This is another paper I wrote for a class on personal transformation. It might be a little long….
Let me lose myself and find it, Lord, in Thee.
May all self be slain, my friends see only Thee.
Though it costs me grief and pain, I will find my life again.
If I lose my self I’ll find it, Lord, in Thee.
Christian transformation is the ongoing, lifelong process whereby the character, spirit, and behavior of Jesus Christ is uniquely expressed in and through the life of a person. The overwhelming value associated with Christian transformation is love. Love continually changes us into who we were originally created to be and makes us change agents in the world to facilitate similar transformation in the lives of others. The primary barrier to Christian transformation is fear. Mistrust of God, our self, and others leads us to react defensively in ways that lead to division and withdrawal. Our personal life devolves into self-absorbed consumption rather than one characterized by growth and humility. The spiritual leader’s role is to continually cultivate personal practices which promote their own healthy growth by responding to the activities of God in their own life, while encouraging others to do the same through interpersonal interactions and attempting to build healthy community. A commitment to communal growth confronts the current culture’s preoccupation with reactive division based on fear and defensiveness. In an affluent society, the physical environment can be designed to enhance division as it clings to the priority of personal privacy and comfort to the detriment of community. Healthy community often includes periods of close proximity between people and open, physical interaction. Without these qualities, the possibility of giving and receiving love to and from others is limited.
I suppose all of us have an idealized vision for what “home” should be. A place where:
- The best and worst of who we are is known and they celebrate the best and give grace in the worst…
- We are valued and deeply loved…
- We are understood and known from our earliest moments of life…
- Feelings are validated and our pain is acknowledged…
- Respect guides inter-familial relationships…
- Forgiveness is given and received…
- Provision is made for healthy growth…
- We are loved and our love is received warmly…
This is our dream of a place called “home”. My own dream certainly would have a place, but what truly defines “home” for me, would be people and relationships. “Home” is where those you love and who love you are, no matter the location. Our relationships fundamentally influence us at the deepest levels of our being. Place is important as it enhances or detracts from relationship building. Place also carries the echoes of our most primal relationships, either for good or for bad.
The Christian faith has the dream of home at its beginning and end. Christianity could be described as a collective journey from home to home. Our journey began in the beautiful design of a garden where our most fundamental relationships were characterized by openness, generosity, and shared mission. Our primary relationship: with God, was a generative co-creative partnership in which we gave and received love, and within which we expressed our unique individuality and value. Our secondary relationship was based on mutual cooperation; allowing and enjoying the individual differences between each other. In fact, the fundamental differences between us brought the joy of the God-like capability of creating life.
However, as is true in the reality of our earthly homes and relationships, we got lost. Our relationships with God and each other became infused with fear and mistrust. The place within which we lived became a wilderness rather than a garden, and we began to believe that we were alone and would have to fight in order to survive. Yet everything within us sought to return to the home of our dreams. We still do. Christian transformation is the journey home.
“What happens to us over a lifetime of Christian practice and growth amounts to nothing more than becoming what we already are in Jesus Christ. We are a new creation. It is for that reason that we can become a new creation. Paul captures this paradox perfectly: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached my goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own’ (Phil. 3:12).
In a very real sense, our personal experience of home, with its relationships and memories, can be a barrier to personal transformation. From the earliest moments of life, our brains are building emotional habits of feeling about the world. “Trains” of aligned neurons are formed, and the couplings between cars of the train harden and are reinforced with each experience. This is especially true in the earliest days, weeks, months, and years of life.
“A child’s brain cannot develop normally with the coordination influence that limbic communication furnishes. The coos and burbles that infants and parents exchange, the cuddling, rocking, and joyous peering into each other’s faces look innocuous if not inane; one would not suspect a life-shaping process in the offing. But from their first encounter, parents guide the neurodevelopment of the baby they engage with. In his primal years, they mold a child’s inherited emotional brain into the neural core of the self.”
In effect, we each develop an inner emotional map of the way the world works as we experience our earliest relationships with our primary caregiver. This map is fixed in the trains of neurons. We then relate to the world according to this map of internal expectations. Changing these expectations is extremely difficult… but it is possible. Love and our experience of it is the key.
