I felt bad for the preacher that evening. As he walked to the pulpit to do “that thing he does so well,” I had the strong sensation that here is a man of God who is not taking care of his body. Gravity was winning the battle and even though he was some years younger than me, I could not escape the sense that his health was going to decline much too rapidly in the years just ahead unless he took action soon.
Two weeks ago at a funeral in Columbus, Mississippi, I had a brief chat with Stephanie, Stacy, and Sharon, granddaughters of Deacon Paul Cockrell, whose life and homegoing we were celebrating. Both the father and mother of these young adult women — Dr. Jimmy Sams and Helen Cockrell Sams Parker — are in Heaven now, and we spoke of them. I told one of the girls something their father had done for me over 30 years ago.
“In 1975, Jimmy made arrangements for me to fly to Dallas and go through the Cooper Aerobics Clinic for a full checkup. He set up the appointment and paid the entire cost. It was a life-altering experience.”
The clinic did not find anything seriously wrong with me, but much wrong with my sedentary lifestyle. They prescribed a jogging and exercise program and left an indelible mark upon my psyche, a strong impression that “I have to take care of this body!”
With the exception of brief lapses, I’ve tried to do so ever since.
I’ve written here previously about my walking three miles on the levee beside the Mississippi River several mornings a week before sunup. I’ve done it for many years and find it to be wonderful for a lot of reasons. The reason I bring it up now is….
I stopped walking last winter.
We were in the midst of a cold spell — yes, we have miserable winter weather in New Orleans, too — and decided to give myself the luxury of skipping the morning walk. Problem is, I quit for nine months!
Boy, did I miss it. And feel guilty! Man. Whether it was genuine or imaginary, my clothes fit tighter and the belt kept asking for another hole.
A month or six weeks ago, I sent up a plea, “Lord, help me to get back to taking care of my body!” And He did.
I’m back up to speed now, and loving it. To keep this lapse from occurring again, I’ve worked out a little system for the future. It goes like this: if the temp is in the 40s (it has been for the last two mornings), I walk the usual route. If it’s in the 30s, I will cut the walking to two laps around my block (a little over a mile). In the 20s, no walking.
A recent mailing from our denominational annuity office (Guidestone) carried some disturbing information about the poor health of modern-day ministers. See what you think….
“In the 1950s, Protestant clergy had the lowest rate of disease for every major diagnosis, lived longer and were healthier than any other profession.
“In 1983, Protestant clergy ranked highest in overall work-related stress and next to the lowest in personal resources to cope with that stress.
“In 1999, clergy were found to have one of the highest death rates due to heart disease, having a higher risk factor than any other occupation.”
Something is bad wrong here. This should not be.
And then, this insight….
“For every one pound of weight loss, there is a 4 pound drop in pressure exerted on the knees. That may not sound like much, but with every step taken, it adds up: For people losing 10 pounds, each knee would be subjected to 48,000 pounds less in comprehensive load per mile walked!”
For years I did the daily 15 minute routine with the weights and stretching exercises and the 3 mile walk with the future in mind. I’d think, “I want to remain active in my old age.”
Well, the future is now for this preacher.
I’m at the point — age 69 next March 28 — where I am enjoying the benefits from being able to stoop and stretch and reach, to get up easily from chairs and walk up and down stairs effortlessly, and not look like an old man in the process.
During the 9 month hiatus from walking, it occurred to me one day, “Hey — not exercising is a great time saver!” I could get to the office a lot earlier without spending 45 minutes on the levee.
In a sense, that’s true. This morning, for instance, when I sat down for breakfast at 7:30, I had been up for 2 hours. I’d read the Scriptures, done my exercises and walking, then taken a shower and dressed. Time-consuming? It certainly is.
But it’s a matter of how one wants to live his life. I can choose to cut back on bodily and spirit maintenance and have more time for watching the morning talk shows or reading the paper or working in the office. But in the long run, skipping the maintenance may prove to be the worst decision anyone ever makes.
I keep thinking of our friend Sheri Adamson, a single young woman in our church in Jackson, Mississippi. One day she said to me, “Joe, I don’t know what all the fuss is about maintenance on cars. I haven’t changed the oil or rotated the tires or anything and my car runs just fine.”
I said, “How old is your car, Sheri?” She said, “One year.”
I laughed. “Just stick around, girl. You’ll be hearing from your car before long!”
No way am I suggesting we go to the far extreme and devote our lives to eating pine nuts and ingesting protein supplements and spending hours a day in body shaping and on physical appearance. I’ll pass on the botox and hair-coloring and liposuction, too, if you don’t mind.
We’re talking balance. Spending a little time each day to keep the body in good working order will pay dividends in the long run. Who among us serving the Lord would not prefer serving Him 75 years than 50? And given a choice, we would rather live those 75 years with as few aches and pains and as much energy as possible.
That’s what this is all about.