Exercise, Food, Your Body, and God

Long long ago, in a semester far away, I promised another intern — Kayla — that I would contribute a video to her internship project.  I have finally come through!  (Better late than never?)  Kayla has designed a really neat body positivity education series for her youth group, with five videos from different folks each themed around different aspects of bodies and theology.  Here is mine!  Text of the video is below the cut.  Enjoy!

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Hello there!  My name is Day Hefner and I am really excited to get to talk to you all about two of my favorite topics: bodies and God!

It sounds kind of obvious to say, but bodies are a really central part of our lives.  We spend a lot of time caring for our bodies – washing them, feeding them, dressing them, exercising them, resting them, and so on. And our bodies are how we interact with the world: touching, tasting, smelling, going to school, riding a bike, or hugging our friends.  The relationship that we have with our bodies is really important, because it is a relationship that lasts our whole life.

We are embodied, flesh and blood creatures.  Some people believe that what we really are is just floaty spirit souls essentially trapped in temporary meat-suits, but the truth about who we are is actually much better.  You probably remember the story of creation in Genesis when God takes some of the dust of the earth and forms it into human beings.  Then God breathes the breath of life into their nostrils.  But the body came first!  We are literally made of the same stuff as the rest of creation, the same stuff as stars and trees and earthworms and tomatoes.  And we’re filled with God’s Spirit.  God loves our bodies.  And it’s important for you to know that the very first words ever spoken about your body were spoken by God at the beginning of creation:  that you and your body are very good.

Lots of words have been spoken about human bodies since that time.  And I am sure that you all have heard a LOT of mixed messages about your own bodies.  It seems like everyone has an opinion about our bodies: what they should look like, what they should be able to do, what we should or shouldn’t do with them, and even how we should feel about them.  From magazines to facebook ads to TV and movies to our own friends and family, we often face enormous pressure to make sure our bodies conform to certain standards.

I have struggled with this pressure my whole life.  I have always been a fat person, even though I have dieted a lot and been very active for most of my life.  I was bullied a lot for my size when I was growing up, and the people around me were always policing my food and giving me advice on how to lose weight.  I tried everything I possibly could to try to make myself smaller, and every time I failed, I felt more and more shame about my body and about myself.

I’m guessing you probably already know what it’s like to feel embarrassed or worried about your body and how it looks – and for that, I am truly sorry.  The sad truth is that when we are bombarded with so many messages about what’s “wrong” with our bodies, it makes it hard to develop healthy relationships with them.  And it makes us forget the words that our Creator has already spoken about us: that we are very good, just as we are.

In reality, human bodies are really some of the most amazing things in all of creation.  Our cells regenerate and our bodies heal themselves. An incredibly complex system of bones and muscles and ligaments enables the movement of ballet dancers and football players and even the opposable thumbs we use to write text messages. Our digestive system takes in food and turns it into energy… and other things, of course.

And speaking of food, your body is also really, really smart.  It knows what it needs.  Its number one job is keeping you alive, and it is a champion at it!  I learned this firsthand about two years ago, when I made the decision to stop dieting.  At first, I was really worried that I would go totally off the rails and eat everything – because when I was dieting, that’s always what I wanted to do.  But once I stopped dieting and calmed down, and began to listen to my body, I realized that my body really knows what it needs – and it tells me!  Sure, sometimes it asks me for chocolate and fried things, but it also asks me for broccoli and apples and grilled chicken and asparagus.  It asks me to get up from in front of my computer once in a while and go for a walk.

We need balanced food and movement for our health, and our bodies are smart about knowing what they need. And God has also given these things to us for our enjoyment, especially for our enjoyment in the company of other people.  It’s no accident that food – bread and wine – is at the very heart of our life together as the church.  When Jesus Christ – God in a body – walked the earth, he blessed food and shared it with other people.  In fact, after his death and resurrection, one of the very first things he did was to have breakfast on the beach with his friends!  And it was in the breaking of the bread that his friends recognized him. Jesus set the model for all of us of enjoying life in a body.

So please, enjoy the body that God has given you, and remember that it is very good!  Your body is smart and knows what it needs.  Your body is unique, holy, and complex, and much more than merely beautiful.  Your body is you, a precious gift from the God who loves you – a gift to you and to the world.  So celebrate that body!  Move it, dance it, feed it, and above all, love it.  You are a wonderful creature of stardust and Spirit, held forever and always in the love of God.

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