Restoring with Michael John Cusick

“Restoring” with Michael John Cusick

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 15
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 15: “Restoring”, with Michael John Cusick was released on April 19, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

In this week’s episode, ~ing host Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards is joined by Rev. Michael John Cusick, a Licensed Professional Counselor, spiritual director, speaker, and author of two books including Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle and Somebody’s Daughter: An Experiential Guide. He is also the founder and CEO of Restoring the Soul, an intensive counseling ministry aimed at restoring relationships. Having experienced the restoring touch of God in a deeply broken life and marriage, Michael’s passion is to connect life’s broken realities with the reality of the gospel. He is also a podcaster over at the Restoring the Soul podcast.

Michael John Cusick, Amy Julia Becker, Dennis Edwards, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world.

Michael John Cusick  00:27
The future of the church flourishing, is embodied spirituality. Because we live in a time of trauma. We live in a time where all of the reactivity and the dualism of us and them and me and you and good and bad and right and left, all of that comes out of a restlessness inside of us that the intellect and more doctrine, and more putting information in is not going to penetrate that

Ben Wideman  00:57
Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.

Dennis Edwards  01:04
Hi, I’m Dennis Edwards, Associate Professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary. And by delighted to have a conversation with Michael John Cusick, founder and CEO of Restoring the Soul. Michael, welcome.

Michael John Cusick  01:19
Thank you, Dr. Edwards. It’s great to be on your podcast.

Dennis Edwards  01:24
Well, we’ve had several conversations… and and you can call me, Dennis! Michael, even though we haven’t met in real life. I’ve been so grateful for this connection that I feel like we’ve established since you first invited me on your podcast, I think I’ve been on a couple of times. But can you tell us right away what Restoring the Soul ministry is and and then we’ll get a little bit more into your own background.

Michael John Cusick  01:49
Yeah, thanks for asking. Restoring the Soul is a ministry based here in Denver, Colorado, where I live. And we are a ministry of intensive counseling, where we started out 20 years ago offering soul care and clinical counseling to pastors, missionaries, Christian leaders of nonprofits, both around the world and here in the States. And then about 10 years ago, we grew so much that we started to open up our services of intensive counseling to folks from all walks of life that are not in ministry, and we’re a nonprofit organization. So we provide the care at a reduced cost to Christian leaders. And it’s a Monday through Friday program, usually for two weeks at a time where people can, in meeting and half day blocks do a really deep dive into their current story, and understand some of the ways that their past has shaped them. So we really help Christian leaders get unstuck, from relational issues, spiritual issues, trauma, addictions, and working with couples and individuals. It’s really neat to see how God brings healing to people and wholeness out of some of the very worst moments of their lives.

Dennis Edwards  03:06
Wow, healing wholeness, we’re going to talk about that a bit more. But I get the feeling from the conversations we’ve had, Michael, that your own story is intertwined with restoring the soul ministry. And I wondered how if you’d be comfortable sharing just more about your own spiritual journey? And and maybe how it does connect with restoring the soul?

