When Your Body Prophesies to You

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Tanya Marlow -Honest Body4

Two years ago, a very reputable hairdresser used faulty straighteners and burnt my hair.

The next day, in the shower, when I was trying to identify the strange odour, I remembered the last time I had smelt it: I was 12 years old, trying to ignite a gas hob, leaning over to check that the gas was coming through. The gas came through in a flaming rush, and the front few pieces of my hair drifted down like tiny black leaves.

Same smell: burnt hair.

My hair had shrivelled up into a wiry gorse bush. I cut off the worst damage, and finagled some expensive conditioner from the offending hairdressers. I thought if I covered it in expensive hair products, it would fix it. But it didn’t.

***

After that, whenever I looked in the mirror at my hair, I saw my life. 

Six years ago, my world shrivelled and shrank. Giving birth had exacerbated my autoimmune illness, and I was left housebound, needing to be in bed 21 hours a day.

I questioned my identity, my life, my faith. At some point, emotionally and spiritually, something snapped in me. I looked around at others’ lives, and they all looked shiny and whole, but I was weak and broken.

***

Most shampoos work by using harsh sulphates to strip the hair of all its natural oils. This leaves the hair clean, but frazzled. So we coat it in plastic to make it look healthy and shiny. (Look for the “silicones” on your conditioner bottle.) Over time, however, it can take its toll, and underneath the plastic the hair gets damaged.

We damage our hair and conceal it in plastic. We do this to our lives, as well.

We strip ourselves of what is naturally us in order to belong. Even in church circles, there is so much pressure to look like everyone else: to be always smiling and positive, always a happy and loving parent or wife, always in control and successful, articulate, beautiful, just like all the other photos we see on Facebook. We fear what people would think of us if we showed the whole truth, so we strip back what is naturally us.

We smother our hair and our lives in plastic so we look shiny and happy like everyone else. Then we instagram it.

We are not all bouncy and shiny. We cannot be. Some of us have had real damage, and that takes time to heal. 

***

God speaks in many and various ways. Tara Owens, in her book, Embracing the Body, emphasises how vital it is to listen to the message our bodies send us. So often, our bodies prophesy to us before our mind registers their truth. Perhaps the ache in our shoulders tells us to take a rest, the migraines tell us we need to accept God’s love, the stomach pains are linked to a grudge we still bear.

Sometimes God can speak through hair.

I had grown quieter in my writing, though only those who knew me well would have noticed. I couldn’t even have explained to anyone else that I was feeling the pressure to hide the harder aspects of my life. All I knew was that every time I saw my hair in the mirror, I felt sad. I kept on covering my hair with increasing amounts of serum to control it, but it felt like my hair was a lie.

My hair was prophesying to me, whispering to me to not keep stripping myself of my personality and character; to be honest about who I was. God is truth, and my soul was feeling that pull towards truth-telling.

Eventually, I threw away my very expensive shampoo and conditioner, and bought a product with only organic ingredients, no sulphates, no silicones. I thought I was just healing my hair, but for the first time in weeks, I opened my laptop and wrote unrestrained, unashamed.

The pursuit of authenticity can mean you need to change your hair, or clothes, or posture. It’s counter-intuitive: we think if we express who we are verbally,  it will release us to express ourselves physically, through our clothes and hair.

Sometimes you need to work with the body first, and the mind and words will follow. You wear the comfortable jeans, and for the first time in months, you feel free to tell your friends how you really feel.

***

Friends have asked me, “So with all the organic ingredients, does your hair smell so much nicer now? It doesn’t. Aloe vera perfume smells much more desirable than real aloe vera. Reality is rarely as sweet as artifice. But I am happy, because my hair is healing. It is me, and it is real.

Now I look in the mirror, and my hair prophesies to me: of how God created us as truth-tellers, and how that brings freedom. My hair is naturally wavy, and with the natural shampoo the curls have sprung up, unfettered. Sometimes it looks a little wild and messy. Other times it is subdued and flat. Occasionally, I think it looks beautiful. The point is that I am enjoying it all, because when I look in the mirror, I know it is a true portrait.

So if you are feeling quiet, or lost, or broken, and you don’t know why, listen to your body. Sometimes our bodies are more honest than we dare to be. 

