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Why Change Has to Start in the Body: Part 2

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

This is the 2nd post in a series explaining why we have to pay attention to our bodies in order to make any lasting changes of any kind - emotionally, spiritually, relationally, habitually, etc.

As I mentioned in the last post, (Why Change Has to Start in the Body: Part 1), your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is constantly collecting data and responding. Because your ANS is not fully formed when you are born, your patterns of detection and response are formed in your early years, based on the environment you grow up in and the people you're in relationship with.

The family is designed to be a place of flourishing and building a foundation for understanding the character of God and the goodness of God’s greater family. The family is the place where we're supposed to learn the goodness of being in relationship and the goodness of God.

We can see this in verses like Deut. 6:7

"These words I am commanding you today are to be upon your hearts. And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

The Three Patterns Your Body is Designed to Hold

According to God’s pattern, the family is designed to be a place where we learn three realities of being the people of God in our early childhood.

  1. We are safe - Suffering and trial are temporary. No hardship endures forever. We learn this when our needs are met by our caregivers. We let our needs be known and someone responds. When we're wet or dirty, our diapers get changed. When we are hungry, we get fed. We learn that we are in a safe place and discomfort doesn’t last forever. This mirrors the daily provision of God (Matt. 6:25-26) and the promise that one day, all suffering will be over (Rev. 21:3-4).

  2. We belong - We are accepted for who we are. We learn this when our caregivers smile when they hold us, when we are held close, when we are folded into the family rhythms. Our caregivers show that they still love us when we’re naughty or angry. Maybe we even belong to an extended family and a church community who are also glad to be with us. We learn that there are people who are there for us. People who want us around. This mirrors our belonging in the heart of God (Is. 43:1) and in his family (1 Peter 2:9-10).

  3. We are significant - We have influence in the world. We learn this when our family allows us to make decisions and we feel the consequences of our decisions - both good and bad. We know that the things we do make a difference in our environment, in our relationships. We are agents in our own lives. We matter. This mirrors the incredible empowerment (Rom. 8:11) and purpose (Matt. 28:18-20) that we carry in the kingdom of God. We are filled with the power and presence of God by the Holy Spirit and sent out to share the love of Jesus with the whole world.

What Really Happens Instead

However, sin has broken and twisted this good design and we don’t always emerge from our early years with these messages.

Instead, these messages can become distorted - and it doesn’t even take abuse or neglect or trauma to do it.

No matter how wonderful your parents were, there are always going to be moments when we experience either a lack of one of these things or a twisting.

For example, a mom gets sick or gets a migraine and can’t respond to every single need of her toddler for an afternoon. The toddler might experience that as abandonment - even though it's short-lived and mom is usually reliable. Or a preschooler falls on the sidewalk and is crying. Dad can’t get there immediately to soothe him because he’s got to make sure the other two kids are safe by the street first. Or a kid wanders away in the grocery store and then can’t find Grandma for a full 5 minutes.

These are all ordinary experiences that we're bound to face in even the most stable of childhoods. Because this world holds disease, sadness, separation, and violence, even the best of childhoods includes some moments of feeling entirely alone or afraid. That is the pattern since the fall.

If you want to learn to work with your body to make lasting changes, sign up for Rooted.

Conformed to the Pattern of This World

So whether by small ordinary experiences that accumulate over time, or by being subjected to abuse or neglect or trauma, we develop strategies to cope with our environments. We notice what works and we keep doing that, strengthening the strategy as we grow. In this way, we begin to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12: 2) - the one that is still subject to sin and evil as we await the return of the King.

And instead of the three realities of God’s kingdom that we are intended to learn, we learn one or more of these patterns of the world instead:

  1. I’m not safe - my needs won’t be met.

  2. I don’t belong - there’s no one there for me.

  3. I have no power - I am helpless.

And even if, as you get older and establish yourself as a functional adult - even as you do have what you need and you do have a community and you do have influence over your surroundings and relationships, these lies can continue to live in your body. You might find yourself feeling alone even in the midst of people you love. Or you find yourself having a panic attack in an environment that is perfectly safe. Or you feel stuck in a situation and feel helpless to do anything about it even though you’re competent and capable.

This is because these messages you learned in your early years are literally stuck in your body. Your autonomic nervous system was shaped by all of the experiences you had in your childhood and they stay with you. But that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do about it. Keep reading to find out more.

If you want to learn to work with your body to make lasting changes, sign up for Rooted.


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