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Father Michael Denk: Hi, everyone. This is Father Michael Denk. I am here at St. Matthias Church in Parma; I am the administrator, and I am also the founder of The Prodigal Father, and I am very excited to meet the author of this book; I found it very moving, and I am glad to share with you. Matt, I am not only reading the book but doing some of the exercises that you had in the book, so I am looking forward to talking to you about the fruitfulness that has happened for that if you can take a moment and introduce yourself to our viewers so they can know some of your backgrounds.

Dr. Matthew Breuninger: Sure. I am honored to be on here, Father, so thanks for having me. My name is Dr. Matt Breuninger; I’m a clinical psychologist. I am an Associate Professor of Psychology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. I also have a part-time private practice called Wellspring Counseling and Coaching, and we provide Mental Health Services to the area. We have some programs developed that we have rolled out for people nationally, and I am also a father. Maybe my deepest and truest pleasure is to be a husband and father to my wife Brittany, and we have six really wonderful kids, so that’s me. I earned a Master’s Degree at Ave Maria University in Theology and did my doctoral work in psychology at Baylor University. I’ve always been interested in this intersection of theology and psychology, and this book has some of that. It allowed me to explore some of those topics.

Father Michael: It’s a beautiful book Finding Freedom in Christ: Healing Life’s Hurts. I think that’s been an ongoing charism of mine, especially with this ministry of the Prodigal Father, helping people come to know God, the Father’s love as He is. We’ll talk about, as you mentioned throughout the book, that sometimes that image can get distorted because we may not have had people in our lives that have fathered us or mentored us, or loved us in such a way that allows us to relate to God in that way.

Dr. Matthew Breuninger: I think that is so important. In some ways, the book is about recognizing the obstacles and barriers we’ve put up in our relationship with the Father and learning to recognize those and begin to dismantle those obstacles and barriers so that we can have an intimate relationship with the Father. When we have that intimate relationship, it’s Dynamic; it’s freeing; we have clarity in what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go; we have deep peace. The problem with removing those obstacles and barriers to our relationship with the Father is it presupposes that we trust the Father; it presupposes that he’s the kind of person that we’d want to have a relationship with. And see, intimacy is vulnerable; intimacy means that we can be hurt, we can be exposed, and I think a lot of us, even though up here (pointing to his head) so many of us know that God is love, it’s in here (pointing to the heart) that we wonder, ‘yeah, but if I open myself up, if I remove these obstacles and barriers, is He safe, is He trustworthy?’

Father Michael: Yeah, There’s even a protective sense, so when I’m teaching people how to pray and enter into a deeper intimacy with God the Father, many people’s initial response is, ‘I’m good, I’ve got the prayer thing down I know God is love.’ Yes, but I do find that they’ve not experienced that encounter; they know it, they know that’s the right answer to say, yes, even to introduce maybe the idea that it could be deeper and more beautiful, can kind of cause that resistance immediately right away.

Dr. Matthew Breuninger: I know, Father. I think it’s a big enough idea, and I think it’s so prevalent that I’ve done a few studies. I haven’t published these yet; I’ve presented them at conferences, but sometimes there’s a distinction in psychology between what we call God image or concept and God’s attachment. God concept is what you’ve learned in Sunday school about God; it’s your didactic knowledge. God attachment is that felt experience of intimacy in a relationship. And when I’ve done studies on students, overwhelmingly, students report God is love, God is saved, and God is trustworthy. And then when you measure their God attachment, that felt insecurity, overwhelmingly it’s avoidant or anxious, and so there’s a real disconnect with what they know here (pointing to the head) and what they feel here(pointing to the heart). That’s a big enough idea for me that one of the things we’ve done in my counseling practice is we’ve developed a 12-week program. I feel really excited about this; we actually just launched it. It’s called Known Embraced by the Heart of the Father, and the entire purpose of the 12-week program is to help you deepen your experience as a beloved son or daughter of the Father. Basically, it’s like that second step in the book: being honest about where you are with God. I felt it was so profound I wanted to expand it to people. And so, this Known Program is intended to help people deepen that sense of belonging, that sense of belovedness. I have people come to me, and they say, ‘Dr. B, here are my goals; here’s what I want to work on, and I’m not sure those are the goals you’d want to work on if you knew that you were beloved. Sometimes our goals, our aspirations come from a place of insecurity, a place of fear; they come from a place of wanting to project something to others or convince others of something, and I think we can only genuinely know our goals or trust out goals when we first know that we are beloved. 

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