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|