I have a very distinct memory of being absolutely beside myself as child. My mum, being concerned with my emotional outburst (and probably not knowing what else to do) asked me to write down what she could do to give me a happy life. I stopped crying and began to put pen to paper, my eyes slowly becoming alight with imagination. I still remember how she held that shoddy piece of lined paper in her hands and said, quietly bemused ‘Is that it?’. In my grand and bold quest for happiness I had requested (wait for it) a vegetable patch and a dog.
It’s funny how, as children, we don’t really set the bar very high for what will make us happy. Inevitably there will always be the girl who sulks because daddy won’t buy her the latest polly pocket set (or if she’s anything like me she will have asked for a Roboraptor and roller-skates), or the little boy who is crying is heart out for the latest power rangers figure (or whatever it is these days!). But on the whole, I remember being a very happy and joyful child, and not for any material reason. I have so so many bright and warm memories of that time in my life, and these memories aren’t of achievements, possessions, or status. But they’re of people.
I remember playing ‘mushrooms’ with my sister where we would get out of the bath and put towels over our bodies in front of the fire and pretend to be mushrooms (turns out it’s a great game). I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders and holding me upside down, and tickling me until my stomach hurt from laughing. I even remember eating spaghetti with just my mouth because my friend dared me to (yep, childhood me had no shame). I have so many memories of always singing, dancing and having fun (except when lamenting for my vegetable patch and dog of course).
And yet – in comparison to my life now, the world might say I had very little cause to be so happy. I mean – I had no first class honours degree for a start (which is an immediate pathway to happiness and success, right? Spoiler alert: it’s not). I had no flashy gadgets, not even one of those fancy colourful leapfrog devices that came before the tablets took over. But what I did have, and what I think most children have, was a heart that recognised the intrinsic happiness and joy that comes from spending time with other people, letting your hair down and just having fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we don’t do this now. Many of you reading this will be thinking hey- I’m a student – I AM the party – I live for other people! And hey, that’s great. I’m not doubting you. But I also know that for many of us, it’s so easy to see our social lives as an ‘add on’ to the ‘real’ important stuff of life. You know, the stuff that ‘really matters’. I know for me when I’m planning my week, I often have to stop and ask myself, ‘Ok Liz, you have no social events going on this week, what are you going to do about it?’. Because in reality, I’m often a fool to the lie that fulfilment and life is primarily about doing and succeeding. But what if it’s not?
I once read a story of a man who asked his son, ‘When you’re older, and you’re looking back on your life, what would you rather have around you – your medals, achievements, and awards, or people who you love?’. While this is an extreme example, it does make you think. So often we prize money, possessions, status and job prospects at the expense of forming deep relationships and community with others – or at the expense of doing something we truly love. I challenge you to look back at the simple joys of childhood, and think ahead to how fleeting the pleasures and rewards of wealth and status will be, and ask yourself – is it worth it?
“When I was five years old, my father always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” John Lennon.
Bodies. The flesh, the muscles, the bodies that both fuel us and pain us. The bodies that drive us to conquer amazing feats, yet need days tucked up in bed to recover from flu and illness. Can we ever be free?
I was thinking about this recently and concluded that, while we’re on this earth, we are trapped in these bodies. Perhaps not a particularly remarkable conclusion you might say, but notable that I would perhaps be asking the question in the first place.
I was asking these questions because, so often I have felt the burden of my body being judged. I’m not blaming anyone else, I know the judgement is largely self-directed most of the time, and happens inside my own head. To an extent, it reflects the culture we are absorbed in, in which our knowledge of people is informed overwhelmingly through visuals in social media.
But how far can we really judge someone by their body?
A friend of mine recently gave a talk about body image. Something she said really related to me, related to the struggle that we can often feel when we identify with our bodies. When we ‘feel fat’ we feel sensations of sadness, and when we feel fit and toned, we feel happy. Generally speaking. But thoughts like this end up directing your emotions along a mad rollercoaster at every ‘fat’ and ‘toned’ day. So where do these thoughts come from, and should we be entertaining them?
