life model

Joy Dance

Life Model Bite #2 – Joy Dance

One of the basic skills taught in the Life Model and at the Thrive conferences is sharing joy with others, and thereby building up the joy center in our brain. It is the first of 19 vital brain skills that help us to reach the maturity appropriate for our physical age.

It’s a very simple exercise and we did it multiple times during the Thrive conference. Probably it not only helped us learn the skill of “Sharing Joy” but it also provided the connection with our training partner that we needed for other exercises. You can find it described in the “Basic Thrive Skills, Year 1” training guide, written by Jim Wilder, Chris and Jennifer Coursey.

I found a similar description of this exercise in a book from Susan Kuchinskas “The Chemistry of Connection” and she calls it “Attachment Dance.” Based on these two sources I decided to call it “Joy Dance”.

The following is a combination of the instructions of these two sources.

Wilder & Coursey’s description is more intended for intentional exercises, while Kuchinskas’ description is more naturally integrated into everyday life. Kuchinskas gives one description for parents and caregivers, and another one for adults. The following is based on her instruction for adults.

  1. Pick a quiet time and a situation where it is natural for you two to be face to face, such as sitting at a café or talking in your living room. Sit close enough that your knees could be touching.
  2. Begin to notice when you two look into each others eyes, and when one of you looks away. Give yourself the permission to look away whenever you feel like it. (This is not a stare-down contest à la Garfield.) 😉
  3. Intentionally hold your friend’s gaze for a few moments whenever comfortable. Observe your body reaction: Is your breathing slow, or do you feel a constriction in your chest? Are you leaning back, sitting upright, or leaning forward?
  4. Whenever necessary, let your gaze move around the room again. You may look at your friend’s mouth or hands, or at something else in your environment.
  5. Look back at your friend and notice when she (or he) returns your gaze. If it feels natural, say something positive about her or your relationship. If it doesn’t feel natural, say it to yourself. You might think something as simple as, “I really like her” or “She is such a precious person.” Think about what you appreciate about your friend.
  6. Continue to observe how your body reacts. Is there any change? Whatever you experience is ok.
  7. Repeat the process as long as it feel right.
  8. If you want to do this with a friend as an intentional exercise, agree to do it for 3 minutes, connecting and disconnecting as needed, and afterward discussing what the experience felt like.

(Wilder & Coursey p1-2; Kuchinskas p67-68)

The purpose is to stay in your comfort zone as you draw closer to the other person and then retreat a bit from connection. If the exercise is successful, you will feel a stronger bond with your friend. You will feel closer to that person and experience familiarity with her (him) as well as shared joy. In an unsuccessful exercise you will feel tension, anxiety and fear. You might feel like avoiding the person or running away.

Wilder & Coursey also mention that it does not work well when you are tired, or upset by something else, or you do not have a positive bond with the other person. In my experience, it won’t work well either when there is a lingering tension in your relationship. On the other hand, even if you don’t know the person very well but both of you are motivated to learn this skill, it can work very well despite the lack of a previous bond. At least that was my experience at the conference. However, it is not recommended to do it with a person of the opposite sex who is not your partner.

So, what is actually happening here?

The whole process is a nonverbal communication between the right-brain hemispheres between two people, communicating our most desired positive emotional state – that we enjoy being with another person. It strengthens our joy center, thereby increasing our joy strength, which enables us to better deal with problems and suffering. And it releases dopamine.

Recent brain science has discovered how our right-brains communicate with each other. A signal is sent from one person’s right brain (to be precise – the right orbital prefrontal cortex), and expressed through the left eye (or the left side of the face), perceived by the left eye of the other person, and communicated to the other person’s right brain. Then the same kind of signal is sent back, from right brain, to left eye, to other person’s left eye, and to the right brain. This back and force communication happens six times per second and grows stronger over time. Isn’t that fascinating? This is of course completely subconscious and cannot be faked.

You have probably seen people whose eyes sparkle when they look at each other. This happens when people are in love, but not only then. It also happens between parent and child. It happens between good friends. It happens every time when we are glad to be with somebody. It is our right brain telling our vis-à-vis nonverbally about our joy of being with them. Without this joyful experience of being with people who are glad to be with us, we cannot experience wholeness. Even though we can enjoy beautiful things, such as a sunset or a painting, joy is relational and therefore most powerful (and amplified) when experienced between people. According to some neurologists, the most basic human need is to be the “sparkle in someone’s eye.” Or in other words – to do the Joy Dance. 🙂

On this background, I am even more touched by the passage in Zephaniah 3:17 –

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,

with his love he will quiet you (or: calm all your fears),
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

It took me a long time to understand that God delights in me, rejoices over me, even when I have messed up. His love and joy over us does not depend on our perfection. It took me a long time to grasp and believe that God is doing a Joy Dance because of me. Today I know it’s true, and it fills me with great joy and thankfulness.

