Happy Thursday, friends!
In the next few posts, I am going to address a few questions from my self-check-in list I mentioned in the last post about rest! The question we get to focus on today is:
Am I exercising enough/too much?
Although the question addresses exercise, I want to discuss a bigger topic; body image!
I am going to share a semi-long story here but want you to know it is extremely important to me to share this. Finding and understanding joy is a process and this was a part of mine!
I learned how to swim at a young age. When I say swim, I mean I kept my head above water so I didn’t drown. My parents had a backyard swimming pool and didn’t want me to fall in one day when they weren’t looking! So, they hired a swim instructor to show me how to float.
By now, you know I love pictures so here is a picture of me as a young little fish (on the left)!
I started swimming competitively on a summer league swim team at 6 years old. The coach gave us doughnuts after swim meets, so the choice to continue swimming was clear. Summers on the country club team turned into signing up for a year-round training program. This meant more time in the pool, more time working out outside of the pool and more doughnuts, of course.
As I grew older, I continued competing into my high school years. As a freshman, I practiced 9 times a week, which meant 18-20+ hours of training at 14 years old. Although the schedule was rigorous, I loved pushing myself alongside my teammates!
In the swimming world (much like most other sports) earning a college scholarship is an honorable goal to strive for, and it became my goal to earn one. Day after day, practice after practice, my arms and legs felt like they might fall off in an effort to reach my goal. Our coach was relentless, passionate and tough. He wanted me to reach my goals just as much as I wanted to. He pushed my limits daily.
By my junior year of high school, I received college recruiting letters from multiple Division One programs. I swam the fastest times of my life during junior year which led to college recruiting trip opportunities throughout my senior year. By spring of senior year, I accepted an offer to swim for Clemson University. Go Tigers!
So, I told you that to tell you this!
Being in a swim suit is vulnerable. There is no hiding. I was in a skin tight swim suit for hours on end, unable to hide my body if I didn’t think it looked the way it needed to. I remember looking at girls who were thinner than I was and thought to myself, “I wish I looked like that instead of what I look like.” I became so focused on my appearance and fighting to look like the “perfect” athlete that I lost sight of what a gift our bodies truly are.
Here is the fun part! I promised myself from the beginning of publishing this blog that I’d be as honest, open and genuine as possible. So, in an effort to honor that promise, I am going to share with you one of my journal entries from when I was 25 years old. I was single and seeking the Lord for answers in a funky stage of life. I hope my story encourages you!
April 21, 2013
God opened my eyes to something today. I have been praying for a future husband for a while now. I pray for him, our future marriage and for myself. I pray that God points out in me the things I need to work on before He sends me a spouse. Well, it became clear as day to me today. I need to work on how I view and speak about my body. For as long as I can remember, my body has been under a microscope and usually in a critical light. I rarely felt skinny enough or in shape enough to meet the high athletic standards that were placed on me. Now, at 25, I’m still struggling with meeting these standards I still manage to place on myself. I have a problem.
I don’t want to run into anyone I haven’t seen in a while because I am so afraid they will look at me and judge my slightly different body. The 5-pounds-heavier, post college athlete body that I can’t seem to accept and let go of. What I need to understand is that my only concern should be – “Am I honoring God with my body?”
All of the other nonsense is just that – nonsense. Am I over/under eating? Am I exercising for health benefits instead of vanity? These are the questions I should be asking. Not, “How fat do I look?”
When I ask someone, “How fat do I look?” I am making my body about ME. That question is so ridiculous. My body is not mine; it’s Gods. My body is a vessel God uses to expand HIS kingdom. Am I making my body about God or about me? Almost all of my life I have made it about me and what I want to do with it. This explains why I have never had peace in my heart about how I look. Ever. I have always struggled with body image issues. My perception of my body has been based on what I and others have thought and said. Never once have I made my view about my body about honoring God or listening to what He says about me.
I always thought I was obedient in honoring Him with my body by not getting drunk or working out to stay thin. I was wrong. There is so much more to honoring God with your body than being thin. It is not just about choices – like eating right, not having sex before marriage, not getting drunk, etc. Our relationship with our bodies is more than just a relationship with ourselves – it’s about a relationship with the Lord.
If I love God with all of my heart, my relationship with Him is what will guide how I view and treat my body. If I love God first, I’m not going to get down on myself for being 5 pounds heavier than I was when I was a competitive athlete. He preaches acceptance. We can make healthier choices if we need to, yes, but we don’t have to torture ourselves to look a certain way if God doesn’t want that for us.
I will never be where I want to be physically if I don’t fully grasp and understand the connection to it all spiritually.
We have to learn to think like He thinks. Honoring your body is not about the critical voices in your head, the self-doubt or negativity that YOU/I allow in. That is ME focused. Finding joy from your body is about understanding the spiritual connection to God and that our bodies are His. The negative thoughts we have swimming around about ourselves are a slap in the face to God because we are His best work.
He created you EXACTLY the way you are for a purpose! Until you understand that your body is about HIM, you will continue to fight a battle for yourself that was already fought by Jesus. His hands were pierced to save you from self-doubt. There is little to no room for doubt in a heart that is filled to the brim with Jesus.
All of that being said, God opened my eyes to step one of improving. Whether I get a husband or not is irrelevant at this point, I’ve needed to get this area of my life right for a long time. Here goes nothing.
Man – God wrecked me that day! I’m so glad He did. Godly body image will always be a work in progress but now, more than ever, I feel confident in who I am because of Christ. I can live in a state of knowing I am loved inside AND out.
At the time I wrote the above journal entry, I remember looking at my legs in the mirror with disgust. I wished I looked like a dainty ballerina with little, thin legs. But you know what? I finally got a grasp on reality and realized I’m not a dainty ballerina. I’m a former swimmer with a muscular build and it was for a significant, meaningful purpose. My legs have carried me to a college scholarship, to dinners with friends, to church, family events, birthday parties, coffee dates, weddings and you know what else they’ve done? My legs have walked me down the aisle, alongside my sweet dad, to marry a man I do not deserve in the slightest bit. My legs are a BLESSING.
Over time, the parts of my body I hated the most became gifts I now thank God for. We gain perspective on how amazing our bodies truly are when we understand they are a gift. Our bodies have tremendous, beautiful purpose, exactly the way they are.
I’m almost done, I promise!
Being active and physically fit is still important to me. I train regularly and coach group fitness classes in Nashville, but my motives for staying fit have changed. I work out so I can stay healthy and balanced. I stay active so I can participate in activities with my family and friends for as long as my body will let me, not because I want to be the skinniest or fittest person in the gym. I value and appreciate physical activity because it brings me joy! I want to be the best, most healthy version of myself. I coach because I want to love and encourage anyone who might be going through the same issues I did. My past struggles are proof that the Lord loves and redeems!
God created you to be who you are physically for a beautiful, divine plan and purpose. He doesn’t speak harsh words about you, and neither should you. Learn to love your body in its entirety; it’s the only one you are going to get on this earth. Let’s all fight to live in a state of knowing we are loved and accepted!
Do me a favor and remember this - you are fearfully and wonderfully made and God thinks you ROCK!
Thanks for joining me on this ride, y’all! Have a great week!
· What is one way you can honor God with your body today?
· Who do you let guide your thoughts about yourself?
· What are you thankful for as it relates to your body?
· List 5 positive affirmations you can speak about your body.