July 29, 2018

Scripture Search: To The Bone (A Biblical Approach to Body Positivity)


She looks back at you in silence. The outline of her ribcage protrudes, the skin hugging her shoulders and collarbones is taut. Her dark brown eyes and pursed lips, usually small, now look bigger on her thinned face. Your eyes trace the frame of her faint cheekbones, sliding down her jaw and turning sharply as it narrows into a point. Scanning back up her face slowly, you notice the shadows under her eyes.

You blink. Her legs. Twig-like, chicken legs. A pale brown bruise is patched on her inner right knee from the way her bony left knee weighs down on it as she sleeps, fetal position. You don’t recognize her, the girl staring at you. Yet despite this state of weakness, despite finally seeing yourself as the person reflected in the mirror, you feel strong. Empowered.

...

It can be hard to be grateful for the body that God has given you when competing voices tell you what's beautiful and not. Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors certainly have roots in anatomical abnormalities, genetic dispositions, biochemical imbalances, even trauma; at the same time, there's a disproportionate amount of mentally and physically harmful behavior derived from body dissatisfaction alone. 

Sometimes it spirals out of control. It may begin by trying to please others, not God. It could have been due to a lack of identity; our value was placed in what is fleeting - that is, the physical - not in the everlasting God. It was a worldly mechanism to cope for a loss of control with relationships, school, work. It was an attempt to fill a void or ease a pain that only God can satisfy. It was a desire to be admired, to idolize ourselves, to be like a god. Perfect.

Sometimes, it's as simple as placing societal values over God's. The focus of our gaze can so easily be distracted. 

Human tendencies incline us to judge according to external appearances. Body image affects us all. It doesn't matter how big or small you are. Everyone is vulnerable, regardless of how "clean" your diet is, how much you exercise. People of all colors, gender identities, ages can face the crippling weight of body dissatisfaction. And when I say "crippling", I mean crippling. Those mental cartwheels of planning out your eating schedule - exactly when, what, and how much to eat - are enough to give you a physical headache. The food police is painfully strict and can ruin your relationships. 

Our Heavenly Father doesn't want us to live in that state. He doesn't want us to become gluttons, but He doesn't want us to idolize body image, either. As a dietetic student, I learn the nutrition and psychology needed for counseling, but the evidence can be spouted all day long and still not resonate. I think God's word is convicting. It gently pierces through our hearts, hits directly at the nucleus of the parasitic thought, and moves us. In writing this, I hope you'll find some scriptural truths to guide the healing you're searching for. 

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Food is a gift from God.
Food is not inherently bad. 

Let's say that again: food is not inherently bad, friends! Let's get rid of the good-bad dichotomy, because anything and everything can be eaten with moderation. Is it beneficial to take additional steps and abandon soda, commit to vegetarianism? It can be. However, restrictive eating and over-elimination are not necessary to be healthy. 

We need to eat to survive. God could've given us little pills to take for sustenance. He could've eliminated the need to eat at all, but He didn't! Culture, art, science, innovation, and the environment are all connected to food. God's given us the pleasure to connect with others through food and over meals. How beautiful is that? Food is a gift, not something that's designed to haunt us day in and day out. 

1 Corinthians 6:12-13 is about sexual immorality, but it can be applied to food, too: 
"I have the right to do anything,” you say - but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” - but I will not be mastered* by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."

*"dominated" in other versions


On the flip side, food alone cannot sustain us.
"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." (John 6:35)

Food can be powerful. Food can heal.
Wait, let me rephrase that: God can use food to heal.

Nutrition research and personal stories have shown us remarkable ways in which health can be transformed by food, but I caution you to be careful. We can be quick to idolize food - "bulletproof coffee can increase your IQ by 12 points," "a juice cleanse will detoxify your body." Ummm, okay.

Bulletproof coffee and juices can taste great and you can drink them, but don't make them your religion. Don't let anything but God run your life. 


Pursuing desires of the flesh.
When we orient our thoughts, feelings, and lifestyles to pursue worldly values, like "the ideal body," we only gain the dissatisfying results of the flesh. It's a futile pursuit. Similarly, it's not likely you'll achieve contentment upon reaching a certain weight when the source of that weight-related fixation is in fact rooted in deeper pain.

Think of it another way: "I will be happy when I find someone and get married."
I hate to break it to you, but the insecurities you had when you were single can't be automatically overcome by the fact that you're in a relationship. In fact, the insecurities can amplify. 

Ecclesiastes 2:11 reminds us that it is fruitless to view anything short-lived as "the ultimate":
"Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun."

So we look to God to guide our thoughts and actions. Romans 8:6 calls us to live life according to the Spirit: "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace."


Admiration and approval from man(kind) is not worth it.
Man(kind)'s appetite is insatiable. Have you seen this Yoplait commercial? Nothing you can do is ever enough.


God's love is enough. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to take our past, present, and future sins to the cross. We can come to Him as we are. He has always and will forever love us. It's okay to not seek the approval of the popular girl or of your coworker. There's always room at His table, and He's all that matters. 

