Mere Christians

Dr. Curt Thompson (Psychiatrist + Author of The Soul of Desire)

Episode Summary

How to shift from “playing not to lose” to “playing to win”

Episode Notes

How to shift from “playing not to lose” to “playing to win,” why acknowledging that you’ll never have a pure motive is unbelievably empowering, and how to take your Christian community with you mentally as you do hard things.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[00:00:05] JR: Hey, everybody, welcome to the Mere Christians podcast. I'm Jordan Raynor. How does the gospel influence the work of mere Christians? Those of us who aren't pastors or religious professionals but who work as animal breeders, dishwashers, chiropractors? That's the question we explore every week. And today, I'm posing it to the brilliant, Dr. Curt Thompson.


He's a psychiatrist who's done extensive work marrying interpersonal neurobiology with the Christian faith. He's the author of some incredible books including The Soul of Shame and The Soul of Desire. Curt and I finally sat down to talk about how to shift from playing not to lose to playing to win. We talked about why acknowledging that you're never ever going to have a totally pure motive is incredibly empowering. We talked about how to take your Christian community with you mentally as you do hard things at work.


Trust me, you are going to love this conversation with my new friend, Dr. Curt Thompson.




[00:01:16] JR: Dr. Curt Thompson, welcome to the Mere Christians podcast.


[00:01:19] Dr. CT: Jordan, thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here.


[00:01:22] JR: Jessica Honegger called you out twice now. I think you got to get Curt on. And we finally got Curt on. We're really excited. Hello, Jessica, if you're listening.


Hey, I was telling you before we start recording, I devoured your terrific book, The Soul of Desire. And you pointed out something that I hadn't noticed before. I've noticed Jesus' question, I think it's a couple of times in the gospels, of what do you want? I never noticed that that's actually Jesus' first words recorded in the Gospel of John, which I thought was super interesting. What does it mean to you, Curt, given your background, given your work, that Jesus cares at all about what we desire?

[00:02:02] Dr. CT: One of the things that we learn about the Ark of the whole Hebrew Bible is that you – in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, is that you have all these different places where the writers are always pointing backwards to other things that have already been written in the text.


And in many respects, this question that Jesus asks in John's gospel is a reflection of the first question that gets posed in the Bible, "Where are you?" that God asks Adam and Eve. This notion that God is a God who has made us in His image. And one of those ways in which we are image bearers is that we are people of great desire. And we are people of great desire because we've been made that way. And this gets expressed in the first page of the Bible when we hear God saying, "Let us make mankind." There's a sense in which he's not just on autopilot making humankind like he made the light, and the darkness and so forth. He's thinking about it. He is contemplating this. And he's stating emphatically that this is something that we really want to do.


And being made in His image in this way is crucial to what it means then to be humans. Babies come out of the womb as people of desire, right? They're longing for all kinds of things. And then the question becomes how is that desire eventually going to get channeled? And what do we do with it?


In this in this regard, we would say that the temptation in the Garden of Eden was really something in which Satan was hijacking desire as a way to point the first couple's longings in a direction that would ultimately devour them rather than create beauty and goodness in the world.


[00:03:40] JR: Yeah, it's good. I know this is true for me. And I know it's true of a lot of our listeners who I've had the honor of meeting offline in the real world. I think a lot of Christians feel guilty about articulating their true desires, let alone pursuing them. Especially in the context of vocation, right?


I was just talking to someone the other day and they're like, "Yeah, if I'm honest, if I was really to articulate what I want, I really want to work myself out of the business." And there was so much guilt there, right? Because all throughout scripture, we're called to self-sacrifice.


I think of ecmc, where Paul calls us to do nothing, not a selfish ambition, right? How do we reconcile passages like those with God's interest in our desires? I guess, said another way, how do you decipher the selfish from the unselfish? The God-glorifying to the not as we articulate what we want?


[00:04:27] Dr. CT: Well, I even think, Jordan, the way we even frame that question. How do we sort out which are the ones that are right and wrong? I think that even kind of reveals the nature of how we approach a lot of things in life that in some respects is kind of a downstream effect of having eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.


There's a sense in which I want to know right from wrong. I want to know everything that can be known in order for me not to make mistakes. And the reason I don't want to make mistakes is because shame is waiting for us at the mouth of that cave. And I think this really gets back to this whole notion that one of the things that was put into motion in Genesis 3 is this rather endemic kind of entanglement that our longings now have with shame. And so, it's difficult to sort shame out from what I really long for.


