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Archive for the ‘Denial’ Category

Don’t Get Caught in the Triangulation Trap

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

You’re probably familiar with the term “triangulation” as it relates to issues in communication. Let’s break down what it really does and how it affects our relationships.

Triangulation sets up something called the “Victim-Persecutor-Rescuer Triad.”  It works like this.

Let’s say you have some issue with me, maybe even for a good reason. So, you give me some feedback, or disagree with me, or do something that I either don’t like or don’t want to hear. In any case, I feel like an innocent “Victim” and feel like you are somehow hurting me unfairly, in my mind seeing you as the “Persecutor.” Then, instead of talking through the slight, or the issue, directly with you, I take my hurt feelings and go to a sympathetic third person, and I gripe about you. I do not say to them, “He mentioned this to me, I am sure to help me, and I would like to get your perspective on it as well to see what you think … whether there might be something to learn that I am not seeing ….or maybe not.” If that were the motivation to talk to the third person, that would be a different story.

But in the VPR (victim-persecutor-rescue) scenario, I am not looking for truth or growth in my conversation with them. I am instead looking for that person to “rescue” me from this mean person (you) or what you said or did, and talk about you, saying “he was so mean … can you believe he treated me that way? What right does he have to tell me that, judge me like that?” or whatever else I might say to them about you. I am using that person to join me (agree with me and rescue me) in my hurt and anger about what you did or said. Said another way, I am getting that person to be “on my side” against you. I am looking for validation for my position, not resolution or growth.

Ever seen this happen? Say there is a meeting, topics are discussed, talked about, perspectives or feedback is given. Then, instead of saying what someone should say right there in the room to whomever they disagree with, the person waits and discusses it after the meeting, in what is referred to as “the meeting after the meeting.” They say what they would not say directly to someone, to their face, but say it to someone else “after the meeting.” So, they get the third person on their side, and never take the issue back to the room, with everyone there.

This is destructive for several reasons. First and foremost, as we said is the obvious point, the issue does not get addressed and is allowed to remain unsaid and thus unresolved. If I am mad at you, or hurt by you, or disagree with you, I (and you) really need me to talk directly to you in order to resolve it. That is the only way we are going to get to some resolution of the matter, hear each other out, gain understanding, receive the feedback or at least discuss it, or whatever is needed. Instead, it just festers, and goes into the darkness.

Second, I have now created division between you and the person I went to for rescuing. Now they have a very one-sided perspective about you and what you said or did, and I have biased them and did not properly represent you or your intent, or even whatever truth might have been in what you said. I might not tell them accurately the part I played in the problem as well. In essence, I have now turned them against you for my benefit.

Third, the original person might have actually been wrong, or hurtful, but because the “victim” did not talk to them directly, they never had a chance to own their behavior, use the feedback and change. Telling them directly might be the best thing that ever happened to them, but the “victim” went to the “rescuer” instead, and never gave them a chance.

Fourth, and maybe the worst, I now feel absolutely zero inclination or motivation to look at my part in the conflict, or the idea, or issue and ask how I might be wrong or could do better. The third person has “rescued” me from that possibility by agreeing with me about how bad you are instead. I am totally innocent, according to the rescuer, and have no impetus to examine myself. I am now “fixed” in my position, and even feeling more morally superior in the meantime.

This is so destructive. Not only do things not get resolved, but division happens. Divisiveness is probably the most destructive force in teams, companies, families, marriages, friendships and any other relational system. It not only prevents resolution, growth and forward movement, but worse, it makes problems worse by using one person against another and creating further splits throughout the team, family, organization or whatever.

This is how boards, teams, companies, marriages, circles of friends, extended families and other relational systems get sideways with each other, and ultimately often split or divide. The victim and the rescuer leave to form another company, or church, or organization. The spouse who feels they are not being treated well in the marriage, “victimized,” finds a listening, agreeable ear at the office or marketplace or social circle. Then that person makes them feel listened to and understood and agreed with in a way the “persecuting” spouse did not, and an affair begins. Or they are supported in thinking the other spouse is a bad person, and the divorce ensues. It happens all the time.

Then, predictably, sometime later the love dyad between the victim and the rescuer goes bad as well, as soon as one of them feels “victimized” by the other, and finds another rescuer. Because neither one of them has developed any more conflict resolution skills, they jump from relationship to relationship, job to job, business partner to business partner, church to church, community to community and so forth and so on. So, with one simple pattern, triangulation, they have managed to keep issues from getting resolved, turn people against each other, prevent individual growth and change, divide organizations and then infect other situations with that same pattern.

The Process of Developing a Life-Controlling Problem

SOURCE:  Living Free

John and Becky are 50-year-olds who attend church every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings. To look at them on Sunday morning, it would seem they are a happy Christian couple; however, the police know their address very well. During the last two years, they have become regular visitors to this home.

There are two life-controlling problems in this home.

John has uncontrolled anger, and Becky, though frequently physically and verbally abused, covers for his violent behavior because she believes it is the Christian thing to do. This violent behavior and unhealthy cover-up have gradually worsened over the years. John, who was abused by his father when he was a child, has been abusing his wife for years, but it has escalated to the point where her wounds can no longer be covered up.

These mastering problems have not only trapped John and Becky, but because they have been covered up and not dealt with, their children have also been caught in this web of pain.

A life-controlling problem is anything that masters (or controls) a person’s life. Many terms have been used to describe life-controlling problems. Someone may speak of a dependency, a compulsive behavior, or an addiction. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul uses the word stronghold to describe an area of sin that has become a part of our lifestyle when he writes that there is divine power to demolish strongholds.

The easiest life-controlling problems to identify are harmful habits like drug or alcohol use, eating disorders, sexual addictions, gambling, tobacco use, and the like. Life-controlling problems can also include harmful feelings like anger and fear. The word addiction or dependency can refer to the use of a substance (like food, alcohol, legal and/or illegal drugs, etc.,), or it can refer to the practice of a behavior (like shoplifting, gambling, use of pornography, compulsive spending, TV watching, etc.). It can also involve a relationship with another person. We call those relationships co-dependencies.

The Apostle Paul talks about life-controlling problems in terms of our being slaves to this behavior or dependency that masters us. He writes in Romans 6:14, Sin shall not be your master. In 1 Corinthians 6:12b, he says, Everything is permissible for me ‘ but I will not be mastered by anything [or anyone]. According to 2 Peter 2:19b, A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. Anything that becomes the center of a person’s life if allowed to continue will become master of that life.

Because we live in a world today that can be described as an addictive society, most people are affected in some way by a life-controlling problem — their own or someone else’s. Everyone has the potential of being mastered by a life-controlling problem. No one plans for it to happen, but without warning, an individual (and those who care about him) can be pulled into the downward spiral of a stronghold.

Addictions and Idols

Idolatry leads to addiction. When we follow idols, a choice has been made to look to a substance, behavior, or relationship for solutions that can be provided only by God. We have a felt need to serve a supreme being; if we choose not to serve God, we will choose an idol to which we will become enslaved. Jeffrey VanVonderen says:

Anything besides God to which we turn, positive or negative, in order to find life, value, and meaning is idolatry: money, property, jewels, sex, clothes, church buildings, educational degrees, anything! Because of Christ’s performance on the cross, life, value, and purpose are available to us in gift form only. Anything we do, positive or negative, to earn that which is life by our own performance is idolatrous: robbing a bank, cheating on our spouse, people-pleasing, swindling our employer, attending church, giving 10 percent, playing the organ for twenty years, anything!

Following idols, which leads to addictions, prevents us from serving and loving God freely. All kinds of substance and behavioral dependencies lead to enslavement because everyone who makes sinful choices is a candidate for slavery to sin (see John 8:34). Jesus states in John 8:32 that the truth will set you free. God spoke to Moses in Exodus 20:3, You shall have no other gods before me. Sin, when unconfessed, strains the relationship with God that is meant to be enjoyed by the believer (see Proverbs 28:13; Jonah 2:8).

A very controversial question arises: Is an addiction a sin or a disease?

Those who believe addictions are sin point to the acts of the sinful nature which include a substance (drunkenness) and behavioral (sexual immorality) problem in Galatians 5:19-21. Another reference to the sinfulness of addictions is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which shows that a definite change occurred in the lives of the Corinthian Christians: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Those who believe addictions (particularly alcoholism and other chemical dependencies) are a disease state the characteristics are progressive, primary, chronic, and fatal. In the latter stages, the victims are incapable of helping themselves because there is a loss of control and choice. In the 1950s the American Medical Association voted approval of the disease concept of alcohol dependence. The term disease means deviation from a state of health (Minirth, 57).

When sin and addiction are compared, they show similar characteristics. Both are self-centered versus God-centered and cause people to live in a state of deception. Sin and addiction lead people to irresponsible behavior, including the use of various defenses to cover up their ungodly actions. Sin and addiction are progressive; people get worse if there is not an intervention. Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and later saw him at the temple. Jesus warned him about the progressiveness of sin: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you (John 5:14). Sin is primary in that it is the root cause of evil. Sin produces sinners as alcohol causes alcoholism. Sin is also chronic if not dealt with effectively. Finally, sin is fatal with death being the end result.

Although addictions do have the characteristics of a disease, I must stand with the authority of God’s Word as it pronounces various addictions as being a part of the sinful nature (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). They are sinful because God has been voided as the source of the solution to life’s needs, and these choices often develop into a disease. A noted Christian psychiatrist says:

Physiologically, of course, some people are more prone to alcoholism than others, even after one drink. And often guilt drives them to more and more drinking. But then some people also have more of a struggle with greed, lust, smoking, anger, or overeating than others. Failure to contend with all of these is still sin (Minirth, 57-58).

Anything that becomes the center of one’s life, if allowed to continue, will become the master of life. If God is not the center of a person’s life, that person will probably turn to a substance, behavior, or another person for focus and meaning. David describes his enemy in Psalm 52 as one who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others (v7).

The young, rich ruler described in the gospels (see Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30) came to Jesus asking how to receive eternal life. When Jesus told him he would have to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow him, the young man went away sad. This rich man’s stronghold was the love of money. Everybody, not only the rich, must guard against this greater love of the rich young man. Paul writes: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

This stronghold, the love of money, is the root cause of most addictions that plague our society. Although alcohol is a major cause of deaths, sicknesses, broken families, and relationships, it continues to be advertised with marketing strategies which appeal even to America’s high school and elementary-aged children. The demand for cocaine and other substances would soon cease if there were no profits to be made. Sexual addictions are fed by an $8 billion industry of pornographic materials, appealing television commercials, and provocative movies. Compulsive gambling is fed by state-run lotteries. I wonder how much the love of money contributes to eating disorders. Many young women starve themselves to sickness and even death because of a greedy society that promotes an unhealthy thinness as beauty through media appeal and modeling agencies.

As the creation of God, each of us has a need to be dependent. There is a vacuum in the heart of every human since the fall of Adam and Eve that can be filled only by Christ. After our first parents disobeyed God, they immediately recognized their nakedness. Without God’s covering, they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). They soon learned they could not escape from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:7-8).

It is interesting that Adam and Eve hid among the trees. They hid there because of guilt. Idols, which are false gods, can also become hiding places. Isaiah writes: for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood [or false gods] our hiding place (28:15).

In a life where Christ is not the focus, a person is likely to center attention on a substance, behavior, or another person which will eventually become a god to them. David recognized the need to have God as his tower of strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me (2 Samuel 22:2-3).

The disease concept of addictions should be approached with caution. Assigning addictive substances and behaviors to the disease model tends to overlook the sinful nature of mankind. Although it is popular to label every stronghold as a disease, the Church must warmly care for those caught in the web of deception with ongoing support. It takes more than a pat on the back to cure them of their stronghold. Sinful choices develop into lifestyles that are self-centered and destructive. The fall of man puts us all in need of recovery.

How the Trap Works
Addictions and dependencies generally fall into three categories: substance addictions, behavior addictions, and relationship (interaction) addictions.

1. Substance addictions (the use of substances taking control of our lives)

  • Drugs/chemicals
  • Food (eating disorders)
  • Alcohol Other addictive substances

2. Behavior addictions (the practice of behaviors taking control of our lives)

  • Gambling
  • Compulsive spending
  • Use of pornography/other sexual addiction
  • Love of money
  • Sports
  • Other addictive behavior

3. Relationship (interaction) addictions (You may have heard a relationship problem like this referred to as co-dependency. )

Everyone has the potential of experiencing one or more of these life-controlling problems at some time. Maybe you find yourself already involved in an addiction or another problem behavior that has taken over your life. Sometimes it is hard to identify a life-controlling problem.

Here are some questions that may help in that process:

Is my behavior practiced in secret?
Can it meet the test of openness or do I hide it from family and friends?
Does this behavior pull me away from my commitment to Christ?
Does it express Christian love?
Is this behavior used to escape feelings?
Does this behavior have a negative effect on myself or others?

These questions help us identify problems that have reached (or are in danger of reaching) the point of becoming life-controlling problems.

The next step is to look at the ways these behaviors and dependencies tend to progress in a person’s life. Researchers have identified a pattern that follows some very predictable steps. Most people get involved with an addiction to receive a feeling of euphoria. Alcohol or other drugs, sex, pornographic literature, gambling, and so forth, produce a temporary high or euphoria.

Vernon E. Johnson, the founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, has observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them . . . we came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency. Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases: (1) learns mood swing, (2) seeks mood swing, (3) harmful dependency, (4) using to feel normal. Many of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including myself, can also be related to other types of dependencies although the terminology may differ.

We call it the “Trap” because it often snares its victims before they realize what is really happening.

Every person has the potential of experiencing a life-controlling problem. No one is automatically exempt. Even though no one plans to be trapped by such a problem, it can happen without a person’s even being aware.

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Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
All Rights Reserved

Phases of Life-Controlling Problems

SOURCE:  Taken from an article at Living Free Ministry

Phase One: Experimentation

  • I learn that experimenting with the substance/behavior makes me feel good.
  • I don ‘t really see any serious negative consequences.
  • I learn to trust the substance/behavior to make me feel good or help me escape every time I use it or do it.
  • I learn how to use the substance/behavior to make myself feel great.

Phase Two: Social Use

  • I begin to use or practice more regularly.
  • This behavior or substance becomes a part of my social life.
  • I use or practice in times and places that are socially acceptable.
  • Daily lifestyle choices begin to be affected by my focus on this substance/behavior.
  • I make rules for myself about my use/practice to make me feel safe.
  • My use/behavior becomes a problem without warning.

Phase Three: Daily Preoccupation

  • My use/practice becomes a harmful dependency.
  • I begin to lose control over my use/practice.
  • I violate my value system.
  • I cannot block out the emotional pain.
  • My lifestyle is centered on this compulsive behavior.
  • Unresolved problems produce more stress and pain.
  • I break my self-imposed safe use/practice rules.
  • My life deteriorates in all areas, including health, spirituality, and relationships.

Phase Four: Using/Practicing Just to Feel Normal

  • I lose touch with reality and experience delusions and paranoia.
  • I may try to escape my problems by running away.
  • I lose my desire to live.
  • I have no desire for God I am spiritually bankrupt.
  • I lose control and dignity.
  • My problems grow in a snowball effect.
  • My family relationships are destroyed (Lee, 22-23).

