How to Help Our Kids Stand Secure When Body Image Issues Surface

K-W-3033One recent evening I was sitting in the living room with my laptop doing some research for an upcoming talk. But with all the laughter coming from the backyard, I was having a hard time focusing. From my chair I could see my twelve-year-old son and his friends – another boy and a couple girls – in the pool and became transfixed.

As I watched, they moved from playing Sharks & Minnows to trying to tip each other out of the raft to Categories. When my son jumped out of the pool to take his turn calling out the category, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how cute he looked to me. Unlike his fourteen-year-old muscular brother, his body is still soft and round. And he had on goggles and the biggest, goofiest grin.

I realized then they all had their goggles on, despite face masks not being anyones’ best look.  But at this point my son was totally uninihbited by what he looked like or why his appearance would even matter to his friends.  He was just focused on having fun and from what I could tell the same could be said of the others, too.

But I know this won’t be the case for much longer for these rising middle schoolers. Over the course of this school year, sadly they will become much more body conscience and concerned about what other think about them.

Ironically, the topic of social media’s effect on body image, self-worth and eating disorders was just what I was researching that evening. Maybe having this topic on my mind is the reason I even noticed how refreshing it was to see these kids on the cusp of their teen years being silly and unworried about their appearances. But after having already seen with my older two how quickly things change, I am not naive about what’s coming.

In fact, the teen survey I conducted shed light on just how often alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, cutting, burning, sexual immorality and depression, among other issues, become the coping mechanisms for dealing with insecurities, stress and not measuring up. I don’t say this to scare parents about the teen years but to emphasize the importance of talking to our kids about their true identity and worth.

Telling our kids how great we think they are will only go so far. What they need to hear is how great Jesus is for them! To be told of the One who left his throne in heaven to experience all the suffering, sadness and sin of this world in order to identify with us. But he didn’t stop there. By living the perfect life we can not, he shed his identity and took on ours. He became sin in order to bestow us with His righteousness. Because of this great love we can stand eternally secure as Sons and Daughters of the King.

When this is not the identity our kids know, they will try to find their identity in a million other ways.  Through idols that say they need more “likes” and “followers” on social media. Or, that they must dress a certain way or acquire more material goods so they look better.  Idolatry that lead them to elevate themselves, tear others down or exclude even friends so they get the most attention and therefore feel better about themselves.

In the future when my son realizes he is not as muscular as the next guy or when someone makes fun of him for having acne or for something he says, the only thing that will keep him present – enjoying having fun with this friends and not consumed with how he looks or is perceived by others – will be if he knows his secure standing in the love of Christ. 

The story of Jesus is the gospel applied to all of life and what they must hear to get their story straight. It is the only place to discover the real solution to struggles with body image and worth. Anything else falls short of the true security they are looking for and need.

What Haunts the Birdman Often Haunts Us Too

imagesThe last in my short series on Oscar-nominate films. Based on the number of nominations, Birdman is likely to come away a winner on Sunday night.

It was for this reason (its popularity with the Academy) and the fact I like to see as many of the Best Picture nominees as possible, I went to see this film though I knew nothing about it.

I recruited a few friends, who knew even less than I did, to go see it with me. And let me just say at least two of them probably won’t let me be in charge of picking the movie next time.

With its fragmented plot lines, an overabundance of foul language and the main character’s strange alter ego and ability to levitate, we were often left confused. Not to mention dizzy from the always changing camera angle. But, the message behind the film doesn’t escape me and for that I think it raises an issue we all must wrestle with.

Unknown-1In the show Michael Keaton (nominated for Best Actor in Leading Role) plays Riggan Thomson, a Hollywood actor once famous for his role in the super hero series, Birdman. Since that time however Thomson has lost his fame, and now feels unworthy and on the verge of suicide because of it. He is constantly haunted by the inner voice of his former Birdman character who pesters him with thoughts of who he used to be and how he isn’t measuring up to all he should be.

In an effort to regain his importance and the limelight, Thomson is preparing for Opening Night of a new Broadway production in which he is both directing and starring. Through the backstage interaction between the characters, including Thomson’s daughter played by Emma Stone (nominated for Best Actress in Supporting Role), we see Thomson is not the only one struggling with wanting to be “Somebody.”

