“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30: 11–12
I saw this most clearly after they asked us to become as children for an entire day. Grown adults, playing games, gift-giving, feasting, and laughing that culminated in a dance party, where the weeping we’d done that morning was literally turned into dancing.
I felt all of the vindictiveness fall away from me. All of my anger and unforgiveness and self-pity and insecurity and overcompensation and the need to prove my worth…removed.
I buried it. I held a funeral for every negative pattern I’ve inherited, or created. Every generational curse I’ve embodied. I stood in a graveyard and delivered their eulogies.
Let me rewind.
In 2013, I flew to Anchorage, Alaska, to participate in a healing retreat an hour north of the city, in a town called Willow. It’s beautiful. I dedicated the weekend to letting go of pent-up pain through a process called Rapid Transformation Therapy, allowing the guides to lead me through an experience designed to facilitate emotional healing and release repressed emotions. I spent time away from the constant buzz of the modern world. I even went salmon fishing.
I, Craig Gross, went salmon fishing. If that doesn’t scream transformative, I don’t know what does. Always a shock jock, I know.
At the end of my experience in Alaska, I felt as though the Lord told me that it was time to step away from XXXchurch. As I write this today, that was six years ago. I’ve spoken sparingly about that still, small voice (however loudly it continued to echo after the fact) since then, only telling a handful of people.
Whether it was care or ego that kept me here for another half-decade (let’s be honest, it’s been both), I couldn’t see how it would have been possible for me to leave.
Today, though, I am finally free from my obligation to stay. Though it will be old news by the time anyone reads this chapter, I am completing this final draft on the same day that my departure from XXXchurch is announced publicly.
The official release went out about two hours ago. In it, I told whoever happens to pay attention that I feel as though the Lord has led me to take a step of faith even though I’m not quite sure where my foot is going to land. It is time to pass the torch, and one of the ways I know that to be true is because of the way God has reinforced his love for me during this season.
In many ways, I consider Alaska to be the bookend at the start of the journey that Craig Brain has been. From the moment I lay on the floor six years ago in some woman’s mountain cottage — releasing emotional pain that had finally begun to bubble up — until now, having just completed The Hoffman Process and experienced the culmination of letting go, I am a drastically different person than the man I once saw in the mirror.
It is July 12, 2019, and this will be the last journal entry that I share for this project.
This is the bookend on the opposite side of the shelf that I began constructing so long ago.
Again, it is experiential. Again, it requires uncovering pain. Again, it speaks the truth.
I want to explain The Hoffman Process. While I was at their institute in Northern California, I was given a very clear mental image of a microphone, which I took as the Lord revealing my desire to share my experiences with others, particularly if I feel it will help.
I’ve referenced Hoffman here and there. An old intern of mine was the first to bring it to my attention. Then, one of my best friends flew across the country to experience it. Then Jeanette. Then his wife followed in their footsteps.
But now that I’ve had the chance to join forty other people for a week in Napa Valley, seeking transformation, punching pillows, burying parents and rewiring our brains together, I know that this experience is my conclusion.
Sound weird? It is. But weird doesn’t mean bad, and I’d like to conclude this journey by shedding light on a process that feels as though it has only ever been shrouded in mystery. I want this to exist for myself as much as anyone else, and for the people close to me. The people who love me. The people who I love. I want my kids and my mom and my friends to be able to understand what it is, and why it holds such a place of significance in my (and Jeanette’s) life.
To borrow their explanation, “The Hoffman Process is a 7-day soul searching, healing retreat of transformation and development for people who feel stuck in one or more important areas of their lives.” It is designed to help people “make peace with their past, release negative behaviors, experience emotional healing, and forgiveness, discover their authentic selves, and improve their relationships.”
Hoffman does this through something they call the Cycle of Transformation, wherein awareness gives birth to expression gives birth to compassion and forgiveness gives birth to new behavior.
Thematically, I think awareness is the best one-word summary of my inward journey during this long, painstaking season. Over the years, I’ve added tools to my belt — The Enneagram, How We Love, and other elements that have lent themselves to self-understanding. The Hoffman Process seems to both include and transcend them all by giving people like me practical ways not just to understand, but to change.
The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12, asks that we would be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” After my week in Napa, I feel as though I have experienced the fruit of that labor for the first time in my life.
