For my fortieth birthday, my mom so kindly offered to take me to a spa she loves. I said yes. Then I found out it was a naked spa.
This news was coming from my mom who once took my cousin and I to a nudist colony on accident one spring break in middle school. I said to my mom on the phone that I would bring a suit. I mean clearly, this had to have been a clothing optional women’s spa. But nooooooo. My mom told me they would probably tell my that I can’t wear a suit. I had never heard of such a place! You have got to be kidding me?
But she loved it and assured me I would to. So I packed my bag with very little and started passing hugs out as I walked out the door. My kids were getting ready for school and down the stairs, ran my daughter. I thought she was running towards me for hugs, but this eight year old, in her fear that I might have to be publicly naked with her grandma, handed me my bathing suit. She actually went into my closet and found my unfrequented spandex get up and brought it to me. I don’t know if that speaks to her care taking nature or how she feels about my naked body. Maybe both.
I said thank you and headed for this all too famous spa called the Olympus. I checked in at the door and first took off my shoes placing them in a cubby. They handed me what looked like a hospital robe and hat and my locker key. The further I moved into this facility, the more I was supposed to take off. My mom explained the culture of the place and all the amenities (the soaking pools, the sauna, the different rooms with mud, sand and salt- all to choose from throughout the day, the massages, the scrubs and much more). So I made the leap!
The leap looked like walking into a room full of soaking pools, fake plants, waterfalls and naked women with hospital hats on showering and soaking all around you. So I stripped down to my hat and made the plunge and when I did, these are the things that I was struck by in this place.
1. Naked you come, naked you leave
Stripping down to nothing is vulnerable because you have nowhere to hide. Nothing covers you. There is no security to fall back on. You are out there for all to see. I was reminded of what the Bible says in Ecclesiastes, “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.”
This nakedness is how I came into the world forty years ago and it is how I will leave. Much has taken place in the last few decades that have told me I should cover up. Adventures have bruised me. Words have scarred me. Pleasure has used me. Culture has lied to me. And I have lied to myself. My clothes have at times given me confidence, not in who I am, but what I wear. Other people’s expectations of me have told me that somehow, in and of myself, I am not enough. My hopes have never been satisfied at home in this body. And maybe you can relate.
Yet the Bible reminds us, this is how you came. Stripped down to nothing. No materials hold you. No fabric hides you. No jewels adorn you. Naked. And this is how you leave. No materials hold you. No fabric hides you. No jewels adorn you. Stripped down to you. Only you. Are you going to be gripping onto everything around you that covers you and brings you security or will you be ready when that day comes to depart in nakedness? This is a good question for me to answer…
2. Bodies are stories
As I was trying not to be the creeper in a naked spa, I started noticing bodies. There were what our society would label obese bodies and there were skinny bodies. There were shades of skin in spectrums of brown. I noticed no one actually looked white. On a demographic form they might mark white, but they were a hue of tan, of yellow, of cream. And the the hue got as vibrant as dark chocolate brown and hazelnut brown and….well there were a lot of colors.
I started to see that our bodies tell stories. Each and every one of them. That limp tells a story. That tattoo has to be a good one and might include too much tequila. The silver that comes in on her left side has years of stories. The scar on her stomach tells of something difficult and trying. The red birthmarks all over her arms and legs tell stories of shame and insecurity. That bruise the size of Texas spells out a hurtful tale. Her one breast tells a story you hope yours never does.
I was in a hot pool waiting for my service to begin. An older African woman walked in with glasses on, a book in hand that was titled “Grace” and of course her hat on. I wasn’t sure at first if it was weird to talk to another woman while we were naked. But she smiled at me and we started making small talk. But then she began to share her story. She was 76 and her husband now had Alzheimer’s. The love of her life was at a daycare for adults that day so she could get some rest. The father of her children was forgetting their names. The groom who romanced her was no longer able. She was so exhausted from all the work, the care taking, the forgetfulness, the loss. She soaked in rest, hoping, just for a few hours it would be a dream or at least pause and she could breathe in that longed for grace.
A woman came out to the soaking pools with a little card labeled number 7. That was me. I was number 7. I raised my hand as my body raised out of the water. It was my time for a scrub. She was Korean with the most beautiful smile that when shone upon you, actually made you feel beautiful. She held my hand and walked me into a room lined with many, many white tables. And there lay bodies. They came for respite, for refreshment, for self-care. Those bodies were stories.
