Month: June 2009

a heart divided – the myth of “just be yourself”

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. (from Romans 7, The Message)

St. Paul’s confusion is ours, too.  Something has gone wrong deep within.  Our soul is at war – with itself.  Think your wife is the issue?  Think a better boss might solve the problem?  What if the problem is you?

Part of me wants to relax into writing this blog.  Another part of me is tense, running through the things I’ve forgotten to pack for vacation tomorrow.  Still another is quietly processing returning to our home of 13 years, mulling over the best and worst memories.  Yet another is tuned into the needs of people I’m seeing for counseling, as I leave for two weeks and become unavailable to care directly for them.  You see what I’m driving at, right?  Sorting through the wishes of all members of this “inner family” is important, and it requires time and wisdom.  Without some patient self-understanding, I might just find myself living reactively out of one of these parts.  

Yet, that’s often what we do, isn’t it?  We live reactively out of one part of ourselves.  A recent example of this might help.  A woman who had been through some long-term counseling called me, inquiring about my new life in San Francisco.  Having been through therapy, she declared enthusiastically, “I think I’d fit in great in San Fran.  I used to be so bottled up because of my parents, but now I’m free.  I feel more real than I’ve ever felt.  I get pissed at people, and just tell them what I’m feeling.  I do what I want to do, say what I want to say, and wear what I want to wear.  It’s incredible to just be yourself.”  

This woman was saying, in essence, “I’ve attained maturity.  I’m myself now.”  In fact, she cited the praises of her counselor, who said she was finished, and ready to let the world hear her roar.  I gulped.  And then I spoke.

“I’m not sure I’d agree with your counselor.  Sounds to me like you’re still pretty angry,” I said.

“Yes, but I’m in touch with my anger, and able to speak it.  It’s not bottled up anymore,” she responded.

“OK, that’s great.  But are you your anger?”

“No, I’m me.  I’m just being real.”

“No, you’re being Anger.  You’ve traded one extreme part of you that you were living out of for another.  You’ve switched from Bottled Up to Angry, but you’re still not living with freedom.  Now you’re enslaved to another part of you.”

“But it feels so free.”

“No, it’s just a more airy jail cell.”

“So, I’ve got more work to do?” she says, with a sigh.

“Yes, you do…but it’s time to re-think what counseling is, and what you’re looking to become.”

 I’m amazed at what we call freedom.  Sometimes, it really ends up becoming another form of slavery.  Jack made a boat load of money in the market back in the late 90’s, and told me, “Now I’ve got the means to really live my life.  Before I was enslaved.  Now I’m free to become everything I’ve dreamed of.”  Really?  In the days after finding his ‘freedom’, Jack started living out of another part that we called The Narcissist.  His wife left him.  He lost his family.  He now longs for those earlier, simpler days when life wasn’t so complicated, and when he wasn’t so enslaved to alimony payments, boat payments, lawsuits, creepy friends, and clingy girlfriends.  

But we’re not left without some sense of what ‘freedom’ really is, what being fully human (being ourselves) looks like.  St. Paul goes on to talk about characteristics like patience and self-control, love and joy, peace and goodness, gentleness, faithfulness,  and kindness.  Too often, however, the cliche “just be yourself” manifests in a person who looks less self-controlled and gentle, and more enraged and harshly honest.  It can look like the cocky arrogance of the Pharisee, or the cocky arrogance of the Prodigal.  In other words, those who buy into the “just be yourself” Gospel won’t necessarily use that language, with all of its modern therapeutic nuancing.  Instead, some of these people will translate it into their own dogma:

I’m a Fundamentalist!

I’m a Liberal!

I’m a Progressive!

I’m a Confessionalist!

I’m a Conservative!

I’m an Activist!

I’m an Independent!

