Personal Bible Study and Reflection Rev. Tom Umbel, Chaplain. Penrose – St. Francis Health Services
Healing: Divine and Human Touch for Life’s Wounds
Focus: healing for life’s wounds begins with acknowledging that brokenness, suffering, and pain is common to the human experience. Healing may take longer than we expected; it may come in unanticipated ways; it may never come in this lifetime. In living with life wounds, we take the risk to tell our story; we open our lives outward to the touch of another; we reach our hands upward to connect with God’s healing presence; we allow our woundedness to be a source of healing for others.
Scripture Reading: “The Master’s Touch” (Luke 8:40-56; Eugene Peterson, The Message)
Jesus was welcomed by an expectant crowd. A man named Jairus, president of the meeting place, was there. He fell at Jesus' feet, begging him to come to his home because his twelve-year-old daughter, his only child, was dying. Jesus went with him, making his way through the pushing, jostling crowd.
In the crowd that day there was a woman who for twelve years had been afflicted with hemorrhages. She had spent every penny she had on doctors but not one had been able to help her. She slipped in from behind and touched the edge of Jesus' robe. At that very moment her hemorrhaging stopped. Jesus said, "Who touched me?"
When no one stepped forward, Peter said, "But Master, we've got crowds of people on our hands. Dozens have touched you." Jesus insisted, "Someone touched me. I felt power discharging from me."
When the woman realized that she couldn't remain hidden, she knelt trembling before him. In front of all the people, she blurted out her story—why she touched him and how at that same moment she was healed. Jesus said, "Daughter, you took a risk trusting me, and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!"
While he was still talking, someone from the leader's house came up and told him, "Your daughter died. No need now to bother the Teacher."
Jesus overheard and said, "Don't be upset. Just trust me and everything will be all right." Going into the house, he wouldn't let anyone enter with him except Peter, John, James, and the child's parents. Everyone was crying and carrying on over her. Jesus said, "Don't cry. She didn't die; she's sleeping." They laughed at him. They knew she was dead. Then Jesus, gripping her hand, called, "My dear child, get up." She was up in an instant, up and breathing again! He told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were ecstatic, but Jesus warned them to keep quiet. "Don't tell a soul what happened in this room."
The story includes two wounded individuals at opposite ends of the social spectrum – the president of the meeting place and a woman considered unclean because of her chronic affliction. The brokenness and pain of life is no respecter of persons. There is no more obvious fact of the human condition - all persons are wounded. No one is exempt from the pain and suffering of a broken world. And these wounds can affect our overall health and well-being. Sickness can lead to feeling emotionally “lost in the crowd” or put a drain on financial resources. Chronic ailments can escalate to result in other physical or mental health issues. Wounds lead to a desperate search for one remedy after another with no success; rather, feeling overwhelmed, out of control, or hopeless to think that healing or being healthy could ever be a reality again. Catastrophic loss, such as death, accident, or natural disaster, can cause major emotional, social, and even physical trauma that lasts for years. The man and the woman both were recipients of dramatic healing. But experience tells us that healing does not always come or healing may be delayed or healing may come in ways other than what we anticipated or expected or hoped.
And yet this story illustrates what is common and reaches to the depths of the human spirit – an unshakable hope for healing; that life can be defined by more than its wounds; that persons can rise above the aftershocks of life’s pain and suffering; that even in the midst of coping with life wounds, one can experience health and well-being. This story also suggests a divine concern for the whole person. God in Christ promises forgiveness of sins and the ultimate hope of eternal life. He also cares for those with devastating physical illness that marginalizes; that even modern medicine can’t cure. His compassion extends to those who grieve because their families have been ripped apart by death, or other kids of overwhelming loss. In this story we witness divine healing but we also see the power of human touch – the woman touched the edge of Jesus’ robe; Jesus gripped the young girl’s hand and called for her to get up. The woman was “healed and made whole.” The young girl “breathed again and was given something to eat.” In both cases, the hope for healing, common to the human spirit, was evident even if the outcome was uncertain.
- In what ways have you been wounded by life’s brokenness and pain? Reflect on specific events and the impact on your life, your overall health and well-being?
