Relating to God – 2 – Relational Style
If you think about God up there and us down here, what gets in the way? Read or listen to this presentation to understand more.
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If you think about God up here and us down here, what gets in the way? I’ll read it to you.
Isaiah 59:1 – Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood and your fingers with guilt.
Okay. Our sins separate us from God. So what’s Unleavened Bread about again? It’s about coming out of sin. And the byproduct of coming out of sin would be what? A relationship with God. We get to look at God’s face and He doesn’t turn away from us. And we don’t feel like turning away from Him, because we don’t feel guilty and ashamed. Of course, we know that the only way we can do that is through Jesus Christ, who died on Passover – which was yesterday, right? So this is a topic that very much fits in with what we’re talking about today.
It’s thinking about sin – our sin – in a way that, maybe, we have never thought about it before. All my life, as a minister, I’ve noticed that we go to church, we wear suits and ties and nice dresses and jewelry, and we get all cleaned up when we come to church, and we have our families all with us, and everything looks good. But it’s not really good. There are problems. And the problems don’t come, necessarily, from going to church. They’re already with us when we walk in the door. It’s about how we are that is the problem.
How did we get the way we are? How did we get that way? Well, we talked about it at the Feast of Tabernacles, didn’t we? It all started in the Garden of Eden. At one point, Adam and Eve didn’t feel guilty, because they hadn’t done anything wrong. But then, God let the devil into the Garden. It doesn’t say He let him in, but He had control of everything, so I don’t think the devil was putting one over on Him, do you? He let him in there. He talked to them, and, all of a sudden, everything was all messed up. And it’s been that way ever since.
So how has that affected all of us? Why do we have the problems we have? Well, let’s go back and take a look at what we learned in the first of this series. We talked about the ability to develop trust in parents and how that makes it easier to have faith in God later in life. Remember the baby in the crib? The baby cries because it has a need. The parents respond and take care of the baby. The baby feels satisfied and regulated and starts to feel good about itself. And then, a few hours later, it’s hungry, or it’s wet or whatever, and the whole thing starts over again. How many times a day does that happen? And how many times a week, and a year – in the first year of a baby’s life? So there are many, many, many opportunities to learn how to trust parents in that first year of life.
So trust or don’t trust, right? Well, it’s not just that simple, is it? Because babies have two parents most of the time. And both of those parents treat the baby differently. So the baby develops one way of dealing with mom and one way of dealing with dad. It’s a complex dance. We’re very complex creatures. Our feelings are very complex.
So how do the complexities of our relationships with our parents affect our relationship with God? Wouldn’t you say that that has a lot to do with how we are the way we are? Why we’re like that? Folk wisdom says, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Right? So, what we’re talking about is something way deeper than not getting to church on time, or not paying your tithes, or getting mad at your mate – well, that might have something to do with it – about what we’re talking about today. But we’re going to look at things that are much more complex and much deeper than that – something much more specific with vast implications for our whole life and the lives of our children – how our relational style is changed by our experience in childhood, especially in infancy and how that style affects our relational style with God and with other people.
Why am I like I am? Why do I do what I do? We’re going to make a start at unraveling that today. And I’m going to talk to you, once again (You know, Mr. Armstrong used to say, “When you get it, I’ll stop talking about it.”)…. I’m going to talk about the four relational styles that people can have. Isn’t that amazing? There are four – not four thousand, not four trillion – there are four. Everybody’s is a little different, so maybe there are as many as there are people, but you can put everybody’s relational style into one of four categories. And that is based on how our parents treated us in the first year of our life.
The first style we’re going to call secure. That compares to the baby in the crib, where the needs are met. You know, the circle keeps going around and around, and most of the time, the parents do a good enough job that the baby feels okay. They meet the baby’s
physical and emotional needs consistently. That’s kind of like going to your bank and withdrawing cash out of the mini-teller. It, pretty much, always works as long as you have put your paycheck in there, right?
