“What happened to your blood pressure?!”
Those six words were the sound of a starting pistol being fired, signaling that it was time for me to run my race in a whole new way. At the age of forty-one, I would have told you I was the picture of health. Sure, I was tired all the time, but we’re all exhausted, right? It’s true the number of days I fought a headache with ibuprofen and Tylenol reached double digits each month, but headaches are no big deal, right? Everyone gets headaches. Then there were aching joints, lethargy, irritability, out of control food cravings . . . the list goes on. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, my body was in the danger zone while I kept on swimming, oblivious that I was in trouble and telling those around me, “Come on in, the water’s fine.”
Then my doctor said those jarring words, “What happened to your blood pressure?” I could hear the alarm in her voice. I was sick, really sick. My physical life needed an overhaul, STAT. As I considered my four beautiful children . . . my adoring husband . . . my friends . . . the people God has put in my life to serve . . . the women who read the words I write . . . I knew. The time had come to think about and respond differently to my body.
A Bad Theology of Physiology
Looking back, I can see how it happened. It wasn’t a single, big decision that caused my health to break down. Nor was there a body-altering event. No car accident, stroke, or cancer diagnosis. It had been a thousand little choices made on a thousand ordinary days. For too long I’ve misunderstood and misapplied what God’s Word teaches about our bodies. Paul’s words to Timothy in particular had become jumbled in my mind.
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:6–8 ESV, emphasis mine)
This passage has been underlined in my Bible for years. It moves me. It’s one of several places in Scripture where the apostle Paul describes faith in Jesus as something we must train for, like athletes preparing for competition. I like that idea. Put me in, coach! I’m ready to play.
For years that morphed into decades, I thought of this passage and convinced myself that each new day presents two options: nurture your physical self or nurture your spiritual self. I affirm Paul’s belief that spiritual training is more valuable than physical training, so I paid zero attention to the needs of my body and convinced myself that was what Scripture was calling me to. I operated without sleep. I built my schedule with no regular rhythms of rest. I ignored the warning signs of stress. In my pride I even patted my own back for not “wasting” time on exercise and nutrition like I’d seen others do.
Sigh. I was wrong. Almost dead wrong.
I no longer believe that Paul’s words were intended to trivialize our physical selves. That’s an overapplication of the thrust of this passage. In fact he wrote, “bodily training is of some value.” Paul was simply taking what we know in the physical, that training our bodies will result in increased abilities and stamina, to teach us something about our spiritual selves—mainly that applying the same intentionality to our understanding of God’s truth will grow our spiritual muscles. In other words, we don’t have to choose. We are whole people: physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal.
Rethinking Both Ends of the Spectrum
Consider Adam and Eve. They were created by God to live in a perfect, harmonious home and to walk intimately with Him. And yet, they had bodies. Adam was made from matter, formed from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). Eve too; she was taken from her husband’s rib (Gen. 2:22). How did Adam describe his new wife? With words focused on her physical body, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23 ESV).
Before Satan slithered toward God’s first children, before they disobeyed God and sinned, before death entered into our nature, before God’s perfect picture of shalom was shattered, Adam and Eve had bodies. Bodies are not a result of the fall; broken bodies are.
Adam and Eve’s first response to their own sin was to try to cover up their nakedness (Gen. 3:7). Their relationship with their bodies, our relationship with our bodies, has been forever changed by sin, but that’s not the same as operating from the belief that caring for our bodies is worthless or wasted. What was true of Adam and Eve remains true for all of us who live east of the garden—we are not disembodied spirits.
But will we be? Aren’t we going to shed these outer shells once we are united with Christ in glory? And if our cells are destined for the scrap heap anyway, isn’t it a waste of time and energy to try to preserve them now? Consider that the New Testament gives us three examples of resurrected people: Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21–43), Lazarus (John 11:38–44), and Jesus (Matt. 28). Each of them came back from the dead with a body. Jairus’ daughter was immobilized by death, but once Jesus raised her she walked and was given something to eat. Lazarus’ body sat in a stinky tomb for three days. Still, his physical legs and feet walked him out of the grave. Jesus ate and drank with His disciples after He rose from the dead (Acts 10:40–41). That’s not a metaphor. He ate physical food with his physical mouth.
A day is coming when all the dead in Christ will rise (1 Thess. 4:16). If you’re picturing a bunch of translucent hovering spirits, consider what happened in Matthew 27:52, “The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (CSB, emphasis mine).
Though we will be changed by death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:52), we won’t become floating blobs of bliss. Instead:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51–53 ESV)
Jesus had a body. Jesus has a body. Right now He is seated (not floating) at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). To toss aside the care of our own bodies is to disregard a part of us that God gave us and called good (Gen. 1:31). Certainly there are caveats (that’s another blog post for a different day), but for me, the realization that stewarding my body is one way to worship and honor Christ, has been life changing. The same hand that penned the words, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way,” also wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). When we look at the whole of Scripture, we see God’s invitation to dedicate our whole selves to worshiping Him—body, soul, mind, and strength.
As my body has started to flourish, all other areas of my life have sprouted new leaves: my prayer life is healthier, my time in God’s Word is more focused, my relationships are thriving. Seeing my body as a garden to be tended to rather than an inconsequential part of self to be ignored has made a difference too significant for me to express in written words.
It’s Not about Shame, It’s about Stewardship
These days, sometimes training myself for godliness looks like taking a walk and thanking God for the world He has made (Rom. 1:20). I am better equipped to live out the one anothers of Scripture when I get adequate rest. I am better armed to resist temptation and flee from sin when I’ve fueled my body with something other than junk. To do what I can to care for my physical self is to steward the many gifts God has given me so that I can run the marathon of faith well.
Which brings me to you. . .
- Have years of raising children caused you to let go of healthy habits like rest and exercise?
- Has a never-ending to-do list wooed you away from taking care of your most basic physical needs, leaving you chronically exhausted?
- Has unshakable fatigue led you to ingest a constant stream of caffeine?
- Have you thought that taking care of your body was “unspiritual” or a waste of your time?
My intent is not to shame you. As a woman who nearly ran her own body into an early grave, I have no stones to throw, but I sure wish you and I could go for a walk today. We’d marvel at our legs as they move and thank God for the steady beating of our hearts.
Here I sit, typing these words on my forty-second birthday with an entirely different outlook on my health. My blood pressure is managed. My headaches are gone. Sugar doesn’t call my name anymore. I’ve got pep in my step. The Lord is doing a new thing in my physical heart and my emotional heart (Isa. 43:19). Every cell in my body was made by Jesus and for Jesus (Col. 1:16). Woman to woman, body to body, let me encourage you to give Him glory today by stewarding well the body He made.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27 ESV)