Short Man Syndrome

In a recent sermon from I Corinthians on our bodies, one of our pastors gave the most honest assessment I have ever heard of the struggles we face when we can’t reconcile ourselves to the body God has given us.

“I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys, and the way you gained respect in my neighborhood was through physical prowess. You had to be the strongest, the most athletic, and because I was smaller, not only because I was younger but because of genetics, I was often ostracized. I was made fun of, and I remember those moments. … I at an early age decided the way I would deal with the pain is by becoming someone who is more athletic than you, smarter than you, who is better than you. That has defined my life and brought all kinds of chaos and trouble.”

In his case, the issue was height and stature. But this struggle can be generalized to a myriad of issues, real or perceived, we have with our bodies–weight, height, shape, fertility, or whatever.  For my pastor, this wasn’t a perceived problem. It was how he was really treated by his peers in his neighborhood. And women know too that we regularly get treated better or worse based on our appearance. Not long ago, I went to a fast food restaurant with a trim, attractive blond girlfriend. The same cashier waited on both of us, and the night and day treatment when he switched from my order to hers was about the clearest demonstration of it I’ve ever seen. Um, wow! That was … clear. I wasn’t bothered by it, but it did strike me and cause me to ponder these things.
In his sermon, my pastor pointed out that issues with our body are carried with us at all times. We have moments away from spousal problems, kid problems, or work issues. But we carry our body with us everywhere we go all day long. In response, we develop all kinds of coping mechanisms to deal with our perceptions of our bodies which, as my pastor put it, can bring all kinds of chaos and trouble. In contrast, the gospel equips us to view our bodies in a totally different way, NO MATTER their shape or size, strengths or weaknesses.

I Cor. 6: 13-20 … The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! … 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. … 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The specific issue Paul is addressing involves sexual immorality. But consider how the principles he teaches transcend just sex and create an all-encompassing view of our bodies.
First, in Christ, our body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body. There are all kinds of implications to that teaching that I am only beginning to comprehend. “What?! God, I know you are FOR me, but you are also FOR my body?” This implies that me and my body aren’t distinct from one another. That what’s good for me is good for my body and vice versa. This challenges a monastic view of our bodies and desires that marks them as bad and the squelching of desire as the necessary path to superior Christianity. The good feelings I get from a pedicure or time in a warm jacuzzi are not opposed to godliness. I can and should worship God even then. Especially then.
Second, as God raised the Lord, He will raise up our bodies. Implied is the acknowledgement that my body right now is broken and missing the mark of perfection. And yet I KNOW it will not always be so. It’s helpful to think of myself not in a completely different perfect body, but in the very body I have now in its own perfected state. It may seem weird, but it is very helpful to me to think of what my very own body, hair color, and shape might be like in the resurrection.
Finally, my body is a member of Christ and the dwelling place of God Himself. My BODY. However I perceive my body and its flaws, God has spoken something over it altogether different. His good word to me through Christ encompasses all of me, including the parts of me physically that bother me the most. And just as His lavish grace gives me a new perspective on my soul and emotions, it does so for my physical appearance and limitations as well.
This is a good word to me right now because my body is letting me down. I want to despise my feet that continue to pain me day in and day out and affect my ability to serve my children. The things to help my feet hurt my back. My attempts to lose weight and get back some semblance of a waistline hurt my neck, which affects my sleep, and so forth. Turning 40 was rough on me physically. But right now, I’m meditating on the promise that THIS body of mine will be made new in perfection. These ankles won’t turn in. This neck will stop hurting and start feeling strong to carry me upright. I’ll pull my insulin pump out of my stomach and throw it into the abyss never to be needed again (and I’m thinking I will no longer have a saggy chin). Most importantly, in the meantime, the God of creation is living in me and boldly declares that He is for both me and my body.  He has said a very good, sustaining word over my body that transforms how I think about it.  

4 Responses to Short Man Syndrome

  1. Anonymous February 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    thank you! This was just what I needed.

  2. Jody February 10, 2011 at 1:53 am #

    This is a great post. I know I focus way too much on what I look like, what I eat or don't eat, etc rather than on my heart, soul and mind. To think that the God of the universe is in my body is something I should be meditating on rather than the next meal I am going to have. Thank you for sharing, this was good.

  3. Donna February 10, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    Excellent, Wendy! Thanks!

  4. Anonymous February 10, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    This is so timely for me. I recently got married and I'm overweight. I tried to eat well in the months we dated and were engaged, but I knew the best I could hope for was a size 18 dress. It was a constant struggle to believe that my now-husband was attracted to me. Esp. since he couldn't show me physically before we were married. Now that we're married, it's better, but I still sometimes wonder why on earth he'd be attracted to me. But he is! God is showing me what a huge issue this truly is.