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My 3 Non-Negotiables for Health & Peace in COVID-19 Days

Woman with COVID-19 Mask and virus

I’m lost. Going from so busy to no busy is harder than I thought, Jan wrote. I’m struggling to find any rhythm or routine these COVID-19 days.

Don’t Waste These COVID-19 Days

I feel Jan’s pain. Two weeks ago we were sent home-kids with their Chromebooks and teachers with their lesson plans- for God knows how long. The days feel different from before, but all the same.

Oh, it’s Thursday? I thought it was Tuesday, my fourteen year-old said.

So this post is for Jan and me and all of us who want to find healthy, new shelter-at-home routines.

It’s for all of us who don’t want to waste these COVID-19 days.

My 3 Non-Negotiables Each Day

I’ll share those three healthy, stabilizing habits in a minute.

But the first and last word on health has got to be grace.

For in Him we live and move and have our being. Because He is our life and the length of our days. And His word has given us life. (Acts 17:28, Deuteronomy 30:20, Psalm 119:50)

Because any measure of health is a gift from God.

Because the LORD forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases, redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:3-4)

So what are we to do when the foundations are shaken? How do we live in these confusing COVID-19 days?

Well, our God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). So here are my three: three means of grace to find the health and peace we so crave in these turbulent days.

1. Get Physical

The body is . . . for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  –1 Corinthians 6:13

Move your body. Exercise- outside if you can. Because God made our bodies and he made them to move. And- guess what?-he made them to feel good when they do. We weren’t made to stay put, even during these shelter-at-home days.

David Mathis explains in a recent message to Christian fitness buffs.

With the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, and the smartphone in 2007, many of us are still coming to grips with how sedentary human life has become. But this has not always been so. God made us to move, and to do so vigorously. And he wired our brains to need it, reward it, and reinforce it. Exercise makes happier humans, and God made humans to be happy — in him — with bodily movement being an assistant, rather than adversary, to our joy.

Regular human movement has been assumed throughout history, but the innovations and seeming progress of modern life have made a sedentary lifestyle more normal than ever before. Perhaps we’ve never needed to state the obvious about regular bodily movement and “bodily training” as much as we do today.

Lady biking during COVID-19

We get this- the dogs of the world are making out like bandits with all our extra walks. Still, I predict Weight-Watchers will go gangbusters. Because many of us have never had so much food stored up. Nor, I suspect, has the temptation to emotional eating ever been greater.

But getting physical doesn’t just mean walking or biking. My husband’s job is “non-essential” these days. He’s cleaned the garage and chopped lots of wood. Friends are cleaning drawers and sanding tables. That’s work-moving the body. It counts.

So let’s get physical. Because physical training is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8). It’s God’s gift and healthy habit #1.

2. Be Social

Let us…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10: 25

No joke: I’ve phone-called and Face-timed more in the last week than in the six months combined. Yesterday was extra-social: 2 phone dates, 1 Zoom Lifegroup, 1 FaceTime call and 2 6-foot distant visits with my neighbors.

Every single contact was encouraging. And all provided much needed perspective. Each one was a real time was to give and receive love.

Rhythms For Quarantine

Justin Whitmel Earley provides Spiritual Rhythms For Quarantine, four habits that create household patterns of stability and hope in a time of distraction, upheaval and fear.

About Gather Safely, he writes,

Friendship is the lifeblood of the soul. We were made for community, and without it, we wither.

Christian community is the primary place where we process our anxieties and preach the good news of Jesus to each other. While now is a time where we absolutely must significantly alter the way we meet, we must not give up small and safe gatherings, even if that means we have to connect by digital means. These times will either be some of the most rich because of the ways we lean into community, or they will be some of the most despairing because…we fail to [meet]. 

Social isolation is dangerous. But a sweet friendship refreshes the soul. So phone a friend. That’s healthy habit #2.

3. Feed Your Soul

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 42

Social distancing does not apply to God. COVID days or not, God’s call to us is the same: Draw near (Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:22). Christ calls us to come to him every single day.

Honestly, this non-negotiable is the one I negotiate the most. It’s the one most likely to get squeezed out. Exercise and the friendship have immediate effects- endorphins from exercise and encouragement from friends. They make me feel good in the moment.

