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Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

The Codependency Checklist: Am I In A Codependent Relationship?

SOURCE:  June Hunt

The Codependency Checklist Test

Are you unsure about someone who is significant in your life? Is it possible that you are in a relationship that others would call “codependent”? If so, how would you know? Read through the Codependency Checklist and make a check mark (√) by what is applicable to you.

□ Do you struggle with feeling loved; therefore, you look for ways to be needed?

□ Do you want to throw all of your energy into helping someone else?

□ Do you say yes when you really want to say no?

□ Do you feel compelled to take charge of another person’s crisis?

□ Do you feel drawn to others who seem to need to be rescued from their problems?

□ Do you have difficulty setting and keeping boundaries?

□ Do you find it difficult to identify and express your true feelings?

□ Do you rely on the other person to make most of the decisions in your relationship?

□ Do you feel lonely, sad, and empty when you are alone?

□ Do you feel threatened when the other person spends time with someone else?

□ Do you think the other person’s opinion is more important than your opinion?

□ Do you refrain from speaking in order to keep peace?

□ Do you fear conflict because the other person could abandon you?

□ Do you become defensive about your relationship with the other person?

□ Do you feel “stuck” in the relationship with the other person?

□ Do you feel that you have lost your personal identity in order to “fit into” the other person’s world?

□ Do you feel controlled and manipulated by the other person?

□ Do you feel used and taken advantage of by the other person?

□ Do you plan your life around the other person?

□ Do you prioritize your relationship with the other person over your relationship with the Lord?

If you responded with a yes to four or more of these questions, you may be involved in a codependent relationship!

When we find ourselves in unhealthy patterns of relating, we need to change our focus, change our goals, and change what is hindering us from running the race God has planned for us. Our primary focus should be not on a person but on Jesus.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
(Hebrews 12:1)

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Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Codependency: Balancing an Unbalanced Relationship (p. 10). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

Living With A Narcissist

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Les Carter/CareLeader

Helping those living with a narcissist

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is defined as a personality so consumed with self that the individual is unable to consistently relate to the feelings, needs, and perceptions of others.

Why is it so difficult for someone to live with a narcissist?

It is quite challenging to live with a narcissist since chronically controlling and exploitive behavior is at the core of this personality, and over time narcissists have a knack for generating exasperation in those who simply want to relate with equality and respect.

Anyone can be self-centered. What makes a person a narcissist?

When we refer to a narcissistic personality, we acknowledge that self-absorption is not just present, but it is the defining feature. Even when they appear helpful or friendly, narcissists eventually illustrate that their good behavior has a self-serving hook on the end of it. (“Now you owe me.”)

What are some indicators that someone is a narcissist?

Key indicators of a full-blown narcissistic personality include an inability to empathize; expecting special favors; an attitude of entitlement; manipulative or exploitive behaviors; hypersensitivity when confronted; being loose with “facts”; extremes in emotional reactions, both positive and negative; idealism; an unwillingness to deal with reality; an insatiable need for control; the need to be in the superior or favored position; and an ability to make initial positive impressions.

How can someone have a healthy relationship with a narcissist?

I know it seems pessimistic for me to state this, but when someone engages with a narcissist, he or she cannot afford to think “normally.” Normal relationships have an ebb and flow of cooperation, something a narcissist knows little about. (Keep in mind, the narcissist thinks he or she is unique, meaning above the standards of everyone else.)

Is it wise to try and reform the narcissist?

While it is tempting to plead or debate with the narcissist, such efforts will only increase one’s aggravation. The narcissist has no interest speaking as one equal to another. The narcissist must win, meaning the other person must lose. There is a very small probability that person will respond to another person’s good comments with, “I really needed to hear that. Thanks for the input.” Don’t waste emotional energies by bargaining, insisting, or convincing.

How should someone communicate with a narcissist?

A very predictable tactic of the narcissist is to argue the merits of one’s beliefs or needs. This strategy draws a person into a debate that will never end well for the person (Prov. 26:4). The good news is that the hurting spouse is not required to be a master debater, and in fact, after the spouse has explained his or her thoughts and feelings once, those words do not need to be repeated. For instance, when the narcissist continues to argue, instead of being sucked in, a person can say something like, “I know we differ, but I’m comfortable with my decision.” When receiving the predictable pushback, he or she can say, “I’m comfortable with my decision, so I’ll stick with my plans.” No debate, no needless justification.

