A common theme that others have shared with me recently is their lack of time. “If only I had more time to…” “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to…” “How do I make the most of the time I have left?”
This is certainly not a new issue; people have been wrestling with this since the beginning of time. I know that for me, even as a young child, I would find myself unnecessarily rushing through things and sometimes making errors (especially when doing my math assignments!) because I felt a certain amount of urgency… time was slipping away, so I’d better hurry.
The intensity of this challenge became even more apparent for me personally several weeks ago as I turned another year older. Thankfully, I had a scheduled trip to the west coast to visit my family, as well as some days intentionally set aside to be unplugged from technology, which afforded me the opportunity to pause time so that I could catch up with it.
You can’t do that.
Oh, but I did… although, not in the way I anticipated!
My natural inclination is that, when a challenge arises, I research what others have to say about it. No need to recreate the wheel, times a’ wastin’! Thus, I found myself quickly drawn to New York Times bestselling author Juliet Funt’s book, “A Minute to Think: Reclaim Creativity, Conquer Busyness, And Do Your Best Work.” As I quickly scanned through the opening pages, the premise of the book seemed solid, and I could see that, in the later chapters, it offered what appeared to be some practical suggestions. Yet, as I read it, something felt lacking.
So, I turned to another book that a friend recently told me about: “No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear)“ by Kate Bower, who is also a New York Times bestselling author. It, too, was intriguing, but something still felt unsettled inside of me as I tried to figure out how to organize my time. What should my priorities be? What could I let go? What should I do?
Since my research did not seem to be working, I resolved to press on… actively seeking any opportunity where I could carve out space so that I might gain new clarity and/or insight as to how I should approach time.
As timing would have it, that very same afternoon, as I walked into my brother’s kitchen in Washington state, my young nieces (12 and 10) and nephew (6) asked me if I wanted to join them in playing with their playdough. I didn’t waste a skinny minute. I quickly sat down at the kitchen table with them, hoping that, through mushing the dough between my fingers, I could perhaps get a better grasp of time, or at least have some fun trying!
As my nephew busily made a banana and a rolled-up burnt pancake (left image), I wasn’t sure what to do with the blank space sitting in front of me. So, I decided to start by making a daisy flower because they bring me joy… then two daisies… then three… then grass… and then, finally, adding a berry bush that one of my nieces made for me.
As I worked on the final pieces of my now “art” project, I was only marginally aware of how much time had gone by, other than I knew that dinner would be coming soon, so I’d have to finish up. Yet, I wasn’t quite ready. In order for my playdough time to be “officially finished” in my mind, I needed to add some sort of word or phrase to my picture, but what was fitting?
Peace? Joy? Love? As I visualized how each of them would look, none felt right.
Then, suddenly, “Abide in Me…” popped into my mind, and I found myself filled with a great sense of peace… “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” – John 15:4
Prior to my playdough time, I knew that I could not slow time or regain time. However, it was in that moment when I was humbly reminded that I had been trying too hard to control time on my own terms rather than abiding (also translated as continuing, staying, remaining) in God.
Once I invited God back to be my “time management partner,” I was able to return to the two books I had started, both offering me new insights as well as practical suggestions (I commend them both to you!).
Praise be to God for providing me the space to catch up and re-establish my relationship with time.
May all be well,
Karen H. Webster
HSHC Cofounder/Executive Director
When you see or hear the word “contagious,” what comes to mind? COVID? Masks? Other forms of infectious diseases or illnesses? Something unpleasant? Death? Given what we’ve been through over the past two years, it is quite understandable to have these kinds of thoughts.
However, it is also important to remember that some things that are “contagious” are positive and are, thus, good for our health when they spread. These include (but are not limited to!) a smile, laughter, words of gratitude, and/or other forms of compassion.
At its root, to be contagious means that an influence, quality, or nature has the ability to spread rapidly through verbal and/or physical contact with those around us. Again, this can work for good or for bad.
As some of you know, the very reason we exist as an organization is to promote positive contagion, particularly when it comes to spreading healthy lifestyle practices among seminaries and communities of faith. Our primary goal is to bring about greater health and wellbeing among seminarians (many of whom are future clergy) so that they can ultimately be partners with us in spreading healthy habits – not only in the settings to which God has called them, but also in our communities and throughout the world!
However, one of the themes that came up in Travis’ dissertation research, which focused on identifying what contributes to the health and unhealth of those preparing for a vocation in ministry (the results of which were generally consistent with Karen’s doctoral research project, also conducted among seminarians six years ago), is that when it comes to talking about health, the Church is pretty much silent.