Share Immanuel – Book Review

Share Immanuel – Book Review.

Wilder, E. James, and Coursey Chris M. 2010. Share Immanuel – The Healing Lifestyle. Pasadena, CA: Shepherd’s House.

“Share Immanuel” is the latest publication from Shepherd’s House in Pasadena, CA. It was written in collaboration by Jim Wilder (director of Shepherd’s House) and Chris Coursey (Thrive!)

Share Immanuel

The booklet has only 21 pages but is an excellent introduction to and summary of the Immanuel approach, which was developed by Dr. Karl & Charlotte Lehman and is part of the Life Model teaching at Thrive! conferences and Thriving recovery classes. It has already been used successfully in several different countries and cross-culturally situations.

The healing lifestyle of “Share Immanuel” includes only three simple steps:

  • Sitting with God
  • Sharing minds
  • Speaking

1. Sitting with God

means spending time in God’s presence, so to say “on the hill top.” This works much better as starting point for working through painful memories, than sitting in your pain, waiting for God to intervene and trying to “climb uphill.”

A good starting point is either remembering a situation where we experienced an interactive time in God’s presence (called the “Interactive memories seat”) or remembering things that fill us with appreciation (called the “Appreciation memories seat”). The later can include thankfulness for God’s gifts, or just special moments like a sunset or the smile of a child.

2. Sharing minds

means synchronizing our perspective with God, understanding how he sees things, and thereby making sense of things that trouble us. This results in “God peace” – a peace that is so perfect that you can’t improve on it.

This step often includes a “question time” with God, where we can ask him, for example, where he was in the painful moments, what keeps us from seeing him in the painful memory, and what we need to know about a certain situation. Once we have received his perspective on things, we can share the joy with others.

3. Speaking

refers to telling the Immanuel story you just experienced to others. It helps us to consolidate the new perspective and it creates hope in others.

We can tell the story from two angles: the “Once I lived in thorns” version has the bottom of the hill perspective, elaborating on all the pain we experienced – this will trigger similar memories in our listeners and depress them; while the story “What I appreciate about Immanuel” is told from the hill top perspective and encourages both story teller and listener.

This is the basic idea of “Share Immanuel.” The booklet includes of course much more, such as more details on how to tell the story, explanations on how we process pain, a chapter on solutions when you get stuck in the process, frequently asked questions, and links to more resources. I found that the booklet explains the process very well and in a way that anybody can understand, even without knowing the Life Model.

It is exciting to hear how the booklet has already been used in workshops in different countries and caused a snowball effect – participants who learned the basic steps, then shared their Immanuel story with others, and through this helped others to start “sitting with God” and experiencing Immanuel.

The booklet is a great summary and tool to share the Immanuel process with others.

 I found one phrase in the booklet especially descriptive:

 God offers hospitality!

 Let’s accept the invitation – come and sit with Him!

 The booklet can be ordered here.

Our true heart

Life Model bite #1 – Our true heart

One of the key concepts of the Life Model is living from “the heart Jesus gave you.” Many people find it difficult to understand what this could mean, especially in reference to the heart. I am not surprised that there is some confusion about our hearts. How should we see our hearts?

When I think of the human heart, the first Bible verse that comes to mind is:

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. (Jer 17:9)

I guess, I must have heard this verse often enough, to associate it so quickly, even though I do not remember any concrete situation. The basic message, if you consider this verse as defining for what our heart is like, is that our heart can’t be trusted. Never trust your heart (or feelings), only your intellect. Mistrusting our heart, together with feelings and emotions, is very common but not necessarily biblical. If you have read my blog posts on Why Western Christianity Failed, then you already know where this is coming from (see here and here and here for more details).

But this is misleading because there are plenty of other references concerning the human heart that paint quite a different picture:

  • We are called to love the Lord with all of our heart. (Dt 6:5, Mt 22:37)
  • God said he will write his instructions on our hearts. (Jer 31:33.34 // Hebr 8:10; 10:16)
  • We are told to trust the Lord with all of our heart. (Prov 3:5)
  • We are told to guard our heart because it is a wellspring of life. (Prov 4:23)
  • God made his light shine in our hearts (2 Cor 4:6)
  • Christ even decided to live (dwell) in our hearts (Eph 3:17) – then it can’t be such a bad place. 😉

On the background of these verses I am inclined to believe that a better translation of the above verse would be ‘deformed and desperately sick’ (Jer 17:9) as Jim Wilder suggested. I think that ‘deceitful and desperately wicked’ implies intentional badness and a state that is beyond hope, while ‘deformed and desperately sick’ paints the picture of a heart that is not how it should be but that it can be healed. And this is what God promised in Eze 11:19 where God calls the human heart dead (stone) but promises to give people a new heart that is alive and will know his will. Looking at some translators resources I find this view confirmed. Among other things, the heart is described as the place where God communicates with us and that knows Gods will.