Why is it important for those living with a narcissist to demonstrate a belief in their own dignity?

Someone may often feel poorly about him- or herself since a narcissist so readily discounts that person, leaving the person to wonder, “What’s so awful about me?” Encourage the person not to fall into that trap. Contrary to the narcissist’s assumption, one’s dignity is a God-given gift, and it does not vary due to the narcissistic person’s invalidations (Ps. 139:13–14). Encourage the person who feels poorly to connect with friends and associates who understand how relationships can be anchored in mutual regard.

What can a person do to stay at peace with a narcissist?

Narcissists can stubbornly persuade and coerce, telling others how to think and behave. Being inebriated with correctness, they quickly turn discussions into a battle for dominance. The best way for a person to be in control of him- or herself is to drop the illusion that he or she can control the narcissist, and also to remember that sometimes there’s only so much one can do to keep the peace (Rom. 12:18).


Additional resources

For more detailed instruction on how to live with a narcissistic/self-centered spouse, see Brad Hambrick’s free online resource Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse. It’s a helpful guide you can use to help spouses develop Christ-centered strategies to deal with a narcissist. The resource is also designed for self-study.

Managing What Others Think of Me

Source:  Jan Johnson

Impression Management Versus Authenticity

 When I joined a group a few years ago and it was time for introductions, I stayed within the allowed three minutes and managed not to engage in my old game of “impression management.”  For me that means:  Say something that will make everyone laugh! or Say something so deep or authentic-sounding that people will be impressed!  It was difficult because I was used to doing my best to manage the impression of myself that other people walked away with.

Impression management is about using words, possessions and time allocation to convince others I am more or different than what I really am. It’s scary on several levels.  It means I want others’ approval so much that I can’t just be myself.  It isn’t OK to be who I am. It means that I can’t trust God to do whatever is appropriate concerning my reputation.  I must “help God out.” It creates bondage as we become enslaved to cramped schedules and others’ expectations. To be all things to all people means we have to squeeze in another appointment or errand. This seems like no big deal, except that we’re so rushed and distracted that our true authentic self of love and truth doesn’t have space to show up. Worry over our inability to do all this creates anxiety and fear.

Trying to manage what you think of me is a form of insincerity, even duplicity: what you see (impression) is not what you get when you know the real me. We are misleading people to think we are more clever, more witty or more spiritual than we are. Then we have to live up to that or risk disappointing them. At times, impression management is about trying too hard to be sincere because our simple speech is not enough. At its worst, it’s about exploiting opportunities and people so we can get what we want from them. Such a life is exhausting because we’re working against what is real and we’re not truly loving people (but only using them). It lacks the tranquility and authenticity of simplicity of life. In fact, that’s one way we can tell when we’re doing it:  I’m losing a sense of peace within. What am I up to?

So these days I’m finding that speaking simply (to “let  my ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ be ‘no’,” Matt 5:37) without impression management is easier.  We build relationships more naturally because we can simply be and transparent without posturing. We are the same person in every situation. We always act in character, never working behind a mask. It’s easier to love others because we no longer try to manage them with convincing words to get them do what we want them to do.

People also find us easier to be around when we live in simplicity and authenticity of speech. They don’t have to guess what we’re really like or what we’re really thinking because we are refreshingly absent of pretense or affectation. The real me has the chance to connect with the real you. I want to keep moving forward to be content to be my unadorned self—the authentic self who does not need to impress anyone, but who also continues to experiment with trusting God more in all situations.

 

©Jan Johnson — The above is excerpted and adapted from chapter 4 of Abundant Simplicity

The “Boring” Skills that your Relationship Depends On

SOURCE:   Ann Malmberg / Prepare-Enrich

Assertiveness and active listening.

We know. These words don’t exactly sound very exciting, which is unfortunate because they are so important! At Prepare/Enrich, we consider them foundational skills – what all other skills are built on. Without assertiveness and active listening, working through conflict becomes impossible, talking about money is an exercise in frustration, and growing as a couple is, frankly, unlikely.

Having trouble remembering what an assertive statement is or what active listening sounds like? Here’s a quick refresh:

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings and ask for what you want.

Example:
“I want to go to on a long beach vacation this summer with just you, but I know you already identified that you’d like us to spend time with your extended family. I’m feeling torn about the decision because I’m not sure we will be able to make both happen.”

