Cathy Deddo, Theology in the Everyday
Cathy Deddo has a master's degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. She speaks at conferences and writes at www.trinitystudycenter.com.
In this interview, Cathy Deddo discusses the question, "What role does theology play in our everyday relationships?"
J. Michael Feazell: Cathy, thanks for being with us today.
Cathy Deddo: Thank you very much, Mike. I’m glad to be here.
JMF: When we talk about Trinitarian theology, it sounds academic to many people. What does it mean for just plain day-to-day relationships?
CD: That’s a big question, but what I’m going to try to do with it is talk about my own life as a Christian minister over the years. I primarily thought that my relationships were what I did for God, and I would go out and try to minister to people and take care of what I thought they needed in the name of God and then come back and let God know how I had succeeded or failed in doing those things. When I began to understand Trinitarian theology, I began to understand that I was not taking seriously the reality, the presence, and the activity of the Triune God in the immediate circumstances of my life – that I was thinking of him as distanced. So when I began to take that more seriously – that I don’t just work for Christ but he is in me, and his Spirit is always working and the Father is always already leading, then I began to realize the best way I could understand it was, do I believe that God is really here in my conversation with you and my conversation with other people? Is he working already in your life? Am I participating in what he is doing? Too often when people are working in relationships, they do a disconnect. They can even believe God is triune, he loves me as the whole God, but as soon as they walk out of a service and they go into a situation where they’re talking with family or with friends, they pretty much think of themselves as being on their own.
What I have tried to help other people with, what I have tried to do for myself, is live as if God, the God I’ve come to know in Jesus, is more real than I am. He already is mediating in Christ between me and somebody else. His spirit is already at work, so when I am with somebody else, I try to listen to what God is saying. I attempt to live in his presence, abide in him, and not speak until I have a sense of what he has for me to say. It makes relationships more dynamic and it helps me remember that my role in being with people is to remain in the peace of God, not try to fix anything, not try to answer all the questions right away, but to see what God has for me to say.
JMF: So what is it about God that helps you feel that way and to have that kind of a sense of being in relationship with other people?
CD: Primarily, God always comes to me with grace and light. God is the one who includes me in his loving circle of Father, Son, and Spirit. God’s grace in Christ teaches me that God loved me and loves me before I am ever even interested in him. So when I start my day, that God has already been at work all night and he welcomes me to be a part of what he’s doing. It allows me to have confidence that it is not up to me to know what the right thing is to say to somebody else, how to complete something.
Let me give you an example with my family. I was visiting my family recently and I had a certain idea of what I wanted to happen, and some of my conversations, I think we’re all like that. We can go into something with an agenda of what we want to see happen, and it will be successful if I have been able to accomplish my agenda.
JMF: So we’re focused on the agenda, not on the person.
CD: That’s right…and not on God either. I’m focusing on my agenda, but I think I’m focusing on you because I have an agenda for how I want you to go, and I’m hoping that you hear what I have to say. Or think about times when you want to confront people. You feel like you need to have this moment of confrontation. But what we often forget is that God is living and present. He knows you better than I know you. He knows my mother better than I know her. When I go into that conversation, if I’m living, as much as possible, in the reality of the Trinitarian life, then I’m trusting that God was there before me, that he already is at work in my mother, and he has his own agenda for that time…but that his main agenda for me is to trust that he has an agenda, to listen for him, to be aware of him rather than rushing in, even with my good intentions – our agendas are oftentimes for something good for somebody else. But we stop living in his peace, we stop abiding as soon as we try to make what we want to have happen be first.
JMF: So you can actually be in the relationship, enjoy the person for who they are…
JMF: …knowing that God has an agenda before, during, and after. He’ll be there with that person just as he is with you and me.
CD: Right. It makes things a lot more free, a lot more peaceful. I’m going to use an example. I have adult kids and there are times when I feel that my wisdom is exactly what they need to hear right now. I will be able to straighten this out if they will just listen to what I say. But if I believe that God is real, that his grace isn’t just a packet I was given but that he’s pushing into this situation right now with his reality, he is pushing into their lives by the Spirit in Christ all the time, then if I attempt to just listen more to what he’s saying and I don’t have a sense that he’s leading me to say anything, he’s not opening a door for me (unless I try to cram something in and obviously he’s not leading me). Sometimes he’s leading me to be quiet and to make a nice meal for my son instead of trying to offer anything more. When we live as if God is real, then we can be at peace. We can know his rest. We can be confident that he will always be more faithful than we are. It is never up to us. It has had a radical effect on my relationships with others, on my relationships with people in the church, in my family, with my friends. If I attempt to be with them by letting God lead first.
Another example: I was talking to a friend who was on a church committee. She said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say when I go into this. I’m not sure how to deal with it. There’s going to be some conflict.” I said, “Well, try to picture Jesus being with you. Try to have an image of him …he’s in the meeting with you and he’s calling you to enjoy his presence while you’re there. How will that change how you’re in that meeting?”
JMF: When we realize he loves that other person, is involved with that other person just as much as he is with us…it makes it a lot easier to be with the person, enjoy the person for who they are, and not have to feel like, I’ve got to get my two-cents worth in.
