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A Guide for Becoming Healthier, Happier and Longer-Lasting Christian Leaders: Part 3

Brent HooverBrent Hoover

 This is the final part of this series.

In order to be holistic in our wellbeing we must consider the importance of being a steward of our physical health in addition to our spiritual and relational health. 

Remember, health does not mean perfection. It means that what the body was designed to do, it can do well. An effective personal wellness program that will help you progress towards greater physical health has a plan, a place and a partner and focuses on four areas.  The four areas to improve in the care of your body are Nutrition, Movement, Renewal, and Connection. In Part 2 we discussed the first two areas; here we will dive into the latter two. Take the time to ask yourself these important questions, and make a plan to move forward!

Renewal

Body renewal between fitness training days

Three areas work together in a unity of fitness: fuel your body, move your body, and renew your body. After a hard fitness workout your body enters into a “recovery phase.” Actually you should consider recovery as a part of your workout phase. If you do strength training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday your body will enter into its recovery phase the first hour after the workout is finished. From Monday afternoon at 5 pm when your workout finishes, for example, your body recovers until Wednesday at 4 pm ‒ almost a full two days. This is exactly what your body needs. This is when the muscles are rebuilt and growth takes place. The good news is you should not do workouts every day.

Brain renewal through sleep  

Even though you might eat and move well, living in optimal health is not possible if you are not resting well. The entire idea of rest comes from the One who created the human body. The body absolutely must have enough rest to function at 100% capacity. Recent brain studies show that the brain cleanses itself each night only when we are in deep, dreamless sleep! Without this deep cleaning our brains will be less attentive or even groggy. But even more important is the fact that these waves of liquid wash away the plaque that collects on brain cells. This plaque is believed to be the main contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. These waves of liquid, however, will not appear if the sleep is not long or deep enough. Getting seven to eight hours is minimal for optimal brain health. 

If we are serious about being caretakers of the amazing body God has given us, we need to take the need for sleep seriously and plan accordingly. Head to bed at 10 pm, put away all electronics, and sleep until 6 am. If you only made this one important change, your wellbeing would increase significantly. Sleep issues ‒ such as frequent insomnia, early waking up and inability to fall back asleep, snoring that affects good sleep, or sleep apnea ‒ are signals to us that something is out of balance. It could be nutrition, high levels of stress, or unresolved relational conflict or work issues that are causing this. Listen to your body, watch for its signals and seek a doctor’s evaluation. Do not start to depend on sleeping pills. Those are designed only for very short-term help, such as a few days. 

If we do not get enough sleep it will affect our physical and emotional health ‒ and all of those we live with and work with will notice it! It is hard to be patient with someone when we are exhausted and stressed. This is not merely a character or spiritual issue that a person should pray about. It is a physical issue. You can push your body for weeks, months or years without giving it the proper rest it needs, and it will slavishly obey you. But preventing the body from resting gives unhealthiness and even diseases a chance to form in your body – in other words, your body will pay a price. 

Emotional renewal through relaxation and recreation 

Besides sleep, renewal also comes from down time. This might be a time of relaxation on the weekend or a short break during the day to walk through a park. Emotional renewal is as important as physical renewal for our wellbeing. This might come from going to see a movie with a friend, or listening to your favorite music or drinking tea in a quiet setting. In modern urban living, especially in large cities, we have to find pockets of renewal each day, month and year. Consider that your annual vacation is not just time away from work; it is a way of being a caretaker of your wellbeing. Having social times with friends is also a key to long-term health. 

Spiritual renewal through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and retreat

Since you are a body-soul union you will discover that what is true of your physical needs is also true of your soul needs. Taking time away from human voices, electronics, and other distractions to have a focused time of slow reading and thinking on the Bible while listening to God’s Spirit and laying down all of your worries is a the way Christians have been renewed in their soul for centuries. Today’s modern worship services offer little in the way of silence and Christ-centered meditation and yet it seems to be one of our greatest needs. This practice can take place in a park, in your car, or on a walk outside of your office.   

