Like a paint by number painting, our relationships, and relational conflict, follow predictable patterns. We change the colors, have an informed opinion about the colors, and end up in emotionally entangled arguments about the colors. But we miss the reality that we often are painting the same patterns over and over. We are simply painting the same patterns with different colors.

If we don’t’ see the relational patterns in our lives and work, we are tempted to believe we need a new palette. New colors will produce a new painting, a better painting. But what we will realize with time is that we recreate the same pattern, only with different colors. It is not until we begin to do the inner work of being aware of our predictable patterns in relationships that we will see a different outcome.

Our pattern maybe we eject from a relationship because getting too close creates anxiety in us. Or we smother the other in relationship because getting too much distance creates anxiety in us. We may find fault in the system that is overly organized, or find fault in the environment that is overly relational. What we miss is how unconsciously we rehearse the same script, and paint the same relational patterns.

The first step in beginning to see patterns, not just colors, in relationships is being inquisitive. There is a security required in curiosity. Trust is what invites us to explore what beneath our family trees and hidden among the patterns of our lives. I believe curiosity combats anxiety. It admits, by its nature, there are layers and levels it does not yet know. Children are by nature curious. They ask why more times than a parent can almost stand. But their inquisitive nature is the wiring required for learning. The same is true for us. We need to relearn how to be inquisitive about who we are. Curiosity begins by asking good questions. 

The simplest, and most effective, line of questioning I have found is, the “5 Whys”. Asking the question “why?” five times - each time using the answer of the previous question to frame the next question. This begins to illuminate thoughts and feelings protected by patterns we’ve learned over the years. By the third or fourth “why?” we are exposing vulnerable areas where the patterns of how we think, feel, and act are drawn.  

I recently practiced the “5 Whys” while at breakfast with a friend. He revealed a storm was brewing at home with his ongoing opposition to his wife’s work. It began with the first “why” about the nature of her work. After the third “why?” it was becoming clear that he wanted her to be at home. He grew up with a single mother who was always working. The colors had changed. The pattern remained the same. By the fifth “why?” he vulnerably acknowledged he missed her when she was away. I asked how the conversation about her work could be different if he began with, “I miss you when you’re at work.” His grin hinted at how the pattern could be redrawn towards intimacy instead of instigating another argument.

The patterns we know draw the lines we follow. Our patterns work for us, for the most part. They are based on what we know and they are what we’ve used to survive. But our patterns also fail us. They become the predictable parts of who we are that we can no longer see. We can change our context, but our relational conflicts remain hidden behind the different colors. The “5 Whys” strategy sees patterns beneath the colors and is used by companies and counselors alike. The line of questions asks us to look beneath the circumstances to the operating systems we instinctively follow.

When we begin to see patterns, we can begin to choose to change them. We can draw new lines. Lines based on a greater awareness of what works for our benefit and the benefit of those around us. We identify a relational conflict as it begins to emerge because we recognize the pattern, regardless of the color or context in may be in. We now have the choice of pattern and palette.

As you begin to see the patterns more clearly in your relationships, you begin to see them emerge in every relationship. The author Frederick Buchner writes, “The story of any one of us is the story of us all.” Every person has relational patterns. Our hope is to grow in awareness and invite others to the process of seeing patterns, not just colors.  

No longer painting the same old patterns, we now cultivate relationships with newfound curiosity. It begins with seeing patterns in the world inside us and then around us. Each day we practice tracing new lines of relational renewal. Our relationships are secure enough to creatively explore new conversations. Relational health is a never-ending adventure. But we can let the kids use the color by number books, and we can choose to create something unique and beautiful with the relationships in our lives.



What patterns in relationships have you covered up by simply changing colors?
What lines were drawn in your family of origin that you often unconsciously paint by?
How would have seeing the patterns, not just the colors, impacted the last relational conflict you were in? What relational lines could you redraw to begin to be free to create with new patterns and palette?


Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero
A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman
Managing Leadership Anxiety, Steve Cuss


I was standing in the galley of a plane with a rabbi at 2AM when I learned what my name meant.

Rabbi Ben had joined me in the rear galley of the plane. I was stretching my six-foot frame from sitting in the 24-inch cell we call “Coach”. We were halfway across the Atlantic Ocean and hours away from Tel Aviv.

“You’re such a downer”, he said it and then let out a deep chuckle, the kind you’d expect from a rabbi telling a joke. He could tell immediately I had missed the joke completely. “You don’t know what your names means. Do you?”

At this point I’m thinking a few things. One, I’m not certain I want to learn what my names means at 2AM in the galley of a plane from a rabbi and two, I desperately want to know what my name means.

