I have often been told that I need to take care of myself better, that I should have more concern for my health. Even when I’m perfectly healthy.
Now, it’s a fine line for me because I happen to have a “weak immune system”. But it’s not weak, in fact if anything I have an over-reactive immune system. I have food allergies, environmental allergies, asthma, eczema and alopecia. All these health issues are connected to my immunology. So I’ve grown up knowing that in comparison to others, my body is much more temperamental than others by default.
All my life, I’ve been negotiating between health and living. I’ve spent days inside because my eczema has flared up and it hurts to move because, unwittingly, I’ve scratched myself silly in the night; because my asthma used to be so sensitive that when the humidity and smog index hit a certain point, I wouldn’t be allowed outside because I could have an asthma attack; because I reacted so poorly to the dust in my school that I broke out in hives all over my body so I stayed home; because I’ve been constantly told to be afraid that I don’t take risks with food and sit out going to eat with my friends; because I felt so helpless in the face of losing my hair that going outside gave me anxiety so I locked myself in.
So when people tell me I should take care of myself, I understand. I get it. It’s out of love and I’m thankful for that. I honestly appreciate the care and concern. And you know, if I take care of myself, maybe all these problems could go away. Maybe I’d be “healthy”. But none of these health issues are things you grow out of, they’re built into your body because your immune system, something you cannot fix nor change to the extent that these health issues disappear 100%, is not that simple. I’ve known all my life that no matter how well I take care of myself, my eczema will not go away 100%, my allergies will not go away 100%, my asthma will not go away 100%, my alopecia will not go away 100%. If I take care of myself like the most disciplined person, they’d all be benign, true, but one slip up, one spike of stress, one moment I don’t “take care”, it’ll come back. And how do you live with that hanging over you? Constantly worried and afraid of your own body?
When I was younger, that’s exactly how I lived. I hated the fact that I was weaker than others, that for some reason I wasn’t capable of being a normal healthy individual. I hated my body for deciding to be a weakling, even when I pushed myself to take care, medicine and healthy living combined, I still had problems. And I feared the very body I had because I feared that one day it would lead me to death long before I was ready for it.
I’m lucky that I have a mom so concerned for my health that she’d do anything to keep me safe and healthy. I think in her shoes I would do the same. All these health problems were new to my mom because they aren’t prevalent in Hong Kong. I wouldn’t want my child to suffer, so I’d do my best to keep them from harm, keep them from putting themselves in any situation that would even mean a glimpse at hardship. I appreciate her care and I wouldn’t change a thing in my past. I had a wonderful childhood and grew up in a relatively safe environment.
As I grew older, though, I found that it wasn’t the body that prevented me from doing things, it was the worry: the constant fear and stress of being so careful not to step out of what I was comfortable with, what made me feel safe. I worried that people would find out. That they’d think I was weaker than them or less than them in some way. That I was covered in imperfections. I was filled with so much worry about being looked upon as different.
But now that I’m older and independent, I choose to leave the safety of the sheltered bubble. To be different in any way possible. And for all that happens, the health issues and whatnot, I will not go back to living in shadows of worry. I will be careful but carefree.
Now people will tell me, “You need to take care of the body you were given.” And then they’ll quote a Bible verse to me.
“19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)
First of all, in context, this is from a passage about sexual immorality. So…what are they really saying to me? I mean, it’s important nonetheless, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s amusing that people don’t always realize the context around the verse.
However, in the spirit of the passage, from verses 12-20, I understand that there is an importance in thinking of the body as a place for Christ to not just dwell but move to do what God desires, to realize that your body does not belong to you.
But that’s the thing, the body does not belong to you. Whether you live or die, in health or sickness, your body is not your own. Can God not work in a body of pristine health the same way He can work through someone who is dying?
Treating the body as a temple is not the same as worshiping the body.
We stay healthy to live longer, we stay healthy to be able to accomplish our goals and we stay healthy to feel good. It’s so easy to get caught up in this day and age where health and being fit is the pinnacle of many people’s lives.
I’m not saying that we don’t need to take care of ourselves, we do. We have to because it’s the only body we get. You may think that for someone with so many different health issues, I might have the most concern for my own health. And I do, I’m very in tune to with what happens to my body. Although I may push myself, to train my body to fight its own battles without the help of medicine, I know my own limits. I will seek help when I need to and do my best to prevent myself from relapsing into bad bouts with any of my autoimmune diseases. But I don’t want to become wrapped up in the idea that my body must be in the most pristine condition before I can be okay with myself or before I can follow Christ and do His work. My body is a tool, it’s not a shiny new own, but it still does it’s job and it can still do it well.
Living a long life has no meaning if it’s not in Christ, accomplishing my personal goals has no place if it’s not aligned to what God has in store, feeling good about my health is nothing if God is not at work in me.
In my eyes, living a sheltered life is not living. Never pushing yourself to do things that scare you is not living. Being afraid of your own frailty is not living. I’ve been there and I’ve cowered before my own fears, and I can tell you, it’s not living. In some way or another, we’re all weak. It’s admitting that weakness and challenging yourself in spite of those weaknesses that makes you strong.
I would not be the person I am today if I was not made weak to begin with. The strength that people recognize in me is the result of having to live with weakness and knowing that there is more to myself than that. It’s knowing that in God I can find the strength, the rest and the health to keep going.
All my life, death has stared at me through the face of a peanut. But I am unafraid, even in the times when I’ve accidentally eaten something that has traces of peanuts. My body is not my own. If God calls me home, then that’s that.
I try my best to mitigate it all. I really do. I try my best to ask if there’s peanuts in anything and take the right medicine when there’s an incident, to wear a mask out if the weather threatens my asthma, to put lotion on and drink lots of water, to minimize stress where I can. I do my best with what I’ve got and God takes care of everything else. He’ll use it to humble me when I need it, He’ll use it to strengthen me when He wants to, He’ll use it to test me, push me and grow me.
So if I’m calm and collected when something terrible happens to my health, if I’m frustrated and cry out, or if I’m just plain scared, the one thing I will not do is worry. I will not bog myself down worrying whether my next meal could kill me or whether or not my hair will grow back, because in these weaknesses, I am fortified by Him, I am comforted by Him and I am stronger because of it.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-11 (ESV)