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Christians say one day we’ll get new bodies, but what should we do with the ones we have now? Stories of neglect, obsession and trying to make peace with our bodies. This episode originally aired in 2019.

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#24: Where the Gospel Meets Body Image

Note: The Love Thy Neighborhood podcast is made for the ear, and not the eye. We would encourage you to listen to the audio for the full emotional emphasis of this episode. The following transcription may contain errors. Please refer to the audio before quoting any content from this episode. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So Dr. Gregg Allison was a professor of theology at Western Seminary when one afternoon a student came into his office needing some counsel.

GREGG ALLISON: And he explained all of the physical problems he was sensing. He was very tired, very weary, couldn’t sleep, had digestive problems, uh, just felt really out of sorts. And he said, ‘I wanna know what spiritual problem is at the heart of my physical problems.’

JESSE EUBANKS: So trying to dig a little deeper, Dr. Allison starts probing the student and asking more questions. 

GREGG ALLISON: ‘What are you eating?’ ‘Junk food.’ ‘Are you exercising?’ ‘No time for that.’ ‘Resting at all?’ ‘I fall asleep in the afternoon.’  And I said, ‘I think you’ve got physical problems,’ right? ‘You’re not taking care of your body.’

JESSE EUBANKS: Which sounds totally like a logical conclusion right? 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, like it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to be like, ‘Hey, you might have some unhealthy habits here.’

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah well, the student? The student was not buying it.

GREGG ALLISON: He looked at me askance, was very upset. He said, ‘I came to you for something from the word of God and you’re talking to me about physical things.’ And he basically walked out.

JESSE EUBANKS: And so we hear this and we might be like, ‘Oh, how ridiculous of this young adult to act this way.’ But the reality is like how many of us live our lives this way? Y’know, we’re concerned with what we consider like “spiritual matters” and then we reject anything that we would feel is quote unquote “earthly.”

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, well the other side of that is true too. Y’know, sometimes we can be so caught up in making sure we’re taking the right care of our bodies and that we look a certain way that eating anything not organic becomes a sin. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So which one’s right? I mean is it wrong to want a body that’s in shape? Is it bad to spend our college days living on Ramen noodles and late night runs to Taco Bell? Well, that encounter with the student made Dr. Allison realize that he didn’t really have a good answer. 

GREGG ALLISON: That plunged me into a crisis. So for the last 20 years, I’ve been thinking about human embodiment because I wanna have an answer to people who say, you know, ‘What’s going on? What does the Bible say about life in the human body?’


JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks.

RACHEL SZABO: And I’m Rachel Szabo. Every episode we hear stories of social justice and Christian community.

JESSE EUBANKS: Today’s episode is where the gospel meets body image. 

RACHEL SZABO: And for me and probably for a lot of our listeners too, the term “body image” makes me think of one thing and that is weight. And we’re certainly gonna talk about that, but it’s not the only thing we’re gonna talk about.

JESSE EUBANKS: We’ll be hearing from both women and men as we explore — What relationship should a Christian have with their physical body? From things we can change — like our pant size — to things we can’t — like birth defects. Does our physical appearance and our physical body even matter that much to God? Welcome to our corner of the urban universe.


JESSE EUBANKS: So last month, late night host Bill Maher went on a rant about addressing obesity in our country. Here’s some of what he had to say.

BILL MAHER CLIP: Being fat isn’t a birth defect. Nobody comes out of the womb needing to buy two seats on the airplane. We have gone to this weird place where fat is good. Fat shaming doesn’t need to end. It needs to make a comeback.

RACHEL SZABO: Gosh, and apparently he’s leading the charge. Like gah, that’s so inappropriate.

JESSE EUBANKS: Well yeah, and as you might expect, his comments sparked some controversy and caused another late night host James Corden to give a response on his own show.

JAMES CORDEN CLIP: Fat shaming never went anywhere. I mean ask literally any fat person. We are reminded of it all the time. And I’ve struggled my entire life trying to manage my weight and I suck at it. Right? I’ve had good days and bad months.

RACHEL SZABO: I’m like so uncomfortable right now, like he’s trying to be funny and I’m like I’m supposed to laugh but I’m laughing at his weight struggles and I feel like — there just feels like so much tension right now.   

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah it’s so hard to know how to talk about this. And the problem is that Christians don’t know how to talk about it, but our culture talks about it all the time. Our culture talks about body constantly. Y’know, we asked some of our listeners what topics they wanted to explore this season, and this topic of body image, it came up multiple times. People wanna know — What does God say about how I should view my body? 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and the answer is actually quite a bit.

