Wellbeing - we talk about it a lot, but do we know what it is?
Interview with Ruth Rice, whose new book A-Z Wellbeing is an accessible introduction to help you attend to your own wellbeing.
It presents 26 words of wellness to help you discover new practices, connect with God, and share wellbeing with others. Ruth shares the words that were helpful in her own journey of recovery from breakdown, and encourages readers to find their own toolkit of words and habits that will help maintain their own wellbeing.
Ruth, the book is, in part, birthed out of your work with the Renew Wellbeing charity. Can you share a little more about Renew’s heart and vision?
Renew Wellbeing began as one simple little wellbeing space in Nottingham, set up and run by the church I was part of at the time. This was a space that I needed for myself after a long period of mental ill health. I wanted to have a space where it was Ok not to be Ok, where I could be known by name not label, where I could attend to my wellbeing by sharing hobbies and creative activities with others, and where I could also practise the rhythms and habits of prayer that had brought me to a place of recovery. I wanted to be able to access mental health advice in a non-clinical setting too so the Renew centre was a place where all these things could happen but in simple, safe, and sustainable ways.
Several years later, over 120 churches have now set up Renew spaces, and many more are training with us to see a web of wellbeing across the nation, where all can find a welcome and attend to their wellbeing. We long to see an end to isolation and better mental health for all in quiet shared spaces where it is Ok not to be Ok. I would love all churches to host such a space to be honest in so that no one needs to struggle alone.
Why did you decide to write A-Z of Wellbeing?
I honestly felt that when I had written my last book Slow Down, Show Up and Pray, with the story of the charity and how to set up a centre in it, that that was it. But as we have seen centre after centre open and spent time talking about and practising wellbeing, I have realised what a deep well wellbeing actually is. We talk about it a lot, but do we know what it is? I felt it might be helpful to our centres to dig a bit deeper into what it is that we are wanting to see renewed.
But also, through the pandemic I think we have all learnt more about the struggles we have with our wellbeing, me included. So, I wanted to spell out what I have been learning, and to invite anyone interested to explore their own language of wholeness. In a way, wellbeing is never about words but always about what those words look like in practice. I long to see every church as a community of peace and wholeness, and for that to happen we need a language of wellbeing.
Who have you written this book for?
This book is for anyone with a pulse. We all have mental health, good or bad, and we all need habits and practices that help us attend to our wellbeing. This is a book that will help those running wellbeing spaces of course, but I hope it will be helpful to anyone wanting to deepen their own and other people’s sense of peace, of shalom, and to see communities where all can belong spring up around them.
Can you explain a little about the structure of the book?
Each chapter looks at a word that is important to my understanding of wellbeing, going through the alphabet. So, there are 26 chapters, but each is split into sections using the five ways to wellbeing (New Economics Foundation researched what helped people with their mental health and these are the five things that came out top).
We will connect with God’s story, learn a simple habit, get active in community practices, take notice of one good example of what that word is about, and then I will give you a prayer, some resources, and some questions to discuss at the end of each letter.
How is A-Z of Wellbeing different to other books on the subject?
There are lots of good books explaining what wellbeing is and the psychology and theology behind the concept. This book is meant to be an invitation to a personal journey that I believe could change the way you live and maybe affect the lives of others around you. This is exploring what wellbeing looks like, sounds like, feels like. This is my story, my alphabet, but I hope and pray it will encourage everyone to think about their own alphabet and get us all talking and living in a way that unites us and reduces the isolation around us.
The cover image of a picnic basket holds a personal story – can you tell us why this image is so important to you?
At the start of this adventure God spoke to me in a dream. It doesn’t happen often, but in the dream I found myself in the middle of a battlefield and very ill equipped to be there. Gradually God showed me spaces on the field, and a picnic basket was placed in the space. People began to get up off the ground, stop fighting and join the picnic. In space after space picnic baskets appeared and filled from above until the whole battle field was a picnic site. I believe this was an image of what a simple wellbeing space can do in the massive battlefield of despair that can feel overwhelming. As we sit down and tuck in to the good things God provides; the wellbeing habits, the prayer rhythms, others will join us. Wellbeing will be a wave that overcomes the darkness of despair.
