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Archive for the ‘Control’ Category

Guilt Trip To…Nowhere

SOURCE: Adapted from  Stepping Stones/Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network

Because I teach people to make decisions based on information, not emotions, I cringe when I hear parents, ministries, or pastors using guilt to “motivate” others. “If you loved me, you would do your chores.” “I worked long and hard on this meal, so you better eat it.” “We’ll have to cancel the event … unless you help us.” “Look at these starving kids in Africa and all the food you throw away. Please send money.” “See the pain Jesus went through for you? You should feel terrible; now accept Him as your savior.”

Guilt is an incredible motivator, but that’s not the correct role for or use of guilt. I am all for pointing out injustices and needs so people can step into their roles to help these situations or make good decisions.

The issue I am trying to separate through these examples is this: we shouldn’t use guilt to motivate people.

Several subliminal, distorted, and false messages can unwontedly occur when people act out of guilt.   Here are some examples:

1. I am responsible for and can control someone else’s feelings through what I do.

2. The other person won’t feel better unless I act the way he wants.

3. When you want a friend to do something for you, it is OK to lay a guilt trip on her.

4. Decisions should be based on self-needs and emotions, not God’s truth, facts, and reasoning. This is probably the worst message of all.

Unfortunately, these distorted messages subtly seep into our everyday functioning, and dramatically interfere with Godly decision-making.

Many pastors and priests try to whip their congregations into Christian action by delivering guilt-inducing sermons. Whether it’s guilting someone to say the sinner’s prayer, to give money, to volunteer, or to stop a certain behavior, the end does not justify the means. I have personally experienced these guilt-evoking messages. And unfortunately, they undermine the very foundation of grace and love that God wants to instill in a believer’s heart.

Today, take notice if you are feeling guilty about something, or if you are inducing guilt in someone else. Stop and examine why guilt is present. Guilt is important if you have done something wrong. So let the guilt warn you that a problem exists. But don’t let it be your decision-maker. Let reason and the Bible direct your heart and actions. Confess, repent, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. You are responsible for your feelings and happiness; the other person is responsible for his own. Above all else, be mindful that God does not measure and judge you by the amount of good works you do. Rather He looks into your heart. It’s your decision to allow God or guilt to motivate you, so choose well.

Prayer
Dear Father God, I do not want to be stressed out about not “doing enough” as good Christian. I know that You want me to relax in the assurance of Your perfect love. Today help me remember that You delight in me more than I can ever imagine, that You see me cloaked in Your light and presence … and that there is no condemnation for those cloaked in You. Help me daily, Lord, to come closer to having the Mind of Christ. Help me make decisions based on Your word, not my feelings. Help me feel convicted and guilty about my wrongs, and then look to You for forgiveness, and to Your word for guidance in doing right. I pray in the name of the One who knew no guilt ‘til He bore all mine, Jesus Christ;   AMEN!

The Truth
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest.  Isaiah 61:10

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  Romans 8:1-2

The “Passive Aggressive” Always Wins

SOURCE:   Les Carter, Ph.D./AACC

As Nancy rolled her eyes, heaving an exaggerated sigh, her face said it all.

She was at her wits end, not knowing how to proceed with her husband, Norman. “He’s the most unreachable person I know,” she said with exhausted self-restraint. “He’ll make one promise after another about improving our marriage but nothing ever comes of it. I’ve talked with him until I’m blue in the face. I’ve pleaded. I’ve cried. I’ve yelled. But nothing can get him to change course. In fact, the more I persuade, the more it seems to energize him in the wrong direction.”

Nancy went on to explain how Norman was the type of money manager who could screw up any budget. He was a slob and a procrastinator. Rarely did he follow through on chores. Occasionally she would receive reassurances from him about being more responsible, but inevitably she would later realize he was just saying what was needed to get her off his back. Commonly he would give one-word responses to her queries. Sometimes he would not speak at all when spoken to. He was secretive. He forgot birthdays. He had moments when he seemed friendly, yet he was not affectionate and had no particular interest in sex.

“What angers me the most,” she said, “is that he did such a good sales job to get me to marry him. Prior to the wedding he was a gentleman. He was considerate and had a sense of humor. I genuinely believed he liked me because he was so available.” Sighing heavily again, she said, “I feel so defrauded.”

Nancy was living with the quintessential passive aggressive person.

This manner of life is typified by belittling treatment of others via non-cooperation, evasiveness, being dismissive, and avoiding emotional attachments. The goal of the passive aggressive person is to preserve self’s perceived needs at the other person’s expense with the least personal vulnerability. Though they may never speak these words overtly, their behavior covertly communicates: “Try as hard as you like, but you will never pin me down. I’m only interested in my agenda.”

To the passive aggressive, relationships are a competition and they will win no matter the cost.

While passive aggressive people may indeed have pleasant and congenial moments, time eventually reveals such qualities to be part of a disguise. Beneath the surface are trends that could be adjusted but are not.

Most prominent among these trends are: (1) a quiet commitment to anger, (2) entrenched fear, and (3) a powerful need for control. Let’s look at each separately.

A quiet commitment to anger.

Some people falsely assume that anger is only evidenced in loud raucous behaviors. If you do not shout or curse or throw things, so the reasoning goes, you probably do not have anger issues. Anger, however, is not that one-dimensional. It is the emotion of self-preservation, prompting individuals to stand up for personal worth, presumed needs, and core convictions. Communicated respectfully, it can actually serve a useful purpose.

Passive aggressive persons have determined to manage their anger on the sly. Wanting to maintain the upper hand, they disdain clean anger since it requires an attitude of dignity and equality. In the spirit of competition, their behavior quietly shouts: “I like my anger because it deflates you and I’ll punish you every time you attempt to put me into your mold.”

Entrenched fear.

Passive aggressive individuals find traits like openness and accountability threatening. They tell themselves, “If I fully expose my feelings or perceptions, you’ll try to invalidate me.” They operate with low confidence that others can be trusted. It is likely that they have historically received shame messages, so they have determined that no one will ever again succeed in making them emotionally vulnerable. Their defenses are overly developed because they are so binary (all or nothing) in their thinking that they do not consider the possibility that some individuals would truly like to relate as one equal to another. They do not allow such hopeful thinking to guide their behaviors.

The need for control.

Passive aggressive people are convinced that the way to succeed in relationships is to be as fully in control as possible. Being cooperative or understanding would mean giving up chunks of power, something they absolutely will not do. When another person has a separate opinion or preference, it cannot be managed at face value. It is instead interpreted as the other person intending to dominate, prompting all sorts of stubborn retorts.

People like Nancy who are trying to come to terms with someone like Norman often make a common mistake by asking the seemingly reasonable question: “How can I make that person cooperate?” Such a question positions them to enter into the One-up/One-down game that they will surely lose. It is a guarantee that when they try to force standards upon the passive aggressive, adversarial responses will ensue.

When advising others about ways to respond cleanly to passive aggressive behaviors, I offer three notions:

1. Recognize that the other person’s behavior is not a referendum about your worth. Do not attempt to persuade that person to give you the respect that will not be given.

2. In sober moments speak non-coercively about your desires for the relationship. Make no demands, but be clear about your preference for honest, fulfilling exchanges.

3. Live with well-defined personal boundaries. If the other person chooses to be difficult, you can proceed with resolve and consequences. Maintain calm firmness even as you choose not to beg for cooperation.

It is sad that some individuals maintain a commitment to an adversarial manner, yet you can determine not to become so drawn into the undertow that you too become unhealthy. The passive aggressive may persist in the attempt to win, but you do not lose when you opt out of the game of rude responses.

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Dr. Les Carter is the best-selling author of The Anger Workbook and The Anger Trap. He maintains a private practice at the Southlake Psychiatric and Counseling Center in Southlake, Tx.

15 Things Wives Should Stop Doing

SOURCE:  Mary May Larmoyeux/Family Life

What do your words and actions say to your husband about your love for him?

In the 1960s, The Supremes recorded their hit song “Stop! In the Name of Love!”  I remember singing the words as a teenager:  “Before you break my heart … think it o-o-ver …”

Even though I’ve been married for decades now, it’s still important for me to consider my husband’s needs. I should think about the possible effects of my careless words, attitudes, and actions before I break his heart. Can you identify?

I asked some girlfriends, “What should a wife stop doing if she wants to improve her marriage?”

This list is based on their responses.