But of spending time with my Father who is unseen takes faith. Because I don’t always feel the perks right away. But blessed are those who hear these words of mine and obey them (Luke 11:28).

As if to drive that point home, it just so happened that Mary and Martha were in my daily reading today. Remember them?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better thing, which will not be taken away from her.”

Am I the only one these days tempted to keep checking the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 interactive map? I’ve checked it twice since I sat down to write. The numbers are still going up: 116,505 confirmed cases in the US and 8 deaths in Milwaukee.

And Martha was anxious and distracted by many things too.

Choose The Better Thing

So if we need any reminder of non-negotiable #3- enter Mary. Mary, who chose the better thing that cannot be taken from her. She could have been distracted by the same things Martha was, but Mary chose the better thing.

The better thing was sitting and listening to the Lord Jesus, caring for her soul. Yes, I’m naturally Martha. But by grace these days, I’m becoming Mary – choosing the better thing. Seeking God in the Word and prayer: that is healthy habit #3.

A while back, my friend Jen gave me some good advice about parenting our new teen. Her words have been echoing in my ears: Teach him to care for himself. Don’t tell him what to do. Instead, ask him how he can care for his physical, social and spiritual health each day.

Will you take her advice? Care for your body, your friends, and your soul. Make those non-negotiables.

If you do, you won’t waste these COVID-19 days. Or any days.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31

Recommended and Related:

Author Amanda Barratt wrote a thoughtful piece about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Even though his social distance was kept in a Nazi prison camp, his non-negotiables were the same. Care for your body, your neighbor, your soul.

For the most part, his days were spent alone. He organized his time, dividing it between reading, writing letters, working on various writing projects, and exercising, both in his cell and for a half hour every day in the prison courtyard. 

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The Some Value Of Exercise

For physical training is of some value but godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.  1 Timothy 4:8

It didn’t surprise me a bit.  

Elizabeth Elliot exercised daily. This bold-meek saint and spiritual mother to so many trained her soul and her body. The eulogy said that Elliot made a practice of “walking, biking or swimming in the ocean” near her oceanfront Massachusetts home.

Ann Dirks is another spiritual mother. At 83, she is as spry as most are at 33. This week she leads 25 kids through a sweet, savory maze that is the church’s Cooking Camp. Kneading, rolling, and mixing are no match for Ann. And having sat beside her in Bible study, I vouch for Ann’s gracious, godly wisdom. Ann also happens to be an avid gardener. 
Elizabeth Elliot biked. John Piper jogs. Ann Dirks gardens. And Jonathan Edwards* broke up his Great Awakening sermon prep with walks and horse rides and chopping wood. A thread emerges.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that so many Christ-exalting, fruitful servants exercise their bodies. It might have been a throw-away line in Elizabeth Elliot’s tribute- the bit about her daily exercise-but I won’t toss it. I think it was a rare glimpse at an usually unseen thread.

Three Disclaimers

Disclaimer 1: The paralyzed man dropped in from above and Joni Eareckson Tada prove it. Physical training is not a necessary means to God’s grace. It is not even close to the plane where prayer and the Word and assembling together rest. Some saints simply cannot exercise. No matter. It is only of some value. 

Disclaimer 2: Physical training can easily turn idol. Because the return is visible, we put some value over the great value of godliness. When we’re slave to our workouts-or the bodies they forge-we’d best take a time-out. One wise friend “gave up” exercise for Lent, seeing how work-outs were taking priority over all else, even time alone with the Lord.

Disclaimer 3: This side of heaven, our motives are mixed. God ordained that there would be outward gain to exercise. The mirror motivates. Buff biceps and lean legs please our eyes. It feels good to look good. (But maybe God ordained that, too?) Or we work our bodies to buffer our gluttony- an extra mile for a second slice of pie. 

Ann Dirks at Cooking Camp


Yes, let’s do ask God to search our hearts and reveal wrong motives. But mixed or multiple motives is no excuse to toss in the towel. When God’s glory is our chief goal, and gladly loving our neighbors is key to that end, there is some value in physical training. 

Go Where Grace Flows


The body…is for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:13b, 19-20

The best reason to work the body is the best reason to work the soul. Not to avoid being caught, but because we were bought. It’s a means, not an end. The goal of training is to glorify God; to love him heart and soul, mind and strength. Glorify God in your body. 

