Typically, the quest for health is done through diet and exercise. With its physical focus, a smaller dress size would equal happiness to many. But unresolved emotional and psychological issues are saboteurs to success, compounded by a lack of spirituality. Scriptures and psychological insights offer a roadmap to wellness, which begins with changing one’s heart, according to the Rev. Dr. Mary Louise Gifford.

Typically, the quest for health is done through diet and exercise. With its physical focus, a smaller dress size would equal happiness to many. But unresolved emotional and psychological issues are saboteurs to success, compounded by a lack of spirituality. Scriptures and psychological insights offer a roadmap to wellness, which begins with changing one’s heart, according to the Rev. Dr. Mary Louise Gifford.


Gifford recently launched a six-week series, “Whole Person Health,” at The Wollaston (Mass.) Congregational Church United Church of Christ. “Healing and wholeness are inside jobs. They are not something someone else can do for us. It begins inside of our hearts,” said the 60-year-old pastor.


The holes in the fabric of modern life weaken and discourage, but according to Ecclesiastes 3:7, “There is a time to tear and a time to sew.” Each week holistic mending addresses one of six important areas: emotional, intellectual, social, psychological, spiritual and volitional (career). “We are quite a combination of being, there are a lot of moving parts that make up who we are,” said Gifford.


A program to get all those parts working together started at a fitness center last October under a different name. Mark Gifford, the pastor’s 62-year-old husband, has worked as a personal trainer for the past five years. He is a retired registered nurse. At the gym he observed different obstacles barred clients from reaching their goals. For example, problems with self-acceptance can sabotage a person’s well-being, and no amount of exercise or diet can erase such issues. He believed “more” than just a focus on the physical was needed.


Husband and wife created the “Body, Mind and Spirit” program for fitness clients. His expertise was in medicine, nutrition and fitness. In the past, the Rev. Gifford had used her psychology degree to work with alcoholism and Adult Children of Alcoholics. In 12-step programs, success is attributed to maintaining a connection with a higher power. At the gym, weekly meetings focused on exploring and working through various blockages in the six major aspects of self. A willingness to change one’s heart, and correspondingly, one’s behavior and choices, is strengthened by a spiritual connection. Their holistic program proved successful.


“Whole Person Health” recognizes the transformative power of Jesus Christ. Often personal change is met with resistance or defensiveness. But improving one’s life requires uncovering what attitudes or choices stand in the way. “We need balance and a message of joy. My intention is to help people treat themselves more kindly,” she said.


In the New Testament, Romans 2:28, Paul refers to “a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit.” The Rev. Gifford said, “It’s a metaphorical circumcision. When we make those incisions into our heart, yes, it will bleed, but over time, if we open up our hearts and minds and beings before God, healing will come and God will put people and circumstances in our path to help us.”


Most folks carry emotional, physical or spiritual scars. Yet negative experiences can lead to a discovery of new talents or career directions. Being raised by an alcoholic father led Rev. Gifford to study psychology. Her empathy and spiritual devotion put her on a ministerial path. Her husband’s childhood asthma led him to nursing and later, to the field of physical fitness. For everyone, the search for balance and positive lessons is a lifelong journey.


The Rev. Gifford believes that faith offers a steady and reassuring foundation from which one can springboard into the unknown, and mind-body-spirit wholeness lies at the heart of Christianity.


“We know a Christian by their heart. It’s by the way we live, by the way we love, and by the way we treat others and ourselves.”


E-mail Suzette Standring at suzmar@comcast.net. She is syndicated with GateHouse News Service and presents writing workshops nationally.