If you've been part of the Village Church for any amount of time you've undoubtedly heard of the wonderful Jen Wilkin. She is an incredible teacher in the Flower Mound / DFW area who writes and speaks on gospel-centered living. Currently, she teaches the Flower Mound women's bible study and co-leads the village's parenting class with her husband. I am incredibly thankful to have Jen as part of this series and pray that the Spirit stirs hearts through her words. Thank you, Jen! - Jenny
1: What is it about women's hearts that drive such widespread discontentment with our bodies?
I think it’s a failure on our parts to apprehend the true purpose of having a body in the first place. We have been conditioned to believe that our bodies are merely decorative (useful for attracting attention) rather than useful for doing good. We willingly succumb to the lie that fixing the outside will fix the inside. And we’re plagued by comparisons. Because we forget we are stewards of our bodies rather than owners, we mistreat or pamper them according to our own agendas rather than trusting that the Lord has an agenda for them that surpasses ours.
2: What distracts us (culturally) and you (personally) from dealing with our habitual sins "head on"?
The social acceptability (even adulation) of body talk and body focus is so prevalent that we often don’t stop to analyze our words and behaviors. Why wouldn’t we talk about our workouts and weight goals? It’s a sort of surrogate religion in our culture, requiring discipline, time and devotion to master. It appeals to our sinful tendency to want righteousness on our own terms, through our own efforts.
Habitual sins feel more normal to us than obedience. Because of this, we’re slow to address them. They are so a part of our normal rhythm that we see them as a part of who we are, rather than as what Christ came to put to death. I think the “normalness” of my own habitual sins is what makes me slow to address them. If I’m not constantly allowing the Word to illuminate them as “not normal”, I don’t learn to hate them, and I don’t turn from them.
3: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." - James1:14 What lures tempt some women to feel contempt or impassiveness toward their fellow sisters in Christ who struggle with disordered eating?
Women who don’t face the same temptation tend to believe there is no comparable area of dysfunction in their own lives. Just because I don’t battle an eating disorder doesn’t mean I am not equally blind in another area. The girl with the eating disorder may lavish positive speech on her kids while the girl with the healthy eating habits may tear down her kids verbally. Which one is more in need of grace? Any time we are tempted to use the weaknesses of others to elevate our own sense of self-worth, we need to pause and stare down our own weaknesses.
I also suspect that we use those with the greater sin to help us minimize or dismiss our lesser version of the same sin. Disordered eating is a spectrum, and almost all of us engage in some weird thinking about food or body image. Just because I don’t starve myself doesn’t mean I think rightly about food or fitness. Those of us with subtler versions of the same problem can have difficulty being honest about our own weaknesses because we can point to someone who has a more obvious problem.
4: As a mother of four children--two of which are teenage girls--how would you recommend parents address the issue of eating disorders and distorted body image with their kids? Is there an age when this conversation should begin?
I believe we have to start as early as we can. Because children learn so much from our example (versus our words), it’s important for moms to model a good relationship with food and the mirror from a child’s earliest days. This means no verbal critiques of meals (“This is so high in fat – I’m going to pay for this”), outfits (“Does this make me look dumpy?”), or physical characteristics (“I hate my hips – they’re so big”). I particularly didn’t want my kids to see me changing outfits multiple times or spending a long time primping. We also have to place an absolute moratorium on critiquing our children’s meals (other than to discuss healthy choices), outfits or physical characteristics. We have to make character our focus, rather than physical appearance.
If our children are teased by other children for their appearance, we can ask them, “Why do you think she said that? I wonder if someone has said hurtful things to her, too. We can pray and ask God to heal her hurting heart.” Sometimes it’s a parent’s responsibility to help a child not give any power to the words of others by pointing out that hurting people say hurtful things.
If our children self-critique, it’s a good idea to ask, “What makes you think that? I don’t think that about you, and neither does God.” Self-loathing is learned. They are picking it up somewhere – from peers, from TV, or maybe from our own words and actions. They need our constant assurance that we see them as the Lord sees them – fearfully and wonderfully made, able to use their bodies to do the good works the Lord has for them to do.
5: An unfortunate side effect of this discussion is an unhealthy focus on self. We may either turn to self-loathing or self-pity (for those with food and body issues) or we may develop a hard heart of self-righteousness (for those who don't struggle in this way). Do you see any ways in which we, as the church, can re-focus this topic on Christ and away from ourselves?
I would say that self-focus is not a side effect, but is the root cause. All idolatry is ultimately idolatry of self, and this category of sin is no exception. I think there are often complex factors that feed this particular version of self-focus, so I don’t mean to imply that we tell women “Just get over yourself and repent.” But I do think we have to gently call it what it is, and then begin to explore its roots. The Great Command tells us to love God with all we’ve got and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That “as we love ourselves” piece is critical – it means we won’t be able to figure out how to love others preferentially until we understand proper self-love. We can’t possibly understand proper self-love without obeying the first part of the command, loving God with all we’ve got. Whether we are consumed with self-loathing or self-righteousness, we call God a liar by either under-estimating or over-estimating our worth in his eyes.
Both of these errors are corrected by a clear understanding of scripture (how we should see God/how God sees us). Whatever lies we’ve bought into regarding our self-worth can only be corrected by the renewing of our minds through the dual witness and work of the Holy Spirit and the Word. I’m not a Christian counselor, I’m a Bible teacher. So it won’t surprise anyone to learn that my recommendation is to let scripture pry our eyes off of ourselves and turn them back to the God it proclaims.
You can read more of Jen Wilkin's awesome writing on her blog, the beginning of wisdom.