I was eight when I found out that daily headaches and pain were not supposed to be a part of normal life. I’ve had pain all my life – in the last ten years, I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and a number of other similar chronic diseases. I also developed several food allergies and intolerances. As someone who lives with constant pain and fatigue, I strongly believe that our health and the future health of our children depends, at least partly, on the way we care for our spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. While the majority of my diseases were inherited, some of them are highly preventable with diet, exercise, and good sleeping habits.
According to a study done by the World Health Organization, chronic diseases are expected to reach an all time high in 2020, accounting for 73% of all deaths.1 Obesity is also on the rise at nearly one third of the world population.2 Much of this is caused by our diet and sedentary lifestyle. Although the decrease in the quality of life is disconcerting, the real concern is that people are being diagnosed with diseases at an increasingly younger age.
This generation has quadrupled the number of children with chronic diseases compared with when our parents were children.3 What feels alarming to me, as someone with inheritable diseases, is knowing the likelihood of passing on my illnesses to my children.
Do we have a responsibility to care for our bodies as God’s temple? Is it really that important? Are we the only ones affected by our choices about our health, or do they affect those around us as well?
Spiritual and Emotional Health
1 Corinthians 6:19-30 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own: you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” It’s easier to neglect something that belongs to me than something that belongs to God. It’s so easy to forget that literally nothing is ours. So think about it – are you willing to take the chance of wearing out God’s temple through carelessness and cravings?
It’s become increasingly obvious to me that there is a direct connection between our diet, exercise, overall well-being, and our mental and emotional health. Our body is made up of smaller parts that function as a whole. When one part wears down, it drags our whole body down with it. So when we don’t care for our spiritual and emotional health, our physical health suffers. The reverse is also true: if we don’t maintain our physical health, our spiritual life suffers.
Lack of exercise and good nutrition are a leading cause of depression. When we become depressed and stagnant, there is no question that our spiritual health declines as well. Studies show that almost one in four people experience depression or some other mental disorder at some point in their lives.4
One example of the connection between mind and body is a protein called endorphins. They’re secreted in the brain and spinal cord, and reduce feelings of pain or stress. Often compared to morphine because of their effect on our bodies, they have a huge impact on our mood. Fortunately, they’re relatively easy to stimulate. Laughing, eating, interacting with other people, and most importantly, exercising, are all effective ways of reducing sadness and stress. Who knew smiling was such an effective painkiller? The opposite is also true. Most people who exercise on a regular basis experience a “runner’s high” after working out. Vigorous exercise releases endorphins, which makes you feel happy. This is one way that God designed our bodies to care for themselves.
The American way of life continues to get busier. As a result, one of our serious downfalls is lack of sleep. It weakens our concentration, reaction time, thought processes, and immune system, and puts us at a high risk of depression. Cultivating good sleeping habits is vital to a healthy body. Of all the people who struggle with insomnia, 90% have at least one other illness, and they nearly double their risk of death – specifically from cardiovascular diseases.5 People that struggle from fatigue are sick far more often than those who regularly sleep eight hours a night. Lack of sleep compromises our bodies’ ability to fight off disease.
I know that it can be difficult to eat healthfully. So much of the food we eat comes from boxes or cans and has been genetically modified in some way. Unfortunately, that means that the majority of processed foods are very low in nutrients. If we don’t get the nutrients we need, we get hungry and need more food. The quality of the food we eat is so often the cause of overeating. Poor nutrition can cause a variety of problems – it affects our mental health and well-being, our emotional health, our energy, our sleep, and our pain and illnesses.
One thing we seem to forget so easily is the effect our health has on those around us. It’s extremely difficult for me to watch the way my diseases have changed our family life. Everything we do is affected by my fatigue and pain.
I live in a large family. When one of us is grumpy, the rest of us tend to be grumpy. If one person is excited, their excitement gets passed on. When Dad yawns, everyone feels drowsy. The way we feel affects everyone around us. Unfortunately, having one sick person in a family affects way more than just the individual dealing with the physical pain. The older I get, the more I realize that I have a responsibility to my family to guard my health, and in turn, their well-being. This is by far more crucial for those of us with chronic diseases, but I think it’s important for every family member. We all know how much the family suffers if Dad or Mom doesn’t get enough sleep!
As with everything, we need to keep a healthy balance. In Matthew 6:25, Jesus tell us, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” We can become too obsessed with health, and it ultimately becomes worry – and worry is a sin.
I’m not suggesting that a completely natural, non-GMO, non-toxic, non-processed life is necessary. While I personally try to omit toxins and junk food when I can, money and practicality are serious challenges to a “green” lifestyle. We all have different needs. Some of us feel better when we cut out certain foods. Some of us need more exercise. Some of us are more prone to depression or mental lows. Ultimately, we all need to do what we feel God has called us to. I am suggesting that we have become careless with our health. God says to us in Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
|Rhonda Mast has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. That may be why she knows the proper fencing stance, spends countless hours on YouTube watching videos on tatting and cranberry harvesting techniques, completely covers one wall of her room with her bookshelves, understands 19th century boxing cant, reads the dictionary, knows the proper way to curtsy and tie a cravat, and has invested a small fortune in candle making supplies. It’s also why you should never ask her why algebra and ancient literature are practical classes for high schoolers. She routinely distributes vitamins, fashion advice, natural beauty products, and math tutoring to her seven siblings. She’s developed a love for adoption, foster care, and a whole host of little boys in Mexico, although she has a number of health issues that slow her down more than she likes. She is learning blind trust in God and complete surrender to His will.|