Growing up, I had always considered myself a fairly healthy person. I played sports, ate decently healthy, and was rarely sick. But when I began high school, I discovered I had scoliosis, a pretty significant spinal curve. I ended up wearing a back brace for a year, having many x-rays, and seeing several types of physical therapists. Once all the treatment was over, all I could do was just accept my condition and all the physical therapy that went with it… which taught me some significant lessons about health in general.
I’m six or seven years from that initial discovery, and I am still learning what it means to take care of my body. More recently, I have been learning that the choice to take good care of my body is a choice to glorify God. You see, when I don’t do my physical therapy, I have a lot of pain that causes me to really only want to lie in bed or curl up on the couch. I’m not likely to be living the life God called me to from that position.
More broadly, when I’m not eating food that’s good for my body, when I’m not stretching, when I’m not maintaining an active lifestyle, and when I’m not sleeping enough – all the basics, I know – I feel ill-equipped to take on the world. I often have a list of things in my head that I want to do for God’s kingdom, but I’m too fatigued, sore or gross-feeling to do them.
Do you ever feel this way? There are so many ideas of things you can do for the Kingdom, and so many good intentions, but you can’t bring yourself to carry them out. You feel utterly incapable to do the things that your soul wants to do. It makes me think of the night Jesus stayed up to pray and asked a couple of his disciples to keep watch for him. Each time He came back to them, they had fallen asleep. See, I’m sure they truly wanted to do this simple thing that their Lord asked of them, but the needs of their bodies overcame them. Jesus said to them,
"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Matthew 26:41 NIV
As someone who usually feels too tired to take up the opportunities God has placed in my path, or even to maintain the basics of spending time in His Word or praying, I totally resonate with these guys. When I’m at my best, when I feel the connection with God as He tells me what to do, I feel confident that I can do it. But when I’m not taking good care of my body, well, I usually neglect everything else too. I would totally be the one to fall asleep while keeping watch for Jesus. The weakness of my flesh all-too-often prevents me from doing what my spirit desires.
Having scoliosis, and having to do physical therapy exercises that bore me to tears just to prevent pain, taught me a lesson that has to do with every aspect of my health. I learned that I needed to dedicate time and effort to healthy habits that keep me feeling my best. It helped me realize that my health is crucial to my ministry, whatever that may be. If God has given me ways to be healthy and feel good, then by all means it is my responsibility to take advantage of those. They are tools toward being the best servant I can be.
God cares about us and deeply loves us. We see all over Scripture that He is our good Father, so it makes sense that he would desire our health. Of course, we all have different afflictions, and some are definitely not mitigated as easily as others, or even at all. We each have our own, individual journeys with health. Those of us who have it within our power to make better choices to influence our health, should do so and see it as a way of honoring God. When we are as strong as we can be and our bodies are as capable and willing as we can make them, who knows what greater things we could do for the Kingdom than if we had neglected the tools of health?
I challenge you (and myself as well) to think about small changes you can start making today. What dietary habits can you change? Can you cut out some phone time at night to get more sleep? Is there a nice place to take a walk nearby, or a gym you can sign up for a fitness class at? Do you need to find a water bottle to make sure you are drinking enough? There are so many things we can change, but taking steps in a healthier direction will only make it easier to follow through with what you sense God asking of you.