WHOLEHEARTEDNESS: BUSYNESS, EXHAUSTION, AND HEALING THE DIVIDED SELF
WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING, 2016
We are guilty as charged. In Wholeheartedness: busyness, exhaustion, and healing the divided self, Chuck DeGroat aptly describes our destructive internal hunger for self-perfection and personal achievement: “Ashamed of our humanness, we’re constantly aspiring to become gods. The relentless drive to perfect ourselves leads to feats of extraordinary achievement. And utter exhaustion.” He writes that such exhaustion is fueled by shame and the corresponding defense mechanisms we employ to mask and protect ourselves from failure, resulting in a toxic mixture of desired achievement, perfectionism, insecurity, inadequacy and what he calls the Inner Critic, which functions to limit vulnerability, pain and failure. DeGroat argues that this inner-tug-of-war only stirs greater anxiety, busyness and division within ourselves.
This is the exhaustion of trying to preach a home run each and every Sunday. This is the exhaustion of striving to make a name for yourself in academic circles. This is the exhaustion of finishing a book review as the deadline looms and dinner burns on the stove and the dog pees on the floor. This is the exhaustion of comparing your parenting skills to others’; of always looking over your shoulder; of being present to everyone but yourself; of desperately trying to gain approval by doing more; of ascribing to unattainable measurements of success, happiness and satisfaction.
INVITING A WIDE AUDIENCE
Those familiar with Brene Brown will appreciate echoes here of her work on shame and vulnerability. DeGroat acknowledges Brown’s writing and invites us to consider its implications for our life in Christ. Ever gracious, DeGroat invites a wide audience – pastors and congregations, Christians and non-Christians – to observe as he “re-narrates his own tradition” in light of wholeheartedness.
Part One focuses on definitions and diagnoses. Drawing from poet David Whyte and Brother David Steindl-Rast, DeGroat describes wholeheartedness – a learned behavior of self-compassion – as an antidote to “feeling pulled in a thousand different directions.” DeGroat warns that our own inability to be compassionate toward ourselves “condemns us to a life of dividedness, fueling the Inner Critic’s internal dictatorship and shame’s perpetual self-condemnation. Blocked from the love we need from others and from God, we remain enslaved to our guilt, our failures, and our imperfections,” he writes.
Once he has carefully explored this enslavement, DeGroat considers the neurobiology of wholeness and argues that we need mindfulness, not time-management strategies, in our journey toward wholeheartedness.
In Part Two, DeGroat shares verse from poets such as Mary Oliver, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Derek Walcott as he asks, “Is there any hope for those of us who feel unable to break free from our false selves – exhausted, compulsive, perfectionistic, hopelessly helpful, driven, and divided?” He concludes it is indeed possible for us to “[feast] on our own lost and hidden lives.” DeGroat argues that wholeheartedness, including needed self-compassion, is found in our very participation in the story of God, specifically that of Jesus, the “only whole human being who has ever walked the earth.” It is this same Jesus who has restored God’s desired wholeness in the various divisions and fractures of life, including those within our divided selves. In short, wholeness is loving ourselves so that we can love others as God loves us. Synonymous with the term “shalom,” wholeness is both a gift from God as well as God’s desired reordering of creation itself, and we are to be “ambassadors of this wholeness and holiness to the world.”
DeGroat’s concluding section suggests that we fine-tune our desire for wholeheartedness – slowing down, breathing, asking essential questions and recognizing this process as “[a journey] from a place of exhaustion to a place of rest, from a place of fragmentation to a place of wholeness and wholeheartedness.” DeGroat also provides practical exercises and reflection questions to guide the reader, ultimately suggesting that prayer, communion and the liturgical life can be bread for such a journey.
Those who study and appreciate the long tradition of Christian mysticism and “theosis” will hear such themes echoed throughout this book. Indeed, one of this work’s strengths is its ability to draw from a diversity of sources, experiences and passions. Overall, we greatly appreciate DeGroat’s commitment to helping others experience wholeness. His background as a father, husband, counselor, pastor and associate professor of pastoral care only lend to his credibility. While accessible, DeGroat’s book invites the reader into the difficult inner journey that he himself continues to navigate. The honesty and personal examples open vulnerable yet fruitful windows into his own soul, and challenge us to join him on a worthy, holy path.
Gretchen Rumohr-Voskuil teaches English at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Karsten Voskuil pastors Second Reformed Church, Zeeland, Michigan.