Provoke Wholeness. Individually and collectively we are moving towards realizing our blessed wholeness and our oneness with everything created. But we get in our own way seeking perfection, worthiness, and labeling different identities and experiences good and bad.
I want to share the short origins of my two-word purpose statement. And unpack what it means about how I see the world and my part in ongoing creation.
Two-Word Purpose Statement: Provoke Wholeness
Earlier this year I attended a meeting where we were invited to partner up and tell each other about ourselves and our business - basically what we did and how we defined ourselves. While one partner shared, the only job the other person had was to listen and ask the question WHY. Ultimately, the point of the exercise is to get you thinking about your greater purpose, the underlying motivations of why you do what you do, who you serve, and what you desire to accomplish in the world.
Going through that simple practice reminded me of another time before COVID when I went to the That’s What She Said performance at the Virginia Theater. At the close of that performance, the organizer shared her two-word purpose and challenged others to think about and share theirs on social media. I loved that simple practice, but as someone who is a writer and sometimes long-winded, I couldn’t wrap my mind about something so succinct, let alone sum up all the thoughts I had about my purpose.
But after the WHY interrogation, I guess the spirit moved in me. Because about a week later, all at once it hit me. PROVOKE WHOLENESS.
I’m going to unpack those two powerful words a little for you.
What's It Mean To Provoke?
Provoke. It means to call forth into being or action. To arise. Excite. Stimulate, Move. Stir up.
When we hear the word “provoke” we don’t often think of good intentions or good outcomes. We might think of the guy who cuts us off on the interstate, and he doesn’t even use his blinker when he does it. He provokes.
Or that person at work who always comes in and has a bad attitude and she knows exactly which button to push. In an instant, we go from being in a good mood to being in a horrible one just because of a word or a look or an action that provokes.
I think of what it was like when I was a kid all be bunched up in the back seat of my Dad’s Chevette, elbow to elbow with my brother. He would always start the game….”I’m not touching you!” I would end up punching him in the arm and my mom would turn around and start yelling. My response: “I didn’t do it….he did it…” He provoked me.
Nowadays, we have professional provokers who use things like Facebook and Twitter and try to start fights. They might post or say something outrageous for the sole purpose of starting fights. They throw the fuel on the fire and then step back and watch the dumpster fire burn. We call them trolls and they call forth something that's usually unwanted.
Provoke In A Good Way
"Provoke" literally means the ability to call something out of somebody. To stimulate a strong emotion or reaction in someone that usually is unwanted.
But in Hebrews 10:24 says—“Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”
Usually, when we are provoked we don’t think of LOVE or GOOD DEEDS. We feel angered or the need to get even or prove ourselves, or just to get away and escape.
That might be one of the reasons I love the word provocation. I might be a little bit of a contrarian. When I read about the 5 practices of exemplary leadership as a young professional in The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, I always identified with Challenge the Process.
Yup...I was made to be a pot-stirrer. But in a good way. Because to provoke definitely implies you’re pushing buttons. But never to torment or antagonize, never to pester people just to pester them. But rather to prod the mind, to goad the conscience, so love and good deeds might multiply.
We don’t know who wrote Hebrews. For years it was attributed to the Apostle Paul, but that’s unlikely. Origen, back in the 3rd century, said “only God knows who wrote it.”
The person who wrote this book, and this phrase, took stylus in hand and wrote to the early church at a key moment in its early years, urging them to, above all else, call forth the very best from one another, to excel in love and good deeds.
Like all sound advice, it both transcends and transforms the era in which it was offered, which is why those who provoke us are to be treasured and not despised. Remember, sometimes what we most need is a good provoking.
Not Perfect But Complete and Undivided
Then there’s wholeness. One of my favorite parts of the Bible is the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a call to human flourishing. To me, it is a more powerful guide on how Jesus calls us to live and believe than the creeds or doctrines of the Christian religion. But in Matthew’s version of that message comes the often misinterpreted verse, “You shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”
If you learn about the text in the original Greek, that “perfect” is a poor rendering of what’s in this verse!
The word “perfect” doesn’t fully reflect the richness of the Greek word in the text. And that word—that beautiful word—is teleios. Teleios is an adjective derived from the Greek word telos, meaning “end” or “purpose” or “goal” or “fulfillment” or “realization” or “fully grown” or “complete”—and only in this sense does it mean perfect, as in lacking nothing.
Teleios doesn’t mean moral perfection, but describes completeness, or living an undivided life. Or, better, teleios means—and this is what matters most—wholeness.
Jesus is not saying, “be perfect.” He’s calling his disciples and the crowd, he’s summoning us to follow in his way, the way of wholeness and wholeheartedness, a life of greater integrity. The call to teleios-ity found throughout the Sermon on the Mount is essentially the same call to be holy, and holiness does not mean moral perfection, but wholehearted orientation toward God.
