One big question we are asking in the Enduring Questions & Ideas curriculum is How Shall I Live? But perhaps the real question for most of us is “How shall I live well?” In our current culture and society, we often equate health with wellness. We see this in the question “How are you today?” In truth, few people are ever inquiring about your health or well-being. It is more of a throw away greeting of “Hello.” If you were to receive an answer to that question, it usually is something on the order of “I’m good” or “I’m OK.” Heaven forbid if one were to respond with “Well, I was just diagnosed with (insert your physical or emotional disease here).” What is interesting is that few people ever respond with “I’m well.” However, we might hear “I am not doing very well” followed by the disease or distress that is afflicting the person.
Conceptually, in academic circles, health and wellness are viewed as separate and distinct. Health has traditionally been defined as a state of being that indicates signs and symptoms of disease or, more specifically, lack of disease. For over 60 years the World Health Organization has defined health as freedom form illness, disease, and debilitating conditions. As such there is an emphasis on healthy lifestyle and/or being healthful with a dichotomy that a person is either healthy or ill. Health promotion focuses on lifestyle changes designed to promote optimal health and longevity.
Wellness, however, can be seen as a system of living oriented toward maximizing potential with a focus on self-responsibility. In this approach, one can be intellectually well but physically unwell; one can be socially well but spiritually unwell. A person’s wellness is determined by a number of dimensions and the interaction of these dimensions. An important distinction for wellness is that these dimensions are not either/or dichotomies because each dimension is a continuum of living that is often dependent on other dimensions, but can also be independent of other dimensions.
The emphasis in a wellness approach is to view the person as a whole and not only as a body of systems.
There are many dimensions that are used in this approach, such as social and interpersonal wellness, physical wellness, emotional wellness, economic wellness, vocational wellness, spiritual wellness, and intellectual wellness. Some organizations that promote wellness use fewer of these dimensions; other organizations use more dimensions.
The wholeness wheel shown above is a product of the Inter-Lutheran Coordinating Committee on Ministerial Health and Wellness. It shows that our wellness is centered in our new creation into Christ through baptism. This modeled is based on biblical texts such as Romans 6:3-8 and 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul says:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (ESV)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (ESV)
This means that our wellness is limited unless we are connected to Christ. Without faith in knowing that Jesus Christ died on the cross to redeem us, we are missing the key component of being well.
Most secular wellness wheels that include a component of spiritual wellness gloss over or dismiss the important component of Christ as the center of a person’s wellness. One should note that spiritual wellness holds all others aspect of our life together. Christ is at our center and we are bound together by our spiritual wellness. In a secular world, Christ is dismissed and diminished. However, Christ is at the center of our wellness journey. Without Christ we can never be well. This means we should live with Christ at our center holding all other aspects of our life together. If I become less well in one area or more, Christ is always there keeping the promise that I am redeemed through him. As other parts of our lives waver in strength of wellness, Christ is the constant who keeps us well.
Martin Luther observed that,
“This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”
Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection is the start of the process that brings us to wellness. It culminates at our death, resurrection, and reunion in heaven where we will be perfectly well, without fault or sin. In essence, baptism is the beginning and the end of our wellness journey.
Vance Tammen is Professor of Exercise and Sport Science at Concordia University Irvine