As a teenager, I was a confident young cuss. I was opinionated, sassy, bold, and by all accounts, unique. I prided myself on pounding out my own path no matter how much that made me deviate from my classmates. The older I get, though, the more self-conscious I become. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. Lately I'm a bit hyper-aware of my flaws.
On Saturday during my weekly long run, I trudged 12 miles through thick humidity. By mile 8.5, I was soaked in sweat with nothing to wipe my face off. For at least four miles I contemplated taking my shirt off. I've been a distance runner for 6 years, but I've only ran with my shirt off once. When I first started teaching I ran into a student at Lake McConaughy while I was sporting a bikini leftover from my college years, and man, that made for an awkward class the next time. It's best I just keep my clothes on in public. However, with each elephant like stride, I became increasingly uncomfortable; I just needed something to keep my face dry...like my tanktop. I gave in and ripped my shirt off--not in a sexy manner you might see in the movies. Nope. Since I was so wet, my tanktop clung to every part of me, got stuck on my hat, tangled in my headphones...it was very similar to swatting away a swarm of mosquitos. But when the struggle was over, and when my two-toned torso (I have a tankini swimsuit--so my stomach looks very much like a fish's belly while my chest, arms, and back are the color of a tomato from opening day at the pool) was hanging out for the world to see, I felt better....for about a quarter of a mile. That's when five male college runners, tan, with wash-board abs, short running shorts illuminating their rippling quads running probably a 6 minute mile flew past me. I hope they were running so fast they couldn't see me, I thought. Right behind the Runner's World models were two 20-something women who I can only imagine were the previous runners' girlfriends because they had matching abs and only a slightly slower pace. I felt my form become hunched. I was suddenly aware that the increase in my beer intake and the decrease in my ab workouts has made my stomach the softest it's been in a few years. I was aware that my legs are not as chiseled as I'd like them to be, that I sweat so much it looks like I've pissed myself after my long runs, that my stride is not light but heavy--like I have mud caked on my shoes, that my skin is not clear like most women's, that I'm not as feminine as I "should" be, that my flat and un-curvy shape and pixie haircut often make me look like a twelve year old boy...the list of insecurities scrolled through my head and drowned out the music in my headphones. It was only when my 12 miles had ended and I was home with my shirt back on that I stopped the self-hate.
For the past few years my insecurities have been more noticeable, but I honestly can't remember the last time I felt this insecure. Not only is it a frustrating experience to pick apart every little thing about myself, but I felt so shallow, vain, and dirty for doing it.
I just finished studying the book of Joshua. Towards the tail end of the book when Joshua is nearing the end of his life, he instructs the Israelites to serve only God--to put away all idols and to be aware of the areas of their lives where temptation might creep up on them. This week I've really had to confess my own selfishness and insecurities as an idol I've given more attention to than God. I do think it's difficult to be a Christian in our culture; it takes prayer and diligence to not get wrapped up in the pressures to be or look or act in a way that society accepts. Fortunately, I serve a God bigger than our culture. I think the verse I'll use to help me focus this week will be from Joshua's last instructions: "'Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord'" (Joshua 24: 14).