What the Bible says about wellness - why it offers more than the "Wellness Industry" does
“Wellness” is undeniably attractive. The healthy body, the clear mind, the vibrant spirit – we rightly want these for ourselves and our friends and our children.
Over the last decade, our society has been developing a “Wellness Industry” that is now worth $4.2 trillion internationally – that’s 5.3 per cent of global economic output. It promotes physical and mental wellbeing, encompassing activities from yoga to healthy eating, personal care and beauty, nutrition and weight loss, meditation, spa retreats, workplace wellness and wellness tourism!
It’s big money and it’s a big industry.
At face value, of course health is good. But like so many good things – family, work, romance, sex, leisure, money, sport – the Bible exhorts us to not make any of these things ultimately central in our lives. These good things, and health, really can’t be my reason for living, the source of my identity, my meaning in life. The Bible would say that we are in the realms of idolatry when anything other than the Living God himself takes centre stage in our hearts. It’s just not what we are made for. It’s not how we thrive.
From start to finish, the priority in the biblical landscape is relationships – with God, with others and with my self. Relationships which are ultimately reconciled through the work of Christ (Colossians 1:19-20). The biblical concept of wellness that incorporates this reconciliation, is captured in the Hebrew word “shalom”, meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completedness.
It’s a whole-of-life wellness – body, mind and spirit. It is perhaps this very essence that the Wellness Industry is in pursuit of.
So, how do we find this healthy balance of physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing in our lives? What does biblical wellness look like?
It would certainly have to start with peace with God. Old and New Testament alike instruct us firstly to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.” Trusting in Him alone (Prov 3:5-6); worshipping Him alone (the first commandment, Deut 5:7); delighting in Him alone (Ps 37:4). And this is not just for the start of the Christian life when I first “get” what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for me at the Cross, but an entire life-long journey to deeply re-orient my fickle heart. Shifting my identity. Finding deep emotional safety in His presence – emotional safety that can heal and restore and transform. Having my life “switched on” with Kingdom purpose. Releasing guilt and shame.
Proverbs 3:7-8 tells us that this fear of the Lord will bring health to our body as well as our souls!
We deeply need this deep stillness.
How do we help ourselves do this? Like any relationship, this one will be as deep and as meaningful as the time you put into it. There are no short cuts! I don’t think five minutes a day will do it. We need decent time with him – time to worship, time for deep stillness in his presence, time for honest confession and repentance, time to weed out the “lies” that I have been listening to, and to feed myself on his truth. This is central and basic and crucial.
Disciplines of silence and meditation weren’t actually invented by the Wellness Industry! We too can make decisions about how we use our time.
We can experiment with taking an hour with God one weekend; or using the Christian meditation apps (Abide, Recenter with Christ, Reflect, Centering Prayer) or Christ-Centred Mindfulness tips. We deeply need this deep stillness.
The second biblical priority for wellness lies in the health of our relationships with others. Am I quietly harbouring unforgiveness, or jealousy, or anger?
The wisdom writers of the Bible knew that these things will crush your body as well as your soul. “A tranquil heart gives life to the bones but envy makes the bones rot,” says Proverbs 14:30. “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones,” reveals Proverbs 16:24. “My son, pay attention to what I say … for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body,” guides Proverbs 4:20.
Psychological research over 30 years has, unsurprisingly, affirmed this wisdom.
But this is tough stuff. This requires me to make the first move, to see my contribution to the problem, to not whinge and gossip but to be a peace-maker. Apologising, looking for connection, offering respect, forgiving. Deep Jesus work that will need his Spirit’s leading.
Finally, as we reflect on what the Bible tells us about wellness, it is right to care for my self (Matthew 22:39) and to honour this body and mind I have been given (1 Cor 6:19-20) with a balanced lifestyle. Yes, with nutritious food and regular exercise, low alcohol and good sleep, but also with belly-fulls of laughter, satisfying leisure and meaningful ministry. A recent meta-review of scientific evidence in the journal World Psychiatry concludes that physical exercise is strongly indicated in the primary prevention and clinical treatment of a spectrum of mental disorders. Just so good for us!
So, on one level, it’s really not that complicated. If we can choose the struggle of getting our priorities away from those of the world; and if we will read his Word and apply it to our lives, we are promised “life to the full” (John 10:10) – a peace and wellness that the world can’t fathom (Phil 4:7).
Sue Bartho is a clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist with extensive experience in relationship counselling.