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Fearful of Getting Old?

Fearful? Yes. Wonderful? I’m Getting There.

By Mary E. DeMuth

I resonate with fearfully when I think of my aging body, but I can’t seem to shake hands with wonderfully. Every time I see a celebrity on a magazine cover, preening in airbrushed beauty, or notice how young I was in snapshots from long ago, I shake my head. I’m having a hard time grappling with my body’s physical changes. How can it be wonderful?

Beneath my current struggle with body image, a deeper issue lurks. Unfortunately, I grew up thinking that if I had worth, it had to do with how I looked. I wasn’t a cute kid—hardly one you’d look at and say, “Wow, she’s striking.” I was homely, needy, and thin. So I spent my childhood in the shadows, longing for limelight.

Regardless of how I felt, sometime around puberty, attention came. I started that fatherless dance of fear, of longing for a daddy and looking for him on the face of boys my age. All I really wanted was for someone to hug me and say, “Everything will be okay.” I did not want to be kissed. Or looked at. Just held, my worth affirmed.

Today I am loved deeply by a man who affirms me. I revel in his embrace, his tender words spoken over me about my beauty to him. And yet, I still mourn losing my looks to age. How uncanny is that? I should be embracing the wisdom that comes with years, the serenity of growing a more beautiful soul. But there’s still that little girl inside me, equating my worth with how I look. Have you been there?

In the past few months, my 16-year-old daughter Sophie has on several occasions said, “Mom, you’re pretty.” Right around this time, the Lord saw fit to send me to a mother-daughter conference where author Vicki Courtney keynoted. She spoke about five things our daughters needed from us. Number three? Make friends with your own reflection.

I realized why Sophie built me up—because I wasn’t happy with my own reflection. And how I view myself is caught by my daughter. She will be insecure if I am insecure. She will reflect my own paranoia. Her attitude about how she looks will be affected by the way I feel about how I look. If I’m stressing about extra pounds, chances are, she’ll follow. So, in a roundabout way, her compliments served as a reminder to make peace with myself.

In Ephesians 4:29, Paul tells us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Many of us are guilty of disobeying that verse—but our words aren’t critical of someone else; we speak them silently about ourselves. We must learn to make friends with our reflections. And that means denying the nagging judge in our head who mercilessly compares us to the latest beauty queen and offers the verdict that we’re not Angelina Jolie. We do ourselves no favors by constantly worrying about our physique.

Even if we don’t have daughters watching us, there are women everywhere who need to see godly women becoming comfortable with their image. We could start a positive revolution by simply embracing contentment, spending our energy on loving others, and rejoicing that our bodies enable us to give hugs, listen to hurts, bear burdens.

We’re all aging. So we all face these issues. Here are six ways to “make peace” with who we are:

Embrace health.

One thing that’s helped me befriend my reflection is embracing a healthful lifestyle. I may not be able to control age’s gravity, but I can commit to living wisely: I can eat nutritious food, wash my hands, exercise, and seek to keep short accounts with friends and family. These are things I can choose.

Add to that this surprising truth: Those who love Jesus are actually God’s sacred dwelling place! “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Why would we spend time discrediting His temple? Why would we deny it nourishment (or offer it more than it needs by overeating), level scorn its way, or let it atrophy through lethargy? If God created our bodies to house His Spirit, then we can rest in knowing we are wonderfully made while we embrace the responsibility to keep it healthy.

Push against culture.

We must choose to push against our culture’s superficial tyranny of beauty. We can defy the trend that glorifies youth and devalues anything less than perfection. Is that what Jesus would do? Would He call on only the beautiful people? Since He created us all, we’re all beautiful people. To place on each other this yoke of hierarchy is to discredit the Lord.

Mother Teresa spoke of us finding Jesus in “distressing disguise.” How sad that we miss Him when we value external beauty over genuine beauty. I wonder how many times Jesus has appeared to us from the unlovely, and we’ve looked away. But when we embrace those whose hearts outshine their physical beauty, we become countercultural in the best possible way.

Be mindful of eternity.

Whenever I worry about my looks, I think of heaven and the fact that this body won’t remain—that a new body will replace it. Paul describes the anticipation believers should have: “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

Everything that I see in the mirror is temporary. It won’t last. But what I choose to do in this body God’s given me is what will last. I fear that all my worrying is adding to the wood, hay, and straw Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 3:12-13. “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”

Let’s be less consumed with a body that is fading and more consumed with the consuming fire of God’s testing. Let’s strive to live a life worthy of Jesus’ words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23 niv). As Christ-followers, we should value faithfulness over youthfulness, our service over our looks.

Praise another’s beauty.

When I find myself slipping into sadness over my appearance, one of the best ways to pull out is to look at others in a different light. I compliment a friend who’s recently lost weight. I tell older women they’re beautiful. I strive to point out beauty when I see it.

It helps to take our focus off ourselves. Think about the rest of the women out there—many of whom probably also suffer from body image issues—and seek to encourage them. In so doing, you’ll exemplify what Paul meant when he wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Be content in today.

Learn to rejoice in who you are and how you look today. Consider this: Today is the youngest you’ll ever be! Live, not for the “has been” you, but for the you who lives right now. Altering the way you view now will save a lot of needless reminiscing and will help you anticipate what God has in store.

Because my father passed away when I was young, I always thought I would die in my thirties. Well, I didn’t. And I’m so thankful I’m alive. The key to contentment is learning to be alive in the moment, to rejoice for the breath that fills our lungs. We can smile when we look in the mirror, thankful for the years the Lord has given us thus far on earth.

Strive for “inside out” beauty.

We need to remind ourselves that God looks at the heart. So our goal in life should be pursuing the kind of beauty He rewards and developing a heart that runs quickly to Him—one that is full of mercy and patience and kindness. Project yourself into the far future, when you’ve had a passel of grandkids and maybe even a few great-grandkids. You will be old then. Will you have “smile lines”? Will children want to scamper onto your lap because you exude the irresistible Jesus? Will your heart be beautiful?

Whenever I despair of growing old, I remember the lined face of Mother Teresa and the love she shared freely. My husband met her in Calcutta when he worked in one of her homes for the dying. I asked him what he thought of her. “She was shorter than I expected,” he said. “And very old. But she blessed me.” My husband will never forget her touch of blessing, how worn her hands were, how light shone in her eyes. She was beautiful from the inside out.

So give yourself and others around you a gift today. Rest in the wonderful body God has given you. Make peace with your reflection. Trust that the Lord will make your soul beautiful. And show the world this radical truth: Godly people are content with how they look.