Biblical Examples
Genesis 4 records the account of Cain and a problem that mastered his life. He and his brother, Abel, brought their offerings to the lord. Abel’s offering was accepted, but Cain’s fruits of the ground were not received by the lord. Cain became very angry, and his face displayed his feelings. The Lord saw his anger and facial expressions and encouraged him to do what was right so that his offering and he would be accepted.

The Lord followed with a statement which illustrates how problems can become our master. But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:7). The Lord recognized a potential life-controlling problem crouching and ready to pounce on Cain if he opened the door. Cain opened the door, and anger became his master. He invited Abel to the field and killed him. When the Lord asked where Abel was, Cain responded by trying to cover his evil actions by denying any knowledge of his brother’s whereabouts.

Allowing anger to rule his life, Cain committed murder, became a restless wanderer, and went from the presence of the Lord, thus alienating himself from God. Fed by jealousy, rebellion, and unbelief, anger became a stronghold in his life. This is an example of a life-controlling problem that is permitted to continue without intervention.

The concept of life-controlling stages is addressed in James 1:14-15: but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. The downward spiral starts with temptation (an attraction to). The second stage is desire (to long for). Desire conceives and gives birth to the third stage, sin. The final stage is death.

James’ concept of life-controlling problems can be compared with a marriage to an addiction. The marriage begins with courtship. Although initially, the victim may not recognize the courtship as such because it is appealing, the victim is tempted and drawn to an addiction. The victim is enticed and allured into a relationship and gives consent. An addiction takes hold with a conception of a problem that now starts to master a person’s life.

Months or even years later, there is the birth of a child (trouble). The fruit of the life-controlling problem causes all kinds of problems in the home, church, school, and workplace. The relationship arrives at a place of completion. In this stage, the marriage has become fatalistic (destructive relationship) to the victim and has hurt those who are close. The end result is corruption. If the relationship is not broken by the addiction, death always follows: spiritual, emotional and physical.

There are certain stages involved in David’s sin with Bathsheba as recorded in 2 Samuel 11. In stage one, From the roof, he saw a woman bathing (v2). David entered stage two when he sent someone to find out about her (v3). In the third stage, David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her (v4). To further complicate matters, David tried to cover up his sin which led to the murder of Bathsheba’s husband.

Joshua 7 discusses Achan’s sin of disobedience which led to his death. After the Lord delivered Jericho into the hands of Joshua and the Israelites, they were commanded to stay away from the sacred things which included all the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron (6:19). Achan’s sin was a violation of this command and was committed in stages. In the first stage, he saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels (7:21). Achan followed his temptation by coveting the riches (stage two). Then, he took the riches (stage three) and hid them. In addition to his own death, his sin adversely affected the entire nation of Israel just as life-controlling problems often go beyond the victim’s hurting only himself.

As a rule with few exceptions, life-controlling problems do not occur overnight. I have met with parents who have tragically lost a child to chemical dependency. Many times they wanted to think the child had just started using drugs. There was the wife who caught her husband entertaining a prostitute, and she believed his insistence that this was the first time. Actually, for those who have reached the ultimate end of their addiction, whether physical death or emotional and spiritual death, their death occurred on the installment plan. They died one phase at a time. Paul writes: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

On the way from my motel to the airport in Oklahoma City, the taxi driver explained how his life had been totally destroyed by gambling. Not knowing that his passenger had just taught the phases of life-controlling problems at a seminar, he proceeded to tell me how phase by phase he became controlled by gambling. At one time the head of a corporation with a salary of six figures, he started experimenting by playing the state lottery. Gambling became a social part of his life in which he bet on various sporting events. The infrequent big wins kept him coming back for a larger win. Gambling became the center of his life and progressed to become his one and only master. He not only lost his position and dignity but his family as well. In the ten minute ride to the airport, he explained in detail the process I had just taught.

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Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries

8 Steps to Break a Cycle of Family Dysfunction

SOURCE:  TIM SANFORD/Boundless

Destructive relationship patterns can get passed down from one generation to the next.

Here’s how you can set a new precedent for your future family.

Boys who witness domestic violence in their own home are three times more likely to become batterers.[1]

Children of alcoholics … are much more likely to perpetuate the cycle of alcoholism in their own lives … they have a four-fold increased risk of becoming alcoholics as adults compared with the general population.[2]

One’s dysfunctional personal behavior becomes a model or example to the next generation, and the cycle can be repeated over and over again.[3]

Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems.[4]

Yeah, that’s what you read on Google. But do destructive, hurtful and dysfunctional relationship patterns really get passed down from one generation to the next?

The answer is simple — YES.

Why?

That answer is simple, too.

In elementary school you learned one plus one equals two. What would you teach a first-grade class if you were the substitute teacher for arithmetic?

One plus one equals two.

That’s what I taught my daughters. But there was no way I was going to teach them anything about microbiology. I don’t know anything about microbiology. Besides, knowing nothing about the subject means I don’t know what I don’t know. A huge part of what keeps destructive behaviors going is individuals who don’t know they’re dysfunctional and don’t know they don’t know. We pass on through words, actions and attitudes — consciously or not — what we know. We can’t pass on what we don’t know.

“(I) …the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of whose who hate me …” (Exodus 20:5, emphasis added). Dysfunction does beget dysfunction.

But that’s not fair.

Right, it’s not fair. Ever since sin invaded the world of humanity, few things in life have been fair. People get hurt when they didn’t do anything to deserve it. People who intentionally hurt others seem to get away with it. The most unfair circumstances occur when helpless children get injured by parents who are supposed to be their protectors.

So yelling at my girlfriend isn’t my fault because that’s what my dad did to me.

Slow down, and be extremely careful. If you blame your father, he could blame his father who could blame his father. We could go all the way back to Noah and blame him. After all, he’s the one who built the ark and saved the human race. If he hadn’t, your father’s father’s father’s father wouldn’t have been born. Nobody would have yelled at anybody. So it’s all Noah’s fault.

Lousy logic and faulty theology, because it’s not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and.

Follow me on this. When your father yelled at you, who did the yelling (the dysfunctional action)?

My father.

That yelling is your father’s fault. He’s the one guilty of yelling at you.

When you yell at your girlfriend, who’s doing the yelling this time?

I guess I am.

This yelling episode is your fault. Your father “dealt you a bad hand” (not fair, true). Still, it’s up to you how you play those cards. The actions that follow are yours. You had no control over your father’s actions toward you. You do have control over whether you repeat the cycle — or not.

Can this cycle truly be broken?

This answer is simple, too: Yes, it can.

Keep reading the Exodus passage quoted above. God follows up the punishment declaration with verse six, “…but (God) showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (emphasis added). Dysfunction begets dysfunction. So, too, function begets function, health begets health, and truth begets truth.

So how do I change?

1. Become aware of your family’s destructive relationship patterns. This is the first step in moving toward healthy functioning. You can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can’t change what you’re not aware of. Awareness is a big first step.

And it’s highly likely you’re not aware. You truly don’t know, so ask around. Seek out individuals who you think are healthy and stable, and ask them what questions are the good questions to ask. You may decide to seek professional therapy to help you see what you aren’t able to see on your own.

2. Take ownership of your own actions, attitudes, beliefs and emotions. Admit, “It’s my problem. I need help. I’m the one needing an attitude adjustment. I may be the one who’s wrong in this situation.” Whether you know all your dysfunctional ways or not, take responsibility for the ones you know.

3. Purposely observe, compare and contrast other families’ interactions with how your family handles similar situations. Have you noticed other family groups who — in your way of thinking — are just plain weird? They don’t overreact to anything it seems. They speak their minds. They listen and actually hear each other. None of this is how your family interacted. That’s what makes it seem so weird to you. What do they do? How do they interact? What do they believe that makes them different and more stable or healthy?

4. Do Google searches on:

  • The rules of dysfunctional family systems
  • Family roles or scripts
  • Read up on what it means to be the: Addict, Enabler, Hero, Scapegoat, Clown or the Lost Child. Which one sounds like you?
  • Codependency/enabling
  • Adult attachment pain
  • Adult children of alcoholics — even if there was no alcohol in your house
  • Boundaries in relationships
  • Signs somebody may be manipulating in a relationship

As you read, identify the things that fit your life story. Take notes on ways to change the unhealthy things you learned as a child. Ask yourself:

  • What is healthy in a friendship?
  • What is an accurate way for me to see me?
  • How am I supposed to treat a person of the opposite sex?
  • What is my belief system? How do I think? What do I think?
  • What assumptions do I have, and what perceptions do I cling to so tightly?

5. Evaluate your present relationships. Are they going smoothly and benefiting both parties? Do you know what healthy boundaries are, and do you keep them? How would the other party answer these same questions?

6. Read Proverbs. It identifies many healthy — and unhealthy — ways of living and relating. Ask God to open your eyes and mind to what true and healthy living looks like and what changes you need to make.

Do all these things with the goal of becoming aware of and changing the dysfunctional ways you learned as a child.

7. Practice. Healthy living is learned experientially. Awareness and understanding is your starting place. Now it’s practice, practice, practice. It’s not natural, yet it will be.

With practice comes “trial and error” which means there will be some “errors” in your practicing. That’s normal; it’s OK. This brings us to the last point.

8. Be patient with yourself and others. Patience is one of the functional ways of dealing with the world.

“But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psalm 103:17, emphasis added).

You’re not condemned to repeat how your parents parented. You don’t have to be a 25-year veteran of healthy living before you pass functional relationship patterns on to the next generation. All you need to be is one step ahead of where they are.

It takes one generation to turn the tide from God’s punishment to one of God’s love being passed down. That’s all — just one. Start here. Start now.

It’s never too late to move from dysfunction to function.

Never.


REFERENCES

In Denial? Not Me!

SOURCE:  

Helping people who deny their faults

Jane was at her wit’s end as she listened yet again to her husband scolding their son about his less than desirable work habits. The squabbles between the two males in her life were frequent and seemed to be escalating in intensity.

Waiting for the right moment, she spoke diplomatically, “John, I’m concerned about the harshness of your exchanges with Jerome. You actually have a valid message to convey, but when you yell and insult, it creates more problems than it solves. Would you be willing to tone it down and model a more constructive way?”

Lips pursed, John shot back, “I’m not the problem here! That kid has an attitude, and someone needs to teach him that he can’t get away with chronic irresponsibility.”

“I understand the point you’re making about Jerome’s attitude,” Jane replied, “and I’m committed to working with you in that regard. It’s your communication style I’m trying to address. No matter how correct your ideas are, he won’t listen as long as you are belittling.”

“I’m not belittling him. You need to get off my back and show me some support! I’m tired of being made out as the bad guy!” With that, he huffed off into another room, slamming the door behind him as Jane sat silent, nursing a very familiar sinking feeling in her gut.

What was going on with John? Why was it so difficult to hear his wife’s concerns? Clearly he was so emotionally rattled that self-protection had overtaken his persona, and denial was his way of making himself seem less exposed. He felt so threatened by his wife’s attempted guidance that he could not pause to consider her common sense. Even if she had been wrong in what she was saying, how hard would it have been for him to simply reply, “I’ll certainly consider what you’re telling me”?

The number one trait hindering personal improvement is denial. Simply put, no one can grow or mature without first acknowledging the need. Those in denial guarantee that their dark side wins and relationships falter.

People in frequent denial show themselves to be driven by fear. They fear looking foolish. They fear being controlled. They fear losing. They fear being dismissed. But the crazy thing about denial is that when it is in full force, those very fears become true. They look foolish, they are under the control of others, they lose, and they are readily dismissed … every time.

Do you know people who use denial? Or more importantly, do you ever go into denial? Admit it. We each hate being exposed as inadequate, and none of us is fond of eating humble pie. So as a matter of self-protection it’s easier to say the problem doesn’t exist, then we cleverly flip the focus back onto the confronter, putting that person into a backpedaling mode.

Let’s begin breaking down this defense mechanism with a major acknowledgment: denial is a colossal waste of emotional and communicational energy. It thrusts the relationship into an adversarial mode that serves no healthy function. Invalidating another’s perceptions removes the possibility of learning anything new or challenging.

When I counsel individuals using denial, there are several themes I emphasize:

  1. Listening is an incredibly rewarding exercise. A person has to train his mind to actually hear the essence of the other’s message. But when he does, he affirms that person as he also opens the possibility of learning. The counselee may be quite surprised to learn how his influence increases when he proactively chooses to hear with no rebuttal. You can also point out that listening is prudent and the Bible says that those who don’t listen before responding are unwise (Prov. 18:2, 13).
  2. Absorbing unflattering feedback requires emotional maturity. Though it may seem counterintuitive to the counselee, a person illustrates inner weakness as he insists upon appearing strong, but he displays inner strength as he shows a willingness to examine his weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
  3. All individuals have blind spots relative to their personalities. Hearing separate perceptions increases the potential for diminishing those blind spots. In 1 John 1:8 the Bible warns people who say they have no sin: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And God encourages us to be diligent in examining ourselves for areas (blind spots) in our lives we need to confess and repent of (Matt. 7:5; 1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5).
  4. Removing denial diminishes the propensity toward aggressive anger. This kind of anger is built upon the need to build one’s status by tearing down the other’s legitimacy (Eph. 4:29, 31–32; 1 Pet. 2:1–2).
  5. No one ever completes the personal growth plan.
    Humility leads each of us to conclude that just when we think we have life figured out, something happens to remind us of our fallibility. Encourage the counselee that the Bible says we all make mistakes; no one is without fault (Prov. 20:9; Rom. 3:23; James 3:2), yet God still loves us, and that is why He sent Jesus.
  6. The best relationships practice mutual accountability.
    As we lovingly discuss needs, interpretations, and preferences with each other, we form bonds of unity and helpfulness (1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Pet. 3:8).

When you drop denial in favor of careful listening, the worst that could happen is that the information given may not prove helpful. Okay, that’s not so awful. The best that can happen is that we mature and become more capable as loving companions. Who knows, you may even become bold enough to ask a confronter, “Is there anything else you’d like me to consider?”

The Emotional & Relational Cost of Addiction

SOURCE:  Chip Dodd

According to recent statistics gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 23.5 million Americans over the age of 12 cast about in daily life addicted to alcohol and/or illegal drugs.

That number does not include the millions of other Americans who are addicted to prescribed medications. Most people began taking prescribed drugs to mediate a physical or mental-emotional problem; then, the drugs became the primary problem, most notably narcotics and anti-anxiety medications. Even more, that 23.5 million people addicted to alcohol and/or illegal drugs does not include the millions of people involved in process-behavioral addictions to sex/pornography, gambling, food, and work. Many other subtler addictions that exact a cost upon society are denied or simply not recognized. They also add significantly to the millions not counted.

Speaking only about the 23.5 million addicts (saying “only” about 23.5 million anything seems absurd to me, but I want to remain specific) impact upon themselves and others, statistics indicate that for every one person addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, 3 to 4 other people in relationship with the addict experience life damaging effects. Any person who is relationally connected with an addict for an extended period of time will suffer some of the characteristics of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Predominantly family members directly suffer the emotional and relational, if not the physical and financial, impact of addiction. The impact of addiction upon this group centers on trauma, which, at core, suppresses the capacity for emotional and relational development. Think of the impact on children alone.

“Addiction temporarily allows one to avoid the vulnerability and insecurity of depending on others and God for relational fulfillment.”

Trauma basically means that a person will suffer some form of reaction that requires they hide their vulnerability to emotional expression and relational capacity for intimacy. They develop a distortion, distress, and distrust with their own sense of worth and acceptance of belonging and mattering. More simply put, they believe they have to perform to have worth or acceptance. They have to earn love, and rarely allow themselves truly to trust love when it is given. These characteristics, likewise, reside inside every addict at the core of their own emotional and relational makeup.

