Stumbling toward Wholeness: How the Love of God Changes Us

Stumbling toward Wholeness: How the Love of God Changes Us

by Andrew J. Bauman


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We desire to be transformed, to grow more and more like Christ. But for many of us, our strategies for change don’t work. We misperceive God as a judgmental Father, leaving us demoralized and paralyzed by shame. Stumbling toward Wholeness offers a new strategy for spiritual growth and life transformation: regularly returning to the arms of a kind and loving Father.

There are many books that explore the parable of the Prodigal Son, but few approach it with the personal vulnerability and psychological insight of Andrew Bauman. Andrew shows how taking the time to identify with each of the brothers in this story can help us come to terms with our own brokenness and the need for God revealed in it. We discover a process of change that applies to each of us and a healing journey that moves us toward the likeness of the Father in how we love the people around us and address the pain others have caused us.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631467776
Publisher: The Navigators
Publication date: 09/18/2018
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 445,806
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x (h) x 8.25(d)

About the Author

Andrew J. Bauman is a licensed health counselor. He holds a master of arts in counseling psychology from The Seattle School or Ideology & Psychology and is currently working on ms doctorate from Northeastern University. He and his wife, Christy, run Collective Hope Counseling in Seattle, Washington. Andrew is the author of The Psychology of Porn and (with Christy) A Brave Lament.

Read an Excerpt



Addiction is not the problem. Addiction is the attempt to solve a problem.


Even though you get the monkey off your back, the circus never really leaves town.


[Jesus] said, "A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him."

LUKE 15:11-16

DURING MY SOPHOMORE YEAR OF COLLEGE, I was flunking out of school. Drugs, alcohol, and sex kept me numb enough to survive, but I knew I needed a change of environment to remain alive. I packed all my belongings in the back of my '89 Isuzu Trooper and moved from my apartment on campus to live in a small tent about seven miles from the school in what was known as "pocket wilderness" in the East Tennessee Mountains. The woods felt safer than the hyperconservative college I attended. The woods didn't judge me for my tattoo, earrings, and untamed appearance. It held my tears and doubt with kindness. I remember long days sitting by the river, skipping class and soul writing, praying to something or someone for help, craving a new life and yet not knowing how to get one.

Even in the darkest of days, I heard whispers of God in those woods. He continued to woo me to the life I was seeking, but my loneliness was by far the loudest voice I heard in this season of running away.

One afternoon I decided to return to campus to check my mail. I met eyes with a resident director about thirty feet ahead of me. I smiled and nodded; he did the same. I was happy someone of influence saw me and acknowledged my presence and was pleasant. He walked toward me as I gathered my mail. He was actually going to talk to me; I was so lonely, so hungry for connection, that my heart leaped.

His first words were "I'm going to have to give you a demerit for wearing shorts in this building." I had forgotten that I had shorts on instead of the required long pants (it was eighty degrees outside). My smile quickly changed to shock. He had no way of knowing that just the other day I had held a gun in my hand, imagining how the bullet would pass through my brain. This is exactly why I had run to the woods for safety. His one sentence killed something in my heart: He was more concerned with my behavior and following the rules than about my very life.

Why was I breaking the rules? Why was I acting out? We often hope that our internal struggles will be evident to others. I was lost and needed Christ's people to locate me, to see my face and kindly name what they saw. I wanted him to say, "I haven't seen you in a while — I have missed you" or "How are you really doing? You look sad." I longed for his eyes to be soft and his heart open to listening to my untold stories, to truly love me instead of judging and dismissing me. I know he thought he was just doing his job, yet he missed a divine opportunity to love me at a desperate time in my life. His lack of acknowledgment and kindness seared my heart. I was breaking the rules and acting out because I wanted to literally get "caught" — to be held and known by someone larger than myself.

We often miss the desperate pleas of others. In an attempt to do what is "right," we miss the heart of Christ's command to "love one another" (John 13:34). That was my last semester at this particular institution, and though I continued to struggle with my identity and place in God's story, I was thankful to get out of that season of desperation alive. I continued to stumble forward, seeking folks who would be able to enter my pain with wisdom and care.

I (and all of us) bear a trajectory similar to that of the son in our parable. A litany of addictions, deep-seated shame, extravagant living, wasteful spending, and sexual promiscuity — these and other forms of sabotage in our lives represent a rebellion from what is good, a sprint away from love, a fear of hope, an exodus from the glory available to us.


