Healing the Divided Self

David Letterman described life as a late-night TV host with this reflection:

“Every night you’re trying to prove your self-worth.  You want to be the absolute best, wittiest, smartest, most charming, best-smelling version of yourself.  If I can make people enjoy the experience and have a higher regard for me when I’m finished, it makes me feel like an entire person.  If I’ve come short of that, I’m not happy.”

To some degree, we all know that vulnerability, and we are well-versed in the ways of frantic effort and self-doubt.  Regardless of income, profession, or educational level the pull toward frantic is an ever-present reality, exacerbated by scarcity of time.  Chuck DeGroat examines the roots of busyness and exhaustion in Wholeheartedness, pondering why those of use who are among the most well-resourced in the world “feel dirt poor” when it comes to the resource of time.  It turns out that the antidote to the epidemic of exhaustion is not simply more bodily rest, but rather a soul-ish rest that leads to wholeness.

Part One of Wholeheartedness examines the divided life in brutal detail along with its deep dissatisfaction, shame, and perfectionism.  In his first book, Leaving Egypt, Chuck refers to a “Stockholm syndrome of the soul,” for our “mindless self-sabotage” of poor choices often perpetuates our fragmented and scattered condition.  We avoid taking on the hard work of change that comes with a right response to our “Inner Critic” — the voice that keeps us in a perpetual state of not-enough.  Shame is the fuel that powers perfectionism and stifles self-compassion.  The wholehearted response to the voice of our Inner Critic is, in fact, to embrace our imperfections as a gateway to grace that heals and redeems the messy parts of our lives.

The Apostle Paul described his own feelings of un-wholeness in Romans 7, an intimate journal entry that invites me to embrace my own inadequacies and to receive the grace of God in exchange for my imperfection.  Following an enlightening analysis of the neurobiology of wholeness, Chuck urges his readers to pay attention to what’s going on inside the amazing brains God has made, for mending our inner terrain will bring clarity to the big picture.

The poets have always known what the rest of us are just guessing at, and in Part Two of Wholeheartedness,  Chuck has harnessed the strong words of poets like Mary Oliver and Gerard Manley Hopkins to light the path toward wholehearted living.  Derek Walcott portrays steps toward wholeness as a homecoming, “a holy reunion with our deepest self,” in which you “greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome and say, sit here. Eat.”

It is in this way that Wholeheartedness distinguishes its offering of wisdom, for authentic living is not the same as a narcissistic rummaging around in our emotional entrails — nor is it a “live your best life” campaign that feeds my already well-fed selfishness.  Instead, it is a road map that points out the obstacles to wholeness and then marks out carefully considered detours that resonate with Sermon on the Mount priorities and Pauline wisdom:

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!

What a lovely juxtaposition:  holiness and wholeness, and Chuck spends a considerable amount of thought in that place, reminding his readers that:

  • purity is about being put together again, being made whole.  No wonder Jesus said that the pure of heart are blessed!
  • wholeness implies that the inner life matches the outer life.
  • God will do the purifying work through our brokenness, which is an unshackling from the “exhausting holiness project,” that starts out strong but ends up becoming an obstacle to wholeness over the long haul.

Part Three moves away from theory and into the practice of cultivating wholeness amid our scattered selves.  The “trinity” of wholeness is awareness, story, and relationship, and through the use of questions, guided exercises, and observations from his counseling practice, Chuck encourages his readers to rejoice in the truth that God invites us to be curious about our emotions and our body cues.  “What’s happening here?’ is a healthy question.  The awareness that this fosters will spill over into the living and the telling of our story and the longed-for sense of wholeness that follows finds its way into a vulnerability and unselfishness that is foundational to healthy relationships.

Finally (and ironically), it is in a community of believers that one is most able to realize and express ones wholeness.  C.S. Lewis observed:

“It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

What if we were to wake one morning to the realization that wholehearted living is a life of union — and also of unity?  What if our churches, families, workplaces — all the sources of our division and fragmentation headaches — became the places where we began embracing our own brokenness and extending grace in response to that of others?  And what if the promise is really true?  What would happen if we really did release our burdens — the endless do-list from the Inner Critic, the searing brokenness from childhood hurts, and the crushing awareness of our inadequacies.  What would happen if we really brought them to Jesus and found that, in doing so, we had come home to ourselves?


This book was provided by Eerdmans in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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27 thoughts on “Healing the Divided Self”

  1. Hi Michele! This sounds like a wonderful book. I’ve added it to my list. Love this: “It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” Amen, and amen! It’s a blessing, as always, to visit you. Thankful I’m following you this week at Kelly’s. Have a blessed week!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michele,
    I so need the reminder that it is GOD who does the purifying work and releases us from the “Exhausting holiness project”. I also love the line “embrace our imperfections as a gateway to grace.” Much needed reminders this morning. I know this…but often need reminders!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I explore the idea and meaning of rest a lot. I am always trying to discover the best way to achieve something that seems so elusive at times. I like the idea that the antidote to exhaustion is not just bodily rest but soul rest. We seek a balance in our lives and this comes when all parts seem to be working in harmony. The author is right when he says the inner life needs to match he outer life. This book shares great wisdom. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “What would happen if we really brought them (our burdens) to Jesus and found that, in doing so, we had come home to ourselves?”

    Yes, what would happen? I want to find out!

    Thanks for this review, Michele. I need this book, too…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent, Michele! This book seems to avoid the pitfalls of others trying to deal with this dilemma. Thanks so much for the thorough review of this treasure trove!


  6. Hi Michelle, I was immediately drawn to this title when I saw it on #TestimonyTuesday. I think that many women can relate to this struggle as we seek to fulfill several roles and wear so many different hats. I often long for wholeness and realise that it’s only through Christ, that I’ll experience it.
    Thanks for sharing the book and your thoughts with us.
    Marva | sunSPARKLEshine


  7. Can topics be heavy? This sounds heavy but wonderful. It may move up the ranks on the reading list. Partly because I’m a little bit of a neurobiology nerd, and partly because this sounds like something the Lord might be using to convict me promptly. Thanks as always for sharing, Michele!


    1. Yes, there was a lot of good “here’s how your brain works” detail in this book. I was surprised to learn that there is really more to the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy than we usually hear. Interesting stuff.


    1. June, when I read this comment, I was so encouraged by the thought that you have prayed for me. I’m thankful for the job and for the smart women who have been training me. I miss my boys tremendously and at times it seems as if the wheels are completely off the train here at home, but I’m trusting for grace to make it through the summer. 🙂


  8. This intrigues me. I must add to my list of summer reading. Thoughts of inner rest are always in my desire to be different, to be the best version that Christ expects me to be for Him. Great review Michele.


  9. I love your review, Michele. A couple of friends were talking about this book last week. I’ve added it to my list to read. Thanks for linking up with Thankful Thursdays.


  10. Sounds like a very interesting book. I found this statement especially thought-provoking, “The wholehearted response to the voice of our Inner Critic is, in fact, to embrace our imperfections as a gateway to grace that heals and redeems the messy parts of our lives.” I say similar things in counseling, but I love the phrase “gateway to grace.” Have a great week, Michele!


  11. Man, this review is so jam-packed with wisdom, I’m going to have to come back to it for a re-read soon! I can hardly imagine how full the book itself is! Thanks so much for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com!


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