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About the Author
Steve Wiens is the founding pastor of Genesis Covenant Church. He, his wife, Mary, and their three young boys live in Maple Grove, Minnesota. He blogs at stevewiens.com and podcasts at This Good Word.
Read an Excerpt
WHERE ARE YOU?
Still I'm pinned under the weight of what I believed would keep me safe. So show me where my armor ends; show me where my skin begins.
"PLUTO" BY SLEEPING AT LAST
I'M SITTING UNDERNEATH the rustic beams of a sturdy deck at a bed-and-breakfast in Somers, Montana, overlooking Flathead Lake. A pair of deer just ambled by, nosing each other in the early morning fog, oblivious of the brokenness in our world, oblivious of the brokenness in me.
I'm looking for something here in Montana. Perhaps what I'm really looking for is in here, deep inside me, but it feels elusive, like the deer I just saw. Perhaps it's my secret, wanting to be heard.
I'm in Somers because I won the lottery and got to spend some time with former pastor Eugene Peterson, author of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language and many other books. His books remind me that you can be a pastor and a human being, though it isn't easy.
Eugene said a lot of things during our past two days together, and I wrote down as many of them as I could. He's in his eighties, and his gentle, unassuming wisdom is the kind you lap up like water. I asked him what unique temptations pastors face today. He didn't hesitate with his answer.
"Impatience. Pastors want so badly to be successful right now."
I'm sure he saw me wince, but I tried to hide it.
Later he said, "It's impossible to be a successful pastor. You're a bundle of failings."
When he said those words, I dropped my shoulders, as if someone had just let a little bit of air out of the balloon of my soul, just enough so that I could take a small breath of real air again. But those words also stung, because the truth really does hurt.
Please feel free to laugh out loud at this next admission.
In 1980 our very Baptist family somehow came into the possession of a record by the soft rock duo Air Supply, even though I'm pretty sure we weren't allowed to have secular albums in our house. I played that record over and over again, singing loudly along with the melancholy melodies, all of which were designed for the heartbroken.
I wonder what sadness I was trying to express by singing those songs?
I was nine years old, and apparently I was "all out of love."
We've all experienced times in childhood when parts of ourselves felt exposed, when we needed someone to help us through something sad, terrible, or confusing. And these orphan parts of us end up lost, and we have no idea how to get anywhere in the world.
I believe that those orphaned parts of me were raised by immature older siblings, Approval and Admiration, who taught me I'd survive only if I could continually achieve enviable levels of success and admiration. I'd keep producing success because the alternative was to look inside myself, which would be terrifying. Approval and Admiration said I'd always need lots and lots of success and positive feedback to hide my very real insecurity.
They also gave me a very simple formula I needed to follow: Succeed at everything, be admired, keep achieving.
If you're familiar with the Enneagram, you'll understand that as a 3, I'm very effective at getting things done and persuading people to go where I'm going. But it also means that when I feel as though I'm failing at what I'm doing, I think that I'm all out of love. More than that, I feel as though I'm disappearing.
All those things came tumbling out of my mouth years later as I sat with my friend Seth Haines while overlooking the overgrown willow trees in my backyard.
Seth is a Southern gentleman who lives in Arkansas. He's gentle and strong, tethered to something ancient and true. He and his wife, Amber, have four boys, the kind who bring home snakes and who conceal and carry Arkansas dirt in their pockets as if it were gold. Their life is busy and happy, filled with all the normal joy and anxiety packed into a family of six.
But when they almost lost their two-year-old son, Titus, Seth swallowed some dangerous glass.
Titus had been losing weight and was constantly sick, and they were worried. The only diagnosis they had was "failure to thrive," and the doctors didn't know what to prescribe. Titus's large eyes stared out at them as he began to slip away in the hospital.
When the doctors finally said, "All we can do is help him be as comfortable as possible," Seth decided he wasn't going to feel anything anymore. So he asked his sister to smuggle a bottle of gin into the hospital, and he started drinking in earnest. Gin was his alcohol of choice, perhaps because it was the choice of his father and grandfather before him.
