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His Body, My Choice

His Body, My Choice

This spring I was asked to prepare the Ash Wednesday sermon for the Brookside Campus. Ash Wednesday is a beautiful tradition that reminds us we are dying and the cross is our only cure. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ are the words spoken over each of us as we receive ashes.

I didn’t expect the concept of mortality to hit me very profoundly, but during my preparation, I was in the thick of relentless pain. My feet had totally betrayed me and decided to become weapons of torture every time I walked. So, as I wrote a sermon about the fact that our bodies are breaking down, my physical therapy, foot braces, and steady diet of ibuprofen reinforced that message.

 

A New Generosity

But then God did a new thing in my heart (as he always seems to do when I least expect it!). The afternoon of Ash Wednesday, I had rehearsed my talk for the last time, and I thought I’d take a breather and check some texts and social media. There on Facebook was an update from a dear, lifelong friend who needed a kidney transplant, and she needed it soon.

Everything in me said, “I need to do this!”  God had just impressed upon me through the sermon prep how temporary our lives are—that our bodies are not our prize, but eternity is. I felt him saying that although I struggled with pain, I had been forgetting the millions of other ways my body does work. One of those ways was having a rock star kidney that my friend Mollie could desperately use. Considering eternity opened up a new freedom to live with more generosity in how I use and see my physical body.

 

Choices

I have a choice on how I will use this body while I have it. Will I spend my energy cursing it for all the ways it breaks or doesn’t fit my standard of appearance/size/shape, or will I thank it? Will I accept that my physical body is the primary way God uses me to deliver his love to others— whether that’s through physical closeness (A wave! Smiles! Laughter! Hugs! Snuggles!), or through words (written or spoken) that bring life and goodness to others? If I don’t, I’m missing out on a very tangible blessing and a way that God has designed me to bring his light to the people in my space.

Will I see my body as something I have absolute rights over that must be defended at all costs or as something that, like Jesus, I am called to sacrifice – even my bodily rights – out of love for others? Is it my body, my choice, or is this the Lord’s body, which he has entrusted me with, loving me enough to give me the freedom to choose how I will use it? As we ask that question, let’s not forget that the freedom we have in Christ, is freedom not to serve myself, but freedom to love and serve others (see Galatians 5:13-14), just like Jesus did.

Jesus was also entrusted with a body – he was called Emmanuel – God with us. This “with us” nature makes him like no other God: all powerful and expansive while also as a friend who “sticks closer than a brother”. Christ was physically present on earth; he taught, touched, healed, hugged, and loved real people. Ultimately, he would end up using his physical body as a means to purchase our salvation on the cross. God clearly sees bodies as integral to his redemptive work in the world! 

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. – I Corinthians 6:19-20

 

Life to the Full

During the process of deciding to donate a kidney, I had dozens of opportunities to back out. The transplant process is designed well to ensure that donors do not feel pressure or coercion to donate an organ (which is great!), so at every turn, I had to choose again – do I want to make this sacrifice, or not? 

Trust me, I seriously considered all the “cons”: an invasive surgery with four nasty scars to prove it, dealing with pain and the side effects of being on heavy medications, recovery time, inconveniencing my co-workers, needing to ask (and graciously receive) help from my network of people, and putting a pause on my fitness routine. But, there was one item in the “pro” column that overshadowed them all: Mollie gets to live life to the full and see her kids grow up and grow old with her husband! That would mean Mollie gets to continue to choose to use her God-given body to bless people as she has done for years, whether that’s as an ENT physician assistant who cares deeply for her patients, or the children she treats in a Kenyan clinic each time she travels there to serve, or the kiddos in desperate situations she and her family foster. The choice was easy: if I choose to give this body away, God’s work can be multiplied in the days we still have here on earth.

 

Giving Thanks

Clearly, organ donation is not the path for all of us! You don’t need a major medical procedure to learn to love and appreciate all that your body is capable of. There are so many more easily accessible ways to pause and consider how you and your physical body can bring a little bit of the kingdom to someone else. 

Think about how you are using your energy today. How much of it is spent on your personal goals? Is there anything left for anyone else? Does some reordering need to happen? 

