The funeral mass for my Dad was this past Monday. He experienced a massive stroke the Sunday after Thanksgiving and died 10 days later. My parents were one of the first couples to be married in the newly rebuilt St Peter's Church in Forest Lake, MN. My siblings and I all went to elementary school there. And as I sat with my family on the hardwood pew, listening to Father Ben talk about my Dad, his faith, and his relationship with God, I thought about my relationship with God.
The God of my childhood was an all-powerful, all-knowing God, known for both His unconditional love and wrathful judgment. I remember God being angry a lot. Stories warned of God's wrath. Disappointing your parents was equal to disappointing God. I didn't ever want to make God mad but there was so much right and wrong to figure out. That's a lot of pressure for a 6-year-old kid. I prayed to Jesus, hoping he'd put in a good word for me with God, only to find out they were three in one, a Holy Trinity. When life got complicated, and we started asking questions, our teachers went back to the basics of what was right vs. wrong. In time, I learned that the "right vs wrong" viewpoint was what my brain could handle back then. Like any subject, you start with the basics, the fundamentals, and work up to the complexities. But God never intended to leave it like that. It took years for me to figure that out.
At any rate -- sitting there, listening to Father Ben talk about my Dad, I thought about how God operates like a coach. The idea makes for an interesting re-frame of my childhood, to say the least. Beyond that, as I look at what I have come to know from having a coach and being a coach, I see parallels between the role of coach and what I've come to understand that God is all about.
Since God likes to work in threes, let's look at three ways:
1. God's love is unconditional. He is your champion. He is in your corner.
The God of my youth was like Santa Claus -- sees you when you're sleeping, knows when you're awake; knows when you've been bad or good... (you're singing it in your head, now, aren't you). It made confession easy because God already knew everything anyway. But there was always judgment and fear.
God as a coach uses judgment differently. He uses it for you, not against you. He is on your side, in your corner. Nothing is about Him; it's all for You. And you are beautiful.
One of the first principles any new coach learns is how to "hold" your clients. I love how Henry and Karen Kimsey-House describe it in their book Co-Active Coaching: "People are, by their very nature, creative, resourceful and whole. They are capable: capable of finding answers; capable of choosing; capable of taking action; capable of recovering when things don't go as planned; and especially, capable of learning. This capacity is wired into all human beings no matter their circumstances." When a coach takes a stand for a client's natural creativity and resourcefulness, he or she becomes a champion for them. No need for worrying or hand-holding. As a champion, a coach becomes curious, open to possibilities, and discovery with the client.
This idea is the foundation of the relationship between coach and client. My coach does not view me as a problem to be solved. I am not broken. I do have problems to be solved and through meaningful dialog, my coach helps me solve them. My biggest obstacle is usually me. I've written before about the ego and how it's job is to keep us safe -- how to the ego, change is death. The ego uses your self-talk to fulfill its purpose, and because it knows you well, it knows what works to scare you off from change and growth. My coach helps me sort through the voices, turning up the ones that I need to hear more of and turn down the ones working against me.
In his book, How to Lead When You're Not In Charge, author Clay Scroggins uses the metaphor of the audio mix at a concert -- how each musician hears a unique mix in their ear piece. He writes, "The musicians know that a great monitor engineer is the secret to a great musical experience for the crowd. The monitor engineer gives each musician what he or she needs to be able to perform and participate with one another." It's the same for us interacting and participating in the world. But when it comes to our own mix of our own self-talk, we are our own "monitor engineer." We need to turn down some voices in the mix (self-limiting beliefs) and turn up others. After awhile, what I once recognized as a new voice becomes my voice.
My coach helps me dial in the right mix -- and he is also one of the voices in that mix. God's voice is in the mix, too, when I invite Him in as part of my coaching staff.
2. God is a great listener. And He's always listening.
The God of my upbringing spoke more than He listened. He had something to say about everything. He was critical and judgmental. Turns out that most people are like this when it comes to listening. Most people do not listen for a deeper understanding; instead, they start thinking about what they will say next based on a similar experience or triggered feelings.
But we know when someone is really listening, partly because it is so rare. The God I've come to know is a great listener.
Skilled coaches listen at levels beyond what we experience on a day to day basis. They lean in, interested in every word. You feel known and understood. You feel safe and secure, more able to open up and go deeper. Trust grows. This is how God listens. God is all in, hanging on your every word, ever present to your experience. You might think God doesn't or can't communicate back, but I think we could have a healthy debate about that. Some of my best life choices and problem solutions have come from conversations with God.
3. Like a coach, God doesn't always give you the answers you want. But you get what you need.
"Sometimes I thank God for unaswered prayers," sings the voice of Garth Brooks. The concept of an unanswered prayer is interesting to me -- I'm actually fairly certain that all prayers are answered, just not in the specific way we ask them to be. When my Dad was lying in that hospital bed after the stroke, my mom prayed for a miracle. The one she wanted was for him to wake up and be how he was before the stroke. But that wasn't to be. The miracle Dad got was a peaceful, pain free exit. Enter that line from Kenny Rogers' song, The Gambler (one of my Dad's favorites): "and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep."
Coaches don't always give you the answer you want, either. I can remember conversations with every coach I've worked with where he or she has called me out, rather than indulge me. In every case I knew they would -- and I needed them to. Not that needing it or knowing it was coming made it any easier to take, nor did I appreciate it right away. But it did help me grow.
I'm reminded of the movie, Eat Pray Love, adapted from the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. Early in the movie, Elizabeth (played by Julia Roberts), is kneeling on her bathroom floor talking to God. She's in a moment of panic, unhappy in her marriage, begging for help, asking God what to do. In the silence she hears a whisper, a voice in her head that says, "Go back to bed, Liz." So she gets up off the floor and heads back to bed. In the short exchange that follows, Liz tells her husband she no longer wants to be married. The message from God was unexpected, and perhaps not the miracle she was looking for, but it was what she needed to move forward.
It's a cool way to think about God: the champion in your corner, always listening, acting in service of your highest good, your big Agenda. God as a coach. Thanks, Dad. Love you.
Photo Copyright: Marek Uliasz. Used with permission from 123rf.com