change, devotional, healing, lessons learned, medical issues, midlife faith, reinventing

Behind the Mask of Health Mania

As we begin a new year, we often make goals or resolutions to improve our physical health—lose weight, exercise more, eat better, cook at home more, cut out sugar, etc. But we often forget about those goals before the end of the month. While there’s nothing wrong with improving our physical health and nothing wrong with making goals or resolutions, perhaps we’d be better served by focusing on the state of our souls.

It’s all too easy to hide the state of our souls behind the state of our physical bodies. Many overly health-conscious people hide the imperfections of their souls behind the perfection of their physical bodies. We obsess over counting points and steps while neglecting our daily devotions. (Just me? I thought not.) We preen in front of the dressing room mirrors while gossiping behind closed doors. 

While we are definitely called to take care of our physical bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6), we are not called to make idols of them. Sin takes a good thing and makes it the only thing; at the same time, Christians tend to take a worldly thing and give it a spiritual spin. 

For example, the premise of Daniel Fast is to eat just vegetables in order to lose weight; however, the actual reason Daniel chose to eat only vegetables was so as not to “defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:8 ESV). As a result of following their convictions to remain pure, God gave them favor so that Daniel and his friends were “better in appearance and fatter in flesh” than their counterparts (Daniel 1:15 ESV). 

What we see here and in other Scriptures is that being what we would call overweight or fat meant having enough food to eat during biblical times. Obviously overeating is considered gluttonous, but as in all things, balance is the key.

Another biblical principle concerning our physical bodies that often gets taken to extremes is the concept of athletic training. The apostle Paul often uses the importance of physical training to emphasize the importance of spiritual training. For instance, he talks about how only one person will win a race even though many people will train and participate in it. So, we are encouraged to run in such a way as to win. Of course, the point is to run our spiritual race in such a way as to win an “imperishable” wreath or crown (1 Corinthians 9:25). 

Along with the extreme of doing our utmost to win the prize, what can happen when we idealize perfection too much? We put down those who can’t achieve it, and they somehow become less than. Instead of embracing all people and abilities as God’s unique creations, we revile them and leave them in our dust. 

So our aim should be working to become more Christlike instead of focusing only on physical fitness: “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way” (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV).

Another aspect of physical training taken to the extreme is exhaustion. Behind the mask of achievement and success lies a tired body with multiple invisible problems. We go and go and go while neglecting the rest our bodies need because our culture sees rest as laziness. But God designed us with a need for regular rest! Our need to be always on the go leads to drive-thru dinners several times a week that do not provide our bodies with the nourishment they need.

What’s the cure? When we’re so worn out that we don’t know what to do, Jesus invites us to exchange our burdens for his. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me … and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 ESV).

In the end, it’s all about balance! When we’re tired or hungry or on a sugar high, we can’t focus on God. Let’s take off our masks of physical perfection and busyness, so we can focus on our spiritual well-being and ask God what our priorities should be.

Call to Action:

Read and reflect on these passages of Scripture in light of this week’s sermon.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 (ESV)—“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything. Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food – and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
  • 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)—”Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
  • Ephesians 5:29 (ESV)—”For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”
  • Hebrews 4:10 ESV)—“For whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

Questions for Reflection:

  1. In what ways do you find yourself masking your spiritual state behind your physical state?
  2. How have you taken a good thing and turned it into the only thing, which takes the focus off properly glorifying God with it?
  3. How can you create more balance in your physical priorities this week?
  4. How can you create more time for physical and spiritual rest in order to prioritize your relationships with God and your family?

*Note: This article was originally posted on my friend Tammy’s church blog, Beyond Sundays.

anxiety, healing, medical issues

Stop the Car!

stop signAs soon as I promised to write about real help for anxiety in my next blog post, I had a panic attack because I was afraid I couldn’t deliver. I thought to myself, what on earth was I thinking??? I don’t have any answers! I have no idea what helps me, let alone what would help others, with real anxiety issues. As I’ve just let the idea simmer in my mind for the past few weeks (oops), a few thoughts have come to me. Like all thoughts worthy of being captured in writing, these elusive impressions flit through my head while I’m driving, teaching, in the shower, or in the middle of church, which leaves me anxious that I’ll forget to say something really important. You see my dilemma?

