Finding Freedom in the Mirror

Here is on one of my recent posts, featured last spring on the True Woman blog (a ministry of Revive Our Hearts). 

Early on in life, my relationship with food was closely tied to my relationship with the mirror. As a teen, I used to lock the bathroom door and stand on the toilet lid to get a full-length view of myself in the mirror. There were other full-length mirrors in our house, but I wanted to scrutinize myself in private. This exercise, as you can imagine, didn’t cultivate a deep sense of contentment and joy.

Reacting to the pressure to be thinner than I was, I tried to get away with not eating. When that didn’t work, I experimented with escaping consequences from overeating by purging (such a nice word for vomiting).

Obviously, I wasn’t an anomaly. Eating disorders are so common in America that one or two out of every hundred students will struggle with one. I remember, as a teen, actually being jealous of some missionary women in a picture who were draped in yards of fabric, wading in a stream. To me, that seemed so freeing! I’m sure it doesn’t seem that way to the women who must wear those full-length garments in the heat of summer. But it’s interesting that a girl who was free to wear a swimsuit to the beach if she wanted would think of a long summer robe as appealing.

I was a teen in the 80s, and we only had one television in the basement. If I felt a certain pressure to conform, I can only imagine the pressure that today’s teen girl experiences, given the number of screens she encounters in a day. Screens are everywhere, closing in from every direction. And it seems that every screen is flashing the same sort of image: a very beautiful, very thin woman. The type we’re all supposed to look like.

A New Problem

It’s been years since I stood on a toilet. But now I have a new problem. Instead of letting mirrors boss me around, I want to avoid them! I do have a full-length mirror in my bedroom, but I approach it with the greatest care. I know just how to angle myself to get the most complimentary view. Just a glance is all I need, then I’m off . . . to the kitchen, usually.

So as a teen, I let myself be controlled by the mirror, the scale, and opinions of others. Now, I have a deep desire for no control. I want to avoid the mirror and eat whatever I want. It seems like the path to freedom. But of course, it isn’t.

I wish I could tell you that God has delivered me into a life of complete balance, but no—I’m a work in progress. Just recently, I finished off a bag of pita chips as I watched TV before bed. The next morning, I thought, Why on earth did you do that? Eating junk food with no restraint before bed is not helping anything!

Being controlled by what others think and being out of control, with no restraint, are two types of the same thing: bondage. It’s bondage to be a slave to the mirror. And it’s bondage to live with no limits. Both types of bondage require God’s strong hand if freedom is ever to be had.

God wants for all of His daughters to live in freedom! But this freedom only comes through giving Him control, not trying to take it on our own. Let me suggest two responses, correlating to these two types of enslavement.

When You’re Bossed by the Mirror

To the woman who is bullied by the mirror and feels condemned by the unrealistic ideals displayed on screens, God says, “Why not step away from that mirror, and let Me determine your value and worth?” What a relief, right? Yet it’s harder than it sounds, especially if you’ve convinced yourself that taking control (eating less, burning more, driving yourself, etc.) is the way to deal with that bossy mirror. And it’s even more difficult to choose God’s voice over the mirror’s when you’re actually comfortable with what you see in the mirror.

“I’ve got this under control!” you say, glancing at your reflection. “Do you?” God asks.

Mirrors are sharply critical. They offer no rest. No hope. Only more assignments. Mirrors tell you to rely on yourself. But God wants you to rely on Him! He says that His power is made perfect, not in your own perfectionism, but in your weakness and dependence on Him (2 Cor. 11:9).

God loves you. He made you. He sacrificed His Son just to have you! He wants to be the One to steady your heart with security that a mirror never gives and to quiet you with His love (Zeph. 3:17). But you’re the one who decides whether any of this makes a difference to you. Will you let God be your God? Will you find your worth in His eyes instead of what is reflected on the bathroom wall?

Bossed by the Snack Aisle

To the the woman who is bullied by the junk food aisle or the cookies in the cupboard, God says, “Come, let Me have control. Live in My power. Find freedom within limits.” But again, this isn’t easy when you’ve grown accustomed to caving in to yourself; when you’ve made a habit of letting yourself rule instead of God.

“I’m not sure I can . . .” you say, glancing at the snack cupboard. “You can’t,” says God. “But I can!”

God stands at your kitchen door and knocks. He wants to be invited in—to collaborate on grocery shopping, menu options, and the snack choices. He wants to help with balance, exercise, and sleep patterns. If Jesus is in you, then you have all the power you need to find rest by living within the limits God has woven into daily life.

God loves you. He made you. He sacrificed His Son to have you! God wants to be the One to steady your heart with comfort that lattes never provide. He wants to quiet you with His love instead of a bag of Cheetos. But you’re the one who decides whether any of this makes a difference to you. Will you let God be your God? Will you surrender to Him, or will you continue caving in to yourself?

Sweet Surrender

Dear friend, we’ve proven that we can’t manage on our own, haven’t we? We either become obsessive and perfectionistic or excessive and out-of-control. Yet God wants us to be free! For some of us, surrendering to God will involve giving up excessive dieting and exercise; for others it will mean adding the right balance of these things in. Either way, freedom in the mirror is found by putting God—not ourselves—in control.

Do you feel condemned by the mirror or the scale? What is one way you can show God that you’re letting Him—not the mirror or other people—determine your worth?

Do you live with no restraint, or have a pattern of caving in to yourself? What is one limit, which God has woven into daily life, which you will embrace today?

In both of these ways, you’ll find freedom from surrendering to God—not other people or yourself.