Day 42 of 100: Where Christianity, neuroscience, and psychology meet

I’ve been delaying writing this post because in my processing of everything I learned at the conference this weekend, I haven’t been sure of what to write about. So I’ll start by finding an overall theme for what I’ve learned and go from there.

It is better to seek to understand than to be understood. To put yourself aside and to listen to another’s story instead of trying to make them understand, listen to, or accept you. Too often we have conflict with others and lack empathy for them because we try to show them that we’re right or that we know what’s best, we try to fix people or change their heart when we see a problem, or we get defensive because we feel misunderstood or attacked.

I listened to many talks this weekend about checking your heart, about the value of humility and teachability (that’s a word, right?) in leaders, about honestly evaluating your ministry and teaching strategies, about learning to speak the “language” of those you are trying to reach, about bringing to light that which is hidden, about how God turns our greatest weaknesses into our greatest strengths.

In the end, teaching is about transformation. Jesus lived and died and lived again to change the way that we relate to ourselves, God, and others. But Jesus did not come so that we could just mind our own business. I minister to youth because I want to see transformation in them, because I believe that they can step into great things and live wholeheartedly. But of course, it’s a balance. I cannot teach others to live joyfully and in love unless I’m doing so myself.

I’m in the business of preparing soil, so to speak. Figuring out what people, more specifically youth, need to thrive, and working toward that. How can we create an environment that is most conducive for transformation? What kind of things do I need to learn and thrive, what did I need as a teenager, and what does that tell me about what my youth need?

Since I started this whole shpeal off with a statement about understanding, I’m going to try another one. Real change and transformation can happen when there is mutual understanding between teacher and student. Of course, teachers and students are very fluid labels. I teach and learn from children, peers, and older adults as we attempt to understand each other through the art of conversation. I want the youth I teach to internalize and act on what I’m teaching them. If I want to see change in the youth, I’m going to have to understand their thinking processes, their history, what events in their past have caused them to act and think as they do now, and adjust my teaching accordingly. It seems that trying the “brute force” teaching method of me dispensing information just makes them check out. Some sort of deep connection has to take place before they can learn from me.

But I’m a scientist, so let’s talk science. Neuroscience, to be specific. Maybe biology will tell us a bit about how to connect at the deeper level.

The last seminar I attended on Saturday left me extremely excited because the leader of the seminar, Dr. Scott Larson of Straight Ahead Ministries, talked a lot about the teenage brain. Here’s the image he used:


Of course, this isn’t entirely what your brain looks like. But your brain develops from the inside out. Turns out your “thinking brain” isn’t finished developing until you’re 24-25 years old (so basically, I’m not quite there yet), and teenagers especially operate primarily out of their “survival brain.” This makes  teenagers especially difficult to deal with as they operate out of their survival brain but figure out the messy biological transition into adulthood. Ever thought your teen or young adult was overreacting to your request that they clean their room, and you have no idea why or what to do? That’s probably because their survival brain sensed danger. When your brain senses danger, it purposefully shuts off the logical part of your brain so that it can channel all of its energy to survival. Turns out you can actually train yourself to not emotionally freak out in stressful situations by forcing yourself to think about what exactly you are feeling, what triggered the emotional reaction, where you’ve felt this emotional reaction before. It may be that your brain is remembering danger from your past, which you’ll probably need to bring out and try to understand it again. Which often takes professional help (counseling). I did it and I personally think it’s helpful for everyone, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

Turns out that teenagers are not very good at engaging their logical brains like this, partially because it’s not developed yet. But if they never learn to engage their logical brain, then they become adults who don’t know how to engage their logical brain. When your brain shuts off the logical part to do its survival thing, it does that for about 20 minutes. And you can say and do a lot of very illogical and potentially harmful things in 20 minutes. So it may be best to wait for half an hour before trying to reengage.

Then you may want to ask something like, “what did you hear me say?” Because you may have said, “please clean up your room,” while your teenager may have derived from that statement (and internalized), “you never do anything right.” Then the trick is to learn to encourage and empower the teen, not to get defensive yourself. Mutual understanding is possible 🙂

Anyway, that’s pretty much the gist of what my last seminar was about. Let’s learn and do stuff together 😀


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