Don’t we all want to feel like we are making a difference? That we matter? That we are relevant?

This to me is the heart behind the show. But the sad commentary is both in the show and in real life, our own self-importance and pride often blinds us into falsely believing this is where our identity lies.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make a difference, God created us with purpose, different callings, talents and passions to find enjoyment in.  But, when we tie our identity to our performances, positions, paycheck, successes, failures or anything else as a barameter of who we are, we are turning to created things and not the Creator for our worth.

When this is the case we become enslaved by our own misguided “truths” and how we think others view us according to the expectations and standards we set. And if others don’t see us in the way we think they should, we fall into the trap of needing to try harder and do more in order to secure the self-exhaltation we seek. 

In the movie this describes Riggan Thomson. His too high opinion of himself led to depression because others didn’t view him in the way he desired and felt he deserved. He had an insatiable appetite to know he was okay.Unknown-1

How different life would have been for him and other charcters in the film and maybe for us, too, though if we knew and rested in who God declares us to be. That we are more than okay, but cherished and loved and significant. So significant, in fact, that God sent his Son to the cross so that all of His children could know Him eternally.

When we grasp that our identity is secure, not based on our performance, but on his perfect love and obedience for us, we won’t have to strive to be “Somebody.” Instead we can be free of ourselves and redirect our desire to make a difference on striving to impact others, for their good and the glory of God!

Did you miss the other posts in this years Oscar series? You can view them at: Shaping Influences in “Boyhood” and Into the Woods for Happily Ever After.

How to Fight Idolatry and Temptation

In a post last month I wrote of the power of words and briefly hit on how at times each of us worry about the way we think others view us. We replay conversations, project what another person must be thinking, fret over what we should have done or said differently and sometimes even change who we are around certain people.

These consuming thoughts… Idolatry.

As I’ve stated in previous posts:

An idol is anything and everything that takes the place of God on the throne of our heart. 

So even something like being ruled by what someone else thinks of me is an idol. 

The Bible identifies this as “fear of man.”  In otherwords, the fear of what another person thinks (or I think they think) ruling me. If I care too much about how you view me, I may elevate myself in conversation or do something to try to impress you. Or, I may hide something about myself out of fear of what you might think. We can all relate, right?

Aren’t there times we all do things – things like what lables we wear, where we shop, eat, send our kids to school or what activities we enroll them in, who we hang out with or what we post on social media – simply because we want to look good and be viewed a certain way?

Whether this is your big issue or not, idolatry pops up in many forms Every.Single.Day. and until eternity we will struggle with it!

Does it sound depressing and hopeless to keep fighting a battle we will never fully conquer until glory?

Believe it or not, it’s for our good! God could eradicate our sin and struggles, but instead chooses to leave us in this state of continual need for a Savior. So though sin is not good, it is good to see our sin more and more and know we need Him.

The more we see our hopeless condition, the more we find that but by His strength and grace we would never stand. Stand, we can though, by His giving us full gospel armor for daily battle.

Paul tells of this armory in Ephesians 6:10-20, but perhaps you’ve never thought about how a belt, breastplate, shield, helmet, sword and sandals actually protect us in our kind of battles. Unknown

All of these items are connected to the Gospel. Paul starts with the “belt” as the Truth of the gospel because of its essentialness in connecting everything else. Without the absolute Truth of the gospel we easily fall to the Satan’s schemes and this world’s idols. That is why we must be fed with consistent gospel preaching and know how to apply it.

You must know and have the security of the “breastplate,” which is Christ’s righteousness for you.  Remembering His perfect work perfectly covers you and there is nothing you can do to earn or lose his love is foundational. When you fail, it is not up to you to try harder, but to repent and rest confidently on His perfectness for you. Satan wants to knock you off of believing this, but here you must Stand!

This Gospel truth extends to your “shield,” which is faith. If you are not entrenched in the truth of who Christ is, trying to muster up faith on your own to believe He accepts you even in your sin and that He is good and cares for you even when things are hard or you’ve turned away from Him will constantly leave you doubting.

