This year in Israel has been somewhat of a beast for me. It’s been really, really good – I’ve grown a lot, made new friends, and gotten to experience life here in Israel. It’s also been somewhat of a pressure cooker, bringing to light issues in myself that I didn’t know were issues, and forcing a lot of growth in areas I both did and didn’t want to grow in. There is still a lot of that happening, and I’m still learning how to manage it all (with only 4 months remaining here in Jerusalem).
The most impactful things for me this year though have come in two areas of my life I’ve been trying to get under control for years now: my spiritual life (through learning to worship with excellence and establish daily God time) and my health (through consistently working out and eating healthfully). Although there are lots of other things I’ve been challenged on this year, these have by far been the biggest. What I’m now starting to learn is that the two are significantly intertwined.
In January my roommates and I did either complete or modified Daniel Fasts – which you can read more about online. That helped me start eating healthfully again and unintentionally caused me to lose 12-15lbs, which is about halfway to a weight loss goal I’ve had most of my life. After that, I started working out again, doing various workouts a few times a week. I also cut dairy (mostly) out of my life. Two months later and I’ve still been working out consistently and eating mostly dairy-free, which has caused me to gain a lot of muscle, lose some more fat, and keep the weight off. I’ve started running once or twice a week and recently completed the Jerusalem Marathon (half) with some of my co-workers. Now, I’m trying to eat a largely paleo/Whole30 approved foods during the week. I’m really enjoying it and it’s taught me that I can cure my sweet tooth with dried fruits and naturally sweetened things instead of sugary sweets and unhealthy carbs. I’m hoping this will help me reach my weight goal by the end of the Zealous Israel Project. I feel lighter, healthier, and more confident than I have in a long time.
What I’ve realized, though, is that health and faith are actually deeply linked.
I started thinking about this while in school at Fuller, but it’s become more of a reality here in Israel. I’ve been getting hit with a lot of negativity recently, whether it’s from other people or the Enemy trying to bring me down. But I’ve also been called to a lot of spiritually draining things, particularly intercessory prayer. I’ve learned that in order to intercede for someone in prayer without taking on all the emotions and negativity myself, I have to make sure I spend time with God on my own being filled up. It is only when I get that personal time that I am able to stay grounded and remain disconnected from feeling what other people feel (which I am learning is really necessary when doing intercessory prayer). And boy do I need a lot of personal time here in Jerusalem. I can’t get enough of it. It’s the same with health and fitness. I need to pray about it and let God into it if I’m going to consistently take care of myself.
With that being said, here are 4 things I’ve realized about the connection between health and God since living in Jerusalem:
1. My body is God’s temple, and thus I need to honor Him by taking care of it; fitness is a form of worship.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
This belief started for me while in seminary when I was researching something for class. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but it had something to do with self-care. Anyways, I stumbled across this blog post that a guy wrote about how he views fitness as a form of worship, and how he stays active so that he can be physically ready to go wherever God sends him and do whatever Kingdom-bringing work he is called to do. We are often called to do physically strenuous things for the Kingdom – and how can we expect to do those things if our bodies are not physically capable of doing them? Being fit and healthy helps us to go where God calls us and it serves as a form of worship by honoring God’s temple. Realizing that fitness is a form of worship has completely changed how I view working out. I’m still not as consistent as I should be with it, but I am getting a lot better.
I have a hard time thinking or talking while running. Honestly, I envy people who say they get quality prayer time or personal time while they run. I wish I was to the point where I could do that, to the point where running clears my mind from other things. It doesn’t. Maybe someday it will. But for now, most of my runs consist of me praying one thing over and over in my mind: “God, please help me to push through this run so I can do your Kingdom work. So I can honor and worship you by taking care of my body, which is your temple. Give me strength to keep going for Your glory.” That is basically my mantra for all runs and is constantly on repeat in my head. That is honestly what keeps me going.
2. Fitness creates discipline, which leads to discipline in other areas of life.
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.
1 Corinthians 9: 24-27
I think this is probably the most quoted verse for exercise in the Bible. At least, it is personally the one I hear the most quoted by those connecting health and God. The thing is – it’s true. Exercise and staying healthy requires a LOT of self-control. It means making time every day to work out, and choosing to eat salads instead of pasta. It means more than just setting a goal; it means sticking to a plan that will cause you to reach your goal (and even surpass your goal!). It means not just telling other to put their health first, but doing it yourself as a living example for others. Because living this way requires a lot of self-control, it teaches self-control in other areas of life, too. Since continuously practicing self-control over the past few months in what I eat, I’ve noticed I’ve gotten better at having God time daily. It creates habits of discipline that can be applied in other areas of life, too. That is a vitally important skill to have.
3. A healthy life is a joy-filled life.
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”
-Elle Woods, from Legally Blonde
I’ve also noticed that I turn to working out now when I get frustrated or upset with something or someone. Instead of letting myself think negative thoughts, I pray for freedom from that and then go work out, because working out releases endorphins, which make you happy. I always feel better after working out and I usually feel less stressed and happier, too. It makes me a better person both mentally and physically.
I’ve learned I have to make time every day for both working out and spending time with God in order to feel truly at peace and happy. It doesn’t have to be a huge workout – it can be something small and quick – but my best days are the days when I get at least an hour or more to spend with God, and an hour or more to workout.
This usually means I have to wake up early and prioritize God-time over everything else – and I’m still working on doing that, since I am not a morning person. I am trying to do that, though. The days where I wake up at 5 or 5:30am and get quality God time are the best. If I don’t do that, then I try to spend time with God on my lunch break. God-time in the morning, and working out in the evening. Those are the days when I feel my best and most ready to tackle anything that comes my way. Those are the days I feel the most joy. Those are the days I can tackle intercessory prayer and not feel weighed down with emotions.
4. Health is not just food and fitness – it is other forms of self-care and beauty, too.
This really struck me this morning, on what I would call the perfect Shabbat. I woke up early (for the weekend), had coffee and God-time, made a healthy breakfast and lunch, and made a turmeric mask for my face. Pre-turmeric mask I was staring at myself in the mirror and thinking about how much I hate the red marks on my face, and I just want them to be gone before we hike the Jesus Trail in April. After I washed the mask off my face, it’s amazing how much better and more positive I felt. My face felt soft and smooth, and the redness had gone down some. The marks were still there, but I felt a lot more positive about them.
I’m not typically one for doing girly things like facials and baths and pedicures, but I’m starting to realize how much better I feel about myself when I do those things. They make me more confident and help me feel peaceful, which works wonders for my mental health. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your spiritual and physical health and should not be overlooked. Our mind is a part of God’s temple too, so we need to do what is necessary to honor that part of our body. For me, that currently looks like face masks a couple times a week, homemade coffee sugar scrubs, taking personal time for myself, and painting my toes once or twice a month. It doesn’t take a lot. But those things help me significantly to relax, and I’m going to start being a lot more focused on self-care.
So, there you have it – my rant on all things health and fitness as they relate to the spiritual side of things. Hopefully you can get something from that and be encouraged to see self-care as a form of worship 🙂
Shabbat shalom, friends.