Joe and I were having a lovely seafood dinner with one of my grandsons, when he sent shrimp parts flying helter-skelter as he zealously ripped the tail off. His eyes instantly darted my way, perhaps waiting for a reprimand or stern word about his incessant messiness. I can only imagine how I would have responded as a young mom, but being the grandma that I am, I just winked and handed him a napkin.
The experience reminded me of some research that I did for my book, The Wired Soul, where I came across the intriguing principle that “there is no single brain.” Basically, what this means is that our conscious brain is shaped in large measure by thousands of interactions that we have with other people, beginning with our parents and continuing with others throughout our lives. Collecting these from the moment we enter this world, our brain lays down neural pathways that become our story, the reality with which we approach life.
You might say we are “wired” to look to others to make sense of who we are or what we are experiencing. In my case, for example, as the fourth of five children to very young parents, I was more than a little precocious. But the story I formulated, probably because my exasperated mom and dad were overwhelmed by the clamor of four other voices, was that I talked too much and was a bother to those who had to listen to me opine day and night. Mind you, while believing this did not shut me up, it did immerse me in a load of shame. It is interesting that God’s call on my life is all about words—speaking, teaching, writing—and thus it took me many years and a lot of encouragement from others to believe that my gift of language was a blessing from him, and not some embarrassing flaw.
The reality is that we all need to rewrite parts of our stories that are faulty—that have been formed in a fallen world and do not represent the truth of God’s Word or His pleasure in us as his beloved children. But how? Simply put, we cannot do this alone—there is no single brain.
We need relationships—ones that cannot be forged through social media or built via texts, tweets emails and snapchats. Destroying our faulty narratives takes rewiring our brains, and for that we need human beings who are present—ones with physical eyes and ears and tears and blinks and nods and scowls and laughter and touches and hugs and grimaces and smiles and all the kinds of nonverbal communication that technology sorely lacks.
The beauty is that our brains can be rewired, we can be transformed through renewed minds and softened hearts. To that end, let me make a few suggestions:
1. Remember that children are forming their stories. When you blow it (and we all do), take the time to apologize and talk things through so they understand what is really true about them—you can keep that negative neural pathway from becoming permanent.
2. Go deep with a few trusted friends. We can’t relate this way to everyone, and we certainly can’t broadcast our journey on social media, so the best option is to find a few friends from our community of faith and covenant together to help rewire our brains for the health of our souls.
3. Don’t judge others by the story they live. We all have faulty narratives that direct our lives, so the most important thing we can do for each other is to help process these, reflecting back what we know is true—from God’s character and his Word.
4. Depend on real contact with others to rewrite your story: God created us for community and we cannot even see the landmines in our own stories, much less dismantle them. Let trusted friends into your life and invite their feedback, but because 60-90 percent of our communication is nonverbal, it needs to be done face to face.
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Passionate about spiritual formation, slightly obsessed with technology and the soul, author of 8 books, affiliate professor at Fuller Seminary, wife of one, mom of two, grandma of four.