In the context of the Life Model the terms ‘the heart Jesus gave you,” “our true heart” and “the heart of hearts” are used interchangeably and refer to the part of our heart that reflects God’s image. We are made in God’s image. Our true heart reflects this and each of us reflects a different aspect of God’s character.

However, this true heart has been buried among a lot of bad stuff

– our own sin, as well as the sins of others, and the hurts that have been caused by these. They are like several layers of dirt on our true heart. This is why we often don’t even know our true heart and have problems trusting our heart. As a result, we often react from our hurts, instead of from our true hearts.

Another comparison I found helpful: the true heart is like an x-ray or a diapositive, but there are several other layers of x-rays on top of it, so that it is difficult to see what the original one looked like.

Over the last years I learned to recognize indications of my own true heart.

At first I was very surprised, when a friend exclaimed in a conversation that she can see my true heart in this situation. It was especially surprising because it was not something I had done or thought, but something I wish I had done. So, I thought this is not really me; quite to the contrary – how can this be my true heart? Over time I came to understand that it is the longing to have acted a certain way that is an indication of my true heart, of how God made me.

At the Thrive conference last year, we learned another way of discovering our true heart – by looking at our deepest pain. Often the things that cause us the deepest pain are an indication of the true heart that God put in us – because it is contrary to what we were made to be.

This is the heart Jesus gave you – a small reflection of himself and at the same time an indication for who he has called us to be to glorify him. I find it a worthwhile pursuit to find out more about it. This is what the Life Model is about – learning about the heart Jesus gave you, and learning to live from it. It means discovering of who God originally made us to be and how to live up to our calling and glorifying him through it.

Life Model Bites

Life Model Bites

Every time I want to explain to somebody what the Life Model is about, I realize that there are so many aspects to it, that is is nearly impossible to explain all of them at once. In addition, they are so interrelated that it is sometimes hard to understand one, without understanding the other one. It’s only over time that I started to understand and appreciate the different aspects, but probably I am not yet done.

The subtitle of the Life Model book is of course a good starter: “Living from the heart Jesus gave you.” The Life Model is about living out who we were meant to be. What does it take to really be the person God has created us to be? In a way, all the other aspects – mentioned in the book, addressed in the Munchies CD teaching [now called Jesus In Mind] , taught and practiced at Thrive conferences and in Thriving classes – flow out of this. But as I said, there are many different aspects and it is easy to lose the overview.

In one of the recent webinars at Deeper Walk International (already mentioned here), Jim Wilder gave the following

Summary of the main characteristics of the Life Model:

  • Multigenerational community
  • Immanuel lifestyle
  • Relational brain skill training

That’s a great summary.

Nevertheless, there are many subtopics that are essential for understanding even these points. This gave me the idea to try and describe different aspects of the Life Model in ‘bite size.’ I want to do this in a new series – called “Life Model bites.”


There is no guarantee that I already understood everything perfectly that there is to the Life Model. Neither am I officially associated with Shepherd’s House. But I am happy to share what I have learned from them, what I found interesting and helpful.

Culture and Bible translation

Culture and Bible translation.

Jim Wilder brought an interesting example in his webinar of how our culture can even influence a Bible translation. He discovered this when speaking to churches in Poland. His interpreter was very surprised when Jim read Hebrews 12:2 from his English Bible:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2)

The Holy Bible : New International Version, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).

The Greek word αντι can be translated in two ways:

a) for, because (instead of)
b) because of

In the case of in Hebrews 12:2 this results in the following difference. It can be translated either as:

1) Jesus … who instead of the joy set before him endured the cross, or as
2) Jesus … who because of the joy set before him endured the cross

Most English translations chose the second option.

The New Living Translation also chose the second option but provided the first option as alternative reading in a footnote.

Because of the joy* awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

* Or Instead of the joy.

Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible : New Living Translation.,  (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004).

The Polish Bible translations chose option one. This is understandable when we consider the history and cultural context:

The culture in Poland is rather low joy and the church is considered to be about suffering, not about joy. Therefore joy did not belong in the church and is even perceived as offensive. The Bible translators therefore chose the first option because of their cultural background and Jim’s interpreter was quite surprised when Jim quoted this verse from his English Bible.

Why Western Christianity Failed 3

Why Western Christianity Failed 3

In September/October Deeper Walk International brought an interesting series of webinars on the topic of “Why Western Christianity Failed.” The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder from Shepherd’s House in California.