In fact, it turns out that, among the seminarians who were interviewed by Travis in fall 2020 and spring 2021, “five of the [thirteen] interview participants said they had never heard health discussed in church, either theologically or practically, and of the eight who had, it was generally limited to a particular aspect of health, usually spiritual health. Furthermore, several interviewees indicated they had heard health talked about in church only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that, only two years ago, the number of interviewees who had never heard health come up in church would have been higher. What an unfortunate statement about the importance of health in church that it has taken a global pandemic to bring the subject to the forefront in some congregations!”
We think there is no better time than now – in this season where we celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the new life that is given to all, to work towards changing this reality, and we would like your help!
As we continue to empower seminary students, we want to challenge you to help break the silence about health in our communities of faith. When we work together, we can make a real difference in our own lives as well as in the world around us.
Karen and Travis Webster
Don’t know where to start? Check out our 3 Ways to Spread Good Health in Our Communities of Faith post for ideas and next steps.
Fasting has definitely become a buzzword over the last several years (social media, books, casual conversations, and beyond) and is something that I started gaining an interest in over 10 years ago while I was participating in a spiritual formation program offered jointly through Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Columbia Theological Seminary. While the current fasting trend is primarily focused on the physical effects of fasting, fasting for one’s overall health has been around for centuries. Since we just finished the Advent and Christmas season, which has traditionally been a season of fasting followed by feasting, and will shortly be entering Lent, also a time of fasting followed by feasting, I thought that this would be an appropriate time to share a few fasting facts to chew on.
Through the spiritual and physical act of fasting, our lives can be filled in amazing ways!
While I don’t have space here to discuss how fasting fell out of practice among Christians, which I find to be a fascinating topic in and of itself, fasting has virtually disappeared from our modern life (secularly and religiously) for a variety of reasons. I think this is a shame because, at least for me, the discipline of fasting has greatly enriched my life in ways I would never have anticipated.
In this season of new beginnings, and with Lent coming soon, I want to encourage you to consider participating in some sort of fast and/or abstinence practice. I am certainly looking forward to doing so, myself!
Karen H. Webster
HSHC Co-founder/Executive Director
“Behind every fitting choice of abstinence lies the question, what do I do to excess? What I do to excess reveals my inordinate desires, my compulsions, the attachments that have control over me. They are precisely the areas of my life that need the freeing lordship of Christ rather than my own abysmally ineffective efforts of control. Fasting is not primarily a discipline through which I gain greater control over my life, but one through which God gains access to redirect and heal me in body, mind, and spirit.”
Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast
Want to Learn More? Here are a few resources you may find to be helpful:
The Spiritual Disciple of Fasting
Fasting and Physical Health
Christian-Oriented Books That Discuss Fasting
Thompson, Marjorie J. Soul Feast, Newly Revised Edition: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Sept. 26, 2014).
¹ Please note: while I enjoy talking about this subject, I am not an expert in this field. Therefore, please speak with your healthcare provider before engaging in any form of food fasting, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.
⁴ https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fasting-benefits In addition, there is increasing scientific and clinical evidence suggesting that fasting may be a way of addressing a number of health challenges, such as obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, certain auto-immune diseases, cancer, and more. Check out some of the articles listed in the resource section for more information.
This past spring, my husband and I moved to Pennsylvania after having lived in the South for the past eleven years.
One of the changes I found myself recently needing to take advantage of was a forecasted warmer fall day to finish preparing our garden for the upcoming winter months.
Up until that point, I had already pushed off the task of laying a blanket of mulch on our garden to protect our newly established fruit bushes and other perennial plants for several weeks, in part because I didn’t feel like working outside in the cooler weather, but even more because I had been constantly feeling the pressure to get my work done – deadlines were looming, and I was already anticipating the stress that comes from the busyness of the holiday season.
However, between the gift of a warmer day and the extended weather forecast, which was projecting some very cold upcoming nights, I found myself no longer able to… Click to Read More
It is hard to believe that in a little over two weeks it will be Thanksgiving, which officially kicks off the traditional franticness of the holiday season, and before we know it Christmas presents will have been unwrapped and the ringing in of the new year completed. While there are many aspects of the holiday season that are joyful and are fun to anticipate, it is also important to acknowledge that we are also entering into our second COVID impacted holiday season. A time where we will be combining the “normal” stress of the holiday season plus dealing with the chronic stress of dealing with COVID, which has caused: increased anxiety, depression, fatigue, restless sleep, stress eating, decreased physical activity, and more.
