God and the Body

da-vinciWhether we like it or not, our bodies are critical to our becoming more like Jesus every day.

Regardless of what we think when we look in the mirror, or when we take another ibuprofen, or when we struggle with another urge - our bodies are fearful and wonderful machines with the potential to lead us back to our original design which is living the life Jesus lived and coming under the guidance of the Kingdom of God.

There are obstacles that, if we look at them clearly, our bodies will reveal and help us to overcome in our quest to be more like Jesus. Here are three things our bodies reveal to us about the condition of our soul.

1. Sleep - are you getting enough sleep? Do you even know how much you need? The greatest spiritual formation moments are awaiting you on the other side of a good night's sleep. Missing sleep can be a result of letting our minds be taken up with things that a) don't matter, such as meaningless television or internet use b) cause us anxiety but in the end aren't ours to determine anyway or c) come from overwork and under-prayer where we surrender our efforts ultimately to God.

Here's an experiment: allow yourself to have a full night of sleep. Work with your family to set up a night where you can sleep and not set the alarm. If you sleep longer than 8 hours, your body needed it so don't regret it. As soon as you wake up, get out of bed. It's helpful to pray a bit of gratitude for God creating your body to recharge itself and also for creating such a wicked good thing as sleep. The goal? Strength and life to do the work God has created for us.

2. Tension - is there muscle tension and stiffness that you constantly deal with? Do you have a feeling of tension and uneasiness in your stomach at all times? I have had conversations with people who, when facing situations or people, find a knot the size of a grapefruit forming in their stomach. Some people in situations of intense stress have physical knots that form in their shoulders or back, signifying their body trying to compensate for what is going on in their mind.

Another experiment: Take some time for silent prayer. Sit in a comfortable spot and think about relaxing your entire body. Start with your toes, and work your way up your body letting each muscle group release their tension and be at ease. As distractions come up or knots attempt to form, pray "God, I surrender that feeling to you. I am not in charge of the world." Imagine that tension or feeling as a helium balloon and picture yourself letting it go. The goal? Trust that God is taking care of things.

3. Eating - what are you putting into your body? Why? Do you eat because you are hungry or because there is food? Food in Western cultures has become an event (eating contests, etc.) or a controlled substance (to cover over pain or anxiety) whereas the whole point of food is to fuel the body that God has created. We either spend too much time thinking about eating more (overeating) or too much time figuring out how to skimp and stay conscious (underrating).

Last experiment: Look at what you eat. First off, a simple web search for balanced diet should give you some ideas of what you should be eating. Second, think about the times when eating has dominated your thinking - what motivated those thoughts to come to mind? Finally, when you eat make it a matter of prayer to thank God for what you have and remind yourself that you don't need more than enough. The goal? True contentment with what God has given.

Handling these obstacles will help us to harness our bodies and overcome the physical obstacles that help us to trust, be content, and be strong.