There's a popular saying: "We should focus on the sin beneath the sin." The behavioral sin on the surface is often a symptom rather than the core problem. In the church, more damage has been done by deep relational sin than by surface behavioral sin.

Relational sin is simply a refusal to love; it's the choice (at times unconscious) to use, betray, or commodify an image bearer of God. Jesus seems to suggest as much in the Sermon on the Mount. He seems to say that behavioral sin is not of primary importance; more important in the Kingdom perspective is the relational sin beneath the behavior. When we treat a person poorly, the core sin is not the bad behavior per se, but the disregard of the person's dignity as an image bearer of God.

Most of us have little problem admitting our sinfulness. Our failures can be easily recognized. Many times, though, we focus on the what of sin instead of looking more deeply into the why. Sinful behavior can be an easy target that allows us to ignore a condition of the heart that needs tending. Because we feel unworthy of love, we move away from healing and consequently are more likely to harm others. Sinful behavior, then, can be both symptom and side effect of brokenness.

I don't know what started the movement of the prodigal son away from his home, but I know that his travels to the far country started with a decision to push away relationship and love and journey toward comfort and false intimacy. He operated under the illusion that he could do life by himself, on his own terms. The truth was that he had the means to travel and party only because his father liquidated his assets.

The hearers of Jesus that day would have been astounded by this story. No one would ever treat his or her father that way. For the prodigal to ask for his inheritance early (before his father's death) was equivalent to "wishing his father dead." So this is our first glimpse of the father: a demonstration of sacrificial love. When his son makes his outlandish request, the father honors it at great cost to himself, both in terms of finances and in terms of his reputation. But the son wasn't thinking about sacrificial love; he was seeking a comfortable life, running from responsibility and relationship.

We run from all sorts of things. When my parents were in the beginning of the end of their marriage, I decided to run away. I don't know whether I was reacting to the tension in our home, overhearing arguments, or just feeling an overwhelming fear that my entire world was no longer safe. I loaded my small backpack with vital provisions of graham crackers and juice boxes, went out on the back porch, and turned left to find a small break in the fence that I was able to crawl under. As I hid in the nearby woods, it was weirdly comforting to hear my parents frantically searching for me, though I had been gone for only a couple of hours. It was as if I needed to know that I mattered, that they would try to find me. As the sun began to set, I returned home to the tearstained face of my father. I remember my surprise when I saw my absence had affected him.

We rarely grow out of the temptation to escape to places of comfort and release. Many times children are more authentic in acknowledging their pain, and we as adults must learn to listen and see. Our adult forms of running away can look quite different from those of childhood, but they are actually not that different at all. As a child, I just packed my bag and walked out of my family chaos, while as an adult, I stayed quiet and escaped through addiction.


The energy behind running away is a commitment to relief and a refusal to sorrow and struggle. Addiction is one of the most common manifestations of escape from self. We see this in the prodigal-son story as he depletes his resources and a famine overtakes the land. With his resources gone, he finds himself lost and desperate, looking for something to connect with and belong to. He attaches to the countrymen who give him a job, but the job is unsatisfactory (our wrong attachments will never give us enough of what we want). We then find him hoping to eat the pods he is feeding the pigs. The hearers of this story would have known of this food, thought to be carob pods that are sweet but not satisfying, and incapable of sustaining human life. The picture of the young, lost orphan longing to eat what would not satisfy him is a vivid picture of addiction.

Henri Nouwen wrote, "I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found." One of the most significant ways I embodied the runaway son was my search for love in my thirteen-year addiction to pornography. I come from the first generation where anyone old enough to click a button could access pornography.

I was twelve when my family first got dial-up internet in my home. My friend Steven was an excellent teacher; he showed me how to search for naked women and erase the history so our parents wouldn't find out. We knew how to use the computer better than our parents, and this new uncharted nude world at our fingertips was always accessible and incredibly exhilarating. We were not afraid of getting caught, as we had become masters of deception and had internalized our shame. Within a few days of finding my new hobby, I had seen more naked women than my grandfather had in his entire life. I felt alive.

