The following interview with Dr. Lois Brittell author of "It's All about Him : Intimacy with God" was conducted over a period of time in May/June by Laure McCourt Lopez, a book reviewer here at Magic City. Magic City Morning Star wishes to thank both Mrs. Lopez and Dr. Brittell for this contribution. Mrs. Lopez's review of this book will appear at Magic City within the week and the link will be posted here.
Thank you so much Lois for taking the time today to share your thoughts and words on "It's All about Him" and I look forward to sharing this time with you.
What started you on the journey of writing "It's all About Him"?
I've enjoyed writing since I was a child and I had wanted to write a book for about the last thirty years. The title changed over the years but the content was always about the healing God had done in my own life and the lives of those with whom I worked. I had 5 years of personal therapy to overcome anxiety resulting from some abuse in childhood and infidelity in my marriage. I had a Rogerian therapist, a psychoanalytic therapist and a Jungian therapist. I was finally healed when I began following what it says in Philippians 4:6-7, Pray about everything... with thanksgiving. When I started doing that, the healing became dramatic. I wanted people to know that healing can be the result of following what God says to do. He created us and knows our thoughts before we express them (Proverbs 16:1).That is better than any therapist can do.
That is wonderful. What is your clinical background and are you serving in a counseling capacity today?
I have retired. I retired from regular practice 6 years ago. I still do occasional consulting. I have a Ph D. in Psychology from Rosemead School of Psychology, which is part of Biola University in the Los Angeles area. I specialized in treating anxiety, depression, and marital problems for the 30 years of my practice.
Intimacy often in today's culture denotes sexual intimacy. In your preface you wrote "Intimacy with God is more than having been saved. You cannot have intimacy with someone you have never met or don't know". What are some ways your reading audience can establish this kind of relationship with God?
The intimacy with God begins as it does in the case of intimacy with anyone else; you have to spend time together. I've found in my own life that the more time I've spent with God the more I wanted to know him. In the book I've given several definitions of love. Wanting to be in the presence of a loved one is part of the definition of love. That is no different with God than it is with other people. He and His principles are the answers to the questions we have in life. He cares about the smallest details of our lives. I often get flak when I say this. However, He says ours hairs are all numbered. He says that in Matthew 10:30. It's not that He knows how many, it's that each one has a number. During my years of practice I usually asked God what he wanted me to wear, to eat, to buy, to do. I tried to ask him about every aspect of my life and practice. I wanted to do what He wanted me to do. I wanted Him to be happy with me and so that was how I approached it. As a therapist it is vital that you learn to listen. I found that to be true of intimacy with God as well. It wasn't just me talking all the time; it was learning to listen to him as well. Spending time in prayer is essential if you want to develop intimacy with God.
The Holy Spirit is always guiding and communicating through various means, several of which are mentioned in the book. The question is, are we always listening and obeying? The Lord says, "Pray without ceasing." That means talk to Him continually about everything. He's always listening, loving us and wanting to bless us. People say, "Well how can I do my work and be praying all the time?" Well, most of us are not that focused on what we're doing 100% of the time. Multi-tasking is a common word in today's world, and often we can multi-task; we can be talking vertically to Him and writing, working on our computer, making cookies, mowing the lawn, or whatever else. Learning to wait on Him and to listen to Him is very much a discipline. In the book I describe the discipline I developed to ensure I would spend time listening and learning to recognize His voice. In the Bible He says His sheep know His voice; well, we are His sheep, and learning to hear that voice and obey it can save us untold hours of pain.
In today's culture, sexual activity often replaces emotional intimacy. When I was practicing I was amazed at some of the stories I heard from the young people. I asked "Do you usually have sex on the first date?" "Oh yeah, that's how we date." Being of an older generation, I was appalled but, being of a spiritual nature, I was crushed. The Bible says each time we have intercourse with someone we become one with them. How many emotional divorces do these young people have to go through when they have 20, 30 sexual partners? It's really heart breaking. Spiritual and emotional intimacy require establishment of a relationship with God as well as with other people. Having sex is not emotional intimacy; having sex is having sex; it is physical intimacy. It may be the result of emotional intimacy, but intimacy is about establishing relationships.
