Church, Stop Hating Your Flesh

Jesus heals many. When Jesus heals he also forgives. His message centers on wholeness – physical wellness and spiritual wellness, never one without the other. But in my experience, the American church often emphasizes spiritual morality over loving our bodies. The misrepresentation has led to an overall neglect of self-care within the church. We feel the need to choose: pray or sleep, read scripture or exercise, serve or rest. The silent dichotomy lives in the tension of our everyday lives.

How did we pit the human body so aggressively against the human spirit? The physical body has been confused with “desires of the flesh.” We largely misunderstand the relationship between the human body and the human spirit.

The fallout results in deep-rooted shame over the body and its functions. We have embedded a profound ignorance towards our human bodies in church culture today. In everyday life, we fail to recognize God’s creation of the human body as good. In the church’s eyes, body and spirit have been divided, culminating in dualism at a deadly cost.

The best way I can describe dualism is the thought that something has to be either/or. For example: either good or bad, right or wrong, yes or no. Dualism does not allow gray areas or two opposing thoughts in the mind simultaneously. Over the years, symptoms of dualistic thinking in my life included:

  • Ignoring physical needs such as sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. This resulted in autoimmune dysfunction and cardiac complications
  • Favoring spiritual disciplines such as prayer, scripture reading and community involvement over physical health and wellness
  • Feeling embarrassed of my female body, shame for the shape of my hips & breasts, and the need to hide natural curves under paper-bag-shaped clothing (this could be a whole separate blog post)
  • Believing my body was unimportant to care for in response to the body-shaming of women in the American church
  • Ignoring the signs of physical exhaustion and illness for the sake of “pushing forward and helping people” (clearly a personal struggle with people pleasing)
  • Overlooking the link between physical health and emotional/spiritual health

It took a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, a cardiac complication, and six weeks medical leave for me to understand: I need to care for my body like I care for my soul. My physical body may become an empty shell when I die, but it is a gift from God just as the Holy Spirit is a gift from God. The single-most important lesson I’ve learned two years after my diagnosis? Caring for my body is caring for my soul.

 


 

| Photo credit: Anh Phan|

My Affair in LA

I talk about you like I know you intimately. How much time would it take to know all your nooks and crannies? There’s not enough time in the world. But I’m still trying.

I heard of you before I met you – small town beach girl, I heard your name and associated you with fame and wealth and fashion. The distance between us was great so I wrote you off. You were too cool. You were above me and further North than I had been.

I met you when I was eighteen. I was so innocent. You were wild then. Our first night you introduced me to Patrón and we danced in the streets then fell asleep in the early morning hours. I fell in love. We were wild and reckless and free. We dated late at night, drinking wine until the sunrise at six. For three months the liberty was alluring, but the freedom grew chains. I wanted to match your vigorous appetite for fun, but the late nights became a chore and I was tethered to the scene. You introduced me to many friends – some great, who are still with me today. Some intended to harm and manipulate.

We danced back and forth, for three years. Late nights, extravagant fun. Gray days, when I wanted out. But the sweet moments I remember most are in that old apartment. White walls, wood floors. An old fireplace and sunshine through the old bay window. The 1920s building sprinkled dust on my blue velvet pillows, but the built-in bookshelves kept me enamored. Remember the dove that lived above the window? Your present to me, to keep me company in the cold winter months and a friendly voice in the darkness of depression.

You saw it all. You saw me rise and also collapse. I wanted so desperately to leave. On the weekends I traveled south to the beaches and dreaded coming back to you on Sunday evenings. So much had happened and I wanted to go home to childhood and comfort.

Until one day, you became my home.

A switch had flipped. We still had hard days and some restless nights, but you were my comfort. On weekends I wanted to say in our cozy apartment, throw open the windows and listen to the street noises below. The summer after college we moved out of that soul-searched apartment and into a cheap, beachy room closer to the coast. When I think of that room I think of laughter and stray sand grains on the cold tile floor. We found family there, the rooms all close together like a commune. We found deep hope there also.

And when summer ended I moved back to my childhood home. We said it was just for a season until I could find a job in the city. But the job never came. And we both moved on. For almost two years I couldn’t visit you, up in Westwood or Santa Monica or Downtown or Hollywood or Silver Lake. With you, I grew from adolescent to adult. Four years of love and pain and sorrow and I needed time to heal.

For now, we’ve both moved on. I have a new home with my love. And this home is real, with a down payment and a mortgage and fruit trees in the backyard. I’ve taken him to see you – in Westwood and Santa Monica and Downtown and Hollywood and Silver Lake. When we visit, I reminisce about our years together. I think he might get a little jealous.

But he knows – I will always have an affair with you, Los Angeles.

 


 

Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop via Unplash