By Elizabeth Evans Hagan
First Corinthians 6:11-20 can be the preacher’s worst nightmare — a passage full of directives about sex, food and all things bodily. Yet, I chose it as part of a six-part series about God’s calling on our lives. I just couldn’t ignore the body.
As I began writing this particular sermon, I realized that I’d never preached or heard a sermon on the topic of care for self, and I’ve been in church my whole life. Unless you are a pastor learning about self-care in a seminary class, it is rare in Christian culture that this topic ever comes up.
While many pastors might be able to say that we’ve cared for the sick and dying or that our giving and baptism numbers are up, when it comes to taking care of our own health we usually do a lousy job. We don’t really think our bodies matter that much, nor do we encourage our congregations to think much about theirs.
I can’t count how many pastoral encounters I’ve had in homes where a piece of cake or pie was shoved on me, despite my insisting, “I’m full.” I also can’t recall how many times I’ve heard clergy at pastors’ gatherings boast about never going for annual check-ups because ministry keeps them too busy. Or how many stories of sexual sins I’ve heard that begin with, “I stopped loving or caring about myself, and then….”
The theology to which most of us cling doesn’t seem to give us much help, either. Generations of doctrine, preaching and study have done a great job of disconnecting the body and the soul.
Because of humankind’s fall in Genesis 3, we learn we’re condemned to a sentence of bodily suffering and pain. The body is bad and will die, while the soul is good and, if redeemed, abides in the presence of God forever. Though the creation story says that God created humans and called it “very good,” we are often tempted to think otherwise.
We are eager in the church to talk about becoming something “more” — more loving, more giving, more serving, more faithful. Yet it is rare that we talk about the physicality of a body from which all of the loving, giving, serving and faithfulness come. Rarely do we talk about the possible links between lack of self-care by our leaders and sex scandals and affairs. Furthermore, we don’t hear that the longevity and the nature of our care of others have direct links to our own physical health.
I believe something has to change.
As pastors and church leaders, we must care about our own bodies and model these behaviors for the congregation. Do we have a plan for healthy eating and exercise? If so, do we talk about it with the congregation, just as we talk about other spiritual disciplines? Do we attend to our sexual life in a way that honors the gift of our bodies and the well-being of our partners? Such are conversations we need to have with greater frequency.
What are we doing with our collective resources within the local church? When is the last time we hosted or encouraged participation in a health fair where life-saving tests are given to those who need it the most? When is the last time our church suppers cooks carefully considered the nutritional value of the food we serve in God’s house? When is the last time we talked about sex from the perspective of care of self?
Sure, living into God’s call to take care of our bodies is going to be costly in time, money and entering into taboo conversation zones. But if we truly believe that our bodies are the temple of God’s Spirit, why not honor and attend to what God gave us in the first place? It’s just good stewardship.