“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37)
It’s a well-known Bible verse. It’s in Sunday school quizzes, on book marks, on mugs, posters, magnets and church billboards. Every human being who has vaguely come anywhere near a church could quite likely recite this verse.
Yet, how attuned are we actually to it? How often do I love God with all my heart, or soul, or mind, or even body for that matter? And what has this got to do with my wellbeing?
The Bible is full of verses referring to our hearts, soul, minds and body, for example: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Corinthians 6:19); “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” (1 Samuel 16:17); “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28).
Some verses even connect our being: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans 12:1-2).
Yet how often do we offer up our bodies as one whole entity? In fact how often do we even view our bodies this way?
As Christians we believe that we were created by a triune (three-in-one) God and it appears He made us to be more than just a physical body; we are a being with many facets, and with all of these parts we are to love God and offer ourselves to Him. Not only that, but as Tim Keller says: “The God of the Bible not only invented and created all of these areas, but He is redeeming them.”
God is redeeming our entire being, yet as Christians we have differing opinions. Some have believed that the body and spirit are separate and see the body as a source of sin and pollution. Others have believed that the body and spirit are connected and so the body should be looked after, as it’s holy.
Let’s take a look at the prophet Elijah: in 1 Kings 19, Elijah has been threatened with death and is on the run to find God. When he meets with God he’s in a depressive, despondent state. Elijah is physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. God first meets his physical needs, then He lets him have a good rant (emotional needs) and then God reveals Himself to Elijah by resting His presence on him (spiritual needs).
As Tim Keller says: “If God had reduced Elijah’s problem to a particular worldview he wouldn’t have addressed the real complexity of Elijah’s current reality.”
Our realities often have a complexity that involves more than exercise and a bit of “self-care”; they involve a triune God who created triune beings.
The Bible refers to the heart in many different ways, and deems the concerns of the heart to be hugely important: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows,” (Proverbs 4:23). And it appears that neuroscience agrees. In his book Holistic Health, psychologist Andre Radmall says: “The heart is the emotional processing centre.”
It’s from this place where events get an ‘emotional tag’. Our mind will take these emotions and try to rationalise them. As researcher and storyteller Brene Brown says, if there aren’t enough data points, the heart will make up its own. It will fill in blanks, usually from fear, and end up creating fictional realities. As our heart and mind detach, due to trauma and/or lack of healthy positive connections, the heart will freeze and the mind will slip into ego and become defensive, legalistic and rationalistic. It will suppress the emotions, and these will then sink into our physical beings – as evidenced from the work of drama and art therapy groups.
Our physical bodies can store all of these emotions up and create aches and pains. Our ‘culture of the body’ encourages us to try and make ourselves look good on the outside instead of deal with these emotions. All the while our spiritual beings, our source of life, are being squashed and ignored.
Yet our bodies are intricately woven together and God knows this: He designed us this way. He asks us to love Him with all of our being. And He demonstrates in the Bible how He meets all of our needs.
To merely look after our physical body, or our emotions, or our thoughts, or our spiritual being – to focus on one or two of these areas to the detriment of the others – just won’t cut it.
Health is not health unless mind, soul, spirit, body and heart are all functioning well – and we haven’t even begun to look at the second part of the great commandment. So, what ultimately is holistic health? It’s all about the recognition and nurturing of this complex, dynamic, triune being we possess – and a response of love to our triune God.
This is part of a two-part series on holistic health. Stay tuned for part two in a few weeks!