By Jess Connolly
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
If you grew up going to Christian events in the ’90s, you heard this kind of crazy metaphor: Your soul is like a house, with lots of rooms and doors. Jesus wants to come in and clean up every room. If you were at a ski retreat or youth beach trip or a revival night, the male speaker with the microphone and the airbrushed T-shirt would begin describing the one room you always tried to keep locked and hidden from God. Maybe you kept a padlock on the door, or maybe you’d even forgotten that it existed, but God wanted to come in (with grace) and tidy that space up.
This illustration usually led to lots of tears and confessions—nobody wanted to be hiding skeletons from Jesus! And yet, thinking back on it now, I (religious studies brain) see how the analogy falls short. I think we produced a lot of teen Christians in the ’90s who perceived the best thing they could give God was a tidy house and heart. But Jesus isn’t a soft and passive housekeeper and his grace is wild and messy. I don’t think his absolute best for us is an Americanized picture of everything in its place. C.S. Lewis said it better than the youth leader with the airbrushed T-shirt:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.
Now I’d like to acknowledge the massive problem I see in our current culture as it pertains to women and their bodies. Not only is this a compartmental space, one we often keep from the power and presence of God, but we’ve made it just a room (or a closet) without acknowledging that it may be one of the most important places in the house. Our bodies are where we experience our families. Our bodies are where we worship. We use our bodies to serve. Our bodies are where we encounter romance and sex. Our bodies are our main vehicle for rest. Maybe our bodies aren’t actually the house; maybe the house is our soul—the vehicle that will transcend our time on earth and eternity even while our bodies change. But the body has to be some integral part of the structure. Maybe the insulation? The drywall? The frame?
Many of us can’t ignore our bodies, but we haven’t been taught to see them from a kingdom-minded mentality, either, so we live out our lives in a house of the soul—surrounded and encapsulated by confusing messages and broken beliefs.
We’re told our bodies are projects to work on, something to present to the world for measuring and evaluating. We’re told our bodies are reflections of our righteousness—if we follow God correctly, they’ll look a certain way and mirror his majesty and grace. We’re told our bodies are trophies—something we can work hard to earn glory, something we can give to those who are associated with us. We’re told our bodies are bad, filled with innate and impure longings we should suppress and subdue like hunger, desire, and fatigue.
We’ve been sold and told a collection of messages about the very container where we experience ourselves, God, his people, and the world. The problem with most of what we’ve been told is that it’s biblically untrue. It doesn’t line up with the heart, character, and overall message of God and his gospel.
It’s not how God would talk to his children or how he has spoken to us about our bodies, but nonetheless, the collection of messages has been delivered by his spokespeople and attributed to his kingdom society.
I believe he is grieved. I believe that the God who created the universe longs for his children—specifically, his daughters—to know the value and beauty and worth he ascribes to their bodies.
The Way Forward
Do you remember the first time you encountered someone whose perception of her body was not in line with culture in the best way? The first time you met someone who lived in radical freedom, acceptance, or abundance as it pertains to her body? Did you notice another mother playing hard on the beach with her kids without seeming concerned about her stretch marks? Maybe you took a fitness class from an instructor who didn’t fit the stereotype but who never made apologies for her body or let shame take up any space. Maybe while growing up you had a friend who grew quiet when the other girls in your group began criticizing their bodies because she refused to take part in such a ritual.
I regret to say that even now, as I write, I’m scanning my memories, having a hard time picking more than a few people from my past. We could all tell stories of the women and men who had a negative impact on our lives, shocking us with their personal beliefs about the body.
For me, there was the incredibly wise and wild woman who discipled me in college, but who also encouraged me to go on an extremely low-carb diet. Or the pastor who noticed I had gained a significant amount of weight and told me it looked like my heels were going to snap under the pressure of my body. Once, we moved to a church to help a pastor, and the leadership team offered both my husband and me a diet program as a welcome gift. “Thanks for coming to help our church. Please only eat 600 calories a day for the next 21 days.”
If I’m incredibly honest, most of the truly impactful voices in my life have had this one flaw: they have neither agreed with nor promoted a kingdom mentality when it comes to the body. Cultural conformity has been the ideal, and in the worst cases, living up to that ideal has been cast as a form of righteousness. In the bulk of my experiences with others, there hasn’t been a desire to break free from shame, either. Rather, shame has been welcomed as a tool to help our bodies continually become better.