Michael John Cusick  03:31
Yeah, absolutely. I have a couple of graduate degrees where I’m trained in pastoral counseling and counseling psychology. But it really is my story that that has shaped who I am and what I do. What we practice here at Restoring the Soul is what I have developed called ICSC, which is just an acronym for integrated clinical soul care. So on the clinical side, it’s looking at Trauma Informed counseling and understanding the brain and interpersonal neurobiology, and all the cutting edge stuff around, really helping people get traction move forward, but also the sole care piece is looking at current and historical, spiritual direction and spiritual formation and contemplative spirituality, which really addresses how we form our inner life in Christ, how we become whole persons from the inside out. And kind of a less is more approach. I got into that because I’ve been a licensed therapist since 1994. But I was kind of primed to be a psychotherapist. I went to my first AA meeting when I was five years old, where my dad was working two full time jobs. I was the youngest of five Irish Catholic kids and an alcoholic family. So the only way my dad could get time with me and the other kids was to take us to AA meetings, which he would do in his spare time. And he would go and fold chairs and make coffee and things like that. At age nine, my family moved across the country. There were no Drug Rehabs at that time, and I had a brother six years older than me who has since passed. But when he was 15, and I was nine, we moved across the country to this family drug rehab program. So AA at five, family drug rehab at nine, l add, because it’s just colorful, living in a trailer park during that time at the family drug rehab, and then my own life because of some early sexual abuse. Around the age of 16, I really became sexually addicted prior to the internet, thankfully, because I don’t know if I’d be alive, but I developed a double life. And that escalated and was hidden for years and years, all the way into my marriage. Three years into my marriage, I blew up my marriage, and my double life was discovered. And thankfully, Julianne and I are celebrating 30 years, this month of the redemption and the restoration of our marriage. So a lot of back to your question of what I do professionally, is my own journey. And then in the middle of all that, my my background, before I started this organization was I was an academic, I was a full time assistant professor for five years. And then for the past 20 years, I’ve been an adjunct. So I’ve really been thinking deeply about change, transformation, psychology, spirituality, and I’m pretty much obsessed with the question. What does God do with brokenness, and as people were broken as our culture were broken, and that’s why Dennis had been so drawn to you and to your writings, and especially when we connected over Might from the Margins, because you give a theological foundation to the whole cruciform idea that it’s in God’s brokenness, and in his humiliation that he both most deeply reveals his heart and what he’s like, but he sets the tone for this idea that brokenness is not a barrier, but it’s the bridge to knowing God and being fruitful in the world.

Dennis Edwards  07:15
Yeah, oh, my goodness. Not a barrier, but a bridge. I really liked that, Michael, and thank you for being so open about the journey you’ve been on. I think that in itself, is refreshing and helpful for so many of us. Yeah. You know, in your openness, talking about the lessons you’ve learned in the, in the, in the brokenness of humanity. You do talk a lot about healing and about restoring and about restoration. And you you call your ministry Restoring the Soul. So so so what’s the soul?

Michael John Cusick  07:52
That’s a that’s a really important question. If you were to ask a random group, you’ll generally get something like the part of us that when we die, it goes to heaven.

Dennis Edwards  08:02
I’ve heard that many times.

Michael John Cusick  08:03
Mm hmm. Yeah. And you know, pray for the soul. When I was a kid growing up Catholic, I remember my grandma would add on to the standard prayer blesses the Lord. And he’s like, guess what you’re about to receive from the body through Christ our Lord, amen. But that was the first rap song by the way. And, and then she would add on, and we pray for the souls of the faithfully departed. And so I always thought about, okay, the soul is what departs after death. And so to talk about richly, and feel free to jump in with your knowledge of the New Testament, but I think we have to delineate between the Greek idea of soul and then the Hebrew idea of soul. And interestingly, about two years ago, a friend, who’s a huge Wall Street Journal junkie, sent me an article that Wall Street Journal wrote called the business world, the marketplace is reclaiming the Hebrew idea of soul. And the title was something like that. And what what it said, and this just backed up what I’ve been teaching for years, the Greek idea of souls very rationalistic. And it’s typically mind, emotions. And well, we think we feel we choose, the Hebrew idea of soul is far more holistic, and it’s the body, the mind, the emotion and the will. And if you have a soul idea, if you think of a human person in terms of just mind, emotions, and will, then you get into this dualistic reality, that body bad spirit good, that spirituality cannot bump up against your humanity, because our humanity is physical, and it’s matter and therefore we should overcome that, when in fact, maturity in Christ is becoming more human, not less human. Yeah. And so thinking of the soul holistically like this is and this is especially important to therapy and trauma in the world world. Living in today is to have an embodied spirituality, a spirituality that begins and ends in our body as we’re here on Earth, so that if I am restless, and I have tension in my chest, and in my shoulders, and in my jaw, I recently got diagnosed with TMJ, I don’t know what that stands for trans tibial, or something, but I couldn’t open my jaw one day. And I had to, like, keep putting and small things. And they said, we’ll go do this, this and this and nothing helped. Ultimately, they said, it’s stress, and you grind your teeth at night. And so what’s happening in me emotionally, spiritually relationally, how I live the rhythms and patterns of my life that gets played out in my body, right? And if we can actually start with the body’s this container on the outside and say, What does my body tell me about my soul? It was Thomas Merton, who first said that all Christian spirituality is simply about what we do with the restlessness in our soul. So what do we do with the restlessness in our body? And I think these are such crucial questions, you know, you’re a theologian, and you’re asking what is the soul, but Freud and others started out a hundred and some years ago, and psychology was the study of the soul.

