Jesus: Standing and Serving on His Own Two Feet

The concept of “differentiation of self” was formally defined, explored, and explained by the late Murray Bowen, one of the great minds and founding grandfathers of the field of marriage and family therapy. While his mind and insights were incredibly keen, he wrote on a level that has been very difficult for most folks to easily understand and apply in a practical, meaningful way. Thankfully, others have picked up his torch and found more accessible ways to share his light with the world. I am grateful to find myself in this succession of torch-bearers, and I would like to share a bit with you today about what I have learned regarding the process and power of differentiation.

Here is my best definition of Differentiation: Standing on one’s own two feet. Speaking and acting with calm, courageous, honest integrity, despite any pressures being applied by people or circumstances outside oneself. Being who you know you should be in all circumstances, regardless of whether others praise, criticize, or ignore.

OK, so if you’re like me, you conquered this differentiation thing a long time ago, and always live according to this standard. Yeah, right!!! With the best of intentions, I continue to fall so short of this way of living in so many different circumstances. At the same time, I am grateful to say I am growing, and I come closer to this ideal more often today than in years past. Part of my growth has come through reading and studying about differentiation and related principles, through my academic and ongoing professional training and practice. Most of my growth has come through two far more powerful teachers – life experience and real life mentors.

Through every challenge, failure, and victory I have experienced in my life, I have had one great mentor there for me. He has shown me the best example I could possibly find. He has believed in me, and offered me a steady presence of loving, devoted encouragement. He has even forgiven me of every one of my mistakes and failures, including the ones so heinous I have almost been crushed under the weight of their shame. This mentor is Jesus, the only perfect example of human life and differentiation who has ever walked the planet. I will be sharing more later, but consider today the following glimpses into the life of my ultimate example.

Matthew 3:13-4:11 This portion of Matthew’s gospel story tells of the baptism of Jesus and how he then passed the test of forty days of fasting and temptation in the desert. Standing on your own two feet, going toe to toe with Satan, and coming out standing unharmed with your Enemy reeling takes all the calm, courageous, honest integrity one could possibly muster, along with a humble willingness to submit to God’s way of life. Read the story for yourself to catch the details, but I want to point out one factor I believe played a critical role in equipping Jesus to grow to such strength of differentiation and faithfulness. According to this story, when Jesus came up out of the water of the Jordan River, “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Tell me that didn’t go miles toward empowering him to stand on his own two feet!!!

John 2:23-25 “Now while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” Another WOW! passage for me. He did not look to anyone on earth for approval. He already had all the approval he would ever need, and he knew how much man’s approval was really worth, anyway – not enough to sustain him for the mission for which he was born!

John 13:2-5 Here we have perhaps the most widely cited example of service in the Bible – Jesus washing the feet of his friends. But notice the frame of mind that provided the foundation for Jesus offering this humble act of service: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God…” Because Jesus knew beyond a shadow of a doubt who he was, and what kind of power, authority, and influence he held in his two mighty hands. . .he was able to stand on his own two feet, drop to his own two knees, and serve with his own two hands in an act that would only be performed by one whose primary lot in life was to be a servant.

And we haven’t even discussed his constant testing by haughty religious leaders, doubt-filled, short-sighted followers, and the ultimate torturous end to the only perfect life ever lived. Jesus, differentiated? Beyond comparison!

For more, you might want to check out the following:

“If” by Rudyard Kipling (third poem from the top on my “poems for inspiration” page)

“Self Differentiation: An Essential Attitude for Healthy Leadership”

“Jesus and Differentiation of Self in the New Testament Gospels”

“Secret Ambition” video by Michael W. Smith

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