I’ve always thought tattoos stood for something beautiful. A permanent and unchangeable mark of a decision made – a sign that you stood for something, believed in it so much that you had to make it an indelible part of you. I imagined tattoos always come with great stories.
Google tells me that tattoos have meant different things over the years. It was a sign of ownership for slaves, status for the Egyptian women, affiliation for certain groups (think biker gangs or the Japanese Yakuza). In earlier days in England, they were a sign of being in the upper crust of society.
I think people get tattoos today out of vanity. They look good, they make us stand out. They’re a tasteful rebellion to social norms.
That’s me. I can’t deny it: I wanted a tattoo because I thought it would look good. Besides, it would tell anyone looking who I am and what I stand for – the ultimate storytelling tool.
THAT CONVERSATION WITH MUM
Why you would want to put something so permanent on your skin?! Many well-meaning people in church recited Leviticus 19:28 to me, and affronted relatives protested.
I had this argument figured out. During Moses’ time, the people in neighbouring countries got inked with symbols of various gods; it was also their way of mourning the dead. Surely that’s what the law was about – worshipping other Gods. As long as I do it with the right spirit, it’s cool. Besides, the Mosaic law isn’t very relevant today.
I wasn’t convinced … until I had that conversation with my mother.
I knew my parents had a firm stand when it came to tattoos (don’t they all?). But I knew my mother would be more willing to listen to reason. I started off by asking her what she thought of tattoos – I wanted to ease her into it, lest she accused me of giving her a heart attack.
She answered me with a question: “Why would you want to do something that everybody else is doing nowadays? It’s become a norm and everyone seems to have them.” My mother is a smart woman; she knew she was speaking to the non-conformist in me.
“Besides, why do you want one so badly? Do you need it?”
I was happy for a while – I had been given the green light. Sort of. It wasn’t a straight “no” – that was good enough for me. So why was I still hesitating?
I tried to win her over with my love for stories, saying that I really wanted to wear mine on my skin. They’d make for interesting conversation starters – they could serve as talking points with my non-Christian friends! #inkvangelism
She reiterated what we both already knew: My father would not approve. But she ended the conversation with this: “If you have the peace to do it, then by all means. I can’t stop you. You’re old enough to think for yourself. But if you want to know what I really think, I wouldn’t want you to do it because you’ll probably regret it in time to come.”
She left it as that and I mulled over it for the next few days. I was happy for a while – I had been given the green light. Sort of. It wasn’t a straight “no” – that was good enough for me.
So why was I still hesitating?
THAT CONVERSATION WITH GOD
In Leviticus 19, God gives His laws to the Israelites. The first law He gives: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God am holy.” And the second: “Each of you must respect your mother and father”.
As I read those verses, I felt a tugging somewhere inside me. I was starting to realise a few things about my motivations behind getting a tattoo.
No, the tattoo(s) that I had planned to get weren’t literally of idols or other gods – but they were the idols in my life. I had romanticised and glorified my pain, my stories. I may not have been worshipping them, but I was letting them taking precedence over what God had called me to do: Be holy and honour my parents.
Then, there were all these other questions that I had to answer.
BEFORE YOU PUT NEEDLE TO SKIN, ASK YOURSELF …
- Why do I want to get a tattoo (Psalm 139:23-24)?
- Am I glorifying God with it (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
- Will I honour my parents with my decision (Ephesians 6:2)?
- Will it stumble anyone (Romans 14:13-15)?
- Does it show Christ in me (Galatians 1:15-16)?
- Will I still want this tattoo, even if I had to wait till I was 30 to get it?
- Will I have a good enough answer when my kids ask me about my tattoos in the future?
Deep down, I didn’t have the peace. I knew I wouldn’t be honouring my parents if I decided to get it done. I struggled for a while before I finally laid my desires at God’s feet.
I can still imagine myself getting a tattoo every now and then, but the strong inclinations are gone. I still admire my friends’ tattoos and what they stand for. But I don’t have the peace to get one done for myself. Not if it’s just my vanity speaking.