A man’s body is no mere adornment, or external convenience; it belongs to his very nature as man.
We are soul and body, fellow humans. Where does that leave us in a world that clings to youth and narrowly defined beauty, flirts with diet and exercise fads, and insists on ignorance of the soul? I’d venture to say our answer lies, as with everything else, with how we think: the ethos of our bodies, if you will.
I know that right thinking about our bodies is not a struggle unique to me. We must have the balance of caring for it but not obsessing over it, being grateful for it but not vainly idolizing it, learning to rest it while being willing to expend it in right efforts. I find myself slipping to either side if I’m not careful, failing particularly when my eyes are fixed self-ward. I’ve wondered lately, what if I stopped either fanatically obsessing or completely ignoring my body, and instead thought of it in a way that honors God? What if instead of struggling over body image I turn my thoughts to him even as I look in the mirror? It’s no easy thing, it requires a paradigm shift from thinking of my body as my body to remembering that it is his temple. But as challenging as this shift may be, think of how it might alter our days.
In college I had a roommate inform me my shoulders looked as though they belonged to a man. For some time after I was painfully self-conscious of them, really until I was carrying my young son on my back years later, his small hands rested on my supposedly masculine shoulders, and I realized it didn’t really matter what they looked like, they were a source of strength, a tool to lift and carry someone small and weary.
What if we stopped obsessing over how our bodies look and instead saw them as beautiful tools for loving people?
At 30, and three babies into life, my body has changed. It’s tempting to begrudge it, to squint at fine lines, to mourn the loss of a toned stomach to stretch marks and loose skin; but when I think instead of the years wrinkles signify: the experiences, joys, and sorrows, and when I remember my body was stretched to give home to new life, I find I care less about how it looks, and I’d rather spend time in this moment, acquiring new wrinkles in this day.
What if instead of clinging to our youth we embrace the changing beauty of our aging bodies, seeing grays as a mark of living, wrinkles as a tale of emotions felt, and gravity’s pull as a reminder to be fully present where we are today?
I lived a semi-reckless life in my teens and twenties, sustaining a few broken bones, and back and neck injuries. I feel the ghost of those decisions every morning when I rise, as my body protests with aches. I often think of others I know who have walked through much worse with debilitating illnesses and injuries, congenital defects, life-long paralysis, and minds that betray them. Health is not a guarantee. Sometimes our bodies feel more like a curse than a gift, but when my body twinges in protest, or I hear of another horrible diagnosis of a loved one, I reach for the only hope I know, and it’s much greater than vitamins.
What if with each terrifying diagnosis or debilitating migraine we remember the harsh reality that our bodies are dying, decaying, and wasting away, but instead of cursing, we remember the promise that we won’t waste away to nothing, and in Christ we won’t endure suffering forever. One day we’ll find ourselves in new bodies, clothed by him, free from the sting of death that afflicts us with each passing year.
Fellow humans, what if?
What if we admired and studied women like Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliot, and Mother Theresa with the same vigor we put towards knowing the lives and styles of celebrities?
What if we exercised and ate well with the intent of having strength and endurance to serve others?
What if we looked in the mirror and our first thought wasn’t, “how do I look today”, but “who can I serve” ?
What if we looked at our face, shoulders, waist, and hands and thought of the one whose shoulders bore the weight of sin, whose side was pierced and blood and water poured forth as a promise, whose hands were torn with iron nails, who gave up his last breath and let his heart stop for us?
What if we used our bodies to the glory of God, with eyes that weep for the lost, mouths that smile with joy everlasting, shoulders that carry one another’s burdens, arms that lift the weary, hands that extend to the dying and hurting, and feet that will travel wherever they are sent to bring the good news of the God who not only made these human bodies, but was born into one himself, to suffer excruciatingly and to die, so that our hope can be in more than earthly bodies.
What if our body image reflected the image of God?