Catholic Spirituality, large family, Marriage, motherhood, pregnancy, self care, Theology of the Body

“His body, your body”

April 17, 2018

About a month ago I was talking with a priest friend on the phone, sharing some difficulties about this present season of life with a whole lotta babies and a really wrecked body. Wrecked not only in the sense of “I don’t like the way I look” (though, sure, there is that) but in the sense of “everything hurts when I walk down the stairs, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to run comfortably across a parking lot again, let alone a mile.”

Getting old is hell. But it sure beats the alternative! And I’m not really that old yet, at 35. I remind myself of this when I see a haggard specter of my former self peering back at me in the mirror pre coffee most mornings, startling at the stranger with the same colored eyes. It’s more the mileage, not the manufacturing date, at least in my case.

One baby was hard work. Two babies was nuts! (Hardest transition by far, from one to two. If you can push past that point you’ll be golden; you’re never in the position of doubling your workload again. Unless, I guess, twins?) Three was like, nbd we got this down. Four gave me a little pause for the first couple months. And five? Wrecked. Beleaguered. Losing my keys in the car door, putting my phone in the fridge, and still carrying around a good 40 extra pounds at almost 4 months postpartum.

Worth it, though. Worth it, worth it, worth it.

And yet still really, really hard.

It’s hard to lose yourself for the sake someone(s) you love, no matter what that looks like for you. For some people it will take the form of caring for a sick or dying parent or spouse. For others it could be a more literal application, like sharing a kidney or physically shielding someone from a deadly blow. For parents it often looks like death by a thousand night wakings. A slow trickle of self denial and stress that can carve away at solid rock as surely – albeit more slowly – as a raging river.

I was telling my friend, Fr. J, that the most difficult time for me by far in terms of how I’m feeling about myself is the 30 minutes before Sunday Mass once I’ve gotten the kids dressed (with lots of help from Dave) and I’m frantically trying on option after too-tight option, the discard pile rising on my closet floor along with my blood pressure. One Sunday, probably 7 weeks or so after little Z was born, this phenomenon came to a vicious head as I stared bleakly into the bathroom mirror, rejected outfit combos strewn about my feet.

I hate you. I seethed silently at my reflection. And then I jumped, physically startled by the vitriol of my self talk. Out loud I had the wherewithal (grace is real, y’all) to say out loud, “Jesus, that wasn’t from you. Help me. Show me how you see me.” and immediately the image of His battered body hanging on the cross sprang to mind.

This is how I see your body, dear one. A sacrifice of love.

I was floored. And, I wish I could add, also completely and irrevocably healed of my subpar self image. But … work in progress.

But it sure did help to reframe things that morning.

I shared this little experience with Fr. and he was quiet for a moment. A longish moment, actually, during which time I suspected – correctly – that he was praying. When he did speak again, it was to share the following beautiful image with me.

“Jesus is showing me His body in the Eucharist, and then pointing to your body. He seems to be saying ‘His body, your body…they are connected. You cannot worship the one while despising the other.”‘

I have never heard that particular connection made between our bodies and His, no matter how much lip service I’ve given to the notion of being a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” I guess I’d always mentally categorized that one into the “do not defile with sin” category, neglecting to acknowledge that it’s not enough to just refrain from defiling the temple…one must also approach the temple itself with a rightly ordered sense of awe and reverence.

I don’t know about you, but I typically do not revere my body in any way, shape, or form; from the negative self talk I engage in to the poor food choices I make to the self deprecating humor I frequently employ to mask the shame of feeling not enough.

I was quiet as I mulled over Fr.’s image, recognizing for the first time that it must not only be displeasing to Jesus to hear my negative self talk, but it actually hurts Him.

Before we hung up, Fr. encouraged me to make it to Mass to receive Holy Communion as frequently as I could manage, kids and all. “The Lord has specific graces He wants to pour out for your healing and wholeness each time you receive the Eucharist. Go as often as you can.”

Guess how many times I’ve made it to daily Mass since that conversation?

Yeah, zero.

Sure, I have a super little baby still and a double shot of preschoolers at home, but helloooooo priorities. Clearly I have work to do in that area.

However, on the Sundays between now and then, I have meditated on Fr.’s words before and after Communion, asking the Lord to really double down on those healing graces in between swipes to keep a toddler off the baby’s carseat and pulling someone’s dress down over her underwear. Again.

I can’t say whether it’s “working” yet in the sense that I’m feeling like high-fiving myself when I look in the mirror now, but it is foremost in my mind now to at least try – for Jesus’ sake – to see myself and the sacrifices of motherhood through new eyes.

I think this is probably a lesson I’m going to be learning for the rest of my life, and while I’m not going to stop begging Him to remove the thorn, neither will I refuse any help He wants to offer in tending the wound.

It’s funny, because it was the obvious beauty and truth of this very concept that so attracted me to JPII’s Theology of the Body – that our bodies are good and holy and that they speak to us of God’s heart, of His plan for our eternal union with Him. And then I entered into my vocation and began the purgative process of actually living out the Theology of the Body and whoa, nelly, is it a little tougher to believe that a fluffy, saggy mom bod speaks a language of truth, goodness, and beauty nearly as well as the body of a single young twenty-something does.

