Compartmentalized

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One thing I learned at a very young age was not to talk about church stuff at school. Mention God or Jesus in elementary school and you immediately got pegged as a goody-two-shoes. But it wasn’t just church stuff. You also didn’t dare talk about your family. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers were off limits. If you talked about your mother, you were a Mama’s boy. If you mentioned a sister, you had to endure crass comments about them—or fight, which was forbidden. Even a father could set off a competition as you and an opponent—a politically correct term for your worst enemy—one-upped each other in an effort to prove that the father in question was better, bigger, faster, stronger.

As I matured, these simplistic rules gave way to more nuanced guidelines, but the fundamental lesson seemed to be the same: don’t talk about your life in one sphere while you’re in another sphere. So except for the most mundane banalities, we don’t talk about work in church; we don’t talk about family relationships at work; we don’t talk about our private lives anywhere. We become compartmentalized.

At church we think church thoughts and say church-y things: “God bless you.” “I’ll be praying for you.”

At work we think work thoughts and say work-y things: “I need it done ASAP.” “Call or shoot me an email if you need anything.” The unspoken part is “anything work-related.”

At home we think home thoughts and say home-y things: “What’s for dinner?” “Where’s the remote?” “Why can’t you learn to pick up after yourself?”

And in our private, innermost being we think private thoughts that no one—thank goodness—ever hears: CENSORED.

We live lives divided neatly into compartments. At least we hope to. Sometimes things go awry. Maybe it’s your eleventh grader who just told you she’s pregnant. Maybe your wife discovered your online pornography habit. Maybe your boss is hinting that your position is being considered for termination. Maybe your prayers aren’t being answered, and you aren’t sure you trust God.

When such things happen, there is spillover. Your private life suddenly affects your work. Your home life suddenly affects your religion. Your loss of faith affects everything. It’s quite natural to suppose that becoming healthy again means getting everything back into its compartment. But what if it’s not?

What if we were never meant to live so divided from ourselves? What if we were meant to live just one life, whole, integrated, and pure? What if we dismantled the compartments? What if we used God talk everywhere? What if we let others know about our pain and failure—not in a self-absorbed way, but transparently and naturally, as if we were talking with real friends who could share our burdens instead of talking to contacts we were trying to leverage or impress?

I’m not suggesting that we banish small talk or only engage with one another at some deeply personal level. I’m merely suggesting that each of us should be the same person in every context. It’s not easy. It requires integrity. It requires intentional effort. It requires being your own leader. Back in grade school, if I had had integrity—a certain knowledge of my identity coupled with a steadfast resolve to be myself—I would not have been intimidated by those who teased or threatened. I would have stood my ground, for courage arises from integrity. I am calling for integrity instead of compartmentalization.

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One Response to Compartmentalized

  1. Marsha Johnson says:

    I’ve always admired this about Scott. He is the same no matter where he is or who he is with. And he freely talks about whatever is happening in his life (much to my embarrassment at times). I’ve always wished I could be more like that, but it does not come easily for me.

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