So a quick google search suggests that there are up to 165 Bible verses that mention the body. So that’s more references than the word for hell in the Bible. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, and one of those verses is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter six, he writes this: ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.’

RACHEL SZABO: Okay so based on that verse, we could say that God wants us to view our body as sacred.

JESSE EUBANKS: Well yeah, think about it for a second. What did the temple symbolize in the Old Testament? 

RACHEL SZABO: It was where God was.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, it was the dwelling place of God. And so it was the place where you would go in order to meet God. It was where his presence was. And now God is saying that our very body is that place. And if that’s the case, then yeah, I think our bodies are really important.

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, but then you also have verses like in First Samuel where we’re told, y’know, ‘Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.’ Or Peter in one of his letters, he writes to the women that like, ‘Oh, don’t be concerned with your outward beauty. Just be concerned with your inward beauty.’ So those verses seem to suggest that actually the body’s not important and we shouldn’t pay attention to it.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah so, which is it? Are our bodies temples to be cared for? Or a secondary matter not worth our time? And let me answer that with a story. 

JONAH SAGE: My dad’s super fit business guy, my mom’s super fit beauty queen, my brother’s super fit popular guy, and then I’m like, ‘I’m just the chubby kid reading mythology.’

JESSE EUBANKS: So this is Jonah. Uh, obviously he’s not a kid anymore. But we need to start in his childhood because it was then that a profound moment regarding his own body image happened. So when Jonah was in the third grade, he moved to a new school. And his first day at this new school went great — until it was time to go home.

JONAH SAGE: I was standing outside waiting for the bus and like, y’know, it’s my first day, new school, I don’t really know the buses and what is my bus and how does all of this work? And this other girl is behind me and shoves me aside and says, ‘Get out of the way, blimp.’ And I was like, what does that mean? And I remember going home and being like, ‘What does — she called me a blimp. What? What?’ and just being confused, and that’s when I learned I was fat. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So from that day on, Jonah realized that his biggest problem in life was his body.

JONAH SAGE: That became the source of shame and insecurity, and it just affects everything. What clothes can I wear to try to manage that or sit in a certain way? Or, y’know, where, how do you stand in a picture? All, I mean, just all that kind of stuff.

JESSE EUBANKS: And to be fair, his family did try to help. His parents sent him to what he called a fat camp one summer. His dad reassured him that he’d thin out as he reached high school. But that did not end up happening. Jonah just always felt other because of his weight. But when he was 15, Jonah discovered a place of acceptance, a place where he wasn’t so different from everyone, where his weight didn’t hold him back. And that place was actually Christianity.

JONAH SAGE: I was like, with Christianity you just need your brain and what does it mean to be a good Christian or a mature Christian? It’s like, you got to know. You got to read big books and know big words. I can remember thinking that Christianity will be the thing that I can be good at, like really, really good at.

JESSE EUBANKS: Jonah was all in. He studied. He went to seminary. He eventually became a pastor. He was an incredible speaker with an incredible mind. A wife, two kids, and a church plant later, life was good. And then something happened that just stopped him dead in his tracks.

JONAH SAGE: I was doing my morning routine before going to church, I had two kids at the time. Everybody was asleep and I bent down to tie my shoes and I stood up and I was out of breath. 

JESSE EUBANKS: The act of bending down to tie his shoes put incredible strain on his body because Jonah had spent years nurturing his mind, but not his body.

JONAH SAGE: And I got on a scale two days later, and it was just, it was just devastating. That morning tying my shoes I weighed probably about 355. It was by far the heaviest I had ever been. I just felt like the number was saying, ‘This is how bad you are.’ Y’know, it’s just like this grand confirmation.


JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I mean Jonah was a pastor. So he had all the right theology, he knew all the Bible answers, and yet here his body was, still haunting him.  

JONAH SAGE: And then that moment, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I never wear shoes with laces on them because it’s difficult to tie my shoes.’ I stood up and was out of breath and had this feeling like, ‘Dude, if you feel this way after tying your shoes, you’re going to pay the consequences of this.’

JESSE EUBANKS: So do you know what gnosticism is?

RACHEL SZABO: I’ve heard of it before. I’m not sure I know exactly what it is.

JESSE EUBANKS: So gnosticism is a set of beliefs concerning our bodies and our souls, and actually it predates Christianity. 

