Completing this puzzle called “life” is hard but not impossible.
In the midst of life, it’s easy to feel frayed at the edges or feel like we are drowning. We sometimes feel lonely, anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted, or unfulfilled.
While those feelings are valid, they are not the end of the story. Wholeness is not just a pipe dream, it is how you and I were meant to live.
I’m not an expert, but I am on a journey to live a whole and complete life – a thriving life – and help others do the same. Along the way, I’m going to share my successes, but more importantly, my failures. For me, it’s been a long and messy process but completely worth it. The series began with my story of burnout and how it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. If you haven’t read that post, I recommend starting there.
After my second near burnout experience in 2014, that’s when things really started to crystallize for me, and I knew I needed a change. Unfortunately, we don’t often change until it’s absolutely necessary. Such was the case for me.
After fourteen years, my marriage was still just average.
My career still defined me more than I cared to admit.
My leadership was still a bit too domineering and harsh.
I was still trying to control too many outcomes.
My physical health was better but still average.
And I still worked way too much.
Over the next few years, a blueprint began to emerge. It was time to get serious about defining the most important rhythms of life. I took all those years of hard life lessons and struggles, and I began to integrate my life into a cohesive and working whole.
My wife and I started doing marriage counseling again.
I started paying attention to how I was feeling and talked about it with my wife and close friends.
I got serious about my physical health.
I solidified the spiritual rhythms that gave me the most life.
That’s not to say my life is perfect. Far from it. But every day, I’m learning, growing, adjusting, tweaking, and striving for a state of wholeness.
And you can do the same.
Wholeness is about thriving in ALL of life, not just ONE part. And it starts with learning to identify and integrate the most important parts into a cohesive whole.
Integrity is More Than Character
The word integrate comes from the same root as integrity. What is integrity? Being ethical and honest are certainly a part of it, but it’s more than that. Integrity means “to be whole, complete, and undivided.” The Latin origins come from the word “integer” which means “a whole number or a thing complete in itself.”¹
How does integrity work itself out in life? We often find ourselves thriving in one part of life and failing miserably at another:
Your job is going great while your marriage and family are falling apart.
You are physically healthy but emotionally absent.
Your marriage and family are great but you hate your job.
Your spiritual life is full and robust but you’re still unhappy and unfulfilled.
We assume that’s just the way it is. I guess I can’t have it all, we say to ourselves.
I’m not saying life is going to be a utopia. There are always going to be problems and challenges, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for mediocrity. Integrity is more than character, it’s wholeness.
A State of Wholeness
There’s an ancient Hebrew word and concept that encapsulates perfectly what I’m talking about. The word is “shalom” (pronounced shä-ˈlōm, which sounds like shah-lome). Shalom is a common Jewish way to say both hello and goodbye, but its meaning is much deeper.
Shalom means complete, all is well, health, prosperity, and peace.
It can be used as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb, and interjection. When used as a verb, shalom means “the actions that lead to a state of wholeness.”²
Shalom: actions that lead to a state of wholeness.
A state of wholeness. That sure sounds good to me.
But actions while good, aren’t where lasting change begins.
Lasting Change Begins with Your Identity
Lasting change begins not with your actions but with your identity. After all, we are human beings who do things, not human doings who be things.
To be and to do. That’s how change really happens. Goals and actions are good, but without identity change, they usually don’t last very long. Why is that?
Lasting change flows from your identity.
Lasting change happens from the inside out. I wrote more in-depth about this process in my post, Start with Who Instead of What. It may be worth it to go back and give it a read. In it, I detail what are called “Identity-based habits.” A concept made popular by James Clear.³
What Wholeness Is Not
Kent, you’ve talked a lot about wholeness, but I’m still not clear what you mean. Sometimes, the best way to understand something is to understand what it’s not.
Here’s what wholeness is not, and we see it all around us every day:
Compulsive, addictive, or destructive habits and behaviors…
Poverty and lack…
Anxiety, depression, and emotional distress…
Fatigue and exhaustion…
A lack of purpose and direction…
I’ve struggled with more than one thing on that list.
Wholeness Is Like a Puzzle
Like a puzzle with some of the pieces missing, every one of us is incomplete in one way or another (and some of us feel like we have more pieces missing than others).
Puzzle pieces are particular and specific. The right piece fits in the right spot or it doesn’t work. Like a puzzle, we often try to fill the gaps in our lives with pieces that don’t fit. That could mean a wrong relationship, a self-destructive habit, or something else, any one of which can cause us to feel incomplete.
Living a life of integrity and wholeness means putting the right puzzle pieces in the right spots. And when we do, we can start to see a complete picture. Here’s what I believe.
True success and real fulfillment come through wholeness.
So, how do we become whole?
What Does Wholeness Look Like?
Wholeness means we are no longer doing well only in one or two areas and struggling in all the others. We begin to see the big picture and live intentionally in the most important areas of life. Here’s one example from my life.
After fifteen years of marriage, my relationship with my wife was just average. That wasn’t OK with either of us. I wasn’t good at processing my emotions, I felt angry a lot and yelled too often, and I wasn’t a good listener either. We had done counseling before during a rocky period in our marriage around year 7, but not since then. Since then we had moved from the country to the city, had a third child, and started a church in one of the most difficult places in the country.
Furthermore, we both came from divorced families and neither of us knew how to communicate effectively. We needed some new tools in our tool belt.
We decided to focus on our marriage. We stepped into counseling with open hearts, put to practice what we learned, and worked hard on our relationship. Five years later, I can honestly say our marriage is the best it’s ever been. We still cultivate it very intentionally and are growing and learning every day.
That’s one example of Shalom.
Finding Your Rhythm
I call it a Rhythm of Life. It has much older roots that I will share another time. Here’s how I explain it. There are four core rhythms that must be integrated in order to be whole and complete, and they are the same for every human being. I use the acronym R.E.S.T. to frame them in a simple and memorable way:
- R – We are RELATIONAL beings
- E – We are EMOTIONAL beings
- S – We are SPIRITUAL beings
- T – We are TANGIBLE or physical beings
Each of these four areas has three practices or actions that lead us toward a state of wholeness. There are twelve in all. And it just so happens that twelve is the number of completeness in Jewish culture.
I didn’t originally plan it that way but I’m going with it!
That’s where we are headed.
A Final Word
Here’s what I believe. By the end, you won’t be perfect or have it all together, but you will be much closer to a state of wholeness than when you began. And you will have a framework to help you live intentionally and thrive in the most important parts of what it means to be a flourishing human being.
Here’s what it looks like using the framework of an identity-based habit:
You can be whole and complete (your identity).
Four core rhythms made up of twelve practices (the system and processes that will get you there)
A state of wholeness (the outcome).
Other Parts In the Series