This post is from a larger series under the cat­e­gory Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed explo­ration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the ser­vant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the begin­ning, it begins with the post How Look­ing at a Car­avag­gio Paint­ing Can Change Your Life and then con­tin­ues chronologically. 

I do not want to be the inheritor of so many misfortunes. I do not want to continue as a root and as a tomb. Pablo Neruda

 As I said earlier in the blog, how we view God is all-important. It is the underpinning of our entire life. Most often, our view of God comes from two places in our lives: 1) from how we were raised, i.e., from our parents and our upbringings; and 2) what we are taught from others either directly or indirectly. Again, as we look at Peter’s life, on a few different occasions, Jesus had to correct him in terms of his view of God (Matthew 16:23, John 13:3-9, Acts 10). Jesus completely understood that if Peter did not change some of these views, everything else would also get bent and distorted in his life. Jesus clearly saw this in the religious leaders of his time and he didn’t want these same attitudes and behaviors to continue in Peter.

There is one common denominator when it comes to those who are stuck in this phase of faith of being the servant—they inevitably see God as the stern father—Someone who has expectations that can never be met. Now, none of this is out in the open; these views are emotionally held in the sub-conscious and in the deep part of the person’s soul. This truly is how they see God—he cares very little for them. If you were to ask them to name some of God’s characteristics they would be able to perfectly and even eloquently share with you these:

  • God is good.
  • God is gracious.
  • God is loving.
  • God is forgiving.

But in truth, to internally experience these realities on a daily basis, they don’t even come close. Deep inside, deep within their soul, God is not good or loving or forgiving. And with this, here is a simple test in how you can determine how a person genuinely sees God—don’t ask them how they view God—ask them how they view themselves. Don’t let them think about the question, just ask them for the first words that come to their mind. Inevitably, the person caught in this stage of faith will use the majority of their description with words such as these: a sinner, broken, wicked, evil, a fallen person. In how they view themselves, we begin to see a picture of how they might view God. They will not use true words such as these—righteous, saved, holy, redeemed, a child—such words would not be the ones that would first come to their mind.

Those who are caught in this servant stage of faith need to assess truly how they view God. They need to get beyond the simple mental conceptions that they have learned and look at who God is genuinely to them right now. But here is the tough part with this self-reflection—you often need someone else in your life who knows you extremely well to help you answer these questions of who God is to you. With the person who is stuck in this phase, as mentioned in a previous chapter, too often this is a no-no; you do not get close to others and you definitely don’t need the help of others.

Often these deep-seated ideas of who God is began a long time ago in a land far, far away. Sometimes a person stuck here will need to deal with issues from the past and often these issues might be difficult to acknowledge or deal with because of the pain or confusion associated with them. Some of these difficult issues to address might be:

  • How you were raised – especially growing up in home in which perfection was always required or where a parent was emotionally distant
  • Being physically, emotionally or sexually abused in the past
  • Facing a traumatic event that occurred in your life
  • Having a parent who was extremely domineering or passive
  • Growing up in a home that was overly religious (overly emphasizing the rules of the faith over grace and forgiveness)


There is an important concept from psychology that might help you understand one dynamic of this in terms of one’s up-bringing. Gregory Bateson, a linguist and anthropologist, wrote in the 1950’s about the concept of a double bind; it is a term that is used when children grow up with inconsistent and negative parental messages. Double binds usually are most damaging within the relationship of a parent to a child; however,  they can also occur in different types of relationships such as with siblings, extended family relationships, within dating or marriage relationships and friendships. Here is the basic process of how a double bind occurs within the relationship of a parent and child:

  • Stage One: Confusion. First, the child who experiences a double bind receives contradictory verbal and emotional messages when they are spoken to by their parent. For example, love is expressed by words, and yet disgust or detachment is exhibited by behaviors by the parent. Likewise, a child is encouraged to speak freely, but then criticized or silenced whenever they actually do share their view on a given issue.
  • Stage Two: Control. Often, when such conversations occur, the child is not allowed to disengage from the conversation which has these conflicting messages.
  • Stage Three: Punishment. Finally, if within the conversation, the child fails to fulfill the contradictory requests of the parent, they are punished in some way (e.g., withdrawal of love, physical punishment, verbal attacks, etc.).

The classic example given of a negative double bind is of a mother telling her child that she loves him, while at the same time turning away in disgust for some reason. In this case, the words the mother speaks are normal and good, but then the body language is in conflict with the words the mother just spoke. The child doesn’t know how to respond to the conflict between the words and the body language and the harmful behaviors of the parent (this can be either physical or psychological). Overtime, the child in this case will become either very suspicious of those who attempt to show him love or will become very dependent on the parent or others.

Often those who grow up in religious homes experience double binds on a regular basis. It is the image of the parent who says “I love you,” but in reality never really shows it in a physical manner or often shows their repulsion more times than not. It’s the father who says to his daughter with his mouth “You are important to me,” but never expresses it in a physical and tangible way.

I will share an example I heard recently. A client of mine shared an experience of a double bind which was very damaging and confusing to him. This man had been in an accident in which someone on a motorcycle had died because of their own reckless driving. It was not this young man’s fault in any way, and he stayed at the scene of the accident. Obviously, it was a a very troubling experience for him. In his family, he was never allowed to express emotion and on different occasions was actually told to “stop crying” or to keep his feelings in check. One afternoon, he and his mom were in the same room and she pointedly asked, “I am really surprised how you haven’t expressed any emotion about the accident last week. Hasn’t it bothered you?” At that moment, a wave of emotion rushed over him and he began to cry. He reached for his mom to hug her and she pushed him away. This is a perfect picture of a double bind. Step by step, this is what happened:

  1. Throughout his life, verbally and non-verbally, he was told not to show emotion.
  2. In this incident, he initially did as he was told and did not show any emotion about the accident.
  3. His mom requested that he show emotion about the accident.
  4. He was rejected and punished for showing emotion.

If you grew up in a home like that, how do you think you would view God? You’d be very confused and it would make sense that how you grew up would influence who God was to you. This often can be the case with the person who is stuck in this legalistic stage of faith. Even without really knowing it, they have grown up in a highly dysfunctional home, experienced subtle abuse and then transferred this experience to their relationship with God. In the situation, with the young man above, this is how I found him when he came into counseling. He was highly distrustful of others and he was highly distrustful of God. Now granted, he went to church each Sunday and served in a lot of meaningful ways there, but in reality, he was a very broken young man who really needed to get at some root issues that had happened a long time ago. Not until he began to see the harm in his past was he able to begin to look at himself and others differently. This healing initially began in that he confronted the truth that he was beginning to mimic his mother’s emotional distance with his own family. Second, he had to reach out for help—these two things were the beginning of his healing from a very wounding childhood and upbringing. Those caught in this servant stage of faith have a hard time doing what this young man did. Only those who are willing to look deeply at their past and how they are responding presently because of the past are able to grow in their relationship with God. The God who heals desperately wants us to deal with our wounds and often that means we must first acknowledge them.

In: Friend to Jesus
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