Friday, December 12, 2008

Splitting

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my family set out in our van for the mountains to join our friends in the annual quest for a Christmas tree. It was a picture-perfect Christmas setting: a steady snow was falling as we hiked up the trail from the forest service parking lot where we paid $10 for our permit. We spread out searching for the best tree. This quest was more like undertaking an Easter egg hunt with 50 other people competing for the perfect tree. We found our tree, posed for a picture and then proceeded to cut it down. Before we started the hard work of hauling it to the car, my kids started counting the rings to determine the age of the tree. It was 30 years old. In Colorado’s arid mountain environment it took 30 years for the tree to grow to the perfect height of 12 feet. There were wet years where the tree grew fast and there were dry years where the tree hardly grew at all. But one couldn’t help but feel like the hunter who took down Bambi’s mother. This tree was now split off from its roots and headed down the mountain for a short stint as a Christmas decoration. Ok, ok…the bark beetle is ravaging the Colorado Mountains so the tree would be dead on its own in two years. We’re doing the forest a favor. But bear with me as I draw out a metaphor of two dimensions of splitting.

Fist of all, like that tree, we have become cut off from our roots by the reality of sin entering God’s perfect creation. God intended for humans, created as image-bearers, to have a dynamic and intimate relationship with Him. But Adam and Eve had other ideas. They couldn’t trust that God wanted the best for them by drawing boundaries around prohibited behavior. So they made that fateful choice allowing sin to come into the world. Sin literally means separation from God. And like the Christmas tree in the forest, we became separated from our life-giving and intimate relationship with God.

Human history then tells the story of sin’s ugly impact on relationships and the created order. And so much of human striving has become related to the desire to become reconnected to some sort of life-giving root. Sin often tells the tale of individuals striving to find that root by substituting created things for the place that is best filled by God. So we have people trying to fill the void through addictions, career, relationships, power and money. Ultimately, the only way back to the life-giving root is through the work of Jesus on the cross and a relationship that seeks to follow his example in rebuilding God’s reign in the created order.

Secondly, we can become split in another dimension when we fail to own up to our own complicity in the sin of the world. Jesus spends a great deal of his time teaching about how important it is for the inner-self to align with our public self. We are natural hypocrites that are prone to have a two-faced approach to the world. What is inside does not match up with the public face we put on for others.

In psychology, an extreme version of this tendency is called splitting. When working with felony offenders, this can be a fairly common occurrence. It shows up when a person stops seeing the relationship between punishment and individual action. Instead, they see themselves as a victim of the legal system with little connection to past behavior choices that resulted in the punishment. Freud may have seen splitting as psychological behavior but it is fundamentally a spiritual condition. We are all guilty of some aspect of splitting in our own lives. Unless we actively undertake regular times of prayerful self-examination and confession of sins, we can all remain blind to the inner split that exist in our own soul. We are good at telling lies to ourselves.

Once again, Jesus is the method by which that split is healed. Our faith in Jesus allows us to step out into the light with our secrets and trust that his grace will begin the healing process in our lives. Over time, our life will become a unity with our inner self matching up with the outer in the image of Jesus Christ.

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