It was a warm summer evening when 8 of us found ourselves sailing off the coast of Vancouver Island in the middle of the night. Intentionally, one of our group members was our instructor, attempting to teach us how to navigate in diverse conditions. On this particular night, in the blackness, we couldn’t tell the ocean’s ending from land’s beginning. We had to sail our vessel between rocks hidden below the waterline and into a bay with no visual clues of the potential dangers. A chart and a compass was all we were given.
Taking control of our physical health can seem like charting a course through dangerous and confusing waters. If you will allow me, I would like to act as your personal instructor and tell you how to “chart and compass” your way, in order to steer a course towards optimal health.
A Spiritual Response
I’ve been keenly interested in researching, experimenting with and discussing health-related topics for over 20 years. What have I discovered? The depth of our spirituality is directly linked to our physical health. As a pastor, this should have been obvious to me but it wasn’t. Very few people talk about our health as a spiritual response to our Creator.
So how do we navigate health? Our western culture uses guilt, shame, fads, and pseudo-science. This is combined with unrealistic and confusing messages to convince you that you’re not the right body type, not strong enough, and not healthy enough. The health industry wants you to hand over your credit card and promises to solve your problems within 30 days. Nonsense!
Good health is simple. Our health is a response to our Creator and not a response to advertising, waist size, trendy diets, gym memberships, supplements, counting calories, and fads on Facebook.
Alarmingly, sickness and disease that did not exist a few years ago are now becoming an accepted part of everyday reality. We all know someone struggling in a cloud of depression, anxiety, threat of cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, dementia, and on and on. Our culture has become gluttons of laziness and over consumption. We want it easy and we want it fast. Our lifestyle choices are often destroying us.
Amazingly, God designed us in such a way that, in most cases, we could be active into old age, our bodies could fight many diseases, and unless tragedy strikes, we could enjoy a long and healthy life! I love what Job 5:28 says:
“You will come to the grave in full vigor, like sheaves gathered in season.”
God created us and entrusted us to steward our bodies. He designed us to be alert and engaged. He created us to be active participants, not merely passive spectators!
Navigating the Health Journey
So how did we navigate our sailboat through the night, miss the rocks, and arrive safely? As we sailed through the dark waters, we aligned a beacon of light that floated in the water with a fixed flashing signal on the shore. We knew we had the correct bearing only when the two lights were directly aligned, one on top of the other. Then we turned our ship straight towards the coast and sailed safely through.
Let’s go a little deeper into navigating your health journey with simplicity and accuracy! “True north” for your health starts with understanding how God designed you!
Good health starts by acknowledging that God designed us in His image, and therefore stewarding our bodies is the only appropriate response to honour the Creator. In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul is talking about wives and husbands loving each other and comparing it to the bride of Christ, the church! Paul then slips in this almost undetectable comment at the end of the passage: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her … In this same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies … After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church …”
Are you feeding and caring for your body just as Christ loved the church?
God created us to eat real food and to be active. Our body functions best when we eat natural and whole food, combined with a daily routine of activity. To violate God’s design with a sedentary lifestyle and eating too much processed food compromises the health of our body’s design. It’s like sailing without a rudder. Some may argue that caring for our physical bodies is not as important as our spirituality. This is a big mistake on at least 2 counts. First, we’re created in God’s image (this includes our bodies). Second, when our health deteriorates, our ability to serve and minister are compromised.
I believe it is disingenuous to make our “mature” spiritual life only about disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, and journaling. Expanding our spiritual growth to include caring for ourselves physically is the lasting way to successfully move forward to becoming healthier.
When we embrace God’s design as the starting point for healthy living, and developing our health choices as spiritual discipline, we will be fixed on the beacon that never moves.
So Let’s Get Practical
I learned a valuable principle last year when I was running a race in the mountains of Idaho. It was very remote, very challenge and very long. I had been running for a few hours and sprained my ankle – not severely, just enough to swell up and cause negative feedback each time I took a step. I still had a long way to go. I didn’t know if I could make it. But I did know that I could take another step followed by another, and eventually made it to the finish line.
