I’ve never thought of myself as an “us versus them” kind of girl. I’m the person who tried never to exclude people at the fourth-grade lunch table because I just so badly wanted to be included. Making sure everyone belonged, every time, was a badge I wore as proudly as the ones I stapled onto my Girl Scout sash in elementary school. (I obviously never earned my sewing badge.)
One of the ways I have been most proud of including people is in my stories that deal with being overweight. If you love me, you might call me “curvy” or “Rubenesque.” But if you’re on the internet, hidden by a computer screen, you might call me “huge” or “gross.” I’ve been called both. By Christians. In God’s love, of course. Because, as I’ve been reminded over and over again, “gluttony is a sin.”
So I wrote an article for all my curvy friends who struggle with their weight. I wrote to say that while you may not always love your body size, God can use it, because others who see your struggle can know that you are a safe person compared to those who appear perfect.
And I heard from women. A lot of women.
It felt great to give a voice to these women who so often feel like the world is not built for them. I heard from a lot of people who said, “This is exactly my story” or “I feel this so deeply.” So many of us have the same story. Because of our appearance, we’ve felt judged before fully stepping into the room. We’ve felt excluded when people critique our perceived weakness before we’ve even had a conversation with them. We’ve felt like “less than” Christians because of our battle with our weight.
But now we curvy girls had found each other, and we could see each other in our shared imperfection. The presumption was, “You are safe and you are loved exactly as you are.” I was excited to know that women who often feel so “other” were finding a measure of hope and peace through my words. Talking about my weight is never easy, but I’m willing to do it so that someone else can feel more seen and less alone.
Can I be honest with you? I even wanted to start a club for Christian women whose BMI is not socially acceptable. I wanted a permanent safe place where we could build a fort and not let any of those mean voices from our everyday lives (or, even worse, the internet) have the password to get in. I had found my people, and we shopped in the plus-size section.
So, I was a little taken aback by the voice message I got from my newish friend, Becky Keife, who started out by saying, “I just need you to know what an impact your article has had on me.” She went on to say that she had never before thought of her weakness as being a shortcut to connection, and she was grateful to have this new perspective, all because I’d been vulnerable in an article.
Why did I find this odd? Because one look at Becky would confirm that she is not and probably never has been plus-sized. I had to take a beat. Why would she connect with my article about being fat?
And to be perfectly honest, for just a moment I thought, “But I didn’t write this article for you.”
It never occurred to me that someone who didn’t look like me could understand or connect with my experience. I was so busy trying to connect with the people who looked like me that I became the one “othering” someone who felt the same pangs of struggle I did, just with a lower BMI.
You see, what I didn’t know about Becky is that she suffers from clinical anxiety. And my article talked about weakness being a shortcut to trust. My weakness? My weight. Becky’s weakness? Her anxiety.
I guess in my own myopic view I thought that someone like Becky couldn’t understand what it felt like to be outside the scope of socially “normal.” But there she was, in a struggle different from but in many ways so much like my own.
It is small and shortsighted of me to assume that a person is not suffering on the inside just because they look like the world’s version of perfect on the outside. Or that they can’t be used by God in the same way I can because their challenges aren’t as visible as mine.
I know all of this on paper. I just get it mixed up in my mind. And my heart.
I confessed all of this to Becky. My assumptions about her seemingly perfect life without the struggle of weight. The idea that she couldn’t relate to me because we hadn’t worn the same size jeans. I’m so glad I was wrong. Becky may not be in my BMI club, but she showed me that the circle of vulnerability and struggle is much wider than I thought. Showing up with our stories and a healing dose of love and grace was the invitation we both needed to enter into each other’s circles.
Later, Becky texted me this one simple sentence: “Assumptions are barriers to connection, but stories are bridges to understanding.”
By Kathi Lipp, adapted from her chapter in Come Sit with Me.
Today’s devotion is an excerpt by Kathi Lipp from our book Come Sit with Me: How to Delight in Differences, Love through Disagreements, and Live with Discomfort.
Whether you’re in the middle of a conflict without resolution or wondering how to enter into a friend’s pain, this book, with stories from 26 (in)courage writers, will serve as a gentle guide. Discover how God can work through your disagreements, differences, and discomfort in ways you might never expect.
You can hear to Kathi read her entire chapter on this bonus episode of the (in)courage podcast! Click here to listen.