Like the spiritual disciplines-the Word, prayer and fellowship-physical disciplines can be a means of God’s grace to us. I can’t make the water flow, but I can turn on the faucet. I can’t make the electric current flow, but I can flip the switch. We can’t supply it, but we can go where grace flows. 

Wee Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) placed themselves on the path of grace. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he begged mercy. And Grace, through faith, healed him. When Zacchaeus heard Jesus was passing by he climbed a tree to see. And that very day, Grace brought salvation to his house.

We can never earn God’s grace or make it flow, be we can position ourselves to get should He keep giving. We can put the barrel under the spout and be in place ready to receive grace. We can line the paths where he might pass.

Four Right Reasons For Second-Rate Training

For me that place is biking the backroads when weather and children allow. It’s on the treadmill with some good sermons and a duct-taped notepad when they don’t. Wherever your place is, go there, and glorify God with your body. 
1. Serve strong. 

If anyone serves, let him serve with the strength that God supplies, so that God in all things might be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:11

The obvious first: when you’re strong and fit, you’re better equipped for physical service. Fit people don’t get injured so easily or get sick so often. That means they have more energy to care for others. I can set up tables and chairs and help a friend move her boxes. I can bend low to pick Mom’s strawberries or help Dad hoist hay into the mow. Being physically fit opens doors for service.

2. Remember more. 
Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he uttered. Psalm 105:5

Christians are called to remember. Over and over we’re warned not to forget how God worked in the past. Since we have such short memories, He even sent a Helper to bring to our remembrance all he said (John 14:26). The Helper doesn’t only remind- or always remind-while I bike or jog, but He does a lot. The memory boost, like the calorie burn from weight training, is twofold: during and after.

My mind is more clear, more thoughtful and creative, while I bike than when I rest. I reflect, I remember, and memorized verses come to mind. But exercise helps us think straight after our heart rates go down, too. Over the long term, aerobic exercise reduces memory loss by reversing age-related shrinkage of the part of the brain largely responsible for memory.  

3. Dry run
[S]training forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14

When the hill is steep, do you get off your bike and walk it up? Or turn around and coast down? Or gear down and press on up? Exercise can be transposed to weightier matters. Physical work-outs can be the practice field for living strong in God’s grace in soul matters. 

I’m not sure if Jonathan Parnell runs or bikes, but he writes,

The more and more we prove to ourselves the presence of God’s grace in our work, the more and more we will be equipped, for the sake of our sanctification, to press in on that grace whenever the going gets tough. And this becomes our goal. This transposition becomes the fuel for that final push.

I can’t prove it, but somehow making my body gut it out up hills strengthens my soul press on through the valleys. God can use the grueling, gut-it parts of our work-outs to fuel the fight of faith.

4. Serve glad.
Serve the LORD with gladness. Come before Him with joyful song. Psalm 100:2

You know what happens if Mama ain’t happy. Same is true about Papa. Or Auntie. My “sanctification level” fluctuates with the sleep I got last night and the jog I took this morning. I know the Lord loves a cheerful giver and I know patience and gentleness come a lot easier when I’ve had a good dose sleep and some exercise. 

That connection is central to why John Piper jogs:

I know that I am prone to depression and discouragement, and I have discovered that if I go to the gym three times a week and hammer my body, I don’t get depressed as often. I am sure there are physical reasons for that…I know that it works. I know depression hurts my ministry, my marriage, and my parenting. So, for the sake of kingdom purposes I am off to the gym.

I have one life to live for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:15). I don’t want to waste it. My approach is not mainly to lengthen it, but to maximize purity and productivity now. I want to show as much gospel truth and publish as much gospel truth as I can. I have found…that exercise helps. I think God set it up that way. 

And I think Elizabeth and Ann and Jonathan were onto it, too.

That thread of some value. 



*Author Philip Gura describes how early in his pastorate, Jonathan Edwards established routines he’d keep for life.

He typically spent thirteen hours a day in his study but always punctuated this labor with some sort of recreation, usually walking or riding or, if the snow was too deep, chopping wood for half an hour or so. In the warmer seasons he commonly rode two or three miles “to some lonely grove,” where he would dismount and walk for a while, sometimes jotting his thoughts on small pieces of paper that he would pin to his clothes for the ride home.(Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical, pp. 58-59)