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The Old Testament reading in the lectionary for today comes from Genesis 32, when Jacob is camped out by the Jabbok River on the eve of meeting Esau, the brother he swindled so many years before.
I'm guessing he is nervous, maybe even afraid.
He has already had an encounter with the supernatural a few chapters (and years) back, when he dreams about a stairway to heaven, with angels going up and down. Now, married to two sisters and with a retinue of children and servants, he spends the night alone, maybe to psych himself up to see Esau again for the first time in years.
The last time they saw each other, Jacob stole Esau's blessing. Indeed, Esau had sacrificed his birthright for Jacob's stew, but the blessing of their father Isaac was stolen through deceit.
Indeed, I'd be nervous, too.
Jacob sends his wives, kids, and servants across the river to spend the night alone. Some say he is hiding behind them like a coward, and I'm inclined to agree.
When I think about what comes next, I have to scratch my head. A stranger approaches Jacob and they begin to wrestle. How come? Was it a display of machismo? A good-natured tussle? Admittedly, it's weird how little we know about the circumstances of the encounter.
Here's the text:
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.
Genesis 32:22-32 (ESV)
Like I said, it's a weird story. Wrestling, hip displacement, hanging on for a blessing, asking about names. What's going on?
Today, what I need to know is that Jacob's name was changed from one that means "deceiver, supplanter" to one that means "he who wrestles with God and prevails."
Jacob was probably a bundle of nerves that night. The wrestling was probably a welcome distraction. And maybe I'm wrong, but I hear a tone of playfulness in the voice of the stranger--"Why is it that you want to know my name?"
I was raised in Bible Belt East Texas, where good women submit to the men in their lives and don't stir up a fuss. I thought that's what being a woman of God looked like, too, for the longest time. So I sank into depression because I was angry and nervous and unable to fight it, like that was what accepting my circumstances as God's will was supposed to look like.
But then I encountered the anxious, nervous, cowardly Jacob who wrestled with God and prevailed. He wasn't scolded for what he did, wrestling with God like friends who reach fisticuffs. No--it's a mark of honor to wrestle with God, so much so that Jacob takes a new name, Israel, which means "wrestles with God."
I used to hear annoyance and frustration the voice of the stranger at the petulance of Jacob. Now I hear a playful tenderness.
"Amanda, why is it that you want to know my name?"
Just to hear the voice of God as if he delights in me rather than being frustrated with me? It's a game-changer.
God isn't after my subservience; he is after my heart--this fiery, anxious, love-filled heart of mine that loves a good fight.
It is not lost on me that God's people came to be known by Jacob's new name, a people who wrestled with the God who wasn't above the fray, willing to let himself be drawn into relationship, into weakness and even defeat, into victory with the humans he made in his image.
He is the God who wrestles with his people and lets us win. That is good parenting, confident parenting. It's a kind of love that sees who I am--fiery passions and fearful anxieties included--and lets me pick apart the arguments, question the theology, dismantle the systemic injustices, rage at the suffering of children--and develop my voice to share what I've seen, what I am learning, and who I have experienced God to be.
I am not too much for God and he is enough for me. I've learned that through the wrestling.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not overwhelmed by my personality or my weaknesses. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not ashamed that I fail at conforming to the subservient woman mold. It's not a mold he intended for me, and he comes to wrestle with me, to reveal to me that my body tells my story, just like Jacob's limp did for him and the generations that came after him. (O that my wrestling with God would change the way my children see food!)
Don't be afraid to wrestle with him. When you find yourself clinging on, ask for a blessing. Ask to know his name. And walk in the beautiful weakness that the struggle reveals in you, because the rest of us need your God story.
