Bumped

I got bumped yesterday. Emotionally, not physically. In general, I consider myself to operate on a relatively even keel. Steady. Unflappable. But over time, I am coming to realize that as stresses pile up, I feel shaky and uncertain.

Like many people, the uncertainties of COVID-19 has had a significant effect upon me. I have been aware of a simmering anxiety for a couple of weeks now, a whispering shadow that lurks in the cobwebbed corners of my mind. It hasn’t devolved into full blown panic, yet its murmuring is incessant.

Even after nearly 25 years as a trained counselor, I continue to learn new lessons about my emotional life. One of the things that I have more recently discovered is that anger is my prime emotion, what those who are familiar with the Enneagram might call my core passion. But my anger rarely boils over, it simmers. When we were first dating, my wife would often say “Jason got so angry about that.” Not coincidentally, I would get irritated when she said that because I truly did not believe I was an angry person. I didn’t blow up or yell. Twenty-five years together and I’m beginning to understand she was right. I am continuing to work on understanding the complex interplay of my emotions, but one thing is becoming more obvious to me: I am likely to experience a variety of emotions as variants of anger. When I get anxious, it may come out as irritation. When I feel sad, I can feel resentful. Shame leads to self-deprecation.

COVID-19 and all of the changes it has brought in its wake has made me anxious and sad, but I am also discovering that those emotions are spilling out as anger, resentment, or irritation. Two mornings ago, I felt irritated that my son was breathing too loudly and I told him to breathe more quietly. Yesterday, a friend shared a political position that was different than mine and I could feel irritation boiling up within me. It spilled over as I expressed how tired I am of all of the divisiveness. My gut reaction was to view him as guilty, but I quickly recognized those same tendencies within myself, Paul’s words in Romans 2:1 (NIV) flashed through my mind, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

I long for serenity regardless of circumstance. I want to develop an internal stillness that remains steady even when I am bumped. If my cup runs over, I want it to overflow with the love of Christ and not with anger.

I want to conclude with the text of this prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr, a prayer that was adapted by Alcoholics Anonymous as the “serenity prayer.” My friend Perry, a fellow pilgrim who has been helping me to see the impact of my anger, shared this version yesterday.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Still our hearts, Lord

God of hope,
our world seems hopeless.
An unseen enemy assaults us,
emptying our streets,
yet filling us with anxiety.

We have no mooring, no anchor.
We ride white-capped waves
in small vessels
that were never meant
to weather these storms.

Our stockpiles dwindle,
but we cannot see the shore.
We lash ourselves to the mast
and pray we do not capsize.

Our prayers are groans
and tears
and tumbling thoughts.

Many of us hope for the light to break through,
but all we see is darkness.
We don’t even know where to look.
Our darting eyes betray our anxious hearts.

Still our hearts, O Lord,
Still our hearts.

What is Reconciliation?

He [Jesus] was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.-Colossians 1:18-20, The Message

It has taken ten days, but I am finally writing about “reconciliation.” I started by writing about integration on March 16 and then followed up writing about wholeness on March 20. As I indicated, these concepts are important and how I think about life, and, they are in many ways connected, though I do think about them in slightly different terms.

Reconciliation, in my thinking, is closely tied to integration and wholeness, but implies a broader understanding. In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, there is a magnificent description of the “preeminence of Christ” in verses 15 to 20. In the final verse, we discover that in Christ, all things are being reconciled. What are those things? As Eugene Peterson suggested, “people and things, animals and atoms.” Redemption goes beyond the forgiveness of individual sins or restored relationships with people. In reconciliation, God is making all things new.

Yet God does not exclude us from this process. According to 2 Corinthians 5:18 we, as Christ’s ambassadors in the world, have been given “the ministry of reconciliation.” We have been invited to become agents of integration, wholeness, and reconciliation by pointing people to the love of Christ and the hope of reconciliation, which is so much bigger than the forgiveness of sins.

It is no less than God making all things new.

