Patience Required




One of the biggest challenges for me in gaining healing for my fragmented heart was that the very fragmenting of it made it difficult for me to find the path to regaining my heart and having it be whole again. Pat answers didn’t help and too often hindered. My heart didn’t respond to trying to Band-Aid it with a couple of scripture verses. It also didn’t happen all at once. It was a process just as its fragmentation was a process.


I love how Frederick Buechner describes it in Telling Secrets:

 “The original shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.”


In the poem “A Little Book on the Human Shadow” Robert Bly talks about at the very earliest of ages we start putting parts of ourselves that seem to be unacceptable into an “invisible bag.”


To begin the journey to waking up to the truth requires courage to face the fear of what we will discover. Sometimes it can only happen when our busyness has driven us to such a level of exhaustion that we yield because we have no other choice.


If we have never had an experience of a secure attachment with someone, we will tend to not have one with the Lord and that will make the process more challenging. Too often we have projected onto God how we viewed our parents when we were growing up.


Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Joshua Straub in God Attachment outline four attachment styles. Their research and personal experience suggest we will each fall predominantly in one of them, but will likely have a few tendencies of others. The four they list include: Secure Attachment, Anxious Attachment, Avoidant Attachment, and Fearful Attachment.


If we are blessed to have “good enough” parents, we will see our parents as safe people and places to turn to in our darkest hours and hardest trials. We will also be more likely to see God that way and see Him as accepting of us even when we mess up and feel safe running into His arms. We will develop a Secure Attachment with God and others.


If we have not experienced that and develop an Anxious Attachment style, we will be caught up in always trying to pursue God and try to please Him by doing things to try to gain His approval so we might somehow feel connected to God. If we fall into this group, we will likely read more books, listen to more messages, and be perpetually praying, and going to meetings in the hope we have earned His love and care. Exhaustion will eventually catch up with us. A list of how to connect with God will be snapped up easily by those of us in this group because we keep looking for something to do to get us connected with God the way we believe others are. Our hearts seldom feel such connection with Him.


Those of us who develop an Avoidant Attachment style tend to keep God at a distance. Our relationship with Him happens more in our heads than in our hearts. We tend to focus on facts and duty where God is concerned.


If we fall into the Fearful Attachment style, it tends to be because our life growing up has been chaotic and inconsistent so we have never known what to expect or what we could count on. We have never felt safe with anyone. We would like to find such a person and may try very hard to find God to be that, but if He is all that people say He is then why wasn’t He able to protect us from the chaotic (often abusive) family we grew up in. We want to believe it is possible so too often we will blindly trust claims of teachers, preachers, and counselors who make claims to solve all of this for us. It can happen easily because we all want to belong, to have someone care, and to not be alone.


On my path to reconnection of my heart the Lord used many things. One of these was the book, Sacred Romance, by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. In their chapter, “The Lost Life of the Heart” they wrote these words:


“The truth of the gospel is intended to free us to love God and others with our whole heart. When we ignore this heart aspect of our faith and try to live out our religion solely as correct doctrine or ethics, our passion is crippled, or perverted, and the divorce of our soul from the heart purposes of God toward us is deepened.”


The first thing I learned I needed to do was to begin to understand and learn to know my story, not just the facts and the things that I would tell everyone when they asked about it. I needed to accept and know that I was not only broken but beautiful so that I could risk looking at all of me including the parts that were hidden under my desire to please and gain favor by ever doing.


As Clinton and Straub say clearly in God Attachment:

The very essence of secure adult attachment with others and with God is the ability to understand our lives. It’s a coherent story that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly events and integrates them into an understanding of why we are the way we are.”


In the midst of all this, we also need to remember not everything is, as it seems. We live in the middle of a world we can see and one we cannot.


Next time we will look a bit more at that and discover more about moving toward regaining our hearts so we can let go of the endless striving.



















The Dismantling of Our Hearts




The voices within us can seem relentless, nudging us that we need to do more, need to be more. Implicitly woven into those messages is the suggestion we are not enough. Much of it has to do with our relationships with others as well as God that come from our core relational beliefs that begin in infancy.