JMF: You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make them drink. We know that about horses. But we still try to do it with each other all the time.
CD: What it comes down to is, do I really trust him enough? I think the answer ends up being no. “I’m not sure you’re going to show up. I’m not sure you’re going to be active. I’m not sure you’re going to be present, so I’ll cover those last ten yards for you. Besides, I’m a wise person. I know a lot. Trust me, God, I’m sure I can take care of this for you.”
It’s humbling but yes, it’s also a lot easier to live as if God is the greatest reality in their life, and he’s currently active. He didn’t just give you a list to take care of, but he’s breaking in, always ahead of you and behind you and around you. There’s never a time when he’s leaving you alone.
JMF: The relationship with a person is more important than some agenda you might have for that person.
CD: Right. The funny thing is, what are you trying to invite people into? You’re trying to invite them into the peace that you’re living in. But if you’re frantically trying to get them into that, you have nothing to offer.
JMF: You don’t have any peace.
CD: Right. You left the peace back here in hopes of being able to still have a message. That’s the thing we’re always afraid isn’t going to be true. How much am I going to love somebody unless I get to say everything I think I need to say, unless they come to appreciate me the way I want them to appreciate me? But if God is holding onto that, one of the phrases I’ve been using recently in my Bible study is, we live suspended in the grace of God. If we are living suspended in the grace of God and the person I’m talking to, whoever they are, also does…they may be resisting that, but that’s really where they live.
JMF: There’s no other place to live.
CD: Exactly. Then I can trust that God is going to allow me to participate in his work as I let go of having to have things go whatever way I think they do.
JMF: And amazingly, he may be working with you in that setting more than he is with the other person…
CD: That’s what I often find to be true. I’m sure you have found that to be true as a parent. As God allows us by his grace more and more to let go of all the ideas that we may have had when they were younger about what we were going to be able to accomplish for them, I can say that he has blessed me tremendously through them. I hope they will learn as much as I have from being their parent.
Another way to think about this in terms of Trinitarian theology has been to take more seriously his grace and his never allowing anything that he won’t and can’t redeem in your life and in your children’s life. Taking seriously that he knows your sins, your problems, the unwise choices that you may have made, and he’s going to redeem that. We participate even in our parenting with God. He is the ultimate parent and we’re not. I’ve had to go through some things in my life where I’ve had to realize he never called me to be our children’s parent because I was perfect, but he called me knowing that he could redeem everything, he could bring it all to his glory and he’s not ashamed to call me his sister, as it says in Hebrews.
JMF: That frees our relationships up so much because we can let go. We can respect the other person in a way that we might not because we often go into conversations thinking we’re superior…
CD: Yes, that brings up another good point.
JMF: Or intimidated, one or the other.
CD: We can give what we have to give in God’s hands, and we can receive what the other person has to give, which we oftentimes, as you were just saying, we don’t do. I won’t receive something from somebody if I’m hoping for something else from them. When I live in the peace of God it helps me to be more actually present to the other person. I can see and hear what they’re saying instead of thinking ahead to okay, what’s the next thing I’m going to say? What’s my move in this? More like a chess game instead of an actual conversation. It’s enabled me to rejoice over the little things sometimes that somebody else can give me because that may be all that they can give me right now. But in God’s grace, that’s enough. Too often I have worked past people instead of being present with them. So I would agree. That’s what it does.
JMF: Even in interviewing, you can get into a frame of mind that you know where you want it to come out, let’s say. So you want to guide it in that direction and get to that point. You see it on TV all the time, especially with pundits. They’ve got an angle, and so they often don’t even let the other person talk. I find myself doing the same thing. I think, this is the point I want the viewers to learn from this, and so I’m going to guide it in that direction instead of letting it go the direction it needs to go and is going to go because it’s the person that you’re interviewing.
CD: That’s right.
JMF: The reason that they’re there is because you figured they must have something worthwhile to say. But aren’t our kids the same way? We [should be] about the relationship and them, more than molding them into some image that we think they ought to have.
CD: Yes, and being willing to let go of that image allows us to take seriously the Triune God. A lot of times we don’t take him that seriously. We take a lot of other things about our lives and what we think we should be able to do and what it means to be successful a lot more seriously than we do the presence and activity of the Triune God in our lives. It’s led to a lot of surprises in my life being able to let go. It’s also enabled me to be more joyful with people because my joy isn’t coming from the immediate situation or the immediate relationship.
God is always there. He’s always with us. He’s already at work. What will that mean? It’s quite an adventure. I have no idea where this might go. That enables me to be not just more peaceful but more enthusiastic about seeing where he wants to take me next. His plans will always be good and for my good even though, as you were saying, it’s a little hard to let go of some of those things we thought made us who we are, and they didn’t really.
JMF: Sometimes a person that we care about is doing something we think is harmful or destructive; we don’t like that kind of behavior. We think we need to tell them and make it clear to them where we stand on this. It’s as though we forget that God knows this too. That usually doesn’t work.
JMF: It harms the relationship, instead of maintaining it so that a person can hear us.