Active listening is the ability to let your partner know you understand by restating their message accurately and acknowledging their feelings.

Example:
“If I’m understanding correctly, you are feeling torn with where we should spend our free time because you want to spend time at the beach with just me, but you know I want us to spend time with my extended family, and you’re unsure if we’re able to do both. Is this correct?”

Seems straightforward enough, right? And yet when it comes down to it, so many of us struggle with carrying out these components of effective communication. What gets in the way? Let’s take a closer look.

Assertiveness gets a bad rap. It can have connotations of being demanding or aggressive, when by definition, it is neither of these. Cultural norms can also dictate how assertiveness is interpreted and accepted. However, the ability to respectfully express your feelings and ask for what you need and want is underappreciated, both in its difficulty and importance. Being assertive on our own behalf can feel too strong or even selfish for some people. But who else knows exactly how you feel or what you need better than yourself?

Sometimes we might hold back from asking for what we need or sharing how we truly feel for fear of our partner’s reaction. Will they be hurt? Angry? Annoyed? Judgmental? The thing is, when we aren’t assertive, we aren’t giving our partner a fair chance to step up to the plate. It is scary to put yourself out there in vulnerable way, but giving them the chance to meet you there creates an amazing opportunity to grow closer as a couple.

Active listening can feel a little silly or even robotic when you’re restating what your partner said, but it’s really a concrete way to ensure that you understand the meaning behind their words. Do you know someone (besides your partner) who makes you feel like the most interesting person in the world when you talk to them? They give you their full attention, ask all the right questions, and seem to really want to understand you. Chances are, this person excels at active listening. What factors prevent us from listening to our partner in this way?

Maybe it’s because they know us on a deeper level (and vice versa), and we get defensive. We get sidetracked preparing a reply or rebuttal instead of lowering our guard and opening our ears and hearts to truly hear what our partner is telling us. It’s understandable – we’re human. But the ability to put aside your own insecurities in order to better understand your partner is what can take your communication from frustrating to transformative.

If you and your partner are struggling lately, take a minute to reflect on how well you’re carrying out these fundamentals of communication. Are you telling each other what you need and sharing your feelings respectfully? Are you listening to each other without judgment and truly hearing each other? Over time, we tend to make more assumptions while being less mindful of these foundational skills. That’s why relationships are always a work in progress, and why revisiting the basics can give you the perspective you need.

3 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Ann Malmberg

Let’s go back in time. Think about when you were a kid. Are there things your family did that you were later surprised to learn was not how everyone else did it?

Did you keep butter in the fridge or on the table? Were birthdays a week-long celebration or not that big of a deal? Did you sit down at the dinner table every night at 6:00pm on the dot? Are there things you do a certain way today simply because that’s how it was always done in your home growing up?

The fact is, what we experience in our family of origin (which is the people who raise us and who we spend most of our childhood with) often does show up in your couple relationship in one way or another. How so? The following scenarios demonstrate three ways family of origin experiences can manifest in your relationship:

How strongly you adhere to traditions
Scenario A: On Christmas Eve, you always drink hot chocolate out of your special Christmas mug and open one present, saving the rest for Christmas morning, when you practice patience and build your anticipation by always opening stockings first. It’s just how things are done—it wouldn’t feel like Christmas otherwise.

Scenario B: On Christmas Eve, sometimes you celebrate at home, some years you travel to your aunt and uncle’s house a few hours away, and a couple years you even got to celebrate in Florida with your grandparents! Your family went with the flow – being together was the main goal.

Whether you identify more with the first or second scenario, chances are you’ll carry these tendencies with you as an adult and into your relationship. As you begin to form your own family unit, you’ll likely think about the role traditions will play and how important it is to you to carry on the ones you grew up with or create your own. If you grew up in a more go-with-the-flow family, you’ll probably have a similar attitude.

How you handle a major stressful event
Your grandfather was just admitted to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Your mother needs to go to see him and be with your grandmother at the hospital – she’ll be gone for three days.

Scenario A: Your family goes into emergency mode. You and your siblings each have specific chores you’re in charge of, and everyone is expected to step up and help out. There are specific “dad’s-in-charge” rules that everyone knows and is expected to follow.

