Father, forgive us It is obvious that we have no clue what we are doing. You have given us the gift of reason yet when we insist that our understanding is right, and we fail to acknowledge you, we have lost our way. Help us to turn again to you trusting you will set us on the right path, which is the way of love and when we get lost again bring us back home once more.
I am sad today, hot tears threatening to spill out. My friend shared this song with me earlier, which brought me right to the edge. Over the past few years, my life and my faith have been upended. The carefully constructed ramparts of my faith once allowed me to observe pain and suffering from a safe distance, but I did not know that I had built everything on shifting sand and when everything collapsed, I wandered about in a daze trying to understand how the broken pieces fit together.
In his severe mercy, God has been patiently revealing the reality of suffering, not every day, but in doses I can (barely) handle. Suffering is a universal phenomenon, but I feel its sharp bite most exquisitely when I am brought face to face with the pain I have caused to others, often under the banner of righteousness. I have twisted the truth, betrayed friends, and misused both professional and spiritual position in service to unholy ends and it tears me up inside.
Most days, if I think about who I was becoming, I still question whether I am trustworthy. How can I now claim to live with integrity when my words and actions had become so dis-integrating? How can I be certain that I am not still deluded, unloving, abusive? Maybe someday I will know the answers to those questions, but not today. For now, I will continue to press into my discomfort, seeking to know myself and live from a place of love.
As I thought about betrayal today, I was reminded of my favorite movie, Braveheart. I identify with Robert the Bruce, the presumptive leader of Scotland, who utterly betrayed William Wallace in pursuit of power and position.
I used to have all the answers–
or at least most of them
(I have the books to prove it)—
a firm foundation of right ideas.
Then I opened the door of my mind
just a crack
and invited the questions inside.
The invitation was not without cost.
I know less now than I once did
for in opening the door
I saw the universe before me.
God of wholeness,
Father, Son, Spirit,
never lacking or incomplete,
eternally perfect in oneness,
you promised that in the Son,
all things shall be reconciled.
Remind me of my union with you,
always aware of your holy presence
in and around me.
You, O LORD, are never absent,
but I confess that my senses are dulled
by 10,000 distractions.
I want to love you
as you have loved me,
fully and completely and unreservedly.
Let your lovingkindness toward me
ignite my love.
You, O LORD, have filled this world
with those who bear your image
yet each person is uniquely beautiful.
Remove the scales from my eyes
so that I may see with compassion.
Help me to remember that listening is loving
and curiosity is a sacred gift.
To love another is to get dirt on my hands,
just as you did when you formed people
from the dust of the ground.
Whether in agreement or conflict,
let love define me.
As I look inward,
let me see myself as you see me,
not as damaged goods, nor irredeemable,
but as your beloved child
who is infinitely valuable in your eyes.
Let the knowledge of my belovedness
cast aside every doubt I have
about how you see me,
knowing that you cherish me
just as I am right now.
Help me to remember
that when you formed the heavens and the earth,
you called your creation good.
It was full of beauty
and teeming with life,
yet like your people,
your good creation has suffered
the ravages of disintegration.
You have invited me to be a steward of the earth;
let me take up that call with hope and endurance,
remembering that you are reconciling all things.
Grant me the skill
to make good and beautiful things,
remembering that goodness and beauty
are reflections of you.
Where there is hatred, restore compassion
where darkness, light
where confusion, clarity
where where fragmentation, integration
where agitation, peace
where pride, humility
where brokenness, wholeness
and where self-centeredness, love.
I tried watching the debate on Tuesday night, but I soon turned it off. The behavior I was witnessing stirred up old memories.
When I was in junior high, my mom started dating the high school shop teacher. There was a rumor that years earlier, he had been abusive toward his first wife, but he was so charming, it was impossible to believe. He was mechanically gifted and often shared stories about the wonderful things he had done and made and more than once, he used his gifts to help others. Their relationship progressed and they eventually married. Over time though, his grandiosity and narcissism became increasingly evident and along with it, abuse.