One the one hand, this may look like the perfect storm for our overall health and wellbeing. On the other hand, if we take a few minutes now and commit ourselves to doing several small (and manageable!) caring-for-self practices throughout the holiday season (click here for some tips and ideas), not only will we feel much better in the midst of the stressful season, but we will also be able to enjoy the celebration of Christ’s birth and excitement of the new year more fully!
In addition, due to the chronic stress that many of us have and will be facing, we hope you will check out some of the other stress-oriented articles, resources, as well as the information about our new 6-week “Restore and Renew: Strategies for Stress” program (starting in mid January) found in this stress edition of our newsletter.
Karen and Travis Webster
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Just as many schools across the nation have recently been starting up again for the fall term, HSHC will also be starting our “new semester” by kicking off our annual small groups program with seminarians and seminarian partners/spouses next week. Since we have shifted our program online, in part, due to COVID, but also so that we can expand our outreach, we will be having participants from a variety of different seminary communities come together each month to consider and discuss this year’s theme: “Building A Network of Health” in our vocation.
One of the questions we usually ask the participants in our first monthly gatherings, and one I would like for you to consider for a moment is this: when you hear the words “health” and “wellness,” what images or words come to your mind?
As you can imagine, participants’ responses vary considerably. Why? Because what it means to be “healthy,” and the wellness practices that we establish and follow to maintain our health, are all shaped and influenced by the multicultural contexts in which we live. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness. This understanding is foundational to our organization and is one of the key concepts we share with our small group participants each year.
Being aware of and attentive to multicultural differences is important because:
What factors inform your idea of health and wholeness?
To give you an idea of how we start our online small group experience, I would like to invite you to do this exercise. Using the “Multicultural Wellness Wheel,” created by the National Wellness Institute, please consider the following questions:
We’d love for you to share your thoughts with us here so that we can continue this conversation in the HSHC community in the months to come.
Karen H. Webster
HSHC Co-founder/Executive Director
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.”1 Corinthians 12:12-14
April 2020 – Here is what one of our Lenten Challenge participants shared about their experience this year…
“I signed up for the Lenten challenge because for me, it helps to have structure to my spiritual time. The reflections each week that were sent helped to center the topic for that week. During that week, each day presented a different way of looking at the topic.
For example, the week on “honesty” included questions directed about honesty and God, honesty and self, honesty and loved ones, honesty and my community, honesty and creation. Some of these were extremely personal for me, like, how honest am I with God?
Some were not as pertinent, such as honesty and creation, although I’m concerned about creation and environment, that is not a priority for me right now. I really had to think about some of the questions posed, which was good during the Lenten season, as we can use that time to reflect.
The topic of forgiveness was most personal for me, as I question whether I have truly forgiven those who have hurt me. I think I have, but I need to reach out to God and ask for help if I have not been able to forgive. I also need to forgive myself constantly, as most people say, “you are too hard on yourself”. Funny to be thinking of forgiveness in relation to me; may God help me in this area. The Lenten reflection ended with a “bonus” week, that of Holy Week. I was so glad to end the Lenten challenge with “Christ is risen.”
Reflection by Sue Buchholz from Atlanta, GA, Lenten Challenge Participant
Dealing with the physical aspects of COVID has received a lot of attention in media. However, the mental, emotional, and spiritual impacts COVID is having, particularly among COVID survivors, need far greater awareness than it is currently receiving. In order to get a better understanding of the impact of COVID on these other aspects of health, Karen Webster, HSHC Executive Director, recently interviewed a community of faith member who shared their COVID journey. To learn more, check out their Q&A session below.
When did you have COVID, and how did you experience it?
“I had COVID in mid-November, and I’ve no idea where I got it. I wore masks everywhere. I started coming down with COVID symptoms right in the midst of celebrating my husband’s mother’s 90th birthday with a very small gathering of close family members, followed the next day by our daughter celebrating her 16th birthday with a very small group of her closest friends in our front yard with everyone wearing masks and socially distancing themselves.
Since we had visited family out-of-town, my husband’s boss had said, ‘I want you to get a COVID test before you come back to work.’ My husband’s result turned up negative and, for a moment, I thought I would be ok, but mine, however, turned up positive. And I just remember thinking to myself, “What? How can this be?” I was shocked and mortified.
My husband immediately called his 90-year-old mother, and he, too, started panicking because it was his side of the family we had just visited – his brother, who’s over 60, sister-in-law, his niece, and nephew. I immediately started having a shame panic attack.
