Spiritual Health, where to start? How to end? This, without question, will be the most difficult, yet most rewarding, article of this three part series for me. That alone personally sums up what my spiritual health represents. Optimal spiritual health is like any other layer in that it must be nurtured, fed, and grown. It is also similar in the fact that absence of attention can leave subtle effects that over time leave detrimental consequences on your health. I mentioned in the conclusion of the last article, highlighting emotional and mental health, that spiritual health is the deepest yet outermost layer of health. How can this realm be difficult, yet rewarding? How can it be deepest, yet outermost? Easy, because it impacts and affects everything; at least I have found it to. It is the one realm that holds all the others together. Spiritual health restores hope, spiritual health centers, spiritual health saves. It is the one realm of health that causes me to fight, to push, to get up again when I feel there is nothing left. Yet it humbles me and can crumble me, then embrace me when I have fallen. Spiritual health isn’t something you can measure like your weight or your blood pressure, and it isn’t something inherently passed on through genetics. However, it is a gift available to anyone and everyone should you choose to simply take it.
I owe at least my yearning for and my introduction to a spiritual side of health to my parents. I was born and raised Methodist, with my family, including three other siblings, growing up going to church every Sunday. It was just what we did and it wasn’t questioned. However, there never was this feeling of something being as people like to say, “forced down our throat”. Rather, I watched the actions of my parents outside of church reflect what I saw go on in church and realized this is just the life they live, it is not one hour they live on Sunday. I witnessed my parents then and up until now living a life following Christ, not just a Sunday following Christ – from their selfless giving to others and their strong moral compass, to their ability to not let their marriage crumble under some of life’s most stressful circumstances. My parents embrace life, live life, and give life to others. Something must be guiding them, directing them, and empowering them. This alone made me search for answers to what is so important? What is so wonderful? What is so powerful?
One’s faith tends to be a very personal and private relationship. I sometimes think of other people’s relationships with God and picture that it must be like marriages or best friendships. There are millions of these relationships out there and no two are the same; they are all special and different in their own way. I can witness how you interact in your relationship with your friend or your spouse and how the relationship influences you, and you can do the same with me. However, we never really know the true deep heartfelt feelings the other has in these said relationships. That is something only for the individual to know and feel. This is the same for our relationship with Christ, it is individual and it is personal. The depths to which it grows are up to you and how much you are willing to put into it.
How could a relationship with Christ that is meant to be so personal and so individual be so difficult yet so rewarding at the same time? Because first and foremost, your faith must continuously be fed. Fed in the times in which life is so wonderful that you forget your woes and forget your struggles and… you forget to thank Him. Fed in the times you are drowning in your woes, and your struggles and doubt of yourself and others…and doubt in Him to help you. Fed in the times you take the steering wheel of life yourself and don’t trust him because you have too much confidence in yourself and your talents and your abilities….all of which He so happened to give you. Feeding your faith takes work, day in and day out. Feeding on the good days, feeding on the bad days, but always feeding.
How do you feed? I have found many ways to feed my faith. The easiest way is prayer. I can do it anyplace, anywhere, anytime. God is ALWAYS there. He is just waiting for you to speak. He will feed your soul, but only if you stop long enough to ask him. The more you pray, the more you find the need to and the deeper your faith grows. You can look at it as a habit like any routine you seek to establish. Repetition is the only answer. If you find yourself wondering when you prayed last or telling yourself “I should try to pray more,” hit your knees and start right there.
Searching for answers is another way to feed your soul. I have no doubt that what I experienced in my home growing up with two active Christian parents was part of God’s bigger plan. Their behavior is what sparked me asking why this Christian life is such a priority for my parents and the family they created. I want this passion for Christ that they have, this passion for life – how do I get it? This searching for answers is what led me to joining the Catholic Church before I was married. This searching for answers is what continues to deepen my faith today. This searching for answers feeds my faith. Don’t get me wrong, I truly feel God wants you to be happy and God wants you to be content. But God wants you to ask questions; how else do you deepen your faith if you never ask questions? It is at difficult times that I have experienced doubt in my faith, but those are the times that I have grown the most. No matter what the circumstance, no matter what the question, He ALWAYS leads me to the answers.
