What’s In a Number?

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on the scale. That number dictated my mood, my motivation, and my self-worth. Numbers of calories took up way too much mental and emotional space. Those numbers related to how much food I could eat, how much food I wouldn’t eat, or how much I needed to exercise. I knew the number of calories in various foods and could add or subtract them in my sleep. I was a slave to the numbers.

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on a scale.

Thankfully, those numbers hold less power over me at this stage in my life. In fact, rarely do I pay much attention to those numbers anymore. Still, I have found other numbers can quickly take precedence in my mind. The number in my bank account. The number of an upcoming bill. The number of days left until vacation. The number of friends who RSVP’d to my party. Numbers seem to take up a lot of my mental space.

In this season of life, however, the numbers I seem to focus on most are the number of friends, followers, and likes I have on social media. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth. I have a love/hate relationship with social media for all of the reasons that most people do. On the positive side, it means instant access to my friends, even those I don’t get to see in everyday life. Also, from a ministry aspect, it means I have an instant platform from which to advertise and reach an audience I may never see in real life.

Numbers of likes and follows can also become a source of bondage in the desire for approval.

On the other hand, social media stirs in me a constant desire for likes and approval. There is an addictive quality of needing to check and recheck, and, before I know it, my time has been wasted. Minutes and hours lost on social media are also numbers.

Numbers are not inherently bad. They are in fact just measurements. It’s what I am measuring, and the significance I place on the numbers that can turn them into a form of idolatry. An ideal number can quickly become bondage. God knows that our hearts are idol factories, and Jesus kindly warns us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6: 19-21 NASB

How then, can we break the habit of getting caught up in the number cycle? We can begin by recognizing when we’re allowing ourselves to be controlled by them. For instance, when I find myself discouraged by numbers of followers or listeners, I tell myself that God can change the world with one individual, and if even one individual is encouraged or inspired, then all of the hard work was worth it. I can tell myself that my worth is not defined by likes on social media. When I’m worried about my bank account, I can remember all of the times the Lord has provided for me before and how He promises He will take care of all of my needs according to His riches in glory. My worth and security cannot be tied to how much money I have, my weight, or my number of followers.

It’s all about a perspective shift. Numbers are only numbers after all. They’re only measurements. They are not the treasure, and they will always disappoint. The treasure is Christ, and He means for us to enjoy the gifts we have been given, including our bodies, our friends, and our resources. Let’s not let the numbers take away our joy.

Pause: Breathe in and breathe out. Focus on the exhale. Read the above Scripture passage from Matthew and meditate on it for a few minutes.

Renew: Is there a place in your life where you are placing too much focus on numbers? What do those numbers represent for you? How have they become an idol or a kind of bondage for you?

Next: If you find that there is an area in your life that numbers have become too important to you, pray this week about how the Lord can change your perspective. Seek out a source of accountability for yourself so you don’t have to carry it alone.

May we store up treasure in heaven and enjoy the gifts we’ve been given!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Body Image: Perspective is Key

The funny thing about bodies is that we all have one. We’re all given the same parts that serve the same functions. There is nothing new under the sun. Why is it then, that we can find so much dissatisfaction with our own bodies? Let’s be honest. Every woman struggles with disapproval about at least one part of her body. Yes, even beautiful women. Yes, even super models.

There is a turning point, somewhere around puberty (maybe before), where we become aware of our bodies, and especially the flaws of our bodies: maybe due to someone pointing them out, or maybe from comparing to friends or people in magazines or on social media. Regardless of how it comes about, from that moment on we engage in a life-long battle for our own body self-acceptance.

One of the most insidious detriments to our body image is the comparison factor. We are constantly assessing and comparing ourselves to those around us. How do we measure up? Now add airbrushed models or actresses into that comparison trap, and it becomes a battle that is completely unwinnable.

In order to combat our own insecurities, there are a few strategies that we tend to use: engaging in dieting and exercise, seeking validation and attention, or hiding our flaws through clothing, make-up, or surgery.

Although the above strategies seem like they will provide you with confidence and self-assurance, they are only a thin mirage. Even when you meet your self-imposed goals, you’re still just you. No amount of weight loss, liposuction, firming or tucking can change that.

