I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a long time. I haven’t written it because, well, there’s so much to say. I’ve written plenty on body image in the past, but not always from a Biblical standpoint. I’ve written about honoring our bodies and how to talk to a friend who has an eating disorder. I’ve encouraged us to quit dictating the morality of food and to forget about weight loss resolutions.
But talk about the Gospel and how that affects body image?
It’s a tougher topic entirely.
A writer at Christianity Today had this to say about the issue:
“Every time a woman turns on the television, strolls past a magazine aisle, watches the numbers rise on the scale, or spots that first gray hair, the battle wages on.
I cannot speak to the experience of men, but studies show that men fight this battle too. Images of six-pack abs, athletic builds, trendy clothes, and perfectly styled hair are all over the media…and if we're being honest, in many an evangelical pulpit.
For these two reasons—physical and spiritual—Christians need pastors to talk openly and thoughtfully about body image. The problem is, very few are doing this.
I can only speculate about why church leaders are largely silent about body image. Perhaps it's seen as a ‘women's issue,’ whereas the majority of pastors are men. Perhaps the topic is just too sensitive. Perhaps it speaks to a theology more concerned with the spirit than the body. Or perhaps it is an idol so entwined in Christian culture that we hardly even notice it.”
I definitely notice it, and if you’re reading this, I bet you do, too.
I thought moving from New York City to the Nashville area would mean I’d escaped the pressures of an image-focused and success-hungry society. That has been true to some extent. But the reality is the same across America: We are hyper-focused on our bodies. We are bombarded with images and headlines on a daily basis that tell us what to look like, what to eat, and how to work out.
Christians are not immune to this. I’ve heard beautiful, Godly women many times compare their diets and discuss the things they don’t like about their bodies. Men may not be talking about their body dissatisfaction in the same way, but body image is still a part of their lives.
So while I am not a pastor, I am a woman of the Word and a woman who loves the Lord. I’m also a woman who has experienced the deep pain and destruction of an eating disorder and poor body image—and the immense healing a relationship with Christ brings.
Throughout my years of struggle with food, exercise, and body image, the thing that has brought me the most comfort and encouragement is the Word of God. My identity is rooted in Him. When we accept Christ and live our lives for Him, that changes everything—including body image.
Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy,
This verse always stands out to me. It’s been helpful for me whenever I think “I just ate [insert “bad” food here] so I better [insert strenuous exercise] to burn those calories.” That sort of thinking is not the way God created us! I cannot stress this enough. That thinking comes straight from the devil. It tempts us and tricks us; it certainly doesn’t make us more like Christ.
Exercise is an amazing thing when done with a joyful heart and a true approach to health. But when exercise impedes your holiness, it’s time to take a step back. Reading the Word and praying has to come before time at the gym. Physical fitness and clean eating are not number-one priorities in God’s book, despite what culture may have us believe. We don’t need to work out six days a week, or sculpt six-pack abs, or force ourselves to run a 10K when we don’t even enjoy running. Those actions don’t make us healthy. God has created us with a beautiful mind, body, and spirit. Physical training of the body can only go so far when it comes to eternal life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t picture weight machines in heaven. Godliness, on the other hand, is with us for forever.
How much time do we think Jesus spent meal prepping, pondering his next workout, or deciding what He was going to wear? If I had to guess, I’d say approximately zero percent of His time was spent on this. He knew His Father would provide. He was concerned with His ministry and fulfilling the Father’s will. He wasn’t stressing about such relatively insignificant things as weight and clothing.
We know through through the book of Matthew that Jesus said,
“This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying?... For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6: 25-27, 32-34)
I love this picture Jesus gives us so much. Life is more than food and the body more than clothing. And God provides what we need.
Over and over in the Bible, we see God using the small and the weak. He picks the most unexpected people and utilizes them to advance His kingdom. He’s not looking for the people who look good and seem successful by societal standards. He’s looking for the people who love Him with all their heart.
Think of David, who becomes King of Israel and whose line leads to Jesus.
One of David’s seven older brothers would have been the logical choice for King. Yet the Lord chose David, the youngest and smallest, who was out tending to sheep at the time. David, the one who no one took a second look at.
We don’t have to look a certain way for God to see us or use us. What God cares about more than anything is our hearts. When I find myself tempted to restrict my food intake or believe the lie that I am weak because I don’t adhere to a regular exercise routine, I try to remind myself of this verse. What is my heart motivation behind eating healthy and exercising? What drives me to do these things—godliness or something else like public perception, approval, physical beauty?
Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
I pray I honor the Spirit within me by treating my body with love, kindness, and respect. I know that when I stand before God on judgment day, He won’t ask me about my dress size or how fast I can run a mile.
From the very first book of the Bible, we see that:
“God created mankind in His own image; in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
God created us in His image.
The Creator of the universe, the almighty, all-knowing, and all-powerful Father, is perfect. He created us to reflect His image. That means He created us perfectly, too.
He created us in a remarkable and wonderful way. He knit us together in our mother’s womb before we were born. Psalm 139 reminds us of how much the Father cares for us in the way He created us. Our bodies, our minds, our personalities are all from God. They are not an accident. I believe God designed us exactly as we are—what we view as flaws are precious in His eyes. That extra skin around the waist of your jeans, those strong and muscular calves, that thick and curly hair, those smile lines around your mouth and eyes—all are beautiful in His eyes.
If God sees us as precious and beautiful, and we care about His opinion more than anyone else’s, then why wouldn’t we see ourselves as precious and beautiful, too?
If you want to talk more about Jesus Christ and faith and what-the-heck-is-all-this-stuff, shoot me a message. I love meeting new people, whether virtually or in person, and gabbing about life.
And if you'd like to know more of my story, you can read my testimony here.
Truly, He makes beautiful things.