When I think about people who would make a great guest blogger, I think of the people in my life who exude empathy, sound knowledge and a compassionate heart for issues they may or may not even personally experience. These people don’t always need to be an expert, because of the raw acceptance they breath out to others. My friend, Josh Kirby, falls into this category. Although he has pretty much mastered the human brain and emotions, given that he is on the brink of finishing his doctoral program at UT Southwestern, he also brings his faith and personal experiences to the table.
Often times he is my voice of reason. Typically, when I am venting or asking for advice, he will ask, “Do you want the psychologist response or the friend response?” I almost always go with the friend option. He has the best heart. I asked him to write a piece. I didn’t give him a topic. When you read it, you’ll understand why no direction was needed. He rocks.
I love the name of this blog. Balanced Chaos. In psychotherapy, we often talk about the concept of two seemingly opposing ideas being true at the same time. That healing and growth come through a synthesis of contrasting, yet necessary and valuable, aspects. For instance, the concepts of acceptance and change when grieving after the loss of a loved one. We accept the reality of the situation while also changing so we can move into a new stage of life. To me, this is what Balanced Chaos is. A synthesis. Not just the beauty IN the mess. But, the beauty AND the mess. We need both to be our authentic selves. Without the balance, we’d be all over the place all the time. Without the chaos, we’d be super boring.
Since, this is a blog about personal growth and Aimee has shared her faith with her readers, I find it difficult not to talk about growth from a spiritual standpoint. Unfortunately, many of us have struggled with this tension between the personal and the spiritual. I know I do, over and over. We have this tendency to think of things as if we have our “personal life” over here and then there’s our “spiritual life” over there. And when we try to merge them, it can seem like we are trying to put a square peg in a round hole. But, God didn’t intend for it to be this way. When we are wrestling with something in a relationship, a job, at school, and ever wonder if it qualifies as a spiritual issue, the answer should always be “yes.” Yes, it’s personal AND yes, it’s spiritual. So often though, I find myself compartmentalizing my life, as I if to say “God, you can take care of this but I’ve got that other issue on my own.” It can’t work like that, though. That is, if I actually believe God’s plan for humanity to be true. Let me attempt to explain.
Firstly, why do we even have this struggle?
Well, if all personal issues are also spiritual issues, then perhaps there is misunderstanding of fundamental aspects of our spirituality. I don’t think it matters what your denominational background or lack of background is, for Christians, these are often the concepts of Grace and Truth. Grace, being the unconditional love and acceptance that comes from a relationship with God and Truth, being what is real, God’s holy standards and demands for His people. On our own, we regularly make it about either Truth OR Grace. And we love the ever popular double portion of Grace with a side of Truth on Sunday mornings. We love it, well, until we don’t. Then we try to flip it around. It’s an exhausting game!
Christian Psychologist Henry Cloud tells a metaphorical story about an alien planet that decides after visiting Earth that they too need a god. So they set out to find one. They can’t settle on just one, so they choose two. One god is loving and tells her followers not to worry if they do something bad because she’ll forgive them. But they are confused because they don’t know what rules they are even breaking to even be forgiven from. And, even though they do some nice deeds from time to time, they keep falling into the same destructive patterns because they’re ultimately lost. The other god is just mean. He continually tells his followers that they’re bad and even though they have direction and he cleans up some of the behavior, he doesn’t seem to care about the people doing the bad things and in the end just gets rid of them or yells at them. They are all ashamed. Cloud explains that this is what it looks like when we are guided by the idea of God representing one aspect over the other; that, Truth without Grace is judgment and Grace without Truth is a license [to do whatever we want or feel like]. But, clearly we need a God who is both.
For me and for many born and raised Bible-belters, I have been in Christian circles where it seemed Truth got a whole lot of air time. It’s not that Grace didn’t exist, but a lot of my understanding of how I was supposed to go about this whole Christian Walk thing, stay motivated, and deal with life’s issues was based on what to do and not do. With this as my go-to weapon, I often ended up (although usually unaware) swaying toward self-righteousness, as Jesus warned the Pharisees, or ultimately left covered in guilt, shame, anxiety, and feeling isolated from God. I needed Grace. Not to come in second place. But right alongside the Truth that I came to know through the Word of God. Fortunately, Truth was met completely by Grace in the Gospel, as John 1:14 explains, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace AND truth.”
Secondly, how can we respond to this struggle?
When I find myself getting lost in the complexity of trying to figure out my role vs His, I have to remind myself to return to the simplicity of it all. As a therapist, it can be easy to narrow down the root of someone else’s struggles, but I can get lost for days in my own. When this happens, I have to remember that MY issues are HIS issues too. No movement takes place apart from God. The God who chose me before creation (Ephesians 1:4), who knew me before I was even formed (Jeremiah 1:5), and who discerns my thoughts from afar (Psalm 139:2). I will have difficulties, stuckness, and suffering in this life because of brokenness and sin. But, the Gospel is story of reconciliation. And all solution, growth, and healing comes from within that story. Whether it’s improving a relationship, a career path, or serving others at church, it is all centered in the Gospel. Even better, listen to how Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:16-19:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
We no longer have to view our personal problems as ours to solve alone; the creator has taken that on for us. There is no other response to this news than to be humbled. One way to bring this humility more consistently into your life and relationship with God is to begin time in prayer praising Him before asking for help. This is realistic. No relationship works well when one person begins every conversation with a plea or request. When you notice that your life is a little more chaos than balance, remember to look at both sides of the situation, its personal reality AND its spiritual relevance. Embrace the confusion as human nature while surrendering your story to a God who has already written it for you.
Thanks to Aimee and all both of you who read this. Here’s to a year of growth in your life. God bless.