By: Ann Swindell
I spent a good portion of my twenties focusing on my body and being critical about the shape of it, the size of it, and the weight of it. If my pant size moved up, I did what I could to move the size back down. I worried that my body wasn’t as it should be, that it wasn’t good enough, and that it needed to change.
Now, in my thirties, I have come to a comfortable peace with my body. Are there still things I would change if I could? Sure. But over the last decade, as my relationship with God has deepened—and as my body has altered and shifted—I have been able to cling to gratefulness. My body has carried me through severe sickness and emotional pain. It has grown and stretched with a child I love dearly. It has walked me thousands of miles across the world. I am thankful for it, jiggles and all.
Here are the things I wish I had understood about my body in my twenties—the things that have allowed me to not only accept but rejoice in the body I have:
Your Body’s Main Purpose Is Not to Attract Others to It
Our culture shows us more than enough images of bodies to make us believe that they exist simply to attract others. And in large part because of that, I had a lot of angst in my twenties about how my body appeared to others. I looked in the mirror for lumps and bumps in what I considered to be the “wrong places,” and chose my clothes based on how attractive I thought they made me look to others.
I wanted to look beautiful, and I wanted to be attractive.
Now, hear me: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with wanting to appear attractive. I still want to be a beautiful woman. But it was the way I approached my body in my twenties that was unhealthy. I was operating from the lens that culture had taught me, rather than Scripture. I’m not suggesting that we wear paper bags and frumpy clothes, but what I wish I would have grasped in my twenties is this: Your body’s main purpose is to worship the God Who created it. The book of Romans exhorts us: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
Your body is primarily a means of worshiping God—through service, through love, through acts of praise and mercy. Attracting the presence of God through the lives we live in our bodies is much more important than attracting the passing attention of others.
Your Health and Fitness Are Immensely More Important Than a Number on a Scale
I was an athlete during high school and into college. But when I was no longer on a team, I treated exercise as a way to keep my weight in check rather than as a tool for strengthening and protecting the only body I’ve been given. I worked out to keep the numbers on the scale down and didn’t worry about long-term health goals like building muscle mass or staying limber and flexible. Now, in my thirties, I’m keenly aware of the fact that this body isn’t going to last forever.
I wish I had been able to tell myself this: You are the only one—outside of a doctor or two, perhaps—who knows that number on the scale. And you are the only one who cares about that number. Your weight is a number that does not define you. It has nothing to do with your eternal value or earthly import. But you will be living in this body for the rest of your life. Try to think long-term about caring for it and preparing it for a lifetime of work, service, and love.
Your Body Is Decaying, Even Now
In my early twenties, I imagined that my body was endlessly malleable and unceasingly able. There had not been much, yet, that I couldn’t make it do, at least within the realms of normal, everyday life. If I wanted to run, I went for a run. If I wanted to play pick-up basketball, I played. If I wanted to stay up late, I stayed up. Now, a decade later, I’m feeling the truth of a body that is already starting to break down. I’m tired—a lot. I’m not as flexible. My knees are actually starting to creak when I bend down. My metabolism is slowing. I’m feeling the effects of what I’m heading toward—death.
I won’t say it’s not discouraging to feel my body breaking down, but it has pointed me to the truth that the Apostle Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
Externally, we are wasting away—all of us. What I wish I would have grasped in my twenties is that these bodies, as they are, don’t work very well or very long. Yet, as we grow in faith, in relationship with Jesus, and as we aim for the Kingdom of God, we can be encouraged that our souls are being renewed and strengthened. Our bodies may be dying, but our souls are living—and growing.
And, there’s good news for our bodies, too. Because ultimately, there is a day coming for Christians when these bodies will be made new (see Philippians 3:20-21). So, while it’s important to take care of these bodies, it’s also important to keep the right perspective: Let’s aim for a healthy soul that pursues God more than anything else.
Ann Swindell is the author of The Path to Peace (2022) and Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want. She teaches Christ-centered writing courses at Writing with Grace and loves helping equip women in their calling as writers. Ann lives in West Michigan with her pastor husband and their two kids. Connect with her at annswindell.com.