“Just be yourself,” in other words, comes as a kind of self-justification for all kinds of things we baptize with self-certainty.  Many of us seem to have figured out what “being yourself” is supposed to look like, and we’ve created all kinds of pressure for others to measure up.  

rouault face of christYet, I suspect only one person could ever claim to have lived authentically – just being Himself.  If Jesus was and is the most fully human person, He defines Self.  And His life embodied St. Paul’s characteristics of full humanity.  And I suspect that with no other person in history could you ever come and feel, well, like yourself – absent pressure, absent moralistic standards, absent therapeutic maxims, absent internal conflict.  Into the presence of Jesus, we can come and become…    

And so, let’s end with my friend’s story.  She went back to the drawing board.  She started seeing a new therapist, and meeting with a trusted spiritual director, and listening a bit more to St. Paul’s designs on full humanity.  She called me later, saying, “It’s like I used to find what I didn’t like about myself, and become the exact opposite…and call that ‘being-myself’.  And yet, I’d become just as paralyzed.  But something different is happening inside now.  It’s like this inner cacaphony is becoming an inner harmony, that the voices that once competed have spoken their desires for me, but that, with Christ, I’ve set the agenda for maturity.  It feels really, really good.”

More than this, the people around her could tell the difference.  One friend said, “First you were repressed.  And then you got really, really angry.  And now, you seem to give and receive love with such freedom and abandon.  It makes me want to live more fully.”

The ancient pastor St. Iranaeus once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  What it means to be “alive” can be confused, as we set our own agendas and define our own ‘freedom’.  Yet, real freedom is mapped out on the road to Jesus took, paved with suffering, manifesting in love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and unmitigated Joy.  May this be the road we journey on, as well.  Maybe then, as we lose the ‘selves’ constructed on our own roads, we’ll discover our-selves* on His. 

(*For my theologically-interested friends…This, I think, is what Michael Gorman in his fine work on Cruciformity and Theosis is getting at.)

a heart divided – inner pharisees, zealots, and essenes

So, what do we do with the tension of life?  How does our psyche cope?  When we’re threatened, how do we protect ourselves?

I believe there is a lesson to be learned from, of all places, the inter-testamental period – that mysterious interregnum between the silence of the final prophets of old, and the emergence of “a voice crying in the wilderness,” John the Baptizer.  As I’ll often tell my classes, this period is a lesson in psychology.  God’s people, thrust into a time of insecurity and uncertainty, find three main ways of coping.  Some become the protectors of the law, and they are called Pharisees.  Some become militant, and they are called Zealots.  A final group chooses escape over engagement, and they are called Essenes.  In a time when the very identity of Israel was being threatened, it is fractured into three extreme postures of identity-maintenance.  The first is a Protector.  The second is a Reactor.  The third is a Retreater.  

manYou might say that these three postures are quite like our ordinary ways of coping with reality.  Karen Horney (1885-1952) argued for three main kinds of neurosis, labeled “Moving Toward,” “Moving Against,” and “Moving Away.”  All behavior, she posited, could be traced to one of these fundamental neuroses.  Those who “Move Toward” are addicted to approval, and work hard to ingratiate themselves to others (and to God) by any means necessary.  Sound like a Pharisee?  Those who “Move Against” cope by reacting and fighting – for power, for stability, for justice, for position.  Sound like a Zealot?  And those who “Move Away” cloister themselves from pain, choosing self-sufficiency, self-protection, and self-realization rather than dealing with the complexity directly.  Horney believed cultures and individuals demonstrated these inclinations, though she did not see the inter-testamental Jewish movements as relevant to the discussion.  

But let’s take this a step further.  A relatively new perspective in psychology called IFS, or Internal Family Systems, seems to capture this in their understanding of internal realities.  IFS argues that have parts, as I’ve been blogging about for the last week.  We’re an orchestra, and at our best, the conductor (our “self”) is guiding our parts in harmonious movement.  But the pain of life causes internal fracturing and polarization.  Parts of us become Protectors or Managers, as IFS calls its, guarding us against more pain and assuring we won’t get hurt again.  Bob has a part he calls The Caretaker who makes sure he, and everyone else around him, feels good.  He constantly apologizes when he has no need to.  He sees 30+ people in his counseling practice, and is known to be continually encouraging and never apt to give hard feedback to his clients.  And he seems to put a positive spin on the hardest things in life, including the recent miscarriage his wife experienced.  Bob has a part that will not allow him to feel pain again.  This is his inner Protector/Manager, a kind of Pharisee that controls his world by caretaking and approval-seeking.  

