God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Saint Augustine

But to truly to be in relationship with God, what I have learned in walking this path with many in my practice as a counselor, my work as a pastor, and in my own life, is that your relationship to him needs to change in a unique and specific way. Let me describe what I mean by this. Within psychology, there is a theory called Transactional Analysis and it attempts to explain how we can experience relationships in a mature way. The psychologist Eric Berne in the 1960’s created this theory in which he hypothesized that we use “roles” in adulthood with the different types of relationships we have, be that with our parents, our spouse, our kids, our boss—with anyone who is in our life. The theory uses the analogy of the relationship between a parent and the child. Typically, according to Transactional Analysis, there are three different personalities or roles (Berne called them ego-states) that we use throughout life in the relationships we have:

  • The Parent: the role in which you will mimic how a typical parental figure behaves (e.g., instructing, talking down to the other person, always trying to control the situation, disciplining for bad behaviors, dominating the relationship, etc.)
  • The Child: the role in which you will regress to a place in which you behave and feel as a typical child might (e.g., allowing yourself to be talked down to, often being fearful or feeling inadequate around another person, letting yourself be controlled by the other person, rarely voicing your real opinion to the other person, etc.)
  • The Adult: the role in which you are “yourself”—you offer your own opinion freely; you are able to enter into conflict and disagree with the other person; you are authentic in how you are around the person; you are confident in yourself in all circumstances.

To try to make sense of all of that is above, the premise simply refers to how we act in the relationships around us—whether it is with your spouse or someone you work with—do you act like a parent, a child or do you act in a healthy way, like an adult. A real-life example of this is when I met with an attorney as a client a while back. He was a well-known defense attorney who was highly sought after and accomplished in his work. However, one of the issues that came out in counseling is that if he was ever around his dad, he would inevitably act like the thirteen year old boy he used to be. In part, his father dominated him, but in the same degree, he would also allow the relationship to continue in this unhealthy way. When he was with his dad, he would always play the part of a child who always needs help or was never quite sure of himself. Whenever he was around his dad, he was always walking on eggshells, never said what he really wanted to say, and could never really be himself. For him, his father was not a friend, and primarily that was because they didn’t have a real relationship where they could talk to one another about anything as adults. His dad had remained the parent and he continued to act like a child.

As a counselor, we encourage clients caught in these relationships to use the premise of Transactional Analysis and to act like an adult when confronted with these types of relationships and situations. We literally ask them to change the role they are playing in the relationship. In this case, when this client spent time with his dad, he needed to stay in the character of the lawyer who he was Monday to Friday and not the apprehensive teenage boy he was so many years earlier. Around his father, he needed to be sure of himself and speak what was really on his mind. Simply put, he needed to act like an adult when he was around his dad. Often, it can be the mere recognition of the role the person is playing (i.e., in this case, this man was staying in the role of the child) that people can begin to act differently in these relationships. Oftentimes, when one begins to act the part, the change can become permanent. There is no need to explore one’s past; no need for medications; no need of lengthy counseling. Relationships in our lives begin to change because we begin to change. It’s what the Bible classifies as repentance or to change one’s thinking and move in a different direction in your life. In the situation with this attorney, just after a couple of months, when he acted like himself around his father, his dad also responded in a healthy way and today they have a relationship that is growing closer. With this little change, this man and his father have a maturing friendship in which now they both can now be themselves.

This area is also one of the major catalysts in which our relationship with God can expand. When it applies to Transactional Analysis, ironically  for us to deepen our relationship with God we need to stop acting like a child around him. For some of us, we literally need to change our relationship with God and learn how to be ourselves around him. Yes, we are his “children,” but we can also have an adult relationship to him. God wants us to be authentic with him, and to have a relationship in which we can say anything to him. Let me give you another parallel. Right now both of my sons are in high school and a significant way that I relate to them is as a parent. Often, I tell them what to do; I control when they are to be home; I guide them if they stray. However, in just a few years, both of them will be adults and starting a new life on their own. When that occurs, how I relate to them will have to change. I will have to move out of the role of the parent and they will have to stop acting like children. Mutual trust will become a part of the relationship. They will take responsibility for their lives and begin to truly act like adults. A friendship will emerge between my sons and I, and our relationship will mature and expand. This is precisely what God wishes for us as our relationship with him as it grows and expands.

As the infamous 13th chapter of Corinthians states: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) When I’m counseling the people that I work with—this is where I press them to go with their relationship with God—to act like an adult with him. By far, it is the most important mark of faith. It is more important than the day you were wed; more important than the day when your children were born; even more important than that day you decided to believe in God for the first time. It is truly the day that you really wake up and understand not only who God is, but just as importantly, who you are. You truly begin to relate to him like never before. You become his friend. This is the beauty of how this relationship grows, not only do I change in my relationship to him, but now God changes in how he relates to me. As I become more sure of the relationship, as I learn how to have a voice in the relationship (one here can think of Abraham’s relationship to God that we find in Genesis 18), God unveils who he is in remarkable ways. As the 16th century saint, Teresa of Ávila penned, “The feeling remains that God is on the journey too.” That is the truth, God wants to journey with us as we deepen our relationship together—he desires to be Friend, Lord and Papa—all in the same breath.

In: Friend to Jesus
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