ASK: What is your plan for renewing yourself? 

Connect ‒ “The #1 thing that promotes our good health is happy relationships.” 

Even if you eat, move, and rest well, you still need human connection. Children are good at this but as adults we have to re-learn it. Men should learn to shake hands and hug each other as a normal part of life. Women also need to be hugging each other regularly. Spouses should hold hands and hug without guilt, knowing they are meeting each other’s needs and that God is pleased with this. 

Connecting physically is partnered with an emotional connection. A person’s emotions are God’s gifts to help us live life.  Christians will feel hurt, angry, sad, or lonely like everyone else ‒ these emotions must not be suppressed but instead must be honestly acknowledged and appropriately expressed ‒ this is what an emotionally healthy leader does. It is not more spiritual to appear joyful on the outside when one is feeling depressed inside. 

If someone has hurt a person whom you love, you should feel anger, as this is exactly how God feels when someone hurts a person whom He loves. However, it is the expression of emotions that often gets us into trouble. Emotions can be expressed in a healthy way or in a sinful way. The Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” We are often angry and in our anger we sin with our words or actions towards others.

There are also positive strong emotions like joy, excitement, happiness, and contentment. These emotions also need to be acknowledged and expressed. Too many Christian homes and churches have become places absent of spontaneous happiness because the leaders feel that being happy is somehow not very spiritual. What a difference it makes when a home or church is free to be full of laughter. 

Emotions are often short-term responses to life. But to remain in long-term depression, loneliness or anger is very unhealthy because it makes normal life functions very difficult. To try to minister to others while you are in deep and dark emotional times is almost impossible. As church leaders we need to recognize that leader care includes the emotional aspect of our self and those we are serving. In other words, it is possible to know someone who is seemingly physically, relationally, and spiritually healthy.  But if that person is emotionally sterile, or internally depressed, then they are not holistically healthy. 

Just as a person can be sick or weak physically, they can also be sick or weak emotionally. They need rest, care, and healing just like any person with a physical illness. We should not view this situation with any sense of shame ‒ for indeed, each of us may need special counseling at some point in our life. We should view it positively as a way of caring for the whole person. For a healthier biblical view of emotions read the Psalms and look for emotionally-laden words. Or read the stories in the Bible and see how many emotions you can identify in people. Emotions are a part of God’s physical design of us and they need special care to remain healthy. For a classic book on this subject take a look at David Seamands’ Healing for Damaged Emotions, or Larry Crabb’s Inside Out

I have two very close buddies I meet with individually and somewhat regularly for opening up, encouragement and friendship. It took years to develop these relationships and some hours each month, but it has been a life-giver and a lifesaver. 

ASK: What is your plan for connection? 

Personal Leader Care Takes Faith

Becoming healthy takes time and effort ‒ but mostly it takes faith. To take weekly time to give your body the fitness workout it longs for might mean cutting out a couple meetings a week. To give time to your own spiritual care by going on a five-day spiritual life retreat means you will have less time to do other pressing ministry stuff that week. To spend time with your own spouse or kids or special friend means less time for ministry relationships. Yet, if we believe we are to be stewards of all that God has given us, we can focus some of our time on these precious areas of our lives and the long-term effects will end up bearing more fruit than we can even imagine. 

Consider a new way of thinking – ministry (making disciples, church planting, building leaders) and leader care are equally important. To ignore our health has serious consequences that will eventually undermine all of our hard work. 

Globally the Church has experienced massive growth due to evangelism and church planting work. But many leaders are functioning far below optimal health. One large church network in East Asia recently took a survey and found that 63% of their co-workers are experiencing either significant or extreme levels of burnout! 

Is this the path you want to go down? Is this the lifestyle that we are going to pass on to the next generation of leaders? Choose the path of wellness and be an example to others. This will make you a longer-lasting, healthier and happier leader. 

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