I think I could probably sit here, as we all could, and point fingers all day… at the media, at people in our past, at ourselves perhaps. One of the biggest contributors perhaps in this age is social media. So often we see the skinny toned figure, the countless likes and followers, and we make the connection. Body = social acceptance/ favour/ love (perhaps even happiness). And before you know it, we’re on the way to seeing bodies as means of gaging how much one is loved, or deserving of love and happiness.
This is so so wrong! Anyone who has tried to live their life keeping a certain figure for the purposes of gaining approval and love will know the disappointment and even the anxiety that this kind of thinking can cause. The constant comparison always leads to disappointment and at it’s worse self-hate, and the constant fear of coming up short can lead to stints of anxiety and panic. And surely this isn’t the type of life that we want to live… right?
So how can we bring change here?
I think it all starts with you – with me – with each one of us.
Because the way we think about ourselves will often shape the way we think about others.
Two major principles that Jesus lived by were grace and love. He met for dinner with the hated tax-collectors, he showed favour and love to prostitutes, he healed the outcast and the diseased. He saw beyond the outward appearance, and into people’s hearts. He saw beyond what the religious leaders of the time saw (the way people dressed, the rituals they followed, their reputation, upbringing, health, or promiscuity) and saw into the core of who people were, loving them through God’s eyes, and seeing past their faults and failures.
What would it look like if we treated ourselves, and our bodies, with this kind of radical love and grace?
If we understood that the core of who we are is far beyond appearances. If we understood that a loving, godly heart is of far more value than can ever be gaged through a number of likes. And that a toned, slim body is a temporary state, that many might pass into and out of, and that ultimately will fall beyond the reach of us all with time.
It’s so easy to let our bodies take over our thinking when the messages are all around us, telling us that they are to define who we are, now for guys as much as girls I’m sure. But how amazing is it that we can seek peace and rest from these worries and concerns through taking a further look at what Jesus taught. A man, a leader, a son of God, who showed the value of the human heart, over the temporary and fading value or appearances, rituals, and reputation.
God’s grace and love extends to each one of us.
And I find, that when you accept, and meditate on God’s love for you, it frees you to love others and see the beauty in everyone else too.
So I would encourage you (as much as I am encouraging myself!) to be strong, KNOW that God’s love and grace covers you in spite of what is visible on the surface, and allow this knowledge to empower you to change the lens through which you see and understand bodies… for yourself, and for others.
Romans 12:2 ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’.
A special thank you to Hannah Fox for being a radiant beautiful beam of love, inspiration and hope in this area (and in many other ways too!)
I posted recently about my newest challenge! Training for triathlon! So far it’s been a blast! And actually last week I was so keen on reaching the adrenaline high that I thought I might be getting addicted… I pushed through every wall, every barrier. If the coach said you could stop early if you felt tired… Did I stop? Nope! I drove through the pain and finished it, panting and exhausted but equally thrilled at the accomplishment.
I upped the training volume by nearly 50% that week and during the week I did feel a bit like superwoman. But then the weekend happened. I literally could not be more EXHAUSTED. Now I know maybe most of you will be thinking, ‘well obviously?’ ‘What were you thinking haha’. And when I write it down, yes I guess it does seem pretty predictable. But honestly I just expected to keep superwoman-ing my way through life, at least after maybe a days rest or so!
Unfortunately I am now bearing the burden of overtraining and have been super tired for the past 5 days, wanting to sleep all the time and sleeping a LOT! Not only this but I also gained weight from pushing myself into the ground. This is perhaps the opposite of what you might expect, but in fact it’s a common reaction that happens when the body has increased stress (cortisol) levels over a long period of time. The body doesn’t know that you’re just in a spin class, a swimming pool or running up a hill, for all it knows you’re being endlessly hunted by a ravenous bear. And cue survival mode.
BUT at least I have recognised the signs, and BACKED OFF for the time being…
In the past I was extremely perfectionistic and even more driven than I am now. I know from experience that if you don’t back off when you’re body is under this kind of stress response, it will only back fire later. When I was sixteen/seventeen I was very underweight and undernourished and overtrained my body on a relentless no-excuse basis. Although at the outset I got ‘results’ there came a time when my body had enough. I had lost my periods, was heavily fatigued, I had digestive problems, high risk of osteoporosis amongst other health concerns. And actually in the end it took me a really long time to recover and nourish my body back to health.
