The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection

    Relational soul
    Relational soul

    By Sarita Shah John

    “Our capacity to trust is our capacity to love and be loved.” As humans, we long for love—proof that God created humans for relationship. The Bible says without love, we are nothing. In The Relational Soul, counselor Richard Plass and former pastor James Cofield, uncover why deep, meaningful connections with God and others cannot exist without trust, and why maturity develops only through authentic community. 

    The authors, who run Cross Point Ministry, contend that the ability to trust develops within the first couple years of life. The child-parent relationship forms a pattern of attachment that follows into adulthood. A child who feels safe and loved early in life, they say, will form healthy connections into adulthood. The opposite also holds true. Since memory controls one’s capacity to relate, the authors claim that negative memories from early childhood hinder development of healthy attachments and relationships. A person who learns not to trust will react in the flesh. This manifests as shame, fear, and guilt, or what the book calls the façade of false self. The result? A withdrawal from God and people. 

    The mistrustful reactive soul yearns to receive and trust well, they say, but doesn’t know how. Jesus modeled what the authors label true self living, free from the mistrust and defensiveness of the false self.  The authors emphasize the importance of self-clarity and sharing one’s “story” with God and with a safe loving community. Without said sharing, deep connections cannot exist because “we are relational beings who are both hurt and healed by our relationships.” Thus, the authors aim to help the reader reach emotional and spiritual maturity.    

    Both seminary graduates, the authors combine psychology with the gospel message of redemption in Christ. They claim a person cannot break dysfunctional relational patterns by solo effort or will, but only by surrender of the false self to a trustworthy God. Ultimately, a healthy relationship with God leads to healthy relationships with others.   
    A fast-paced easy read, the book has two parts divided by an interlude. The first part uncovers past relational patterns, and the importance of grieving losses in order to move on to true self living. God heals wounds by way of invitation to commune with the person of Jesus.  The authors affirm true self living comes only from Jesus, because only He satisfies the human desire for deep soul connection.  

    The second part discusses specifics on making peace with one’s past, the necessity of a faith community, and soul transformation via a personal walk with God. The authors assert true self living requires intentionality of loving God and loving one’s neighbor. They also discuss spiritual disciplines they deem necessary for authentic relationships, and describe characteristics of a heart surrendered to Christ.  

    Much of the book differentiates the false self from the true self. The writing seems repetitive at times, but drives the point home: People need people, and people need God. The book has a few grammatical errors, but not enough to detract from the solid content. Each of the ten chapters opens with a compelling true story about real people with relational struggles. The authors even share their own personal battles. Thoughtful discussion questions at the end of each chapter make the book ideal for individual reflection or group study. Appendices provide tools for uncovering one’s personal story.         

    Cultivating deep relational connections, as the book describes, requires courage. Self-clarity forces one to face personal sin. This can prove difficult, uncomfortable, and often times frightening. But God calls the believer to live in honesty with Him and others. A must-read for all Christians, this book can help those seeking healing from a painful past, a satisfying relationship with Jesus, and deep connections with others. Biblical counselors may find it beneficial, and those pursuing vocational ministry can use the book as a spiritual formation tool. The triune relational God created humans in His image to enjoy loving relationships. The heart longs for deep connection.

    Sarita Shah John lives in Dallas, TX, and has been married ten years. She is a health care worker, and part-time student at Dallas Theological Seminary.

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