“Be right back!” I said to my coworker as I ran to the ladies restroom in my office. Tearing open the Target shipping box, the bright red swimsuit I had ordered online fell into my hands. I slid the strapless, ruched one-piece on and swung open the bathroom stall door to look in the mirror. I gasped.
“Ugh, I look like a grandma,” was the first thought that crossed my mind. No offense to my grandmother, but I wasn’t used to seeing young women my age dress so modestly, and the lovely fluorescent lighting did nothing to lift my spirits. My reflection twisted and turned in the mirror as I tried to grasp the reality of what my body really looked like “covered” up.
At that moment, the changes I had been going through the past six months hit me like a train. I wasn’t struck by the lightning bolt of conversion. No, my timid steps to embrace a life of faith had been a long time coming. The youngest of a solid Catholic family, attending Catholic school from kindergarten through college, being continuously lifted in prayer by my family, and helping to care for a 97-year-old priest all combined to create a ticking time bomb of grace.
Six months ago, I was wrapping up my last year in college and interning at the world’s largest fashion magazine. Working for a publication that regularly spouted headlines such as “Look Sexy Now!” and “What Men Really Like” didn’t help the disconnect I felt between my lifestyle and what I believed to be right. The divide was painfully apparent in my relationships with friends and the opposite sex. I suffered from a lack of genuine girlfriends and instead ran to boys to fill the void I so keenly felt. I’d grab dinner and hang out late with “guy friends” because I wanted to feel wanted, not because I was interested in or cared for them. I played with their emotions as well as my own, all amplified in the self-serving, pleasure-seeking college atmosphere.
Not until I received flowers and a bottle of wine from a man I went on only one date with, followed by a series of calls from some of those “guy friends,” did I finally sober up. What in the world was I doing? Never had I felt so abusive of my responsibility toward another person. I used them and let myself be used. I had never fully grasped the fact that my actions and attitude about myself could powerfully affect others. I convinced myself that, as long as my intentions were good and my heart was in the “right place,” a seemingly small thing — like those “dates,” or wearing a revealing bikini — was harmless.
But I learned the hard way how precious I really am. For me to discover my own self worth, I embarked on a “dating fast,” dedicating my heart to Christ (as Divine Providence would have it, on the feast day of His Sacred Heart). I needed to take a step back and evaluate myself and how I related to others.
It was uncomfortable at first. Where before I would have given my number to a guy when he asked for it, I now began stumbling through awkward responses: “Uh, yes . . . I mean, no. Um, why don’t you just find me on Facebook?”
I’ve never felt more like a child in my life — and yet I’ve discovered how essential that humility really is. “Unless you become like these little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven,” rang in my ears. I was crawling like a child through the process of learning how to enter into real relationships with people.
Over time, I took the focus off my body and turned my gaze toward His body — something I still struggle with and have to choose to do every day. If we’re all one body in Him, who is Love itself, then our actions don’t just affect us. Wearing a two-piece doesn’t really affect me, but it could be (and probably is) a distraction for men to see me as a whole person, heart and all.
This one-piece swimsuit is a sign of the beginning of the end of my double life. I have been walking a tightrope for the past several years, straddling the line between my faith and a secular mindset, suspended between true commitment and just “good intentions.” But now I have His hands to hold onto, even when I stumble through this humbling process. It’s the only way to please God, and in His Mercy, I’m given the grace to reach for Him again and again.