And so, anytime, especially within the world of Christian faith, if you're in a Christian Community of some kind and you just want to name what you want. If it's not already clearly a foregone conclusion that that's lined up with all the right things that you're supposed to want, there's always going to be some doubt behind that. Some concern that I'm naming the wrong thing or I'm naming it in the wrong way.


And this is where I would say that, from the get-go, part of the challenge also is that this process of answering Jesus' question "What do you want?" In and of itself is not just about naming the object or the thing that I desire. That whole process of engaging in naming what I want is something that in and of itself is trying to do to two things at least. One is to draw me closer in connection to Jesus and to his followers. And the other is to turn me more like – turn me more into like Him. He's trying to make me more like Him.


Therefore, it's also important to know that this is a question that we end up thinking we have to answer on our own. Like I, Curt have to be able to answer the question. What do I want? When really, it's an invitation to a dialogue in which the answer to that becomes something that you and I together discern.


We figure that out together because the longing that I have is ultimately certainly about certain things. I want to work in certain places. I want to create certain things. But long before that, even more fundamentally, is I long to be known by you. I long to be seen, soothed, safe, secure. I long to be loved. And it's out of that space of being loved vulnerably and comprehensively including being known and even having those parts of me that I hate the most, be loved so that they can be transformed such that I can then go on and create beauty and goodness in the world.


But that whole series of questions "What do I want and what do I want to make?" Isn't it a thing that I'm intended to answer on my own for myself. But that is a whole cultural thing that modernity has been pushing up against us for a long, long time. This sense that we can do what we want to do and have what we want to have as individuals on our own time frame the way that we want it, as individuals.


[00:07:41] JR: And so you would argue. I'm going to try to put words in your mouth and you reject anything I'm saying, that is not what you would say. What I'm hearing you say is the answer to the question "What do you want?" is far less important than who you're answering the question with. Namely, God through the power of the Holy Spirit and God's word, and his people. Is that what you're saying?


[00:08:02] JR: Well, again, I want to be careful and not make this binary. It's not like, "Oh, this is just Jesus' kind of tactical maneuver to try to get us to be in relationship with him." As if the material world –


[00:08:12] JR: Yeah, he's trying to like trick us, right?


[00:08:14] Dr. CT: No. What I'm saying is that the answer to the question is crucially important. The answer of what do I want is crucially important. I'm simply saying that the mechanism by which we answer it, the relational dynamic within which it is answered, is equally important. All these things are crucially important to the process.


And we live in a world in which relationships have become subjugated to these single things that I want. I want the seven-figure income. I want the particular relationship in marriage. I want the particular job. I want all the things that I have to have.


And that whole issue of my wanting it for my sake is really just a reenactment of the first couple taking from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. So that they can have what they want on their terms regardless of what that does to other people. And as it turns out in their own case, regardless of what it was doing to each other.


[00:09:15] JR: Yeah, it's good. Let's make this really practical. Let's pretend there's somebody in our audience right now who, by God's grace, has vocational choice, right? They're in a job right now that they love. But they've got options to leave. They're being recruited by somebody. Blah-blah-blah-blah.


How does that person discern what they want? How do they pick between options A and options B? What does that process look like that would be honoring to God, honoring to that Christian community? But also, honoring that person's desire?


[00:09:48] Dr. CT: It's a great question. And I think that it invites us to consider what is God really up to in all this? In all these things? And my take on within my community, and it's not just the people that I live with and worship with. But other people as well my community as we read the scriptures together and as we study the history of the family of God throughout the course of the Ark of the texts. We would say that God is really calling us. He's given us a calling. And that calling primarily is to both bear the image of God and to restore the image of God.


[00:10:21] JR: Amen.


[00:10:21] Dr. CT: We do that in all kinds of ways. We do that by raising children in a certain way. We do that by cleaning up our trash after ourselves. We do that by any number of different interactions in the workplace. Different kinds of work.


And so, I would say, well, how does this choice that is put before me, how is it going to help me more effectively bear and restore the image of God in whatever it is that I'm doing?


And it may not be crystal clear. It may not be crystal clear. And this is the thing, right? This is why we ask the question. Because if all these moments were so simple, you and I wouldn't be talking about this because –


[00:10:56] JR: Sure.


[00:10:56] Dr. CT: But they're not simple. But what I would say is this, is that some of those choices will come to us and they will be obvious. Yes, I want to do this and I'm going to do it. Or, no, I don't want to do that. It's in the vagaries. It's in the moments where we don't really know, where the opportunity for trusting Jesus. And you're going to take a step and you're going to choose, "Oh, I'm going to choose not to take that opportunity."