During the pandemic, and as I wrote this book, I felt that God was reminding us we can also add to the basket. This is a bring and share lunch. We all have something to contribute to the picnic basket, we have all learnt more than we know during these difficult times, and we all need a space of safety in the darkness.
Why do you think we all need to have a language of wellbeing?
Words are powerful. There are worlds behind them and yet I am not sure we are all hearing and understanding each other when we talk about wellbeing in general, and in the church in particular. We can think wellbeing is about being well and this makes us panic and try to fix each other. As we begin to explore what wellbeing as shalom (wholeness) actually means and looks like in practice, what the Bible says, and what we have observed in ourselves and others, we panic less and settle more into acceptance of each other and ourselves.
I have discovered a language that is already “out there” in mental health services that I think sounds like the gospel. I think it is time to listen and learn and uncover stigma and judgement so that there is room to grow in wellbeing.
You are keen to stress that the 26 words in the book are your words of wellbeing, but you encourage the reader to find their own language of peace. Why is this so important?
No two people are alike. God made us that way. So, our understanding and experience of wellbeing is vast and rich, and in sharing what words and practices are important to you we will be able to make space for each other, make space for God’s peace and find space to grow.
With the effects of the pandemic, looking after our mental health has arguably never been more important – and you are passionate that the church should have a key role in this. Could you explain a little more what you mean by this?
These five ways to wellbeing I found out about in mental health services are basically what every good church could and should be about. Connecting, learning, getting active, taking notice, and giving … it is pretty much describing the heart of the gospel. So, it seems that what is lacking in society could be, should be, present in the body of Christ. In reality, we have been so busy running church that we have maybe not attended to our wellbeing, not been communities of shalom.
So, the pandemic caused us to pause and as we re-emerge my prayer is that we see what is around us, we hear the cry, we are honest about our own brokenness, and we sit down at the table of wellbeing and we make space for others to join in. Mental health services are desperate for places that are safe to recommend to folk who are isolated. The church is the best family I know. The best plan God has for the restoration of all. The table is prepared before us. It’s time to tuck in.
Have you learnt anything new/ been reminded afresh about your own personal journey with God while writing this book?
This has been such a privilege to write. I wrote this, a chapter a day, during a very low point, mid-pandemic, when the normal things that I would do for my wellbeing were missing. I was determined to work out if the gospel was still good news in a pandemic, if it was possible to live with wellbeing when all was not well. I discovered lots about myself and was reminded of the most remarkable lessons I have learnt from others, from the word of God and from my own broken life. I needed to write this book. I knew the gospel was good news and that I was obsessed with the concept of wellbeing … now I know a little bit more about why! And I am even more obsessed!
What one bit of key advice would you give to someone who wants to start looking after their mental health but doesn’t know where to start?
Start by being honest, being kind to yourself, listening to your own worries as you would to someone you love. If you are not Ok, talk to someone. Get help. See the doctor.
If you are Ok but want to maintain peace, build in a simple habit, a simple morning prayer, a quiet moment, a place you pause at. Do one thing and do it daily, just for you. Pick a hobby, any hobby, and put some diary time aside often to attend to your wellbeing. It isn’t a waste of time.
And above all, start each day telling yourself you are loved and held in God’s strong arms. He is your wellbeing. He never changes. He is your audience of one and He already approves of you and delights in you.
What do you hope readers will most get out of reading this book?
I really hope the readers will not just be readers but will become fluent speakers and active doers and daily dwellers in wellbeing. I hope the language of wellbeing starts looking like kindness and love and acceptance and wholeness in our communities. I hope this is a journey not a quick read.
In one sentence, how would you describe A-Z of Wellbeing?
This is an invitation to learn, live and love the language of wellbeing in your lives and communities.
Is there anything we can pray for you/ the work of your Renew Wellbeing charity?
Pray that I keep the main thing the main thing. That I practice more than peddle this stuff. That I remain fluent in wellbeing every day I have breath. Pray that Renew Wellbeing, as it grows, keeps its simple authenticity as a family on a wellbeing adventure together, and that the battlefield becomes a picnic site so that no one is isolated ever and God’s peace touches earth as it is in heaven.
The A-Z Of Wellbeing by Ruth Rice is published by Authentic Media and is available from our online shop.
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