For the Love of God and Your Health

I have attended church for many years. There are many benefits to belonging to a church, for those non-churchgoers let me explain. I live very far from my family. My mother, father, sister and brother live over 1,500 miles from me. When going through life, it is often difficult to not have the support of a family that lives nearby. In many ways the church, and those people that I have met at church, have become my family. Whenever I have gone through milestones in my life, they were there. When life became difficult, I knew I always had a support group of people who would be there for me and encourage me and help in any way possible. And, when I had wonderful milestones; they were there then as well.

Getting up on Sunday morning and committing to going to church is not easy. It is not even easy for those who do it regularly. Many mornings I wake up and think, “Ahh to sit in bed with a cup of tea and watch Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.” As difficult as it is to get myself motivated to go to church, upon returning home, I am always glad I went.

Church is an investment and you do get out of it what you put into it, but over the many years of attending church, I have come to realize that the investment is a very important one. I have tried to instill this same investment within my daughter. When she was young there were plenty of times she would whine about the idea of getting up and getting dressed and going to church. Sometimes, as she sat fidgeting in the pew next to me while coloring on the pew sheet, I would wonder, “What is she getting out of this?” As she matured, I realized what I gave her was the knowledge that she too had the support base of a church family and a strong faith in God. No matter what happens to me, she would have God and the relationships that she would establish as she grew up and moved away and attended another church.

According to recent studies, going to church has more benefits than we knew. In recent years psychologists and those in medicine have conducted research on the idea that having a spiritual relationship with God and a spiritual relationship with a group can actually be good for your health. Some of the ideas and research are quite basic and easy to understand. For example when people are anxious or irritated for long periods of time, it will suppress their immune system, which in turn makes them susceptible to illness and disease. Psychologists have studied the idea that developing close relationships can have a positive effect on your health in several ways: First, by physically in creating your immune system. I also affect you emotionally as it helps with coping skills and offers those individuals in the relationship a place to vent and receive direction. Of course, close relationships can be found through other groups, but they are most often found within a spiritual family such as a church or synagogue.

Religious involvement can also playa part in the health of individuals because it encourages individuals to have a healthier life style, avoiding such things as alcohol, drugs, promiscuous sex, etc. Relationships that are found in a spiritual setting also offer a place where an individual can confide feelings. Dr. James Pennebaker discovered that the expression of your feelings can have a positive affect on your health, increasing your white blood cell count.

There are over a thousand studies that work with the relationship between spirituality and health. In a report sited by David Myers, “A National Health Interview Survey (Hummer & others 1999) followed 21,404 people over 8 years. After controlling for age, sex, race, and region, researchers found that nonattendees were 1.87 times more likely to have died than were those attending more than weekly. This translated into a life expectancy at age 20 of 83 years for frequent attenders and 75 years for infrequent attenders.”

It is easy to see the biological effects of faith and service attendance on the immune system, but what about things that are not so easily detected through science, things like praying for others?

There have been studies conducted on the effects of prayer and health. In one study 990 patients were sorted into two categories, one group received intercessory prayer, the other did not. Those that were praying never met the patients but prayed for 28 days for a speedy recovery and no complications. None of the patients knew about the study. The results were reported that those who were prayed for did 11 % better than those who were not prayed for.

Indeed, the emotional benefits of my going to church have been numerous. The support group and family that I have acquired through my attendance has been invaluable to me and to my daughter. Church attendance and involvement have been good for me spiritually, and I continue to go because I love God. It is interesting, for me, to discover that by committing to a spiritual relationship and church attendance, I might just have the added blessing of health.
Bridgette Mongeon is a writer and artist residing in the Heights area and a regular member of St. Alban’s Episcopal

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