Bodies. What are they good for? Absolutely everything. They make mortality possible, which makes suffering and refinement possible, which make eternal glory possible, which makes life worth living. Even when it’s brutally hard. And have you noticed, “brutally hard” frequently refers to decline and disease of the body? It’s poetic justice somehow that the very instrument of our eternal destiny is often the very bane of our mortal existence. What are you gonna do? Grin and bear it, my mother would say.
You can also step back and remember that a body is only a vehicle and a temporary one at that. What counts, what has been with God from the beginning, and what will be with God in the end is our spirit. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who famously said, “We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.”
The body is a glove we slip on and off at the beginning and end of mortality. Or as Paul put it, “know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you…?” (I Corinthians 6:19). That has always sounded to me like a warning not to eat Krispy Kremes to excess. And to get enough exercise and watch my blood pressure, blah blah blah. And I suppose it does mean all of those things, but I’m starting to realize it means far more. It means that despair is optional.
If you haven’t yet begun to experience normal aging (which starts in its sneaky way about 25), and if you’ve been fortunate enough (so far) to escape any serious illness, take my word for it that you don’t know what hard is until—on top of all your other problems—you can’t walk, or can’t plan your future, or can’t get through a day without pain. My mother also used to say, “It’s a great day when no one you love is ill or dying.”
Despair—the complete loss or absence of hope—is optional. Heartbreak, disappointment, and enraged helplessness probably aren’t. I never fail to lift my big mixer out to make cookies without thinking, “I’m so grateful I can still do this. It won’t always be this way.”
I don’t want to admit it, but I probably can’t lift 40 lb bags of salt anymore, which means I’m already dependent on someone, which makes me crazy frustrated. And this is just the beginning. I have nothing to complain about. (But notice that I am, in fact, complaining. I never claimed to be stoic.)
If we have no understanding of our spirit, then despair is the inevitable companion to the body’s decline. But if we do understand the purpose of mortality, and that it is just one step in a very very long journey, we can point our minds to inexhaustible hope in Christ no matter what happens to the body. It’s just a glove. Whether it fits well and looks good or fits poorly and feels miserable, we all have to take it off sooner or later.
That’s when the real fun begins.