When our daughter Grace turned 16, she wanted a tattoo. She wanted one bad.
I had always believed tattoos were a terrible idea. First, the Bible says so (aka – a Christian’s favorite way to shut down a conversation…) And also, I felt God created us the way we are – with clear skin and no ink because He liked us that way and didn’t feel His handiwork needed to be improved upon.
However, those arguments don’t work. The Bible does mention tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), but if Christians today accept that passage as timeless law, so too, would we have to observe the following: No eating shellfish or pork – locusts, crickets and grasshoppers, however, are encouraged. No wearing any type of blended fabric and bathing after sex would be mandatory. Men would also have untrimmed beards and be allowed many wives. And women – oh my – we’d be killing turtle doves and pigeons left and right as we lived up to the host of rules regarding childbearing and menstruation! No – I most definitely do NOT want to keep Levitical Laws!
We cannot pick and choose which old testament laws we’ll follow – either they are contextual and not explicitly meant for us today, or, we must agree to them all. Additionally, if God didn’t want us to improve upon His creation, why do I not object to make-up, hair-cuts, ear-piercing, and working out?
My arguments against tattoos were weak at best. But I still thought tattoos were stupid.
Then Grace asked for one. And she presented me with a well-thought out proposal that was difficult to refute. She reminded me of the following story that happened to some dear friends of ours:
Our friends had raised their children in a solid Christian home and taught them all the tenets of the faith. After highschool, however, their oldest son rejected Christianity. He chose to live life on the edges – doing all the things Christians consider “big sins”. When numerous problems began mounting in his life, his father tried to reason with him: “You know, son, I think if you returned to your faith you would find life easier. I think you’re making life harder than it has to be and coming back to Jesus would help.”
His son’s response was legendary. He whipped back with this retort: “Are you KIDDING ME?? No way, dad! Right now, I’m choosing the easy way! I’m choosing to live my life MY WAY! If I were a Christian, THAT’S when my life would get difficult – because I would follow Christ with ALL of me. I could never be like all the Christians I know – who pick and choose the parts of Christianity they want to follow. No way. I’d be ALL-IN. I’d be BALLS-TO-THE-WALL, dad. I think life should be hard for a true Christian – not easy. For me, there’s no compelling argument to follow Jesus because I just don’t see anybody living ALL-IN.”
When the father shared that story with us, he said, “He had me. He’s right, you know. Not many Christians really do live ‘all-in’ and ‘balls-to-the-wall’. It really isn’t a compelling movement to follow when most people only follow it half-heartedly.”
So….. Grace reiterated this story and then lays this on me: “I want ‘ALL-IN’ tattooed on my wrist. I want to be constantly reminded to live for Christ – all of me – not just part of me.” She had given it serious thought, and wanted “ALL-IN” written in Arabic because it would remind her of when we lived in Morocco and she felt the most “all-in”. She wanted it on her wrist because that is where the nails were driven that held Jesus to the cross. She wanted the lettering facing HER, because this was HER reminder: to live so ALL-IN that her Christian faith would compel others to follow Christ, too.
At least she wasn’t asking for a “BALLS-TO-THE-WALL” tattoo…
She started asking for the tattoo when she was sixteen. And Paul and I both said no. No way. We refused to let our lovely olive-skinned, underage teen daughter get inked. We have two surf-loving, guitar/drum playing, fairtrade-coffee-drinking, long-haired hippy sons in their young twenties and they’re not even inked yet.
I told her to go read Leviticus 19:28. Proof! KaPow! (maybe she wouldn’t notice the parts about beards, wives, and menstruation…)
I told her I’d think about it.
And her pursuit of that tattoo only built momentum over the coming year. If she ever fell short of the character we believed she had within her, she would say, “Well maybe if I had a tattoo to remind me of how to live…..”
She would often point out revered friends and/or popular role models who had tattoos and then ask, “Do you think [that particular person] lacks good judgment?”
She was good at this. Really good.
But as her 17th birthday inched closer, she hit me with the winning stroke:
“Mom, you know how the Bible says that our bodies are like temples? Well I was thinking – we find it perfectly acceptable and even good and necessary to adorn the temples, or churches, with things like stained glass windows, beautiful architecture and ornate carvings. And we believe this to be good because all of if should point others to the holiness and beauty of Christ” (I started to regret that we had taken her to numerous grand cathedrals all over Europe and Central America…) “Well, the way I see it, if we tattoo our bodies with beautiful art, or any symbol that points us or others to Christ, we are really trying to accomplish the same purpose. Only this is with our body-temples, not the building-temples. I think tattoos should have meaning. They could be art, or words, or symbols, but their meaning would be to remind ourselves or others that we serve a creative God, who delights in beauty, and is somehow glorified when we create beauty.”
She had me.
So on her seventeenth birthday, I took her to get her first tattoo. And I got my first one, too: