This week we talked about hiking as a spiritual practice toward achieving balance and rhythm in our lives. Today’s Forward Friday is short and sweet:
1) This weekend, take some time to identify people in your life who have helped you keep the pace in your spiritual journey. Let them know how their presence and companionship have affected you.
2) How can you be a pace-keeper in the lives of those around you?
Come back and share your experience in the comment box below.
My friend’s grandmother just died. In the last few days, I’ve been remembering how I grieved when my grandfather died back when I was in college.
We are marked by the passing of those we love.
Death and grief — painful and necessary as they are — can be catalysts for new awareness, growth, and even hope for the future.
All day I’ve had this verse in my head.
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. – 2 Cor 5:4
Nothing puts you in touch with your body as much as when your body is not working well. Sickness and infirmity remind us of our frailty, our mortality, our physicality.
Yesterday, I had an allergy attack, my first one in five years. It’s quite shocking how quickly I had forgotten the icky-ness of allergies and gotten used to behaving “normally” when outside.
Here are 10 things having allergies has taught me:
- Everything I do has a consequence. Whether I choose to sleep with the window open, ride my bike under blooming trees, or stretch out in the grass for a nap — I will pay for it later.
- Breathing is precious, vital, and should not be taken for granted. The inability to breathe out of my mouth and my nose makes me ever aware of this most basic of involuntary activities my body regulates without my conscious choice.
- Life does not stop simply because I am unprepared. (Read: I cannot go anywhere without Kleenex.)
- Quick fixes are not long-term solutions.
- Sometimes there is nothing you can do to fix a problem or change a circumstance.
- I am capable of making choices that affect my body’s well-being. It’s up to me whether those are positive or negative effects.
- My body deserves my attention and care, even when it is inconvenient.
- All things in moderation. Sometimes when we try too hard to fix a problem, we overcompensate and make everything worse.
- Being aware of my own infirmity creates the opportunity for more compassion towards others who struggle with chronic physical ailments.
- How I react to my situation is a choice. Having that choice is an opportunity for growth. Having the opportunity for growth is a gift.
How has physical infirmity influenced your body theology?
Yesterday my husband and I splurged on a couple of 60-minute massages at a Chinese foot clinic that just opened up in our town. We pointed out the type of massage we wanted, were led to two red chair/beds in the middle of the room, and settled in for some long-anticipated relaxation.
Since we both have trouble with our backs, we often bribe each other for massages at home, but nothing beats a well-trained, strong-fingered Chinese foot massage. The last time we had massages, we were still dating, so we were looking forward to the treat we had saved up for.
As I lay under the soft red towel while a quiet Chinese woman worked out my knots with her strong, gentle hands, I thought about my journey with touch over the past few years. I’ve learned to allow myself to be touched in a safe, healthy way. I’ve learned to accept hugs, and then to give them. I’ve learned to accept romantic touch. I have always been the one giving massages, but in the last few years I’ve learned to receive them as well–first, free ones from trusted friends, and then paid ones from trained professionals.
All along, God has been teaching me about the healing and restorative power of touch. We lay hands on one another when we pray. We hold our loved ones close. We comfort and celebrate each other with safe, healthy touch.
But for a long time I believed the lie that no touch was safe. I felt threatened anytime my 3-feet-of-personal-space was violated by anyone other than a family member.
We westerners are so much more physically isolated from one another. Single adults are especially lacking in safe, healthy (non-sexual) physical touch.
Through some beautiful moments, and some long-suffering friends, I have slowly begun to teach my body to receive touch in a positive way.
Yesterday, amidst the cheesy violin solos of My Heart Will Go On, Moon River, and Edelweiss, I closed my eyes, allowed my body to relax under the towel, and told myself to receive this nice woman’s touch in the way it was meant–to provide healing.
Each time I exhaled, I breathed out distrust, anxiety, and infirmity. Each time I inhaled, I breathed in the safety and healing of the Holy Spirit. Getting a massage became an exercise in believing the truth about touch and allowing the Spirit of God to work within me for my spiritual and physical benefit.
By the end of the hour, I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep.
As we paid our fee, tipped our massage therapists, and went off to get some dinner, I was reminded of my plan long ago to open a healing center one day that would include massage therapy along with soaking prayer, inner healing prayer, practical and biblical teaching, and music, dance, and other artistic expressions of worship. Maybe there would even be yoga or Pilates classes available.
What would it look like for a 24-hour House of Prayer to include massage therapy and body movement classes along with healing, teaching, and worship with music?
What better way of incorporating body theology into spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical healing and growth? What better expression of the holistic nature of body theology?
We are physical beings, and we relate best when our physicality is incorporated into our experience–of ourselves, of each other, and of God.
