My daughter hops from foot to foot, words spilling from her mouth. She tells me who she sat with on the bus to their swimming field trip, which games they played while they were there, and who threw-up in the pool. I’m listening with amusement as I drop chopped veggies into a hot skillet. The sharp aromas of onion, garlic, peppers, and celery mingle in the air. My husband pops his head into the kitchen to say my mom had called earlier. I grab a wooden spoon from the drawer, step back to the stove and announce, “I need to make a dentist appointment.” So while I stir the veggies with one hand, with the other I type a quick reminder on my phone to call the dentist. All the while my daughter is still telling me her story. I nod to her, throwing a few “mm-hmms’ in for good measure, until she sighs in exasperation, crying, “MOM! Are you listening?”
The truth: not really. I am in full-out multi-tasking mode, letting one thought skip to another and then another.
This way of living might get a dentist's appointment made, but it won’t allow me to be present with the people right around me. Nor will it allow me to live as the whole person I was created to be. There’s got to be a better way.
If you could see the thought paths in my brain, you would know that my mom’s phone call reminds me that I left my sweater at her house last Christmas and still haven’t gotten it back. I picture the room where I left it, which is also the room where I finished up my daughter’s Tinkerbell costume when we were there a few years ago for Halloween. Halloween makes me think of the candy we bought last week, and I can’t believe we’ve already eaten all of it. Which, of course, leads me to think of how I don’t think my five year old brushed his teeth last night, and he’s sure to get cavities. From there it’s an easy leap in my mind to the postcard I received from the dentist reminding me it’s time to make an appointment.
The Spaghetti Brain:
Some people describe such a thought process as having a brain like a plate of spaghetti: everything is connected to everything else.
This spaghetti brain, which, apparently, is a woman thing, gets praised because it enables us to multi-task.
But, though I love connecting things to each other, I am not convinced that living with spaghetti brain (or it’s opposite, which we’ll get to in a minute) is all that great.
The opposite of the spaghetti brain is the chest of drawers brain: only one drawer (one thought) can be open at a time. Maybe you’ve seen comedians highlight the differences between men and women’s brains by using these two images.
They are funny, no doubt about it.
But even as much as I laugh along over these two different types of thinking, the comparisons have always bugged me. I know men who think more like spaghetti, and I know women who think in only one drawer at a time. So, for now let’s take off the labels of a man’s brain and a woman’s brain, and simply call them the chest of drawers brain and the spaghetti brain.
Neither Option Encourages Wholeness:
The images still bug me, though, even when they are gender-neutral. If we expand these similes to describe not just how our brains work, but how we live, we start to realize just how flawed they both are.
If we live like a chest of drawers, which I think many of us do, nothing is related to anything else, and we find our lives fragmented. So our work drawer isn’t connected to our family drawer, which isn’t connected to our time online drawer. God and faith become just another drawer.
When we feel a need for more connection with God, we simply open the God drawer for a little longer, but it doesn’t affect the work drawer or the family drawer.
If we live like a plate of spaghetti, everything might be connected, but it feels sloppy and chaotic. It’s hard to see beauty, growth, and purpose. Our lives feel like a pile of stuff (usually stuff that we need to get done).
I once read an article that praised the “spaghetti” brain because it allows us to do so many different things at once—the spaghetti brain is the queen of multi-tasking. But I’m not sure that multi-tasking is the trait I want to be most known for. And research shows that it’s actually not effective! It prevents us from being present where we are, in this moment.
So, we still live lives that feel fragmented, not because we don’t see things as connected, but because we’ve got too much on our plates to make sense of anything.
If we long for a deeper connection with God, we add a few more noodles onto the plate, but the in the end, our plate simply feels busier.
Whether we function more like a chest of drawers or a plate of spaghetti, or a combination of both, we end up with lives that feel disconnected.
I believe, whether we recognize it or not, we long to live lives of purpose, lives that don’t feel scattered, disjointed, or chaotic, but integrated and whole.
A survey from a few years ago found that 72% of women in America say they have too much stress in their lives and over half say they are tired and overcommitted. That doesn’t paint a picture of women living integrated, healthy, whole lives, does it?
How can you avoid the chaos of the spaghetti brain and the disconnectedness of the chest of drawer brain?
By living in the wholeness you were created for.
You Are More Than Your Soul:
For too long we have allowed the Church to separate us into bits and pieces through messages (sometimes spoken, often unspoken) telling us all that matters is our soul; our emotions, our minds, and our bodies have been deemed insignificant.
But we are created to live and to love as whole people.
The Most Important Thing (According to Jesus):
When people asked Jesus what mattered most, he didn’t respond by saying, “You should keep your God drawer open a bit longer each day,” nor did he say, “The people who love me are really busy: add more religious activities to your full plate.”
Listen to what he did say:
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f]
It All Starts With God:
The commandment doesn’t begin with us; it begins with God’s love for us.
The Lord our God, the Lord is one is a short little phrase revealing when opened up, an expansive story of God’s love. Where do I see this, you ask? It’s contained in the word LORD. If we flip back to the passage in Deuteronomy Jesus is quoting, we’ll notice all the letters in the word LORD are capitalized, meaning the author was using the name Yahweh.
This isn’t a generic term for God, but a personal name that announces God’s character. This is the name of the faithful, covenant-keeping, never-leave-us-or-forsake-us God. This is the name of steadfast love.
The greatest commandment is a response to God’s love for us. And it is meant to encompass every little bit of our lives.
It All Matters:
All of who we are matters to God. The command is not to simply love God with our souls as if that is the only thing God cares about. The Greek words for heart, soul, mind, and strength include not just the spiritual life, but life itself, emotions, desires, understanding, intelligence, might, and abilities.
God commands us to love God with our whole being because God loves our whole being.
God’s redeeming love reaches into every crack and crevice of our lives.
To be whole is to be complete, to be restored, to be who we are created to be.
And who were we created to be? People who love God with our whole being and love others because we are loved so deeply by God.
All of the little details, the bits and pieces of our lives, our minds, bodies, emotions, and spirits, are all part of God’s big Story: everything is connected. But in a beautiful, whole way, not a chaotic mess that demands we can’t be fully present.
There isn’t a formula to avoid the spaghetti brain or the chest of drawers way of living. You can’t follow three easy steps to live as a whole person. But the more we allow God’s love to spread into every bit of our lives, the more natural it will become.
The more we live in the wholeness God offers, the more we can be fully present where we are, listening to our daughters’ creative stories without half our brain wondering about forgotten sweaters, worrying about cavities, and making notes about dentist appointments.
Raise your hand if you want more of that kind of presence!
More Is Coming:
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing here about wholeness,* asking the question: what does it mean for us to live as whole people? We’ll camp in this greatest commandment for a while, reflecting on our minds, hearts, and bodies.
Want to Go Deeper?
I’ve created a series of journal prompts for you to use along with these posts. Sign up below to receive them. Use them as you journal, let them prompt reflection as you go about your day, or incorporate them into small group discussions.
*There are many layers to wholeness, including the idea of healing things from our past; I can’t possibly cover all the things. So consider this series the beginning of a conversation on wholeness, not the entire conversation.