SIDEBAR: Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?

If relationships are so important to our spiritual health, ministerial longevity, and our families, why do some ministers live in relative isolation?

by Warren D. Bullock

The level of relationship we enjoy with others is reflected in the kind of communication we have with them. John Powell pointed this out in his book, Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am? He identified five levels of communication. We can apply them to friendships, marriage, and our relationship with the Lord.

Level Five: Cliché conversation. This is safe, with no real personal sharing. It breaks the ice for other types of conversation. For instance, we often use the weather as a beginning point in conversation, even with strangers.

Level Four: Reporting the facts. This level still sticks to what is safe and reports what someone else said or reported. We might share something about ourselves, but it will be in factual form. Regarding the weather, we might say, “Last night the meteorologist on TV said it could rain today.”

Level Three: Expressing my ideas and judgments. Though still cautious, we start to share what we think, what our perspective on things is. “We need some rain. I hate it when it is so hot.” This level is a fulcrum in relationships. If the person we are talking to accepts our ideas and judgments, we may go on to deeper levels of communication and relationship. If not, we can pull back and retreat to safer levels. This is where we need to be good listeners, so people will feel comfortable taking the next step in communication.

Level Two: Our feelings and emotions. This is not a recounting of the facts, but expressing how we feel about them. It may include sadness, joy, wonder, anger, frustration, or amazement. We trust our friends to understand these feelings and even empathize with us. “I’ll be so glad when it stops raining. I get so depressed when it rains.”

Level One: Complete emotional and personal communication. Nothing is held back. This is made possible because we have been building a relationship by communicating on other levels, perhaps for a long period of time. Nothing in weather talk is comparable at this level.

No one on Planet Earth knows me better than my wife, Judi. Why? Not only because we have been married for over 40 years, but because I tell her things I do not tell anyone else.

When we translate these levels to our prayer experience, some of us would have to admit that we rarely get to Level One. We are good at praying, but we communicate with God from a certain spiritual distance. We come near to God and talk to Him, but do not move to Level One communication, where God answers us back. He is waiting for us to enjoy prayer at its deepest level.