Your Brain’s Relational Circuits
God designed a complex network of neurological circuits to work together to help us stay relationally connected and attuned to each other. When these relational circuits are running as designed, we call this “Relational Mode.” Our emotional and relational sensitivity is working and we look at life through a relational filter. We are emotionally attuned to other people and share their pain. In this mode our identity is stable and we spread joy and life to those around us.
A surprising feature is that relational circuits can operate kind of like a circuit breaker. When we use too many electrical appliances at the same time in our kitchen, this will cause our breaker switch to pop. The electricity stays off until I find the breaker in our breaker panel and flip it back on. Similarly, in emotionally intense situations, my emotional breaker can pop. My relational circuits dim or go off entirely. Suddenly, I have difficulty feeling my connections to those around me. Relationships are no longer my first priority. I am focused on stopping pain and solving problems. I am no longer processing life through the lens of relationships.
When our circuits go off, we lose our sense of connection to people. We have difficulty sensing God’s presence, too, and we even lose our sense of connection with our bodies. This brain state is called “Enemy Mode,” because people start to feel like enemies to be defeated or problems to be solved. Most of the time, these “enemies” are people we usually like but, at that moment, don’t seem to be on our side. I might even snap at my mother if she steps on my toe.
One of the first skills we learn in full-brained discipleship is to detect when our relational circuits have shut off and learn how to turn them back on. Before doing anything else, and especially before doing something that is relationally challenging—such as resolving a conflict—we need to first revive our relational circuits. The first step in any spiritual exercise must be to inspect our relational circuits and ensure they are on. Our spiritual practices will be ineffective when these circuits are not working. Transformation depends on our relational circuits running smoothly.
Excerpted from The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation by Jim Wilder & Michel Hendricks (Moody Publishers, August 2020). Used by permission.
Jim Wilder (PhD, Clinical Psychology, and M.A. Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary) has been training leaders and counselors for over 27 years on five continents. He is the author of nine books with a strong focus on maturing and relationship skills for leaders. His coauthored book Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You has sold over 100,000 copies in eleven languages. Wilder has published numerous articles and developed four sets of video and relational leadership training called THRIVE. He is currently executive director of Shepherd’s House Inc., a nonprofit working at the intersection of brain science and theology, and founder of Life Model Works that is building contagiously healthy Christian communities through equipping existing networks with the skills to thrive. Dr. Wilder has extensive clinical counseling experience and has served as a guest lecturer at Fuller Seminary, Biola, Talbot Seminary, Point Loma University, Montreat College, Tyndale Seminary and elsewhere.
Michel Hendricks (MDiv, Denver Seminary; BS, University of Colorado) has been a teacher and trainer for more than 25 years. He is the former pastor of spiritual formation at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, CO. He has also served and trained people in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda. He is the author of Basic Training for Walking With Jesus and Intentional Apprenticeship. He and his wife, Claudia, have three adult children.