We will always be drawn to life, whether that is genuine life offered by God or its counterfeit. During the years I was addicted to porn, I had long seasons of sobriety at times. I had accountability partners and belonged to men's groups. I prayed ten thousand times for God to remove temptation — for him to forgive me, or at least show me mercy and make me a eunuch. But I was still addicted, and it was a horrible struggle. Nothing worked. God remained silent, and I could never bring myself to the knife.

My use of porn began as an innocent curiosity. Since there was so much silence in our home concerning sexuality, I needed to find answers, and Steven had them. Sadly, those "answers" slowly began to grip my life with a steady clinch, and my curiosity turned habitual. I would make sure my mom and siblings were gone and go into the sanctuary of the computer room to soothe. My computer screen remained lit, I still liked naked women, and shame bound me more and more.

All affections in the far country work this way. It's not hard to imagine that the prodigal in Jesus' story tried to find satisfaction in money, shallow friends, popularity, and sexual promiscuity. When life becomes all about self and when the energy of life is about relief from our self-imposed hunger for true connection, then love becomes manipulation, strength becomes cowardice, and dignity becomes arrogance. Pornography addiction is a perfect example of this. I stopped seeking intimacy with a real-life partner who could have the power to hurt me. While using pornography, I didn't have to consider the needs of a partner, as it was a completely selfish act, whereas genuine love is about giving and receiving pleasure, a shared human experience of goodness.

Evil is that thing that is set against God and, because we are created in God's image, is set against us. Evil is self-propagating, emulating God's creative work in its own destructive effort, committed to steering us away from love and toward lesser things. Whenever we find ourselves ensnared in addiction, we can, if we are careful and diligent, discover in it a godly desire turned upside down. So driving each of our affections gone mad is a God-instilled longing for beauty, strength, hope, relationship, and delight. In other words, there is a deeper desire driving our addiction. What we need and want, what we are made for ultimately, is relationship.

In Jesus' telling of the prodigal parable, we are not privy to what the son was after, specifically. Was he searching for fulfillment of longings he could not satisfy at his father's table? What was keeping him from connecting with his father's love? Jesus doesn't tell us, but because his parables are intended to cause us to reflect on our own journeys, we might surmise that the prodigal both craved and feared intimacy, as we do. The young son struck out on his own to find life apart from owning his deep longing for connection and relationship with his father.

This was true in my prodigal journey. Running toward pornography addiction was actually the closest thing to heavenly connection that I could access at the time. My family had been devastated by my father's infidelity, which led to a formal severing when my parents split. My pornography use started after my parents' separation, as I longed for some form of relief and beauty in the desolation of my life. I ached to be touched, to be held, to feel pleasure, and to numb my pain. Pornography met those needs, as any addiction does for a time, but it never answered the deepest questions of my heart. Behind the thin veneer of each of our stories is a common thread of hoping for genuine connection and sabotaging any chance of it. In fact, says therapist and author Dan Allender, "Every addiction is an attempt to slay hope."

This is not just the banter of a therapist trying to justify his own poor choices. In the late 1970s, Bruce K. Alexander, a psychologist, noticed this curious connection between addiction and relationships. He saw that rats kept isolated in cages would inevitably become addicted to the numbing chemical offered them, choosing water laced with morphine over tap water. However, when put in a "rat park" full of other rats (relationships), toys, and activities (healthy pleasure and playful delight), a significantly lower number of rats would choose the numbing substance and become addicted. In humans, this connection was noticed with Vietnam veterans. Many would take heroin in Vietnam to self-soothe and escape from the horrors of war in a faraway land; however, most would discontinue heroin use as they reentered their normal world full of relationships and families.

It seems that the story of the prodigal son is teaching us what science is just now coming to understand: It is relationship that drives us, damages us, and heals us. Until we discover how we have moved away from relationship and toward false connections and name what we truly crave (authentic intimacy), we will be stuck, much like the prodigal lost in the pigpen.


The prodigal will never leave the pigpen by focusing on only the sadness of his desire for the "pods," like leftovers instead of a meal. If he focuses on only his disgraceful position, he will never risk the shift for something better. The prodigal rejects relationships and community and commits himself to selfish living. He wastes his money and it runs out. Any friends in his new community do not seem to stick with him after his money is gone. There is a famine in the land, leading to further trouble and despair. One of the signs of addiction is to continue one's behavior despite the consequences, and his change in fortune did not change the prodigal.

