One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
We all have different struggles with ‘as yourself’. We have hang-ups, regrets, insecurities, disfigurements (real or imagined); and even those who come across as supremely self-confident often hide their pain behind a thin veneer of bolshiness or domineering tactics. Whatever our personal struggles, it’s all very well being told to ‘love yourself’, but how do you actually do this in a practical way?
I am blessed to be fairly peaceful in my heart, but there has always been a body-image issue stopping me from being completely happy in myself. As I have sought God for moving forward in 2021 over the last few weeks, He has led me on a journey of learning to love my body. This is not an easy thing to admit. Since moving from childhood to adolescence (or probably before then) I have been uncomfortable in my skin. I dislike my height, my weight, where I curve. I struggle to buy clothes that fit properly, and over the years this has meant I have gravitated towards clothes that hide and cover. Almost my entire wardrobe is navy blue. And then I feel bad that once again I am pairing one shade of navy blue with another shade of navy blue. The one time I got to a place where I was reasonably happy with my weight, I walked into the shop thinking, “I’m feeling good about myself for once – let’s buy something that fits me well,” only to discover that the world seemed to have gone all in for a fashion of baggy, shapeless tops.
And so I knew that God wanted this to change – I have been actively hating something that is a gift to me from Him and is at its very core, good. the other day I spent a good long time writing in my journal – I went through every part of my body that I dislike. I wrote about how I feel about it, and time and again God brought memories to the surface: the school photographer who called me a ‘chubby bunny’; the pointed look a school friend gave me when my body started to change; the comment someone had made about the ‘powerful thighs’ I was developing through cycling.
One of the joys of journaling is that I have to be deliberate. It slows down my thought processes. This means that when I bring my bottled-up-pain into the open through pen and ink it is powerful. When I write down ‘I choose to forgive the photographer for calling my 7-year-old self a chubby bunny’ then I have to really mean it: the power of declaring it in writing (and out loud) breaks the strongholds of the enemy in my life. When I write down ‘I choose not to reject my legs as ugly any more, and to accept them as part of my body,’ something shifts in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms and I become more whole as a person.
I also find that because my thoughts are slowed down by writing, space is created for God to speak. As I write about how I feel about the length and shape of my legs, He whispers: “You feel they are too big; I see strength. I am calling you to stand firm in Me.” Time and again He blows me away with the words He speaks, and I feel healing flow as I become reconciled to my body.
This is my struggle at the moment – and quite a feminine one (although not exclusively so). For others it might be dealing with past and current trauma, fears for the future, or guilt and shame. There are at least as many different struggles as there are people. There will also be different ways to receive healing – talking it through with a friend, going for a prayerful walk, shouting and throwing stones into the sea, going for a long run like Forrest Gump. Some things will also need the help of professionals, but I urge you not to forget that our God is a healer and to turn to Him alongside whatever help you get.
My journey to be reconciled to my body is going to be long, I expect, but one I desperately want to take so that I can become more whole and my heart can be more at peace. When my heart is calm, those who are in turmoil can find peace in me and rest for their souls as I find it in Christ. That, truly, will be loving my neighbour as myself.