Satchel Living: Truth in beauty and perfect love
January can be a confounding time for women. No sooner have the Christmas crackers been put away than thoughts turn to burning calories and starting detoxes as we scan the newsstands. 'Why can't I just watch the tennis/read my new Jodi Picoult/think on Noam Chomsky's revolutionary pacificism in peace?' you think.
Celebrity cook Julie Goodwin is taking it all in her stride. She posed for New Idea in her swimsuit, unkind things were said, and she resolved to remind us all that we are not defined by our body shape. "I am grateful to my body for the three children it has given me, for its strength and ability to work long hard hours, and for its robust good health... I will live my life as fully and joyfully as each day allows, with the body God gave me in all its magnificent imperfection," she wrote on her blog.
A calm resolve to NOT BUY INTO the dieting jargon, the weight-loss mumbo jumbo, the calorie crap will do you well. Bury your head in your Jodi Picoult! Channel the Chomsky! But if, unlike Julie, you do not possess such resolve, nor the humble acceptance of the body God gave you, your vulnerabilities may flair up during beach season.
How does one go about combating the landscape without requesting that the newsagent 'Please remove all scaremongering materials'; that the current affairs shows lay off the weight loss infotainment; that the pretty young things at the beach cover up? How do you annihilate the deflating feeling that your body is not quite up to scratch (and who's marking out the pitch, anyway?).
By holding fast to the truth. Did Jesus die for sinners just so we could get thinner, or, indeed, gorge on our inadequacies and insecurities? I don't think so.
But, hello, there they are. The battle scars. The weighty stumbling blocks pulling us towards memories, perhaps, of one time in our lives when we were not in shippy-shippy shape (whether too light or too heavy for our bodies to bear), or the self-loathing that followed when someone was so unkind as to point it out or shout, "Hey, eat a hamburger!" or "Hey, lay off the hamburgers!"), or maybe the thought, seared into your soul, that your looks matter most of all.
All this stuff needs to be put in its rightful place: the wheelie bin of your life. David killed Goliath with a sling shot, and you too can conquer your Goliath. You just have to believe it can be true. And here's the rub: PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR.
Fear of man's rejection and woman's; fear of gaining weight; fear of losing your way; fear of past mistakes and future ones, too; fear of people not liking who you really are; fear of allowing your body to be how it naturally wants to be; fear that you will go back to how you were or, perhaps, will never get to where you want to be. Fear schmear.
Perfect love wants what's best for you; perfect love allows you the freedom to be who you were created to be; perfect love keeps no record of wrongs; perfect love calms the storms; perfect love does not poke fun; perfect love does not show off; perfect love recognises you are human; perfect love picks you up when you are down; perfect love does not burden you with unreasonable expectations; perfect love takes your hand and leads you to places of peace; perfect love enables you to revel in God's glory; perfect love never runs out, never fails you.
But, to get to the root of it all, to experience the perfect love that conquers all fears and inhibitions, inadequacies and insecurities – before you can genuinely go out into the world firing off sling-shots at every deflating image and remark – you need to do some work. You have the absolute RIGHT to live a full and flourishing life and to look your very best for the very purpose you were given for being here. Did you know that? I hope you do. If you don't know and feel this with all your heart, let's make a start.
God loved you SO MUCH that he sent his only Son to die for you. This was so you could have a personal and deeply satisfying relationship with him, the supplier of all your needs; for love, for acceptance, for comfort, for peace, for direction, for shelter, clothes, food – for every single thing. With this in mind, with it filtering throughout your thinking and your body, it's safe to turn to thoughts of, 'Well, if God loves me, I must be alright, so I will look after myself.'
What God doesn't want is for you to live in a perpetual state of self-punishment. To give into demands on your body, mind and time that keep you apart from Him and his perfect will for your life. That will only lead you into strife. Trust me, I've been there. I have the lingering battle scars, too: the thinner hair, the weaker bones, the question mark over fertility. BUT, even if you stray from the path, even if you give into the world's ridiculous message that you must be thin, thin, thin, God can restore you to full and glowing health. I KNOW this to be true.