His body, your body. Unbelievably difficult to accept. But if it’s true, it changes everything. Calls to mind this quote from St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

 

14 Comments

  • Reply Amy April 17, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Jenny,
    Beautifully written. We are all beautiful because we are children of God. He made us. We belong to him.
    As an Irish mammy to four children(5,3,1 and 3&1/2 months) I can relate to your article. Along my journey of motherhood I have been amazed at what my body has accomplished….at times it has been difficult to accept the extra few kgs, non straightened hair, wobbly tummy etc etc…
    Actually living out our faith is much more difficult than reading and understanding it but it brings great joy. When we surrender our will to God He makes us so joyful, not happy but joyful.
    It’s hard at times but He will help us.
    Let’s rejoice at what our bodies, through God’s grace, have accomplished.( That’s what I tell myself to do each time on those days when I get a shock from glimpsing at my unkept hair/food stained leggings/blouse )

    Best wishes,

    Amy, a fan from Ireland.

  • Reply Morgan April 17, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Thank you. This is beautiful. Thank you.

  • Reply Laura April 17, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you so much for this beautiful reflection. I made my husband listen as I read out loud the difficulties of the pre-Mass fashion show (debacle?). Been there! But I was not expecting to be brought to tears as I read Jesus’s words to you. Truly a sacrifice of love. And if I accept it from Him, I cannot despise it in me. Thank you!

  • Reply Andi April 17, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Wow that’s a lot to think about. Thank you so much.

  • Reply Mom of Six April 17, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    Exactly how I felt going from 1 kid to 2, 3 to 4 and 4 to 5.

  • Reply Mom of Six April 17, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    And 2 to 3.

  • Reply Kim April 17, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    How beautifully said and thank you for saying it! How wonderful would it be to teach children this young so they always had this wonderful picture of themselves!

  • Reply Lindsey April 18, 2018 at 6:09 am

    Jenny this is so good. Thank you so much for your vulnerability. It means the world to me. I’m with you!

    Mom of 4!

  • Reply B April 18, 2018 at 8:44 am

    Well written. I felt as though I was reading my own story. I had baby 6 at 35, and then 7 at 38. The struggle is real, it it easy to believe and harder to live. And so hard to be honest about, because after all in the eyes of the world ” you chose all these kids, so what are you complaining about” . yet as I work through this stage of life I see everything as a spiritual lesson or spiritual gift. What a beautiful message, I shall meditate on it.

  • Reply Diana April 18, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    THANK YOU for saying 1-2 is one of the hardest transitions! We just did that and I still feel like I’m drowning, even with the baby 6 weeks (which I realize is still pretty young). My sister is about to have her 7th and seems to have it much more under control!

  • Reply jeanette April 18, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    A little bit of encouragement: Consider the fact that your body goes through changes even when you don’t carry and give birth to a baby…ever! At all the wrong times, you can suddenly find clothing that doesn’t fit quite right. Or a body that doesn’t work quite right. So, this motherhood-body-changing part of life is just a small chunk of a bigger reality called aging. At least when it is caused by pregnancy and childbirth, you can point to some beautiful outcome as a trade-off! : )

    Every change in life requires an adjustment period. Once you adjust to the change, things don’t always go back to how they were before, they just become more normalized and manageable. We feel more accepting about the things that made us struggle through the change, and so we are better equipped to handle the next round of changes in life. So, be encouraged that whatever you feel about your body changes now, whether appearance or capacity to do things, is going to pass beyond that to a better understanding of how much we really don’t have control over all things that occur to our bodies, and God will help us meet that frailty of our humanity with grace.

  • Reply adriana April 19, 2018 at 7:39 am

    The words your priest friend said to you are just what i needed to hear, i have been strugguling with making it to daily Mass ,
    also i just want to share my experience of trying to eat healthier for my last pregnancy, ( for the one before that i ate a lot of junk food everyday and i had many health problems because of it) so i prayed to God he would help me and make me crave healthy foods, all his fruits and vegetables he specially made for us and sure enough He did. ( i kid you not i craved salads with my last pregnancy)

  • Reply darilyn bixenman April 19, 2018 at 9:02 am

    Not only are these wonderful words for this mamma…but essential teaching to my two daughters 14 and 16 who utter the words “hate” and “body” in the same sentence frequently.
    This is good stuff.
    Thank you.

  • Reply kirsty April 19, 2018 at 10:11 pm

    I had a revelation or an epiphany one day with my two under 4 were feral and I was in tears my husband grabbed them and put them in the in the car in the clothes they had slept in along with breakfast dribbles and dirt. We were late by then and my husband who hates to be late was telling me just come as you are and I was just dressed in old clothes because I had not yet had a shower and I just figured whatever. I give up. So I went to church looking like something the cat dragged in. I felt embarrassed, ashamed. I did not want to get out of the car and be seen.

    I finally snuck in and we sat in the back row and I was ready to jump up and leave the moment the service finished.

    Everyone though was so nice and supportive. Other people took the kids and distracted them. People were sympathetic. No one was judgemental. Even a couple of the old stalwarts who I always thought looked disapprovingly at my kids disrupting the quiet of church were so positive with all the stories of their child rearing coming out.

    I obviously don’t try to repeat that exercise regularly but I have become totally unstressed by kids and tantrums. As soon as they go off I stop and go and get myself dressed and then come back and off we go with them dressed however. Plus I have a couple of reasonable outfits I can wear almost anywhere shopping church etc and I don’t try and be too fasionable. So much less stressful

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