“I love you, but I don’t like you right now.”
Perhaps you’ve felt this sentiment in your interpersonal relationships, or heard it from others, or even said it out loud. As imperfect people, we offend, hurt, annoy, and disturb our fellow humans on a daily (or even hourly) basis. Try as we may, we can’t please everybody all the time.
This also holds true in our relationships with ourselves, with regards to failed expectations, disappointments, and frustrations in our behavior and in our thoughts. Many times, especially for women, our bodies disappoint us because they too are imperfect. Sometimes this is the result of injury or illness, but perhaps more commonly it results from the impossibility of looking like the airbrushed, photo-shopped, scantily clad models we see on billboards and in magazines. They serve as a constant reminder of our personal frustrations.
In a society with so much focus on outward appearances, it’s not common to hear someone say, “You know, I really love how I look.” Usually, it’s quite the opposite.
The statement at the beginning of the post is usually understood to be pretty harsh — it’s almost a backhanded compliment. In some ways, saying “I love you, but I don’t like you,” is like saying “If I had the choice, I wouldn’t have you. But, I’m stuck with you.” However, having this attitude towards our bodies can actually be beneficial. While the usual context is negative (“You are in my life against my will”) we can instead use the sentiment positively: “I’m going to choose to embrace you, even though you’re imperfect.”
Although the statement can be used harshly, used in another context, it can represent the grace and mercy of Christ. Even though we offend him daily with our sins, he actively extends us forgiveness and love, and constantly offers to meet our deepest needs (Lamentations 3:22-23).
We may never reach a point in life where loving our bodies comes easily and naturally. Most of us don’t fall into the 0.001% of the population that naturally looks like a Barbie doll (not that there is an physique we should be desiring, other than our own.) However, we can learn to act lovingly towards our bodies by taking care of them and meeting their needs. This means practicing good hygiene, sleeping enough, engaging in movement, and feeding ourselves properly. (As I often share in appointments and on my blog, this means eating early, eating often, and eating enough.)
Often, in pursuit of health, we end up engaging in harmful eating and exercise patterns that actually degrade our lives and harm us. In my own experience, I spent years trying to “eat clean” and run longer in pursuit of health and thinness, but I paradoxically made myself ill. Choosing to love our bodies by meeting their needs often means turning away from trendy diets, or the temptation to embark upon an intense exercise regime, and instead choosing to honor our hunger, rest when needed, and set boundaries in relationships that encourage negative health behaviors.
When we recognize that meeting basic needs is a practical way of acting in love towards ourselves, it then becomes easier to identify ways to likewise love others by meeting their basic needs: feeding the hungry, building homes for the poor, and providing other essential, life-sustaining services to our neighbors. If we, as individuals, can act in love towards our own bodies despite our imperfections, we can then learn to act in love towards other imperfect people. (For more on this subject, I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 13)
That, friends, is our greater purpose in life.
Relentless pursuit of a different physique is not only futile, but it distracts us from the greater, more fulfilling, more important things of life. Exercising to achieve thinness isn’t done out of self-love, it’s done out of dislike or self-hate, and impedes our ability to use our time, energy and efforts for a greater good. Real love means actively seeking the benefit of ourselves and others, regardless of our feelings.