Toward a Theology of the Body

Archangel Michael.

The thing about this body stuff is that I had no motivation whatsoever to do anything about the problem. Yes, I hated the way my body had changed. Yes, it completely befuddled and bewildered me. Yes, I knew that the tools for change were right at my fingertips.

But nothing I thought about or pursued went deep enough for me. No amount of information or even discomfort in my own skin was enough to propel me into action.

Over the last five years, I have tried so many thoughts, admonitions, truths, and experiments on for size in trying to face the reality of the changes in my body.

When Kirk and I first got married, for instance, I worked full-time as an associate book editor for a publishing company that published health books under one of its imprints. Through editing books under that imprint, I gained a lot of great information about how to live in health -- drink lots of water, eat fresh whole foods, exercise, and so on -- and so for a while I faithfully brought my bottles of water and bags of almonds and carrots to work with me for a midday snack. I tried working out at the gym, first on the elliptical trainer and then by swimming laps in the pool, and then later by trying yoga classes, Zumba classes, and even a class called Boot Camp. 

None of these things stuck, and I'm convinced today that it's because the motivation simply didn't reach deep enough for me.

I was doing these things because I felt I was supposed to, not because I was deeply convinced it was the right thing to do or because I really wanted to do them. I was doing them because I felt ashamed of my body and knew that the shame would continue if I didn't get a handle on what was happening with my body.

I also knew that some people get motivated by the science and the numbers of it all. There's the reality of biology -- that a correct blend of protein, carbohydrates, and fat is optimum for the human body. And there's the reality of math -- that consumable items carry calories and that the amount of calories consumed minus the amount of calories burned will result in either gaining or losing weight. 

But the science and math just didn't matter or stick. It felt like a tennis ball bouncing off a racquetball court wall. I was completely unmoved, and I really didn't care about those things -- no matter how true they were.

So, what to do? 

This is where the conversation with Elaine in my spiritual direction session comes into play. I shared all these things with her -- told her the background with my body and how it had changed, told her the motivation simply wasn't there, and yet I still was left with this problem with my body.

I just didn't know what to do.

On the one hand, it seemed like part of the problem was the way I viewed my body that had changed on me. I resented it, and it seemed like that resentment wasn't the best possible view to have of my body. Perhaps acceptance was part of what needed to come into this situation quite a bit more.

But I also knew the way I physically lived inside my body was not in line with what science or math taught about what the body needed. Even if I learned to better accept my body in its current state, that current state was still not healthy. 

And that's where the motivation aspect mattered. 

We wondered aloud what motivation would really make a difference. Was there anything that would get down deep enough? 

That's when I recognized the only thing that would matter enough to change my view of my body was to come to understand why my body really mattered to God. Not in a shame-inducing, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!" kind of way, but in a real and deep-down way of understanding that was rooted in my relationship with him. 

And so, even though it took me a couple tries to be able to pray this prayer from an honest and heartfelt place -- even though I didn't want to say these words at all when Elaine first invited me to talk to God about it -- eventually, I was able to say to God in spirit and truth: "Help me learn how to view my body, and help me learn how you want me to care for it." 

I am so far from understanding these things, and I have such a long way to go. But at least the initial steps have been taken, and I'm aware this is something I'm in the process of learning and discussing with God.