Clergy health: it is something that we talk about, but as clergy we spend so much time helping others that we easily forget about and neglect ourselves, even if not always purposefully. We know to be in good health is something that God calls of us, as the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 19:20 that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and that we should honor God with our bodies. There is also III John 1:2, a prayer that we enjoy good health, that all may go well with us, even our souls.
As clergy, we preach, we teach, we pray, we visit the sick, and we know the word, but how does this apply to ourselves? I write this not to chastise: I will share a snippet of my own story, and how I have transformed, in the hopes that this can help you begin to make steps towards living a more intentionally focused, healthier life.
I was on the ministerial staff of a church and now I pastor a church. I also work full-time in a secular job, and I was always involved in some type of community activity. I was one busy bee and life was chucking along. I always knew I was overweight, and would do something about it for a moment, but not consistently. I was obese, but I did not have any health problems, nothing to worry about right now – there is always tomorrow – besides, I have all these other responsibilities: my church, my job, my community.
Before I knew it, at my highest, I was 385.6 lbs., less than 15 pounds shy of 400, and I decided to do something to make a change. I may not have any health issues currently, but I know my family history and if you name it, within my family someone currently has it or has suffered with it in the past. There was diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer; the list goes on. I have a Master’s degree in Public Health and a Master’s of Divinity, so I should have known all the “right things” to do.
Was this the way that God wanted me to live my life? Getting winded walking up steps, or having to sit and take a break because I am a tired, or my legs hurt? Again, life was in the way, I had all this other stuff to do. One day I realized that just like all the other stuff I had to do, I also needed to “do” my health. I personally decided to undergo Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (weight loss surgery), a nine-month journey of doctor’s visits, supervised weight loss appointments, psychological exams, and finally surgery. (This is the path that I decided to take, but you may not have to do that.)
Since then I have gotten active, teaching Zumba, planning my meals, and making health a priority, all while still having all the other obligations that I thought were “in the way” of dealing with my health. My favorite part of my transformation is that I have been able to include my love of health with my love for God. I have taught Zumba at a church conference, twice a week at a local church, and once a week at Faith in Motion, a Christian-based dance facility. I weigh in once a week.
Since the start of my journey, I have gone from 385.9 lbs. to 253.6 lbs. I have lost a total of 132.3 lbs., 109.7 of those since surgery, and I feel so alive. I had to make this a priority (like all my other priorities) knowing that with God’s help, I could do it!
Health is holistic, meaning that it includes your mind, your body and your spirit. As clergy, health should very much be a part of our self-care. If we are not healthy, how do we expect to help others be physically and spiritually healthy? As a leader, I believe God calls us to model good behaviors and habits for our congregations. Health is very much one of the good habits that we should model.
Here are some tips to make health one of our priorities. These are steps that we can take whether we are obese and overweight, or just trying to live a life of health, maintaining the weight that we currently are. The key is that we must be intentional about incorporating these steps into our lives.
Tip 1: Make time for doctor visits, at least getting a yearly physical. If something does not feel right, get it checked out sooner rather than later. Know your numbers (blood pressure, weight, BMI) and how they affect your health. If you are on medicines, even with a busy schedule, please remember to take them. In an effort not to miss them, I use a phone app that reminds me it is time to take my meds; I also use an app to track the foods that I eat, weight, and so on.
Tip 2: As much as possible schedule time to work out, or get in some type of physical activity. It is suggested that we get 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This does not have to be done all at once. You can take two 15-minute walks, dance for 10 minutes three times a day, or go for it all at once. Pick the exercise that fits you; for some it may be the treadmill or elliptical, for others it may be jogging or walking, while for me, I love to dance, so I Zumba and sweat, sweat, sweat.
Tip 3: I suggest meal prepping and cooking at home. If possible, plan ahead, making a food schedule of what you would like to cook. Prepare meals in a way that will be healthier such as baking, grilling or broiling instead of frying. When you do this you know what is in your food and how it was prepared. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables; vary your vegetables and fruit. Fresh is best, but frozen, canned, or dried are also okay. If drinking juices, make sure they are 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Try to make at least half your grains whole grains, go lean with your protein, and with your dairy choose skim or 1% and nonfat products. As much as possible try to keep your food choices low in fat, sodium and sugar. However, with our busy schedules as clergy, I know this may not always be possible (See tip 4).
Tip 4: Sometimes we will have to eat out. When eating on the go, there is an opportunity to eat healthy. Next time try that grilled sandwich, instead of fried. Maybe have the sandwich without a bun, and ask for other side options than fries. You will be surprised at the number of restaurants that offer vegetables, salad, applesauce, or other delightful options. As much as we love sauces, try to eat without them, or ask for them on the side. Trust me on this, restaurants are very accommodating, some of them now even have “healthier size/portion” meals that you can choose.
Tip 5: Let us not forget about our mental health. As I stated health is holistic, including the mind, body and spirit. If one of them is off, we are not whole. It is okay if you need to talk with a professional about problems you are having. It is the next step in my journey as I continue with weight loss. I recognize that some of my weight problems were me holding on to issues from the past, but it is time to let them go, and that is okay.
Tip 6: Include health as a part of your ministry. Health and wellness ministries can help move people to a place of total wellness, wellness that includes individuals who are whole in their mind, body and spirit. They do this by providing programming, information, as well as encouraging healthy lifestyles. This ministry does not have to be run by someone with a background in health; the only thing required is the heart and care for people to live a healthier life. Each month they can highlight a health issue (bulletin, announcements, workshops), as well as collaborate with local community organizations to address these issues. Get other ministries involved; for example, by having the kitchen ministry incorporate healthy options such as baked dishes, fruits and vegetables, as well as low-fat/sugar-free dessert options, or by having the youth ministry host a family fun day with movement activates for the entire family. Lastly, as the leader, be sure to incorporate wellness in meetings and celebrate the steps you and your congregation are taking towards total health and wellness.
If there is anyone who wants some help through his or her struggle of good health, or to talk about a health and wellness ministry, please feel free to reach out. I will do as much as I can to help you through the process. Lately I have been saying this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Transformation takes time, energy and effort!
Take one step at a time. On any journey towards transformation there may be some setbacks, some stumbling, but if you continue on the journey, you can make it to your endpoint! With marathons, you have to pace yourself, sometimes you go faster and other times you go slower, but with endurance, you make it to the end. My fellow clergy, with God’s help, we can make it!