What Is True Wellness?
This is a guest post by Dr. John Dunlop. He is the author of Wellness to the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. Article adapted from: http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/09/what-is-true-wellness/
Will I Be Well at Age 95?
Henry came to his appointment huffing and puffing using his walker to get down the hall. I, as his physician, shook his hand and asked, “How is it going my friend?” Smiling he gave me a strong handshake and said, “Praise the Lord, I’m well, thank you!”
As pleased as I was to hear his response, it caught me just a bit off guard. I was 65; he was 95! I found myself wanting to feel just as well in 30 years. All kinds of questions began to pop into my mind:
Can we truly be well at 95, even when short of breath and using our walkers?
Will I be able to say I’m well if I am still on earth at that age?
What can I do now to increase the chance of being well in thirty years?
The Concept of Shalom
The ancient Hebrews contribute to our understanding of wellness by their use of the word shalom. Whereas shalom is often loosely translated as “peace,” the true meaning is far more extensive. At root, shalom means “totality.” It is the sense of wholeness we have when every part of our lives is in a profound harmony and unity within ourselves, with those around us, and with God. Shalom leads to wellness.
Where do we find the integrating principle that brings all of our lives together? Once again the ancient Jews had the correct answer. The famous Shema of Israel says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). We are to be a people of one God. This must be more than something we recite for we need to have him as our single focus and see all other areas of life brought together in him. We are to love him with all of our hearts, souls, and might.
Our love for God is well illustrated in the Scriptures:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You. (Psalm 63:1-3)
We learn to love God with all of our beings and then find in him our fulfillment and greatest joy. In God we find what we need to be satisfied. We experience shalom through shema and that sets us on the way to true wellness.
All to the Glory of God
And yet while loving God and loving other people are wonderful—and may help us reach our ultimate purpose—they are not that ultimate purpose in themselves. To attain that ultimate goal we must go one level deeper.
Our overriding purpose in life should be to glorify God. We bring God glory in three distinct ways.
First, he is glorified in our own spirits as we find greater joy and fulfillment in him.
Second, others may give him glory as a result of something we do for them that reflects God’s love and goodness.
Third, God is glorified in his own being through our worship as we declare how much we treasure him. The apostle Paul speaks of Christians as being “the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). It is difficult to understand fully but in some way we remind God of the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus, and in that he is greatly pleased.
Living with a passion for God and his glory will have the following results:
(1) It will free us from worry and anxiety as we will be less focused on ourselves
(2) We will function out of a sense of fullness, not emptiness
(3) It will energize us and ignite us with passion
(4) We will fulfill our true purpose, find our niche, feel at home, and be content
(5) We will do things with eternal impact
(6) We will experience wellness in its truest sense
6 Areas of Wellness
In order to have this unified focus on God and his glory in our lives we must carefully review each area of our lives to see what changes are needed. These areas include:
(1) Physical: Are we being good stewards of the bodies he has entrusted to us? This includes eating well, controlling our weight, exercising, getting proper rest, and taking advantage of the good medical care available to us.
(2) Mental: As age approaches it is increasingly important to keep using and sharpening our minds. Dementia may intervene but even that offers opportunities for God to be glorified.
(3) Social: Relationships are more important as we get older and we need to ensure that we’re making the best of them. It’s critical that we choose a living situation where we will not be isolated but can continue to build close friendships while strengthening our family relationships.
(4) Financial: Are our finances worry-free? Rarely can we increase our resources but we can often limit our expenses. We must be good stewards of the resources God has given us, saving to meet our future needs, and leaving room to be generous.
(5) Spiritual: Our later years offer rich opportunities for spiritual growth and service. Some of the fruit of the Spirit like patience and gentleness may be late bloomers. All believers, no matter their age, are given spiritual gifts through which they can help others. Our abilities may change over the years but there will always be need for prayer and encouragement for others.
(6) Emotional: Are we learning to be content? That must exist in three tenses: we must be comfortable with the past, satisfied in the present, and confident of the future. As age advances depression is all too common and we must learn to effectively deal with that.
Once we get to Henry’s age it’s unreasonable to think that we will continue to be totally well in each of these areas. But, if we review each of them and carefully take stock of where we are now,we can make some corrections that will maximize the chance of true wellness as our lives progress.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
John Dunlop (MD, Johns Hopkins University) practices medicine in Zion, Illinois, and serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He is board certified in geriatrics, holds a master’s degree in bioethics, and is a fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. Dunlop is the author of Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician and Wellness to the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. Both published by Crossway Books.