For the past three years, I’ve been the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community in suburban Seattle. Three decades as a local church pastor prepared me for the best ministry assignment I’ve ever had. Going to the office is like being on vacation.
But that’s not why I wear Hawaiian shirts to work. Rather, I enjoy saying as I encounter residents on campus, “I bring you God’s, ‘Aloha!’” I love that South Pacific expression. If you’ve spent time in The Islands, you know it means hello, goodbye, peace and love.
The ancient Hebrews had a word similar to “aloha.” Shalom not only means peace, it also suggests wholeness, balance and integrity. Some refer to this desired state of being as “wellness.” And among the aging population where I am privileged to minister, wellness is consistently personified.
William Danforth, who founded the Ralston Purina Company in the late 1800s, saw a correspondence between faith and wellness. Danforth was struck by the description of Jesus’ holistic development as recorded in Luke 2:52. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.” The business executive called the four elements of a faith-based life “four square living.” He created a checkerboard logo for his product line to symbolize what he believed to be the key to a healthy life. On the campus where I serve, I see these four elements of wellness lived out in spades.
Intellectual curiosity cultivates a desire to live. In a setting where 90th birthday parties are no big deal, mind-stretching opportunities are. I am impressed by those who are actively involved in book clubs and film discussion groups. Recently, more than 100 of our residents read through the entire Bible in a year. Healthy oldsters keep learning.
Physical exercise mitigates against the consequences of aging. Stretching one’s mind isn’t enough to maintain a balanced life. Physical stretching, weight training and balance exercises are also important. Scripture teaches that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Such a sacred edifice deserves upkeep and refurbishment. I am impressed with the disciplined regimen of seniors on a treadmill, clocking miles on an exercise bike or walking laps.
Spiritual expression expands the windshield of one’s worldview. The essence of a healthy balanced life is rooted in the soil of the soul. On a campus like ours, residents attend 20 different congregations in Greater Seattle. Faith is foundational to a meaningful life (and death). I’ve watched countless residents conclude their earthly journey without fear or regrets. A personal relationship with their creator equates to an assurance of eternal life.
Relational involvement reduces the alienation of loneliness. Statistics indicate that people who conclude their lives in a retirement community live some 10 years longer than those who live alone. In Genesis we read, “It is not good for man to live alone!” The rest of the Bible illustrates the importance of community. I’ve witnessed it first hand. Wellness is a product of connection and healthy people want to stay connected with others, even when their faith, values and opinions collide.
An Exercise of Wellness
I have come to see that wellness is much more than being fit.
A healthy body needs a healthy soul.
While dieting and exercise can do a body good,
a person really needs a higher goal.
It’s great to run a marathon or jog five times a week,
but running after peace has merit, too.
And while walking before supper can burn dreaded calories,
a daily walk with God is good for you.
To bend and flex has merit. So, we strive to stay in shape.
As we age we must maintain agility.
But God also wants to stretch us to expand our usefulness.
It’s His will that we become all we can be.
Yes, our bodies are a temple that deserve refurbishment
lest (through disrepair) they start to fall apart.
But a temple’s just a building if it’s just an empty shell.
So let’s exercise our souls and guard our hearts.
By Greg Asimakoupoulos