Not Yet Whole
The following sharing touches on perception and compulsion in a very personal way. My hope is that writing about this area of brokenness in my own life would be ultimately encouraging to you as a reader and make you feel less alone about the areas of brokenness in your own life. It is my firm belief that when we see ourselves and others more clearly, and our need for Jesus more clearly, we begin to break the cycle of shame and isolation that these broken areas thrive on, and make space for the healing that Christ has for us through his Holy Spirit and through the loving support of the communities he’s placed us in.
I wore makeup each time I was in labor with my three children, reapplying foundation between contractions. I wore concealer on my honeymoon, afraid at first, for my husband to see me without it, careful to cover each imperfection on my face. I used to put it on before I’d exercise or go swimming, even though I knew it was ridiculous. I'd even carry some in my purse, never leaving home without it. This sharing isn't ultimately about makeup; it's about my fight to see myself as God sees me, to realign my broken vision with his perfect vision. This is a story of grace in process. I wish I could say that I am no longer hurting in this area, but the reality is that healing takes time, and while God is doing great and liberating things in this area of my life, I still carry these scars close to the surface.
For as long as I can remember, in my pre-teens, teens and now adulthood, covering my skin has been a part of my life. But not in the casual way that it is for many women, something fun for a special occasion - no for me it’s always been something I’m afraid to go without. A weight and a burden that I carry around on my face.
I suffer both from a skewed perception of how I look, and the compulsion to try to fix it. Much like someone with an eating disorder doesn’t rightly perceive their body, and so goes to great lengths to “fix it”, I feel like my skin is blemished, and I act on this idea whether it actually is or not. At one point, in my teens, I really did struggle with acne, but I know now this problem isn’t ultimately skin deep. This is a vision problem. A heart problem that has unhealthy control over my life. It is perfectionism turned inward. I know all these things, and I’m getting help, but it’s still hard to shake this feeling I’ve known all my adult life.
So this Lent, after being encouraged by a very wise friend and mentor of mine to pray into an area where I had lost hope, I decided to go a week without makeup. To most people this would be a laughably easy fast, but it has brought me to the cross kicking and screaming and put me head to head with some very hard but beautiful truths.
The first hard but beautiful truth is this: This matters to the Lord. This is a hard truth because it means I can’t minimize it or pretend it’s not a big deal - not if I’m serious about following him. But it’s a beautiful truth because it reminds me of the jealous love he has for me as a bridegroom, and the proud love he has for me as my creator. I believe that Jesus sees our lives and wants to heal us where we are hurting. He knows my pain and shame in this. He knows your pain in infertility as you wait for news of a child each month. He knows your exhaustion as you get up with the baby yet again, or feel alone or isolated or fearful for your child. He knows the dark places your mind goes when you compare yourself to someone else and come up short. He knows the anxiety that causes you to live in bondage to dieting or makeup or online shopping or your career or who knows what else. He knows which areas of your life seem too painful, too hopeless and entrenched to hope for change. He knows. He sees. He always has.
Now there was in Jerusalem a pool… here a great many disabled people used to lie, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who had been there had been an invalid for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:1-8)
I’m like this man - afflicted for a long time, hopeless and full of excuses. I am so at the end of myself in this area that that’s all I can see- my inability to heal myself. Like the man focused on his inability to get into the healing pool, I’m missing out on the fact that the spring of living water is right in front of me. Jesus knows all this and he asks anyways: “Do you want to get well?”
What I’m realizing this Lent, as I lean into this personal sore spot, is that all of us are broken and spiritually paralyzed in different ways. I used to think the world was made up of healthy people and sick people - people doing alright and people in over their heads. I used to think I was one of the ok ones - whatever that means - and I’m finding out that I’m not, and it's amazingly and startlingly ok. I’m finding out that none of us are, on the deepest, most fundamental level. We are not yet whole, no matter how hard we try to appear so. We are all lying on a mat waiting for healing in one way or another.
At one time these words would have scared me, but they’re a little bit thrilling now because I know a secret I didn’t know before: God shows up with special tenderness when his people are paralyzed. Jesus is drawn to the humble, the hurting, the ones who are almost out of hope and feel like they can’t move an inch on their own. At the very end of our strength is the very place God is most likely to show up. And in many areas of our lives we never let ourselves get there - to that place where we’re spent and have nothing left. In many areas of my life I can pretend to have it all together - but this, this compulsion to cover my face, this brings me to the end of myself on a regular basis. The very things that break us and paralyze us are the things that can push us into the arms of Christ like nothing else.
This Lent has been like a magnet, drawing Christ into some of the darker parts of me, and drawing me into him in new ways. I’m realizing that the iron nails of the cross are magnetic, drawing me out of the places I’ve curled in on myself and lost hope.
And I’m realizing that the call to wholeness and the call the discipleship are not two separate calls. It is in the obedience and the following of Christ (discipleship) that we become more like Christ (wholeness). His mercy is not only to stoop down and sit with us and know our pain but to call us to become trophies of his grace –to get up, pick up our paralysis mats and walk - to share our scars and pain and imperfections not as shameful things but as a reminder and a testimony to others of God’s power.
It’s why I’m writing right now about something I’ve been ashamed of for years. Because while I am not yet whole, I can feel that the process of healing and wholeness has started and I’ve cried out to him “Yes, I want to get well!” I can start to see that I’m not alone on my little paralysis mat, and that reaching out may actually be helpful for others who are hurting too. And I feel a fragile newfound hope that maybe me walking around and holding it up and talking about it could be some strange and beautiful sort of trophy of His grace.
For that is what I most ultimately am - not an object of pity, or curiosity, not a victim of compulsion or perfectionism, nor simply broken skin and bones, but a trophy of His unfailing and very perfect grace.
At the end of our strength is the place we see God
Was ever a destination so feared?
Our steps become slow, we hesitate, proud
We could yet turn back or stop and end here
But light breaking over that precipice edge
Beckons us, begs us to know that if we
Asked to be carried and set on that ledge
Our eyes would be opened and then we would see
Light! Liquid sun! All the world is awash
With the the glory that only the humble behold
In that place past our strength, by the edge of the cross
We’re warmed by salvation and painted in gold.
By Amy Hughes
For more about Amy, see her bio on the "About Us" page.