I was sitting in church the other day, listening to my pastor and drinking up every word. It was one of those sermons that was hitting home in not just a “yes-i-agree” way, but in a “i-needed-to-hear-this-in-this-very-moment” way. He was talking about spiritual disciplines and the act of training our minds and spirits to be godly. It’s not always glamorous work, but it’s our calling. Good stuff.
He started talking about learning what types of situations lead us into temptation and the discipline of purposefully avoiding those situations. He started to give an example, and began talking about how watching certain movies or other media can be a big stumbling block.
We were still on the same page. But then he started explaining why the media can be a stumbling block, and I sighed. Page turned.
The example he was giving was about sexual temptation, and about how he has had to train himself to avoid certain images in order to avoid the temptation. Suddenly I felt like I went from hearing the “Sermon to Maria” to the same old same old … “Man struggles with sexual temptation” … “Man must discover how to avoid it” … “Man is surrounded by brothers with the same demons.”
Though I was a bit disillusioned, I appreciated my pastor’s vulnerability and his humility amidst his struggle. And it got my brain moving. I started thinking about a particular women’s issue that I think gets unconsciously neglected by our brothers in church much of the time. In my case, it’s an issue that dominates my life in much the same proportion as sexual temptation seems to dominate the male side of the conversation, at least if we think about how often it is talked about. I mean, if I were given a new eye shadow for every time I heard a sermon relating to sexual temptation I could sell make-up door to door until I retired. But all I have to do is leaf through my diary or listen to the voice in my head for a little while to realize that mine is not the monster of sexual temptation, but a whole different animal; one that attacks every time I look at a mirror, or leaf through a magazine or open a pantry full of tempting Doritos: self-esteem.
When it comes to movies that I often try to avoid, it has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with jealousy. I don’t like to watch unimaginably thin, perfectly tan, bleached blonde female mega-hotties dominate a huge screen in front of my face for hours at a time. Especially sitting next to my boyfriend, knowing he’s watching them too. All it makes me think about is the huge bag of popcorn I just ate, how my pants size is one of the ones you have to dig for hours through the size 0s to find, my weird tan lines from Myrtle Beach and my unkempt dirty-blonde roots.
I know, I shouldn’t expect church to always be catered to my needs. We are a body, after all. But I want a conversation about this. You can’t make me believe that self-esteem struggles are only for seventh grade girls with braces and awkward elbows who need a date for the sock-hop (do they still have sock-hops?). I’m 22 and I still get mad at my mirror. What I need is a lifestyle overhaul from the self-esteem bulldozing that dominates my psyche—and in an absolute, I-build-my-life-around it sort of domination. I don’t like using the overhead light in my bathroom because it makes me actually see my skin. I literally de-friended someone on Facebook the other day because she always looked so weirdly perfect in her photos. I can’t eat one potato chip without thinking about how it will affect my caloric guilt meter for the ensuing week.
As a quick disclaimer: I won’t say my behavior isn’t sinful. It is, and it is an ever-present evil in my life. But I don’t believe it is a vanity issue. I know the particular struggles I’ve used as examples could be construed that way. But it’s not; please listen. There are things I believe about myself that affect everything I do, and that is meaningful because what I do is meaningful. I don’t have fear about my appearance or how people perceive me because I want to be the prettiest or I want to be liked, even. I have fear of being embarrassed. I have a living fear of being inadequate and a fear of being overlooked. I have a fear that my essence will be undiscovered because people are too turned off by its housing. And it’s a real, paralyzing fear.
It’s not holy. We are to “set our minds on things above” (1 Colossians 3:2), not on calories or cravings or fitting room mirrors. And we are to love ourselves as temples of God’s Holy Spirit—how blessed we are to be such! But I’m writing this because we don’t. I don’t, at least. I try, but there is always a voice telling me I’m way out of my element.
So while I’m continually grateful for the godly men that I’m surrounded by in my church, I wanted to write this regular column as a little “this one’s for the girls” moment. (I won’t be obnoxious, I promise.) I just want to share this self-esteem struggle—and how God grows me through and around it—with many of my sisters who I have a hunch are facing the same giant. It’s a daily struggle and, as such, has the potential to be a daily lesson. Let’s find it together!
Maria is a recent college graduate from Ohio who is moving to Arizona in October because she hates the snow. She loves to write, run and sing and she is amazed every day by the love God has for her, even when she doesn’t comb her hair.