Much of that information that lays down the foundation and framework for our beliefs is in our implicit memory. These are the memories that we may not have a conscious recall for, but are very significant as we develop.


How our primary caregivers respond to us from the day we are born begins to form our responses to stress, needs, and wants. Research actually finds that how we trust or mistrust others occurs in us by the time we are one year old. Some of you may wonder how that can be?


In God Attachment by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Joshua Straub tell us,

“Trust is developed as a child associates crying with being comforted, or develops mistrust when its needs expressed in crying are met with a parent’s anger and rejection. The parents’ response to the child is imprinted onto mirror neurons, and later in life, the child is likely to automatically, almost instinctively, and without awareness, respond to his or her own emotions and behaviors in a manner that reflects the way the parents responded.”


These are very powerful influences on us and perhaps even more important than our explicit memories that we use to recall facts in real time about our relationship with our parents.


To form our stories about our lives, we use these memories stored in key parts of our brains. The implicit memories are emotionally charged and continue to affect us the rest of our lives.


Those of us who write often talk about our stories and the value and importance of them. Telling our stories has been a part of who we are as humans since God created Adam and Eve.


“The very essence of secure attachment with others and with God is the ability to understand our lives. It’s a coherent story that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly, events and integrates them into an understanding of why we are the way we are” according to Clinton and Straub in God Attachment.


 This complex set of connections and interconnections help to develop those internal voices that sometimes can be very destructive by criticism and shaming. In addition to our first caregivers, we then pick up things from teachers and others in our lives that help us to confirm those beliefs about others and ourselves.


These things form the soil that influences how we seek to affirm and confirm ourselves that then propels us to respond to expectations as well as demands which nudge us to be busy to hide those parts of us we deem are not good enough, competent enough, or that cause us shame. It can push us into perfectionism as well.


Usually we extend very little (if any) compassion toward ourselves for not reaching the goal or grade that others expected or what we expected of ourselves. This often kicks up our striving into more drivenness.


If we could learn to be compassionate toward ourselves, we would less likely become so perfectionistic.


Chuck DeGroat speaks to this in Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self.


 “Self compassion allows us to give ourselves the gift of being adequate at many things instead of exceptional at everything.”


 If we silence any attempt at self-compassion, we will be much more likely to become exhausted, reactive and divided, losing track of our hearts. And why is our heart so important? It is because that is where the Lord lives if we know Him and it’s the empty spot waiting to be filled by Him if we don’t yet know Him.


That internal world is crucial to our relational, emotional, and spiritual life. Can it be any surprise that the enemy of our souls tries to develop a belief very early in life to distrust, dismiss, and ignore our longings and yearnings and focus instead on those external goals and appearances. Those adjustments result in more fragmentation as we develop our external persona that most people in our lives know as us.


John Eldredge and Brent Curtis tell us in The Sacred Romance that “the inner life, the story of our heart, is the life of the deep places within us, our passions and our dreams, our fears and our deepest wounds…it cannot be managed like a corporation. The heart does not respond to principles and programs; it seeks not efficiency, but passion.”


Is it any wonder that our heart becomes a battleground? Can you see how that very battleground can be a powerful weapon used against us to stop us from discovering the truth about ourselves, the gifts He has placed inside us, and then how our doing more and more exhausts us with our heart more constricted than ever?


I think that is why I often rebel against lists of things to do or be in order to “fix me”. They do not take into account my heart.


In his great book Waking the Dead by John Eldredge we can see an illustration of what happens:


“The Enemy knows how vital the heart is, even if we do not, and all his forces are fixed upon its destruction. For if he can disable or deaden your heart, then he has effectively foiled the plan of God, which was to create a world where love reigns. By taking out your heart, the Enemy takes out you, and you are essential to the Story.”


 To discover the truth our hearts are trying to tell us about who we were created to be and designed to do, we cannot be rushing about, always driven, and never finding the truth.


As I have listened to my heart, I have begun to reclaim pieces that were broken off, hidden, and placed on a shelf. I have also grown in letting others see the real me.


To hear more about that and what I have learned, join me here for my next post.






What Moves Us from Busy to Busyness?




