Differentiated Unity??

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 🙂

 

 

Attached at the Heart

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 invites me to look at my attachments and see how they affect my focus. Paul isn’t just talking about relationships in his letter to Corinth; he’s talking about accomplishments, regrets, possessions, or anything to which I may be too attached. There’s nothing wrong with a happy marriage, an engaging job, a time of grief, or nice things as long as my heart isn’t attached so tightly that my focus is misdirected.

But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.(NLT)

Unhealthy attachments cause my heart to fuse, and fusion leads to confusion. God isn’t controlling, or I would be a mindless drone in His field or a heartless statue at His feet. God has the power to make me do exactly what He wants, but He will not use His power to make me love or obey Him. He knows obedience is worthless without free will, and love will never be forced or coerced.

Self differentiation is necessary for love to grow as God desires. Fusion appears to forge a powerful bond, but it only confines and defines in negative ways. Self differentiation frees my heart and leads to healthy connections. God is the ultimate example of self differentiation. He is the great “I Am.” He is who He is, and He wants me to be who He created me to be. That requires putting my focus upon His love and getting away from unhealthy attachments.

I love being a daughter, sister, mother, mother-in-law, Gigi, teacher, friend, etc., but if I cannot have an unhealthy attachment to any role. I am me, and if I fail to be the true me, no relationship, title, or possession will fill the void left in my heart. I believe it’s what Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians.  This world is not permanent, and nothing in it will last. Rather than making me sad, I should find great joy in knowing that the essence of my truest self isn’t about the things in this world. I am created for eternity, and I am free to live and love in a way that reflects that beautiful truth.

Heart in the Sand

Circle Up the Wagons!

Circle Up the Wagons

I was a surprised by the image of a wagon train circling up on the prairie this morning, but I’m learning not to question God when He’s teaching a lesson. In the wild west, circling up the wagons was necessary for the safety of those traveling through dangerous territory. It is an effective strategy for keeping that which isn’t desirable from getting in and that which is precious from getting out.  It formed a tight-knit community of travelers and probably saved many lives.

In this day and age, the technique doesn’t work. In fact, it acts as a sort of bullseye for someone flying overhead. People have the tendency to clump together when threatened, and that is especially true in politics and in religion. It would be comical if it weren’t creating so much tension in our country and all around the world. It’s easy to throw a rock or fire a gun from the inside of a circle of wagons, but it’s much more difficult to love those who think differently that we do.

I get so very tired of the circled up right and left wings, and I’m sure God sighs each time a group of His children decide to circle up and make a stand. Pointing fingers instead of guns, the circles hurl insults and accusations toward one another while trying to get others into their circle. When God looks down upon the circles, I’m sure His heart breaks. He knows the best way to love is to let others be who they are. Christ didn’t circle up the wagons even though His followers were chomping at the bit for Him to do just that. “Let’s rain some fire down on them Lord!” was the fervent cry then, and it is the fervent cry now.

Having to be right and in control is at the heart of circling up in the political arena, and the same themes abound in the world of faith. I grow so weary of folks worrying about that which differentiates us. Self-differentiation is what God desires. He says clearly, “I AM.” He expects us to be who we are and to love each other not only despite our differences, but because of them. God forbid that we should all circle up one day and spew the same rhetoric.

Circling up the wagons is a great example of what fusion does to relationships. It was good for the pioneers to lock hands and stay very close when danger threatened them, but it is terrible for God’s children and shows a lack of faith in Him. Self-differentiation enables growth in our individual relationships with God and one another. When I feel the wagons circling up, I quickly look for a crack to slide through before the circle becomes a noose. I don’t mind if you are on a bandwagon or in a wagon train, just don’t expect me to be on or in it with you. Love me for who I am, not for what I believe. I have my own unique way of loving and living in this world, and I’m learning it’s best to stay away from those tight-knit circles if I want to love as God desires.