This book encourages older Christians to embrace aging as a gift from God, incorporating the physical, mental, social, financial, spiritual, and emotional aspects of a person’s life into a holistic definition of wellness.
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About the Author
John Dunlop (MD, Johns Hopkins University) serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University and practices geriatrics in New Haven, Connecticut, where he is affiliated with Yale School of Medicine. Dunlop is the author of Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician and Wellness for the Glory of God: Living Well After 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life.
Read an Excerpt
What Is Wellness?
Most of us who would meet Joan would say that she is anything but well. At sixty-eight she has been in a wheelchair for twenty-six years, the victim of aggressive multiple sclerosis. She lives by herself, her husband having divorced her many years ago; but she is closely attended by her three children and a myriad of friends from her church. She gets by with equipment that allows her to move around in the apartment, prepare simple meals, and do some basic housework. Still, she suffers frequently from disabling fatigue. In addition to requiring eight hours of sleep at night, she has to rest in bed for four hours during the day. The remainder of her time is spent reading and keeping up an e-mail correspondence with people all over the world, for whom she maintains an active prayer ministry. Four to five times a week, various friends stop by for a cup of tea. It's amazing how many respond in the same way: "You know, I always plan to stop by and cheer up Joan, but the fact is, she invariably cheers me up. She doesn't deny her problems but chooses not to dwell on them. Her love for God is absolutely contagious."
Jim is seventy-two. An avid runner, he tries to log at least twenty miles a week. He keeps up a good pace and can do a seven-minute mile if he pushes himself. He spends at least three hours at the gym four days a week, and the days he is not there, he is out taking long walks by himself. But that's just the problem — he's always by himself. Jim can greet the regulars at the gym by name but has no close friends. He is acutely aware that if he didn't show up, no one would miss him. His ex-wife is happily remarried, and his children have had nothing to do with him since he left the family twenty-five years ago.
Mary, at eighty-eight, is moderately demented. She lives with her daughter, Beth, and is able to help out with the dishes and light housework early in the day but typically gets more confused and agitated during the evening hours. Beth has found that when confusion occurs, she can play some Christian music from thirty years ago. Mary has always loved these hymns, and she relaxes as she sings along with the old songs.
Now, allow me to ask the key question: Which one of these three is truly well? When asked, "How are you?" which one could honestly smile and say, "I'm well, thank you." Would it be Joan with her MS; Jim, the seven-minute miler; or Mary with her dementia?
What is wellness, anyway? At first blush most of us would answer in terms of our physical health. Have you heard about the Turbaned Tornado? This is Fauja Singh, who completed the Toronto Marathon when he was one hundred years old. You may say, "Wow, he was certainly well." I agree that you don't run a marathon when you are sick. But is physical health all there is to wellness? If wellness requires us to complete a marathon at one hundred, most of us won't make it. Thankfully, wellness is much more than physical health and freedom from distressing symptoms. Wellness involves the whole of our being, which includes six distinct areas: physical, mental, social, financial, spiritual, and emotional. These areas of wellness are not independent but are all interrelated. Each area contributes to the well-being of each of the others. At the same time, struggles in one area may detract from wellness in each of the others.
In dealing with aging patients, I have observed that having a sense of wellness sometimes results from placing sufficient value on at least one area of life where things are going well in order to trump areas where things could improve. Over the years I have heard many say, "If I can just stay healthy, that is all I want." Yet I have seen many in great health who could not be called "well." Jim, who at seventy-two is running twenty miles a week, is a case in point. His physical well-being is not enough to compensate for the other areas where he is lacking.
Furthermore, if we are going to choose one area in which to ground our sense of wellness, we want to make sure it will last throughout our lives. That may be the problem with both our physical and mental health — they may begin to run down. So it is with most of the other domains of wellness. Emotionally upbeat people may experience many losses that erode their optimism. Many experience their financial security disappearing when the economy takes a downturn. Those who are counting on family and friends may experience severe disappointments. But there is one area of wellness that need not fail — our relationship with God.