When he was out with friends, family, and coworkers, he limited the number of drinks he would have, but in private, his daily regimen included polishing off a drink or two before he left his law offices and then drinking several more at home. This went on for a little more than a year, with Titus not getting any better, until Seth woke up one day with what he calls a "glorious Christian hangover."
That day was the beginning of his journey toward sobriety.
Seth wrote his story in a raw, gorgeous book called Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, which details the first ninety days of his sobriety. Seth's sin of choice was abusing alcohol, but as he says, "My alcoholism is not the thing, see. Neither is your eating disorder, your greed disorder, or your sex addiction. Your sin is not the thing. The thing is under the sin. The thing is the pain. Sin management without redemption of life's pain is a losing proposition."
So you can guess where Seth's questions focused when he and I talked, the time I couldn't hide under those willows.
If you're going to do the good work of restoring what's broken, you're going to have to deal with your own jagged glass and come out of hiding.
Where are you?
When the first human beings lost their way, God asked them a question. I find this hopeful. From the very first interaction, God was attentive and curious, inviting them to be honest.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" GENESIS 3:8-9
As the story goes in Genesis 3, this question comes directly after the first really big train wreck, after which things went hopelessly wrong. Whatever you believe about literal talking serpents and actual apples, this scene has been repeated so many times over the course of human history that it's obviously more than literal. It's true, in every desperate sense of the word.
The story of the first cover-up is the story of all the cover-ups, which we have reenacted many times. We could just as easily call these cover-ups sin, which is admittedly a grenade of a word, but let's be honest, what else would you call rape? What else would you call the slaughter that is happening right before our eyes at the hands of ISIS?
And what else would you call the small movement you make toward your coworker, who is not your spouse, following that undeniable spark? That small line you decidedly and intentionally cross? What else would you call it?
If you're still not convinced, what else would you call snarky Facebook comments?
I was recently speaking at my friend Andrew's church in Providence, Rhode Island, where I came across the best definition of sin I've ever heard: "Legitimate longings that have gone astray."
I have a legitimate longing to be significant, to see that whatever mark I make in my corner of the world matters. I have a legitimate longing for my words to find a soft place to land, in the hearts and minds of people who want to find a God who seems to be unfindable. I have a legitimate longing to be noticed and to be affirmed for what I bring to the world.
But the edge between using my gifts for the good of the world and relying on my gifts to make me valuable is razor-thin, and I fall off it entirely too often.
What do you do to get noticed? Where do your gifts blur into self-indulgence? Where have your legitimate longings gone astray?
We can surely all agree that we have some idea of what good is but that we seem to be unable to carry it out consistently. And we have at least some idea of what bad is, and we seem to indulge in it more often than we'd like to admit.
There does seem to be an undeniable human propensity to mess things up, doesn't there?
And when you mess things up, you feel shame, and so you run away and hide.
Sin first entered the picture when Adam and Eve mistrusted the one who had otherwise been trustworthy, because it suddenly seemed as if God might have been holding out on them. And so they reached out and grabbed the thing they believed should have been theirs in the first place (of course it was they; Adam was all too eager to get in on it with her but then conveniently offered Eve the blame). Then the blaming went back and forth until they were both covered in self-hatred. And then they heard God coming. That's when their innocence floated away.
And so they ran away and hid.
God pursued them with a question, one that brought them out of hiding.
"Where are you?" God asked.
Oh, God, where am I?
God hasn't stopped asking that question.
Where are you?
Before they chose to hide, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden in the physical and emotional state of being naked and unashamed. To live naked and unashamed means to live in the radical vulnerability of complete trust. The closest resemblance we have now is a newborn baby with his or her mother.
