In the 1960’s, sociologists projected their expectations as to how Americans in the 21st century would use their leisure time. Some researchers predicted that the average workweek would shrink to 20 hours. As it turned out, Americans now, sleep less, have little leisure time, and complain about being too busy. This persistent lack of time can lead to stress and eventually poor health.
So, with a New Year ahead, I invite you to join me on an intentional journey to live well—spiritually, mentally, and physically. The following list is a work in progress. It offers some practical steps in establishing healthy habits.
Eat healthy foods every day. The danger in quick-fix fad diets is that when we finish the diet, we will too easily re-gain the weight that we lost. God created food for our substance and enjoyment. I find that it is easiest to recognize good food by asking a question. How close is this food to the way in which God intended for it to be eaten? Is it refined and full of preservatives? Does it have a lot of additives including additional salt and sugar? As you consider purchasing or eating various foods, train yourself to recognize how far the item has evolved from its original “packaging.”
When food is first harvested, it is whole and healthy. The more processes that it takes to bring that food item to our shelves in the supermarket, the less value it has to our health. Low fat, high fiber diets, which include plenty of fruit and vegetables, focus on food that God created—foods that bring health and healing. What about coffee, coca cola, and our favorite desserts? You’ll have to discover what is best for you, but I believe moderation is the key. Certainly Jesus seemed to enjoy food and the fellowship that it offered. But as a lifestyle, it is helpful to keep in mind that God created food, and man created junk food, fast food, and food with long shelf life. Planning what we put into our bodies each day can make a huge difference in how we function as Christians.
Control food portions. In recent years, the people of Okinawa have become known as the longest living people in the world. Their relaxed and carefree life-style may account for their mental and emotional health which gives them high resistance to disease. Further studies of the Okinawan diet point out the unique emphases on eating well, but less. Three key phrases suggest the following principles:
- Kuten gwa (eat little portions)
- Hara hachi bu (eat until 80 percent full only)
- Nuchi gusui (eat as though food has healing power)
These concepts are valuable tools for physical stewardship. Learning to eat the proper amounts of food in moderation will help prevent disease and promote health.
Remember that exercise is the best diet. God designed our bodies to move and to stay limber throughout our life. In an agricultural society, exercise is built into daily routine. However, in highly technological western societies, where so many people work at sedentary-type jobs, exercise is a vital key to living the way in which God intended us to live. Whether it is running, swimming, walking, jumping rope, or joining a gym, we need to move on a daily basis. Jesus walked almost everywhere. Perhaps he used the time for reflection between daily events. At times, he conversed with His disciples during walks along the beach.
The benefits of exercise are numerous. During exercise, the body releases neurotransmitters known as endorphins, which gives a sense of well-being. The release of these endorphins helps us to manage stress as well as control our appetites. When the body is on the extended “endorphin high,” which exercises produces, the brain is better equipped to make good healthy choices in food selection. Rather than grabbing fast food, which is often grease and sugar-laden, the exercised body (and brain) will choose something that will enhance health. That is why I consider “exercise to be the best diet.”
Make wise exercise choices. Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper , in his book, Faith-Based Fitness explains that at the beginning of an exercise program it is important to remember several key points: Visit a medical doctor and get clearance; start out slowly and progress gradually; Pursue all three major components of a complete condition program—endurance exercise, strength training, and flexibility; Always observe the fundamental four-step sequence for every workout; the warm-up; the main workout; the cool down; and the strength segment. It is helpful to incorporate exercise into daily activities. Choose to walk, rather than drive whenever possible. Add the element of faith by expressing gratitude to God for the ability to stretch, bend, and climb stairs. Exercise, as a part of one’s daily life and routines, can become part of worship.
Discover contentment. Life in the 21st Century presents the potential for stress. Anxiety and worry will rapidly deplete our physical health. Neil Warren in his book, Finding Contentment lists 10 characteristics of people who know deep contentment: 1) they live in the present; (2) they are free of fear; (3) they are not judgmental; (4) they genuinely appreciate themselves; (5) they hunger for the truth; (6) they are adaptable and flexible; (7) they have a strong sense of gratitude; (8) they love to laugh and are lighthearted; (9) they exhibit a high degree of dignity; and (10) they sleep well! Make this list your focus for the New Year. In a world filled with fear, envy, and anxiety model the characteristics of contentment.
Seek Solitude. This ancient, Christian discipline is becoming increasingly more difficult to observe. And yet, God continues to invite us to find time to be alone with Him. Jesus modeled the value of this important practice in Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Henri Nouwen, in his book Out of Solitude explains:
In the center of breathless activities we hear a restful breathing. Surrounded by hours of moving we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heart of much involvement there are words of withdrawal. In the midst of action there is contemplation. And after much togetherness there is solitude. The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn.
In the lonely place Jesus finds the courage to follow God’s will and not his own; to speak God’s words and not his own; to do God’s work, and not his own . . . (John 5:30) . . . John 14:10) . . . It is in the lonely place, where Jesus enters into intimacy with the Father, that his ministry is born.
The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life.
Create space for the Spirit. Although devotional time is foundational for Christians, I have talked with many who find they have no energy to pursue their primary purpose for living. The failure to live with physical disciplines has a direct effect on our spiritual disciplines. Without energy it is almost impossible to study, pray, and minister. I challenge you to prayerfully carve out time to spend with the Creator. Stay home a bit more. Allow yourself to sit quietly with your thoughts and plans. Reflect. Extend your morning or evening quiet time. Eat simple meals with the people you love. Cherish moments and pay attention to your longings. Foster the inner life of your spirit. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
To learn more about guarding your heart and mind, we invite you to read chapters 3-17 of Rebound from Burnout: Resilience Skills for Ministers. Please click on the photo of the book, below, to obtain a copy.