When I was in either Grade nine or ten at Uxbridge Secondary, I signed up for a First Aid course with Mr. Cascomb, one the gym teachers at our high school. We learned a lot about ways to treat injuries and even save lives. Yet, the one thing that I remember most is where he started out in the training. It wasn’t with a long list of the things that could happen that would cause pain, disability or even death; it was a definition of physical fitness.
Here’s what he came up with: “A person is physically fit when he/she is able to care for all the responsibilities of his/her day and have some reserves of strength left for emergencies.” As an adolescent with boundless energy, I didn’t really grasp the implications of what he was he was saying, but 40 years later, I think I get it.
He may have been just talking about rest and exercise, but now we think about health in a wholistic
way. We have to talk about living with healthy habits and wise boundaries so that the reserves of all the dimensions of our lives (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational) are continually being replenished and there are at least modest margins of surplus most of the time. Though stress and conflict and hard work are part of life, we were not created to live in exhaustion and depletion.
This is especially important in the life of spiritual leaders. In this edition, we are talking about Clergy health. If we are going to have healthy churches, they must be led by healthy leaders. So where do we go to find out how to live a godly, balanced life on this planet? I suspect that the reason that Jesus took on human form and walked among us, is to give us some understanding as to how to live the “Great Commandment” to love the Lord our God first with all our being and then others as ourselves.
Early in my ministry, I embraced the notion that the way to JOY was Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last. But, though self-denial and self-giving sacrifice is a central part of the life the scriptures teach, if we watch closely, the definition of JOY would be more like Jesus first, Others and Yourself second.
The key to healthy living is balance. This is how the reserves of our lives are replenished. And this doesn’t happen without us taking responsibility for ourselves and paying attention. If we drive a car without paying attention, we run out of gas, the oil light comes on and the engine burns out, we crash into others, we take curves too quickly and roll over – you get the picture don’t you? And not just about driving!
As I meet people who seem to be healthy, I notice two things: First, they have a quality of healthy adaptability that enables them to shift and adapt to maintain margins in their lives and after seasons of high pressure, to re-gain them.
For example, because he knew that both are necessary parts of life, Jesus experienced both life draining stress (butting heads with the Pharisees and responding to the human need around him that drained life out of him) and life replenishing solitude (the times alone when they had to go looking to find him, the pause to sit on the well alone while the disciples went into town for groceries).
The second thing I have noticed about people who seem to be healthy is that they are not in deep conflict with their life situation. (Naturally, they encounter conflicts and frustrations, but these are taken in stride, because these individuals live with a sense that they are where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing. They keep focused on what Jesus taught as important, shake off distractions, and steer around activities, unhealthy relational expectations, temptations and life habits that entrap and bind.) I’ve noticed the following about people who are in harmony with their life context:
• Physically, they are not in conflict with excess weight and fatigue because they maintain a realistic level of physical fitness and self control.
• Financially, they are not in conflict with their lifestyle and when they make financial mistakes or face reverses, they can get back on track because they live by a plan that is shaped by what they understand as their life priorities.
• Emotionally, they live in calm most of the time and are rewiring their “hot buttons” with a healthy sense of humour. This is because they have made the effort to understand where they have come from and they have come to terms with wounds from their past.
• Mentally, they are not intimidated by the more “gifted” nor “annoyed” by the “less insightful” because they understand their own capabilities and are open to both humbly learn from and graciously coach others.
• Relationally, they are not conflicted by the expectations of others. While they are respectful and kind to all, they understand their relational capacities (how many close friends they can keep up with), their relational makeup – whether being with people energizes them (meet the extroverts) or drains them (meet the introverts) and they understand how to set and graciously maintain boundaries.
• Spiritually, they are at peace with God and have an integrated, spiritual graciousness about them that is deeper than good manners and expected piety. They are spiritually disciplined without being dogmatic or legalistic. They are sacrificial without complaining or expecting commendation. They take responsibility to build a deepening relationship with Jesus. They understand the importance of centering during the daily “pause” in his presence, of rest and re-orientation in a weekly sabbath, and of spiritual renewal several times a year through lingering with him in solitude for a whole day.
My deep desire is to see this kind of wholistic health among God’s people and especially among those called to guide his people to holy, wholesome maturity. At the same time, I need to be honest and paraphrase the Apostle Paul’s words and confess that I have not already obtained this life of integrated maturity nor have I already reached the goal, but I press on…..