This evening after work I trotted off to the fitness center on campus – Monday’s attempt to start the week off right. It’s fascinating how my self-consciousness quadruples as soon as I walk through those sliding doors. As I was reflecting on my heightened sensitivity to my gait, my oily hair, and the fact that I was about to put on pants consisting of 70% spandex, I realized how infrequently I am thankful for the functionality of my body. Though I do remember going through a phase of thanking God that my kidneys worked every time I peed for a month after studying the renal system.

CS Lewis writes, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Our bodies serve our souls, express our souls. They are a tool. Sadly, they are a tool marred by the effects of sin and don’t always function the way they were intended to. But a tool, nonetheless, at the beck and call of our souls. Yet, so often I treat my body as if it were all of me, and not to serve me.

I recall watching a clip of a White American woman asking an African woman how she felt about her body, if she felt her body was beautiful. The woman was surprised and a little confused. “Our bodies are like trees,” she said. “Your tree is different from my tree, but they are both trees and they are both beautiful.”

Huhm…

I have this dichotomy going on between my sinful flesh and my flesh as it was intended to be. The former likes to throw pity parties and make expansive flow charts about how to improve the way my body looks. But the truth in the words of the woman above resonates with the latter in a way that makes my essence¹ feel deep purpose, belonging, and gratitude for my body. And I remember that some of the most beautiful women I’ve met are ones who are comfortable in the way their body interacts with the rest of the world. Women who dance to the fullness of their limited flexibility. Women who embrace the uncontrollable changes pregnancy brings to their body. Women who are at ease aging and who wear their wrinkles unashamedly.

Why is it then that I so often want to control and manipulate my body into looking and doing what I want it to look like and do? Why do I have trouble celebrating the functionality of my body, that it serves my soul? Why can’t I seem to welcome the limits and potential of my body simultaneously?

The perfect example is a woman’s fertility. So often I view my fertility as a hassle, a pain, something to be managed and controlled. I don’t think I have *ever* rejoiced that I have the capacity to bear children. Have I had dreams about being pregnant? Yes. Do I have uterus-throbs when I see little kids? Sometimes. Have I ever thanked God for my fertility while I’m curled up on my blue couch with a heating pad and popping levels of ibuprofen that it makes me wonder why I don’t have an ulcer yet? Heck no. –but I want to be able to. Because that’s life, right? Finding the beauty in the funk [Cornell West]. I want to have that kind of attitude.

Throughout nursing school and witnessing several friends getting hitched I’ve thought a lot about pros and cons of various kinds of birth control. That pretty much spells it out, right? Birth. Control. Controlling birth. More like controlling pregnancy. Because Lord knows, you can’t really stop a woman about to give birth [although, strangely, I have seen nurses try]. Ha! Anyway, what I came to realize after mulling over what I learned in nursing and ethics classes is:

1) We have to leave room for God’s mystery. I don’t know if un-implanted embryos have a soul. But there is room for grace in the midst of ‘snowflakes orphans’, embryos conceived naturally that never implanted, and not knowing if the Pill causes ‘abortions’.

2) That’s it’s really all about our heart attitude. Why are we seeking to control our fertility? Will we embrace the disappointing limits of our fertility as well as unexpected outcomes?

Recently I had a moment in which I felt the Holy Spirit had briefly cracked a window into my stuffy, stagnant soul. It happened while I was meditating on this verse:

“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.” [I Cor. 11:12]

I gasped in, and it’s a good thing, because it was only a fleeting gust of fresh air. But it revived my essence. I felt…noble. Any questions I had about my identity as a woman disappeared in that moment and I felt a sense of dignity, of honor. I felt intrinsically connected to humanity in a new way. Women and men alike are all linked to each other through birth. And it is through women that one generation is connected to another. Women were chosen to do that. Women. Were chosen.

And so, I feel just a little closer to esteeming the function of my body regardless of the effects of sin upon it as seen in stretch marks, gray hairs, and the pull of gravity. I’m learning to embrace the limits and the potential because ultimately, I am not my body; I am a soul that has a body.

 

 

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¹Essence: A spiritual, eternal being. Found housed temporarily in a physical body. I use this term interchangeably with “soul”.

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