Love [Your Neighbor as] Yourself

My friend Lindsey Carlson recently wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition on how we see and engage with those in the church whose body size may be different than the projected “norm.” Sadly, the title (Which was probably not chosen by Lindsey, as is often the case with titling. Most of us writers have no say over the click-baity titles our editors give our pieces. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten negative comments on a piece when it’s clear the commenter didn’t read further than the title…) has raised quite a GIF storm on Twitter (and I’m sure elsewhere, but who has time for that?).

Though I’m sure Lindsey could have said things better or a better title could have been chosen, I was grateful the piece was written and published. More people are considered “overweight” than ever before and yet we avoid the topic like, well, an elephant in the room. As one Tweeter commented, “So this is basically an article for the 3% of the population who are at their ideal weight, and how to reach out to the other 97%.” Touche. But true. The problem is, though, not this specific piece, that it was written or published, but that it’s so rarely spoken about in the church. I was grateful Lindsey drew attention to it.

I’ve communicated on here some of the struggles we’ve had with fertility over the past four years, but haven’t said publicly that over the summer we found out it was likely that I was miscarrying every cycle since we married. We’re nearly six months out from my ectopic pregnancy and have been preventing pregnancy since. It’s become clearer and clearer to us that the abnormalities I was experiencing hormonally, physically, emotionally, biologically, etc. over the past three and a half years were due mainly to my body getting pregnant about twenty times and losing the babies in early miscarriage each time. I assumed my wildly late or abnormally heavy and painful periods were due to stress or moving so much. Now that we’ve been settled for a year and a half and have a regular doctor (and they ran more comprehensive tests than the other doctors we had ran) I’m able to begin dealing with why my body rejects pregnancies and we’re able to discern a path forward (even if it means not having children).*

One of the side effects, though, of all the hormonal changes that come with being pregnant twenty times in three and a half years is stubborn weight gain. I have spent the past few years tracking my caloric intake and macros, most days falling beneath the daily suggested calories for weight loss. Anyone who knows me would tell you gluttony isn’t an issue for me. We eat healthy, whole meals with organic produce, lots of greens, healthy fats and grass-fed meats, in moderate or small portions. I’m not going to defend our diet any more than that. Yet losing weight feels impossible.

A lot of this year has been about me simply learning to love the body I have instead of hankering for the body I don’t (writing a book about embodied touch is helping me on this path). But I feel the same judgement Lindsey feels when she walks into church, have had many of the same comments said to me or about me, and am tempted to judge my body against others. One of the chapters from my book is on self-touch and in order to talk about self-touch, we have to talk about the embodied self. Here’s an excerpt:

Our pastor jokes that there’s nothing to do in Dallas except work out and get plastic surgery and that’s why everyone is so beautiful. When I first moved to the Dallas area in my late twenties I came with dreadlocks in my hair and patchouli in my wake. I stuck out like a sore thumb in the land of teased blood hair, perfect noses and teeth, and sculpted bodies. I could not understand the obsession with a seemingly perfect body—a uniform look almost immediately identifying someone as “from Dallas.” I recently saw a photo of a dozen women on social media. They all wore the same basic outfit (skinny jeans, leather booties, oversized sweaters, and beanies), had the same wide, white smiles, the same soft curls in their long hair, and each had their knees cocked at just the right angle for prime photo taking. This drive to have uniform bodies and looks has created an infuriating flatness to the complexity of creation as God designed it. None of us is immune from it though. We think that by finding sameness, or friendship, with the bodies of others, we’ll find it with ourselves. The poet Jane Kenyon calls this struggle to find peace with the body a difficult friendship, “This long struggle to be at home / In the body, this difficult friendship.” We cannot seem to find peace with the bodies we’ve been given by God.

This obsession, though, is not with the body, as it might seem. The obsession is not care for the body as an embodied self, or an image bearing being. The obsession is being beyond the body, beating the body we’ve been given, adding or subtracting to our substance, pressing back aging and sagging, the effects of bearing babies or losing them, working hard and growing old.

This kind of care is not toward the body we’ve been given, but the body we want to have. The one we envision possible. This isn’t respectful, though, of the body we’ve been given or the person God has made us to be. And for the Christian, this matters. “Respect for the person is inseparable from respect from the body. . . . A biblical ethic is incarnational. We are made in God’s image to reflect God’s character, both in our minds and in our bodily actions. There is no division, no alienation. We are embodied beings” (Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body).

I don’t know, maybe you’re part of the 97% (I don’t even know if that percentage is right or not), maybe your body isn’t as you want it to be or envision it to be. Or maybe your body fits the “ideal” image, but inside it’s still warring against you with sickness, auto-immune illnesses, gene mutations, infertility, cancer, disability—things that are not as it should be, and you compare your unhealthy body with what seem to be healthy bodies. I don’t know where you fall on that spectrum, but I do know this: Jesus cares about your body as it is. He cares about it as it will be someday in glory, too, but today He cares about it today.

Where we see scales and percentages and confusing numbers and calories counted and antibodies rising or falling and all the things on the food pyramid we just can’t eat and all the minutes we’ve worked out, Jesus doesn’t see that. He sees a body knit together for His good purposes and for your good work—even if your best work can only be completed if your “BMI” falls outside the tiny “ideal” between underweight and overweight. I think I’m learning to see that. Losing the potential of tiny lives twenty times over and over again feels like my body is a walking tomb sometimes, only here to house death. But what if God’s good purpose for me includes embodying the gospel’s picture of these temporal bodies as bodies of death? What if being rescued from this literal body of death is preached to me better by this body that betrays me? What if this body of death reminds me again and again a better body on this side of eternity won’t satisfy, but Jesus will?

Part of loving our neighbors well (beginning with not judging their bodies upon meeting them) means loving the selves we’ve been given and trusting the God who gave them to us. These are the things I’m learning about my body, as I learn (slowly) to accept it, to not berate it or resent it, even, in some ways, to love it. Maybe you needed to hear it today, too.

*Please don’t email me with suggestions or questions. We have a doctor we trust and we’re navigating this on a timetable that feels doable for us.

My oldest friend and me. She and I have been teaching one another how to love our bodies for over twenty years, mainly by loving one another’s bodies well. I’m rich for it.

My oldest friend and me. She and I have been teaching one another how to love our bodies for over twenty years, mainly by loving one another’s bodies well. I’m rich for it.