Our Western thinking, with its Greek and Roman roots, values data and knowledge. The abundance of Bibles, seminaries, workbooks etc. produces well-educated theological people.
I have observed so many Christians who have great knowledge of theology and ethics. However they sometimes alienate themselves from their coworkers and family, rendering their “truth” as next to useless because people sense they are being judged, not being loved.
I am overcoming burnout and chronic depression. I typically don’t tell Christians about this because I normally get some trite response like, “sing praise songs,” or the more soul destroying, “you can choose to be happy” – or implying depression is a sin and I need to repent and get over it. Disturbingly, on the whole non-Christians have been more empathic.
The problem with our intellectual Western approach is that it doesn’t produce wisdom. I would define wisdom as the proper application of knowledge. Wisdom is passed on by “catching” it. This is the apprentice approach as opposed to the book approach. Journey with someone who is wise, and you yourself will become wise. (The pitfall is, of course, that if your teacher is unwise you catch “unwiseness.”)
Godly wisdom is respected and often sought after by Christian and non-Christian alike. The key underpinning of wisdom is love for people and God’s creation.
Ideally this deep love for people is modeled by your parents. You would absorb this and grow in love as you grow up. However if you are like myself, your parent(s) loved you deeply but struggled to express and model this love. Therefore a significant part of the Christian journey, for me, has been to learn how to love people.
Love is learnt by seeing love in action, both in someone loving you and in loving those around you. Once I was hard-nosed, striving, aloof and bitter, the antithesis of love. Hopefully today I show a more loving side. If I reflect upon my personal journey, I would suggest there are two crucial elements.
The first is long-term and deep relationships with deeply loving men – men who have deeply loved me and shown me how to love my wife and others around me.
One was an explicit mentoring relationship based around a Christian worldview course. We saw the same couple every two weeks for two years. We worked not only though the intellectual material but also though my issues.
Others included a business partner/mentor who I worked part-time with over a decade, who modeled love for people in nearly every situation. Another was a Christian minister who loved everyone he came across. I received love and saw love in action from other men, and was inspired to becoming more loving.
(I assume the same applies for women. I can only comment on my journey!)
The second essential ingredient was pain. What was interesting about all these men was that they had seasons of deep pain. One lost a toddler son in car accident. Another had lost all his earthly possessions. Another had a breakdown in close family relationships that had never been restored. It was through deep pain that the old sin man was crucified so that a new life, a life of love, was able to be born.
For me it was the pain of highly destructive burn out, in which chronic depression was and is a part. This involved closure of my business, a marriage that was under stress with baby number three arriving, an addiction out of control, a God who had become absent, and a soul destroying job. Through this process I have become deeply aware of “by the grace of God go I” when it comes to any dysfunction, sin or negative attitude.
Only through God’s grace am I alive, I didn’t lose my family or loved ones through my addiction, that my marriage is still intact and enjoyable, that we were able to purchase a home, and I again know God’s presence.
Through this process I have lost arrogance and a self-important attitude. It is hard to articulate precisely what has been lost and what has been gained. Others say that I look more relaxed, and I certainty feel more at peace. I try to rest more in God now and have learnt that striving doesn’t produce long-term wealth (and yes, often I still do strive).
I also become more aware of others’ pain and am able to sit with people in their pain. I have lost the trite answer, the unempathetic scripture quotation, and replaced them with an acknowledgment of people’s pain. I am still learning what an appropriate response is. Sometimes it is a hug, other times it may be a loving rebuke.
So to overcome the disconnect between our words and the spirit they communicate we need to focus on learning and practising love. We should surround ourselves with people who truly love us and model how to love others. We also need to be aware that pain is instrumental in the Christian walk. The crucible of fire produces love in a way that is impossible without the painful death of the old man. This isn’t a particular fashionable message given the plethora of self help books in Christianity today. However it is a message that needs to be spoken.
This is my final column. Thank you for reading, digesting and commenting over the last year. I hope it has been challenging, thought provoking and has provided a window into the Christian faith from a constructive outside perspective.
• 'Inside out, up-side down' has been David Whyte's perspectives from no-man’s land