The shelves are stacked with glossy prints of smiling, radiant, bronzed and bikini-clad models, flightily skipping along yellow sandy beaches with perfectly styled ‘tousled hair’ flowing. One might strain hopefully for even a glimpse of any background figures resembling your average ‘Brit on holiday’, but sadly be disappointed. There are no red, shiny faces or painful sunburnt shoulders; nor the ghostly white holidaymakers, so carefully coated in indestructible layers of high-factor sun block that recognition of an identity beneath is virtually impossible. No, instead, stamped boldly across the magazine covers, are promises to provide ‘This Summer’s Ultimate Body, Hair, Skin and Tan Plan’ and the commands to ‘Shape up for summer – the countdown to beach gorgeous starts here!’
The pressure is on but, fortunately, help is always at hand; it seems that the resolutions to be out with the old and in with the new are everywhere and inescapable.
Diets of fruit, vegetables and water promise to transform drab complexions to shimmering, glowing and flawless skin. Various bottles of self-tanning oil give that natural Mediterranean sun-kissed glow to equip every inch of skin for public exposure whilst ‘20 fast, no gym fat burners’ensure that every muscle is lean and worthy of stylish swimwear.
These four-week, quick-fix plans are never thoroughly reviewed: summer gives way to autumn and the focus shifts to another area of the reader’s life that inevitably demands immediate attention and re-vitalisation.
The season of summer can often blend into the rest of our culture and become dominated with a concern purely for the external. Somehow, throughout our year, it is not hard to be gripped by the documentaries informing us that ‘we are what we eat’ and the assurances that the perfect job will mean money to keep up with the latest fashions and that this whole package will happily secure the perfect partner and that life can be complete.
The age-defying products and attempts to attain the perfect body deal with exactly that: the appearance of . . . the illusion of . . . something good, something perfect, something ‘defying’ what it naturally is. With a knowing smile, one might helpfully remind another that ‘Beauty comes from within, you know’, but there seems very little available in our culture to endorse or encourage such a ‘well-known truth’.
Supermodels and celebrities are the perfect picture yet the media flashes of drug and alcohol abuse stacked alongside histories of failed relationships frequently reveal a different story; their desperate attempts to hide the excruciating loneliness and brokenness that lies beneath the façade of fame. Nowhere can we find anything deeper. Our spirits and the realities of our lives are left untouched, simply masked by the array and image of beauty.
It is only Jesus who addresses the ‘healthy spirit’ and can look at our insides. The rippling muscles and fake tans are no mask to him.
He is the only one who offers us the make-over that we so desperately need and can transform our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. Outwardly, as sad as it may be, we cannot deceive time, nor does that have any bearing or significance on the part of us that really matters; the part that Jesus sees.
However hard we try, we may not discover success in the six-steps to six-packs, but we can be assured that, in Christ, inwardly we are being renewed day by day and being made more and more like Jesus Christ.
Fortunately for us, summer need not only be about appearances. One would certainly require a holiday after all of the preparations that are obviously deemed necessary! Summer, we hope, can come as an invaluable time of rest and recovery for us. We have been designed to need rest and simply cannot function well without it. We should follow the divine example and work in order to rest, not rest in order to have the strength to work.
‘By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all of his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.’ (Genesis 2:2–3 niv)
Let your summer be a time of refreshment, of rest and of refocusing. God declared a state of not working to be blessed; he blessed the seventh day.
We can ‘shape up for summer’. We may not feel that we match up to the model ‘beach-look’, but we can prepare ourselves for something infinitely more important. Why not take time alone with God, to read his word, pray and re-align your life with his will. We may feel spiritually flabby. Has the muscle of faith been left unused for too long? We can ask ourselves if our spiritual muscles have been worthy of the new life and salvation that we have been given by God? Find rest in him and he will equip you with all that you need for whatever challenges lie beyond your summer.
‘For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.’ (1 Timothy 4:8 niv)
So let’s disconnect from social media and the web this summer, and instead connect with God, our spouse, family and friends.