These people suffer the compulsion of trying to find a full life without knowing how to risk feeling all that is required to live a vibrant relational life. Symptoms of this core “need” for control can extend into myriad complicating results, such as stress illnesses, anxiety disorders, and depression. Addiction predicts the continuation of the next addiction and/or many other life-stifling consequences. Addiction is, tragically, a form of relationship, a self-cure for pain. It temporarily allows one to avoid the vulnerability and insecurity of depending on others and God for relational fulfillment. These counterfeit cures and fulfillments take control over the emotional vulnerability and insecurity required to live ably and fully in true relationship with others and God.

By multiplying the minimal number of 3 people impacted by addiction times the number of addicts estimated by SAMHSA, that number is 70.5 million people harmed emotionally and relationally by people trapped in their own emotional and relational maelstrom of addiction. By adding the 23.5 million to the 70.5 million, one can see the power of addiction and its devastating consequences. That number is 94 million people suffering emotional and relational distortions, distress, and distrust, all connected to one common denominator of addiction to alcohol and/or drug addiction alone. That number is greatly expanded by all the other addictions and their impact.

“Addiction and its impact is America’s number one internal problem.”

No matter how much we attempt to address our personal, family, community, and national problems without addressing addiction and its impact, we will fail. Addiction and its impact is America’s number one internal problem. Actually, it may be America’s epidemic. Ironically, one of the main characteristics of addiction is denial—will-bound blindness to what is literally, objectively occurring within the addict, and within the people associated with addiction.

We are a nation of people addicted, and a nation of people in denial. It becomes an ongoing repetition of retracing a circle. We cannot see the damage of addiction because of denial, which protects us from the emotional vulnerability of trauma, which exacerbates the “need” for relief from stress, which influences addiction, about which we are in denial. And on it goes.

We must see and feel beyond denial. We must see and feel our way into living with the capacity for full relationship, which requires the vulnerability of receiving and offering love, even the love that does not tolerate the denial of addiction and its impact. Unless we do, we perpetuate the problem.

Our society has four pillars of character and relational development: family, vocation, community, and faith. The four pillars today rest upon the sand foundation of addiction. No matter what we do to shore up the leaning pillars with a thousand different programs, we will crash unless we see and feel our way to a great national awakening of individuals addressing our foundational devastation.

10 Signs You Don’t Handle Change Well

SOURCE:  Pete Scazzero/Outreach Magazine

Why are endings and transitions so poorly handled in our ministries, organizations and teams? Why do we often miss God’s new beginnings, and the new work he is doing?

We miss seeing what is ahead in part because we fail to apply a central theological truth— that death is a necessary prelude to resurrection. To bear long-term fruit for Christ, we need to recognize that some things must die so something new can grow. If we do not embrace this reality, we will tend to dread endings as signs of failure rather than opportunities for something new.

Use the list of statements that follow to briefly assess your approach to endings and new beginnings:

You Know You Don’t Handle Endings and New Beginnings Well When …

1. You can’t stop ruminating about something from the past.

2. You use busyness as an excuse to avoid taking time to grieve endings and losses or to allow for the possibility that you might meet God in the process.

3. You avoid acknowledging the pain of your losses rather than grieving, exploring the reasons behind your sadness and allowing God to work in you through them.

4. You often find yourself angry and frustrated by the grief and pain in life.

5. You escape or medicate the pain of loss through self-destructive behaviors such as overeating, use of pornography, inappropriate relationships, substance abuse, over-engagement with social media or working too much.

6. You struggle with the envy you feel toward those who don’t seem to be hit by the same hardships in life that you experience.

7. You often dream of quitting in order to avoid the pain, disappointments, setbacks and endings that routinely characterize leadership.

8. You are not honest with yourself about the feelings, doubts, and hurts deep beneath the surface of your life.

9. You rarely acknowledge directly that a program or person has outright failed. You avoid that pain by spinning the truth and glossing over the losses, disappointments and struggles.

10. You rarely think about change in your role or position because you dislike change.

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Pete Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and the author of two best-selling books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church. This story was originally posted on Scazzero’s blog at EmotionallyHealthy.org.

It’s Never Too Late for Jesus

SOURCE:  desiringgod.org /Constantine Campbell 

Death is the great enemy, though many of us live in denial of it.

Our culture tries to hide death. We don’t see bodies in the streets, as in some parts of the world. Corpses go straight to the morgue or the funeral home — out of sight and out of mind. Many of us have never seen a dead body. Fewer have witnessed a person actually die. We would rather not think about death, we don’t like to talk about it, and we’d prefer to pretend it won’t happen to us.

But it will happen to us. In fact, in one hundred years from now, everyone reading this will be dead. Does that sound harsh? That’s because it is harsh! But it is also true.

Only as we confront the reality of death will we appreciate the hope of resurrection. There is nothing like death to make us desire resurrection.

John 11 begins with a sick Lazarus. His sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:1–3). But Jesus does not go right away. He delays. In fact, he waits two days — until Lazarus is dead (John 11:4–7, 11, 14) — because he knows exactly what he is about to do.

Grieving with Hope

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was approaching the village, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated at the house (John 11:20). This is a little strange, isn’t it? Why does Martha go out to meet Jesus while Mary stays put? Is it simply that Martha is the more active of the two? Is it because she is the one who gets things done, while Mary likes to sit (Luke 10:38–42)? Maybe. Or maybe there is something else going on.

Martha’s words to Jesus must have been hard to hear: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Given his great power and the signs he has performed already, Martha believed that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But what she says next is extraordinary: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). Martha does not know the end of this story, as we do. She has no idea what Jesus is about to do and she does not expect him to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet she expresses hope even after death has occurred. It is as though she is saying, “I don’t know what you can do now, Jesus, but I have hope that you can do something.”

Jesus immediately comforts Martha by saying, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). He tells her exactly what he plans to do, but Martha misunderstands: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). While she misses Jesus’s direct meaning, her response is a good one. She expresses hope through theology. Martha holds to the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead that will occur on the last day (Daniel 12:1–2; John 5:28–29).

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus takes Martha’s belief in resurrection at the last day and redirects it toward himself.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26a).

I don’t think Martha understood at that moment what Jesus said. How could Jesus be the resurrection? What does that mean? Why does resurrection occur for those who believe in Jesus? While she may harbor such questions, she responds again with belief when Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). “Yes, Lord,” Martha says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).

But why does Martha respond this way? Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life, and Martha says yes, you are the Christ. What is the connection between the Christ and resurrection? Again Martha shows herself to be a theologian as she seems to understand the connection. In 2 Samuel 7:12–13, the LORD promises David that one of his offspring will rule on the throne that God will establish forever. If this Messiah is to rule forever, then surely he will not be ended by death. Either he will never die, or if he does die, he will not stay dead. There is thus a connection between resurrection and the Messiah, and Martha seems to understand that.

Grieving Without Hope

While Martha exhibits hope through theological insight, Mary’s interaction with Jesus is noticeably different. While Martha immediately went out to meet Jesus, Mary doesn’t go until Martha gets her (John 11:28). Then it is striking that Mary says the exact same thing that her sister said to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

Mary utters the exact same words as Martha. But do they mean something different? Notice what Mary doesn’t say. She does not follow up this statement the way Martha did, with the words, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). No, Mary just says that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death — period. But now he’s dead, so that’s that. There is no hope expressed.

It seems like Mary did not entertain the idea that Jesus could do anything now that death has come. Death, after all, is the great enemy. Jesus might be able to heal the blind (John 9), turn water into wine (John 2:1–12), and prevent death (John 4:46–54), but no one can do anything about death once death comes. Right?

Mary’s lack of hope in the face of death is understandable. Sure, Jesus is powerful and can do amazing things, but even today no one can do anything about death. With all our advanced science and medicine, the best we can do is delay death. We can put it off a while. But we cannot prevent it from happening in the end. And once it happens, there is nothing we can do about it. The finality of death is clear to all humanity — past and present. Mary accepts this finality and there is no hope.

Jesus Can Always Do Something

Jesus’s response to Mary also contrasts Martha. After Martha expressed hope, Jesus comforted her with the amazing words that Lazarus would rise again and that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But what is his response to Mary? There is no word of comfort. There is no theological promise. He just says, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34).

But it’s also interesting to note Jesus’s nonverbal response to Mary: “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was angry in his spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Most translations smooth out the phrase, “he was angry,” but this is what the text literally says. It is smoothed out because it is not clear why Jesus is angry. Why is he angry when he sees Mary’s grief?

The usual explanation is that Jesus is angry at the tyranny of death. He is angry to see what death does to relationships and to those left behind. It is awful. It is wrong. This reason for Jesus’s anger makes sense, but there might be another explanation. Could it be that Jesus is angry and troubled because Mary grieves as one without hope? After all, he was not angry in his encounter with Martha, who expressed hope.

In fact, Jesus gets angry a second time (John 11:38), but this is in response to what Mary’s fellow mourners say: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). Ignoring the paragraph break, Jesus’s immediate response is again to become angry. Could it be that he is angry because they too lack hope in the face of death? Yes, the crowd knows Jesus is powerful — he opened the eyes of the blind man — he could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But once death has occurred? Not even Jesus can do anything about that, right?

Wrong.

Neither Martha nor Mary knew that the story would end with a resurrected Lazarus. Mary saw death as the end, and not even Jesus could fix that. But Martha put her theology to work together with a trust that Jesus could always do something.

We should be more like Martha.

When Emotional Attachment Becomes Unhealthy

SOURCE:  JADE MAZARIN/Relevant Magazine

4 ways to let go when you are in a bad relationship.

I’ve had plenty of experiences in my life where I struggled with emotional attachment. Basically, I found my heart invested in someone and unable to let them go, even when I knew I couldn’t be with them. Maybe they weren’t interested, maybe we were no longer together, or maybe I knew that relationship wasn’t God’s plan for me. But regardless of what I knew mentally, I remained emotionally tied to that person.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that God called my attention to this tendency in a new way, and equipped me to tackle it head on. I started to understand reasons I stayed attached, even when I was never happy with it—and I got ideas to help me let go.

Why We Keep Holding On

Often, the first question we’re face when we’re attached is, “Why we can’t let go?” We know it’s unhealthy, and it stresses us out, so why can’t we move on? Basically it comes down to this: We’re not sure if we really want to.

Sure, we might feel tired with the situation. We might be mad at ourselves, embarrassed, ashamed and stressed. We can easily assume we want to let go and just can’t.

But the truth is, part of us doesn’t want to—even if we won’t admit it to ourselves.

Our inner self is in competition: Part of us recognizes the pain and the pointlessness of it, and another part of us continues to desperately hold on. That part of us usually clings to this person for multiple reasons: We think this person will meet our desires; we don’t believe we’re worth more; we figure that a little love is better than nothing. or we don’t believe God will bring something better.

We all know that famous verse, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Each of the reasons we hold on to are beliefs that are not true. If these are the core reasons why we stay attached, then each one has to be examined in the light—their truths thoroughly absorbed—in order to no longer hold us down. Each one of these motives can be remedied only as we grasp the reality of the situation and accept it.

Here are some keys for letting go of unhealthy attachments:

1. See Things as They Are

This happens first and foremost by seeing the relationship as it really is. This means recognizing its limitations. It means willingly facing the truth.

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Sometimes we have blinders on to what’s in front of us. We may cling to the belief someone will change, or that the situation is better than it really is. When we’re attached, we have to consciously take off the rose-colored glasses every time we automatically put them back on.

Once we see clearly, we are invited to accept what we see, rather than trying to change it. We can relax our grasp, and rest from efforts that don’t work. We can choose to relinquish control, surrendering our need to make things different from what they are.

2. Realize What You Want Isn’t Here

While accepting things as they are, we have to tell ourselves that what we’re looking for isn’t found here.

We all want love. We also want peace and true joy. Those are our deepest desires. But in unhealthy emotional attachments, we are not at rest. We do not feel contentment and stability. The joy we have is flimsy and minimal—mixed with unpredictable anxiety or pain. Any love we experience is empty and practically cancelled out with the frustration we feel inside.

The idea that what we’re looking for isn’t found here is one we have to process internally. Only when we really, truly believe this attachment is only hurtful, will we no longer be interested in it.

3. Shift the Focus to Yourself

Attachment causes us to center our mental world around the person we are not meant to be with. Detaching involves making plans for our own life and asking ourselves honestly How am I doing? What can I do for myself? It means shifting out attention from what this person is or isn’t doing, how they may or may not feel, and putting it on yourself.

If you find you need healing, you need comfort, then you should put yourself in the place to get it. Ask yourself what freedom you need to start feeling better, and decide to move into it.

We also need to turn our attention to our potential, and how God sees us. Maybe we’ve been so worn down in thinking of the other person that we forgot how God values and cherishes us. It’s time to get that back.

God wants you to see His unconditional heart for you. He also wants you to treat yourself with the value He ascribed to you when He gave His life for you.

4. Truly Consider God’s Role

It’s important to remember we’re not alone in this. We’ve got a Father, literally right by our sides, who “gets” it—why we feel how we do, and what more there is for us. Not only is He by our side, He really is in control. It’s not arbitrary that we’re not with this person. We didn’t mess things up, nor did we miss His perfect will. He’s got a reason for the way things are.

Letting Go for Good

Fundamentally, letting go of attachment begins with a deliberate decision to do so. Every time you waver in that decision, remind yourself to do the above actions. You can also get around friends or family who will give you an objective view of the situation and help you think clearly.

You are not alone in this. Unhealthy attachment is one of the most common issues we have to face. The roller-coaster of emotions you experience is typical as well. On Monday, you might be fueled with anger and ready to let go, then Wednesday you sob with the desire to reach out to this person. Saturday you may call him or her, while Sunday you completely regret it.

That’s normal. And you won’t stay in that place. As time passes, these feelings will spread further out. The entire season is temporary. And you will in fact, get through it.

Celebrate every moment you feel a little freer, every action you take that focuses on your well-being. Let yourself cry if grief rises up within you. Just come back to remembering why you’re letting go in the first place. Recognize that while it feels awful now, it will truly get easier. And it’s OK when you fall back, as long as you decide to keep moving forward. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself—just as God is.

Q&A: My Wife Say’s I’m Controlling? Is She Right?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My wife says I’m manipulative and controlling. I don’t think I am. Let me give you an example. We have been separated for about a year, but recently we were out to dinner. While we were sitting there, she was friendly to some other patrons (policemen who she knew). She wasn’t flirting but I felt slighted and insulted that she was ignoring me. I told her how I felt and she accused me of being controlling. Is that true? I don’t see it?

Answer: First, let me applaud you for even asking the question. Most people when given that kind of feedback totally ignore or discount it. The fact that you are asking the question suggests that you might be open to the possibility that it’s true, even if you don’t see it.

Manipulating and controlling behavior are often subtle and hard to prove in the moment. They become much more obvious over time. If we just take this one incident, you might find it difficult to see your behavior as controlling. 

I think most people feel a little uncomfortable when they are out to eat with someone and that person has an extended conversation with someone else and does not include us, whether it is in person or on a cell phone or even texting.

So the only way we can truly answer this question is to examine your patterns over time, especially in relation to your interactions with your spouse. As you do this, you may begin to see a pattern of manipulative and controlling behaviors emerge.