And so, my ‘little superwoman you are not not so super’ experience has reminded me of how health and fitness is not so much about always driving and pushing. It’s about respecting your body too. Yes you can run hard, swim fast, squat heavy etc. but, in my experience at least, hard efforts are only successful in the long term if you nourish your body and give it time to recover and rest when it needs to. This doesn’t only apply to sports but to everything you’re doing/ thinking that makes you stressed! To some extent, your body doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a bear, doing hill reps or doing an essay the night before a deadline. It all provokes a physiological stress response.
Instead of overriding the signs of tiredness and fatigue by reaching for the next cup of coffee, or pressing on regardless, why not take a minute to listen to your body?
And if you need to, REST.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30
Emotional Intimacy. It’s something we all crave, right? That feeling of being known for who you are completely and fully. And being loved, cherished and adored for it. I know it’s something that I often crave. I know that God is my father and that He loves me and created me and looks upon me and smiles. And when I think upon this I do receive peace and a real sense of freedom. But I also know that intimacy, closeness and love shared between two people is something truly special in its own right… And a longing that can wreak havoc on your heartstrings in the lonely midnight hour! (Or just a mild tug, depending on who you are, we’re all different!)
Thing is, recently I’ve realised that this longing in myself is somewhat messed up. I’ve realised that, in my head, sexually attractive me = loved, valued, accepted, desired me. Obviously then this is not good… In fact I think I can blame this thought pattern for many things. One of which is my lack of assertiveness when it comes to boundaries in relationships. I’m usually pretty good at judging right from wrong, yes from no, black from white, but this is where I have come a bit unstuck in the past. And I think it’s because I am connecting physical attraction and intimacy with emotional intimacy – being deeply loved and cared for. Anyone else do this?
I didn’t realise this was particularly different until recently when I realised that actually, for many people, the physical act of being intimate with someone, doesn’t mean there is a desire to create an emotional bond with that person at all. It’s detached, emotional intimacy / physical intimacy. Unfortunately I guess this is even more common and encouraged through one night stands, watching porn etc. But this is something that I have been thinking about a lot, and I am now really trying to get my head around…
I did a little research. When talking about the highest level of physical intimacy (sex) many propose that men are more likely to find it easier to separate emotion from the physical act, given their evolutionary role as the ‘seed spreader’ (cringe!). Their goal, in this sense, is to find as many attractive mates as possible. Women on the other hand, are the ‘home-makers’ and so tend to seek out men who are going to stick around, therefore making the connection between emotional intimacy and physical intimacy more tightly tied. Makes sense I guess!
BUT I can’t help but think that physical and emotional intimacy should go together. Surely that’s why on a night out a one night stand is rarely a follow up to a sober night. Would people sleep around so much if there wasn’t alcohol to help bypass the fact that you barely know each other? Surely that’s why after watching porn or being part of a one night stand so many people will tell of ‘feeling empty’ or ‘used’. Or even, taken down a notch, why many people get hurt after being physically intimate with someone whose motivations were entirely detached from any pursuit of emotional intimacy.
Undoubtedly, the need for emotional intimacy with another person can be very strong. Often it can be so strong that it can pull people towards being physically intimate with people who may not actually care for them that deeply at all! I’m also aware that this relationship could work the opposite way, with people craving physical intimacy so much that they are willing to compromise on how much they care for the other person. I would argue that in both cases the outcome lacks wholeness and fulfillment and falls short of what God designed for us to have and enjoy. In the Bible, the committed relationship between two people is upheld as the best grounding for sex – epitomizing how the highest level of physical intimacy is matched perfectly by the highest level of emotional intimacy and commitment. Far from an out-dated concept, I’d say it was a pretty timeless and perfect concept…
The challenge, then, for each of us, is perhaps to determine in our own hearts, how we can best care for and protect ourselves, and the hearts of others, through understanding, and placing physical and emotional intimacy in their rightful places.
Proverbs 4:23 ‘Guard your heart carefully, for it determines the course of your life’
Hi all! This has been quite a difficult issue to write about so bear with me.
