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.

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A Needed Perspective when your Child Faces Try-outs or Election

‘Tis the season for many middle school and high school kids to try out or run for next year’s squad, Student Council or the like. It’s agonizing – and not just for them!

This was our week this week, times two.

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During the first part of the week, my daughter ran for a school-wide Student Council officer position that she did not win. Because of the loss, she had to turn around and run for a Senior Senator spot the following days. This made for one long, stressful week with lots of talk, analyzing and prayer. 

Both races I wanted badly for her – something good, something to look forward to, something to reassure her and give her purpose. Yet at the same time I knew neither position could ultimately fulfill or make all things right. Only – it sure is alot easier to keep that in perspective after (or when) things go the way we want. FullSizeRender

The truth is even if our kids get what they try out or run for, we must help them see “life” is not found in these things and their identity is tied to something so much greater.  (For that matter, we must see this for oursevles, as many parents try to find their identity wrapped up in who their kids are!)

Whether are kids are on a varsity squad, any squad or no squad, a Student Council officer, represenative or not involved, popular or could care less, straight-A student or barely hanging on, turn heads with their beauty or just blend in, none of this is who they are at their core.  And none of this makes anyone more or less important than others.  

If we live as if these things are “life,” we will constantly be striving to measure up and looking for something to make us okay. We will be crushed in defeat and prideful in our accomplishments. But, if our true identity and unchanging value is found in Jesus, nothing can shake our security.

Jesus bore the suffering, humiliation and pain of death on a cross and thought it nothing in comparison to the joy of reconciling his children to the Father. He literally became sin, so we could have his righteousness. We therefore live under the smile of God and not his condemnation.  He views us as perfect, because Jesus was perfect for us.

This is how great his love for his children is and this is where our most true and secure identity lies. This is the doctrine of justification and why theology matters.

When we know our standing before God does not change, when we know his love and acceptance, when we know he is “life,” than we can stand secure when things don’t turn out how we want, when we face disappointments and rejection. 

So when my child loses an election, she finds assurance knowing because God has accepted her and declared her perfect, she is not a loser or failure. And, when my child wins an election, she can take no pride in her own performance or view herself as better than those who didn’t succeed because it is Jesus’ perfect performance for us that defines us.

Who he says we are – treasured, loved, accepted, included, significant, wonderfully and fearfully made – is who we are.

We need to understand the everyday implications of this truth and by God’s grace live out of its reality. This is the foundation and comfort as parents we need to give our children. This is how we help them be okay with who they are and where God has them.

It’s not easy to rest in his truth and love when other things seem so much more tangible. But, nothing else can give as secure an identity as knowing the God of the universe who created us and cast his love upon us sings his praises over us! Only in our titles as “Sons and Daughters of the King” do we have a stable and secure identity that will not shatter, no matter what. images-1

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.

A Worth-while Resolution

Today marks a new beginning. A clean slate. A fresh start. A time for change. A renewed hope. Day One. One for Resolutions.

Resolutions that often include eating healthier and exercising more. At least for a few weeks – maybe longer. May have been the same thing last year and at various times throughout the year.

Our health, more so our weight – no, really, what we look like and how we are viewed by others is an obsession.

UnknownSo we get on the scale. Check our BMI and monitor our heart rate. Count calories, fat grams, fiber and sodium. We look at our FitBits and track our progress. Then with all this collected data we determine if it was a “good” or “bad” day. And we judge ourselves “good” or “bad” accordingly.

Now I’m not saying there is no place for keeping tabs on any of this.  Afterall, one of the many hats I wear is that of a personal trainer so seeing people achieve goals and adopt healthy lifestyles is something I enjoy. What if though this year instead of focusing so much on all these numbers we resolved to stop basing our worth on them?

You are so much more than a number. But don’t we all at times base our identity on one?

Has your mood been adversly affected after you stepped on the scale to see a number you didn’t like? Have you gotten depressed if a certain size clothing doesn’t fit?

Or for you it may not be your size, but what about the size of your paycheck? The number of vacations or square footage of your house?

Do you aim to post pictures and make comments on social media that will bring you the most number of “likes” or retweets?

Do you think being a successful mom comes in the number of Pinterest projects you implement?

You see we all do it in various ways and at different times. We base who we are on a number of things other than Christ. Depending on what that is – “good” or “bad” – is then how we see ourselves and perhaps judge others.

What if instead we saw the fallacy in our thinking and countered it with who Christ decalres us to be?

What if instead we spent more time in His Word and in prayer, filling our minds with His truths, than counting all these other things?

Wouldn’t it be freeing to rest in Him and know we are secure instead of basing our standing on how we feel like we are performing?

