I went to a Superchick concert a couple of weeks ago. I got the t-shirt. I liked the message. Embrace the body God gave you. Why do we have trouble with that? So many reasons.
Last week our group had a great discussion around some of the baggage we carry about our bodies and self-image. Some of it’s cultural, some from our upbringing. And some of it comes, directly or indirectly, from religious doctrine. Here’s how it might play out:
The word “flesh” gets a bad rap in scripture. Here are a few examples: “Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41) “Walk by the spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16) “For the flesh sets its desire against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” (Gal. 5:17)
So the flesh is weak, susceptible to temptation, it lusts and it is full of desire. No wonder we’re always damping down those fires! There’s a lot of fuel in scripture that could have us reading “flesh” as “sinful.” Yet Jesus Himself took on flesh and became like us. In John it says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)
All these scriptures have the same root word – sarx — in the Greek. “Flesh” simply means “the body” as opposed to the soul or spirit, or as the symbol of what is external. By implication, it refers to human nature with all its frailties and passions. Those passions can be frightening. They have the power to disappoint, to wound and do damage, to kidnap us and run away with us. They also have the power to love, to heal, to bring life. Even if we ignore them, they are present within us. Wouldn’t it be more healthy and whole and honest to admit that, and bring our passions and desires to God, holding them with open hands? Our God is powerful, and He can redeem anything we’re wiling to embrace.
One of my life verses is Proverbs 24:3: “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” I call it a life verse because I’ve recognized and owned within myself the flow of energy and desire that can be life-giving, as well as the capacity to be swept away by my emotions and desires. I’ve allowed myself to feel that current that could easily overflow the banks if I’m not careful. After owning that potential, I can sit in fear of what might happen if I allow myself to be fully whole. There is much to fear if we are the ones in charge. And yet, in our fear of being carried away, we have locked up our hearts and thrown away the key. We enthrone “the spirit,” we make room for “the mind,” while “the body” is seen as an unwelcome but temporary houseguest. But “created in God’s image” doesn’t apply solely to our spirits. Our weak, frail, earthy, passionate, beautiful bodies are where God chooses to reside. Our bodies are described as his temple. Seen in that light, our bodies become holy ground.
Rock what you got! Can you relate? What messages have you gotten from the church or religious doctrine about your body?
Food for thought:
What if the “flesh lusting against the spirit” is actually about our self-centeredness? What if it’s more about us holding back, hiding, choosing the limits of what we know over life and possibility, holding onto what we’re comfortable with rather than risking all for love, going with the flow? And the flow is the Holy Spirit, seeking to freshen the springs on which we rely, desiring to teach us new and deeper ways to love and be loved? If we could uncover ways we block that flow, what might change, both within and around us? What do you sense as you make it a matter of prayer?