There is a great ironic twist of shame in the story. Pork is a forbidden food for Jesus' audience, yet here is the Jewish boy feeding pigs. The young man has gone from being full of confidence and having money in his pocket to being lonely and defeated, feeding the livestock and desperately needing reprieve. The same pigs that were restricted from his diet became his companions, and he envied the food they ate. Hearers of this parable knew it to be a tragic tale, but Jesus knew that addiction and shame were not the end of the prodigal's story. In the eyes of the storyteller, this was the beginning of redemption.


Excerpted from "Stumbling Toward Wholeness"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Andrew J. Bauman.
Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Acknowledgments xv

Synopsis of Luke 15:11-32 A Story of a Loving Father and His Wayward Sons xix

Introduction Stumbling toward Wholeness xxiii

Part 1 Traveling To The Far Country: The Runaway Son

Chapter 1 Battling Affections Gone Mad 3

Chapter 2 Exposing Our Shame 17

Chapter 3 Confronting Our Self-Contempt 39

Chapter 4 Wrestling with Goodness 55

Part 2 Staying Home: The Entitled Elder Brother

Chapter 5 Demanding Our Due 71

Chapter 6 Owning Our Contempt for Others 87

Chapter 7 Addressing Abandonment and Betrayal 101

Part 3 Returning Home: The Welcoming Father

Chapter 8 Grieving Our Wounds 113

Chapter 9 Engaging Kindness 131

Chapter 10 Embracing Resurrection 145

Notes 165

What People are Saying About This

Brad Cooper

This book takes a brave look at the story of the prodigal son and invites the reader to find true freedom in the loving arms of the Father. It calls us to embrace the resurrection that is found on the other side of repentance.

Sharon A. Hersh

Ever since I read Stumbling toward Wholeness by Andrew Bauman, I want to give a copy to everyone. Whether you are stumbling or marching, heading in many directions at once or confidently toward one, or looking for wholeness or who knows what—this book is for you. As you read it, you will realize you both stumble and march, you know what you long for, and you live with an inexplicable ache; and somehow, somewhere along this path, faith finds you. Do you have the audacity to consider the possibility of wholeness in this fractured world? Answer yes. Pick up this book. You are on the path to a radically new way of life.

Tony Kriz

Today I add Andrew Bauman’s name to Luke, Nouwen, and Rembrandt as my beloved guides through the magical prodigal story from Jesus. Illumination is an ancient sacred practice. Stumbling toward Wholeness helped me anew to carry my grief, my shame, my confession, and my mourning, nudging me with its honesty and wisdom toward healing, joy, and hope.

Tullian Tchividjian

A few years ago, a friend of mine said, “We are at a time in the life of the church where stories of failure are much more important than stories of success.” I couldn’t agree more. And while that may sound counterintuitive, it shouldn’t surprise us. In fact, what should surprise us is that our fascination with success stories has gained so much ground inside the church. After all, the Bible makes it clear that it is in our weakness that we discover God’s strength; it is in our guilt that we discover God’s grace; it is in our shame that we discover God’s salvation; it is in our rebellion that we discover God’s rescue; it is in our slavery that we discover God’s freedom; it is in our failure that we discover God’s faithfulness. This is one of the many reasons I deeply appreciate Andrew Bauman’s book: It’s real and it’s raw. It’s uncomfortably honest and therefore unfathomably hopeful. We need more books like this—books that acknowledge brokenness and need—for it is only then that we will see and appreciate the one-way love of God that comes our way minus our merit. Thank you, Andrew, for reminding me that “it is finished.” I keep forgetting.

Craig Detweiler

What a bold, brave, and thoughtful reflection on the prodigal-son story. Andrew Bauman invites us into the drama and equips us to identify the feelings of shame, betrayal, contempt, and grief that we all wrestle with as we stumble toward wholeness. I came away encouraged by the boundless love of the Father for us all.

Chuck DeGroat

Stumbling toward Wholeness is exactly what the title implies: It’s Andrew Bauman’s life, in process, shared beautifully and vulnerably with us as a gift. Yet, like any good story, it tells a larger story, imagined through the ancient biblical tale of a father and his two sons. It’s his story and their story, but somehow it’s also our story. And this is the beauty of Andrew’s work. You’ll be invited into the tears and laughter of a prodigious Lover who sees you, pursues you, and embraces you.

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