A Principle for Internalizing God’s Love
I have read the article in today’s post many times since 1986 when I received it from a friend. It has deeply impacted my life. It provides a principle most people miss in pursuit of healthy Christian living. The article explains how to build the positive into our lives. Let me explain.
Think about a broken leg after a couple of months in a cast. The bone has become solid again. However, muscle strength still has to be rebuilt. Consider this analogy in the context of Prayer Ministry.
I have given and received many hours of Prayer Ministry and I’ve seen and experienced much healing. The negative wounding has been cleansed. However, the positive still has to be built in, or learned if you will. This can be understood in the context of family.
Consider a person growing up in an emotionally healthy home. Thousands of experiences have been internalized wherein people were kind to each other. The parents consistently modeled respectful behavior, even in conflict and conflict resolution. All of these events built healthy neural connections in the brain of the child. As an adult, the child easily follows suit. But, what if you didn’t have those developmental experiences? How might you build in the positive, even as you cleanse out the negative?
Today’s article will give you a key principle to build in the positive in your life.
YOU ARE YOUR SECRETS
O. Hobart Mowrer
A few years ago, by sheer coincidence, I “discovered” the novels of Lloyd C. Douglas. Since the early 1930’s, I had, of course, been accustomed to seeing their titles—sometimes two or three at a time— on the various best-seller lists. But, as a professional psychologist, I had dismissed them as the sentimental rubbish, which the critics were all too willing to assure you they were. However, sometime in 1954, one of our then teen-age daughters remarked to me one day that she was reading a book which she thought I, too, would find interesting. It was, she said, by a man named Douglas and was entitled Magnificent Obsession; and in the passage which had particularly inspired her comment, someone was saying that he had just realized that, whatever else the Bible might or might not be, it is a superb handbook on human relations. Having grown up in—and long since left—a church which took a completely other-worldly view of religion, I was indeed intrigued by this notion and soon started reading the book myself.
This was at a time when, for both scientific and personal reasons, I was thoroughly disillusioned with psychoanalysis and was desperately looking for something to take its place. Here, it seemed, was a possible lead. As a indication of the impact Magnificent Obsession had on me, I may say that from it I went on, during the next year or so, to read all of Douglas’ other novels (some ten of them), his autobiography, a collection of sermons, four small “theological” books (published while he was still a Congregational minister), and The Shape of Sunday, by his daughters, Virginia and Betty. As a psychologist and as a person, I as much impressed by the interpersonal philosophy of Lloyd Douglas, as it is developed in his various writings. But here I want to call attention to a particularly penetrating insight—the very heart of his approach—which I have recently been helped to understand in a new and deep way.
There are millions of persons now living who will recall the scene, about midway through Magnificent Obsession, in which young Dr. Wayne Hudson, “on the edge of failure and in deep depression” following the death of his wife, goes to a monument works to pick out a marker for her grave and there encounters the eccentric but strangely talented sculptor, Clive Randolph. Sensing the doctor’s state of mind, Randolph engages him in conversation and gradually, as their friendship develops, imparts to him a “secret” which can, he says, transform one’s life.
At no place in the novel is the theory fully and explicitly stated; but when pieced together, it runs something like this. Most of us live depleted existences: weak, zestless, apprehensive, pessimistic, “neurotic.” And the reason is that when we perform a good deed, we advertise, display it—and thus collect and enjoy the credit then and there. But when we do something cheap and mean, we carefully hide and deny it (if we can) with the result that the “credit” for acts of this kind remains with us and “accumulates.” A person who follows such a life style is chronically bankrupt in the moral and spiritual sense. If, at any given moment, his life were “required of him,” he would be found wanting, could not pay out, settle up; for his “net worth” is less than nothing, negative. Small wonder, then, that a person of this kind has no confidence or zest and lacks creativity—he is too busy pretending, too “insecure,” too afraid of being “found out.”
