I started lifting weights my sophomore year of high school. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the drive to be in the gym five days a week (sometimes six) was motivated more by the desire to be liked than the desire to be healthy. By my senior year, I gained 25 pounds of muscle and was getting noticed. Remember mesh tank tops from the 90s? Yes, I was that guy. Why my mom didn’t burn them, I’ll never know.
Rather than finding my self-worth in God, the drive to look good and be noticed began to control me. Insecurity fueled idolatry. This trend continued into college where God eventually used a great trial to reveal a great truth in my life: inward character is worth far more than outward beauty.
I developed a very severe case of acne when I was 20 (and no, I wasn’t on steroids). In my failed attempts to avoid pimples, I committed myself to a healthy diet devoid of fast food. I even gave up chocolate. I also put myself through daily ceremonial face washings that included soaps, creams, and topical solutions… that of which would rival any Old Testament cleansing ritual. These blemishes covered my face, neck and back. The only relief from embarrassment was to retreat from people, which I did regularly. I was experiencing great pain both physically and emotionally.
Wrestling With God
It was a lonely, challenging time as I struggled to find hope and purpose during this season. I had talked to older adults who had bad acne and eventually grew out of it. Even though this was of some encouragement, I didn’t want it to just simply go away. Strangely, I wanted to learn from it. I wanted to see the good through it all.
I’ve never been a fan of wrestling. But in Genesis 32, we read of the first WWE match between Jacob and a mystery Man (likely Christ himself). It was an all-night event, an epic struggle. I could relate to this story as Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” I felt that I was wresting with the Lord, struggling to find purpose in why He would allow me to suffer as I was.
What God Wants to Teach Me
For many weeks, I wrote in a journal. I titled the header, “What God wants to teach me from my acne.” When I began, I had no idea I would fill pages and pages of very specific insights.
It was amazing to see how the Holy Spirit revealed God’s purposes when I sat down, determined to see the good in it all. Here are just a few of the journal entries:
“God is forcing me to focus more on inward character than on outward looks. What will matter five seconds into eternity is not how attractive I was, but how well I loved God and served others.”
“If I can learn to trust Him during this season, I will be more prepared to trust Him during the more difficult seasons.”
“The focus on my own physical shortcomings reveals where my heart is at in how I view others.”
“God could be protecting me from unhealthy dating relationships by taking away any confidence I may have in initiating with women.”
“I am deeply loved by the Lord, regardless of how I feel. Physical appearance is not a measure of value or worth in God’s kingdom.”
“The emotional and physical pain is nothing compared to what Christ went through on the cross. What an encouraging truth to know that He can understand me!”
Slowly, I was beginning to see why the Lord was orchestrating this difficult season in my life. He was allowing the loss of the temporal to accomplish that which was eternal. To trust God, even when I didn’t understand Him, was an invaluable lesson I would rely on for years to come.
Of Some Value
The desire to be attractive is not wrong. And taking care of our bodies and spending time in the gym can be a good thing. This is something we often minimize or completely ignore altogether as Christians. The physical, emotional and spiritual are all connected.
Paul says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8) The focus on the physical must not overcome the focus on the eternal.
When physical imperfections outside our control affect our ability to be joyful, we have a misguided view of whom God has made us to be. Strong affections on the physical can also limit our impact on others, and cause us to lose sight of our true purposes in life.
There’s a fascinating word in Ephesians 2:10 that offers great encouragement to those of us who are struggling to find delight in the way God made us. It says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…”
The transliteration of the Greek word for “workmanship” is poiēma, from which we get the word “poem.” We are literally God’s poem. A poem involves thought and creativity. A well-crafted poem arouses strong emotions because of its beauty.
We are attractive not because of how we look, but because of Who formed us. The Psalmist says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The very Creator of the universe fashioned us with such wisdom, care and love.
Are there physical traits you possess that are distracting you from the realization that you are God’s poem? Most of us have physical insecurities that will never go away. In fact, as we get older, our appearances will likely get more unattractive. Ouch! But let’s remember, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) As we age, we can grow in beauty if we choose to grow in character with a heart that reflects Christ.
What physical attributes are you struggling with today? Whatever it might be, let’s be encouraged that we are His workmanship. Our value is found not in the way we look but in who we are in Him.