The Art of Kintsugi and the Formation of Self as Therapist
By Tiffany Triplett
I am honored to sit with those who are mourning old conceptions of self, others, God, and the world.
It was an early Fall morning, and I, a curious college Freshman, had just stepped foot in “The God Building,” otherwise known as the School of Theology and Christian Ministry building on my college campus. On this day, we were going to receive back our first biblical studies exam and determine with our professor whether or not any questions should be thrown out of scoring. Now, being the good Sunday school student that I was…I knew I had aced the section where we had to write out the names of the books of the Bible in order…If you know the song, you know the song… “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus”…I digress…but I did not know how I faired in other sections of the exam.
The professor addressed those questions most missed by students in the class and then made the “mistake” of asking if there were any objections to any of those questions. Of course I had an objection, but I scanned the room to see if anyone might speak on our behalf… silence… dead silence… so I decided to break the silence… with my hand raised, Dr. C.S. Cowles looked at me and said ,”you there.” All of a sudden, I felt my cheeks flush and my question went something like this; “well Dr. Cowles, couldn’t we say that God’s love and Abraham’s response to this love is the reason why Abraham no longer needed to sacrifice his son…that God in a way changed God’s mind due to this relationship with Abraham?” Gulp…silence…again. Dr. Cowles at this point peered over his lectern, which at this point seemed much bigger than it was previously; he then said, “that is an interesting question…what is your name?” I sunk down in my chair as I told him my name, and he briefly wrote something down on the sheet in front of him. I do not know what he wrote, nor do I remember if he answered the question, and I do not believe I scored the point for the class on the exam; what I do remember is the sheer fear that I had just said something blasphemous and would find myself in the Dean’s office that week.
Thankfully, no such thing happened, but still, I determined that it was just a matter of time until my questions regarding the God of my youthful Sunday school years would come forward and I would find myself in the Dean’s office needing to repent for my woeful ways—that I would be challenged to have more faith in this God with whom I was ultimately so angry with and had struggled silently to trust.
Why, you might ask, why was I, an 18-year-old college Freshman, so angry with this God? What could have possibly brought me to question the God of my youth? Growing up in the church we sang songs such as “My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty; there is nothing my God cannot do” and “The Lord is mine and I am His, His banner over me is love;” I had started to wonder where this mighty, loving God was and why, if He were these things, did He not do what was loving and mighty when I needed Him most?
You see, as a kid, I was ongoingly molested by a neighbor—I had experienced genuine evil. In the midst of experiencing this genuine evil, I would go to church on Wednesdays and Sundays, and I would sing the songs. and I would pray, and I would read my Bible; I would take part in the fellowship and life of the church, and I would enjoy doing so; but then, I would sit alone in my room and wonder why God didn’t make my molester stop? Why would God not stop my molester from coming to church on the rare occasion that his child’s orchestra played there? Where was God then when I was hiding in the foyer and calling my parents to come pick me up because I was not “feeling well”? If God was a just God as I had been told, why, when I broke my silence, was justice not served? Where was this all-powerful and all loving God and why, if he was these things, would this God not choose to step in and do something?
We would sing a song about Jesus being a friend of mine and I wondered what I had done that made Jesus not want to be my friend? Because certainly a friend who could, would stop such evil things from happening? Certainly, a God who was all powerful and all loving could and would stop evil things from happening? And yet, evil occurred, and evil continues to occur.
And so there I sat, an 18-year-old, pondering how a God could in one breath request of a person to sacrifice his son and in another determine that that sacrifice was no longer needed. I had heard the story before, but as I sat with it in this class, I imagined Abraham’s pleas to God, his prayers, his faith, and his wrestling with the hard questions and it hit me that perhaps God was responding. Perhaps God does care. Perhaps God does love. Perhaps God does act, and perhaps as we exist in relationship with God, God changes, and God learns. And then in another breath, I wondered still, then why does evil still occur? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God?