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I have to be honest: it can be really hard to love my body. In fact, it's pretty easy to give into the temptation to hate my body. You, too? It's hard because I believe that hating my body is not living the full life that Jesus promised to his friends. I know that hating my body has not brought good fruit of peace and love...but how do I climb out of the rut of self-loathing and cultivate a holy love for my body? First of all, I have to acknowledge that I am beautiful because we are made in God's image. I am his kid and can't help but reflect his beauty in my physical body. Second, I have to believe that he made me good. Not good like chicken salad is good. Good like God-is-an-amazing-creator good.
If you struggle with hating your body, here are 3 ways that you can start on the path to having a holy love for your body.
1. AVOID THE NEGATIVE NANCY'S.
Have someone in your life who puts down or criticizes your body? Watch a show that makes you feel unworthy? Ain't nobody got time for that! Take a break from these negative influences for a few weeks so you can start to think right and true thoughts about your self and your body. For me, my Negative Nancy was myself...so I had to avoid mirrors for a while. I was so used to picking apart my reflection, critiquing every flaw. I even did it when I saw my reflection in a shiny surface like a car or a window. For a little while, I had to avoid my own gaze so that I could start to heal. Now, I check my reflection in the morning to make sure my outfit and accessories are on-point (or a hot mess, which happens often these days...), make any necessary adjustments, and then go on to enjoy my day. [Eventually, standing in front of the mirror and loving what I see became a good practice. Baby steps. Do what makes sense to you.]
2. THANK YOUR BODY.
Your body does amazing things every day. It's easy to focus on the things my body can't do--can't fit...can't run...can't whatever--so I try to thank my body for what it CAN do!
Thank you, feet, for carrying me everywhere today.
Thank you, flesh, for being soft and comfy for my babies to rest against.
Thank you, skin, for stretching to hold my babies inside me.
Thank you, hips, for helping me express my Latina rhythm.
Thank you, thighs, for being so ridiculously strong and helping me pick up my toddlers with ease.
Your body mediates your experiences of the physical world and it does a great job. Celebrate it! (My friend J. Nicole Morgan mentions this approach in her Christianity Today piece and I'm thankful for her input!)
3. EMBRACE THE STORY YOUR BODY TELLS.
Your body tells a story. My body tells the story of a girl who fell a lot on the playground as a child with a scar from surgery. My body tells the story of a woman who is learning how to navigate depression and anxiety through means other than food. My body tells the story of feet who have rebelled against my love of dancing, keeping me in Chacos every day of my life to have some relief from the pain of plantar fasciitis. My body tells the story of the three children I have carried, with stretch marks and c-section scars.
Sometimes I wear my story with shame, but it's time to release such feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred. I am beautiful and I carry a beautiful story. My visible body is as much a part of the redemption Christ is working in me as my invisible soul is. This is the beauty of living out an incarnational faith, based in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ. Our bodies matter. Jesus's body matters. He carries the scars of the cross and they help tell his story. I want to carry my body's story like Jesus carries his.
Cultivating a holy love for my body starts with small little seeds, planted in the garden of my heart. It takes time and it takes intention to change the narrative of body-loathing into a holy body love. Scripture says that we reap what we sow, and I want to reap a holy love for my body, for my own sake and the sake of the Church. It's worth the time and effort because we are so loved by a good Father who made us beautiful, in his image, good. And as we learn to love our own bodies, we can help others to see the beauty that they carry themselves.
It can be hard to discipline ourselves into a place of loving our body, but it is so worth it. I'm with you in this journey!
I'm not playing the "fat-is-bad" game anymore. Will you join me?Read More
A doctor called me fat once.
My husband wasn’t in the room. In the previous appointment, when my husband had been present, the doctor had used words like “overweight” and “obese.” Still not pleasant words to think about, but professional and appropriate for the situation.
He waited until my husband wasn’t there and then he called me fat.
He wasn’t even satisfied with using that word to describe me. He wanted me to acknowledge that it was part of who I was.
“So when did you get fat?” he asked me, looking directly at me. It wasn’t even an uncomfortable question for him. He was bold in his rudeness.
I explained that I had been at a certain weight for many years, but in grad school I put on weight.