Jesus is the object of our faith – the “helmet of salvation” and His Word our “sword.” The Word we hear must be focused on Christ, not us!  Moral pep talks, feel-good fluffy sermons and being told what to do is all law and will not enable you to Stand ready for battle against idolatry. Because we know our heart condition we need to constantly be reoriented to fix our eyes on Him!

Finally with “sandals” on you are prepared for battle. Instead of thinking retreating from the world will offer the best protection, you can plant your feet solidly into the peace of the gospel and Stand firm. 

Put on this gospel armor daily as your only true defense and Stand against the devil’s deceptive darts disguised as life being found in something other than Christ. Satan will do everything to try to deter you from the Truth of His Word. Do not be moved. This is your gift of protection so guard yourself with the gospel and Stand firm on Christ.

The Intruder Named ED

In my last post What Parents need to See on Instagram I cautioned not to mistakenly assume seeking approval, affirmation or acceptance is not an issue for your child. Even if your family is intact and for the most part doing things “right,” your child attends church or various Bible studies, makes good grades, has lots of friends, involved in extra activities and full of inner and outer beauty, your teen or tween may still be spiraling inwardly down because of their own critical eye of constant comparison to their peers.

Just as you may be feeling grateful for the choices he or she is making and proud of who your teen is becoming, your child may actually be filled with turmoil, buying into Satan’s lies that he or she doesn’t measure up. Consumed with thoughts of not being good enough.

I write this with first-hand knowledge. It is the story playing out in our house now. I am certain we are not alone and this is happening in households everywhere, whether known or not.  In our case, Satan’s lies craftily spun as truth have brought with them another sneaky intruder. An intruder who has taken up residence at my house, though hidden to most everyone.

An intruder my daughter has recently outed for who he is and has given me permission to introduce you to ED in hopes we can keep him from wrecking havoc in others’ lives.

ED stands for Eating Disorder.

ED is really not as much about food as you might think. Food is just the manifestation of Satan’s lies whispering:

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  • You don’t measure up.
  • You aren’t as pretty as your friends.
  • You don’t look good in that outfit.
  • You won’t ever be liked.
  • You must be thinner.
  • You aren’t as popular.
  • You don’t excel in everything like she does.
  • You aren’t as talented.
  • You won’t be forgiven.
  • You are a failure.
  • You should be ashamed.
  • God is mad at you. 

So goes the vicious cycle of binge-purge.

By the grace of God the purging is no longer happening, but the lies still work their way in and it’s a daily battle to fight them off. We are learning lots and receiving wise counsel, but Satan tends to know where each of us are weak and attacks there.

This is why in the fight we can’t just address eating habits and food. If we did, it would just be putting bandaids over the real issues at hand. Therefore, we must go to the root to see what is leading to the behavior.

When we trace the root down – for us dealing with ED and all of us dealing with any other sin or struggle – we find idolatry at the core. I said it in my last post and say it again:

Idolatry is anything and everything we turn to looking for what only God can give.

  • When my child sees the number on the scale as determining her worth instead of who God says she is, she is believing Satan’s lie and making it her “idol.”

  • When my child passes other girls in the hall and thinks she is so much less in comparison, she is believing Satan’s lie and making it her “idol.”

  • When my child feels down because she doesn’t think she measures up to whatever standard and turns to food as comfort, she is believing Satan’s lie and making it her “idol.”

Turning from our idols is part of the life-long process of sanctification: God conforming us to His likeness and transforming our hearts. At times it feels hopeless change will ever happen, especially when there has been forward progress and then steps back.

But what I know to be true and holding fast to in our journey is that recognizing the idols and seeing the sin is a good thing! If we don’t identify them for what they are and realize they are ruling us, we don’t see what we need to turn from. We don’t see how desperately we need a Savior and we don’t see the immeasurable grace He pours out. Grace, not because we are necesarily getting “better,” but because He loves us, period!

If you are reading this and identify in any way, whether it is presenting itself in issues of control or perfection, through ED or some other way, I hope God will use this post as encouragement to know you are not alone, there is no shame in admitting your struggles or getting help. Mostly I hope this leads you to the foot of the cross.

