he rhythm of work and rest is given to us in Scripture as we observe God resting after creation and then prescribing a Sabbath day for human beings.
From this foundational model Joe Gorman, associate professor of pastoral theology at Northwest Nazarene University, eloquently and persuasively makes a case that selfcare is an essential element of the Christian life. The concise nature of his thought process, along with his vulnerability, makes this book feel like an invitation toward transformation. He writes with a style that is relatable, because he weaves biblical theology with his life story, which then moves into creative life applications for the reader. In a world where many people are squeezed by the demands of fast-paced living and then feel guilty for even desiring to rest, this book is a breath of fresh air.
The following statement sums up Gorman’s thesis: “A theology of health affirms that self-care is not selfish but gives us greater energy to love God and others wholeheartedly.”
This book contains eight chapters that provide the reader with a biblical theology that is applicable to daily life. It is simple but not simplistic. In the first chapter, Gorman makes the case that self-care is not an optional add-on to the life of a disciple, but is to be a way of life that has significant implications for spiritual formation. He makes this case using Jesus’ own words. The author reflects upon Jesus’ admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself,” pointing out that Jesus does not say love your neighbor instead of yourself. He then asks the following question: “So do we love our neighbor or love ourselves first?” (14).
The answer Gorman offers is in the form of an analogy from the airlines, when the cabin crew instructs every person, should cabin pressure fail, to put his or her own oxygen mask on first before helping someone else.
Reading about Gorman’s own struggle for adequate self-care and the event that awakened him to the need to be more holistic makes reading this book feel like the author is sitting across the coffee table engaging in a casual conversation.
Chapter two allows the reader to pause and reflect on God’s character and what it means to be created in God’s image. Because rest is grounded in the character of God, the reader is invited to explore what it means for us to reflect the character of God in a busy world. Rest and holiness are not concepts at war with one another, according to Gorman.
Instead, he contends that they are words that naturally belong together in a distinctly Judeo-Christian framework. He states, “The idea of a God who rests was unusual in the ancient world as well. No other ancient, Near Eastern texts refer to Sabbath, a seven-day week, or seven-day creation.” He then goes on to say, “When we engage in Sabbath rest, we resist the powers of production that tell us that we are what we achieve, accomplish, and possess. Unlike the anxious gods of Egypt, who demanded constant production, Israel’s Yahweh is not “a workaholic. . . .” (25).
The remaining chapters of the book provide real world application, reminding us that stewardship includes our whole person. There are challenges for every personality type. For example, the section on the role of play and hobbies may stretch the comfort level of a “Type A” personality. However, this topic becomes an invitation into a deep Trinitarian fellowship. Gorman writes: “The word perichoresis indicates rotation. Traditional Greek dance involves dancing in circles, weaving in and out of each other. Dance is a celebration of life. Dance is playful, and early Greek theologians used this playful image of dance to imagine and describe the triune God” (70).
The book addresses the importance of sleep, exercise, food, and the need to develop a healthy approach to all of life. Readers receive practical insights that help understand the physicality of our spirituality. For example, in relation to exercise, the author explains how physical activity has the ability to help us build “new and stronger neural networks in the brain, no matter what our age.” He asks the reader consider our relationship to food and the purpose of food. He does not prescribe a particular meal plan, but instead casts a vision about how significant food is to us. He even incorporates the role of food into the Christian calendar as he gives an example of his experience of giving up processed foods during Lent.
One of the best qualities of this book is the conversational style and gracious tone that comes from Gorman’s vulnerability. Because the tone of this book is conversational and welcoming, the reader does not feel shamed into certain behaviors. I found myself examining my own life with a sense of hope and conviction that I could actually make progress in living happy, healthy, and holy. This book is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather it is an invitation to adopt life changes through the process of Spirit-led self-discovery.
The author incorporates a Wesleyan theological framework, connecting this to our heritage in an eye-opening and refreshing way. In the beginning of the book Gorman remarks, “John Wesley referred to God’s healing work in human beings as ‘soul therapy.’ Sanctification and holiness are terms he used more often, but what he means by ‘soul therapy’ is the healing of the soul in all its faculties. This is holiness through and through” (20).
With the reflection questions at the end of each chapter, combined with the theological coherence that the book offers, any pastor or lay leader could utilize this book in a small group study with ease.