Thanksgiving… The huge holiday celebrated by millions here in America filled with sweet memories of food, friends, family and football often followed by the hustle and bustle of Black Friday is quickly approaching. As we neared this annual festivity two years ago, my middle school students and I were discussing the topic. For many, it was a completely foreign concept as the majority of my students come from impoverished backgrounds and have lived in various countries around the world.
Yet, as our conversations progressed beyond the superficiality of the holiday itself, I posed the question of what each of my students was thankful for. Several shared the blessing it is to have food, a safe place to live, a bed to sleep on, the opportunity to get an education, clean water, their friends, family, clothes, and the freedom to worship God. All were completely humbling, yet honest and sincere answers. However, one of my students eventually said, “Ma’am, we have shared what we are thankful for, but what about you? What are you really thankful for?”
A simple, yet daunting question I have been pondering ever since. There are many people, material things, and opportunities the Lord has so abundantly blessed me with, especially Him and His Son. Although one thing stands out in particular I have learned over these past few years… I am thankful for my body and how I look.
For many years, I waged war with myself and loathed every part of my body. From the tip of my toes to the top of my head and every area in between, there was always something I wished was different. I tried a vast array of methods to change my image and would “punish myself” if I did not like what I saw in the mirror, could not run a mile in my goal time, lift a certain amount of weight, or wear my ideal jeans size. Yet, at the end of each day, whether I had met my goal or not, I found myself in a never-ending cycle in which I was completely miserable.
As I spent time in counseling, the Lord continued working in my heart and after watching a video recommended by a coworker, it was like a light switch flipped on. I realized by allowing the recording to constantly play in my brain of how much I hated myself and my body, it was though I was just speaking death, death, death…My own self hatred was not fixing anything and in reality, it was only making my problem worse.
After acknowledging this issue, I realized in order to alter the outcome/my actions, I must change my thought life. Thus, I began making a conscious effort to take each thought and word of death and negativity captive. It was almost as if I would hit pause, then eject the tape, often writing my thoughts down on paper and then coming to seek and find the truth. For example, when the thought “I am ugly” crossed my mind, I replaced it with the truth that “I am beautiful and created in the image of God”.
The next step was changing my responses or actions to the negative thoughts. Rather than giving in to the temptation of going near the bathroom to throw up or caving to the urge of taking another laxative pill, I found ways to not only honor and bless myself and my body, but also love on others. Whether it was drinking a warm cup of tea, changing the environment I was in, volunteering to help sort clothes, playing basketball with some elementary school girls, or teaching English to students that were struggling, I learned to focus my attention in a different direction, helping others as much and as often as possible, instead of continuing to drown in self pity.
I then took my action plan a step deeper and wrote an apology letter to each part of my body, similar to that I would do for a friend or co-worker if I had wronged them. At first, it seemed kind of pointless and almost silly as I apologized to my feet for making fun of them for how big, narrow and ugly there were, my nose, my freckles, etc. Although as I invested the time and energy into this simple, yet difficult act, I realized its healing and freeing power. By letting go of everything I despised, I was able to begin to replace words of “death” for life giving words, focusing on my strengths, rather than all the weaknesses.
The third component of my transformation was evaluating my social circle and determining whether the people I was surrounding myself and spending most of my time with were encouraging me in my journey. Were they speaking words of life as they looked for ways to be thankful for their own bodies and the world around them or were they fueling the fire of negativity and death over themselves and others? Once I verbalized my struggle, I found time and time again I was not alone in the battle. The beautiful thing was we were then able to come alongside one another and encourage one another, too.
With all that being said, the question posed by middle school students remains for you as well. What are you thankful for? Are you harboring a spirit of negativity and finding things you despise about yourself and your body and the world around you or are you seeking the good? I promise no matter how hard you may try, there will always be one thing (at least) you wished were different. It is time you start hitting eject on the negativity and self-hatred, and put on the tape of love and gratitude. You will be surprised at the effect this choice has not only on you, but on others, too.
*This article was first published in “A Place for Healing Newsletter” in November 2017. The Lord’s timing for this journey in healing from an eating disorder was no accident. By the grace of God, I learned to love my body for how God created me, further making the adjustment to numerous tubes, IV lines, scars, wheelchairs, and losing much of my hair the past two years far easier than it could have been.