Stumbling Toward Wholeness, Part Two

This week, Dan continues his conversation with Andrew Bauman, author of Stumbling Toward Wholeness: How the Love of God Changes Us. Andrew and Dan look more closely at the dynamic of the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son—a crucial character for understanding how contempt holds us back from wholeness and the love of the Father. Just as the elder is furious about seeing his wayward younger brother welcomed and celebrated, Andrew argues that there are parts of ourselves that will sabotage the movement of healing, arguing that we are too broken to receive God’s love.

Andrew: “Some of our deepest wounds is where we desire our deepest love. […] In my shame is where I feel called to do my work. That’s the place God calls us.”

Dan and Andrew discuss how that voice of self-contempt—“I don’t deserve to come home. I will not allow myself to heal”—is a form of arrogant entitlement masquerading as humility. This is especially prevalent in Christian communities today, where we are often taught that following Christ means dwelling on our wretchedness and making ourselves as small as possible, which leads to a self-centeredness that is far more insidious than what we normally imagine as “sinful” pride. (For more on this, check out this blog from Andrew, “When Shame is Deeper Than Salvation.”)

Dan: “Here’s part of the complication: shame virtually always is bound, strangely, to pride. You wouldn’t normally think of those two as being partners in this dark dance, but they really are.”

Andrew: “We get something out of our pride. We get something that really feeds us.”

Shame virtually always is bound, strangely, to pride.

When we tug at that thread of shame-based contempt, we often find at its root a deep desire for a sense of control. Andrew and Dan unpack how passing judgement on ourselves helps us feel more in control and more righteous—more like God, essentially.

Dan: “The moment my self-contempt works to give me a sense of control, I feel more righteous than you.”

Andrew: “Yes—if I can annihilate, in this self-contempt piece, I feel like I’m in the seat of God.”

Dan: “You have become the bearer of your own sin.”

Andrew: “And I die on the cross, in a sense, to crucify myself, to try to liberate myself, and yet I’m not Jesus. My death does not absolve, my blood does not cover sin. Sorry.”

Whether we’re stuck in the shame of the younger son or the self-righteousness of the older brother, what helps move us toward wholeness? In both cases, Andrew says the answer is the same: it is the kindness of God that moves us to repentance. And in the expression of that kindness, we find another key category—grief. “The father was able to celebrate so wildly because he grieved so deeply,” says Andrew, who reflects on his own experiences of grief and how they have drawn him deeper into kindness and love.

Andrew: “The same thing that transforms the son actually transforms the elder as well: it’s the love of the father. The father invites the elder brother to deal with his rage, to deal with his entitlement, and welcomes him to the party. […] The father invites them both, even though their sins are different, to the party of resurrection.”