Ezekiel 36:26: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
I hiked over 25 parks, preserves & trails this year – all within a couple hours of my house. I haven’t tallied all those steps up, but I know I hiked hundreds of miles. When being indoors is dangerous and travel is off the table, what else was I going to do? I’ve always loved hiking – moving, being outside, seeing what there is to see. And this year, when I couldn’t travel at all, the project of exploring new spaces close to home helped tame my wanderlust.
I’ve also been cooking and eating at home way more often, just like everybody else. I make it a point to get takeout on Tuesdays and Saturdays from favorite local spots, but other than that it’s been a year of vastly improved kitchen skills. I’m not an expert and I don’t cook all that adventurously or all that well, but I did learn this year how to feed myself healthy food, on the regular, and to enjoy the process of doing it. I like meal planning and grocery shopping and being in the kitchen. I really enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that my fridge contains several meals, prepared lovingly by myself for myself, that I will not have to do the last-minute what’s-for-dinner argument in my head this week, that I will not end up going through a drive-through again for another less-than-satisfying salt-fest.
All of that hiking and home cooking has resulted in a better relationship with my body. It turns out, when you near 40, your body starts to demand attention in ways that it did not before. I have been mostly healthy for most of my life, which isn’t about strength or blessedness or God’s favor – it is sheer, unadulterated luck, with a healthy side dish of privilege. For the most part, my body has just…done what I needed it to do. It just…works. Except for one ovarian teratoma that I named Steve back in 2009, my organs generally do their thing. I know that is not to be taken for granted.
Today, another colleague died of an aneurysm. In 2016, my boss, mentor and friend died of the same thing. Last year, a friend and co-worker caught one just early enough to survive, thank God. “WTF is up with the aneurysms?!” I asked the surviving friend. “We’re unhealthy,” they said. “Over long periods of time.”
All of these colleagues work – or worked – for the church. In addition to the exploding brains, the last few years have also served up mental health crises, prolonged ICU stays and troubling boundary-breaking behaviors among our small denominations’ executives and leaders. And while the church is certainly not the only place that fosters ill health in its employees, it sure does seem like there’s a pattern, here.
Being unhealthy isn’t just about blood pressure or obesity. It is also embedded in the schedules we keep, the refusal to take vacation time, the insistence on over-functioning, the over-identification with our work, the pathological sense of obligation to institution, the inability to cut programming even as we cut staff again and again, the assumption that a sense of duty will fill in the gaps of being underpaid, the falsehood that serving the church is the same thing as serving God.
Since the summer, I’ve started getting headaches that won’t respond to ibuprofen or Tylenol. I think it’s Zoom fatigue, too much staring at this tiny laptop screen. I got a standing desk, I’m doing more yoga in addition to the hiking, I’m contemplating starting one of those anti-inflammatory diets. But what if it’s not just Zoom fatigue? What if these headaches are my body’s warnings that people don’t change systems; systems swallow people whole?
I’m posting GALLERIES of evidence in this blog post – see how healthily I’m eating?! See how much I’m hiking!? As if that were proof enough to stave off the death-dealing ways of this institution that I keep insisting on being a part of; as if climbing another mountain can keep my own brain from exploding.
But another colleague died today. I would like a new heart, God, and a new spirit, and, while you’re at it, could you refresh my brain a bit, too? Shore it up against the coming onslaught?