Those are such excellent thoughts. So many people today don't take time to listen and I see how important that is.
Oh, it's crucial. If we aren't listening to God, we're missing the whole point of our existence. We were created to glorify God, and if we're not listening to Him when He's instructing us in how to bring glory to Him; sometimes it's going to be gardening or climbing Mount Everest or whatever; but if I'm not listening, how will I know which one applies to me? Now, I am personally not in a position to climb Mount Everest, but I could so some of the other things, so which ones does he want me to do? What did he create me to do and to accomplish for His glory?
The introduction serves as a map by which the reader may navigate your book. Would you please touch on those guideposts?
Yes, I am writing a revised version right now based on the original book and I'm doing a better job breaking down the table of contents to make it clearer what the divisions are, so I will verbalize them. The first three chapters draw our attention to the fact that everything has been made by, for, to and through God. The Lord says in Isaiah 26:3 that if we keep our minds on Him, we will be at peace, and I can't think of anything more lacking in our culture than peace. In the book I mention scripture that commands us to learn to control our thoughts; the passage is 2 Corinthians 10:5, where it says we are to take our thoughts captive to Christ. If you read the context, that is an imperative, and yes, as a psychologist, I help people to learn control their thinking, and to change their thinking. If they're going to keep thinking the same things they're not going to get better. So being at peace, or not, is a choice. I can learn to control my thoughts or I can let them wander around picking up lint as they go. That presents several questions that lead one to thinking about God in a different way.
For example, when you look through a window, do you think of the fact that God created the sand that went into making the glass? When you look at a silk lampshade, do you think about the fact that God created the silk worm that ended up making the silk for the lampshade? The origins of everything in our universe are in God and the more you allow yourself to start thinking in that way, the richer your relationship with Him becomes. The richer your life becomes, because then everything is about Him. I'm sitting here, looking at bookcases while I'm talking to you. He created the wood. They have glass doors. He created the sand that went into the glass to make these bookcases. I can think of the bookcases in terms of, "do they need dusting?" or "have I read that book?" Or, "God made that," and depending what I choose to do with my thought life, my life is going to be so much more enriched if I'm thinking about God as the source and the sustainer of everything.
The next three chapters, four through six, are about what He asks us to do in relationship to Himself. Chapters four and five cover the great commandment, which has two parts: to love Him with our entire being; heart, soul, mind and strength; and chapter five, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Chapter four shares a lot of scripture to help us really understand what it means to love God with our entire being.
In chapter five, I cover some relationships of love, not necessarily fitting into the framework that we think of today, but still about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Anybody other than God can be our neighbor in terms of the love we express.
Chapter six is about prayer. We are commanded to talk to Him; we are commanded to pray without ceasing. I include two of my favorite prayers, one of which is the prayer of confession by Daniel in chapter nine. He repents for the sins of the nation and I think we need that in today's world, and then the prayer of Jesus in which he expresses His love for the Father and for those of us who would follow. That is in John 17.
Chapters seven through nine look at what sometimes happens when we don't follow the first six chapters. These include anxiety versus peace, depression versus contentment, and arrogance versus humility. Peace, contentment and humility are all dimensions that are available to us in Christ. We are instructed not to be anxious; to be content and to walk in humility. These are imperatives. They are not optional if we want to reflect Christ accurately.
The last three chapters, 10, 11 and 12 are indicative of the path my own life took; the path I chose to take. Detachment was my defense mechanism. The first two times I used it, it was a choice. At the age of seven I was in extreme pain, with a high fever from polio. I said, "I can't stand this, I'm going up to the corner of the room. I will stay there until the pain leaves". Psychologically, I did that. Nothing changed physically, but emotionally I distanced myself from the pain. Then in high school, I used that same mechanism when my boyfriend took his affections elsewhere. After that, when pain presented itself it became a subconscious and automatic choice. The last three chapters cover that. As a result of the choice I made I had a lot of convictions and some pretty intense consequences. By God's grace, I was never condemned because I was converted as a small child to believe in Christ. That pretty much covers the four main emphases of the book.