So what is the alternative, the remedy for a person who has already fallen into, or wishes to avoid, such a miserable and meaningless existence? It is, quite simply, to reverse this whole strategy: admit and thus divest oneself of one’s weaknesses, errors, follies and hide one’s charities, good deeds, virtues. This, Randolph tells Dr. Hudson, is the secret of “what mysterious power I mentioned. By following these instructions to the letter, you can have anything you want, do anything you wish to do, be whatever you would like to be. I have tried it. It works. It worked for me. It will work for you!” (p.134)
And where, Dr. Hudson asks, did Randolph come by such an idea?
One day, I went to the church my little girl attended, and heard a preacher read what is on this page (torn from the New Testament, which the sculptor always carried in his billfold).
It evidently meant nothing to him, for he read it in a dull monotonous chant. And the congregation sat glassy-eyed, the words apparently making no impression. As for me, I was profoundly stirred….. There it was—in black and white—the exact process for achieving power to do, be, and have what you want! I experimented.” (p. 135)
We are never told exactly where this passage is to be found in the New Testament; but it is not hard to guess that the allusion is to the first few verses of Matthew 6: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men. . . Do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.”
Randolph had wanted the “capacity to do just one creditable work of statuary!” A few years before he had been an ordinary stone-cutter. Now he was a gifted sculptor whose work was later to be exhibited “at the Metropolitan.” So Dr. Hudson also “experimented,” taking care that his philanthropies were never know during his lifetime. He transcended his depression and became a great brain surgeon. And Bobby Merrick, another character in the book, by following the same principles, was able to make an important humanitarian invention.
Ah, you will say, but these events happened only “in a book.” Can they be duplicated in real life? Neither in his autobiography, Time to Remember, nor in Doctor Hudson’s Secret Journal (the sequel to Magnificent Obsession, written 10 years later), nor in the volume which his daughters published about him, is there any definite evidence that Lloyd Douglas himself practiced Clive Randolph’s secret formula for “power.” But is it not suggestive that until he was fifty years old, Douglas was a good but not outstanding minister and then, suddenly, became and remained to the end of his life the most widely read novelist in the English language? “Daddy always said he wanted to write a novel someday,” his daughters tell us. If all the facts were known, I believe that Lloyd C. Douglas’ own life would dramatically testify to the potency of the principle which he called an “obsession.”
Here, however, I am more concerned about “power” in the therapeutic sense than in its implications for creativity, important as that, too, may be. For at least a decade now, it has been known in scientific circles (Saturday Review, August 1, 1959; Reader’s Digest, January, 1960) that psychoanalysis is a fiasco; and former practitioners of that dubious art are today experimenting broadly with different concepts and methods. They are particularly disenchanted with the alleged advantage of interminable talk; and many of them are open to the possibility that E. Stanley Jones was right when he remarked, some years ago, that it is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting. The result is that today something vaguely describable as action “therapy” is in the making; and in my own work along these lines, I find myself, more and more, guiding neurotic individuals into a two-fold strategy which involves (a) confession of past misdeeds and (b) concealment of present and future “good works.” Instead of advising disturbed persons to continue to pay fees to a professional counselor, I urge them to take advantage of the opportunities which are always freely available for becoming honest and open with respect to past mistakes and then to take the equivalent of a fee (in time or money) and devote it to “charity by stealth.”
Because we psychologists and psychiatrists have ourselves been so “obsessed” by an entirely different philosophy, it has been hard for us to assimilate the full implications and practical possibilities of this other approach; but recently I have been using it with increasing confidence, and success. I could cite a sizable list, now, of instances in which this approach has worked, quickly and dramatically, in the lives of disturbed persons. However, I shall instead describe only one person whose experiences are typical and yet unusually illuminating. A bright young man with a history of adolescent delinquency and debauchery, he had, when I first saw him, already been attracted to and joined a religious group and had undergone a conversion of sorts; but he continued to be ruminative, moody, unpredictable in his interpersonal responses, and was never quite certain when he might revert to his old mode of life. At the suggestion of a mutual friend, he came to see me; and we moved quickly and with surprisingly little resistance toward the decision to make a clean break of his past to two trusted members of this group, and from this step the new policy of openness was extended to “significant others.”
