Reorienting Our Approach to Health

November 17th, 2017

I have spent time in a variety of churches: Pentecostal, Charismatic, Southern Baptist, Non-denom, and Catholic. One of the commonalities I have found across the board is that most churches aren’t talking about an important part of our lives that impacts all other areas – our physical health.

Over the last few years, I have come to understand that our bodies are a gift from God to be stewarded, cared for, and loved. The bodies that we have are not just a shell we’ve been placed in so that we can do the work that God asked us to do. They are us, through and through. We are deeply integrated beings, and our physical health is inextricably linked to our mental and spiritual health. Research shows this, and I definitely feel it.

A few years ago, I went through a two-year spiritual formation program. We talked about silence, solitude, prayer, discernment, and several other practices that were all formative in my life, and yet the main topic that has stuck with me since then was the conversations about our bodies.

Until that point, I had been up and down with my level of interest in keeping up my physical health. Sure, I wished my clothes fit differently. I knew I’d put on a few pounds, but was mostly concerned about my image, not my health. I hadn’t yet felt the deep connection between my body’s health and my spiritual vitality. Besides, when I thought about being healthy, I just thought about diets and gyms, two things that didn’t seem super appealing.

So what do we do to reorient our approach to health?

Here are three things that have helped me make slow, but significant, changes.

I sleep as an act of worship.

It was during that 2-year program that I actually came face-to-face with an area of health that I think is even more commonly neglected than diet and exercise, especially in the ministry world.

It’s clear in Genesis that rest was part of God’s original design. God rested and later called us to observe Sabbath. Jesus was fully human and needed rest and sleep.

This isn’t a hidden truth; it was just one that I, and many others, have been ok with skipping over. It’s so common for people to go for weeks at a time without getting the sleep that they require, and comparing our busyness and tiredness are common practices.

But if God created us with an inherent need for rest, isn’t the very act of sleeping doing what He has asked us to do? Isn’t that worship?

Sleeping can be a holy act of cultural defiance in a world that tells us to “do more”. Sleep can beautifully demonstrate our utter dependence on God. Sleep reminds us that we are not self-sufficient, not all-powerful beings. When we say “no” to more busyness and just sleep because we need to, we show God that we are His and that the work in front of us is also His.

I aim to lead by example.

In our sermons, we urge our youth to make wise choices in their lives. We actively pray that they stay away from addictive substances and unhealthy relationships that have long-term repercussions on their lives. We hope that their everyday choices lead to flourishing in their spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health.

Our words are so much more effective when our life speaks loudly and in unison with those messages. And as leaders, we must be aware that our life tells a story. The youth and volunteers we lead have front row seats as its plot line unfolds. It’s an honor and a responsibility.

So while we might be abstaining from excessive alcohol and living a sexually pure life, there is much more to health.

Instead of grabbing another night of fast food so we can make more time to run that event, and guzzling another cup of coffee to keep our eyes from shutting during our sermon prep, maybe it’s time to choose a different path, knowing we desire to lead by example.

What healthy practices do we hope our youth will observe? What habits do we want to see them incorporate into their own lives? Leading by example causes us to pause and think about all who are impacted by our seemingly insignificant choices.

I make small changes that add up over time.

There are many of us who desire to see big progress quickly. We decide one weekend that on Monday we’ll start a new eating plan, go to the gym every day, take vitamins, stretch before bed, and possibly train for a competitive running event with a deadline that’s quickly approaching.

We take off running, both literally and figuratively, and find that within just a few minutes or days we have depleted the excitement reserves. Our good intentions are now just dreams that we’ve once again thrown to the wayside.

What I’ve found to be true in my own life is that making small changes is where the magic happens. Changes that are incremental and intentional help us push toward progress not perfection.

For many of us, if we would simply get moving and eat more plants, we’d be started in the right direction. Take a walk at lunch. Switch to a salad rather than a sandwich. Bring some veggies or fruit from home, so you don’t reach for another donut in the office. Find an active hobby.

These types of changes are simple and effective, but they can be hard to stick to. If having some accountability is necessary for you, tell a friend or join a Facebook group. If you like to-do lists, try a health journal or an app that helps track activity or water intake. If spontaneity is important, try something new each week that will bring variety and fun. Whatever mechanism you use to stay on track, small changes over time will eventually add up to make a big difference.

When we actively choose to make our health a priority, we honor God, stewarding the gift He has given us. So let’s remember that what we put into our body actually matters.  Moving our bodies daily matters. Rest and sleep matter. Leading by example matters, and the daily choices we make will add up to a life that more fully reflects our Creator.

Christina is the Community Outreach Director at Imago Dei Church in Peoria, Illinois. She and her husband, Dustin, are in the final stages of adopting their two precious daughters. Christina is passionate about foster care and those on the margins of society, aiming to show hospitality to all and creating a home and life that reflect those values. You can connect with Christina on FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM or follow her BLOG.


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