I’m not the first of my friends (or my family) to have attended the Hoffman Institute, but no one who had gone before me seemed comfortable clarifying — whether due to inability or unwillingness — what it actually is. A part of me wonders whether it is fear that drives people to silence, at least in the Christian bubble that I often find myself in. Hoffman is, admittedly, not a “Christian” process, but neither do they ostracize anyone for (or seek to replace) their faith. Instead, the process is holistic and integrative, and the language used is vague, and often more of a “fill in the blank with what you believe” — be it in Jesus or Oprah.
Knowing this, even though they discourage media in place of silence, I’m a rule-breaker, and I brought some of my favorite worship albums with me as a grounding presence during my time away. I am not afraid of interfaith experiences, but I also knew the object of mine and wanted to be sure I could take what I would learn as rooted in him.
The first of the seven-day experience is rooted in awareness. They start by asking about our patterns — learned, compulsive, automatic, and reactive behaviors — and just how aware we are of them in our lives-particularly negative patterns. The teachers help people trace their patterns back to what was ingrained in them by their parents, and their parents before them.
As for me and my negative patterns?
I’m impatient. I’m critical. I’m angry. I’m judgemental. I’m afraid of expressing myself. (When I consider that last pattern, in particular, it’s a miracle that the words you’re reading now exist at all.)
Hoffman doesn’t just help a person dissect his or her mind, though. Instead, they focus on something that they call a quadrinity: four integrative aspects of what it means to be human, including your intellect, your body, your emotional self, and your spiritual self. As you begin the process on that first day, they ask you questions like, “Why are you here? What are you trying to let go of? Where are you trying to go?” They ask you to consider each of these questions with your whole being (which is easier said than done for a guy always stuck in his brain).
It’s fascinating. All of these patterns begin to come to life, and you realize, “Wow… I’m not my dad, but I sure do look a lot like him. I’m not my mom, but I sure do function in many of the same ways that she did.”
After you’ve gone through the awareness portion of your stay, a person moves into expression. It’s an immersive experience, and the staff walks the room through something that they call “bashing.” As in: they give you a Wiffle ball bat and pillow and tell you to go to town. Imagine forty people in a room, full of rage, beating a pillow as though they were beating their past.
This was hard for me. Particularly when it came to expressing anger toward my dad. Not because my mom deserves more of it than he does, but because my dad is dead. He can’t defend himself. Eventually, one of the teachers clarified their intent: “The idea is not to villainize your parents. You’re not beating them. You don’t have to hate them. But what about the negative patterns you inherited from them? That is what we’re expressing today.”
And that was all I needed. I demolished my pillow, and I think that if my dad were alive at my side, he’d have joined me. I believe that both of my parents would appreciate my putting the worst of what they gave me to death. They’d breathe a sigh of relief watching the chains they never meant to lock, loosed. They’d be glad to know I don’t have to continue forward in the bondage they may not have been able to shake.
It’s an incredible day. An exhausting day. A painful day. A healing day. A humanizing day. An honest day. A day that ends with appreciation and gratefulness as — perhaps for the first time in our lives — we have allowed our truest emotions to surface without fear or shame. And you realize in a new and beautiful way: the truth does set you free.
The truth is, the principal, core belief that I have functioned from for most of my life is this:
I am not good enough.
Because of that lie — one that I have believed as truth for as long as I can remember — I’ve spent most of my adulthood trying to prove the opposite. Working nonstop to be something other than a failure and walking a tightrope between my marriage and my need to be perceived as successful by an audience. Overcompensating. Overproducing. Oversharing. Proving myself. Working harder.
I heard the Spirit — clear as day — tell me that “I am uniquely and wonderfully made.” I repeated it over and over and over and over and over again, and I believed him. How many nods of assent have I given to that truth as nothing more than a truism during my 43 years in this body? I finally believed it.
I am uniquely and wonderfully made. I don’t need to prove my worth to anyone. I am accepted and loved not because of what I do, but because of who I am.
In all honesty, my intellect continues to fight against this truth. To reject it. But I felt forgiveness — true forgiveness — unlike any I’ve ever experienced in this life. Forgiveness for the ways that I’ve failed to be “good enough,” and proceeded to whip myself day in and day out, trying harder to cover up my shame and feelings of worthlessness. Forgiveness for the ways that I have failed as a husband and a father and a friend and a son.
That night, as I lay in bed, I listened to my worship music, and the lyrics resounded, “I am washed in the blood of the lamb, and through his scars, I am innocent.”
I believed it. I’m 43 years old, and I’ve been telling people this truth since I was a child, but I finally believed it for myself.
And I am convinced that I have never known peace like this before. Peace as it now rests upon me. I am washed in the blood of the lamb, and through his blood, I am innocent.
