Finding the Courage to Begin: Monkey See, Monkey Do

By Keith Miller | June 9, 2011

Dear Keith,

Where and how did you learn to be open about personal problems all Christians face?

  

A “C-minus!” I couldn’t believe it!  I’d been a good student all my life and had spent hours developing, writing, and editing this, my first sermon for a homiletics class in seminary.  I was angry, but, more than that, I was confused.  The sermon represented the way I had always thought preachers should preach: by sharing their own personal experience, strength and hope along with the biblical message.  But my professor of preaching had dismissed my sermon as being unacceptable.

After pointing out some minor structural mistakes that I could agree with, he leaned back in his chair, drummed his fingers together, and said, “The reason your grade was a C minus was because you were ‘personal.’  You used the first person singular to describe the problems with which you were dealing.”  He paused and then went on.  “In the first place, using the first person singular in a sermon is not effective.  And besides, it is not in good taste.”  He pushed my sermon across the smooth surface of the large desk.

But try as I would I could not shake the notion that one’s own feelings and experiences of pain, fear, anger, guilt, shame, sadness, and joy could be drawbridges over which a communicator could carry the message and love of God into the deepest levels of people’s lives.  I felt that the world and the church had become so depersonalized that people were growing more and more isolated.  Somehow the stance of the “expert” communicator expounding abstract concepts or telling laymen how they should live seemed to further the depersonalizing process.  Worse, the message of God’s healing, self-limiting love didn’t appear to be catching the attention of the modern world—even many of those already in churches.

I knew that what I needed personally was a model: someone who was seriously trying to be God’s person and to have intellectual integrity but who also faced the kinds of fears, problems, and failures that I faced.  Evidently, this was not a combination to be found in a single Christian communicator.  People seriously committed to God who were professional teachers or communicators either did not have the kind of struggles I had, or considered them too insignificant or “personal” to be mentioned.  I had met some other strugglers who, like me, were trying to slug it out with this paradox, but we were all nobodies.  I had never run across a communicator with any authority who admitted to this strange predicament of feeling unable to be continually whole and righteous, in spite of the power and joy to be found in the gospel.

Then, in 1965, Dr. Paul Tournier[1] came from Switzerland to speak at a conference at Laity Lodge, a new adult retreat center in the remote hill country of southwest Texas.  I was director of the conference center.  Although I had heard of Paul Tournier, I had never read anything he had written.

Many of the people attending the conference had traveled hundreds of miles for the sold out weekend.  As we all gathered for the first session, I wondered how well Tournier would be able to cross the language barrier from his French through an interpreter to us.  I had no idea what content to expect.

The first evening Dr. Tournier spoke, the “great hall” at the lodge was filled with psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors of all varieties, Christian ministers, and lay leaders from various professions.  The air was almost electric with expectation, and I realized how much the conference guests were looking forward to hearing this man whose books they had read. 

Then he began to speak.  Within five minutes the room had faded, and we were transported into another world.  We heard a little boy describing his struggle with loneliness and self-doubt almost sixty years before in a country several thousand miles away.  You could have heard a pin drop on the stone floor.  I sat behind the speaker near the huge fireplace and looked past Paul Tournier into the eyes of almost a hundred sophisticated American professionals.   In those wide open eyes, I could see other lonely little boys and girls reliving their own struggles for identity and worth.

After fifteen or twenty minutes a strange thing began to happen, something I have never seen happen before or since.  As Paul spoke in French, we found ourselves nodding in agreement and understanding—before his words were translated.  We trusted him so much and felt he understood us so well, that we knew at a subconscious level we would resonate with what he was saying.  He described problems, doubts, joys, meanings and fears—many of which still existed for him—and spoke of them naturally, as if they were materials God normally worked with in his healing ministry among all people, Christians included.

Before us was a man who did not even speak our language, a man in his sixties who wore a wrinkled tweed suit, and was exhausted from a whirlwind trip across America.  And yet as he spoke fatigue, age, clothes, and language differences all faded into the background.  He turned periodically to make eye contact with those of us behind him.  I was conscious mainly of his sparkling eyes, his personal transparency, and a glow of genuine caring about his face.  As he spoke I heard and felt love and the truth of God about my own life.

I found myself having to fight back tears—tears of relief and gratitude, and release. I was not alone because of my own struggles.  I had sensed that to be healed we need more than good medical advice or even excellent psychological counseling.  We need presence—vulnerable, personal presence.  I knew the Bible claimed that was what God gave us in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit: his own presence to heal and strengthen us.  And I had felt that somehow we Christians were to continually embrace the personal realities of life and presence of God, and somehow be channels to convey that healing presence personally to other people’s lives through our own openness and vulnerability.  In Paul Tournier I met at last a living model of the kind of communication I was trying in a stumbling, uncertain way to find.  And he obviously knew a lot about the source and healing of psychological difficulties.

I made two decisions during that conference.  First, I would go back to school to get some psychological training since I realized that I needed to know more about the source and nature of the problems people faced.  Second, as soon as I finished the book manuscript I was working on, I would read some of Paul Tournier’s books.  I was already in the process of writing a book for new Christians about living in a personal relationship with God in their everyday lives.  Other books of this sort seemed to me overly pious, and they did not deal with the actual inner and relational “stumbling blocks” that had bothered me as a new Christian.  After Tournier’s visit, I completed the manuscript of that, my first book, with great enthusiasm. 

