By Kyle Partin
“I hope that is washable,” my grandmother said to me during a family gathering when I rolled up my sleeves to play with my nephew.
“No, sorry Grandma, it’s real.” In fact, it was my second tattoo that she was looking at. My first was on the same arm but hidden well enough with a long-sleeve shirt. Now there was no hiding, no covering, and that was exactly how I wanted it.
I know what you may be thinking—tattoos are wrong and God told us in Leviticus not to get them, right? Well, there is a lot to be said about what God was intending during his instruction in Leviticus 19. If we were to follow this to the letter, we would all be sinning if we were also wearing clothing cut from two separate cloths (which, let’s face it, would result in muumuus or denim pantsuits). We couldn’t eat medium-rare meat, nor could we cut our sideburns. (Ladies, your special crush is a sinner.) These and a long list of other things were deemed sinful actions to the Lord.
So why would I, a youth pastor at the time, go and purposefully get tattoos if I knew they were so detestable? Well, I studied and prayed about it. Then I studied more and prayed a ton. Basically, it comes down to why God even listed off Leviticus 19: to distinguish his people from all the rest of the world. A major theme from cover to cover of the Bible is God’s people being set apart. Not running with the crowd. Being sanctified through word and deed.
We are to be set apart from society and culture. People should look at us differently because of how we rejoice during tough times, give to the needy, pray for one another and thank the Lord for every meal.
Jesus asks us to look at the fruit of a person’s life, because there are so many “holy people” out there who may look the part, but are far from it. What does the fruit I am bearing say about me? For all intents and purposes, I was living as best I could in accordance with how Jesus instructed, and Romans 8:38 tells me that nothing can separate us from the love of God. So why did my grandma then ask me out to lunch a week later? God and I were cool, right?
During this lunch, she told me with tears in her eyes that she wasn’t able to sleep for three days because I had scarred my body like this. She called her sister and was encouraged to hear from me why I had done such a thing. “So, Kyle. Tell me why.”
Well, I personally don’t believe tattoos are a sin. I do have rules, though. This is not something to take lightly. I was very prayerful, methodical and purposeful about what I got tattooed on my body at the time and have now.
This isn’t me recommending you get one; it’s my personal testimony on my journey with the subject.
My first tattoo is a scripture: Mt. 16:25, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. And whoever loses his life for me shall find it.” I have been in love with this scripture for years. I wanted to get it tattooed for years! I will never forget when my youth pastor told our group, “BE A LOSER!” “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26)
A year and half later, I got my second tattoo. This was the one my grandmother saw on my forearm. It was one hand pulling another out of the “muck and mire,” as David writes in the Psalms. I wanted people to see it. To know that God had pulled me out of the depths of my sin and placed me on a solid foundation—His foundation of love and grace through Jesus Christ.
Why hide it? Why get something that means so much to me and cover it up? “Grandma, I got this as another tool that I hope and pray God uses for His glory.” Thankfully, I can honestly say it has. But it is not the only way I do ministry. I am weird; I like tattoos. I want to be that old wrinkly guy in the nursing home with mangled, discolored skin of what used to be a tattoo.
I have been able to use my tattoos as a witnessing tool and talk to people about Jesus in conversations where He otherwise never would have come up. People don’t usually get a tattoo unless it means something really powerful to them personally. They are able to tell me about theirs and I am able to full-on share the gospel when talking about mine. It has opened more doors than I can count to form relationships and connect with strangers in a genuine way.
My grandma still wasn’t thrilled, but she now had the understanding of why I got them and the knowledge that all the tattoos were blatantly spiritual. She still wasn’t happy, and I don’t think she will ever approve, but at least I know she won’t lose any more sleep over it.
Which brings me to this—my rules for tattoos:
- Have the idea drawn up and don’t change it for six months. If, after six months, you still love it, then you will be okay with it when you are 80 years old.
- Think about your future job. Will this tattoo placement hurt your future employment? You can cover things up, sure, but that skull and crossbones on your neck might not scream “CEO” or even “customer service specialist.”
- Your parents must approve, especially if you live under their roof. If you are on your own, I would still seek their consent.
- Draw it on yourself with a Sharpie, try on different outfits and go over scenarios. This is a forever thing; make sure you love it in the particular location it will be in.
- Last, make sure it will not affect your future relationships. Nothing says “stay away!” like an ex’s name tattooed on your boyfriend or girlfriend’s arm.