The next time you feel shame because you ate too many calories and think you have to go run five miles, what if instead you really believed you are forgiven and loved and perfectly made in His image?

What if the next time you begin comparing yourself to others based on whatever number you instead identify the ‘not measuring up thoughts’ as Satan’s whispering lies?

This is gospel-living applied everyday. If we don’t go back to the cross, we won’t know how to self-talk ourselves out of these worthless sinful spirals. We must see again and again who He is for us.

That the Creator of the Universe enfleshed Himself and came down from heaven to live among sinners in order to call sinners His friend. And in becoming His friend, we are called Redeemed and Restored, Loved and Forgiven, Chosen and Cherished, Sons and Daughters of the King!

Use this as a spring-board and go to the Word to find who else He says we are. Even better, go to the Word and discover who He is. And when you are struggling with shame and guilt and worthlessness and failure, dwell on these things.

Wouldn’t this be the most Worth-while Resolution?!

A bowl of Awesome Rocks as a tangible reminder of who He says we are!

A bowl of Awesome Rocks as a tangible reminder of who He says we are!

Want more on issues of worth, comparison and Eating Disorders? Click on: The Intruder Named ED, The Root of our Teens’ Stress, What Parents Need to See on Instagram.

 

The Root of Our Teens’ Stress

IS YOUR TEEN STRESSED?

imagesNot just because finals are looming.  It’s the end of the semester so they probably are a little stressed – or maybe should be!  But, the stress I’m talking about is more pervasive than this season’s busyness – both for teens and adults. The stress I’m talking about is a constant pressure hanging like thick dark clouds.

DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR TEEN FEELS THIS WAY? 

I DIDN’T! 

I really didn’t get how dibilitating stress had become, even though we talk very openly.

She is in tough classes, beginning to think about college and balancing many responsibilities and activities. To that end – just like with finals – some stress is to be expected. But in a concerted effort to not be controlling or a helicopter mom, I generally let her manage her own schedule and assignments. All I ask is that she be responsible and do her best. If that means a “B” or “C” instead of an “A” so be it.  So when I recently began to absorb the amount of stress she felt, I was confused as to the primary source.

What I discovered goes deeper than school and schedules.  

What I discovered as the root of the stress is the enormous pressure to measure up! A pressure put on herself, but coming at her from every direction.

There is little room in our culture to not be the best. Whether we as parents place that expectation on them or not, it is what our world says is necessary and important. Therefore, our kids are constantly bombarded with these messages:

  • You need to be in AP classes.
  • You need to have a high GPA.
  • You need to score well on the ACT.
  • You need to excel in your sport.
  • You need to be involved in every student organization possible.
  • You need to always be building your resume.
  • You need to show up at every extra-curricular event.
  • You need to be skinny and toned.
  • You need to dress in name-brand clothing, everyday.
  • You need to be popular.
  • You need to constantly have a witty SnapChat story.
  • You need to be retweeted and “liked.”

The list goes on and where they don’t measure up feels like failure.

Determining how they stack up against their “frenemies” comes with constant comparison scanning. But no matter how great they are, what they find is never enough – in their mind, someone else always looks better, is doing more and doing better at it.

So the stress mounts and the treadmill never stops. 

As parents we think as long as they haven’t fallen off this treadmill of go-go-go/do-do-do they are managing well, not realizing how desperately they may need the “stop” button pushed. And in many cases, we not only aren’t hitting “stop,” but are actually increasing the speed with our own expectations.

Either way, there is need for deeper, more frequent probing conversations with our kids. Conversations that go beyond my own typical default question of ‘how was your day?’ to more heart-revealing dialogue to help them see what aspect of God’s truth they are failing to believe. 

By this I mean…

  • Do they need to be reminded of their value in Christ? To see an identity built on anything other than being in Him will always disappoint.                       
  • Do they need to hear only His opinion matters? To see how other’s approval is an idol. 
  • Do they need to know His love is not based on anything they do? To see it is all about His perfect obedience and performance, not theirs.
  • Do they need to know Jesus came to free us from the bondage of sin? To see how the fear of looking bad and focusing inward robs them of the joy and freedom we have in Christ.
  • Do they need to take their fears and worries to Him? To see that He is in control.
  • Do they need to rest in His finished work? To see all is by His strength and grace and mercy!

Do we need to see these same things? Are we filled with undue stress, worry and fear because we to are looking to people and other things to give us significance?Unknown

If this is you or your teen, I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, I pray you will find Rest this Advent Season and all year long at the only place true rest can be found – at the foot of the cross! 

 

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