GREGG ALLISON: This idea that our spirit, our soul, our immaterial being is way more valuable than our body or material being.

JESSE EUBANKS: Again this is Dr. Gregg Allison. He was the theology professor at the beginning of the episode, and remember he went on a quest to find answers to questions of body and faith. And in his studies he came across gnosticism, a belief started by the Greek philosopher Plato. 

GREGG ALLISON: Spirit and the mind and reason needs to dominate and control the body, and he saw salvation as the escape of the soul from the body. And Platonic philosophy deeply influenced some of the people in the early church.

JESSE EUBANKS: And this belief, that the soul and the body can be separated from one another and that the soul was all that mattered and the body didn’t really matter, it’s actually still really vibrant even in church today. 

GREGG ALLISON: And so we engage in spiritual disciplines and we seek to save souls and we never talk about the body. And I see it as this neo-gnostic or gnostic separation of the immaterial from the material. 

RACHEL SZABO: So what you’re saying is that the Bible doesn’t differentiate between body and spirit? Because I’m not sure that’s exactly true. 

JESSE EUBANKS: There is a distinction. But this idea of trying to live apart from your body or this idea that only soul matters, only spiritual things matter, and that the body doesn’t matter, is what Dr. Allison calls unbiblical. The reality is that the Bible just never tells us, ‘Oh, only your soul matters. Ignore your body.’

GREGG ALLISON: We are totally interlaced, interconnected. We are holistic human beings that God created us. There’s another realm — angelic beings — that’s immaterial. But God’s created human beings to be material. So the proper state of human existence is embodiment.

JESSE EUBANKS: And it was in that moment of trying to tie his shoes that Jonah realized he was trying to live a disembodied life. He was functionally a Christian gnostic. 

JONAH SAGE: My faith is mostly cognitive and mental, and I had tried to distance myself from my body. It’s just like a light switch flipped and I need to attend to my body. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, let’s pause for a second. So when it comes to this topic, we can basically boil it down to two ingredients. The first ingredient is stewardship. It is all about action. It’s about how am I caring for the body that I live in. The second ingredient is about acceptance. Can I make peace with the body that I live in for the age and stage of life that I’m in, the realities that I live with? So it’s all about stewardship and acceptance. So you take these two ingredients, and they can be broken down into four categories. And right now, at this point in his life, Jonah is actually in the first category. And that is low stewardship, low acceptance. 

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, so both of them are low for Jonah because stewardship he’s not been doing really anything to take care of his body and his acceptance is low because y’know, as he was talking, you can hear like there’s guilt and shame in regards to when he thinks about his body and what it looks like. 


RACHEL SZABO: Okay. So I wanna kinda swing this in the other direction because I think that there are many people, myself included, who actually — it’s not that they ignore their body. It’s that they think about their body actually way too much. 

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: It’s definitely a preoccupation. I’m constantly trying not to compare myself to other people.

RACHEL SZABO: Coming up: dieting, a next door neighbor, and a talking pig. We’ll be right back.


JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks.

RACHEL SZABO: And I’m Rachel Szabo. Today’s episode is where the gospel meets body image. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So we heard from Jonah Sage, who tried living his life ignoring his body. 

RACHEL SZABO: Right, and now I’d like to talk about the other end of the spectrum — obsession. And to do that, let me introduce you to a woman named Leslie. And just like for Jonah, the issue of body image goes all the way back to Leslie’s childhood.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: My parents both were very concerned with like exercise. So everything we had in the house was low fat, diet, all that stuff.

RACHEL SZABO: So Leslie grew up in the ‘80s. And if you remember, the ‘80s was like the low-fat craze. 


RACHEL SZABO: That was a pretty typical household for the ‘80s. It was normal. But then Leslie started talking about some stuff that started to become not quite so normal.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: We even had a pig in the fridge. It would oink at us when we opened it. It was a plastic pig, and it’d go ‘oink, oink, oink.’ Like talk about guilt and shame. Every time you open the fridge, you feel guilty. (laughs)

RACHEL SZABO: I’m just thinking about like — okay, I don’t know if you do this, but I do this in the middle of the night — I get hungry and so I go downstairs and I like find something to eat and I’m just thinking like it’s like 2 a.m. and if I go downstairs to get something to eat and all of a sudden there’s like ‘oink, oink, oink.’

