1. Name one or two key factors that prompted the original idea for this book.
Healthy. Happy. Holy is about the “rest of life” that we don’t talk much about in the church. What I mean by the “rest of life” are practices such as self-care, Sabbath rest, managing stress and preventing burnout, engaging in play and hobbies, getting adequate sleep, regular exercise, and eating healthier foods. All of these are part of living a fully alive, Christlike life.
I wrote this book, because I have failed miserably in all of these areas of my life at one time or another. I am still an imperfect practitioner in these areas. I experienced burnout and depression as a local church pastor many years ago. As a way to heal myself mentally, physically, and emotionally, I began to engage in the practices I talk about in this book. I also ended up writing my doctoral dissertation on “Pastors, Burnout, and Depression.” Helping others to love themselves as God loves them—body, mind, and spirit—is a deep passion of mine.
I view the practices discussed in the book as means of grace that are every bit as important for our relationship with God and others as corporate worship, prayer, and Bible study. Salvation is not simply God saving the spiritual part of us, but God healing every aspect of our lives (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
For too long as a pastor, I ministered out of a toxic theology that told me I needed to love my neighbor instead of myself. The amazing thing in the Gospels is that Jesus tells us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, not instead of ourselves. As I studied scripture and theology, it dawned on me that one of the best ways for me to love God and others wholeheartedly is to love myself by resting, playing, sleeping, exercising, and eating well. It took a personal health crisis to provoke me to embark on the healthier life journey I talk about in the book.
2. If you have to list three key takeaways from this book you would like for the reader to experience, what would they be?
As I talk about in the first chapter, “Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask First,” caring for ourselves is not selfish, but is actually an act of love, both for ourselves and others. God calls us to flourish so that all can flourish. The well-being of the world starts with our own health.
The second takeaway is this: Give Sabbath rest another shot if you’ve ignored it. The Sabbath not only gives us permission to rest, but it commands us to do so. For too long in my own life, I had an inadequate theology of rest. Because of this, I neglected my need for a regular rhythm of work, rest, play, and sleep. I was an unhealthy person as a result.
A statement I read in Wayne Muller’s delightful book, Sabbath, deeply challenged me to make important changes in the way I cared for myself and practiced Sabbath rest: “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath—our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us” [Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (New York: Bantam Books, 1999, 20)].
The third idea that I hope the reader takes away from the book is that holiness can be fun. Who knew?
Throughout the book, I encourage the reader to engage in those practices, habits, experiences, and relationships that bring joy to life. I believe that a life lived for others is grounded scripturally and theologically in doing those things that delight and refill our internal reservoir. There should be at least as much life flowing into us as flows from us. When we are spiritually and emotionally full—when we are rested, joyful, and healthy—we are our best selves. When we are essentially healthy and happy, the journey toward Christlike holiness is full of joy and delight—and fun!
Another key message of the book is that the journey of holiness is holistic, extending to every area of life. Every aspect of this wonderful life, this incredible gift of God, is a means of grace, an opportunity to fill up with the love of God, so that the life of God spills out of us into the lives of others.
3. Do you have a favorite passage or chapter in this book?
I like all of the chapters, obviously, but the hardest chapter for me to write and practice was the chapter on connecting food with Christian discipleship. This chapter was also the most satisfying for me to complete.
A couple of years before I started to write this chapter, I began to read carefully in John Wesley’s work and other places about the relationship of food and faith. Eating healthy and maintaining healthy weight have been struggles I have had throughout my life. Writing this chapter challenged me to better practice what I preach. I couldn’t very well write a chapter on healthier eating and not practice it myself, right?
The research for this chapter also led me down several unexpected paths. I learned about food deserts and the relationship of food to social justice. I learned about how important it was to John Wesley that the early Methodists eat healthier as a way of promoting healing and more effective lives of holiness. I learned that contrary to conventional wisdom, obesity is not merely a lack of willpower. I have also learned to care about the sources of the food I eat as well as the welfare of those who harvest the food I eat. Compassion for God’s creation also leads me to eat chicken, beef, and pork that have been raised as humanely and as “happily” as possible. These were all new insights for me theologically and deeply challenging to many of my own personal dietary practices.
4. If you were sitting beside the reader, what portion of the book would you want him or her to spend extra time on, and why?
The most important chapter of the book theologically is the chapter on Sabbath rest. This is why it is the first chapter of the book. This chapter sets the tone for everything else in the book. The Old Testament Sabbath command to rest is the connective tissue that connects love of God and neighbor. In order to love God and love our neighbors wholeheartedly, the fourth command tells us that we must rest well.
I think the reader will find the chapter on Sabbath rest different from most other approaches to Sabbath rest they may have encountered along the way. Rather than giving specific prescriptions for what not to do on the Sabbath, I provide principles for how to go about practicing Sabbath rest.
I believe that these principles are at the heart of why God gave us the Sabbath command in the first place. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, NRSV).
5. What specific ways can this book equip, encourage, and/or instruct ministers?
While the book is written for both laity and pastors, I do speak directly to pastors in several places. I was a lead pastor for 21 years and a youth pastor for a little over 2 years before I started teaching full-time at Northwest Nazarene University in 2010. Because of my own experience in pastoral ministry, I try to be especially sensitive to the needs and challenges of those in ministry.
In the chapter on Sabbath rest, I offer several ideas for how those in ministry can develop a sustainable Sabbath rhythm, both for themselves and their churches.
The chapter on managing stress and preventing burnout offers several ideas for how pastors can practice self-care. As one example of this, I talk about how in college and seminary, pastors are taught how to care for others, but very infrequently are taught to care for themselves as an essential part of God’s call in their lives. I learned the hard way in ministry that a pastor whose heart is not refreshed will be hard-pressed to refresh others.
Far from being selfish, sanctified self-care is deeply missional. Only healthy pastors and churches will have the mental and emotional capacity to be the eyes, ears, hands, and feet of Christ in the world. Worship, evangelism, and compassionate ministry are not for the faint of heart. They require us to be our most fully alive selves.
Not surprisingly, this holistic approach was at the heart of John Wesley’s ministry. Chapter seven, “Connect Food with Christian Discipleship,” asks the question: “Why should Christians care about what we eat?”
For too long as a pastor, I struggled to eat healthily. I am certainly not alone in this. Recognizing that this is a very sensitive issue, I take a compassionate theological approach to food in this chapter. Rather than scolding, I seek to show how God’s original intention for the food we eat has implications for our walk with Christ and the mission of the Church. A more intentional theology of food will enhance both pastoral and congregational health and help churches embody a holistic gospel to the most vulnerable in their communities.
This chapter also provides “food” for thought for sermons and small groups as well as personal pastoral practice. It also contains practical ideas for healthier eating that will be helpful for ministers in promoting their own personal health. As the research at the Duke Divinity School Clergy Health Initiative shows us (https://divinity.duke.edu/initiatives/clergy-health-initiative), ministers tend to be some of the least healthy folk in any profession. If my book can help nurture healthier pastors and more thriving ministries, I will be very grateful.
The goal of Healthy. Happy. Holy. is to help God’s people live fully alive in every aspect of their lives. God intends for us to flourish in the totality of our lives—to live radiant, vibrant, healthy lives of joy, peace, and faithful service. It is my prayer that my book will help cultivate healthier, happier, more Christlike lives.