__________

QUESTION: Lovelys, how has your body prophesied to you? We’d love to hear. 

__________

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Tanya Marlow
Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology, until she got sick, and became a writer. She loves singing opera arias, eating dark chocolate and laughing at her own jokes. (Not at the same time). She is the author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, and writes honestly about God, suffering and the messy edges of life at Thorns and Gold. Find her on Twitter @Tanya_Marlow or Facebook, and  get her book for FREE here.
Tanya Marlow

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Tanya Marlow
  • Honestly?
    My body preaches loud when the waistband in my pants feels claustrophobic, because I hear the message that I’m feeding myself to fill an emptiness that needs my attention.

    Your words are timely (as well as beautiful), Tanya, because I’m looking hard at that particular prophecy these days.

    • Gosh – the words claustrophobic and ‘fill an emptiness’ resonate with so many of us who struggle with overeating – so insightful. Thanks so much for sharing this, Michele

  • It’s hard listening to my body. A few years ago, I fell and really hurt my hip. My body was telling me I needed to move more often. I was sitting too much. I started walking and then last year I got a dog–for the company, yes–but also because he’s my best excuse to get out and move. I also changed my shoes … Birkenstocks, etc. My body feels so much happier. I try and pay attention to when I need a shot of wheatgrass … little things. I try … Falling was a big wakeup call for me. Thank you for your voice, Tanya.

    • It IS hard listening to your body. We feel like we should be talking to our body all the time, ‘do this! Submit to this! Be thinner! Stronger! Behave like I’m a healthy 21-year-old because that is how I still see myself, ‘kay??’ It’s a hard thing to listen, and harder when our body talks to us in the form of a scream. And Birkenstocks! One of my friends has a rule: ‘shoes should be both comfortable and beautiful’ – and I often find myself reminded of her words when shoe-shopping – occasionally there are shoes that are both, and these are to be praised at the gate!

      Thanks so much for supporting me, Idelette.

  • Some of my fave thoughts:

    – “We are not all bouncy and shiny. We cannot be. Some of us have had real damage, and that takes time to heal.”

    – “…when I look in the mirror, I know it is a true portrait.”

    – “So if you are feeling quiet, or lost, or broken, and you don’t know why, listen to your body. Sometimes our bodies are more honest than we dare to be.”
    ____________

    I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue at the beginning of the year. The combination of sleep-deprivation (courtesy infant) and a to-do list exploding at the seams did my body in.

    I was disappointed to discover that my MANY-MANY “no’s” to standing commitments weren’t enough. I needed to simplify my life MORE. More? But how? Cut what? What else was left? I didn’t know what else could be cut out!

    After some navel-gazing and healthy dose of pouting…I knew what I had to cut out.

    I reduced screen time. By a lot. I read fewer books and blog posts. I limited social media to twice a day. (Massive improvement for me.) I stopped filling every quiet moment with podcasts, music or audiobooks. I stopped filling my evenings with social commitments. Turns out that even “fun” can be exhausting.

    It felt so counter intuitive to turn down the volume on EVERYTHING. Wouldn’t that turn down the vitality of my life? But my brain and body had saturated to a point of no return. It was a like a diaper. A diaper so full that it couldn’t absorb any more. No more ideas, no more groundbreaking quotes, no more innovate thoughts. The promise of “more” lost it’s allure and started to feel oppressive. I finally understood and savoured “less.”

    I leaned into slow living. Reluctantly at first. And then passionately because I realized that it wasn’t just a “cute” alternative lifestyle. But it was a change necessary for my “sound mind.” For mere survival. For the thriving of my intimate relationships.

    I’m grateful for the brakes my body put on my life. Heavens knows I wouldn’t have done it myself.

    Love this, Tanya.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Lovely Tina! I really appreciated you taking the time to tell the latest bit of your journey. I didn’t know that you’d had a significant knock to your health as well as the

  • Tanya, I love this! Thank you for sharing so vulnerably.

    I experienced a moment of my body being prophetic when, at the tail end of recovering from burnout (which was itself a “listen to your body” experience), my optometrist told me I needed to stop wearing contacts because my eyes were stressed out. “You need to get comfortable with things being a little fuzzy in the distance,” she said. True of my eyes, but equally true of my always-planning-want-to-be-sure-of-everything mind.