The same is true for your spiritual journey of health. The most effective and beneficial way forward is taking one step at a time! Diets and gym memberships often fail us because they are unsustainable. So why is this simple approach so important?
Our western diet is killing us. The consequences have never been higher. If you typically eat a lot of junk food, fast food, packaged food, and refined “food-like” products then it’s safe to say that your body is inching (pun intended) toward diseases common to our culture. This is not how God created us to glorify Him with our bodies. When you replace processed “food-like” products with high quality whole food straight from the earth, you dramatically improve your health.
When you tackle your spiritual journey of health, 1 step at a time, you will increase the simplicity of your approach and the likelihood of continuing. These small, incremental steps forward, 1 habit at a time, will literally and swiftly change how you feel, the clarity of your mind, and possibly even the longevity of your life. Trying to overhaul your diet has been proven to be ineffective. The road to lasting health is developing lifelong habits.
Now, this is important – you don’t have to be legalistic or perfect about your health. If a significant portion of your nutrition comes from what God created for us to eat, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans), and a small amount of lean meat, then the occasional indulgence will not be “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The incredible news about forming 1 new habit, followed by another, is the distance you can travel in a relatively short period of time! If you’re concerned about having to take certain medications, being sick often, or 1 of the major diseases, this incremental approach will safely move you towards your desired goal. The body can protect itself and the body can heal itself. This is how God created us!
If your habits and lifestyle choices created the problem, new habits and lifestyle choices can heal the problem.
Making a Health Plan
So let’s conclude by looking at how to develop a simple plan by developing lifelong habits.
Discipline is hard. Habits are easy. Most of our lives are lived from engrained habits, good or bad. The way you brush your teeth is the same, every time. You don’t have to think – you just do it. Washing your hair, zipping up your jacket, making the bed, accelerating your car when you see a yellow light, these all happen instinctively and easily.
Effective change happens best when we take the slow and steady approach and build 1 habit at a time. Tackling 5 things and getting overwhelmed usually leaves us where we started. You’ll be stunned when you realize how far you can go on a journey by taking 1 step at a time. Discipline is hard – until it becomes a habit.
Here are 4 quick steps to help implement habits. They’re simple, powerful, and will last your entire life.
Step 1: Choose your habit and pick a start date.
Select 1 good habit you could start doing or 1 bad habit you could stop doing. Make it simple. For example, I will eat 1 piece of fruit with my lunch; drink a bottle of water before noon; stop snacking 2 hours before bed; go to bed consistently at the same time; stop eating ice cream except for Fridays.
Simple and clear.
Step 2: Connect your new health habit to something you already do.
For example, if you want to eat an apple every morning, place it by the coffee-maker the night before. Or, if you want to do light exercise, select an activity like washing dishes or brushing your teeth and when you do one, you do the other.
Here’s what I do. One of my habits is daily exercise. It’s not up for negotiation, and I link it to my cup of coffee. When I take that first sip I commit at that moment to what I will do for activity that day because my schedule often changes.
Step 3: Plan ahead for habit-killing activities.
The usual habit-killers are weekends, parties, special occasions, or just about anything that throws a curve ball at your habit.
One strategy I use is to eat a healthy snack or meal before going to an event or celebration. When I get there I don’t have to make a scene or draw attention to my food choices. I can simply be selective and I don’t go in hungry and eat half the buffet.
Step 4: Avoid striving for health perfection.
Striving for perfection causes anxiety and stress which is likely more unhealthy than your bad habit. We are not trying to become skinny, or fitness freaks. We are realistic and we are taking the approach of 1 incremental step at a time. Wait until you have mastered 1 habit before adding a new one. It usually take 2 months to automate 1 habit.
I’ve been experimenting with habits, nutrition, and exercise for many years. I’ve learned that if you take 1 step at a time and adopt habits, you’ll be amazed at how healthy you can become in 1 year. In 5 years you’ll have adopted and completely transformed dozens of little habits that each contribute to a healthier lifestyle.
May God bless you in your journey of health.
Written by Stan Wiens, Coach
The Health Project
IT STARTS WITH A SINGLE STEP
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