radical congruence

This morning, we were working through, “[L]et’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth” (1 John 3:18, CEB). One of the related parts of this turns out to be congruence—that is, having your outsides match your virtuous (or faith-filled) intentions and plans. Which then put me in mind of one of the characters on Lie to Me, Eli Loker. Purportedly, Eli followed a practice called Radical Honesty, which called him to state out loud whatever he was thinking, no filters. It was an interesting side-play in a show that swirled around deception in all its forms. And it’s one approach to congruence… though I don’t think it’s, as we say in academia, the strongest move one could make here.

So what do I see as a better approach? Congruence lay at the heart of my psychotherapeutic work in my twenties. I’ve spent a respectable slug of time, energy, and money on making my insides and outsides connect reliably, routinely, and synchronously. After all, one of the major contributors to my depression was that my outside armor was so highly polished that my suffering inner self could not be seen, much less consoled and supported. Folk, even dear friends, work with the information that’s available… and the information I was sharing was, “Fine! Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here.”

With training and coaching, I learned how I can show my insides via my outsides—and how I can thoughtfully use my outsides to transform my insides. Cool, huh? I thought so, anyway: that running the strategy in reverse can deliver similarly useful results seems magical to me.

Outsides via insides involves paying attention to my physical self—what’s tensed and how—and using the correlation map my therapist helped me develop to peg certain sets of physical symptoms to particular emotions. Once I’m concretely aware of the emotional state I’m in, I let it play across my face and voice. Originally, I felt embarrassed and vulnerable when doing this, but suicide survivorship has been a consistent spur to keeping in practice. That is, I’m pretty sure I’d feel a lot dumber if I were dead.

Insides via outsides works when the insides are winding in on themselves, whether in depression’s molasses darkness or in anxiety’s fishing-line tangle. The outsides here are patterns of what ‘regular’ people do: get up in the morning, groom and dress, eat breakfast, head out the door to work. Speak with colleagues; meet persons over lunch. Step through tasks: one, then the next, then the next. Head home, eat dinner (stretch goal: with vegetables), and climb into bed about eight hours before one needs to arise—and not sooner. When I’m in that place, I don’t want to do these things. I don’t feel like it. It’s a draining effort, particularly the Talk To People parts. Nevertheless, my collected data has confirmed what my therapist assured me—in following the patterns of ‘regular’ life, eventually my inner life straightens out in line with it. The patterns support and build my insides back into strength, and then I’m moving through my days without a blink.

The particularly Christian version of these disciplines work, I think, in both directions at once. Leon pointed out a four-step pattern that builds one’s God-connectedness; walk through these daily, and strength will follow in their wake. At the same time, sharing the connection-building things that cross one’s mind as one moves through the day keeps uncovering God’s light as it shines through. One may feel vulnerable, if not embarrassed, because we don’t practice saying connective things—it’s as if we’re trying to make friends with everyone, and what if they all blow us off? That would hurt! Except… well… one can speak warm, true, connection-building things without actually expecting friendship will follow—and that doesn’t hurt. And by sharing little connections, we are showing little peeks into God’s kingdom, where love is pervasive. Maybe, when we’re stronger, we will share bigger ones-?

The double move shows how Christian this is, because we’re no longer matching our personal insides to our personal outsides. We’re now matching our insides and outsides to Jesus Christ. Insides to Christ to outsides; outsides to Christ to insides. And even though none of this comes automatically, our effort brings results: greater connectedness in all the directions, even during the seasons we’re not feeling like it. With boosts from the Holy Spirit, we are congruent—we stay aligned—with God.

I’ve come to think of the ways I handled the world as a teen as my defaults, the strategies I used before I learned anything different. I still will fall back on them when I’m over-tired, even though those methods nearly killed me. Making insides and outsides match takes steady vigilance, whether it’s for emotional health or faithful Christian practice. But the results… those results are worth the effort.

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