The student sitting next to you in class coughs, hacks, and sneezes. The woman who shares your workspace is loopy and might fall asleep soon because of the daytime cold medicine she took to help herself make it through the day. You notice that over the next month or so everyone around you starts talking about—or getting infected by—”something that’s going around.”
But in the end, we push through. Our body tells us to stop and rest, but we keep going. It’s a price we pay to achieve the American Dream.
In our fast-paced culture, we value the courageous act of powering through exhaustion, stress and even sickness to get the job done. If you sacrifice your emotional and physical health for your education or business goals, you are a valiant hero. In fact, the Chicago Tribune reports that 40 percent of Americans who are given paid sick days continue to clock in even with a contagious illness like a cold or the flu.
Maybe you push through because you’re afraid you’ll lose your job, the respect of others or your own sense of worth.
But burning yourself out has harmful consequences at an individual and communal level. Pushing yourself to the point of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion is obviously not a healthy way to live. And more than that, if your wellbeing is compromised, your ability to work will likewise suffer. Then your relationships also begin to suffer. In fact, your ability to do much of anything will be decreased when you’re running on empty.
The consequences of neglecting basic self-care are far-reaching. But ultimately, this is a theological issue.
Paul was quite frustrated when he wrote to the Corinthian church. One of the many issues he addressed was their treatment of their bodies. The Corinthian Christians believed the body and the soul were separate entities. To them, the body was mortal and temporal and the soul was immortal and eternal. They concluded that it didn’t matter what they did to their bodies, because only their soul would live forever.
Their philosophy was: “We eat, we drink, the next day we die.” (1 Corinthians 15: 32). So, they gave themselves over to sexual immorality and gluttony of food and wine.
But Paul wasn’t pleased. Essentially, he challenged them: Why are you treating your bodies this way when clearly God cares about human bodies?
If there was ever any doubt that God cared about our bodies, all we need to do is look to Jesus.
God cared enough about bodies to inhabit one Himself—to walk the earth in human flesh, and to “set aside the privileges of deity” during that time (Philippians 2: 5-8).
God cared enough about the lives of embodied people enough to become like them Himself. Jesus died for them and rose again for them—the crucifixion and resurrection are both embodied acts. The human body that God created and all-too-soon fell into sin was redeemed by God-in-flesh. If God didn’t care about bodies, why go to all this trouble?
Paul’s word on the matter is found in his letter to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:12-19:
“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? … Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
When we push through physical illness and go to work or school anyway—when we neglect our bodies whey they need rest and healing—we are caring little for what God loves so extravagantly.
Who are we to dismiss our bodies that God created, and in Jesus died and rose for?
We may feel that much is at stake. We fear compromising our GPA or our career. We are concerned with what bosses, co-workers, and professors think of us. We are anxious about money, or we dread the increased work load. These are all legitimate concerns, but when we lay the burden on ourselves to solve them, we reveal our own lack of trust in God.
God is big enough to handle each of these concerns, and more.
When was the last time you prayed about how to handle your load when you’re emotionally, physically or mentally pressed to your limit? What might God have to say about how you’re treating your body?
This is no small problem for many people who feel stuck between a rock and a hard place when they are sick and believe they have no choice but to go to work or attend school. Sometimes wisdom comes through experience. Rev. Susan Hetrick of Scottsdale, Arizona offers good counsel out of her own personal and professional journey.
“I have learned the hard way to listen to my body. Trying to push through injury or illness hurts me and everyone around me,” she says. After discovering she had a herniated disc that required surgery, Hetrick learned to pay attention to the body’s intuition.
“The body will tell you when it needs rest, or food or movement, she says, “To ignore those signals is foolish, and even dangerous. The consequences aren’t pretty. I am a better mother, wife and pastor when I rest and recover … or do whatever my body tells me to do. In the grand scheme of things, I am not so indispensable that the world will fall apart if I don’t participate.”
Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). A member of the Redbud Writers Guild, Angie blogs at ÒWoman, in ProgressÉÓ and on the Church Herald Blog of the RCA. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.