My greatest frustrations in life always come from the weakness of my body. When I consider the incomprehensible fact that God designed and fashioned our minds and bodies, with all their complexity in function and all their ability in thinking and learning, I realize that we are all miraculous creations formed by a loving Creator who has designed our every cell to reflect his own intricate nature. We are certainly fearfully and wonderfully made (reference).
And then I step off a curb and twist my ankle and end up having to go to the ER on the first day of a two week vacation.
Or my son is sent home from school with a DIY COVID test because he coughed — once. Or I end up in bed with a migraine because I drank too much caffeine, or too little caffeine, or not enough water, or I forgot to take one of my daily medications.
We are often confronted by the evidence of the delicate nature of our physical bodies. We wake up in the morning and realize that we are still tired. We either haven’t slept long enough or our sleep was somehow disrupted. Our bodies tell us, through aches and pains, yawning, and slow thinking, that we will not be able to function properly unless we lay down and get more rest. Yet, at the same time, our brain is telling us that, if we go back to sleep, the baby will cry, the doorbell will ring, or we will be reprimanded at work for being late. Our thinking mind tells us one thing – get up and go to work – but our body’s needs tell us another.
When we consider these contradictory needs in the light of our loving, living Creator, these discrepancies appear even more confusing. If God loves the people he created, why does he give us bodies that require so much care, that will betray us in the present of a microscopic germ or a tripping hazard? What’s more, why would God allow some of his beloved children to suffer with long term pain, illness, complicated reactions to medications or treatments that resolve one physical problem only to replace it with another? Why does God give us minds and hearts that are so fragile, both in their physical components and their emotional hang-ups?
The theological question regarding how our bodies, designed by God to last for eternity, are now seemingly so flawed that they require hours maintenance and care is an important one, but that is not what I feel led to address here. They should be considered, pondered, and discussed, but in the interest of practicality, what I want to dig into is the mental and emotional struggle that we go through when our physical bodies betray our weaknesses, and how God would have us trust and value our physical selves in spite of, or even because of, our endless efforts to care for them.
There is, of course, an infinite amount written about this topic by experts in anatomy, biology, medicine, science, history, and theology, just to name a few, and I am not trained or educated in any of these arenas. But I can say, quite confidently, that I am an expert in the field of my own body – what it can do, what it can’t, and what I wish it could do but doesn’t. My body is the mediator between my experiences in the world and with people, and my internal world, where my thoughts, ideas, priorities, fears, and faith reside. The input I receive from my physical senses has direct influence over my responses, both physically and mentally, but I still have some power over my reactions because I am also capable of sound judgment, most of the time anyway.
et, my knowledge of and control over my own body is really quite limited. Getting routine vaccinations will prevent me from getting some complicated or even deadly diseases, but as we’ve all learned from the COVID pandemic, even vaccinations cannot provide 100% immunity in many cases, and the vaccines themselves may cause troubling, or even life-threatening complications. A healthy diet will help me maintain a healthy body weight, weight-bearing exercise will help me strengthen muscles and enable me to do more with my body, and of course I also need to drink water regularly get aerobic exercise a few times each week, get the right amount of sleep, bathe and care for my skin and hair, and pay attention to my mental health and know where to get help if I suspect I am developing depression, anxiety, or any other psychological condition. And of course, I need to balance all of this with self care, time to relax, to nurture my relationships, to work toward personal and work-related goals, to care for ailing family members or friends, and to move closer to Jesus by reading Scripture often, attending worship services, providing aid and service to those in need.
Now throw in endless login names and passwords to keep track of, my responsibilities toward my children, husband, pets, and extended family. Even typing this is exhausting. But what choice do we have? (Answer: a few choices, but not enough.)
Throughout the month of November we will be looking at how culture, God, and we ourselves relate to our bodies, our judgment and understanding of the nature of health, wellness, and illness, and how scripture provides an enhanced way to reconcile our bodies with both our minds and our faith.