I do remember a time when they first started…. You know, I am getting so old that I can remember before there were mini-tellers. And the first ones they had didn’t work that good. I remember one night. I went in to get some money to take my wife to the movie – and my kids – and, back then, you didn’t need forty bucks to go to the show. You just needed ten dollars. I punched in ten bucks and I didn’t get anything. Well, that’s no good. But I got a receipt that said that I got ten dollars. So I did it again and I didn’t get anything. Got another receipt. I happened to know the guy that took care of the mini- tellers. He worked for Diebold – you know, the mini-teller company. He was in the church. So I figured I was probably pretty well off. Then I tried it one more time and I got a receipt that I got ten bucks and twenty-nine tens came out. So you can guess what’s been happening all day, right? They’d been hanging up in there and then finally all just let loose. But that’s going to shoot myself in the foot here, because I’m using mini-tellers as an example of consistency. Right? It is now – pretty much.
So what happens when a baby is that cycle where they get taken care of? Well, they learn, “My parents love me.” And they learn, “I can safely love my parents back.” Did you know that all babies are hard-wired to love and be loved by parents? And all the other relationships grow out of that? They learn, “I’ll be taken care of.” As they get a little older, they learn, “If I ask, I’m going to get what I need.” They learn, “I’m understood.” And they learn, “I am fundamentally okay.” And they also learn that life is good. It’s not scary. It’s okay. Most of the time, everything works out.
So that’s one style. Do you know people like that? I was watching Larry King one night and he had Nancy Reagan on after Ronald Reagan died. She made the comment that, to him, the glass was always half full, not half empty. He had a secure childhood. That’s why he could go toe-to-toe with a lot of those insecure reporters that were so negative. I remember one time that he got out of the presidential limo to go into a hotel, and there were all these reporters around him. And there was Sam Donaldson, whose voice just blasted through everyone else’s, and he yelled, “Mr. President, when will we know if your economic policies are working?” And the President turned around and smiled at him and said, “You’ll know when they stop calling it ‘Reaganomics.’” You probably know people that are like that. Most of US population is more that way than not. In our country, today, most people still find a way to have parents who are good enough at taking care of them that they feel, for the most part, secure.
The second category, or style of relating, is called insecure, but the type of it is called ambivalent. This is a baby that grows up where parents inconsistently meet their physical and emotional needs. Instead of going to the mini-teller, being with these parents is like pulling a handle on a one-arm bandit – sometimes nothing comes out and sometimes it does, and you never know which way it’s going to be.
So what does the baby learn from that? “Well, I’m not sure if I’m loved or not, because I don’t get treated like I’m loved all the time – just some of the time. I’m not sure if it’s safe to trust my parents or to love them. I’m not sure if I’m understood. I’m not sure if I’m okay. Life is uncertain and sometimes dangerous.” Quite often the feelings that come from this are anxiety and anger.
When they first did the experiment that brought this to light, babies that had been treated in an inconsistent way with their mother, when their mother left the room and then came back, some of them were happy to see her, but they took a swing at her. They were mad at her for leaving, because they weren’t sure if she was coming back or not. So there’s that kind of personality. Those folks…you see a lot of drama around them – always not sure about whether things are going to be okay, and their friends…don’t know – jealous. That kind of stuff.
The third style is also insecure. And they call these babies avoidant. This baby has the kind of parent that is consistently neglectful – doesn’t take care of the needs of the baby. This baby doesn’t go to the bank for money, because he knows he’s not going to get any. So the baby learns that he can’t trust his parents – that asking for things doesn’t work. You can only trust yourself. “I am a rock. I am an island.” Remember that song? There you go. Also they learn, “I don’t matter. I’m not lovable.” And they, of course – like everyone else – need relationships, but they don’t trust people to provide what they need. So there’s a lot of depression and numbing that comes along with this, as well as anger. Not so much anxiety, because anxiety is a doubt about what is going to happen in the future. With these folks, they kind of believe nothing good is going to happen. So it’s more depression than it is anxiety – focusing on their past losses.
