I jolted awake at the sound of my buzzing alarm. My legs swung over the bed and onto the shaggy carpet. I stumbled into the bathroom and fiddled with the light switch. Through bleary eyes, I glanced over in the corner where the bathroom scale resides.
My body started moving in that direction; I felt a magnetic pull towards the scale. Still in a sleepy haze, I was operating on autopilot without rational thought regarding my first choice of the morning. Yet as I began to rouse, the magnitude of that one little decision became apparent: the number on the scale was more than a figure to me.
The summer before my junior year in high school, I joined the cross country team. Prior to that, I could barely run a mile and had never completed a 5K course. However, the coach promised any student could transform into a competitive runner with proper training.
The first few practices were brutal. My legs howled, and my lungs begged for mercy. The heat and the humidity made it feel like I was running on the surface of the sun. In many of those early practices, I wanted to collapse on the ground in a sweaty pool and limply wave the white surrender flag.
However, the coach was right. Within weeks, I was striding alongside my teammates. My body adapted to the rigors of hard training, and my physique transformed too.
Before I joined the team, I had maintained an average weight and an unremarkable figure. With a few soft spots and curves, I resembled many of my peers. My body fell somewhere in-between fit and fat, but after weeks of training, I looked leaner and more chiseled. The form-fitting shorts and snug top clung to my trimmer shape.
“Wow, you look great!” boys noticed.
“Have you lost weight?” friends exclaimed. “You look amazing!”
I lapped up the positive attention. The comments compounded in my ears until I heard one unified message: When I am skinnier, I am more beautiful and loved.
I marveled at my new runners’ physique, but I felt like I could do even better. I started eating salads for lunch. Then, salads for lunch and dinner. Then, nothing for breakfast and lunch. Then, I added more miles after practices, followed by a few miles in the morning also applying sit-ups and push-ups.
My body changed again. My new athletic build dwindled down to skin and bones. The attention increased, but it then took the tone of concern. I believed those voicing the biggest fuss were mistaken, jealous even. In my distorted mind, my gaunt frame only served to enhance my appearance.
My concerned parents forced me into counseling. In the confines of a stuffy office, with leather armchairs and a wall of thick medical textbooks, I poured out my heart to a sympathetic psychologist behind a wooden desk. He scribbled notes and cleared his throat and nodded during teary, painful moments of conversation.
After several sessions, he pushed back his spectacles and gently voiced, “You are struggling with anorexic tendencies.”
He continued, “Anorexics deprive the body of food, but the lack of food is the byproduct of a deeper internal struggle.”
I muffled cries as he spoke truth into my broken, famished soul.
With his guidance, I spent months working on a healthier mindset. With the added help of a family practice doctor, I pumped calories and nutrients into my body. Eventually, my weight returned to a normal range.
My body rebounded, but it took me years to fully understand I was starving for more than just food.
I moved away from the bathroom scale and instead, wandered into the kitchen and flipped on the overhead light. Daylight had yet to break over the horizon, and a hush still blanketed the house. My dimly lit kitchen felt a bit like a quiet sanctuary and a serene luxury.
I shuffled over to my farmhouse table and settled into a high-back chair. My well-worn, leather Bible and spiral notebook sat on the counter. I flipped through the crinkled pages until it landed on a familiar page. Red marks, underlined words, and dried tears marked this as a beloved passage.
1 Samuel 16:7 says “The Lord does not look at the things that man looks at. Man looks at the outer appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
For years after that fateful cross country season, I battled with man-made notions of beauty. Counseling and nutritional guidance put me on the right path to good health, but I lacked one final piece. I continued to hunger for love, acceptance, and value that could never be found upon the scale.
As I grew in my relationship with God, my cravings changed. I craved the right heart and not the right size. I did the unthinkable. I strove to become bigger but in God’s eyes. The new shift in perspective brought an inner change that transformed my thoughts on my outer appearance. I found beauty, value, and self-worth, but not on the scale.
I’m a mom now. In the forefront of my mind is how I am communicating these hard-earned lessons on worth and value to my own children. When my kids and I talk, I bypass terms like weight, shape, and physical attractiveness. Instead, I encourage strength in character, health in emotions, and beauty in a robust relationship with God.
After years of searching, I was able to find my beauty, and it had nothing to do with weight or size. When it comes to my children, we only discuss size when it comes to their hearts.
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Featured image courtesy of Hill Smiley Photography
Rebecca Wood lives in Zionsville, Indiana with her husband and their four sons. Rebecca is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Travel Indiana, Runner’s World online, Indy’s Child, Cincinnati Parent, Dayton Parent, Hamilton County Parent, and MomSense magazine. When Rebecca is not writing, she can be found driving carpools, packing lunches, and folding laundry. She seeks to reflect Jesus well in the mundane and the profound. You can connect with Rebecca on Facebook and Instagram.