by Aundi Kolber
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here.
I always wanted to love my body, I admit. I even wanted to be kind to my body, but I had no idea how. Are we even allowed to do that? I wondered.
Growing up in a chaotic and dysfunctional family, I learned early how to disconnect from myself and push past my actual limits so I could stay psychologically and emotionally safe. For instance, when my dad’s anger became explosive and my parents fighting escalated; I’d hide under the table--terrified. When the storm finally settled, I'd tell myself “see? it wasn't so bad, nothing really terrible happened..." but in doing so, I was minimizing and shaming emotions that were too painful to face alone.
It’s not surprising, then, that I came to see my body as something separate from me: not a God-given expression of my personhood, but a nuisance—or at best, a tool that could help me be productive or gain approval based on what I accomplished or how I looked. I ached for something to fill the cavern of pain that chronic emotional trauma had left behind. As an athlete, I appreciated the strength of my legs and the ferocity of my heart. But when I looked in the mirror, I almost always came to recognize that my body didn’t look how it was “supposed” to look.
You see, even though I was fit and strong, I was not thin. I did not fit the physical ideals frequently placed upon women (and men). And so instead of honoring everything my body had carried me through, instead of letting myself grieve all the ways I had been wounded, instead of acknowledging that my value would never rest in societal expectations of my appearance, I treated myself the same way I had been taught: I shamed myself for eating, I over exercised to punish myself for taking up too much space, and I hated my flesh and my bones for not being enough. I treated myself like an object instead of an image bearer of God.
When we view our bodies as objects, it makes sense that we will push, hurt, numb, and generally commodify them if that’s what’s required to feel loved. Frankly, our culture even rewards us when we live disembodied lives.
“Look how strong she is,” people say.
“She didn’t even cry!” we praise.
“Mind over matter,” we echo.
In a sense, we’re echoing an ancient heresy called Gnosticism, which believed anything spiritual is holy and that flesh or matter is bad or evil.
In the early church, Gnosticism caused Christians to doubt whether Jesus was really fully human.. Although the heresy was refuted, we still struggle with similar issues today. We practice functional Gnosticism when we theoretically believe that our bodies are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19, nlt) but in actual practice shame the very humanity Jesus enfleshed to show us how deeply we are loved. As the disciple John wrote, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, msg).
Jesus was called “Immanuel . . . God with us” (Matthew 1:23, nkjv) because he was willing to put on skin and meet us in our imperfect, messy, beloved humanity—not to make us less human but to heal all the wounds that keep us from living out who God created us to be.
So how do we unlearn this narrative of a disembodied life?
In my work as a licensed therapist, as well as in my own journey toward an embodied life, I have found it essential that we pay compassionate attention to our humanity. When we’re frustrated with the needs or limits of our bodies, often we don’t need to try harder. We need to do just the opposite: We need to try softer. As we do this, we are essentially stewarding the profound kindness and compassion that God already has for us toward ourselves. His way directly contradicts what we’re so often taught—that being fully alive is marked by bravado and a denial of who we truly are.
I find it beautiful and curious that even in this, God invites us into a paradox, as he so often does—like when Jesus says the way up is down (Luke 14:11) and the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16). The Jesus Way to heal is not to try harder but to try softer. The Jesus Way toward an embodied life is not through hustle but through gentleness.
Learning to be kind to ourselves can be a lifelong pursuit and God stays beside us whether we fail or succeed. But daily we are invited to start with one small step. For example, consider choosing a time to check in with your body, emotions, and energy levels. Then use that information as a basis for how to treat yourself the rest of the day. Other ideas include getting gentle exercise, going to therapy, or even just scheduling time to be fully present with those you love.
The beauty of this work is that it’s not about perfection but practice. May we have the courage to honor our bodies and experiences in the same way God already does.
Aundi Kolber is a licensed therapist (MA, LPC), speaker, and author of her debut book, Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us Out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode and Into a Life of Connection and Joy (Tyndale, 2020). You can find Aundi online or follow along on Instagram or Facebook.