Then, the fourth and final category was also insecure. I think we’ve talked a lot about how they learned this – the longest longitudinal study that I know of – going from the early fifties up until the present day – still tracking the same people. The final category is insecure and it is called disorganized. And that’s where parents were frightening or hurtful to their children – abusive or too rough.
What babies learn from that is that, “Asking for things can get me hurt or in trouble.” So the idea is to not make waves – to become invisible – “because there is no solution to my situation. I’m bad. I’m not lovable.” Sometimes we see children that have this style…you know, when you’re a baby, there’s nothing you can do about that, so you try to go somewhere else in your mind. I talk to people, periodically, that have the experience quite frequently of being outside their own body, looking at themselves. Or they’ll kind of zone out on me and go somewhere else while they’re talking about something hard. I’ve seen that happen.
A long time ago, when I lived in Arkansas, and I was a volunteer at a child-abuse support organization – not that they supported child abuse – but that they supported people who were at risk of abusing their children. One of my clients had a baby and the baby didn’t gain any weight in the first month of its life. So they put it back in the hospital and diagnosed it with a condition called failure to thrive. That’s where the baby feels like it’s
not loved, so it wills itself to die and it stops taking nourishment. Babies are really smart about things like that – a lot more than we are.
Let’s ask the question: How would these four styles affect a relationship with God? The last three of these relationship styles are produced by ignorance and sin. So what effect would they have on a relationship with God? Well, let’s delve a little deeper into each one of these.
Let’s look at the insecure-ambivalent – have strong feeling both ways – love mom, hate mom – that kind of thing. People that grow up with that kind of thinking tend to be chaotic in the way they function. Will God take care of me or not? They have a lot of difficulty making decisions, uncertainty about choices. “Where do I belong? What should I do? Who can I trust? Am I safe with you?” There’s a lot of drama and an emotional roller coaster that is usually there – a lack of ability to regulate one’s feelings.
I had a lady, who came to see me, sometime ago, who had been promiscuous as a teenager, had run around on her husband, and so he responded by running around on her. She still wanted to be married to him and blamed him for all the stuff that he did to her, but didn’t say too much about what she’d done to him. When she would cry, she’d turn her head away from me and put her hand up like this, so that I couldn’t see. She didn’t want to be open. She wasn’t sure I was going to be on her side, or that I was going to be caring of her. She couldn’t find a way to trust me. She made statements when she would think about her childhood, “I’m not sure I know what love is.” What she was really telling me was that she wasn’t sure she was loved. She talked a lot about all the screaming and yelling that went on in the family and how the kids were, pretty much, ignored while the parents fought – fifteen-year battle. (I say fifteen, because she became aware of it when she was three and she left at eighteen.) This lady – it was pretty obvious – that her parents were preoccupied and they were not taking care of her in a consistent fashion. They had a lot of children in the family, so the parents were spread kind of thin, I think.
So that’s kind of what that looks like. And when we get to adulthood, what that looks like, in our relationship with God is, “Well, is God really going to take of me when I get old? Or is He going to give me a job? If I tithe, am I really just going to be out ten percent? Or is He going to bless me? Well, I really don’t know about that. I’ve never really seen that.” That’s kind of the approach. These people cause a lot of drama at church, too. They’re always trying to find a way to be accepted. In our group, when you can’t do that, you come up with a doctrinal oddity and start your own church – call it the truth. So that’s just a quick look at what that might look like.
Let’s look at the second one – what I call avoidant. That’s where the child grew up knowing that they weren’t going to get their emotional needs met. We find a lot of rigidity with this – rules and behavior-oriented, judgmental of other people, a lot of shame and wall-building, because “I’m not okay.” We all want connection. That’s what we’re created for. And yet, at the same time, we all have imperfections and we think our imperfections will cause other people to turn away from us. So we build walls to hide our
imperfections behind, so that people can’t see our faults, thinking that that’s going to cause them to like us, when, actually, it’s the walls that keep the people out. That’s what prevents us from having the relationships we need. That’s what God said.
