When we talk about “restoration,” we can’t do so without talking about why people need it in the first place.
The Reverend Dr. Shane Green, senior minister at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Columbus, Georgia, says that for men in particular, the need often stems from a lack of “validation” they’ve received in their lives—from their fathers first and foremost, but also friends, professors, and coaches. The story of the “prodigal son” in the gospel of Luke shows what happens when that validation isn’t achieved: One son rebels by taking his share of the inheritance and wasting it on extravagances, the other lives in strict conformity with his father’s wishes, but neither has made real progress in discovering his true self or achieving inner peace.
“Either we’re in this sense of rebellion or a blanket conformity,” Green says. “Often we call that ‘rock bottom,’ where we discover things about ourselves that we don’t like. The younger son comes to the realization that his rebellion is never going to lead to wholeness. He starts to look at the food he was feeding the pigs and realizes that he had it better when he was at home—in the original text, the Greek word really means something like a person coming out of anesthesia—and the younger son says to himself, ‘I’ll go back to my father’s house.’
“In our pain, we can discover things about ourselves, and sometimes we discover that we didn’t receive that validation that we wanted, and our efforts to find true wholeness haven’t worked. So we then come out of this anesthesia and we desire something more, which I think begins that journey toward home, or toward wholeness. God is truth, and the first step toward finding Him is to discover the truth about oneself.”
The way you talk about “coming out of anesthesia” is similar to some of the lyrics from the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime”—“This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife! My God! What have I done!”
It’s very common in humanity, and a negative example would be the midlife crisis: Someone wakes up and realizes they’re not whole, so they try to find it in things or people. They leave the conformity side and seek wholeness in rebellion, the pendulum swinging all the way over to the other side. But at some point, and this is what I tell my congregation, part of learning to be whole and learning to love yourself is being comfortable in your own skin. If you find a sense of faith in God and you work with God toward wholeness, you can learn to love yourself without needing any outside object, person, whatever it may be. You don’t need that validation anymore because you own it for yourself.
We seem to have it backwards—we think the love of others will help us love ourselves, but any therapist or clergyman will tell you that you can’t expect anyone to love you if you don’t first love yourself.
Until people really love themselves and become comfortable in who they are, they’re always going to be “posing” or presenting to others what they think will be the most lovable. We live in a society that runs off this projection of what we think others want us to be.
Social media has fed into that, hasn’t it? You can create a whole new identity for yourself on Facebook or Instagram, posting things that you think will impress people but that don’t really represent your true self.
The unfortunate part of social media is that people start judging their self-worth by how many “likes” or followers they have. Everything you post has to be “your best day,” and it fuels this performative culture that is not real. It fuels jealousy, which can lead to addictive behavior; it fuels a sense of desire. I think that occasionally “fasting” from social media is probably one of the healthiest things you can do. The first time you do that, there’s all kinds of struggle and anxiety because you’re breaking from your normal behavior, but pretty soon you find you’re sleeping better.
What do you want people to come away with from your presentation?
I hope that people come away from this with a sense that it’s OK if there are things about them that are broken or in need of being whole. The second thing is to realize that it is possible for people to change. It’s hard work, and the journeys that people have to walk are going to be different depending on their own personal experiences in life and to what level other people have been a part of them. But it is worth the journey. If people could just hold on to the idea that they can be a different person, a whole person, a happy person, a fulfilled person, they would come away knowing that it’s worth the journey.