It requires partnership with him, and some further work, too. I personally had to get down to the nitty gritty stuff; the beginnings of the self-loathing and the constant need for affirmation. The seeking out for a mother's love and approval. The covering over anxieties fed by the thought that I would have to look after myself, that I would have to be the very best at things, that I would have to be ace all the time; that I felt wretched because I had done things that made me feel like a very bad person. Exhausting. (If you're not exhausted yet, read more about it here).
Stage two of my experience required a complete rebuilding of my thinking. Each ridiculous thought about food being replaced by something more beneficial. Starting each day saying, "God, I know you will provide for all my needs", including food and the opportunity to move (some days this might be a stroll, others a run, maybe a swim in the pool, maybe cleaning the house; just something). I learned to allow myself to sleep in. BUT, God also gave me an opportunity disguised in an injury: I was forced off my feet for months and months. And, yet, I am still able to complete a 10k run.
The eating thing has been somewhat harder: friend and foe and source of such woe! Used to be that I could control my world through consumption; then, in the depths of despair, I could punish myself through imbibing everything in sight. But an opportunity again knocked to help me realign my approach to food (not faultless). I got gastro.
All I could eat was toast and tea. That breaking of routine was the absolute key. I learned to appreciate every morsel that passed my lips and didn't make me want to run to the toilet. The deliciousness of butter on bread. In a way, it was like a fast – God allowed me, in breaking with my habitual nature, to take a sneak peek at what allowing him to provide for our daily diet – just enough – looks like.
However, I have had to stay vigilant. If my mindset comes under the control of the vagaries of life, of feeling like I should be doing this or that and I am not, it is easy to stumble and fall. To feed one's gob with food instead of turning to God, instead of getting on one's knees and seeking his direction, his calm, is an easy thing to do. Food is all around us, haven't you noticed? But food is good, it fuels the brain and spirit. To have it and enjoy it, and not fear it, is liberating. That is a practised act of faith, and it is its own reward.
And herein another step: if you are a woman of faith, then your source for all things must be God. The minute you step into thinking that you must strive to deliver for yourself – self care, self will – you step out of God's provision for you. He's got it covered. Don't be so bothered. Yes, attend to the tasks he's assigned to you, and do them well, but don't beat yourself up with a stick if they're not completed, if family calls and takes you away from work, if someone is on your back, if you are forced to take it easy for a while to get your health on track – turn to God, look up to him and say, "I resolve to do it your way."
Keeping up with the Jones' (bikini babes, celebrities and weight-loss evangelists) is half the problem. When we take our focus of the unique bodies, the unique lives, the unique work, family, friends, community, hobbies and pleasures that God has given each of us, and turn instead to images and ideas created by the media, we become weaker. Don't let popular sentiments get in the way of your right to a full and flourishing life tailored just for you according to God's best precepts.
Have you seen the Bupa healthcare ads on television or in the magazines? I can most certainly identify with them. Look after what God has given you; it is a right given to you by Christ. Seek help if you need it, but resolve to do what's best for you; and only you. When you are functioning at your best, and accepting who you were made to be, you will be a beautiful carrier of Christ's message of peace and love and salvation for the world, and more able to function in the way he intended for you: body, mind, soul and spirit in perfect alignment with his will.
Now let's get back to the tennis.
A handy Girl With a Satchel artillery guide...
Going out into the world and not coming home feeling battered is hard, but not when you've got the right artillery in your repertoire! Here's a handy guide to keep in mind:
You think: I am fat and ugly. God says: You are God's child (John 1:12) and a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20); you are God's temple (1 Corinthians 3:6)
You think: I am a terrible person. God says: You have been justified (Romans 5:1), are free of all condemning charges against you (Romans 8:31-34) and free from condemning charges (Romans 8:31-34).
You think: I will never be good enough. God says: You are complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10) and can be confident that the good work God has begun in you will be perfected (Philippians 1:6).
You think: I have to try harder. God says: You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13) and you are God's co-worker (2 Corinthians 6:1).
You think: I can't eat that, I'll get fat. God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.
Girl With a Satchel