Most people who use these kinds of behaviors don’t usually recognize them as wrong or harmful, it’s just the way they have learned to cope with uncomfortable or painful emotions or ways they’ve learned to get their own way or what they want from others. Underneath these dysfunctional behaviors are usually attitudes of entitlement as well as unrealistic expectations of how others should be or how they should treat you.

For example, perhaps you felt insulted at the restaurant because you believed that you were entitled to your wife’s undivided attention and anything less than that meant that she wasn’t interested in you or your conversations. Ask yourself were you attempting to control her friendliness with others by making her feel guilty about “slighting” you.

Or you may believe, “A wife should never talk with other men, even as friends. If she does, that means she doesn’t love me or I’m not most important.” Again your response to her indicates that you had some expectations of her to give you her undivided attention the entire time you were together. You didn’t say how long she was engaged with the policeman, but was it extensive or just a few minutes?

Here are other ways people manipulate and control others. Read through the list. Perhaps you will recognize using these methods to get your way.

Argue: You don’t take no for an answer but rather continue to make your point over and over again until she wears down and finally agrees with you. The underlying message is it’s not okay for her to disagree or have her own opinion.

Begging: “Please? Please? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease? Continuing to ask, beg and plead until she changes her mind. The underlying message is she is not allowed to say no.

Bargaining: “If you do this, then I’ll give you….. A bribe to get her to do or not do what you want. You use favors as a means to manipulate her into doing something that she would not have wanted to do otherwise.

Guilt Trips: You might say, “You’re not following God or you’re being an unsubmissive wife or God hates divorce or if you really loved me or our children you would…..” The message here is that if she doesn’t do what you think she should do, God will be upset with her or you won’t be able to handle it or she is not a good/godly person.

Micromanaging: This is usually in the areas of time and money where one person makes the other person feel like a subordinate employee or child. She is not allowed to make her own decisions or handle her own life without asking your permission.

Misquoting or Twisting: “You said……” when in reality the person didn’t say it that way but you twist what they said to suit your own purposes. For example, “You said we were going to get back together soon, when what she really said was, “I don’t know if we can get back together soon.”

Playing Holy Spirit: We are all tempted to do this when confronting someone with his or her sin. But it is not our job to convict or change someone else’s behavior to line up to what we think it should be. When we see someone caught in a sin or trespass, we can try to restore such a one in a spirit of humility and gentleness (Galatians 6:1) but if we try to hold someone accountable to a change that they have not initiated, we are attempting to play God in his or her life.

Promises: I will do anything, just ……… Whether or not you keep your promise is irrelevant. You use a promise to get her to do something you want her to do.

Punishing actions: Using physical, sexual, economic, or verbal pressure, abuse or tactics to punish her for not doing what you think she should do. You might stop paying the bills, close the bank account, curse at her, call her names, accuse her of things, tell friends and neighbors untrue things about her to teach her a lesson for not doing what you want her to do. You feel justified because she did something “wrong” and won’t change or stop or admit she was wrong.

Irritation or Silence: I am so bothered or angry that you won’t do what I want that I won’t speak with you or treat you kindly until you change and do what I want.

Threats: Threatening to leave, to hurt one’s self or others, to hurt something she loves like her pet, her parents, her children, her stuff if she doesn’t do what you want her to do.

Some of these patterns overlap and many are used in conjunction to try to get another person to do something we think they should do or to stop doing something that we don’t want them to do. When we do that we try to control their behavior and often their thinking. That is not our role or responsibility and when you do this you will not have the intimacy or love you desire.

If you see yourself in these examples, that’s a good start but it usually doesn’t result in permanent changes unless you invite your wife and others to tell you when you fall back into them. Then it is your responsibility to learn how to tolerate the uncomfortable emotions that you may feel when she disagrees with you, doesn’t want to do what you want her to do or wants to do something different, in a mature way.

Adult Children: ARE YOU AN ENABLING PARENT?

SOURCE:  Excerpted from a book by Allison Bottke

Following are a few questions that might help you determine the difference between helping and enabling an adult child. It’s interesting to note that these questions are not unlike those often asked in Al-anon meetings when defining the behaviors of an alcoholic or drug addict with whom someone lives.

  1. Have you repeatedly loaned your adult child money, which has seldom, if ever, been repaid?
  2. Have you paid for education and /or job training in more than one field?
  3. Have you finished a job or project that he failed to complete himself because it was easier than arguing with him?
  4. Have you paid bills he was supposed to have paid himself?
  5. Have you accepted part of the blame for his addictions or behavior?
  6. Have you avoided talking about negative issues because you feared his response?
  7. Have you bailed him out of jail or paid for his legal fees?
  8. Have you given him “one more chance” and then another and another?
  9. Have you ever returned home at lunchtime (or called) and found him still in bed sleeping?
  10. Have you wondered how he gets money to buy cigarettes, video games, new clothes, and such but can’t afford to pay his own bills?
  11. Have you ever “called in sick” for your child, lying about his symptoms to his boss?
  12. Have you threatened to throw him out but didn’t?
  13. Have you begun to feel that you’ve reached the end of your rope?
  14. Have you begun to hate both your child and yourself for the state in which you live?
  15. Have you begun to worry that the financial burden is more than you can bear?
  16. Have you begun to feel that your marriage is in jeopardy because of this situation?
  17. Have you noticed growing resentment in other family members because of your adult child?
  18. Have you noticed that others are uncomfortable around you when this issue arises?
  19. Have you noticed an increase in profanity, violence, and /or other unacceptable behavior from your adult child?
  20. Have you noticed that things are missing from your home, including money, valuables, and other personal property?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, chances are that at some point in time, you have enabled your adult child to avoid his own responsibilities and to escape the consequences of his actions. Rather than helping him grow into a productive and responsible adult, you have made it easier for him to become even more dependent and irresponsible.

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, you have not only been an enabler, but you have probably become a major contributor to the problem.

It’s time to stop.

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Excerpted from:

Bottke, A. (2008). Setting boundaries with your adult children: Six steps to hope and healing for struggling parents. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.

Q&A: Help, I’m The Toxic Person In The Relationship, How Do I Change?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Question: How does someone who realizes THEY are the critical/toxic person in the family/relationship begin to heal? I don’t like who I am & struggle against it, but it gets the best of me SO often!!

Answer: First of all let me applaud you for acknowledging that you are not the person you want to be and you want to heal and change. That takes a huge step of courage. Most destructive individuals fail in this very first step of change, which is admitting the truth. Usually they remain blind to their problem. Instead, they blame others, make excuses, minimize the pain they cause, or flat out deny the reality of their behaviors.

Now that you’re aware that the way you treat people is toxic and critical, your next step is to confess, out loud to God and the people you’ve hurt, that you are aware that your behaviors and attitudes are destructive and you want to heal, grow, and change. A public confession commits you to a course of action and a posture of humility which is absolutely crucial if any real change is going to happen. You can’t do it alone. You need God’s help as well as the help of wise and trusted others. 

At the very least you will need some good friends who will encourage you toward wholeness and hold you accountable. In addition, you may want to speak with your pastor, hire a coach and/or seek a professional counselor who has expertise in this area.

Ideally you would give these people permission to speak with your family members so that they can hear from more than you on how you are doing.

When we invite trusted people to walk along with us in our journey, it is much more likely that we will gain the self-awareness, skills and support necessary to make significant personal changes.

It is also crucial that you invite those you have deeply wounded to give you feedback whenever they experience your critical attitudes or toxicity. When my children were little and I became aware of how much I yelled at them, I invited them to give me feedback anytime they felt scared or I raised my voice. It was humbling to hear them say again and again, “Mommy I’m scared, or you’re yelling at me”.

When they did speak up I would stop, remind myself that this was not the person I wanted to be and then apologize and do what I needed to do to calm down and be the mother I wanted to be. If I didn’t’ know how to do that, then that became the next thing I had to learn. My children’s feedback was good for me because self-control (one of the fruit of the Spirit) is absolutely critical to one’s mental and emotional health. Second, inviting their feedback helped my children trust that I meant business that I really wanted to change. Even when I blew it in the moment, they saw that I would receive their feedback and humbly self-correct or call a time out on myself.

Receiving feedback from others is difficult because it wounds our ego. Plus, in the heat of our anger we are often self-deceived and blind to the log in our own eye. When we’re enraged, it’s much easier to see the flaws in everybody else. Allowing those who love you most to become a mirror to you is immensely helpful in your growth and change.

For healing, it’s also important to explore some things in your own childhood that may be negatively impacting you now. There is a saying “hurt people, hurt people”. In other words, we often lash out at others when we are in pain ourselves. When that pain is outside our conscious awareness, our negative reactions to life seem automatic and outside our ability to change or control.

Below are some questions you need to ask yourself. Pray and ask God to shed the light of truth on some things from your past.

What are some of the events from your past that have significantly shaped your life – good and bad?

After you’ve identified an incident or event ask yourself these questions. What happened? Why did it happen? How did I feel? What did it do to me? What did it mean to me? What decisions or vows did I make? How and where has this old feeling or experience reared itself in my present life?

Remember, self-awareness leads to self-reflection (Why do I do what I do? Why do I feel the way I feel?) Self-reflection leads to greater self-awareness and self-correction.

When that fails, the feedback from others can lead us to greater self-awareness and self-correction.

Awareness can lead to new choices and healing, and self-correction leads to new habits and ways of being.

The Choice: Denial, Delusion, or Truth

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dan Strickland/Jimmy Ray Lee

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10 NIV

When a life-controlling problem has trapped people, they become deluded by the lies they tell to cover up their problem.

Denial is the refusal to believe the truth about one’s own actions. People in denial know what they are doing is wrong, but they refuse to admit the truth. Instead, they choose to rationalize their behavior. Continued denial leads to delusion, a condition where people no longer recognize the truth about their actions. They believe their own excuses and become blind to the truth. They cannot see the destruction they are causing to themselves and those around them.

After a stronghold has developed, the delusion that blinds the person becomes difficult to penetrate. Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee puts it this way: “Delusion is not seeing, recognizing, or acting in truth.”

Is someone you care about living in delusion? It is important to lovingly and patiently continue to confront the person’s delusion and never give up—even when it seems the effort is not producing results.

Keep on loving him or her. Give them honest feedback about how their choices are hurting themselves and people who care about them. Pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth and give them grace to face the truth about themselves and recognize their need for change.

Father, I pray that my loved one will see himself as he really is. Help him recognize his need for change. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will also reveal the truth to me about anything I am denying in my life. Give me the grace to face the truth about myself. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

 Living Free by Jimmy Ray Lee, D. Min. and Dan Strickland, M. Div.

Emotional Abandonment: When Your Spouse Shuts You Out

SOURCE:  Dr. Dave Currie with Glen Hoos/Family Life

These nine suggestions will help you re-establish a loving connection with your spouse.

It’s a complaint I hear regularly from people looking for help for their marriages: “I feel distant from my spouse.” “I try to get my husband to open up, but instead he just shuts down.” “My wife just doesn’t seem interested in me anymore. I feel like we’re a million miles apart.” “I don’t know if I love him anymore.”

What we’re talking about here is emotional abandonment.

Instead of physically leaving the relationship, your spouse simply checks out emotionally. They stop investing in the marriage, leaving their mate feeling detached and unwanted. To the outside world the situation can still look rosy, but in reality the relationship is dying a slow, quiet death.

How does a marriage reach this point?

Sometimes it’s a slow slide into complacency, and other times it’s a little more sudden. Realize that if it’s a sudden abandonment, there likely is some precipitating event or incident between the two of you that needs to be resolved. On the other hand, if the deterioration has been more gradual, there are probably a lot of little things that have gone unresolved and are taking their toll on the relationship.

Here are some of the specific, primary causes of emotional distance between mates:

  • Unforgiveness: Emotional abandonment is unforgiveness taken to its extreme conclusion. When we feel that our spouse has hurt us and we refuse to forgive them, we look for ways to protect ourselves from being hurt again in the future. Closing off our heart from the other person is an easy way to do this, but it has deadly consequences. Unforgiveness always leads to isolation. Overcoming unforgiveness requires a willingness to humble ourselves and seek forgiveness when we have hurt our spouse, and it also requires that we be willing to graciously extend forgiveness when our spouse has hurt us. This forgiveness step is based on a desire to re-unite.
  • Callous treatment: When I am careless in how I treat my spouse, it gets old really quickly. Whether it’s discourteousness, unkindness, or something worse, it creates hurt that may start out small, but can grow into deep wounds as it festers over time. To avoid this, each partner needs to look at their own behavior regularly and consider whether they are treating their spouse well. A mate, above all people, needs to be treated with gentleness and respect. Remember, your spouse is God’s gift to you, and they deserve to be treated as something precious.
  • Lack of effort: Sometimes the problem is a little less obvious than unforgiveness or harsh treatment. It is easy, especially for men, to just assume that the relationship is going along just fine, and so we don’t put in as much effort as we once did. We start to take our spouse for granted, leading them to think that they are not important in our lives. When the marriage slips from being one of the top priorities in the heart of one or both spouses, the other person feels abandoned. This causes them to feel unwanted and then to withdraw into their own world.
  • Lack of time: Many of us simply try to pack too much into a day. Ruled by the urgent, we fail to make time for the truly important: things like romancing, talking about issues and really developing a friendship with our spouse. We stay constantly busy, erasing quality “couple times” from our schedules. A marriage relationship cannot thrive if our contact with one another is limited to a quick bite of supper or a brief chat before bed. A good marriage requires weekly face-to-face time – both talk and fun.
  • Fear of talking through issues: Emotional detachment does not just happen out of the blue; there is always something behind it. If one or both of the spouses has an inability or fear of talking through the issues in their relationship, then this kind of disconnect will be the likely result. Usually both know there is something wrong, but they are hesitant to bring it up because they fear their spouse’s reaction. Or perhaps they feel like they’ve been through this before and it hasn’t helped, so why bother? In these cases, there needs to be a clear second look at what it means to resolve conflict in a marriage – how to have a “good fight,” as it were, that really bring things to resolution. Without these skills, and a real courage to step up and deal with problems, the emotional distance will just continue to grow.
  • Living in denial: A lot of times, when things have started to go a bit sideways in the relationship, we don’t want to admit that it’s happening. Often the person truly needing to make some significant changes is most content to deny the existence of any real issues. We kind of live in denial, as if it’s not really happening, or it’s not that bad, or things will get better in time. But living in denial doesn’t fix things; it only causes the marriage to deteriorate to the point where the couple just does not feel close anymore.

Working through the emotional distance

The first step to dealing with emotional abandonment is to identify the root cause and to begin to deal with it. Don’t settle for living in isolation. Ask God for more in your marriage and then trust Him as you faithfully try to make changes. Here are some suggestions for re-establishing a loving connection with your spouse:

1. Agree to talk: At some point you have to agree to talk about the problems that exist between you. If you’re going to resolve issues, there needs to be a mutual commitment to listen to the other person’s concerns and to work towards improving the situation. Don’t corner your spouse with an unexpected lecture, but set a time and agree to start to work through your issues.

2. Be prepared: Before you have the talk, take the time separately to think through the unresolved issues that you’ll be discussing. What are your concerns in the relationship? In what areas do you feel you need to improve? What are your expectations of your spouse? To put your thoughts down on paper may be best, but either way, be prepared to be open and honest with each other about the real issues between you. Be sure to take the time to really listen to what your spouse is saying. Give each other uninterrupted time to share your view on things.

