After the discipline of writing and editing, it was a relief to shift attention to the book cover. Working with color and shapes felt like being on the playground compared to months of staring at my black and white manuscript. BTB – Before the Book – my primary creative outlet was oil painting. (The process of learning to paint as an adult with zero artistic background is the subject for another post!) My favorite part of painting is playing with color. But I digress.
I knew I wanted the cover to feel organic, and that was the extent of the input I gave Adam (my source for editing/layout/cover design and one of the essential partners for this project). His initial designs helped me recognize that we needed an organic element representing core themes in the book. My other indispensable partner, Google, provided an array of “triangular-shaped flowers,” and the first one that caught my eye was the one we ended up choosing.
Why a triangle?
In the book, I introduce a concept called multiplicity, a new way of understanding ourselves, but not a new way, for Christians, of understanding God. Our God is multiple – Source of Love, Revealer of Love, Presence of Love – one God in three persons. They are in an eternal loving relationship, connected yet distinct in their form and function.
Their loving relationships are a model for us. In fact, Jesus said this kind of loving relationship is life (Luke 10:28). He taught that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). God, our neighbors, ourselves. There’s another triangle.
When Jesus defined loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves as the way of life, he got some pushback. “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Wait a minute Jesus. Let’s put some boundaries around love. This is starting to feel a bit overwhelming. And I’m much more in tune with my failings than I am with reasons I should love myself. That really makes me uncomfortable.
When we contemplate the Great Commandment, the reactions we have when we hear Jesus saying, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28), deserve our attention. Turning our attention to those reactions is the first step in loving ourselves.
The model I introduce in the book, called Internal Family Systems (IFS), brings the concept of multiplicity to our inner experience. If God is multiple, and we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), then it makes sense that we are also multiple. The IFS model’s perspective is that we have different parts of ourselves, different family members, who have different functions.* Ideally, they work in harmony. And that is often the case.
However, none of us escape adversity in life. And when we experience adversity, we take on burdens. In the book, I explore adversity and how it impacts us. It shapes our inner family, just like the experiences we have in our families of origin, and our nuclear families shape each of us.
As a result of our experiences, there are three distinct types of members of our “inner family”: a leader, protectors, and exiles. Exiles are members of our inner family who hold pain from life’s experiences. Protectors are afraid of the pain, so they work valiantly to shield us from it – to exile it. Loving ourselves is a spiritual practice of restoring leadership in our inner family that draws on our resources as image-bearers filled with the Spirit so we can develop relationships with our inner family members. They are the ones having the reactions to something as challenging as loving our neighbor, to loving without limits.
Take another look at the flower. Notice the layers of triangles, distinct yet connected. It is a beautiful representation of our connection with God, one another, and ourselves. I hope that the spiritual practice I introduce in the book will help you experience deeper relationships in all three dimensions: with yourself, with God, and with others.
* Part Three of the book presents the integration of the IFS model with Christianity.