Last weekend was our semiannual general conference. Yes, there were some major changes in the leadership and the programs of the church. There were talks about the beauty of repentance and the steps to receiving personal revelation. For those of us who enjoy spiritual things, it was an incredible weekend.
My thoughts, however, seemed to turn toward those who didn’t attend, even though the conference was available almost all over the world. (Last October, I was able to tune into conference with my phone while I did some tourist things down in Mobile, Alabama!) My heart breaks for those who view conferences as opportunities to take a vacation from church. The ones who kind of feel that there is something to all of this gospel stuff, but just never seem to really “get it.”
I can’t pretend to really understand what is going on, but I wish I could — I would love to help others understand the beauty and excitement that fills each of my days — even when I feel like I’m living below my potential or just going through the same senseless activities every day. I somehow know it’s all part of a bigger, bolder plan than I can even imagine.
I have come to the conclusion that many (if not all) of us suffer from varying forms and intensities of dysfunction with God.
What Could Dysfunction with God Look Like?
I decided to do a little searching around the internet to see how dysfunctional relationships between people are defined. I found an interesting article called 9 Types of Dysfunctional Relationships. Not all nine seem to apply, but many of them do.
- Polarized Relationship: We feel that God wants to consume us, to dictate our lives, and we just want our freedom and independence.
- A good lie is usually around 90% truth. So it is with the polarized relationship with God. He does want to consume us. He does want to be first and foremost in all we do. He wants to change what we do and how we do it. However, His intent is to give us understanding, power, and peace that we can’t even begin to have without Him. He wants us to grow to be able to be like Him — without Him having to dictate to us. He invites, He encourages, He beckons — but he never forces. We don’t need independence from God, we need interdependence with Him!
- Flip-Flop Relationship: This one is a little bit of a stretch because God never changes. However, we are stuck in a mortal world with imperfect people. It is easy for us to project onto God things that are really human characteristics and justify behaving in a way that betrays Him as others have betrayed us.
- The Prophet Joseph Smit has told us that one of the most important understandings we can gain in this life is a true understanding of the nature of God. As we grow to understand who God is, as we start to comprehend how loyal and constant He is, then we can heal the thought patterns that we use to rationalize our poor behavior. We grow to truly love God.
- Pseudo-Relationship: We create a relationship with God that really isn’t one.
- This may be one of the most prevalent in American culture today. Going to church most Sundays looks like a relationship with God, but we ignore Him the rest of the week. Unless, of course, things aren’t going the way we want them to go. That’s when we blame God and accuse him of not keeping his promises. After all, we’ve tried to be good, isn’t that enough? Surely, God understands how busy and competitive life is. If we’re not doing any of the “big” sins, can’t he cut us a break? Sadly, when we choose this kind of relationship, we think we know God when we only know about Him. We miss all the joy and other blessings that we could have if we sought to become best friends with Him.
- Isolate Relationship: I’m not so comfortable pinning this on the “black sheep” of mortal families, but there are many people who believe that they can handle life all on their own, they’re getting along just fine, and God is just going to get in the way and cramp their style.
- No matter how hard we try, we can’t cheat death, we can’t prevent natural disasters, and we can’t completely control who will and won’t be a part of our lives. Life is bigger than any single individual. Since mortal life is God’s plan of happiness for us, it seems to me that God isn’t trying to cramp our style — He’s trying to give us an actual chance to make it through life with something to show for it on the other side.
- Re-traumatization Relationship: This is quite similar to the flip-flop relationship, except that we project onto God the characteristics that we have experienced with mortal people. We then go through life viewing events through that filter — and believing that God is traumatizing us, too.
- Like the flip-flop relationship, we have to be willing to learn who God is. We have to be willing to take tiny steps of faith and pray for understanding as we do. Because we are projecting traits onto God that aren’t really His, we have to go back and get to know Him as He really is.
- Detouring Relationship: This idea could come straight from the Bible or the Book of Mormon. Many prophets have used the metaphor of a woman cheating on a faithful husband to describe God’s people. We haven’t applied ourselves to becoming pure and constant before God, so we turn and run after flashy worldly things that catch our attention. Once the glitter fades and we realize what we gave up, we might come back to God.
- To me, this looks a lot like classic FOMO. Somehow, we are still convinced that God is holding something back and keeping us from the “really good stuff.” We rationalize that we have a right to a little bit of fun, and it won’t really hurt us. As someone who has witnessed how damaging affairs can be between mortals, it’s hard to conceive of treating God this way.
- Empty Relationship: We’re not really happy with God, religion, and all the rules that go with it, but it mostly works for us, so we go through the motions.
- I think this kind of relationship with God is as dissatisfying for Him as it is for us. I have come to know a Heavenly Father and a Savior who are deeply passionate, and want spiritually passionate relationships with each of us. The blessings are there, waiting to be poured down on us, but like all the other types of dysfunction, we have to go back and relearn the things we are missing so that we can really know the love and the joy that are waiting for us.
In each of these scenarios, there is a misunderstanding of Heavenly Father and of Jesus Christ. To have Christ’s Atonement available to us without any demands is beyond amazing. What parent would let their child die knowing that most of the people who needed what he was offering would reject it? Who would really love all of us that much — to do what needed to be done and suffer what needed to be suffered while knowing that very few would ever appreciate it? This is not that God that our dysfunction imagines!
If you are struggling with your relationship with Christ and with Heavenly Father, the formula is simple: have faith!
- Have enough faith to kneel down and pray exactly what you are feeling.
- Have enough faith that prayers are answered to listen and look for those answers.
- Have enough faith to prayerfully study your scriptures, even if there are lots of things you don’t understand.
- Have enough faith to talk to your bishop about your misgivings and follow the counsel he gives.
- Have enough faith the take the sacrament worthily, knowing that doubts are not sins.
- Have enough faith to trust that you are on a spiritual journey, so you may not see the progress for a while.
If you are close to someone who is struggling with their relationship with Christ and with Heavenly Father, the formula is also simple: have faith!
- Have faith to pray for the person who is struggling.
- Have faith to act on promptings that come in answer to prayer and/or as you study your scriptures.
- Have faith to fast on their behalf.
- Have faith to place their name on the temple prayer roll, if that is appropriate.
- Have faith to trust that they are on a spiritual journey, so you may not see the progress for a while.
- Have faith to trust that you are on a spiritual journey with them.
Thoughts? Feeback? Comment!