And you're then going to have to wrestle with all the things that are going to come, the missed opportunity, and the possible disappointment of not choosing something. You turn the job down that you decided against. And then a month later, you're fired from your own job because of something you didn't see coming. Or something. And all these things that wreak havoc with what our minds want to do with this. And all of these are opportunities for us then to decide multiple times a day. And I go, "How am I going to trust Jesus with this next moment?"


And so, I might take this. Or I might choose to take the next job. But there are all kinds of ways in which we might say, "Well, there are risks in that." Of course, there are. And those risks provide opportunity for me to then have moments in which I am going to be formed more into the image of the King. And as such, I will discover my vulnerabilities, I will discover my weaknesses, I will discover the things about me that God is trying to bring into the light where I'm actually not nearly as suited for heaven yet as I would like to be.


But again, I just want to re-emphasize this, that to the extent that I'm doing all of this in the context of community who, together, we are together saying this is really hard to do. And nobody is leaving the room in the process. Such that whether the news is good or bad, we are going to be Jesus representatives where he said, "I'm not leaving. I'm not leaving or forsaking you. And it is me and you together and in this community that really is going to matter the most as we are all together practicing for this new heaven that's coming."


[00:12:49] JR: Yeah. And because of that, we can embrace the unknown. Like, step into the unknown, right?


[00:12:55] Dr. CT: Right. Although as I would say, when I tell my patients, as far as the mind is concerned, there's no such thing as the unknown.


[00:13:01] JR: What do you mean by that?


[00:13:02] Dr. CT: I mean, we all kind of know what we mean when we say the unknown. Meaning that I don't know what tomorrow holds. Of course, I don't. But that doesn't keep my brain from making stuff up. And this is why we tell people, there's no such thing as "fear of the unknown".


[00:13:15] JR: Interesting. Yeah.


[00:13:17] Dr. CT: Because what I'm actually afraid of in any given situation, I'm actually afraid of not just the specific circumstances that my imagination is creating. Of course, we don't know what they're going to be. Absolutely. But my mind will imagine them. And that is the story that I will imagine is going to be true that frightens me.


But even so, it's not just the circumstances. I remind people that the brain is not actually afraid of circumstances per se. It's not afraid just of like I'm going to lose my job. Or that my cancer is going to come back. Or any of the things. It is mostly afraid of finding myself in that situation accompanied by the emotional state that warrants it.


I find myself in the future being afraid, being ashamed, being worried and finding no way out of those emotional states. That's what I'm most afraid of. I'm not just afraid then of the circumstances themselves. It's what those circumstances end up evoking in me emotionally that I think I'm never going to be able to escape.


And this is where community again makes such a big deal. Because if one imagines that your community that Jesus is in the room with you in the future and that's what we pay attention to, that's the thing that mitigates our fear. It's not just a matter of like knowing that Jesus will be there as an abstract fact. As much as it is, really imagining Jesus and his followers are going to be present with me and enabling me to see them seeing me, loving me as I love them. And that's what mitigates our fear of this thing that we call the future.


[00:14:58] JR: That's really good. You talked a little bit about this. I can't remember how you articulate. But like bringing that community into the room as you make these decisions, as you do the hard things. What do you mean by that? You're not talking about them literally following you into the room to put in your two weeks resignation, two weeks’ notice. What do you mean by that?


[00:15:16] Dr. CT: Well, as it turns out, Jordan, I'm really talking about the same thing that happens to a three-year-old when she toddles off to preschool.


[00:15:24] JR: Oh, I have no idea what this is like. Yeah. I don't have a three-year-old running around downstairs freaking out about this.


[00:15:29] Dr. CT: Yeah. Yeah. When the three-year-old toddles off to preschool, she actually, in some way, shape or form that is relatively at that stage of her brain's development, is however still taking the felt memory of her parents with her. That's what she takes with her. It's the embodied sense that I am okay. I will be well.


Now she's not thinking these things, but this is her sense, that she takes with her in her brain's memory banks. And she goes to preschool and meets a new teacher. And the teacher sounds pleasant. And that reminds her of mom and so forth and so on.


And so, she goes to preschool and she takes her parents with her even though she's not necessarily explicitly doing so. This is what we are all doing anytime we go anywhere with comfort and confidence. We are taking somebody else's voice with us.


But when it comes to what we're talking about here – So, that's the developmental kind of substrate on which it all gets built. This is how we are made to function. This is how God has made us the function.


In the confessional communities that we run, we will find multiple occasions in which one of the parties will say, "I had the hardest conversation I ever had to have in my life with my boss yesterday. And every single one of you were in the room with me. I know exactly where you were standing."


