I have had an epiphany of sorts. I’ve been reading several different things lately that have begun to crack open my eyes to the importance of being kind to my body. I fully admit that 90% of the time, I despise my body. In my anger-colored view, my body has cost me almost everything that meant something to me – my career, financial stability, my purpose, even the outward mask I put on for people (aka, my looks). Not because I’ve ever thought I was particularly pretty, but because my looks are a part of the ‘got-it-all-together’ act I put on for the world. During moments of intense pain and anger, I have openly cursed my body. Even now, if I’m being totally honest with myself, I hate my body. I know it’s true because when I say that, my insides light up with fiery rage. But, along with that rage is just a twinge of guilt and sadness, which is why I know that there is hope for the hatred to dissipate.
Here is my epiphany: How can I expect a body that is so physically, verbally, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually-abused to be anything but ill? Think of someone who has been told all of her life that she is worthless. Will she not likely eventually believe it?
I’ve physically abused my body for years. My go-to food had always been wheat, or other things that turn straight to sugar as they are digested. As a teenager I developed “chicken skin”on my arms, which can be a tell-tale sign of a gluten intolerance. But instead of working to figure out what my body was trying to tell me, I picked at it and abused it further, leaving me scarred for life. I continued to eat only cereal every day for breakfast all through college. Starting my day with pure sugar naturally means that my body will need more sugar throughout the day in order to avoid a crash. But at that point I was still living in ignorant, fairly-healthy bliss so I didn’t see any reason to change my habits.
Then came the first job in my Social Work career. I continued to eat cereal (wheat) for breakfast. Most days I ate granola bars and yogurt (both of which usually contain wheat) for lunch. Then, after a 10-15 hour work day, I was too tired to cook anything nutritious so I would very often go home to frozen ravioli or spaghetti (more wheat). Gluten OVERLOAD. The teenagers with whom I was working made fun of my bad skin, which was maddeningly much worse than theirs. But still, I attributed it to stress and continued to hate this face that God gave me. I was disgusted by my disease-ridden body. But I did nothing to fix it until it finally broke.
When I finally started feeling incredibly ill, many times fearing or praying for death, I continued to hate my body. Every moment that it took me away from my job or my social life was another mark against it. I blamed absolutely every bit of pain, nausea and illness on this wretched body that I had been given. It seemed unfair to me that I got the dysfunctional end of the deal. It never occurred to me that I had a massive role in causing my body to behave in this way. When my body had reached the last straw and violently reacted to the mountain of abuse I had given it my entire life, I had the nerve to despise it.
What I am realizing is that instead of throwing intense hatred at this body God has given me, I should be thanking it. You see, my body has done me the biggest favor of my life. It is slowly stripping away everything that truly means NOTHING. The mask I’ve worn for years has been cracking and falling of. I usually have to wear glasses because my eyes are too dry for contacts. I can no longer color my hair or wear makeup or nail polish due to chemical sensitivity. I can’t use regular shampoo so my hair doesn’t style well and it’s full of premature grays. A silver and nickel sensitivity is trying to force me to get rid of my jewelry (thus far I’m being stubborn about that one!) Now, when I see pictures of myself I am struck by how thin and sick I look. Slowly, but surely, it is stripping away every bit of the facade I used for years to cover this miraculous body with which I was gifted. It is forcing me to be honest with myself and the world about who I truly am. How is that for beautiful rubble?!
To quote the author Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. in her book, Close to the Bone: Life-Threatening Illness as a Soul Journey: “It is a risk to be authentic and shed persona, armor, defenses; and it is a loss if we do not take the risk, for then there is no possibility of intimacy. If we live behind gates emotionally, thinking that this will keep us safe, the only certainty is that our decision will keep us isolated, in a box of our own making.” My body is simply helping me, forcing me to stop hiding, start being vulnerable, and begin to live as the real me.
Not only is this season challenging me to learn to love my body as it is, it is shifting my priorities to where they should have been all along. Everything I had built my fake little life around (my career, my financial stability, my purpose, my mask) is now in last place, right where it should have been all of these years. I am being forced to cling to, and nurture, the only things that really matter in this life. What matters is my faith, which I am learning was much more precarious than I would have ever thought. My marriage, which grows stronger with each passing “in sickness” day. My family, with which I am able to communicate more frequently now that I am home all day. I still struggle with the fact that this illness has stolen the chance for me to be part of the lives of my nieces and nephews, but I am working on forgiveness in that area. I am learning the importance of kindness, health and vitality in this beautiful body that was given to me by God. For my whole life, I have treated my body as anything but a temple for the Holy Spirit.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)
What I am realizing, through the most painful of avenues, is that my perception and treatment of my body is incredibly important. A verse I came across that I had never noticed before shook me to the core.
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” – 1 Corinthians 6:15a (NIV)
My body is part of Christ himself?!?! !!! I am completely humbled, saddened, and prostrated in guilt when I think of how poorly I have treated CHRIST HIMSELF. Completely changing my perspective on who I really am and what matters most is going to take some very difficult, painful, but incredibly rewarding soul-searching. It’s going to take time and I’m going to mess up, but learning to give myself grace can only help me in offering that same grace to others. It is worth every blood-drawing rock or splinter as I climb out of this rubble. When I think of my situation in this way, I cannot wait to see the person I become, the person I should have been all along. When I think about my body being Christ, I want to grab my own chisel and shovel and start flinging off all the meaningless stuff into the pit.
I love this quote from the book I mentioned earlier:
“To be brought ‘close to the bone’ through the adversity of illness, the closeness of death, and the knowledge that we are not in control of the situation, is to come close to the essence of who we are, both as unique individuals and as human beings. Like X-ray films on which the bones are the most distinct because they are the strongest and most indestructible elements of the body, so it is that adversity reveals the eternal, and thus indestructible, qualities of the soul.”
Oh, how I long for my eternal self to be the self I know, and the self I show to the world. I thank God for this terrifyingly-beautiful opportunity and I thank my body for shaking off the rubble.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” – Romans 12:1 (NIV)