The wellness industry is booming, and this is a good thing. It is a part of our calling to care for ourselves in mind, body and spirit. The food we eat, and the way we exercise are not separate issues from our spirituality. I am proud that Lumunos is a part of this development.
But there is an element of the wellness conversation that you don’t see in the ads or hear at the workshops. This is the part that has nothing to do with glowing skin and white teeth. In fact, it is kind of the opposite.
Eugene Peterson expresses it well when he translates the Beatitudes, familiar words from the Bible that begin with “Blessed are the poor in spirit…..” I am going to add a translation to his translation, substituting the word “well” for the word “blessed:”
You’re well when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re well when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re well when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re well when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re well when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re well when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (Matthew 5, interpreted)
We do our best to exercise, eat right, and have positive attitudes. We try to manage our stress. But sometimes we don’t. What of our wellness then?
The people that seem most well to me by Matthew’s definition are not necessarily the ones who are the healthiest looking. Many of them are old with wrinkled skin and yellow teeth. Some of them are in wheelchairs or are missing limbs.
But these people I am thinking of have a deep trust in the presence and goodness of God. They have what Richard Rohr calls a “Bright Sadness.” They know that life is hard and that suffering is real. But they also know that God is real and trustworthy. There is a kind of peace and contentment in them that I want for my life.
In the end we cannot ultimately make ourselves well or whole through our own strength or willpower. As our friends in AA teach us, ultimately we need to depend on a Higher Power.
It is a different take on wellness, one that doesn’t discount the importance of exercise, diet and stress management. It just acknowledges that we need something or someone beyond ourselves to be well.
Martin Luther and the Wellness Movement
This Sunday was Reformation Day, a holiday almost nobody cares about anymore. Amongst other things, it is a day to acknowledge Martin Luther, the ‘Father of Protestant Christianity.’ I am wondering if it should be changed to National Spiritual Wellness Day.
Admittedly Luther is not the first name that comes to mind when thinking about wellness. He was overweight, anxious, and (rumor has it) had some pretty significant GI issues. Compared to the people with glowing skin and white teeth, Luther falls short of the mark.
Luther learned the hard way that life isn’t about how hard you work. After dropping out of law school, he became a monk. He tried really, really hard to be the best monk he could be. He drove himself mercilessly, seeking to earn God’s approval. I am no psychologist or physician, but I have to believe that this contributed to his anxiety and GI issues.
Eventually he fell into the truth that was waiting for him and us all along—God’s grace is a gift, not something you have to earn. It is free because we are God’s beloved, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. Once Luther figured this out, it changed his life. He became one of the most courageous and influential people in history, taking on the most powerful institution of his day. Martin Luther became well.
Exercise and eat well. But don’t forget that when you get to the end of your rope, you are not necessarily unwell. Maybe you are just making room for God.