Bethesda Workshops’ name comes from a biblical story in John 5 about a paralyzed man who had been lying at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem for 38 years. It was a gathering place for people who were infirm in a variety of ways, and Jewish custom required those who passed by to donate to the poor. Upon seeing this lame man and knowing the extent of his condition, Jesus asked him a surprising question: Do you want to be well?
The query is almost insulting, especially considering the man was lying at a traditional place of healing, yet it rings across the ages in demand of a more complicated answer than it might first appear. (Check out our podcast that unpacks this concept.) Addicts and partners know about the challenges of getting well – the pain of surrender and the rigors of personal healing. As both an addict and a family member of one, I testify that getting well is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (twice, as each side of the addictive coin has its unique torment).
In this new year season, I’ve been thinking a lot about being well, which is a deeper experience than getting well. Being well is the long haul of ongoing choices, attitudes, and lifestyle. It pulses with heart and spirit; growth and grit; joy, and yes, sorrow, also. Being well is living wholeheartedly, as Brené Brown describes.
Being well is the older and wiser twin sister of the integrity which comes from sobriety. Abstaining from addiction and other forms of unhealthy coping is the foundation, but it’s just the starting point. Being well rises from that groundwork on two pillars: things you avoid, sure, but mostly from the things you embrace.
On the preventative side, you don’t cut corners, play loose with the truth, skate on the slippery slope, or do in darkness what you don’t want seen in the light. You don’t indulge in entitlement or demand recognition or take an aggressive stance. You embrace humility, stay the course, and work the plan despite compelling temptations. You take an unflinching view of reality and practice rigorous honesty. You dig deep and keep your nerve.
To me, the subterranean journey of being well requires being emotionally and spiritually proactive. More than anything, being well is connecting deeply with a community and deeper still with individuals within it. There are angels among us everywhere and linking with your special ones is priceless. Engage people with open hands and an open heart and watch how God fills both beyond what you can imagine. Love fully and passionately, always remembering that the Latin root of passion is suffering. Go out of your way for people, walk the second mile, even slog through another marathon when you doubt you have it in you (another one today, if necessary). Trust with your eyes wide open, not foolishly as I once did.
Being well requires patience with those who don’t know how or don’t have the courage to be wholehearted, especially those in your community. Be compassionate with the ones whose pain unglues them, including yourself. Be present to the ache, the longings and the loneliness, especially that which throbs within you. That ache within is God’s best teacher for me, as well as the consistent wellspring of God’s comforting presence. Leaning fully into the pain is the only thing that allows you fully to experience the joy.
Practice surrender instead of striving. Expect the best and anticipate the worse only to the extent you’re reasonably protected from foolish decisions. Forgive (especially those who don’t deserve it). Be lavish with generosity of heart and resources, particularly for the poor and those still lying broken and needy at the pool in hope of healing. God’s chosen people includes all humanity. Jesus’ main ministry was among immigrants and wanderers, the homeless and downtrodden. If you’re reading this blog, you are privileged. Pay it forward.
Being well is stating and standing on your truth. It’s holding boundaries and walking away without rancor from those who are toxic or unsafe (remember your foundation and protect it at all cost). It’s being brave enough to course correct when needed. Being well is curbing your arrogance and cynicism, changing your mind sometimes (or at least listening with an open one to those who have a different opinion) and saying, “I’m sorry.” It’s developing character more than any program or agenda. It’s letting go of outcomes, even when you’ve done your dead level best and are disappointed.
At its most basic, being well is attending to your health or, well … wellbeing. It’s eating with intention, exercising, and sleeping restfully. It’s dancing in the rain, stretching, and staring in wonder at the night sky unobscured by artificial light. It’s laughing, flirting with life, teasing those who also find that banter fun, and not taking yourself or issues so seriously. It’s greeting the dogs you pass and their humans, too. It’s playing with children, preferably outside or in the floor. It’s protecting down time and prioritizing a hobby or activity you enjoy.
Do I mean to imply I’ve mastered being well? Of course not! (I can write a good game better than I can live it.) I’m far from well with alarming frequency. Some days I struggle with lusting for whatever I want in the moment that God doesn’t have in mind for me, and other days I’m consumed with it. Slowly, I’m learning to embrace even my imperfections, as I become more aware that my flaws are windows to deeper healing and growth more than sources of shame. Failure helps me in becoming well if I’m not able to be well in the moment.
As 2019 dawns, I invite you to join me on the winding road to wellness. What an adventure! I plan to start each day in expectation of a promise printed on a simple tee-shirt I bought recently: I believe something wonderful is about to happen!
Marnie C. Ferree