Scenario B: Your family goes into chaos mode. The house is a mess and homework isn’t getting done, but hey, McDonald’s for dinner! (You never get that when Mom’s home.) Dad just does his best making sure you’re getting off to school in the morning fully dressed.

It might not have been this black or white, but you likely have a general sense of how your family reacted to out-of-the-ordinary events. You might have actually felt a sense of rigid order or disorganized chaos during those times, or you just felt like this is how it must be for everyone.

Have you gone through stressful life events with your partner? What tendencies do you fall back on? If they are the opposite of your partner’s, you might experience some conflict, especially if you don’t have an understanding of where each other is coming from (and sometimes even if you do.)

How you deal with conflict and emotions
Your older sister has been skipping school – and your parents just found out about it.

Scenario A: The dinner table is icily silent except for the clinking of silverware on plates. You look nervously from your parents to your sister as both sides seethe silently. Your mom says, “Please pass the rolls,” and with those four words you know your sister is so in for it later.

Scenario B: The dinner table is silent for exactly one minute before the yelling begins. There is no mistaking the fact that your parents are pissed, and your sister is defiant. Punishment is dealt out amidst tearful protests and the whole thing ends with a dramatic stomping exit and slamming bedroom door. “Please pass the rolls,” your mom says chipperly.

What is your natural inclination when handling high emotions or addressing a conflict? Do you display your emotions clearly and confront the issue/person head on in the heat of the moment? Or do you maintain a reserved exterior subscribing to the notion that emotions are best tempered and kept to yourself while conflict is dealt with quietly? Neither is really ideal, but the behavior you were accustomed to growing up has likely etched itself into your psyche in some way. Perhaps you’ve learned to lower your voice instead of yelling when you’re angry or your logical side knows not to bury your emotions, but when you’re tired or stressed, these natural, knee-jerk tendencies can still bubble up.

So what does all of this mean for your relationship?

Takeaway #1: Your family of origin experience does have an effect on your couple relationship, whether you’d like it to or not.

Takeaway #2: Understanding differences and similarities between you and your partner’s family of origin can give you a lot of insight into certain dynamics of your relationship.

Takeaway #3: Communication is key. Talking to each other about your family of origin experiences not only increases intimacy and mutual understanding, it also gives you the opportunity to reflect on what each of you wants to carry forward or leave behind. What is most important to you? What are possible benefits and pitfalls of your similarities and differences? Where might you have to compromise? Discussing expectations now can prevent conflict and hurt feelings later.

Help for Help Saboteurs

SOURCE: Ann Malmberg

Are you a help saboteur? (Do you sabotage your partner’s help?) Some might understand what this means without further explanation. For those who don’t, you might be a help saboteur if:

  • You wish for your partner to take some things off your plate, but when they do, they don’t do it “right”.
  • You feel very strongly that the “right” way (aka your way), is the only way.
  • Your motto is “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” (Just kidding – sort of.)

If this sounds like you, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Millions of relationships are affected by this every day.

All joking aside, in the months leading up to the arrival of our first child, I knew I was going to have to get better at accepting help from my husband around the house; I simply would not be able to do it all.

I also knew that I would be annoyed.

I would be annoyed because things wouldn’t get done in the exact way that I like to do them. However, I also knew that complaining and criticizing the way he did things would be exercising a level of control-freakiness that I didn’t want to be guilty of. Plus, it would cause tension and resentment between us, which would be the last thing we’d need added to the stress of taking care of a new baby. The reality is, your logical mind can tell you one thing, but your emotions can get the best of you in the moment. Here are some tips to help fight that urge to sabotage your partner’s help:

Acknowledge the intention.
Yes, the dishwasher does need to be unloaded. When my husband takes the task upon himself, I will likely find utensils in random places and the Pyrex scattered amongst three cabinets instead of the one where it usually all lives. But did he go through the trouble of putting things in “wrong” spots just to annoy me and make my life harder? No, probably not. In fact, his intention was likely to do the opposite, to show love through an act of service. I try to remind myself of this when I’m on the verge of making a less-than-grateful comment.

Check your pride.
My husband will often tell me to sit down and relax while he cleans up after our son’s dinner/bedtime routine. Sometimes I let him do it, no argument here! But other times, I stubbornly want to refuse. Why? Because I feel like if I don’t do it myself, I’m somehow failing or not carrying my weight, that I’m being outperformed. It’s silly. Even sillier is the fact that after I’ve argued myself out of accepting help, I’ve found myself muttering under my breath about the fact that I’m scrubbing bottles while my husband relaxes on the couch. Yikes.

