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Know Your Own Story: Be a Witness
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
—Henry David Thoreau
To begin a spiritual journey requires strong intent, so I encourage those of you who want to begin to say, "I am loved by God, and there is nothing I can do to stop it." But in order to say that with conviction, it is important to know who you are as a person, and particularly who you are as a Christian person. So the first step begins by knowing yourself as intimately as possible.
Gloria came to see me as a referral from her physician. It is unusual for me to have a doctor refer a patient to me, but it did happen. The only detail you really need to know concerns one aspect of her spiritual journey. She had found Christ in a powerful personal experience, but her relationship with Christ was not a healthy one. For example, every morning she asked Jesus what clothes she should put on and what to have for breakfast. Sadly, she could not make any decision without being told what to do by Christ, or by anyone else for that matter.
In one of our sessions I leaned forward and moved within two feet of her, looked directly at her, and asked in a soft voice, "Who are you in there?" She answered with a whisper, "I am nothing." Then with increasing repetitions of the statement she said, "I am nothing, I am nothing, I am nothing," until the statement turned into a scream: "I ... am ... nothing!"
The key search of the Christian is to find out who he or she is for God's sake. Jesus' statements "I am the good shepherd" or "I am the light of the world" are characteristics of his identity and mission. He knew who he was and what his life was about.
This is the first step toward increased spiritual intelligence. The spiritually intelligent Christian has the ability to state what he or she believes about God, others, and self, including the ability to share with another the experience of one's own personal journey and its meaning.
So let us begin our journey. I ask you to explore your own understanding of what constitutes a spiritually intelligent person. Pause for a moment and let your mind think of a person in your church, family, or work whom you would identify as someone who has matured as a moment and let your mind think of a person in your church, family, or work whom you would identify as someone who has matured as a Christian. Make sure that you look across the age span. There are sixteen-year-old mature Christians and eighty-year-old immature Christians. What characteristics help you draw that conclusion?
In listening to the persons I interviewed, there was one characteristic that quickly became obvious. All of them had a wonderful story of their faith in God and could clearly articulate it to me. They were not ashamed of sharing with me or with others. This one competency is important. Here is why.
We are now one hundred generations away from when Christ was personally on our planet, given that each generation is about twenty years. Imagine, if you can, where your great-grandparents (100 times over) lived on this earth. Where did they live when Jesus was here? You did have relatives who were alive when Jesus lived his thirty-three years on earth. Now consider this: someone told someone at least one hundred times, once in each generation, about Jesus and God's love, or you would have never heard the good news of God's love. So it is imperative that we learn the skills of sharing our Christian faith with others.
Behaviors You Need to Skillfully Share Your Faith
I want you to be able to use each of the skills that will be presented in this book on a daily basis. Your faith story may be a simple statement of your own experience. Think about your story, and when you hear those of other persons, compliment them.
Recently, my wife and I were in a restaurant for lunch. At a table next to our booth were three women and two small children; I guess the children were about two years old. The children were well behaved, ate what was given to them, and paid attention to the adults. Two of the women were the mothers of the two children. I complimented them as I left, saying I appreciated how well behaved the kids had been. They smiled as if I had made their day. Sharing good news brings hope and help to those who receive it. Try it. Bring hope in every setting you can.
In order to act in affirming ways to another person, you have to become aware of your own self-affirmation—that is, how do you affirm yourself?
The next section of this chapter will give you some tools to use in recognizing that you are a person of worth in the heart of God, which will enable you to share that experience with others by both what you say and what you do.
Direct Expression of Feelings
Sharing your personal experience with another person requires that you are congruent. Congruency is the ability to give the same message with your words, tone of voice, and body language. To authentically share with another, these three things must be aligned with one another.
I sat with a woman in a spiritual direction session. She was sharing with me how God had helped her with a series of problems that were life threatening to her and her family. While telling me this story, which would have scared anyone who experienced it, she sat with a big, fixed grin on her face. The behavior was incongruent with the story she told me. I learned over the many sessions I spent with her that when she was a child she was not permitted to cry or show any sad emotion, so she created this smile to survive in the family setting. She was not allowed to directly express her emotions. They were suppressed. Now, when she goes to share her faith and personal experience with another person, her body tells one story and her words tell another. The result is that people are not quite sure what to believe. Do they believe the message of what her story is telling or the body language that accompanies it? My experience is that we believe a person from the body up. Namely, the body rarely lies because it is operated by the unconscious. Trust the body language and compare that with the rest of the message.