But Bob also has an inner Firefighter, as IFS psychologists call it.  This is a reactive part of himself, an inner Zealot.  Bob is a compulsive man, whose eating binges and pornography binges seem to arise when he feels most lonely and afraid.  He doesn’t know this, of course, because he doesn’t allow himself to feel his loneliness, fear, shame, or insecurity.  But in the quiet of the night, when his wife goes to bed, Bob begins his binge.  He powers away his difficult feelings with all-out compulsion, often choosing the supposedly ‘safer” route of binge-eating, but often finding that compulsive masturbation is the only form of relief.  His self-violence is reactive and harmful, the working on an inner Zealot.

Finally, Bob also has hidden inner Exiles, as they are called in IFS – parts of him that have retreated, walled away from further harm.  Like the Essenes of old, parts of Bob are simply too afraid to engage.  Parts called Fear, Shame, Powerlessness, and Reject lurk behind a wall, as it were, living a cloistered life yet empowering their polarized opposites to wield all-too-much power as Managers and Firefighters within his inner family.  Talk to Bob about his fear, and out will pop another Manager, reminding you that Bob is just fine coping in his own way.  One Manager, named Bible-Man, will actually offer you a proof-text for his apparent ‘control’ of his situation.  

As I’ve said in this series of posts, we are complex individuals.  These categories end up being immensely helpful ways of making some sense out of the complexity.  Yet, as Christ incarnates Himself more and more fully in us, through the Spirit, He invites Exiles out of hiding, Firefighters to let go of power, and Managers to relinquish their control.  Repentance, in other words, takes on greater beauty, as different parts of us that refuse to relinquish control to God give up their unique strategies for self-management, choosing transformation over slavery.  The inner journey (or “journeys”) from slavery to freedom become occasions for celebration, as we become more and more alive to the freedom of Jesus and more and more dead to old, tired strategies for coping.  And, this journey also allows us, part by part, to grieve and lament the conditions that brought about the inner strategy – family conflict and struggle, neglect, abuse, and even the very real wounds that come from imperfect parenting (something I realize every day as a Dad trying to do his best).  

It’s quite fascinating, when you think about it, that you can learn so much about yourself from an inter-testamental fracturing of the identity of God’s people.  But then again, truth shows up in stranger places…

(More to come in this series – stay tuned)

A Heart Divided – Moving Toward Integrity

If you are here unfaithfully with us
you are causing terrible damage.

                                                 (Rumi)

Integrity is, first and foremost, about wholeness, human wholeness and human flourishing.  It’s hard to flourish in the broken world we live in.  There is enough on the outside that grinds against us, but our worst enemy may be within, because within lies the bitter entanglements and biting polarizations which cause us to live a divided life, an unfaithful life.    

Integrity is a word that focuses on an individual.  If I were to talk about the emerging wholeness of the cosmos as God’s Kingdom-come, I’d use the word shalom.  But, human wholeness, though envisioned in shalom, is brought into focus and clarity through the word integrity.  

As I said in the last post, the New Testament envisions integrity in the Greek word katharos.  It’s a vision of an undivided heart –  a faithful heart.  As Rumi said so long ago, you damage yourself and your community if you live unfaithfully, divided, and without wholeness.  If this is true, God knows I’ve done a lot of damage, and so have you.  

It’s helpful to trace this concept back to its origins.  And if you do, I suspect you’ll find Trinity.  The Trinity defines Integrity.  The ancients tried to find words to put around it – three persons, one substance.  And we, the Bible says, are His image.  

