Physical Health is a challenge because it takes time and intentionality. We can also feel defeated because as much as we care for our bodies, genetics still factors in – it’s nurture AND nature. However, even genetic predispositions can be better addressed with intentional care.
The apostle Paul has an interesting love/hate relationship with our physical bodies, mostly because he saw people being consumed by what he attributed to the flesh. I have several quarrels with Paul because I think he missed a few things, but particularly, he seems to want Christ followers to overcome their bodies, and I tend towards a different theological understanding that emphasizes that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in these bodies of flesh and bones, and all these organs, respiratory systems seem to be a gift from the Creator of the Universe. I appreciate in 1 Corinthians when Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.”
When I was pregnant with my children, I took the best care of myself – I had regular doctor appointments which told me specifically how to care for my body and the child within it – eating the right number of calories, walking and exercising, sleeping, avoiding situations of high stress or even high risk...but it’s sometimes easier to care for others than for ourselves...at least it is for me.
The disciples, however, were in a different predicament when faced with the needs of others. The day has grown late, and the crowd is quite large. They didn’t want to have to foot the bill for buying everyone dinner, and they were pretty sure Jesus didn’t have the cash either. The best option, in their mind – was to disperse the crowd – send them home. But, honestly, many of them had travelled from quite far. There were children among them and some who were quite elderly, and they just needed to be fed. Jesus and the disciples both saw the physical reality and the need, but they had different remedies in mind. Perhaps the disciples thought that Jesus was simply there to care for the crowds’ spiritual and emotional wholeness. Jesus, however, does not neglect the very real needs of our physical bodies – and he told the disciples to feed them.
When given the chance, Jesus restores physical health. The number of people who come to Jesus for healing – those who are broken in body and mind and heart find wholeness through Jesus. I wish the answers were so clear-cut now. I truly believe Jesus meant it when he said he came that we would have abundant life. I think Jesus weeps at the number of lives cut short because of illnesses and disease – from cancer to heart disease to HIV/AIDS...I believe that there are modern day miracles through medicine and research, and I think God’s holy healing spirit is actively at work in hospitals and labs. I believe that every medical breakthrough is the result of God’s wisdom.
But my faith does not allow me to believe that God isn’t also with each one who doesn’t have a medical breakthrough. I believe that God is there too when our bodies fail or lose the fight with the diseases that ravage them. Jesus always cared about people who were hurting. And when our lives on earth do end, I believe Jesus is right there, welcoming us into resurrection. But until then, we are tasked with doing our part to care for these temples. How are we going to live out spiritual wholeness or social wholeness or our vocational wholeness or relational wholeness without our physical health being a priority?
EATING THE RIGHT FOODS. The Harvard Medical School publishes an online blog, in which Dr. Eva Selhub describes the importance of the foods we eat on our mental clarity, moods, and ability to function. She describes our brains like an expensive car that runs best on premium fuel. “Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”1
Other studies have compared “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet. Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and to contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. They are also void of processed and refined foods and sugars, which are staples of the “Western” dietary pattern.
EXERCISING/ YOGA. Participating in yoga once or twice a week has been proven to lower stress levels, improve breathing, decrease pain, promote mental health, improve depression, increase strength, and promotes healthy eating habits. 2
SLEEP. Give your body the chance to rest. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute tells us that sleep is vital to living a healthy life. Getting a good night’s sleep allows your heart and blood vessels to repair themselves, maintains a healthy balance of hormones, supports healthy growth and development in children and teens, allows your immune system to respond, regulates your blood sugar, and helps your brain work properly to learn, remember, and problem solve. 3 These bodies that God has created are miraculous. Caring for them is spiritual work. If we want to live a whole life, we must care for these bodies that have been given to us. What excuses have you allowed to get in the way? What rationalizations have you created about why other things matter more than your health?
I was recently involved in some crucial conversations with a friend struggling with an eating disorder, and the tears and desperation in the parents and siblings eyes, hearts, and voices will remain with me always as they said – your health is more important than jobs, than money, than looking a certain way...YOU are the most important. I can hear Jesus saying those same words, begging us to take the time, spend the energy caring for ourselves so that we too can live life, more abundantly than ever! Amen.