1. Stop thinking that your way is the “right” way. If he does something differently, it does not mean that it’s wrong. When a wife insists on having her own way, she is in essence saying, “I have to be in control.”

2. Don’t put others before your husband. God designed companionship in marriage so that a husband and wife can meet one another’s need for a close, intimate, human relationship. He even said in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

So what happens when you put your mother, a friend, or even a child before your spouse? Actually, you take a step (often unintentional) toward isolation in your marriage. If you choose, for example, to spend an afternoon shopping with your mom when your husband asked you to watch a football game with him, you may leave hubby feeling that he has second place in your heart.

3. Don’t expect your husband to be your girlfriend. Most men and women not only look different physically, but also have unique ways of processing life. One example of this is the need for conversation. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m guilty of wearing out my husband with countless conversational details that he doesn’t really care about. Now if he was a girlfriend, all of those details would definitely matter!

4. Don’t dishonor your husband. Suggestions included: Stop all nagging and don’t correct hubby in front of others. If you finish your husband’s sentences, you may be unintentionally communicating, “I don’t really care about what you have to say.”

5. Stop expecting your husband to fail you as your dad failed your mom. “I spent many years waiting for my husband to give up and walk out on me, like my dad had years earlier,” said one friend. Her unfounded fears had robbed her marriage of much joy.

6. Don’t put your husband on the defensive. For example, if you are driving around a section of town looking for a restaurant and he’s obviously lost, does it really help for you to tell him that he’s been going around the same block for the fifth time? One wise wife said that she’s learned to be quiet in situations like this. Now, before she makes a comment, she weighs her words—asking herself: “Are my words needed? Would they be encouraging?” Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

7. Never use sex to bargain with your husband. Some women intentionally or unintentionally say to their husbands, “When I get what I want, you get sex.” However, 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 reminds husbands and wives that their bodies are not their own. “Do not deprive one another …”

8. Stop reminding your husband about things over and over. Don’t make him feel guilty or nitpick him about small stuff. One friend said that when we constantly remind our husbands about diet, weight, medication, picking up the dry cleaning, etc., we are actually acting more like his mother than his wife.

9. Don’t make your husband earn your respect.  Many women think, I’ll respect him when he earns it. But there’s a reason that Ephesians 5:33 says, “Let the wife see that she respects her husband.”  As one friend said:“If women could learn to understand that respect is a man’s native tongue, that it absolutely heals his heart and ministers to him like nothing else, it would make the biggest difference in the world.”

10. Stop giving your husband your long term to-do list. A colleague warns against overwhelming your husband with too much information. You may unintentionally cause him to feel like a failure, thinking that your long list means you are discontent. Or, he may incorrectly assume that you want him to do something immediately.

11. Don’t act like your spouse is a mind reader. Instead, be specific about your requests. One busy mom said that she used to feel overwhelmed with household chores, wishing her spouse would help her. She now realizes that the only way he knows her needs is when she tells him. “Most often,” she says, “when I simply say, ‘Honey, will you tuck the kids in tonight while I get the kitchen cleaned up,’ he is glad to help.” She’s discovered that a few words are all it takes “to change a resentment-filled, stressed-out night into a team-effort bonding time.”

12. Stop putting housework ahead of hubby. One young mom told her husband that she didn’t want to make love one night because she had just changed the sheets and she wanted them to stay clean. What do you think that response said to her husband? Another woman, who puts her husband ahead of the housework, said: “Do not leave the unfolded laundry on your marriage bed.

13. Put an end to taking the lead because you think he won’t take it. “The first many years of our marriage,” one wife said, “I would see what needed to be done and get frustrated that my husband would not take charge and get it done.” She went on to say that she’s changed by learning to wait on her husband’s leadership. “I really believe,” she says, “that our men don’t lead because we women are too quick to jump in and take care of it all.”

Ephesians 5:23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body … .”

14. Do not expect your husband to be Prince Charming. After all, the perfect husband only exists in fairy tales and your marriage exists in real life. One young wife said that instead of focusing on her husband’s shortcomings, she’s learned to recognize the wonderful things about him. What’s been the result? He’s been encouraged to do even more to be the man of her dreams.

15. Never look first to a book, a plan, or a person to fix a problem in your marriage. Instead go to God’s Word and believe and act on the things that He says. “He will lead me to any resources I need,” one woman said. “God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) but we have to live according to the promises and expect Him to show up for us.”

I Won’t Stand In The Way (of your consequences)

SOURCE:  Living Free Ministry

“The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.” Luke 15:12-13 NLT

Thoughts for Today
Enabling is anything that stands in the way of or softens the natural consequences of a person’s behavior. Enabling behaviors may actually hinder what God is doing in our loved one’s life.

In Luke 5:11-32, we learn that the father of the prodigal son understood the dangers of enablement. The prodigal son chose to take his part of the inheritance and leave home. He went to a distant country and wasted his wealth. Finally, out of money and working in a field feeding pigs, he came to his senses and decided to go home and ask his father’s forgiveness.

Consider this … 
Although it had been painful to see his son leave, the prodigal’s father allowed him to be responsible for his own actions … all the while, praying for him and waiting to receive him with open arms when he returned. But in the meantime, the father did not send care packages to the pigpen.

When the son recognized his sin and confessed it, his father welcomed him home and showered him with mercy and love.

It is vital that we don’t try to deliver our loved ones from the natural consequences of their actions, but instead allow God to work his perfect plan in their lives.

Prayer
Father, help me not to interfere with your plan for my loved one’s life. Help me not “jump to the rescue” when I should stay back and trust you to work in his life. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do by Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee. 

The Gift Of Consequences

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  While the thrust of this article is geared toward wives concerning their husbands, I believe the wisdom of what the author shares can be applied equally by husbands toward their wives.

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today I want to talk about a gift of love that is often harder to see as loving, yet it may help your husband make the changes both of you need in order to have a better marriage. Sometimes it can be the only thing left that may save your marriage. It is the gift of consequences.

One of my coaching clients grumbled recently, “My husband doesn’t pick up after himself. This drives me crazy. I’m either nagging him or feeling like I’m his slave. I don’t want to resent him but how can I get him to care about my feelings and be neater?”

This dilemma is classic because it represents many of the minor irritants of married life that challenge our ability to respond and love in a God-honoring way.

God calls us to love even when we don’t feel like it. So, what would loving her husband look like in this specific situation? First I’m going to assume that there have already been numerous conversations about this topic with no positive result. I’m also going to make the assumption that her husband is not generally disrespectful or uncaring, but that he is not in the habit of picking up after himself and his need for neatness is not at the same level as his wife’s.

That being the case, there are two biblically valid approaches. First, as covered in my previous blog, this woman could love her husband by giving the gift of acceptance. All of us enter married life imperfect. Part of our own growth and maturity is to learn to forbear with our spouse’s weaknesses in a gracious way. When you accept your husband’s messy habits, it results in one of two changes. You either learn to live without complaining, criticism or disrespect in a messier home, or you accept he doesn’t value neatness the same way you do and you take care of it and pick up after him without criticism, complaining or disrespect.

Another valid biblical way to love your spouse in this example is by giving him the gift of consequences. What that means is that you don’t pick up after him but allow him to experience the consequences of his own messiness. Unfortunately when his messiness spills over into mutual living quarters, you too suffer, and so it’s important that when this happens, you are patient with the process of your spouse coming to understand the change he needs to make.

Let me illustrate how the gift of consequences might work in this situation. Instead of nagging or criticizing her husband when he left his dirty clothes all over the floor, my coaching client gave her husband a gentle wake up call. She said, “Honey, I’m tired of nagging you to put your clothes into the hamper. I know God doesn’t want me to be resentful and angry about this and I’m really sorry for the way I acted earlier.”

Immediately her husband’s ears perked up because he too was tired of the fighting. She continued, “But I don’t want to feel angry and resentful toward you either. So from now on, if your clothes don’t make it into the hamper, you’ll have to wash them yourself. I won’t nag or ever mention it again.”

And, she didn’t. It was difficult for her to see all of his dirty laundry accumulate on the floor but it only took several weeks of unwashed clothes for him to realize that his wife meant what she said. His clothes soon found their way into the hamper each week. He realized it was easier to pick them up than to wash them himself.

In marriages where there is serious marital sin, the gift of consequences may indeed be the most loving thing you can give your spouse. Consequences are meant to wake us up and help us recognize the damage we’ve caused. The pain of our sin is meant to teach us not to repeat the same things over and over again.

