I was reflecting on my first month of the new year and my resolution/theme of “stronger.” I’ve been going to the gym a lot this month and can see so much physical change in my body, along with emotional and mental change and discipline. But as I was reflecting on all this, my thoughts turned to a young woman I met in a class at the gym. She is 17 weeks pregnant with her third child and is in much better shape than I am; in fact, she barely looks pregnant—she makes me look pregnant! Of course, this sparked conversation among the other young mothers in the class about how she does it, as well as how far some of us still have to go in losing the baby weight and regaining our bodies. This young mother told us that she and her husband always plan a trip 12 weeks out after having a baby to a tropical location so that she has motivation to work out (a.k.a. look good in a swimsuit), that she gets back to the gym as soon as possible after giving birth, and that she doesn’t breastfeed her children because it prevents her from losing weight. She is definitely a very type-A person! But much of what she was saying just didn’t sit well with me. I thought, What am I missing? What do I not understand? The more I thought about why this woman’s statements bothered me, the more one word came up: self-donation.
Now, I am in no way judging this woman as I don’t even know her name, let alone her true motivations or the depths of her heart, but the way she presented herself sparked these revelations within me, and God was certainly using her to do this work in me. That being said, the way this woman presented herself to me seemed to lack an understanding of the beauty of giving up your body for another, the beauty that is using your body for the good of another, and seemed to view pregnancy as an inconvenience and nothing more (although she spoke very beautifully of the babies she has been given, so this is good!). Yes, pregnancy is certainly a physical inconvenience, and using your body for the good of one so tiny instead of getting it back in peak physical condition as soon as possible is also an inconvenience. But this is the way of Christ—a total giving of self for the good of others.
I give myself to my children in so many small ways (and deny myself to them in many of the same instances)—sharing my bed and not getting enough sleep, staying home from the gym because they are sick. In carrying them within me during pregnancy and in trying, ever desperately trying, to breastfeed them. In playing with them or listening to their stories or worries when what I really need is a little quiet time. In making their food and feeding them before I even think of feeding myself. In not worrying what my body looks like as long as it can function to give (while remaining healthy, always shooting for some semblance of balance).
And in what I give up in my body, I gain so much more. I gain children who run to me and embrace me and enthusiastically call me their queen and their love! Children who want to share everything with me because they know that I care for every ounce of their existence. I gain children who want me to run with them and take them on walks and who wrestle with me and get into tickle fights with me. My body may not be back to top physical form and I may never look “good” in a swimsuit, but I have found a new discipline in it, the discipline of knowing how to give up myself, how to turn myself over, how to truly love with every fiber of my body. My desire to get in better shape should not come at the expense of serving my family; rather, it should be directed toward helping me serve them better, and ultimately that means it might not happen in exactly the way I’d like.
I think of that young mother, and I pray for her. Not because I think she is in a desperate way; I pray instead that she already knows this deeper beauty and that she goes even deeper. My prayer for myself is the same. And really, I’m not at all a type-A personality, so maybe I truly just don’t have any idea of how her interior life even begins to go! It matters not; all that matters is that this lady was an avenue of grace for me. When I look upon the Crucifix, I realize that it was not just on the Cross that Christ gave Himself for us in totality, but that He did it throughout His life in every small and big way possible. That is true self-donation: giving all of oneself in every moment of living and in the totality of death. This is my prayer and my plea, to be more like Him, to give more like Him, to love more like Him, to die more like Him.