He never hit me, but he never missed an opportunity to take shots at me, to remind me of my worthlessness. I regularly heard that I would never amount to anything. Name calling, manipulating, gas lighting, and eye rolling were a daily occurrence. He was verbally and psychologically abusive. He was a malignant narcissist.
When they had been married less than a year, I was selected by my teachers to go to Badger Boys State. My mom and I had a difficult conversation on the way to Ripon College. I somehow found the courage to tell her that if he was still there when I got home, I was going to move in with my grandma. In the days that followed, she found her courage too and moved out.
I wish I could tell you that their separation led to a repentant heart, but it didn’t. His abuse and manipulation only intensified and it definitely took its toll on both my mom and me, but ultimately, leaving was the only healthy option. Sadly, the responses of friends and family were often less than helpful. People were incredulous that someone who was capable of doing good things was so evil.
Now, as a psychologist, I hear stories of abuse and manipulation every day, women and men who live under the terror of narcissists who seek to control and psychologically manipulate them, working to break them down to nothing. Too often, they succeed. The psychological scars left by narcissists are often multigenerational. As Diana Beresford-Kroeger said in her excellent book, To Speak for the Trees, “Trauma casts a long shadow.”
As I watched part of the presidential debate on Tuesday night, I saw a lot of similarities between the president and my former step-father. I watched as the president rolled his eyes, scoffed, lied, interrupted, and belittled Mr. Biden. This is what abusers do, plain and simple.
To be clear, this was not merely an off night for president Trump. These behaviors represent consistent patterns over time. He talks about how great he is while at the same time demeaning and criticizing others. When he failed to decisively condemn white supremacy but indirectly told a white supremacist group, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by,” I heard a vailed threat. As a psychologist, I can tell you that other abuse victims perceived the same things, even if they could not put words to it. Like me, many people had to stop watching.
As someone who has been psychologically abused and who also works with abuse victims, let me offer an explanation about why you may have felt the way you did. You were witnessing an abusive narcissist in action. Donald Trump’s words and actions are not simply a difference in personality style. He doesn’t act the way he does because he’s a New Yorker. He is a manipulative bully.
Sometimes manipulative bullies do good things. In fact, narcissists will take every opportunity to make themselves look better, not principally in service to the greater good, but in order to stoke their pride. As they build themselves up, they leave piles of confused and broken people behind them.
For me, this election is not simply about policy, it is about standing against abuse on a national scale. For me, this election is not about platform, but about speaking out on behalf of the belittled and downtrodden. For me, the election is not simply about difference of opinion, but about using my voice and my vote to speak out against a man who has had four years to “Make America Great Again,” but by his words and actions has left us more deeply divided than we have been for generations.
Let me also recommend some additional resources:
Yesterday, I got my 7th tattoo. When I got first tattoo a few years ago, I asked the artist about the weirdest tattoos he had ever done. Two stood out to me. The first was a model who had a stack of pancakes tattooed on her butt and the second was a person who had a waffle recipe tattooed on her arm. People get tattoos for many different reasons, I suppose. I have given considerable thought to each of mine and to the messages they send, first to me and then to others. They are intended to deeply reflect the things that I value.
- שָׁלוֹם (Shalom)
- חָפְשִׁי (Chophshi)
- be who you are
- truth, goodness, beauty, strength (King, Sage, Warrior, Lover)
- LUDIO-Love Up, Down, In, Out
- integration, wholeness, reconciliation
- fiat lux (Let there be Light)
I will happily talk your ear off about any of these things, but this morning, I decided to write these into a prayer.
God of heaven and earth,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
At the beginning of all things,
you created all that is by the word of your mouth
uttering “Let there be light.”
You gazed upon your creation
and you called it good,
the cosmos was precisely as you intended.
Yet infective darkness slithered in,
the world became fragmented
by sin and shame,
all creation disintegrated and hopeless.