We think growing up means getting increasingly more independent, but life in the Garden seemed to demonstrate something different: a vulnerability that involved both personal agency and dependence. Adam and Eve are instructed to take care of the Garden while also depending on the God who put them there in the first place. When we believed the lie that the serpent whispered to us, we lost the thread that connected personal agency to trust. And so every time we fail, we feel shame and go into hiding instead of looking back into the eyes of our mothers and receiving more of what we need to keep growing.
GOD called to the Man: "Where are you?" He said, "I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid." GOD said, "Who told you you were naked?"
GENESIS 3:9-11, MSG
Adam evaded God's question. He told God that he had hidden, but he didn't tell God where he actually was. To admit out loud where we actually are is one of the most vulnerable things we can do. It's far easier to hide, even from ourselves. We hide because we are afraid.
When the serpent had come to the couple and incited them out of that vulnerability and into mistrust, he also came with a question.
The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: "Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?" GENESIS 3:1, MSG
The word for "clever" (arum) can also mean "crafty or shrewd." The man and the woman had previously been naked but felt no shame. After their interaction with the crafty one, they felt naked. They were covered in shame for the very first time.
Have you ever met someone who had the uncanny ability of making you feel naked and ashamed?
When the serpent asked the woman if God had really told her not to eat from any tree in the Garden, he was planting a seed of doubt in her mind. The serpent was implying God could not be trusted.
Don't miss the larger truth happening here: Sin isn't the first true thing about being human. The first true thing about being human is living with God, and with one another, in the radical vulnerability of complete trust. And we gave that radical vulnerability away. We exchanged it for independence and mistrust and scarcity.
The work of restoration starts with the desire to come out of hiding and return to the radical vulnerability of complete trust.
Where are you? There are lots of places to hide when you feel exposed. We typically hide by fashioning armor that will cover our weaknesses and prevent us from having to be vulnerable.
Maybe you hide in your perfectionism.
Maybe you hide by deflecting praise.
Maybe you hide by always remaining the victim.
Maybe you hide by making sure you're always the first one to offer help but never being the one who needs help.
Maybe you hide by wearing the coat of the activist, but you won't admit that it's easier to love someone across the world than someone who lives in your own home.
Maybe you hide by insisting that you're a contemplative, but you won't admit that part of your lack of engagement is that you're just afraid.
Adam and Eve allowed God to cover them after they felt the hot shame of their nakedness (see Genesis 3:21). Do you dare to believe that your journey out of hiding will start with being clothed by God — not yourself — so that you can go where you need to go?
You've swallowed some jagged glass, and you've gone into hiding. This is part of what it means to be human. What would it take for you to come out of hiding? What would it take for you to name where you actually are? What would it feel like to return to a state of vulnerability and radical trust?
It's a wise person who knows where he or she is, even if hiding. It's from that honest place that wholeness can grow. For many of us, we're hiding in the very place where we lost our innocence, when we traded radical trust and vulnerability for shame and hiding. For some of you, this may have come from obvious trauma, and for others, it may have come from the minor cuts and bruises that accrued over time while you were growing up.
What sent you running? What made you hide?
I was in second grade, and I was shooting baskets alone at recess. Even back then, I liked to steal away by myself. I got nervous when Jimmy walked up to the basketball court and just stood there. Jimmy was the kind of kid who made you like him one moment and fear him the next. He asked to shoot baskets with me, and I asked him to leave, but he wouldn't. He just stood there and kept asking. I kept shooting, ignoring him. Finally, he rebounded one of my shots and got ahold of the ball, and when he did, something exploded inside of me. I tackled him and began punching him, over and over again.
In the principal's office, as she was trying to figure out what had happened, I couldn't stop crying. Jimmy sat there stone-faced, looking much stronger than I felt. Hot shame covered me as I cried and cried. Not only had I lost control of myself on the basketball court, but even worse, I was losing it in front of the person who intimidated me. Being exposed like that felt terrifying. This was the seventies; no crying was allowed if you wanted to be a strong boy. I never, ever wanted that to happen to me again.
I learned that day that I couldn't trust myself not to lose control — in anger or in sadness. And so I made a vow to hold it together, to never lose it, to keep those dangerous emotions inside of me.