Living in the Larger Story

Last year, I had the privilege of co-hosting a conference honoring my friend Dr. Larry Crabb with another friend, Dr. Eric Johnson at Houston Baptist University. Larry is the founder of NewWay Ministries and the author of 26 books. Eric is founder the Society for Christian Psychology and the Gideon Institute for Christian Psychology and Counseling at HBU.

I have shared some of these talks, but given that many of us have extra time on our hands, I have decided to put the links to the talks all in one place.

Gary Moon

Eric Johnson

Mimi Dixon

My conversation with Larry Crabb

Ed Welch

Siang Yang-Tan

Friends of Larry Crabb

Larry Crabb

If you want to learn more or provide further support for either NewWay Ministries or the Gideon Institute, please consider buying a copy of the book Living in the Larger Story: The Christian Psychology of Larry Crabb. The proceeds are split evenly between these two ministries.

What is Wholeness?

Be whole as your Father in heaven is whole.-Matthew 5:48

A few days ago, I wrote a post, “What is Integration?” My understanding of integration is grounded in the field of interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), which has been championed by Daniel Siegel. To pursue integration, from an IPNB perspective, is to pursue health.

Wholeness is a related concept in my mind, an attempt to look at who we were created to be, but rather than starting from a neurobiological vantage point, when I am thinking about wholeness, I tend to think more theologically or philosophically. Of course, integration and wholeness are highly overlapping ideas, but can also be understood from different angles.

Not long ago, a friend asked me when I began to think so much about the concept of wholeness and honestly, I don’t know. I suppose like many ideas, it emerged from a confluence of things I had been reading and thinking about. I am certain Eugene Peterson had an influence. And Curt Thompson and Neal Plantinga. But in a favorite book of mine, Wholeheartedness, Chuck DeGroat mentioned that Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that Matthew 5:48, which is typically translated “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,” would be better translated as “Be whole as your Father in heaven is whole.” The Greek word telios can be translated perfect, complete, or whole. Perhaps it makes no difference in your mind, but for me, trying to be perfect versus seeking wholeness makes all the difference in the world. As I consider the biblical story line, I see that God created things good and whole, but early on in the story, wholeness was fractured. In fact, most of the biblical narrative tells of humanity’s fragmentation and sin and the call to return to wholeness, or telios, or shalom.

I believe we were created for wholeness–psychologically, relationally, societally, and spiritually–and that one day the wholeness of all things will be restored.

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!-1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

What is integration?

A few days ago, I promised that I would attempt to explain why phrases like integration, wholeness, and reconciliation have become so important in my thinking. Although these three words describe similar concepts, in my thinking, they are distinct in certain ways.

Let’s start with integration. Although it can mean different things, my understanding of integration has been deeply shaped by interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), a transdisciplinary field described and developed principally by Dr. Daniel Siegel. IPNB deals with the brain, mind, and relationships.

The brain is our body’s control center and it is deeply connected with the entire body. It processes all modes of sensory input and also facilitates both simple and complex responses with regard to both our internal world and our external world.

Although you may have heard the terms used interchangeably, the mind and brain are different. Siegel defines mind this way:

A process that regulates the flow of energy and information within our bodies and within our relationships, an emergent and self-organizing process that gives rise to our mental activities such as emotion, thinking, and memory.

Siegel, Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology, 1-1

In other words, the concept of mind is broader than what we typically think of in terms of brain.

Relationships are the third component important to understanding IPNB. We cannot be fully human outside of relationships with others. Looking again at Siegel’s definition of mind, there is a flow of energy not only within a person, but between people, so understanding who we are in relationship to others becomes an important developmental task–one that continues throughout our lives.

So what does all of this have to do with how I understand integration? Well, a core task of health and human flourishing is integration, not only within, but between people. Healthy integration is grounded in recognizing one’s individuality (differentiation), but also that we are deeply interconnected, even with people we have never met (linkage). Disintegration is the route to unhealthiness. In fact, Siegel suggests that “When we examine various mental disorders, what is revealed is that virtually all of them can be described as clusters of chaotic and/or rigid symptoms that we would say are examples of impaired integration” (Pocket Guide, 16-3).