The scriptures are clear. What a man sows he reaps (Galatians 6:7). When a man or woman sows discord, abuse, enmity, strife, addiction and pain in a marital relationship, he or she doesn’t reap the benefits of a good marriage.

I think this is where many Christian women have been misadvised and foolish in trying to be godly women and wives. They have suffered terrible mistreatment and yet are counseled that they must try harder to “love” their spouse (meaning forgive and forget) and continue to provide the relational closeness of a healthy, loving marriage.

But in these instances, a more biblical approach to love would be the gift of consequences. Consequences act as a potent yet loving wake-up call that reminds him that he cannot reap the benefits of a good marriage if he chooses to continue to sow deceit, abuse, discord, and chronic selfishness in the relationship.

Forgiveness is only one step of healing a broken relationship. Without repentance and change by the offender, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to anyone. Our sin separates us from God, and our repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another.

Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is chronic serious sin. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound.

C.S. Lewis wisely said, “Love is more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” The gift of consequences may indeed be the most loving thing you can do for a wayward spouse in order to help him come to his senses, repent, and change so that your marriage and family have a chance to heal.

For another example of the gift of consequences, see Leslie’s blogspot at www.leslievernick.blogspot.com.

Portions of this blog were taken from Chapter 9, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (WaterBrook Publisher, 2001).

The problem with caring too much or “over-caring”

SOURCE:  Rick Thomas/Counseling Solutions

While walking downtown Main Street the other day I met a beggar coming my way.

My mind hit a momentary pause button and then I re-indexed and ran a few thoughts through my head about how I should respond to this man.

As he came closer to me, he popped the question.

“Mister, can you spare a dollar or two. I haven’t had anything to eat since yesterday.”

I told him it would be a privilege to help him.

With a quick glance to my right, I pointed to the local Subway restaurant and told him I’d love to buy him a sandwich.

He said that he didn’t want a sandwich, but preferred I give him a couple of dollars to help him out.

I declined to give him cash and attempted to carefully explain that to him.

He was fixed on what he wanted.

I let him know that I could not help him that way, but would love to serve him.

He declined and continued on to his next prospect.

Within minutes of that encounter he became a fading event of my past, one of a million things I have done in my life that I hardly remember anymore. I was not perturbed, bothered, upset, or annoyed that he was working me.

It was just one of those events that happens to all of us. It was a quick opportunity to discern the Spirit and ask the question, “What would the Savior do in a moment like this?” You deal with it the way you believe God would want you to deal with it and you move on to the next thing that He has prepared for your day.

I did not dismiss this man or show a lack of care for him. It could possibly be analogous to the rich young ruler who wanted something from the Savior. The Savior encountered him and sought to serve him, but believed it would not be wise to give the young ruler what he wanted the way he wanted it.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. – Luke 18:22-23 (ESV)

The rich young ruler did not want what Jesus was offering. He had another motive. I’m not sure if this young man ever became a Christian. Minimally he became a Bible illustration regarding salvation.

I don’t think I was unkind to the beggar-man. He asked for money for food. I offered him food instead. He decided that he did not want the food after all. He wanted the money. I believed I did what I was supposed to do. I went on with my day. I tried to care for him, but did not feel tempted to over-care.

When caring becomes over-caring

Brent has been my friend for many years. We went to high school together and then separated shortly thereafter as marriage, family, and work took us to different places around the country.

Years later we reconnected. During the intervening years Brent’s life went from good to bad. His wife was about to leave him, his children did not have a heart for God, and Brent’s head was immersed in the worldly cares of this life.

He wanted to meet to work through some of these problems. We met. And we met. And we met again. And again and again and again. We met for nearly six months.

During this time Brent proved to be stubborn and disinterested in the kind of change that was necessary to bring reconciliation to his family. He said he wanted to change, but he was not willing to do what it took to change.

I prayed and pondered many hours about how to help this man to change. I would present change this way and then talk about it another way. It didn’t seem to matter. Nothing worked for Brent.

Not being deterred, I would back up and start all over again with a totally new approach. That new fangled approach did not work either. Over time I started becoming critical of Brent. Initially I never said anything, but sensed my heart growing frustrated with him.

After awhile I began to go home and tell my wife about how difficult he was being–about how rough and challenging the counseling was going. As the weeks went by and my personal investment in his life grew, I began to grow impatient with him.

It wasn’t long before I became harsh and unkind toward Brent. Sadly, I actually had a growing disinterest in helping him. He was not listening. I was over-caring. The investment had grown deep and the change was not happening according to my expectations.

Being concerned – Being responsible

Have you ever over-cared for someone or something? Have you ever cared too much? If you are a Christian with the love of God in your heart, I suspect you have. Have you ever over-worried? Have you ever been over-anxious?

Let me ask the questions this way:

  • Do you generally feel responsible for certain people?
  • Or can you guard your heart from being responsible, but still show concern?
  • Do you know the difference between being responsible and being concerned?

It is one thing to be concerned for someone regarding whether they change or not. It is a wholly other matter to be responsible for people–including your own children. I’ve illustrated the two positions with the stories above.

I am concerned – I was concerned for the beggar on the street, but I did not sense a responsibility to change him. I wanted him to change. I even thought about how I could serve him before he popped the question. But I did not feel like it was my job to make him change.

I did not act disinterested by showing no concern and I did not cross the line as though his change was my responsibility. I offered him some food and hoped to continue the conversation by introducing Christ to him. He wanted one thing–money.

I am responsible – With Brent it was a different story. I crossed the line from being concerned to thinking it was my responsibility to change him. I treated him much different from the beggar in the street or the way Christ interacted with the rich young ruler.

I forget what my role was with Brent. It’s simple: my role for all people at all times is to be concerned, but I am not to be responsible for anyone. I cannot make people change.

Righteousness is not something that can be forced on anyone. It is a personal choice between an individual and God. This has been my story regarding how I have changed through the years. No one could make me change, except for God.

  1. They could water.
  2. They could plant.
  3. But they could not give the growth.
  4. Change is God’s job.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-6 (ESV)

When the water boy sins

I am forever grateful for the people who have loved me enough to speak into my life. I love all water boys and seed throwers for Jesus. But I do not hold anyone responsible for my personal change.

Sometimes I can forget this very basic truth about the Gospel. Sometimes I can cross the line from being God’s water boy and seed thrower to trying to make a person grow–to change or what the Bible calls repentance.

When I forget my role, it is as though I believe I am responsible for their change. There is a world of difference between being concerned for someone and being responsible for someone. If I cross that line it won’t be long before I’m sinning against them.

You may ask, “How do I know when I have crossed the line from being concerned for those I help versus feeling responsible for them changing?”  That is the million dollar question and it’s easy to answer.

When I begin to over-care for a person there are certain things that begin to happen in my heart. Initially they are not discernible to the human eye, but if I don’t take these heart sins to God, they will soon manifest in behavioral sins that are clearly discernible.

What I try to do is keep an eye on my heart by sensing when I am caring too much. If these sins (below) begin to rear up then I know I have crossed the line from being appropriately concerned for someone to caring too much for someone.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of heart attitudes and behaviors that I commit when I’ve crossed the line. If any of these things happen to you, then may I suggest that you are caring too much–that you have forgotten your role in the change process:

  • I’m tempted to become angry when a person does not change.
  • I’m tempted to become critical when I think about him.
  • I’m tempted to gossip about him to others.
  • I’m tempted to be cynical and lose faith in God that he will ever change.
  • I’m tempted to become impatient when I am with him.
  • I’m tempted to exhibit more sadness than joy when I think about him.
  • I’m tempted to uncharitably judge him because he won’t change.
  • I’m tempted to worry or become anxious as though his lack of change is because of me.

When I sense these sinful temptations in my soul, then I know that my trust is slipping from the Savior of the universe to my own abilities, agendas, and preferences for this particular individual (think Brent here).

I am mini-Messiah, hear me roar

In short, I have become a Mini-Messiah. In those moments I have become a functional atheist–a man who believes the change process rests more on him and his opinion of how things should be than whatever God may be thinking or doing in a person’s life.

This is hardcore pride that must be repented from. In the case of me, I have to reposition myself within the framework of God’s purposes for that individual’s life.