It's All about Him is beautifully written, full of scripture verses that support the various topics you present. What prompted you to choose the subjects as you did? How did you develop the story's framework?
The first nine chapters actually came out of my practice. These were the things that presented themselves most often in therapy, the things that I had to focus on in treatment. There were identity issues like "Why was I born?" Then there was a lot of the pain and frustration of anxiety and depression. Other questions included, "I want to live closer to God, how do I do that?" So the first nine chapters basically came out of 30 years of practice. The last three are autobiographical.
Several chapters are set aside for such topics as anxiety, depression, trust, and peace. Would you please describe the difference between anxiety and fear, and do you see the issues of depression and anxiety on the rise today?
Let me answer the second question first. As you listen to preachers and other professionals, anxiety and depression are on the rise. People are moving out of churches, religious life is taking on less importance than it used to. Values are changing and of course, if you are not attached to God, the events occurring in today's world are going to leave you anxious, depressed, confused, angry, and having other pathological feelings.
The difference between anxiety and fear is great, but it's subtle, and so I want to give a dictionary definition of anxiety. Anxiety is defined as, "apprehension over something that does not exist." A person may need to read that, and say it several times before it sinks in. "What do you mean, it doesn't exist?" Well, it doesn't exist in the present. Anxiety is apprehension about something that may happen in the future or it may be a memory of something that happened in the past. However, the feared thing is not happening right now. Anxiety is largely based on anticipation and memory. Something happened that left me feeling anxious that it may happen again. I'm feeling tense and troubled and sweating and having palpitations because I'm thinking, "What if this happens again?" But it's not happening right now. You're sitting in your chair, thinking about this; it's not happening now. With PTSD, you are not on the battlefield right now. You are remembering what the battlefield was like, but you are not being shot at right now. So anxiety is made up largely of anticipation and memory.
Fear, on the other hand, is about something that is happening right now. If a threatening event is occurring right now, if I'm being beaten right now, I might be afraid that it won't stop or that I might be seriously injured or die. If someone is holding a knife to my throat, I'm afraid, but if I'm remembering being beaten, or apprehensive that it might happen again, that's anxiety. The physiological responses; your physical feelings, may be the same, whether it's fear or anxiety; shortness of breath, sweating, tension, palpitations, all these things can be the same whether it's anxiety or fear. But the difference is, is it happening now, or am I thinking about it or remembering it? That's why the emphasis on controlling our thoughts is so important.
We can change our emotions by changing our thought process, and given the development in brain scans, they can actually see chemical reactions changing in the brain when you change what you're thinking. So when He says, "take your thoughts captive," that is a very real possibility. In today's scientific world, they can see changes on the scans, which is so profound. The Lord says, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind," and you can see that happening on a scan in today's world. For the 2000 plus years since that was written, we just had to take it for granted that He said we can do it, but now we can see it happening. It's very exciting.
It really is. As you present these topics you also present solutions, particularly from a Christian vantage point. What comfort would you like your readers to glean from these passages?
The scripture has given us answers and solutions, for basically every problem we are going to encounter. I was sick for a year when I was in graduate school, and the Lord said, "Okay, now I want you to learn to do therapy the way I want you to do it, not the way you were necessarily taught in school." So what He had me do was look up everything that might come through my door. He says quite a bit about drunkenness, he says a lot about anxiety (he says don't have it), he says a lot about adultery (don't do it), he talks about depression (anger). He says think on the things that are listed in Philippians 4:8.