He commented on the previous weight, that it was still not a satisfactory weight. And there I sat in his office, 70 pounds heavier than I had been before the weight gain.
I felt like a piece of chewed up bubble gum.
This morning, this episode came to mind as I was going through today’s lectionary reading.
“…as having nothing but possessing all things.” 2 Corinthians 6
When someone sees the outside of me, they might assume that I have nothing to offer.
That man, that doctor, who was charged with helping me with a life-altering condition caused by the weight gain, avoided an opportunity to encourage me to be healthy or to be anything more than fat.
The memory of this still bothers me often. 4 years later, 3 pregnancies later, lots of inner healing later. It occurred to me this morning that for me, being called ‘fat’ is very much like being called ‘slut.’
Think about it–as a society, we use the word ‘slut’ to describe a woman who wantonly allows anyone to presume upon her physical body. She lets it out to be used and mistreated, from what we assume is her own free will.
But we are learning now that many women who have received this denigrating title have had little to no control over the choices they appear to have made. It is not as easy at it seems to come out of a lifestyle that is familiar. It is not often as black and white as we have made it seem in our heads.
I have never (to my face or to my knowledge) been called a slut. And if I were to encounter a woman who is carrying that around as part of her identity, I would ask her to rethink her definition of herself. That label is not who she is. It is not her name. It is not her identity.
Over the years since the episode with the unkind and unprofessional doctor, I have thought a lot about the current condition of my physical body. I have learned that food addiction is real and that it is hard to break. I have come to understand that so many choices, food choices included, are made out of a place of mere surviving and not with the mindset of thriving. I have realized that issues with weight are far more complicated than “calories in, calories out” calculations.
And yet, like the neighborhood slut, I–the fat girl–hide in the background when I’m around religious people, not believing that I have anything worth saying. And even if I did have something to say, why would someone listen to me? I’m so fat. Automatically, my words are discounted, because OBVIOUSLY I don’t have it all together.
I have believed that fat people are not worth listening to, that people who struggle inordinately with their weight have nothing to say that is of value.
I would never say that out loud, would I? I have many friends whose weight struggles do not discount their words of love and advice to me. But I do believe it, deep inside, where the light of truth has yet to shine.
Say it with me: Being overweight does not discount my wisdom, my experience, my story, my worth.
Replace “overweight” with whatever adjective you have taken for yourself that needs to be discarded.
Say it with me: I have something worth saying and worth listening to.
Listen to the words of the apostle Paul from earlier in 2 Corinthians:
Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh…
What is seen in the flesh does not define me.
I have to let go of that “fat” word and applying it to myself. Yes, the fact is that I am overweight. But that does not define me. I am Amanda, and OH, the wisdom of my parents and of God, whose name means “Worthy of love.”
You have to let go of the word that you define yourself with: fat, old, weak, depressed, anxious, crazy, unstable, afraid, small, stupid…
Whatever that word is, it is not who you are.
You are valuable, precious (of great price), worthy of love, beautiful, and wanted.
Consider the story of St. Lawrence, who lived from 225 AD to 258 AD. Under the emperor Valerian, Roman authorities demanded that Lawrence, a deacon in the church at Rome, gather all the treasures of the church to hand over to the state. So, obediently, Lawrence went and rounded up all the treasures of the church—the lame, the beggars, the blind, the suffering. The weak ones, he knew, were the true treasure of the Church.
You, my friend, in your weakness—whatever that might be—are the treasure of the Church. Your wounds are precious. Your story is valuable. Your voice is needed for the rest of us to know more fully the love of Jesus Christ.
Paul continues in his second letter to the Corinthians:
So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.
You have something worth saying. You are an ambassador for the Son of the Living God.
Reject the lie that you have nothing to say or that no one will listen because of ______________ (fill in the blank). You have so much to say and it is so powerful that the devil will do what he can to stop you from sharing it. In as much as you have a story of pain and redemption, you carry a word of God for someone who needs it.
