“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14
The idea of hating my body seems pretty strange when I think about it rationally. As far as bodies go, mine’s served me well. I mean, what’s my body ever done to garner such hatred from me?
And even if my body had “failed” me in some major way, why hatred? Disappointment, frustration, anger, sure...but hatred?
Oh, but I’ve spent so much of my life hating my body. It was particularly bad when I was in New York City— a city that brings out the eating disorder in even the most well-adjusted. I subsisted on coffee all day and counted pretzels to eat with the (carefully measured) 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for “dinner.” I’d keep a pair of size 2 jeans in my drawer, even though they were too tight to actually wear out of the house, because I would constantly make sure I could still button them. If I couldn’t, I would launch into a tailspin of self-hatred, which for me looked like constant exercise and careful eating (read: starving myself), and (mostly psychological) beratement as punishment.
Thank God I am able to manage this neurosis before it morphs into full-on anorexia with the help of therapy and my amazing husband. But as I came to Psalm 139 this week, an old standard in my life, verse 14 struck me in a new way.
I’d always been a little confused about the word “fearfully.” At first I interpreted it to mean something close to cowardly. Which, granted, makes no sense in the context, but somehow rang so true, nonetheless. I sure felt like I was made a coward, because behind my hatred for my body was fear: (irrational) fear of veering further and further from a size 2... and all the culturally prescribed body image norms that are everywhere. (#firstworldproblems, am I right?) And behind those fears were more fears of not being lovable or perfect or enough.
This week I researched the word “fearfully” as it's used here. (Edwin showed me how to use an ancient Hebrew lexicon, which is super cool!) And it turns out this word pretty much means the opposite of cowardly.
As best as I can understand it, fearfully here means something closer to “awesomely” or “reverently” or “marvelously.”
I am awesomely made.
I am reverently made.
I am marvelously made.
David in this Psalm is not talking about what we are like, but about how God made us, if that makes sense. The adverb is describing the verb “made.” So it’s not “I am awesome” but “God did an awesome job making me.” This slight change of perspective made all the difference for me this week, and somehow this is the first time I’ve been able to really hear this message.
How would I treat my body if deep down I knew it was knit together reverently by the creator of the universe?
Eva’s head was facing the wrong way in the womb. Instead of coming out the "natural way," I had to have surgery to get her out. I felt disappointed that I didn’t get to experience labor, but looking back on my pregnancy and at myself now, the whole process is helping me heal my relationship with my body. My hatred is morphing into respect and curiosity and wonder now for a lot of reasons, but especially because I want to teach my daughter to love her body. To know that she was made marvelously, awesomely, reverently, even though my body hadn't been "perfect" through the process and was permanently scarred by the experience.
It’s the most creative thing I’ve ever done, being a mother, and yet, I feel like so little of it (if any) has been a work of my own hands. I can (and will) tell her, that I was just a vessel, that she was made marvelously, a miracle completely out of our control. I want her to believe that no matter her size or perceived imperfections or ways her body may disappoint her, she is lovable and enough, not because I made her, but because God did. I know the start of her believing these things is me believing them, too.
In the end our bodies do fail us. No one has ever made it out of this alive, as they say. And because God himself in Jesus had a body, we know God values these temporary temples we inhabit. We can rest in the hope that one day they'll be healed and restored to all their glory (2 Corinthians 5: 1-3.) And in his body, Jesus wept at the loss of his friend (John 11:35), so we see God mourning with us when our bodies disappoint, frustrate, anger, and inevitably fail us. And here’s the amazing part, in the meantime, we can come to God with our hatred of ourselves too. God can heal it in the most surprising ways.
So if you find yourself hating your body this week, allow me to inform you that you are lovable and enough, just because your were made that way. Don't spend time hating your marvelous, awesome, reverently made body. There is nothing you have done or can do...no illness, no weight gain or loss, no addiction, no abuse...that can change that.