CD: Right. I’ve had two of my children go through some difficult times. My oldest daughter went through anorexia many years ago. This was probably when I first started working through a lot of this in terms of my family and relationships. I was watching her disappear before my eyes. What can I do? What do you want me to do? We tried forcing her to eat, all kinds of things. I remember sitting in the kitchen one time and saying, “God, I don’t know what… I’m feeling desperate, please. I can’t do anything. What do you want me to do? I’m ready to listen. What do you want me to do?”
He said, “Make her a cup of tea and just take it back to her and say, ‘I love you. You are terrific’ because that’s what I have to say to her, so that’s the one thing I want you to say.” It was amazing to me that he freed me in that moment to experience his grace in my own life and to extend his grace to her and to realize that’s what she needed to hear – not all of my wisdom, not all of my fears. Because a lot of times when we’re busy trying to fix things, the one thing we’re forgetting to tell people is God’s grace has already broken in. If that is true, what would we be saying to each other? If we were living as that were true, how would that change every comment that we make and every interaction that we have?
JMF: Isn’t that scary for people, when we know somebody’s doing something that we know is harmful for them and then…and then all we’re going to do is say to ourselves, “I know that God loves this person and is working for their redemption, and he can do that a lot better than I can.” It’s hard to give them grace because we feel like we’re compromising with sin or something, instead of giving them what we need. We’re afraid of grace.
CD: That’s right. Yet, that’s where God starts and that’s where he continues to go with us every day. I do not get up in the morning because I decided that I would go ahead living for another day. I just made that decision. Rather, I wake up and discover “God has given me another day. He continues to love me. He delights in me.”
That is a scary thing to say to somebody else. It’s a scary thing to hear because we’re afraid that it means that nothing’s going to change. But the gospel is God by giving us grace makes a possibility of something changing. If I want my daughter to change, I want her to change out of the sense that “this is not who you are. This is not the last word on you. I love you, and, more importantly, God loves you. The whole God is here, and he has so much more for you than this.” Unfortunately, a lot of times when we’re trying to correct something, we start fearing.
My son went through something far worse. I won’t go into it, but the last couple years of my life have been some of the hardest I’ve ever had to go through as a mother and as a person. There would be times when I would get up in the morning and I would have to say, “God, help me remember…” Even my prayers could become, “Oh God, please, please, please.” But that’s not living in the Trinitarian reality. The reality is, I’m so glad that even now you haven’t left us.
JMF: We’re in your hands.
CD: Yeah. I’m grateful. Not just me but my son, my family, and that you were there all the way through all of this and you will redeem it because of who you are, not just because of some whim. This is who you are. Having said that, I could go into my day with grace. I could say, when he came out, “Oh, I love you so much. I am so glad that you’re here.” And I’d leave it at that. It was radical.
JMF: Even with what you just said, don’t we like to try to talk them into that? In other words, we can’t, like you just said, leave it at that. We have to try to talk them into, you know, God does love you, and we want to make sure they know that, and we want them to agree with us about that. We don’t know how to trust God to be who he is with them and for them.
CD: Right. It’s a far more radical trust. But this is the dynamic living in God that we’re talking about and trusting that Jesus actually mediates our relationships. He never says, “Okay, this one’s on your own. Go out there. I hope it works out okay for you.” But that is the problem. We’ll trust him up to a certain point, but if it meant having to give up everything in my life to be a Christian, well, I don’t know about this. Does that mean that I have to give up what I think my reputation should be in terms of my mothering, in terms of other things that I do? Do I have to trust in you in all of these ways? That’s what it would mean to take him at his word.
JMF: But when we do that, it actually is easier, isn’t it?
CD: A lot easier.
JMF: It leaves a place, a room for the child to come to their own conclusions instead of having to circle the wagons against us all the time.
CD: And it’s a lot more fun, too. My son has come home sometimes and found I’m dancing to some music with my daughter. I’ve danced a lot more in the last two years than I thought I would because I trust that God is at work. He’s at work with me, and I don’t have to justify myself. I don’t have to be able to say, none of these things that have happened had to do with me. Some of them did, I’m sure. I was not a perfect mother. To be able to let go of each one of those places, I try to find my identity and know at the bottom, his hands are holding onto me. I think they like being around me more. As wise was I was before, I think I was somewhat of a battle axe because I had to make sure my wisdom got out to everybody.
JMF: Absolutely. I think that you’re far from alone. Not just mothers. Fathers often make it worse because there’s the authority thing involved as well.
CD: And we can do that in church, as we come in with our agenda for a meeting. It’s not bad to have an agenda, but I’ve noticed a lot of times, God rubber stamps our agenda instead of no, why don’t we pray together and see what God wants to do. We are not in charge. If he wants to end a program in the church, let’s be ready for that instead of having to keep things going because we’ve decided we know what should happen.
JMF: People are more important than programs, and being together is more important than getting something done.
JMF: Because that’s what we’re trying to get done, is being together.
CD: That’s the weird thing about it. That’s what I was trying to say about noticing in my evangelism that I had become so uptight about trying to help people become Christians. If I could sit on the other side and see what I was looking like, I wouldn’t want to become a Christian either.