  • The first part was about a 300 year old philosophy that heavily influenced Western Theology (which I summarized here).
  • The second part looked at how medieval psychology influences us until today (which I summarized here).
  • And the third part explained how we ended up with a false dichotomy because of these two influences.

In this post I will give a summary of part three:

The theme of part three is the false dichotomy in Western Christianity that resulted from the Voluntarist philosophy (part 1) and the medieval psychology (part 2). Christianity became a matter of giving people the right information so they can make the right choice, but this did not help to change people’s character.

As a result Western Christianity paid a lot of attention to belief errors, for example, in cults (e.g. Jim Jones) or in other theologies (liberation theology) but did very little about character failures, for example, when church leaders run off with somebody else’s wife, addictions, divorce among Christians, pedophile priests, pornography and many other character failures among Christians.

It is not a matter of picking one or the other. Christianity needs to change both sides.

One result of this false dichotomy is legalism.

It easily develops when you think that ideas and choices are the key to being a ‘good’ Christian.

What is needed to change this?

We need to understand how our brain works. The control center of our life is situated in the right hemispheres of the brain – not the left thinking side of the brain! It is this right side that takes over when we are under stress or in trouble. Therefore it is the right side that needs to become Christian to influence our whole life, including our character.

How is the control center trained?

The right brain can learn to stay true to ourselves and our God-given identity under pressure:

  • through relationships with others who can model for us how to handle pressure
  • visual examples
  • emotional story and song, similar to the minstrels in the past or hymns that use a lot of imagery
  • but NOT through propositional truth or didactic teaching!

Our character can be changed

  • when other people are glad to be with us (a joy that is communicated non verbally between our right brains by just smiling at each other)
  • when they are glad to be with us even in difficult situations
  • when we experience Jesus’ presence in these situations
  • when we learn to synchronize with God while we are under pressure
  • and experience his joy of being with us even when we fail.

All of this has to happen in the situation itself, when we are under pressure, when we experience suffering or temptation, not when we are sitting in church and are not tempted.

The left hemisphere can help in this process,

  • find the resources needed for training the right brain
  • make strategies for change and growth
  • learn truth and use it as a standard of reference, but …

Memorizing Bible verses alone does not help to do the right things, but when we live in relationship with the person that is behind them.

We are often trying to use the left hemisphere to compensate for the lack of emotional skills but that does not help.

For example:

  • addictions are a classic example of doing this, try to rationalize things
  • borderline personality disorders, try to live by rules because they lack the relational skills
  • anxiety, try to gather more information but information cannot compensate for relationships
  • religions obsession or legalism, try to explain everything, and achieve ultimate spirituality
  • work and control compulsions, try to set up rules to control people and things around them.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, a lot of these can be found in Western Christianity.

Many people who think their way through relationships are very legalistic, rely heavily on predicting the behaviors of others, box people in, expect them to behave according to roles (“you are … you should do …”), enforce compliance to their expectations, and look for explanations when things don’t go according to expectations.

This leads to “left-sided sins problems”

They are typical among those who try to live their faith from the left-brain hemisphere:

  • condemnation
  • judgmentalism (by comparisons)
  • sense of entitlement
  • guided by own understanding and explanations (instead of Jesus’)
  • depend on roles (instead of God-given identities)
  • need to punish and justify punishment
  • sarx (‘flesh’) based living, living according to my own understanding of how God wants me to live, instead of in dependence on Him!

This is in contrast to what Prov 3:5-6 tells us to do:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track. (The Message)

Why Western Christianity Failed 2

Why Western Christianity Failed 2

In September and October 2009 Deeper Walk International brought an interesting series of webinars on the topic of “Why Western Christianity Failed.” The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder from Shepherd’s House in California.

  • The first part was about a 300 year old philosophy that heavily influenced Western Theology (which I summarized here).
  • The second part looked at how medieval psychology influences us until today (see summary below).
  • And the third part explained how we ended up with a false dichotomy because of these two influences.

In this post I will give a summary of part two:

Many people don’t realize that our Western theology has been influenced by all kinds of things besides the Bible.

Among other things are:

  • rationalism – is about thinking the right things
  • voluntarism – is about making the right choices
  • Pietism – had the tendency to neglect the body
  • Northern European culture – influences people to live in survival mode, value stoic resolve, ignore pain and emotions

>> All these affect our theology.
>> All these even affect how we do Bible translation.
>> They influence what we think is important.

One major influence is the medieval psychology that divides human beings into two main parts:

Physical conditions, the body, emotions and anything related were considered of doubtful use for spiritual things. In contrast, the intellect and the will were seen as separate from the body. Today we know that intellect and will are tied up in the same body, and interact strongly with each other. They cannot be separated from each other as medieval psychology did.

