As the Sports Chaplain to Scottish Cycling Mountain Bike Racing, I regularly observe the significant impact injury or illness has on well-being. Some athletes are left without purpose, facing the end of professional career hopes. Whilst I enjoy racing myself, I’m certainly not at this dizzy height of sporting prowess; far from it. But the link between physical and mental health is the same for every human being.
Is there a connection with our spirituality?
Undoubtedly. Why else would Jesus state ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength’ (spiritual, mental and physical). Why is it recorded that two of the disciples ran to the empty tomb?
Drawing scholarly evidence together and placing it within a theological framework which includes ‘loving others as we love ourselves’, we see God intends for us to care for and love our physical well-being. Our spiritual, mental and physical wellness are interconnected, God-intentionally quite impossible to separate.
Historically, the Church often distanced itself from competitive sport due in part to the ‘win at all costs’ Lombardian ethic, directly opposing the Gospel. I wonder if this still hinders our engagement with sports or influences our thinking that prioritising physical activity contradicts the Gospel?
We can face many obstacles to being regularly active, but identifying possible psychological blockades can help us overcome them. The question ‘What are the benefits to remaining as I am?’ often unearths invisible barriers to changing our lifestyles or motivational weaknesses. Addressing the answers can give us freedom to move; joy in every step. We might start with a walk or a run, but we might find swimming is more life-giving. Some of us love being with people and a club or team can be an easy route to get going when it’s something new for us. Make the change and find your sweet spot!
Injury or illness can mean we are unable to participate. I find these times hard when I can’t cycle, run etc. I have learned when we stick with that biblical discipline of ‘lifting up my eyes’ and remain thankful for these incredible bodies God has blessed us with, we see other activities we can do – different ones like pilates or badminton, or for shorter durations. We can find creative solutions and opportunities when we are determined to do so. True of all areas of our life.
In 1 Tim 4:8, Paul says ‘Physical training is good but training for Godliness is much better’. The goals of daily physical activity, Strava leaderboards, even Podium positions must not supersede the place of Jesus in our lives, but they are still good! God created the body with such brilliance that physical activity releases chemicals with psychological benefits. Physiologically we improve, our mental health is better balanced and it can be fun! Some of the best giggles I have involve people, bikes and mud – but they are not a prerequisite! I am certain we each have our own giggle-inducers. And of course, getting out and being routinely active offers easy missional opportunities.
With the demands of a new ministry, three active teenagers, friends and life to enjoy, finding the unforced rhythms of grace in life is paramount. Physical, mental and spiritual wellness are core to those rhythms. When one of those aspects drops, I am ‘a clanging cymbal’! However, embracing each as a daily priority brings God-given grace and routine. Sometimes that means the email waits or our daily structure protects the first hour for activity.
Whether we enjoy competing or completing, or we are on a journey to find that enjoyment, it all involves discovering what these wonderful bodies can do for us. We seek to follow the command of Jesus to love ourselves with His Godly love.
Rev Ruth Kennedy
Pioneer Minister with Under 40s, Dunblane and Sports Chaplain with Scottish Cycling Mountain Bike Race Series, Sports Chaplaincy UK.