Seeking wholeness and integration through loving God, others, self, and creation.
Author: Jason Kanz
I am a neuropsychologist at the Marshfield Clinic and author of Soil of the Divine (2017), Living in the Larger Story: The Christian Psychology of Larry Crabb (2019, editor), and Notes from the Upper Room: Lessons in Loving Like Jesus (2020).
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.
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
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?
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.
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”?
Last year, I had the privilege of co-hosting the Living in the Larger Story conference at Houston Baptist University with my friend Eric Johnson, director of the Gideon Institute for Christian Psychology and Counseling, celebrating the career of another friend, Larry Crabb.
The opening speaker was author, psychologist, and spiritual director, Gary Moon.
From the Back Cover: John 13 to 17, often referred to as the “Upper Room Discourse,” provides John’s narrative of the disciples’ last meal with Jesus. There is no place in the Bible where a single conversation is so carefully recounted, making up nearly one-fifth of John’s Gospel. In Notes from the Upper Room: Lesson in Loving Like Jesus, you are invited to listen in on their conversation, and learn what it means to love like Jesus. From the very first verse of John 13 and the very last verse of John 17, love was the recurrent them. Jesus showed love for his disciples by washing their feet. He taught them about what real love looked like and how he wanted them to put love into practice. In his longest recorded prayer, John 17, he prayed that they would love one another in the same way that the he and the Father loved one another. We were created for relationship, with God and one another. In Notes from the Upper Room, you will learn about loving and relating in the manner of Jesus. Climb the steps, take a look around, and have a seat.
“Jason’s gracious and wise perspective on the Upper Room discourse strikes at the heart of the Gospel, with a hard-to-find balance of depth and accessibility. He applies the love of Jesus to the tensions of our brokenness with great care and empathy. This is an extremely encouraging and uplifting book, and one that I highly recommend you read.”-Chris Wheeler, author of Solace
“If you’re hungry for a biblically centered understanding of both the difficulties and the possibilities of actually putting the love of Jesus on display by how you relate to your spouse, children, friends, and co-workers, Notes from the Upper Room sets the table with a tasty meal. In a strong, clear, and gentle voice, Jason speaks to the crucial value of Trinitarian theology for living the relationally loving life we were designed and equipped to live. This a book well worth reading.”—Larry Crabb, Psychologist and author of When God’s Ways Make No Sense
Here are several ways you could support this project: 1) Please consider purchasing a copy either through Amazon or directly from me and reading it. Books also make great gifts. 2) If you found the book beneficial, would you consider leaving a review on Amazon and, if you use it, Goodreads? Reviews are very helpful to authors. 3) Consider following my blog through WordPress or subscribing by email. 4) If you email me at jasonkanz (at) yahoo (dot) com, I will send you a free PDF of 129 devotionals I wrote based upon John 13 to 17 as well. If the Lessons in Loving Like Jesus is a finely cooked steak, the devotionals are steak bites–the same meat, prepared differently. The devotionals will also be available in a paperback version through Amazon. 5) Stay in touch. Let me know what stirs for you as you read the book.