JESSE EUBANKS: It’s so — that’s just so bad. I mean think about what that’s communicating to the person. By opening this fridge, you’re like a pig. 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, like it’s funny — like she laughs at it, like it’s funny — but then you think about it and it’s like — 

JESSE EUBANKS: It’s like, it’s like dark funny. 

RACHEL SZABO: That’s not funny.

JESSE EUBANKS: It’s like no, no…


JESSE EUBANKS: I’m so sorry Leslie.

RACHEL SZABO: Well, and here’s the thing. So it’s widely agreed that at least part of our body image is shaped by our environment. And so from early on, Leslie got the message that thin is good — and fat, it must be bad.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: I remember keeping a food journal since I was nine years old, trying to only eat three meals and two snacks a day. I remember looking at teen magazines and cutting out pictures and pasting them in a notebook and writing down ‘you need to look like her.’ I’ve always thought I needed to lose weight even when I didn’t.

RACHEL SZABO: But the thing is like her parents ran a tight ship, and so weight wasn’t ever really something that she needed to worry about really until she started spending more and more time at her neighbor’s house.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: Being at her house was a safe place ‘cuz sometimes home was just tumultuous and so I’d just run across the street.

RACHEL SZABO: So Leslie’s neighbor was this elderly woman, and she was like a southern grandma if you will, which means she always had food, she always had something for you to eat. And honestly Leslie was more than happy to oblige.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: And part of what I did there was eat because that was comforting and it was fun and she made me lots of yummy home-cooked food and donuts and big red… The cookie jar was always full. She always had ice cream. Yeah. So those are happy memories. 

RACHEL SZABO: So there was this study done in London that found it takes about two months to form a new habit. And so all this time Leslie was spending at her neighbor’s house, she was developing new habits. And one of those habits was indulging in sweets and large amounts of food. And, y’know, one of the reasons that she would indulge is, as she said, it was comforting, like the food became synonymous with comfort and safety.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: So I definitely equal comfort food with comfort.

RACHEL SZABO: And of course, if you eat a bunch of junk food for long enough, you start gaining weight. And so Leslie found herself caught between these two extremes.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: So it was like this back and forth of guilt, shame, guilt, shame, restrict, binge. 

RACHEL SZABO: And honestly that’s something she still struggles with, like even to this day.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: I’ve lost weight here and there, and during those times I feel on top of the world. I feel like I’m falsely putting my hopes in my looks or my weight, and then as soon as I gain it all back, which I do, then I’m full of guilt and shame again.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay so someone like Leslie may fall into the second body image category.

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, so in the first one, it was low stewardship, low acceptance.

JESSE EUBANKS: That’s right.


JESSE EUBANKS: So the second category is high stewardship, low acceptance. Like Jonah, Leslie also feels guilt and shame over the way that she looks, but the difference is that she’s disciplined. She can do the diets and the exercise plans.

RACHEL SZABO: Right, the question is just — to what end? And the end is so that I will feel worthy and accepted.

JESSE EUBANKS: And here’s what’s really tricky in this scenario. Y’know, back in our addiction episode, we talked about the underlying problem of misaligned relationships. And what do you do if you have a relationship that’s unhealthy or toxic? Typically you cut that relationship off. But we can’t just cut off our relationship with food. I mean, we have to eat to stay alive. That’s part of the way that God has designed our bodies.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and, y’know, so far with both Jonah and Leslie, their stories have had to do with this relationship of food being that they overeat. But also we can have an unhealthy relationship with food in that we undereat. Like you said, our bodies need nutrients, they need calories, in order to just be bodies. And so denying our body nutrition is also an unhealthy relationship. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So when it comes to food, it’s never as simple as saying, ‘Well, just stop it. Just end it. Just end that relationship’ because it’s a relationship that we don’t get a choice on. Either we let it remain the way that it is or we work on mending it.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: ‘Cuz food can be very personal, like it’s almost like another person in the relationship. I want to be alone with it. It’s always been there. It’s comforting. I can kind of control it as far as when I want it, how much I want.

RACHEL SZABO: So for Leslie, body image is this constant back and forth battle. And while she’s made progress, she isn’t where she’d like to be.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: I think I’m better than I was 10 years ago. I’m much more comfortable with myself. We have a little sign in our house that — the word is ‘presence.’ I said ‘that’s what I want.’ I want to not be preoccupied with looking at other people, comparing, counting points or counting calories or exercising or sizes. I wanna be present in the moment, and I struggle with that because of all these preoccupations.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, realigning our relationships and making peace with our bodies, it’s hard work, but it’s work that’s worth it. So let me finish telling you Jonah’s story. 


