Differentiated unity may sound like an oxymoron, but it is a beautiful truth I am learning to embrace. I first learned about self-differentiation eight years ago when a friend introduced me to the concept. He used a pencil and a rubber band to help me understand the difference between unhealthy fusion and healthy differentiation. I don’t pretend to be an expert on family systems, but I have learned to discern how being who I am allows me to connect as God desires.
Fusion creates a tight bond, but it is a bond that doesn’t allow movement or growth. It is the type of connection I preferred because there is a sick sort of safety with fusion. It’s concrete walls are a powerful form of protection. Self-differentiation requires letting go and allowing myself and those to whom I connect the room they need to expand, move, explore, and grow.
God is the ultimate example of self-differentiation. He describes Himself as The Great I AM. He is Who He is, and He always will be. He refuses to fuse, but so many Christians refuse to follow His example. It’s easier to fuse to a group or set of beliefs than it is to have a personal relationship with the Creator and those He created. I have struggled with the notion most of my life. My lack of faith caused me to focus upon what I could do for God and others and avoid differentiation.
Doing is, and always will be, much easier than being. Being requires stillness and trust that God knew what He was doing when He created me. I have to admit I have often believed He must have been having an off day when He created me. My early childhood cemented that belief into my head and my heart. I was not like everyone else. I knew this because my father pounded the notion into my body, and my mother whispered it into my spirit. Difference defined and confined my heart, so I and learned to make others happy by doing for them or making them laugh. It worked by all accounts, except for the one God was keeping in my heart.
I learned about self-differentiation in an honest, loving environment where I could be me and still be loved. I loved the freedom of being myself with someone who understood and encouraged, but I didn’t learn how to apply the learning to all aspects of my life until recently. Letting go is the test of self-differentiation, and anyone who has an adult child understands the pain involved in letting someone you love go so they can become their truest self.
As I watched my son love his family and help clean up after our wonderful meal, I was filled with pride. The mark of a great relationship is not how tightly I hold on to those I love, it is in how willing I am to let them go and grow into who they are meant to be. It is like the quote often attributed to Richard Bach, “If you love something, let it go; if it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”
I never felt closer to my son than I did in a quiet moment when we hugged yesterday. I told him it was the best Thanksgiving ever, and he said that they just kept getting better and better. I will not completely understand self-differentiation until I am with God in heaven, but I experienced a sweet taste of it in that beautiful Thanksgiving hug.
The unity God desires does not come from holding on; it comes from letting go. Differentiated unity makes perfect sense to my heart. It took eight years for me to understand it, but that moment when it settled in my heart yesterday was well worth the wait 🙂