Shalom, My Friend

Do you remember that song? It went like this:

Shalom, my friends,
Shalom, my friends,
Shalom, shalom.
Till we meet again,
Till we meet again,
Shalom, shalom

It was a staple of my primary school’s assemblies alongside “All things Bright and Beautiful”. I loved the word so much that I actually named one of my teddy bears “Shalom” (but then again, I also had a teddy called “mm mm squeak” so perhaps we shouldn’t delve too deeply!

The thing is, shalom is something that crops up again and again in the Bible and more often that not we tend to think of it as “peace”. It seems to be something soft and fluffy, something like Miss World’s wish for World Peace. The reality is, though, it is so much more than that.

Shalom is a massive concept – and much like everything when it is God-given it’s completely outside of our comprehension. The good thing is, though, is that shalom is intensely practical. John Wilkinson defines it in the following way:

“The root meaning of the word shalom is wholeness, completeness and wellbeing… It does, however have several second meanings encompassing health, security, friendship, prosperity, justice, righteousness and salvation, all of which are necessary if wholeness, completeness and wellbeing are to come about.”

“Mental health” is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Bible – and that can cause us some problems when we are trying to communicate its’ importance. And yet reading the definition of shalom, I can’t help but think that it’s describing the ingredients for good mental health. Security, friendship, justice, wholeness.

When in the midst of mental illness, it can feel like shalom or mental health are completely unreachable. And I as I was writing I remembered a time when I was fifteen. I’d spent a long time crying, and fighting and wondering who this God I’d professed my life to a decade before really was when he was watching me hurt so much and not zapping his magic wand to make me all better again. Mental wellbeing felt like something that other people got. (Not that I ever really thought about it in those terms – but you know what I mean)

My youth leader at the time was a great guy, and I think I was one of his trickiest customers – I wasn’t a rebel or mouthy – I just cried.

The first time we properly chatted about how I was feeling, he gave me the following verse from 2 Timothy 1v7.

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.”

For me, it was reminder that the life I was living wasn’t part of the original plan. I wasn’t been cosmically punished for being a terrible person. I was loved and strengthened by a God who gave me life. Power, love and a sound mind seem to me to be the three main elements of shalom. They enable wholeness and completeness – and it is impossible for us to experience shalom and be mentally whole – without them.

*Adapted from a talk given by Rachael at Youthwork the Conference 2013

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