But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Luke 19:8-10 (NIV)
A rare privilege in life is to have a relationship with someone who sees you accurately with positive regard and still accepts you unconditionally. This is a relationship founded upon truth and authenticity. How extraordinary to be seen by another as having all the resources needed to become the person God has envisioned you to be. This is what every child needs to receive from his or her parents.
This is the story of my initiation into authentic intimacy. I was in my 30’s, having graduated top in my Master’s degree program and successfully practicing therapy for two years. I pursued on opportunity to receive training in group therapy that I thought would round out my resume. I didn’t think I really needed to be in group for myself—I was just learning the skills necessary to be a more effective group facilitator. I was working with Bob Wright, one of the leading therapists in Chicago. I knew he was an exceptional therapist, yet, I was a bit uneasy around him. I felt like he could see through me and I knew he didn’t trust me. I considered myself to be the only Christian in the group and I felt it was part of my mission to lead everyone back to God, including Bob.
After group one afternoon, early into my group life, I saw Bob walking forcefully in my direction. He had an unusual power about him and was unlike anyone I had ever known. I did not understand why I was so terrified of being in a group led by him. What was the big deal? I had been effectively leading groups for years. I was so scared I actually dreaded going to group and felt sick to my stomach each week as the day and time for group grew closer.
Bob was charging down the hall and I was getting that sick feeling that he was coming for me. The next thing I knew, I was up against the wall and Bob was screaming in my face. It was like an out of body experience. Time was suspended and I was hearing every word he was saying with clear precision. I felt torn about what was happening. On the one hand, I was twice his size and wanted to flick him off me and toss him out the window of the high rise we were meeting in. On the other hand, this wild man spitting out his judgments, was seeing me more accurately than anyone else had ever seen me before. What he was saying to me was true. He was loving me with the truth.
Here’ a few of the truths that changed my life. Bob was confronting me on my refusal to be genuine. I was putting on a façade of niceness that was intended to manipulate others into liking me. I was out of touch with and unwilling to express my hurt and anger. I was constantly withholding my judgments and acting superior to him and the other people around me. I saw myself as being the only one who had true faith, acting like I had the inside track to having an authentic relationship with God. I was out of touch with my true self and my feelings. I was not mature enough to experience the kind of intimate and faith-filled relationship I thought I had with God.
I identified with Zaccheus the tax collector in his encounter with Jesus (Luke 19). Zaccheus climbed the tree to see Jesus, yet, in reality, his deeper need was to be seen by Jesus. I had sought out help from Bob because I believed he would see me and help me transform my life. In spite of all of Zaccheus’ wrongdoings, Jesus reached out to him and asked to stay at his home. It was my hope that Bob would help me even though he knew I was hiding behind a façade of niceness, superiority and pseudo-spirituality.
Like Jesus, Bob invited me into a deeper and more authentic relationship with myself. Like Jesus, Bob went out on a limb to befriend what others in his world considered to be an extremely dangerous person—a fundamentalist Christian. Bob had hope for me—he had a vision of who I could become and how I could meaningfully impact the world and the church. Like Zaccheus, I was inspired by his faith in me and dedicated my life to becoming the most genuine, faith-filled, and compassionate Christ-follower I could be.