Because when we share our lives vulnerably with one another to the bare metal of who we are, we aren't just giving them facts and they're giving us facts. We are taking in felt experiences in the room, in which I remember Jordan's voice speaking to me and saying, "Curt, I'm not going anywhere." And tonight, I'm going to go home and I'm going to replay that in my mind. And I'm not just going to like replay a fact. I'm going to see where Jordan was sitting. And I'm going to hear your voice. And I'm going to see your face. I'm going to make note of your eye contact and I'm going to repeat that. And tomorrow morning, before I go in to talk to my boss, I'm going to repeat the same thing all over again. And you are going with me quite literally.


Now we don't yet have the data to back this up from a physics standpoint. But it would not be surprising because what we're saying is the neural networks that house are remembered experiences take in essentially all that we're experiencing with real people in real time and space. And as we practice replaying them in our mind, we strengthen those neural networks firing patterns around those remembered experiences. And this is how we take that person with us. This is not magic. This is the way God has made the world to operate.


[00:17:52] JR: Yes. It's a pretty rousing endorsement for being engaged in a local body of believers or a confessional community, whatever that is. I love this so much. I've never thought about it that way. But that's super, super helpful.


I loved your admission in the book and talking about desires. Turn up on the quote. You say, "I easily attest it in my own life, there is nothing I do that is not tainted and with mixed motives." I think about this a lot I don't think it's possible for me to ever have a totally pure motive about anything, right?

[00:18:27] Dr. CT: No. Dude, no.


[00:18:29] JR: I think that idea can either be like debilitating or liberating. I'm assuming for you, it's liberating. I'd love for you to explain why.


[00:18:37] Dr. CT: It is this sense of we map this out, this notion. Again, when you go back to the third page of the Bible, and there's this tree of good and bad. The tree of like good and evil. But I'm going to know it. But I'm going to know it on my terms. And I'm going to know it. And I'm going to know it. Comprehend that. I want to know things.


That's a very different posture toward the world. It's an anxiety-provoking posture toward the world. Because what happens if I encounter a memorial when I don't know something? I will I'll be anxious. That's a different posture than the posture of being known by someone. Someone who knows that I'm imperfect. Someone who is aware that I don't know everything. That I make mistakes. In fact, I've made mistakes toward them and they still remain with me.


What this means is that I can have a relationship with a person who's well acquainted with the fact that my desires, every single one of them, are tainted. They are imperfect. Shame is going to want to show up. My selfishness is going to want to show up. All the things. My envy is going to want to show up everywhere.


And the work is to practice, A, admitting that that is the case. And then B, turning my attention away from them. So much of my anxiety is built upon this mission that I have in trying to convince everybody that I am pure.


And because that's just not true, I'm made more anxious by my attempt to make you think that my motives are pure. If I can acknowledge that they're not, I become less anxious in your presence. And then as it turns out, I tend to behave more purely because I'm not worried about making sure that I never screw this up.


As you would know me, and if many – for our listeners who are familiar with the sports and the phrase that we use, it's the difference between playing to win and playing to keep from losing. Most of our life, unbeknownst to us. Even in all of our drive, all of our entrepreneurs out there, our CEOs, all of our drive to do great things, especially on God's behalf. Despite the fact that perhaps he hasn't asked us to do that.


In that case, we are unaware that so much of our energy is still primed and built around playing to keep from losing without even being aware of it. But playing to win actually includes naming that I am an imperfect creature prone to doing more imperfect things in the course of my day that I am perfect things. But in so naming them, I become less anxious. And we move the needle a little further in the direction of becoming more like the King.


[00:21:18] JR: That's really good. That's really helpful. What else is required to make that shift from playing not to lose and playing to win?


[00:21:24] Dr. CT: Jordan, I'd say everything, from what we can see – From the first page of the Bible onward, from what we can see, the story of God's relationship with humankind begins with his overwhelming love, and delight and affection for us. That's how it begins. That's how it starts. But we don't think that's how the story starts. We often interpret the story as there's something wrong with us and we've got to get that – whatever that something is, we've got to get that corrected so that we can get God to love us.


[00:21:55] JR: Can I interrupt you real quick?


[00:21:56] Dr. CT: Yeah.


[00:21:57] JR: You're in DC.


[00:21:58] Dr. CT: Yeah.


[00:21:58] JR: This message is everywhere, what you're talking about. I was at the Museum of the Bible, which I love, for the record. I'm going to criticize one thing. I walk through this exhibit, this incredible exhibit where you're walking to this film of the Old Testament, right? And it gets to Adam and Eve eating the fruit. And the narrator says, "And this is where our story begins." And I lost my mind. No. It doesn't. And this is tremendous implications for how we think about our life and our work. I digress. Pick up where you left off, Dr. Thompson.