If I do repent of my pride and realize that my main purpose is to water and to plant the seed while trusting God to bring the growth, then my human ability to serve my friend does not impede what God is doing in his life.

However, when I begin to feel more responsible than God wants me to feel, then I typically sin against the person–according to the list above. My sin then becomes a distraction in the helping process. My faith for change and the timing for change must be fully in God’s will, especially when I’m helping a seemingly unchangeable person.

For me, the tipping point is usually a person I have spent more time with rather than a person I will meet only briefly. That is why it was easier for me to not become emotionally attached to the beggar. He was a temporary encounter. That is also the reason I crossed the line with Brent. He was a long-term investment.

Typically people will sin against a person they have spent a long time praying for, pulling for, and generally helping and hoping that they will change. That is normal. The more time you put into somebody’s life, the more you expect them to change.

A lot of mothers are this way with their children. They are tempted to cross the line from being concerned and helping to taking it personal and getting in the way or becoming a distraction regarding what God might be doing in their child’s life.

It is one of the toughest lessons for a parent to learn. Can we discern and obey our roles in the change process, especially with our children? One of the triggers that will let you know if you have crossed the line is when you begin to sin. If you’re sinning, you’re not helping.

If you are becoming more anxious, worried, fearful, fretful, impatient, frustrated, or some other sin, then you’re out of line and in the way. You must repent and trust God. This is one of the most remarkable things about the Savior. He was cool in all contexts. He shared His Word and went on His way.

He was not uncaring and He would not force His righteousness on anyone.

Surrendering Control to God

SOURCE: Taken from an article at  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network Ministry

If you were ever a victim of abuse of any kind, you certainly felt you had no control in the situation…whether it was mild, like ridicule or harshness from your parents, or ranged to any other form of mistreatment like neglect in a dating relationship, or misuse of power by someone in authority. Unfortunately, for some, the abuse might have been extreme or even violent…bullying, sexual coercion while dating, mugging or physical assault, sexual molestation, or even rape.

Unfortunately, none of us escape all mistreatment.

We associate the abuse with losing control, so we make a subliminal promise to ourselves never to be in that dependent position again. We then try to control most situations…including every relationship in our lives…to make sure our vulnerability never answers the door when potential abuse knocks. An important downside of this self-protective strategy is we now have a hard time being vulnerable to, and dependent on God and His loving but controlling hand in our lives.

So, we rebel against His instruction and control. I know. I was hardheaded about turning control of my life over to Him, letting myself be vulnerable to someone…and although I am much better, I still struggle with it. But in the past, I tried being independent, controlling all areas of my life. It landed me in jail, with alcohol and a fear of other’s opinions and feelings as my masters.

None of us can be free to become all we were meant to be until we recognize that God is in control…that He loves us and wants to care for us. We are fooling ourselves when we think we can successfully make it through this life on our own. In reality, we need to lean on Him…on His wisdom, strength, love, character, promises…and especially, on His son, Jesus Christ.

Today, assess whether you are in control of your life, or whether God is.

Remember, this man you read about, Jesus, loves you. He is inviting you to put your hands in His and let Him guide you and help you through all circumstances of life…regardless of what ever has happened in the past. Stop trying to figure out everything on your own. Stop trying to forge through life depending upon your own strength and understanding. Let Jesus love you. Let Him help you reach your full potential and accomplish all the good things He has called you to do. He actually died for you…for the simple reason that He loved His Father…AND YOU! Your decision, so choose well.

 Prayer

Dear Father, forgive me for thinking I could make it through life on my own. I need Your help and Your guidance in everything I do. Help me to stop trying to control everything…help me to listen to Your voice…to obey You…to trust You. I have been leaning on myself and what the world offers, and my hole only gets deeper. Thanks for loving me more than I love me, and for showing me how much You really love me by taking my penalty and place on the cross. I pray this in the name of the One who was sent to take my place, and who teaches and guides me, Jesus Christ;  AMEN!

The Truth

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.

Proverbs 3:5-7

 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17

Living With an Angry, Abusive or Violent Spouse

SOURCE:  Edward T. Welch/CCEF

No matter how bad your situation is, remember that you are not alone.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

It shouldn’t happen.

You married someone you trusted, and you gave yourself to that person. How could it be that the person you once trusted with your life now acts like the person who could take your life? Whether you are facing unpredictable anger or outright physical abuse, this is betrayal at its worst.

It just shouldn’t happen.

A quick scan of the Internet reveals that you are certainly not alone. Twenty-five percent of adult women say they have experienced violence at the hands of their spouse or partner in a dating relationship. Men, too, can be victims of spousal violence. Eight percent report at least one such incident. But since men are more often violent against women, and since women are typically weaker than angry or violent men, this article is written especially for women.

If you have experienced violence, and you are living scared, statistics are little comfort. Women who live in identical conditions don’t protect you or give you hope for peace and reconciliation. But the numbers do remind you that others know the pain of such a living situation, and that resources are available to help you.

You are not alone: There are people who want to help.

Where can you turn for help?  Where can you find a wise friend to guide you?

If you attend a church, talk to your pastor. If you don’t attend a church, find one in your area. Look for a church that is centered on Jesus Christ and believes what the Bible says about Him—that He is the Son of God who came to earth, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and is the living and powerful head of His church today. Find a community of people who worship this Jesus and who express their worship in love for one another. There you will find hope and direction.

You are really not alone: Listen to the God who hears.

Your long-term goal should be to know the personal God. This won’t magically change your situation, but you will find that knowing God does change everything. Think about it for a moment. What would it be like to know you are not alone, you are heard, and the One who hears is acting on your behalf? It would make a difference. It would especially make a difference if you knew that this person was the holy King of the universe.

The challenge, of course, is that, at this time in history, you cannot see God with your eyes. When you want real hands and feet to help you, the knowledge of God’s presence might seem to provide very little consolation, but don’t let your senses mislead you. God’s presence is a real spiritual presence. The Spirit will confirm this, and “Blessed are those who have not yet seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, ESV).

How do you know that the invisible God of the universe is with you? Look at the evidence from the past. The Bible is full of stories about God hearing the cries of His people and coming to their rescue.

In Genesis, the first book in the Bible, a woman named Hagar and her young son, were unfairly sent from their home and left in the wilderness to die. She turned her back on her son so she wouldn’t have to watch him die, and they both wept. They thought they were utterly alone, but “God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation’” (Genesis 21:17, 18).

This is a pattern. God’s ears are finely tuned to tears. Like a mother who wakes at the sound of her child, God hears the cries of the oppressed.

We see this again when God’s people, the Israelites, cried out because of their slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:23, 24). Like Hagar, the people were not even crying out to God; they were simply crying, and God heard. While some people can hear and do nothing, when the God of heaven and earth hears, He acts. He gave Hagar and her son water and made her son the father of a great nation. He responded to the cries of the Israelites by delivering them from their slavery in Egypt.

So don’t think that God merely listens. His listening always includes action. We may not see all of what He is doing, but, make no mistake, He is acting.

You are not alone: The God who hears wants to listen to you.

God wants you to direct your cries and fears to Him. Does that seem impossible? If so, He will help you to find the words. Psalm 55 can get you started.

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest…For it is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.”
 (Psalm 55:4-8; 12-14)

Psalm 55 has given a voice to human betrayal for centuries. If the words fit your experience, then you are now part of a much larger body of people who have sung this psalm and made it their own. One person in particular leads the singing. Yes, King David wrote this psalm, but he wrote it on behalf of the perfect King who was to come after him. It is Jesus’ psalm, and you are sharing in His Words (read Mark 14). He was the innocent victim of evil people. He was tortured and suffered a terrible death at their hands. To be part of His chorus, all you have to do is follow Him.

Indeed, you are not alone.

The God who hears is against injustice.

The God who came to this world as Jesus and experienced oppression and injustice also stands against it. When people are oppressed by those who have authority or physical power, God pronounces grief and judgment on the oppressors.

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”  (Jeremiah 23:1-3)

This doesn’t mean you should silently gloat, “Yeah, go ahead. You’ll get yours some day.” As you probably know, women who are victimized usually don’t think like that. It’s more likely that you feel guilty, as if somehow you are the cause of judgment on your spouse. But neither response is what God intends. He wants you to respond by depending on Him to be your defender. He wants you to trust that He is hearing your cries and is going to act on your behalf.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Most likely, you are numb, scared, confused, and paralyzed. If this describes you, then you might know some action steps, but taking one will seem impossible. There is no trick to taking a first step; you just have to do it.