Your job, home-ownership, or parenting are excellent places to reconsider your body as a tool for generosity. What would not get done if you physically were not there? Your daily activities keep the ship afloat, so give thanks! Are there places we can reframe some aspects we might dread? Such as driving the kids from one activity to the next, collaborating with a chronically difficult co-worker, or how quickly a cleaned up house destructs into a mess yet again? 

These tedious or challenging spaces are actually opportunities to use your body to bring God’s joy, beauty and mercy to others, by simply being willing to do them. Next time you start one of these dreaded tasks, invite the Spirit to join you, using your body as the avenue to be the ‘kingdom come’ to those you do it with or for.

Let’s thank our God-given bodies and recognize them as holy spaces, where the Living God dwells, and let’s do it beginning today. Paul says it best in Romans 12:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12: 1-2

 

A Tool of Generosity

And to not leave you hanging, the kidney transplant procedure for Mollie and me is complete. I’m writing this while on medical leave with a good amount of healing yet to come, but on all accounts, it was a successful surgery. Mollie’s kidney function soared from only 14% to 93% shortly after surgery! We felt God’s presence and promises in what I can only describe as a worshipful experience. 

My body is His body, and what a freedom it is to affirm it as a good tool of generosity even when it has flaws. The day of perfect, redeemed bodies will come, but until then, let’s use what we have to give ourselves away!

 

A few additional resources have helped me see my physical body not as a project to fix or a trophy, but as an instrument for beauty:

 

Breaking Free of Body Shame, book by Jess Connolly 

Your Body is Not Your Masterpiece, article by Glennon Doyle

Thank You: Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

Thank You: Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

“Thank you so much.”

Was that my 12-year-old son who just said that? Without being told? Did he really just spontaneously say thank you to some random person who only indirectly served our family? “Thank you so much.” I’ve since caught him doing that just about everywhere. Weird, right?

Now, like most parents, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve worked with our kids over the years to say their “please and thank yous.” Sure, that matters, keep doing that. But that is less about gratitude, and more about following socially acceptable manners. Again, that can be a good thing, and there’s overlap, but it’s slightly different.

This wasn’t about manners. It wasn’t about what was expected of him. My son was genuinely thanking someone he had no social obligation to thank. He was just grateful and he wanted to express it.

How did that happen? In a culture that pushes extreme individualism, even to the point of entitlement, where did my son learn gratitude? Well, from his perfect parents, of course! Especially his dad, right? No! I struggle with entitlement and self-interest just as much as the next person, and possibly more. My default is a thankless heart. So how?

The Other Side of “Work Matters”

A couple years ago our church preached a series on how our work is the primary way we love our neighbors. We don’t just love our neighbors by bringing them soup when they’re sick, we also love them by serving them in our vocation. You love your neighbors on Monday by designing or manufacturing helpful products or offering valuable services. You love your little neighbors by serving them at home. My work loves my neighbor. That makes sense to me.

As I reflected, I remember marveling over the other side of this reality. This means someone loved me today enough to toast my bagel at Panera (and to bake it, grow and deliver all the ingredients, and even design and build the structure I sat in). People at the power company loved me enough today to keep my electricity running. The people at the car shop loved me enough to change my oil and rotate my tires, not to mention the people who built the roads to get there. Just start listing it out—all of it. That’s a lot of love!

Sure, I’m paying for those things, but that doesn’t take away the genuine benefit I receive from so many. A truly countless number of people tirelessly work every day to make my life better. 

Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

So I decided then to add a new discipline to my life, or at least to try it out. To the best of my ability, I’m going to try to thank everyone, everywhere, every day—anyone I see serving me. 

Seriously. Why not? It costs me nothing. It takes literally zero time because I’m there anyway. It requires nothing of me but eyes to see it, a heart to appreciate it, and a mouth willing to express it. And if they’re wearing a name tag, I’m going to try to do it by name and look them in the eyes.  “So-and-so, thank you so much for serving me.”

