Claim Your Own Mental Fitness

DSC01644 When (God’s) love chooses, it chooses with a perfect sensitivity to the unique beauty of the chosen one, and it chooses without making anyone else feel excluded. Henri J. M. Nouwen

Competing for love is a concept that probably dates back to prehistoric times when humanoids rightly feared death if they were excluded from their tribes because others won out in the struggle to demonstrate for strength, cleverness or beauty. While our brain evolved, ever-present danger may have helped to wire in the second Toxic Belief, that we have worth only if we compete successfully against others. This belief still dominates in our culture today and has been a major theme in history.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, in his book Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, challenges this belief when he proclaims that God loves and values everyone. He doesn’t specifically address the fact that in the New Testament, John 14:6, Jesus states “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” Numerous other references to this idea have lead many Christians to believe that one must “claim Jesus as savior in order to be saved.” Those who don’t, will lose their chance for eternal life and die without forgiveness for their sins. In Biblical times as today people were immersed in competition for almost everything else in their lives; how could people feel beloved without competing?

In the picture above, a rainbow over the empty cross suggests to me a bridge for people of all types and colors, from flawed humankind (who hung Jesus on a cross) to God. Situated outside our Methodist church, this simple cross reminds us that Jesus’ message is what counts. His message was, as Nouwen states, that God knows, forgives and loves us no matter what. Suppose God actually did reject everyone whose culture didn’t teach about Jesus and all those who don’t believe in God or in Jesus’ story. Could we really trust him and feel beloved? Mainline protestant churches in the US teach that Biblical information, though inspired by God, reflects the cultural attitudes of the writers. This means we must not latch on to any lesson that conflicts with Jesus’ primary message that God loves us all.

Nouwen urges us to embrace this belovedness in order to feel secure enough that we can put aside envy, fear or hostility when others differ from us. How can we withstand the overwhelming influence of our competitive society and do this? We must apply our mental fitness skills to rewrite the second Toxic Belief. Because this belief seems to be wired in, managing it requires continual monitoring. Our Adult must be very much alert, when others display superior talents or skills, that we may be triggered into fight-or-flight and put up barriers. It must be ready with Wise Parent reassurance, like words about how God cherishes the very uniqueness that makes us less capable than others in some ways.

Nouwen’s words for our Wise Parent can help us stay out of fight-or-flight and feel at peace more of the time. We can feel closer to God when we pray, and draw more strength as we remember his unconditional love. Convinced of our unique value, we can love ourselves as we love our neighbors, and we can truly love them. Mental fitness teaches us to recognize that our brain is different from others’ brains and so our ability to manage fight-or-flight also differs. This means we can forgive others even when we can’t understand them.

Mental fitness leads us to have compassion for ourselves and others as we struggle to maintain our Adult’s command of our primitive human nature. On the cross, when Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), he seems to recognize how we humans are wired to act often without understanding. His forgiveness demonstrates the unconditional love of God that Nouwen proclaims.

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