It is these concepts from IPNB that inform my thinking and writing about integration. I believe that God created us for intra- and inter-personal integration, but that in a fallen world, each of us operates with various degrees of disintegration. So one of the things I am most interested in is understanding how we become more integrated in our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation.

What do you think it takes to become more deeply integrated?

Unsettled.

I’ve been off lately. Unsettled. Between COVID-19, multiple health issues in our extended family, and my oldest daughter’s fast approaching wedding, I have not felt as grounded as a sometimes do. Unfortunately, my emotions tend to come out sideways and in ways that I do not intend. Consistent with my personality style, when I am feeling off-center, I tend to resort to anger–toward myself, others, and the universe. I am usually too constrained for it to come out as rage. Rather, it comes out as irritation, resentment, audible sighs, or a critical spirit. My friend and pastor had the courage to point this out to me recently and it has been eye opening.

Maybe you’ve felt unsettled too. The idea that we are living in the midst of a pandemic is unsettling. Perhaps like me, the churning waters within and without lead to anger. Maybe for you, it comes out as fear, flattery, or withdrawal. Pay attention to those emotional responses. They are great teachers if we will listen.

Running parallel to my unsettledness has been a desire to understand what it looks like to love well in the midst of chaos. Specifically, what does it look like to love up, down, in, and out? I haven’t come to any firm conclusions, but I do have a lot of questions. How do I understand what it looks like to love God and experience God’s love for me when I feel unsteady? How can I use this time to grow in self-knowledge and self-compassion? What passions arise within me and how well do they align with who I want to be? How do I grow in grace toward others when we are encouraged to keep our distance or when we observe them behaving in obviously self-centered ways? How do I understand my role as a global citizen and a steward of creation? How can I foster truth, goodness, and beauty when so much seems broken?

Again, I don’t have clear answers, but these are the sorts of things I think about. Maybe you are too. It is good and important for us to consider how to be beacons of light when so much seems dark.

An ask & an offer

In light of all of the current societal chaos, and my first two star book review, I have a request and an offer. For those of you who have read my book, can I please ask a favor: would you consider leaving a review on Amazon or Good Reads? Second, in light of people being stuck at home, I am offering my four books for almost $15 off of the price you would pay on Amazon— just $25. Watch the video to find out more.

Why Wholeness?

Every weekday morning at 5:45, I have the opportunity to be on the radio with my friend Mark Halvorsen for the “best five minutes of the day.” Although we discuss a variety of topics, our principal purpose is a connection between friends and putting love on display by how we relate. On Monday of this week, Mark asked me about a T-shirt I made with this graphic:

Concepts like integration, wholeness, and reconciliation have become the major focus of my thinking over the past few years, I believe because several different streams have converged powerfully. As an avid reader, several books that have fertilized my thinking about wholeness. I cannot mention them all in this post, but a few come immediately to mind, including Wholeheartedness by Chuck DeGroat, Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, A New Heaven and a New Earth by J. Richard Middleton, and The Hidden Life: Awakened by Kitty Crenshaw and Cathy Snapp. A growing love for creativity and artistic expression has also fueled my interest in wholeness.

Additionally, I have been trying to do my own inner work, albeit sometimes reluctantly. A few good friends provide safe space as I seek to sift through my fragmented inner life. Some of us also meet for lunch weekly to discuss what integration means and how we put it into practice. Ultimately, it seems to me that as each of us seeks to understand what it means to be fully human, we all must wrestle with these disconnected parts both within and between us.

In the days ahead, I want to begin to explore what I am thinking when I use words like wholeness, integration, and reconciliation and why I think they are important concepts to consider.

What thoughts, images, or feelings come to mind when you hear the word “wholeness”?