Being a Christian with a physical body is an interesting thing.
Oftentimes, we create this false dichotomy between “the spiritual” and “the physical.” As Christianity is largely concerned with…well, spirituality, this can sadly lead to neglecting conversations about the body.
This is dangerous because humans are more than just little floating souls existing in the here and now. We happen to have physical bodies that demand a lot of us. If we are being good to them, hopefully we are giving them food and rest and exercise and good hygiene. Most likely, this is taking up a lot of our time.
I think it would be a pity, and a sad loss of an invitation to greater intimacy with God, to not see the connection between taking care of our physical bodies, and glorifying God.
I have struggled with having a proper view and knowing how to take care of my physical body for many years now, often swinging from complete apathy toward physical health and appearance to a complete obsession. It’s hard because instead of choosing one extreme, as Christians, we are called to live in the tension of balancing both caring for our bodies without caring “too” much. This is really tricky. I feel that to completely deny or completely obsess would be easier than this delicate balancing act! On one hand, we are called to “fix our eyes on the unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18), and on the other hand, we are told that the “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). That leaves us walking a metaphorical tightrope somewhere in the middle of the two.
There’s a lot of comfort to be found in the realization that knowing how to properly view and take care of your body is a hard thing. In light of this truth, please give yourself grace in the lifelong process of learning how to do so.
Here are a few tips that have helped me balance caring for my physical body along the way:
1. Let exercise be exercise
Exercise is vital to take care of your physical body. We all know this, but it is worth repeating. When I started to make working out a daily priority, I noticed a shift in my mental clarity and emotional health. Additionally, I began to get stronger, and as a byproduct, I got in better shape. These are all such valuable and good benefits! These are worthy benefits for praising God!
However, when I started noticing myself obsessing over going to the gym so that I could burn X amount of calories or look a certain way, it started to feel like a toxic relationship. I was overworking myself and abusing the benefits of exercise in a way that was making me feel constantly inadequate, and this was not healthy.
The answer to this problem is not to cease working out completely (remember, neither extreme is the answer!). Instead, allowing myself to give my all in a workout, be proud of myself for it, and then go on with my day, knowing I put in the good work and THAT is where the victory is, has been a huge mental shift to make. It has helped me to see exercise as just one facet of my life, rather than the entirety of my existence. It has also helped me to be okay with myself if I don’t have the rock-hard abs or any other vain measure of health that is glorified in our culture, because being strong for me doesn’t have to look like being strong does for another person. Rid yourself of the comparison trap (and give yourself grace when you slip back into it)!
2. Let food be food
I LOVE food. I love food and fancy flavors and the magic of combining fancy flavors to make even fancier flavors (cue the fireworks scene in Ratatouille when Remy pairs cheese and grapes together). Looking back, it is a pity to me that I deprived myself of so many good foods and social outings where eating was involved for fear of gaining weight, starting at age 11. I also used to ignore what my body was telling me in regards to being hungry. After I would eat my “allotted portion” (which, by the way, was a ridiculously low number of calories that, of course, would leave me hungry), I would not eat more. Instead, I would feel guilty and “ungrateful” for still wanting more to eat. I was distorting the gift of food in my attempts to be “healthy.”
Here’s the thing: Eating healthy is important — eat foods high in vitamins! Consider taking probiotics! Make sure you’re eating enough fiber! It truly is a way to respect your body and function at your best. But once again, it’s all about balance. Food is fuel, and rather than sticking to such a rigid formula (“I can only eat X amount of calories and X% has to come from protein and X% percent has to come from vegetables and I won’t DARE touch a refined carbohydrate”), know that you might need some more fuel on certain days than on others, and from different food groups.
Perhaps it can be as simple as: “I am hungry, and I am going to eat, and that will be that.” Sometimes, I will crave nutrient-rich foods like a healthy salad and smoothie, and sometimes I will want to eat cheeseburgers and fries and a milkshake. Both are part of the balance.
3. Let your face be your face
I once read a quote that said, “Stop thinking that your face is more important than your soul,” and it has stayed with me to this day. In our selfie-dominated culture, it is so easy to obsess over our physical appearance. Sometimes, the desire to be pretty has felt like the very deepest desire of my heart, and I know this should not be so. I know that no amount of feeling pretty or validation from other people because of my appearance will truly fill the void in my soul. I also know that “charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30). But, before we are too quick to dismiss our physical appearance completely, I think it is worth noting that God gave us eyes and an affinity for aesthetically beautiful things.
For as harmful as it has been to obsess about how pretty I am, it has been equally as harmful to try and suppress that desire in an effort to be “holier.” In the church, and especially as women, I think there can be a stigma that you’re not allowed to want to be beautiful. Or, at least, that’s how I felt. For a time in high school, I felt so ugly that I told myself I wasn’t even “worthy” of wearing makeup, and it would be pathetic and pointless to try. And instead of seeing this issue for what it was (ridiculously low self-esteem that is in no way part of the identity God says I have), in my head I justified this self-bullying and lack of even trying to look put together as “the more Christian, humble thing.” Frankly, I just don’t think that’s right. Certainly, makeup should not be relied on as *the* answer to feeling beautiful (this comes from attending to your soul and connecting with God), but it also does not need to be avoided as a tool to help you feel better about the way you look.
I truly think every human has their own unique beauty, and celebrating your beauty is a way to praise God. Interestingly, the humans I am most struck by aren’t necessarily the ones that are the most generically attractive by our culture’s standards, but who have the confidence to make the most of their personal beauty. So, do just that: make the most of your own unique beauty! Praise God for it! Don’t feel guilty about using serums or putting on a face mask or wearing makeup that will help your skin stay soft or enhance your features — it’s okay to care about this. It’s also fun. And empowering. But do realize that your beautiful (or handsome) appearance is just one part of you, and as you go about your day, know that your deepest value comes from the fact that Christ loves and chose you. Being loved by Him gives you eternal beauty that goes so much deeper than your face.