Wisdom: Our Bodies
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
2 Corinthians 4:9-11
“She’s perfect,” you think to yourself, gawking at a beautiful woman on the street. But when you look at yourself in the mirror, you think your hips are too wide, your thighs too big, your stomach too flabby. “No carbs tomorrow,” you say, as if that promise to yourself would change not only your body, but also the way you think about it.
We criticize our bodies for many reasons. It’s easier to project our dissatisfaction onto something tangible than to admit that there’s a deep-seated dissatisfaction in our souls. We use our bodies as physical measures of our success, attractiveness, and worthiness (and of other people’s too). Our bodies are easy receptacles for a viral strain of thought that is familiar to most of us: if only this changed, then I would be happy. If only I were taller. If only I were thinner. If only I had more money. Then everything would be better.
We reduce ourselves to conditional statements and lay our lives down to prove their logic. The conditions increase in number, and yet our satisfaction does not draw nearer—there must be some kind of logical fallacy.
All my life, I’ve wrestled with learning how to be wise in how I think about my body—and how I consequently feed it, exercise it, move it, talk about it, think about it—‘it’ being myself, of course. More than anything, I’ve struggled with how to be compassionate towards myself—all of myself—in both belief and action, because I’ve bombed my body with judgment and hatred over the years—for how it looks, for how it’s failed me, for how I’ve betrayed it—there are so many things. I’ve tried to solve this problem—this problem of having a body that feels like a burden, that feels outside of myself, that seems to be its own dissonant faction at war with my mind—but I’ve finally begun to realize that wisdom is not predicated on solutions (and there is no solution to this body of mine); wisdom is predicated on belief; wisdom is revealed through choices.
After years of trying to figure out how to solve the problem that is my body, it has slowly occurred to me (not in one epiphany but in a million tiny awakenings) that my body isn’t the problem to begin with, it’s the way I think about the good life—what it entails and how to live it. The good life is not a life of proxies—tangible things that we believe, by virtue of marketing or societal norms, will give us a particular quality of life. Bodily and aesthetic perfection—which doesn’t exist—is a proxy. In my own life, I was dissatisfied and didn’t trace the root of the dissatisfaction far enough: I let my body be the proxy; blamed and ravaged it pretty badly in turn. Loving my body well and treating it wisely begins first in recognizing that my deepest dissatisfactions reflect a tireless thirst for something beyond the physical—for God; and that the love and compassion I hope to embody originates from Him, not from myself. If I ignore this, no matter how hard I try to shape and control my physical self, my efforts will ultimately be futile. No fleshly thing will ever wholly satisfy our souls.
C.S. Lewis quoted George McDonald in saying, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body,” but as writer Mathew Block points out, the body is not merely an instrument for the soul’s work: “For Christians, the body is (and must be respected as) an integral part of what it means to be human.” Indeed, we are made as both physical and spiritual beings. Our bodies, our senses, are gifts from God, and our beliefs about our bodies often determine the choices we make; our beliefs about our bodies often reflect our beliefs about God—we are, after all, His creation.
We could all use a little wisdom in the way we talk about our bodies, and the way we talk about other people’s bodies (Read: James 3:6). Doesn’t wisdom entail seeing beyond the surface of things, not letting our hearts be captive to the seduction of appearances? How difficult it is to be wise: to swallow our cursory impulses and judgments in favor of thoughtfulness and compassion; to forego our instinctive scorn, both for ourselves and for others; to trust that beneath the folds of our skin there are hungers and desires that no physical thing can fulfill. Instead of serving our bodies, how can we serve God: by taking time to be still and listen to Him, by becoming aware of our limits and respecting them, by destabilizing our glorification of appearance, by examining our motivations, by asking God for all these things.
The weight of His love and grace makes the burden of our bodily weight light—and yet he lavishes His love and grace on us through the bodies He has given us. Proverbs tells us that to get wisdom, we must ask, so we ask for wisdom of mind and body and heart, knowing that wisdom brings health and nourishment to our body and bones, and that a peaceful heart gives life to the body (Proverbs 3:8; 14:30).