All posts by Dan


Joy : “It’s good to be together”

In my experience as a people-helper, I have come to believe that the solutions people seek are emenant, right there, already in their possession, or being actively extended to them by God. It’s just a matter of recognizing them. It felt like this was the general approach Sam would take, so we met (on-line) for the first time a couple of weeks later.

After some preliminary storytelling and clarifying questions from Sam, we just hopped right into the therapeutic deep end: childhood. Like I had done with panic attacks, I internally rolled my eyes a bit. Not because I think inner-child work is stupid or unhelpful but because I was convinced I had “completed” my own inner-child work. I had looked deeply into the pathologies of my family of origin, I had confronted the abuse, cherished the blessings, named the players and labeled the outcomes. I had graduated from inner child work…right?

I looked around at a lot of spiritual people I admire and how they seemingly move through life without wallowing around in memories of their 7th birthday party when no one came, or being laughed at in the middle school locker room. As of this writing, I don’t know if that’s true of these other people. Maybe they did graduate. Maybe they are in denial. Maybe there are other possibilities. But I can say that what’s changed is: I’m learning to stop comparing.

So, regardless of my relative “therapeutic maturity” I found myself sharing the story of the “child voice” which guided me out of trouble, then listening to Sam eagerly connect that experience to the bigger ideas surrounding childhood traumas (both capital T traumas and lower case t traumas).

In that first session, Sam layed out the theory that, like most men in our culture, my understanding of and ability to experience and maintain joy was never developed. This is critical because, as the thinking goes, we were made by God to live in joy, it’s our default state. The Fall, of course, means that there will be significant challenges in doing so, but for the follower of Jesus, through His work, we can “return to joy”. That phrase will be a core theme.

But as it relates to my childhood (and without regurgitating my therapy sessions in total here) we popped the bubble of my current struggles with this idea:

At key developmental points in my life, I was either presented with a corrupted concept of joy, made to feel ashamed or afraid of real joy, or I was denied joy altogether. This condition solidifies over decades into a pathology (well, one might say a “personality”.) It seems that the accumulated losses of the last couple of years served as pile of dry wood and the crisis at Mt. St. Helens was the spark. What burned down was that “personality”: the amalgamation of ideas, behaviors and practices that I have cobbled together to navigate a world in which I’m MADE for joy, but I don’t/can’t access it. Without that set of coping tools…I kind of collapsed.

Our entire culture has at its center this paradox, and it’s mostly balanced on the shoulders of men. For a breathtakingly profane but equally precise snapshot of this culture, watch THIS. So it seems there is the Universal joy problem from which we all suffer, a Cultural joy problem from which most of us (especially men) suffer, and then my own Individual joy problem.

All of this resonated with me, and toward the end of our first session it deeply informed an exercise Sam lead me through in which I imagined being in the presence of Jesus and he looked on me with delight. My job was simply to feel it…joy…and joy is: Knowing that someone bigger and stronger than you, delights in you because you’re weak.

Mind blow.


My friend in Indiana (who is a therapist) asked a couple of clarifying questions and reached out to some of his colleagues who are here in the area to see if they were taking clients. Within a couple of weeks I was in touch with Sam.

One of his questions when we first spoke was, “What do you want to get out of therapy?” Not a surprise question by any means, but I was surprised by how unprepared to answer I suddenly found myself.

After a moment’s pause, I recalled a “vision” experience I had a few years back. (I put vision in quotes because I tread lightly in the realm of claiming God miraculously gave me an insight…but I’m not gonna lie: it felt pretty miraculous!)

I was meditating (using the Ignatian Method) on the scene in Mark 10 in which Jesus heals Bartimaeus. I found myself walking with the crowd behind Jesus. He was just barely in sight when the crowd stopped and some commotion began in front of me. The people began to jostle and part as I became aware that Jesus had stopped, turned around and was moving through the crowd…right toward me with his eyes fixed on mine.

A little pocket of space opened up around us and we stood facing one another. The crowd noise dropped to a low murmur as he just looked at me for a moment and I tried not to squirm. Then, with a gentle smile, he asked me the question he had asked the blind man just a few minutes earlier, “What do you want me to do for you?”

I found myself as tongue-tied then as I was feeling in the present with Sam patiently waiting for an answer. In the “vision”, I swallowed, tried to let go of fear, shame and anger and trust the Christ who was standing right in front of me. This was no time for nuance or efforts to impress.

“What IS it that I want?!”

I had let may gaze drop as I struggled, but after a moment, I looked up into his face again and blurted out a little too loud and with a crack in my voice, “I want to be free.”

There was a pause as I tried to read his face. An instant of anxiety when I thought I had answered “wrong” , disappointed him or offended him, followed by an instant of feeling, “Fuck it. It’s the truth and I’m willing to live with the consequences of saying it.”

But presently, a twinkle appeared in his eyes. A smile began to dawn and he leaned forward and tilted his head in what I can only describe as a mischievous fashion. I was taken aback. But even more so when he slowly reached up, put his hands into my beard (which was appropriately first century Palestinian for the purposes of this “vision”) and took hold of it with an alarmingly firm grip.

“Jacob Wrestles with God” by Chris Cock

He altered his posture slightly in such a way as to make me think he was preparing to pick me up by the beard and hurl me, but the widening smile on his face reassured that there was only joy and love at work. He sort of shook my head with his grip a little and started to laugh quietly as his stance continued to change into what looked like a fighting stance…a wrestling stance.

It finally hit me. We were playing.

With only a little apprehension, I reached up and buried my hands in his beard. I was rewarded with his full, approving laugh, and that caused me to begin laughing as I mirrored his stance. We slowly began to circle one another, firmly gripping one another’s beards. It was absurd…and so right.

The crowd responded as one would imagine: they backed away. Their silence grew in proportion to our laughter as the circling became faster and more aggressive. It accelerated to what felt like a cross between a dance and a ju jitsu bout. We were belly laughing now.

As the “vision” had unfolded, my point of view switched several times from seeing through my own eyes, to a “camera view” looking back at myself. For the last few moments, it had been a tight focus through my own eyes on Jesus’ face. But suddenly my view changed to outside again and I realized that we were now spinning so fast that our feet had left the ground and were whirling in the air behind us! Like an amusement park ride, our spinning bodies, connected to each other by hands gripping beards, were rising into the air.

Our laughter had caught the stunned crowd and they had begun to laugh and dance with joy as they looked up at this rising spectacle.

Sitting alone in a car, with Sam on speaker phone waiting for an answer, I began to cry…again. (I was so tired of it at this point) and I blurted out, “I want to be free. I want to know who God truly made me to be and live into that.”

“Oh, yeaaaah. That’s gooood!”, came the response.