Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Integrated Life - Eleanor Shepherd

My guess is that the only perfectly integrated person who ever walked this earth is Jesus Christ. What we do and how we do it is so integrally a part of who we are.  When our faith to defines our character, it needs to be expressed in all that we do.  This is not a new idea.  It is articulated in phrases like we need to walk the talk and other such expressions about being authentic.  However, when we become intentional about it, we realize that we have given ourselves a difficult assignment.  We need times of reflection when we can step back and consider our reactions in different situations, and measure them against who we are and desire to be.  When what we do, sometimes by habit, is not consistent with the pattern that we desire to conform to, we are able then to take steps to address our inconsistences and become more integrated people.  It is the working of the Spirit in our lives that brings to our awareness our deviation from what we desire to be. 

In psychology, I found fascinating the idea of reducing cognitive dissonance. It some situations it would be called rationalization.  What it means is that when we have made a decision, we will try to find support for that decision.  For instance, the commonly used example is buying a car.  We decide to buy a particular mark of car, let’s say we decide to buy a Toyota.  After that, we always appreciate and support the advertising that we see for Toyotas, because that supports the choice that we have made. 

I think there is a way in which this also applies to the integration of our lives as children of God. We have chosen to open our lives to God and allow Him to determine who we are, seeking to live in conformity with the pattern of life that he showed us in Jesus and that is taught in the Scriptures.  Having done that, we then will reduce our cognitive dissonance, by continuing to make choices that are consistent with Biblical principles and the character of Jesus. 

Not only have we been created with a psychological makeup that encourages us to live in harmony with our choices.  As an additional resource to help us to do this, we have been given the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and continually reorients our moral compass toward what is good and true.

I have always been intrigued by the concept of the integrated life.  I am not sure if that is something to do with being a woman.  I know that as women, we tend more often to try to integrate the various roles that we play in life, whereas men are more inclined to separate them and compartmentalize.  I guess that leads me to the question, ‘Does the integration process happen differently for a man than for a woman?”  I expect that for a woman the concept of integration would be more like a wheel with the individual spokes that all radiate from the same centre.  Who we are as women is expressed in various ways, but they all flow from the same core. 

For a man, would integration be into a larger picture in which all of the various compartments of his life have their own unique place?  The integration would be in the way that each of these compartments makes up the whole picture.  Another analogy would be the mega story and the micro stories.  His life is the mega story and the individual parts of it are the micro stories that together form the mega story.

For both men and women, integration is essential for authenticity in our Christian lives, but the creation of that integration may look quite different, in that women will strive to work on strengthening the core, or the hub of the wheel from which all of the other aspects of her life will extend, while the man might choose to focus on any one or several of the compartments and seek to bring that into line with the focus of the larger picture.   He may seek for consistency in the micro stories that will then produce consistency in the macro story.  In both cases the goal in integration. The greater the integration of our lives, the more we will begin to reflect the One we follow. 

Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

A very interesting and informative post, Eleanor. I find your analogies for comparing men's and women's approaches to personal integration helpful and thought-provoking.~~+~~

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