That is where we are standing. It is hard, but I can tell you good is coming out of the trials already. The fact my daughter is able to evaluate what is going on in her heart and the effects it has on her mood and actions is an awareness that, Lord willing, will keep her dependent on Him all the days of her life. Even now in the midst of the battle, she sees His daily mercies and gives thanks. And so do I.

One of her "grace" leaves hanging on our Gratitude Tree.

One of her “grace” leaves hanging on our Gratitude Tree.

A ‘Forever’ Mind-Set For the Here and Now

Since the news of my grandmother’s passing last Thursday, I haven’t been able to not think about her. I’ve been restless through the night and lethargic during the day. I know it is natural that her death is affecting me this way, but what is not natural is death itself.

Death is unnatural because it is not how God created it to be. The world He spoke into existence was perfection, full of abundant life for forever. But when sin entered the garden, everything changed. The life of perfect peace and communion with God and one another was perpetually altered by the invasion of sin.  No longer would it be possible to experience lasting happiness or complete satisfaction here and now.

But God had a recreating plan for forever. A plan to restore what was broken and to reinstate what was lost. A plan to reconcile us to Himself so we could be fully and competely satisfied for forever.

My grandmother knows this wholeness now. But the hole left by her parting has put forever on the forefront of my mind. Actually – providentially – the book our Small Group is currently reading is about forever. It’s Paul Tripp’s book Forever. It’s not just a book about the after-life, but about living here and now with a forever perspective.

“Most people think that living with eternity in view makes you a spiritual person, but living with forever in view is how God designed all human beings to live. Grace frees us from our bondage to the here and now and enables us to live in the freedom that only eternity can give. The forever life, which Jesus purchased by his life, death and resurrection, begins now.” (Paul Tripp)

This is good news for eternity and good news for now! This grants a grander view when all that is readily seen here seems to be sin, brokenness, trials, suffering and death. But with a forever view I can rest knowing this is not all there is nor how it will always be. It’s temporary with a promise of all things new!

This forever mind-set helps me persever, endure and to be content in all things with hope. Instead of my present happiness, comfort, ease or enjoyment ruling as an idol trying to secure heaven on earth, I can rest knowing this is not my true home.

Tripp puts it this way:

“…if present joy is all the joy I will ever have and someone takes it away from me, the impact is devastating…”

This is when we makes good things the ultimate thing. Things like a spouse loving perfectly, children behaving, performing and obeying perfectly, friends treating and caring about us perfectly, security in our finances, jobs that satisfy and provide, health that doesn’t fail us and on and on. But if these things become ultimate (idolatrous) then we will grow bitter, angry, frustrated, demanding, self-absorbed, discontent and on and on.

“But if I know that this is not all there is, that God is moving me toward my final destination, then I know that this moment of pain is temporary. Living in light of eternity doesn’t remove my pain, but it allows me to have hope in my moments of pain…The God of forever daily blesses me with his presence and his promises…the gift of forever means that I have been freed to approach life with joy.”

Joy inspite of whatever my circumstances, disappointments, fears and frustrations because of the hope I have in Christ, knowing only He can satisfy fully.

By His grace may I fix my eyes on Him and be okay with all that is unfixed, here and now. By His grace may I find my rest in Him even admist the unrest and chaos, here and now. By His grace in making a forever plan may I continuously be led to the cross to crush my “self-focused and shortsighted life” with a mind-set of eternity!

Who Am I.

You may have read my recent post Who Are You WIthout Your Phone? Well, our latest dinner table discussion probes a little further with an even more foundational, yet very basic question. Simply: Who Am I?

From that one question there is one truth for all of us. Yet, from that one question it manifests itself differently in each of us. At our table it went something like this…

  • Who Am I if I strike out?
  • Who Am I if I lose the Student Council election?
  • Who Am I if I don’t get an “A” on the test?
  • Who Am I if I look bad in front of someone else?
  • Who Am I if no one reads my blog?
  • Who Am I if the scale goes up a pound?
  • Who Am I if my house is not picked up?
  • Who Am I if I forgot to make my son a testing poster?
  • Who Am I if I don’t give a good sermon?
  • Who Am I if I don’t get my 10,000 steps in?
  • Who Am I if I can’t be all things to all people?