The first person I called was my mom, and she said to me, “Well, did you get tested before you went?” She immediately made me feel even worse than I was already feeling about myself and all my regrets, the guilt. I hung up and cried. What did I just do? I just endangered all of these people. The people I love the most could die now. It’s my fault. I’m sick… That was the worst hour.
Whom did you feel comfortable telling/who was your support network?
“I’m a private person, so normally I would not have told anybody else. However, in this instance, I had to share the news with my husband’s family and the people who attended my daughter’s birthday party, which included telling my four closest friends who had been at the party… crying. In terms of my support network, I told my friends because I had to, but really it was only my husband and daughter. COVID is very isolating. First, you’re told to quarantine, and then, if you’re feeling shameful about it, it is a super isolating disease.”
What messages were you receiving that impacted how and with whom you shared your diagnosis? How did those make you feel about your diagnosis?
“Internally, I thought, ‘How could I have done this to people?… holding on tightly to shame and regret. Externally, my friends said to me, “You know, you didn’t do anything wrong. You were careful.” Through the process of sharing with my four friends, I felt cared for. And then, because they interacted with other people I knew, they would tell me, “Oh, I told so-and-so, and they’re really concerned about you,” and my first reaction inside would be, “You told them!?” I really didn’t want anybody outside of my super tight inner circle to know because I was afraid I was going to be judged. And the thing that surprised me and I did not anticipate is anyone being concerned about me and my health. Rather, I had been thinking, “I’m bad.. Are they going to be mad at me? They’re judging me…Who did I almost kill?”
What could your faith community have done to support you while you were sick? Is there any support you would like from them now?
In terms of my faith community, I emailed my two pastors because I knew they were safe people to tell and that they were there for me. They wrote back, “Oh no, let me know if there’s anything I can do.” And that was it. Looking back, I think what would have been helpful was to have received a phone call from one of, or both of them, to help me discern what I needed because at the time, I did not know what I needed!
I also serve on one of the congregation’s leadership teams, and, at first, I didn’t tell them because it didn’t occur to me. However, at a meeting shortly after my illness, someone started asking about how those in church could “help those people.” This upset me and, without having planned through what I was going to say, I immediately jumped in and shared my experience as a COVID survivor.
COVID is challenging enough physically, and then to add the stigma… you must have caught COVID by not wearing a mask or doing something you shouldn’t have done or going somewhere or not washing your hands or not doing something you should have done… I’ve even caught myself thinking, “Well, of course, that person got it, because they…” From a cultural-global-spiritual perspective, COVID is really highlighting our biases, stereotypes, judgments, and hypocrisies. The committee appreciated that I brought this awareness to them while, at the same time, I experienced being cared for.
Any final thoughts?
“I grew up in the eighties during the AIDS epidemic. My immediate reaction after having gotten the positive test for COVID was a deep, new compassion and empathy for people who had AIDS. In the eighties, we heard about them, and we judged them. Having COVID, I realized that they not only had to deal with being physically sick, but they also had to deal with mental and emotional pain from being stigmatized… guilt, shame, “Who got sick because of me?” It would be interesting to talk to someone who also had coronavirus and AIDS and see if it’s any kind of similarity.”
Reflecting on my experience spiritually, the only thing I can compare having COVID to is all of the grief, despair, and complete brokenness I felt when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and died, a six-week process from diagnosis to death. Through the experience of the brokenness I felt after my dad died, I learned that I was loved not because of how much I do and who I am (type A, high achiever, successful athlete), but I learned that people loved me, and I was lovable even at my worst, my most broken. And my experience with COVID was learning that lesson again, on another level. So, actually, it has been a very cool spiritual period.”
January 2021 – Reflection provided by Debby Haralson, Chief Operating Officer of The WellHouse, D.Min. student at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University (Atlanta, GA)
“I was intrigued to learn about Healthy Seminarians-Healthy Church’s online small- group program last fall. Working in a trauma-based ministry where every need feels absolutely immediate, I have seen many gifted caregivers exit the field early and exhausted.
Leaders tend to agree that caring for self is critical. But how? How, when a newly minted minister enters an arena that publicly praises sacrifice and servanthood while well-being, strength, and stamina are simply expected?
Healthy Seminarians-Healthy Church’s program effectively equips a minister for this conversation. Providing a much-needed Biblical/theological framework around caring for self, HSHC challenges participants to explore a holistic kind of spirituality that honors God through work and rest; activism along with contemplation. Here’s hoping that tomorrow’s ministry leaders can embody such balance. Those we serve will benefit from this kind of faith-filled service. We can’t do everything, but God can. Karen Webster and her team have much wisdom to share along these lines. We would be wise to take heed.”