I will never forget dear Eddie, who, when I told her she had only a matter of weeks till her colon cancer would take her life, looked at me incredulous that I thought I was giving her bad news. Her response was, "Well, you don't get to heaven by being healthy, do you?" Even facing death, Eddie felt well because she placed more value on spiritual realities than on physical. Maintaining spiritual wellness can be of great benefit in this life, and it is the only area of wellness that we will continue to enjoy throughout eternity. Paul wrote:
We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16–18)
Paul would have been one of those who could answer, "I'm well, thank you," even as his outer nature wasted away.
Late in his life John wrote his third epistle. It was addressed to his beloved friend Gaius, and in it John said, "I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul" (3 John 2). John equated good health not with the state of Gaius's body but with the state of his soul. A healthy spirit can help compensate for difficulties faced in each of the other areas. But that must not be our only focus, for maintaining wellness in the other five areas contributes to our spiritual wellness. Keeping physically and mentally healthy allows us to get out and serve others while continuing to grow in our understanding of God. Social relationships are so often key to spiritual wellness. Learning to trust God for our finances and maintaining a positive outlook will similarly contribute to our spiritual health. The bottom line is that our top priority — spiritual wellness — is best nurtured in the context of staying well in as many of the other areas as possible.
Staying Well Requires Planning
Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else." That applies to wellness. We need to carefully define our goals, choose the wisest strategies to accomplish them, and discipline ourselves to implement those strategies if we are going to maximize the chance that we can be well in as many spheres as possible.
Even with that, the overachievers among us will have to recognize that it is far-fetched to think that we will have true wellness in all six areas of life at the same time. God in his sovereignty may overrule and have reasons for us to go through seasons where we are not well. The difficulties we face may be the result of living in a world affected by sin, or they may be the natural consequences of bad choices we have made.
Let's face it: most of us are not going to die while we are physically healthy or free from difficulties. Paul and Barnabas taught the new believers in Asia Minor "that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Paul himself experienced "many tribulations" including being stoned and left for dead, receiving the notorious thirty-nine lashes five times, and being shipwrecked three times while being left afloat at sea for a day and a night! Recall that he referred to these as "light momentary affliction." Why? It is because such difficulties are "preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul experienced wellness not through the absence of problems but through his abiding confidence that God was in control and that in eternity he would see God's ultimate purpose.
Even while we realize that in some areas of our lives, God may overrule our best intentions — and we want him to accomplish his purposes for us — we should still set wellness as our goal. To do that, we must first understand what wellness is, think carefully through each sphere of life, and identify strategies to maintain wellness.
I define wellness as that blessed state of experiencing all spheres of life functioning in harmony with God's ordained purpose. Let us unpack that statement.
blessed ... is a word frequently used in both Old and New Testaments. It speaks of a state of good fortune, being well off and happy. True blessing is a gift from God, not something we earn. We have some responsibility to create an environment where he can work, but fundamentally it is God who graciously blesses us. Even the things we do to pursue wellness are possible because he gives us the wisdom, motivation, and ability.
state of experiencing ... emphasizes that wellness is not just an objective fact but a subjective experience. It allows us to say not only, "I am well," but also, "I feel well."
all spheres of life ... indicates that wellness involves the whole person. It includes all six areas we are considering.
functioning ... implies that wellness is not only a state of being but is also what we do.
in harmony with ... suggests the deep, satisfying peace that comes from sharing together and being united with something that is much bigger than ourselves.
God's ordained purpose. To be well we need a purpose that gives meaning and significance to our lives today and will continue to do so until the day we die. What better purpose could we have than being part of God's eternal purpose and allowing him to dictate how every part of our lives will contribute to his overall plan? Right from the start we need to appreciate that being in harmony with God's ordained purpose does not mean everything will be sunshine and roses, since his plan will include difficulties. When I struggle in life, I often quote from one of my favorite psalms: "One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O LORD, are loving" (Ps. 62:11–12 NIV). If I affirm that God is able to do what he wants (he is strong) and that he is loving, I can joyfully conclude that everything that happens is under his control and will result in what he knows is best. This is the gist of what Paul writes: "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Once I am in harmony with God's purpose, I can be well, regardless of my circumstances. I can know I am in the right spot, and I can rest comfortably.