- Healing can be defined in different ways. How would you define healing; its different dimensions? Can you identify different ways that healing has taken place in your life? Who or what was instrumental in the healing process? How did the healing you experienced make you a healthier or more whole person?
- The story states that the woman had spent “every penny on doctors who were unable to help her.” Modern medicine is remarkable in its accomplishments and resources for healing? Have you witnessed or experienced unexpected, even “super-natural,” healing take place in your life or in the life of another?
- The woman had lived with her affliction for many years but finally “took the risk” to reach out and trust another for healing. What is blocking you? What type of risk is necessary for you to reach out for healing? Maybe you think your life wound is beyond the hope of healing. If so, how are you coping with this reality? Is it possible that the healing will come in the coping?
- The young girl was really dead; the young girl was only sleeping. Regardless, all in the crowd that day were profoundly impacted. What role does healing, trust, and the support of others play in your spirituality? In similar life situations (chronic illness, death) you might encounter, how does your faith inform and equip you?
- Find a quiet place of meditation. Commit some time to taking inventory. Structure the inventory in a way that will work best for you (for example, a “life timeline”). Ask questions like: how have I been wounded (physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually); how have the wounds impacted my life; what steps did I take to experience healing?
- Like the woman in the story, reflect on one way you can risk reaching out to someone and “tell the story” of your life wound or affliction. Make a conscious decision about who that person will be, what the risk will involve, how you will tell your story? Consider writing out your story. What can you imagine will come of writing your story and/or telling your story to another? What would you hope for this exercise to contribute to personal healing and well-being?
- This story is about divine and human touch. For your own life, reflect on the meaning and power of touch. Think about someone who has “touched” your life, resulting in “healing” (of whatever sort) and thereby contributing to a “healthier you.” Decide on a real-life, practical way to express your appreciation to this person?
- Jesus grabbed the young girl’s hand and invited her to get up; she started breathing again. In what places of your life do you need a “divine or holy touch?” How do you envision this touch on your life? Maybe the wounds of life have “taken your breath away.” Through prayer, reaching out to God in silent meditation, reading scripture or devotional literature, listening to soft music, be intentional about connecting with God and opening your life to his healing presence. Can you believe that it is possible for you to “start breathing again?”
- People all around you are wounded, feeling desperate and lost in the crowd, wondering if anyone truly cares, lonely carrying a burden for years, fearing that no one will listen to their “story,” bearing up under the load of life crises. How can you be a “wounded healer” for another? Be intentional about getting involved in ways this person will allow.
Sunday School Class (Abundant Life)
Click here to read an excerpt from Abundant Life and Real Life: Finding Where They Meet
Education Series (Listening to your Heart)
Click here to view a PowerPoint on Listening To Your Heart
Spirituality and Health
Sermon Series - Church
The teacher was finishing up a lesson on the joys of discovery and the importance of curiosity. “Where would we be today,” she asked dramatically, “if no one had ever been curious?’
One voice diffidently spoke up from the back of the room. “In the Garden of Eden?”
Curiosity is a God-given blessing. The more we wonder, the more we explore mystery, the more we seek God in the changes and trends of the culture we live, the more God becomes alive in our everyday beings. It is the hope of this church that in our curiosity we shall better use the gifts of our blessings and the power of this congregation to serve our Almighty. Today’s sermon pushes us to be innovative and think differently about how we can grow the health ministry of this community to new and prophetic ways. The Gospel reminds us it is our responsibility. Our mission reminds us that we must be sensitive the growing link between ministry, spirituality and our health and well being.
As a topic, America and the media seem to have a new love affair with medicine. No it is not some new miracle drug or some breakthrough or promising surgical technique. Rather it is spirituality and its close cousins; prayer, ritual and belief systems that are catching the attention. Numerous thousands of magazine and journal articles, a growing number of research projects, talk shows, and conferences have recently heightened the prominence. Within medicine is a growing curiosity with how one’s faith, one’s values, one’s spirituality impact their health and their disease pathway. Twenty years ago less than three medical schools taught a class on spirituality. Today 78 of the 124 American medical schools offer a class on spirituality and healthcare. And even the renowned Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) now lists spiritual crisis as a diagnostic category. As Norman Cousins has said, “Western medicine is facing a great awakening, that being that the human body is made up of spiritually sensitive tissue.”