Dennis Edwards  11:23
Wow. That’s, that’s really helpful. I think, in my own journey, I’m, I’m learning how folks in your field use the term mindfulness a lot and and there’s this sense of paying more attention to your to what’s going on in your body that that actually, I’m learning to practice now, even at my age to pay more attention to my body, because it does relate to how I’m feeling in my mind and everything else. The the connection that you put there, I think, I think you’re right, especially from a New Testament perspective, because we get to Gnosticism from that dualism that you were talking about. So what’s the restoration look like?

Michael John Cusick  12:08
That’s, that’s another really big question. Because at least in my circles, people will talk about restoration and doing a ministry of restoration. And I, sometimes one of my spiritual gifts is the gift of messing with people. So I’ll stop. And I’ll just say, so tell me what you mean by restoration. And it’s like, well, you know, restoration. No, tell me more. Well, you know, like, how so and so talks about restoration. So first, let me say that back to your idea of mindfulness in the body. I don’t say this in any kind of prophetic way. But I say it in a predictive way. And that is that in the American church, I think the future of the church flourishing is embodied spirituality. Because we live in a time of trauma. We live in a time where all of the reactivity and the dualism of us and them and me and you and good and bad and right and left, all of that comes out of a restlessness inside of us, that the intellect and more doctrine, and more putting information in is not going to penetrate that. And so restoration is closing the gap between on the one hand, and if people were watching this as a video, or if I was at a whiteboard, I draw continuum, but on the left side of the continuum, is what we believe. And historically, especially in modernism in the 20th and 21st century, what we believe we nail that down, right, with our left brain and modern evangelical Christians, we’ve got podcasts and Christian bookstores and videos, and you know, how many different Bible translations and so we believe, and we know here, and we claim to have certainty and accuracy about that right belief. But then on the other end of the continuum, it’s not belief, but it’s experience. And our experience is for 99.9% of people. It’s radically different from what they believe. For me, I remember the day, I had been a Christian about eight years, from high school into early college, I’m standing in a worship service. And they were singing As the deer pants for water. so my soul pants after the and I got to the line of and nothing I desire compares with you. And as soon as I spoke those words, I said to myself, I don’t believe that, and that’s not true. And then I started thinking about it, and I thought, actually, I do believe that deep deep down in my heart, I believe that that nothing compares with God, but man, that’s not my experience. Because I was addicted to porn. And because I would, I would I would be seeking out hookups and I had such profound shame on the inside. And I didn’t understand the difference between guilt and shame. So I’d read first John one, nine, and I would confess 100 times in 24 hours, like Martin Luther, and, and then I wouldn’t feel forgiven, I wouldn’t feel cleansed. And so it was the shame that was lingering. They’re these these lies of the enemy that have been kind of like arrows shot into my wounds. So this is a big paradigm as I work with people. So I’m always thinking about what’s the gap between what they, what they have as their life, vision, their kingdom vision, if we could say it that way, what they believe and then what they experience. And if Jesus says, The truth sets us free, a lot of times we define the truth that sets us free as God’s word. So I just need to get more and more of His Word into me, which is what I do. But I’m convinced in the context of that passage in John eight, as well, it’s just a bigger idea of truth, that God is concerned with us dealing with our truth. So it’s you and I have had conversations about what it’s like for you to be a black man in the last two to three years, much less for your whole life. And you have to deal with the emotional realities of that. And the intellectual incongruence between what you believe the scripture say and what your experiences. That’s the truth that sets us free. And the truth that set me free, wasn’t just got to get more of God’s truth in But will I tell the truth? Can I tell the truth about my own story? And then can I be humble enough? And I understand you’re writing a book on humility? Can I be humble enough to trust God with who I actually am? And with what’s actually broken instead of going, Okay, God, I’m going to try to fix this and clean this up, and then you and I can be connected. And I think this is so important, because to your question, the very first thing toward restoration is to tell the truth.