I need to confess that I really cringe when I hear the word “busy” or “busyness”. I also see a differentiation of their meanings or connotation. Let me tell you a bit about how I differentiate them.


When I use the word “busy” I see it as a season when true demands are occurring in my life (or the life of someone else) that require my attention. In order to accomplish what is needed, they are not really optional or easily deleted from my calendar. I have had a number of those seasons in my life, but one stands out as I write this.


In 1995 I was working as a marriage and family therapist in a private Christian practice thirty minutes north from our home. My husband was doing the same kind of work in an agency forty-five minutes south of our home. Both of our children were living hundreds of miles away east and south.


Unexpectedly my father (someone who had been very healthy) developed pneumonia that was non-responsive to medication. He was hospitalized and in the midst of that my mother was hospitalized for her ongoing problems with congestive heart failure. The hospital was thirty minutes from each of our offices and our home.


Additionally, my brother who lived with my parents was participating daily in a sheltered workshop setting. His condition had been slipping as he added emotional problems to cerebral palsy and developmental delays. When my parents were hospitalized my brother needed to live with us and we needed to negotiate all his needs and issues and make arrangements for him to ride the bus to the workshop.


To say I was busy would likely be an understatement. There was no one else who could help or handle talking with doctors, making medical decisions, handle my brother, or handle my clients when my time with them was part of our needed income.


My dad died five and a half weeks later and that turned everything up a notch in all of these situations, as I was responsible for all arrangements and dealing with a devastated mother and confused brother. The word “busy” cannot begin to describe that period of time that worsened further when my mother died exactly three months to the date of my father’s death.


Even without more details, I have given you more than enough to provide an example of “busy”. Seasons such as that one and others any of us might face require much grace and often just putting one foot in front of another.


The word “busyness” suggests to me something different. To me “busyness’ can be a time or a season of any length where we choose to stack our calendars with things that keep us running from dawn to dusk and beyond that. Some of the things on the calendar are necessary, but we also have additions we chose to add beyond work or school.


I have also heard more than a few times these very people talk about their busyness or of being “too busy” in ways that sound like it is an excuse from relationship or a prop to demonstrate how important or needed they are.


“Busyness” to me can start to look like drivenness. This is far more of an issue that can become a habit born out of our sense of not being enough, not having what it takes, feeling devalued, feeling shame, or feeling alone.


It exhausts us.

img_2004Chuck DeGroat describes it this way,

“We exhaust ourselves in the restless pursuit of something that will satisfy. And tragically, we sometimes resist and sabotage real living and real freedom when they’re offered to us.”


You see we are often seeking this level of activity to deal with our fragmented heart and the feelings, thoughts, and whispers that come from it.


“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” (Thomas Merton)


We also run into those expectations we have set for ourselves on top of many set for us. In order to feel better about ourselves, we often step it up one more notch seeking to be perfect to soothe the anguish we are beginning to experience more and more often. We cannot attain perfection in everything so we might try targeting only one or two, but once again the target usually eludes us and our hearts and lives are pulled apart even more.


In Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self, Chuck DeGroat describes it.

“We are creatures of such complexity that it seems impossible for us to eliminate the need to be perfect. Junkies for approval, we adjust our personal mirrors to reflect back what others want to see in and from us—appropriately modest in church, creative in the kitchen, circumspect at work, compelling in our many presentations of ourselves.”


 As our approval seeking, people pleasing habits developed gradually over time, we now find ourselves exhausted and separated from our hearts, unsure of who we are to be and where God is in the midst of it. When we don’t measure up to the standards we set for ourselves, our internal messages are also highly critical. Those feeling components of self that Maurice Wagner identifies are beat up. We have no consistent sense of competence, no confidence in our worth, and unsure of where we belong or to whom or what.


What is also true is that we bring some of these habits of striving and always doing and doing more into our ministry service. Even in our church activity shame (the fuel for perfectionism) can be used to hide. All those messages over the course of our lives where parts of our hearts were hidden or broken off, are things we use to keep us from feeling vulnerable. We have been tricked into believing we are a disappointment to everyone around us and even to God.