And they overcame [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
*This post was written in June 2015, before I started using the word "fat" as a descriptor, and at the time, it still very much was an insult to me. My use of the word "fat" to describe myself is to remove the stigma and shame that all to often are attached to its use. It is my choice and it is intentional, but please know that you can choose whatever adjective to describe yourself. There is no shame in being who you are.
Do you want the short answer or the long answer?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is noooooo.
For so long, I have carried around baggage attached to the pounds my hips bear. This baggage is shame, and this shame is for being overweight.
I cannot remember a time in my life where I did not feel the weight of being fat. I know a lot of people don’t like the term “fat.” It’s a word that I am not completely comfortable using, but I think that it is important to press through my awkwardness.
Being overweight is not a sin.
Being fat is not a sin.
If you’re overweight, how does that statement strike you?
Well, it sounds good but I don’t know if she’s right. I’ve done so much to put myself where I am today, and this weight I carry is a result of poor decisions…I don’t know if I can agree with her.
I totally get you.
Let’s think about it another way.
My mom who is the fairest of the fair–red hair, pale skin, freckles galore. She is simply stunning even in her grandmothering years. I inherited her fair skin, not the deliciously tannable skin of the Cuban stock my dad comes from. My skin shows the years I have gone outside without sunscreen. I have freckles (a mark of beauty, in my opinion) and I have sun damage. I have this sun damage because of a number of factors which may not be apparent at first glance. Mostly, though, it’s because I kept forgetting to put sunscreen on as a kid engaged in the limited outdoor sporting activities forced on me by public education.
I have this skin damage and I could have done something to prevent it. Even now, I could buy creams and wear more sun protection. But even though it’s there, I have no feelings of moral failure about it the way I do about being overweight.
What’s the difference?
I can’t speak for other cultures or other times, but I do know that in our American culture, weight has been attached to a kind of morality. If I eat right and exercise, or at least try to do so, I have moral currency to deposit in the Bank of Health. (I’ll lay aside, for the time being, the Bank of Physical Perfection.)
How many times have you heard this line? As long as you’re healthy…as if health is a measure of a person’s self worth.
It’s not about a number on the scale, I have heard.
It’s not about your outward appearance.
It’s not about the size you wear.
It’s about your health.
So if I am overweight and in a bigger size than most stores sell, I don’t get any health bucks. If I carry more padding than is culturally attractive, I don’t get any health bucks.
“Let’s do something about this,” someone might say. “Let’s add some money into your Bank of Health account.”
I can do this in a few ways–actually start working out. That’s like 5 health bucks per workout. I could give up gluten–that’s like a hundred a week. If I want to be healthy and so I am trying and failing–either by missing my workout or by eating healthy all day until I blow it with ice cream after the kids are in bed–I earn one health buck for trying.
That’s what we’ve learned, right? What counts is that I’m trying not to be fat anymore?
But what if I don’t want to try anymore? What if I refuse to play the game where being overweight is equated with being morally inferior?
What if I recognize that no matter how little or how much I weigh, or how well or how poorly I fit into clothing, weight is not a moral issue?
That takes a whole restructuring of how my mind works towards food, exercise, health, and physical appearance.
It means once I convince myself that being overweight is not sinful, I can be content with myself even when I’m not trying to be healthy. No more shame about not trying to get to the gym.
It means that food can be enjoyed, because I’m not basing my eating decisions on how good or how bad a person this apple pie is going to make me. No more shame about eating a tortilla that isn’t ‘carb balanced.’
It means that I can love myself more freely because I have stopped judging every freaking thing I do in relation to how much I weigh or how I look.
It means that I can love the people around me more freely because I have stopped judging myself and so I can stop judging other people for how they look, eat, or move.
To get to this place, I have to stop using language that attaches moral value to food. No more “good food, bad food.” Food is morally neutral.
And that’s a good place to begin.
by Amanda Beck
This post was originally published at paintedwithoutmakeup.com.