The difficulty of changing our mental map is metaphorically exemplified in the following:
A sighted person lives in a room with furniture which is always in the same position. With each day, the person’s movements are governed by the position of each piece of furniture, until they develop an inner, visual map of the floor plan with such acuity that they could close their eyes and move about the room with only the occasional smack of their shin on the coffee table. Repeated practice of moving in this fashion removes even this intermittent brush with pain. Eventually, the person’s eyesight begins to dim until they go completely blind. As long as they stay in the same room, however, their mental map continues to guide them with very little pain. But living in one room is a very narrow life.
A loving friend, hoping to expand the world of the blind person, comes one night and moves all the furniture in the room. When the blind person awakes the next morning and begins their normal trek across the room, they immediately fall over a chair which isn’t supposed to be there, according to their trusted mental map. The friend of the blind person approaches the fallen person and offers to lead them through the room, acting as a sighted guide. The next choice of the blind person is both simple and complex: Do they choose to take the hand of their loving guide, or continue on their own, being injured by their old mental map which has been rendered obsolete by the changed environment?
The experience of the blind person is that of getting unexpectedly lost. The biblical narrative includes many stories with characters in much the same situation. The bible is infused with people who get lost in order to go home:
- From protected garden to the wild world: Adam and Eve
- From resident to wanderer: Abraham
- From preferred son to slave; from slave to prisoner; from prisoner to ruler: Joseph
- From slavery to freedom: Children of Israel in the Exodus
- From citizen to alien: Children of Israel into exile
- From riches to poverty: Job
- From heroic confrontation of evil to fearful running from evil: Elijah
- From exile to rebuilding: Ezra
- From wisdom to meaningless: Solomon
- From heaven to earth: Jesus
- From an ascetic (John the Baptist) to a partier (Jesus): The Jews
- From home to a faraway country to home: The Prodigal son
- From legalistic Judaism to Christian evangelist to the Gentiles: Paul
There are certainly other stories of how God lead people from a stable reality into instability. Becoming lost forces us to look around and find the new reality rather than “bend” the map of reality to fit our own past experience. So, sometimes getting lost can be a very good thing which leads us to re-engage the world in ways which are healthier for us. We “lose our self” and “find it, Lord in Thee”. We find ourselves in these stories, but the overwhelming message of scripture, is that we find ourselves in the life of Jesus. Jesus is the model of Christian transformation. At the end of his “normal” home life and the beginning of his journey of ministry towards the cross and home, Jesus entered the wilderness for a period of fasting and limbic/spiritual warfare with Satan. This detour into the wilderness seems to be in scripture as a teaching story about how to get lost without getting lost. With each temptation, Satan attempts to seduce Jesus into acts which frame Jesus’ life in the context of fear and being a victim:
“Stone into bread”- Fear of suffering
“Throw yourself down”- Fear of death
“Worship me”- Fear of obscurity
The faithful, self-differentiated Jesus refused to fear the wilderness temptations, because he knew his Guide. His response affirmed his own responsibility to continue the mission and not allow his emotional map to be co-opted into anxious reaction to fear-inducing suggestions. His response also acts as a template upon which we can lay our lives and experiences when we are tempted to retreat into victimhood.
Getting lost can also be a bad thing. We are all fully capable of walking off the trail and into a wilderness of our own making.
“Being lost, then, is not a location; it is a transformation. It is a failure of the mind. It can happen in the woods or it can happen in life. People know that instinctively. A man leaves a perfectly good family for a woman half his age and makes a mess of it, and people say, he got off the path; he lost his way. If he doesn’t get back on, he’ll lose the self, too. A corporation can do the same thing.”
Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal sonportrays a father love which is strong and respectful enough to allow his son to walk away and waste the blessing he has been given in consumption. Neither does the father attempt to rescue the son. However, the father’s love is gentle and deep enough to respond with joy when the son returns in repentance. Neither does the father hold the sojourn into “a faraway country” over the head of his son by treating him like a slave nor employee until the inheritance is repaid. He places the ring of family identity on his finger. You could say that the father gets his son lost in the father’s love by such unexpected behavior.
Another parable earlier in the same chapter tells of a lost sheep which Jesus told in response to religious leaders angry at how much time Jesus spent with people who had no interest in religious activities. The shepherd knows a sheep is lost and acts in such a way as to esteem so much value in one sheep that he leaves the 99 in the fold and conducts a time consuming, exhausting search for the one who wandered away. I suppose this story isn’t that big of a deal for the sheep in the fold. They are safe and content. But for the sheep that is hurt, caught in a tangle, and hears the howls of the wolves nearby, knowing you were missed can be quite comforting… transforming, in fact.