Many times our hearts are not whole even when we kneel in worship on Sundays or lift our voice in praise.


When we lose our hearts, we lose everything.


As Sandra Wilson writes in Into Abba’s Arms,

 “With ancient echoes of Eden whispering in our souls, we’ve been longing for belonging ever since. And with our sinful self-wills screaming for obedience, we’ve been trying to satisfy that longing every which way but God’s.”


 Instead of trying “to do” lists of self-care that we may know, but often do not connect us with our hearts; let’s learn more about how to reconnect with our hearts in my next post.




Oh Captain! My Captain!




Welton Academy is known for its four pillars: Tradition, Honor, Discipline, and Excellence. Parents of young men send their sons to the private school where their sons will be trained as future leaders by instructors whose focus include virtue, leadership, high standards, and conformity. All of the faculty support, laud, and expect these demands to be met. The young men attending will become what their parents and instructors tell them they should be.


Welton, the setting of the 1989 movie, Dead Poets Society, has one instructor, John Keating, who does not conform. He is more interested in helping the young men in his classes to discover their hearts and the passion and gifts within them. He wants them to look at things in a different way, through a different lens and to find their own voices. Clearly, his teaching is unorthodox as he tells them to rip pages out of texts on poetry and stands on his desk quoting Walt Whitman’s poem “Oh Captain! My Captain”.


As the movie unfolds, the young men in his class begin to recognize dead poets have much to teach them (as does Mr. Keating). A small group of them form a “dead poets society” in a quest to discover life beyond conformity and perhaps learn who they were meant to be.


Scene by scene, the young men risk moving out of the staid surroundings of Welton and explore what is hidden in the lines of the dead poets and what is also hidden within them.


The film allows you to get to know several of the young men well. Among those that stand out are Todd Anderson and Neil Perry. Todd’s shy, anxious uncertainty is slowly eclipsed by the glimpses of something more that open in the group and Mr. Keating’s class.


The faculty and administration appreciate none of this discovery of their true selves and soon John Keating finds himself in deep trouble.


Neil Perry’s story highlights self-discovery as he determines to take part in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in school. His heart bursts with enthusiasm and joy to play the role of Puck and he pronounces to his friends and Mr. Keating, “For the first time in my life, I know what I want to do.”


Sadly, his father counted on Welton shaping his son into a future doctor and when he goes to the campus and sees his son in the theatrical production, he shames him and pulls him out of Welton with plans to send him to a military school. So high were his expectations for his son that they had become demands.


Neil’s heart is wrenched in two by the shame and with no friends to support him and no Mr. Keating to help him process his deep pain, he determines he cannot shut down his heart for the demands of his father and makes a disastrous choice to end his life rather to live with his heart dead within him.


John Keating is devastated and fired, despite inspiring all his students to see beyond the moment to the possibility and an extraordinary life. Their discoveries honor Mr. Keating as he leaves his office for the last time as one-by-one they stand on their desks saying “Oh Captain! My Captain!”.


The tragedy of Neil that unfolds in the story highlights how tenacious the fight is within us to become wholehearted when we have been fragmented.


For most of us, when our hearts break off pieces and we hide and devalue parts of us, shame needs some relief. Chuck DeGroat in Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and the Divided Self describes it this way: “Shame feels like a kind of slime that clings tenaciously to us, impossible to wash away.”


The shame can become intolerable and in our desperation to be free of it, we look to doing more in the hopes of becoming more and hiding from others how we feel.


DeGroat puts it this way:


“Desperation leads to a sense of scarcity. Instead of courageously leaning into our heart’s deepest fear—I’m not enough—we project outward into people or things that might satisfy the ache, the hunger, even for a brief moment.

Because we’re fueled by the belief that we’re not enough, parts of us go into overdrive, frantically seeking the satisfaction we crave in more success, a better body, or the approval of others.”


We go beyond busy to a life of busyness to block out what is going on inside, looking for some way to live with the growing fragmentation that is causing us to lose our hearts.


Too often this habit follows us after we come to know the Lord.


Perhaps John Eldredge and Brent Curtis say it best in The Sacred Romance.