There’s a lot, with these people, of what’s called approach-avoidance behavior. They draw close. They get afraid. They pull back. The least little thing that we do to them, they look at us and say, “See, I knew you were going to let me down.” So they pull back. They have that problem with everybody, because they want it to be that way. They’re afraid of the relationship, even though they need it. So their life is filled with a lot of shallow connection – and also a hot and cold toward God – approach, avoid, approach, avoid, approach avoid – people that are inconsistent in their religion. A lack of faith – “God isn’t going to take care of me. Praying doesn’t do any good. I never get what I want from Him. I’m not good enough.” This also has a measure of that striving for position and doctrinal superiority, or rigidity, to it. You sometimes wonder if every Pharisee wasn’t raised this way.
And the third area we called disorganized. These are the people that are afraid of God, because they were afraid of their parents. Hard to believe that He’ll be faithful. Don’t want to have anything to do with religion. Religion is going to hurt you. Cut off from other people. Hard to have healthy relationships. Makes being in fellowship unbearable at times to people.
Can you see what I’m talking about – how this works? Piaget, the developmental psychologist, said that all of the things that happen to us in the first year of our life get transferred to God eventually – and not just the first year, but the dye is cast by that time, when we begin to start making a lot of the things happen to us because we bring it on ourselves by the way we relate to people.
So let’s look at the last one, then – the secure category. When we get to be an adult, that’s characterized by faith and patience – sort of a steady flexibility. Going with things the way they are, without chaos or rigidity. Things are generally going to work out in the end. You know, just give it some time. If I make a reasonable effort, God’s going to take care of me. If I ask, I’m going to get answers to my prayers – sometimes not exactly what I wanted, but He’s going to take care of me. He says He is, and so, okay, I’m going with that. No sense of desperation, like in these other categories.
A lot of time, people in these other insecure categories will bend the rules to try to make things work, because they don’t think God is going to do that. People that are secure don’t need to do that. They just trust God. And it’s easier for them to do that. That’s really not fair, is it? Except for one thing. They’re perceptions are not correct. God is going to take care of them. We just think He’s isn’t fair, because we weren’t treated fairly as a child. Part of our growing up is to learn how to think about what happened to us. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
Another thing that these people are characterized by is vulnerability – the ability to take a reasonable risk in relationship, because they weren’t hurt a lot by their relationships early
on. Like I said, we all have flaws. We try to cover them over. And in the judgmental environment of the church, it’s even worse. So we build up these walls and don’t let people see us. But the secure person says, “Well, you know, I’m good enough. God will add what I lack.”
If you look in Psalms 51, verse 6. The psalmist said:
Psalm 51:6 – Behold, You – to God – delight in truth in the inward being and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart. So we all try to keep our faults secret, but God wants us to be truthful about all that and not closed – truth in the inward parts.
I have a young girl that comes to see me, who lives in one household part of the year – in the summer time – and then in another household the rest of the year. And some of the time she goes between the two of them during the school year. So she was going to one of the larger, mainstream organizations here in town for church with her mother. But when she wasn’t there, her attendance was inconsistent. When she did come, the kids in the other group would give her the third degree because she wasn’t consistent in church attendance. So she felt very out-of-place there and tried to lie her way out of that and all that kind of thing. Finally, she found a church where she was accepted whether she came all the time or not, and is doing a lot better. That should be a lesson for us. She said, “My minister tells me that the biggest turn-off to people about Christianity is the Christians.” And that’s all of us, isn’t it?
The battle I fight in my office with people is helping them learn how to be vulnerable enough that they can talk about the stuff they need to talk about. I had a situation awhile back that was just so kind of touching to me, in a way. It was a sixteen-year-old and she was one of those who had been taught by her ex-military dad to just suck it up and not show any emotion. Consequently, I think she slammed her older sister up against the wall so hard, she knocked her out and had a concussion – had to go to the hospital for a couple of days. Very powerful – a lot of power in a small package – not that big a kid, but very strong, especially when she gets angry.
