Freedom from Body Shame
But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. -Isaiah 64:6
When this verse first came to my attention, I was very confused. In my NIV translation, the verse says: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” But the speaker who was leading the Bible study used a different version. As I listened to him read, I heard: “We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a minstrel rag…” I didn’t understand what was so wrong with the rag used to clean a violin or a trumpet, but I just went with it.
Later I realized that the homophonic nature of the word “minstrel” and “menstrual” had severely damaged my understanding of that verse. Suddenly, by nature as a woman, I was dirty and unclean and comparable to the deplorable, so-called righteous acts! And thus began a downward spiral into a feeling of shame as a Christian woman.
Aside from being naturally unclean, my body was considered a stumbling block. As a Christian young woman, it seemed that one of my most important duties was to hide myself away so that my Christian brothers wouldn’t fall into the trap of lust and sin. As I dedicated myself to fulfilling this duty, a Christian brother (wearing swim trunks) tackled me (fully clothed) into the ocean. A guy in my youth group pressed his hand onto my lower back and whispered in my ear that my shirt had slipped up and an inch of skin was showing.
I internalized these experiences along with my own lust and desire for physical affection—believing that my sins and the sins of my Christian brothers were all my fault. I took all of this, tucked it away into my heart and began to believe that my body was shameful.
It was shameful because I had a menstrual cycle. It was shameful because it caused others to stumble. It was shameful because I lusted. Overwhelmed by this shame, I lost sight of how God created me.
I lost sight of how He created me to have a charitable heart (Proverbs 31:20-21). I failed to see how He created me to practice wisdom (Proverbs 22:6, Proverbs 31:25, Ephesians 5:21-23). His design of my strength (Proverbs 31:17 & Proverbs 31:25) slipped my mind.
Charitable, wise, strong…and so much more.
God did not create me to dwell in a place of shame; rather, He created me to use my body to worship Him. Worship with my body happens in two ways:
- Your body is a tool of worship when you use it to show God's love to others. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
- Your body is a tool of worship when you celebrate the way God created it. Don't you know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
Lifting my hands in praise is an act of worship. Kneeling to get eye-level with a second-grader who isn’t understanding double-digit subtraction is an act of worship. Eating an orange every day is an act of worship. Running, making dinner for my roommates, sharing coffee with a friend, giving someone a hug...My body does these things…and each of these can be an act of worship. I am either using my body as a way to extend the love of God to others, or I am celebrating and caring for the body that God created.
This week, instead of feeling ashamed of your body, I challenge you to worship with your body. Use it as a tool to love others! Celebrate the way that God created it! Allow God to help you rediscover just how skilled of a creator He is. See the God-given beauty in the planes of your face, the curves that only a woman has, and the way your heart beats without any assistance from you. Feel the blood rushing through your veins as your feet hit the pavement or you chase after a toddler. Your body is beautiful - even if you think it doesn't fit into this world's definition of beauty or if it's not constantly admired by those around you.
Let's talk in the comments:
- How are you allowing shame to hinder your God-given love for people?
- Have you allowed shame to rob you of compassion towards your body?
- What can you do to celebrate and care for the body that God has given you?
Author's Note: This article began as a rant against the modern church's obsession with modesty. But through the revision process, I realized that I didn't need to rant against modesty. I needed to combat the implied shame that I (and others, I can only assume) felt as a result of our modesty-obsessed churches. Modesty, when practiced as an act of worship and humility, is beautiful. But remember: you are not covering your body because it is shameful. You are covering your body because God has set your body apart for something greater than just body parts on display.