Along came Lily. Lily was a voice that cut through the crazy to say something true and affirming and wildly encouraging. I was a few years into the process of no longer just accepting my body or even celebrating it, but trying with everything I had to view it in light of God’s kingdom. I was trying to grasp that my body was fallen and broken, yet full of potential and promise. I was trying to embrace the body God had given me, and I had definitely begun to give up on ever being anyone else’s ideal body type.
And so, one day, I wore high-waisted jeans. Some women with my particular shape may avoid high-waisted jeans or, particularly, high-waisted jeans with a shirt tucked in, which puts your shape on display. It’s the old, “I can’t wear _______________,” or “_________________ just doesn’t look good on my body” argument that many of us live with and throw around. High-waisted jeans with a shirt tucked in “should” be avoided (I’m getting angry just typing that) by women with my body type—but I was over the “shoulds,” so I did what I wanted to do.
Lily came over a few days after I’d worn some high-waisted jeans to church. We were catching up on her life and her eventual plans to move to Paris. Lily was so cool. So wild. So in love with God. Just before she left, she looked at me with the beginnings of tears in her eyes and said, “Thanks for wearing high-waisted jeans. Seeing you love your body makes me love my body. Seeing you worship in your body makes me want to worship in my body when I come to church.”
I was stunned and blessed beyond measure. At that early point in my own journey, no one had really noticed the outward shifts I was making as my heart changed inwardly. No one had seen my high-waisted jeans as the freedom cry that they were. No one had mirrored back the love I was beginning to allow myself to feel toward myself, toward my body. There stood Lily—one of the first harbingers of hope in the battle. It wasn’t a lighthearted cry of body positivity, and it wasn’t the willful determination to not notice our own figures—it was something deeper and more intentional that she reflected back to me.
It was deep-seated, God-glorifying goodness. Lily saw that I agreed that I was made in the image of God. She saw me naming my thighs and my lower half as a blessing and not a burden. She stood in agreement with me, adopting the freedom for herself as well. Together, for a split second, we were our own community of freedom fighters, sharing this sacred and worshipful agreement: our bodies were good.
I’ve had that same moment of exhilaration a handful of times since then. I find that even when we’re open and comfortable sharing with other women about our bodies, it almost takes a miracle to get to a shared agreement that our bodies are good. We’re all on different pages, we have different experiences and stories, and it takes patience and the stripping away of layers of vulnerability to let down our collective guards and make agreements that are rooted in truth.
As precarious as it can be, together is the way forward, conversation is the conduit of this kingdom mentality, and we can start together. Right here. All of us. Today.
Adapted from Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good by Jess Connolly. Click here to learn more about this book.
You were made for more than a love/hate relationship with your body.
It’s one thing to know in your head that you were created in the image of God. Yet it’s quite another to experience this belief in your body, against the cultural ideals of a woman’s worth. And between the two lies a world of frustration, disappointment, and the shame of somehow feeling both too much and never enough in your body.
Jess Connolly is a bestselling author, sought-after speaker, and trusted Bible teacher who knows this inner conflict all too well, and this book details her journey—and yours—of setting out to discover how to break free from the broken beliefs we all hold about our bodies that hold us back from our fullest life.
The truest thing about you is that you are made and loved by God. And the truest thing about Him is that He cannot make bad things. This book will help you believe it with your whole self, as Jess guides you through an eye-opening, empowering process of:
- Renaming what the world has labeled as less-than
- Resting in God’s workmanship
- Experiencing restoration where there has been injury
- And becoming a change agent in partnering with God to bring revival to a generation of women
Far from a superficial issue, self-image is a spiritual issue, because God has named your body good from the beginning. Whether your struggle is with eating and exercise habits, stress or trauma, infertility or injury, this book makes space for you to experience God meeting you in this tender place, and ring His freedom bell over your body in a whole new way.
Jess Connolly is a gal who wants to leave her generation more in awe of God than she found it. She is the author of several books, including You Are the Girl for the Job, and coauthor of Wild and Free. She is founder of Go + Tell Gals and helped start She Reads Truth. She and her husband planted Bright City Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where they live with their four children. She blogs at jessconnolly.com.