JESSE EUBANKS: So when we last left him, Jonah came to this realization that he couldn’t go on ignoring his body, but he wasn’t sure where to go from there. And so Jonah started seeing a counselor.

JONAH SAGE: But he told me to go out in the woods and write down all the ways I self-medicate and avoid pain, and I stopped when I got to about 32 different things that I was doing. And I saw how many of those were consumption oriented, y’know, whether it’s going to a Chinese buffet or smoking cigarettes or, I mean, just all these things that had to do with putting something in my mouth and eating.

JESSE EUBANKS: And this was a huge revelation for Jonah. So he brought this list back to the counselor and was like ‘Okay, now what? What do I do?’ And the counselor didn’t say, ‘Oh, Jonah, you need to go get on a diet plan and make all these changes to your habits.’ He simply said, ‘See if you can catch yourself doing some of the things on the list.’

JONAH SAGE: And that discipline of paying attention helped me see how many things were lying to me.

JESSE EUBANKS: And I think it’s worth saying, y’know, at the top of the episode we talked about the student that came to Dr. Gregg Allison and was like ‘What’s going on with me spiritually and here’s all these physical issues.’ And in that case, it really was predominantly an issue of the kid wasn’t getting enough sleep, they weren’t eating right, they were not caring for their bodies, but there wasn’t necessarily some deeper spiritual issue at play. 

RACHEL SZABO: Right, like there wasn’t this whole big spiritual thing going on necessarily. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Right. In this scenario, y’know, Jonah and Leslie both talk about this relationship with food that has this deeper kind of meaning, this bigger relational component to it.

RACHEL SZABO: And so if we’re gonna address that side of the body image, that means we’ve gotta do some internal work.

JESSE EUBANKS: Absolutely. Like it’s not enough to say ‘Oh, I’m gonna get really, really, really fit, and I’m gonna completely neglect, y’know, the deeper terrain of my soul.’ 


JESSE EUBANKS: It’s a both-and.

JONAH SAGE: Like a Chinese buffet was about feeling like somebody loved me and being in control. My life was chaotic, and I felt overlooked and taken advantage of and underappreciated. So I can go to the Chinese buffet and have a little one-man party and feel like I’m cared for for a little bit. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And you hear this and it’s easy to think like ‘So, what’s the big deal? What’s really wrong with that?’ And that actually brings us to the third category. So category one was low stewardship, low acceptance. Category two was high stewardship, low acceptance. Category three is low stewardship, high acceptance. Take Jonah at this Chinese buffet. So you’ve got some acceptance going on, an attitude and mentality that says, ‘Oh, I’m worth it. I deserve this.’ 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, treat yo self.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah totally, like treat yo self, except it’s like in a way that’s not healthy and not life-giving. 

RACHEL SZABO: And I think, y’know, with this category and talking about high acceptance, here we maybe need to compassionately and considerately kind of tread into the waters of the body positivity movement. 

JESSE EUBANKS: What do you mean by that?

RACHEL SZABO: So, okay, lots of what the body positivity movement has brought is wonderful. Y’know, bodies come in all different shapes and sizes and colors and abilities, and we love that, like we don’t need to look down on ourselves if we don’t have X body type. As Christians, y’know, we embrace diversity within our bodies, and our level of love for someone should not be determined by someone’s physical appearance.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I think I agree, like I think those are really positive things. So what are the negative things that concern you?

RACHEL SZABO: So one New York Times contributor wrote this. She said, ‘The problem with today’s version of body positivity is that it refuses to acknowledge that no one approach is right for every person.’ Some people may need to hear, y’know, ‘accept the body that you’re in. You can love yourself for the way you are.’ But if I say ‘accept the body you’re in’ when that body has type two diabetes and a diet change and exercise could add another decade onto their life? It’s not loving for me to tell that person, ‘Oh, just accept the body you’re in.’ Like no, I need to be encouraging that person ‘you should make some changes to your body.’

JESSE EUBANKS: So yeah, so this is basically what happened to Jonah. I mean, after Jonah began to do all of this internal work, he began to realize like ‘I cannot continue down this course of accepting my body as it is. I need to address what’s going on in my body.’ And so Jonah actually decided to make a drastic change.