It isn’t as though an intentional animosity or hostility existed between medicine, or more broadly speaking, science and religion or theology. In fact, more of a neutrality has existed, a neutrality prompted by 1) the hesitation to cross disciplines, 2) the conservatism of each discipline, 3) the lack of an empirical means to study faith and spirituality 4) and the claiming of the body jurisdiction by physicians and the claiming of the souls as the jurisdiction of the priests. While the Greeks speak of humans as an integration of body, mind, spirit (or from the Hebrews, the material, the relational and the transcendent) up until recently body, mind, spirit intentions were only body-mind conversations. Somehow it was always easier to divide the issue between the realm of science and the realm of religion.
Ironically, our earliest practice of medicine often saw the use of shamans as the first step to the healing process in part because mankind’s early belief systems saw illness or disease as punishment from God for human behaviors which were out of sync with our moral well being. If illness was punishment, then the first step in the healing process was to make you right with the God who inflicted the disease. Still today in many second and third-world countries, the practice of shamanism is alive and well.
Today because of the significant health research into that which belongs to the realm of the spiritual, namely religion, prayer, meditation, divine intervention, and more, some wonder if this great awakening is the next logical step in the evolution of humanity, a maturing medical model, or the continuing plan of God’s revelation. Unmistakably, mankind’s unquenchable thirst to understand itself has taken us to probe deeper into the existential and spiritual nature of our existence. And as researchers tell us, the more we probe the more we see an unmistakable connection between our physical and spiritual well being.
Before I move into the spiritual role of church, let me tease your curiosity just a bit more. But first, I cannot move forward without some definitions or mental models of spirituality.
A specific and usable definition of spirituality has been both elusive and evident. On a surface level it is something every human being has as a part of our DNA. While it cannot be seen in an MRI or any other scan, we know it is there. In this absence it has become easier to say what it is not rather than what it is. Our western culture has successfully separated spirituality from religion, at times making spirituality universal while making religion institutional.
Concretely religion asks: Do you believe in God? To what religion do you belong? Do you go to church? Do you attend Mass weekly? When did you last go to confession?
Our spirituality asks: Where do you find meaning and purpose? When in your life were you most happy? If you were listing your most significant achievements or disappointments, what would they be? How has your image of God changed at different times in your life? Where do you find contentment in life? Other than being free of the pain, what makes you want to be well?
For today and the next four weeks we shall see both spirituality and religion as being God’s work with the former being more personal and the latter being more institutional.
Most would agree that any naming of something as spiritual would require one or more of the following components: (In each pastor’s own words he/she might give the following more than casual recognition)
Spirituality is the basis for processing values and navigating life.
Spirituality is an organizing principle for one’s life.
Spirituality leads us to that which is transcendent.
Spirituality gives rise to a deeper understanding of life and relationships.
Spirituality promotes meaning and purpose within life.
The promise of such thinking helps bring the patient to an understanding of the hidden psycho-spiritual aspects of the illness and then assists in directing and translating that reality for their illness.
Almost 65% of all deaths are considered preventable. If so, why do people resist changing or modifying their lifestyles? That is a spiritual question.
When a person’s blood pressure is an inevitable fact of the stress in their life, why don’t they manage out that stress? That is a spiritual question.
When the languages we use to describe our hearts are wounded hearts, bleeding hearts, broken hearts, then we have a spiritual question.
When suicides and fatalism continue to occupy Emergency Rooms, that is a spiritual question.
When people who experience healthy levels of hope and trust translate and interpret life differently than those without hope, that is a spiritual issue.
When over 8 of the top 10 drugs purchased in this country are stress related or anti depressants, that is a spiritual question.
When conversations about the leading causes of death are becoming replaced by conversations about the leading causes of life, that is a spiritual issue.
When loneliness, more so than any other factor, predisposes an individual to getting sick, that is a spiritual question.
When a movie on the life of Mother Teresa increases an individual’s level of immunoglobulin A faster than any other trigger within a study, that is a spiritual issue.
When our biographies become our biology, that is a spiritual issue.