First things first. If you’re having a full-blown panic attack, and you’re driving a car, stop driving! Seriously. Just pull off the side of the road or into a parking lot and let the panic attack finish its torrent. Don’t endanger yourself, your passengers, or other drivers. The panic will eventually subside enough for you to continue your journey. I promise.

Next, if you’ve suffered from overwhelming, debilitating anxious thoughts for more than several months in a row, consult a professional. I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack while I was dialing the phone the first time I made an appointment to talk to my doctor about my anxiety. But to my great surprise, I did not die. Actually, while I had suffered from mild, generalized anxiety pretty much my entire life, I didn’t even recognize these newer, more severe symptoms as anxiety.

We’re all guilty of self-diagnosing ourselves (WebMD anyone?), but sometimes we’re just too close to the problem to know what’s wrong. And besides, most diagnoses are best left to the professionals. Just attaching a name to my feelings, however, gave me a measure of calmness that maybe I could be treated, healed, or at least helped now that I knew what it was.

If you’ve never talked to a professional about your anxiety, start thinking about it. Ask for physician referrals from friends. Pick up the phone and make an appointment. There, don’t you feel a sense of relief now? If you want to talk to someone who’s been there—and is still there to a degree—let me know.

After I got going on writing about real help for anxiety, I wrote over 1,800 words in an hour on that topic. I guess I had more ideas than I realized. So, I decided to break them up and dole them out over a few weeks.

Next up, the Christian answer. My thoughts may surprise you.

lessons learned, medical issues

Let’s Talk about Anxiety

Let’s talk about anxiety. I don’t mean being a little bit nervous or worried. I mean being sick to your stomach anxious. Locomotive circling the brain nonstop anxious. Blurting out irrational thoughts anxious. Can’t breathe anxious. Can’t hold a cup of relaxing lavender tea without spilling anxious. Racing heartbeat anxious.

According to Dictionary.com, anxiety is “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.”

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Anxiety is an officially diagnosed chemical imbalance in the brain. When the serotonin, norepinephrine, and gaba are out of whack, a person cannot control her anxious thoughts any more than someone with a blockage in his heart can control whether/when he has a heart attack. Anxiety can also be caused by poor adrenal and/or low thyroid functions. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, PTSD, OCD, and social anxiety are all in the same family.

Sometimes people with anxiety need medical intervention—prescription or natural herbs—in order for their minds to calm enough so that they can focus enough to pray and have faith. Taking medication does not mean people don’t have faith. Medication helps to heal people’s chemical imbalances and calm racing thoughts just as a stent in an artery prevents another heart attack.

How do you know the difference between sinful worry and medical anxiety? Talk to a professional; don’t try to diagnose yourself. Here’s my definition of the difference between being a little worried (sin that can be controlled) and being medically anxious (not a sin, can’t be controlled): sinful worry is being upset about and thinking about not having enough work as an adjunct and a freelancer to pay my bills for the rest of the year. It’s wondering now about how I’m going to adjust my schedule to add more classes to the fall semester (8 months away). Medical anxiety is being unable to stop obsessing about my finances, being so overwrought about my bills that I feel sick to my stomach and can’t focus on what my kids are saying to my face. It’s the Same. Exact. Irrational. Thoughts. Over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And being incapable of stopping or changing those thoughts. It’s trying to pray, but all that comes out is Those. Same. Anxious. Irrational. Thoughts.

As long as we’re being honest here, I suffer from a medical condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Occasionally I suffer from some pretty severe panic attacks. Some days are better than others although the past few months have seen a resurgence in my anxiety levels. Yes, I pray. Yes, I try to have faith. Yes, I read my Bible. Yes, I try all sorts of self-care techniques. Yes, the anxiety is still there.

If you suffer from anxiety, know that you are not alone!

Next time: Real help for anxiety.