The fact is, it’s not about me. It’s not about how many chores points I’ve racked up compared to my partner. It’s about us helping and supporting each other through the daily grind because we’re a team.

Laugh and love.
Have a sense of humor about the different ways you do things. Sometimes it just comes down to personality differences, and that’s not really something you can change, nor is it worth wasting the energy trying. Yes, I do try to communicate my “tips” (See, when you put the new garbage bag in the can, you need to get all the air out around it so that trash can fall to the bottom easier, and you can fit more in it!) But at a certain point I just know those kinds of details are not on my husband’s radar. And that’s okay. I also never wash my car, much to his chagrin. Does he get mad about it? Hold it against me? No. And the least I can do is extend the same grace and acceptance to him.

So, what’s the moral of the story here? At times, some of us have a tendency to want to control the little things, and in doing so, we reject or undermine help from our well-meaning partners. But if we catch ourselves getting caught up in the details, and we take a second to zoom out a bit, we can see how the offer of help – and the way we respond to or accept it- serves our relationship in ways much bigger than the task at hand.

Forgiveness: Doing what Christ does

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article in  Discipleship Journal/Jack & Carole Mayhall

She looked at me defiantly.  Hope, hurt, pain, and anger were mingled in her eyes and in her tone as she said, “I can’t do it, Carole. Could you?”

She had just told me her problem—and it was a giant one. Her in-laws had physically and verbally attacked her in front of her husband and children. And her husband had not only failed to come to her defense, but had sided with his parents. How could she forgive such a thing?

“No,” I replied, “I couldn’t forgive him. But God can—and will through and in you, if you’ll let him. There is no hope for your marriage if you don’t forgive.”

I could have added that there would be no hope for her, either. The lack of forgiveness produces a poison that will eat away one’s very existence, especially the existence of any joy or peace in our lives.

What heartache!

There is no easy answer. But this I know: God does have a solution. It is somehow tied in with the solemn warning in Hebrews 12:15—”See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” I would paraphrase that first part, “Make sure no one fails to receive enough of God’s grace.”

If we don’t have enough of his grace, it isn’t God’s fault. His grace is sufficient for our every need (2 Corinthians 12:9). The fault is ours, because we haven’t really asked for his grace with an accepting heart.

What is forgiveness? One dictionary defines the verb forgive as “to cease to feel resentment” against someone, “to pardon,” “to give up resentment,” or “to grant relief from payment.”

I was struck with two things about this definition. First was the feeling involved—”to cease to feel resentment.” This statement rules out attitudes such as “I forgive him, but I can’t forget it,” or, “I forgive him in my head, but not in my heart.” Our hearts are free only when we cease to feel resentment.

Many times we don’t really want to forgive, for if we do we become vulnerable to be hurt all over again. So we build our walls of resentment and unforgiveness in order not to feel pain again.

Logically this makes some sense. But emotionally it is deadly poison. And it poisons the person with the unforgiving heart first of all. When a person hardens his or her feelings against pain, all feeling can be deadened.

The second thing that struck me about the dictionary definition was the verbs that are used: “cease,” “give up,” and “grant.” An act of our will is involved in ceasing to feel resentful, in giving up a claim, in granting the offender relief from paying for his offense. But to do this is not easy.

David Augsburger, radio speaker for “The Mennonite Hour,” put it this way in Cherishable: Love and Marriage

Forgiveness is hard.  Especially in a marriage tense with past troubles, tormented by fears of rejection and humiliation, and torn by suspicion and distrust.

Forgiveness hurts.  Especially when it must be extended to a husband or wife who doesn’t deserve it, who hasn’t earned it, who may misuse it. It hurts to forgive.

Forgiveness costs.  Especially in marriage when it means accepting instead of demanding repayment for the wrong done; where it means releasing the other instead of exacting revenge; where it means reaching out in love instead of relinquishing resentments. It costs to forgive.

Forgiveness, Augsburger says, is when the injured person chooses “to accept his angry feelings, bear the burden of them personally, find release through confession and prayer, and set the other person free.”

This is what Jesus Christ did for us.

He forgave us unconditionally, bearing the burden, setting us free. “In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7–8).