[00:22:32] Dr. CT: Well, I think this is part of the issue. And so much – especially in the West. Not so much in the East. And not so much in early Africa. But the gospel, so much in the West and even especially in the last probably 300 years. The leading edge of the Gospel is that we are sinners. That's the leading edge of the gospel. And we need a savior. All of which is true. It's just that that's not actually how the Bible starts.


And this is difficult. And here's the thing. It's not surprising that we would turn the story around to make it sound like we make it sound. Because we are so unaware of how deeply embedded our shame is within us. And so, I think we begin. It is practicing being in spaces where we are loved, where people are delighted that we're seen. In order for us to then name the parts of me that I don't want you to see.


I'm not likely going to tell you, "Look, look, I don't need anybody to tell me I'm a sinner. I got that covered. I got that covered." For you to kind of come in and tell me that, that only makes me less likely to want to tell you what I need to tell you that is true about me. Because, like, "Oh, I guess we're all on board with this story that this is the leading edge."


But if you tell me, "No. Dude, I don't care what you tell me. I'm not leaving the room." That gets my attention. And that's what allows me to be more likely to name the parts of me on a regular basis where my shame is still hiding out, where my conviction that I am not lovable, that I am not wantable is still in some closet. Because it's related to some part of my story that's been traumatized but that I haven't really sought healing for. But that I'm going to have to burn a lot of energy to keep that trauma contained. And that's energy that I then don't have available to create the beauty and goodness in the world that I was destined to create from the beginning.


And so, it requires regular exposure. At least for me, it's every Tuesday morning with three other guys that I've been meeting with for 25 years to both know that I'm loved and to name the parts about me that I don't love very much. In order for us to clean that up, in order for us then to go on into the world and do the work of loving and being loved.


I tell people, "Look, we're not very good as humans at loving each other." That's just patently obvious. It doesn't really take much to look around and see that we're not good at that. But the reason that we're not good at that is not because, first, we're not good at that. We're not good at that because, first, we're even less good at being receptive to being loved.


We will say until the cows come home that we want to be loved. Problem is that it also terrifies me. Because where I am broken, where I am ashamed, where I have been traumatized even with small T's in very, very small ways that most people wouldn't even acknowledge as such, always takes place in the context of intimate relationships. It's with my parents, or my siblings, or the people with whom I have intimate working relationships, right?


My boss isn't like my dad or my brother. But he holds a lot of power as far as my life is concerned. And so, when I get humiliated in front of the staff in my workplace, that's a big freaking deal. It's not a small thing. And so, these wounds that take place in the context of intimate relationships, like, my brain remembers this. And I'm not stupid.


And so, when you come and say to me, "Jesus loves you, Curt." I'm like, "Yeah. And how long is it going to take before he screws me?" Now I'm not going to say that out loud because nobody would say that about Jesus. But this is what the darker, more recessed parts of my mind are thinking. And that's where we end up burning so much energy that then, as I said earlier, isn't really available for us to do the work of beauty and goodness that God calls us to do and that you're all about. I mean, that you're really encouraging people here on your podcast to be paying attention to.


[00:26:26] JR: Yeah. Because if I can't be vulnerable about these things, m living my life, I'm doing my work to protect something, right? To protect against people seeing that thing. But if I could be vulnerable in a tight community, now I'm freed up to go play to win. Is that right?


[00:26:42] Dr. CT: That's right.


[00:26:42] JR: You keep coming back to creating beauty. Yeah, I thought it was really interesting the title of this book that I just read of yours is The Soul of Desire. But I think it could have just as easily been titled 'The Pursuit of Beauty'. Maybe there's a kill title somewhere there. Because you spend a lot of time talking about beauty in the book, draw a line, make a connection for our listeners between desire and beauty. How are these two things connected?

[00:27:06] Dr. CT: Well, I think the first thing I would say is that it's a couple things. First, we've kind of established that we are people of desire. And desire is first easily measured in newborns and infants just in terms of their physical appetites. They're just wanting creatures just all the time. They're just wanting stuff.


And as they age though, you discover that it's not just physical nourishment that they want. They long to be, as we talk about these four 'S's. They want to be seen, soothed, safe and secure, which is really the fundamental things that establish secure attachment. Because it is in the context of secure attachment that we then go on to take the kind of risks that we need to take when we want to create things.


And this is the next thing that we see developmentally. You don't have to tell your kids to make stuff. You don't have to teach them to do this. Because at some point, the four or five-year-old is going to run into your house and they're holding something that they've made. And you're not really quite sure what it is that they've drawn on the piece of paper. But they want you to put it on your refrigerator and then have the neighbors come and charge them money to see it. Because why? Because the child naturally believes that what they have made is something that is worthy of paying attention to.


