"'If minsters perceive that they must choose between their own health and the health of their congregations, they will nearly always choose the latter,' observed Proeschold-Bell. In part this is because of a phenomenon she calls (citing the research of Kenneth Pargament and Annette Mahoney) the 'sanctification of work.' Clergy see their work not only as important but as divinely ordained. Whenever they act on behalf of their congregations, they are living in faithfulness to their vocations. When they leave work to go to the gym, they may see themselves as departing not just from a building but from doing God’s work. This is not an easy problem to overcome. Health behaviors don’t always have a ready-made theological justification. And the sanctification of work means that work will nearly always take priority."
The quote above comes from an article in a recent edition of The Christian Century. Amy Frykholm writes about clergy health and the Duke Clergy Health Initiative in Fit for Ministry.
"Health behaviors don't always have a ready-made theological justification." That one sentence jumped out at me. Why is there not a theological justification? Why does there need to be?
Why is it that we as clergy even need to "justify" taking care of ourselves physically?
What will it take for clergy to understand that part of our response to our calling as leaders in congregations is to model healthy living? Isn't this about more than a healthy spiritual life, but a balanced life that includes all of our lives-- our physical selves as well as our spiritual selves?
But, what about this need for a theology to underpin the goal of physical health. Is this an internal need for us? How do we develop a way for clergy to think "it's ok for me to leave the office at 3 p.m. so I can get to the gym before that Bible Study that I have to teach at 6:30 p.m."
For me, I think it has to do with the fact that the work is never 'finished.' There is ALWAYS one more thing that I could do: another sermon to start working on, a parishioner who could use a phone call or visit, a bible study that needs planned.
What I had never thought about was the idea that somehow doing my job was "sanctification": making me holier or more Christ-like.
What if I begin to think about my exercise and nutrition choices as "sanctification"?
When I chose to exercise I am making myself holier.
When I eat mindfully and make healthier food choices, I am sanctifying myself.
If sanctification is the process of growing in grace and becoming more like Christ, than certainly taking care of my physical self is a part of that process.
But, the biggest "justification" for taking care of my physical health in terms of my vocation has to do with knowing that I CAN do my job better when I am exercising and eating better. Here is a classic example: One Wednesday night, our church had a dinner which included a rather "heavy" pasta and immediately after that, I was teaching a study group. After that meal, I had that typical "brain fog" that comes with a carb heavy meal. Therefore, my mental agility in guiding a discussion was less than stellar. Much harder to keep a group on track when your own mind is feeling sluggish!
If my deepest desire is to be more Christ-like, then shouldn't that sanctification include all of my life?