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Spiritual Meets Physical

By Sally Clarkson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #34, 2000.

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Clay and Sally Clarkson


Take a sheet of paper. Draw a vertical line down the middle. Label one column "physical" and the other "spiritual." Now, begin to fill in each column answering this important question, "What are the greatest demands on my life as a home schooling mother?"

If you're like me, the "physical" column will fill up first and quickest. My biggest question is not what to include, but when to stop writing!

My list includes infant care, house cleaning, washing, meals, sleep-deprivation, homeschooling tasks, shopping, straightening, playing with the children, and on and on.

I have not yet heard a homeschooling mother try to make a serious argument that the homeschooling lifestyle is relaxing and refreshing. For all of us it is taxing, for most of us it is tiring, and for many of us it is exhausting.

My "spiritual" column is a more thoughtful list, written slowly and pensively: grace to keep going, faith for the intellectual challenges of directing my children's learning, patience with slowness, longsuffering with immaturity, gentleness with frustration, strength to serve, joy when I don't feel joyful, persistence in prayer, and on and on.

When I do this little exercise, I am reminded that the real "me" is not just defined by my relationship with Christ. The "body of flesh" that I live in has as much to do with my Christian life as the "spirit of Christ" indwelling that body. The material and immaterial parts of me are inseparable, each inextricably bound up with the other in a mysterious union that I cannot fully comprehend. My body is not just a disposable container for the real me that lives inside it, but it is a "temple of the Holy Spirit" that one day will be resurrected and made incorruptible.

Yet, I have observed that when we talk about the spiritual aspects of homeschooling, we tend to look at only one side of the coin. The relationship of the spiritual to the physical - the other side of the coin - is seldom addressed. We elevate the role of the spiritual to a point that very nearly relegates the role of the physical to that of a disposable container.

Biblical writers would allow no such dichotomy. They saw clearly that there is a unity of body and spirit. Paul, after reminding the Corinthians that the body is the Spirit's temple, exhorts them: "For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." Though he was speaking of fleeing immorality, the clear implication is that there is a way to use the body that is spiritual and good. His numerous references comparing the Christian life to athletics and to a race attest to a not-very-subtle reminder that spiritual stamina is related to physical health and strength. That is why he "discipline(s)" (or "buffets") his own body, so that it will serve him well in his spiritual life.

In the book of Hebrews, the word of God is a sword that pierces not only "soul and spirit," but also "joints and marrow." Metaphorical language cannot hide the reality that God's word affects not just our immaterial nature, but our material nature as well. God, through his powerful word, speaks even to our physical bodies.

This came home, quite literally, in my own life this past year. For as long as I have been a believer, I have known how to walk in the Spirit. I learned early how to confess sin, yield to the Spirit's control, live in His power, and bear His fruit in my life. I didn't think much about how my body affected my spiritual life because I was young, energetic, and healthy.

Twenty-five years, four children, three miscarriages, and many difficulties later, though, my body let me know it was there. I was tired for no apparent reasons, my heart palpitated, and I had internal pains that could not be medicated away. These "light afflictions" caused me to lean more heavily on God's grace, yet I also knew they were affecting my spiritual effectiveness and stamina. A Christian doctor used natural solutions that reduced most of the symptoms I experienced, but I knew more was needed. I also improved my diet, began walking and exercising more, started drinking more water, and lost weight. As a result, I have a new energy and stamina that I thought I would never know again.

If you're thinking I'm saying that you need to "shape up," that could not be further from my mind. What I want you to know is that getting healthier physically has made me healthier spiritually. My experience was not about suffering which I could not change, but about lifestyle choices that I could. If the physical affliction I was experiencing was changeable, then it was God's will for me to "glorify Him in my body." Like Paul, I needed to "discipline" my body in order to make it better able to serve me as I served God.

As a 46-year-old homeschooling mother, the changes have allowed me to serve and disciple my children with energy and joy that I saw fading rapidly away only a year ago. My children have a mommy who is more active and involved at every level of their lives, and I have a renewed sense of the power of the Spirit in my life. Though the health issues are not my message, they have given new energy and depth to my messages. That is what is most important to me.

So, if you are contemplating how to better glorify God in your life, don't forget Paul's admonition to "glorify God in your body." In God's plan, there is no "soul and spirit" without "joints and marrow."

He wants all of you. Body and soul.


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