The things that we pay attention to in the world naturally are things of great beauty. Now the thing is, our experience and encounter with beauty is so broken that when we typically think of beauty, we just think of it in terms of it's – The first thing we think, it's a luxury, right?


It's a thing that once we get all the important things in life taken care of, then we can talk about beauty. It's an add-on. And yet, part of why we imagine that to be the case is because we are so tainted and unfamiliar with how much beauty there actually is around us.


In fact, if all the beauty that is on the earth were suddenly to be taken away, we couldn't survive. It's not just like, "Oh, life would be a bummer." Life wouldn't be. But we don't sense or see that because our anxiety has us too nose to the grindstone to pause long enough to sense it or see it. But our children point us toward it all the time. They long to create things that matter. They want you to imagine that what they've made is in fact beautiful, is attractive.


But the thing that beauty then does, it's not just something that exists on its own for its own sake. No. Because whether it's a beautiful landscape, or sunset, or piece of music, or whatever, you want to share that with somebody else. A significant part of how God has placed beauty in the world and to use – and for its use is for it to draw relationships together. The relationships then come together and then they want to create even more beauty. And so, the cycle continues.


We notice when the first page of the Bible, when God is going through his seven days and he says, "It was good. It was good. It was good." The Hebrew word for good can easily be interchanged with the Hebrew word for beautiful. And God saw that it was beautiful. And so, we see that beauty is actually an inherent necessary part of our life that we often only think about when someone else draws our attention to it because we are so hurried. We are so anxious. We are so worried about where the next thing is coming from living as we believe in a world of scarcity rather than a world of abundance. That beauty just passes right by us.


The thing is, when God comes in Jesus, he doesn't just come to draw our attention to the things that already are beautiful. In Jesus, God is coming to transform even the things that really are legitimately ugly into beauty that we could never have imagined. But if you don't have beauty as a template to begin with, you don't have a way to then imagine how beauty can be the thing where we end up in the wake of my sin, in my brokenness and all the trauma that exists around us. But this is exactly where God is taking the world.


[00:31:19] JR: Yes. If I could take that brilliance and dumb it down for my simple mind compared to Dr. Curt Thompson's mind. It's almost like you can almost draw a flywheel here, right? It's like the top of it is like seen beauty, right? And when we see beauty, we then share beauty with others. It's what anyone does when they naturally encounter something great. They have to share it.


And by sharing beauty, we bring others into the fold that want to create beauty with us, which then allows others to see more beauty. And the flywheel keeps going and going and going.


[00:31:51] Dr. CT: Right. And here's the thing that I would say to our listeners. Beauty is something that exists in the world. And it is also something more importantly that we are becoming. It is God's intention for us to grow into being objects of great beauty.


And so, think of it this way. You're anything from an employee, to a middle manager, to the CEO of the company. I would want you to hear this podcast episode today and know that what you are creating in your work, in all the relationships and in the product you are delivering, that the question is, "In what way is God calling you to create beauty in the relationships in your office?" Whether that means repairing ruptures. Whether that means expressing gratitude. Whether that means making proper demands on people who really need to step up to the challenge. All of this is great artistic work in the studio.


And you are an extension of what God was doing on the first page of the Bible. You are creating beauty in the world. And it's not just something from Van Gogh. It's not just something from Rembrandt. It is something that's happening relationally. It's something that's happening when you make a new corporation. We would imagine God looking at that just as he did after the first, and second, and fourth, and fifth, and sixth days of creation and saying, "Dang! That is beauty to behold."


[00:33:17] JR: Amen. But to do that, to create beautiful things, I like the way you frame this, is that we have to put ourselves in the path of oncoming beauty. What does that mean practically?


[00:33:27] Dr. CT: Here's a little thought experiment. And we've done this with patients with the exception of our listeners who actually own a yellow car. There are not a lot of yellow cars on the road. If I were to ask you how, many yellow cars have you seen in the last week? You may be able to tell me. It might be. Maybe not. I don't know. I couldn't tell you.


[00:33:44] JR: No, I couldn't tell you. I have no idea.


[00:33:45] Dr. CT: But if I were to say to, "You, Jordan, next week, I want you to come ready to tell me how many yellow cards you've seen." And so, between now and next week, you start to look for them and you count them.


[00:33:56] JR: Yeah, I'm going to see a whole lot of yellow cars.