We are His image.  We are one substance.  We are souled bodies, or bodied souls…whatever you please.  We, too, put words around this, like the ancients put words around the Trinity.  We call this our core, our being, our self.  Substance is core, isn’t it?  It’s steady and centered, at its best.  But, it does not tell the whole story.  You see, the Trinity is both unity and multiplicity.  It is particle and wave.  It is substance and person.  And God’s creation is modeled after it, with humanity being at its center.

So, then, what does it mean that humans are multiple?  Does it mean that we’ve all got Multiple Personality Disorder (less known, but more accurately DID – Dissociative Identity Disorder)?  No.  Although, it does explain the extreme brokenness that comes with DID.  What it does mean is that, like God, humans as a whole, and in particular, evidence multiplicity.  Now, for the entire human race, that’s not a stretch.  But, for individual humans, it is hard to believe that one substance and three persons describes us.  

The Pointer Sisters sang We are Family, and we – get this – can also say this about ourselves.  Think about it.  You’ve wondered, at times, if you have multiple personalities.  You’ve wished that you could be the partying extrovert that showed up at the New Years Eve party.  You’ve also wished you could be the busy worker-bee that accomplished so much before the big garage sale.  You covet those innocent moments when you tune into a childlike part of you.  And you despise that inner critic that seems to whisper, “You’re doing it wrong” all of the time.  You talk about putting on a happy face.  And you talk about needing to become the tough guy in order to confront your co-worker.  You see, we have a variety of personalities.  We are, after all, substance and personality, particle and wave, unity and multiplicity.  

If you’re still with me, the problem is evident.  Integrity eludes us.  We wish to be centered, but we lived fragmented.  We wish to have a unified purpose within our beautiful complexity.  We wish to stay in self, as the conductor of our own internal orchestra, but we find that our parts/personalities want a lead role.  When someone comes to me for counseling and says, “I’m depressed,” they might as well be saying, “My Depressed part has taken over, overpowering and enslaving me.”  Now, here’s the trick.  Integrity does NOT mean cutting off a limb, just as it does not mean cutting off the weakest member of the church because he’s a pain.  It means this:  you need to listen better.

You see, if you’re a Christian, I suspect that you can say, with some integrity, that you’re not as whole as you’d like.  Parts of you, we might say, have not yet “come to Christ.”  You’ve been released from slavery, but parts of you remain in it.  Your Depressed part, in other words, is stubbornly refusing to come to the communion table, to smoke the peace pipe, to join the family.  In these times, it feels as if you are enslaved by it.  Indeed, you are, to some extent.  Our entire physiology, including our brain chemistry, is impacted, even generationally, by these things.  

Rembrandt - The Return of the Prodigal SonMoving towards integrity, however, means listening in to those divergent voices and, with compassion, asking probing questions like, “How did you get here?” or “What is prompting this?” or “Who hurt you?”  To the extent that we come to understand the parts of ourselves that, like prodigal sons, run away from Home (our center, self, substance), we will bring our whole selves to the table of fellowship, to the feast, to the celebration of shalom, integrity, and wholeness.

Jesus, in other words, is waiting for each part of you to come to Him.  

More to come… 

a heart divided – the restoration project

It’s God’s plan, St. Paul says, to make “all things new.”  It’s a “new creation” project.  

But turn your eyes upon the broken world we live in, or the sad lot who go by the name ‘Christian’, and you’ll often find this:

Fragmentation.  Brokenness.  Division.  Pollution.  Masquerade.  Deception.  

It’s broken outside.  And it’s broken inside.

It’s a mad, mad world.  And we’re, indeed, a sad, sad lot.  