So if the answer to your spiritual health is simply feeding it, how can this realm be so difficult to foster? Well, for several reasons: your spiritual health is not always something you can touch, see, and hold. Your spiritual health relies on the depth of your faith and your ability to trust. In a world where we want to have all the answers and have all the plans laid out, this vulnerability is hard to embrace. In a world where we have migrated to instant gratification, the thought of simply waiting seems to be an inconvenience, so actually taking the time to let faith grow, for many, is an afterthought. Feeding your faith often means taking the road less traveled, not giving into societal norms, pressures, or temptations that target to serve self rather than God. To not only take this road by choice but also stay true to the path requires feeding your faith regularly. But the biggest obstacle to feeding and growing faith, however, often can be the constant bombarding of over-consumption of the outside world. The world has a tendency to teach you that happiness comes from taking or gaining much and giving little. This “syndrome” of happiness from consumption is only heightening with time.
In order to seek optimal self-improvement in the spiritual realm, it is about giving from the inside not taking from the outside. I am not just talking about giving in the terms of money, donations, or clothes off your back. I am talking about giving of your time, giving of forgiveness, giving of humility and mercy, giving of your peace, giving of your efforts, giving of your labor, giving of your mind, giving of your SELF to Christ and all He stands for and trusting the road He takes you down before you give to anything else. Faith in Christ will give you faith in this world. Media, materialism, the pressure to rise to the top, to get what is owed, to keep up with society on whatever level we strive to smothers the fire of selfless giving; these things turn your eyes to the outside and what you can get or should get rather than turning your eyes on what you can give. It is a disease in itself and has become what we now are raising generations to come to deal with. Feeding your faith sharpens the sword and thickens the armor to which you must wear in order to continuously give from the inside and not take from the outside (or at least be tempted to take). Your faith is your shield and it is up to you to put it on each day or to leave it packed away. Unless you feed your faith regularly, you will constantly fight the battle of life without any armor and the enemy of this world will find you an easy target. Feed your faith, and rest safely in His armor.
So, for the black and white side, how does the spiritual realm relate to physical, emotional, and mental health? Easily. As for the physical realm, your body is a temple, your life on earth a gift. Treat it like it were a gift, and God will see to it that you do great things…incredible things. Will this task of self-control be easy? Of course not. Enter in – outside temptation. To fuel our body with unhealthy food, or chemicals, or abuse our bodies in the name of “what feels good at the moment” is not taking care of our bodies and will not allow them to operate at the best of their abilities. When it comes to your physical health, if you let your faith guide your actions rather than always your desires guiding your actions you always will make the better choice. Look at what your body truly needs to absorb in order to give out productively to your family, to your job, to society. Numerous studies have revealed that the physical components of immune, pain, blood pressure, life span, and disease are directly related to your spiritual health; each one being positively impacted by meditation, prayer, and even one’s capacity to forgive. This is free preventative health, if you only choose to take it.
Your spiritual health is directly related to your mental health as well. With strong faith, meditation and prayer, concentration and attention are heightened, allowing you more productivity and direction. This attention gives you the ability to retain and use your knowledge for enriching others and society as a whole. Prayer and the ability to forgive also better allow you to be able to sort through the relevant and irrelevant details of life, allowing you to address and face obstacles while not being consumed by them. Finally, the spiritual realm impacts the emotional realm of health in a multitude of ways. Just as emotions can be our internal reactions to others, our environment, and life’s events, emotions can also cause external reactions that directly affect others. Without faith, these emotions with both their quick and often volatile effects can wreak havoc on relationships, both personal and professional. A well-fed spiritual life helps to keep Christ at the center of your actions, your thoughts, and your words. Prayer and meditation both calm anger and hurt, thus allowing you a more rational and thought out approach to communicating with others.
As mentioned earlier, your spiritual life can be the most private part of your identity, so I can only speak for what it personally means to me and my life. Just as my physical, emotional, and mental layers of health have experienced droughts, so has my spiritual. However, my faith is the one realm of health that, no matter what, never goes completely dry. There is always a light lit, it is just dependent upon me how bright it shines. It is the cornerstone of all aspects of my health. It has the power to heal, to uplift, and to direct all choices regarding facets of my health. It is always present, but just awaiting my attention. I have seen my faith bring forth amazing things, I have seen it change my perspective on life, and it can do this for you too, if only you feed it.
“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe” – Saint Augustine