On a recent ordinary afternoon, the sight of my daughter engrossed in a game of soccer moved me to prayer. At first, as I watched her fly across the field with her ponytail streaming behind her, her face flushed with determination, I swelled with gratitude for her natural instinct to live exuberantly in the body God has given her. Thank you, Lord, for her contentment.
In the very next breath, however, worry flooded me. She’s eight, I thought. How long will her confidence last? Will she still race against the wind when her straight lines bend into curves? As her body changes, will she revel in our Lord’s craftsmanship — or will she curl inward, lifting her eyes only to cast awkward glances at the mirror?
I lifted up a new prayer: Father God, please let her continue to see the body that you’ve given her as a gift. Help her to live in her womanly body as one loved and redeemed. Help her, no matter how the years change her, to know she belongs body and soul to you.
She Walks in Beauty?
Throughout the ages, artists have celebrated the elegance and loveliness of the female form in verse, paint, and marble. “She walks in beauty,” Lord Byron famously wrote, “like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And all that’s best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes.” While such lofty praise tantalizes and flatters, in our fallen world the realities of living in a womanly body are far more complicated.
When God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden, he ordained that one of the most fundamental experiences of womanhood would be painful: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16). There was a physical, corporeal consequence to our spiritual rebellion. Whether we bear children or not, that curse permeates life in a female body.
“Our bodies echo God’s good work in uniquely creating women to nurture life.”
The first inklings of trouble often surface in adolescence. As little girls, we race and climb like the boys, and for a few years we may even stand a head taller, thanks to our jump on the growth curve. Then puberty hits, and suddenly we swell in unexpected places. Clothes don’t fit quite right. Pimples dot noses, and hair darkens once-bare skin. In the face of unstoppable changes, insecurities bubble up and wash away our comfort in the body God has given us.
While boys also stumble through adolescence, research suggests that the toll on girls is especially high. One UK study found that almost half of surveyed adolescent girls reported frequent anxiety about body image, compared with only one-fourth of boys. The finding mirrors previous research suggesting that girls experience more dissatisfaction with their appearance and weight. Unsurprisingly, eating disorders are more than twice as prevalent among girls as boys.
Groaning in the Body
The complexities of life in a female body don’t end with our teenage years. If God blesses us with children, we marvel at how he has equipped the female body to sustain and nourish life — yet we do so while swamped with pain, exhaustion, and insecurity. Pregnancy breeds anticipation and wonder — along with aching joints, three months of nausea, another three months of insomnia, and countless other discomforts as our bodies stretch and groan. (My personal favorite was a repeatedly dislocating rib, a gift from my daughter in the third trimester.)
Then there’s the actual birthing process. Though lauded as magical on social media, in reality it’s painful, frightening, and fraught with danger for ourselves, our babies, and our families. When those long-awaited newborns enter our arms, we cry tears of elation but also face new trials. If we can’t nurse, we feel like failures. The continuous needs of an infant deplete us. Tumultuous shifts in our hormones can leave us feeling desolate, even depressed.
We stumble through motherhood, vocation, or both for decades, and then menopause hits. Our hair thins. Lines reflecting a tendency to laugh or worry permanently crease our faces. The baby weight that we promised to lose becomes a permanent fixture on our hips. A laundry list of medical problems piles up alongside a litany of advertisements that guarantee shiny hair and supple skin. Amid the deluge, we worry that we’re unattractive, undesirable — and no longer womanly.
So, while we can say with Lord Byron that beauty marks our God-given bodies, the mundane and awkward features of living in them confirm that we still walk in a sin-stricken world.
Amid the mire of culture and social media, our aching muscles and unwieldy hormones, we can lose sight of God’s goodness. The truth is that, while fallen, our bodies remain good even as we age and change because God made them good (Psalm 139:13–14). He created Eve because Adam needed a helper: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). God’s call for people to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) hearkens back to his design of women, whom he created to support new life.
The value of our bodies, therefore, resides not in what we accomplish by our own hands — not in the litheness of our limbs or in the firmness of our skin — but rather in what he has done, and continues to do through us.
Even if the Lord ordains that we remain childless, our bodies echo his good work in uniquely creating women to nurture life and to complement our male counterparts. Our minds work differently from those of men; while individuals vary, women overall have greater deftness in fine motor coordination, language skills, and memory, abilities that equip us to teach and guide those in our midst. While men have more muscle mass, our muscles more readily resist fatigue and recover at a faster rate, and we’re less prone to the effects of sleep deprivation. A woman’s body can endure the long, hard hours often required to care for others.
Even more important than such differences, however, is how God has made men and women similar: he created both in his image, for his glory (Genesis 1:26). And he has redeemed both through the blood of his beloved Son, who is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Means to Worship
Christ’s death and resurrection transform our relationship with every aspect of life, including our bodies. Rather than something to hide, bemoan, or idolize, the body is a means to worship. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” Paul writes. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
As women redeemed, we aim for modesty, for holiness, and for good stewardship of our feminine vessels (Ephesians 4:22–24; 1 Timothy 2:9–10). For our call “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” as the Westminster Catechism puts it, manifests itself in the way we use our bodies, not just in how we focus our minds and hearts.
“Rather than something to hide, bemoan, or idolize, the body is a means to worship.”
We can, as Paul entreats us, “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” resisting conformity to the world and committing instead to the renewal of our minds — and bodies (Romans 12:1–2). Rather than carnal spectacles for others to ogle, our bodies are godly gifts, entrusted to us so that we might worship him, glorify him, and walk in the good works that he has already prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).
Sure Hope for Frail Bodies
For the Christian woman weary of life’s physical toll, this news is cause for rejoicing. Our bodies remain good no matter the season of life through which we tread, no matter how we sag and ache, because Christ has made us new. The worth of our form hinges not on fashion trends, but on God’s one and only Son — who gave his life so that we might live, even as our bodies age.
In him we are never misshapen, withering, or out of style. Rather, we are members of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
As we talk with our daughters, whether with little girls racing across a soccer field or with teens scrutinizing themselves in a mirror, the gospel informs our conversations and infuses them with hope. Jesus redeems not only our souls, but our bodies, and so we reassure them that their shifting contours have a God-given purpose. If Christ has made them new, they can shut out the imagined reproach of others and instead embrace their identity in him.
No matter how awkward they feel, they were made women for a purpose. No matter how the world would chastise or pressure them, they are redeemed and made alive in Christ. And as image-bearers of the one true God, the female body in which they move and strive and love is very good (Genesis 1:31).