If you read my earlier blog post about thinking patterns, Thoughts, Thighs, and Tollbooths, you know that the things we think about create pathways in our brains. If we dwell on negative thoughts long enough, there will be a cost to our minds, bodies, and relationships. How then can we shift perspective about our body image?

On exercise:  Our bodies are our own personal power packs with which we accomplish life. With them we can live, move, feel, see, and hear. We can experience the world in a sensory way, and move about, solely due to this body that we often take for granted. When our thoughts about our bodies are skewed, exercise can become a demand, almost a slave driver, rather than the freedom that movement was designed to be.

A passage of Scripture that I have found particularly helpful in this area is found in I Timothy 4:

Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

I Timothy 4:7b – 8 ESV

These bodies we have on this earth, although incredible gifts, will one day age and die. Unfortunately, no amount of fighting it will change that, due to the laws of sin and death, and no amount of exercise in this life carries over to eternity. There we will have new, glorified, radiant bodies, free from pain, wrinkles, and death! Praise the Lord! So, rather than putting an overabundance of attention on physical training, for the purpose of weight loss or “toning,” we might be better served by placing our focus on growing our spiritual lives in Christ, which has eternal value.

On food: I’m sure this is a controversial statement, but as someone who has both battled an eating disorder, and now works as a counselor, my motto is: “there are NO BAD FOODS.” Placing foods in categories can begin a slippery slope of rules. Black and white thinking about food can easily lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Have you noticed that eating is a major part of social events and living in community? Families discuss their days around the dinner table. When we feel we have to eat a restrictive diet, or eat in isolation due to shame, we can miss out on family, friends, church, and community functions. Food is life-giving. Enjoy it. We want to fuel our bodies well so we have the energy we need for life!

Seeking balance is the key: all things in moderation. I love I Corinthians 10:31 (in the picture below), because it provides great context for seeking the Lord’s glory in all things, even food.

I Corinthians 10:31

On negative body perceptions: How can we fight against our own negative thoughts? Particularly when it comes to self-image, this is a hard task.

One strategy is to talk back to negative thoughts, taking them captive to Christ. If you find it too difficult to combat the thoughts using your own self-talk, find a Scripture that relates to your area of struggle, and use it to fight those negative thoughts.

Another tactic that can help shift perspective is to reframe the thoughts from condemnation to gratitude.

Don’t like those stretch marks on your belly? Praise the Lord that your body carried the babies who gave them to you. They are like sweet tattoos documenting the little lives who grew inside of you.

Hate the flab on your thighs? Thank God for those sturdy thighs that provide support to your whole body. They contain some of the largest muscles in your body, and without them you would be unable to stand, walk, kick, or squat.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

The enemy gains so much ground in our lives in the areas of shame surrounding our own self-image. It’s really hard to do this work alone. I believe it’s incredibly important to lift each other up in this area and to bounce our skewed thoughts off of others who love us and care for us no matter the weight, size, shape, or strength of our bodies.

2 Corinthians 4:16

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Read II Corinthians 4:7-18. Read it through slowly, out loud, then silently the second time. Highlight any sections that stand out to you.

Renew: Journal/Think/Pray about the areas of your own body image that you think may be out of alignment. How do the above verses change your perspective about your body image?

Next: If you find that negative body thoughts are taking up an unhealthy amount of time in your life, consider ways that you can begin to find freedom from self-condemnation. Find a trusted friend, mentor, family member, or counselor with whom you can talk about this issue. If you know that the struggle is deep enough that you need a professional, please seek out someone trained in the areas of body image, eating disorders, or trauma.

May you be free to see the beauty and value of your body and to use it for His glory!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Thoughts, Thighs, and Toll Booths

You’re at a play date, listening to another mom tell stories about her child.  As you listen to all of her parenting accomplishments, you begin thinking, “Man she’s really got it all together.  Her kid is really succeeding and seems like he’s on the fast track for honors classes.  Am I doing something wrong?  My kid ate an earthworm last week.”  Suddenly, you’re hit with a blast of anxiety and insecurity that came seemingly out of the blue.  

These thoughts are called ANTs – automatic negative thoughts.  We’ve all got them. They can come at any time, any day, and particularly when we are feeling vulnerable.  Granted, not everyone struggles with the same version of ANTs.  Maybe your negative thoughts are about your job or school performance, about your body, whether people like you, or maybe all of the above.

