My friend Pam works for Back the Bible. She’s a researcher, and her primary task is to find out the most common obstacles to spiritual growth and then to offer a strategy for overcoming those obstacles. One morning, Pam and I sat across from one another at a table in the local coffee shop, and I asked Pam, “So, what did you find out? What are the obstacles?”
“Well,” Pam said. “For everyone — men and women — the top two obstacles are the same: fear and worry.”
Check, and check, I thought to myself. I’ve been trying to get out from under fear for a good part of my life. And, when someone doesn’t arrive where I think they’re supposed to be, when I think they’re supposed to be there, I automatically go to the, they-must-be-lying-in-a-ditch scenario. Worry is my go-to, when left to my own devices.
“But for women,” Pam continued, “the number three and number four obstacles to spiritual growth are criticism of others,” I nodded my head, “and food.”
I struggled to figure out how food could possibly be an obstacle to spiritual growth. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense, especially when hanging onto the coattails of fear, worry, and criticism of others. Sit with it yourself, for just a minute or two, and let me know whether or not it makes sense to you, too.
We women are always counting our calories or complaining about our jeans size or categorizing in negative terms the shapes our bodies embrace. We are never satisfied, and we are experts in the conversations about calories in and calories out. Food becomes our nemesis. We limit our enjoyment of it. We section it off into “good” and “bad” based on whether or not we think it will settle on our hips. And then we wonder how she can eat a cupcake after dinner every night without ever seeming to gain an ounce. We label her metabolism good, and our own not so good. We measure ourselves against her and her. We watch our sisters as they pass us by, and we are tempted — oh, so tempted — to play a game in our heads that sounds like, “Who Wore it Better?” We rank our sisters against one another, and against ourselves, hoping we end up someplace near the top of the list. We worry when the arbitrary numbers we’ve assigned to breast and waist and hip size find us further from the top of the list than we would like. Sisters, the truth, of course, is that we fear we won’t be loved for who we are in this moment, right now.
We are fearful that our neighbors find us awkward or that the woman in line at the grocery store has taken note of our hips and found us wanting. We keep the lights off with our partners because we fear their rejection if they actually could see us in the light.
But Light is actually the cure for what ails us, isn’t it?
I’m just like the rest of us. I struggle to break the irrational logic that has set itself up in my mind. It tells me that I have to inhabit a certain type of body, a certain skin color, a certain way of moving through this world, if I’m going to be found worthy. It may be true that our culture has set a benchmark and then Photoshopped and airbrushed even that benchmark to the very most extreme reaches possible. But am I answering to culture, or to the Creator?
Here’s how to have a love affair with your body: carry the light of our Creator into your everyday intersections with our culture. When you look at yourself in the mirror, let your filter be the light of our Creator, rather than through the lens of culture. Our Creator looks at you, just as you are — lights on, makeup off, birthmarks, stretch marks, belly and breasts exactly as they are — and finds beauty, joy, and great delight.
Here’s the slippery slope culture has set up for us. It is the belief that there is a certain way we have to “be” to be worthy of love. There is a certain way we have to look to be accepted. Somehow, our minds make the mistake of believing our culture has the authority to determine our worth in this world. We hold our culture at arms length, refusing to associate or frequent or engage in conversation. We hold ourselves at arms length, too. But, when we carry the light of our Creator into our everyday intersections with our culture, all bets are off. When we press ourselves into the identity we’ve received from God, we reshape our culture and call forth the Kingdom of God — on earth, as it is in heaven. And right inside the skin we live in.
When we press into our true identity, our bodies become conduits for justice and mercy and grace and hope and unconditional love. Our bodies become powerful agents for good and for God’s Kingdom — with every step we take.
It is with our bodies that we serve our neighbor and advocate for all good things. It is with our bodies that we express passion for our partner or nourish our children or reach into the oven to retrieve the freshly baked loaf of bread. We use our bodies to reach across the table so we can hold hands as we say grace. Our bodies spread the icing on the cake and sing Happy Birthday and clap when the candles are blown out and tendrils of smoke rise to the heavens. And, with thanksgiving to our God, our bodies savor the goodness of the bread and the wine and the cupcake and the avocado.
God looked at the people God had made and said, “…very good.” We step across the thresholds of our homes with our bodies, and we carry the light of our Creator into our everyday intersections with our culture.
And it is very good.