"Who Do You Say I Am?"
Chuck & Lenore Barresi
(Excerpted from 1982
September-October Worldwide Family Spirit magazine)
Not too long ago we attended a mini-series on prayer at our parish.
Our reason for attending, as it was for the others there, was to
learn more about prayer and to grow in our relationship with God.
Some of the presentations were new to us and other parts of it were
things that we had heard before but were stated in ways we had not
considered. It proved to us once again that we must always take
advantage of what is offered in order to grow closer to God.
Since this series of articles is based on our personal spiritual
journey, we thought it would be helpful to share with you some of
the ideas that were most important to us. We are deeply grateful
to Father Joe Fortuna, the leader of the mini-series, for many of
the ideas presented here and for providing us and others with the
opportunity to grow.
We have often heard our relationship with God described in terms
of a personal relationship. In fact, the major or primary way we
see or describe God is as a person. We identify the person like
aspects of God and relate to these in prayer. For example, God is
pleased with us, or He is angry, or He can be persuaded as when
Abraham interceded for Sodom. (Genesis 19:1.6-32) Here we find Abraham
bargaining with God regarding His killing the innocent with the
guilty. Clearly, we find the personal analogy of God demonstrated
God however, can be related to in other forms as well. We can relate
to Him as spirit, or in nature, or in others. He can take many forms
and we can relate to Him in these forms because He has given us
the ability to know and love Him. (1 Cor. 3:13-16) We know these
things because they have been taught to us by the Spirit of God.
However, while we can relate to Him in different forms, the most
common analogy we use to relate to God is as person.
Relating to God as person is at the same time filled with both
promise and problems. On the one hand this analogy makes God very
accessible and familiar to us. On the other it creates situations
which allow us to attribute motives and responses to Him which are
extensions of our own limited, human responses. Relating to God
as human can create problems. We do not see Him as we do others
whom we relate to in human form. We do not hear Him as we do others
in human form.
Another problem arises when we use our fallible human relationships
as an analogy for our relationship with God. For example, God is
often referred to as our loving Father; however some people have
had fathers who were not loving and thus they envision God as vengeful,
mean or a hard taskmaster. In short, the analogy of relating to
God in human form is sometimes limited and creates special problems
All things considered, however, the analogy of relating to God
as person is a good one since it allows us to relate to Him in ways
which are familiar and comfortable to us. We often hear people referring
to a "personal relationship with Jesus". What are they
saying? They are describing the way in which their analogy of God
allows them to enter into relationship with Him.
Chuck: When I think of a personal relationship
with Jesus I imagine him as the carpenter of Galilee. I see him
in workingman's clothes, jeans and plaid shirt, and with rough calloused
hands. He is gentle, concerned and attentive, always warm and smiling.
I feel comfortable and at ease in his presence. I talk to him and
he responds in very general but very supportive ways. He is very
much like a guidance counselor or therapist who does not come right
out and tell me what to do, but rather, gently leads me to find
directions and answers in Scripture and in my own previous knowledge
Some people talk about how God responds to them with very specific
responses. His responses to me are much more general and seem to
leave out a lot of the details, but the message is basic and direct
He assures me of His love. He urges me to do my best. He acknowledges
my good intentions despite my failures.
I see God as patient and loving. I see the problem in our relationship
as coming from my limitations, not His. I see Him as a kind, loving
parent always willing to accept me, to forgive me and to give me
the opportunity to start over again.
Lenore: Although there are many times when I see
God as the Creator of the Universe and in the beauty of nature around
me, I more often think of Him as my personal, loving Father, the
One who watches over me and loves me.
Probably because I come from a family of two daughters, I see Jesus
as the brother I never had. He is the one who I can talk to and
confide in. I believe that Jesus knows me better than Chuck does.
He knows my dreams and my fears, my successes and failures. I can
turn to him in all things and trust him to lead me, to help me.
He is with me always and is warm and understanding.
However, when necessary he corrects me, usually through Scripture.
It is difficult for me to change my ways or to admit that I am wrong
in many things, but I believe that since I have become more aware
of him and his presence with me I have changed and can more easily
admit when I am wrong. His presence gives me an inner peace and
confidence in myself that I did not have before I started to relate
to him as my personal Savior and brother.
Chuck: What is your relationship with God? Don't
say you don't have one, because if you know Him at all you have
a relationship with Him. It may be a passing or fleeting one, it
may be deep and extensive or somewhere in between. Wherever it is,
as we have said before, it can be better. How we see God or what
analogy we use can help us to better understand and deepen our personal
relationship with Him.
When we use the human analogy as we and many others do, we can
use insights we have gained into our own self and our relationships
with others to understand our relationship with God.
What are the personal characteristics that emerge when you relate
to others? Are you patient or impatient? Altruistic or self-centered?
Trusting or fearful? What kind of effort do you put into your relationships
with others? Do you give of yourself or do you hold back? Do you
persevere in the face of rejection or indifference or do you withdraw
at the first sign of non-response? Do you expect immediate gratification
or are you willing to wait until the other person is ready to respond
no matter how long it takes? Are you willing to take "no"
for an answer or do things always have to be your way?
These and many other questions, honestly answered, can lead us
to a better understanding of our relationship with God.
Lenore: I like to think of myself as a trusting
person and yet I know that deep down inside I don't want to "let
go", I don't want to turn any task or project I may have over
to someone else for fear it might not get done the way I think it
should be done. I trust Chuck to provide for our future and yet
many times I catch myself worrying about it. I tell our children
that I trust them, but when they are at a concert or party or with
friends I don't exactly approve of, I cannot help but think of all
the things that could happen to them or the trouble they could get
I can see where this same characteristic holds true in my relationship
with God. I tell Him daily that I turn my life over to Him, but
inside I am afraid that what He wants for me may not be what I want!
It is like holding my life out to Him on the end of a stick and
always pulling it back just as He is reaching for it.
Our prayer life is based on our relationship with God. If our relationship
is good, our prayer life is good and vice versa. What makes our
relationship with others better will make our relationship with
God better. Likewise, what blocks our relationship with others will
block our relationship with God.
Most of all, our expectations in our human relationships are very
important in our relationship with God. If we are satisfied with
where we are rather than seeking more, then our relationship will
come to a standstill and even deteriorate. If we expect more and
give more, growth will surely come. (Matthew 7:7 -17) Jesus calls
us to seek and assures us that we will be rewarded by our heavenly
As in our human relationships, our relationship with God is constantly
changing. We are either growing or we are slipping back.
There are times, however, when we experience dry periods and it
does not seem to us that we are growing or slipping. We seem to
be stuck on dead center. Sometimes this can be a period of preparation
for a new direction in our prayer life God may be calling us to
a new and different form of prayer, one filled with more insight
and reward than before. We must be open to the Holy Spirit and to
His leadings. We must step out in faith and trust in God!
Suggested Scripture Passages:
“. . he emptied himself and
took the form of a slave.”
“The Word became flesh and made
his dwelling among us.”
“O Lord, my allotted portion
Song of Songs 5: 10-16
“My lover is radiant and ruddy;
he stands out among thousands.”
“Who do people say that I am?”
With Open Hands - Henri J.M. Nouwen (Ave Maria Press)
That Man Is You - Louis Evely, translated by Edmond Bonin
(Paulist Press Deus Books)
Prayer and Your Everyday Life - Ronda Chervin (Liguori
To Pray As Jesus - George Martin (Servant Books)
1. Our prayer life is reflective of our relationship
2. Our relationship with Him is always described
in terms of analogy.
3. The analogous images we have of God influence
the way we relate to Him and vice versa.
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