me to see that my outward self is beautiful, but more importantly- that I saw my inner self, my heart, my spirit, as beautiful. For me, this “inner ugliness” was the root of my feeling inadequate. I was dissatisfied with my heart so I began getting down on myself with the outward self. I didn’t like myself and I felt like a failure. God showed me that I saw my heart as ugly- so I had concentrated on what was “easier” to fix- my outside.
As I began praying about all of this, God led me to pray about my HEART first- not my body, but my heart. I began to pray, “Search me and know me, God. Search my heart and reveal it to me. Show me what I need to see. Show me what You see.”
I thought He was going to reveal all my sins- all the areas where I have messed up, failed, fallen short. I thought He was going to rewind all the mistakes and failures of my life. I thought that God saw my heart as repulsive, disgusting, ugly.
Wow! Was I wrong! Instead, He began showing me how beautiful my heart is to Him. The 1st thing He did was give me a real life experience to show me this. I was going through the bible study “Breaking Free”, which is about breaking free from strongholds in our lives. One day’s homework was about being beautiful to God. I struggled with receiving this. I just couldn’t receive and believe that God saw me as beautiful. Beautiful. I didn’t feel beautiful.
When I shared we my group how I felt and how I struggled with the homework, my sisters gathered around me, praying for me. Then, they began telling me how beautiful I was to each of them. No, it wasn’t “Your hair is so pretty. You have such a pretty face.” They encouraged me by telling me how I impacted their lives, their faith walks, how I had helped them or touched their lives. And, then, my friend reminded me of the verse, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” That is what they were doing- praising me in my relationship with the Lord and who I was in Christ- a woman who fears the Lord- a woman who loves the Lord with all her heart. God was showing me that my heart was beautiful.
He then began to reinforce this concept with His Word. Colossians 3:3 kept coming to me, “Because you died, your life is now HIDDEN with Christ in God.” Because I am in Christ, I am hidden in His glory. God doesn’t see my failures and ugliness- He sees Christ’s beauty. He brought the verses about being a new creation in Christ. The old has gone and the new has come.
So, part of this process was to receive His forgiveness and believe in it. I had to realize that because of the blood of Jesus Christ, when God looks at me, He doesn’t see all the flaws- like I had- He sees the perfection of Christ. Jesus’ blood covers my sins. Now, it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t continue to change me, refine me and mold me. He does. But, because of the work accomplished on the cross, I have been made perfect (Heb. 10:14), and He continues the process of transforming me into the likeness of Christ from glory to glory.
When I finally cried out to God, He showed me how HE saw me. I am His beautiful creation. I had bought into the enemy’s lies and deception, and the world’s illusions. But, my precious God wanted me to see myself as He sees me- His princess, lovely, precious, beautiful. I am beautiful because Jesus is beautiful. It is only in a relationship with my precious Savior that I will feel truly worthy. Because of my relationship with the only One who can fill me, Jesus Christ, I can see myself as lovely, precious, beautiful.
Well, this was just the start! God had a lot of work to do in my heart and mind. There were many years of lies and deception that had been planted that needed to be crushed and replaced with Truth. I learned that I needed to name these lies, and to confess to God that I had been seeking my worth and identity NOT in who I was in Christ, but in how I looked.
I began naming the lies. “You have to be skinny to be beautiful. You need others to notice and compliment you on how you look. Your identity and worth is tied to how you look.” These were the lies I had bought into. As I continued to press deeper, I found the root lie was “You are not good enough.” I had believed my heart wasn’t good enough and my body wasn’t good enough.
But identifying the lies is not enough. We need to stand in agreement with God and replace the lies with His Truth. Truth is what God’s Word says- not what other people have spoken over you, or what the magazines say or TV, or even your own feelings. Truth is His Word. So, I asked God to begin revealing His Truth to me from His Word.
1Corinthians 6:19-20 was the 1st thing He brought to me. It says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at price. Therefore, honor God with your body.” I was convicted that I was not honoring God with my body when I hated it and was “down on it.”
Then God brought me to Psalm 139:13-14, “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I began to accept that I am God’s creation. He created me! He formed me with His hands! He created my body. And, I remembered what He said about His creation: It is good. And, what He said about man: It is very good. Just like His creation of the stars and the sunsets, the ocean, and beautiful flowers, I need to praise Him because I am His creation, made in the image of the CREATOR!