Sounds great, right, but so much harder than I thought! Once I started trying, not only did I begin to realize how many people love me every day, but I also had to constantly fight the entitlement and pride that lives within me. Thoughts like: Well, it’s their job to serve me. Besides, I’m paying for thisI thank them with my money. Or even just being blind to it or taking for granted the innumerable amount of people serving. This can be especially true of those who work in positions our culture has little respect for.

But once you start… I remember thanking the man cleaning the men’s restroom at a Royals game. Yuck. “Thank you, so-and-so, for serving.” He stopped, returned eye contact, and with delighted surprise in his voice said, “Thanks for noticing.” It cost me nothing. It made his day. When is the last time someone thanked him? 

Once you see the difference it makes, the way it brightens someone’s day to be seen and appreciated, the way it gives dignity to their work no matter what they do, and the way it increases your own sense of gratitude and joy, it’s pretty hard now not to do it.

Besides, the Bible not only commands gratitude, the gospel motivates us, and the Holy Spirit enables us to have truly thankful hearts. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In ALL circumstances. For this is God’s will for ME. For YOU.

So I thank the person holding the door, the person sweeping the floor, the TSA agent violating my personal space (yes, even there). I thank the restaurant server, UPS driver, mechanic, and truly just about everyone I can. I wave to construction workers, garbage truck drivers, post office carriers, and police officers.

Now, please don’t miss this. I am not patting myself on the back. I still struggle with being an ungrateful, entitled, self-centered piece of work. Even years after I started doing this, I still forget or get lazy, lose my nerve, or just don’t notice. I’m a mess, people. I don’t do this nearly as much as I wish I did.

See How Much You Are Served

Yet we talk a lot about gratitude, don’t we? We know it’s good for us. We know it makes our lives better. We know it breaks the cycle of entitlement and selfishness. We all want more of it, don’t we? In so many ways, it begins by simply seeing the many people who serve you, and therefore love you, every day. Do you see them?

There are the obvious ones—grocery clerks, baristas, teachers—start there, with the people you inevitably interact with. Then begin to look wider. Who keeps this place clean, safe, efficient—janitors, door greeters, security guards, store managers. If you see them, thank them. 

And although it’s much harder to thank the ones you don’t see, even just acknowledging them makes me more grateful. For example, I just made myself a life-saving cup of coffee. It was amazing. Farmers grew those beans for me in Costa Rica. For me. Someone harvested them, someone roasted them, someone packaged them, and someone thought to import them. For me. They put them on a boat, then a train, then a semi (and someone built the boats, trains, semis, and roads, by the way). For me.

They ended up in a store that required engineers, architects, and construction workers just to build it (not to mention where all the materials came from), executives and managers to run it, and clerks, shelf-stockers, and janitors to maintain it. Then, of course, there are the people who keep our water clean and make sure it gets to my home, who give me power to heat it up, and who designed the coffee pot. Somebody even made me a nice mug to drink out of. For me.

How many people served me so that I could have that cup of coffee? That’s a lot of love! Do you have eyes to see it?

Say Thank You All the Time

So thank them. At least the ones you can, whenever you can, as often as you can, for your sake and theirs. Not because you have to in order to obey social norms, but because you are truly grateful for the love you receive from so many. Say thank you.

Imagine if we all made this simple goal—to thank everyone you see serving you (directly or indirectly) every time you see them serving you. By name, if at all possible. It’s such a small thing, but imagine what that would do, the dignity it would give, the hearts inside us that would grow, and the joy that would be shared.

It won’t cost you a dime. It requires nothing but eyes to see it, a heart to appreciate it, and a mouth willing to express it. Try it for a week and just see what happens.

I can tell you for me, this discipline of saying thank you is changing my life. Sure, I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s actually made me more grateful, more aware, and more sensitive to the world around me. I see people differently. I empathize more with those who work jobs society has little respect for. In return, I receive greater joy and purpose, and even greater delight in my own work (the way I love and serve my neighbors), even in the thankless parts. I feel their love, and I delight to give love in return.

Apparently my kids have noticed. I never meant to teach this to them. It was just a habit I wanted to try for a while, and for their sake and mine, I’m so grateful I did.

Colossians 3:15–17 says: 

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”