When I worked for a homeless shelter last year, the children were easily one of the best parts- wild and wonderful, eyes open wide with hope and possibility. Rowdy on their best days, they climbed all over me, played pretend, danced and sang just like any other children.
“Helpful,” and “unhelpful” were the words I was taught to use with them, after a careful consideration that enough of their lives had been labeled “bad” without social workers adding more to the mix. “Bad” felt too permanent, a label that would stick like glue. “Bad” was shaming, and mixed in too easily with all of the other negative adjectives they heard regularly regarding their situation.
“Unhelpful” was a label that could be removed by the child, traded in for its counterpart upon a different course of action.
So I learned, and first I trained myself, and then them:
“That is very helpful of you,” I would say seriously and with a smile, nodding in encouragement.
“That is not helpful of you,” I would say with a stern brow, waiting patiently, offering the opportunity to choose a different option.
I could learn a lesson or two from these children when it comes to my own habits- how many times have I eaten an extra piece of cake or had one-too-many pieces of pizza, and then woken up the next morning feeling sick and calling the whole evening a food failure. My tendency is to shame and punish, to label either food, lack of exercise, or myself “bad”, quick to blame and point fingers.
I’ve done this dance in other areas of my life before as well, especially when wrestling with finances, which my husband gently reminded me of the other night:
“It’s not the money that is good or bad,” he said to me sitting on our couch late on a Wednesday, “It’s more like what we do with it that is good or bad.”
It’s what we do with it that is good or bad.
Meaning money, just like food, or exercise, allows me a choice: It can either be a helpful tool or a destructive one, and I have an option which direction the road will turn.
One of my goals as a believer is to be a good steward in all things that Christ has given to me. My body is easily one of the most monumental gifts I have been made a steward over. A being that houses the same Spirit that rose from the dead, it becomes precious by association- meaning it also becomes a battleground for the Spirit of God and the enemy, a war zone.
The eternal victory has been won, but every day, can feel as if my flesh, the Lord and the world are duking it out for control over my body. What will it eat, how will it move, how will I view it? The questions feel up for grabs as my feet hit the floor in the morning, and every night, I have been taking stock: Did I make good, or bad choices today? And then I confront the part of me that either takes too much pride in choosing the right option or wallows in shame for choosing the wrong one, neither of which ends me in a healthy, God-glorifying place.
A woman at a conference I went to the other week spoke about labels and their impact. In the world, only two people have the right to put a price label on something, she said. The maker, and the purchaser. For the believer, both are found in the person of Jesus Christ.
It is not my job to label exercise, food, or my body “good” or “bad.” It’s my job to acknowledge that all of these things are either helpful or unhelpful in achieving the goal of pleasing God. It’s said in Proverbs 3:6 that if I acknowledge him in all my ways, he will make my paths straight. Meaning the path will straighten before me, and the right choices will come naturally when I am seeking him first.
So we breathe, and we keep going. I wake up and when my feet hit the floor, I ask the Lord to meet me here, today. I ask him to find me in my mess and allow for this weakness to be filled by his strength, for me to view all these things as a tool, to make helpful choices that point me over and over again to him.
And when I stumble, would I praise God that I have a body that was made for resilience, made to stand up and try again, and that my personal label-maker was traded in for the Lord’s, who covered his in grace.
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. …. 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