A Deeper Look at How Faith Impacts Healthy Change
James O. Henman, Ph.D.
Why does God let bad things happen? Why won’t He help me? Why didn't He answer my prayers? God wants us to have a faith that allows us the freedom to question and doubt Him, to be angry and upset with Him, and to bring our struggles to Him. This concept may appear paradoxical at first. The fact is that freedom to doubt and question is what allows faith to grow and develop, which is why He desires us to interact with Him in this honest, transparent way. A growing faith is what allows relationships to come alive – with God, with ourselves, and with others.
Religion has to do with the questions of salvation and the name we give our Higher Power. Spirituality has to do with the relational qualities we see in our Higher Power. This paper will focus on how faith & spirituality impact healthy change - sharing my own personal spiritual faith with the reader.
I have faith that God wants to be in a living relationship with us. God does not expect or demand “blind” faith from us, a mustard seed is more than enough to start an adventure with Him. He wants to help us make healthy changes in our lives today because He loves us. He also desires us to love Him. It is this mutual loving, sharing, accepting, and experiencing that allows God’s Plan to come alive in us. It has to go both ways for a living relationship to grow and develop. He created us in His image to be one with Him through His Holy Spirit.
"Faith is the process of perceiving from a perspective, ‘as if’ particular beliefs are true, which cannot be proven or disproven." It is fundamentally experiential not just intellectual. The more deeply the beliefs are experienced, the more they will be reflected in daily life. Faith must be seen as a verb, not a noun. It is inherently an imperfect process. Demanding perfect faith is unrealistic, considering the fact that we live in an imperfect world. Such demands actually prevent a healthy, growing faith.
Developing faith can be the conscious act of choosing to believe in something that is intangible and difficult to support logically or scientifically; e.g. many religious beliefs. What we often fail to realize is that some key elements of our faith can be formed out of conscious awareness; through a process of believing in "perceptual filters" resulting from childhood experiences, where the adoption of distorted and flawed perceptions may have been a means of emotional survival.
We all experience our world through perceptual filters that have a profound effect on how we feel, what we believe possible and where we put our faith. These perceptual filters are made up of our underlying assumptions and beliefs about reality, our attitudes toward ourselves and others, our experiences from the past, and our current expectations. The way in which we process all of this information forms our “survival software”.
There is a profound difference between following survival software and living software. Survival software has, at the core, a belief that there is something profoundly wrong with us at the level of identity – the essence of who we are. What’s really wrong at our core is that we were created to be in loving relationship with God. We spend a lifetime trying to make up for it – creating a SURVIVAL mentality, which filters everything we experience. We try to hide or get rid of unwanted parts of ourselves, preventing healing of those wounded parts.
We all have some survival software growing up in a very imperfect world. Faith will be manifested in the life of the believer, whether consciously chosen from living software or unconsciously developed from survival software. Conflicts between conscious faith and unconscious faith cause cognitive dissonance/tension and low esteem which feeds the gamut of emotional and addictive problems. Expectations arising out of conscious faith, combined with the impact of unconscious faith in survival software, leave us feeling shame and guilt. Expectations, not experiences create resentment and bitterness.
This survival software has a profound impact at how we perceive God, often seeing Him as having the nature and style of our parents. I have faith that God is deep and simple; unfortunately we often try to make Him superficial and complex, with a million rules, with Him judging and being ashamed of our flaws, expecting perfection from us. We feel crushed trying to live up to His Perfection – yet He describes His load as light.
Following rules is a substitute for relationship. The harder we try to follow the rules, the more burdened we feel, and the less “grateful humility” we experience in our relationship with God. As His ambassador, we can bring His Nature and His Style to help us heal our wounded inner parts in the present. Through us, God can love our inner wounds into healing. It is this "living software" that makes healthy change possible as we see ourselves and others through His Eyes.
In reality, the only thing really wrong with most of us is this fundamental fear/belief that there is something terribly wrong with us at the core. This toxic circle feeds on itself, and grows over time. The more we fear being fundamentally "damaged goods", the more that fear causes emotional distress which proves there is something wrong. This is a belief worth challenging and replacing with healthy truth.