JONAH SAGE: I lost a ton of weight. I don’t know how else to say it. So I lost 170 pounds in about 10 months. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Y’know, I didn’t realize that Jonah was actually in the process of losing weight. It was like a window of time where I hadn’t seen him for a while.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, ‘cuz Jonah, Jonah’s a friend of ours.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, he’s a friend of ours. And I had this mental picture of him and then he walked in, y’know, to our offices and I couldn’t reconcile my mental picture of him with the physical person in front of me.

RACHEL SZABO: It’s like this thing where you’re like ‘I feel like I know this person, but I can’t quite place them.’ 

JESSE EUBANKS: I mean, as he said, like he lost a human being off of his body. I mean it was not a small amount. He lost a dramatic amount of weight. 

And here’s the thing. Like now that he’s longer overweight, the journey with his body isn’t magically over. 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, I feel like this is the point in the story where like ‘and he lost weight and he lived happily ever after.’

JESSE EUBANKS: No, and that’s not what’s happening at all. Y’know, in fact, he’s having to adjust to a whole new set of problems.

JONAH SAGE: I thought I was dying. I went to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. At one point I had this sweet old cardiologist put his hands on my shoulders, and he said, ‘Jonah, you’re a fat person living in a thin person’s body and it’s going to take you two or three years to get used to what this feels like.’ I’d never felt my heartbeat in my chest before.

JESSE EUBANKS: And now that he’s paying attention to all this stuff going on inside of him, one of the things that he notices too is he has a lot of anxiety that he never noticed before.

JONAH SAGE: One of my doctors thinks that because of how fast I lost the weight, my thyroid was producing hormones for a 350-pound person’s body and putting it in a 180 person’s body. And so little things would just spike me into panic attacks. And so there’s things — like I feel like a stranger in my own body.

JESSE EUBANKS: But Jonah’s weight isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Before he would have said that his body was excluded from his faith. But now? He says his body is actually a part of his faith.

JONAH SAGE: Part of taking care of my body has been learning to honor it and learning that God communicates to me through it, that the Christian faith is an embodied faith, where we’re working together, as opposed to my body being in my way or my body being something that I just want to get rid of or hide. And to honor that as a necessary part of my walk with Jesus, like my life happens in my body and I need my body to be in relationship with anybody, including Jesus.

RACHEL SZABO: I’m super thankful for Jonah and Leslie and for them sharing their stories. It’s really personal stuff. But also there’s a whole other aspect of this that we haven’t even talked about yet. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay. What’s that?

RACHEL SZABO: Well, so we’ve talked about our diet, our weight, our fitness, things that we can physically alter. But I want to talk to someone about what does it mean to think about body image when there’s things about your body that you physically cannot change. 

LIZ MENDEZ: Well it’s really hard to be fearfully and wonderfully made when your face is crooked.

RACHEL SZABO: Stay with us.


JESSE EUBANKS: Welcome back to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks.

RACHEL SZABO: And I’m Rachel Szabo. Today — where the gospel meets body image. So we’ve talked about the importance of our bodies, how our physical bodies are actually a part of our faith. But what do you do when something about your body just can’t be changed? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Like a congenital disorder? 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, like different medical conditions or gene mutations. Like how should we view our bodies then? And so to answer that, I talked with a young lady named Liz.

LIZ MENDEZ: So essentially I was born with only one ear. The left side of my face is smaller than my right side considerably and only half of a jaw.

RACHEL SZABO: So when Liz was born, she had a gene mutation that caused her face to be disproportionate and to only have one ear. And that’s a reality that actually was not received very well by her family.

LIZ MENDEZ: So for my father, he would always like find a way to cover it up. I was never allowed to wear my hair up. Or like he made sure to get me sunglasses so that no one would know that I didn’t have an ear. And it was just something for him that he like hid away. 

RACHEL SZABO: But Liz’s mother thought there’s gotta be a way to fix this. And actually there is.

LIZ MENDEZ: I had about 20 operations from the age of four to the age of 12. 

RACHEL SZABO: So there’s this process called ear reconstruction, and what doctors do is they take parts of your skin and they actually mold and construct it into what looks like an ear…


RACHEL SZABO: …and then they attach it to the side of your head. And it’s a super lengthy, super precise process. And if at any point something goes wrong, you have to start all over from the beginning. 

LIZ MENDEZ: I had reached stage two and they had reconstructed like a good portion of it and my ear just fell off into my hands and I couldn’t feel anything by that point.

