Yesterday we talked about whole-life health, and the 5 areas of strength the Bible refers to. We get so focused on our overwhelming problems, it can be hard to take a step back and see the bigger picture. But you know what you see when you step back? Sure, we recognize things that need change – but we also notice things that are working.
We all have things we’re actually good at. We’re probably even healthy in one or more areas. We might feel like we need a whole-life makeover, but there’s actually a couple things that we are rocking, if we are honest.
Maybe you’re the person whose house looks great. Or you have an exercise routine that you just love. Maybe you’ve got a great community of friends and family around you. Or you and Jesus are pretty close these days.
You may be exhausted, you may feel burnt out, and you may be desperate for a change, but there’s one or two things in your life that are actually okay – or maybe even better than okay. Maybe even a couple awesome things you wouldn’t change for the world.
I’ve noticed something: when we get unhealthy, we tend to lean into the area we’re already half-decent at. Maybe we think if we get better at it, we’ll get healthier. Or maybe we’re reacting to people around us who are unhealthy in that area, and we’re in a wierd way trying to compensate. Or maybe it’s just the way we know to move towards health. I’m sure smarter people out there can explain this better than I, but when I look around, I see people pushing towards the area they’re already healthy in.
Case in point. As I’m hurtling towards burnout at a breakneck speed, guess what I did to stop it?
I read books. Any article, book, TED talk, speaker, conference I could get access to, I grabbed it. I love learning. Libraries are among my favourite places in the world. One day I want to take my Masters degree – not for any particular reason, I just think it would be fun.
I knew what my issues were. I could articulate what needed to change in order for my pace to be healthy. I even knew what I needed to do to move towards health. I didn’t need more books, more articles or more speakers telling me what to do. Mentally, I was reasonably aware and healthy. Physically, however, I was adding daily to my unhealthy habits. I didn’t acknowledge my emotions. Relationally, I was struggling. But the only thing I wanted to do was learn more.
More books weren’t helping me.
More motivational speakers weren’t motivating me.
More lightbulb moments weren’t breaking into my darkness.
You know what I needed? I needed to lean into the places I had been neglecting, not the places I was already nourishing.
My brain had plenty of food – my heart, however, was starving.
I couldn’t neglect my mental or spiritual health – they continue to need nourishing – but that comes easy to me. What does not come easily is paying attention to my emotions (what are those?). It was not easy for me to start running. It was incredibly hard to both confess my need for a diet (ugh. I still hate that word) and even harder to put it into practice.
But I couldn’t get healthy until I attended the things I had been neglecting.
I feel like I see this all the time. Fit friends who, in times of stress, add more exercise to their lives. Relationally full friends who look for more groups to join to spend more time with people. Emotionally aware friends looking for counsel to help them process even more. Spiritually wise friends who are booking another prayer retreat.
Let me say: none of these are necessarily bad. We’re all wired a certain way and it’s often life-giving to lean into our strengths. I never gave up reading, and still listen to podcasts daily and almost always am in the middle of some online course – I get a lot of out learning. But when we use our strength as an excuse to neglect our weakness, we can’t move forward.
We’re whole people. We don’t get to say “my body doesn’t matter” (like I used to) or “I’m too old to learn” or “I’m just not an emotional person.” That’s absurd.
We need to be healthy in five major ways: our bodies, our emotions, our mental state, our spirituality and relationally. You don’t get to ignore one and not be affected by it eventually. And if you’re relationally sick, dieting won’t help. If you’re physically unwell, having more coffee dates with friends wont’ fix it.
Our natural inclination is to do more of what’s already working for us.
I get it.
To pursue health, though, we’ve got to put some time, effort and attention into the areas that are not working for us. This is always hard work. Either we don’t know where to start, or we dismiss the things we know to do because it’s too hard/won’t work/tried it before/hate failing/inconvenient/don’t have all the tools… you know the drill.
I’m a master at that drill.
I know, right now, you’re thinking you need to do something to change your life. I also know you’re automatically thinking “I’ll just do…” and filling in the blank with either something you’ve tried before or already do.
Take a moment, and be honest. What actually needs to change in your life?
My friend admitted that relationally, her life is pretty isolated right now. I’ve heard this before from her. However, this time was different. She finished with saying, “So I made myself sign up to serve at church. I don’t have time, but I don’t think I’ll ever have time so maybe I just need to start. I know that’s a good way to get connected. And I’m showing up at the event next Saturday. I’m not sure if I”ll meet people there or not, but I think I just need to start showing up.” She followed up with an invitation to join her. I was impressed.
I know it’s ridiculously hard for her to take that step. I also know there’s no quick fixes – for her, or any of us. Chances are it’ll take months of “showing up” before she meets anybody, much less makes any meaningful connections. But she’s doing it.
I’m six months into running and three months into my new diet. I’d love to show you before and after photos of how much weight I’ve lost and how radiant I look now compared to then… but you wouldn’t see much difference. I don’t have any “magic” moments. My progress is painfully slow. But it’s progress. I’m aware how my little steps forward in those long-neglected parts of me are bringing life and health into so many other areas of my life as well. So I keep at it.
You’ll need to, too. One little thing at a time.
Can we agree to press pause on that instinct to do more of what’s already working, and change gears to not just lean into health, but to address some of the unhealthy areas in our lives?
Maybe you already know what to do. When it was time to address my physical health, it was obvious – start exercising and stop eating so many cookies. But I had no idea what it meant to address my emotional health – I needed a lot of really obvious signposts and less-than-subtle shoves to move me in the right direction.
One Little Thing Challenge: Day 4
What area of health is most neglected in your life?
If you know what to do, what’s one little thing you can do today to start? If you’re not sure, throughout this 31 day challenge, there’ll be a quick overview of each strength and some little things you can do to move forward in each area. Just stick with me.
Prayer for Today