And, God brought 1Peter 3:3-4 to my mind, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” My beauty should come from the peace that only comes through a relationship with God. My beauty should come from being confident in my God and who I am in Christ. My spirit will be gentle and quiet when I trust Him with all my heart, surrendering every part of myself to Him.
I needed to be practical about tearing down lies, and replacing them with truth. So, whenever these lies would pop back into my head, I had to take “every thought captive in Jesus” immediately. I had to practice this daily, many times during the day.
I would say, “Tracy, you are beautiful to God. No matter how the world sees you, God sees you as beautiful. Because of Jesus, I am a display of His splendor. What could be more beautiful than that? My true beauty comes from a quiet and gentle spirit. Lord, make me a woman who “fears the Lord.” Make me a woman who puts You above everything else. ”
The next place God brought me in my journey was the realization that I needed to change my mindsets and attitudes about beauty.
The first thing God had me do was think about the times in my life I had felt “beautiful.” I use the word “beautiful,” but you may use other words like, “satisfied, confident, comfortable with yourself, special, set apart, content in who I am.”
Times in my life came right away to my mind, without even thinking about it. When I was a bride on my wedding day, when I gave birth to my children, and when I was pregnant were the times that I had felt most beautiful.
As I did this “exercise,” I realized that the times I felt most beautiful didn’t make sense logically. Anyone who has given birth knows that physically, it is not the most flattering time of your life. And, being pregnant??? This is a time I am definitely NOT skinny! So, why do I feel beautiful? I realized that the times in my life when I felt most beautiful didn’t really have anything to do with my outward appearance.
So, where does this “beauty” come from? I felt beautiful when it didn’t have anything to do with my outward appearance. I think of Mother Theresa. By the world’s standards, she was not beautiful. But, we would all agree she was one of the most beautiful women who ever lived. I am sure we have all seen interviews with models or actresses who are outwardly gorgeous. But, they tell the interviewer that they don’t see themselves as beautiful, but flawed or even ugly.
Beauty, true beauty, does not come from outward appearances, like Peter tells us in 1Peter. But, that is not what the world tells us, is it? That is not the message we have heard all of our lives. From the time we were children, we have been bombarded with the messages that we need to look a certain way to be OK, that the mark of beauty is perfection.
We are bombarded with outward appearance messages from magazines and TV commercials. Get great skin. Get smooth sexy legs. Look 10 years younger. Look 10 lbs. thinner. Have the hottest body ever. The messages from the world are not about the true beauty God teaches us about, but a perverted beauty, often impossible to attain.
But, God has always told us the opposite! When Samuel was looking for the new anointed king from Jesse’s sons, he looked for the biggest and the strongest son. But, God rebuked Samuel, saying, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”
We have got to stop buying into the “world’s” standard of beauty! We need to stop filling our hearts and minds with these messages. We often don’t think there is anything wrong with reading magazines or watching TV programs that promote this thinking, but what happens is that we slowly begin to accept these messages, believing them.
This is why Paul tells us Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of the world, (so do not accept this thinking, these mindsets, do not conform to the world’s ideals), but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
This is HUGE! We need to be aware and alert as we are in this world. If we are watching TV, we need to be aware of our thoughts and what we are believing. It may mean that we need to turn off the TV, and stop reading the magazines for awhile. We may need to take a “media fast.” It may mean that we need to remove ourselves from those influences. We want God to transform us by the renewing of our minds. Our minds cannot be renewed while still being conformed to the world’s ideals.
God loves us more than we could ever know or imagine. God sees us as beautiful. It doesn’t matter what the world has told you, or what other people have told you about your appearance. He says, “you are beautiful to me.”
Hear His precious words to you-
“Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:5)
“The King is enthralled with your beauty.” Psalm 45:11
“How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.” -Song of Songs 1:15-2:14 `
Finally, beauty is not wrong. God is the creator of beauty. Look around, beauty is all around us in a sunset, in a flower, in a newborn baby’s face. Beauty is pleasing- to us and to God. God is the creator of beauty- His very being is beauty.
And, is it wrong to want to look pretty? Is it wrong to wear make-up and curl your hair? No! It is when we let the WORLD’S definition of beauty define us that it becomes wrong. We are to find our beauty in who we are in Christ.
Father, we come to You and praise You. We thank You for the beauty that is all around us. You are beauty, God. Help us to see ourselves as You see us, “honored and precious in Your sight.” I pray You would heal any wounds we may have experienced in this area. In Jesus’ Name we pray.