When a person’s depression is heavier than the person carrying it, that is a spiritual question.
When an individual dislikes their God- given body and abuses it with alcohol, drugs, and other medications, that is a spiritual issue.
When a chaplain’s interventions decrease the need for pain medicine, reduces anxiety, and impact a length of stay, that is a spiritual issue.
When a cancer diagnosis forces an individual to think more about his/her life in a four-day hospital stay than the previous 55 years of life, that is a spiritual question.
When the World Health Organization informs people about the health consequences of hatred, bigotry, anger and pushes the conversation to stimulate them toward tolerance and reconciliation, that is a spiritual question.
In summary. The integration of spirituality in health may have as significant an impact on health care as the discovery of anesthesia and antiseptic surgery in the 1870’s. And yet we have little doubt that our understandings and insights are just at the first stage of development.
To date over 250 empirical studies have been published in the epidemiologic and medical literature in which one or more indicators of spirituality have been statistically associated with particular health outcomes. Across this literature, studies have appeared which suggest that religion is salutary for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, nearly every cancer site, colitis, and numerous physical and mental health indicators and in terms of both morbidity and mortality.
Our spirituality prompts us to be curious. God created us to enjoy, explore, and take in what He has offered by way of creation and our intelligence. Today we scratched the surface on a territory which is uniquely a key part of the identity and ministry of this church. In the weeks ahead we will explore how our church can be more health conscious and more active in the lives and health of the people in our church and in our neighborhoods.
I leave you with the question, what in your curiosity holds the most energy for your well-being and for the health ministry of our church? Stay tuned as we will explore God’s revelation to us in the next four weeks.
Those sermons will be:
What Lessons and Insights have we learned from our Spirituality and Health Survey?
Prayer and the Healing Process.
What does the Spiritually Healthy Person Look Like?
Hope, Human Belonging, and The Power of Forgiveness: Are they as powerful as today’s medicines?
Spirituality and Health
Sermon Series-Heart Felt Health
Start with the Healthiest Couple Reading (attached)
Last week we peaked our curiosity. We explored what we intuitively knew. Healing is profoundly spiritual. We looked at research, new trends in the evolution of medicine, and perhaps pushed ourselves to ask, “What is the correlation between what we as a church claims is our health ministry and what our faith-based hospital claims as its healing ministry?” Perhaps some new partnership and some new ministries are in the future.
Today I would like to move from the global sense of healing to look specifically at one disease and end with asking the question “What’s in this for us as a church ministry?”
Within scriptures no organ of the human body is mentioned more than the human heart. In fact it is mentioned 743 times. And that is not surprising since for the Romans and the Greeks it was the heart that was more than just an organ that pumped blood, it was the heart not the mind that was the seat of all wisdom. It, the heart, held the secrets to man’s spiritual happiness and its meaning and purpose. Some of the more common passages include:
“A cheerful heart is good medicine” Proverbs 17:22
“God searches the heart and rewards people for what He finds.” Jeremiah 17:10
“Be careful in the end of times or your heart will be weighed down with the anxieties of life.” Luke 21:34
“Render your heart not your garments.” Joel 2
“Where your treasure is there also your heart will be.” Luke 12:15
“Love the Lord with all your heart.” Matthew 22
So what is this heart that holds such a prominence in scriptures? In the physical sense the heart is one magnificent muscle. Within the uterus it miraculously starts beating near the 18th day of conception, and starts pumping blood near the 21st day. And under its own energy system in an average lifetime (age 65), the human heart beats 2,389,262,400 times. At a non-resting, active time, the heart beats 3,758,040,000 times. In its stressed, battling the world, hurting self and the world, type A heartbeat, the heart is going to double and triple its resting heartbeat, to beat upwards to 6,500,000,000 times. It is an awesome muscle.
Yet beyond its physical anatomy, it is a muscle that all too often gets bruised, hurt, ridiculed, battered, and bullied and everything else you might want to add to that list. Ironically, we attribute a significant number of clichés to it in our day to day language.
