Note: The faith being referred to in this essay is specifically Christianity, to which the author subscribes.
The devil has been in a war for my soul. In a deliberately insidious way, to keep me from immediately realizing what he was doing so I could end its influence early. He chose the route of my body.
If the devil’s greatest desire is to wrest away the worship mankind is meant to give to God and redirect it towards himself, it should be known that he tailors each of our temptations personally. It wouldn’t have been easy to shake my faith from its theological foundations, hence the back-route.
Let me tell you why personalized temptations are extremely dangerous: it’s very, very easy to hold macro beliefs about big things, like the nature of the world and the origins of creation, even as these beliefs contrast with your micro beliefs; beliefs about yourself as an individual, yourself in a moment, you as a specific soul encased in flesh, going about your mundane tasks. When your temptations are personalized, you can be attacked in ways that wouldn’t affect the person sitting right next to you, even if you both hold the same macro beliefs. You are both still very different people on a micro level.
I know how common physical insecurities are. For example, I think my nose is too wide, my buttocks protrude too much, I can’t believe I still don’t have a flat stomach, and my forehead takes up approximately half my face. But these are things I can rationally explain based on the evidence around me. I see my relatives all the time. I know from which genealogical line I inherited which physical characteristics. I know my health habits. My dissatisfaction with these parts of my body is typical and isn’t quite where the devil’s attacks are concentrated. They’re concentrated in the characteristics of my body that aren’t visible.
It seems to me that, at any moment of my life, I am experiencing some bodily malfunction—whether the issue is that I’m on the fourth day of a relentless migraine, or the fourth day after a slightly strenuous activity when I can still barely leave my bed but to go to the bathroom. I can work on a project for six hours in one day and then be entirely nonfunctional for the next two days because I maxed out. I can watch two movies in a day and not be able to tolerate either natural or artificial light for the next two days because my very photosensitive eyes over-stretched their limits of safe photon consumption. My apartment mates can go out every night of the week, but after one time, my limbs will turn to lead and my mind will balk at the thought of seeing another human being for the next week. Back pains, chest pains, wrist pains, eye pains, neck pains—it’s as if a part of me is always in pain, from performing the most normal activities of the 21st century. Not to mention that I suffer from anxiety, which almost always manifests physically; my heart rate misbehaving, or a sweat breakout, or my muscles tensing up to harmful degrees.
I have been aware for a long time now that my physical capacity, for nearly anything, is significantly lower than that of the average human being around me. And this frustrates me endlessly. It makes me feel like I am a product of bad design. I often don’t know what else I’m supposed to think. My body literally cannot seem to function like everyone else’s, and I don’t have any medical condition that I’m aware of and which can explain it. In fact, I used to be a hyper-active child with few to no complications. This lack of capacity that makes my young adult body feel half a century old doesn’t seem genetic. On the contrary, my family has a penchant for living remarkably long and mostly-healthy lives. In the absence of explanation, especially throughout 2018, when the effects have seemed the most dramatic, I have only been able to conclude that I am a product of bad design. As a matter of fact, between my physical problems and my many psychological ones, I started thinking God made me like this because he hated me. I can’t count the number of times I have wailed to my best friend, “Why does God hate me? What did I do?”
For a faith-ascribing person, it’s obvious why this is a dangerous thing to believe. I mean, who do I think designed me, based on my own theological beliefs? The devil’s strategy was to get me to damn myself.
I remember, a few months ago, having a conversation with my best friend about my insistence that I was badly designed. He asked me a question kind of like this: “So, when the Psalmist says, ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made,’ you don’t think this applies to you?” And I told him that was exactly right, I didn’t think that applied to me at all. I think he asked me, as a follow-up question, if I believed the Psalmist’s statement applied to everyone else, and I said yes, I believed it did. Just not to me.
In terms of faith, what did that make me? I didn’t want to think about the answer to that question. But even unbidden, thoughts and questions invaded my mind. Did I really believe my perfect God made a mistake in creating me? Yeah. Did that make sense? Shh! Did I really believe the Master Crafter, the Intelligent Designer, designed me badly? Yeah. Did that make sense? Be quiet! By calling myself a bad design, wasn’t I calling God a bad designer?
My overwhelming cognitive dissonance came from a peculiar type of idolatry. I believed myself to be a piece of evidence powerful enough to single-handedly, exceptionally, negate everything else true about my Creator and his creations. I didn’t bother to examine the poisonous roots of why I thought I should get to be the exception.
Fun fact: There is literally no reason why I should get to be the exception. Related: I’m not an exception.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
There is nothing about this that indicates carelessness, hatred or unintentionality. But I did not share the premise of the Psalmist’s praise. And why? Simply because my body didn’t seem to have been built like everybody else’s around me, whether “healthy” (like me—theoretically) or “sick” (as in diagnosed with identifiable, physical, medical conditions)? Is the fact that I do not understand my design enough to call it bad design—for me to withhold the worship I should have been giving God for how I am made, like the Psalmist does? Not in the least.
Redirecting praise of my design to God—and in so doing, attacking my unbelief—is a difficult battle I have only just committed to start fighting. In fact, I started writing this essay while under unofficial house-arrest and being nearly bedridden thanks to my body’s final, incredibly dramatic, week-long malfunction of 2018. (More on this in a subsequent essay.)
Praising God for my design doesn’t involve the problematic route of thinking that says, “Thank you God that at least I’m not like so-and-so person on their deathbed with cancer” or “Thank you God that at least I’m not like that person with the disability in a wheelchair.” No. We don’t praise God because of “at least.” We don’t praise God by comparison to those we consider less fortunate than us. We praise God because we are fearfully, wonderfully and intentionally made, no matter in what configurations. That is all.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence or things not seen—and not understood, for that matter. Now, I can’t see what the purpose of me being designed the way I’m designed could possibly be—but I have to hope that there is one and believe that it is good. I don’t understand why my physical self behaves the way it does, but I have to trust that the Maker who decreed that it should work this way does understand it. All in faith. I am an intentionally created being, designed like I was meant to function. And in refusing to understand that, I would be refusing to worship God in a very important regard, as someone who was made in His image. As Jesus’ sister, best believe that’s not on my agenda. In other words, “Not today, Satan.”
I’m at the foot of the stairway of re-orientation. There’s a very, very long climb ahead. Thankfully, I don’t have to try completing it on my own.