We’ve been talking about anxiety and ADD in the past two episodes (episode 281 and episode 282). You wanted to talk specifically about physical forces on our lives, and how to use natural strategies to cope and flourish within our personal limitations and challenges.
This is huge to me and I think I am still learning about it. It relates to ADD; it relates to anxiety and panic attacks; it relates to the issue of whether there is sin or sickness or a mixture. It might be helpful to lay out just a little bit of what I have learned about making the physical remedies, or strategies, spiritual. And that is the way I think about it: What makes the use of a physical strategy in coping or flourishing with ADD, or with anxiety attacks, or with any other problem for that matter, spiritual? What makes a Christian experience “Christian” or “spiritual” when they use the things that the world would use?
We all know that our spiritual condition is affected by physical aspects of life. Our souls are woven together with our bodies and our environment in ways that are complex and inevitable. God made us that way. We are souls with bodies. We always will be souls with bodies. We are not platonic — trying to slough off our body. We are going to be raised as bodies and souls in the last day.
This is huge. We are physical, spiritual creatures, and we know that our spiritual responses in life (our treating people with grace, for example) are affected by sleep, food and nutrition, and drink — whether water for hydration, or coffee or alcohol. All of those affect us. Exercise affects brain chemicals brought about by a heavy workout; weather conditions affect us with high and low pressure. When I was in Germany, everybody blamed certain traffic patterns on the Foehn — a weather condition of certain kind of pressures that made everybody more irritable. Inactivity — sitting around all day — can make you listless and it has an effect on your mind.
A bracing walk on the beach or a peaceful chair by a sunset on a lake will have a different effect on your mood than if you are stuck in traffic all afternoon. Smells of new mown grass and pine woods and ocean spray and cooking bacon and countless other things can change my whole outlook on life. Or, think about hormone replacements for women in menopause and iron supplements in your diet and then, of course, antidepressants. So you see the whole range — all the way from sleep to antidepressants. We are people who are affected by the physical strategies and physical remedies that we embrace.
From Natural to Holy
So the question that we ask is one that Paul asked, I think, in 1 Timothy 4:4–5 where he is referring to food and sex. He says, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy” — so now he is thinking of sex and food — “by the word of God and prayer.”
Embedded in those two verses is the question, How do you take a natural thing that the world enjoys as well as we do and turn it into something spiritual or holy? And here are my five steps for doing that. This is my best shot at trying to help a person practically to think about sleep, or antidepressants, or the whole range of everything else in between that affects our moods and our spiritual condition.
1. Acknowledge the gift.
Acknowledge this physical benefit that we are now getting — whether sleep or food or exercise or medication — is a gift of God, not just nature. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?”
2. Admit your dependence.
Admit you are utterly and totally dependent on God. Whether God uses created help or supernatural help, this is going to make a difference. God could step in supernaturally and cause a difference, or he could use the natural means we are using — “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And so we are utterly dependent on him.
3. Pray for God’s help.
Pray for God’s intervention through this physical means or, if he pleases, supernatural: “Let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and your minds” (Philippians 4:6–7). So pray.
4. Trust God.
Trust him to fulfill the promise of his help. This is where the rubber meets the road: “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). So trust me, God says, trust me that this is going to make a difference and that I will help you through this physical means.
5. Thank God.
And finally, thank him for what he does. “Give thanks in all of those circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Whether it is sleep, or coffee, or exercise, or antidepressants, this is how we take the gifts of God in the physical world and sanctify them for the sake of our souls.