The following day, you give your unwanted, negative patterns and untrue beliefs a literal funeral. We were taken to a graveyard, told to separate from one another and find a tombstone that would act as our common burial grounds for the damaging imprints we’ve carried since childhood, and instructed to eulogize them.
Perhaps even more beautiful than the awareness I’ve received through this process of self-exploration is the compassion and forgiveness that I’ve been allowed to experience. For myself, yes, but also for my parents. All of us have suffered, and I’m learning how to replace blame with understanding. The point of all of this childhood excavation is not to make an enemy of your mom and dad, but to understand that they, too, are a product of their parents’ love (or lack thereof). When I “buried” their negative imprints that day, I wept every bit as much over the pain that they had to live with as I did over my own. While I rejoice that Jeanette and I have been relentless about pursuing healing from wounds and restoration in our marriage, I mourned the fact that my parents didn’t have the tools to salvage theirs.
That day, I said goodbye to the patterns created by pain in the Gross family.
“I’m burying these patterns, mom. I’m burying these patterns, dad. They’re not coming home with me.”
My kids aren’t inheriting them. I know I’m not perfect. I know Jeanette isn’t perfect. I know we’ll pass on our own set of problems to Nolan and Elise, but these generational lies stop with me.
They’re in the ground.
The fourth and final step in Hoffman’s Cycle of Transformation is new behavior. I can think of no better example, personally, than that with which I started this chapter: dancing.
I grew up a baptist. I wasn’t allowed to dance. You should see me try, rigid as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. (But what better analogy for a man like me, in search of his heart?)
During one of our dance parties at Hoffman, I watched a man dance with what I can only call reckless abandon. Maybe something like King David, embarrassing his wife as he danced before the Lord. I remember thinking, “I want to be free like that.”
Hoffman teaches something called recycling, which is — essentially — a way to change your brain. You visualize a scenario that you’d like to change because you know it to be associated with a negative pattern. You picture the moment as it occurred, and then “go back in time” to see where that pattern — which affected the way you acted on that occasion — came from. How does it make you feel? Then, when “recycling” that pattern, you replace the feeling with what you would prefer to feel and with who you would prefer to be.
Case in point, when I saw that guy dancing, I thought, “I could never do that,” and immediately knew that if I was truly going to go all-in on The Hoffman Process — to truly put this experience to the test — I had to do exactly that.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the negative patterns I identified was a fear of expressing myself. So, in recycling, I took the fear, traced it back to where it came from, replaced it with confidence and visualized myself going wild, free from shame, embarrassment, not-good-enoughness.
I’ve never danced with such freedom in my life. And I knew, in all of my “undignified” rejoicing, that I was being made new.
I was being set free.
The next day — in my freedom — I broke a rule. I left the campground, and I brought my phone with me.
Months prior, a journalist named Jonathan Merrit wrote an article about some crazy “ex-pastor of pornography” who had undertaken some crazy new endeavor — Christian Cannabis. He hoped it might get picked up by The New York Times, but every scheduled opportunity kept getting pushed back, buried beneath more pressing news that took priority. That day, there was a possibility it would finally make headlines.
And I sat on the side of the road and cried.
I cried because the Lord’s timing — like a cliché — is perfect.
I cried because six years ago, he told me that it was time for me to step away from XXXchurch and into something new.
I cried because I didn’t know what that meant, or how to do it, and six years is a long time to feel stuck in limbo.
I cried because I still had so much to learn.
I cried because I still had so much to unlearn.
I cried because that article, posted like a finish line, represented the culmination of so many terrifying decisions taken in faith that this was a direction the Lord had been leading me.
I cried because my wife and I are more united than we’ve ever been.
I cried because Hoffman helped her learn how to forgive, and I cried because it helped me accept forgiveness.
I cried because the Lord took my shame away. Because he buried it and stands victorious over it.
I cried because he has made me new. Because of what that means for my wife. My kids. My family.
I cried because I knew that this was the bookend.
I could go home a new man.
I could breathe.
I was clean.
I don’t expect everyone to understand, but I needed to write this out. I needed to articulate the conclusion to a long chapter of life, and turn the page.
I needed to speak “the end.”
But I also needed to speak “the beginning.”
For twenty years, I’ve defined myself by what I’m against. For the next twenty, I’m going to define myself by what I’m for. For twenty years, I’ve been trying to work to prove my worth. For the next twenty, I’m going to work out of the worth I know is inherent to who I am, fearfully and wonderfully made.
I am not running away anymore — I am running toward.
I left Hoffman that day with a promise, and I’d like to pay it forward to you, too:
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free, indeed…”