by Sue Fulmore
At a time of life when everything seems to be going haywire in my body, ironically, I am learning to love her. These days, as I go through this wonderful stage called menopause, all sorts of weird things are happening to my body. I cannot say I am pleased with the crêpey skin, the turkey neck or the random hairs that sprout on my face, but I am becoming pleased to be me.
For so many years, shame had the first word. I had received the message that my body was evil and should be considered the enemy. I learned that my body was untrustworthy, it would lead me into temptation, it would be the source of lust for others. I had internalized the unacceptability of some emotions running through by body: anger, fear, doubt, desire were not welcome. These emotions must be hidden, supressed, and subdued in order to live as a “good” Christian. I had not been introduced to the Psalms and the free expression of each and every emotion they modelled.
Even as my body changed from a child to adolescent, modesty was touted as akin to godliness, served with an underlying disdain for my body. All that was new and scary was not talked about, suggesting there was something shameful going on. The murky waters of adolescence became more difficult to navigate; simpler to ignore and deny my body and all of its raging emotions and roller-coaster feelings than to ask the questions which were burning within me.
The beliefs I grew up with attempted to divide the physical from the spiritual, the body from the soul. It was like a modern form of Gnosticism which valued the spiritual and deemed the physical evil. As a result, I did not pay attention to the messages my body was telling me, whether it was a need for rest, to face my anxiety, or warnings that I was not safe. Instead of listening to the anger which would surface and hear the message it sought to convey, I stuffed my emotions and refused to let them be heard. I can now see the flaws in this way of thinking.
One message I did not hear very often was, God created our bodies and called them very good. In the Psalms it says God knit us together in our mothers – He was the one who choose our particular combination of eye color, hair, height, intellect, love for dogs or music and calls us wonderfully made. Could this message, if learned as a child, prevented so much angst as I struggled to fit in or attempted to fashion myself as someone else?
God chose to come to us in a physical body. The Bible says that He became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.[i] He could have come any way he wished, in phantom-like form, but He chose a body, much like our own. In doing so He gave great value to the human form. In a body He could experience all of the sensations common to us. He was not a holy being free from skinned knees, slivers, the stomach flu, the taste of salty sea air, and the feeling of sand between his toes. He felt it all. He also felt the pain of stakes driven through his wrists, and lungs gasping for their last breath. He gave his body for us.
I see there are ways I am failing to treat my body as the dwelling place of God, and offer her the respect and care she deserves. I cannot choose to ignore and shame my body and expect to be fully filled and used by God. He has chosen to dwell in us… in our physical bodies as well as our minds and souls. Our bodies are the place God choses to move into. We then become God with skin on to other people. In Jesus words, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But how can we begin to love others well when we cannot love our whole selves?
Can I truly begin to believe “I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights.”?[ii] To do this I need to make recompense for the ways I have treated and mistreated my body.
Dear Body, please accept this letter of confession and appreciation:
- I am sorry for the ways I have not cared for you as well as I could.
- I apologize for not making exercise a priority to keep you healthy and strong.
- Forgive me for the ways I have hidden you and denied you pleasure, thinking it was evil instead of God’s good gifts.
- I confess my dislike of your short, bowed legs; I now appreciate how they have carried me to marvelous places and people.
- Thank you for the ways you have protected my heart, as you built a suit of armor around me when I was most vulnerable.
- Thank you for nourishing two babies within you, who bring me so much joy.
- Thank you for carrying me through these 56 years, mostly pain free and strong.
- Thank you for the skin you wear which picks up the faintest breeze, feels the silky softness of velvet, tingles in the cold and alerts me to danger.
- Because of you I can taste good things, hear the song of the birds, beautiful music, and whispered words of love, for which I am grateful.
- Thank you for the way my mind works, how I see in pictures visualizing things unseen.
- May I have the strength to treat you with respect and kindness, as I would another. [iii]
This coming to love ourselves is not only for our benefit, but also for the world we live in. We as a community of believers are referred to as Christ’s body. One writer puts it this way,
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ is looking out on a hurting world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”[iv]
embody Jesus to the world. The very body which we may have ignored or shamed,
is the one which can bless the people around us. When the love of God seems to
many as intangible as the vapor rising when we breathe out in the cold, our
loving presence can be the very real and felt love of God to another person.
[i] John 1:14 MSG
[ii] James Bryan Smith
[iii] This idea came from https://shelovesmagazine.com/2012/a-love-letter-to-my-body/
[iv] Teresa of Avila
Thanks for writing this, Sue. I had the same early training that has dogged my soul, but I’m working through it now. I’m thankful for this time in my life when God is clearing away the clutter and stripping away false ideas about humanity (and divinity).
Debora, I am so glad you are also on this journey – of dismantling the lies we have believed. May you continue to find greater freedom as you work through these things with your friend Jesus.