3. Be direct but gentle: Neither of you has anything to gain by holding back your true feelings. Remember: unresolved issues lie at the heart of emotional detachment. So lay all your cards out on the table by sharing your hurts clearly. Don’t allow things to get out of hand. Be committed to talk through things sensibly. Take breaks to cool it if necessary but agree to continue. Ask each other the tough questions, and talk through the difficult issues that have been eating away at your relationship. Regardless of which partner initiated the wrong, you both need to work at resolving the problem.

4. Begin to meet unmet needs: Often a person pulls back from the relationship because, in their mind, their needs are not being met. A healthy marriage demands that both partners actively work to discern the needs of their spouse, and work to meet those needs. Seek to understand your spouse’s needs and ask yourself how you can start to better express love by meeting these needs. Make your spouse and sorting things out your new priority.

5. Deal with your own stuff: If I am feeling abandoned by my spouse, I need to ask myself a tough question: What have I done to drive my spouse away? Now it may not be only your responsibility. Nevertheless, you have to find out what you are responsible for and take ownership for your actions. Really listen to your spouse. Of course, there are things that your mate needs to deal with, and they may be withdrawing from you for selfish reasons, but that can’t stop you from taking the steps that you know you need to take. Both parties must be prepared to make apologies and extend forgiveness as part of your recovery from the emotional detachment.

6. Intentionally re-engage: If you are to re-establish your emotional connection, it won’t happen by accident and it won’t happen overnight. You need to agree to make your relationship a priority and spend some quality time together. Plan a few dates and put each other in your schedules. It’s time to re-enter one another’s lives again.

7. Act kindly: This may not be a revolutionary new idea, but it can have that kind of an effect on your marriage. You must act kindly toward your spouse. Small gestures of warmth, acts of kindness, and efforts to rekindle the romance between you will go a long way toward renewing your bond with one another. Do this from the heart with real commitment to make the necessary changes.

8. Love unconditionally: Somebody has to break out of the negative cycle of eye-for an eye, poor treatment for poor treatment. You need to step out of the insult-for-insult cycle and respond differently. You cannot control your spouse’s behavior, but you can control your own. Regardless of how your spouse responds, you must choose to treat them with love. This is not easy to do when your partner is not reciprocating, but it is what you vowed to do when you promised to love each other “for better or for worse.” And nothing breaks down emotional barriers like unconditional love.

9. Allow God to work: I’m going to challenge you to ask God to change you. God wants your best and He’ll always be ready to take full responsibility for any life that is totally surrendered to Him. That also includes re-engaging with your spouse and getting attached in love again. God wants that and He will guide you in that, if you’ll allow Him to.

We’ve all got issues to work through in our relationships. Whether your problems stem from bitterness, unforgiveness, dishonesty, lack of kindness, unfaithfulness, or something else, God offers you His power to enable you to live in a way that honors Him. There’s no doubt in my mind that God wants your marriage to work and that you desire to have warmth and a close connection with your spouse. That’s His design. Let’s go after it.

Lord, Examine Me Deeply

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network/Karl Benzio

Look Up to Look Deeply Inside

Assessing ourselves thoroughly means we have to allow God to reveal our deep, hidden, faulty areas. Looking inward really requires lots of courage. We are so quick to diagnose and judge others. What if we took that same energy and time to refocus and examine ourselves?

It’s astounding how ignorant we are about our true selves.

We rarely recognize the distortions, laziness, envy, pride, entitlement and weaknesses inside us. We must dump the idea that we understand ourselves just because we live our lives. The only one who truly understands and knows us is God. He wants to show us who we are, then equip us and ultimately transform us to become Christ-like by developing the Mind of Christ.

To look inward, we need regular quiet time alone with God to analyze our daily decisions and ask why we made those decisions. By using the perfect mirror of The Holy Bible and God’s lenses, we can see our misguided desires and affections. These lead to false idols and substitute fixes that distance us from Him. Seeing ourselves through His eyes enables us to change our foundation from sand to solid rock, allowing us to become a powerful Lighthouse shining God’s glory. Going through this process is what transformed my life and set me free of the bondage in which I was wallowing.

Take some time to ask yourself, “What outranked God? What was more important to me than pleasing God in that situation? In my decisions today, what fleshly desire or fear was more important than keeping the Holy Spirit on the throne of my life? How could I have honored Him with a Godly decision?”

Today, examine an area of temptation or a wrong decision you made recently. Heart diagnostics can be painful. But being honest with yourself will open the door to reaping the fruit of the spirit and growing the mind of Christ. How honest you will be and how much you will use God in the examination and self-assessment process is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I am so thankful that You are God with us—constantly and eternally. This fact alone is sufficient to fill my days and nights with joy. Thank You, my Lord. Sadly though, my mind slips out of focus and I begin looking outward at the broken world around me. I know by Your Word that I need to be alone with you in order to learn and grow in You. I desire this time alone with You, Lord. Please help me push away all the distractions that prevent me from being alone with You. When we are alone, I ask that You give me the courage to look deeply inside myself. Let me be honest with myself so that I may be honest and open with You. Give me your lenses to see my core accurately. I pray to You in the name of the One who gives me courage, Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

The Truth
…when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. Mark 4:34

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23 

Life Feel Out-Of-Control?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee

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. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.” Proverbs 3:5-8 NLT

Is there an area of your life that feels out of control?

We all have the potential of coming under the influence of a life-controlling problem. Facing the reality of the problem may be difficult; however, doing so can be the first step on the road to recovery.

One sign of a life-controlling problem (or the start of one) is when a substance, behavior or relationship interferes in an important area of life (job, school, family …) but we continue the behavior regardless. In other words, we are hurting ourselves or others, but do not make a change to correct the destructive issue.

Admitting our powerlessness over a life-controlling problem is not a weakness; it is a strength.

Is there some negative issue in your life that you don’t seem to be able to control? Perhaps you have thoughts like these: “There is no way out.” “I am in over my head.” “I feel like a runaway truck.” “I feel overwhelmed.”

As trapped as you might feel right now, there is a way out. You can change–but not by yourself. Take the first step. Admit your powerlessness over this problem. Don’t allow embarrassment, pride or hopelessness to stop you from getting help. Admit your need to yourself and to God. Tell him that you need his help. He loves you, he wants to help you and he is able.

Father, I do need your help. I’ve tried to hide this problem from you and from others–even from myself. Please forgive me and show me the way out. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …


Stepping into Freedom: A Christ-Centered Twelve-Step Program
by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min.

Q&A: My Friend Is Depressed. What Should I Do?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by EDDIE KAUFHOLZ/Relevant Magazine

How To Help When You Just Don’t Know What To Say?

I have a friend who has been struggling with depression for a long time and I think she’s considering suicide. I’m really worried about her, but I don’t know what to say. What’s the best way to help her?

– Courtney

Courtney, thank you for reaching out and asking this incredibly important and brave question. You are a good person with a good heart, and I’m glad your friend has you.

Here’s what I’m going to do. Usually, the form of these Ask RELEVANT articles take us from theoretical to practical. Today though, I’m skipping most of the theoretical and just giving you three steps to do right now:

1. Treat Every Mention as Real.

When we first hear someone say they’re thinking of taking their own life, it can be really difficult to accept. There are a number of reasons why:

Sometimes, they say it in such a casual way that it doesn’t register as an actual threat to their life, but more like a little throw away phrase. We all say these kinds of things, don’t we? “I could kill the guy who’s setting off fireworks in August!”

See what I’m saying? Even if I’m justified because the 4th of July was well over a month ago and my kids are now crying at 3 a.m. because of that punk, I’m not going to really kill anyone. I’m just talking.

We need to do all we can to remove the mental barriers that make us treat a cry for help as something other than a real and credible danger.

We sometimes hear, as clear as day, someone say something like, “This world would just be better off without me,” and we chalk up the statement to our friend being sad and maybe a little dramatic—they’re just talking, right? Who knows. That’s why you treat it as real, instead of guessing incorrectly.

However, there’s another reason we don’t believe the mention of suicide is real. It’s because, well, we don’t believe it’s actually real. We think there’s no possible way they would actually do that. Maybe we think the idea of suicide is unthinkable and unimaginable. Or maybe you’ve heard a friend say a hundred times that they’re going to take their life. But this time, you believe it’s time to wisen up and not be duped a one-hundred-and-first time.

Nope. It’s real, just like it was time 1 through 100.

Whatever our reasons for not fully comprehending the weight of a suicidal threat, we need to do all we can to remove the mental barriers that make us treat a cry for help as something other than a real and credible danger.

So Courtney, just to be really clear, your friend’s cry for help is real, and it’s time to act. Which leads us to the next step …

2. Ring the Bell.

Courtney, you need to find someone to tell about your friend’s admission to you. Now, I know, because you’re a good friend, that it may seem like you’re betraying some sort of trust because your friend may ask you to keep this between the two of you. But seriously, you can’t. Here’s why:

First, neither you nor I have all the skills necessary to really help. In fact, no one person does. Even an amazing counselor, when confronted with a client who’s threatening self-harm, talks to another counselor for wisdom.

You see, really caring for someone who’s suicidal is more than just being a listening ear. It’s a holistic conversation about medical issues, psychological issues, life issues, etc. etc. It’s bigger than you, or me, or your friend. But it’s usually not beyond the scope of a good support team.

So what I would do is be as empathetic and loving to your friend as possible, and then engage in a conversation about who else could be told about this. Maybe your friend will have an adverse reaction and try to stop you. If that’s the case, you have to just go to a parent, counselor, pastor or really anyone you trust and let them know everything you know. Your friend’s desire for your actions can’t outweigh your desire for their well-being.

However, more often than not, the person will appreciate that you’re taking the threat seriously, caring for them genuinely and letting other people join the team. If this ends up being the case, talk together about who could be told and then figure out the best way to tell them.

Courtney, isolation is the enemy here. Your friend knew that, and she was smart enough to bring you in to help and not try to fight this thing alone. And now you need to do the same. You can’t be alone in knowing this information—it’s time to ring the bell.

Really caring for someone who’s suicidal is more than just being a listening ear. It’s a holistic conversation about medical issues, psychological issues, life issues, etc. etc.

One more thing: A lot of people get hung up on the, “I have to tell someone” part and they can’t figure out a person who is trustworthy and safe. If that’s the case, or even if you just can’t come up with a name in the intensity of the moment, please call this number, they’ll walk you through what’s next:

3. Be Supportive.

All right Courtney, this is the last thing. Thoughts of self-harm stem from a very real and difficult space. And anyone who has ever been suicidal and found their way out of the dark woods knows that it wasn’t because they purely willed themselves to get better. It’s because a lot of people helped.

Courtney, think of yourself as one of the three legs of a stool: One leg represents professional/medical help, one leg represents a belief system (often, a belief in God), and one leg is community support (you).

For your friend to get better and find balance, all three legs must be intact. This is where your role becomes vital. Because while doctors and counselors are diagnosing and testing, you’re going to be there telling your friend you love and value them. And while your friend tries to figure out that their life is worth something, you’re going to be the constant voice telling them they matter to you. Courtney, you’re not the only leg of the stool, but you’re a vital part of the team. What you contribute can’t be undervalued.

In closing, I’ll share this: I still mourn the loss of one of my best friends to suicide, and would give anything to tell him one more time that he matters and what he does with his life matters. And while I still feel unspeakable sadness about his death, I know it’s not in anyone’s power to save anyone else. All we can do is take the threat seriously, gather a support system and love them through the pain.

I, and many others, will be praying for you, Courtney. You’re a good friend.

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1-800-273-TALK(8255)
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/my-friend-depressed-what-should-i-do#BsYpozlYcxHYgUxZ.99

Honesty: I Desire To Sin More Than I Desire To Obey Christ

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul

How should we deal with stubborn pockets of sin in our lives that won’t seem to go away even after much prayer and honest heartfelt desire to change?

One of the great Christian classics is a devotional booklet written by Saint Thomas à Kempis called The Imitation of Christ.

In that book he talks about the struggle that so many Christians have with habits that are sinful. He says that the struggle for sanctification is often so difficult and the victories that we achieve seem to be so few and far between, that even in the lives of the greatest saints, there were few who were able to overcome habitual patterns. We’re talking about people who overeat and have these kinds of temptations, not those who are enslaved to gross and heinous sin.

Now Thomas à Kempis’s words are not sacred Scripture, but he gives us wisdom from the life of a great saint.

The author of Hebrews says that we are called to resist the sin that so easily besets us and that we are admonished and exhorted simply to try harder to overcome these sins. You say, How do we escape these pockets of sin that we have such great struggles with, that we have an honest and heartfelt desire not to commit? If the desire not to do it is really honest and penetrates the heart, we’re 90 percent home. In fact, we shouldn’t be locked into something.

The reason we continue with these pockets of repeated sins is because we have a heartfelt desire to continue them, not because we have a heartfelt desire to stop them.

I wonder how honest our commitment is to quit. There’s a tendency for us to kid ourselves about this anytime we embrace a pet sin. We need to face the fact that we commit the sin because we want to do that sin more than we want to obey Christ at that moment. That doesn’t mean that we have no desire to escape from it, but the level of our desire vacillates.

It’s easy to go on a diet after a banquet; it’s hard to stay on a diet if you haven’t eaten all day. That’s what happens particularly with habitual sins that involve physical or sensual appetites. The ebb and flow of the desire is augmented and diminished. It increases and fades. Our resolve to repent is great when our appetites have been satiated, but when they’re not, we have a growing attraction to practice whatever the particular sins may be.

I think what we have to do is first of all be honest about the fact that we really have a conflict of interest between what we want to do and what God wants us to do. I think we have to feed our souls with the Word of God so that we can get what God wants us to do clear in our mind and then build a strong desire to obey.

I Just Don’t Have What It Takes….

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

When we are dealing with a life-interfering problem … whether it is a behavior, thought pattern, or feeling … we may begin to think, “What’s the use? I’ll never overcome this. I’ve tried a number of times, and failed … again and again. I just don’t have what it takes to get things right.” Or “After all this effort to do something about my issues, I haven’t made any progress.”

Two common explanations I hear when patients come into my office for a psychiatric evaluation are, “You know doc, I’ve tried to change so many times, but I guess this is the way God made me and I am stuck like this,” or “This is the way I was born and there is no escaping it.”

Here’s the Bad News. Do you know what? All these statements are true to some extent.

We probably don’t have what it takes. Step 1 of AA got it right: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (you insert whatever habit or life-interfering pattern you struggle with) — that our lives had become unmanageable. Then follows Step 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Now the Good News! We know this Power.

It’s Jesus.

The real Big Book (This is what the AA Book is called), The Holy Bible, promises us that we can do all things … through Christ who strengthens us. If we are willing to commit our lives to Him, He will give us the wisdom, strength, and most of all, the courage we need to do what is right. He will guide us on the right path. And we are rarely alone as He often sends other people to us, to help in these various areas of support, along the way.

But growth doesn’t just happen overnight and growth never happens randomly. Satan has a strategy to defeat us. So, in order to experience growth, we need a strategy to defend ourselves and fight back. This is what we call the sanctification process … our spiritual journey. Putting on the Armor of God. What strategy do you usually tap into each day? How intentional are you at implementing your plan throughout the day? How is your strategy working?

