Mad Church Disease – Chapter 8 – Physical Health

It was around the time of my second mission trip when my friend, approached me. Cecille’s the kind of friend that everybody should be blessed to have—she loves me enough to tell me the truth—even when it’s hard to say and hard to hear.

Sarah, I believe that God wants to use you in the mission field and in ministry, but I’m really afraid that your health is not going to allow you to do what He wants you to do. You’ve got to start taking care of yourself.

It was hard to hear. Hard for her to say, too, I’m sure. I knew it was true as soon as she said it, but I was so paralyzed in hopelessness and helplessness that I couldn’t even bring myself to respond to her. Still, her words have returned to me over the years…

When I got pneumonia the first time… and the second time…

Through major battles with female trouble that the doctors still can’t diagnose…

Through years of major skin problems on my hands that have caused them to be raw and bloody…

Through persistent headaches and migraines…

High blood pressure…

Vitamin deficiencies (including anemia)…

Bouts of anxiety and depression…

And of course, the elephant in the middle of the room (no pun intended)—my weight problem.

I tried to ignore my problems, thinking they would go away, but when I was sitting in the doctor’s office in November, hearing him repeat the litany of physical issues I’ve got, I somehow heard it differently. When I got home and started sorting through the issues in my mind, I realized that even though I have all of these problems, the remedy to most of them is in my hands.

I haven’t been taking care of myself.

I noticed something about myself in college. When I would get stressed out and overloaded, I would compensate by staying up late at night to finish my work. When that wasn’t enough, I would skip meals to complete it. I was an extreme night owl, an erratic eater, and a couch potato. I would go to class, go to work, then come home and collapse onto the couch or the computer to work.

I have always been prone to headaches. But now, I was always getting sick—cold after cold—or worse. And then, one Saturday morning when I stepped out of bed, a pain hit my lower abdomen. I doubled over and spent the weekend in bed, thinking I would die. On Monday, I went to student health and they sent me to have an ultrasound. And when all of the tests came back, the bottom line was stress.

Those three and a half years of college programmed me for a lifestyle that I’m still trying to overcome. To this day, when I get stressed out, I begin to compensate by staying up late at night to finish my work. Then, I begin to eat erratically (not taking time to shop, plan meals, or cook), and I glue myself to the chair/desk/computer.

Between 2000, when I started college as a twenty-two-year-old and 2010, my health problems multiplied (to the list you see above, plus some I’m sure I’ve forgotten) and I gained 100 pounds. In the last three years, I’ve gone from taking no medicine, to using nine medicines on a daily basis. And when I went to the doctor in November, he said, “I hope somebody’s paying you really well to abuse yourself this much.” His words shook me. What is my health really worth?

My biggest problem was that I didn’t recognize WHO I AM.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.  – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

My evangelist friend, John Hobbs, was a smoker for years but one day as he was driving, God said, “John, there are places I want to take you that I can’t take you until you’re done with the cigarettes.” He rolled down the window and threw them out.

There are places that God wants to take me that He can’t take me until I learn how to take care of myself. Until I realize that I’m His and treat myself like I’m His. Until I allow God to make me into a temple where the Holy Spirit can live and move and have His Being. I have to learn how to rest, how to nourish and strengthen myself. And once I’ve made that decision (as I now have), the Holy Spirit inside of this temple can live and move inside of me to help me do just that.

That day in the doctor’s office, God began giving me a strategy. And daily, He gives me the wisdom and strength to walk out. And He has given me all the support and resources I need to do it.

What about you? Have you realized WHO you are? That you’re His temple and that He wants to use you for His purposes? Are you making yourself into a temple that God can live in and move through?

*This is part of the weekly Wednesday book discussion that my friend, Jason S at Connecting to Impact and I have been leading. We are discussing Anne Jackson’ Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic and whether you’ve read the book or not, we welcome you to join us for discussion.*

About Sarah Salter


  1. Excellent post as always. I understand stress and not coping all that well with it. You’ve probably heard this too; exercise is essential. I do find that it’s a good stress reliever. Chocolate is too but in excess, it defeats the purpose. I must say that I really appreciated your “approach” to health from God’s point of view. I like the way you think! If you don’t mind, I might just ask you from time to time how your health changes are coming along. You can always tell me to mind my own business but before you do, I would only ask in hopes that I could encourage you somehow along the way.

  2. Sarah, it has been so heart-warming to watch you embark on caring for your temple. Keep up the good work. This didn’t all happen to you overnight – slow and steady wins the race set before you. I’m so proud of you!

  3. Sarah this is a very challenging and encouraging post. College had a very similiar effect on me, plus a tendency in my family to ‘stress eat’ (plus 13 years in the high stress world of ministry). Now I’m about 60 pounds heavier than I was in college. I’m starting the journey back to physical health too. I pray that God gives us both strength for the journey.

    Love you, sis!

  4. I think what you’re doing is great and the fact that you’re listening to God as He speaks to you is probably the most important thing. God will bless you through your obedience. Keep it up girl!

  5. I don’t think I’ve overcome in this area, but I do have an understanding. When I was younger, I didn’t care anything about eating healthier or trying to stay on top of stress. I thought “life is too short not to enjoy this junk food” (thank God for growth). I plowed through stress the best I could, but it wasn’t cutting it. God spoke to me the same scripture you have here, “Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?” That question has stuck with me and I remember that I’m not my own and if I want to fulfill everything He’s given me to do, I need to make some healthy decisions now. Besides the obvious spiritual maintenance, I eat things I don’t necessarily like and try to work out at least 3 times a week whether I feel like it or not. The crazy thing is these all help me with my stress anyway…

    Thanks for being so honest and open, Sarah. Keep making the decisions that get you where God wants you. You’ll make it and there will be a thousand miracles along the way. Blessings!

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    Denise- Thank you for your encouragement. You’re welcome to ask. It might just be the thing that keeps me on track on that particular day. 🙂

    Candy- You’ve been amazing through this whole process! Thank you for your support! My whole family knows who you are because they hear me quote you all the time. “Candy says…” And “Candy gave me this recipe…” And “I’m going to ask Candy what she thinks…” I love you, my friend!

    Dacia- Why is that churches FEED us every time the doors open?! We have doughnuts and coffee after Sunday school. We have potluck meals every time we have revival. We have pancake and sausage suppers every time the youth need to raise money. When are the churches going to start offering fitness & nutrition classes? Or exercise support groups? Okay, okay, I know some of them do. At least, I know of one or two that do. But the rest of these churches that are enabling the chubby chicks like me seriously need to get on board! 🙂

    Annie & Jason- Thanks for the encouragement! It’s nice to have cheerleaders along the way… And it’s especially awesome to be understood! Thanks for helping me to become a better temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell in.

  7. Sarah, you make a lot of good points. It feels selfish to take care of ourselves when there is so much that needs to be done, but in the long run, how can we help others if we are worn to a frazzle?

  8. Wow Sarah, great post! I’m sorry you have so many health issues…I’m there with you. I’m happy we have God on our side. You keep going!

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