There is a powerful message in Dr. Patricia Cook's doctoral dissertation that illustrates both the use of religious language and how she learned to share her faith. Please be aware of the amount of religious language.
Within the first couple weeks [of Dr. Cook's ministry at her church], Patricia [referring to herself] began a preaching series entitled "What are we selling?" Not highly theological, this seemed to engage the congregation as an appropriate summer series, especially for a new pastor. The congregation heard the message, "If we're not selling Jesus, I'm in the wrong church." The church's key lay leader told Patricia early on that the congregation was buzzing about how much she had preached about Jesus, remarking that no pastor in fifty years had done so.
She remembered how hungry for Jesus she used to be. Growing up in Kettering, Ohio, she attended confirmation classes where she learned the catechism of the Presbyterian Church, memorizing the Apostle's Creed, learning about the structure of the church and its theology. But no one ever said, "I believe in Jesus and here's why ..." It all seemed so impersonal, that by the time she got to high school during the end of the sixties, she and her high school sweetheart agreed that neither of them had a clue who Jesus was even though they had both grown up in the church. Both of them agreed that they believed in God, but that Jesus was irrelevant.
It wasn't until her grandfather died toward the end of her time in college that she and her mother flew to Miami, Florida, where she met an estranged aunt who was in love with Jesus. She accepted all of Patricia's questions on the subject and began to send her books by C. S. Lewis and Corrie Ten Boom. But it was the fact that she seemed to be made of love that drew Patricia to her. She also gave Patricia a Living Bible. Starting in the New Testament, she read about people who were in love with Jesus, and by the time she got to John's gospel and the post-resurrection story where the disciples are in the boat fishing in despair, she had fallen in love with Jesus, too.... Becoming an avid volunteer in her in-laws' church, she even gave a testimony from the pulpit one Sunday. After that, she was never afraid to tell anyone about Jesus.
Dr. Cook learned how to risk and share her faith. Knowing her as I do, I can testify that she is in touch with her emotions and she uses them appropriately. So how does a person get in touch with his or her emotional life? How do we learn to use and develop kinesthetic language—verbal language that expresses and names specific emotions—to help express our faith?
In guiding persons to become more awake to their emotions, there are several approaches.
1. Ask them to remember a specific event that produced fairly strong emotions.
2. Ask them to become aware of any physical response to that event, and to experience it as intensely as they can. They may be aware of it as tension in the stomach, back, upper chest, neck, or any part of the body where the person holds tension.
3. Ask them if that part of their body could talk, what would it say? Let it tell them what it is experiencing. Most likely it will give a story of the experience or name an emotion. Words that come out might be sad, angry, fearful, or hurt. It may be a positive memory of joy, happiness, lovingkindness, or peacefulness, and so forth.
The following is an example of a person with great difficulty in expressing emotions. A woman called and made an appointment to see me, but she did not say why she wanted to come. After her arrival, she sat down in her chair and remained quiet. I asked her what had brought her to see me. She remained quiet. I sat back in my chair and waited. We sat quietly for several minutes with neither of us speaking. I asked her if it was difficult to talk to me about the problem. She nodded her head yes. I asked her if she could just make a sound of any kind. Out came a very weak sound like that of a little child beginning to groan—a kind of an "aaaauuuuugggggh." I asked her to let it get louder. She did so slightly. I encouraged her to bring it out more, and she did but only slightly. She put her head into her hands. I asked if she could let the sound become a word, any word, and very softly but clearly she said, "help," and then in consecutive breaths she said the word over and over but each time with more volume until it was a full-blown scream. Then the emotions broke through and she began to cry profusely. She was now in touch with the emotion. She cried for a few minutes and then was able to tell me about the events that had occurred, and we were finally able to talk about them.