The relief experienced by this young man and the personal change noted in him by his friends were very striking; and we were soon able to start thinking about the more positive aspects of the program. At this juncture I began introducing him to Clive Randolph’s “secret.” The lad was much interested, and presently I saw his face contort into a sort of scowl, his eyes lit up, and with some difficulty he succeeded in re-stating the idea in a way which, to me at least, was both clarifying and novel. I am sorry I do not have a record of his exact words; but they went something like this: “What you seem to be saying is that when we tell or brag about some accomplishment or favor we’ve done someone, we exchange the ‘credit’ for immediate satisfaction, that is, we ‘spend’ it. And in the same way, when we confess an evil, something we feel guilty about, we likewise get rid of it, dissipate it. . . like those things I did and thought I wasn’t ashamed of but was. Now that I have admitted them, they aren’t really a part of me anymore—they just don’t seem very important. By admitting these things, I have ‘spent’ my guilt. And now the same principle seems to work also the other way ‘round. Just as the wrong kind of ‘credit,’ if it accumulates, will eventually destroy you, likewise, good ‘credit’ will, if not used up, give you strength and inner confidence. The net effect is that you are, in any case, what you keep back, save: strong and self-accepting if what you hide and keep back is good, and weak and self-hating if what you keep and hide is bad.”
In thinking over this rephrasing of the theory, I recalled that some years ago there was a lively controversy in scientific circles—between, it so happens, a Yale professor and one at Harvard—concerning the problem of defining “personality.” The man at Yale insisted that we are, basically, what other persons perceive us to be, and the reactions we produce in them. In short, he said, one’s personality is one’s “social stimulus value. When asked to describe an individual’s personality we describe the impression he makes on others, the way he influences others.”
This, according to the Harvard psychologist, was all wrong. “Definitions of personality in terms of the outer appearance of a man,” he said, “are completely unsatisfactory. Psychologically considered, personality is what a man really is, what an individual is regardless of the manner in which other people perceive his qualities or evaluate them.”
Suffice it to say that, twenty years ago, the Yale professor had the better of the argument. His contention that a person is the effect or impressions he produces on others seemed eminently scientific and congruent with the stimulus-response psychology of that time; whereas the view of the Harvard professor that we are what we really, inwardly are seemed mystical and tautological. But now we can give more substance to this position. Now we can see that one’s personality is, in truth, more importantly defined and structured by what is unknown, inward, secret about him than by what is known. When a person shows unusual strength, we often say, “I don’t see how he (or she) does it.” And, by the same token, when a person breaks down, we are often even more mystified; for again we have not been aware of hidden weaknesses, just as we have not known the source of the other person’s great strength.
During the time that I was seeing the young man just mentioned, a lawyer about 30 years of age from a distant city telephoned unexpectedly, announced that he was in town, and would like an appointment. When I saw him he said that during the past eight years he had been in treatment with three different psychoanalysts but had not achieved relief from his severely obsessional symptoms. Somewhere he had learned of my interest in a different approach, and soon it emerged that in all his past “treatment” no attempt had ever been made to get him to clean up a number of misrepresentations he had systematically practiced with his parents and other persons. And when, after a good start had been made along these lines, I introduced him to Clive Randolph’s formula, he recalled an aunt who, not long ago, had died of cancer. “And yet,” he said, “she was so courageous and strong about it all that everyone remarked how wonderful she was. Then, after she was dead, I don’t know how many people came and told us about how she had helped them in some way but would never let them mention it.” Who was this woman, really? Was she the person the public knew, or was she the person she knew? Perhaps it is less important what our “stimulus value” is to others than what is to ourselves. Had this woman sometime read Magnificent Obsession—or merely the 6th Chapter of the Book of Matthew? Yes, I think it is perhaps not too far from the truth to say that, ultimately, we are our secrets.