Dennis Edwards  16:57

Michael John Cusick  16:57
And to tell truth about ourself. But this is, this is how we heal racism.

Dennis Edwards  17:05

Michael John Cusick  17:06
What would what would happen? If myself and 10,000 other Christian leaders got up on stage white men of privilege and said, Hi, my name is Michael, and I’m a racist. Yeah, and, and I am standing here before you saying I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how to change. I don’t know how to get these reactions, feelings, thoughts out of my head, my body, etc. But here I am. And Jesus, please heal me instead of starting with. And I’m really, really sorry. And I’m going to work toward reconciliation, that penance, that’s a kind of sophisticated, putting the cart before the horse. So the truth is so ugly, that we often say we we love the truth, but we don’t.

Dennis Edwards  17:46
How might you see what you’re talking about this, this holistic notion of restoration, the other images that you’ve you use? How much you just kind of address the divisions within us, are among us in with the tools that you’re describing for us?

Michael John Cusick  18:11
I think that the divisions that we see among us, and you’re so right, right now, political and racial, seem to be the two most painful, and the two that are getting so much attention, and rightly so. The division between men and women, the division between conservative and liberal. And I think that all of those divisions are extensions of the divisions within ourself. Because the unity of the Trinity has to be our model to go back to, you know, so I’ve not heard a lot of conversation around racial healing, and gender healing, of people saying, well, let’s take a long, hard gaze at the Trinity. And again, Dallas Willard said, the question, what is the Trinity? you know, three persons one substance, blah, blah, blah, parsing out, you know, whether they’re subordination or equality. He said, those questions are not helpful. But the question that’s helpful is, What is life like within the Trinity? What must it be like? And see, the divisions in our world are very unlike the Trinity, so the life that it’s like, and of course, I have not even scratched the scratch on the top of the surface, is that it’s three separate people, persons in one united substance. And so what would happen if Republicans and Democrats said we are separate, we are different. Our goal sitting down is to be one. And what would happen If men and women and straight conservative and transgender people sat down and they said Our goal is to be one to love one another, to basically sit down not with an agenda to get you to agree with me, but to be other centered, and how can I serve you? How can I know you? How can I understand more? How can I help you thrive? And that can sound so idealistic?

Dennis Edwards  20:27

Michael John Cusick  20:28
That can’t happen cognitively or intellectually or through information, it can only happen experientially. And generally, it will only happen through a kind of radical humility, that generally only comes through a person suffering, or failure, or shame or something like that. Now, I have to be the first guy to say I can talk about this, and I might be able to articulate it. But I have my own little special prejudices right now. So I mean, I could go off on Donald Trump, or Joe Biden doesn’t matter which one and say, Here’s how wrong I think they are and everything. And then I’ve become the very thing that I’m hating. And I’m not saying there’s not a place for criticism, but if my own heart is not to put their best interest, to want to bless, then I’m somehow in a place where I’m unable to love them. And I remember you and I talked about in my podcast, this needing to be attached to the outcome. And so if I’m, if I have to be attached to the outcome of my political party has to win, or this Congressman needs to vote this way, then I can’t love them, because I need something from them. And there needs to be an inner freedom to be able to sit down and love in this kind of a way.

Dennis Edwards  21:51
Yeah. Wow. Whew! Inner freedom, love these are good words, man. I’m appreciative of that. Well, Michael, there’s, I mean, we could we could talk for a long time. And maybe we’ll have to have another conversation because I see a lot of places of intersection between what you’re doing and other areas of study, whether they’re theological, biblical, sociological, there’s just a lot of places where we could go, but let me let me just ask as we wrap up, what, what? What’s percolating right now for you? And? And what maybe would you like to leave our listeners with, and let them know how they can find what you’re up to and and what you’re working on?