Next time you get a massage, or give someone a hug, or accept a high-five or fist-bump, recognize the moment as an opportunity to experience and express your body theology in action.
Give and receive touch as an expression of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our lives. That’s what we were made for.
This week we explored the spiritual practices of sleeping, eating, and exercising. Sometimes we can experience spiritual significance through these simple, daily activities. Other times, these activities in themselves can teach us about the value of maintaining spiritual practices as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
1) This weekend, identify one life-giving activity.
It could be a daily walk, making dinner, reading a Psalm every morning, taking the scenic route to work, or anything else natural or intentional.
2) Notice what about that activity makes it life-giving for you.
Is it a break from the hectic rush of your day? Is it an activity to share with someone you love? Does it give you renewed energy? Does it affect your mood?
3) Consider ways to apply what you enjoy about this activity to other parts of your daily life.
Should you share more activities with a loved one? Do you need more alone time? Would you prefer to increase the time spent in your life-giving activity? Do you need to plan ahead to create space for more of the same or similar activities?
4) Come back and share your experience here.
What life-giving activity did you choose?
I am not an exercise kind of person. I do not like going to the gym, walking on treadmills, lifting weights, or any other repetitive activity that takes place in a small, sweat-smelling room as a substitute for actual physical activity. Give me a bicycle, and I’ll take a ride around the neighborhood, but what exactly is the purpose of a stationary bike?
If I’m going to get any exercise, I need to work it naturally into my normal routine. Instead of finding the closest parking spot to the door, I’ll park in the back of the lot and walk a few extra steps. Instead of rolling my groceries out to my car in the cart, I’ll carry them out. Instead of taking the elevator, I’ll take the stairs–two at a time.
At least, that’s what I did until I hurt my back last year, discovered I have scoliosis, and began a regimen of medication, ice packs, and chiropractic visits to manage the pain. What I wasn’t very good about doing were my daily stretches and exercise-ball activities that my chiropractor recommended once the majority of the pain subsided.
I have the ball and the yoga mat, but they live under the stairs. I have the Pilates videos, but they live in the DVD drawer. I got out of the habit of exercising because of the pain, and I haven’t been able to get back into it.
My husband is forever encouraging me to go bike riding or hiking with him, but the pain in my back and leg win out over the benefit of exercise every time. I know the pain would lessen if I exercised more, but I’m stubborn. I find excuses to stay in bed and watch TV.
Here’s what I’ve learned by refusing to exercise:
- Exercise is a choice. No one is going to make me do it. It is for my benefit alone, and I am the only one missing out.
- Muscles atrophy with lack of use.
- Bad habits are hard to break.
- Excuses, rationales, and justifications are many and readily available.
- If I don’t make time for it, I won’t have time for it.
- Exercise is easier with a friend to keep you accountable (and company).
- I’m much more likely to take a walk on the beach in the evening to watch the sunset than I am to walk aimlessly around the block.
- Sometimes it’s worth paying for someone to train and guide me rather than trying to do it all on my own for free.
- If I don’t exercise, my body isn’t prepared for fun things like backpacking with the hubby or a day at the zoo.
Having a healthy body can go a long way toward adding to a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. But exercise isn’t just about the physical benefits. It’s also a discipline we can learn and apply to our spiritual lives.
Some spiritual practices are easy and enjoyable. They fit with our personalities, natural giftedness, and interests. Other spiritual practices are hard work. That’s why they’re called disciplines.
Not every spiritual discipline is necessary for vibrant spiritual growth and maturity, but sometimes we can benefit from learning a little self-discipline. Who knows when that might come in handy?
How might your life benefit from a little more discipline?
It’s no secret that fasting is a spiritual discipline. Especially as Lent has just passed us by, we are more acutely aware of the relationship between denying the body and preparing the soul. But what about eating? How does indulging in the “desires of the flesh” promote spiritual pursuits?
I have never been a breakfast person. Perhaps it has something to do with being a night owl and an insomniac, but I just can’t seem to digest anything right after I wake up in the morning (or the afternoon). Say what you will about the “most important meal of the day,” but even the thought of consuming food in the morning is enough to turn my stomach.
In high school, I used to force myself to eat the lunch I brought with me every day because I was afraid I would be accused of having an eating disorder if I didn’t present at least an effort at eating. I developed a habit of eating as fast as possible in order to finish my lunch before my body had time to realize what was happening and complain.
In college, I actually passed out once after going more than 48 hours without food while studying for midterms. I had been so busy holed up in my room that I didn’t even realize I hadn’t visited the dining hall in two days.