To take this a step further, we need to understand how wellness necessitates being in harmony with God and then what his purposes are.
Shalom and Shema
The ancient Hebrews contribute to our understanding of harmony and thereby wellness by their use of the word shalom. Whereas shalom is loosely translated "peace," the true meaning is far more extensive; at root it means "totality." It is the sense of wholeness we have when every part of our lives is in a profound harmony and unity within ourselves, with those around us, and with God. Wellness requires shalom.
Where do we find the integrating principle that brings every area of our lives together? Once again, the ancient Jews had the correct answer. The famous Shema of Israel says, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4–5). We are to be a people of one God. This must be more than something we recite, for we need to have him as our single focus and see all other areas of life from his perspective. We are to love him with all our heart, soul, and might. The word "might" is interesting, for it means nothing less than our everything. Love is not onerous, nor is it something we try to avoid. Who does not want to experience love? Yet God, the all-powerful sovereign of the universe, desires to have a loving relationship with us. That does not mean I cannot love other people and many of the good things God has given me to enjoy in this life, but it does mean that my ultimate purpose is to love him, and loving others becomes a means to that end.
Love for God is well illustrated in the Scriptures:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you. (Ps. 63:1–3)
It is not just that we are to love God; we have spoken of the loving relationship we have with God. Relationships are, after all, two-way streets. We are not responsible to come up with a love for God by ourselves; rather, our love for him and for others is the natural response of his love for us.
Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17–19)
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
We learn to love God with all of our being and then find in him our fulfillment and greatest joy. In God we find what we need to be satisfied. We experience shalom through Shema and can pursue wellness.
I have been blessed to know many who have found great peace in pursuing God's purpose with all of their being. I think of Carolyn, who at eighty-seven is living with her severely demented husband. At this stage of life, he is her total preoccupation, and this is her way of loving God. I have never heard her complain, because she has a deep sense that she is exactly where the Lord wants her at this time. She is content to be in God's will. That does not make her life easy, but it does allow her to experience shalom.
And there are Will and Sandy. Will retired at seventy as a carpenter and Sandy several years earlier from her job in a school cafeteria. They sold their house and bought a motor home. Now they spend at least six months a year visiting Christian camps where Will does repair work and Sandy works in the kitchen. Whenever I see them, they can't stop raving about how happy they are. They know this is where they belong and are experiencing God's shalom.
Then there is Jack, who was widowed after sixty-four years of marriage. He gets lonely at times, and although very limited by arthritis he gets out to two different Bible studies each week, and once a week he goes to visit the people from his church who are in a nursing home. I have frequently asked Jack how he is doing, and his typical response is, "Well, it's tough, but I'm getting by."
It may not seem as though any of these individuals are doing life-shaking things, but they are fulfilling God's purpose and are experiencing wellness. Yet while loving God and loving other people are wonderful and may lead to our ultimate purpose, they are not that ultimate purpose in themselves. To attain that ultimate goal we must go one level deeper.
Pursue God's Glory
Our overriding purpose in life should be to glorify God. There are many ways in which God can be glorified. For example, God is glorified when we worship, praise, value, honor, thank, enjoy, or even emulate him. To understand how God is glorified, we need first to realize that glorifying him is not something we initiate. It is not as if we are light bulbs that send forth our own light to reveal God's goodness. Rather, we are mirrors that reflect the goodness we have received from him.