Michael John Cusick  22:39
I think the thing that’s most percolating in my heart right now, is this idea of union with God. It’s what I’ve been thinking about writing about. I have a book that I’m almost ready to present to a publisher, this will be my second full book, and it’s called Love has you. And there’s a famous Franciscan, who when I wrote my first book, I sent them a copy because they had done some writing. And they were kind enough to write back and the little sign off simply said, Love, has you. Wow. And I made a note of that. And so this idea, I think, that across the spectrum of belief and orthodoxy and left and right, the core idea and the core message of the cross, when Jesus hangs there, or when we see the cross, and that symbolizes the resurrected Jesus, it’s this idea of God whispering to you, I’ve got you, I got you. I’ve got your shame. I’ve got the pain. And there’s four components in attachment theory, that allow us to have a secure base, knowing that the caregiver or the adult or even our spouse is there, every human being has this need to be seen, soothe, safe and secure, seen, soothe safe and secure. And my argument in the book, through a lot of memoir, and story and unpacking scripture is that to the degree that we have been seen, soothe safe and secure on an earthly basis in our real relationships on the horizontal here, and now. That’s the degree to which we will be able to actually experience and attach to God in a way where internally, it’s just this done deal. There’s a knowledge instead of a belief, and we exhale, and we go. Love has me. And when we question that we hear this whisper from within, in this place of union where love says, I’ve got you, I’ve got you. And we do all of our praying and saying we want to glorify Him and how much we love His Word. And we hear this whisper that is my paraphrase of Psalm 4610. Be still and know that I’m God. It’s the whisper of the God that looks like Jesus going So I’ve got you, I’ve got you. And that is the same as a child being held by the parent. And this is why this is why it struck me. Jesus says, If you want to enter the kingdom, you’ve got to become like a little child, a little child. And so I’m using and thinking about kind of human development and interpersonal neurobiology and attachment theory and applying that not the first person to do it, to our spirituality. And I think that’s what’s lacking the division, the controversy, it’s people that need to be seen, because they’re desperate, they’ve never been seen. They need to be soothed by having a certain outcome and keeping those those bad people with certain skin color, ethnic backgrounds, socio economic level, keeping them in their place, and need to be safe by having certainty and boundaries that we can control. And then that gives security. And the Lord says, Nope, I’m your stronghold. I’m your safe place. And if we just try to get that left brain cognitively, it’ll never sink in to where it will overflow. So thanks for asking that question. Because that’s what that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning these days. And then all of this gets boiled down to a very practical level of sitting with people and trying to help restore their souls in their marriages.

Dennis Edwards  26:28
Well, Michael, thank you for for sharing so much so honestly, and forthrightly and, and sensitively for us, how can people find you, if they’re looking on on the internet or on social media?

Michael John Cusick  26:45
Our website for the ministry is And we also have a podcast that has been just a huge surprise in terms of the response. And we have a weekly episode, where have people on like you that are writers, authors, thought leaders, and then I have a lot of my own content that I introduced there. But that’s the restoring the soul podcast that’s on Apple and all of the others. And then I have a personal website, Michael John Cusack, where people can reach me for speaking and training and that kind of thing, but restoring souls, mainly the intensive counseling programs that we do with leaders and folks from around the world.

Dennis Edwards  27:26
Thank you very much.

Ben Wideman  27:29

Next week on ~ing Podcast we’re joined by writer and speaker, Amy Julia Becker.

Amy Julia Becker  27:35
I’m thinking also about the number of references to the body in Scripture. There is, you know, very famous verse where Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.” And that is literally something I now pray when I feel my shoulders getting really tight, right. And I asked myself that question like, What yoke am I taking on myself right now that I don’t need to?

Ben Wideman  28:02
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at