I came across a post recently about which I can’t stop thinking. It’s a post by Rachel Held Evans titled, “Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go.” I can only imagine that I was intrigued by the title because of my sinking feeling that after two back to back kids I have indeed, “let myself go.”
When Preacher Man and I were dating, he told me one time that it was every man’s secret fear that his wife would bait and switch him. That she would look one way when they got married and another (presumably less attractive) way after they’d been married for awhile. That she would let herself go. If he reads this, I have a feeling that he’ll probably wince at the thought of those words representing his mindset and tell me that I’m lovelier now than the day he fell in love with me. But still – those words are a part of the larger message I’ve received about getting older, having babies, getting wrinkles, having stretch marks, getting grey hair, and having widened hips. That larger message is loud and clear. At best, the message is that those aspects of my body are to be covered, highlighted, and creamed to death. At worst, the message is that I’m only as valuable as the amount of heads I turn. Having just lost 30 lbs, I can attest to the fact that I’m treated very differently by men then I was 30 lbs. ago. That’s not to say I was ever disrespected or ignored, but I’m no doubt smiled at more often now. I’m listened to more closely. My jokes are laughed at more. In short, I’m treated as if I’m worth more because I’m more attractive. This sometimes subtle and sometimes overt message that women of faith are given seems to creep ever-so-closely to the message we’re given by society. Our worth is equated to our level of attractiveness. A good Christian woman remains attractive to her husband because that makes her worth staying faithful to.
The Godly woman is asked to walk a very fine line that is infuriating. On the one hand, we’re told that we need to be attractive to our husbands in order to keep their eyes and hearts from wondering. But not too attractive, lest we draw unwanted attention. We need to dress in figure flattering clothing, but not too figure flattering – lest we cause a brother to stumble. Mark Driscoll (for whom I actually have a lot of respect) was quoted as saying, “It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness.” I audibly laughed when I read that, because my experience has been in stark contrast. If anything, the pastor’s wives that I know are like guard dogs. Because our husbands are in a position of leadership and are looked at with great respect, we well know that some women will be attracted to the man God has given us. We know that some of those women will even subtly flirt with our husbands, and some of those women will gladly flaunt their bodies in hopes of getting a second glance. From our husbands. The pastors’ wives I know fall into the opposite category of trying to dress and be attractive enough so as to keep their husband’s eyes and mind where they belong. So before you get all judgey -judgey about how the wife of one of your ministers is dressed on Sunday morning, keep in mind that she’s most likely deeply insecure and is just trying to keep her man.
And you know what? It’s not working. Pastors with beautiful wives are being unfaithful. Men married to celebrities, super models, and porn stars are cheating. I think Christian wives have had a great disservice done to them with the message that you have to earn faithfulness, and I think it’s killing us.
I would agree that in a healthy marriage, each spouse desires for the other to be attracted to them. However, my message to all you men out there is this: I’ve never met a woman (at least a woman who wasn’t in an abusive relationship or with a husband who was steeped in sexual sin) who DIDN’T want to be attractive to her husband. Even a newly postpartum Mommy whose belly still looks six months pregnant, who can’t find time for a shower, who walks in pain and shudders at the idea of sex, who smells like spit up and who may have under-eye circles a mile wide – yes, even she wants her husband to be attracted to her. She wants her husband to marvel and be in awe of what her body has accomplished and is accomplishing in those early weeks. She wants him to know that he has never seen a more beautiful sight than a woman’s body doing what it was created to do.
Even the woman who has worked in a stressful job for two years and whose body has taken the brunt of that stress – who has gained 20 lbs, whose face has aged, and whose shoulders literally look weighed down with the weight of the world. She wants her husband to be inspired by her dignity and strength, and find her beauty absolutely stunning simply because it’s her. It’s the her he pledged to love, honor, cherish, and be faithful to. There’s no clause in there about that only being the case if she gussies herself up and earns it.
Most females I know have a very clear message spoken into their hearts from the time they reach about six years old. Every woman feels like she is at the same time “too” something and “not enough” something. I’m too fat. I’m not curvy enough. I’m too brainy. I’m not smart enough. I’m too busty. I’m not busty enough. I’m too reckless. I’m not fun enough. I’m too proper. I’m not lady-like enough. It’s overwhelming, and everywhere we look we are only reaffirmed in that message. As often ( or possibly more) as men say they are confronted with lustful temptation, we are confronted with the message that we will never, ever, ever measure up. That at our core, we are simply not good enough.
It’s shameful to me that the men in our midsts are only affirming this message. Our men who love God are heaping condemnation on their wives for so-called “letting themselves go.” They are only affirming what we’ve been told and shown since we were little – that our worth is based on how attractive we are. In this case, Christian wives are being told that they must earn faithfulness. What would happen if men loved their wives truly unconditionally? What would happen if men were genuinely so in love with the soul of their wives, that instead of being chagrined when life circumstances change her body, he is amazed and in awe of the transformation? What would happen if Christian husbands spoke beauty into their wives, instead of showing her that she’ll never be as beautiful as the things that tempt him?
What would happen if instead of affirming the message of worthlessness in their wives, our men of God redeemed them?
I’ll leave you with one final thought from the blog post that inspired me to get all riled up. I don’t know that I realized how pervasive these beliefs were in my life until I saw them in writing. I wept when I understood the distance these lies have caused between God and I, and the sense of worthlessness I carry around. I pray that I would look to God to find out what He thinks of me and how I’ve cared for my temple- something tells me it’s vastly different than the lies I’ve allowed myself to believe.
Rather it (the goal of the author) is to help set women free—from the lie that God is disappointed when our bodies change, from the lie that it’s our fault when men cheat, from the lie that we become worthless as we grow older, and from the lie that that the Bible is just another glossy magazine whose standards of beauty we will always fail to meet.