faith and family
Health Trumps Everything
by Marcus J. Carlson
In his book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni writes that “organizational health trumps everything.” A brilliant storyteller, consultant and leadership guru, Lencioni o ers a great perspective on organizational health. Churches are often struggling primarily because of being unhealthy and having an unhealthy organizational culture.
As I have thought about and applied this concept to my own church setting— as well as other organizations I am connected to — I have started to realize there is a greater implication for this idea beyond organizations. Four years ago, I launched a website called The Vine (ministryvine.com). The purpose of this website was to help ministry leaders re ect on their overall health. In this blog, I share a self-care inventory for leaders and write a short piece on each question presented in the inventory.
Leaders, especially leaders of churches and faith-based organizations, are notorious for ignoring their own health. I think Lencioni’s observation is accurate for leaders as well: health trumps everything. It is impossible to lead well for any reasonable period of time in a way that is focused on God and not make health a priority. Christian leaders often assume God would want them to sacri ce their health for the good of the church, their organization and others. While Jesus does call us to sacri ce, I do not think that means we should ignore our health.
When I use the world health, I am intending to use it holistically. Health is not limited to physical health or well- being. Health includes physical, emotional, vocational, nancial, intellectual, relational and spiritual health. I have learned that each of these is deeply connected to the others — Biblically, theologically and practically speaking. God designed and created us that way.
These ideas and principles do not just apply to organiza- tions or leaders, they apply to family and individuals as well. The overall health of our family (again the physical, emo- tional, vocational, nancial, intellectual, relational and spiri- tual health) trumps everything. It is a powerful force in the strength of family relationships, the attitudes of family mem- bers, the health and growth of children and so much more.
There have been seasons where my own family has not been as healthy as it should be. There are always a variety of causes or symptoms: maybe it was the lack of routine, maybe it was a stressful season, maybe it was grief, transition, illness or something else. Those can be alarming, discouraging and di cult times, not only for parents but for all family members.
While we cannot achieve perfection as parents or family members, we often expect to meet that standard. Guilt is deeply unhealthy and has a tendency to create a cycle of discouragement, unhealthiness and shame. While a healthy family trumps everything, one does not need to be a perfect family to be a healthy one.
As parents, it is our responsibility to do everything in our power (all of which is only possible by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit) to help our families be healthy in every possible way. So often this requires intentional thought, e ort, sacri ce and going against our own instincts, habits and desires to do what is best for the overall health of our families. Instead of seeking to make our families perfect, rich, happy (or any other goal), what about instead focusing on ensuring our families are as healthy as they can possibly be?
What is amazing about this approach is the rest of the things that we need, want, wish for and desire often come to fruition. We nd happiness and deep joy. We learn and we are drawn into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. What a gift!
As parents, we must also model health to our children — and when we fail to do so, have the courage to do the healthy, Biblical thing and seek forgiveness. Apologizing to my children is one of the most humbling, beautiful, challenging, painful and powerful things I do as a parent. Its impact on me and on my children in both the short-term and the long- term far exceed any of the immediate emotion of this act. We must be the change we want to see in our children and in our families.
We cannot have healthy children without modeling that health to them. As a father, I know I must model physical, emotional, vocational, nancial, intellectual, relational and spiritual health to my children. While this is a tall order, we must seek to live this out by the grace of God and only through the work of the Holy Spirit. The reality is that our children learn how to function as adults, parents and in their own families primarily from us. If we desire our children to have healthy families, we must model health to them.
As parents, we must also equip our children for health and protect the health of our children. This seems like an obvious statement, but is something that is often missed. These two things are often in tension with one another. In order to equip our children, we must expose them to things and walk with them through those di cult things, modeling health all along the way.
So often our instinct to protect our children causes us to hide from them the di cult things we must equip them to walk through. I nd this tension to be very challenging at times, creating a tremendous amount of con ict between my head and my heart. Equipping our children means giving them the tools, wisdom and experience to navigate the things ahead of them.
It is not easy or natural to be healthy. Our sinful natures alone provide enough challenge; add to that the many other obstacles we face in being healthy physically, emotionally, vocationally, nancially, intellectually, relationally and spiritually as individuals and families. It takes knowledge (self-knowledge in particular), commitment and discipline. It is something requiring daily thought, e ort and prayer.
As I re ect on both my own health and the health of my family in this or any moment, I recognize in many seasons one area may be very healthy, while another su ers. There are seasons where every area of health may be ring on all cylinders — except one. There are other seasons where I wonder if any of these areas are healthy. Tonight, while cleaning her room, my daughter found a devotional under her bed, which she and her brother proceeded to argue about who owned this devotional. The irony was not lost on me.
After I laid claim to it as a family devotional to be placed with the other family devotionals and Bibles for all of us to use, the issue was settled. I love an easy win. Ten minutes later, my daughter came to me and told me that she felt we needed to get back to reading a devotional at dinner each night. It is a habit we have lost, one that was started for family health. I was humbled, moved and proud of this simple observation and request. It was also a simple reminder that health matters. In fact, it trumps everything.