Breaking Free

Bruce Twining is psychotherapist on the staff of Christian Counselling Services, Toronto, Ontario, and a member of Bridlewood Presbyterian Church, Scarborough, Ontario.

As a professor of psychology, Dr. Archibald Hart took off more than his jacket as he taught at Ontario Theological Seminary (OTS) in April [1997] on "Breaking Free." At timely intervals he quoted from psychological research. In very personal moments he openly shed tears of heart-felt longing for our growth in Christian thinking and freedom. He modelled personal sharing, encouraged creative habits and valued an openness to the Holy Spirit's renewal work of breaking us and transforming us into greater Christ-likeness (see his text, 2 Cor. 3:18). As a Christian counsellor I felt affirmed and validated. Pastoral leaders and others under stress felt empathized with and given food to chew thoughtfully.

He challenged us to attend to the unhealthiness of our church communities; our excessive guilt, anxious attachments and dysfunctional scapegoating of our leaders: is it not often, as he observed, that "every pastor has someone who seems appointed to be his enemy"?

Therefore, he urged us to attend to our wounds! With courage and trust we are to invite God to unmask us and hold our hand as we look at our inner core and work at change. We would be wise to make use of psychotherapy and spiritual direction in this journey. We will have moments of breaking in our adult life that may necessitate this.

He told us of his own breakdown when he failed in his chosen career of engineering. He felt very ashamed, punished himself severely and was unforgiving of himself for a long time. In his book Habits of the Mind 1 he relates this story of his inward struggle with the damage and his eventual taking up of a new career in psychology. God has greatly blessed him in this; he has authored eighteen books about psychology and Christianity. He teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary in California and gives seminars internationally.

He emphasized three needs in the process of healing the self. 1) Deal with our childhood wounds. We can get stuck in troubled adult relationships if we neglect working through these. 2) Learn to wear our adult roles loosely. We need to develop beyond "human doings" into "human beings." 3) Redo our grandstand. Remove from it those who boo us and put positive mentors in the seats to cheer us on in our personal growth. I believe we need to see that God in Christ is centrally located in our grandstand "to cheer and to guide," as the hymn puts it, for his faithfulness is the greatest encouragement I have in running life's course.

I found his view of psychotherapy congruent with my own understanding of it as a practitioner. It is a dialogue involving empathic, nonjudgmental acceptance of the client that works to remove obstacles that prevent our growth. For example, in counselling, one's pains and anxieties can be relieved, hidden truths uncovered and mourning of losses completed. Then the self is freed to accept its worth. As he put it, "self-acceptance precedes self-worth."

He viewed spiritual direction as a contrasting discipline. It is more conditional, imposing rules for growth. I suspect many of us have yet to steer a course that includes its benefits. It is a dialogue with a mentor or trained person that calls us to accountability and self-discipline as we grow in God-like character. It seems to me better that it follow after the healing process has been largely completed. It appears to be important to get the rocks that block the sun and the weeds that choke the plant out of the flowerbed before applying water and fertilizer. Then their effect on the plant's growth will be greatly enhanced.

There is a critical need, Hart said, for both kinds of helps in our church communities and more discussion seems needed to develop their places properly. Both invite us to dialogue. Hart promoted this, quoting research that found the brain i s designed for better processing of ideas in a dialogue than in silent isolated reflection. Perhaps Solomon did similar research! (see Proverbs 27:17). Hart also suggested we pray out loud for better concentration and spiritual growth; silent prayer is a phenomenon seen only in the last 100 years.

While Hart promoted less silence he did urge us to renew ourselves by getting more sleep. He quoted research that found people need six cycles of sleep each night lasting 1 1/2 hours each. In order to feel rested, rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep has to occur: (we dream most in REM sleep, whether we remember it or not) and this happens once every 1 1/2 hour cycle. Thus, he urged we aim for an average of eight-and-a-half hours per night over the course of our week! Weekend sleep-ins improve your average! Restful naps need to be a cycle in length, not ten minutes. Hart found his life became more creative and efficient as he included more sleep in his week.

I found some of his most helpful comments dealt with the renewal in our lives that comes from forgiving those who hurt us. He quoted some research that revealed we value forgiveness culturally but few are clear about what one does when one forgives. One does not forget hurts easily and has a choice to live in the grip of bitterness or in the release of forgiveness. Hart saw three rationales for forgiving. It is the road to personal freedom. It is a form of a relational ethic: it maintains harmony. It is personally empowering: we grow in God-likeness. In our fellowship with God, we are forgiven by him only as we forgive others from our heart (Matt. 18:34). Hart stressed this command of God is the most important reason. Christians must learn to forgive because they have been forgiven the greatest wrong a person can do — that of rejecting God.

Forgiveness is an act of the will. I must decide I will surrender my right to hurt you back. First I have to claim my right, own it in its fullness (from my heart), grieve the hurt and then give up this right, remembering God will judge each of us fairly. Hart argued that forgiveness can be extended to oneself. That I am created with self-awareness means I can relate to myself as an object and therefore it is appropriate and I believe very helpful to surrender my right to punish myself as much as to punish another. In practical terms, I would suggest that I have forgiven you when I realize that I have stopped reminding you of your wrong, when I have stopped telling your wrong to others and when I have stopped ruminating about it in the privacy of my mind. Then I have broken free!

Endnotes

1. Habits of the Mind: ten exercises to renew your thinking. 1996, Word Publishing.