If Jesus and St. Paul were all about the reconciliation of fragmented relationships – Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female, circumcised and uncircumcised, etc. – then we’ve done a whole lot to invalidate their message.  If you’re a skeptic, don’t blame them.  Look at us.  We’re a messy bunch.  Perhaps, this is why Jesus came indicting the supposedly righteous religious establishment, and be-friending the most broken and incoherent.  Maybe this is why He performed miracles, as Daniel Kirk has said, restoring and re-shaloming broken things and people.  

My unique focus as a Christian interested in both psychology and theology is on human fragmentation.  More specifically, I’mbroken mirror intrigued by the idea that sin not only divided creation from its God-intent, but it split the human soul, fracturing the psyche in ways that depress and despair.  It’s a “mad, mad world,” they say, and it’s curious that the ancients called human pathology “madness.”  That’s what a fractured soul feels like.  Drugs may help, and so may Oprah.  But, psychic pain is internally divisive, splitting us into fractured and polarized parts that war within.  

The Narcissist may be driven by an extremely egocentric part of himself, but others lurk underneath – Insecurity, Fear, Shame.  

The Borderline knows fragmentation.  She’s got a part that wars against, and another that ingratiates.  

The Depressed is led by a part that commands all systems to shut down, but the voices beneath the alarm cry out – Hurt, Wronged, Betrayed.

It’s the woman who says, “Part of me loves him, and part of me hates him.”  It’s the man groaning, “A part of me wants to work for the promotion, yet another part is exhausted.”  

Restoration begins by noticing the division within, and giving each warring party a place at the table.  Jim had no desire to acknowledge a part of himself that craved sex and sought it in all the wrong places.  He was a pastor, after all, and every other part of Jim worked to keep Sex at bay.  But Sex was a part that demanded attention.  Unacknowledged, Sex went underground, looking for life in massage parlors and in porn.  Yet, when Jim finally gave the part called Sex a voice, he heard something strange.  “I’m all alone.  I just want to be held.”  Beneath the perversion was a classic and holy longing.  And this surprised Jim.  And so, he gave Sex more opportunities to speak, and asked other judging parts of him to quiet down a bit.  Turns out, Sex decided to leave its former life of perversion, and transform roles within Jim’s internal world.  In time, Sex chose a different name – Intimacy.  And it became a voice within that reminded Jim, quite rightly, to long for relationship in its beauty and sensuality in a way that connected him to others, rather than objectifying and using them.  

The Christian journey is a journey from fragmentation to wholeness, from division to integrity.  The New Testament “code word” for this restored and integrated state, in my humble and weak-Greek opinion, is katharos – clean, pure, integrated, undivided.  Blessed are the pure in heart.  Blessed are those who hearts have moved from war to peace.  Blessed are those whose fragmented psyches have been repaired.  Blessed is Jim, whose parts named Sex and Shame smoked the peace pipe, shook hands, and decided, by God’s grace, to repent (to turn away from its enslaved state to its God-intended state).  Perhaps, if the mad, mad world saw Christians moving into wholeness and away from division, both internal and external, it would stop saying, Hypocrite! (divided one, one who says and does two different things) and start saying, Shalom! 

Peace.

a heart divided against itself cannot stand – introducing the orchestra inside

Fred Harrell, Senior Pastor of City Church SF, quoted one of my favorite writers recently – Richard Foster.  On the idolatry of money, Foster notes, “When we let go of money we are letting go of part of ourselves.”  That is interesting language.  And it’s helpful language.  

One of the assumptions I make with everyone I counsel (and with myself, no less) is that they are an orchestra with competing parts playing inside.  Think about it.  You’ll often find yourself saying, “A part of me is angry, yet another part is quite content.”  Or, “A part of me wants to go, yet another really wants to stay.”  The most simple term we use for this internal phenomenon is ambivalence.  But, I’d suggest that our internal orchestra is far larger and more complex than two competing parts.  We’ve got tubas, trumpets, French horns, and trombones blaring loudly.  And we’ve got bassoons, flutes, and third violins just trying to get heard.  It’s a war in there.  It also begs the question:  where is the Conductor?  We’ll get to that in a later post.    

