I teach a class called counseling skills to undergraduate psychology students interested in pursuing a career in the helping professions. I love to teach the class because the content is about mastering intimate communication, helping people understand themselves differently, and empowering clients to overcome what they perceive to be impossible situations. In this course students learn how to use language to help someone see their situation differently, use body language to communicate with people, and many different ways to develop intimacy with a client. Students develop in a multitude of areas and it’s fun to watch them do the difficult work of therapy with one another even if the problems we use in class aren’t as severe as what a professional counselor experiences in an actual counseling session.
In the course, we watch a number of famous therapists execute their style of therapy in different sessions. It’s fun to watch the student become enamored with their favorite therapist. Some gravitate to Carl Rogers, others to Fritz Perls, and the list goes on. When they’re done watching different films of these so called, “Masters” of the trade I ask them what theory of counseling seems to be the best and why that might be the case. Of course, this usually leads to a good debate and students quickly entrench and defend their favorite approach to helping people. Then, when the dust settles, I give them the hard facts. The truth is no theory of counseling has been proven to be significantly better than any other. What matters most is the relationship that develops between the client and the therapist. The simple gift of human interaction at an intimate level is the most significant factor regarding whether or not a client will experience any benefit from therapy. Relationships matter.
This information is an eye opener for counseling skills students, but it also speaks volumes about other human experiences as well. One of the first significant frustrations these future therapists experience in their practice sessions is sometimes the person playing the role of client doesn’t want to make a deeper connection with them. They simply want the therapeutic encounter to stop at a particular level of intimacy limiting the person playing the role of therapist from delving any deeper in the conversation. This intimate road block occurs because of an important universal truth about human relationships. A relationship will only be as deep as the person who wants it the least. No matter how much you may want to enter into a deeper relationship with another person, it will only be as deep and intimate as the person who wants it the least dictates. You cannot force intimacy and that’s why new therapists have to learn the skills that foster a deeper sense of intimacy.
This truth about human relationships is reflected in so many circles of human life. You cannot cause your marriage to be more loving, it’s only going to be as loving as the person who loves the least within the relationship; you cannot have deep friendships with people who don’t want to have a friendship as deeply as you want; you cannot have a deep relationship with your parent if your parent is incapable of loving you more deeply. Every human relationship is only as deep as the person who wants it the least. There is only one relationship a human being will ever enter into that will always be deeper and more loving than they can go and that’s the relationship they have with God.
This week the Christian church begins its annual journey called Lent. There’s a great deal of hype around Lent regarding what to give up, what spiritual practices it should include, whether or not it is biblical or even Christian to participate in, etc. If ashes imposed on your forehead, fasting, praying, and almsgiving are keeping you from the true spirit of this holy season, give them up. More important than any of these things is to use this time to ask yourself this one question. What keeps me from entering into a deeper relationship with Christ that I’m not acknowledging? You know a relationship can only be as deep as the person who wants it the least and in the “God-Person” relationship, it isn’t God who keeps it at a surface level, it’s you! Are you embarrassed of God? Do you keep him at a distance through the use of Christian words and themes causing you to sound like a recording of Christian clichés instead of a real person struggling with doubt, shame, sin, and pain? It’s time to be real with God. It’s time to ask yourself how can I be closer to God? What must I remove from my life so I can be closer and more in love with God? How can this Easter be a life changing experience for me so that the resurrection of Christ is more than just a past event and a real imminent profound truth causing me to be different than I was when I entered into this thing called Lent? Remember, it’s your idol making heart that keeps the relationship with God from going deeper than you can imagine. What idols have you put in the way of the true God to keep him at arm’s length? This is the challenge of Lent and I hope all of you spend these forty days exploring your soul so that you may have life abundantly as God promised those who draw close to him.