God wants us to be whole, with hearts that are in the right place. The heart is more than an organ that pumps blood through our bodies. In first-century Judaism, the heart symbolized the totality of one’s being, the total self, all that we are: thought, feeling, and action. Jesus is concerned about the health of our hearts.
To be whole means that our inner life is aligned with our outer life. Jesus summons us to be whole and complete, just as God is whole and complete—for how can God not be whole? God’s heart is not divided, but whole in its desire to love and to save. Jesus invites us to live out our end or purpose, just as God fully lives out God’s end or purpose. Just as God is undivided in God’s intention to love, so Jesus summons us to live undivided in our intention to love.
The call to wholeness is essentially a call to integrity. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a point that he doesn’t want us to be at odds or at war with different parts of ourselves. He knows the dangers of living with a divided heart.
Spirituality as Sacred Wholeness
To that end, I define spirituality as the awareness of a meaningful connection with the sacred whole. It is an acceptance of our complete selves and then a co-mingling of the self with something greater. That something is sacred because it speaks to our most cherished ideals; communion with it is meaningful because it enlightens and empowers us. Everything new and creative in this world puts together things that don’t look like they go together at all but always have been connected at a deeper level. Spirituality’s goal is to get people to that deeper level, to the unified field or non-dual thinking, where God alone can hold contradictions and paradox.
For me, spirituality isn't just living out the right beliefs or even right actions. It's about figuring out how to move individually and collectively toward wholeness. How to realize that all our unique parts and pieces and experiences make us already whole. And when we don't see that, we live in a place of brokenness and separateness.
The Cost of Living A Divided Life
We are seeped in a culture of duality and brokenness. Each of us walks around broken, denying parts of ourselves, parts of our identities, our experiences, compartmentalized.
Having a disordered, divided heart is extremely dangerous, it’s destructive—for oneself and for the wider society.
And it makes one neurotic. Neurosis is essentially a split in the soul where we are at odds with ourselves, when our inner and outer lives are not aligned, or when we are at odds with different parts of ourselves.
Living a divided life makes us sick. We may act righteous (or appear to be so) on the outside, but inside we’re seething with hate and jealousy. We might try to appear kind, loving, and just and nice in the church or community, but inside we’re full of rage, judgment, and self-loathing toward our neighbor or toward ourselves. We try to be “holy” or “religious” or “devout” or “Christian,” but inside we’re an anxious sea of conflict and confusion.
The result is a split in our personality, a split in the heart, a lack of integrity. We Christians say we value grace and compassion, but do we extend the same grace and compassion toward ourselves? Or to others who we don't agree with or those we deem "other"? And if we don’t—there’s the split, there’s the division.
The Desire For Wholeness
We are meant to live whole lives, where our inner life is in harmony with our outer life. This is the ongoing work of our entire lifetime. And when the inner and outer parts of our lives are whole, when we have moments, glimpses of that happening in us, when we sense that our hearts are aligned with the heart of God—do you know what happens then? The doors of the kingdom fling open wide before our eyes, and we discover we’re in a new and wondrous place; we are standing on holy ground!
That’s teleios! That’s when we discover what a flourishing life looks like and feels like. But woe to us when our hearts are divided; when our hearts are not behind our actions; when we lack intention; when our hearts are not aligned with God’s vision for us; when our actions do not flow from the heart.
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt. 6:21).
God knows what our souls long for, what calls us to life, and what we crave and desire more than anything else: we are born to be whole. But we struggle with our disconnection.
It was psychologist Carl Jung who said, “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.”
God wants us to be whole and shows us the way to live wholeheartedly. And then we can live the way we really want to live, giving all of ourselves, not just the parts we find acceptable, ALL of ourselves to the faithful living out of our lives—with joy, with integrity, with single-hearted devotion, and a passion for God’s creation!
Wholeness does not mean perfection; it means peace, acceptance, understanding, oneness. That sense of well-being and completeness is what I mean by healing.
We feel the oneness of the world and ourselves, a feeling of unity. How do we move towards that sense? I believe that we move towards healing through connection. You know, in our culture, we speak a lot about being connected – we are connected to the internet, the source of all information; we are connected to other people through social media and our devices—but often what we have is hyper-connectivity rather than interconnectedness. What we need are the deeper lines of connection that bring us to wholeness.
Wholeness is a state of being. We don’t have to work on Wholeness - we ARE Wholeness. But sometimes we need to remember that we are whole - already. We need to be stirred. Provoked perhaps.
Taking A Pause at Soul Care
One of the reasons why Soul Care was created is to provide a convenient and accessible place for all in our community to have a place for stillness and rest. You can make an appointment to use one of the Quiet Pods to enjoy time for reading, praying, meditating, journaling, creativity, or even to take a nap! We have tons of resources available if you don’t know where to start. Or we can put together a personalized mini-retreat for two hours, four hours, six hours, or an entire day on a topic of your choice so you can rest, renew, and refresh. No need to drive far away or stay the night or spend lots of money to take a pause and fill up your soul.