In a recent presentation to our team, the speaker, Bianca, challenged my thinking. She asked us: How is a city different from a toaster?
Admittedly, the city is clearly not a toaster. It is not a piece of machinery but an integrated system of many organic systems – including its people.
Characteristics of a Living System
According to Douglas A. Hall in “The Cat & the Toaster,” a living system has the following characteristics:
- It is created by God.
- It has a purpose.
- It is alive.
- It can die.
- It can become sick or unhealthy.
- It has an immune system.
- It can heal.
- It needs nourishment.
- It is interconnected.
As Bianca shared these characteristics, questions emerged.
What is the upper limit of these principles? Do they still apply to a state, to a nation, to a continent? Do they have the same characteristics? In my engineering mind, they do.
However, what if we press toward the lower limit – toward family, husband and wife, men, women, children – to me, individually? Do we also have these characteristics?
Individuals as Living Systems
When I search myself, I find evidence that I am a living system.
I am a creation of God. In addition to my heart’s necessity for my physical life, my heart is God-designed. He has placed deep desires and passions inside it. I have been purposely formed to carry out and impact the sphere of influence God has placed me in.
I’m alive, and my heart is alive in Christ – alive to these feelings, emotions and deep desires. However, my heart can become sick through disappointment, brokenness or wounds. I would argue that my heart can also die when crushed by life, circumstances and the actions of others, or by decisions I make to no longer feel but to bury my feelings.
My heart has an immune system that, to the best of my knowledge, is working well. However, just as a physical immune system can sometimes fail, my heart has a relational immune system that can become dysfunctional.
It can withdraw from a loving relationship or disengage in conversation, isolating me from others. It can put on a mask of false happiness or superior spirituality. In this case, it is only the mask that builds relationships and receives love. Instead of bringing life, these things impair my heart.
Fortunately, my heart can also heal. I can choose to forgive as I’ve been forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross. I can guard my heart and move toward what is helpful and profitable – basing my thoughts on truth, instead of suppositions or falsehoods.
Having just finished a day of reflection and planning, I know firsthand what it takes to nourish and feed my heart well – reflection, repentance, restoration and rest.
My heart, full of deep desires, is interconnected with all of me, and it affects those around me.
When my heart is alive in Christ, and I am listening well to God’s leading, I am able to enter my sphere of influence with strength and love, creating the opportunity for life and growth.
I’m grateful for my heart’s passion that responds more like a living system than a toaster. Here’s to living systems – both great and small!
Image Credit: Nevit Dilmen