by Hayne Steen
Walking downtown this morning, my wife showed me where an oak tree had grown completely around a palm tree. I could not help but wonder, "How have these two trees survived this unusual partnership?" Their relationship now has me asking some questions about what it looks like to flourish as a human. In moments when we have been ordered to live in much closer proximity to our families but are also living further away from others who also might normally make up our relational landscape, how do we cultivate healthy boundaries?
To live into who we are meant to be in God's family, we must wholeheartedly embrace the radical truth that we are image bearers of the divine, beloved by the God who created us.
—Andrew Baumen (Stumbling Toward Wholeness)
These two trees have learned how to lean on each other, both unique with their own root systems while at the same same holding space for one another in their distinctiveness. If we knew the story of each tree's beginning we might possibly learn that these trees needed each other to survive. I want to find a way a way to celebrate their resilience, resulting in what appears to be such a fascinating and bizarre covenant.
If we only knew the story of each tree's beginning we might possibly learn that these trees needed each other to survive.
As I celebrate the strength and resilience of these two trees, I am also wondering, "Is this an image of Biblical oneness or an image toxic enmeshment? The term enmeshment is just a fancy way of describing a lack of unhealthy boundaries between two or more living organisms. The most life-giving relationships are marked by both a spirit of oneness and a spirit of otherness. For this to work, oneness can not compromise otherness and otherness can not compromise oneness. More simply put, giving one another an appropriate amount of room to grow is a dynamic that the holiest and healthiest of relationships will consistently demonstrate.
Were we to attempt to surgically separate the palm and oak, the procedure would surely destroy them both. Would the trauma of the separation compromise their internal integrity?
When we witness God at work in the Biblical narrative, he took time to make man, unique and distinct. Then, as a completely separate and special act, God made the woman, declaring, "it's not good for me to be alone." If God intended for human oneness to look like the palm and oak, maybe God would have created one creature with two heads. Who knows? That's not what went down though.
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend define healthy marriage as, "two WHOLE people who compliment one another." A marriage (or any other relationship for that matter) is not two halves who somehow find a way to complete one another, like Yin and Yang. Let's zoom in on the relationship between human flourishing and wholeness. What does it mean exactly to be a "whole" person and what does it mean to bring that wholeness to bear in our relationships?
Author, professor, pastor, and psychotherapist, Chuck DeGroat approaches wholeness here through the lens of leadership in his book, "Toughest People to Love."
"Wholeness can be described as soulfulness, a life that’s centered, passionately engaged, open, creative, connected, and propelled by a sense of mission. It is this kind of wholeness that leaders need to cultivate in themselves and in those under their leadership."
Henri Nouwen, in "Life of the Beloved," comes at the image of wholeness through the lens of our belovedness;
To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice. Our minds have great difficulty in coming to grips with such a reality. Maybe our minds will never understand it. Perhaps it is only our hearts that can accomplish this. Every time we hear about 'chosen people', 'chosen talents', or 'chosen friends', we almost automatically start thinking about elites and find ourselves not far from feelings of jealousy,
anger, or resentment."
My friend, Jason English, adds a third insightful layer to our well of understanding of wholeness in his new book, The Whole Thing."
"Brokenness is often the primary focus of the human narrative. But let’s remember that the initial act of God in our part of the story was creating the man and woman in his image.Our disobedience doesn’t define us. Our likeness does.The root of the human narrative is not brokenness, but wholeness."
May we find courage and resources to offer our wholeness to one another as we live life a little closer these days.
by Hayne Steen
In 1998, my wife and I hiked in the Sawatch Mountains of central Colorado above the timber line just a few miles from Frontier Ranch in Buena Vista. It was a trip that we'll not soon forget as we witnessed the lives of so many teenagers change right before our very eyes.
Leading up to the hike, I was feeling unusually anxious. Just bending over to tie my shoes would leave me feeling winded and gasping for air. Would I actually be able to complete the 4000 foot ascent to reach the top of Mount Chrysalite?
The hike was literally breathtaking...meaning I could not catch my breath the entire way up. Getting air in my lungs was not just painful and difficult, it was a little scary. Several hikers in our group had to stop and get hooked up to oxygen. Would that be me?
When we arrived to the summit we were greeted by stunning postcard views of snow capped mountain tops with lush green valleys below. As we stared out beyond ourselves, we could see bald spots where avalanches had wiped out entire tree lines below.
Sometimes, in order to get a view of what's below, we've got to hike above the timber line.
Trees will continue to grow. As my friend Russell likes to remind me, "It takes a whole lot of slow to grow." These trees below certainly did not reach their full height overnight. Slowly, they each braved the elements reaching heavenward even at the awful risk of an eminent and devastating avalanche. Those tiny seeds once sprung into saplings which eventually burst into a maturing tree line. Though winter might have made its icy threats, the timberline still leans into all of its full potential. Could I have the bravery of just one tree that opens itself up so vulnerably to what growth might require?
Snow will eventually slide. We are living in a moment in global history that has millions of people gripped with panic and fear. Pandemic is threatening to avalanche stock markets, accelerating unemployment, and leaving many buried and trapped under the weight of what could become a long winter. Some analysts, like Andy Crouch, are using imagery to reference this moment as either a blizzard that clears up in a few weeks or more like a long winter that lingers for months. Even still, there are some others who are preparing for this pandemic to have the potential of becoming a mini ice age...lasting for years.
Everything must change below. We can not control the snow or the stock market. We can, however, sink our roots down deep and lean into the side of the mountain where we have been planted to become a listener. When snow releases its icy grip on the cap to which it is clinging, it indiscriminately moves in solidarity toward an unsuspecting timberline below. Can we courageously and creatively stretch out our hands and hearts while living under such a threat as this?
Getting above the timberline invites us to take a look below. A friend of mine refers to times of reflection like this as, "spending some time living below the neck"...meaning not living just in his head amid his swirling or anxious thoughts but examining his heart, even his soul. To live below the neck is to explore our inner lives and to examine the inner and outer elements that seek to threaten our soul's flourishing. To get above the timberline is to face our own breathlessness, to hike into the interior, and listen for God's voice there.
Before Jesus entered into the fray of his own ministry, he, too, hiked up into the wilderness alone and he stood on a mountaintop. Jesus went up to get a look in. He heard two voices. One voice shouted, "Prove your worth!" The other voice whispered, "You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." These words are for you and for me. As the world shouts to tell us, "all is lost," may we hear Jesus whisper, In me, you are found."
May we, when we live under any great threat, find true rest in Paul's invitation to get up above, to take a look below, and rest in Jesus, "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28)."