The speaker at our Charismatic church was known for her focus on deliverance ministry. She was all about confronting specific demons that she believed were harassing or even controlling people, casting them out in the name of Jesus. As with so many things in that congregation, there was truth (Jesus delivers) mixed in with emotion, theater, and a very weird stew of erroneous dogma. As I listened to her speak, I thought she was skating out on theologically-thin and spiritually-dangerous ice. She lost me when she called out those suffering from “a spirit of menopause” to come forward to receive prayer.
I was in the throes of perimenopause and wasn’t on good speaking terms with my changing body, but I knew she had veered into serious error. Perimenopause, the process by which our bodies move into menopause, can last from between four and ten years prior to that. Some of us move through these years of transition without a hiccup, and others experience sometimes debilitating symptoms including irregular periods, mood swings, lower sex drive, hot flashes, and difficulty sleeping.
I wrote in Becoming Sage: Cultivating Maturity, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife:
If we are created in God’s image, the cessation of menses is as much a part of His good design for women as is our eye color. Had death not entered the equation at the fall in the garden of Eden, perhaps menopause as part of the natural aging process wouldn’t exist or would look entirely different than what we experience now. Any discussion of spiritual formation at midlife must begin with the foundational truth that both women and men are crafted in the image of God. He created us above all the rest of His creation to carry out His purposes on earth (Gen. 1:28) and live in communion with Him and each other (Gen. 2:24). The fall marred, but does not erase, the beautiful reality that each one of us as individuals—and all of us together as humanity—carry our Maker’s imprint.
If God calls us to glorify Him with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19– 20), then He has a purpose for those marvelous bodies at every physical life stage and within every limitation.
It was shocking to realize that God called my perimenopausal body good.
The shock continued when I recognized that he also loved my body when I entered menopause. (After a woman has ceased to have a menstrual period for a full year, she’s considered to be in menopause. The average age of menopause in the United States is 51.1.)
To tell you the truth, the shock as this reality began to dawn in my life left me feeling as though my body might have heard the gospel for the first time even though my heart, mind, and soul had been committed to Jesus since I was a teen. All that time, I’d gotten the message at church that my body was a problem, not a gift. The spirit of menopause minister was for me the beginning of the end of accepting that message without question.
There’s been a necessary reckoning in the church in recent years for the terrible messaging that many from my generation (and generations earlier) passed on to our children about our bodies. Fear of a hyper-sexualized culture led to overreaction around the Bible’s call to modesty, chastity, and holiness. I grew up in a household filled with porn, and was damaged by it. As a result, I embraced the alternative messaging about purity I heard in the church. I still believe the message was good, but the overemphasis on performance-based behavior left wounds in the lives of young people, and taught me to see my own body as a problem, not a gift.
There is a reason that Jesus’s bodily incarnation and resurrection is core to the gospel. Some of my theologically-progressive friends view the resurrection as a metaphor, not a literal, physical reality. But creation and re-creation are not simply inspirational narratives. They are truth. They express something essential to us about who God is and what he does. He loves our bodies, and is redeeming them even as they age and fade.
Again, from Becoming Sage:
During the second century, Irenaeus of Lyons fought the heresy of Gnosticism that threatened to take root in the church. This heresy elevated the spirit above the body and physical world in importance. Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Jesus, fully God and fully man, came to us in a human body because every part of us—heart, soul, mind, and body—is in need of the redemption He wrought for us. His bodily resurrection underscores the reality that His salvation encompasses the whole of who we are.
Today in many churches, we hear a low-level form of modern Gnosticism in the way we talk about salvation. When we describe faith in terms of mental assent to facts about God or we equate our ecstatic emotions after a powerful revival service as a measure of His nearness, we feed the erroneous narrative that the spirit is more important than the body. In addition, well-meaning attempts to counteract our culture’s approach to sexuality have resulted in messaging in some streams of the church that bodies—in particular, women’s bodies—are tempting, dangerous, and bad.
I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments section below or, if you’d prefer, via email. (Click here if you’d like the email option.) Have you struggled to believe that God loves your perimenopausal or menopausal body? How can we change the narrative in our churches – besides staying away from deliverance ministers who preach that menopause is demonic in nature?
I love this message! I too have had to unlearn some harmful teachings about the body. I appreciate your thoughtful approach here. One things that is helping me to value my body is the knowledge that my body is the place where God has chosen and is pleased to dwell. ❤️ James Bryan Smith says, “I am the one in whom Christ dwells and delights”. Such a affirmation of our bodily selves
Many of us have learned to be at war with our bodies, rather than to believe our bodies are gifts. Love the James Bryan Smith quote!
Great post, Michelle, and very helpful to those of us who struggle with perfectionism and against the constant flow of cultural messages that find fault with physical appearance, especially aging bodies. We embrace these messages and war against ourselves. How good God is to show us a better way: love, stewardship, and gratitude for what we’ve been given.
We learn to war against ourselves from childhood. By the time we get to this stage of our lives, many of us are generals in that war. Maybe childlike faith regarding our bodies (and so many other areas in our lives!) looks like love, stewardship, and gratitude.
Michelle, thank you for posting this. I read your book and this post was a reminder to me. Aging is for the strong, that’s for sure.
You are right. Most of us discover we’re stronger than we imagined as we face the changes of aging. I sure have.
Thank you, Michelle, for the healing words and the lovely photo at the top of your post.
I just bought “Becoming Sage”. I near to never spend that much for a Kindle book (I read more on my Kindle than paperbacks) but I think there will be much in your book that will do me good. 😃
Hugs and Blessings to you. 🤗🙏❤️
I’m honored that you purchased the book. I hope it is a blessing to you!