I am glad it is November. From October 2015 to October 2016, I had the hardest year of my life. It started with closing the church I had worked to plant and moving back to my hometown. Since then, I have had two jobs that taught me exactly what my skill set does not include. I was diagnosed with the beginning stages of type 2 diabetes. I have lost friends. I have been angry at God. In October 2016, I spent 5 days in a psychiatric hospital. I am glad it is November.
And here is what I have learned this: Total health must encompass the body, the mind, the soul, and the tribe.
A Healthy Body
I served in the ministry of Southern Baptist churches for 15 years. Southern Baptists frown on drunkenness, but we would rather not have to talk about gluttony. It is an acceptable vice. We eat. We eat fried chicken and we love desserts too. In that aspect of Southern Baptist life, I had no problem fitting in. I can eat a lot. I also enjoy sitting at a desk, writing, or visiting with someone. I do not get a lot of exercise. At my last annual physical, my cholesterol was somewhere over 210. My blood sugar was 132. I have even managed a blood pressure reading this year of 186/120. Needless to say, I have to make some changes.
I am happy to report that I have lost 13 lbs. I have cut out sugar almost completely. I eat vegetables and I cook more and eat fast food less. Exercise is tough, but even if it just means walking a couple of miles on the college campus near my home, I try to do a half hour a day. I am getting physically healthy.
Perhaps because we fixate too much on Heaven, we Christians tend to ignore this gift of a physical body that God has given us. It is a gift. Life is a gift. To be able to live long and live well is crucial to having good relationships and a good legacy. For total health, one must look to what they put in to their body, and how they train their body.
A Healthy Mind
I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder. I come by it naturally. It runs in my family and I have a rare endocrine system disorder that does not help. Thus, I have a mind that does not feel happiness they way a mind ought. My mind can acknowledge all the good in my life and still tell my body to feel miserable. Mine is not a healthy mind. However, it does not have to be that way. Medication helps, but so does exercise. Learning to notice unhealthy (and errant) thinking and consciously retrain myself to think in truthful, helpful ways is crucial. At the same time it is important to note what I allow my mind to take in. I have to get rid of the junk food of thoughts, so to speak. If I want to be healthy, I have to take care of my mind.
A Healthy Soul
I have spent most of the last year being angry at God and angry at many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I neglected the spiritual aspect of my health. Now, as I strive to be healthy, I realize that spiritual disciplines are crucial. Spending time in scripture, prayer, being honest with my church, serving others, etc. are all building blocks to a healthy soul. I am fortunate to have a church that is incredibly welcoming of people no matter where they are in life, but I cannot just join the crowd. It takes effort to feed and protect the soul. Effort that is well worth it in the long run.
A Healthy Tribe
Everyone lives within certain social circles. For me, those circles start with my family, my extended family, my friends, my church, my neighbors, etc. These circles are the tribe in which I live. A tribe is only as healthy as the relationships that exist within it. Thus, for a healthy tribe, I have to be intentional about my relationships. I must work to be a better husband, father, son, brother, friend, church member, and neighbor. I have to be aware of the relationships that exist in my life and work daily to strengthen them.
Putting it All Together
Now here is something that is often goes unnoticed: Each of these areas of health impacts the others. If I were to sit around all day in front of the TV, gorging on junk food, it would become very hard to avoid depression. Depression and anxiety would then get the best of me and I would begin to neglect spiritual matters. In this state, my family would surely suffer and I would become isolated from any healthy relationship. All of these work together.
For this reason, it is important to address total health. To move forward intentionally building up the body, mind, soul, and tribe. It is a lot of work, for sure, but well worth the journey!
Several years ago, I had a bad car accident. After several hours in the Emergency Room, I was released. I had broken my right hand in three places and had torn the ligaments on the top of my right foot. This made walking without a crutch impossible and using a crutch almost impossible. When I finally go to my house, I tried to hop up the front steps. I fell and the pain brought me to tears.
“Are you going to let me help you now?” My pastor at that time asked. He was the person who brought me home from the hospital and I refused his help so far getting up to the door of my house. However, now I had to let him help me up and hobble on in.
It is hard to ask another person for help. I would much rather figure out a way to help myself. In American culture, we honor and support this idea. We even have a saying (as inaccurate as it is) that, “God helps those who help themselves.”
On Sunday, my pastor taught on the very end of Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul says his good-byes. He pointed to Ephesians 6:23 where Paul concludes with three things: Peace, Love, and Faith. These are perhaps intended to be his final words to them and thus the legacy that he desires to leave.
Our pastor then challenged us with this question: Am I leaving the same kind of legacy? Am I blessing others with peace, love, and faith?
So today, I have been thinking about this notion of Peace. American Christianity is often associated more with bickering and political strategizing, so I find it hard to point to a good example of this peace. My own life (as any of my readers know) has the internal chaos of depression and anxiety. That’s the opposite of peace!
The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines Peace as "Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence" A quick glance at most popular Christian television shows and books suggests that Christians today are pretty focused on well-being, prosperity, and security. But would we say that is Peace?
Did the Baker Encyclopedia get it wrong? After all, a major struggle for me as always been to find peace with myself, and one need not look far for examples of those whom enjoy the most prosperity having this same struggle.
There are two missing keys here. The first is right in front of me in the Baker definition: Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence. So often, we think of our faith as something we use to attain things like well-being, prosperity, and security, and we get frustrated when despite our best efforts at believing, these things are still lacking. That is because we are striving for a notion of peace that is found apart from God. Seeking God's usefulness is not the same thing as seeking God's presence. I would imagine the difference is something like the difference between sitting in a room, talking with a good friend, and sitting in a room, barking orders at my good friend so that he is reduced to being my butler.
This leads to the other missing key, that peace is something to be shared. For the Christian, the way to experience God's presence is found far more often in gathering with other believers than it is in being alone. This is the necessary value of the church. If our desire for our well-being, prosperity, and security leads to making God our butler, then it will also lead to the church becoming nothing more than a supply closet. It becomes a place we go when we feel we need something. However, if we are seeking God's presence then the church is no longer a place but those fellow believers where we experience that presence together. In the New Testament, the word for "Church," always refers to a group of people rather than place or building. It would be hundreds of years later, and sometime around when Governments started to see Christianity as a tool for political power, that the use of the word changed.
So my desire for peace, and thus, my desire for total-well being, prosperity, and security must be focused on the presence of God and sharing these things amongst one another.
That is the hard part. Something in our nature wants us to seek our own well-being over that of others, but in Christ, we are to seek our well being in that of others.
This is why it is not only helpful, but necessary to both rely on others and serve others. It is easy for a person like myself to try to isolate myself. I’d love it if I could just sit somewhere and write all the time. Of course, a story that is not read, like a song that is never heard, hardly exists. Likewise, for the Christian to exist in and experience peace, requires that our lives, messy as they are, be intertwined with others.
Peace to you!
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower