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Faith Can Help Heal Body Image

Read how faith can work toward healing body image issues.

There’s an old joke about faith: During a downpour, a man stays in his house despite a flood warning. As the waters rise, a car, boat, and helicopter all come by to offer a ride. Each time the man says, “No thanks. I have faith in God. He’ll save me.” But the man eventually drowns.

In heaven, the man asks God, “I don’t get it. I had faith in you. Why didn’t you save me?”

Perplexed, God says, “What do you think the car, boat, and helicopter were about?”

Most find this joke somewhat amusing, but you can also see in it a slightly deeper, spiritual meaning. God often appears to us in ways that are non-eventful and even mundane. But He is there, always reaching His hand to us. We just need to reach back.

When we are suffering from a poor body image, our Catholic faith has resources to help us heal. A poor body image that causes obsession and distress should be addressed with professional help, especially if it interrupts your daily life. But we are all touched by parts of our culture that encourage unhealthy views of our bodies in one way or another. So however deeply we struggle with poor body image, we can see elements of our tradition as a healing resource — one of the ways God reaches out to us when we’re hurting.

Prayer

Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” I once heard a priest interpret this Gospel by saying, “There is freedom in honesty.”

The priest noted that being honest with ourselves and with God is a great way to begin any healing that needs to occur within us. By being honest in prayer, we acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses and grow in humility, the bedrock for a better, more meaningful relationship with God. Prayer helps us cultivate that relationship with God by seeking forgiveness, giving thanks and praise, and asking for spiritual, mental, or physical healing for ourselves and others.

Leading a life of acceptance and gratitude helps bring us peace. Expressing gratitude for what we have — even for life itself and a body to live that life — is how we begin to develop that peace. A good place to start is frequent reflection on our bodies as gifts — we need this reminder, especially on those days when it is difficult to fathom feeling beautiful or handsome, even in God’s eyes.

Still, every day we make an important choice: We can fill our hearts with gratitude or with complaint. Perhaps God’s greatest reward for those who are grateful is to bless them with more gratitude. Conversely, when we fail to recognize God’s gifts, and to not be thankful for them, we fail to recognize God’s love and deprive ourselves of the very graces He wills us to receive.

It is up to us to consistently bring ourselves before God on bended knees with a humble heart, and to be direct in what we ask for. Recall the fervor that Christ displayed in hisagony at Gethsemane. Christ teaches us a great deal about prayer in those brief yet intense moments. At his most vulnerable time, he turns to his Father with all of the humility and passion that he can muster, and he prays.

Confession

You might know that confession is also referred to as penance or reconciliation, but few know it as a sacrament of healing and conversion.

We all need healing, but it’s essential when we struggle with body distortion. Few afflictions are more paralyzing to everyday life. Serious forms of body dissatisfaction cast us into a world of negative feelings. It’s a world of self-absorption and unawareness, one of anxiety, fear, pain, sadness, and forms of self-hatred. All of these feelings lead to unhappiness and discontentment. In such darkness, we have difficulty hearing God’s voice, and we struggle with hearing and answering the needs of others.

The purpose of the sacrament of reconciliation is to restore us to wholeness, to free us from sin so that we can live into the image of God we were created with. Seeking out this sacrament, calling to mind our sins, setting them aside to walk in a new way of living, and receiving a tangible sign of God’s mercy can help us move beyond the distorted ways of thinking that come to us from various media and cultural voices. If we want to become secure in our identity as a child of God, this sacrament of healing can help us re-orient our lives towards God’s grace.

Eucharist

The greatest of all invitations is the one that Christ extended to us at the Last Supper. In that meal, which we participate in at every Mass, he offered us His Body and Blood so we can be in union with him. By accepting his invitation, we have the ability to experience God’s peace. If we have trouble accepting our own bodies, accepting the Body of Christ in the Eucharist might be a place to begin to find healing and wholeness.

That word, eucharist, means “giving thanks,” and this includes gratitude for redemption, for freedom from sin, and for creation (which includes us). Receiving the Eucharist is the best way we have to give thanks to God for all we’ve been given, especially our bodies. The Eucharist nourishes us, body and soul. There is no more powerful or direct way to receive God’s grace and be thankful for it than the Eucharist.

Mass

We all need the peace that God has promised through His Son. At the center of Catholic life is the Mass. It is here that we give thanks, ask for forgiveness, hear God’s Word, and ask for strength in the Eucharist. In fact, everything I have to say in this entire article leads to this: The celebration of the Mass is the culmination of our faith.

The Mass was instituted by Christ to allow our bodies to fully experience God through the use of the five senses. God has given us the ability to see, hear, smell, touch and taste Him in every aspect of the celebration. For instance, our encounter with Christ is enriched when we see the host being raised, when we hear Scripture, when we smell the incense, when we touch the Eucharist, and when we taste his Blood. Without these senses — without our bodies — we cannot develop a relationship with God.

The worship we join in the Mass is the ultimate use of our bodies: to grow in communion with God and one another. This is what we were created for — it’s an image of heaven! This is why our tradition refers to the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith.

God intends that we live with full appreciation of our bodies, and He certainly does not want us to experience any of the anxiety and pain that accompanies the lack of bodily perfection. But we aren’t perfect, and our need for God’s grace is intense. Due to God’s generosity, He constantly offers us His grace — a share in His divine life — and invites us to become active participants in the process of our own healing.

Living with poor body image is like living in a violent storm — it can sometimes feel like a hurricane — and we need shelter. Our Catholic faith can be a refuge, a safe home.

Grotto quote graphic about healing body image issues: "We all need the peace that God has promised through his son."

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