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:16-18)

Louie Giglio once said, "Fear is faith in the enemy." Don't be afraid of others, of food/certain types of foods. We are liberated by God's love.


Your Father loves you for you.
I'm repeating myself, because sometimes we need to hear it differently. To reiterate:
1. Don't seek satisfaction through approval from man. Man is never satisfied.
2. God loves you.

The "friends" you try to impress, the boy whose heart you try to win over, and the family member whose demands you try to meet aren't worth it. 

"But the Lord said to Samuel. "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

Written as instructions to wives, but also applicable here:
"Do not let your adorning be external - the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear - but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heat with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Fashion, makeup, food, nor exercise are inherently evil. They all can be honoring to God, but they can be distorted by sin, too. Set your heart and mind back on God first, and He can redeem what was once controlling, addicting, and harmful. He can transform brokenness to beauty and break up the darkness with His light.


Our bodies are gifts from God.
We're awfully hard on ourselves. How is it fair, even possible, to meet the world's beauty standards?You can work out for hours each day and starve yourself to get those abs or that thigh gap, but how is that living life to the fullest? God gave you legs to run powerfully. God gave you arms to give and receive hugs. Your body isn't for show. Alternatively, you might compare yourself to others to feel better about what you have...But I don't think that leads to long-lasting contentment, either.

What's your favorite part of your body? Your smile, your eyes, your hair, your fingers?
What's your least favorite part of your body? We like to avoid our insecurities, but maybe you inherited your crooked nose from your grandmother, and you loved your grandmother. She was a strong woman and absolutely hilarious. Maybe learning to view our insecurities differently can help us appreciate them. Whatever body part you feel proud or un-proud of, the entirety of your body is a gift from God.

Written in the context of sexual immorality:
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bough with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind..." (Romans 12:1-2)

Sinful thoughts and insecurities manifest themselves in different ways. They evolve like viral species, and we need to vigilantly protect ourselves from the world's lies by anchoring ourselves to the Word. Pray that you stop giving your attention to the hurtful voices, yours included.

"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)


How do we know if we are distorting God's gifts?
"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Is this thought/action honoring to God? How can we tell whose desires are we pursuing? Am I honoring the body I've been gifted by eating healthfully, or am I being overly restrictive?

I invite you to watch this sermon, but you can find my notes here. The points I've starred are what I believe to be particularly relevant to body positivity.



God redeemed us. 
We don't have to place our identity in anything else. We can be completely satisfied as His children. How freeing is that?! He gives us strength and guidance. Fixate your eyes on Him and give up your control. Allow Him to permeate your heart and mind. Meditate on Him constantly - His love, His righteousness - so that sins and temptations do not have the opportunity to make you waver.

Read through 1 John. It's a short book, and I encourage you to go through it and count how many times "love," "children," and "children of God" are written. Remember Who has given you your place.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

And per Psalm 18, God is our "Rock and Redeemer."


The Word is truth!
"For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever." (1 Peter 1:24-25)

Think about how much beauty standards have evolved and changed within the United States. Now compare them to those of other countries. You tell me: is it worth pursuing something that's as easily replaced as the newest iPhone model? Don't seek direction for your life from anyone but God. Confidently trust in Him alone! 

...



"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." (Psalm 139:14)

Beautiful child of God, you are wonderfully and fearfully made. If Jesus lavished his grace on us, I think the least we can do is receive it, acknowledge we are imperfect, and extend some grace to ourselves.

xo, Han

...

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the victory that you have won for us, for the freedom from worthless labels, for identifying us as your children. Father, you have saved us from the pain and darkness that comes with placing our identities in the world. You've broken the chains of death so that we may live in this world, free from hopelessness and fear. We strain our eyes to look ahead, awaiting eternity with You.

Father, you have given us a Savior who knows, better than anyone, what loneliness feels like. Our perfect Savior knows what it's like to be an outcast, to not fit in, to have people judge you to your face or behind your back. You love us so much that You sent Your Son to walk alongside us, to experience the pains we suffer through. You didn't need to suffer with us, let alone die for us, Jesus, but You did it anyway.

Freely you gave because You love us. You love us despite our brokenness, and You welcome us to fall into Your arms just as we are. God, it's so hard to reconcile the need to earn Your love. The rules we've created for ourselves liken us to the Pharisees. 

We pray for Your strength to help us give up our ideas of righteousness and our pride. Father, all we can take ownership of is our sin. We are not the disciplined, controlled, perfect images we chase after. It is so hard to reconcile the false exterior with the real brokenness, and we commit ourselves to the liberation You welcome us into. 

Father, help us see ourselves and others as You see us. Help us give up the facades, the pain and hurt we inflict upon ourselves. Help us run into your gift of freedom. Help us honor the bodies You have blessed us with. 

We pray over all of our brothers and sisters who are healing from the deep pains incurred from trying to find acceptance in this hostile world. Would you comfort them? We pray that they would find their identities in You. We pray that they would come to know your peace and love, that through You, they would find security in this ever-changing world. 

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