I spent a lot of my engagement worrying, controlling, and trying to work my body into something different– something thinner, smaller, leaner. My worries would ebb and flow, typically depending on how I ate that week or how many times I was able to get to the gym.
During my first dress fitting, I remember feeling immediately discontent after looking into the mirror because my reality of how I looked didn’t meet my expectations. And then I felt angry and sad and ashamed because my thoughts clashed with what my mom and the alteration lady were proclaiming and what I knew Matt would think- that me in the dress was perfect and beautiful and stunning.
I wish I could say that my worries about my body only started a year ago, but they didn’t. The earliest memory I have was in middle school. I was looking around at my peers in the hallway and I realized that my body wasn’t as lean or tiny as some of the other girls and I hated it. I didn’t understand why my body was betraying me– I had always been able to measure up to the skinniest girls before.
This struggle has lasted through high school dance dress shopping and band concerts with unflattering uniforms. It was present in every sport I played, where I was never the best or most fit, and in the locker room after my personal fitness class for two years. It carried me through prom and graduations and dorm life where comparison is hard to avoid. And it followed me to my wedding– the very place I didn’t want it to show it’s face and even though I hate to admit this, when I look back on my otherwise beautiful engagement and wedding, my struggle with my body was there, looming in the background of every fitting and party and picture.
A few years back, I ran my second half marathon. Finding time to run during the week and the stamina to complete long runs on the weekend was tough. Runs that used to be seemingly effortless in college were now difficult and this defeated me. After an intended 9 mile run turned into a 4 mile run, I plopped down in front of my mirror, fuming and angry at my body and myself for not being able to push through to complete the miles I needed in order to stay on track in my training schedule. At the time, I was on the launch team for Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan’s Wild and Free. I had been praying and thinking of aspects of my life where I needed the Lord’s freedom and I remember entertaining the idea of what it would be like to be wild and free from the strict expectations I put around my body and fitness and diet. What if how I looked and having the perfectly balanced diet all the time and logging in so many hours at the gym just didn’t matter as much as I perceived it did?
I hate admitting that this is really the first time I had considered this. This is the first time I really acknowledged my negative body image as a legitimate problem and pondered the reality that the Lord is strong enough to free me from the shackles of comparison and discontentedness and control– all I need to do is accept and receive Him, every minute of every day, again and again and again. And gosh this is hard, not impossible, but hard to believe and do in a society that pushes us to be perfectly fit and healthy and thin.
I want to say that I’m done struggling, but I’m not. I fought my body image battle through the past few summers and my engagement. While this summer was so, so good as Matt and I enjoyed our newlywed-ness and our trips to different places and feasting with family and friends, once all those things were over, I took stock of how the experiences took their toll on my body and started shaming myself over not being disciplined enough at the table or the gym and found myself in the depths of comparison and control once again.
We clearly live in a society that values physical health. The benefits are proclaimed over and over– we’ll have tons of energy and can mentally process better and have an all around better attitude in life if we’re eating well and exercising often. And I’m all for this- I love eating well and exercising and I think they can be done in a worshipful, God-honoring way because we are called to steward our bodies. But when I go into a Whole30 or the gym with the wrong motivation, it stops becoming healthy. When I’m trying to control my body into something smaller in order to feel better or happier or to prove that I’m good at life, I’m just feeding myself a lie that those things can satisfy something in me when really, only God can.
Writing these things down is hard- I’ve never done this before. But after another summer of attempting to shame and control my body into something better so that I can feel good about myself, I walked into work for another school year and I heard my coworkers and students and players echoing the same comments and aggravations I had all summer. And I thought that there has to be a better way– enough of us are struggling with this and there’s got to be something better.
And friends, there is. The answer isn’t seeking flattery and reminders of our beauty or enoughness. The answer and the way is Jesus- it’s always Jesus. This may be our weakness, but the Lord is sufficient and he’s really good at using our lack to prove that He is enough to a people who desperately need it– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 promises us this. He came because of love and died because of love and now we get to play in his grace and enter into holy places all because of Him, but only when we admit our weakness and confess this hard, prideful, controlling sin. The way is learning to submit to the Lord’s purpose every single day, deeming it our own by walking in it, trusting that it’s better.
Our purpose is not our bodies. It’s not how we look or how we feel and while we should pursue health, we can’t forget to pursue Christ first. We can’t forget that our purpose is to love Jesus and to love the people around us well. I’m preaching all of this to myself first– stumbling into submitting to the Lord every day. My steps are shaky and I fail often, but repentance and grace are helping me move forward anyway. If you’re here too, walking this hard, broken path with me, please know that you’re not alone and that Jesus is always, always better.
So many of my ideas were derived from Jess Connolly’s new book Dance Stand Run. I’m on her launch team and this book is WRECKING ME. Such great stuff. Preorder it here
Also- from this sermon by Scott Sauls. He’s currently doing a series on Romans 8. AMAZING. Go listen now. You’ll find that here