Fourteen years ago (14!), Michael Scott (The Office), with his typical deadpan delivery, dejectedly asked, “Why are you the way that you are?” Ever since, it’s been a popular comeback line turned meme, fitting for a wide variety of conversational topics. Referencing it will, most often, break the tension and introduce a touch a humor. The question itself echoes the age-old debate of human behavior being determined by nature vs. nurture. Why we are the way that we are isn’t easy to track down. Still, we seek the why, the root cause for our behavior, in the hope of resolving ways that our being in the world cause pain, to others and to ourselves.
We humans pursue various means to understand why we are the way that we are. Education, therapy, spiritual awakening, personal discipline, self-help, coaching, reading—all these and more can provide the insight we seek. This inner work is how we grow and change the way of being that isn’t working.
Over the years I’ve pursued my own inner work to fuse together fractured places that sink down to the core of who I am. These fractures aren’t unlike those any one of us experiences in this human existence. Still, these fissures are unique to my own existence, painful in specific ways to my own life and being. God has met me in this brokenness, fused me together, filled in the gaps with His lovingkindness, poured grace into the cracks. His love has changed me in deep and profound ways.
But life keeps happening. It jars. It presses. It shakes. Life in the past year has ripped through my heart, knocking against the pieces God has fused together. His healing has remained, of course, but the pieces of my heart have been shaken and stirred and now shifted ever so slightly. God’s work hasn’t been undone but the way that I am now isn’t the same as the way that I was before… things inside are the same, yet totally different. I don’t quite feel like me, like my insides need an adjustment, a chiropractic alignment.
This realization came at the end of 2019, a year that delivered a punch to the gut that has now forever altered life. I knew I was weary from it even before I attempted my usual year-end reflection and year-ahead dreaming. It all felt burdensome and hollow, instead of energizing and full. And then someone asked me, “How are you doing… really?” And I was at a complete loss. How I was doing felt like a mystery, something unknowable. It was the utter sense of being completely disconnected within my own self, unable to ascertain my current state of being. Despite the inner work I had done in the past to know why I was the way that I was, that had no bearing on knowing how I was in the moment.
Something more was lost there in my loss for knowing how I was really doing. I lost the chance to connect with the friend who was kind enough to inquire after my heart. When we aren’t connected to ourselves, we cannot truly connect with others, for we have nothing substantial to give. Living internally disconnected leads to the same externally.
And so, being connected again became my focus for 2020, and I selected the psalmist’s words as my prayer: “Teach me your way, Lord, and I will live by your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear your name. I will praise you with all my heart, Lord my God, and will honor your name forever. For your faithful love for me is great, and you rescue my life from the depths of Sheol” (Psalm 86:11–13 CSB).
An “undivided mind” is connected, integrated, and aligned with truth and reality. My hope is to know how I am doing, really, in the depths of my being—to be connected inside to God and to myself so that I can connect with others.
Recently I received an advanced copy of Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide for Life by David Taylor. From the moment I saw the cover, my heart stirred; I knew there was something within this book for me. From the first pages, my knowing was confirmed by words like these:
When we hide from God, we become alienated from God and thus spend our strength trying to transcend life’s limits: death, dependence, moral laws, God-given boundaries…. when we hide from ourselves, we become strangers to ourselves through selfish, self-indulgent behavior that ultimately does violence to our nature as humans made in God’s image. (3)
To pray the psalms is to pray ourselves into wholeness. How exactly to we become whole in this way? We become whole by praying our honest joys and our honest sorrows. We pray our honest praise of God and our honest anger at God; we pray also for honest speech in our words to God. (5)
The psalms not only enable us to be wholly ourselves before God, they also enable us to be wholly our true selves…. Christ himself makes this possible. (7)
What a gift. In Christ Jesus, the God of all creation is making possible newness of life.
The two questions raised here—Why are you the way that you are? and How are you doing, really?—work together to reveal God’s gracious work to redeem and renew. The past may explain the present, but it doesn’t have the final say. I’m not sure what this will mean for me in 2020. After last year, I know enough to know I cannot know what tomorrow will bring. But God knows, and He is doing what He always does, making all things new.