RACHEL SZABO: And so the reason she couldn’t feel anything by that point was because this was the fourth attempt at this surgery. And so what was left from all those failed attempts wasn’t just that she still didn’t have an ear, but now she also had a sea of scar tissue on the left side of her face. And so even if Liz wanted to try the operation again, it would never work. So this is going to be Liz’s body for the remainder of her life, and there’s no way for her to change that. 

LIZ MENDEZ: And of course, like I’ve heard, y’know, Psalm 139, like fearfully and wonderfully made. My perception is like, ‘Oh, fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s like almost perfection, right?’ Like that’s what that means. It’s like, ‘Oh no, nothing’s wrong.’

JESSE EUBANKS: Liz is talking about the fact that she can’t change this element of her body, and she’s talking about it from the perspective of what, y’know, would genetically be known as a deformity. But there’s also realities of things that we can’t change, and it’s not deformity. It’s just we can’t change it. Like ethnicity, like I can’t change my skin color. I traveled to Africa many years ago, and I was like a rock star. Everywhere I went, people were fascinated by me because so many people in these villages where I was had never seen somebody that looked like me. And honestly, it was not a great experience. It was very uncomfortable. Well what if I was a missionary there and I was like ‘Oh, I would give anything just to change my skin color? But I can’t.’

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and so y’know for Liz, she’s gone to lots of counseling sessions and spent lots of time in prayer, and the conclusion she’s come to is this. She’s just gonna trust with childlike faith what God says in his Word — that she is fearfully and wonderfully made. 

LIZ MENDEZ: It still took a little while after that, like okay wait. I don’t really know what fearfully and wonderfully made is, like I think we all have our own definition of what fearfully and wonderfully made is. Like how do I know that this isn’t fearfully and wonderfully made? 

JESSE EUBANKS: There’s a reality that on this side of heaven our bodies just are not perfect, but part of our hope in Jesus is that we will receive resurrected, glorified bodies. But when you read about the resurrected Jesus, he doesn’t have what we might consider quote ‘a perfect body.’ I mean, he retains his scars. He tells Thomas, ‘Put your hand in my side.’ The wounds are still visible. They tell the story. It gets into this idea of like how much will we change in the future and, y’know, how much are our bodies going to be different when we receive these glorified bodies and how much are our bodies very much going to be the bodies that we are in but somehow they are made full? It’s like this mystery that I can’t get my brain around. The only thing I can say is that whatever’s gonna happen is gonna be good.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, it’s gonna be better than the best we can think. Right?


RACHEL SZABO: That’s what God says, right? God’s Word says you can’t even imagine what I have planned for you.

LIZ MENDEZ: So it took a couple of years of like wrestling with it and like kind of being okay with it, reminding myself that, y’know, that God loves me. God loves me. Like and there are no parameters for that.

RACHEL SZABO: And so Liz does what she can to accept the body that she’s in, which honestly makes for some really funny moments, like this one story she told me about this time that she was at a Starbucks.

LIZ MENDEZ: And this little kid looks at me and he goes, ‘Where’s your ear?’ And I’m like, ‘Ah, left it at home.’ He goes, ‘What? That’s dumb.’ And so I was like, ‘Where’s your ear?’ And he just gets this really shocked and fear, like fearful expression on his face and then he touches both his ears just to make sure they’re still there.

JESSE EUBANKS (laughs): That’s amazing.

RACHEL SZABO: And like Liz knows she hasn’t arrived yet. She’s just like all of us. She’s on a journey of embodied faith.

LIZ MENDEZ: That doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t work on things or that I don’t look in the mirror every once in a while and I’m like ‘really wish my face was straight’ or take pictures and be like, ‘Mmm, this would be a better picture if my face was straight.’ Y’know, that still sometimes happens, but like at the core root of it, like I also know like God loves me and I think that changes a lot for me. And I think that definitely changed like my acceptance of myself, especially physically. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I’m not nearly as tall as I wish that I were. If I had my choice, I would be just about six inches taller than I am.

RACHEL SZABO: Six inches?

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I would totally take six inches. Would you be any taller?

RACHEL SZABO: No, I like my height. I would make my head bigger. Do you know my head is so small? These are children’s glasses that I wear because adult glasses are too big on my face. 

JESSE EUBANKS (laughs): You’re like ‘kid’s meal please. Yes, the rest of my body is 31, but my head is 12 years old.’

