Staying physically and emotionally healthy is no easy thing when a war is on. To help with this, soldiers during the First World War rotated into and out of the front lines to provide a break from the stress of combat. If they weren’t at the front, they’d be in support, reserve or further back resting. This would give time for things like exercise, reading, writing, concerts, lectures and playing card-games and sport such as football. Occasional leave was also granted, with troops being able to be back in England in a few hours. Food was generally adequate although there were times when stocks ran short. Officers normally ensured that the men stayed healthy and got adequate relief from the stresses and strains of war. Recent research shows that, despite periods of heavy fighting, the average British soldier spent just under half of his time on the front line.
Back home, our political leaders in the War Cabinet also needed head and heart space so they could stay fresh. This included hobbies such as reading, painting, theatre-going and more. This was not shirking their responsibilities. Rather it was important so they could lead well and not burn-out.
Staying healthy in wartime has always been important. Good leaders instinctively know this. There is good evidence now showing that stress, anxiety, and depression suppress the immune system, creating a greater vulnerability to everything from the common cold to cancer. So rest and recreation is important in life. That’s why the opening verses of the Bible talk about God not only working but resting too, and commanding that humans to do the same. Three thousand years ago King David knew this. He spent much of his kingship at war, securing the boundaries of Israel and establishing Jerusalem as the capital city, and yet he still made time for music and poetry. The Bible tells us that he was a skilful harpist and that he wrote many inspired songs of worship that now appear in the Book of Psalms.
All this reminds us that no-one can work all the time, not even when a war is on. Leaders have a role not only in making sure that they’re fit and well, but that those around them are too. The hard-working nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon was right when he said, ‘Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength… It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.’
So, how’s your body, your mind and your emotions? Are you sleeping well? Eating well? Laughing well? Is there anything you need to change in order to stay healthy?