Body Image, Fear, Health, Illness, Insecurity

Karen’s Story: Vanity, Fear, and Faith

I have been self-conscious for the past ten years because of a scar on my face that was left by a curling iron burn. I am vain, and I don’t want people to think I am ugly. Often, I let my fear of how others see me control how I see me–instead of seeing myself through the eyes of the One who created me.

About five or six years ago, this scar on my face began to flake, bleed, and fall apart. I went to the dermatologist who biopsied it, and it came back benign–nothing concerning.

And then this year was different. The PA I saw for my check insisted we needed to biopsy the scar yet again, and confirmed basal cells–skin cancer.

Less than two weeks later, I had back-to-back surgeries to remove an oval about 1.5” x 2.5” on my right temple. The second surgery was a skin graft by a plastic surgeon. He took skin from my clavicle to repair the hole in my face, leaving a 4.5” scar on my collar bone area, in addition to what now looks like a patch of skin, sewn onto my face.

I became fearful and anxious. I feared what I would look like once healed and had anxiety about the months of healing in between. As I write this, I am seven days post-surgery. I have a big hole in my face that looks like is has been covered with “Press ‘n Seal,” and I still have not been able to wash my hair or face. It is still fresh. It is still raw. And I am still preaching the Gospel to myself daily as I walk through the physical and emotional healing process.

Jesus, Lord over every cell

I am quick to fear, and when I do, God is faithful to remind me of his lordship. Jesus is Lord, and he is sovereign. He created every cell in my body and knows when others invade, and he is in control of those too. How could a God who created the universe not be?

Psalm 139 was something that the Holy Spirit called to mind when I was laying on the table, waiting for them to take a larger section of my face. It says,

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

This is such a beautiful reminder that the God of the universe created me and has already written my life’s story. He has planned every one of my days, including the one when I was diagnosed, the two days I was in surgery, and the day when I will finally feel like my face is mine again. I may feel out of control, but He is always in control. In fearful moments like those, I can remember how God cares for me and how he protects.

As I lay on that table wrestling with fear, God consistently reminded me that he was with me in trouble, that he would protect me, and He would answer me when I called to him (Psalm 91). I was able to cling to these peace-bringing truths, to cling to Christ in love through his Word, and he met me in my fear and calmed my spirit.

Vanity outside and fear inside

I am quick to fall into fear and vanity because I am a sinner. God’s Word tells of our sin and the consequences of it throughout. It tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The fear and vanity that are within me will continue to be struggles of mine in this world that cause me to fall short of the glory of God. James describes it this way: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

My intense desire to be in control of my own destiny and for physical beauty can lead me to sin. But I don’t want the result of that sin in my life, and yet I continue to struggle with it. I can’t get through a day without being concerned about my looks and appearance and what people think of me. I fear that I will never look the same again, and that make up and my hairstyle won’t be able to hide the scar left behind. I’m afraid that people will stare or won’t want to get to know me as a result.

I don’t have the ability to stop sinning completely. And because of that, I can never earn my way into a holy God’s favor. I need Someone else who can…Someone better…Someone who has already done all of the work for me.

A high priest who sympathizes

I need a Savior, and Jesus Christ is that Savior. He has already lived the perfect life that I cannot live. He lived for 33 years without sinning once; he never gave in to the temptation to sin; never an ugly thought or a hurtful word spoken or a lie told. For those 33 years, he never allowed fear to control him or vanity to dictate his behavior or decision making. I struggle to live 33 minutes that way!

But God’s Word says that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus lived 33 years of being hurt, abused, and mistreated–yet responded with love, patience, and self-control. He faced threats on his life regularly for the three years of his ministry, and trusted in his heavenly Father to provide for him, never allowing fear to take root. He spoke truth even though he knew he would be hated; he did not allow vanity or fear of man to cause him to respond any differently.

And he died in my place, so that I wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences for my sins of fear and vanity. He took the punishment that he did not deserve so that I could be shown grace and mercy. God turned his face and allowed his wrath to fall on his only Son so that it wouldn’t fall on me. Jesus willingly laid down his life as a sacrifice once and for all. He then rose, conquering death and hell; he ascended and sat down at the right hand of God the Father, signifying that the work was complete. There was nothing left to do.

Nothing I can do will make up for my sin. Jesus Christ did the work and will have the ultimate victory over sin and death (Hebrews 10:11-14). So I can respond in gratitude and joy through faith.

Looking to him with radiance

Because Christ has already done the work required, I can now trust and obey. Because I believe and trust in Jesus Christ’s saving power, the power of the Holy Spirit now lives in me and guides me to respond in faith and obedience to God’s Word. Because of Christ, God looks on me as though I have Jesus’ perfect record. And the Holy Spirit will help me to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). I won’t be perfect until I am reunited with the Father in eternity, but the Holy Spirit will help me root out sin and respond differently than I did before. And God’s Word tells me how I should respond when faced with temptation.

In Matthew 6, Jesus says,

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

I am reminded of how much my heavenly Father loves me. He provides everything that I need. He has removed my cancer from me and has replaced my missing skin with new skin, grafted in from my own clavicle. How amazing is that? He is healing me every day. I can trust my loving Father to walk with me through that process and whatever comes next. This passage addresses both fear and vanity and reminds me that God has promised to provide for my every need.

When I am tempted to fear, God reminds me that he “gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7) and that I don’t need to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6-7). If I obey and follow his commands, he promises to replace my sinful fear with power, love, self-control, and peace that surpasses all understanding.

Also, when I am tempted to vanity, I can remember that God’s Word says, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Psalm 34:5). It also says in Proverbs 31 that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” The desire that God has put within me is for him, for eternal things–not for earthly beauty. I long to be a woman who fears the Lord, who looks to him and is radiant because of his beauty and goodness, not my own! Holy Spirit, help me to live like this! Fix my eyes on Christ and things eternal and not on myself and the things of this earth!

I am not yet healed, and I will face more trouble and the breaking down of my body while on this earth. But I am clinging to the hope that is in Jesus Christ. And I am trusting that he will use all things for the good of those who love him, praying that this too will bring glory and honor to him in my life and heart. For this, I am so grateful. So in this and every other trial and area of my life, I will trust in him above all else, because He is good and faithful and trustworthy. “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34).

View and listen to Karen’s story at one of The Orchard’s “Stories and Songs” event.

Karen is a stay-at-home mom of three and former social worker who runs a calligraphy and engraving business in her “free time.” Karen and her husband, Dan, have been married for 18 years, attending The Orchard for the last 8 of those, and are currently figuring out how to be parents of teenagers. Karen is passionate about Jesus, music, studying and teaching God’s word, traveling with her family, and almost any food that’s sugary sweet and 100% bad for her.

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