Remembering Your Worth

I wonder if it’s wise to rely on mirrors.

They’re everywhere, aren’t they? Giant strips of them in public bathrooms; magnifying discs in beauty shops that show every pore; ones on cabinets and walls in our own bathrooms – easily accessible for five, six, twenty-three checks on our appearance per day.

There’s value to knowing your face, and I’m definitely not advocating going ungroomed to interviews, important social events, dates, yada yada. But check too frequently in the mirror, and you train yourself to allow value of appearance to outweigh value of person.

And what happens when appearance fails you?

Last month I completed a healing process for an illness that couldn’t be concealed – right smack on my face. (You can read more about it here.) I was asked if I had skin cancer; I was accosted with “miracle” treatments from the well-meaning; I was told it looked like I’d been in a fight. Make-up couldn’t conceal it and often made it worse.

For half a year I didn’t look in a mirror if I didn’t have to. You can’t preen over inflammation or admire painful cysts. Even now, as the scars heal, I see my reflection and wonder if there are ways my face will never look the same. And is that okay? Could I come to accept these marks as “the new me”?

Maybe a new me isn’t such a bad thing.

In Christ, I’m already a new creation; whatever happens from here is strictly superficial. Sure, the rough patches and residual scars may suck, but my worth won’t be found in nicks and pinched skin. No person’s worth can be so easily wrecked.

See, we never really know what we look like, I think – no matter how many times we scrutinize our reflection. We can’t see our genuine laughter, or the way we hug a friend, or our passion when we talk about what’s important to us. These are where true beauty radiates  – in the impromptu moments where you don’t have a chance to fret over appearance.

Even the Man worthiest of admiration wasn’t appealing by human-imposed physical standards. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) Yet by his life and death he demonstrated not only his great worth as a sacrifice, but how overwhelmingly he values us in return.

“Old me” or “new me”, Christ has declared my value is never bankrupt. (What a timely reminder so close to Resurrection Sunday.)

Troubles won’t end just because I’m past this hurdle. I may even have to leap it again down the road. But I notice now, when I check my reflection, my scars disappear when I smile. A testament to joy in the face of pain?

Living in God’s Favor

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I’ll be up front with you: I absolutely don’t get it. I’ve asked God, “Why did You give that person success and happiness, but You gave me disastrous skin lesions?”

It’s a useless question – we’ll never know the depth of the struggles others are facing and only ever see how much better their lives are than ours. Maybe that’s why the covetous nature is such a danger: it takes away our empathy for another human being.

Still, in a culture where prosperity and beauty translate as achievement, it’s hard to maintain perspective. I’ve been stripped of what the world values (you can’t imagine how ludicrous cosmetic commercials are to me now), and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect my self-perceptions.

I’ve always known that God doesn’t see success where we finite humans seem to tack it; but to live that knowledge is another thing altogether. Can I really still claim to be “doing well” when I look like a burn victim?

The answer I strive to accept is: yes. I can claim it with confidence.

Over the past few months I’ve been pointed again and again to the Biblical idea of God’s favor. I’ve read Job’s story (he had bad skin too, y’know), and I’ve buried myself in the Psalms. The concept that’s emphasized throughout each book is that God’s favor has little to do with physical circumstance. Whether Job had all his land, his family, his livestock – or whether he was destitute and scraping himself with pottery shards: God favored him. Isn’t that crazy? Job’s friends sure thought so.

The Psalmists also processed this dichotomy: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” (Ps. 34:19) It struck me, those words “have many troubles”. We aren’t exempt from pain, and yet Jehovah is still our rescue.

What does that mean for the times when we suffer? What about my uncle, who’s survived a stroke – and my aunt, who bears up under the emotional strain of watching him hurt and heal? Do they have God’s favor? Absolutely, all the time. What about my friend who struggles to find somewhere she can use her God-given gifts, but seems thwarted at every turn? Does she have God’s favor? You betcha she does.

Because once we’ve said, “Jesus, you have my life. I love you most over everything,” then we are his family, we’re in his care. Skin disease, stroke, or struggles be hanged. The world has trouble, and the Devil plays like it’s his sandbox; but “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

The verse is harder to live than it is to recite, but maybe skin lesions will show me what it really means to belong to the Healer.