To receive this power from Christ, we need a strategy. First, we need to admit that we need help. Knowing we are in trouble and admitting we will accept help are two different things. Many see they are struggling, but few are willing to relinquish control to someone else. We need to be honest with ourselves, with Him, and with others. We need to take off the mask of self-sufficiency and get real. We must quit using our own instruction manuals and start using His for all of life’s situations. We must start seeing life through the Godly lenses of His Holy Bible. That’s what transformed my life, and it can certainly transform yours.

Today, if you’re dealing with a problem that seems hopeless … take the first step. Admit you need help. Then, ask God for His plan. Ask him for strength through Christ. Admit to safe and caring people that you need help.  Whether you apply the Bible (Best Instruction Book for Living Everyday) to develop your daily strategy or you use the instruction manual you are making up on the fly is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I’ve been trying everything I know to overcome my problem with short spurts and shortcuts, but nothing seems to work for the long run. I need … and desire Your strength and guidance. Help me to be honest about my need for help by sharing with those You send to help me. Help me remember that I can succeed … through Christ. Next I need to know how to apply that. Help me learn to apply Your word to my life, minute by minute, instead of using my own understanding. I pray this and all prayers through the One whom You sent to compensate for all my shortcomings, Jesus Christ;  AMEN!

The Truth
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:5-8

When It’s Not “Okay”

SOURCE: Kasey Van Norman, M.A.

Discovering Raw Faith in the Midst of Tragedy

The truth is, no matter the condition of our faith, we all have bad days. And when I’m having a bad day—you know, like barfing for twenty-some hours straight as a result of a toxin that’s flowing through my veins and killing off every cell in hopes of catching the one or two bad ones that could kill me—on those days, I don’t need someone to come along and tell me that it’s all going to be okay.

My experience with cancer is not the first time I’ve encountered this phenomenon.

When I watched my mom spiral into depression after my parents’ divorce, she would say, “It’s going to be okay.”

When I was with my dad every other weekend as a child and watched him take drink after drink, he would say, “It’s going to be okay.”

The day I ended up in the hospital after sticking my finger down my throat one too many times and had literally burned holes in my esophagus and weighed a good eighty-five pounds soaking wet, a nurse told me, “It’s going to be okay.”

After my miscarriage when I was twelve weeks pregnant, my friends told me, “It’s going to be okay.”

As I stood in front of my mother’s corpse at the funeral home, amid sobbing people and a slew of flowers, people came through the line and said, “It’s going to be okay.”

And then, when I shared the news of my cancer diagnosis, I received e-mails and shoulder pats with those dreaded words once again; “It’s going to be okay.”

There have been countless times when I want to stand up and shout, “NO! IT IS NOT GOING TO BE OKAY!”

We live in a broken, messed-up world, and there are some things that are never going to be okay.

Embracing raw faith means understanding that the Christian life also means accepting pain, suffering, and trials. Genuine faith means accepting the reality that life is a continual movement to become more like Jesus. Man-made religion wants to lull us into a place of rules and being just okay, but Jesus rocks our world and calls us to live deeply, whether in times of joy or struggle.

In other words, it’s okay to not be okay.

Better than Okay

God doesn’t guarantee us deliverance from hardship, and following him doesn’t mean we’ll never go through the fire. But he does promise us something better: he doesn’t waste anything we go through. And no matter what happens, he will go through it with us.

God’s grace runs deeper than any heartbreak we will experience in this life. His love goes beyond than any unanswered questions we might have. And God’s purpose and plan for our future can trump any sin, any obstacle, and any defeat we might experience.  He can use the very things that plague us—our most difficult trials—to chisel us into the character of his Son.

That’s something we can’t experience if we settle for okay.

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Excerpted from Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight by Kasey Van Norman. Available at www.raw-faith.com.

FEELINGS: Keeping Them In or Letting Them Out

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

When The Laughter Ends…

Most of us have some degree of trouble admitting our true feelings and expressing them, especially if we are struggling with life-interfering problems. But throughout the Bible, God encourages us to be in touch with our feelings and to know them. Then, once we access our feelings, He doesn’t want us to keep them hidden inside.

Jesus set an example for us: He had emotions and he expressed them. He cried. He got angry. He was sad. He was extremely concerned and sweated blood in the garden before His arrest.

We often hide the way we feel behind a defense to keep our real selves from showing through. Inside we may feel angry, or fearful or sad. But we hide those feelings by joking … or acting superior … looking important … using sarcastic comments … being silent … deflecting attention to something else … anesthetizing it with substances or food … or employing some other defense. We often try to cover our sadness with laughter, but when the laughter ends, the hurt or loss remains. Eventually, hidden shame and sadness are roadblocks to hope and healing.

An important tip: Hiding our feelings gives them dysfunctional control over our lives. Unexpressed anger, fear, hurt, unforgiveness, bitterness, humiliation, and guilt have a destructive influence on everything we do. Inside we have only a small box to hold these feelings … and it can overflow quickly. When it does, those feelings bleed out and ooze into our real everyday functioning. That is a fact. Often it leads to passive-aggressive behavior.

Your choice is very simple.

1: Express your feelings as they happen, in ways that are controllable, functional, measured, healthy, respectful, and useful to you while they match the situation.

2: while you are trying to hold in your feelings they will start to overflow from that little container you have inside and ooze out in ways that are uncontrollable, dysfunctional, and random, sabotaging your efforts to deal with the situation at hand and hold you back in your psychological and spiritual growth pursuits.

Unfortunately, this last scenario is what usually happens, reinforcing the false belief that expressing our feelings is destructive. So we falsely learn to be afraid of our having feelings, expressing feelings, or letting others express theirs.

Today, ask yourself this question: has your “cover-up” helped? Or have you learned first-hand that when the laughter ends, the grief remains?

Your suppressed feelings will come back to undermine your happiness and relationships. Admitting your negative feelings (in the right way) can be a turning point for you. Be honest with yourself … and with God … and then with a friend. Being real will open the door for healing. Journaling your feelings as they come up is a good step towards having better command over your emotions. Whether you express your feeling in a healthy and appropriate way or you them and they ooze out in dysfunctional ways is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I’ve been hiding my feelings for a long time, but I know now it’s time to be honest. Help me to be real. Help me to have a better awareness of my feelings and more control in expressing them. Set me free from their grip. Help me,  not be afraid of them, but to see them as Your gift to me. They are my warning system, and a very good warning system. Soothe me and increase my awareness of Your soothing. Help me to share my real feelings with my loved ones, and give me restraint as I express them. I pray in the name of the One whom You sent to be my perfect emotional role model, Jesus Christ – AMEN!

The Truth

Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when laughter ends, the grief remains.

Proverbs 14:13

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Ephesians 4:26,27

Denial or Overreaction: Where’s the Balance?

SOURCE:  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Ministry Network/Stepping Stones

Don’t Wait … Do It Now!

When faced with difficulties, the discomforts that comes from daily storms, or life’s challenges, our natural reactions, without any thinking, usually fall into one of these two ‘Fight or Flight’ categories: 1. Ignore or run away from the problem and hope it goes away, or 2. React in a knee-jerk way to the problem.

While this second response usually brings immediate relief, it often guarantees more damage later on. Obviously, neither option works well for long-term fulfillment or peace. But we’re all addicted to comfort … we all turn to idols of the heart instead of turning to God. So, like a gunslinger from the Old West, we continue to quick-draw these so-called defense “weapons” when we feel threatened by the adversity God allowed to enter our day.

I have learned … well no, I actually continue to learn, and sometimes the hard way, that failing to deal with adversity immediately compounds the pain and suffering. Waiting, ignoring, or hiding never makes it better. But even though I know that I shouldn’t put it off, reacting on the spot with my not-thought-out knee-jerk response is going to lead to a lot of damage as well. I have to think first and then respond to have the best chance for success, especially in challenging situations that press my emotional buttons.

Using either the “ignore it” or “react without thinking” strategy really shows a “my kingdom come, my will be done mentality.” It exposes our lack of faith in God’s promises, track record, character, sovereignty and plan for our lives. We really need a “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” mindset. That perspective recognizes His majesty as well as our limitations. It also helps us develop an optimum plan to attack the challenge before us.

[In scripture], Jesus Christ lays down a very important principle: do what you must do now. Do it quickly. If you do not act immediately, if you do not pay the price to settle the adversity, an inevitable process will begin. And that process will not stop until you have “paid the last penny.”

Think of an adversity that continues to drain you. Why do you fail to address it head-on with Godly discernment? Settle that score today within the limits you can control. God has given you answers to deal with it externally (your outward behavior), and internally (inside your head and attitude). Don’t procrastinate. Act now to move toward the mind of Christ, because that is where you will find God’s peace. Whether you act clearly and immediately when confronted by a challenge or you procrastinate is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I know I have stayed away from Your light out of fear that my bad deeds, sins, and adversities will be exposed. I no longer want to live in darkness. I pray, Father, that You will help me live by Your Truth and in Your Light so that all can see what I do is done through You. Help me, Lord, to learn to deal with my adversities immediately so that they won’t fester and grow. But help me see life through Your eyes then respond with Your wisdom. I pray in the name of the One you sent to teach us truth, Jesus Christ – AMEN!

The Truth
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth; you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:25,26

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.  John 3:19-21

Grief: Letting Go Of What We Can’t Keep

SOURCE:  John Townsend/Beyond Boundaries

 Grief: What It Is and What It Does for You

Grief helps us process the reality of loss. Simply put, grief is letting go of what you cannot keep. Grief requires accepting, both mentally and emotionally, that something you loved and valued is no more. There are many areas of life in which we can experience loss and for which we need to grieve:

• The dissolution of a marriage
• The end of a dating relationship
• Family ties that break down
• Friendships that end
• The death of a loved one
• Career opportunities that don’t materialize
• A relapse into addiction after years of sobriety
• Declining physical health
• Financial setbacks
• A trauma that forever mars an otherwise happy childhood

These represent important and life-changing experiences. However, just the fact that you have experienced losses doesn’t mean you can’t have a great and meaningful life. People endure great losses, like the ones mentioned earlier, and still have lives that are full and rich. The process of grieving losses is what helps you to deal with them and move on. This process is especially important when it comes to relational losses.

Grief helps you redirect your energies and focus on what you can have and what is good in your life. It provides a way to clear out regrets and hurts as a way to make room for the new. And grief converts a wound into a memory. That is, when you learn the process of letting go, the pain you feel in the present moves down your neurological pathways into your memory banks, where the past resides. In the memory banks, you can review the past, understand the past, and learn from the past.

Without grief, the wound never becomes a memory. You remain stuck in reexperiencing the hurt and hard times over and over again. Much like someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, people who fail to grieve experience a cycle of repeated thoughts and feelings, almost like flashbacks, that offer no relief. Grief ends this cycle and recalibrates your mind.

Six Components for Grieving a Lost Relationship

When it comes to the loss of a significant relationship, there are six essential components necessary for grief to do its work.

1. Acknowledge the Attachment
We get attached to people. That is the draw. And without an emotional attachment, there is nothing to grieve. This may seem obvious, but it is important to state it. The greater the grief you feel, the greater the love you have for the person you lost. And you can’t instantly undo the attachment. In the context of a relationship, you can’t simply stop feeling your feelings for someone just because the relationship is severed or changes. As we’ve noted before, the pain you feel is a good thing; it is a sign that you are alive inside.

2. Accept That You Can’t Control the Loss
Grief requires that you give up control of the other person’s decision and admit that you do not have the power to make him or her love you or move toward you. You are accepting a type of helplessness: “focused” helplessness, not the global helplessness of the victim position. It’s focused because you can choose to let go, choose to let your feelings out, choose to let other people in, and choose to even tell the person you don’t want the relationship to end. But in the end, you must accept that the other person is in the driver’s seat of his or her own life and path, toward you or away from you. You are, in that specific arena of life, helpless, because you don’t have permission or power to change the other person’s decisions.

This is a difficult area for most of us. No one wants to feel helpless. It renders us vulnerable and unable to make things happen the way we would like them to. I recently spoke with a woman on our radio program who described how her ex-husband had called her every day for the past four years — after the marriage had ended. He was unable to accept that the marriage was over. Some people think if they have one more talk with the other person and say the right thing at the right time, they can undo the alienation. Others think that if they become more lovable and attractive, that will work. The extreme cases engage in stalking behaviors. All of these behaviors are driven by a failure to accept the reality that one cannot control the loss of a relationship.

We resist helplessness when we don’t want to lose love. However, the sooner you can allow yourself to experience focused helplessness — to admit that you have no control over the other person’s decisions — the better off you will be.

Jesus allowed himself to experience focused helplessness by restraining his own power to make us love him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). It is a model for us: if the All-Powerful could restrain his might to let people go, we who are finite in power can do the same.

3. Name What You Valued
When you value someone, you affirm that he or she is important to you. When the connection is over, there are certain aspects of the person and the relationship that you miss the most. These are the values you have to grieve. Here are some examples:

• Warmth: he was accessible and moved toward you
• Vulnerability: she allowed her weaknesses and insecurities to emerge
• Structure: she could focus and get things done
• Intellect: he was smart and interesting to talk to
• Honesty: he could hear and tell the truth
• Spiritual values: she loved God and helped you become closer to God
• Acceptance: she could care about you even with your failings and imperfections
• Personal values: he had similar values about love, family, and relationship
• Culture: your backgrounds meshed well

Sometimes, the value you need to grieve is connected to specific memories as well. It could be a trip you took or a private joke you shared. It might be a time of deep intimacy in which you were very close. Perhaps it was good times with the family.

Why is it important to name the specific things you valued? Because you must say good-bye to the entire person, not simply the negative parts of the person. You cannot walk away from the things you disliked, which may be the things that ended the relationship, without also saying good-bye to the things you loved as well. A half grief is never a healing grief.

Here’s another way to think about it. Chances are you’ve been in a situation in which a friend is sad about a relational loss, and you want to help. So you do the most instinctual and protective thing, which is to trash the other person! You might say things like, “I never knew what you saw in him.” “You are better off without him.” “He doesn’t deserve you.” Such statements are well-meaning and probably encourage your friend for awhile. But it also distances her from what she needs to say good-bye to, which is what she valued.

Moreover, it sets her back. The ungrieved “good parts” stay inside her mind and heart and haunt her. That is why some people can’t get over a past relationship or why they find other people who aren’t so good for them but remind them of what they missed. It is better to help your friend say things like, “I know he was controlling, but I do miss the good times.” In that way, she is able to begin letting go of the whole person.

You need that as well. When your friends trash your ex, instead of feeling like a righteous victim, tell them, “I know she was all that, but I have been missing the good things, and I need you to let me talk about those too.” It might feel a little humiliating — how can you be so weak that you still have feelings for a person who mistreated you? Go ahead and push through the humiliation. It just means you were attached to someone with both strengths and weaknesses. And you are valuing the good so that you can say a complete farewell.

4. Surround Yourself with People Who Are Comforting
Grief is letting go of something we can’t keep, but nature abhors a vacuum. It is hard to let go of a relationship all by yourself, because there is a vacuum inside where the person used to be. In other words, you will continue reaching out and desiring the other person even though you know the relationship is over. Having people around you who have the capacity to comfort can help to fill the vacuum.

The process of comfort begins with God, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). How do you know if someone has the capacity to comfort? By the degree to which they remain present with you when you grieve. Being present means they don’t try to give you advice, cheer you up, or change the topic. That’s what people who are anxious about their own losses do. But people who are familiar with loss know how to just be with you. They give you eye contact, are sometimes quiet, and sometimes are just empathic. Allowing yourself to be comforted by others not only salves your grief, it also greatly reduces the power of the vacuum.

