Being Grateful for My Body in Spite of Aging and Chronic Illness
I know that title makes me sound like I’m 85. (I admit — sometimes I feel like I’m 85!) But I do struggle with my health and sometimes I struggle with how much I already feel the effects of age. Have you ever wrestled with these kinds of feelings?
I recently read a post at Mormon Mommy Blogs that made me stop and think about Mormon doctrine related to the importance of our physical bodies. As someone who deals with chronic illness, it can sometimes be hard not to curse this body of mine, but Mona’s post helped me recalibrate my thoughts. (Again. I need reminders like this a lot!)
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our beliefs include a recognition of the importance of our mortal bodies in God’s plan for our happiness and salvation. We believe God has a body. His body is perfected and glorified, but it is a body of flesh and bones nonetheless. This was one of the most amazing truths Joseph Smith learned when the heavens parted and he saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They were real! They had bodies!
We lived with God before we were born on this earth. We are all His spirit children, but we couldn’t grow to be like Him without the opportunity to receive a body. We come to earth to receive a body and to be tested. When we die, our spirits and bodies will be temporarily separated, but because of the Atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all who have ever lived on this earth will be resurrected. (I admit it; although I don’t want to die just yet, I do look forward to having a perfected body someday…one that will never get sick or decay or tire. We will have immortal bodies someday. Wow.)
I also am learning through my experience with chronic illness that the mortal, fallen elements of our existence are also part of our spiritual journey to become more like God and to build our faith in Him. I’m reminded of a talk I once heard by Elder Merrill J. Bateman that has stayed with me through the years since hearing it. First, Elder Bateman reiterates what I call the doctrine of the body. He says:
The physical body is one of the great gifts of mortality. The scriptures teach that the body is not only important for this life but also for eternity. During mortality the body can be a temple of God in that it may house the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit leads one to the celestial kingdom. The body is so important in the eternities that Christ gave His life to overcome physical as well as spiritual death. In so doing, He made possible a resurrection for everyone.
Joseph Smith said: “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 181.)
This is the part, though, that stuck with me. If you ever feel frustration about the way your body is functioning (or, perhaps better said, not functioning) or cannot do all you wish it could, consider this:
The strength of the physical body peaks near 30 years of age. It is well documented that muscular strength in both males and females begins a long descent after 30 as the body slowly deteriorates until death occurs. (See William D. McArdle, Frank I. Katch, and Victor L. Katch, Essentials of Exercise Physiology, 2nd ed. (2000), 558.)…
[O]ne might ask: Why the long, slow decline? Are there lessons to be learned? The answer is yes! The mind and spirit are taught many lessons. …
As one experiences the downhill portion of later life, the inevitable aches and pains serve an important purpose. They help one put off King Benjamin’s “natural man [or woman]” as we learn to yield to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19). The aches and pains of later life teach humility, the meaning of long-suffering, the importance of patience, and an appreciation for the qualities of kindness and love, and they help one learn moderation in all things. It’s interesting. These are the divine attributes. For the faithful, the slow deterioration of the body serves as a refining instrument for the spirit.
There are other elements of Elder Bateman’s teachings that are so insightful, but will have to wait for another day. For now, I’m just reminded of the fact that my body is a gift and a blessing in God’s great plan, and its limitations are part of my spiritual training to strengthen me and help me grow and become better.