By: Sally O’Dwyer, Staff Spotlight
I was at the hospital the other day with my mom. (She had some minor surgery and is fine). The attending nurse asked her to change into a hospital gown. She changed out of her usual attire—dress, shoes, handbag, and jewelry. She donned a well-worn, plain, light-blue cotton gown. It occurred to me that this is how God sees us, unfettered by our apparel. We don’t have to dress up for God.
So, then, why do we spend so much energy, time, and money on what we wear and how we look? We are consumed with our appearance, living in a culture that values youth, thinness, and physical beauty. We are drawn to marketing efforts that promise to make us look like magazine cover super models. The fashion industry, thanks to us, is a multi-billion dollar global industry. We have to have the latest designer items so we can impress others. A Today/AOL Ideal to Real Body Image survey revealed that women spend an average of 55 minutes a day on their looks, which adds up to two weeks a year! Countless people look to the ever-growing cosmetic surgery industry for help. Worse still, some of us become so concerned about our looks that we experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and disordered eating.
Instead of looking to Christ, we seek approval from each other. We want affirmation from, and to be noticed by the people around us. We are desperate to fit in. We wear masks, trying to project an image of ourselves through the clothes we wear and how we present ourselves. We measure ourselves and others by outward appearance and standards. Yet, we fail miserably when we try to value our self-worth through what we own, what we wear, what neighborhood we live in, or what kind of car that we drive.
Christ tells us in Matthew 6:25-28 to stop worrying about such things as clothing and to have faith and to depend on God:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”
It is not how we look, but who we are, stripped of the material frills of this world, that God sees. God can see the beauty in us no matter what we have on, for we are His beloved. We are His children and we are His temple. Our great struggle is in realizing that we are truly created in the image of God and we that have inherent value and worth. If we believed this, we would not fear others seeing us for who we really are. If we spent less time on our appearance, we could do more for the Lord in following His most important commandments—to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we spent less time on ourselves, we could spend our time in a Holy Hour with the Blessed Sacrament or renewing our relationship with God in Reconciliation and Penance. We could reach out to a person in need.
Put a note on your bathroom mirror that say’s “I am God’s Beloved.” And, next time you peer into your closet and can’t decide what to wear, remember that Christ doesn’t want you to be anxious about your outfit and be on your way, for you are a child of God!
Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.
Sally O’Dwyer holds a Master’s Degree from The Monterey Institute of International Policy Studies. She is the Director of Volunteers for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.