True or False? Cleanliness is next to Godliness

That little phrase ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ is not actually in the Bible. In fact, Jesus had a rant about those who equated having the body externally clean with being close to God.

In Jesus words they were like ‘manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh’

And yet I have a body, created by God, for a purpose and I believe how I treat my body does have an intimate connection to my wellness.

I’ve seen the extremes.

I have also smelt the extremes, but when you are right in the midst of supporting the recovery of people with Major Mental Illnesses there are some things that just stick in your brain. In particular, it was what people would do to their own physical body in their unwellness. Cutting is but one example but I have also seen other forms of self-harm that I won’t be mentioning here because, well it was too ghastly to share.

Along with self-harm, there are also those who don’t care about their hygiene, washing, showering etc. I have known people who have given up on caring for themselves. They have no interest in life. They may have a body, but nobody seems to be at home in it.

On the other extreme are those that are obsessed with their body image, what they eat, exercise, and alike.

But for most of we are probably somewhere in the middle where we are comfortable with ourselves. We have good hygiene and our friends don’t raise our body odor as a talking point!

Where do you think you are on the self-care continuum?

Are you at the end where hygiene is not a big issue or are you nearer the obsessional perfectionist? Perhaps you’re in the middle.

I would like to suggest that when you care for the body well, it is actually an act of worship. Not a worship of the self where you narcissistically get puffed up in self-love. More so it is an act of worship to God, the creator of your body. It’s a way of saying thank you to God and affirming Gods ownership of your body.

Paul in writing to the church at Corinth about their sexual behaviors and what they were using their bodies for explained what our bodies are like.

Didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 The Message

God owns the whole lot.

What is the whole lot?

The whole lot is all that we are.

Another beautiful verse for us to ponder on is this one from Ezekial.

I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. Ezekiel 36:25-27 The Message

The imagery is strong, in particular, if you have been sexually abused. Being washed clean, a new heart and a new spirit.

How do you care for your body?

No guilt trips please only gifts of grace

I know it’s tough-going when perhaps you have a Mental Illness. When it seems that any effort of self-care is too bigger a mountain to climb. That it’s not worth it. Perhaps the compulsion to cut or self-harm is overwhelmingly strong. What about that addiction you have to food, sex, drugs, or a million others things?

5 things I want you to know about caring for yourself.

  1. You are loved regardless of how you care for your body.
    Paul makes it very clear that God’s love for us is consistent and cannot be interfered with.
    And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
  2. The gift of Grace gets you further than the gutter of guilt and shame.
    People get so stuck in a thinking gutter of guilt (I did something bad) and shame (I am bad) that they are not open to an awareness of the gift of grace. A gift that they need to repeatedly give to themselves and others. Give yourself some kindness today.
  3. Little steps last longer.
    Getting out of bed, having a shower, eating a healthy breakfast may just be too bigger a mountain for you to take on today. Perhaps the one thing you can achieve today is to brush your teeth. Excellent. A little step that you can build into a routine. Please don’t despise what may seem like a small beginning. Over time those little steps build and grow into a pattern.
  4. You’re worth it.
    So you don’t think you’re worth the effort of cleanliness? In your pit of self-loathing remember that you were made in the image of a dynamic joyful God that wants you to experience all the goodness of life. To have healthy relationships, find fulfillment, and grant hope to others. You’re worth the effort of care.
  5. Spirit wants to help you
    You have Spirit (Holy) wanting to help. Jesus used the Greek word ‘Parakletos’, which means ‘one who comes alongside’, to describe what Spirit wants to do. Invite Spirit to walk with you and into you.

As a Spiritual Exercise of thankfulness and worship to God take care of your body. Exercise, sleep, rest, eat well, wash, clean, and then watch as your mental health grows.

Quotes to consider

  • When you’ve learnt to live in grace you’ll no longer need to punish yourself to ‘atone’ for a sense of failure.  David Riddell
  • Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin Zechariah 4:10
  • Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live. Jim Rohn
  • Humans are not a composite of a number of parts; we do not have a spirit or have a body – we are embodied spirits. David Benner

Questions to answer

  1. What is an area of body care that you feel prompted to address? Sleep? Nutrition? Hygiene?
  2. What small barriers exist to you becoming healthier? Is it buying a toothbrush?
  3. How can you honour and thank God for your body today?

Barry Pearman

Image cc: Benedicto de Jesus

Get a weekly email full of help for your Mental Health and Spiritual formation

* indicates required