Spiritual fitness -- like water on poison ivy
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq » Poison ivy! If you've never had it, you'll never know the sheer torture those two words represent. As a child I was a magnet for poison ivy and poison sumac. My friends and I played outdoors all summer long, and climbed trees that were covered with poison ivy and tramped through weeds filled with poison sumac.
All this might not have been as terrible as I am letting on if not for the fact we had a basic misunderstanding about the stuff. We believed it was spread by water! Of course, today I know this is not true, and that a good dose of soap and water washes the oils away and limits the irritation of the skin. But back then my family and I bought the old wives' tale that water was the problem.
I would wait for days after being exposed to those irritating oils before I would wash, and all the while, the irritation just got worse. I would swell up to the point where I was barely recognizable; eyes swollen shut, large weeping blisters covering my body. Ugh! But I stuck to my beliefs and was always careful not to wash.
BEFORE I deployed to Iraq, my parents came to visit us in Hawaii, and I asked my mother why we never washed when we were exposed to poison ivy and sumac. She is now nearly 70 years old, and she said, "Because water spreads it!"
I was shocked. I told her what the doctors had said about poison ivy and sumac being contact irritants that would wash off with soap and water.
Her answer surprised me. She said, "You're wrong!"
I asked her if she had ever checked with a doctor during those long weeks in my youth when my eyes had swelled shut, and she said, "No, why would I? I know what it is, and I know what to do about it."
Now all this was very eye opening. I've known for years a good washing will eliminate most of the reaction to the oil. My children, while being exposed much as I was, have never had the terrible reactions I did because we have them wash up immediately.
But my mother believed she knew something and stuck to her belief, even in the face of the very real and unpleasant results. I tell that story because it helps me illustrate why some people might still believe they're wasting their time investing in their "spiritual fitness."
THERE IS convincing and mounting evidence from the health care sector and from insurance statistics -- which are seldom wrong since they make their money by being right -- that people who are spiritually invested are likely to live longer and, more important, spend less time dependent on others in their older years. That translates to less time in the nursing home.
The Bible talks about God's desire for us to be in good health, it's repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments. 3 John 1:2 says, "I pray you may enjoy good health and all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." So the evidence already cited suggests that God has designed us to run best when we are spiritually in tune.
The Air Force is convinced, as we are increasingly talking in terms of the whole person including physical, mental and spiritual health. Each contributes to our total well-being. For instance, people with poor mental health live shorter lives, just as the evidence shows people with poor physical and spiritual health live shorter lives.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has gone on record stating those who regularly exercise a reaffirming of their faith enjoy better health. The Internet is littered with medical articles about studies that demonstrate the value of an active spiritual life.
If you've been neglecting your spiritual life, may I suggest a change, a new investment? No? Satisfied with what you've always done? You may be, but sitting in your nursing home wheeling around in your chair one day, remember this: The evidence was shared, the cure (or prevention), so to speak, was available. Don't be like my mom and think you know best before you check the facts. A change may save you and your family a little pain and provide you many more years to enjoy.
Capt. David DePinho, a chaplain with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Hickam Air Force Base, is at Balad Air Base in Iraq.