Keeping Your Soul Healthy
My eight-year-old daughter came into the kitchen excited to tell me she had lost three pounds the other morning.
I cringe even writing that.
I’ve purposely made it a point to not weigh myself in front of her and to not talk about weight gain or loss in front of her.
I have fought hard to display a healthy body image of myself, knowing she is watching. But the truth is these efforts don’t matter because we live in a world where girls and women are constantly reminded of what is considered beautiful, what kind of bodies are desired and wanted.
We live in a world where a well-meaning doctor, at last week’s well-child check, tries to discreetly tell you your daughter’s BMI is slightly elevated, mentions COVID has played a part and she understands but encourages you to serve more veggies.
Except … she wasn’t as discreet as she thought and your daughter bursts into tears the moment you step out of the office doors, clinging to you as her tears and face press into your own “soft” belly.
Unfortunately, I know this world myself.
- It started in my teen years. I was aware of peers who were naturally thinner than me.
- As a young adult, excited about my upcoming wedding and wanting to feel beautiful in my gown, I started to count calories. I felt proud as the scale dropped along with the calories I consumed.
- As a pregnant woman, I watched my body grow and change, loving every minute of it. Looking back, I wonder if it was because the world approved my body change, pregnant women gained weight.
- As a nursing mom, I carried several extra pounds, while other nursing moms seemed to bounce back to their pre-pregnancy weight.
- As a military spouse solo parenting during a 6-month deployment, I would push two toddlers in a double jogger after dropping our oldest off at school. I couldn’t control the loneliness I felt walking our halls night after night, tucking in three kids by myself, but I could control the push to be thinner. Overextending myself on the trail and under extending grace to myself, eating less than the recommended daily calorie intake, all for the sake of a great “homecoming.”
When I became an accidental runner (a story for another time) I watched my body shrink the more miles I logged. So, I embraced my all or nothing mentality, running more and eating less. I met new goals, ran a half marathon and still compared myself to thinner versions of myself.
Would it ever be enough?
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A few years ago after a major career change for my husband and a life change for our family, I began to feel as if I was drowning. I decided to do some good work. Except it wasn’t on a trail, with Weight Watchers, or in my fitness app, instead it was in a counselor’s office.
And 40 pounds later I feel more emotionally healthy than I’ve ever been.
Ironically, this acceptance of myself has been off-putting to others. Even those close to me, their words cutting deep. I’ve shed tears. I’ve even tried to shed some weight, but all the efforts I made previously just aren’t cutting it and the same all or nothing motivation isn’t there.
I spent a better portion of my childhood feeling like I didn’t measure up. I had shattered self-esteem.
The first decade of marriage and motherhood felt like a blur, and I kept walking into each new season the best I knew how to. I stepped –
- Into a vow with someone as broken as me, hopeful for the promise of redemption.
- Into motherhood with a child who came 71 days early.
- Into military service, though I wasn’t the one wearing the uniform.
- Into each new season, striving to be a better mom, a better wife.
… until I stopped trying to be better. I wanted to just be.
I did deep work, spending hours on a worn couch, working through the junk I had been holding. I may not have been training for a marathon, but it was hard work. Yet, I’m still reminded of a fallen world that places more value on outward appearance than what is inside the heart.
A verse I spent a lot of time meditating on a few years ago was Deuteronomy 6:5. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV).
If we aren’t emotionally healthy, how can we love with all our souls? Of course, we should steward the bodies God has given us well. But how many of us are trying to move our bodies, and somewhat watch what we eat, and still carry extra weight?
How many of us:
- Have overworked our bodies and under consumed calories?
- Have genetic tendencies we are fighting?
- Take medicine that causes us to gain weight?
- Are reminded daily of our flawed bodies?
My daughter eats the same thing I feed her older brothers and is practically more active than they are, and still, she has to carry this memory and the way it made her feel for years to come.
- How many of our daughters will carry negative memories concerning their bodies into adulthood?
- Are we putting forth the same effort we make on our physical health into our mental and emotional health?
- Do those around us understand the impact of their words?
Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but what may be truer is that they could be walking through their own emotional junk, whether they realize it or not.
So when my daughter came into the kitchen smiling and pulled me down to whisper her words of achievement in my ear, my heart dropped along with my head, wondering what to say.
I wanted to affirm her excitement but not in a way that made her think she needed to lose weight. I wanted to tell her all scales are different, and it didn’t matter. I wanted to tell her it’s what is on the inside that counts. I wanted to tell her God made her just the way she is.
Instead, I pulled her close, hugged her and whispered, “I love you” in her ear.
The way I wish those who have hurt me with their words would have done when the topic of “weight gain” came up. The way I know my Father in Heaven does. And I said a prayer, thanking God for meeting me in the midst of working through my emotional baggage, for having a deeper relationship with Him because of it and for being where I am today, extra weight and all.
So, if you don’t have anyone to say this to you, let it be me. God cares deeply about your heart and your emotional health. It can be daunting to dive into something that feels so layered. I promise you the work is worth it.
Steward your body as well as you can, but more importantly steward your heart well. And when others’ hurtful words leave you feeling bitter and resentful, be diligent to pray about it, understanding you don’t want to carry that resentment, remembering you want to keep your heart healthy.
You are good, and you are wanted by Him, flaws and all.
Sarah Nichols is a writer who loves encouraging women by sharing hope-filled stories that point others to Jesus. She lives in Tucson, AZ, with her husband and four kids. You can find more from Sarah at http://sarahnicholswrites.com.