Part 27: The Changing Brain

written by Josh Hoffert May 4, 2018
the changing brain

For those just joining, this is part of a series of letters on spiritual growth and maturity. For the last letter, click this link.

 

“In moving away from God, man and woman augment their sense of being alone. They move against the relational gravity of creation that led God to declare that it was not good for man to be alone.” Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul

“Just as the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always occurs to matter in a closed system, when our hearts remain a closed system, they tend toward a greater state of chaos and disconnection.” Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul

And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30

 

Jesus makes it clear that we will never be able to distance ourselves from the people that have hurt us the most.  He will bring people into your life in order to create in you a new template for responding to fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.  If your brain has been conditioned based on past failures, hurts, and wounds to see mothers in a specific way, it would follow that he will use the same types of relationship to rewire our brains in order to bring healing and approach those relationship in a new way.

What follows from this is a revelation about why God comes to us in the way that He does.  He is intentional in the way He relates to us.

Why does He come as a father?
“…You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22b

Why does He nurture like a mother?
“As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:13

Why does He care as a friend?
“From now on I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” John 14:15

Why does He come as a lover?
“Who is this that comes up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved…” Song of Solomon 8:5a
“I will even betroth you unto me in faithfulness: and you shall know the LORD.” Hosea 2:20

He comes to bring us a template.  By engaging with us in these important relational styles, he invites us to a place of healing based on how he relates.  He demonstrates healthy fathering, healthy nurturing (as a mother would), and covenant relationship all in order to create a new pattern in our brain.  Being still and knowing that he is God is integral to discovering him as Jehovah Rapha, the Lord our healer.

“If we’re lucky in our relationships, we also feel nourished, supported, and restored as we look into the face and eyes of the other. Our culture teaches us to focus on personal uniqueness, but at a deeper level we barely exist as individual organisms. Our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe.” Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

He is constantly challenging us because our brains limit the way in which we can receive love from him.

Decades ago, it was thought that once the brain had entered its mature state, it could no longer change.  Thus the growth in pharmaceuticals in the treatment of neurological disorders.  Since the brain couldn’t change, we could only help mitigate the symptoms.  However, newer research has blown this idea out of the water.  Your brain is constantly rewiring itself.  That’s not to say that pharmaceuticals are not helpful, but if ultimately relied upon they tend to leave the deeper trauma in our past unresolved.  They deal with the fruit of inner wounding, rather than the root.

God designed your brain with the incredible ability of recovering to health.  Understanding some of the physiological factors of the brain give deeper understanding and insight into verses like:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. II Corinthians 10:4-5

Three particular characteristics built into the brain that are pertinent are epigenesis, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.  Epigenesis refers to a state that brain enters wherein it sporadically generates a significant amount of new synaptic connection:

“Changeux’s theory of “epigenesis” is that after the basic neural circuits of the brain have developed, the brain is driven by periods of exuberant semi-random growth in new synaptic connections leading to transient redundancy.  These periods of rapid growth are followed by periods of selective stabilization and regression through the pruning of redundant connections.  In this process some redundant neurons may also die off.” George Christos, Memory and Dreams

Neurogenesis refers to the brain’s ability to create new neurons in adult life.  By the age of 3 you have more neurons in your brain than you will have for the rest of your life.  By the time you reach 15, most of those neurons have been formed into complicated patterns called neural networks.  Epigenesis and Neurogenesis go hand in hand.

Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to remain moldable.  The makeup of your brain is largely defined by the time your reach adulthood.  However, your brain has the ability to mold, adapt, change, and grow.  The neural networks that are formed through your growing years can fundamentally change in adulthood.  God designed your brain to create new neurons (neurogenesis) and enter periods of epigenesis (new synaptic connections that create new or change existing neural networks).  The radical thing about this is that it means your mind can be renewed.  God created a physiological thumbprint for his Spirit to move within your brain. Your brain can literally change how it recalls specific memories.

When he comes to you as a father, or when spiritual fathers come into your life, the neurons connected to your perception of fathering begin to fire.  In a state of epigenesis, new neurons grow, synapses connect, and your memory of fathers shifts slightly towards the father he and others just demonstrated themselves to be.  Because of the plasticity of your brain, the existing neural networks actually change.  Over time, when you recall memories of your father, the way in which the memory is recalled is filtered through the new neurons that have shifted the memory.  In this way the healing of a memory can have a physiological effect on the individual.

God is amazing!

This doesn’t mean that your brain is self-healing; it means that God has created the brain with the ability to heal.  How can you accomplish this?  By creating a space that allows God to speak to you.

David said regarding God, “Your thoughts towards me are as numerous as the sands on the seashore.”  Every one of those thoughts has the ability to rewire your brain.  God is not simply haphazard in how he comes to us.  He comes intentionally, at the time that we need it, where his consciousness impinges upon your conscious and creates new life.

Sensitizing yourself to the voice of God has vast ramifications for the physiological makeup of your brain.  What if you heard and began believing all the things God was saying about you?  Imagine the impact that would have on the neurons and synapses that make up your thought processes.

Your greatest potential will be unlocked in seeing yourself that way that God sees you.  Create a space to hear him in your life.  Pay attention to that still small voice.  Tune into the wind that blows where it will.  Its impact will be subtle, but it will be there.  Maybe, when you look back in a year, your life will be different.  Maybe you will learn to think of yourself as the One who orchestrated you thought about you.

It is at this place that we must turn back to spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines help carve out a place in your consciousness that honors the voice of God.  It is in this hearing, feeling, and seeing God as father, mother, brother, sister, lover, friend, etc…that healing and change begin to flow.  As we are integrated into the family of God, he brings mothers, brothers, sisters, etc…to rewire the way we think about the people to which we relate.

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