So I was having my little speech with her about trust and vulnerability. And as I was talking, she just kind of leaned over and laid her head over the arm of the couch. It looked like a little child. And when I got done, she said, “Do you remember how, in the first session, you asked me if I’d ever done drugs?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Well, I have. I smoke weed and sometimes drink when I’m out with my friends.” That really wasn’t the kind of information I was so interested in as much as about being open about relational stuff, but that was her effort to try to make a connection – to move stuff out of the way so that we could be close. “A” for effort, right? “A” for effort.
Another thing these people have is the ability to empathize. When they were little, somebody looked them in the eye and that told them, “I understand you.” When they cried, somebody bigger than they would say, “Oh, I’m so sorry that you feel bad and it makes me feel bad when you feel bad.” And somebody came and said to them, “I can
care about you. I’m going to take care of you.” So they have that. They have that ability to understand other people and to hurt with them and to care about them.
How has your upbringing affected your relationship with God? He’s patient. He’s faithful. He understands us. We can’t say He’s not open, can we? His whole heart is laid out for us in the scriptures. He cares about us. He loves us. God is secure, isn’t He? He just wants us to be like that, too. If we’re raised that way, then it’s easier for us to know how God cares about us and how He feels about us, because we connect through that relationship.
So what do we do to make up for lacks in our childhood? We’re going to talk a lot more about this in a later part of this presentation, but I’m just going to throw this out to you to think about it. Let’s get a little technical here. Relational lacks in early childhood inhibit the most important thing in mental health, which is the integration of the brain – the emotional part and the thinking part working together. And why is that? Well, because it doesn’t feel good to think about not being taken care of, and not being loved, and being afraid and being anxious. And what babies do with that is, they just don’t go there. That’s a disintegration of the brain, right? It’s not functioning altogether because it hurts too much to do it.
Look at Hebrews 4, verse 12 with me. I’m taking this out of context and I’m not talking about what Paul is talking about here. We’re just looking at what he said about how things work. He said:
Hebrews 4:12 – The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. There are different parts to our self. God can separate all that out, but for us to be healthy, it’s all got to work together. It’s interesting that He throws the body in here, too. The deepest part of the body – the hardest part to get to – is the marrow – not so much the joints. The whole body is all a part of this system. Part of your brain runs through every part of your body through your nervous system. And it all needs to work together for us to be healthy emotionally, physically and spiritually.
So when we have insecurity, we have lack of integration going on in our brain. Nobody’s perfectly integrated, because nobody is perfectly secure. How do you integrate your brain? What do you do? Well, our brain is designed to pull other people into itself and connect. That’s what we do. In doing that, our brain becomes a little bit like theirs. So, if we hang around people, who are Godly people, that helps us.
I had a lady, awhile back, who was one of the most severe abuse victims that I’ve ever worked with. Her whole childhood was a nightmare until she got away at eighteen. She never felt loved. And by the stories she told me, I don’t believe that she ever was. She was traumatized, beaten, abused, very fearful of men, very distrustful. When she first came to see me…. I found out later that her therapist suggested that she come to see me to deal with the trauma a year-and-a-half before she finally showed up. It took her that
long to get up the nerve to come and sit in a room with a man. Her therapist was a woman. And she just looked like a bird perched on a limb ready to fly. So I had to be very careful and very slow at what I did. But she gradually got over that fear and she doggedly worked on her stuff for about a year with me – never missed a session and got over, pretty much, everything that happened to her.
One day she said to me – we were probably three-quarters of the way through by then – she said, “You know I’m really messed up about men. I just keep making bad choices with men and I think it has something to do with all the bad and men and boys that were in my life.” She said, “I don’t think I know what love is. What can we do about that?” That’s what she said to me. So I asked her to watch the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, and report back to me about what it would have been like to be Scout and be loved by Atticus Finch. She couldn’t connect to it – not enough good stuff there to hang it on – too far from her experience.
