We were hiking out of Linville Gorge, up Table Rock Mountain, when I had an epiphany: this was not as easy as it used to be. When I was in college, I did a lot of camping and hiking. My buddy David and I would drop everything and take off for the mountains at a moment’s notice. Linville Gorge was one of our default destinations; we hiked it and climbed it several times. But here I was on that day, trying to catch my breath and wondering what had happened.
Of course, I knew what had happened. Like I said, in college I did this sort of thing all the time. Not only did I hike a lot, I also played basketball a lot. Not only that, I worked year round at a camp, playing dodgeball and refereeing basketball and doing all sorts of physical activities. When I wasn’t working at the camp, I worked at a horse farm, shoveling. Back then, I was constantly on the move, constantly active.
But after college, I slowed down. I didn’t play basketball or dodgeball, I stopped hiking, I got a less physically demanding job. The job was really what did it for me. I got a new job in May of 2009, my first desk job, and in the first three or four months of this job I traveled every week. We would leave first thing Monday morning, sometimes Sunday evening, and not be back till Friday night.
Do you know what the problem is with living on the road like that? No kitchen. For three or four months straight, I ate out for pretty much every meal. It’s hard to find healthy food on the road like that. You have no refrigerator, so you might as well eat everything that’s on your plate. Not to mention when the work day was over we would all meet up in the hotel bar for a couple drinks and a snack before going to bed. At the end of that summer, I had gained just over 30 pounds.
So as I breathlessly struggled up Table Rock Mountain that October, desperately trying to impress my future wife Jessica who I had been dating for only a couple months, I had an epiphany: this wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Something was different, and that something was me. I had stopped taking care of my body, and it showed.
Our bodies are a gift from God. In fact, our bodies are one of the first things God gives us. But as with all God’s gifts to us, it comes with an expectation that we will take care of it. Scripture reminds us that our bodies, though given to us by God, are not actually our own. “Do you not know,” Paul writes to the Corinthians, “that your bodies are members of Christ?… Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:15, 19)
My body is not my own, but God’s… my body is a temple, but I had been treating it like a tent. Too often we Christians ignore our bodies, we consider them temporary housing if we consider them at all. We focus on our spiritual health, but we ignore our physical health. What I have come to realize since that day on Table Rock Mountain is that that simply will not do. We are spiritual creatures, yes, but we are also physical creatures. We cannot emphasize one to the neglect of the other. My body is God’s property, God’s gift to me. I need to be a good steward of that gift. We need to be good stewards of that gift. “You were bought with a price,” Paul reminds us, “therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)
For the next four weeks we are going to be considering our physical bodies and our physical health, but we need to start with three things. I’ve already covered the first. Our bodies belong to God. We are stewards, caretakers of our bodies. Therefore we must take care of them well. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; we need to treat them like temples.
This means we have to stop abusing and misusing our bodies. Stop putting things into our bodies that will destroy them, either chemically or nutritionally. We can’t let our bodies just lie about and fall into disrepair. If this is God’s body, it needs to move so that God may be glorified. I have to turn off the TV, put on my shoes, and get going.
So we start with this understanding, that our bodies belong to God. Next consider this: God likes your body. When you look at yourself in the mirror you might see things you don’t like, but when God looks at you God says, “I made that, and it’s good!” Y’see, God don’t make junk. God made us physical beings as surely as he made us spiritual beings, and for no other reason than God simply likes it that way. God is thrilled to see you using your body as it was intended.
Earlier I said that I gained thirty pounds that summer of traveling, and I did. After my revelation on Table Rock I made changes, gradually, and when my oldest was born in 2014 I weighed 55 pounds less than when I first met Jessica. But don’t equate health with skinny. Too often we hear about health only as it is connected to weight loss and appearance. And yes, when your body is healthy you do look better, and you might shed a few pounds to get healthier. But please don’t think I’m saying we all must fit into the mold of beautiful, skinny people that movies and ads tell us we must be. A very slim margin of people fit into that category of beauty.
Mr. Rogers ended every show by reminding kids, “I like you just the way you are.” As much as I love Mr. Rogers, I know that God is even better, so let me tell you right now, God likes you- no, God loves you- just the way you are.
When I say health, I am not talking about weight loss. No, when I say health I mean wholeness. Completeness. Being able to do what the good Lord put you here to do.
You see, our bodies matter for God’s plans. God wants us to use our bodies to glorify the Lord. And God’s creative, redemptive work is to make us whole, to make us complete in Christ. That includes our bodies. Does this mean that Christians should never get sick? That if our bodies break down we are somehow displeasing God? No, of course not. In fact, we’ll talk next week about encounters with unhealthy bodies. God wants us to do whatever we can to care for our bodies so that God will be glorified.
More than that, though, health means wholeness as in a whole person; our spiritual health of course, and our physical health, but also our mental health. We still stigmatize mental illness, ignore it and refuse to talk about it or admit it is present. We consider the mentally ill to be dangerous and want them locked away. We are embarrassed to admit to our own mental illness. Folks, mental illness is real, it is present in our midst today, and it is nothing to be ashamed of or scared of. If you wouldn’t blame or accuse or shun a person for having cancer or high blood pressure, neither should you blame or accuse or shun someone who is bipolar or anxious or schizophrenic or depressed.
This is what I want you to do: think about your life. Think about your body. Find one thing you can change, one thing you can do differently, to improve your health. Commit to doing one thing this week to be healthier. I know there are things beyond our control, that our bodies will break down and be sick sometimes. But control what you can. Find one way this week to glorify God in your body.
 For more on this see Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, chapter 7: The Body and the Earth.