We must also understand that we can bring God glory in three distinct ways. First, he is glorified in our spirit as we find greater joy and fulfillment in him. Second, others may give him glory as a result of something we do for them that reflects God's love and goodness. Third, God is glorified in his own being through our worship as we declare how much we treasure him. The apostle Paul speaks of Christians as being "the aroma of Christ to God" (2 Cor. 2:15). It is difficult to understand fully, but in some way we remind God of the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus, who allowed us to come to God.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wellness for the Glory of God"
Copyright © 2014 John Dunlop, MD.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 What Is Wellness? 17
2 Physical Wellness: A Healthy Lifestyle 31
3 Mental Wellness: Develop Your Mind 49
4 Social Wellness: Focus on Others 77
5 Financial Wellness: Worry-Free Finances 101
6 Spiritual Wellness: Press on to the Goal 123
7 Emotional Wellness: Feel Well 147
Conclusion: Putting It All Together 173
General Index 181
Scripture Index 185
What People are Saying About This
“This is a fascinating book filled with rich, practical wisdom from the Bible and from a lifetime of treating thousands of patients. Highly recommended!”
—Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary
“Wisdom comes from great knowledge and long experience, and this book is full of strategies for life’s second half from a physician who has both. Its advice is practical and priceless. Everyone over fifty should read this book!”
—David Stevens, CEO, Christian Medical and Dental Associations
“Dr. Dunlop speaks from a wealth of personal experience as a beloved physician to countless older people, watching them live and die well—and poorly. A lifelong and careful study of the Bible has given him an invaluable perspective on how to ‘run with endurance the race that is set before us.’ We long to keep up, and even to excel, but how? If you want a wealth of biblically sound and immensely practical strategies for staying well, you’ve come to the right place. This book is a treasure!”
—John F. Kilner, professor of bioethics and contemporary culture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; author, Why People Matter and Dignity and Destiny
“In today’s busy medical practice, doctors rarely have the time to sit down and share all the advice needed to keep patients well. Here, in one volume, Dr. Dunlop has collected everything I wish I had time to teach my patients. With advice that is seasoned, solid, and medically sound, he provides all you need to know to keep you out of the doctor’s waiting room!”
—Harry Kraus, MD, board certified surgeon; bestselling author, Lip Reading and Domesticated Jesus
“A deep reading of the book reveals many pearls that the disciplined and attentive physician John Dunlop has uncovered over the years of taking care of elderly patients and observing their lives, as well as his own. This book will challenge your thinking and your doing.”
—D. Joy Riley, MD, MA, Executive Director, The Tennessee Center for Bioethics and Culture; author, Outside the Womb and Christian Bioethics
“The desire to be well and the reading of Dunlop’s book run on parallel tracks. Heading into their senior years, readers who don’t have the time or expertise to thoroughly research the issues facing them, issues about which they must make decisions before it’s too late, will find this a well-organized and right-sized aid. I found his brief section on dementia and memory loss especially helpful.”
—Sam Crabtree, Executive Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota; author, Practicing Affirmation
“Refreshingly holistic and consistent with the biblical concept of shalom, rather than the material-spiritual dualism so common in contemporary Christian thought, Dunlop addresses not only physical and mental wellness but also social, financial, spiritual, and emotional wellness. I’m already applying some of its lessons and pray many others will use it to help them improve the extent to which they live well for the glory of God!”
—Sharon A. Falkenheimer, MA, MD, MPH, Associate Fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, Trinity International University; Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventative Medicine and Community Health, The University of Texas at Galveston
“Drawing from decades as a caring and compassionate physician, Dr. Dunlop shares insights and strategies about life choices that result in successful aging. He provides actual patient vignettes, which clearly illustrate the biblical basis for wellness and wholeness that go beyond just physical health. He challenges readers to prayerful self-examination that can lead to sound and lasting change. His tone is pastoral and personal, as if he were sitting alongside the reader and gently counseling. The chapters are sprinkled with humor and include many good references for those who want deeper understanding. This book encompasses all we need to hear from someone who is wise and godly.”
—Clydette Powell, MD, MPH, FAAP, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Child Neurology, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health
“Writing with spiritual depth and richness, medical expertise, relational saavy, and godly common sense, Dunlop gives insights and strategies that will prove invaluable to those seeking to stay well as they age. Dunlop’s writing is filled with a refreshing combination of sober realism and hope-filled optimism. Both his commitment to holistic human wellness and his passion for God to be glorified throughout are infectious. A must read!”
—Steven C. Roy, associate professor of pastoral theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School