When I had sent that manuscript to a publisher, the next thing I did was read The Meaning of Persons.  Again, tears.  For years I had been looking for books whose authors were real and transparent so that I could identify with their problems and move toward healing in Christ.  The closest thing I had found was Augustine’s Confessions (written in the 5th century), which is what had finally persuaded me to write a book about my own struggles as a contemporary Christian.  But if I had read Tournier first, I might not have felt the need to write my own first book, The Taste of New Wine.

Knowing that a man existed who loved God, (and had apparently surrendered his whole life to God) who used the discoveries and methods of scientific investigation, and yet faced his own humanity did something for me.  And knowing that, at least partially because of Christ, this man could afford to be honest about his own struggles, helped push me far beyond my own small horizons of security and faith.

From that day forward Paul Tournier became a mentor and friend, until his death in 1986.  We traveled and spoke in conferences with other Americans and Europeans in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece.  His work has influenced me deeply.  But more, his life and his way of personal dialogue gave me a direction for living as a Christian which has brought more hope and courage than I could have imagined—which is why I am writing this to you.

Dear Lord, Thank you for letting me see you in a man with a skin face, who had the courage to be himself—so we could see through him to the Father who created him—and the rest of us.  Help me to trust you enough more often to share honestly the life I’m finding in You with people I meet along the ways you take me.  And help anyone who may be reading this prayer to know how beautiful they are when they trust you with their lives—as scary as it is at times.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

***

(St.) Frances prayed day and night that God would give all men the courage to be themselves instead of what others expected them to be.

He did not want men to enter the brotherhood… he only wanted them to be free, to be what they wanted to be in their own hearts.  For God spoke differently to every man, calling one to marriage, another to virginity, one to the city, another to the country, one to work with his mind and another with his hands.  But who was brave enough to look into his own heart and ask if this is what he should be doing, what he really wanted to do with his life?

-Murray Bodo

Francis: The Journey and the Dream

 

Hypocrisy is a strange slavery.  When I do so much of what I do to gain the respect of others, I get warm feelings (when the respect comes).  But when the respect and (or applause) are absent I am frantic and depressed—which tells me I am a hypocrite and a slave to an “audience” out there.

I don’t want any more of that.

-Keith Miller, Note from his journal

March 14, 1984

 

Honesty with oneself as laid down by psychoanalysis is the condition of man in which biblical revelation (can) touch him, in which the sense of guilt, the very mainstream of morality matures.

-Paul Tournier, Guilt and Grace

  

What keeps us from being ourselves, Carl Rogers says, “it is always fear: of a conflict, of being rejected, or breaking up a harmonious relationship.  But it is the very lack of congruence which stands in the way of the establishment of true relationships between persons.

-Paul Tournier, The Violence Within

 


[1] Paul Tournier (May 12, 1898 – October 7, 1986) was a Swiss physician and author who had acquired a worldwide audience for his work in pastoral counseling. His ideas had a significant impact on the spiritual and psychosocial aspects of routine patient care, and he had been called the twentieth century’s most famous Christian physician.

5 comments | Add One

  1. Jim Fugate - 06/9/2011 at 12:01 pm

    The Taste of New Wine was the first book you wrote that I read. As I reflect on that experience that many years ago I knew that being vulnerable was the right approach when dealing with and working with others. I have done that and I must say: There have been times when whoever heard me were aghast that I–even I–had issues with which I deal. So, I thank you for reminding me these many years later of something I credit you with influencing me as a Christian and a leader.

  2. Wanda J. Fenner - 06/9/2011 at 12:14 pm

    I want to thank you deeply for your testimony, and want to follow this philosophy in my own life.
    To learn that you also have struggles in life like I do and still rely so much on our Heavenly Father, helps me tremendously.
    I really benefit a lot on your experiences and Bless You with all my heart, Yours in Christ, Wanda Fenner (gazebofun1@att.net )

  3. Keith Miller - 06/14/2011 at 9:11 am

    Dear Wanda, Thank you for your note. My prayers come with this for you as I write this. – Keith Miller

  4. Keith Miller - 06/14/2011 at 9:12 am

    Dear Jim, Thanks for your note. We’re closing in on the end of a book–or series of books–taking what (for us) is a new look at the biblical story. I hope this is a good time for you. – Keith

  5. zakaria - 06/19/2011 at 9:48 am

    thanks for the article, we hide so many things before people but not God, if we are real others who admire us will be set free when they know that the man or woman of God too has struggles and the lord wil take us to onother dimension.keep writing my dear friend.

Free Resources
Weekly Devotional
Taste of New Wine
Bookstore

Shop By Category

Your Shopping Cart

Your cart is empty.

Free Weekly Devotional

Subscribe to receive Keith's free weekly devotional!

Your privacy is protected; we will never sell your name.

Testimonials

What To Do With the Rest of Your Life: Awakening and Achieving Your Unspoken Dreams changed my life and my relationship with God. Uncovering my hidden dreams through Keith’s process has enabled me to live a deeper, more meaningful and exciting life and the exercises on communicating have strengthened my marriage.
Jessica (Austin, Texas)
Taste of New Wine