For now, I think that this orchestra metaphor helps in two main ways.  On the one hand, I will not be as prone to over-identify a person with his sin.  If Bill is a sex addict, what I need to address is a part of him that has overwhelmed the whole, enslaving him in one sense.  Sex does not define Bill.  In fact, I’m quite convinced that another part of Bill is quite repulsed by it.  There is a war going on inside of him.  In this sense, I’m sometimes uncomfortable with the “once-an-addict-always-an-addict” idea.  I get it, but in my estimation it gives way to much power to a part of us. 

CrackedMaskOn the other hand, it’s helpful to think of a person as an orchestra so that we do not over-estimate a person’s holiness.  The parts we play, or the “masquerade” we engage in, as Spurgeon said, can also look quite appealing, at first.  Ben became an elder because he knew more Scripture than anyone else, and because he seemed about as pure and spotless as Christ.  But Ben’s lead part (who we later called Mr. Clean) lived to keep many other parts of himself at bay and away.  Those parts, later called Failure, Sex Obsession, Scared Little Ben, propelled him to live out a false self, a masquerade that convinced many in his church that he was holy, not a sinner in need of grace.  

 

Perhaps, then, this business of “an orchestra” and “parts” is something of what John Calvin meant when he called us “idol factories.”  I’m just making our idols a bit more personal.  I’m giving them names, even personalities.  And I see this as helpful not merely in a pedagogical sense, but because these parts are personal.  Indeed, if you listen in, you’ll hear them.  

So, here’s today’s exercise for you.  Take a listen inside.  What parts play the dominant roles and the loudest instruments?  What parts hide in the background, barely able to whisper a note?  If Richard Foster is right and money is, indeed, a security-and-identity craving part of us, then what is it speaking to you?  Are there any other voices that dissent? 

Is there a loud internal Critic who speaks against your dignity as a son or daughter of God?

Is there a lost and young part of you that needs to play, but feels crowded out by a hyper-achiever or a duty-bound part of you?

Is there a sex-obsessed part that craves connection, or an approval-addicted part that doesn’t allow for any rest?

You see, I’m convinced that idolatry is not merely an attempt to seek justification elsewhere, requiring immediate repentance and belief.  That’s theologically satisfying, perhaps, but psychologically simplistic.  No, I’m convinced we need to listen underneath, to give voice to those parts of us that crave and ultimately enslave.  So, I’ve often told my clients to do this:  Take a pen, and give a voice to that idol or that part of you, for example, that finds security through money.  What’s it saying?  Is a part of what it is saying legitimate?  (I suspect some of it is, because normally our idols are perversions of things that God created good).  

If so, do something else (…and this part will really make you think I’m a nut).  Write or speak back to that part of you.  Thank it for desiring something good, and ask if it would be willing to let go of some of its power (repentance), to play its instrument a little lower and in tune with the rest of the orchestra, or perhaps even a little louder and in greater harmony if need be.  Tell it to re-focus its eyes on the Conductor, who wants it to join in the chorus of faith, hope, and love, of an un-divided heart, of shalom.

We’re just getting started.  There’s much more to come.

a heart divided against itself cannot stand – the elusiveness of purity

In the last post, we talked about the divided heart.  I’ve been intrigued by this idea for some time.  Some years ago, I studied the Beatitudes in depth, and discovered that the “pure in heart” were those whose hearts were undivided.  Back then I was intrigued, but not fully aware of the implications of heart division.  If sin shatters the image of God in a human being, as theologians tell us, then I suspect that you and I find ourselves reaching for that elusive goal of being a whole being, a man or a woman whose longings are single-minded and pure-hearted, a person whose heart is undivided.  However, judging by the examples we have, it sometimes seems as if our split personalities and competing desires might be hard to shake before Jesus returns.

Consider Hezekiah, who might be hailed in your church today as a kind of hero, a man who trusts God with all his heart, a fierce warrior against idolatry within and outside of himself.  2 Kings 18 says as much: 

 5 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him.