- Broken heart
- You stole my heart
- Wounded heart
- Bleeding heart
- Jealous heart
- Sorry heart
- Heartless Heart
- Cold heart
Some of the more positive images include
- Heart of Gold
- Loving Heart
- Dear Heart
But perhaps to my experience it is the honest, tender heart that is found in the Heart of Hearts, the saying, “If it be known, in her heart of hearts, she…” What does that mean to you? Where would YOU go to find your heart of hearts, that endearing, moving, most vulnerable most real part of you? Said another way “what messaging is your body receiving in between your heartbeats? What summons does your heart beat call you to today?
So the heart must know itself if it is truly to be healthy. It must know ultimately from where its heart burn and heart pain comes from. It must know its spiritual rhythm, its concert with the rhythm with life. Where does that heart know its deepest calm or its deepest rest?
As you come to the church for counseling, my agenda is always to get to the “heart of the matter”- to get beyond what is the safe conversation to move to the painful hurt and that conversation. I see that you and your heart are often under attack with so much of our cultural busyness that secretly tells us that you gotta keep going, gotta catch up, gotta be what everyone else wants you to be. And so you come in feeling that you, and therefore your heart, is sometimes a loveless casualty of the world around it. It holds the scarred hurts of life. You can put on a bullet proof jacket to protect the physical heart, but where does one find the bullet proof jacket for the emotional and spiritual scars of life?
How do you talk with your heart? I know how you do it with your cardiologist; you schedule an appointment, have an EKG, or a cardiac catheterization and then discuss the results. But how do you let God, the divine physician in to have that talk with your heart. What does that appointment look like?
I know that the illnesses of your physical heart might be a blocked artery or a valve that closes irregularly. But what are the illnesses of your spiritual heart? Might it be an existential loneliness? Might it be an ill-managed stress or a lack of self worth? And the more important question that has escaped our physicians and our theologians in the past, is what is the connection between the two?
If that cardiologist diagnosed my heart problem as high cholesterol, I am given a script for Lipitor or Vitorin. If high blood pressure is causing my heart to work too hard, I may likely be given Diovan or Metoprotol. If my heart just needs a daily little blessing, I will take my daily dose of aspirin.
But who writes the script for an illness of the spiritual heart? What pharmaceutical script is offered for my need for forgiveness? Where is my tolerance medication? Who prescribes for the preciousness of life?
Thomas Merton, in his book Care for the Soul summarizes it best. “The curious state of alienation and confusion of man in modern society is perhaps more “bearable” because it is lived in common, with a multitude of distractions and escapes, and also with opportunities for fruitful action and genuine Christian self-forgiveness. But underlying all life is the ground of doubt and self questioning which sooner or later must bring us face to face with the ultimate meaning of our life. This self questioning can never be without a certain existential dread – a sense of insecurity of lostness, of exile, of sin. Sense that all of life is calling us not so much to abstract moral or social norms, but to one’s own inner most truth.”
For the Greeks the word cure was translated as a repair of the fractured soul. Our faith and our loving God waits to be the healer of all of us - the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual.
Let us pray.
Spirituality and Health
Sermon Series - Healthy Spirituality: What Is It and How Do I Find It?
Three sons left home, went out on their own and prospered. Getting back together, they discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother.
The first son said, “I built a big house for our mother.”
The second said, “I sent her a Mercedes with a driver.”
The third smile and said, “I’ve got you both beat. You know how Mom enjoyed reading the Bible? And you know she can’t see very well. So, I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took elders in the church 12 years just to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot recites it.”
Soon thereafter, Mom sent out her letters of thanks:
“Milton,” she wrote one son. “The house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house.”
“Gerald” she wrote to the next, “I am too old to travel. I stay most of the time at home, so I rarely use the Mercedes. And the driver is so rude!”
Dearest Donald,” she wrote to her third son, “You have the good sense to know what your m other likes. The chicken was delicious.”
This third sermon in the series on Spirituality and Health asks the question, “What does it mean to be spiritually healthy?” Is it easy to identify one who is spiritually healthy? Could I identify that person if I saw them coming out of church today? Probably not because physical appearance has little to do with the recognition of one’s spiritual health. It is about our inner work or God work.