Despite newer insights into how God created us (body and will interconnected), theology still uses these categories until today.

Our bodies are seen as something fallen and unable to please God, while the spirit and will were seen as more important because they can be affected by God, as something that God can transform. The will is fallen but can be empowered by God’s grace to make the right choices. The body and emotions are only causing trouble (implicit – they are beyond God’s power to transform). Therefore the body was left out of any teaching and considered unimportant. The soul was sometimes included with the body, and seen as causing trouble. The only hope was that God would transform the spirit enough to dominate body and soul. The solution to this problem is to have more “truth” (teaching, knowledge) to help the spirit dominate the body.

The result is a false dichotomy that influences our theology until today.

This made perfect sense in medieval psychology but not today!

It is in contradiction to what we know today about the brain:

Our brain is primarily relational. Any strategy that bypasses the dominant emotional and relational center of the brain, and emphasizes thinking and will, is not “Good News” at all. As a result we keep trying to think the right things, but we are still acting and reacting the wrong way.

Antonio R. Damasio in his book “Descartes’ error” pointed out that what makes the human mind run are our emotions not reason. For example, trauma recovery requires body awareness. The priority of our brain is to first ask what our body feels before asking what we think about something.

This has to do with our vagus nerve, which tells the brain what we feel like and influences our relationships and what we like. This vagus nerve does not sound very spiritual but influences everything we consider spiritual. It has two parts:
dorsal vagal – takes care of your own body
ventral vagal – regulates interpersonal relationships

Maybe it is more important to make our vagus nerve “Christian” more than our thinking!

The Old Testament refers to our “inward parts” (e.g. Jer 4:19, Lam 2:11) but they are often translated with ‘mind’ in Greek. In other places the Hebrew text speaks about the “bowels.” The translation of these verses often shows a lot of bias. Since the body is not important, bowels are sometimes translated as heart and sometimes as bowels and nobody cares if these are really referring to the same thing.

Conclusions from Voluntarist Philosophy

>> Western Christianity became about ideas and choice
>> Solution – all important life problems are corrected by truth and choice
>> This statement should feel true to you because your culture says it’s true
>> The Bible translations were made to fit that assumption due to language and culture.

Conclusions from Medieval Psychology

>> Choice is in the intellect
>> Will is in the reason
>> Intellect and reason are in the mind /spirit
>> Bible translation is made to fit those assumptions
>> The mind and spirit are changed by choices and knowledge
>> The body and emotions are not important for the spiritual life as will and choice.

Corrections to Medieval Psychology

>> What controls the brain, will, body and emotions is relationship not information.

Who you love or who you fear, will determine what you’ll choose, how your body responds to it and how you feel about it. That relationship is actually experienced in your brain, not your emotions, not your body, not your will.

>> We have more than one will and there can be conflict.
>> Emotions and related body responses are in executive control of the brain
>> Relationships based on love produce very different interpretations of the information in the intellect than the same information with fear.

For example, “your dad is coming” can produce two different reactions, depending whether your relationship is love or fear based. The same happens with biblical information – “God is watching you” can cause two different reactions.

Living with the Lord means having our “bowels” transformed.

We need a Christianity that transforms both sides of our character, our body not just our mind. We need to overcome this false dichotomy (more about it in part 3).

Why Western Christianity Failed 1

Why Western Christianity Failed 1

In September/October Deeper Walk International brought an interesting series of webinars on the topic of “Why Western Christianity Failed.” The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder from Shepherd’s House in California.

  • The first part was about a 300 year old philosophy that heavily influenced Western Theology.
  • The second part looked at how medieval psychology influences us until today.
  • And the third part explained how we ended up with a false dichotomy because of these two influences.

In this post I will give a short summary of part one:

The Voluntarist philosophy goes back to people like Réne Descartes. His famous “I think therefore I am” led to the idea that thinking is what makes us humans. Other rationalists and empiricists like John Locke, Gerorge Berkely, David Hume and Bertrand Russell followed. This emphasis on our left brain activity led others to the assumption that “it must be that the first beginning of faith lies in the will” (William Ames). As a result will and reason became the cornerstones of US theology. Conversion became a matter of the will and is based on right information and right choice.

Experience shows that this does not work. A lot of people have all the right information but make the wrong choices. More information (i.e. more training, more Bible study) is not the solution for everything. Why? Because this is not how our brain works.  It is not the left brain hemisphere (which stores verbal knowledge) that takes care of our decisions. Actually, it is the first part of the brain, that won’t work properly when we are under pressure, or just sleepy. It is highly unreliable and can’t change our character. It is the right part of our brain (the relational, emotional center which stores experiential knowledge) that makes a pre-selection before we even start thinking about a decision.

