Last year was my worst on record (save for the turmoil of middle school) in terms of mental and emotional health.
I really don’t know how it happened, but by the time I had realized it I was holding a prescription for anti-anxiety meds because I couldn’t handle the day-to-day stress of life anymore. There was no major trauma in my life, although that would have seemed better because then I would have had a reason for my emotional behavior. Instead, I was hoping to go to the doctor and get some pill or shot to make it better. Unfortunately, yet very fortunately, it was a series of small changes that I needed to make in my life that changed me.
Before I got help, I was having frequent panic attacks and little things such as sweeping the floor or cleaning the bathroom were tasks too overwhelming for me to accomplish. I was having daily breakdowns where I was on the floor crying. I was losing it on the kids and distant from my husband. I was unable to discipline our kids, so whatever they wanted they got. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t focus. I had a hard time getting out of bed and I was tired all the time. I had no hope that things would ever get better.
Before taking the anxiety medication, I decided to try one last thing. I got my blood drawn to see what nutrition I was depleted in, and then I started taking supplements. By giving my body what it needed, I was able to get the clarity I needed to start thinking straight. I went to a chiropractor and got adjusted. I got an inhaler so I could exercise. I started showering every day, and trying to stay on top of chores. I was able to start praying again, and I was finally starting to see glimpses of the old me. Finally, I made a decision to change my diet. I am happy to say that while I realize I’m not completely out of the woods, I feel much more whole, happy, and hopeful.
It was through this experience that I realized how much our bodies matter to our souls. As we say in one of our answer keys, “our bodies are the visible sign of the invisible reality of God’s presence in our souls… this makes them a sacrament by definition.” When I really start to think about that, it blows me away. And it makes me realize that I need to take care of my body so I can glorify God through it. Because when our bodies aren’t working properly, it can be hard to live out our vocations and allow God’s love to shine through us. Without the nutrition and balance my body needed, it was affecting me spiritually. I couldn’t keep a consistent prayer life, and I certainly couldn’t be the wife and mother my family needed me to be. So for me, a change in diet and lifestyle was to help me live my life to better glorify God.
In the Creation account, our bodies were formed out of clay and then God blew his breath, his Spirit, into us. This shows that we are made with a body/soul union and that our bodies are sacred temples of the Holy Spirit. In our culture today, there are two prevalent heresies that try to separate the soul and body: gluttony and idolatry.
The first lie is that our bodies don’t matter. We hear couples in marriage prep say that our bodies are just on loan, or our bodies are superficial, or we all die anyway so who cares because it’s our souls that we need to take care of. So some take that to mean we can eat whatever we want, sleep with whomever we want, or smoke or drink however much we want because as long as we are spiritual we are fine. No, that is gluttony. And our bodies do matter! Our bodies are the sacramental consent that makes a marriage valid. As Catholics, we believe in the resurrection of the body and the incarnation where God became flesh. This teaches us that the physical world leads us to the truths of God.
The other heresy is that taking care of our bodies is godliness in and of itself. Eating healthy and a fit body are the ultimate fulfillment. As a mom, I know it’s important to feed my kids good food and give them exercise. But if I care for their bodies yet am not teaching them to pray, if I find time to work out but don’t find time to pray, this is idolatry. Having a healthy body is a good thing not because we worship ourselves, but because in order to be the best version of ourselves – in order to live out our vocations and truly be the image of God’s love in the world- our bodies need to be working the way God designed them to.
We need to take care of our body in order to glorify God through it. Some of you may be in perfect health, and some of you may struggle with health issues. If you have a health issue out of your control, there is something God is allowing you to suffer through that. But for the majority of us, our health is in our hands and we need to take care of our bodies so that we can take care of our souls.
“The body is the organ of the divine life and the sacraments. It is the body that is washed by the water of Baptism, so that the soul may obtain its purity and clarity. It is the body that is anointed by the oil and the unction of the Holy Spirit, so that the soul may be consecrated. It is upon the body that hands are imposed, so that the soul may be enlightened and can communicate blessings. It is the body that receives the Eucharist and quenches its thirst with divine Blood, so that man, becoming one with Christ and sharing with Him the same life, may live eternally.” Father Charles Arminjon