From the outside, she has it all together. She’s committed to her family, her friends, and her church. Her Instagram account is an inspiration. But behind every carefully worded post and perfectly posed picture is a woman tormented by the voice in her head: Am I pretty enough? Smart enough? Thin enough? Good enough? Successful enough? Am I ever enough? Author and speaker Elizabeth Oates knows that voice all too well.
Q: According to statistics you quote in If You Could See as Jesus Sees, only 2% of women believe they are beautiful. What is God’s view of beauty? What are some helpful exercises women can do to banish their negative self-talk regarding their appearance?
A: Beauty is not what we look like, but who we look like. The more we look like Jesus, the more beautiful we are. True beauty comes from living out our faith and living out the plans God has for us. Just as a mother dotes on her newborn baby’s pink, wrinkly, soft, squishy flesh, God delights in us. God knows you are the most beautiful, radiant, flawless, creature He has ever created.
So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Do I believe God is a truth teller? Or do I believe God is a liar?” If you believe God is truthful, then you must believe Him when He says you are beautiful. Why? Because the Bible tells us we are “wonderfully made” unique creations. Every time someone—whether our husband, our friend, or our parent—gives us a compliment and we turn it down, we call that person a liar. Every time we criticize ourselves, we call God a liar. To really understand the devastating effects of negative self-talk, try this exercise:
Make a list of the negative things you tell yourself about the way you look. For example, “My thighs are huge. I really hate them.” Then replace “my” with the name of a close friend: “Kate’s thighs are huge. I really hate them.” You would never say such cruel things to someone else. It’s just as hurtful—and sinful—when you say them to yourself.
Q: You identify shame as one of the factors that keeps women trapped in their negative self-image. What are some common reasons women feel ashamed? How can they break free from the shame trap?
A: Shame is the feeling that because there is something wrong with us, we don’t deserve to be loved. It is almost always tied to an element of secrecy. We try to hide those flaws, so we won’t be rejected. We feel shame for things both big and small, both past and present, both within and beyond our control. Some common reasons include: missed opportunities, poor choices, sexual impurity, eating disorders, sexual abuse/sexual assault, addictions, family dysfunction, failure, and socioeconomic status. Sadly, the church has sometimes contributed to that sense of shame, particularly concerning the issue of purity. Women who have made the wrong choice in the past feel like “damaged goods.” Hopefully, we will do a better job with my daughter’s generation.
The only way I know to move past those feelings of shame is to find someone you can trust and talk about your story. Shame’s power depends on secrecy and darkness. When we step into the light, we can experience life through God’s lens of redemption.
Q: In If You Could See As Jesus Sees, you contrast our feelings of discontentment with God’s character of generosity. Why do you think we so often struggle in this area? What does our lack of contentment cost us?
A: A popular quote flooding Instagram and Pinterest reads, “Her success is not your failure.” What wise words for today’s woman. Have you watched someone in your own life receive something you wanted, something you thought you deserved and allowed your greed to run your life? Maybe a coworker received that sought-after promotion. Maybe a friend moved into your dream home. Maybe you have played the part of the bridesmaid but never the bride. When we look at life through Jesus’ lens of generosity, we realize the many blessings He bestows on you and me and everyone else who doesn’t deserve them. Anytime we are left feeling slighted, upstaged, or empty-handed, we have a choice to make: give ourselves over to our discontentment, or submit to a spirit of generosity, knowing that all we have received is an open-handed gift from our Savior.
When discontentment wells up in our hearts, it eclipses all the goodness and beauty that used to reside there. We live in darkness, suffering from temporary memory loss and forgetting the many ways in which God has met our needs—and wants—in the past.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Oates is an author and speaker who encourages, inspires, and equips a new generation of women seeking a deeper relationship with Christ. She is a cliché Generation Xer from a broken home who once searched for purpose and significance apart from Jesus Christ. Today she devotes her life to spreading the message that we are not defined by our past; our God is bigger than our broken family trees and stronger than the sins that weigh us down.
Elizabeth lives out her faith and passion not only through her writing but in hands-on ministry as well. She and her husband offer pre-marital education to engaged couples through Legacy Family Ministries and also founded Project Restoration Ministry, which offers affordable Christian counseling and mentoring for married couples in Central Texas.
Elizabeth’s writing includes a Bible study for teens, Dealing with Divorce: Finding Direction When Your Parents Split Up. Since 2008 she has written a monthly faith column for Waco Today Magazine, and she regularly blogs about life and faith. Elizabeth is among the experts featured in the DivorceCare DVD curriculum along with Dave Ramsey, Anne Graham Lotz, and others. She earned a B.A. from Baylor University and received her M.A. in Christian Education with a focus in Marriage and Family Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.