You may identify with some of these, but you will have your own list that hits you personally. Your own expectations that if not met make you feel like a failure. Or, convince you that others see you as a failure.

But the truth behind every one of these things are the issues of identity and idolatry.  If Who I Am is based on measuring up, fulfilling or succeeding in these things than that is how I will determine my worth. So when I fail I will have to work harder so that I am viewed better. And the more I look to these things for my identity the bigger the idol of having to have it becomes.

But what if instead our children could rest and be OK if they strike out, lose an election, fail a test, look like a fool in front of someone?

What if instead we could rest and be OK if we are not always the perfect parent, the super volunteer, the best hostess, the most successful or even when we disappoint someone else’s expectations?

The only way we can do this – to rest and be OK – is if our identity is rooted in Christ. If we see that His love was set upon us before the foundation of the earth.  If we understand it is His righteous robes we wear.  If we believe He had to suffer and die to give us life.  If we trust that His grace is so sufficient that even when we fail Him or others, He won’t let go of us. If we know His opinion is the only one that matters and His opinion declares us Sons and Daughters of the King!  

Only then it won’t matter what others think. We won’t have to turn to all those idols for our identity because we will rest knowing we have His delight.  If only we could get this, it would save us a lot of worry and striving. By His grace I hope we do!

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Mothers Day Musings

To all you mothers out there – today is OUR day.  A whole day for the whole world to honor moms. For our families to celebrate us and all the things we do…

As wonderful as that sounds and as sweet as it is to receive your children’s hand-made cards, art or maybe some breakfast in bed, if you are honest you’ve probably also experienced some let-down at some point on this day.  If not in the past, it may happen later today or in the future because it’s really not all about us, ever.

Perhaps you have a great morning of little gifts and after-church lunch but then as the afternoon wanes you find yourself intervening between sibling fights, getting up to clean up a mess or to change a diaper and eventually you are back in the kitchen washing dishes or getting lunches ready for tomorrow. All on your supposed day-off!!

Or what about this…you had really hoped your husband would get you a nice gift, that something you’ve been wanting, only to find he all but forgot it was even Mother’s Day. Making matters worse you see on Facebook what everyone else’s families did for them. Now you are stewing over all that you do for your family, all that you sacrifice and what you deserve!

Can you relate to this disappointment or the bitterness or feeling under-appreciated?

You are probably not alone, but comfort in numbers is not enough.  What each of us need when we are battling these emotions is a perspective change. This may sound crazy, but it’s possible for us to turn Mother’s Day in to an idol!

As I’ve said before anything, whether it be a person, object, expectation or feeling, that rules and controls our heart instead of God can become an idol. A good test to know if this is the case is to think of it as being in a clinched fist or opened palm…

So with the issue of Mother’s Day, if you are holding on so tightly (clinched fist) to your expectation of how the day should go then when anything interferes or doesn’t measure up, you will be left disappointed.  Or maybe angry or bitter. This is an indicator it was ruling your heart!

Instead if you are holding your expectations in an open palm then when something interferes or doesn’t measure up, it won’t rule you. You may still feel disappointment, but the key is it won’t rule you! You will be ok; it won’t rock the boat and effect your whole mood for the rest of the day. It may even enable you to have an honest conversation with your husband and instead of fuming you will give grace.

It’s not that having expectations are wrong, it’s what we do with those expectations. Often times our idols are not “bad” things, they are actually “good” things, like wanting to be a good mom or to be honored as a mom.  The problem is we elevate these things above all else so they are no longer in their proper place. When we realize this has happened the good news is we have a God who loves to give us grace, even though it is Him we misplaced from the throne of our heart.

He understands this about us; He created us as worshippers. But our sin causes us to divert our worship off of Him and on to other things. That is why He came – to free us of the penalty of our sin. Remembering His abundant grace daily then leads me to want to worship Him and be free of idols that rule and destroy.

So on this Mother’s Day shift your focus off yourself and on to the God who has blessed you with your family! With this in mind…

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