Last October, my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom came upstairs and sat on my bed to share the news with me early one Saturday morning when I was home for a weekend visit.
My heart sank, not only because my aunt is one of the strongest, most vibrant women I know and has already been through enough, but also because I had been long ignoring a sizable lump in my own breast.
“Bridget! You need to go to the doctor as soon as possible!” My mom reacted with a mixture of panic and disappointment. She was right. Why had I ignored this lump for so long?
That weekend, I had a lot to think about when it came to my body. What if it was cancer? What would I do? What would God want me to do?
Our Bodies Matter
There’s nothing like sickness to get you thinking about your overall health.
Before the reality of my aunt’s cancer struck me, I just thought my breast lump didn’t matter. And in the moments when I let myself consider that it might, I employed the cliché that ignorance is bliss. It was really easy for me to brush off what was going on because I wanted to avoid the pain and issues that come with dealing with sickness.
Do you ever do that with pain? For a long time, I took my able body for granted. I did a lot of work to ignore my body in order to avoid wading into the waters of self-loathing regarding my body image and lies about my beauty. However, last year, I also experienced depression and struggled with a lot of minor health issues on top of discovering this breast lump. There came a point when I had no choice but to deal with my health. I really believe it was God’s grace to invite me out of ignorance and into self-care. I’ve come to learn that the spiritual and physical are deeply intertwined.
Yes, our flesh is temporary, and no, we are not guaranteed lifelong health, but our bodies and what we do with them matter so much! God gave us bodies and made them well, and it is up to us to honor him with them (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). They are precious to him. We need to treat them with the same love that God has for them.
Living in the Middle
As a campus minister, I like to look at the campus as a microcosm of what is happening in broader culture. The way college students treat their bodies seems to fall on both ends of a health spectrum: either a self-indulgence that is void of much self-control on one end, or an obsession with fitness, diet, and appearance (self-importance) on the other. This is a generalization, but I see it happening around me all the time.
As I look at broader U.S. culture, I see many of the rest of us falling on one end of the spectrum or the other as well. Some of us are self-indulgent (which can sometimes include slothfulness) and give our bodies whatever we want whenever we want. Others of us are self-important and feel the need to create a glorified self-image with our bodies in order to meet a deep need in our identities.
Where do you fall on this spectrum? I lean more toward being self-indulgent. I give in to my laziness, my cravings, and my impulses far too often.
God, however, calls us into the middle: a place where we offer our bodies as living sacrifices to him (Romans 12:1) and honor him with them because they were bought with a price (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 again). Jesus gave up his body so that we might have true freedom that goes beyond our circumstances—freedom that comes from knowing we are loved unconditionally, no matter what we are capable of, how we look, or how we feel.
An Attitude Change
So what does this mean for you?
I know that sometimes we don’t have access to the things or people we need in order to be healthy, and that’s unfortunate. It’s a result of our broken world that health isn’t a guarantee. But no matter your circumstances, you can consider what next steps to take to start inviting God into a conversation about your physical state. If you’re anything like me, I am sure you could use a change in attitude about your body and about the way God wants to be involved in what you do with it.
Here are some possible suggestions:
Ask God for healing—internal and/or external.
Do you need God to help you change your views on fitness and healthy eating? Process that with him in prayer.
Search the Bible for wisdom about our bodies. You’d be surprised how much is included about our physical being.
Confess the ways you have sinned against yourself and God with your body. He is faithful and just to forgive (1 John 1:9).
So learn from me, and don’t ignore your body. Praise God—my tumor was benign and I underwent a successful surgery to have it removed right before Thanksgiving. In December, however, another one of my aunts was diagnosed with breast cancer. Seeing my second aunt deal with her cancer made me realize that it was just the grace of God that I avoided cancer myself. I am so grateful that God has given me a body that is able and whole—and I am working to not take that for granted.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Courtney Letkewicz.