I think it’s fair to say that we all have a desire to be known, to be loved for who we are. However because of this, I think many of us are led, sometimes, to pretend that we are something we’re not. We get trapped in, and feel a lack of freedom regarding the way we act in front of people, and in certain groups. Sometimes this is harmless, obviously you wouldn’t engage with others at a funeral in the same way you would at a birthday party. But sometimes, real issues arise when we don’t just alter the way we apply ourselves to different people and situations, but we actually change or hide important parts of ourselves-to suit the expectations of those around us. Sometimes this can be as serious as compromising on our values, morals, beliefs- and other times it may be suppressing aspects of your personality that you believe may encounter rejection or disapproval, regardless of the situation you’re in.
I know that for me the latter is something I have struggled with, as I’m sure others have too. I think that it’s not that I fear others will reject or disapprove of certain things I may say or do because they are in themselves ‘bad’. Rather, I think it’s just because they are different from what they have expected of me, based on past experiences. Let me give you a practical example. In my early teens I was always fairly quiet and introverted around other people. Thank God that over the years I have discovered more about who I am, and my unique value to him and that my confidence and sense of inner security has increased dramatically.
The way I have behaved however always seem to lag behind slightly. Even though I know that I am valued for my uniqueness, and everything that makes me “me”- sometimes it takes a lot of courage to embrace that freedom and let the real you out… To align your public self with your private self. Sometimes it means being prepared to meet others’ surprise, confusion or scepticism when they see that you’re no longer behaving in the manner that they had always expected of you.
For me, going to university has been a perfect opportunity to discover the freedom of not having people hold misled pre-conceptions about who you are. (Admittedly I think this is definitely an over generalisation) but I do think there is something freeing about being in a new environment, meeting new people and getting involved in new things. For me, it has helped me to gain the confidence to embrace my real self, closing the gap between my public self and private self.
But sometimes it’s not that easy, sometimes we have to embrace our changed selves, and defy others (sometimes year old) expectations of who we should be. I have found, for example, that I have grown and changed a lot at university, and sometimes when I return home I feel that there is a gap between who I am, and perhaps what others expect of me. Recently I came home and felt unease over the idea that people at home wouldn’t see me as the same open, fun-loving person as people do at Uni. So I prayed for opportunities to allow people to get to know me better, change and all, and felt really blessed by the time I was able to enjoy with others.
But (and there is always a but) sometimes I start to worry! This happened recently and I started to ruminate over the past. I started to define myself by how I believed other people would see me as a result of things that have happened along the road. In fact at some points I even started to see myself in this way too! Although I tried my best to “deal” with these thoughts and knew in my head that they were damaging, that didn’t make the message I received a few days later any less powerful.
I was given a message by a church leader that I have only spoken to a couple of times. He had written the message down on paper, and it had two pictures. One was of a shell being opened up to reveal a pearl inside, the other a treasure chest opening up to reveal treasure. The message said, “There is so much value and treasure in you. Both the treasure chest and the shell are opening up, revealing the beauty God has put inside you […] “the shell and chest are opening up as a result of increased freedom and confidence”. He went on to write (and this is where it gets really exciting) “There may be harmful mindsets from the past that will try to close and conceal your real self […] Allow God to free you from lies that seek to steal, kill or destroy what he has won for you…”. Isn’t that amazing!
(Side note: This happened during an evening meeting at church, where one of the leaders suggested we ask God for messages for people, or “prophecies” . I love prophecies because they remind me that God is a living God who cares for, and is interested in the lives of each one of us. Amazing!)
I think that it’s worth reminding ourselves that we don’t just change from one year to another (#new year, new me) but that we are changing all the time! Learning more about ourselves, others, and the world around us. As Christians we are called to change. We have the opportunity to learn from God’s word, to ‘renew’ the way we think, and become people who live lives that are centered in love, as modeled to us through the life of Jesus. I think it is so important to embrace what God says about you, and to constantly renew your inner self by spending time with God. Don’t shy back from embracing the person he is calling you to be. And don’t give in to the enemy’s ploys that try and make you believe that the “real” you is that person who always messes up, or who has always been known as the one who does X, Y and Z. Embrace God’s goodness, grace and faithfulness and take hold of the person he is calling you to be, both inside and out.
“This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace”.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect”.