RACHEL SZABO: My head is still 12 and under. (laughter)

JESSE EUBANKS: Y’know, ever since that student walked into his office that afternoon, Dr. Gregg Allison has scoured the Bible for truths about the human body and he’s actually in the process of writing a book about what he’s found. But even for him, this hasn’t been a purely academic exercise because even he finds himself on this journey.

GREGG ALLISON: Right, I’m 65 years old. The culture I live in is youth oriented. I can be very discouraged about myself. I can hate the way I’m looking and aging and all that or I can say, ‘Hey, this is the way my body wants to be. I take care. I swim. I eat pretty healthily. I love ice cream. I’m gonna live to the fullest my 65-year-old existence.

JESSE EUBANKS: So Dr. Allison is leading us into the fourth category, and that fourth category is high stewardship and high acceptance. This is the biblical view, y’know, growing in our stewardship of our bodies and growing in a proper view of our bodies, so not hating them and not making them an idol. 

RACHEL SZABO: The other thing too is we’re not trying to put any unnecessary burdens on ourselves, like this is gonna look different for each of us. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, and I would add to that, if all you’ve heard in these stories is a message of guilt and shame, that is not the full gospel. Our hope isn’t in getting our relationship with our body right, in checking off all the boxes and doing all the right things, because that has been done for us.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and that’s actually a truth that gives Leslie a lot of hope.

LESLIE AUSTIN GREEN: Christ took my bingeing. Christ has taken on my issues with food, my gluttony, my vanity, overexercising, he wore that so that I could wear his, y’know, clothing.

JESSE EUBANKS: In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, right before he tells them that their bodies are temples, he says this — ‘Our bodies were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies.’ A truth Jonah has come to appreciate.

JONAH SAGE: So seeing all these ways in the Scriptures where God is caring for people’s physical bodies. The first thing the resurrected Jesus does with Peter, ‘Hey, can we have some fish for breakfast?’ Again he makes him breakfast, tends to his physical body. And I never did that. Part of the problem is we have a hard time identifying is this healthy or unhealthy. We confuse ourselves, and there’s a way of living that seems right to a man and in the end it leads to death. It seems right. It looks good. But it’s not just the losing weight. It’s, it’s learning to see the significance of our bodies.

JESSE EUBANKS: Y’know, it’s very, very obvious that God cares about bodies. Because if he didn’t, why would Jesus have become incarnate? You know, the biggest example we see in human history of God caring about our bodies is the fact that God came in the flesh, in person. And it wasn’t just exclusively so he could die on the cross for us, but it was so that he could come and he could touch us and walk with us and live in body just like we are. And so we have to get to a place where we as God’s people can make peace with the bodies that we live in. Our bodies will not last forever, but he promises us that he’ll give us new ones. But that also at the same time doesn’t mean that we can just neglect the ones that we have. It doesn’t mean that we should live as despairing people, but it also means that we shouldn’t put all of our hope in our body. So the question still comes down to — how can I steward my body to the best of my ability given my specific details in life and how can I accept what God in his goodness has given me, believing that he will not withhold anything from me because he’s a loving Father?


JESSE EUBANKS: To listen to other episodes of this podcast or for more resources, including a free chart of the four body image categories, head over to


JESSE EUBANKS: Special thanks to our interviewees for this episode — Dr. Gregg Allison, Jonah Sage, Leslie Austin Green, and Liz Mendez. 

RACHEL SZABO: Our senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks.

JESSE EUBANKS: Our co-host today is Rachel Szabo, who is also our producer, technical director, editor, and 2011 Just Dance champion.

RACHEL SZABO: Additional editing by Resonate Recordings.

JESSE EUBANKS: Music for today’s episode comes from Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear, and Blue Dot Sessions. Theme music and commercial music by Murphy DX.

RACHEL SZABO: Apply for your social justice internship supported by Christian community by visiting Serve for a summer or a year. Grow in your faith and life skills.

JESSE EUBANKS: Which of these was a neighbor to the man in need? The one who showed mercy. Jesus tells us, ‘Go, and do likewise.’ 


This podcast is only made possible by generous donors like you!


Thank you to our interviewees: Dr. Gregg Allison, Jonah Sage, Leslie Austin Green and Liz Mendez.
This episode was produced and written by Rachel Szabo and Jesse Eubanks. This episode was mixed by Rachel Szabo.
Senior Production by Jesse Eubanks.
Hosted by Jesse Eubanks and Rachel Szabo.
Soundtrack music from Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions & Murphy D.X.