Why your try-harder-ness isn’t helping you feel more connected to God

Some brain science for you. Beliefs and doctrine are a left-brain operation. Beliefs and doctrine are created from knowing the relational love of God which is a right-brain operation.  

To summarize the science, the left-brain action is commonly thought of as “the mind.” Left brain dominant functions are logical thinking; problem solving; strategies; language; cause-and-effect relationships; words to our experiences; planning; arguments formulated; truth defended.

The right brain governs the whole range of relational life:  who we love; our emotional reactions to our surroundings; our ability to calm ourselves; our identity, both as individuals and as a community; manages our strongest relational connections, both to people and God; and character formation.

Read more, particularly about how joy is the fuel our brain needs.

Our right brain works just a bit faster than our left brain thus joy is the fuel our brain needs to function at its best.

Choosing joy is a brave decision.  

Character formation is often a church responsibility. It is one of the big reasons why we are encouraged in the Bible, from Bible leaders, and in our mentoring relationships to attend church. I want to endorse this wisdom too. People are a part of our spiritual formation.

Character is governed by the right-brain. But the church loves left-brain stuff like prayer and Bible reading.

Uh-oh.

Is this what’s wrong with Church?

If joy is the fuel our right brain needs which helps our left brain function better, joy must be a part of church.

How often have you experienced joy in church?

For some of you Bravester readers, you will answer very often. You find life and joy at church. Your favorite faces are found in church. 

For some of you Bravester readers, church has sucked the joy right out of you. It is a joyless experience. It is a lonely experience. You do not find God there. There are faces attached to the hurt that you feel.

Because you want to love Jesus more, you then begin to pray more or read your Bible more. This is your plan for try-harder-ness. These are all left-brain activities. But without increasing your joy, these will leave you feeling empty.

This is an emptiness you know. It feels like God has abandoned you. Or has not lived up to his promises, the ones you keep reading and re-reading in your Bible reading. Until you stop reading your Bible all together.

This is the trick of isolation. It begins with safety and ends up with accusations against God that are not true.

Your brain needs the fuel of joy which then helps lead your brain with those good left-brain practices of Bible and prayer and service and leadership. This means your brain needs more faces that bring you joy.

This means you must trust some people in your life. Some Christian people who are worth trusting.

Bravery requires vulnerability. So I know what I’m asking here.

Dr. Brene’ Brown’s research found that joy is the most vulnerable emotion there is. We feel joy so much that there is a physical expression of joy in our bodies (think about that one and you will agree). Yet sometimes joy leads to a broken heart. Or a smashed heart.

When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. By trying to imagine the worst-case scenario, you somehow think you’re protecting yourself from what you fear most.

Does joy feel foreboding because it involves faces/people who have the possibility of hurting you?

I want you to remember this truth: Vulnerability is not the first step to betrayal.

There are so many other steps before betrayal.

When I write about vulnerability, I can’t help but go back to Dr. Brene’ Brown’s research. She found:

“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and grace.”

― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

There is joy again. There is gratitude again. And of course, there is grace.

There are real benefits of when we bravely choose to embrace joy. Such as:

  • I feel like I belong.
  • I feel more stable when things go wrong.
  • It is easier to be myself.
  • I feel free to share my heart with God and others.
  • My brain has the fuel it needs to run better.

None of that is profound wisdom. When you compare it to your efforts of try-harder-ness, this wisdom warms you to a better possibility.

Has your Bible reading and prayer practice been bringing you warmth? If yes, I’m guessing it is because you have some good trusted faces involved in your life.

If no, I’m guessing you are choosing isolation because you have a good reason. I’m a pastor who knows these good reasons from my very own people in my church. But I also have to encourage you to change that isolation situation and bravely try the gift of people again.

More Dr. Brene’ Brown.

Did this meme give you a little hope of joy? I hope so, because your brain sure could use some time with faces–these kinds of faces.

p.s. Read some new research that is encouraging youth ministers to try more character-formation to fuel discipleship. It involves faces. This is good news to this 40+-year youth ministry veteran.

Read the book

A small book about being the people that hurting people need.

“This is the book that I wish I had had for people in my life that have suffered and needed me to be that compassionate friend. This is the book that I wish others in my life had read before they dismissed my pain, or compared it to theirs, or stumbled horribly through trying to lessen my pain because it was actually really about THEM not feeling comfortable with it.”

Order here: https://bravester.com/new-book-from-bravester/