Start by making a phone call to your pastor or a friend. You need help, and God’s hands and feet often are the friends He raises up to help you. Look for God’s help to arrive from God’s people.

You have many reasons why you don’t ask for help. One is that you don’t know exactly what kind of help you need. For example, you aren’t eager for someone to confront your husband because you are afraid he will get even angrier at you. You don’t want to leave. So what’s left to do? Your path isn’t clearly marked, and you’re not sure what to do next. That makes it even more important for you to ask for help from someone else.

Don’t let your sense of guilt or shame paralyze you.

Another reason you might not ask for help is because you are experiencing something shameful. You’re probably asking, “What kind of wife gets treated this badly by her husband?” The wrong answer to that question is, “Only a bad wife could elicit such a response from someone sworn to love her.”

The truth is that you are not to blame for the cruel anger of another person. Even if you incite anger (and that is rarely the case), there is never any excuse for cruelty.

Put it this way: You cannot make someone else sin. Sin comes from our own selfish hearts. Your spouse, when he is sinfully angry, is caring only about himself and his own desires (James 1:13-15). He will try to make it sound like it’s your fault—there isn’t a victimized woman in the world who doesn’t feel like she is somehow at fault—but his sin is his alone.

If necessary, find refuge.

If you’ve been physically hurt by your spouse, and he continues to threaten you, then you should get protection. If children are threatened, this is essential. Every county in the United States has domestic abuse hotlines that will provide you with resources. Protection from abuse orders are available though your local courthouse. Friends may have an extra room or two. As you think about how to keep youself and your children safe, please find someone to discuss this with you and guide you. God’s wisdom says that the more important the decision, the more critical it is to receive counsel from wise people.

The reality is that most women who are suffering like you don’t take these steps. Some who do quickly renege on them and go back to the abusive situation. Why? Fear of retaliation, fear of aloneness, love for the perpetrator, hope that things at home will change, and the lingering guilt that says, “It’s your fault.” These are powerful tugs that make decisive action very difficult.

With this in mind, you can see how important it is to listen for the consensus among the wise people around you. If you have fears and doubts about their counsel, voice them.

Distinguish between loving your spouse and wanting to be loved by your spouse.

Here’s a hard distinction, but it can go a long way toward bringing you sanity. Have you noticed that in all relationships we balance our commitment to love with our desire to be loved? Usually the scales are tipped in favor of wanting to be loved. Your goal is to tip the scales towards a commitment to love.

This is the way to avoid the twin contaminants of most relationships—anger and fear. When you need someone more than you love that person, you will be prone to anger, because you don’t get the love that feels so critical to you. You will also be prone to fear, because the other person has the power to give or withhold what you think you need.

When you set your sights on your commitment to love, the possibilities are limitless. Love gives you the clarity to make difficult decisions on the fly. Should you speak out or be quiet?   Love can guide you more than you realize. Even going to someone else and asking for advice and help with your difficult relationship can be an expression of love. You need help because you care about your spouse. His foolish, selfish lifestyle is not only hurting you, but it’s also hurting him because it’s spiritually self-destructive. Love wants to warn the fool. It wants to rescue, if possible, the self-destructive person from the wrath of God.

Love can be patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13). It can rebuke (Leviticus 19:17). It can stand against injustice and confront another person in their sin (Matthew 18:15-17). The challenge is to keep the scales tipped in love’s favor.

You can only do this when you remember that God always tips the scales in love’s favor in His relationship with you. No matter how moral you have been, you have not been perfectly faithful to the one who created you. But instead of withdrawing in anger, God pursues you even when you don’t want to be pursued.

Find the book of Hosea in your Bible (it’s in the Old Testament), and read the first three chapters. You will get a picture of God as the relentless lover of His people. Although His people repeatedly reject Him, He will not give them up or let them go.

As you know and experience God’s pursuing love, your love for others will become stronger than your desire to be loved. Trusting in God’s love will free you to love others the way you have been loved. After all, when we were God’s enemies, He extended His call of love to us (Romans 5:10). Since God loved us like this, we should expect that we will have the opportunity to love others in the same way. The Bible calls this overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:20).

Learn to disarm an angry person.

Outfitted with love, you have more power than you think. Love comes from the Spirit of the living God, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. Whenever you encounter the Spirit in the Bible, you encounter power. The power, of course, is the power of wisdom and love, and there are times when it can disarm an angry man.

Because of the limitless possibilities of love, let wise friends brainstorm and pray with you. Here are some things that the Spirit of power can help you do when you are faced with an angry spouse:

    • Ask him why he thinks you are the enemy.
    • Leave the house when he is sinfully angry.
    • Go and get help instead of being silenced by your shame and his threats.
    • Accept responsibility for your own sinful responses, and not accept responsibility for his.
    • Tell him what it is like to be the recipient of his anger and hatred. Angry people are blind to how they hurt others.
    • Ask him if he thinks that he has a problem.
    • Speak with a humility that’s more powerful than anger. When in doubt, you could ask what he thinks you did that was wrong. You don’t have to defend your reputation before him.
    • If he claims to want to change, ask him what steps he is taking to change.
    • Keep James 4:1-2 in mind. You are witnessing his selfish desires running amok. Be careful that you don’t become an imitator of such behavior.
    • Don’t minimize his destructive behavior. Sinful anger is called hatred and murder (Matthew 5:21, 22).
    • Read through the book of Proverbs underlining all the sayings about anger. Proverbs like “reckless words pierce like a sword” will validate your experiences (Proverbs 12:18).
    • Remember, it is possible to overcome evil with good.

This is only a sketchy list. The details will have to be worked out within your community of counselors. What guarantees do you have? God doesn’t guarantee the momentary peace and quiet you might be longing for; instead He promises you something much more lasting. He promises that as you turn and trust Jesus Christ you will become more like Him; that His Spirit will help you love more than you need to be loved; that God will be with you, He will hear and act on your behalf; and that although the Spirit of God is the one who changes hearts, you have more power than you know—the power to both know and promote peace.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it wrong to leave, even if my husband is violent?   Isn’t marriage a permanent commitment?   

The Bible does emphasize that marriage is a covenant that should not be broken unless we have God’s permission (Matthew 19:6). Do you have permission when there is domestic violence? Know this for certain: God opposes such evil and intends care for the oppressed (Jeremiah 23:1-3). Such care can sometimes be found in finding a place for refuge and protection. If you need to leave and seek safety, that is not necessarily a first step toward divorce. It is better understood as a statement of hope and a desire to see change in the marriage relationship.

You are right that these decisions are difficult. Therefore, ask for help. Ask your pastor to guide you in the knowledge of what God says.

Can angry men change?

This question can be heard two ways. First, “I want a relationship. Can my spouse change?” The answer is yes, absolutely! God changes all kinds of people. If He can change us, when we see that our hearts are prone to selfishness and quickly stray from trusting Him, then He can certainly change people who are like us.

You probably already believe that God has the power to change anyone. Your biggest struggle will be to put your hope in God more than you put your hope in your husband changing. When you put your hope in God, you live on a rock. When you put your hope in a person, you will feel like a life raft let loose on the open sea.

Second, this question might be about the process of change. You might be really saying something like this, “My husband has promised to change so many times, but we end up at the same place. Can he change, or is there a deeper problem?” Sin is hard to leave, in part, because we like it. In the case of abusive anger, the angry person might like the sense of power and control. If your husband says he wants to change, then he should have a plan. This plan should include at least the following things:

    • Accountability: He must be willing and able to speak openly about his sinful behavior to others who can help
    • Confession: He must be able to understand and confess that his anger has been destructive, recognize that his behavior is ultimately against God, and learn to hate his sin.
    • Growth in the knowledge of the true God: All the best intentions are not enough to bring about deep change. The real problem with angry men is their arrogance and “hatred toward God” (read James 4:1-10), in which case they must both confess their sin against God and set out on a course of knowing and fearing Him.

      —————————————————————————

      Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

Can Helping Your Spouse Be a Sign of Disrespect?

SOURCE:  Karen O’Connor/Kyria.com

UNWANTED HELP

Sitting with my husband at a seminar on love and respect in marriage, I squirmed. Some of what I was hearing hit close to home. It seemed that what one spouse sees as “helpful,” the other might consider disrespectful. I turned to Charles, wondering what he was thinking as he listened to the same message. The more I heard from the presenter, the clearer it became that I had some work to do.