Few would have little difficulty naming what a physically healthy individual would be like. Some of the criteria might include a blood pressure of 110/70, a cholesterol level of 160 or the lack of cancerous cells within the body. An emotionally healthy individual might exhibit their health through their ability to make decisions in difficult times, through the ability to handle the losses in their life, or through the claiming of responsibility for their action regardless of the circumstances. However, the ease at which the physical and the emotional are identified appear to be different that the identifying factors which establish spiritual health.
For this moment we will use spiritual health as that aspect of our well-being which organizes the values, relationships, and meaning and purpose of our lives. This well being motivates individuals to care for themselves and optimize their health so they can serve their community and their God.
Instead of trying to cure patients after they have been struck by disease or illness – “putting Humpty Dumpty together again” – we will be stretching to the top of the wall to examine the cultural and psycho spiritual circumstances that caused him to fall in the first place.
So let us explore the characteristics of being healthy spiritually.
The third in the sermon series takes a different approach
The first two provided you, the pastor, not only ideas but a text which should have made for an easier start into a territory which, admittedly, may have been a bit of a stretch. Your expertise is in serving and proclaiming the Gospel, not medicine.
The third part of the series asks "What do we mean when we speak of a healthy spirituality? What does it look like and how do I get it?” To get to the topic you will find three separate pages - each with ideas. You may wish to delve into one or have some combination of the three.
On the first page you will find Characteristics of a Healthy Spirituality. You may choose to use six or seven of those listed or perhaps add to the characteristics listed with another two or three characteristics of your choosing. The list is offered just as a starting point. The embellishment offered by your experience or by recent events in your church is critical to making the words leap off the page.
The second page takes a slightly different approach in that it offers the "Warning Signs of a Healthy Spirituality.” Again, I ask that you might take these thoughts and embellish through stories, your own experience or your church's experience.
The last page builds upon the prophetic work of Gary Gunderson. Gary was formerly with the Faith and Health Institute in Memphis, Tennessee and now serves his former alumni in Charlotte, North Carolina. His book remains one of the more thought-provoking spiritual guidebooks of our time. Gary sought to create a counterpoint to what has had a long history in this country, namely a listing of the leading causes of death. That list regularly identifies heart disease, cancer and hypertension at the top of the list as diseases which people die from in this country. His fresh thinking has offered another option, a listing of the causes for living and life.
You may have your own list and that then becomes your sermon.
Whatever reason you choose, this approach builds upon your expertise and your translation.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY
- The ability to feel relaxed and able to balance our lifestyle without feeling trapped, guilty or burdened…..
- Free of addictive habits……
- Finding a sense of fulfillment in work, relationships, family, friendships….
- Relate and speak to their feelings….
- Possess freedom to choose or not to choose…..
- Have knowledge of their personal shortcomings and are able to accept those limitations….
- Have flexibility….
- Believe in someone/something which is greater, more lasting that they are….
- Take time to meditate, pray or communicate with that which is holy in their lives….
- Possess the ability to set goals for themselves…..
If five or more of these indicators are present, you may be at risk for full-blown health.
THE TWELVE WARNING SIGNS OF HEALTH
- Persistent presence of support network…
- Chronic positive expectations; tendency to frame events in a constructive light…..
- Episodic peak experiences….
- Sense of spiritual involvement….
- Increased sensitivity…..
- Tendency to adapt to changing conditions….
- Rapid response and recovery of adrenaline system due to repeated challenges….
- Increased appetite for physical activity….
- Tendency to identify and community feelings….
- Repeated episodes of gratitude, generosity or related emotions….
- Compulsion to contribute to society….
- Persistent sense of humor….
If five or more of these indicators are present, you may be at risk for full-blown health.
Leading Causes of Life
How life works and how to work with it to advance health at a community scale…..
Health organizations – when aligned with community partners – have much more to work with than their tool chest of service lines and categorical programs; they can work with life and do so systematically, planfully, intelligently. But the greatest health challenges require leaders to use blended intelligences that complement disease knowledge with life knowledge. Normal healthcare deals poorly with the majority of health challenges: chronic conditions managed over time outside the walls and reach of medical professionals, the many recoveries people pass through (dependencies legal and illegal, physical recoveries from injury or disease), the many transitions (pregnancy, adolescence and the great life passages of job loss, retirement, marriage and the loss of marriage and the end of one’s life).