“In the end, it doesn’t matter how well we have performed or what we have accomplished—a life without heart is not worth living. For out of the wellspring of our soul flows all true caring and all meaningful work, all real worship and all sacrifice. Our faith, hope, and love issue from this fount, as well. Because it is in our heart that we first hear the voice of God and it is in the heart that we come to know him and learn to live in his love,”


 Come with me next time as we look at whether busy and busyness means the same thing and how we can move from “the yellow brick road” to regain our hearts.






Little by Little




It doesn’t happen all at once, this fragmenting of our heart, the wrenching of the fabric knit together in our mother’s womb. There is no one person to blame because it is more the scheme of the enemy born out of the fragmentation that first took place in Eden with a man called Adam and a woman called Eve. In the very beginning, their hearts became divided when they doubted God’s goodness, doubted that He had given them the very best.


The enemy promised them knowledge, but what they received was shame that propelled them into hiding and revealed the division within them.


We carry within us some of that DNA and it distorts everything until someone comes into our lives and shows us the truth, but the habits of a lifetime take time to heal.


I think it shows up when we are met with expectations that we try to meet from the earliest years. To one degree or another we seek to be better than we are, better than we believe we can be. That belief can drive us to give up on ever reaching out to grow or it can thrust us into a perpetual effort to succeed, to not fail.


If it is the latter, we begin to strive in many areas of our lives where a benchmark has been set for us in order to gain self-worth, to quiet the whispers inside that we will never be enough.


Those whispers come from more than one source. They not only come from the accuser of the brethren, but also from unconscious memories connected to experiences we never forget. Not all of those memories are negative. In some of them we are succeeding, being affirmed and praised. But in others, blurry images of times we were humiliated or emotionally crushed impacts our view of ourselves. We become biased based on these swirling perceptions and it affects our view of God and others as well as us.


Maurice Wagner in The Sensation of Being Somebody writes about the different aspects of this self that is us.


As a theologian and psychologist, he brings a powerful lens to look at how we develop these images and biases.


He notes there are three functional aspects of our self-concept. They include appearance, performance, and status. There are also three feeling aspects of the self. These are feelings of belongingness, worthiness, and competence.


In the interplay of these with a backdrop of the expectations and experiences we have from the IMG_0652earliest days of our lives, we develop patterns of how we will respond to what we meet in life. These nudge us to look for ways to handle our fractured hearts.


We may choose pleasing, the pursuit of perfection, or increasing internal demandingness to hide from others the discarded pieces of our heart and the places where we have not succeeded or attained the goals others or we have set for ourselves.


We may choose instead to give up and rebel against any standard set. It can be a way of trying to protect us. We can tell ourselves we could have been successful, made the grade, got the promotion, or maintained the relationship, but we just haven’t tried. We never look at the fear of failing that is at the root of our choices.


The erosion happens in little ways in our homes, often without any attempt or awareness of our parents that it is happening. The school classroom, the sports field or arena, or the music or theatrical stage offers more opportunities to hide, to pretend, and to close off more parts of our hearts.


Underneath it, slowly but surely we can begin to experience a sense of shame not only about what we have done, but who we are.


In Shame and Grace by Lewis Smedes, he notes: “The feeling of shame is about our very selves—not about some bad thing we did or said but about what we are. It tells us we are unworthy.”


When it tells us that, little by little we begin to believe it. It can cling to our souls like barnacles on a ship’s bow and is not easy to get rid of. When we experience guilt, it is about something we did. As a result, we can take action to correct that; but when we feel shame for what we are or who we are, we can feel hopeless to respond to its nagging voice inside of us.


Shame also goes beyond feeling embarrassed. We all have known what it’s like to feel embarrassed (likely more often than we wish). That feeling of embarrassment stems from sensing we look bad because of something. Smedes reminds us “we feel shame because we think we are bad.”


Chuck DeGroat tells us in Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self: “We hate this unwanted stranger (shame) because it makes us hate ourselves. And we want more than anything to get rid of it. We would if we could.”


Next time I want to show you what can happen when we are shamed or experience shame and how far it can lead us if we risk gaining a glimpse of our real self and realize the fresh air it brings us.