The Unintended Christmas Present


Browsing through the bookstore at the Internal Family Systems conference, my eyes locked on The Spirit-Led Life, A Christian Encounter with Internal Family Systems. I noticed the author, Mary Steege, a Presbyterian minister with a Master of Divinity degree from Duke University was also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Credentials matter to me. When a person promulgates ideas, I want to know that they have actually studied their topic rather than just pontificating about their opinion. Moreover, I am bit leery of Christian-based beliefs fearing that I will be ostracized or judged if I do not perceive God in the same orthodox Christian way that they do, which happened in my own family.

So I judge and reject them, the Christian, before they have had a chance to judge and reject me. It is both annoying and somewhat amusing to me how I project onto others the very thing that I need to work on. Ah yes, the inflexible tenacity of my long held beliefs (parts).

Wrestling my hesitation to the ground, I finally bought the book for my much-loved son-in-law, Carl, an assistant Baptist minister. I rationalized that the book would explain the work that I do in a more acceptable manner than if I just used my own “un-Christian” words. I can be such a coward at times.

My son-in-law is the most non-judgmental Christian I have ever met, exemplifying what Christ meant when he preached love, tolerance and acceptance. Yet my previous experience has been that when you start talking about “parts” to Christians, they sometimes get nervous thinking that the devil is at work. That is as scary for them as their anticipated reaction is to me. It’s a wonder any of us communicate.

But I really love my son-in-law and wanted to find a common ground for us to discuss things of God. Carl has a Master’s degree from Bob Jones University and I have a Master’s degree in Theology from Seattle University. While both universities are Christian based, Carl was trained to understand the Bible as the absolute word of God while I was trained to understand the Bible more as an expression of people’s experiences of God. Talk about being worlds apart.

So how in the world could one book bridge such differences?

I don’t know but Mary Steege managed the impossible.

During my morning meditations I noticed my eyes coveting Carl’s intended Christmas present.

You guessed it. I started reading this book.

I fell in love with the humorously poignant words written in this book. Then I lost my nerve to give it to Carl so I covertly left the book on the coffee table during his visit. Well, being that it just ‘happened’ to be lying on the coffee table, and him being a Christian and all, he couldn’t help but read it. He loved it. This is some book, I tell you.

Delighted beyond words, I finally admitted to Carl that I had bought the book for him. He took it home and I promptly ordered six more to share with my colleagues.

Mary Steege talks about her experience of God being like the “…coyote Christ, cousin to the Native American trickster—a Jesus who turns up in so many disguises that I have learned now to look for him everywhere. Just when I catch a glimpse, just when divine nature is revealed, he laughs outright, and then he’s off again.”

Can you imagine? An “eclectic-lover-of-the-mystery-of God”  found common ground with a fundamentalist Christian. When two ends of the spiritual continuum come together it’s like the Red Sea parting. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as my very Catholic, Irish grandmother used to say.


The Spirit-Led Life: Christianity and the Internal Family System [Paperback]

Mary K Steege (Author), Richard C. Schwartz Ph.D. (Contributor)



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  1. Ron Kelley says:

    Understanding that your son-in-law, and others, do in fact believe that the bible is the true word of God, I am reminded that as the Old Testament was written over a period of around 300-1000 B.C., and the New Testament was written during the last half of the 1st century A.D., neither was actually during Jesus’ life–should we presume that it is His word we are believing. If it is the belief of some of your school that the Bible(s) represent (essentially) how people experienced what they knew of His teachings, then I can understand where a conflict would come in.

    This may not be totally germane to your column, but I found your comparison interesting.


  2. I was really cnfoeusd, and this answered all my questions.

  3. Dawn,
    I’m late on responding to this one but it is my favorite so far. The Spirit-Led Life is a favorite of mine. I relate to Mary’s journey and how she recieves direction. My internal guidance system seems to include the Coyote Christ and the Holy Canary. Sometimes though the voices or waves of feelings coming from my alienated or fear driven parts jams the radar and I have to just breathe through the ride until I can hear or feel my spirit enfused Self. gayle

    • Hi Gayle,

      Like I said in a earlier post, this is how it is for everyone unless they are lying, in denial or on their way to ascension.

      The point is that we become aware of our parts (unconscious aspects) such that we decrease our displaced feelings onto others.

      Thank you for commenting.

      Warmest regards, dawn

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