This post continues a series of adult reflections on our children’s curriculum, The Body Matters.
One of our most thought-provoking books is “The Body is God’s Design” for third graders. It was originally called “The Body is Limited for Love” but the idea of limits posed some issues that we wanted to avoid in the title, so we could have a chance to put some context on it for readers.
I’ll bet you haven’t ever thought of limits being good. I hadn’t. I have always been most inspired by people who overcame limits, like Wounded Warriors who run an ultramarathon on prosthetic legs or chair-bound basketball players or 75-year old triathletes. How can limits be good?
I’m guessing that most of us would be stumped by that. Indeed, overcoming limits that are imposed on us by injury or accident or age is a marvelous feat of courage and determination. But some limits are inherent in the design of the human body itself.
Our hands have opposable thumbs, which means we are designed to handle things, do delicate work, pick up objects and use them. We might be more limited in speed than a cheetah, but our thumbs allow us to become creators and artists. The limit tells us who we are and what we’re meant to do.
Our eyes face front, which means we are designed to be moving forward, not back. We are limited in that we can be overtaken or surprised from behind, but by our design, we are oriented forward. We are future-looking; we advance.
We experience hunger, which means we must refuel ourselves from the bounty God has given us on the earth.
We smile and laugh, which means we are meant to experience joy and to express that joy to others.
We also develop illness if we eat too much for too long, a limit which means we must develop self-mastery. Learning to control our own passions frees us to love others, to choose their well-being over our own appetites.
It’s clear that certain limits, hard-wired into the human body, are the very things that teach us to love, our highest vocation.
Infants who aren’t touched or held in their earliest days will stop growing even when they have proper nutrition, and have even died for no other reason than that they haven’t been touched. That shows us how deeply it is designed into human beings to live in a community of love. The body tells us that by its limits.
We like to think of ourselves as limitless. But we can never really know ourselves and our purpose in this life if we are blind to limits.
In The Body Is God’s Design, we point out that we come from our particular families which means we are designed for a community of love.
Theology of the body teaches us that our purpose in life (which so many people are desperately searching for) is discoverable through our bodies. The particular characteristics of the human body, and its limits, show what humans are designed to do: to love! Our limits are for love.
Understood in this way, limits are the best thing about human beings, because they lead us to love. Were we entirely self-sufficient from start to finish, we would probably never learn to love.
One personal thing I have learned from honoring limits concerns aging. I recently passed into my seventh decade of life… and there are genuine limits that become noticeable to “people of a certain age.”
The degradation of our bodies with age was not in God’s original plan before sin intruded, but God brings good out of it. Theology of the body teaches me to find the deeper truth about God’s love that those limits are telling me.
The age of my body tells me that I’m closer to the end of my life than the beginning, and it is amazing how that nudges me to a closer walk with God.
As a long-time runner, there is no denying that I’m getting slower as I age. What’s good about that? I enjoy running more for its context; that is, I can pray when I run at a slower pace, I notice my surroundings more, I have more tolerance of conversation. My body is showing me that there is joy to be discovered in the activity itself, and in sharing it with other people, not so much in competition, which is more separating.
My eyesight is weakening, which means I have to look at things more closely. I have to slow down and pay more attention. I see things I would not otherwise have seen.
I don’t move quite as easily, which means I’m spending more time reading than flitting about. My body is slowing down but my knowledge is expanding, and with it, my wonder at the universe.
In our 3rd-grade book, The Body Is God’s Design, we teach 9 and 10 year olds to discover how the limits of their body teach them to love. That wisdom is even more acute for a 60 year-old.
The world would teach us to bemoan advancing age, to hide or surgically avoid the effects, to fight continually against any limits. Theology of the Body teaches us to trust God’s design, to find what great gifts He has for us at every stage of the body, to always seek to do better what the body teaches us, which is to love.
The call to love written into our bodies is a lifetime journey.
“Thank you, God, for the gift of my body’s limits so I can love and be loved. Amen.”
For more information or to order The Body Matters books, click here.