Our thoughts have real power.  What we think affects our bodies, our feelings, and our behavior, thus affecting our relationships.  Our thoughts affect our very brain structure in the form of neural pathways.  There are billions of neural pathways in our brains, being built and strengthened every day.  The more we think about a subject, thought, or memory, the more we are forming well-worn pathways in our brains.  As we practice new thoughts and habits, new pathways are formed.

A single negative thought may not be too detrimental, but consider what might happen if you continued to think that thought for days, weeks, or even years.

Imagine a 15 year old adolescent trying on a bathing suit at the mall.  She happens to notice (in that awful dressing room mirror and under that awful dressing room lighting) that she has cellulite on her thighs. “Oh no,” she thinks, “I can’t wear this kind of bathing suit.  I can’t believe how fat my thighs are.  I’m going to have to cover up somehow at the pool party this weekend.”  This experience has formed a memory and a  little seed of shame, but otherwise her life is unaltered.

A one-time thought is like walking through the grass.  If you stroll though the grass one time, no one can tell you’ve been there.  But what if the girl continued thinking badly about herself for the next month, following new thigh slimming exercises on Pinterest, and researching how to achieve a thigh gap. Maybe she has started comparing herself to other girls at school or to pictures on Instagram.  

Dash walking through the flower beds

Now, a neural pathway is forming.  My dog walks the same path through my flower beds every day (don’t get me started on that).  He has worn away a little path.  I think this illustrates how thoughts can form pathways in our brains and in our behaviors.  The most traveled paths become the most well-worn and easiest paths for our thoughts to travel. 

Stop coming up ahead!

Now let’s imagine this girl grows up, gets married, and starts a family.  She is now 40 years old. What if those negative body image thoughts have continued for the past 25 years?  It would be safe to assume that these pathways are now super highways.  When it comes to negative thoughts, these superhighways inevitably lead to toll booths – where we begin to pay. Because she is ashamed of her body, perhaps intimacy with her husband has suffered.  Maybe she won’t allow photos to be taken of herself when she is wearing shorts or a bathing suit.  Now her kids have no pictures of their mom from their last  beach vacation.  Maybe she limits the kinds of foods she will let herself eat or the kinds of clothes she will  wear.  Maybe she makes negative  comments about her body, and now her daughter has begun to think similar thoughts.  It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it?

How do we combat these thoughts?  Recognizing them is the first step.  Start paying attention to what you are thinking and choosing to believe.  If you notice there is a particular ANT that shows up frequently, you might prepare to do battle. Gain an arsenal of true statements that you can tell yourself when this thought shows up.  For example:

  • “My thighs have some of the largest muscles in my body, and they provide stability.”
  • “My husband loves my body, and I will try to love my body too”
  • “God made me in His image, and He loves me just the way I am.”

The hardest thing about fighting negative beliefs is that you believe them. Finding someone outside of yourself can be crucial to help discern what is true and what is faulty thinking.  Look for some good accountability and encouragement partners who can speak truth to you when your thoughts are getting the best of you.  Sometimes bouncing reality off of a trusted friend, mentor, family member, or counselor is a very healing thing.  For believers, Scripture is paramount in fighting negative thoughts.  God’s word is our ultimate source of truth.   Find verses that speak to what you are struggling with, and write them down in places where you will see them frequently.  

Spiritually, our thoughts are a real battle ground.   2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take every thought captive to obey Christ.  The enemy would like nothing more than for us to believe and obey the ANTs, because he is the father of lies.  Let’s get ready to do battle and choose to believe what is true.

Pause: Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Exhale slowly. Contemplate Romans 12:2  (below)  How does it speak to you?

Renew: Apply Romans 12:2 to your thought life.  What is a negative thought that has been coming frequently lately?  Ask the Lord to renew your mind regarding this thought, replacing it with what is true, and good, and acceptable, and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Next:  Spend the next few days examining your thought-life.  What are the ANTs that show up frequently?  Find scripture verses that you can quote back to those thoughts when they come.  Make 3×5 cards of these verses that you can carry with you or put in the dashboard of your car as a reminder.  Get creative!

Learning to recognize truth and speaking it to ourselves is so powerful.  May the Lord help you discern what is true and pure and lovely, and may you meditate on those thoughts this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!