He talks about marriage very explicitly; husbands love your wives. He does not imply that the obligations for husbands and wives are identical. In today's world we try to make everything equal and the same. God doesn't do that. Husbands have a much greater list of responsibilities than wives do. Wives are supposed to submit, in reverence, to their husbands. The husbands are supposed to love their wives, protect their wives, provide for their wives and give their lives for their wives. He does not say that wives are to do the same for their husbands; they are supposed to reverence their husbands for having done those things. The duties of husbands are patterned after what Christ does for us, his bride.
Practice healthy habits. Daniel talked about what he wanted to eat. There are all kinds of answers and solutions that provide comfort. It makes sense; all we have to do is get rid of our lint filled (or rebellious) thought processes and learn to think differently about God and ourselves and the relationship. We need to learn to practice what He says, submit to Him, learn to take our thoughts captive and do what He says. Does it happen overnight? Not usually, but it can happen. It does happen. I spent most of my life helping people do it.
In the chapter on depression, you wrote that Jesus knew that His emotions were not the final authority. How can your readers apply this to their lives?
Jesus didn't want to die for our sin anymore than we do. We don't even like to be convicted of our sins. He didn't want to be punished for all our sins, for all the people of all time. I tried to escape conviction; tried to justify, to rationalize, to do something other than repent with it. He didn't want to be punished. He didn't want to be beaten, and bloodied, and die for our sins, but He knew what His job was and so He said to His father, "Thy will be done." He knew that well before He was born, why He lived and why He would die, He did not allow His emotions to lead Him to the place, where He said to His father, "I'm not doing this." He did not allow His heart, His feelings to guide His head or to control His head. He knew what the will of the Father was and He submitted to it.
Our emotions are based largely on chemical reactions to words that we've internalized. And our emotions are very flexible; we can change them by changing what we say to ourselves. I've talked about the brain scans; emotions are fleeting. I can say "I hate this outfit", or I can say "I love this outfit." The response in my body when I say I hate something is I tighten; my body tenses. When I say I love something, perhaps the same article, my body relaxes, I breathe more deeply. I have the capacity to obey God when He says, "Do what I've said," and not to be fighting Him, denying Him or resisting Him. Resisting God is such a stupid and futile activity, because He is the sustainer of the universe and sooner or later you're going to bump up against Him. Learn early on to be obedient. Obedience is the expression of love, and the most that we can ever do. I can't die on a cross for the salvation of the world, but I can spend my life seeking to obey Him.
What would you like your readers to take away after the reading of "It's all About Him"?
I think, the unshakable love of God. He loves us with an everlasting love. Do word studies. I'm an absolute believer in doing word studies. I've done them on numerous things that I was interested in. What does He say about clothes, about wine, about hot tempers? What does He say about anything that might pique my interest? What does He say about His love for us? He's faithful to us because of his love for us. Because He loves us, He will always be faithful to us. His faithfulness to us and His love for us are intimately interwoven. No one can take us out of the Father's hand. He has made every provision for our wellbeing: physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, every way. He wants us to live an abundant life. Jesus said He came that we might have an abundant life. He gave his life to give that to us. He wants us to be with him forever.
Are there any closing thoughts that you would like to add and do you have any current books in the offering?
The most important thing in our entire lives is to realize God loves us with an everlasting love. He's made every provision for us to experience that love and to be blessed by that love. I am currently writing a revised version of the original text incorporating space to answer the questions. Thank you for the opportunity to share about the book; it's been a pleasure. Thank you, Laure, so much for your time.
Thank you, Lois.
Laure McCourt Lopez
Dr. Lois Brittell is a clinical psychologist who specialized in the treatment of anxiety, depression and marital problems and found that most issues were influenced by a person's relationship with God. She sought biblical answers in addition to clinical answers. Dr. Brittell recently retired and continues to enjoy consulting, teaching and writing. She lives near Fresno, Calif. For more information, visit www.itsallabouthimrestoration.com.
"It's All about Him: Intimacy with God"
By Dr. Lois Brittell
Published January 23, 2014