For example, that very week I had laid out his vitamins and prescription meds at breakfast every morning even though he’s perfectly capable of doing this himself. In fact, he knows the routine better than I do. After all, they’re his pills, not mine. But I assumed that unless I took charge he’d ignore or forget them. I also “suggested” what foods would help him lose weight and coaxed him into eating a salad each day. And I took over researching some facts he needed for a speech he was writing because it would be faster if I did it myself.

TAKING CARE OR TAKING CHARGE?

Some might see these actions as helpful, even loving things to do for one’s mate. But in my case, they weren’t about help or love—or respect. They were about control, my trying to manage and direct my husband in matters that are his business. I thought my way was better, so I imposed it without giving thought to how it might affect him.

One time when I offered my point of view (without being asked) on a dilemma he faced with one of his grown children, Charles said in a firm tone, “You’re treating me like a 5-year-old. Please back off.”

I was stunned—and hurt—until I realized he was right. He rarely steps into my space and takes over. He doesn’t lay out my vitamins, tell me what to eat, or impose his will on my relationship with my children. In fact, he respects my abilities and often tells me how much he admires what I accomplish.

We returned home after the seminar, equipped with a book, pages of notes, and a commitment to talk about what it means to each of us to love and respect the other. That event occurred ten years ago. Our relationship has changed considerably since then—for the better.

Charles now has a vitamin case and takes care of filling it or neglecting to do so, and I stay out of it. He voices his food choices. And when issues arise about his kids, I listen with interest but comment only if he asks for my opinion. Of course I slip now and again, but mostly I show love and gratitude for who he is and what he does, and my life (our life together) is so much happier, easier, and pleasant because of this.

WHEN YOU GET OFF TRACK

It’s one thing to learn a new way to behave. It’s quite another to practice it. Following the seminar, we joined six other couples once a month for prayer, discussions on topics related to marriage, and refreshments. These meetings made a huge difference to all of us. When things got rough at home, we knew we had a safe place to go where people would hear, love, and support us. Here are some of the challenges couples encountered and the changes we made.

 Old Behavior:      Answering a question directed at our spouse.

New Behavior:     Remaining silent while our mate replies and learning                                                       something new about him or her.

 Old Behavior:      Giving advice without being asked.

New Behavior:     Listening with interest, trusting our mate to find his or her                                           solution, and supporting  that discovery.

 Old Behavior:      Explaining our partner’s point of view for him or her.

New Behavior:     Waiting eagerly to hear his or her viewpoint and                                                                encouraging it.

 Old Behavior:      Making financial decisions without consulting our mate.

New Behavior:     Presenting investment opportunities and talking them over                                         as a couple.

 Both husbands and wives admitted to feeling embarrassed, judged, put down, and angry when their spouses stepped into their zone and answered or made decisions without asking them.

One man I know quite well does everything for his wife, from driving to shopping to cooking, and then complains that she’s not much of a partner. How can she be? The moment she lifts a finger, he steps in and tells her to relax; he’ll take care of it. None of us deliberately sets out to diminish our husbands and wives, but this effect occurs over time when we keep our eyes focused on what they don’t do well or fast enough to please us. Then to make ourselves feel better, we claim we were “just trying to help.”

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AUTHENTIC HELP AND MANIPULATION

Everyone needs real help at times. If you’re sick, you welcome a cup of hot soup and someone to fluff your pillow. If you’re behind on a deadline at work, you could use a hand with typing or filing or mailing. If you have to be in two places at the same time, it’s nice to know your spouse can step in and cover for you.

That kind of help goes with the territory of being married and is something we all treasure. But crashing our mates’ boundaries and manipulating the outcome to our satisfaction in order to look good, deal with our emotions, or gain favor is something else. When we are anxious or uncertain about when to step in and when to step aside, we can pray for instant guidance. “For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).

 True help includes humility and respect:

 Allowing our spouses to be who they are—created by God—flaws and all. My elderly friend Mabel told me years ago to bring my hurts and feelings to God first, then “ask him to minister to both of you before you hurt one another with damaging words or regrettable actions.” I have treasured that advice.

Respecting their opinions even if different from ours. Barbara Jean told me she was married for nearly 50 years before she realized that her husband’s point of view is as valid as hers. “At that moment I gave up my right to be right,” she quipped.

Permitting our mates to make mistakes without our interference. Hank and Joan agreed that a sense of humor has led to healthy respect even when one of them messed up. They laugh and forgive rather than punish and sulk.

The next time you wander into your spouse’s territory, ask yourself if you are helping or hindering, respecting or disrespecting. And if you’re not sure, ask. Your husband or wife may be more than happy to tell you.

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Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer and writing mentor from Watsonville, California. You can reach her through her web site: http://www.karenoconnor.com/.

Emotionally Destructive Relationships: Close to home

My mom’s in an emotionally destructive relationship with my dad. What should I do?

SOURCE:  Leslike Vernick

Question: My parents are in their fourth year on the mission field, their “second” career after retiring from business and moving overseas to serve for an undetermined number of years. They’ve been married 40 years.

For decades, my mom has spent hours in the Word and in prayer daily, and has a track record of humble service to my father (and to her three kids as we were growing up). In fact, her reading habits have drawn repeated attacks and ridicule from my dad. He has a history of humiliating her (and us kids) publicly, explosive anger, and is restrictive of her freedom. But to anyone outside our family, this would come as a shock. He’s a successful businessman, gregarious, and active in every little church they’ve ever been part of.

Mom convinced him to seek pastoral counseling with her about 20 years ago and no real change resulted. He rejects psychology wholesale, yet admits to not finding anything profound or new whenever he reads the Bible. I found out when visiting them this summer that mom’s frequent trips to the bathroom were the result of frequent and prolonged sex (compounded by a long history of health issues which have rendered her “fragile”, to put it gently), which I’m guessing is precipitated by dad’s age and evening alcohol consumption.

I was incensed at the state of things mom was enduring, and told her she did not have to submit to dad’s physical advances any longer. She acted on that after I left and has not been intimate with him since. She and I both struggle with whether that is right, however I maintain that after years of humble service met with nothing but fits of rage, humiliation, zero emotional/relational intimacy, and rejection/denial anytime she attempted to talk about these issues, she no longer needed to put herself through it.

This all has caused mom to start examining her own life, tracing the roots of these problems back to her own father’s rejection of her (her mom told her that he just didn’t like her). She met my dad in college, who even then was controlling and manipulative. After a brief tryst (none of the “falling in love” typical foundation for a marriage relationship), she got pregnant and they were married a month later. She’s been working at it for forty years, and without having to explain much to my siblings, they immediately understood mom’s position when she told them she was ready to stand up to him.

Knowing what action to take has been the daily question. Your description of “crazy making” has been so helpful in understanding what she deals with. Dad does not initiate conversation with mom, denies any wrongdoing when specific instances are presented to him (by mom), and just this week has informed mom that she has been abusing him.

Mom has a plane ticket home in October to visit her 90 year old mother. My dad has removed any legitimate and substantive responsibility from my mom in their mission work. She is fully devoid of any in-country support (she refuses to take this to her co-workers for fear they wouldn’t believe her. While mom still cooks and cleans for my dad and tries to “help him”, he does nothing to reciprocate her attention or acknowledge it with any gratitude (that’s how it’s always been). My mom says she sees “improvement” in him, defined thus: he is trying really hard to control his temper, he doesn’t ask for sex anymore, he’s “earnestly seeking after spiritual things” and he has shifted from a “know-it-all” to “docile resignation.”

To me, that improvement is not reversing the pattern, it’s just neutral. He has no accountability where they are. So I’ve implored my mom to stay here in the US when she comes home. They are already making preparations to extract themselves from their position with their missions agency anyway, and since she doesn’t do anything work-related, it seems more important that she get help here.

Mom says she doesn’t know how she would be able to live apart from him, that she would always be worrying about him. This is understandable, but not healthy. How do I help my mom get healthy? Should she return even though he’d likely be home within the year? Is this “improvement” reason enough for her to resume physical intimacy?

Answer: Watching someone we love struggle in a destructive/abusive relationship is incredibly difficult. When it is our own parents, it is heartbreaking. I know you want to help your mom get healthy, but there are some things that she must do for herself and it sounds as if she is starting to do them.