My parents had told me the story of how my name came to me. It was a collision of my father watching country westerns and reading the genealogies in Genesis. It all makes perfect sense if you’re the son of a Baptist preacher born in Oklahoma.

Jarrod Barkley (spelled J-A-R-R-O-D) was the eldest son of the family in the western show The Big Valley. He was educated and refined and handled all of the family's business affairs. Jarrod preferred the law to settle disputes, but was known to resort to frontier justice when necessary.

Jared, (spelled J-A-R-E-D) was the great-great-grandson of Seth, the son of Adam. Like Adam and Eve son of Adam. Bible Jared has a son whose name is Enoch. And, Enoch is the one who walked with God. So, my parents are thinking he has to be a good dad. And it’s really not important, but incase you get stumped in Bible trivia I’ll mention that Jared’s grandson is Methuselah. Who’s that? He is the longest-living human mentioned in the Bible with an age of 969 years.

Of course my parents chose Jared, J-A-R-E-D, the biblically accurate one.

My parents gave me a little plaque when I was in grade school. It has my name written in that Old English handwriting and under my name it has the meaning “God’s Descendent.” That’s what I’m holding on to in the galley.

Honestly, the only liability I saw with my name as a kid is I could never find it on the little license plates in the stores in Estes Park when my family was on summer vacation. I had only met one other Jared, we were in college together, but he spelled his name wrong, he was R-O-D, the western, not the biblical, chosen one like me.

Rabbi Ben looks at me and begins. “Your name, Yared, is like the river, the Yardan.” It’s 2AM but I’m keeping up. Yared = Hebrew of Jared, Yardan = Hebrew of Jordan. The Jordan the river that goes down from the Galilee to the Dead Sea. He sees I’m tracking. He continues, “Yared is the man who goes down, the man who falls down. Yared, you are a downer.” He let’s out another deep chuckle. “Such a downer.”

I’m thinking I’m in the galley of an international flight, above an ocean, hours away from a cigarette, and there’s a whole tray full of mini Jack Daniel’s right here.

An uninvited tear enters the corner of my eye. I think Rabbi Ben notices it. He is softer, for a rabbi, and he continues. “The picture of who you are is in three men.” I’m thinking I should have my journal to write this down. Ends up I could not forget all this even if I tried.

“Joseph, he is the man who goes down into the well, goes down into Egypt, goes down into prison.” I nod slowly. I know the story.

“Jonah, he is the man who is thrown down into the water and then is swallowed by the fish.” I know this story too. I never thought as a kid that Jonah would end up causing me so much heartache as an adult.

“Jesus, he is the man who they lay down in the grave.” This shit just got real. Who does this? Who uncorks this kind of meaning on someone in a plane galley at 2AM?

“That’s who you are. You are Yared. You go down.”

Well, fish, grave. You have to give it to God, He is great with word pictures.

I spent the next decade being the man who falls down.
The man who falls down is the man whose churches attendance dissolves.
The man who falls down is the man whose marriage ends in divorce.
The man who falls down is the man who slowly comes to trust that identity is not found not in the ascent, but in the descent.  

“That’s who you are. You are Yared. You go down.”

I return to my 24-inch Coach cell. I stare out the plane window. It’s still hours before the plane will descend.

That flight was over ten years ago. But Rabbi Ben’s words leave a lasting wound.

Years later I’m remembering the plane, the galley, and the conversation. It is early. The predawn light is coming in the window. I am sitting on the couch with a candle, coffee, and quiet.

And then, as unexpectedly as finding out what my name meant on the plane the meaning of my name is redeemed.

“You are the man who falls down.” I breathe. I listen.

It starts with a trickle, then begins to flow into a stream, now a river. Just like the River Yardan. “You are the man who falls down.” The “you” has moves and I see.

Jesus, You are the man who falls down carrying the cross. But bigger and before and beyond that act You are the God-man who comes down. The incarnation, God becoming man, is the ultimate picture of Yared, “the man who goes down”. The greatest of descents was from beyond the cosmos to created dirt.

I breathe. I remember. Redemption comes at a price. Something has to be given up.

What have I given up?
I’ve given up being the man who wants to always be moving up.
I’ve given up being the man who never falls down.
I’ve given up believing there is any other way to know who you truly are than to go descend.

I never would have thought my B-list Bible celebrity name could mean so much.

Yared. I am one who goes down.

I sometimes imagine being back in the galley of a plane with Rabbi Ben. I’d thank him for his untimely joke and his deep chuckle about being me being such a downer. I imagine pulling out two minis from the tray and saying, “How about a toast? To the ones who go down!”

Jared Ray Mackey