And as a neighborhood pastor, I want to be a person of welcome. I want to be safe. While I'm hurting as much as anyone else, I want to be a place where you can get close to those wounds without being wounded in exchange. I don't want people to feel the need to be careful with words around me. I want to be gracious and look for the good behind the harm. I want to welcome the good. And only with time and relationship do I want to gently re-direct the harm that the good often comes wrapped up in.
But, dear-sweet-Jesus-in-whose-way-I-try-to-live, it can be hard.
One of my bigger wounds is a broken relationship with food and with my body. I have struggled with disordered eating (I like that term better than eating disorder because it's more holistic and allows space for even days that end up with the right number of calories and no over-exercising to be disordered for all the times I thought about not eating or planned a two hour trip to the gym as punishment for eating. Even in health, there is disorder.) And now, I'm pregnant.
Having strangers make comments about my body is one of my biggest fears. Because of my broken relationship with my body and with food, I sometimes find myself an extravert with social anxiety as I worry that someone will comment on my body. And now, I'm pregnant.
When you're pregnant, people just do this. They comment on how big you are. They ask to touch you. Sometimes they touch you without asking. A pregnancy journal I looked at listed as a pregnancy "milestone" the first time someone touches your stomach without asking. That is a milestone. Watching The Office, the last person I want to emulate as a pastor is Angela. But when she was pregnant she had a shirt that said "Ask first then touch." I hate that I want Angela's shirt. But I want Angela's shirt. And that is not a pastoral shirt.
When you are pregnant, strangers hypothesize how far along you are. They may suggest you're having twins because of how big you are. A favorite I've overheard in public often is "You're about to pop!" Seriously. People say that enthusiastically to strangers. Everywhere I go, I am increasingly vulnerable - like Bambi in the thicket - to strangers boldly commenting on my body. And the thing they won't see is the mess they leave hauntingly sprawled out in my wounded soul for hours and days after their passing comment.
To exemplify this: Recently a stranger asked if I was pregnant. Later, getting dressed for an event where my husband and I did not want people to know that I am pregnant yet, I tried on outfit after outfit and finally exclaimed: "I f%$&ing hate my body!"
To which my husband said: "You're growing a person in there."
And the fear of comments on my body was so loud I could not hear his holy words.
And again, I heard from a friend that a friend of that friend wondered if I was pregnant but not telling people. The friend of a friend observed something different about my body and decided I was probably pregnant and not telling anyone. And that she should share this with my friend. If I am not pregnant, your observations on my body are hurtful. If I am pregnant but not telling you, please trust that I put some thought into that decision and respect that it is not something I am ready for you to know about. Please respect that I am already working hard to make the best decisions I can for myself and this new family.
...So when a stranger comments on my body, I want to say: "I really appreciate that you are excited about new life and a new neighbor coming our way. Thanks for your enthusiasm. But, unless I tell you about it, my pregnancy and my body are truthfully not your business and not up for you to comment on."
And I want to add: "I could also not be pregnant. I am. But I could not be. This could just be the shape of my body. I work out every day and eat healthy and it's still possible that this is just what my body looks like. And I could have some deep and painful struggle with that. And your comments could open and intensify those struggles."
And I want to say that because it's true for me - but also because it's true for many women. I want to love my neighbor who is commenting on my body but I also want to love my sisters who are harmed by neighbors commenting on our bodies.
Pregnant or no, our bodies are not up for public comment just because we venture to the coffee shop.
And, this post's moment of snark: So often it is men whose bodies resemble pregnant women who make these unsolicited comments. You are as out of shape as we are - or more. You just don't get comments on it because you are a man. When you ask when I am due or speculate I may be having multiples, I could ask you the same question. Snark over. I'm not always a good pastor. Certainly, my inner monologue is not always a good pastor.
But I want to be a welcoming presence to neighbors. This world is broken and closed off. We are all hurting. And in that hurt we hurt others. And I want to step outside of that cycle and be a welcoming presence that sees past the harmful words (or unsolicited touching) to see the goodness. I mean, how brilliantly does it speak to God's image in us that when we see a woman we might think is pregnant, we are so struck with the holiness of it all that we can't contain ourselves from talking about it! I see God in that.
But there is also harm. There is harm that I absorb. And there is harm that, if I welcome unwanted comments, I encourage others to pass on to other women who may be harmed by it - other extraverts who may come down with social anxiety because collectively, we can't learn to be cautious in talking about women's bodies.
And to be honest, I haven't found my way forward. I haven't found a response that will leave me satisfied. I haven't been able to answer the question: WWPJD? (What Would Pregnant Jesus Do?) Day by day I navigate the mess as best I can and thank God for the grace that somehow, no matter how I respond, the Kingdom of Love and Justice is unthwarted in it's coming.
But I do want to be an agent of welcome in the world - both of neighbors who comment on women's bodies and of the women who fear neighbors' comments on our bodies. The only resolution I have so far is to remain - and remain honest - in the struggle.