Silver Bullet or Snake Oil?

The joke around our house is that my elderly mother turns on the TV to get the daily body count—the crime statistics for the day. People are killing, robbing, kidnapping and otherwise endangering other’s lives as well as their own. That’s what is reported because it grabs your attention. What isn’t reported are the lives full of brokenness and strife, sadness, loneliness or depression that are lived in quiet desperation. And then there are the people who pour themselves out daily trying to help the wounded, throwing their own lives at the black hole of society’s ills.

As pastor or as a church leader, they look to you for direction, for answers to their individual dilemma. The problems are so many, so profound and so diverse at times if you slow down and allow yourself to sense, you can feel the inexorable pull toward a black hole…so you increase the activity; you try harder, look for another or better program. Undisciplined compassion may have you by the nose!

And now I am suggesting that joy just may be a silver bullet rather than a snake oil remedy; that relational brain skills may be what is lacking? Yup, that’s what I’m saying!

Joy is what is shared when two people are glad to be together. And for two people to relate their brains have to have learned relational skills—i.e. their brains have learned how to feel and express delight that the other is present. Brain science tells us that our brains operate best in an environent of joy.

Problem—And right there is where many people strike out. Many of us have grown up in homes with low joy or no joy. People in our families were not happy to be with us. There was little or no delight. Relational skills were…ummm, in need of improvement! Brains don’t work so well in low joy environments.

How did we get here?—Well, relational brain skills are transmitted from generation to generation. They are not learned from a book; they are learned from practice. They are not instinctual; we didn’t come into the world knowing how to relate to others. We have to learn that.

If your parents did not learn one or more of the 19 relational brain skills they will not be able to teach you. Your grandparents may have the skills but because of some crisis or trauma at the time your parent was learning these skills, that training was interrupted and they missed learning it.

Sometimes we can pick up a skill on our own, but that’s on the rare side. Usually we need interaction with another more mature brain than ours to learn it. So if your parent(s) missed a skill, they would not be able to pass that skill on to you. In this way brain skills can fall out of our family repertoire. As this happens in more and more families, society becomes less and less able to relate in healthy, functional ways as God intended.

Now, I am not saying that learning these brain skills will solve all of society’s ills. I am saying that it will give the individuals who learn them more ability to cope, endure, and retain their sense of self and their values while going through life’s trials. They will be able to come out of the trials without being crushed or ruined. They won’t be forever fettered to the trial. You may know someone who just never recovered—they were never the same after that. Joy gives a person resiliency, the ability to recover.

SOLUTIONThanks be to God, He has not left us without recourse! It is possible to learn these skills after the fact. But, like I said, you need to learn them from a more mature brain that already knows how to relate and you need to practice, practice, practice. Practicing is training the brain to run in a certain track. It strengthens the connections and associations in the brain.

Whenever we are trained in a new skill we will not do it right the first time or every time—that’s what it means to learn. We do it right sometimes and wrong sometimes; but we look at when we did it wrong and learn from it and gradually we mess up fewer and fewer times.

Where to get training?  Thrive Training …is training in relational brain skills for pastors and leaders. One week of all day training, over the course of three years.

Thriving Recovery  …is specially designed for local congregations and especially reaches out to those who do not have a bonded partner with whom to receive the training. This is a less intense training in the relational brain skills needed for relationship.

You can also educate your brain by reading The Life Model and Living With Men

Both are available here: Shepherd’s House

If you feel low on joy jump start your own joy levels by putting more joy in your marriage at a Thriving Marriage Retreat. We also invite you to join The Pastor’s Weekly JOYStreams for free interactive webinars to grow more joy here.

You may want to offer your people a training experience that works, click the links. As you become joy filled; your example will be irresistible — people hunger for what you have.


By Carol A. Brown, B.A., M.A.C.I.

Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive

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