You may have little experience with grief and letting go. I find that many business people, for example, will simply move on from a bad situation or relationship without feeling their sadness. It is important, however, to be intentional about grief and not skip over it. Otherwise, you run the risk of never being able to fully let go of a person or lost opportunity in your past.

5. Allow the Sadness
The emotion of sadness encompasses both longing and mourning. When you are sad, your heart feels downcast. Tears may come. Even though you may have to wait for these emotions to come — you can’t manufacture them at will — there are things you can do that will help you access your sadness.

• Intentionally set aside time to step away from your busy routines and activities and settle into a quiet place.
– Think about the person you lost.
– Recall the negative aspects of the relationship, but don’t allow yourself to stay angry or to get sidetracked by an internal argument about how wrong it was.
– Remember the good aspects of the relationship and the warm times.
• Meet with a friend or counselor and tell him about the things you remember and your experiences with the other person.
• Ask a friend to play the part of your difficult person in a role-play conversation, in which you say what needs to be said: “I care about you, and even though it’s been hard,

I always will. Good-bye.” If you are going to talk to the person, this will help you experience the feelings and fears ahead of time. If you don’t have the opportunity to talk to the person, the role-play can still help you work through what you feel and resolve it.

Some combination of activities like these can help you get out of the doing mode and into the feeling mode. Then you will more readily access the sad emotions that must come. By welcoming your sadness, you allow your feelings to simply catch up with and ally with your thoughts about the reality of the loss.

6. Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Time is like an oven. It takes all the raw ingredients of grief and loss that we’ve talked about so far and cooks them up into something new; it transforms them, creating a new way for you to experience your loss. You cannot microwave grief. However, you can speed up the process by taking time and devoting energy to working through this process. Alternatively, you can also prolong your grief, sometimes forever. You don’t want that for yourself. You want to get it done right so that you can move on.

I once worked with a couple whose adult son, Brian, was a drug addict. He had rejected their help and the relationship they wanted to have with him. He was determined to go his own way and saw no reason to involve them in his life.

Brian’s father mourned the loss of his son over a period of several months and eventually began to invest his energies into other pursuits and family relationships. Brian’s mother, however, hated the idea of sadness — it was uncomfortable, and she did not like the sense of being out of control. So she would allow herself to feel a little sadness and then go through periods of “getting herself together.” She would tell me, “I’m done with this grief stuff. I have accepted that Brian doesn’t want us in his life. That’s his choice, he’s a grown-up. It’s time to move on.” And every time, within a few weeks she became lethargic, had trouble concentrating, and felt weepy about her son. Then she would be a little bit sad again, followed by another round of being “done with it” again.

I felt bad for her. She had come from a professional family in which sadness was seen as a weakness, so the feelings caused a great deal of shame and self-condemnation within her. I told her, “Maybe you’re done, but I doubt it. This is the fourth time you have struggled with your sad feelings like this.” Then I turned to her husband and said, “Why don’t you tell her how you feel about her sad feelings about Brian?” He looked at her and said, “You’re the only other person in the world who understands what we are going through. When you allow yourself to feel our sadness, it brings me closer to you and I feel hope for us.” When she heard that, she began to soften. She was able to stay with her sadness and slowly did make steady progress — instead of the false starts and stops — in letting Brian go.

While some people such as Brian’s mom resist their grief, others can get frozen in a permanent state of grief. They access their sadness, but something breaks down, and they cannot move on. So they continue years of living in loss and have difficulty being happy. Sometimes the breakdown is due to isolation and not having enough safe people with whom to process their loss. Sometimes it is because they idealize the person they lost and can’t imagine anyone could replace them; they build a mental shrine to that person. People whose spouses or parents have died often suffer from this. Making another attachment seems disloyal to the other person’s memory, so they sacrifice their opportunities for a good life in the future on the altar of the life they can no longer have.

If you think you may be frozen in this way, it will help to make a list of the positive and negative qualities of the person and reflect on them. This is not dishonoring to the individual. It is simply a way to allow you to say good-bye to the real person, so that you don’t stay stuck in seeing only the good parts.

These six components have an order and a structure to them. They work. But remember that grief has its own pace as well. One part may take more or less time than you expected. Don’t attempt to force or control your grief process. Give yourself margin within the components. In time, you will be able to let go of the relationship and move on.

Grieving a Living Person

Letting go of a relationship when the individual has passed away is no easy task. However, it can be even harder in some ways when the person is still alive. This was the case with Brian, whose parents had to grieve the loss of their relationship with him. As the saying goes, where there is life, there is hope, and if you know the person is still breathing, it is easy to imagine scenarios, conversations, and tactics that could return and restore the relationship. We all have hope somewhere inside us, the anticipation of a future good. We need hope, because it helps us endure a difficult present, knowing that the future will be an improvement. However, when that capacity for hope attaches to a person simply because he or she is alive — not for any sound reason that makes sense — it is a vain hope.

If this is your situation, you don’t want to waste any more time on vain hope. The only thing it does is slow down your ability to move beyond boundaries and into great relationships. You may need to focus on this issue. Here are a few ideas that might help:

• Tell yourself that you still have a death to deal with: the person is not dead, but the relationship is.
• Write down the evidence you have of the loss and reflect on it: the divorce paper, the person has another relationship, there is no change in the person’s toxicity.
• Ask a friend to tell you why he or she thinks the relationship is over and listen to it from his or her perspective.

Giving up vain hope doesn’t mean that relational miracles don’t occur. I have seen many dead connections resurrected. So be open to the possibility. But let go. You can enter sadness and still leave a door open at the same time. It sounds like it can’t be done, but it can in this way: you are putting your energy and focus into the next steps and the next relationships. But you are not God, and if God miraculously changes the situation, you can respond to that. Move ahead, but let God be God.

But what do you do if the relationship is not over? For example, say you are married, and it is a hard marriage, but you want to keep the commitment and repair whatever is broken, even though it is painful. Is this a matter of grief? Yes, it still is. It is not about letting go and saying good-bye to the person or the relationship; they are still in the picture. But you do have a loss: the loss of the good that was there.

There were good days and times of connection and happiness before things began to go wrong. It may sound strange to grieve the lost, good parts of your relationship and still relate to or even live with the person, but the idea still holds: you have suffered a loss, and it must be grieved. Don’t prevent yourself from grieving just because you are still in the relationship. The loss is still real and important to you.

If the relationship never had a good season, how do you grieve that? For whatever reason, character issues, disconnection, control, manipulations, addictions, and even abuse could have been the norm from the beginning of the relationship. Obviously, you can’t grieve that — there is nothing in the relationship to grieve. That is, except for one thing: the hope. That is, the hope of what you wanted to happen. You grieve your dreams and desires for love, connection, success, partnership, acceptance, or support.

We generally begin a friendship, a family relationship, a business relationship, or a courtship with some sort of hope of a good outcome. Why else would we try to connect in the first place? If you are in a situation in which you feel there is nothing good about the relationship to grieve, you can grieve your lost hopes and what did not happen. Again, I need to say that I have seen relationships that were stillborn and never fulfilling that, with work, began to thrive in health and intimacy. So if the structure of the relationship still exists, I encourage you to continue working for a better future, while at the same time saying good-bye to your dreams of the past.

You Have Nothing to Fear from Grief

Allow me to add a bit of perspective here, especially if concentrating on grief and understanding its nature are new to you. Grief doesn’t have to control or consume your life. Depending on the situation, it can take days or it can take years. How long it takes all depends on how important the relationship was to you, whom you choose to help you along, and how focused you are in the process. But don’t be afraid of your grief. You can have a good life and still let go of that which is no longer yours. Take it from wise King Solomon, “A sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

Grief is like the weather; it’s always changing and often unpredictable. It is more organic than systematic. So while you are in the season of letting go of the relationship or a part of the relationship, allow yourself to engage in it and embrace it. Your grief will subside, and you can regain joy and positive feelings. Then another wave of grief will likely return. But the process works in such a way that each time you engage in grief, the bottom — the lowest part of the sadness — should be a little less severe and a little less dark. And in time, you will be yourself, actually more than yourself — because you have integrated and metabolized the loss of the relationship and learned from it.

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Townsend, J. (2011). Beyond boundaries: learning to trust again in relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Do you want to be healed?

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC)

[John 5:1-9]

38 years in a bed.

Next to a pool.

Sounds relaxing doesn’t it?

But as we read on, the story says the man was alone and horribly crippled. Probably twisted feet, pencil thin legs and atrophied muscles barely covered by a thin blanket. Why? Because this was the pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. There was something miraculous about this pool. Periodically the water stirred, and the first one into it was instantly healed.

Suddenly a commotion just inside the gate caused everyone to turn and look. A Man, followed by a large crowd, walked through one of five alcoves. With humble determination, He moved to the crippled man’s side. Whispers fill the air. “Is it Him?” some ask.

Every ear strains to hear what He might say as He kneels tenderly next to the man. And then, with a quiet strong voice full of power and grace, He asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The broken man feebly hangs his head and utters an interesting reply, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” His answer only goes to affirm the depths of his hopelessness. Not “yes” or even “no”. Just discouragement and despair…

Even more interesting is the edict He gives in response. “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off. (John 5:1-9 MSG)

Jesus asked him — Do you want to be healed?

Each of us, at some point in our lives, have heard Him ask us the same question. Whether it’s physically… emotionally… relationally… or spiritually.

Too often, we answer with the same timidity he did. Our pain is too deep. The hurt has been lodged in our heart for way too long. The doctors have tried everything. Hopelessness fills our souls…

When you really think about it, healing starts with a choice. And it is always for His glory.

Meditate on these words. Treasure them up and ponder them in your heart:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

“O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” (Psalm 30:2 ESV)

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14 ESV)

“And many followed Him. And He healed them all.” (Matthew 12:15 ESV)

“He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

“Do you want to be healed?”

The next time He asks you that heartfelt question, reflect on these verses before you answer.

And yes, He is always waiting and willing to turn our lives around.

The “ONLY” Way Forward –> Bringing Our Failures To God

SOURCE: Taken from  D.A. Carson/The Gospel Coalition

[Based on:  Leviticus 25Psalm 32Ecclesiastes 82 Timothy 4]

“BLESSED IS HE WHOSE TRANSGRESSIONS ARE FORGIVEN, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1-2).

In a theistic universe where God keeps the books, it is difficult to imagine any greater blessedness.

The sad tragedy is that when many people reflect on this brute fact — that we must give an account to him, and there is no escaping his justice — almost instinctively they do the wrong thing. They resolve to take the path of self-improvement, they turn over a new leaf, they conceal or even deny the sins of frivolous youth. Thus they add to their guilt something additional — the sin of deceit.

We dare not ask for justice — we would be crushed.

But how can we hide from the God who sees everything? That is self-delusion.

There is only one way forward that does not destroy us: we must be forgiven.

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven.” And what is bound up with such forgiveness? For a start, such a person will not pretend there are no sins to forgive: blessed is the man “in whose spirit is no deceit.”

That is why the ensuing verses speak so candidly of confession (32:3-5). It was when David “kept silent” (i.e., about his sins) that his “bones wasted away”; his anguish was so overwhelming it brought wretched physical pain. David writhed under the sense that God himself was against him: “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (32:4).

The glorious solution?

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ — and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (32:5).

The New Testament writer closest to saying the same thing is John in his first letter (1 John 1:8-9).

Writing to believers, John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There it is again: the self-deception bound up with denying our sinfulness.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There it is again: the only remedy to human guilt.

This God forgives us, not because he is indulgent or too lazy to be careful, but because we have confessed our sin, and above all, because he is “faithful and just”: “faithful” to the covenant he has established, “just” so as not to condemn us when Jesus himself is the propitiation for our sins (2:2).

Parenting Through Guilt

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Living Free

“A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them.” Proverbs 13:24 MSG

One of the most difficult issues for parents to work through is realizing late in the parenting process that they have failed as a parent.  People who have tremendous guilt due to feelings of failure as a parent often give in to inappropriate behavior by their children.

One mother who had a 21-year-old son living in her home admitted that she sometimes permitted her son to abuse her verbally and physically. She also allowed him to drink alcohol in the home even though this was against her values. Why did she allow this behavior? “He had a difficult time during my divorce, and I don’t want to hurt him anymore!”

This mother had not been the best of mothers, but she had committed her life to Christ and was now involved in ministry. Nonetheless, instead of walking in the freedom of forgiveness that was hers through Christ, she allowed her past to haunt her. Guilt over the mistakes she had made as a parent ruled her current relationship with her son. In her mind, allowing him to do whatever he wanted was making up for her past mistakes. In fact, she needed to show her love by holding him accountable for his actions.

Have you made some serious mistakes in parenting your child?

Are you now allowing guilt to prevent you from holding him accountable for his actions?

Meditate on [the above] scripture. The best way you can love your child is with kind but firm discipline and guiding him in ways that are pleasing to God.

Father, I know you’ve forgiven me for my past mistakes. Help me to forgive myself and move on. Help me to love my child enough to discipline him and hold him responsible for his actions. I pray that your will be done in his life. In Jesus’ name …


[These thoughts were drawn from Close—But Not Too Close by Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee.]

Bulimia: The New Normal

SOURCE: Ed Welch/CCEF

Bulimia is the new normal.

The thin and wealthy specialize in it, but you can be sure that it is a cornerstone of any culture in which the preferred body type is thinner than is actually possible on a normal diet.  You’ll find it in any culture that is obsessed with looking younger or where everyone is looking for that elusive weight-loss secret.

True story: parents protested when a youth group leader began talking about eating disorders. Why? They were concerned that their daughters would gain weight.

It begins with a desire to be thinner. Once purging is discovered, young women talk about it as if it were their best friend, or their narcotic addiction. “The feeling I got afterward was amazing!” Then they discover other benefits, most notably a sense that they can, finally, be in control of something. And don’t you dare stand between them and the object of their affection!

Two questions to those who practice it.

First, if you have any interest in God, does the secretive essence of this behavior concern you? Secrets separate relationships. They separate friends and spouses, and become a private place in which you hide from God.

Second, has it improved your life? The answer to that is easy: no. But you say: “So what? It works for me.” Perhaps you feel as though nothing will improve your life so you might as well be thin while you go through the drudgery and misery.

Consider this from another angle.

If you are a near-daily practitioner of purging, you are saying much more than “I want to be thin.” The word control is almost always a part of bulimic vocabulary. You have been controlled or dependent on the whims of people who treated you poorly, and you are sick of it. You live with incessant self-loathing and suicidal hopelessness and bulimia gives you some sense of control over this darkness. Its benefits, however, are ephemeral and fleeting.

Human beings were intended to turn to their Maker and Father when life is hard. Left to our own devices, life just gets more out-of-control. Think of yourself as a child. It is right and good for a child to run to a parent when life is overwhelming. God knows your secrets. He knows what you need.

If this sounds too familiar and you don’t know how to even begin leaving it behind, go to the psalms and borrow some of those words. God will surprise you. He is not like those who have hurt, criticized or rejected you. To the contrary, you are the one who has shunned him, yet he keeps knocking on the door and pursuing you (Rev. 3:20).

Darkness – Not Always Bad

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

We typically think of darkness as something negative or bad, and it’s often associated with evil. Nightfall, devoid of light, blackened, lost, secret, closed, blinded. The Bible often uses darkness to portray “not in God’s light” … certainly a place we don’t want to be.

