I recently started a healthy lifestyle support group at my church. Several members requested such a group and, since I knew by experience that a supportive network could significantly contribute to positive behavior change, I thought it would be a great idea. Our small group was founded on the faith principles of love, accountability, support, and encouragement. Of course, we committed to an environment of non-judgment and trust and this atmosphere encouraged each of us to give a true account of our struggles. I distinctly remember, following one such open exchange, a group member commented, “I never knew others struggled the way I do.” This sentiment has stayed with me, a stinging reminder of the sometimes lack of transparency found in our faith-communities. As a longtime health coach and wellness counselor, I knew that the vast majority of people struggled to either maintain or regain their health. As a faith-based health and wellness speaker, I knew that Christians were no different. With so many people fighting the uphill battle of weight loss and/or disease management, why is it that church members still feel so alone? The faith-community is the perfect location to receive life-changing, power-filled, support.
Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Encouragement. In this passage, the Hebrew writer reveals an essential charge for Christians, encouragement. It is important to note that the encouragement described shouldn’t be delivered sporadically, but daily. Interestingly, the author provides us with the exact danger of living a life without the regular intervention of our brothers and sisters, a heart that has been hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Ephesians 4:18 states, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” A hardened heart is synonymous, in God’s word, with ignorance and lack of understanding. To avoid this dangerous pitfall, encourage and be encouraged by your church family through words, prayers, calls, emails, mid-week lunches, and cards (among many other things!).
James 5:16 (MSG)
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.”
Confession. The confession of our sins to one another is essential. To confess is to reveal, disclose, acknowledge, and admit. Do you know what sins your brothers and sisters are struggling to overcome? Do they know what you are working to change? If not, why not? James says that when others know your sins, they can pray for you, using the power of prayerful intervention to make you whole again. Don’t be afraid to share your burdens and reveal your deepest issues. In doing so, you will bring light into the darkness. Ephesians 5:13-14 (NIV) states,
“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”
Take these steps to build and maintain support within your faith-community today.
Stay in touch. When we repeatedly struggle with the same issues, it's easy to feel ashamed and isolate ourselves but support can be crucial in getting us back on track. So answer those phone calls, emails and texts, even when you're feeling down OR make some calls of your own. Reach out and ask for the support you desperately need.
Recognize the importance of give and take. Express your appreciation for support and be ready to return the favor and help others achieve their goals. Don’t be so consumed with your own issues that you forget the abundant blessing (and Biblical charge) of lifting others up.
Find the right person (or people) for the job. Maybe you thought your best friend would be a good person to vent to, but your friend is going through a tough time. That friend may make a better walking partner instead. Be open to learning who can support you in what manner: emotional, practical, spiritual or inspirational.