The link between an identity in Christ and a healthier life
As coordinator of the Health and Wellness Program for Kingdom Workers, I am often asked,
“How does your program connect people with Jesus?”
The truth is that health and gospel proclamation go hand-in-hand. In this post I'll be sharing how our program in Chile connects health and identity with sharing the gospel message, and how you can do the same in your own life.
The Health and Wellness Education program was created to support Chileans in the fight against obesity and diabetes. Chile’s prevalence of diabetes is among the highest in Latin America.
In 2019 the Chilean Ministry of Social and Family Development revealed that 75% of adults and 51.58% of children in Chile are obese and that 66.2% of the population is inactive.
Chileans are generally aware of the risks of obesity and diabetes. They value preventive care strategies, but do not understand how to apply them to their everyday lives.
The truth is that habit-change is not easy.
If it were, Chileans leaving their doctor’s office with professional advice about necessary lifestyle adaptations would immediately begin eating nutritious, balanced meals and exercise regularly.
I personally think of the various goals that I have set and not accomplished or even truly started:
- I desire to be a runner, but my snooze button is more appealing.
- I want to cook yummy nutritious food for breakfast, but grabbing the cereal box is easier.
Many people only focus on the outcome that they desire.
They fail to make healthy changes, not because they are uneducated, but because they don’t know how to change their habits. Or they don’t have the systems, motivation, and support needed to follow through.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, acknowledges the importance of having goals and systems to accomplish behavior changes. However, he argues that true behavior change begins with identity.
Before COVID-19, the Health and Wellness Education program hosted a number of events on healthy living for the community.
One’s beliefs shape their systems and practices. James shares that your daily habits are the equivalent to votes being cast in favor of who you are and will become. The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes a natural part of yourself. Habits become lifelong when they are a part of your identity.
"True behavior change is identity change." – James Clear
We agree with James.
We believe that preventive care begins with one’s beliefs, one’s identity. When habits are a part of one’s identity, they outlast an educational workshop or a support group.
Sadly, it is all too easy to assume identities that affect us in negative ways:
- I am not a morning person can mean There is no room for improving my sleep habits.
- I am a hard worker can mean I have no time for lunch.
- I am not a math person can mean that I will never attempt to keep a personal budget.
Even something as beautiful as I am a mom can mean I don’t have time to be a role model of self-care and healthy living.
For this reason, every single one of Kingdom Workers’ Wellness Circles begins with an identity check: Who are we?
This is how Wellness Circles have looked since COVID-19. While unable to meet in person, having a digital means of connection helped give many people a constant source of Christian love and hope.
As a Christian program, this is where it gets exciting. Without Christ, a person begins the habit-change process by deciding for themselves what person they desire to be.
In itself, this can be positive: I am a mom who has energy. I am a person who enjoys moving their body every day. I am a reader.
However, we begin our sessions by going a step further—we share the identity truths that we hold in Christ. These are not identities that we desire and then cast votes for with our everyday actions. These are identities that we hold because HE gave them to us. Because of our God, we know who we are and what our true identity through Christ is.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God knit us together in our mothers womb. (Psalm 139:13-14)
We are known. God calls us by name. (Isaiah 43:1)
We are loved. God sent His one and only son to save us. (John 3:16-17)
We are redeemed. We were bought at a price and therefore get to honor God with our bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
We are saved. Not by anything we have done or accomplished, but because of what Jesus did for us. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
We are forgiven. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and will forgive us. (1 John 1:8-9)
We are set apart. God calls us to not conform to the patterns of this world, but rather offer our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. (Romans 12:1-2)
We are strong. God gives us strength. (Philippians 4:13)
We are confident. Grace changes everything. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Building on an identity rooted in Christ
Take a few moments to think about how God made you. Focus in on all the things your body is doing for you right now: the intricate workings that happen without you thinking about it, every second of every day that keep you alive and well. Think about how you are uniquely you, and there is no one else just like you.
Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works and wonderful, I know that full well.”
– Excerpt from the book, "Do...What You Can" by Amanda Paltzer used in session 1 of a Kingdom Workers Wellness Circle.
Wellness Circles are made up of small groups of people who desire to improve their health together. Every session of a Wellness Circle begins with the spiritual foundation and motivation to care for one's body. Caring for our bodies as loved and forgiven children of God.
After beginning with a strong identity foundation, volunteers trained by Kingdom Workers then discuss the intricacies of habit change. We daily support participants as they apply what they learn to their everyday lives by addressing barriers like social pressures, culture, and personal behaviors. Our identity in Christ is the center of all that we do, including our health journeys.
The gospel message is powerful. It is life changing. And it impacts all levels of participants—those who already know Christ and those who are hearing about His undeserved love for the first time.
Jenny delivers a healthy fruit and veggie basket to program participant Jessica.
How the Wellness Circles have impacted me
The experience of developing the Wellness Circles has led me to realize how quickly our identities in Christ can fade from our memories. I am quick to forget that I am strong in Christ as I anxiously fight to accomplish the next to-do, forgetting that He has already won the victory. My body frustrates me more than it wows me. I see good nutrition as an annoyance rather than a blessing.
Living as a child of God allows me to see the world and my wellness journey through a Kingdom lens. I take joy in the process of caring for my body not only because it is an incredible gift from my creator, but because it was bought at a price on the cross. Daily habits like meal preparation and eating more fruits and vegetables become moments of wonder—when we go to the garden my son squeaks gleefully, "When it's big we eat it!" Habit-change becomes easier because it is no longer rooted in the physical changes that I hope to accomplish.
Today I want to encourage you to not only consider making positive habit changes in your life, but also to do so with a group of people who encourage you and who open God’s word with you.
It will change the way you see yourself, your habits, and your relationship with God. Many of the people in our Wellness Circle agree. Alejandro shared, "The more I am in the Word, the more I want to live and share it." Inés reflected on her faith growth and small, but steady, health improvements. Jessica told us how, "There is no doubt that being a part of this initiative has helped me improve my wellness both physically and spiritually. I am thankful for the motivation. I am thankful for each reflection in the word of God. I felt accompanied in the process, strengthened by God.”
Our program in Chile desires to impact the community with lasting positive health changes. But more importantly, we desire to share the hope that we have with our Chilean brothers and sisters. And we pray that your own personal connection with your health and with God will grow and flourish.
How will seeing yourself as a redeemed child of God change your life?
Elise Gross is the Chile Program Coordinator. She grew up on the island of Antigua with missionary parents and studied social science and culture in college. After spending four years in Milwaukee working with city ministry, an opportunity to serve in Chile opened up and she and her husband jumped at the chance to serve in another country. Elise hopes that the program in Chile will continue to impact lives and change people’s hearts as they grow closer to their Savior through conversations about healthy living.