How can leaders work amid such wonders? Life leadership begins by understanding that life processes are different than death processes, which are relatively simple; something breaks, wears down or gets run over or fails for lack of fundamental needs (food, water, shelter, raw medical care). Life adapts, moves, chooses with a rich array of social strategies. Life’s adaptive vitality can be described in five words that prevent leaders from collapsing into premature simplicity so that they can be accountable and lead toward life.
Connection. Humans thrive in highly complex social connections – and we find a way to die when our connections are filled with friction and fear. Health leaders build systems that connect patients to those that care, turn employees into webs of meaningful work and earn the trust of their communities.
Coherence. Humans live into and through meaning, which is held in story and symbol, not just data (but much stronger when the data support a true story!). Leaders’ whole lives are narratives – not just what they say. So, too, is the life of their organization (not just what it says). Is it a story of life or instrumental survival?
Agency. Even in the most turbulent human crises, people choose – this, not that; now not later – and move and act and do. A patient and family that feels their capacity to do so can be an agent in their own lives. Leaders, employees and physicians – even amid truly incoherent times and situations – can still act on values that point toward life. And they can form and implement strategies that focus vital decisions.
Blessing (Generativity). We measure time in generations because each one generates the life of the next, just as it receives life from the ones before. Leaders alive to the flow of life across generations see the life of their organization and community as an integrated whole, which opens decisions that serve those coming later.
Hope. Every health discipline knows that hope is responsible for profound variation in the efficacy of pills and programs. Alive to hope in their own lives, leaders help their organizations and communities see the way forward without fear, allowing choices and commitments that serve life.
For more: Leading Causes of Life, by Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray (Abdingdon Press), available anywhere. Deeply Woven Roots, by Gary Gunderson (Fortress Press). Contact: Gary Gunderson, Senior Vice President Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, Memphis, TN
FAITH AND HEALTH CONNECTED
Sermon Series - Health and Aging
One of questions in the Health and Spirituality survey our church undertook earlier this year asked the question, “What keeps me up at night?” One of the options was “worrying about family issues.” It was a very popular option. In fact, ___ per cent of the congregation answered that way. Family issues was intentionally broad and, no doubt, those of us who have children worry just as much about them at age 22 as we did when they were 2. But imagine that a good part of you also thought about your parents or in-laws as a part of family worries. These growing numbers affirm the powerful successes achieved by modern medicine in extending the lifespan of the elderly. And while medicine has added years to life, how can we, the church, bring life to those added years through our ministries? Without question their health - good, chronic, and changing - concerns you not only on the health level but financial and caregiver levels as well. Today’s sermon looks at the aging members of our church, you as caregivers, and how this church moves beyond stereotypes and disabilities to empowerment and service to each other.
In most churches across America the number of active church members over 60 years of age continues to be a growing phenomenon. In 2010 the mean age of an American is 35 years of age, the mean age of church goers is 57 years of age. Twenty years ago few churches had a centenarian. Now many have a small handful. Generally a church membership has approximately ___ versus ___ twenty years ago. Not only do seniors represent a larger percent of a church’s membership, but their stewardship and generosity often carry the weight of many church budgets. Those over 65 years of age hold 77% of this country’s personal assets. And yet how are churches, and particularly this church, utilizing the presence, wisdom and health of our seniors in robust ways? Or are we, like many others, letting older images, particularly images of frailty drive our Church efforts?
Alex Comfort‘s A Good Age offers a composite of the destructive and one-sided image of aging,
“He or she is white haired, inactive, unemployed, boring, making few demands and able to life on a pittance. He or she is slightly deficient in intellect, asexual, liking only their own company, and tiresome to talk to. Their main occupations are religion, grumbling, and going to funerals.”
Mr. Comfort has not seen this congregation. This church is blessed with attractive, engaging, and hard-to-keep-up-with elderly who build their lives around being with kids and serving others. They also hold the pockets and purse strings of travel and adventure. But more than anything else, the elderly are our wisdom figures. They are not only the living library of our history, but they also are the sage wisdom of making this church such a God-relevant church.
