Wellness for God's Glory
True confession: sometimes when I leave my spin class, I feel like a hero. I like to imagine myself as Wonder Woman, strong and resilient. Most likely, it is just the endorphins talking (my arms and legs look nothing like Diana’s) as I am not the most active gal in all the land. Don’t be fooled: I am new to this whole work out gig. I am very inconsistent, and it is an uphill battle for me to take my physical health and wellness seriously. I have been an “on again-off again” gym member and I have always spent more time eating carbs with my besties and watching Dateline with my husband than committing to a work-out regimen.
Somehow, since March 2018, I have come to love spinning and, I can’t believe I am saying this…the gym. Here’s where I suspect the mental shift has come from: rather than thinking of the gym as punishment for eating pizza or something I “should” do, I have pondered it as a spiritual discipline. Something that is good for my whole self, even my relationship with Jesus. It has surprised me. During class I sweat a lot, sometimes I say bad things under my breath when it hurts, and I pray. Prayer is often my last resort, but I do pray. Prayer during spin has become a way to practice perseverance. “Lord, when will this be over? How long, oh Lord?!” Dramatic? Maybe. Despite the pain, I have come to enjoy this new practice in my life.
It is amazing what spin has taught me about the Christian life. Good theology tells us that, “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (Psalm 24:1). So, if everything belongs to God (even the gym), then maybe there is something to be learned from the Lord in all that we do? Even in the care of our bodies.
Here are a few things I have learned along the way about why physical well-being matters to God and how it can enrich our Christian life:
God made our bodies (Genesis 1-2)
God made our bodies and he even calls them, “Good!” He doesn’t use all of the words that we use to compare or describe our bodies, “Inverted triangle. “Athletic build.” “Pear shaped.” No, he calls our bodies good. And they are good because He made them.
Jesus had a body (John 1:14)
One of my favorite names of God is “Immanuel”, meaning: God with us. I have heard people call Jesus, “God with skin on.” One of my favorite questions that kids ask in Kidzburgh is, “Did Jesus pass gas?” Ha! Another favorite is, “Did Jesus laugh?” I love these questions from kids because it is their way of grappling with the humanity of Jesus. Fully God, fully man. Why would our God dwell in a body if bodies didn’t matter?
God made our bodies for the service of others (Romans 12:1)
This has been most striking to me over the past months. You see, I have some anxiety issues that connect to stomach issues that can become inconvenient. I have noticed that when I am eating well and exercising regularly, I am my strongest self and more present for others. When I am not well, I am limited, sometimes to the confines of my home. This is OK sometimes, but not on a regular basis. We were made to be living, breathing reminders of God’s love to others! Obviously, I can do that in a fuller way if I am not sick. My body can be better used for the service of others and the Kingdom of God if I am not stuck in bed. It is quite a practical, but beautiful thought: God made my body to be well cared for so that I can give of my time and energy to others. Quite literally, we are called to be physically present for people and ministry and taking care of my body helps me to do that well.
Now, we live in a culture where bodies can become objects of worship: just look at Instagram or Facebook! Personally, I must be careful that I am not viewing my body as a statue to be polished and perfected rather than a creation and instrument of God (notice the distinction.) I have also had to realize that my body has limitations. I have learned this especially through loving some friends and family members who have chronic illness. They have taught me how to rest in a holy way, how to serve amid suffering and how to not attempt to be a hero. They have also shown me that my body has limits and that is OK: I am not God. These folks have taught me a lot and I have observed how people with physical limitations can love God and their neighbor very well.
Yet, I know that my body is not made to be used, abused or taken for granted. God has given me one body and so I continue to pray that I can use it well: for God’s glory and for the love of my neighbor. What can you do to care for your body today so that you can better serve the Lord and others?
If you are looking for further reading on this topic, consider: “The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation” by Valerie E. Hess and Lana M. Arnold.