The truth is that we are all fallible human beings, falling incredibly short of a Perfect God who I believe loves us perfectly. We can all develop faith in our ability to be becoming in Him – learning and experiencing “living software” imperfectly. “But by faith we eagerly await through His Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Galatians 5:5)
If we look at life through a pair of eyeglasses that have dirty lenses or a faulty prescription, we cannot see clearly. If we want to see accurately, we would choose glasses that correct our vision as close to 20/20 as possible. If we want to make healthy changes in our lives, we need to develop “living software" that makes the process of healthy change the path of least resistance. Grace is at the heart of God’s living software for healthy change.
Grace is God's desire for an intimate relationship with us, even though we can never merit the loving relationship He offers. He cares about our suffering and wants to supply healthy living software to neutralize the toxic impact of survival software from a flawed world. We can learn to recognize and change toxic perceptual filters robbing us of healthy living. We can learn to develop our own inner coach to help in difficult areas of our lives.
God’s living software for making healthy changes in our lives is dependent on us allowing Him to share His Loving Grace and Guidance with us. God’s living software is integrated and freely given. He wants to live with us, through us, and for us. We provide the willingness; He provides the rest:
- The Adventure of living consciously with Him in the present, with Grateful Humility - the attitude and perception that naturally comes from deeply accepting that His Loving Grace is given to each of us personally and freely. We can never earn it! It is His Loving Goodness, not ours!
- Experiencing life through our lanterns of grace with Powerful Vulnerability – the attitude and perception that it is more important to learn and grow than be right!
- Relaxing into becoming who we truly are – God's ambassadors, as new creations, as His Spirit draws us deeper and deeper into His Nature, and into our healthiness.
- Applying The Serenity Prayer imperfectly: “God grant me the serenity to change what I can change, the freedom to release to You what I can’t change, and a growing wisdom to know the difference.”
God’s living software for healthy change does not include airtight submarine compartments to protect ourselves from pain and shame. When we block pain and store it in a timeless Tupperware container, we create fractures in our core self, leaving an Adult Child Character. He wants to join us in our airtight compartments, supporting our opening up by drawing us toward Him, through His Loving Spirit and Guidance. His loving us is a reflection of His Nature, not our lovability!
Grace allows us to begin exploring the roots of our faith in survival software in a different light. With our grace filled lanterns we can learn to feel good about noticing perceptual filters which drive toxic patterns in our lives as the first step in healthy change. The truth is that we are not our "story" and our "story" affects where we are starting in the present. It can never be done perfectly!
God freely pours His Loving Grace into us. The more we pour His Grace inside ourselves, as His ambassador, to help in the reconciliation process between our true identity in Him, and the wounded parts of ourselves, that are stuck in our old nature; and the more we pour His Grace outwardly to those we touch, the more room there is inside us to receive His ongoing Grace. Being transformed as a new creation is instantaneous when we accept His free gift; experiencing this truth in our daily lives is a life-time process of “becoming in Him”.
We often misunderstand "dying to the old self" to mean hating and judging our wounded parts. I believe “dying to the old self” as Paul reflects, is about our identity at the core. Christians often suffer from “Identity Alzheimer’s” as we enter recovery – where as new creations we believe ourselves to still be our old nature. We continue to believe at our core we are still “damaged goods” needing to hide and make up for being ourselves, feeding shame and self-condemnation. This is our old nature identity, but not our new nature identity.
As Christians we are in fact born again at the level of identity, at the core, with God living in our heart. Unfortunately this Identity Alzheimer’s causes us to define ourselves, not by who we really are in God, but by our past and present life experiences. This often causes us to allow our old nature to drive the bus in our recovery – leading to an emphasis on performance and rules to follow, needing to earn God’s free gift of Grace, trying to do things perfectly. This is often an exhausting process. Old nature "seemingly" gets healthier, but is still old nature; feeling crushed trying to be justified through our actions.
As God’s sons and daughters, we will always have a Father who loves us perfectly and offers us His Home. We will always have a loving Big Brother Jesus who we can turn to and ask for guidance and direction. No problem is too great for us to handle through Him. I have faith that being His ambassador, both inward to me and outward to others, defines me at the core - becoming in Him; faith that we can all be becoming in Him imperfectly together. There are free audio, video and written materials on www.CAIRforYou.com that explore this in more depth.
James O. Henman, Ph.D.