If you ever feel like you don’t have enough insecurities about your body, try looking through some bridal magazines. And then go to a store and try on dresses like the ones in those magazines. Look in the mirror and notice that your body looks so different in the dresses from those women in the magazines that you might as well be two different species. Voilà! Instant body insecurities! It sure worked for me, anyway. It doesn’t help that while cleaning out my closet the other day, I came across a picture of me from the time just over a decade ago when, for about a year, I was as close as I will ever come to my ideal weight. That picture tortured me maybe even more than the pictures of models in magazines. My eyes filled with tears looking at it as I thought, That’s the body I want to get married in. Why couldn’t I have had my wedding then?! I obsessed about how much better that body would look in my wedding dress (and my wedding night lingerie) and in all the hundreds of photos that will be taken of me on that day. But instead, I will get hundreds of photos of this body I have now, the one that is regrettably far from ideal.
Maybe it’s a good thing for me that Lent begins so close to my wedding day. I need Ash Wednesday to remind me that I am dust and to dust I will return. This body, regardless of how it looks, won’t last. I will die one day. I’ll be thinking about that when my pastor imposes ashes on my forehead in the shape of a cross. I’ll remember that Jesus died, too, and that his death and resurrection give me hope for when my own death comes. And I’ll be thinking of all the sin within me that needs to be put to death. Lately, a lot of that sin has taken the form of vanity and selfishness and ingratitude. As those ashes get smeared across my skin, I need to repent of all that. It may be harder than any other Lenten practice I’ve ever taken on to give up comparing myself to others, complaining about my weight, yearning to look like I used to, and failing to give thanks. While I do give thanks, often, for my husband-to-be and his two sons and extended family, I could spend a lot more time living in the joy of those gifts if I stopped focusing on what I don’t have, like a tiny waist, or a mother-in-law.
My fiancé’s mother died last summer, the day before we got engaged. Peggy is quite literally dust now. Her husband and children scattered her ashes at one of her favorite places the day after the funeral. I’ve been missing her a lot as I plan for the day I will marry her son. But thank God, she keeps showing up in unexpected places. While I was preparing for the sermon I preached recently (which you can listen to here), I pulled out a book Peggy had let me borrow months ago. She and I had discovered early on that we both loved the writings of Frederick Buechner. There were some of his books that she had but I didn’t, and vice versa. So on one of her last visits, she proposed a trade. She brought me one of her Buechner books and asked me to give her one of mine the next time I saw her. But there never was a next time. Anyway, when I was flipping through that book in the midst of sermon preparation, I found a note from Peggy scribbled on a page. It wasn’t a note to me per se, and I know she didn’t mean it the way I’ve been reading it. Still, I keep coming back to it over and over lately, as I prepare for my wedding day.
“Our bodies – our hands, thumbs, knees, all of our bodies – belong to God.” She wrote it, as best I can tell, while she was working on a lesson (for one of the many Sunday School classes and Bible studies she taught over the years) about doing everything we do as working for God. But as I read and reread it during these past few weeks, it has been to me a reminder that my body is a part of God’s creation, just as the first human bodies were made from the dust of the ground and, along with everything else God created, called “good.” I read Peggy’s words and they call me back to the words of Psalm 139: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Yes, my body is dust and to dust it shall return, just as Peggy’s has, but it is also one of the wonderful works of God. That’s what I’m criticizing when I stand before the mirror and find nothing but faults.
So for Lent this year, I’m going to give up putting myself down. Each time disparaging thoughts about my physical appearance come into my mind, I’m going to redirect my thoughts toward finding something about my body for which I can thank God. And each time I find myself fretting over how I will look on my wedding day, I will remind myself instead of how I’m going to feel when I see the man I love standing at the end of the aisle waiting for me, and a chapel full of our family and friends there to bear witness and celebrate with us. I will repent of spending all my time wishing to be a beautiful bride, and instead focus on how I can be a wonderful wife. Peggy was both. And I know she is so much more than dust now, because she is still helping me and teaching me and pointing me to God, just as she did with many others during her life. Even in the midst of wedding craziness, I’ll slow down over the next few weeks and see what I need to learn during Lent. And then I’ll be ready on Easter to sing the hymn the way Peggy did: “Christ the Lord is risen – Hooray!”