Little did I know that my wrestling with the hard questions had only just begun. This time though I did not run from them. I did not hide from them. I faced them. My wrestling did not happen alone, but rather within a community of persons from professors to therapists to a wonderful Chaplain—people who opened their offices, a chair at a coffee shop, sometimes their homes and created safe, non-judgmental spaces to ask and to wrestle with these questions, these perceptions, and these assumptions. In these spaces, I processed the genuine evil that I had experienced. I questioned how God can be loving and all-powerful and allow evil to take place. I cried and wondered, on top of all this, why my Dad had to be diagnosed with cancer? I allowed myself to get angry at all of this, including the often heard excuses from well-intentioned people growing up when evil happened, such as “God has a purpose for all that we have been through, the suffering we have endured,” or, “it’s all in God’s plan,” or “evil exists because of Satan.” And slowly, my anger turned to sadness. And I grieved. I grieved the God I thought existed…and began grieving over the loss of the evil done to me…and kept searching for who God was and is.
Suddenly, the theological implications of the traditional views of God I grew up being taught—a God who was sovereign, all-powerful and in control, a God who was distant and who I “just needed to trust” because “His ways are beyond our ways and our knowledge.” God, who was unable to stop evil things from happening, but yet was somehow supposed to be understood as all-powerful and all loving, had crashed into my lived experience and shattered into pieces everywhere.
However, thankfully, much like the Japanese art of kintsugi, whereby an artist takes the broken pottery pieces and places them back together with gold to create an even more beautiful piece than once was, highlighting in a way what was once broken but is now made new, I sat in a variety of theology and philosophy classes, in church, in small groups and with these others mentioned above and began to pick up these pieces and to look over them. As I did, I began to understand the centrality of love; more specifically I came to understand God as love. as omnibenevolent or all loving; and everything changed, everything started to make more sense. Love became the gold that bonded the pieces that I picked up back together and, in so doing, it wrought about my well-being.
Knowing and receiving from the source that is love changes you. When I understood God’s nature as love—as always loving—I understood that we can only respond to God’s love if we are free; we can only have relationship with God if we have freedom. Abraham was free to love and respond to God, to wrestle with God, and to question God. God could not impose or stop Abraham, but rather through their relationship and Abraham’s pleas, Abraham was changed, and so too was God. Like Abraham, I came to understand myself and others as free and response-able. I accepted the fact that my molester was also free and response-able. I chose to let go of blaming God for my molester’s behavior, for not intervening, and to let go of my perception that God was uncaring and in-active; in doing so, I recognized God’s presence—God’s love—God’s mourning and grieving with me during and in the aftermath of that genuine evil done to me.
Essentially, I came to know God as what Thomas J. Oord had defined as essentially kenotic, a God whose timeless nature is uncontrolling love and who gives of self in relation to others, a God who is other empowering and who seeks the well-being of all.1 It is because of this timeless nature of uncontrolling love that we are necessarily free to have agency in the world to actualize potentialities available to us. It is also due to God’s nature of uncontrolling love that we are self-organizing and have lawlike regularities in our world, which cannot be taken away. Furthermore, we, and those around us, have the freedom to act in loving and not loving ways both in ways that seek well-being and in ways that do not.2
And so, in response to this God of love, I choose to live a life of love with the intention of participating in the common good for the well-being of self, others, God, and the world. I do this both in my personal life as I participate in reciprocal, intentional relationships, but also in a professional capacity as a mental health therapist. When I go into each therapy session with a client, I’m aware of the all present, all loving God who sits with me; a God who sits with us and is present with us. I remember the experience of breaking my own silence, of sitting with those tough questions, of processing those emotions I tried to push down or away, of healing the trauma, of healing the parts that needed to know they were loved…and there but for the grace of God go I…
I am honored to sit with those who are going through their own process and who are mourning old parts, old conceptions of self, others, God, and the world, etc. Today, I get to take part in creating a safe non-judgmental space for people to sit in their silence, I have the opportunity to be witness to their breaking of this silence, to the processing of their emotions, questions, and attempts to make sense of the evil done to them or to another. I sit with them in their attempts at making sense of their relationships or making their relationships work, in their trials, and in their successes. I get to explore the bio-psycho-social-spiritual aspects of their selves with them; sometimes I even get the opportunity to offer up some cognitive reframes and wonder with them about God. Together, we pick up the pieces and, with the goal and intention towards well-being, we allow for love, connection, and attachment to begin to mend together a beautiful, potential-actualizing always evolving, new creation! Shalom!
Tiffany Triplett is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is a Co-Founder and Clinical Director at Evolve Therapy San Diego. Tiffany is also an Adjunct Professor at Azusa Pacific University and is presently obtaining her doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Love Does Not Control: Therapists, Psychologists, and Counselors Explore Uncontrolling Love