Everywhere you look – magazines, commercials, social media, advertisements, corporate wellness programs, tv shows – there are people telling us how to be healthy. Even apps and new technologies are being created to influence the culture toward what the experts call “healthy.” Whole companies are fixed on this idea of health and wellness. Whole degrees are fashioned toward creating future leaders in these areas (I have one of those degrees). To some extent, it’s a wonderful time to be alive, with all this at our fingertips. However, I’m not fully convinced that it’s enough.
Now I don’t mean we don’t have enough options or enough information. We surely have plenty of that. I’m not necessarily in disagreement on the intended function of all of these things, either. I’m slightly against the form. I’m not against the goal – namely, creating healthier people. I’m against some of the ways in which we are endeavoring to reach this goal.
Humans are holistic beings. Our minds are connected to our physical bodies, to our emotions, to our unseen souls. We are not compartmentalized, segmented beings. A plethora of studies and books and articles are written on this reality. We see it all of the time in the world – an athlete (an otherwise “healthy” person) has an injury, which leads to depression, which leads to a downward spiral in other areas; a businessman has unhealthy eating/drinking habits or struggles with accountability in other areas of life, which leads to trouble in his marriage/family, which leads to poor performance at work, which leads to higher stress, which leads to high blood pressure, etc. And let’s be honest, some of the most beautiful, in-shape people are the craziest. It is an overwhelming reality that we are simply unable to call ourselves “healthy” in one area of our lives when other areas of our life are out of control.
In our culture today we have a need for something more than what is being given to us. In the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, there is this idea known as “shalom” – God’s holistic health, wellbeing, and peace. When God created humans, His intention was for us to live in this shalom, in His reign of health, wellbeing, and peace, in every aspect of our lives. This was not simply a spiritual idea or a greeting (as is it still today for many practicing Jewish people), it was a permeating reality. In our desire to make our own way and do life on our terms, we severed ourselves from the shalom God had for us.
What I am proposing, and believe is a necessity, is that our health and wellbeing and peace is unattainable, out of our reach, by sheer power of will and effort on our part. We are in need of something, someone outside of us to reach into our intricately connected selves and make us whole again. All of the eating well, exercising routinely, practicing mindfulness, thinking positive thoughts, will not get us to the wholeness we seek unless we are met by God’s intervening and restorative presence. If we continue compartmentalizing and diagnosing ourselves, without attending to the whole and without understanding the depth of our own need, we will miss the mark.
We must return to the place we left, to the place of presence and wholeness and shalom. My heart aches for all who desire to be healthy, for much that is being offered is simply an echo of words written long ago: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1).
But we don’t want to hear that. We’ve always wanted to do it on our own. And if I’m honest, I struggle with it sometimes, too. I want to make it happen on my own time, the way I want it to. I want to neglect areas of my life and show off those that I like more or what’s more appealing and visible to the outside world.
We are warned by Jesus not to neglect the inner, whole self that may be seen by no one but God, lest we become whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are just dead. It’s an eerie metaphor, but one we need to let sink in.