Wilder points out that

We (the Americans) are the most well informed and best educated people in the history of our planet. We should be the best model of healthy community, character, maturity, and relational integrity in church and world history.

I am sure the same could be said about other countries with a high percentage of Christians.

Why do our choices and emotions not line up?

Could it be that we have developed a system that is focused on building our intellectual capacity – while our emotional, relational and character development have atrophied?

Thinking and willpower are not enough to transform our character.

The real control center of our life, including our cravings, is located in the right hemisphere of the brain. Any strategy that tries to solve our problems by bypassing the right brain hemisphere won’t work.  As a result there are many people who have all the right information and are still a failure in character.

Wilder mentioned another very telling example:

Today the WWII veterans are getting older and many of them develop dementia. As a result of their failing will power, a lot of old fears, other negative emotions, bad temper and character defects come up. Their will power did not change them, but just held these negative things at bay.

This shows me that our will power can keep our negative emotions under control, at least sometimes, but it can’t change our character.
The same happens to us when we come under pressure in everyday life – our true self comes out and we are embarrassed about our behavior under stressful circumstances. This also happens to recovering addicts if they use cognitive approaches to overcome their cravings – this works fine as long as life runs smooth but as soon as the pressure is on (e.g. things don’t work out) this left brain oriented approach no longer works. Their (and our) good intentions go down the drain.

What we need is a character transformation that is right brain oriented.

All the right information in the world, our intellect and the will are not capable of transforming us. If we want to see real transformation and the fruits of the spirit, for example, control our tongue or our cravings, we need to give the right brain what it needs to change – joy strength, relationships and belonging.

N.B. The Webinars are no longer available for download.

Belonging and Appreciation

Belonging and Appreciation

Yesterday evening I attended the revised Belonging module of the Life Model program. It was taught by Dr. Jim Wilder and I found it very insightful.
Two points stood out for me:

1. It is important to create belonging, not search for it, expect it from others.

Creating belong is something babies are very good at (maybe because of their unconditional acceptance?). On the other end of the spectrum “Elders” (meaning persons with a high level of maturity, Life Model terminology) are especially good at it, because they want to include everybody into the belonging. This does not depend on their age, nor whether they are Christian or not but on their level of maturity. We naturally feel drawn to these people and enjoy being with them. The challenge now is not to look for people who can do this for us, but to become people who can do this for others.

  • How do we create belonging? This overlaps with the rules for group interaction in this class:

○ Showing appreciation
○ No cross-talk
○ No advice giving
○ Supportive listening
○ Confidentiality
○ Creating space for imperfect attempts of doing new things (these are my own words, I don’t remember how he phrased it).

  • Creating belonging is work: I need to work to have other people close to me and for us to appreciate each other. I definitely want to learn to do that more.

2. Showing appreciation: When we put the “flashlight” (focus) on positive things, we create belonging. Focusing on negative things does not create belonging.

Or as Phil 4:8 puts it:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (NLT)

  • Telling stories creates Shalom, (Hebr. lit. peace and rest) a condition where everything feels just right and nothing needs to be changed, everything is in the right relationship, right place, right strength, right amount, for God and people.

  • Story telling builds appreciation. So we practiced telling appreciation stories. Yesterday we focused on telling a story where we appreciated an “Elder”. Until the next evening our homework is to collect other appreciation stories and practice telling them.

Both, a) the importance of creating belonging and b) the fact that focusing on negative things does not create belonging, were light bulb moments for me.

a) I realized that I often wait for others to reach out to me, especially in unfamiliar surroundings or new groups. I can create belonging and usually do when I feel responsible for (e.g.) an event, a meeting, a new person in the group. In most other situations I usually don’t do it but would need to make a conscious effort to do it. It does not come natural. I still have a lot to learn in this area. I think yesterdays insight will help me be more conscious about it, and not wait for others to do it for me.

Recently I experienced a practical application of this. I went to a women’s retreat of my new church where I hardly new anyone. When I arrived at the retreat place in the mountains, I hang around in the lounge, not quite sure what to do as everybody seemed to know somebody else and I did not want to intrude in their conversations. After a little while one lady approached me and invited me to join their group which I gladly did. Most of the weekend I hang out with this same little group of three-four ladies; we often sat on the same table or reserved seats in the auditorium for each other. It was only at a later point that I realized that this little group had not existed before the weekend, but was the result of one person “creating belonging” with people she did not know before arriving there. She hardly knew anybody but she reached out to others, made them feel welcomed and included; she created belonging. Already at that time, I thought that her situation was not so different form my own, and I could have done the same thing. This not only made me feel welcomed, helped me to relax among people I didn’t know, but also it made me want to learn from her and do the same thing for others.