Nana was her name and she patted the white table and invited me up to lay down and experience a scrub. Oh how uncomfortable at first! As she scrubbed my dead skin cells off, I asked her how often she herself gets scrubs. She said in broken English, “Oh! One time month.” I said “Wow, I am forty and I have never had this done. So we might be here a long time if you have to scrub a lifetime of dead skin cells off.” I laughed. So did she, as she kept scrubbing.
After everything dead about me, except those parts inside me that I still need God to make new, but after all my dead skin was lying on some white table in the back, my mom and I went into the “chill” room. It was a room with 4 chairs at a colder temperature than some of the other rooms to just sit and I suppose, “chill”.
We walked in and there were already two ladies sitting across from each other, leaving two other chairs. So I sat next to my new friend and my mom sat next to hers. We were all in our hospital gowns in this room and just chatting. Suddenly, and I say suddenly because it felt that shocking, my mom looks at the woman to her right and said “Hey, weren’t you the one who had that outrageous tattoo on your lower back that I saw out at the pools?” This lady was a full bodied, voluptuous lady with a hoarse voice. She was very funny and warm and seemingly open, outgoing and the life of the party and the life of the chill room. She said “Yes!” And as if that wasn’t enough information gathering, my mom said, “Can you show my daughter how cool it is?”
I was like a 15 year old again, “Moooooooom!!!” My mom looked at me like “What?” This actually was a cool moment where I realized where I had gotten my fun, crazy, spontaneity and wasn’t afraid to just live in the moment and connect with people in real ways. That is my mom… and where she rubbed off on me in this way, I like. It makes life spicy and the chill room not so chill!
The lady stood up without hesitation and begin turning around and disrobing! She was pulling her robe down to her very lowest back. Young people call this location for a tattoo a tramp stamp. But I will not call this lady a tramp! This woman revealed a huge tattoo that spanned from the left side of her lower hips all the way to the right. It was a fairy with an energy ball that said “troubled girl”. This tattoo had so much story and this woman began to share it. She talked about her “energy” work, her Native roots and then began showing us other tattoos and told more story. She shifted her robe down off one shoulder and showed us a tattoo that she believe warded off bad things. She said it has faded because she got 3rd degree burns last summer and she can’t get the color fixed for another year. You could see the burn that fanned over her entire shoulder and arms. A troubled girl beginning to tell of her trouble… I realized next time I look at another’s body, perhaps I should look for story rather than judgement.
3. Man looks on the outside, God looks at the heart
Bodies are stories. How can we dare judge them? What do I know about how that burn was caused and what led up to that moment and how painful that experience now effects this woman? How can I look at the woman in the waiting room eating 3 candy bars while she waited for a massage and judge her body that our culture says is disgusting? I have no idea what she hungers for and why she uses food to satisfy her. How can I judge the woman with a scar that goes from her chest though her rolls down to her pubic line? I have no idea her tragedy.
It began to be clear to me that I was so uncomfortable with the idea of being naked in a room full of people not because I don’t like being naked in itself, but because my body, my story, and the judgement of other people. I assumed my body will tell you “I am lazy. I am uncontrolled. I don’t deserve respect. I am not who I should be. I am ugly. I should hide.” We all have a long list of who we feel we are if someone were to judge our bodies. But what I love about God is that He isn’t playing this game. God is not weighing us on His Divine scale. He is not measuring our inches. He is not getting out the botox and the cellulite creams. The Bible says that is man. Man looks at the body. Man judges, Man sizes up. Man demands. Man expects. Man competes. Man envies. Man puts expectations on man that actually weigh us down instead lift us up. But God? God looks at our hearts.
1 Samuel 16:7 For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
God knows what happened that night like no one else. God knows what your motives were. God knows what you want to hide. He also knows what He wants to reveal. God knows what you are insecure about and God knows where He wants your security. We spend so much time worrying about our bodies, our appearance, our image and God says spend some time on your heart. It’s your heart that matters. And it’s your heart you will depart with, not your reputation, your beauty pageant wins, your marathon times, your titles, your bank account, nor your black suit. Naked you came, Naked you depart. When that day a comes, leave with a good story and a beautiful heart.