It turns out that if you try to keep those dangerous emotions stuck inside of you, other things get stuck down there too.
I stuttered badly until I was about fourteen or fifteen. It's hard to describe what it's like to stutter, but back then no one called it a disability. Those of us who stutter are working really hard all the time, constantly searching for easier words that will replace the ones that get stuck in our throats. And the harder we work, the worse it gets.
My parents took me out of school one day to go to a speech therapist. We went to an old elementary school, in a storage room. Why didn't we meet at an office? Honestly, what were we doing in a storage room? I didn't want to be there, and I was convinced that it wasn't going to help. I really can't remember much about the therapy. What I remember in vivid detail was that some older boys were staring at me through the window in the door, making faces at me, making fun of me. I had never met them before, and I never saw them again, but something about their faces made me feel so exposed, so defective, that I never went back to speech therapy.
I learned that day that my voice was defective. And there was something about that storage room that said disabilities of any kind should be hidden, that they shouldn't be brought out to the light of day.
Excerpted from "Whole"
Copyright © 2017 Stephen Wiens.
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
Chapter 1 Where Are You? 1
Chapter 2 Am I My Brother's Keeper? 21
Chapter 3 What Are You Seeking? 37
Chapter 4 Where Are You Going? 55
Chapter 5 What Will You Bring? 69
Chapter 6 The Exodus 83
Chapter 7 The Wilderness 103
Chapter 8 The Promised Land 125
What People are Saying About This
Beautifully written, and the honesty in its pages invites the reader’s honestywhich is, in my view, one of the best things a book can do.
Steve reminds us that it is in the ordinary of everyday life that we are daily invited to experience and participate in the extraordinary. Not extraordinary in the sense of superheroes, but in the simple journey of living into who we were created to be all along. We are the restored ones, and in the sacred mundane of everyday life, we are invited to participate with God in restoring our broken world. This book is not only a reminder of who we are but also an invitation into our collective healing. Let’s get after it together.
Many authors who brave the subject of brokenness lead us down one of two paths: One glosses over the pain with sugary anecdotes or bulleted prescriptions. The other leaves us wallowing in the pain a bit too long, with perhaps no hope for redemption. Rarely does an author show us another way. Steve Wiens does just thatcarving out a new trail where brokenness meets beauty, where humility is a catalyst for becoming whole.
I am a huge fan of pastor Steve Wiens and his savory new book, Whole. I tore into it, huge chunks at a time, hoping that his words would heal the hunger in me. Instead, he convinced me that hunger is the lifeblood of being human and that questions are, like bread crumbs, the path to wholeness. If you, too, need fresh perspective on your story, Wiens is a salty sage worth reading.
I’ve been lucky enough to sit around a fire in Steve’s backyard and talk into the night, and I left that evening feeling as though I’d been breathing fresh air into my lungs. You will feel the same when you read Whole. Steve has a gift for telling stories that connect at the deepest level to your own story. This is inspired and compassionate writing that invites us to step into our own promised land.
If you are looking for a simplistic solution to the brokenness you see in the world (and in yourself), this book won’t be helpful. But if you’re willing to leave the known for the unknown and if you dare to ask the soul-enriching questions found in Steve Wiens’s imaginative work, you just might find your-self on the road to wholeness.
Steve Wiens is a writer unique in my experience of reading books, and I have read a lot of them. What is unique about Whole is that he inserts you (me!) into the biblical story in a way that makes the story convincingly contemporary with us. His children (he has boys), his wife (one wife), and his friends (he has many) become authentically biblical, and we find ourselves living in our own backyards what we previously had only read about.