When I was a child, my father was an evangelist in the days when churches would schedule a series of spiritual renewal/evangelistic services twice a year. The services were called revivals. Dad would schedule each meeting as close together as he could, both in time and distance. Many times, however, we would have to drive until late in the night, or even all night, in order to get to the next meeting. Typically, our trip would begin with loading all of the equipment into the car, hook up to the travel trailer we lived in at each destination, and begin driving. When we finally got out on the highway, Dad would say to my mother, “Pray for us, Momma…” My mom would then ask God to protect us as we drove. She invited God to travel with us. During all of the years of travelling…thousands of miles…our family never had an accident in which any of us were injured. Actually, I can’t remember any accidents of any sort, other than when a guy in Michigan ran a red light and plowed into the side of our car. Nobody was hurt, although I think the other driver was too medicated to feel any pain anyway. But I digress….
Prayer is a primary means of both recognizing and inviting God to travel with us in our journey from home to home. I have come to believe that one of the values of prayer in Christian transformation is that the connection with God changes us deeply. Prayer is limbic revision with God.
“The sine qua non of a neural network is its penchant for strengthening neuronal patterns in direct proportion to their use. The more often you do or think ore imagine a thing, the more probable it is that your mind will revisit its prior stopping point. When the circuits are sufficiently well worn such that thoughts fly down them with little friction or resistance, that mental path has become a part of you—it is now a habit of speech, thought, action, attitude. Ongoing exposure to one person’s Attractors does not merely activate neural patterns in another—it also strengthens them. Long-standing togetherness writes permanent changes into a brain’s open book.
In a relationship, one mind revises another; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural being is limbic revision: the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love, as our Attractors activate certain limbic pathways, and the brain’s inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.
Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.”
The idea that prayer changes us isn’t new. However, the manner in which it has been articulated in the past infers that we are changed in what we think, and is an intellectual process. Limbic revision changes how we feel and who we are and will be.
How we view prayer is important. When we approach prayer as a part of our life, partitioned off from the rest of our activities, we lose the immediacy of its impact on our self. It then becomes easier to build internal walls which affect behavior and interactions with the world. However, when we see our entire life as prayer, the walls are dismantled, and we allow God to roam free within us. Our entire being becomes the home we long for. We take home with us, even when we are lost.
Christian transformation requires the presence of others in our life, as well. In the story of Eden, God intermittently calls the preceding work which was accomplished, “good”. Then God made an individual, and the two of them shared life within the garden, but eventually, God finds something within creation which was “not good”: the individual who was alone, without another person. So, once again God created another person, using the rib of the first person.
Each of us needs another person to come beside us and share the journey. The creation story infers that living with God alone isn’t sufficient to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Alone is not good…even when God is with us. We need each other in order to give and receive love. Giving ourselves to a loving community is imperative to our journey. The early monastics eventually seemed to find this to be true. In Water from a Deep Well, Sittser writes about people who sought a deeper faith by leaving the cities and moving into the desert in order to seek God, more fully. However, I notice throughout the chapter and the book, that so many of the sayings of the Ammas and Abbas about growing in faith were part of a conversation they were having with a student… So… they left community to move out into the desert to know God more deeply, but community followed them… God’s grace brings others into our life when we are alone, no matter the purpose of our prolonged solitude. We need other people in our life. God speaks to us through the heart of another, and God speaks to another through our heart. Love changes us. Mutual love changes us both.
Not only does love change us individually, but a loving community benefits and changes the culture. When we love each other… sacrificially love each other… our community is a living, communal witness to the love of Christ. When we do not love each other, but separate into ghettos of :
- Socioeconomic layers
- Marital status
- Political persuasion
- Sexual politics
- Theological understanding
…we also are a witness to the “love” of Christ. The surrounding culture defines God by the behavior, attitudes, and approachability of those calling themselves by God’s name. How the church speaks and acts towards itself, and the people surrounding it, defines God. When the church exhibits “love” in exclusivity, defensive reactivity, and fear of differences in people; then God is that way.
