Jimmy Carter: A social, personal mentor on lifelong health and well-being

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Photo: Lauren Gerson/Flickr

Jimmy Carter has been in the public eye for more than half a century, and most Canadians think they know all about him. I recently learned some new quality-of-life advice from him about health and well-being that is timely and worth sharing with people of all ages.

At 95, Carter is the oldest living, former U.S. president, and he has left a rich legacy of wisdom in his many books, speeches and Bible studies. I made renewed discoveries in
two important American newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington
Post, and found his remarks a healing alternative to so much recent reporting.

Newspersons like to attend his regular Sunday bible classes at Maranatha Baptist
Church in Plains, Georgia—his home congregation of 30 members—usually
augmented by up to 450 visitors from around the world.

The reaction of these guests is quite revealing. People are impressed by Carter’s
simple decency and devotion. “He talks about Jesus, not himself,” they frequently
state. Others comment: “It is a wonderful feeling to be in the presence of someone
who seems kind, humble and godly, despite having been a world leader.” Parents
bring their children from all across the country because he is a family inspiration
for public service and faith.

After devastating failures during his one-term presidency when he was humbled
by the Iranian hostage-taking of Americans (1979-81) and the ignominious loss of
a second term (1981), he and his lifelong partner Rosalynn were resilient. In what
could have turned them angry and embittered, he and Rosalynn reshaped their
lives into a post-presidential opportunity. They cooperated to rebuild their family
farm and enhance rural health care in their home county. They also established
global organizations to eradicate disease and monitor elections. They created
international food programs and Habitat for Humanity housing projects.

On a recent Sunday, Carter spoke of his belief in life after death. This topic
held fresh meaning for his listeners, as their teacher is a recent cancer survivor
and the victim of several difficult falls in his home. He spoke about his prayers
to God. “I obviously prayed about it,” he said. “I didn’t ask God to let me
live, but I just asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death. And I
found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death.”

What will truly make America great again? “We need to become a superpower
for world peace, caring for the environment and for civil rights.”

At midlife, I began reading Carter’s books and have continued to do so.
He has emphasized three major themes through the years, with advice I
have tried to follow:

  • Good health–pay attention to your well-being through appropriate diet,
    medicine and exercise.
  • Fulfill yourself–invest in activity that gives you satisfaction for its own
    intrinsic benefit.
  • Help others–positive self-interest is the payoff when you think first
    about how to serve your neighbour.

This is good spiritual advice for everyone.

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Wayne Holst
Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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