The point here is twofold: 1) if we have any of the former images, they will certainly affect our attitude toward anyone we engage who happens to be elderly. 2) As we physically decline with age we also spiritually ascend. How is that captured and used for the health of this church? This image is best captured in the words of Henri Nouwen, prolific writer and Catholic priest.
“Perhaps it is detachment, a gentle letting go that allows the elderly to break through the illusions of immortality and smile at all the urgencies and emergencies of their past life. Once life’s story has been discovered, told and retold with everything in its proper place, there is then time to greet the true reasons for living.”
The maturity of the process of our spiritual growth accompanies the process of aging. In the aged we see a freedom from the conventional trappings of titles, careers, salaries and materialism. Little is at risk in just being themselves. They possess a freedom to do what they want to do.
So perhaps we begin by asking and facing some of the destructive images this congregation has toward the elderly and how they show up in worship, in programming, and in services. I, as your pastor, hold that key responsibility and must ask where my energy lies: serving the young, ministering to the aged or hopefully both. That discernment is critical. If that discernment is negative, our ministry to the aged would be passive and not at all productive to the health and well being of our members.
How have we engaged the spiritual wisdom of the elderly particularly in relationship with the young of this church community? How have we used the wisdom and insight of the elderly to serve others in this community? How has our church used that wisdom for the child who comes home from school to an empty house? How have we used that wisdom in our church teen’s struggle with life, depression, and poor self esteem which leads to all kinds of physical health issues? How have we made the aged available to be the spiritual cornerstone to a child whose parents are going through a divorce? How have we used the rich careers of our elderly to use their carpentry skills to build ramps and other accessible venues to get the infirm out of their house? Or how can a teacher or an accountant be commissioned to help others with educational needs around nutrition, exercise, advance directives and so much more? How can the retired nurse still use her skill to take blood pressure or check sugar levels, or lead an exercise class?
As one window closes in service to the church another opens if we are open to seeing life through different eyes.
The other side of a church member not sleeping at night for worries over family is in the health of the caregiver himself/herself. Currently the average adult woman in this country has/cares for 1.8 children. That same adult woman also cares for 2.6 older parents (own parents, in-laws and perhaps even parents from a previous marriage). Undoubtedly, the load of caring is a load which frequently breaks the back. Those breaking issues may be a parent with financial dependence on the caregivers, or the exhaustive challenge of a parent with dementia especially Alzheimer’s.
As a church how are we assisting/relieving that load before it takes its physical toll on the caregiver’s mental and physical status? “Come to me all who are burdened and I will give you rest.” Matthew 31:25. How has this church given that caregiver rest and for some issues unburdened the caregiver?
Much has been written about care giving and the art of caring. Until recently little has been written about the care the caregiver must get to be successful. At this time 95% of the elderly live outside of an institutional setting, needing outside caregivers mostly family members themselves. Unfortunately, the caring time ends up being crowded into evenings and week-ends, the time historically set aside to rest and cares for one’s self. When the caregiver fails to honor a time for self-care, other strains are created and many take a physical toll on the body.
As a safeguard let me offer you a few points of relief or self care.
- Check your energy bank account. If you have more debits than credits, something will have to give.
- Learn to meditate. The practice will quiet you, refresh you and keep you centered on what is vital and what is futile. Meditation, while calming your heart rate and your blood pressure, also gives you invaluable time to be in conversation with the God you worship today.
- Follow your intuition. It is often where God resides.
- Trade off those exhausting tasks to someone else in the family or in the church. Don’t hesitate to ask the church. We have hundreds of folks waiting for God to connect them to something purposeful.
- Let someone else care for you. My church office knows who to connect you with.
Perhaps when one peruses the volumes of literature on the needs of the elderly, three key underpinnings emerge.
- The need to find a meaning and purpose to their lives.
- The need to feel a home, a social belonging within the human community.
- The need to know love and forgiveness.
If each of those three underpinnings cannot be addressed by our ministry and mission, then perhaps we have let too many other things stand in our way. This is the rock bed of our church. All people of all ages are the treasures for which God asks us to care. As we think of opportunities to serve, let us demand the same responsibility of ourselves in ensuring our elderly assets are valued in the wealth of life experience they bring to every opportunity.
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