That’s fine, until you read one of the most indicting passages on human idolatry and mistrust in all of Scripture – Isaiah 30.  Here, Hezekiah seems to blow it royally.  With Assyria’s impending attack, Hezekiah does what any Bible-believing God-follower would know is completely antithetical to trust.  He sends ambassadors to Egypt, of all places – the same Egypt where Israel experienced de-humanizing abuse and dignity-sucking enslavement years before.  Isaiah is a tour-de-force in a biblical theology of addiction and idolatry.  It’s great fodder for what-not-to-do.

Hezekiah, one the one hand, is memorialized as an examplar of heart purity and God-trust.  One the other, he’s shown to be fearful in the face of potential attack, and prone to trust a former abuser rather than the God to whom he committed his kingship.

The divided heart is a mysterious thing.  It’s not merely a contemporary psychological construct.  Rather, it’s an existential reality recorded in the pages of Scripture.  We see in everything from Solomon’s schizophrenic psychic interplay in Ecclesiastes to Paul’s raw admission in Romans 7 (“15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”) I don’t know about you, but I can relate to that.  I may not fully grasp the theological nuances of the divided heart, but I know it’s reality.  Paul knew it.  Solomon knew it.  And Hezekiah knew it.  

The next question is:  what do we do about it?  Stay tuned for the next post.

 

    

 

a heart divided against itself cannot stand – the parts we play

Appear to be what thou art, tear off thy masks. The church was never meant to be a masquerade. (Charles Spurgeon)

Theologians have long affirmed what Scripture teaches.  Sin wreaks havoc on the human heart.  We are infected by the disease of division.  And I’m not talking about John Piper’s scuffles with Tom Wright.  Rather, a division exists within.

How could Israel want to visit the prison concession stand in Egypt so soon after leaving?  How could the church elder sleep with his secretary when he clearly loves his wife, too?  How could a woman be a nurturing Mom in the daytime and a prostitute by night?  

Cornelius Plantinga’s masterful anatomy of sin calls it a vandalism of shalom, noting that one of the featured characteristics of the sinful heart is masquerade.  Life is like theater, sometimes.  We all wear masks.  

MasksofEmotionsHowever, when we wax theologically eloquent about a divided heart, we often fail to ask the harder question:  What purpose does the mask serve?  Why are we playing this part?  And, even deeper, when did this persona develop?

Bill is an articulate man.  He’s in business, but he has studied apologetics, the defense of the faith.  In our counseling session, he steps in often to clarify what his wife is saying.  “Honey, I’d put it another way,” he says, often condescendingly.  And she lets him.  “Sometimes I think I’m married to a lawyer,” she once told me.  “He could sell ice to eskimos.”

And yet, Bill’s “lawyer,” we later discovered, originated long ago in the quiet of his bedroom, as he quietly and internally recited his defense against an unrelenting father who would verbally assault him.  In tears, Bill would tell me, “I hoped that the next time I emerged from the bedroom, I would be the victor, I would be able to shut him down.”  Yet, alas, he couldn’t.  He’d go mute. 

Part of Bill was The Lawyer.  Part of Bill was The Mute.  The Lawyer spoke powerfully and convincingly, especially in moments when he felt attacked.  The Lawyer, we learned, was determined to never again let The Mute emerge.  The Mute, he once said, is like a scared little boy.  And Bill doesn’t quite like the feeling of being scared.  

The divided heart.

So, who is Bill?  Is he The Lawyer?  Or is his more “authentic self,” as some call it, The Mute?  I’d suggest that neither part of Bill is really Bill.  I’d suggest that Bill’s divided heart is a product of both sin and story, wickedness and woundedness.  But we’ll flesh this out in time.

His first counselor beat up The Lawyer.  His second counselor commended his self-assertion, affirming The Lawyer.  His pastor commended The Lawyer for being such a great apologist of the faith.  His wife’s best friend chewed out The Lawyer for being an “arrogant ass.”  Meanwhile, The Mute remained quietly behind the curtain, dutifully playing its part.