    My body invites me to rest more often than I accept the invitation. But I’m learning.

    …Anyway, now I want to look into natural shampoos and conditioners. 🙂

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  • Karen

    Hey my friend,
    As always you speak to my heart and my soul. We took up leadership of a new church just over a year ago. In our quest to be effective leaders we decided to take a year to see what was happening in the church. But in that year we have found a lot of wounded people needing love, care, support.
    And all through that year, and specifically over the past few months, my body (and mind, and soul) has been jumping around with it’s hand in the air trying to get me to notice it. Having ignored the warning signs, I’m on the brink of another depression. Time will tell if I can avoid the full drop this time. Thank you for journeying with me. Your vulnerability gives me hope x

    • Thanks so much for this comment. Praying today that you don’t fall into the abyss this time. It’s so easy (and dangerous) to ignore the warning signs of depression, especially when you are already carrying so many others who are wounded. Praying you give yourself permission to put on your own oxygen mask first. Much love x

  • Just found you this week but have been been missing you for years! I’m a hairdresser and think we girls that get to play with hair all day are pretty fortunate

    And then bodies and prophesying, all things I’m processing in the last several years. So much of my emotional pain has been expressed through my body but the hard work of healing and truth-telling and stilling the voice of not-enough has decreased or eliminated much of my pain and discontent with my body.

    As the next layer of truthfulness (with myself) began a year ago, I packed on some pounds that I’m so much healthier without and last week the anxiety of it was overwhelming. But then! Just after I threw-down with Jesus I found your post on Amber’s site. I connected deeply with your words because the throw-down was about some deep and ongoing disappointment. God hasn’t fixed it and I’m so angry with him. I don’t think it upsets him one bit, the trouble was I haven’t wanted to admit it to myself and the result has been empty calories shoved in my mouth to fill up the deep crevasse between what truth and what I’ve been telling myself is the truth. I made the decision recently that I’m ok with the weight, I almost feel as if I’ve earned it and don’t even mind how my 46 year old body looks, but for two days now, the food has not been ruling me. Love everything about this post including the fat that I was brainstorming today about self-truthfulness.

    • Yay, Marcy! I’m so excited you found me!! I think the relationship with food is so difficult – the balance of being content with whatever weight and shape we are, but also being aware of the fact that food can rule us. I like the way you put it.

      Also – I have deep respect for you as a hairdresser – there is so much power in your hands! I always think hairdressers are like sculptors – I look at my hair and see an untamed bush; they look and see what shape it will become. Sending you all the hugs!

    • P.S. Which Amber was the site that you came through? (That’s not very good English, but I hope it makes sense!)

  • Joy Howard

    I just made the very difficult to leave my job. It is scary and overwhelming, but it was the right thing to do. I resigned for good yesterday and last night, for the first time in 18 months, I fell asleep almost immediately. My body had been telling me for a long time that this institution and its people were not a good fit for me. It took a long time to listen because from the outside, things looked like it should be amazing.

    I’m not surprised we women have trouble listening to our bodies. I immediately think of how we are taught to not listen to our bodies. Things like:
    *Our medical systems take our pain less seriously than pain men have. (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/emergency-room-wait-times-sexism/410515/)
    *Women Olympians found that their gold medal successes were given to their husbands, not their bodies. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3729884/Outrage-Olympic-commentators-refer-female-athletes-girls-not-women-coverage-Rio-2016.html)

    If little girls are shown that their pain is not listened to and their strength is not credited, there is a pretty clear message about how to ignored their body no matter what.

    Tanya, Thank you so much for writing this. I needed it.

    • Oh Joy – so glad this really resonated with you. And it’s so true that we (maybe particularly as women?) find it hard to listen to our bodies. I often think that in church circles because we’re told to put others first, not ourselves( and the boys are told to be brave and not cry…) – so the combination means we’re not listening to our bodies at all (until they scream). I’m really glad you quit your job. It sounds like such a good decision for your health. Best wishes.

  • pastordt

    OH, SO TRUE. A rich metaphor, beautifully laid out for us here, Tanya. Thank you.

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