Maybe it’s because I have approached/am approaching middle age. Maybe it is because I recently heard that men struggle with body image as much as women. Maybe it is just me. I don’t know. But I noticed something about myself while mentally processing, post a return from a trip to the beach.
The law is alive and well in my heart.
It starts in the condo while getting lathered up with sunscreen. Not a good idea to do this in front of a mirror. I felt like I was rubbing oil on a big ball of precooked bread dough. I thought, “good grief, where did all that skin come from?” Then I thought, “Perhaps tan fat will look better than pale fat.” Then, “Maybe I should just keep my shirt on the whole time.” Then, “Who cares? You’re forty-four years of age! Get over yourself!”
Do you see what is happening? There’s this war within me. A war that says, “You don’t look good enough” And, “Maybe you can make yourself look better!” And, “Stop being such a vain moron!” I am trying to measure up. I am trying to achieve a standard I have in my head. I am striving, then beating myself up for striving. It’s exhausting!!
Then it kicks in to high gear while on the beach. I see a guy who is completely jacked – toned arms, six-pack abs, huge calf muscles – and I think, “Oh. My. Gosh. What have I done with my life? My arms are toothpicks. My abs look like a biscuit can just exploded above my waist line. And my chest makes me think of Marge Simpson for some strange reason.” But get this. Here’s the super crazy thing. It’s not long before I see an extremely overweight man. Then I think to myself, “Well at least I am not like that guy! I mean, whoah. We all know what you’ve been doing during the quarantine!” I immediately “think better” of myself compared to the potential sumo wrestler who waddled past me.
Am I sick or what? One second I am feeling bad about myself because a guy who makes The Rock look weak walks by. The next second I am feeling pretty good about myself because Jabba the Hutt’s grandson appeared in the sand. It never stops! A continuous striving. An up and down roller coaster of seeking “enoughness.” Am I good enough? Do I look good enough? Am I lazy? Does Katie still dig me? Do I need to get a gym membership? How many chips can I eat tonight and still not be huge? Am I enough?
Let me pause for a second here and say I am all about being healthy. It’s important and right and good and necessary. But being healthy isn’t what I was struggling with at the beach. Honestly, it had nothing to do with health. It had/has everything to do with how I was comparing myself to others around me. It’s how the law works. There is a standard. I try to meet it. I can’t. On the one hand, I fall way short of the expectation (think the ripped guy with muscles and abs and calves). In the law of my mind I am not measuring up, so I beat myself up. On the other hand, I seek to relieve the shame I feel by comparing (think the extremely overweight man). The thinking is, “Well, at least I am not as bad off as that guy!” On the one hand, there is a standard in my mind that I don’t meet. On the other, I set the standard and feel pretty doggone good about myself. For a moment. Then another jacked up guy walks by. Then another. Then another very large man. And so on.
I do the same thing in my walk with Christ. I hear of another Christian’s prayer/devotional life and I think, “Oh. My. Gosh. What have I done with my life? There’s no way I can pray 26 hours a day and read my Bible the other 10! What a wretch I am!” Then I hear of a believer who did some pretty bad stuff. I think, “Okay. Whew! I am fine. At least I am not as bad as that guy.” It’s a never-ending cycle. This is especially true for me when on social media.
I scroll – the law.
I put on sunscreen – the law.
I go down to the beach – the law.
What’s the remedy? It’s not an easy fix, to be sure. There are many factors at play here. Numerous scenarios that can/should be worked out. At the root of it all, however, is getting into my soul how I am actually viewed by God. Allowing the breathtaking reality of Romans 8:1 go down deep into my essence and liberally embraced. Renewing my mind with grace and truth. Being, not just content, but overjoyed with how loved and accepted and delighted in I am by the Father – the only One who truly matters.
The law wants me to measure up. The law wants me to strive. The law wants me to compare and compete. The law is an exercise in spiritual futility. Except for one thing. If I am paying attention, the law will push me to Jesus. The law will shove me in the direction of grace. The law will unveil my empty, vain attempts for acceptance. The law will lead me to be refreshed with the gift of the Spirit and love of Jesus.
When this happens, I am then free to do what I went to the beach to do in the first place: love. Love my family. Be present with my family. Not be distracted by my own personal condemning standard of law. But be free to love. Free to be. Free to enjoy. Free to give myself to those who matter.