It was my junior or senior year in high school when I was at a gym in my hometown. I saw a large, muscle-bound man in a bright yellow and black shirt that read, “Body under construction.”
My first thought was, “Wow, that’s really stupid,” followed closely by, “also, any more construction and that guy is going to make that shirt explode into pieces!”
That phrase rattled around in my brain for years. It was only 3 months ago that God showed me what in the world that phrase had to do with me. This was the tough news to accept: I have always viewed my body as the intense focus of a never-ending construction project.
It came to me in flashes: passing my reflection when no one was around and checking the flatness of my stomach. Eating more food even when I knew I was already full because I was bored, or tired, or because it was around. The constant buying of every new workout DVD program that came out from BeachBody…. Every. single. one. Sweating, hurting, constant soreness, striving. This will be the program that finally does it. That finishes the construction project. That changes my body, that revolutionizes my eating habits, that leaves me satisfied.
I’ve met some really wonderful people, including counselors, trying to get to the root of why I was never happy with my body. They assumed things that any good therapist probably would. Control issues? Not exactly. Wanting to impress boys? It had never been about that. Abuse? Thank God, no. (Long pause, deep stare). Are you sure? Yes, I’m sure.
So I didn’t fit a mold, my experience was not wrapped up in an answer to a simple question. No surprise there. Instead, I tended to toss my struggle aside and label it “body image issues”- claiming that I was just like everyone else. (As if being like everyone else indicates that something isn’t wrong.) I was seeing my sin, seeing my patterns, and still, desperately wanting to know more, to be more. Believing there was goodness in my love for working out and nutrition, but seeing so much evil in it too. Wondering if Jesus has anything to do with this health and fitness thing that I loved so much and yet experienced so much of my own sin and idolatry in. Could it be redeemed?
Ultimately, under all of the desires I so badly wanted to label as innocent, It was always about me. That was part of, if not the main issue with all of my body problems. I, Claire, had this idea in Claire’s mind about what Claire should look like. It truly wasn’t to make anyone else happy. Honestly. It was the lie, I suppose, that if I got there, to the end of this construction project I was constantly working on, it would be for me. I would have done it. Yay me. And I could look in the mirror, and move about the world, and be in my body and finally feel like I was truly MYSELF. I guess that’s what I wanted. To be comfortable just being me. To live into the architectural blueprint that I figured I had a right to write up and make happen. I was playing architect and builder. I was the dump truck and the contractor. I was everything. I was the small g “god” of my own twisted project.
I desperately wanted liberation from the never-ending construction project. I wanted to stop looking for Claire 2.0 and live in Claire As She Is, Today. I prayed that God would show me how in the world to live into this. I knew only He could help me. With Revelation Wellness Instructor Retreat rapidly approaching, I believed God had something really epic up His sleeve. Little did I know that so much of that epicness was me needing to face my own pile of dung I had made out of what was supposed to be so beautiful, and so simple.
Day 2 of Revelation Wellness Instructor Retreat, I heard God say to me, as clear as I’ve heard him nudge me into anything, “Claire, your body isn’t for you. It’s for me.”
And this, I heard too, echoed in the prayers my husband had been praying for me for so many months, praying over me that God would press into my heart at retreat: I am a body on mission.
Then came the breakthrough, the slugging through the dung pile, finding the gold of His truth buried in all of my mess. I have purpose. I am not living to attain a specific shape. I don’t have to waste my days wearing my bright yellow hard hat, pointing to different things, suggesting, “What shall we work on today? How do we get that tighter, how do we make that look smoother, and what in the world do we do about those support beams?” I realized, with a flash of blessed clarity, that if I continued to choose to live as a body under construction, I would be living in sin. Deep doo-doo, smelly as all get out, stinking to high heaven sin.
It was time. Time to lay down my arms against myself. To ask forgiveness from God that for so long I’ve viewed my body as a construction project instead of an entire life on mission.
The world says that in order to feel better about yourself, you must keep focusing on yourself. You try harder. Harder still. Harder. Do better. Suggest things to yourself. Repeat to yourself how beautiful you are, try to point out the good things, lift yourself up. Jesus suggests a different way. Read the Word to find out who you are. Repeat to Him the truth about He is, point out all of His never-ending goodness, lift others up. Point out their achievements and beauties and ways that they reflect their Maker.
So here I am. I’ve put old cooking magazines over my scale, I’ve tossed out the endless numbers of measuring tapes that came with my tens of hundreds of workout DVDs, some of which I’ve shredded. Yes, the DVDs. Shredded. I kept the resistance bands for a good sweaty workout that honors Jesus (Revelation Wellness, obviously). I don’t need the latest nutritional info or someone telling me if today coffee has been labeled good or bad, what kinds of fats are necessary or unnecessary, or what some paleo type person thinks about my pine nuts. I lean into the truth of my Savior, I lean into my Revelation Wellness community, a group of women who really want the world to see that this body stuff isn’t punishment and pain, but goodness and grace. I’m laying all of that down at the cross, and looking into the face of Jesus, and saying, “Make of me what YOU will. I am on Your mission, and this is Your body.”
I see His broken body, bleeding and bruised, to give me life. Life in a body that was made to serve Him from day one I started breathing until forever, when He’ll have me breathing and serving on the streets of gold.
This body is not mine. It belongs to Jesus, who from the right hand of the Father intercedes for me, and for you. I know that when I agree with Him that my body is about Him, that my body is on mission, that I can lay down the tapes and hammers and let him break through the caution tape, He’ll remind me that the only thing I actually have to be doing is letting him re-create my heart. It’s my soul that needs the overhaul, not my skin. My body will change shape many times in my life. There will (God willing) be babies, probably surgeries, sickness, and ultimately, old age and death to a new life. All along what will matter is what that body did to tend to the sicknesses, weaknesses, and pains of others. A body that jumped for joy with the successes of others, celebrated with wild tears and off-tempo dance moves, that held people when words failed and only presence was required.
I remember in 8th grade thinking that someday I would want to get a tattoo that said, simply, “Free.” Probably because I knew even then that I longed for it, even though I couldn’t yet identify that I was already knee-deep in my body construction project at that time. I heard what I now believe was the Holy Spirit, a sort of whisper, saying, “Why write it on your skin? It will be written all over you.”
That is my prayer. May freedom in Christ be written all over you, so you can lay down your tools, let the tears stream down, admit defeat, exhaustion, and idolatry, and turn to your Daddy and say, “What’s next?”
With a smile on His face, I promise He will tell you. And it’s going to be about His glory in the world, and it’s going to be the most, most, most beautiful life you never could have planned.