One of the most revelatory experiences I had during my recent tenure as a pharmaceutical executive was the opportunity to watch cardiac bypass surgery at Baylor Heart Hospital in Texas. When I say, “watch,” I don’t mean from the viewing booth above the surgical theatre. Instead, the surgeons permitted me to stand on a stool near the anesthesiologist, inches from the patient’s head, where I was able to peer down into the patient’s open chest. For the particularly surgery I watched, the surgical team did not stop the patient’s heart. And, so, for an hour I stared, mesmerized by the beating and pumping of the heart, nestled literally at the core of this human body, skin and bone pushed aside. The patient was a man in his seventies, wizened and weakened by age and a variety of physical ailments and, yet, there beat this beautifully-crafted muscle that is not only at the core of our physical being, but represents the epicenter of human emotion and love.
Profoundly moved, I turned at one point to a certain colleague and said, “Watching this, it’s impossible not to believe in God.” Another colleague later said to me as we reflected on the experience, “All I could think as I watched was, ‘I praise you for I am wonderfully made.’” (Psalm 139) Despite the obvious wonder of that moment, we don’t often feel that way about ourselves or see the holiness in our own humanity. Women particularly (and I most certainly include myself in this category), engage in a lot of self-loathing, especially about our physical appearance:
“I look fat.”
“I hate my hair.”
“I want plastic surgery.”
“Why can’t I be taller?”
The personal attacks we wage against ourselves go on and on, and I would argue prevent us from being present and recognizing the inherent holiness (including ourselves) in our daily lives.
I have been contemplating how to change that, and to find ways to embrace who I am –flaws and all — and have come up with three (so far) approaches that involve practical but also prayerful reflection.
1. Ask yourself what you would give up. When you find yourself in that imaginary barter for a pair of thinner thighs, think about having to give up something that you actually like or appreciate about yourself. In other words, would you give up your beautiful singing voice for a pair of taut legs? Would you give up your superb intellect for thicker hair? Would you forego the friends you have made because of your loving, engaging personality to have liposuction? Interestingly, when I ask myself variants of these questions, the answer is invariably, “no.” Too often we become fixated on less-than-perfect, but fundamentally trivial attributes, ignoring our inherent wonder.
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me. . . My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139).
2. Look at yourself through your child’s eyes. Show me a mother who looks at her child and doesn’t see absolute perfection, despite the funny little gap in his or her front teeth, the gangly or perhaps chubby limbs, or the too curly or impossibly straight hair with the cowlick. The converse is equally true and, yet, we often choose not to focus on how our children or, for that matter, others, see us. In fact, with a lack of gratitude, we ignore and reject the positive reflection right in front of our eyes. I recall my son, Luke, when he was about four years old, saying to me, “You are the best Mommy in the word. I picked you.” I am so glad you did, Luke, and thank you for the reminder that God has picked me for a purpose which I gather has very little to with having a perfectly sculpted body.
“In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his Glory.” Ephesians 1:11-12.
3. Reflect on the love around you. Recently, I went through a box of memorabilia that my parents had kept stored in their home where I grew up. I found old birthday cards and letters that I had kept from my parents, brother and maternal grandmother sent to me while I was at college more than 25 years ago. I sat on the floor in my home reading card after card and letter after letter, struck by how much I was loved then and now. That lead me to think about how my Italian-speaking paternal grandmother and aunt called called me “bella santa,” or “beautiful saint” when I was a child. Beautiful saint. Let this type of affirmation wash over you the next time you are standing in front of a mirror railing at your wrinkles or the extra five pounds around your midsection.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Romans 8, 38-39
I have thought and still think a lot about that open heart surgery I watched, and what it meant to me. I know I will never forget it. Because I surely recognized God in that experience, how did He speak to me? “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” Having stared myself at a beating human heart, I can vouch that it is pretty awesome.
Copyright 2012 Leslie Rohrbacker