I’m still not a good eater. I forget to eat all the time, and when I do remember, I am either too busy or too tired to eat well or even at all. But along with my Lenten fast from being awake, I have been making a concerted effort toward listening to my body to find out when it’s hungry. Here’s what I’ve been learning about the spiritual discipline of eating:
- Eating is a good and necessary aspect of human living. It is not something to be despised or beaten into submission but something to be cultivated.
- When I ignore my body’s messages about being hungry, it stops telling me what I need.
- I have to re-teach my body to experience hunger by providing consistent food. I am teaching my body to trust me again.
- Just eating isn’t enough. My body needs a healthy and varied diet.
- When I eat properly, I actually lose weight because my body is no longer in starvation mode.
- My body learns unhealthy habits like craving chips and chocolate just as quickly as it learns healthy habits like craving fresh salads and fruit.
- Not all my body’s messages are healthy. I have to discern the difference between being hungry and just having a craving for junk food.
- When I listen to my body and give it healthy food on a consistent basis, my digestive issues magically disappear. Imagine that.
- It’s also easier to go to sleep and stay asleep when I am eating well.
- Eating isn’t about gaining or losing weight; it’s about making healthy choices to help bring wholeness and balance to my body.
- Making the time to eat, and taking the care to choose the best food rather than whatever is easiest or quickest, is like making time for God.
When I am able to make healthy, balanced choices for my body and discern among the messages my body sends which ones are necessary and which are not, then I am better prepared to live my life in a healthy, balanced way. Learning to listen to my body is teaching me to be more discerning, more conscious, and more intentional about my daily living.
The spiritual practice of eating is hard work, and I’m not always very good at it. I tire easily and fall back on ignoring my body or feeding it with whatever is easiest. But I know that learning to make good choices and put more effort into what I put into my body is teaching me the value of intentional living.
How are you living your life on purpose? What are you intentional about?
Sleep and I have a love-hate relationship.
I battled insomnia for most of my childhood and adolescence. In grad school I slowly began to settle into a routine of sleeping 5-6 hours each night. When I graduated and found myself sleeping 6-7 hours on a regular basis, I thought I had arrived at a normal sleeping pattern.
Then I discovered I actually need more like 10 hours of sleep per night, which means every night I sleep 7 hours, I wake up sleep-deprived. So over the course of the Lenten season, I put real effort into sleeping 10 hours every night.
Here’s what I learned about the spiritual practice of sleeping over the past 40 days:
- New habits do not form overnight.
- I am allowed to be imperfect, fail, and fall short of my goals.
- Sleep is good for my body.
- I’ve never actually slept enough in my whole life.
- Listening to my body is hard work, and I often miss the first two or three messages.
- When I listen to my body and do what it says, I actually feel better, healthier, and more awake.
- When I don’t listen to my body, we both suffer.
- I’m not as young as I used to be. Wow. That makes me feel old.
- Getting enough sleep improves my mental and physical energy, my digestion, my attitude, and my motivation to enjoy daily activities.
- Not getting enough sleep makes me grouchy and lethargic.
- I am allowed to prioritize my need for a good night’s sleep above being available for work opportunities or hanging out with my hubby.
- I am still way more likely to prioritize being available for work or hanging out with my hubby above getting a full 10 hours of sleep every night.
- How I treat my body, and what I do with it, affects my spiritual life.
- This spiritual practice of listening to my body is hard work.
Now that Lent is over, I’m tempted to fall back into my old habits of forcing my body to live and do as I say without regard for what is healthy. Learning to listen is an ongoing lesson. I’m slowly realizing that when I disregard what my body says, I suffer. But when I do listen, I am able to achieve more health, wholeness, and balance in my life.
I can’t expect to find healthy balance in work or relationships if I am unwilling to first achieve balance within myself–body, mind, and spirit. It is up to me to choose my priorities, to choose self-care, to choose to listen to my body and follow through on what is necessary to be a healthy, whole person.
In this season of life, how is God calling you to find health, wholeness, and balance?
Since December, I have seen four different doctors and had ten separate appointments. I have undergone multiple tests and procedures–all to rule out causes of my unexplained fatigue. Now the doctors are at a loss. Perhaps I have chronic fatigue or some other nebulous disorder or syndrome. Such things are difficult to diagnose. But I think I know the real cause of my fatigue.
God as Surgeon
My spiritual director once said that experiencing God’s healing is sometimes like having a surgeon perform complicated, invasive procedures while we are under anesthesia. When God is doing this kind of healing, she said, it would be too painful and scary for us to be awake and aware of God’s work. So we are put to sleep. Then when we awake, our bodies are exhausted and need rest to complete the healing process the Surgeon began in us.
At the time, her analogy didn’t really resonate with me. I was in so much emotional and spiritual pain that I did not know how to let go and rest, allowing God to do the hard work. I wanted God to show me what needed to be done so I could do the work myself, understand exactly what was happening, and remain in control.
