Written by Erin Ford
Sweat dripped from my arms as I picked up the 27-pound weight lifting bar. The instructor’s voice, muted by the music in the gym, told me to bend deeper into my squat as I raised the bar over my head. I stared in front of me. I didn’t want to look in the mirror beside me and see the extra fat around my hips or notice my lack of muscle. I didn’t want to feel the shame of not being enough, looking good enough or trying enough.
Instead, I fixed my eyes on the woman in front of me. Easily four sizes smaller, she looked like she went to gym every day. Or maybe she was one of those girls who were skinny without even trying. I watched her do the moves over and over. Maybe, I thought, if I did it the same way I would look just like her.
I’ve struggled with self-criticism and comparison my whole life. Perhaps it was rooted in feeling unsettled at home with my parents’ divorce. Perhaps it was because I always assessed my identity and performance in comparison with the people around me.
Was that supposed to change immediately when I started to follow Jesus? I wish it had. I wish I intrinsically believed that my body was an amazing gift and blessing. But instead, there are many days when I wished it looked like someone else’s body.
Why do I feel like my place in the world is related to how I view myself and how I think others view me? Being told by an elementary school bully that I was stupid and ugly hurt me to my core. It led me to believe that I was not enough. Unwanted. Just like when my dad chose alcohol over me. The pain and the shame of it led to years of hidden emotional eating. I drowned my stress and anxiety in late night cracker-eating sessions in bed — escaping into the world of Netflix.
Then, a season of life change launched me onto the journey of both physical and emotional healing. The idea of exercise had previously felt too overwhelming, but after a transition in work and a move back to my university town, my life felt more emotionally and spiritually stable. I started to assess my physical health and began attending the gym down the street from where I lived. My relationship with food slowly changed as I identified the triggers that led to emotional eating. I also changed my diet after realizing I had a dairy allergy, and placed healthy boundaries about when I ate food.
As I pursued a physical transformation, Jesus invited me to come to him to encounter a heart transformation. Each step in the process was a step of faith, trusting that because God loved and created my body, I needed to love it as well (Psalm 139:13-16). Committing to attend a local gym on a regular basis has begun to challenged the deep-seated negative beliefs I had in myself. It exposed my fears, comparison, and critical self thinking that thrived in secret and lurked in the depths of my heart. Bringing them into the light helped me identify the root of those beliefs as sin. I was able to confess and surrender them to Jesus in order to be cleansed and made new (1 John 1:7).
The gospel tells me that God created my body with purpose and pleasure. He shaped my waist and hips and no number of squats or lunges will change the eternal value or worth of who I am in Christ. He invites me to tend to my body like a garden — feeding it good food and nourishing its growth and development. I am to also treat my body like a temple, the place where God dwells (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Its beauty is magnified by the status and beauty of my heart.
Jesus invites me to steward my body because he died for it. My body was worth tears in the garden of Gethsemane. Even in those moments of comparison and discontent, He stands beside me, inviting me to follow him once again.
Now, when I catch my reflection in the mirror, I smile. I’m there in freedom because of Jesus. I can celebrate as I squat to the glory of God. I remind myself of the power in just showing up. I do my best to steward my health and honour the body God has gifted me.
And I’m in it for the long haul. One day, I want to have arms that are strong enough to carry my children. I want to have hands to pray for and comfort the grieving in my church. I want legs that are strong and capable of running with my grandchildren. I want feet that are willing to take the gospel wherever Jesus invites me to follow him.