b) Where I grew up the general attitude was that if something is right, you don’t need to mention it. You only mention what is not right, so it can be corrected. So, the affirmative teaching style I often observed among Americans, feels very strange to me. In one interpersonal skills workshop I even said to my American colleagues: “If you only focus in your feedback on what I did right, and think that I will understand that the things you did not mention are the ones I should improve on, most likely I won’t get it. I need to be told directly what is not ok, what needs to be changed.”  Now after having visited the USA several times, I got more used to the encouraging feedback and I quite like it. Sometimes to the point that I grow irritated when correction comes in the direct (and often harsh) way of pointing out the negative things, with which I grew up. Still, sometimes when I hear teaching about positive feedback, affirmations, etc, I wonder how much of this is cultural and if this might only apply to Americans.

But when Jim Wilder said yesterday evening that focusing on negative things does not create belonging, I had my Aha-moment. Deep down I realized that this is true, no matter which culture, even if it is expressed in very different ways. Every human being needs acceptance and belonging, and pointing out faults usually does the opposite – it builds walls. I even got my practical lesson right afterward: after I had told my little story, my neighbor criticized that I had missed one point of a good appreciation story. I felt put down and grew defensive. When I thought about it later, I realized that she could have pointed out the same thing through an encouraging question, but the way she had said it built a wall between us. Wow! So, this is definitely something I want to learn to avoid myself.

At the same time I realize that this is a difficult balance. For example, as a consultant or teacher, I can encourage somebody, showing appreciation, for example,  for the good start in a writing project. But this will not tell him/her enough about which parts still need improvement. Having grown up in a context where this balance was rare, I do not have a lot of role models for this.

Can you share examples from your own experience where somebody showed appreciation, and still managed to indicate the points that need improvement? How do you do it yourself?

Life Model Overview

Life Model Overview

Maybe you have wondered about this Life Model I keep talking about. The Life Model is “a new paradigm for spiritual and psychological health.” It was first described in  “The Life Model: Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You” by Dr. James G. Friesen, which is still the basic book on this topic, even though there is much more to it than this little booklet can cover. It is the basis of the ministry and teaching of Dr. Jim Wilder and others at the Shepherd’s House in Pasadena, CA.


I first heard about their approach in 2006 from a friend and since then read several of their publications. Last year I had the opportunity to attend their teaching classes for the first time. I have already profited so much from their teaching and ministry and can highly recommend them. Their ministry approach is a very interesting combination of their counseling experience and insights from brain science which can be helpful for any Christian to grow in their maturity and help others grow.

They also have a lot of experience in working with abuse victims and with all kinds of other areas in counseling. Their different branches of ministry are all focused on helping people break the unhealthy patterns that result from childhood trauma and other hurts. They do this by helping people learn important brain or maturity skills that we missed to learn when growing up. I believe that this can be profitable for anybody, not just for those who have experienced problems.

You can find more information on:

Shepherd’s House (counseling center) [N.B. the work was restructured in 2014 and is now called “Joy starts here“]
Life Model, Living from the heart Jesus gave you (book)
Thriving (their recovery program, developed by Ed Khouri together with Jim Wilder)
Thrive (their training conferences, organized by Chris and Jen Coursey together with others from Shepherd’s House)
Immanuel Approach (developed by Dr. Karl Lehman in collaboration with Jim Wilder) [N.B. meanwhile there is a new webpage that focuses only on the Immanuel Approach]

On these webpages you will find plenty of material to read, as well as contact addresses for counseling and training.

The class on Belonging that I have frequently mentioned in my posts is part of the Thriving program. In total, there are five modules, of which I have now attended four, even though not in the right order. I have profited from each of them. This is why I try to share some of the good stuff here on this blog.

Restoring relational circuits

Restoring relational circuits.

A few weeks ago I blogged about relational circuits. I included some examples of a longer checklist that help us realize whether our relational circuits are on or off. Here are some more examples:

  • My mind is “locked onto” something upsetting.
  • I just want to get away, or fight or I freeze.
  • I don’t want to be connected to X (someone I usually like).

If you answer some of these questions with yes, it means that your relational circuits are OFF.

So what do you do when your relational circuits are off? That was the topic of the last two classes. I quote from a pocket card from that we received, which included a short checklist on relational circuits and steps to restoring our relational circuits:

My goal is to perceive the Lord’s presence, tell Him about my pain, and receive His shalom so that I can get my relational connection circuits back on line.

My strategy is to quiet my body and then talk to God about my emotions and thoughts even if I don’t perceive His presence yet, I invite the Lord to be with me and help me perceive His presence. I tell others how shalom helped me.

