He doesn’t remember, I’m sure. I was a pimply-faced high school student attending a conference he was speaking at. He said things that didn’t sound very Christian to me at the time. (Yep, he’s still up to his old tricks 30 years later!) Yet, as moralistic and judgmental as I was, I purchased his book and spent part of my flight home reading his No More Mr. Nice Guy. Maybe that’s the day my journey to wholeheartedness began.
My third book - Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and the Divided Life - was just released, and I could not have written it without first recognizing how stuck I was in my moralistic self-righteousness for so long. Steve (who also became my seminary professor) is one of a long list of patient friends who introduced me to my own heart’s fragmentation and exhaustion and walked with me into freedom. Some of this has to do with the recognition that I, like so many of us, fashioned a very godly looking spiritual mask that I’d wear to church or to seminary classes and even in my early years of ministry. It was a mask that looked righteous and good, but hid deep insecurity and shame.
A part of me wishes I could say that I’ve destroyed the mask (like it could be destroyed!). But I actually put it on from time to time even still, perhaps to remember where I’ve come from…and perhaps at other times to forget my shame again. Steve used to say in class, “You’ve got to kiss your demon on the lips,” and I didn’t quite understand what he was saying at the time. Was he into some strangely erotic spiritual warfare theology? No, in fact, he was intuiting the deep wisdom of psychology and Christian spirituality - you’ve got to befriend even the parts of you that are ugly. You see, our hearts are fragmented. There are parts of us that we don’t like. Parts of us we’d rather keep covered. And in our efforts to keep the lid on, we live out of prettier and more put-together parts of ourselves that act as masks against the painful world’s weather.
As it turns out, this dance of shame and mask-wearing is exhausting. And it comes at a cost. We live in a society that doesn’t know how to rest. Even when we try, we can’t get away from ourselves, from these patterns that haunt us. But in a world of self-improvement and self-enhancement, we don’t know any other option than to find some new and better mask to keep our insecurity and shame at bay. We spend thousands of dollars on medications and addictive substances and comfort foods and cosmetics and…well, they still don’t make it all go away. We take bigger, more exotic vacations and we return more exhausted than when we left. What do we do?
In Wholeheartedness, I explore the problem and offer a pathway forward. Utilizing resources from recent insights in neurobiology and psychology, sage advice from poets, and ancient wisdom from my own Christian tradition, I offer a map and a compass to reset your heart’s path. I look at the phenomenon of fragmentation we all experience and the exhaustion that emerges from it. And I offer insights and even exercises to engage your whole heart.
And so, I am grateful to Steve for his book back in the 80’s, his teaching in the 90’s, his strong course correction in my life in the 00’s, and now his enthusiasm for these books I’m writing these days. I’m still trying to learn what it means to kiss my demons on the lips. But with a bit of courage and a whole lot of trust in Jesus, I keep walking forward, onward toward wholeheartedness.
Check out Steve's interview with Chuck on SBE here!