Tyler J. VanderWeele, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, recently identified perhaps the single best treatment to improve quality of life. After more than 20 years of study, he concludes that this one activity can improve the physical and mental health of millions of Americans.
The “single elixir,” as he calls it, is regular weekly church attendance.
According to the report in USA Today, “Professor VanderWeele’s new research with colleagues at Harvard University — building on more than 20 years of prior work in this area — suggests that attending religious services brings about better physical and mental health. Adults who do so at least once a week versus not at all have been shown to have a significantly lower risk of dying over the next decade and a half. The results have been replicated in enough studies and populations to be considered quite reliable.”
Writing about VanderWeel’s research, John Siniff, a former editor for USA Today, concludes, “ The news media, the academy and the broader public could use this new understanding to weigh religion’s greater societal value. And for individuals, this research provides a not-so-subtle invitation to reconsider what religion can do for them.”
I stumbled onto this truth more than 50 years ago when I was 18. Someone placed in my hands a simple book titled, Return to Religion, by Henry C. Link, a psychologist. It was an impressionable time of my life. I had read Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. Dr. Link’s book may have proved the most beneficial of them all. He simply made an argument for the mental and emotional benefits of going to church.
I had attended church as a child with my parents, but I started going to church on my own. I joined the youth choir and became involved in the youth group. It was the first step on a life-long journey. I began to study the Bible and became a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. More mature believers instructed and encouraged me. My faith continued to grow. My faith is still growing and I am still attending church.
When I look back, that simple decision was perhaps the best decision of my life. I just started going to church, which led to faith, my career, my marriage, my children and journeys to five continents. Today, half-a-century later, God has blessed me with treasures that cannot be corrupted by rust or moth, a treasure that cannot be lost to thieves or the stock market.
The Bible identified this “elixir” long ago “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).