Stojakovich is an example of what a new Gallup-Healthways study found about religion: Those who say faith is important also have the highest rates of well-being when it comes to their emotional and physical health and their work environment.

Nicholas Stojakovich's spiritual well-being grew once he supplemented his private faith with attendance at Hope Church in Springfield.

And the church was there for him when his only son, Matthew, 25, died in an August 2008 auto accident in which he was a passenger in a car that struck a pole in Pennsylvania.

“I was just an absolute mess. My whole world just came crashing down,” said Stojakovich. “I loved my son dearly and had a lot of questions about faith. I never got angry at God as much as I just (asked), ‘God, why?’”

Without the support of his church family, Stojakovich said he doesn’t know what he would have done. They talked and prayed with him. A group of people surrounded him with love, concern and support.

“They didn’t always have the answers. It was just more listening and a hug, a card, a phone call, those types of things,” Stojakovich said.

Stojakovich, who has two daughters, says he misses talking to his son, but he said he knows he’ll see him again.

“Without a place called ‘Hope,’ I might not have much hope,” Stojakovich said.

Religious anchor

Stojakovich is an example of what a new Gallup-Healthways study found about Americans who say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. Those who say faith is important also have the highest rates of well-being when it comes to their emotional and physical health and their work environment.

The very religious, also defined as those who attend worship services at least every week or almost every week, scored 68.7 (on a scale of 0 to 100) on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, while the moderately religious and the nonreligious each received a score of 64.2. Healthways is a global well-being company and the findings are based on a survey of more than 550,000 people.

Religious Americans with high levels of well-being also have higher levels of life evaluation, work environment perceptions, healthy behaviors, emotional health and physical health, according to the article “Religious Americans Enjoy Higher Wellbeing,” available on www.gallup.com.

Researchers didn’t determine why the very religious had higher levels of well-being.
But they speculate that being highly religious generally involves more meditative states and faith in a higher power, both of which have been used as methods to lower stress, reduce depression and promote happiness. Religion provides mechanisms for coping with setbacks and life’s problems, which in turn may reduce stress, worry and anger.

Janet Nelson of Springfield said she can’t imagine how people get through life’s struggles and journeys without some spiritual awareness. Nelson’s faith helped her cope with the death last year of her brother, Donald Crusen.

“Feeling the presence of a savior that really cared about me and recognizing that this world is a temporary place has really helped me to just take things as they come and accept that this is not my plan, but a (plan a) creator much greater than I planned,” said Nelson, who worships at St. Joseph Church and is involved in a retreat program called Koinonia (a Greek word that means “community of faith”).

Nelson is a supervisor of Catholic Charities’ Holy Family Food Pantry and Crisis Assistance Office. She said working for Catholic Charities is a blessing because “it helps me to keep focused that there are many people who are struggling much worse than I am. I’m able to help thousands of people every year just with my simple gifts and talents.”

Gallup-Healthways researchers surmised that religious embodiment of the tenets of positive relationships with one’s neighbors and charitable acts may lead to a more positive mental outlook.

The article “Religious Americans Enjoy Higher Wellbeing” states that, “Religious service attendance promotes social interaction and friendship with others, and Gallup analysis has clearly shown that time spent socially and social networks themselves are positively associated with well-being.”

Religious lifestyle

Researchers said it’s possible that something about religiosity, defined as a personal importance placed on religion and frequent religious service attendance, in turn leads to a higher level of personal well-being.

For Bernie Lutchman of Chatham, Ill., worshipping God is a lifestyle that permeates everything he does.

“It’s more than just sitting in the church or standing, singing a hymn, which is great, too. But for me, it’s a lifestyle,” says Lutchman, a member of Springfield Bible Church.

His car is like a “mobile sanctuary” where he plays worship music and listens to Christian radio.

“Worship, in my mind, is a unidirectional, upward giving back to God what He is due in the form of praise, prayer. It involves every aspect of your life, every fiber of your being, physically and spiritually, in total dedication to him, honoring him.”

Cheryl Plunkett of Springfield, who worships at Laurel United Methodist Church, said people who worship regularly feel better about their lives.

“At church, I am able to share cares and concerns with fellow church members, not only mine but theirs as well,” said Plunkett, who added that when she’s not in church on Sunday, there is something missing in her week.

“Through that sharing, I feel better about my life, and I hope they feel better about theirs. We have opportunities through Laurel’s many mission projects to provide assistance to those in need, which gives a feeling of satisfaction that we are able to help other people.”

Stojakovich said there were periods in his life when he wasn’t regularly connected to a local church. He didn’t want to get involved in corporate group dynamics.

“I personally did not grow in my spiritual journey as a result of that and decided in 1995, or thereabouts, to re-attend a church that I had visited in the ’80s, Hope Church,” Stojakovich said. “I found it very meaningful to me to attend a community worship event at a local church and found that I was personally much more satisfied than just trying to go it alone.”

Religious behavior

Gallup-Healthways researchers said that healthier behaviors found in highly religious Americans may have multiple causes. For example, some faiths urge followers to avoid tobacco, alcohol and other potentially harmful things.

Also, as Lutchman puts it, religion can help avoid “running yourself ragged, chasing material things. Men and women are body, mind and soul. The mind is the heart where the Holy Spirit of God lives,” said Lutchman, who added that he’s had pretty good health most of his life. He said he doesn’t get stressed, he doesn’t drink or smoke and he eats right.

“I have to keep my mind fed on good things from above, which makes me want to live healthier, which makes me worship 24/7 as I do now,” Lutchman said.

Lutchman said that Romans 12:1 implies that physical well-being is closely aligned with worship: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (New Living Translation)

Prayer demonstrates a faith and a worship lifestyle that could withstand the times, no matter how much things collapse around us, Lutchman said.

“Because we know our permanent abode is not of this natural world,” Lutchman said.