All of us struggle, to some degree, to be consciously in touch with our emotions. Daniel Goleman says: "Self-awareness—recognizing a feeling as it happens— is the keystone of emotional intelligence ... the ability to monitor feelings from moment to moment is crucial to psychological insight and self-understanding. An inability to notice our true feelings leaves us at their mercy. People with great certainty about their feelings are better pilots of their lives, having a sense of how they really feel about personal decisions from whom to marry to what job to take."
I have come to believe that it is very difficult to be spiritually intelligent if you are emotionally stupid. As we will see later in this book, God uses our emotions as one of the key ways in which God communicates with us. It is important to develop emotional intelligence so that you can become a sensitive witness of God's love to another.
Give people permission to feel and to learn the language of how to express their feelings. When you share your story with another, please pay attention to two things that go on simultaneously. Be aware of what you are feeling as you share your story and pay attention to the response you get from the person when you are listening. This fosters your ability to build rapport and trust, allowing you to be more congruent so that the person with whom you are sharing will move emotionally toward you and not away from you, encouraging the person to be more open to what you have to say.
Early in my pastoral ministry I was an aggressive witness of my faith and as one person put it, "I backed people into a corner until they cried Jesus." I am not that way anymore. Why? It did not work. In those days it was more important for me to share what I wanted to say than to pay attention to other people's questions and what they had to say. Please be a listener first before you share your own journey and witness. After all, if you are talking about the love of God, but not showing that love in word, tone, and body language, you have become incongruent and the other person will not trust your message.
There is a phrase I have come to trust: "The response you get is the message you sent." So always be aware of the response you are getting from the other person. If you are getting something you do not feel is appropriate, ask yourself, "What am I doing to get that response?" It may be that you will need to change your own behavior in order to get a different reaction. Pay as much attention to your own behavior as to that of the person with whom you are sharing your witness of faith.
An Exercise in Emotional Awareness
There are many places and times when you can practice this wonderful skill. The next time you are with someone, simply pay attention to what is going on inside of you while you are in that person's presence. Are you comfortable with the person or do you sense some anxiety or anger? The response in you is often what is in them. Learn to trust your tummy.
On one of my trips to Australia, I was told a wonderful story about such awareness. Icky, the main character in this story, is asked to train a group of young boys how to listen. He says, "Boys, I want to give you your first lesson in listening. I want you to learn how to listen with your tummy." One of the little boys says, "Is me belly button me ear?" "Yes," says Icky. "Your belly button is your ear. Learn to listen with your tummy, smell with your eyes, and see with your ears." It is using this sensitivity with others that will build the kind of relationship that will allow the listener to receive your message.
Harold Wooten, who is a friend, colleague, and author, has produced a marvelous training event called "Powerful Presentations—It's All about an Authentic You!" He teaches that the student should learn to be transparent; that is, without pretense or deception. It is that kind of behavior and attitude that leads to the best kind of witness.
It became apparent to me that the persons I interviewed were such genuine, authentic Christians that it would have been difficult not to accept their witness.
Understanding Your Beliefs
In sharing your story and your beliefs about God or Christ it might be helpful for you to understand how beliefs are formed, not only in you but also in the person with whom you are sharing. In my book Listening and Caring Skills, I share in depth how we get our belief system, but here is the core of that material: the concepts of belief development are crucial to understanding how a belief is formed and how best to share your beliefs with another person.
Developing Kinesthetic Beliefs: I Believe What I Feel
Your belief systems, those beliefs that make up your understanding of the world, are shaped from your earliest childhood. During the first three years of life the brain is growing at the rate of one to three million synaptic connections per second. We are in fact getting wired for life. During this time, the brain does not just learn from words but from tone of voice, visual clues (like the smile of the mother), and from emotional experiences (how the world feels). When the children have a secure setting, they are able to be open to both the love and caring of others. They will respond appropriately. By far, the first years of life are the most important because children base their beliefs not just on oral teachings but from the experiences they are having. These years are what I call the kinesthetic years—the years of the initial development of emotions. To put it succinctly, "I believe what I feel." These feelings often act as commandments for our behavior later on in life, thus I use the language of "Life Commandments." This level of growth is crucial to spiritual development because God communicates through our experiences (see Step II). Those feelings of early childhood reside with us most of our lives. They can enhance our potential or they can limit it.
Excerpted from Your Spiritual IQ by John S. Savage. Copyright © 2010 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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