For a time as a child, I was afraid of the dark.  Some people even carry these fears through their teens and into adulthood. However, I have learned through personal experience that darkness is not all bad. And darkness does not have to be synonymous with the absence of God. Sometimes when darkness comes, it signifies that we are under the shelter and in the shadow of our Lord. (Psalm 91:1) Know that as a child of God, nothing happens to you that He has not allowed.

During times of darkness, there are actually treasures to be found (Isaiah 45:3), along with learning and growth. When darkness comes, most people run from it and consequently don’t see God’s protection or the lessons God has for them. Others distract or soothe themselves from the uneasiness of the darkness by turning to food, fear, alcohol, porn, power, control, anger, or other patterned or habitual knee jerk responses. Some simply sleep through it as if nothing is happening.

When events don’t go our way and we feel emotionally uncomfortable, our natural reaction is to assume the situation is against us. This leads to believing the lie that nothing positive can come from the situation, even though we know from experiences in school, sports, or the arts that we have to practice to get good results.

The “no pain, no gain” maxim is true for spiritual growth as well. When we are born again, we aren’t mature, fully equipped believers. Spiritual transformation is a process that involves work, effort, self-reflection, self-examination, learning from mistakes, and applying our new skills and relationship in times of adversity. So we must embrace the dark times as opportunities for growth.

Today, when you find yourself in the midst of physical and spiritual darkness, turn to your God for strength. Don’t run. Rather, look for the treasures in those secret places. While in the dark, turn to His Presence … His Word … His Spirit. And you will soon see His Lighthouse guiding you step by step. Look for how He wants to grow or strengthen you, especially in the areas of life that are holding you back. Always search for the positives in the storm, because they always are there.

Running from adversity or growing in it is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I know that You are perfect in all Your ways … therefore it is impossible for You to be careless. Nothing happens to me that You have not allowed. When I experience times of darkness – times that You could have prevented – it sometimes feels as if You are being careless with me. Thanks for always having a plan for my growth and success, and giving me courage to follow Your perfect plan instead of my inadequate one. I pray, Father, that You equip me to navigate in the darkness … and that You will teach me how to use that equipment. I pray this in the name of Jesus, who experienced the darkest of times while paying for my sins;  – AMEN!

The Truth

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. 

Isaiah 45:3

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

Isaiah 41:10

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 

Psalm 91:1

 

Addiction – I Bet You Got One

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Newsflash:  Every one of us is an addict.

You see, God wouldn’t give us the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” if he didn’t know our number 1 weakness.

In fact, God tells us in the other 9 commandments what our idolatry (addictions) might lead to.

You might think, “Well, not me. I don’t have any addictions.”

Newsflash #2: Every one of us is addicted to comfort.

Think about it. We all struggle to deal with discomfort, especially emotional or psychological pain. Even though we say “no pain, no gain”, it’s amazing how quickly we run away from pain, or need to quickly soothe or anesthetize it. You see, we are all born separated from God … and that is the ultimate pain. Even contemplating a temporary separation from His Father on the cross prompted Jesus to ask God to have this “cup” pass from Him.

As kids, we developed strategies to deal with pain. Unfortunately, we weren’t mature and our “teachers” weren’t perfect. So developing coping mechanisms for physical, psychological, relational, emotional, and spiritual pain was random, faulty and very short-sighted … not very effective for the long haul.

Our solutions are usually flesh-driven options, knee-jerk reactions, or immediate relievers. These “solutions” are the Addiction Objects … things we go to and rely on in a repetitive way to fill our needs instead of looking to God for His answers. The Bible calls them idols, lusts, and fleshly desires. I call them addictions because the same process occurs regardless of the addiction object. God could directly soothe us or He might choose to provide appropriate objects to fill our needs. But each time we need to look to Him first, not to the object.

Addiction objects can be drugs, alcohol, food or pornography. But they can also be anger (or any emotion), work, productivity, security, our intellect, kids, money, spending, a “martyr complex,” exercise, our looks/physique, sports, TV, hobbies, fighting, control, a relationship, sex, texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If it comforts you or relieves some negative feeling, Satan will use it as a tempting addiction object. People can find themselves obsessively and compulsively hooked on almost anything. How many times have you joked, “I am so addicted to…?”

One of the great lies that Satan perpetrates is that addiction objects offer self-protection. The truth is they are self-destructive. Just look at Solomon’s experiences in Ecclesiastes. He pursues everything under the sun for comfort, while leaving out God. He becomes overwhelmed, lost, and depressed. Then he finally declares all objects to be vanity (or meaningless) when God is not pursued first.

Today, let’s really do some honest reflection. When you are uneasy, lonely, stressed, etc., what do you go to first? Bingo! You found your addiction object.

Next time, try to look to God first and see what He prescribes for your pain. He is the Ultimate Physician and Healer and is always available for drop-ins. The question isn’t, “Do I have an addiction?” The question is “Am I using God’s power to control my addiction, or is my addiction interfering with my life?” Denying or admitting your need is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, for many years I struggled with the pain of needing to be needed, accepted, valued. I turned to my addictions for comfort, but they only caused more pain. You have freed me from my bondage to all addictions. But I still struggle with a need for control. Help me to tolerate discomfort, because your grace is sufficient. Help me to grow the Mind of Christ and to look to You as my ultimate Lighthouse of refuge and sanctuary. I pray in Christ’s freeing name.  AMEN!

The Truth

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:3

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

Ephesians 2:1-3

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

2 Corinthians 12:9,10

(1) Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
(8) Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
(10) The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
(13) The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 

Ecclesiastes 12:1,8,10,13

Beware the Peril that Lurks in Success

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.  (2 Samuel 11:2)

We are never more vulnerable to sin than when we are successful, admired by others, and prosperous, as King David tragically discovered. Imagine him reflecting on his adultery a year later.

It was spring again. David once had loved warm, fragrant spring afternoons on the palace roof. But this year the scent of almond blossoms smelled like deep regret.

David had no desire to look toward Uriah’s empty house. If only he had not looked that way a year ago. The memory throbbed with pain. His conscience had warned him to stop watching Bathsheba. But in his desire-induced inertia it had felt like he couldn’t pull himself away.

What pathetic self-deception! Couldn’t pull himself away. He would never have tolerated such a weak excuse in another man. If Nathan had unexpectedly shown up while he was leering would he have pulled himself away? O yes! Wouldn’t have risked his precious reputation!

But there on the roof alone, he had lingered. And in those minutes, sinful indulgence metastasized into a wicked, ultimately lethal plan.

David wept. His sovereign, lustful selfishness had stripped a married woman of her honor, murdered her loyal, valiant husband, and killed his own innocent baby boy. Bathsheba was now left with a desolate, hollow sadness.

And he shuddered at the Lord’s dark promise: “The sword will never depart from your house”(2 Samuel 12:10). The destruction had not run its full course.

How had he come to this?

David thought back to those harrowing years when Saul chased him around Horesh. How often had he felt desperate? Daily he had depended on God for survival. He had longed for escape and peace in those days. Now he viewed them as among the best of his life.

And then came the tumultuous, heady years of uniting Judah and Israel under his kingship and subduing their enemies. And it had all climaxed with God’s almost unbelievable promise to establish David’s throne forever.

Had a man ever been so blessed by God? Every promise to him had been kept. Everything David touched had flourished. Never had Israel as a nation been so spiritually alive, so politically stable, so wealthy, so militarily powerful.

And at the peak of this unprecedented prosperity, David had committed such heinous sin. Why? How could he have resisted so many temptations in dangerous, difficult days and then yield at the height of success?

Almost as soon as the question formed in his mind he knew the answer. Pride. Monstrous, self-obsessed pride.

Honored by his God, a hero to his people, a terror to his enemies, surrounded by fawning assistants and overflowing affluence, the poisonous weed of self-worship had grown insidiously in David’s heart. The lowly shepherd that God had plucked by sheer grace from Bethlehem’s hills to serve as king had been eclipsed in his own mind by David the Great, the savior of Israel — a man whose exalted status entitled him to special privileges.

David cupped his face in his hands as his shame washed over him again. Bathsheba’s body had been nothing more than a special privilege he had decided to bestow on himself. And in so doing he had placed himself above God, his office, his nation, Uriah’s honor and life, Bathsheba’s welfare — everything. David had sacrificed everything to the idol of himself.

David fell on his face and wept again. And he poured out his broken, contrite heart to God.

But profound hope was woven into the deep remorse David felt. Knowing he deserved death, David marveled at and worshiped God for the unfathomable depths of mercy in the words, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). It took his breath away. This word had come before a single sacrifice had been offered.

This was love that surpassed knowledge. Something miraculous was at work here, something much more powerful than horrific sin. David wasn’t quite sure how it worked. What he did know is that he wanted other transgressors to know the amazingly gracious ways of God.

The greatest enemy of our souls is the pathologically selfish pride at the core of our fallen natures. If we look deep enough, this is what we will find feeding the strong, sinful cravings of our appetites.

And this is why prosperity can be so spiritually dangerous. We tend to see our need for God more clearly in adversity. But seasons of success can be our most perilous because we are so easily deceived into thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Self-exalting pride is what leads us to usurp God’s rightful rule.

We must beware this danger that lurks in blessings.

And when we sin, we must run to and not avoid the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). On this side of the cross we now know fully what David didn’t: God put away our sin by placing them on himself.

Only at the cross will we hear, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Ever.

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Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994.

The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage

SOURCE:  Meg Jay/New York Times

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  The author of this article, Meg Jay, seems to embrace a very secular worldview and holds some troublesome personal opinions with which I disagree.  Nonetheless, the research she discusses does truthfully portray destructive relational aspects of cohabitation which are in sync with God’s Word and warning about sexual behaviors practiced outside of marriage which are to be reserved for the marriage covenant.

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AT 32, one of my clients (I’ll call her Jennifer) had a lavish wine-country wedding. By then, Jennifer and her boyfriend had lived together for more than four years. The event was attended by the couple’s friends, families and two dogs.

When Jennifer started therapy with me less than a year later, she was looking for a divorce lawyer. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I spent happily married,” she sobbed. Most disheartening to Jennifer was that she’d tried to do everything right. “My parents got married young so, of course, they got divorced. We lived together! How did this happen?”

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages – and more likely to divorce – than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, “How did this happen?” we talked about how she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies reporting that most couples say it “just happened.”

“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,” she said. “We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”

She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.

WHEN researchers ask cohabitors these questions, partners often have different, unspoken – even unconscious – agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.

Sliding into cohabitation wouldn’t be a problem if sliding out were as easy. But it isn’t. Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in.

Lock-in is the decreased likelihood to search for, or change to, another option once an investment in something has been made. The greater the setup costs, the less likely we are to move to another, even better, situation, especially when faced with switching costs, or the time, money and effort it requires to make a change.

Cohabitation is loaded with setup and switching costs. Living together can be fun and economical, and the setup costs are subtly woven in. After years of living among roommates’ junky old stuff, couples happily split the rent on a nice one-bedroom apartment. They share wireless and pets and enjoy shopping for new furniture together. Later, these setup and switching costs have an impact on how likely they are to leave.

Jennifer said she never really felt that her boyfriend was committed to her.  “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife,” she said. “We had all this furniture. We had our dogs and all the same friends. It just made it really, really difficult to break up. Then it was like we got married because we were living together once we got into our 30s.”

I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together. Others want to feel committed to their partners, yet they are confused about whether they have consciously chosen their mates. Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment or marriage.

The unfavorable connection between cohabitation and divorce does seem to be lessening, however, according to a report released last month by the Department of Health and Human Services. More good news is that a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of Americans saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage.

This shared and serious view of cohabitation may go a long way toward further attenuating the cohabitation effect because the most recent research suggests that serial cohabitators, couples with differing levels of commitment and those who use cohabitation as a test are most at risk for poor relationship quality and eventual relationship dissolution.

Cohabitation is here to stay, and there are things young adults can do to protect their relationships from the cohabitation effect. It’s important to discuss each person’s motivation and commitment level beforehand and, even better, to view cohabitation as an intentional step toward, rather than a convenient test for marriage or partnership.

It also makes sense to anticipate and regularly evaluate constraints that may keep you from leaving.

I am not for or against living together, but I am for young adults knowing that, far from safeguarding against divorce and unhappiness, moving in with someone can increase your chances of making a mistake – or of spending too much time on a mistake. A mentor of mine used to say, “The best time to work on someone’s marriage is before he or she has one,” and in our era, that may mean before cohabitation.

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Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now.”

To Ignore or Not Ignore the Pain……

SOURCE:  Living Free Ministry

Freeing the Balloon

Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer, and give up your sins—even those you do in secret. Then you won’t be ashamed; you will be confident and fearless. Job 11:13-15 CEV

People build walls to hide their feelings and cover up their problems and wrongdoing. We’ve all done it. We even begin to believe the lies we are telling ourselves and others. Eventually we may be unable to see the truth at all.

Life-controlling problems are usually accompanied by painful feelings of guilt and shame. This kind of pain is an indication that something is wrong. When the pain comes as a result of our sin, we need to humble ourselves, confess our fault, ask forgiveness of God and those we have offended, and right any wrongs we have done. However … sometimes it seems easier just to ignore the pain.

God designed painful feelings to be a warning system. They let us know when we need to pay attention to something in our lives. But too often we bury our feelings and don’t admit, even to ourselves, the problems deep within. These buried feelings may explode to the surface when we least expect them, causing us to do something rash or to hurt someone we care about.

Consider this … 
One [has] said this about hiding problems: “It’s kind of like trying to keep an air balloon under water … It’s hard work. And a person works hard to keep those feelings down … to keep from facing the real issues. But you know that balloon will pop—that’s why you have emotional outbursts … There’s something buried there.”

Is there a balloon in your life that you are trying to hold underwater? Today’s scripture urges us to surrender to God, giving it all to Him … even our secrets.

Prayer
Lord, I’ve worked very hard to keep this secret buried. But I’m worn out. I know I need to surrender it to you. Please forgive me, and help me change. I no longer want to be ashamed. I desire the peace and confidence that you promise. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Living Free by Jimmy Ray Lee, D. Min. and Dan Strickland, M. Div.

Denial … Delusion … Destruction

SOURCE:  Living Free

A scoffer seeks Wisdom in vain [for his very attitude blinds and deafens him to it], but knowledge is easy to him who [being teachable] understands. Proverbs 14:6 AMP

Are you “protecting” yourself by denying a problem in your life?

Denial is the refusal to believe the truth about our actions.

Most people with life-controlling problems at some point begin to deny having a problem. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they refuse to admit the truth. Instead, they tend to rationalize their behavior. “It’s not that bad.” “I’m not hurting anyone.” “I don’t really have a problem.”

Continued denial leads to a state of delusion, a condition where people no longer recognize the truth about their actions. They sincerely believe their own excuses and become blind to the truth. In the end, denial of the truth will lead to destruction.

Consider this … 

Are you hiding from a problem in your life? Are you like the “scoffer” in today’s Psalm—asking God (or friends) for guidance but being blinded and deafened by your attitude… by your denial of the truth?

Do you love the struggling person in your life enough to let go … and lean on God?

Prayer …

Father, I know I’ve been hiding from this problem. Please forgive me and help me to truly desire the truth. Reveal to me the things I haven’t wanted to admit about myself. I know I need your help … and I’m ready to make a change. In Jesus’ name …

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These thoughts were drawn from …

Living Free by Jimmy Ray Lee, D. Min. and Dan Strickland, M. Div.

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