Steve Wiens’s book Whole stopped me in my tracks. It is a timely, prophetic message not only for the culture and church at large but also for every individual seeking a life of shalom on a deeply personal level. This book forced me to look at others with compassion and gentleness, grace and potential. But more important, it forced me to look inwardly at myself with that same gentle spirit. I’m so grateful for this book, and I look forward to handing out copies to everyone I know along the path to wholeness.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By Benjamin H. Liles Whole, by Steve Wiens, is an interesting book by far. I have been able to review it and from what I read I truly liked a great deal. The way he writes is reminiscent of Max Lucado, to a degree. Steve Wiens takes certain stories from scripture and embellishes them a little. Bit he does it to draw us a picture. He does it with a gentle grace to get to the point he's trying to make. Now, for me I don't use the Message Bible. And for some it may fit them and their style. I'm not going out of my way to be overly critical, I'm just stating what doesn't work, for me. My tastes may not be someone else's tastes. Do I like the message Steve is making? I have to give a resounding "YES" to that! Do I? like the text he used? Not so much. But it's just a preference. What interests me about Steve Wiens and what he's getting across is that we all have a broken part inside of us. Jesus can and does make those parts whole, again. We resist Jesus the Messiah because there are times we think holding on to what we have is good for us. Jesus says otherwise. "If you want to be perfect," Jesus tells the rich young ruler. "Go, sell what you have and give [it] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matthew 19:21, New King James). We may often think that what we hold on to are our riches, but we aren't. We're holding on to things that keep us from doing God's will in our lives. If we basically take Steve Wiens advice in Whole, we also need to take the advice of Jesus. I mean take a look at Jesus's point with the rich young ruler: He first calls Jesus Good Teacher, to which Jesus tells him, "No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life,, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:16-17). The young ruler acts as if he doesn't know which commandments to keep. I have this point to make. If you know God's commandments, the Laws of Moses, and you have faith God will do His perfect and pleasing will, it is easy to love your neighbor as much as you love Him. The young ruler's question on "Which ones?" shows his ignorance of the Laws. Jesus has to tell the young ruler what Laws he has not kept (see Matthew 19:18). We see the young ruler tell Jesus, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" Now correct me if I'm wrong here, but he just told Jesus he's kept those commands. And yet Jesus reminds him of the one thing he lacked. If we say we love God and yet we're not doing right by our neighbor, those we live next to, by giving them what we have which is Jesus and the truth He holds for all of us, we're not loving our neighbor as we'd like to think. And let's truly think on that. "But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Matthew 19:22). What I take away from Whole is that what we hold on to doesn't necessarily help us in being made whole. Either we're holding on to things that have a hold on us--like our possessions--or we're unable to part ways with things that hold us back. So, Steve Wiens is making the point, overall, we can be made whole. It's just if we allow Jesus that right and to follow Him with all of who we are. I have received this book from Tyndale in exchange for my honest feedback.
This book is beautifully written, easy to read, yet also something you want to savor all at the same time. Steve uses a perfect blend of personal story and takes us creatively and deeply into moments within Scripture. He then mixes this with tough, thought provoking questions that are woven within these stories and to help your own answers come to the surface. This book takes you on a journey so you and try to see yourself and how you uniquely fit into this world. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter are perfect for personal reflection, but also would serve well for a book club or Bible study. I loved this book so much I plan to re-read it again soon!
This new book by Steve Wiens is dynamite. He writes with such authenticity, about his own life -- his foibles and struggles. But he also writes about the Biblical characters who also struggle. He talks about trusting God: "When shame wins, we feel as though we can no longer look into the face of God. One of the most courageous things you will ever do is to turn away from shame and return to the face of God, where you will find oceans of mercy." He talks about being courageous enough to give up our own expertise, so that we can be with Jesus; being invited by Him into something special. He insists that "Our wholeness -- our restoration -- is a result of God's kindness, not God's determination that we get it right." This book is refreshing -- not simply a "how-to" manual for living life right. Steve encourages us to be vulnerable enough to not stay with what we know, but to go with God's prompting into a new road toward wholeness, which only God can give. What I take away from this book is an excitement that I don't have to always get everythig right. What I need only do is bring my dependence and trust in the One who calls me to be with Him, not because I'm an agenda (!) but because He wants to be with me! What a sweet thought.