Response: May 2016 Issue

You Are That Temple

Healthy sexuality is knowing our value and self-worth as God’s holy creation.

You Are That Temple
Yvette Richards, left, and Stephanie Greiner.

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. — 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul tells us we are sacred to God, our bodies are sacred to God. Yet many of us struggle with this concept when it comes to the value we place on ourselves and specifically on our bodies. Most women will agree that at some point in our lives, we have all hated some aspect of our physical bodies. Advertising thrives on our insecurities, with depictions of the perfect (airbrushed) woman and claims that their product will produce that "perfection." We might hate the way our eyes look, the tone of our skin, the shape of our hips, or some other facet of our appearance. But Paul tells us, "God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." This does not mean that we shouldn't strive to improve ourselves, both physically and mentally — it means that God loves us as we are, all shapes and sizes, and we should love ourselves as God loves us.

Care for the temple

So my body's a temple. Well, I think my temple needs a little less cheesecake and a little more water. Maybe a little more sleep and a little more skin care. This temple is exhausted-chasing after two children, working full time and trying to have a personal life. I can hear many of my seasoned United Methodist Women friends telling me: just wait until you hit 50 or 60 and you won't care anymore what people think! But I've come to realize it's not what people think that has caused me to question my value; it's my life experience, my self-talk, my toxic relationships of the past that have started to crack my temple.

I am my own worst enemy. I spent my 20s in multiple long-term relationships because I simply was not going to graduate college without a husband. When that didn't happen, I became more determined to not finish my master's degree without a husband. I had two degrees but still couldn't be proud of myself because I did not have a husband. If I had no significant other to value me, how could I value myself?

In attempts to seem more appealing to a potential partner, I would transform into a person that even my closest friends didn't recognize. I would be whomever the person I was dating wanted me to be. It's no surprise, then, that I ended up in multiple failed relationships that left me feeling worthless. I would allow a partner to speak to me in ways I would never expect someone who loved me to speak to me. I made excuses for physical violence, so much so that when I found a man who was willing to marry me I excused all of this behavior. My value was in being someone's wife, not in being someone.

Supportive community

My story is not much different than many others. So many women believe they aren't worthy of love or respect. When we reject ourselves we reject God and the value God has for us. We are temples and we are sacred — but being broken and beaten down, it's very hard to remember this.

Sometimes we project our own shortcomings onto other women, or are one another's harshest — and most unfair — critics. We put other women down instead of lifting them up. The whispers, name-calling, competition and judgment chip away at our individual and collective value. It's often hard not to pit ourselves against one another in a world that preaches scarcity and individualism. But we are people of faith, we are United Methodist Women, and we believe in God's abundance and a table with a seat for all.

Sex and self-worth

As I started studying The Bible and Human Sexuality: Claiming God's Good Gift by Ellen A. Brubaker, the 2016 United Methodist Women spiritual growth study, I realized that one of the strongest themes is the value we place on ourselves in regard to our sexuality. Sexuality has so many different meanings, in society and in the Bible, and we all have our own interpretations of what sexuality is or is not, but the concept of self-worth and sex is one that really connected with me while reading this book.

"As we form a sexual ethic, we must understand our bodies as a gift from the God who created us and called us good," Ms. Brubaker states. Our bodies, all shapes, sizes and colors, are good because they are a gift from God. When we can begin to understand that our physical, sexual, body is a gift from God and not dependent on another person's perspective we begin to honor ourselves as the sacred temples God made us to be. We begin to set boundaries, set standards and set out to be comfortable in our own skin, and this begins to change how we see everything, including sex.

Sex! We hear about it, we see it and we even talk about it, but what value do we place on it? Sin, lust, discrimination, abuse are all words that many of us have come to connect with the word sex. We forget that sex is ultimately God's good gift and that sex is also love, intimacy and trust. Sex, like anything else, can have two sides, good and evil, but part of ensuring that we have a healthy sexuality is knowing our value and appreciating ourselves.

Author and professor Kristin Neff has written about self-compassion, specifically researching how failure leads us to be highly self-critical and how mistakes can make us so insecure and anxious that we give up early when faced with future challenges. When you're in a relationship and experiencing domestic violence, whether physical, emotional or financial, you are in a constant environment of losing. You believe that you are not good enough, and you start to allow that to filter into other areas of your life.

After my divorce it took a lot of time before I could really feel good about who I was again. Everything I had done for six years was never right, or good, in my spouse's eyes. I started down the same path I had previously traveled: basing my self-worth on what a man thought about me, needing a man to tell me I'm beautiful and worth loving. Thankfully, I noticed that I had fallen back into this pattern and I decided that was it! I am a sacred temple! I have value, and if I didn't start finding it for myself no other person would ever be able to fill that need for me.

It's been a long road. Four years and I'm just now starting to really feel comfortable with and accepting of myself. I'm starting to see my value past what is on the outside, and now I make decisions about my body and my sexuality based on what I want too — not only on what someone else wants. I feel healthier and stronger. I enjoy knowing that I am a sacred temple, all of me, and I make room for those in my life who value me for me and who I want to be. I will no longer settle for less than I deserve — and I know now that I deserve to be loved and respected. I know God's love for me, and now I can love myself.

Stephanie Greiner is president of United Methodist Women at Wesley United Methodist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri, and communications coordinator for the Mid-State District of the Missouri Conference United Methodist Women. She works full time as an e-learning curriculum design specialist for the Missouri Department of Corrections in Jefferson City.

Posted or updated: 5/3/2016 11:00:00 PM