An introduction to spiritual fitness

It’s an experience Military Service Members know all too well: It’s time to move again. The stress, confusion, and discomfort from having to uproot your home for the past few years is hard. Imagine now, though, that this particular move arrives at a time when you also need to be close to your elderly parents, one of whom has dementia. Your parents are also about to move into an assisted living facility. You might be struggling with how to manage your PCS move and your parents: Is it a matter of being a good Warfighter versus being a good child? And if you have a partner or kids, you likely have other things to consider or even plan.

Such questions are more common than you might think. And deciding how to handle tough situations likely means using your spiritual fitness: those core beliefs, skills, and values that help you stay resilient and mission-ready.

What is spiritual fitness?

Spiritual fitness is part of the Total Force Fitness framework that helps members of the military community reach and sustain optimal wellness and performance. It’s a component of fitness that involves integrating your religion, spirituality, and/or value system into your efforts for readiness and resilience, so you can maintain your well-being and handle challenges. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff definition of spiritual fitness is intentionally broad. It doesn’t promote any one belief over another or promote any faith traditions. Some people are religious, others are spiritual, and everyone has a value system.

Keep in mind the military isn’t trying to convert anyone to a specific religion. That’s not the goal or purpose of spiritual fitness. Instead, it’s about increasing your tools, skills, and knowledge of resources to handle the challenges of military life.

Spiritual fitness is about developing your coping and resilience skills through understanding your own beliefs and how you interact with the world. Whatever your spiritual orientation—or your opinions on religion and spirituality—you have a set of beliefs through which you live. Consciously recognizing these beliefs is a skill. And, taking it a step further, incorporating your beliefs into your decisions and experiences is also a skill that requires practice. Think of spiritual fitness as similar to learning ethics or how to be a leader: All require recognizing your own abilities, learning more about yourself, and then honing in on where you can improve your performance.

Tap into your spiritual fitness: PCS and your family

So you have to make some tough decisions about taking care of your elderly parents while also packing up your home to PCS across the country. In this situation, perhaps your core belief is that family has to be there for one another in hard times, and part of that means being physically present. However, as is often the case with military life, it’s counter to the needs of the military. You’re left struggling with how to balance your belief about family with your reality that military demands come first. On top of that, the challenges of your decision likely raise a range of feelings such as worry or even anger. So, how you handle things is important.

“Spiritual fitness is about developing your coping and resilience skills through understanding your own beliefs and how you interact with the world.”

Your spiritual fitness is relevant in this scenario because you have competing obligations that are challenging your ability to live out your beliefs. Spiritual fitness can be validating in that it helps you recognize what’s important. It also can help you figure out how you might be experiencing stress from competing values or goals. There are different ways you can practice this. Maybe you can practice mindfulness, so you can balance your values and concerns. Or you could talk to a trusted mentor to get her or his perspective on things.

From there, you might be encouraged to think about other helpful resources. Perhaps you can turn to friends, neighbors, or family members for support. Maybe you can ask others to help with your PCS move—especially if you have a spouse or need help with childcare—so you can visit your parents. Or you could ask your parents’ faith community to help them move and support their spiritual care needs. Spiritual fitness can help you see there are ways to optimize your performance spiritually during stress, so you’re ready to take on challenges. In this case, spiritual fitness is your ability to recognize your emotions and how they might affect you. It also can help you leverage available resources that can help you navigate challenging situations and chart a course forward.

For the military community, a support that highlights the role of spiritual fitness is chaplains. You don’t have to be religious to chat with a chaplain, and they have the training and connections to help you work through your feelings. They also can guide you or network with non-profits or government resources to get help when needed. Best of all? They have full confidentiality, so you can speak freely with them.

Visit HPRC’s Spiritual Fitness section for more spirituality-related articles and resources.

References

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction. (2011). Chairman's Total Force Fitness Framework.  Retrieved from http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Library/Instructions/3405_01.pdf?ver=2016-02-05-175032-517.