September 24, 2018

Authentic Living

This is your life.  Are you who you want to be?  Switchfoot

If you’re going to make the most of your time on earth, living a no-regrets lifestyle, then you need to engage fully with those around you.  You want the people you love to know just how much they mean to you.  You want to be a healing agent in the lives you touch, leaving behind a legacy with eternal impact.  But, the only way to accomplish these goals of authentic living is first to take time and focus on yourself.  If you’re not healthy spiritually, physically, emotionally, and relationally, how can you move beyond yourself and invest in others?

At first glance this may hit you, like me, as a bit too self-centered, another excuse for self-absorption in a me-first culture.  Like anything taken to an extreme, self-care can become a license to never grow beyond ourselves and our needs.  Yet, loving ourselves is a Biblical command.  Jesus Himself said this in identifying the greatest commandment.   

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’” Matthew. 22:37-39 TLB

Most of us understand that we are to love God first and that we are to love our neighbor, but we miss the last part of this message:  we are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.  Jesus indicated that, before we can really love others and make a difference in their lives, we have to first love ourselves.

This message can be used to justify selfishness, but the reality is just the opposite.  You have to first take time to get healthy, so you can impact the world around you.  In fact, until you learn how to love yourself, you can never really learn to love and care for others the way God wants you to.  You cannot teach someone else that which you haven’t learned.

God wants us to cultivate energy spiritually, physically, emotionally, and relationally. If you knew you only had one month to live, how would you treat your body?  Would you stop forcing yourself to exercise? Order extra fries in the drive-through?  Enjoy a bowl of ice cream every day?  If your physical body only had thirty days left, it might be tempting to neglect it and go only for what feels good and tastes better.  But, how you treat your body is an area where the reality of the one-month-to-live lifestyle extends far beyond a few weeks.

Whether you have thirty days or thirty years left, you should realize that how you treat your body has a direct and lasting impact on the quality of life you enjoy.    To be healthy physically, we must be healthy spiritually.  If I can’t honor God with my body, how can I honor Him with my heart?  Listen to what God says about our bodies.  

“Have you forgotten that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you…, and that you are not the owner of your own body?”  1 Corinthians 6:19 Ph

What an amazing truth!  God lives in our bodies as Christ followers.  Your body is the temple of God, and that’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself and cultivate physical energy.

If you stay connected to the vine – it goes back to your spiritual health – then you move from willpower to God’s power.  Then, He gives you the strength to exercise.  He gives you the real power to eat healthy.  It’s not that you’ll become a vegetarian triathlete who prays throughout each meal, but you won’t be caught up in worshiping or ignoring your body.  You’ll recognize it as God’s creation that houses both your soul and His Spirit, and you’ll put a priority on your physical health.   The benefit will improve both the quantity and quality of your life!

The next crucial area is our emotional lives.  A huge part of maturing, of growing up, is learning to experience our emotions without being controlled by them.  It’s not like we can flip a switch and turn off our fear or push a button and be happy.  We may not be able to control what we feel, but we definitely can control what we do with those emotions – how they affect our thoughts and behavior.  Since our feelings can fluctuate based on our mood, circumstances, physical health, and other factors, it becomes essential that we go back to our primary source, our spiritual connection to God.  As we endure the ups and downs of life, God’s truth serves as an anchor point no matter what emotional storm we may be experiencing.

It’s important to realize that a healthy emotional life doesn’t mean you stuff how you feel and hide your emotions.  No, we are created as emotional beings.  We just have to express our emotions without being controlled by them.  Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions that any of us feel, yet He never sinned.  Jesus got angry, cried, and laughed.  Clearly, He experienced all the emotions we do, but He didn’t allow them to control His thoughts, behavior, or interactions with others.

As we look for ways to improve our physical and emotional lives, we will experience the benefit in our relationships as well.  When we are healthy, we are better able to help others.  God designed us to live in community with others.  If we knew we were facing only a few weeks to live, we would want those we cared about to know our truest selves, to know how grateful we are for them.  We would want to give them our final heart messages.  We would want to leave behind a relational legacy of enduring love and ongoing faith.

No matter how many calendar pages we turn in our lives, we must still realize just how short life is. We ask God to teach us to number our days and help us understand that time is limited so we can spend our time the way He wants us to.  Only then can we fulfill the purpose for which He created us.  Fulfilling our purpose as His creation, connected to God as our lifeline, allows us to get healthy physically, emotionally, and relationally.  Loving yourself is not selfish.  It’s essential.

Personal Challenge:

  1. What is the biggest physical challenge you face?  Weight?  Body image? Injury or disease?  What one step can you take today toward improving your physical health?
  2. How would you rate your health in each of the four areas – spiritual, physical, emotional, relational – from one (terrible) to ten (fantastic)?
  3. Spend time journaling about a specific goal for each of these four areas that you can pursue during the rest of the month.  Make sure the goals are practical and measurable.