What are these parts we have?  Why the masquerade?  And, has anyone bothered to ask if The Lawyer is tired of playing his starring role?

(to be continued…)

a heart divided against itself cannot stand – part 1

Appear to be what thou art, tear off thy masks. The church was never meant to be a masquerade. (Charles Spurgeon)

If we’re truly engaged in a modern-day new exodus out of the many enslavements that burden us, through the refining and clarifying fire of suffering, and into the glorious Promised Land of freedom, then there’s much to be excited about.  If St. Paul is right, new creation has already begun.  Eden’s distant echo becomes a real, tangible expression in and through redeemed humans who, quite literally, become walking-and-talking embodiments of a new humanity, participants in the divine life in there here-and-now Kingdom.  This is no pie-in-the-sky religion.  We’re not waiting for Kirk Cameron’s silent rapture, though our balding friends might hope that our new bodies feature Cameron’s full head of curly hair.  No, we’re engaged in the kingdom-come (on earth as it is in heaven) with all of its glorious possibilities.  

But despite the presence of the future, a new exodus reality is that creation still groans, yearning for restoration.  No less, you and I groan.  The voice of lament, we’d think, ought to be a thing of the past, of Old Covenant realities.  And yet, even the saints in heaven cry out in a lamenting groan (Rev. 6) yearning for God’s once-and-for-all restoration.  It seems that all is not yet well.

The ravages of sin are still at play, within all of creation, and within the human heart.  Thus, I begin a series of reflections on the “divided” heart.  It’s a notion found in Scripture, of course, to illustrate the awful pull we feel inside every day.  Part of me wants Promised Land life, yet another craves the predictability of Egyptian enslavement.  My addictions become friends, and when I leave them, I miss their company.  They’ve taken up residence in me.  They are more than a behavior.  They change my brain chemistry, inhabit my physiological responses, and haunt my memory.  As one writer says, “You can take the Israelites out of Egypt, but it takes a long time to get Egypt out of Israel.”  When my heart is divided against itself, I’m like a man who is ill.  Spurgeon wrote:  

It is a disease of a vital region—of the heart; a disease in a part so vital that it affects the whole man. The utmost extremity of the frame suffers when once the heart becomes affected, and especially so affected as to be divided. There is no power, no passion, there is no motive, no principle, which does not become vitiated, when once the heart is diseased. 

broken glassAs we take up this idea, I’m going to talk as much as a psychologist as a theologian.  There’s plenty written on sin, but far less on the psychology of the divided heart.  If the Gospel has something to do with bringing shalom into broken places, then the divisions within the heart are no less important than the divisions God wants reconciled among Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, Hutus and Tutsis, Arabs and Israelis, or abusers and victims.  Further, I want to go so far as to suggest a therapeutic (or soul-care) approach to restoration that takes the division within seriously, and moves beyond behavior-modification or sin-management into a kind of internal reconciliation process that (like all other reconciliation processes) takes time.  For some strange reason, we still seems to think that sanctification is instantaneous, and we quickly become frustrated with our own continued brokenness and the brokenness of others.  But, if the image within was really shattered in the Fall, then the work before us is time consuming, difficult, and even painful.

That said, I’m neither interested in pop-therapeutic approaches that over-simplify and trivialize real growth, nor therapeutic suspicion which seems to demonize any attempt at self-care (something which, incidentally, goes radically against Christian tradition and Scripture), and which makes its own over-simplistic statements like “Christianity is not about self, it’s about God.” Both extremes will find fault with my approach.  If so, just stop reading now.

If you’re excited to delve into what I think might be a very stimulating journey through both Scripture and what I sense is a very new and cutting-edge approach to soul care in modern psychology (something called “Internal Family Systems Therapy”), read on.  We’ve got a lot to talk about.