Last week I sat down with two good men named Bill and Alan.
Bill served in special forces in the first Gulf War and Alan served in the Navy in El Salvador in the late 70’s. Both now fall under the category of chronically homeless, survivors working each day to avoid the variety of trials and tribulations that come with street life.
I asked them, “Do you have any regrets?”
Bill enthusiastically agreed with Alan’s response, “We were conditioned, brain washed to be a certain way as soldiers serving our country. Now were spending the rest of our lives trying to recover. There is no ‘back to normal’ for us.”
Ugh! I grieve for these men. As of today, Bill was finally placed into housing by the VA, but who knows what the future holds.
My previous post was a response to the college student’s question, “Is God a God of confusion?” Ever since last week’s conversation with Bill and Alan I’ve noticed the similarities between that college student and the two homeless veterans.
We are all in a unique process of individuation. This is the process of developing and discovering our own distinct personality apart from family, tribe, or nation. Sadly, this isn't how we were trained to grow up. Growing into our sense of belonging has been far more about attaining an identity through the collective - the groups that most accepted us and told us who we are.
The process of individuation is the process of emptying. It’s far less harsh - less lonely - to attach our identity to a church, a nation, or a local street gang than to face the fear of emptying ourselves.
“Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to grasp; but he emptied himself… he humbled himself becoming obedient to death…” ~ Phil. 2: 6,7, 8
Jesus was said to endure this terrifying process of emptying throughout his life.
Some of the most confusing words of Jesus are those where he speaks of hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, and even one's own life in order to become a disciple (Luke 14: 25-26). It seemed part of the emptying of himself was a denial of the people and groups that typically hold our deepest loyalty.
Episcopal priest and psychologist, John Sanford describes individuation like this,
"By instinct the human animal is a group animal. For hundreds of years we have existed through the group, and the individual has found identity and meaning by virtue of inclusion in tribe, clan, or nation. But the kingdom of God calls us to go beyond this ancient herd instinct and to establish an individual Way, and inevitably this will mean the separating out of oneself from the collective psychology of the group." (John Sanford, The Kingdom Within, p. 58)
Sanford is quick to point out that this individual Way is not to be confused with egotistic individualism.
“The breaking of the tribal consciousness and establishment of an individual consciousness must not be confused with egoism. It is not a matter of living only for oneself but of being able to come into real relationship with people, since now for the first time we are real persons. The circle of our relationships now grows. We no longer confine our relatedness to those of our own circle, to our own tribal group, but can respond to all persons, of all kinds and types. It is not a matter of being insular. To the contrary, now we can leave our insularity and can understand what it means to be part of the human family under a common heavenly Father.” (Sanford. 62)
Moving toward this individual way seems to require as much unlearning as it does learning. Bill and Alan seem to be trying to unlearn the ways that got them to this point and recover the personality they embodied before heading off to war.
War - whether it's engaged externally or internally - changes us. And the undoing and re-programming post-war process is always a disorienting detox.
How are you individuating? What attachments that once propped up your identity are you letting go?