Looking back, my attitude was as ridiculous as my telling a doctor I wanted to perform my own open-heart surgery. Not only do I have no medical training, but I also would not be able to survive the experience of cutting through my own flesh. The pain would be too great, and the procedure would be too complicated. If I needed open heart surgery, I would have to trust the surgeon to do a good job. I would have to be anesthetized during the procedure, and then I would have to rest and allow my body to recover afterward.
God as Teacher
Ever since I completed my degree in 2008, God has been teaching me (ironic, no?) how to rest. I have slowly been learning how to let go of my over-active drive to DO–to be an achiever and to be productive. I’ve been a terrible student, I must admit, but God is an ever-patient teacher.
Despite my resistance, God performed a great work in me in the past few years, one that I am still not completely sure I understand or know the effects of. Now, my surgery is over. I have left the operating room, and the anesthesia has worn off. The hard work is done, and I’m awake!
Physical and Spiritual Rest
My body has been telling me for months that I needed to rest, and I just could not understand why. After stumping half the doctors in this town, I think it’s safe to say that it’s time to give up BEING AWAKE. The surgery may be over, but the spiritual healing process has only just begun.
Now I must endure a new season of recovery. I must allow myself to feel the effects of God’s work in me and give myself time to adjust and heal. That is how I choose to spent this season of Lent. I’m giving up my DO-ER spirit and allowing God to complete the good work begun in me.
So for Lent, I will sleep as many hours as I can. When I am awake, I will rest in bed as much as I can. My fast may not look very difficult or spiritual, but it is both. I am relinquishing control (again) and allowing God to take care of me–mind, body, and spirit.
My friend Jenn Cannon has graciously agreed to share her experience of fasting during this Lenten season and its impact on her body theology. If you missed it, check out Part 1. You can find more of her writing here.
Many people, in modern Christianity, have taken the idea of a fast during Lent and tried to turn it into a positive action. Instead of simply abstaining from certain foods, people are opting to try another way to express the same idea without the physical side-effects. As an example: my former pastor gives up his morning Starbucks and all fast food and then donates the funds that he has saved to his favorite charity.
As I have journeyed to get healthier in the last 8 months, I have found that I cannot outright deny myself a certain food without the danger of a binge looming on the horizon. If I tell myself I cannot have chocolate for 40 days (or 46 depending on how you count it), I will most certainly have a meltdown and gorge at the end when I finally allow myself the chocolate – or I will be frantically trying to find something else to fill that need.
Either way – I lose sight of the meaning of the fast, and also do myself more harm than good. Many people who are journeying back to health will tell you the same horror stories – fasting from any certain thing is a recipe for a binge.
So I have learned to eat things in moderation. Great. But then what am I supposed to do about Lent? If I want to participate in the spiritual journey of preparing myself for the coming sacrifice of Christ, what then can I do instead of giving up meat (which I already eat very little of) or chocolate (again, a minor part of my diet and not really a sacrifice) or anything similar?
I am fasting from laziness. Fasting from sitting on my butt. My Lenten practice, this year, is to commit to some form of intentional exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. I am choosing to observe Sundays as the mini-Easter that they are, and so are not part of the fast.
So – that is my physical piece. But, as a Lenten practice, it is fruitless and self-serving unless I add in the other aspects of prayer and service. So, my prayer (or God-focus) part of Lent is to read Scripture more regularly, pray while I’m on the treadmill, and change the music I listen to to help keep my thoughts centered on God while I’m walking. As for service, I am always looking for the people who cross my path that I believe God sent to me. Also, my discipline for service will take the form of writing.
Writing as Spiritual Discipline
I have a lot going on in my head as I journey back to health – and with nudging from good friends (like Laura) – am realizing I have much to say and share as I do. So I will be writing – intentionally – during the full season of Lent.
My writing is intended to help others understand this journey of getting healthy, encourage those who are struggling with their own health, and – selfishly – to help me process some of the stuff I need to think about – specifically regarding my self-image.
Join the Conversation
So have you thought about what you’re giving up for Lent? Do you have a reason for your choice? And how does your personal choice (Self-focus) tie back in to the other two aspects of Fasting: God-focus and Others-focus? Leave a comment in the box below to share your journey this Lenten season.
I am a musician, a photographer, a theologian, a customer service rep. I am a wife, a stepmom, a sister, a daughter, an aunt. But mostly I am a child of God striving to live my crazy life the best way I know how. These writings have been born from my journey back to health that I started in June 2011. At that time, I weighed over 300 pounds and needed to lose at least half my weight to be considered in a healthy range. Since then, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds through adjusting my diet and adding exercise. The surprising side effect is the emotional changes that go along with getting healthy – and that is what has prompted me to begin to write.