It amazes me the things I define myself by.
For as long as I can remember, I was always the skinny girl. I pretty much looked like a toothpick until I was about 16 or so and even then, I was still very slender. This had its own problems, but in general it was something that I liked about myself. I definitely thought of myself as thin and whenever anyone would describe me it would almost inevitably be on their list.
Fast forward to last year. Now happily married and pregnant, I ended up gaining about fifty pounds during the pregnancy. I wasn’t too concerned (especially considering that I had lost some weight in my first trimester due to really bad nausea, etc.) and I was certain that it would be pretty easy to lose all or most of that after the baby came. I’d be back into my pre-pregnancy clothes within a couple months of the birth, no problem.
Well, that didn’t happen. Despite exercising, and cutting out some unnecessary snacks and such (no dieting for this nursing mama), and lots of agonizing, eight months later, I’ve lost hardly any of that poundage. And I’ll be honest…that’s really hard. Just ask my husband…dealing with that has been one of the biggest emotional challenges of the past months. It’s not that I’m overweight or anything now…I have a normal build now…but I’m definitely no longer “skinny”. And while that doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, it’s been very hard to come to terms with. And I realized that’s because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve subconsciously defined myself by my skinniness.
This has all been brought to my mind again in the past couple days when yet another aspect of how I defined myself had to fall. My curly hair.
All my life I had wanted curly hair, but my hair was always very frizzy and flyaway. But about five years ago, I discovered the Curly Girl method, stopped shampooing and brushing…and voila! a head of ringlets. To say that I loved it would be an understatement. My curls lived happily in Florida, then Missouri, then New Zealand. I love humidity! Then, I moved to central California, where it’s very dry. They hung on for awhile, but in the past year or so, that, coupled with all the lovely hormonal changes that come with pregnancy that apparently affect even your dead cells, made for pretty sorry curls.
It took me a long time to finally admit it, but several weeks ago I resigned myself to the fact that…I don’t really have very curly hair anymore. It’s not stick straight or anything, but nothing like the ringlets it used to be. And it sounds quite silly and reveals my shallowness…but I was really discouraged about that. I felt, in a way, like I had lost part of myself and didn’t know what to do.
And that feeling was what alerted me to the fact that, once again, I was defining myself by something so superficial. I mean, it’s dead cells! Yet here I was, so upset over the fact that they weren’t like I wanted them to be.
It’s essentially pride. I liked how I looked before…skinny and curly hair. And I was very prideful about both of those things. I hate to admit it, but I judged people who didn’t look that way. As if I had anything to do with the fact that I looked that way! But sin can distort our thinking so much.
And now that those things are gone, even though it was hard to deal with at first, I’m learning to be thankful since those outward physical things…though certainly not bad in and of themselves…I had allowed to work in me sinful attitudes. Pride. Judgmentalism. And now that they’re gone, and I maybe don’t look exactly like I wish I did, God is working in me a humility that wasn’t there before (and still needs lots of work, believe me!).
And He’s working in me a slow knowledge that I can’t let anything outside of Himself define me. Certainly not something as trivial as my body shape or hair type. I need my eyes so focused on my Father that it doesn’t matter to me how others view me. I don’t want the cares of this world to come in and slowly choke out any fruit that I can produce for His kingdom (Matthew 13:22).
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day…while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 4:16, 18-5:4)