“Is everything all right?” This common question that we often ask of friends, students, and colleagues has new meaning in the current season in which we find ourselves when our schools and communities have experienced unanticipated chaos and confusion. Yet did you know, this question is also asked in the Bible?
As Leslie Allen explains in Shalom as Wholeness: Embracing the Broad Biblical Message: “‘Shalom’ can be used generally to describe the well-being of persons or communities, and ‘peace’ is a particular and common development of that sense. In Hebrew narratives, there is a colloquial question one asks a newcomer: Hashalom? In 2 Kings 9:11, the King James Version and New American Standard Bible renders this, ‘Is all well?’ Updating a little, the New Revised Standard Version and New International Version (NIV)2 both translate it as, ‘Is everything all right?’”
As a former psychology professor, the concept of being well is one that I have explored for over 10 years now. Whether in daily conversation, conducting studies, or by reading fellow scholars’ research, I’ve found that most people do not know how to define well-being. And yet our definition is crucial to navigating the present season.
If we simply type “well-being” into Google, we’ll likely find the following kinds of definitions: “The state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy,” “an experience of health, happiness, and prosperity,” and “good mental health, high life satisfaction, and ability to manage stress.” These definitions reflect that well-being includes psychological, physical, emotional, and environmental components. The “well” part is consistently defined as the presence of positive traits such as happiness and high life satisfaction and a striking absence of negatives. The “being” describes how we interact with that environment. If these definitions are correct, and the presence of happiness, health, comfort, and prosperity are required for well-being, then it is safe to say that most of us are not well.
However, as Christian educators, there are countless benefits to having a biblically shaped framework through which to educate students. The centrality of God’s Word is vital to every aspect of our teaching and sets Christian education apart. As Christian educators, our mission to educate image bearers holistically is not limited to secular standards or definitions. Instead, we can rest assured that God’s revealed Word and truth are the foundation for all that we do—including how we define and pursue well-being. And during a season when uncertainty is certain we can take comfort in God’s unchanging Word.
So how do we understand how we should be in this world through the lens of God’s Word? We turn to the life of the greatest teacher that ever lived, Jesus. We examine the patterns of His life and teachings, and (re)focus our curriculum, schedules, and goals with Him at the center.
Seeking Well-Being and Shalom
Though this is not an exhaustive list, consider these three points as you think about how to seek well-being or shalom.
- Pursue well-being in the midst of suffering. Well-being for Christians does not include pursuing positive and avoiding the negative (2 Timothy 3:12). Suffering is actually guaranteed. When we examine the life of Jesus, we see that the path to wholeness included suffering.
- Seek peace in all relationships. Scripture shows us that individual and community well-being are intimately connected. What does Jesus say about those who seek peace? They shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). Proactively reconciling with others is worthy of sonship in the kingdom (see also Proverbs 16:7; Romans 12:18).
- Remember Jesus brought eternal shalom. There will be seasons where the feeling of “not being all right” seem to last forever. Remember that Jesus not only models wholeness as the Prince of shalom, but also Scripture promises that His peace will last forever (Isaiah 9:5-6). Instead of settling for the absence of conflict, we can embrace true peace and wholeness.
We are constantly reminded of our brokenness through the subtle discomforts and life-altering tragedy. For some they feel like small cracks in a stone and for others they are canyons with valleys. In the book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis shares, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain has utility as it reminds us that we need help.
Yet, without a biblical lens, we will seek to address our pain and cause more pain. When we see ourselves as the solution or the savior, we will inevitably fail. May we instead reorient what it means to be well and completely whole to God’s Word. God has given us enough information for such a time as this to bring shalom. What He has given us in His Word is perfect.
Reflection and Action Steps
- Discuss the life of Jesus with two or three friends. What do you observe about his well-being (e.g., physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and relational dynamics)? How does He model wholeness?
- Reflect on your own well-being goals, both in general and in light of your present situation. How are they like those of Jesus? Are there areas where you have adopted a secular worldview of well-being?
- Make a list of goals for each category (physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and relational). Focus on one category and set one goal to start. [For example, for the physical category, you might set goals like: 1) practice good posture while seated; 2) stretch daily at your desk for 10 minutes; 3) eat something “green” at every meal.]
As the weeks progress, slowly integrate additional goals and additional categories at a pace that is manageable and sustainable. Consider scheduling weekly “check-ins” with an accountability partner for encouragement and prayer as you work to reach your goals. These actions will help you to prioritize well-being, and seeking peace and shalom, in challenging times. Finally, don’t forget to periodically ask others in your sphere of influence the important question, “Is everything all right?”—and prayerfully consider how you can point them to the fullness of life we find in Jesus (John 10:10b).
- Allen, L. (n.d.). Shalom as Wholeness: Embracing the Broad Biblical Message. Retrieved from https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/shalom-as-wholeness-embracing-the-broad-biblical-message/
- Lewis, C S. 1962. The Problem of Pain. New York: Macmillan.
About the Author
Dr. Charlotte Marshall Powell is the senior researcher at ACSI. Her background includes a decade of research examining individual and community well-being in academic, corporate, and church communities. Deeply rooted in Christian values, she has an ability to lead research projects strategically and empathetically. Prior to joining ACSI, she served as an academic researcher and professor of psychology. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.