As we neared the end of her work, I said – we were getting ready to say our goodbyes – I said, “How do you think I feel about you?” She got this big question mark on her face. And she said, “Well, I know that you’ve helped me.” And she said, “You know me better than anybody has ever known me in my whole life.” And I said, “What else do you know?” She said, “Well, no matter what I’ve said, you’re always with me. You never judge me. You told me that you respect all my hard work. And I know that you’re happy for me now that I’m doing better.” I said, “Okay. Anything else?” She said, “Well, I know you’d never do anything to hurt me.” I said, “Okay. So what is that? What is all that?” She said, “Is that love?” And I said, “Yeah. That’s what love is. In this year of working together, I’ve come to care about you and to care for you. I love you.” And she got this big wide-eyed smile, and she said, “I get it! I’ve always known that I love my kids, but I never connected it with the rest of my life, because nobody ever loved me!” So that connection that we built helped her understand what love is. That’s always how therapy works. It always happens between the two people in the room. That helped her to understand what she needed to know about guys – what to look for. And I like to think that someday, when she comes to God, in this life or the next, she’s going to know a little bit more about God’s love, because of the work that we did together.
And it works the same way in fellowship at church. And when we study the Bible, we can read all the things that God says about how He cares about us. And if we have some loving human experiences to hang all that stuff on, then when we study what God says about how He feels about us, we can know what that means – to be loved by Him.
What else can we do? Well, we can develop a complete, integrated, detailed story of our childhood, our family and our walk with God. And when we deepen our faith story, we’re using all parts of our mind – our thoughts, our intentions, our emotions. You have to have an integrated brain to do that. So just the process of it is helpful.
I was talking to my EMDR supervisor, and she was telling me that Daniel Segal, the brain researcher, was talking to some of the EMDR people, and he was asking how they do EMDR, and they were telling him, “You ask people on a scale how angry they are,
how upset. And then on a scale from zero to ten, how upsetting that is, and how did it make you feel about yourself? And on a scale from one to seven, how true is it that you feel that way now?” He said, “Well, that’s bilateral stimulation of the brain. Just asking them to go from what they think to how they feel – back and forth – is a way to integrate and think and feel at the same time.”
When we do those exercises, when we deepen our faith story, when we go to the trouble to research more about what was going on in the family when we came along, and how everybody felt about us, and how we felt about them – we use all parts of our mind, and our thoughts, and our intentions, and our emotions – then we are helping to become mentally healthy and to become secure. Stuff happens. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. But we can get over it.
One of the most encouraging things I like to tell people when they come to me is that anything that’s happened to you, you can get over. The drug companies hate that. They want us to all be bipolar, schizophrenic, or something like that, so that we have to take medication the rest of our lives, but that’s just not how it really works. There are those brain malfunctions – disorders – but most people don’t have that. They just have been convinced that they do, because there is big money in it.
Can you think of a scripture that ties in with this integrated approach? Let’s go to Mark 12:33.
Mark 12:33 – To love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. There it is. There’s brain integration right there, isn’t it. God wants us to love Him with our whole being with everything working – hitting on all eight cylinders – with our emotions and our reasoning – left brain, right brain – whole brain working at once – whole being whole heartedly in relationship with God. I mean, it’s been there all along. We just didn’t know why Jesus was saying some of this stuff. But now that we understand more about how we work, it makes even more sense than it used to – at least it does to me.
Okay, so looking at our lacks as children is not something to stress over. It’s just something to think about and work on and it points the way to a closer relationship with God – pitfalls and strengths. It shows us where we need to go.
So next time we’re going to look at what God does from His end of things. We talked about what we can do, but next time we’re going to talk about what God does, so that when we see Him in action, we’ll know what’s going on. We’ll know what He’s doing – kind of like that lady that I told you about. She didn’t know what love was until it happened to her and even then it had to be pointed out to her, because she’d never experienced it. We’re going to learn what God does to draw close to us so that, when we feel it happening, we’ll know what that is. And we’ll get at that next time.