What started with ‘not self-harming’ has brought me further than I thought it could, transforming the whole of my life, not just how I cope with stress or how I respond to an imminent panic-attack. It has led me into a diet which respects my body and the world around me, a career in pursuit of empowering people to live in fullness, an attitude of non-violence to myself, others, and the world around me. And it is still changing me, drawing me on.
That small desire to be healthier in mind so that I could be a better mum has brought me face-to-face with questions of authenticity, it has challenged my playing safe, and it has brought me into more fullness than I dreamed (and yet I still know there is more to come). The more I heal, the more holistic my healing becomes, the wider my healing ranges, and the more important I find the idea of living holistically.
This idea of living wholly has me opening doors I never knew were closed, questioning things I never thought could be any other way. It has brought me into greater unity with myself, my body, and the world around me. And greater unity with my God.
This journey reminds me that we can’t separate parts of ourselves (or our world) off and treat them as completely solo and separate; we are intrinsically intertwined. It’s easy to assume that God is only interested in our spiritual wellbeing – how holy we are living, how closely we are clinging to God’s ways. But we cannot divide off the spiritual part of ourselves, as if it were just one lobe of a clover. We aren’t like that. Every part of ourselves is enmeshed with every other part.
So, our spiritual wellbeing – how we are relating to God and following God’s ways, is tangled up with our mental wellbeing, the self-talk which is continuously happening in our heads. And that mental wellbeing is not separate from our social wellbeing, the people we hang out with, how they talk to us, of us, and around us. And none of that is separate from our physical wellbeing, the food we eat, the ways we move our bodies, the way our bodies feel. And none of these different ‘parts’ of our life are untouched and uninfluential on our emotional wellbeing, how happy or calm or fulfilled we are by life. And all these factors influence how capable or willing we are to live a life in pursuit of God.
Every aspect of our lives is attached to and affects every other, like a great webbed network. The more one transforms part of one’s life, the more one must also improve the whole of one’s life to maintain the change and to continue transforming. When you seek to eat more healthily, you are also drawn towards making better choices in other parts of your life, towards living more authentically. And the more authentically you begin to live, the more confident you become in making the better choices, to living in-line with your values, and more in-line with God.
God calls us into both holiness and wholeness.
In Hebrew, ‘holy’ and ‘separate’ come from the same root word. We see their connection in action with the separation of Israel from other nations – set apart as God’s chosen people. We see it in the setting apart of the Levites and then again of the priests, and then again of the high priest. We see it in the structure of the temple, the setting aside of holy space (something David could not do because of the life he had lived), and then of the most holy place set apart even further.
In Greek, the word translated as ‘holy’ has connotations of being set apart, being different from the world because we are like God.
In Matthew 5:48, Jesus puts it like this: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This word translated ‘perfect’, rather than meaning holy or set apart, means complete, fully grown, mature from going through the necessary process to meet the end goal, extended to full capacity. This wholeness becomes holiness: being whole like God.
In English, the words ‘holy’ and ‘healthy’ are from the same root word. And we see this also in the Israelites story: only men of full health and without infirmity or disability could serve as priests (see Leviticus 21:16-23). Their bodily wholeness and healthiness was a pre-requisite for their holiness. Numerous rules we find in Leviticus are for the Israelites’ health and wellbeing, and keeping those rules was a requirement for being God’s chosen and set aside people.
As well as being called into holiness, we are given the peace of Christ in which to dwell. It is a mark of our unity with Christ, part of the fruit of the Spirit. In John 14:27, Jesus says “my peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.” Both the Greek of the New Testament translated here as ‘peace’ and the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ in the Old (which is most commonly translated into English as ‘peace’) have implications of wholeness. “When all essential parts are joined together,” reads one word study. Harmony, concord, security, safety, prosperity. Things all working together for good.
So, when we are told by Jesus that he came so we might have abundant life (John 10:10), it is not an austere perfection, it is not holiness through scarcity, but a fullness of wellbeing, at peace and in harmony with oneself, the world around us, and God.
“The reign of God reverses the direction of purity: instead of withdrawing for fear of defilement, its agents are to spread holiness and wholeness through the holy spirit.” – David Rhoads, in ‘Mark as Story’.
God calls us into holiness and wholeness through love, not fear. In Christ we have been freed from the bondage of fear, freed from the suffering of our fears and brokenness. And we can meet ourselves with love. And, following God’s example, we can love ourselves into wholeness. Love is the path to living holy and living wholly.
Beloved God, You want more for us than just spiritual health. You desire for us wholeness and a flourishing of wellbeing in other parts of our lives too – physical, mental, emotional, social. Help us to hold ourselves in these areas with Your grace, to show ourselves the love and compassion You first showed us. Amen.
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