I have historically been a pretty big Donald Miller fan. He is the somewhat edgy Christian author best known for Blue Like Jazz, a NY Times bestseller. I have read several of his other works, and check out his blog from time to time. I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years on a trip to Yellowstone, and its theme of living a better story is one of the reasons Rachel and I started 200 Million Flowers. I later got to spend time with Bob Goff, the whacky lawyer Miller writes about in the book and who wrote his own bestseller, Love Does. We even went to one of his conferences in Nashville.
I must say, however, I was a little disappointed by Miller’s latest work, Scary Close.
Scary Close is a memoir concerning Miller’s education about intimacy while he participated in counseling and courted his now wife. I thought the work as a whole was forced, naïve, redundant and somewhat arrogant, especially for someone who had not been married for a minute at the time he wrote it. While the book had some redeeming qualities and it is a super fast read, I would wait for this one to come out on paperback, or skip it altogether.
One concept Miller discusses, which I have heard expressed before by my counselor friends, is the concept of the false self. The idea is basically that God designed us a certain way. Everyone is uniquely gifted, uniquely fulfilled and uniquely inspired. This is our true self. However, at some point in our life traversing the fallen world, emotional trauma happens. We get hurt. We also hurt other people. This hurt causes us to feel shame and fear. To cover the shame and fear, we develop the personality traits we show the world. This character is the false self. Sometimes the world views our coping mechanism as somewhat healthy –hard worker, funny, sexy, athletic, smart. However, it is also the breeding ground for maladaptive self-soothing such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction, sexual dysfunction and eating disorders. We wear masks when our outward persona is not true to who we are. Understanding this dynamic can begin to make the fragmented person start to feel whole and open to true intimacy – to know and to be known, which is predominantly how people find fulfillment in their marriages.
Another interesting aspect of the book is the description of a two-person exercise to explain codependency. I have written about codependency before. The leader of the exercise places three pillows on the ground. One person steps on the pillow to the far right and the other on the one to the far left. The pillow in between is the relationship pillow upon which both participants can step as they please. Codependency happens when the parties to a relationship are all up on each other’s pillow (forgive the overly technical language). Healthy boundaries occur when each party respects that the personal pillow is, well, personal.
Regardless of the watered down pop culture psychology of Miller in Scary Close, marriage is enormously difficult and cannot be explained with some formula. But if you are married or divorced, this is something you already know.
Craig Robertson is a divorce attorney practicing throughout Mississippi.