[00:33:58] Dr. CT: Not only that. But you will be noticing yellow cars for a month long after the assignment is done. And it has everything to do with our intention to pay attention. My capacity to look for, if I'm going to pay attention on purpose to beauty. This is what I mean by putting ourselves in the path.


I have a friend, Andy, who doesn't do anything in his day. Doesn't look at a device, at a screen before he steps out of his house. And has an encounter for at least five minutes with something in his neighborhood of nature to remind him of what to look for in his day and to remind him that he didn't make this stuff.


If we are practicing puttering ourselves in that kind – the path of that kind of beauty even of the simplest nature, we will discover that I start to see it in all kinds of other places that otherwise I wouldn't have seen it because I'm not practicing looking for it. But when I do, when I practice putting myself in its path on purpose, I will then start to notice it in many places that I otherwise would never have imagined it. Not least of which being in the course of my own life. And not least being in those places and moments in life where otherwise I would be tempted to think, "This is just a bad situation. There's no beauty here. Only the way the gospel moves," is that that's exactly where the physician comes. The physician comes to heal and to create beauty in the places where we least expect to find it.


[00:35:28] JR: I love it. Pick an object in the natural world and start looking for it. That's what you're telling us.


[00:35:33] Dr. CT: Yeah.


[00:35:33] JR: Go find a bird. Make it a butterfly. Whatever it is. And you're going to see beauty outside of those realms.


[00:35:38] Dr. CT: That's right.


[00:35:40] JR: You say in the book, I love this, that when we see beauty, when we move to sharing it and eventually creating it, making beautiful corporations, and widgets, and relationships, and art, processes, whatever, we are "practicing for heaven". What do you mean by that?


[00:35:55] Dr. CT: I've often thought if, I was told, "Curt, you can only have one book. Other than the Bible, you can only have one book. What would it be?" And I think it would be C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.


[00:36:06] JR: Yes. By the way, that would be Tim Keller's answer. He's actually given that answer on this show. Yeah.


[00:36:11] Dr. CT: And one of the many ways in which that novel speaks to me is this notion that what we are doing now – there's nothing that we're doing now that is not somehow going to echo in the new heaven and earth that's coming.


[00:36:26] JR: Amen.


[00:36:26] Dr. CT: But in order for me to be prepared for it – and when the people get off the bus that it's traveling from hell to heaven in Lewis' novel, they come to discover that they're rather flimsy. That the grass hurts their feet. That the pears on the tree are ones that they – they can't lift the pear off the ground. It's too heavy. Things are too beautiful to look at.


And that's what I mean. We are practicing for a world that, when it arrives, if we're not ready, it will crush us. But not because it's being mean. It's because we're just flimsy. And God is trying to build increasingly more and more solid people in the world. And practicing for heaven includes identifying and creating the beauty that we're actually also becoming.


[00:37:17] JR: That's really good. As you're talking about that, I'm thinking about Paul's promise in First Corinthians 15:58. He says that, "Any labor that we do in the Lord, I.E. empowered by the Spirit," that's how N.T. Wright would interpret that, "is not in vain." Right? Somehow it matters for eternity. How does that shape how you're doing your work day-to-day right now, Curt?

[00:37:38] Dr. CT: Well, we like to say in our business when we talk about the mind, we like to say that anything that we are doing, the mind is never doing anything without having some part of it that is looking to the future.


One of our phrases is that the brain is one big anticipation machine. I'm anticipating a future that is coming even as something as small as I'm walking across the floor and my brain is anticipating that the floor is going to hold my footfalls. It's going to hold that. I'm not thinking about that consciously. But there is a part of my brain that is anticipating that future. But the other thing that our anticipated future does is that it is continually circling back around to meet me in my present moment. And hence, the future that I'm imagining is now the thing that is actually energizing the present moment in which I'm living.


If I'm aware that the future that I'm going to be occupying and that is going to be occupying me is going to be one of great beauty, then it changes in shapes how I'm seeing this present moment. If I see this present moment as one where I'm looking for beauty where yesterday I didn't. And then out of that comes something that who knew could have happened, but that I wouldn't have if I'm not looking for beauty in the first place, this then creates within me a felt sense of memory.


I can remember that this thing that we did yesterday led to beauty when I thought all was lost. That strengthens my sense of what I'm anticipating in the future. And so, this future that I'm practicing for is informing, and even energizing, and nourishing and nurturing the present moment in which I'm living.


And this becomes in my view the way God is using the time literally that he has made to be part of the creation as this way in which, when we are envisioning a future of beauty, it is that future even imperfectly as I'm imagining it as I am. That imperfectly imagined future is changing the nature of how I'm living even right now. Because this is what hope is all about. Hope in the future is changing, and activating and enabling me to be God's servant in the present moment.