Is that the message we want to portray?
Is that what we experience from God?
If we have experienced grace and love from God, then why are we so angry?
Do we know God at all?
When a Christian leader asks questions which the surrounding culture is asking, why is he labeled a heretic by other Christian leaders, when they haven’t even read his book?
Leading The Journey:
It could be said that our country is in crisis. A crisis of leadership. That statement isn’t a personal indictment of the intelligence, efficiency, or even creativity of the leaders in our culture. It is an observation of the depth of division within our culture, and the propensity for leaders to make decisions based on public opinion or self-interest. Edwin Friedman writes about the need for self-differentiated leaders:
“I want to stress that by well-differentiated leader(s) I do not mean an autocrat who tells others what to do or orders them around, although any leader who defines himself or herself clearly may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own emotional being and destiny. Rather, I mean someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing. It is not as though some leaders can do this and some cannot. No one does this easily, and most leaders, I have learned, can improve their capacity.”
Personal differentiation, as a Christian construct, is a growing sense of friendship with God. Friendship with God involves two separate personalities who relate to each other honestly and openly. The relationship cultivates a growing understanding of our distinctiveness, and personal mission. Leaders must lead themselves first, by accepting their continuing responsibility for personal growth. They must also acknowledge the responsibility for the persons under their leadership to grow, and give opportunities for them to express their gifts and talents, with the understanding that these opportunities carry inherent responsibilities with them.
I think it is imperative that Christian leaders treat themselves and their families with respect by living a sustainable lifestyle. A spiritual leader’s lifestyle models to the faith community what God expects from them. One mark of self-differentiation by a pastor is to create room in his/her schedule and calendar for God, family, and themselves. I would suggest that pastors err by attempting too much rather than too little. Allowing other people to be responsible for ministry is both effective and healthier for everyone involved. The CEO model of the pastor leads to dysfunction for everyone, in my view. I take Friedman’s point for a leader to be: “Grow, and allow others the space and responsibility to do the same.” Jesus modeled such a lifestyle, although his definition for family wasn’t always the same as ours might be.
- Most of the content of this class hit me between the eyes. I have been challenged by all the books, and most so by Friedman. Learning to remember and practice self-differentiation as a life skill takes practice. I believe there is freedom in personal responsibility, and I am trying to practice new mental habits of remembering that.
- Influencer was also new material for me which impacted me so much that I want to read their other book. I especially personally resonate with influencing people by helping them get lost in a story. I have had an intuitive attachment with that idea. That has been why I have been so interested in writing stories to help people reconnect with spiritual concepts. I think Jesus used parables in much the same way.
- We are in an explosive period of discovery surrounding the workings of the human brain. New technological techniques allow scientists to make rudimentary progress into observing how the brain works. A General Theory of Love helped me understand the importance of human relationships. I am trying to order my life and activities from what I learned.
- I am a child of the church. Honestly, I don’t always like that. However, I have been able to maintain a love for the church. I saw so many lives change when my family was in evangelism, and I remember so many times after the final service of a revival when the pastor’s family and our family would sit down around a table, eat together, and then talk. I miss that community. My observation now is that people don’t make time for those interactions anymore. There is always something more to do or to prepare for. We have become entombed within our culture, and I am praying for resurrection. Sittser’s book helped me see how our historical experience of the church is both similar and radically different in terms of relationships with each other and culture.
 Let Me Lose Myself and Find it Lord, In Thee; Ross H. Minkler, Copyright: 1943
 Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries; Gerald L. Sittser; Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2007, Pg. 282
 A General Theory of Love; Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.; New York, NY, Random House, Inc., 2000, Pg. 148-153
 A General Theory of Love, Pg. 153
 Matthew 4:1-11.
 Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, Laurence Gonzales; New York, NY, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2003; Pg.166
 Luke 15:11-32
 Luke 15: 1-7
 If my explanation comes across as elementary, I apologize, but the practice and knowledge of it seems to have gone the way of rotary dialed telephones.
 A General Theory of Love, Pg.143-144.
 Genesis 1:1-25.
 Genesis 2:18
 Water from a Deep Well, Pg. 96-117.
 Water from a Deep Well, Pg. 62-63.
 A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edwin H. Friedman; New York, NY, Church Publishing, Inc; 1999, 2007; Pg. 14.