In your love and mercy
you saw fit to send a redeemer,
your son Jesus.
In him, I have been set free
from sin’s bondage,
but so often, I forget who I am
and I wander back into dark places.
God, remind me who I am,
over and over.
Let reminders of your grace
constantly ring in my ears.
You have created me in your image and likeness,
giving me the capacity to love all things
with my whole being,
heart, soul, mind, and strength.
God, the world is torn asunder,
I see it every day.
Help me to remember that I am
an ambassador of integration, wholeness, and reconciliation.
Yesterday, my friend Mark asked me, “What does it look like, feel like, to be wholehearted? How can you tell if you are or if you’re at least moving in that direction?” I spent the day thinking about it. Here were my initial thoughts.
Wholehearted people are present to the moment. They are not overwhelmed with feelings of shame about things they have done or not done, nor are they consumed with anxiety about what has not yet come. They realize that all they have is the present moment and they stay settled in it.
Wholehearted people have ballast. They don’t get easily blown off course when life gets tumultuous. Some call this equanimity. I think in terms of what they “feel” I would say a sense of peace. They are not overwhelmed by emotional shifts, nor are they numb to them.
Wholehearted people are aware of a deep sense of interconnectedness—to God, others, themselves, and to their place in creation.
Wholehearted people are able to consistently live from their true self and not as people pleasers whose identities depend on circumstance. They are free to do things that others may look askance at because they have a profound sense of who they are.
Wholehearted people show up as lights in the world, bearers of truth, goodness, and beauty. They are free from the burden of judgment—of themselves and others. They recognize the humanity and value in others and themselves.
How do we know? I think experience an increasing sense of peace, of shalom, of radiance, of solidity.
What do you think constitutes wholeheartedness?
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil.-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Yesterday, my cousin posted a news article about a woman who had repeatedly punched a 12 year old who was carrying a Trump sign while riding his bike. Thankfully, he reported what happened and it is currently being investigated. I wish I could say something like this crime surprised me, but it doesn’t, at least not anymore. Sadly, I also was not surprised at the comments. People were quick to write that this sort of behavior is “typical” of democrats and we “only hear of democrats doing crap like this.” I don’t know about you, but this sort of animosity fills my Facebook feed every day. I routinely have to resist rushing in to defend “my side” and I am not always successful.
Here’s the thing: The problem isn’t those people. It’s you. It’s me. When we physically attack people for carrying Trump (or Biden) signs, we reveal the evil within our own hearts, not theirs. When we say this sort of behavior is “typical of democrats” (or republicans), we convict ourselves, not them.
Friends, our self-righteousness and divisive attitudes are literally killing us. We make sweeping assumptions about the hearts and motives of people who think differently than we do. We presume that those people are evil, so by extension, we must be good. The consequence of this way of thinking is division, not love, and every single one of us is guilty.
Let me offer a few thoughts:
- When you feel compelled to share an article critical of those people, pause for a moment. Ask yourself, “Am I honoring their humanity?”
- When you feel angry about what those people have said or done, ask yourself, “In what ways do I do similar things?” Consider not only your actions, but your words and thoughts, which have a greater effect than you might imagine.
- When you want to respond to someone who thinks differently than you do, whether online or in person, practice the pause. Ask yourself, “Have I stopped to listen to what they are trying to say?” When we don’t try to listen and understand, we contribute to the hatred.
- Resist the urge to call those people names.
- Pray for peace, within the world and within yourself. If you have a hard time praying, consider reading the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi every day.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
A few weeks ago, Andrea Wenburg interviewed me for her Voice of Influence podcast on the topic of wholeness and human flourishing. We talked about neuroscience, spirituality, and creativity. If you want a short overview of why I speak and write so much about the ideas of wholeness and integration, this would be a great place to start. Andrea is not only a great interviewer, she is a great thinker too. I would encourage you to check out her other materials as well.