The exercises we learned are hard to explain with a few sentences but maybe I can describe them best as a combination of physical relaxation exercise and of quoting biblical truth to ourselves. Usually, in the first part of each exercise the body posture was a representation of tension, fear, anxiety (incl. fast and brief breathing in) while quoting, for example, “Whenever I am afraid …”. The second part would then be a transition into a relaxed body posture (incl. slowly and lengthy breathing out) and quoting “… I will trust in Thee oh Lord.” (Psalm 56:3)

The one mentioned above is called the “Fear Bomb”. Another one is called “First Aid Yawn” which starts in the First Aid position and includes yawning. Both belong to the group of “Shalom to my body” exercises, aiming at quieting my body (as mentioned in the strategy statement above).

The next two steps for restoring my relational circuits are, in my perception, somewhat similar and are called “Shalom to my soul” and “Lament with God”. In both cases I talk with God about my situation. I found it interesting to learn that talking to God about the other person that I am upset with will not help, but will keep my relational circuits off. I need to talk with God about my own emotions and thoughts (in Shalom to my soul) and about sad things that grieve both God and me (in Lament with God).

Shalom to my soul” is a personal prayer that follows in certain aspects the pattern of many Psalms. It includes describing how I feel at the moment, thoughts that come to my mind when I think about the problem, and what keeps me from experiencing God’s presence. Towards the end, I express how I perceive God at the moment, what I need from him, but at the same time remembering special moments with God in the past and my favorite Bible promises that have helped me in the past. The prayer finishes with asking God to remove barriers that keep me from knowing God’s presence and receiving his shalom.

Lament with God” reflects on the question what good things God wants me to have but that did not happen in this particular situation. This is then formed into a prayer, where I express what exactly are the negative things that happened and were contrary to God’s good plan, by saying: “I am sad that there was …… instead of your gentleness / kindness / mercy / forgiveness / justice / wisdom / comfort. I am saddened like you are. I really need your gentleness / … / etc. to create belonging.” An interesting aspect in this was, that focusing on sadness helps to become relational again and find shalom, while a focus on fear and anger would not be helpful.

The last step, which we will probably address in the next class, is called “Grow my shalom” through appreciation exercises.

All of these are steps to help me have “Godsight” – seeing myself and others like God sees them – and thereby turning my relational circuits on again. I will write more on what Godsight means in another post. [N.B. 2015 – recently they started using the term iSight as in Immanuel Sight instead.]

Relational circuits

Relational circuits.

This week’s revised Belonging class of the Life Model taught by Dr. Jim Wilder was again very insightful.

The topic was Relational Circuits.

These are things in our brain that can be on or off (or degrees of on and off). When they are on, there is no problem that is bigger than our relationships.  When they are off, our brain does not work well, our relationships don’t work well and we are not creating belonging and Shalom around us. We lose our peace and problems seem bigger than they are.

This was a real Aha-moment for me, when Jim Wilder mentioned the correlation between problems and relationships. For example, when a father yells at his daughter, the problem has become bigger than his relationship to his daughter. At this moment he no longer cares if he hurts her but completely focuses on the problem and his need to express his emotions.

When we suspend our relational functions, we treat people like objects.

Expressing our feelings and emotions become deadly weapons. We lose objectivity and perspective. Our communication hurts others instead of creating Shalom. We become as dangerous to others as drunken drivers because our relational capacities are incapacitated.

Right away I remembered situations where problems had become bigger than the relationships and things did not go well. Just recently I had to talk with somebody about a problem. And as much as I tried I could not put myself in the other person’s situation in order to be less judgmental. I knew it was not OK, but I was unable to change it. Now I basically got the explanation of what happened in this situation. (Next time we will hear about what to do then.)

We receive a checklist of indicators for when our relational circuits are off.

Here are some examples that I found very telling:

  • I just want to make a problem, a person or feeling stop or go away.
  • I become aggressive in the way I interrogate, judge or fix others.
  • I don’t want to listen to what others are saying.
  • When others are talking, I already know what they are going to say.

All over the world people are drawn to those that consider relationships as more important than problems, who value relationships over problems. I certainly noticed that in different African cultures, relationship are so extremely valuable – because they are their “social safety net” – and that they would not allow anything, things or problems to disrupt these relationships. My rationalization was that we in the West have social security, health insurance, retirement insurance, etc. and are therefore less depending on our relationships, and don’t care as much how our behavior might damage our relationships.

But maybe there is more to it. Our ability to create belonging and whether our relational circuits are on most of the time, are related to our level of maturity. Maybe people in other parts of the world have a higher level of maturity.

So remember:

Our relationship work better when our brain (relational circuits) is running, and not just our emotions and our mouth.
(Jim Wilder)  😉