You can help her, support her, and encourage her, but you must not push her to do something she is not ready or willing to do. If you do that, it will put you in the controlling role and she will once again stay in the passive role. Even though you mean well and only want her best, for someone to become emotionally healthy she must learn to figure out what she wants and to speak up for herself when necessary and not to be so passive, even when someone is upset with her for doing so.

What you can do is help her think through her choices and the consequences of those choices and then applaud and support her right to choose. For her entire marriage, she hasn’t believed she has the right to say “no”, or when she’s tried, she’s been manipulated, controlled, or pressured into giving in. You must not play that same role even if you fear she is making a poor choice.

You’ve asked a number of important questions but one in particular I want to spend a little time on. You asked how could your dad possibly accuse your mother of abusing him after all her years of patiently and passively enduring his humiliation, manipulations, verbal attacks, sexual abuse and controlling behaviors?

First, let me say that although your mother sounds like a saint, she is also still a sinner and there may be times when she does or is tempted to retaliate against your father, even if she does it more passively. The Bible tells us that people’s bad behavior rubs off on us and sometime, even if we’re not aware of it, we start to act like they do.

However, what I think is happening here is a common phenomenon I see once an abused woman stops going along with the abuser and begins to speak up for herself.

Let me give some background. When someone marries it’s understood that this person you married will have their own ideas, feelings, desires, goals, dreams and thoughts about things. If you’re healthy, you will not require the person you married to always think like you, feel like you, want what you want, or always do what you say. Instead you allow them to be different than you. The challenge of a healthy marriage is to lovingly blend two different people into a strong oneness that still contains each person’s uniqueness.

But this is not what happens in an abusive marriage. It sounds like right from the start, your father has not seen your mother as her own “person” to be cherished or loved but rather as an object to be possessed, owned, controlled and used. If this is the case, she isn’t allowed a separate voice, a personal feeling, a want apart from what he wants, or to disagree, or say “no”. As long as she stays true to the object role and shapes herself to meet every whim of your father, things stay relatively calm. Unfortunately this kind of wifely behavior has too often been applauded as biblical submission and a meek and gentle spirit which it is not.

It is not healthy to lose yourself in another person nor is it wise. Now as your mother is becoming healthier and realizing some important things she’s begun to assert herself. She is not just playing the “good Christian wife role” but is saying “I don’t like to be treated this way” and “That’s not acceptable”. However, as she begins to assert her needs, hurts, and feelings, he feels abandoned, rejected, unloved, and even abused.

The reason? In his mind, her sole purpose in being his wife is to please him, meet his every emotional need and always be available when he wants her. She has no needs of her own because she is not allowed to be a separate person. The more she speaks out about how she thinks, what she wants, how she feels and what she will or won’t do the more disappointed your father becomes.

This is not the helpmate he signed up for. And his “improvements” as your mother mentions are either an attempt to charm her to return to the object role, or as you suspect, “docile resignation” that things will never be the same again. This is still a far cry from a healthy marriage.

So do you encourage your mother to say in the States to receive support and help instead of returning to the mission field after her mother’s birthday? That is your mother’s decision to make, but you can help her think it through all of her choices and to know that if her marriage is to turn around, it is important not only that she continue to grow be the person God made her to be (not an object) but that her husband begin to value and cherish her as a person and not merely as someone who sole purpose is to take care of him, whether physically, emotionally or sexually.

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Leslie Vernick is a licensed counselor (DCSW, ACSW, LSW) with over 25 years of experience helping individuals, couples, and families enrich the relationships that matter most!

An Important Parenting Concept: Especially for Parents of Young Children

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

This reality about parenting came to me recently.  I’ve observed it for years, but I am just now formulating my thoughts around the concept.  The reality for most of us is that we tend to try to control less when our children are younger and more when they are older.  It should be the opposite.

When our children are toddlers we tend to dismiss the control issue.  Sadly this appears to be epidemic in today’s generation of parenting.  I hear parents often saying things like, “I can’t get them to take a nap” or “They won’t obey me”.  I see this at church when parents won’t leave their toddlers in the preschool area because “they just don’t like it.”  The fact is that you can make a toddler comply if you really want them to.  You are stronger, bigger, scarier, and smarter than they are.  You may not feel that you are, but you are.  The time to control your children the way they need to go is when they are young.

Something happens when a child enters their late elementary and middle school years.  Our children naturally begin to resist authority and so what do we do?  We attempt to control them even more.  The problem is they have more freedom in their schedules.  They are stronger, bigger, scarier and smarter than they were as toddlers.  They can even pretend to comply and yet do their own thing when parents are nowhere around.

The biggest problem with trying to control our children into their teenage years is that if we don’t protect our relationship with them, when they can they will completely rebel against our authority.  Have you ever known that to be true of a high school or college student?

Almost as a side note, but equally important: If you don’t do anything else in your time with your children, help them to know you love them unconditionally.  You don’t accomplish this by giving into their every wish  when they are young, but by lovingly guiding them in the right direction through discipline and correction when they are very young.  When your children are older, when they need your wisdom perhaps even more, they will continue to seek your input into their life if that love relationship has been developed.  The time to have ultimate control of their behavior is when they are young.

My encouragement, especially to the parents of younger children, is to instill the values you have for your children when they are very young, while you still have control, then move to less control and more protection of their hearts through their teenage years.  If you have trained them well and they know you love them, then they will continue to honor your influence over them later in life.

Are my circumstances too much for God to handle?

One of God’s Great “Don’ts”

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

Do not fret— it only causes harm —Psalm 37:8

Fretting means getting ourselves “out of joint” mentally or spiritually.

It is one thing to say, “Do not fret,” but something very different to have such a nature that you find yourself unable to fret.  It’s easy to say, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7) until our own little world is turned upside down and we are forced to live in confusion and agony like so many other people.

Is it possible to “rest in the Lord” then? If this “Do not” doesn’t work there, then it will not work anywhere. This “Do not” must work during our days of difficulty and uncertainty, as well as our peaceful days, or it will never work. And if it will not work in your particular case, it will not work for anyone else.  Resting in the Lord is not dependent on your external circumstances at all, but on your relationship with God Himself.

Worrying always results in sin. We tend to think that a little anxiety and worry are simply an indication of how wise we really are, yet it is actually a much better indication of just how wicked we are.  Fretting rises from our determination to have our own way. Our Lord never worried and was never anxious, because His purpose was never to accomplish His own plans but to fulfill God’s plans. Fretting is wickedness for a child of God.

Have you been propping up that foolish soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God to handle?

Set all your opinions and speculations aside and “abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about whatever concerns you. All our fretting and worrying is caused by planning without God.

Why do I keep doing the same sin over & over again?

Editor’s Note:  As called out in the following article, Christ-centered and clinically sound support systems (such as offered by ministries like Celebrate Recovery and Living Free) are vitally needed to overcome any life-controlling problems.

SOURCE:  Taken from an article at The Counseling Solution/Rick Thomas

The alcoholic spends his entire paycheck at the bar, in one night.

The crack addict steals money from her daughter’s savings to get her fix on.

The fearful person is in a situation she can’t control. Now she’s afraid.

The porn addict is tired and exhausted, feeling defeated. He gets his fix by surfing the net…again.

The gossiper needs her “approval fix,” so she passes along some juicy info about a friend.

The mocker fulfills his desire to control others by making fun of people through put downs and sarcasm.

The insatiable shopper has two closets full of clothes. She softens the blows to her conscience by calling herself a “comfort shopper.”

And what do these people have in common?

They all are habituated in a sin habit that has been going on for many years and they believe it will never go away. In this sense, the gossiper, the fearful, the druggy, the alcoholic, the mocker, the shopper and the porn guy are all the same.

It is important to understand when you think about addictions that you also include the more refined addictive sins like frustration, fear, self-righteousness, criticalness, insecurity, or mocking.[1]

Addictive behavior is not just reserved to the more sensational or socially understood sins like alcohol, homosexuality, and drugs. We’re all addicts in our own way. I’m an addict; you’re an addict.

I’ve never met a person who was not an addict in some way. Sinful addictive behavior is a result of our fallenness. Therefore, the obvious questions are:

  • How did these people get this way?
  • How did you get this way?
  • How did I get this way?
  • Did we choose one day that we would yield our lives to the cruelty and slavery of sin?
  • Are we responsible for our condition? …our actions?
  • And the most important question of all, “Can I stop my addictive sinning?”

