The other day I caught my daughter admiring herself in the mirror, all dressed up in her princess gown and tiara, while I stood behind the door, unobserved. Then she paused and took a step closer to the mirror, and carefully examined her face, rubbing at a little, bright red spot on her nose.
And my heart broke a little.
My daughter has a tiny blood vessel rupture under the skin on her nose that is harmless and will go away eventually, albeit in a few years. But it’s a noticeable “imperfection” that I’d hoped she wouldn’t notice.
I understand now how my mom felt.
When I was about 8 years old, we noticed that the shape of my jaw bone was slightly crooked. I went to a few doctors and they realized that I have a rare condition (harmless, non-hereditary, and random) where my jaw decided that one side was going to grow faster and bigger than the other side.
By the time I was able to have surgery at age 14, the left side of my teeth couldn’t touch when I would close my mouth and I had a noticeable facial deformity.
The funny thing about it is, it didn’t really bother me that much. I felt awkward and gangly, but honestly no more so than I think most middle schoolers feel. My family made me feel like I was a wonderful and beautiful and delightful girl.
Every once in a while, though, I’d see it in my mom’s eyes or in a little pained noise of pity she’d make. She’d say, “I know you’re fine, but I just wish you didn’t have to go through all this.”
I’d give a typical kid response of “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. It’s okay.” And I really was. I think it would all be much more traumatic or challenging for me to go through now than it was then.
Now decades removed from that experience and with children of my own, I understand my mom’s response better.
We don’t want our children to have something that makes them feel odd or flawed or different.
It’s hard to see them face challenges. (And trust me—I realize that a broken blood vessel and a crooked jaw are the least of the challenges some people face.)
I made it through my surgery, did what I had to do, and moved on. (I did have to have a follow-up surgery five years later, but that was fine, too. My face is still a bit lopsided, my grin most of all, but that’s okay. We’re all a bit wonky in one way or another.)
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering how I should feel about bodily imperfections in light of all I believe as a Christian, though.
Some people respond to concerns about bodily imperfections with this reassurance: “Don’t feel imperfect—God made you perfect just the way you are and you’re wonderful just as you are and shouldn’t want to be something else.”
I don’t agree with this, at least not in the way it’s often communicated.
We’re all imperfect, and not just spiritually. Some of us are more fully functioning than others, but nonetheless, from the day we’re born, we’re picking up scars, diseases, and carrying around the physical effects of a broken world that doesn’t always work properly.
Did God purposely and “perfectly” create my deformity? I don’t think so. No more than infertility, propensity toward addiction, susceptibility to disease, or a host of other physical difficulties so many face in this world.
It’s okay to wish it wasn’t so. It’s okay to recognize when things are not as they “should” be. Who we are, who we can be, and what we can do with this time on earth are not limited to our physical makeup, though. Because…
God DID perfectly create and make each of us perfectly capable of knowing Him and fulfilling His will.
No matter our physical limitations, we are capable of that. Our souls have been perfectly designed to be united to God through Christ.
Bodily perfection eludes us all, no matter how seemingly flawless a body may be. But God, in His great mercy, gives us all we need in this life to take hold of His perfection and be a part of His resurrection. **(See footnote.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful that I was able to have jaw surgery. It would be very hard to live with physical deformity or disability. I’m not claiming that it’s easy or shouldn’t elicit sympathy. We should be very considerate and compassionate toward those dealing with such challenges.
Does God care about our health and our suffering and physical “imperfections” here and now? Of course. And sometimes in His overwhelming love and generosity to us, He brings us healing from some of our physical pain and limitations during this life.
Physical perfection is not the purpose of our time here on this earth, though.
So, what will I tell my daughter the next time I catch her looking in the mirror?
Honestly, probably nothing much right now—she’s four, and listening to lectures isn’t quite her thing. Instead, through all my interactions with her, though, I am conscious of trying to convey what is most important.
Naturally, I tell her she’s pretty occasionally, although I try to emphasize other qualities more than that. Nonetheless, I think it’s important for my child to know that I think she’s beautiful.
I will tell her, though, that being pretty is not the most important thing. It’s not that important to have a spot on your nose. It’s okay to be bothered by it and wish it wasn’t there, but you can still accomplish all God has for you, whatever your physical condition.
As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, the “chief end of man,” is to “glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
We all have areas where we physically feel “less than” or imperfect. Some of these imperfections can be changed, and some cannot. Whatever our physical state, though, we are still precious to God and capable of glorifying Him.
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
**This point directly relates to the the recent news regarding the systematic elimination of individuals with Downs Syndrome from the population (specifically in Iceland but elsewhere, as well). Individuals with special needs are just as precious to God as anyone else. We can’t fully comprehend the ways God could be speaking to and through them, but they are as fully capable of participating in the kingdom of God as anyone.