[00:39:52] JR: Yes. And enacted in those ways. Fueled by that hope. Fueled by that vision of beauty. Yanking pieces of it. Scratching off glimpses of it in the present.


[00:40:01] Dr. CT: That's right.


[00:40:02] JR: I think everybody needs to go read Revelation 21-22 right now and get a glimpse of that beauty to fuel their hope. Curt, that's so good. It's so helpful to frame it in that way.


Hey, we wrap up every single conversation on the show with three questions, Dr. Thompson. Number one, I'm curious which books you find yourself recommending most frequently? I got to imagine, The Great Divorce is on that list.


[00:40:26] Dr. CT: In working with patients, there are a lot of things that we recommend to them that are all related to the clinical work that we're doing. But there's also a couple of other books that I think that I find that are just really helpful for people to spark people's imagination.


One book that I think I find that's helpful for folks is a book called Into the Silent Land. It's a book about silence in the Kingdom of God written by a guy named Martin Laird. It's a short book I tell people. You'll read this book in an afternoon and you'll use it for the rest of your life.


[00:40:56] JR: Yeah, I've never read this. This sounds amazing.


[00:40:58] Dr. CT: I'll return to that. Into the Silent Land. A second book that I have been recommending, it's called Dominion. And this is –


[00:41:06] JR: Tom Holland?


[00:41:07] Dr. CT: Tom Holland. Yeah, Tom Holland's book, Dominion. I'm most the way through the second time. I've just found it to be, interestingly enough, a book written by a person who's not a person of faith. But one of the most hopeful books about the church that I have read in many, many years is that one.


And then I would say I'm now reading a book that's authored by Nick Cave and Seán O'Hagan. Nick Cave, a singer-songwriter. And the title – I love this title. The title is Faith, Hope and Carnage. It's a book that is really the recorded interview that Seán O'Hagan does of Nick Cave. Who is clearly a person of faith but talks a great deal about grief and about the beauty that comes out of that grief. Not least of which that came for him in the wake of the death of his 15-year-old son. Those are three books that I'm currently inviting people to think about reading.


[00:42:00] JR: That's really great. Hey, Dr. Thompson, who would you most like to hear on this podcast talking about how the gospel shapes the work that mere Christians do in the world? Jessica Honneger called you out. Who you calling out?


[00:42:11] Dr. CT: I have a friend. He works for the Praxis Labs. I have a friend named Sajan George. And he's the managing partner.


[00:42:18] JR: I love Sajan. I love Sajan. We've never had him on though.


[00:42:23] Dr. CT: Sajan has been extraordinarily generous and kind to me. I count him as a mentor and as someone who's just cared very deeply for me. And I think he has wisdom coming out of every pore of his body. I would love for your listeners to have an opportunity to hang with him.


[00:42:39] JR: We do need to hang with Sajan. He's incredible. I wrote about him in my first book called Called to Create. And it's been a couple years since he and I connected. That's a great answer.


Dr. Thompson, if you could only reiterate one thing from our conversation today to the mere Christians who are listening, what would it be?


[00:42:54] Dr. CT: It would be that I would love for our listeners to be curious about what are the ways – what are the things that get in the way of allowing themselves to be loved? Because I really long for our listeners to put themselves in places where they can be more deeply loved and to be receptive to that, which is just really, really hard work to do.


Because I think that when we pay attention to that, "Oh, where am I not being receptive to love?" We then get the opportunity to start on the journey of actually allowing that to happen, which then translates into everything else we've been talking about.


[00:43:26] JR: Yeah, it's really good. Curt, I want to commend you for the extraordinary work you do for the glory of God and the good of those who serve through your work. Thank you for reminding us that God cares about our desires. Just sit with that for a minute. That'll blow your mind, right? And that God calls us to work alongside Him to create the beautiful desires of our heart. And in so doing, recurse for eternity.


My friends, I cannot recommend Curt's book highly enough. It's The Soul of Desire. Next on my list is The Soul of Shame, which is the precursor to this book. Curt, thanks again for hanging out with us today.


[00:44:00] Dr. CT: Jordan, thank you so much. It's been a privilege.




[00:44:03] JR: Man, one of the very rare episodes where I took two pages of notes during the recording. It was incredible. I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did.


Hey, if you're enjoying the Mere Christians podcast, do me a favor and go leave a review of the show on Apple, Spotify, wherever you listen to the podcast. Tell everybody, tell us, tell my team what you're loving about the show, what could be better about the show? We love making it for you. But we always want to put more weight on the bar and make it better.


I love you, guys. Thank you so much for tuning in this week. I'll see you next time.