I’m in a trap. I can’t get out.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

To begin unpacking these questions we must begin where Paul began. As a son or daughter of Adam, our default heart condition is an unquenchable and undeniable loyalty to ourselves. At our core we are self-centered.

With a pre-conditioned heart that is motivated toward self-centeredness it is not hard to understand how and why we have been caught in various sin patterns.

When I say “we have been caught” I’m not saying we have been caught as though we were busted like a policeman pulling someone over for speeding. Though that can be called “getting caught,” that is not what Paul means by the word “caught.” Paul is saying we get caught as though we are in a bear trap and we cannot get out of it.

I do not control it. It controls me.

For example, there was a day when each of us made a choice to sin, whatever that sin may have been. Inthat day, we were in control of our sinful choice. We had power over our sin and could pick and choose when, where, and how we wanted to participate in sinful thoughts, desires, cravings, behaviors, or activities.

However, in process of time, we began to lose the control we once exercised over our sinful choices. We began to develop habits. Habits are, in part, how God wired us. Habits were never meant to be evil.[2]

The bad news, post Genesis 3, is that we do not just develop good habits. Because of the invasive power of the doctrine of sin, we have the ability to create bad habits too. Habit is the word for repetitive behavior. The word habit does not distinguish between good or bad. The word is neutral. It is our heart motives, which eventually becomes specific behaviors that determine if the habit is good or evil.

When evil habits begin to exert its power over our hearts, then we’re not far from what our culture calls an addiction. Paul called it being caught, as in being caught in a trap.

My strength is weaker than my sin

Let’s pretend you are caught in a bear trap somewhere deep in the woods. Let’s further pretend that your strength is zapped and you have no ability to open the jaws of the trap to release your bleeding ankle.

Your hope is diminishing by the second.

It is the nature of the bear trap to exert a greater power over your ability to overcome it. No Bear Trap Maker would ever make a trap that was easy to escape from.

It is the nature of sin to exert a greater power over your ability to extricate yourself. If you could extricate yourself from your sin, then you would not need a Divine Rescuer. There would be no need for a Gospel. The only way you can get out of the traps you get yourself into is through God-ordained means.

Back to the woods

You decide to pray (yell) to God for help. How do you expect God to answer your prayer? Do you expect Jesus to show up and loosen the trap? Do you expect the jaws of the trap to miraculously pop open? It’s not likely that either one of those events will happen.

Does that mean God did not hear you and, therefore, is not going to help you?

The answer to that question really depends on your understanding of prayer as well as God’s ordained means of helping His children. What does Paul say?

…you who are spiritual should restore him… – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

Rescue happens in community

Did you know that every time you prayed to God for help to get out of your habitual sinning that He heard you? Did you further know that He provided a solution to your problem?

One of the biggest reasons people get caught in sin and stay in sin is because they do not want anyone to know about the sinfulness of their lives. The man trapped in the woods needs the help of his friends. The man trapped in sin needs the help of other Christians.

That is the way it has to be.

A fool thinks he can habituate himself in sin all by himself and that he can get out of his sin all by himself. Not likely.

In Galatians 6 Paul is calling the body of Christ to attention. The “spiritual” in this verse simply means those who have the Spirit, the Christians. This is essential counseling my friends. You and I need the community of faith to help us out of our addictive behaviors.

And this is where the rub is. We don’t want to tell anyone about our messes.

Keys to breaking addictions

If you apply these simple biblical truths to your life, then you can get help for the repetitive sins in your life:

Humility – The road to change always begins with humility.

Transparency – You must intentionally and completely expose yourself.

Honesty – Only the whole truth and nothing but the truth about who you really are will help you.

Repentance – While all of the previous keys are part of repentance, I have created a ten-minute video that carefully unpacks a fuller understanding of the Doctrine of Repentance. Watch it now.

Contexts – Place yourself in the community of faith. A small group setting is ideal for habituated sinners like you and me.

Friends, do not over-think the situation. Do not look for the next best book for your problem. The church, historically, has never needed the “next best book.” If you carefully apply God’s Word to your life, while authentically living in the context of likeminded believers, then sin can be defeated, no matter how habituated you have been.

Life-Controlling Problems: Let’s Make A Deal

SOURCE: Adapted from an article at Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

It’s common for people concerned about someone with a life-controlling problem (addiction), relational struggle, or health issue to try to strike bargains with themselves, with the person, with others, and with God. We might promise ourselves that we will be better. We will say the right thing next time. We will make things right. We will refrain from something enjoyable … or harmful. All these things in exchange for something we desire from others or ourselves.

We might set up deals with the loved one to reward them for refraining from their problem behavior. Or we might bargain with God and try to make a deal with Him … a promise to give to the church, to do some good deeds, to give up gossiping or a sexual sin, if only He will fix our or our loved ones’ problems.

If you are in this deal-making stage, you need to understand that help for a friend or loved one doesn’t depend on your performance. God has a specific plan for that person’s life and their change process is between them and God. God may want to use us in the person’s life and work through us. We all have some potential influence, but we have no power. We are in no position and have no leverage to bargain with God. When you think about it, what do we really have to offer in a trade with God?

Today, accept your powerlessness to change another person. Don’t try bargaining with God as if He is on another team. Learn to actually join God’s team and let Him be your captain, and then follow His instruction. Maybe He does want to utilize your influence on the person or situation. You need to view the experience as one of growth for you. If the other person is able to see God through you and engage with God more, again, that is between that person and God.

Prayer

Dear Father God, all my efforts have failed. No matter what I do, I realize now that I can’t fix my loved one’s problems. But I thank You that You can. Your grace is enough. Help me to let go and trust You. Saying that, let me know how you want me to engage with my loved one so I can grow in You and personally. Help me understand how You want to use me for my growth and help me leave the changing of my loved one up to You. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who can fix all things, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

False Control or Real Security: The Choice Is Ours

SOURCE:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

We all have sensitive buttons that when pushed, cause some pretty sorry and regrettable responses to come out of us. One we all have is the control button. Whether we see ourselves as leaders, controlling personalities, or at the opposite end, as followers or passive personalities, we all have the need to be in control of a situation or to have our agenda or plan be followed.

Most people feel more secure when they are in control. A trip down a steep mountain road doesn’t feel as dangerous to us when we’re the ones with our hands on the steering wheel. The passengers will always be more anxious or fearful because they are vulnerable to the skills and decisions of the driver.

Having control over our circumstances is very important to most of us … it allows us to feel more secure, competent, and confident. But we can’t always be in control … actually, we have a lot less control over external circumstances than we think. When facing situations beyond our control, we may feel helpless, vulnerable, anxious, fearful, angry, or overwhelmed. We may experience panic or depression.

In today’s world, a sense of safety and security may be difficult to find. The good news is there is one way we can always be secure.

God provides a way for us to experience a sense of security at all times. He leaves it up to us … we can either continue depending on ourselves, panicking or losing hope when we can’t control a situation … or we can depend on the Lord. If we choose Jesus and His way for our lives, we can always be secure in His love. We will still experience problems and trials on this earth, but we will begin to view them from His perspective. When we turn control over to Jesus, we can know that no matter what challenges or trials we face, He will ultimately work them out for our good, like our favorite teacher who gave us a tough homework assignment to expand our mind and future, or our greatest coach who drilled us knowing we were getting stronger and better equipped to succeed in the big game, or the acting instructor who stretched our comfort zone pushing us to a wonderful and exhilarating performance.

Today, examine whose hands have control of your steering wheel? During especially stressful situations are you still trying to control every detail of your life? If your confidence is in yourself, usually it will be your emotions and fear of pain, the me-centered motivators, that will direct your steps, and poor decisions will be the norm. Do you experience frustration, fear, or even anger when you can’t control what is happening to you? Turn everything over to God. You can trust Him. He is way more equipped to handle life than you are. Then be a good steward of the instructions He gives for your part of the plan.

Prayer

Dear Father God, it seems that every time I turn a situation over to You, I hang on to some little part of it and pull it away from You again. I want to be in control, and yet I know that doesn’t always work out. Please forgive me for not trusting You with every area of my life. Help me to trust You more and to leave the control of my life in Your hands. Help me to rest securely in Your love. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One You sent to teach me how to trust, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.  Proverbs 3:5-6

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