When I first started asking some lovely creative friends to write or do something for the I Am Project, I was completely overwhelmed by the honesty and truth that came back, through blogs and art and poetry.
Today is one of those moments: Eleanor is a beautiful friend of the I Am Project: living down in Devon, she’s a wonderful example of a life that is running towards Jesus with everything she’s got. I love talking to Eleanor and hearing her perspectives on navigating teenage-hood, hormones, pressure and relationships well: this girl is gold, and she’s running the race with perseverance.
She’s got a story that will make you want to sit up and take note. Over to you, Eleanor!
Having grown up in the church, there are phrases that I heard so often that they somewhat lost their meaning. And having spoken to some of my Christian friends, I’m not alone in that! One of these phrases which I can only ever remember feeling confused at, is “Glorify God with your body.”
Over the past two years, I’ve suffered with anorexia, which helps to explain why it’s this phrase which has stuck out to me. Just hearing it (or similar ones – another one I personally heard a lot was 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit”) made me squirm. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but it just made me want to cover my ears with my hands and let the floor swallow me up. The feeling was partly one of anger, and partly one of guilt – Why can I not look after my body? Which soon lead into the all-familiar – Why am I not good enough?
I want to make sure that you know that I haven’t fully escaped this. It is a journey, just like my recovery from anorexia. In fact, I think they go hand in hand!
Some of the problem was not knowing what ‘glorifying my body’ meant. In a sentence, glorifying God means that we, as Christians, should think and act, as best we can, in ways which reflect his greatness. Something I’ve tried before is marking a big dot on my hand in the morning, as a reminder to talk to God throughout the day. (Not as an obligation, because any guilt we may feel is a lie from the devil. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!) It’s a chance to just chat to him; to both talk and listen. To create a running dialogue with our creator. Because he always wants to hear our thoughts, and I know I can chat to him just as I would to a friend on the phone. No matter how hard/boring/fabulous my day is, He is listening.
That’s the [slightly] easier bit. The real and ongoing struggle is trying to glorify God with our bodies.
1 – Our Sexuality
Today’s society tells us that our bodies are completely under our authority and that it is right to act on our feelings. It sells us the belief that only bodies of a certain shape and size have worth, and simultaneously that our bodies are vessels for our emotions. When you combine both of those false beliefs, it’s no wonder that it’s easy to live a life which is less than what God intends for us.
The verse above (from Corinthians) was written by Paul to the church of Corinth because they were struggling with their faith. The city of Corinth was full of sexual immorality, and Paul addresses this. “’I have the right to do anything’, you say – but not everything is beneficial.” Every time I read this, I become more surprised at how the struggles of the Church 2000 years ago are so similar to ours now! The idea that we deserve total autonomy over our lives is a lie. Although God has given us free spirits so that we can make decisions ourselves, we shouldn’t abuse this. It is God, not us, who knows the best path for our lives. Sexual immorality is an example of abusing our free will. It is natural for us to desire sex and want to explore it, but to honour and glorify God the most (which should be the focus of our lives – but easier said than done!) we should ask God how we can do this, listen to what he is saying by giving time for God to speak when we pray and read the bible, and then worship God by obeying him. God does not do this to punish us, or make the Christian life harder than it already is. He does this because he loves us, unconditionally, and he wants us to live lives which reflect the Good News of our salvation through Christ!
2 – Eating + Drinking
Telling people about my own eating disorder has elicited a range of reactions. The most memorable however, was being asked “How can a Christian have an eating disorder?” Understandably, this hurt, especially as it was from a close family member. At the time, I was so lost and confused that I agreed with her! Although she purely said it out of shock and grief, it only added to my feelings of worthlessness.
My anger at my situation is no longer directed towards myself, or God. In the first part of recovery, there were days where the anger I felt was devastating. It ruined relationships and it lead to harmful thoughts. To an extent, I still have this anger, but I no longer blame myself. Instead, I am deeply sad about how easy it is to believe our culture’s lies about our bodies and worth. There have been numerous times when I have wept over the way that we are lead to think about ourselves, but I know I can take comfort in the fact that God is weeping with me. Our bodies are beautiful because they are created by God. What they look like is irrelevant. They are not ornaments, they are vehicles and vessels for us to spread the word of God!
For these reasons, I don’t think God calls us to diet – for me, this is laughable. Being good stewards of our bodies means keeping it healthy, but they are also God’s gifts to us. They should bring us pleasure. Eating and drinking can, and should, be enjoyable! I know how sad it is to intensely fear food, instead of enjoying it, so it goes to show that God creates joy in things that most of us take for granted.
Finally, there’s drugs and alcohol. I think it goes without saying that they cause harm, and so it is no surprise that they’re not included in stewardship of our bodies. However, again, society plays a big part in making you feel ‘an outsider’ for not drinking or taking drugs. Personally, I think drinking alcohol is fine, and can be really enjoyable. However, I have Christian (and non-Christian) friends who choose not to. I really think either way is fine. However, getting so drunk to the point where you no longer have control over your mind and body is unhealthy – it is damaging to our bodies and often leads to guilt about behaving in a way that does not honour God. Not only that, but drinking too much is a visible manifestation of feeling spiritually dissatisfied. People who don’t know Jesus can never live life to the fullest, which is really sad. It usually leads to searching for a purpose, happiness, and acceptance in substances, rather than our Saviour. So by choosing not to drink too much, you are showing your friends that your security is firmly held in Christ, not in worldly things – like drinking, dieting, and sex.
3 – Thinking
Our ability to think freely is God-given, but again, we should treasure this. Our thoughts tend to control our behaviours – so thinking damaging thoughts about ourselves is not Glorifying God! I still struggle with negative thoughts about my body, very regularly, and I know that most people do. Thoughts like “I’m worthless”, “I’m fat”, “I am undeserving”, “I am disgusting”, are lies. They are lies, and they do not come from God. When we hear these thoughts, we should know that God is trying to shout over the top of them, but often we choose to not listen to them – because it is easier to believe the lies. I want to encourage you to pick up the bible next time you are feeling angry, disgusted and dissatisfied with your body. One of my favourite verses which I often repeat over and over is 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your beauty should come from within you—the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that will never be destroyed and is very precious to God.” Repeating words that God speaks over us makes God’s voice louder than the lies, even though it’s difficult to do when you’re low. But doing it is a victory: you are glorifying God.
The very reason for our existence is to have a relationship with God, because he loves us so much. To spend our lives glorifying Him, and living as an example to help others do the same, is to live the best life we can, and the one that God intends for us. Although we are surrounded by lies, take comfort in the fact that we know the true God! My prayer for you is that when the lies become unbearable, you can rest in God’s truth – that you are loved, you are perfect in his sight, and you are accepted. There is nothing that you have to earn, because Jesus died for you!