Many times it is the little, picky matters that stick in our throats and cause us to choke when the need arises to forgive. When we do not deal with the seemingly inconsequential things, we fail to “walk in the light.”

If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. (1 John 1:7)

Are you walking in the light with your mate?

In Christ, there is “no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), no hidden, secret resentment, no anger or self-pity, or criticism. If we are walking in the light as he is in the light, then we will have true fellowship with one another. We will be best friends in open, honest sharing.

We must forgive, and forgive immediately.

Listen again to David Augsburger:

Forgiveness is smiling silent love to your partner when the justifications for keeping an insult or injury alive are on the tip of your tongue, yet you swallow them. Not because you have to, to keep peace, but because you want to, to make peace.

Forgiveness is not acceptance given “on condition” that the other becomes acceptable. Forgiveness is given freely. . . .

Forgiveness is a relationship between equals who recognize their deep need of each other, share and share-alike. Each needs the other’s forgiveness. Each needs the other’s acceptance. Each needs the other.

Four Promises of Forgiveness

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 207.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12

I once heard a joke that described a frequent failure in forgiving. A woman went to her pastor for advice on improving her marriage. When the pastor asked what her greatest complaint was, she replied, “Every time we get into a fight, my husband gets historical.” When her pastor said, “You must mean hysterical,” she responded, “I mean exactly what I said; he keeps a mental record of everything I’ve done wrong, and whenever he’s mad, I get a history lesson!”

Food for Thought

Take a moment today to remember the Four Promises of Forgiveness:

1. I will not dwell on this incident.
2. I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
3. I will not talk to others about this incident.
4. I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Then take a moment to remember something else: This is the way God forgives you.

It’s natural for us to read the Four Promises of Forgiveness as another set of laws to which we’re presently failing to live up; however, the gospel reminds us that they should be read first and foremost as God’s commitment to us because of the sacrifice of his Son. That commitment says that he will never “get historical” in bringing up sins for which we have been forgiven!

Is there an area in life where you feel condemned even though you’ve genuinely repented before God? Take a moment to hear God speaking the Four Promises of Forgiveness to you with regard to that particular issue. As you read them again, try adding your name to the beginning of each promise as a reminder that God speaks them personally to you. Remember Romans 8:1 applies to you, not just other Christians: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

When you accept this and apply it to your own life, prepare to be pleasantly surprised how much easier it will become to apply the Four Promises of Forgiveness to others who have hurt you.

Being Formed in Forgiveness

 

Perhaps no issue more quickly assesses the true state of our spiritual formation in Christ than how we respond to being sinned against. Forgiveness becomes concrete when we talk about how we deal with anger. How do you deal with your anger? Maybe a rude driver on the road cuts you off, Someone steals your credit card, A friend criticizes you, A family member continually mistreats you.

Most of us know that as Christians we should forgive in these cases. However, we may need to clear up some misconceptions so that our forgiveness will be genuine and result in healing for us and release for our offenders.

“Forgive and forget,” some say, but forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about not being resentful, but you can remember and not hold onto anger. It’s important that we remember our experiences in life so that we can learn from them.

“Just let it go to God and move on,” is a common approach. This advice may work for minor offenses, but to attempt to overlook deep wounds and repeated violations is denial. If forgiveness is to be real then it has to be honest about the violation against you that needs to be forgiven. Forgiveness in these cases is a process of working through hurt, anger, and other feelings. “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there” (Jeremiah 6:14, LB).

“I’ll forgive when…” It’s easy to think that until your offender apologizes or stops mistreating you that you don’t need to forgive. It doesn’t work that way; forgiveness is a gift of mercy. No one deserves to be forgiven! The only way to forgive is to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). By appreciating how fortunate you are that God has forgiven you of your sins then you are helped to share that forgiveness with the one who has sinned against you. “I can’t forgive,” some believe, “it’s not a safe relationship for me.” But this thinking confuses forgiveness and reconciliation. If you’ve been abused and are vulnerable to be re-injured then indeed you need boundaries to protect yourself. At the same time, you can learn to release your offender to God’s justice, refusing to hold onto a posture of angry judgment.

I’ve found that the acid test for whether or not I’ve forgiven someone is if instead of holding onto anger at those who sin against me I can pray for and sincerely desire God’s blessings on that person. Jesus taught us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you” (Luke 6:27-28). We can’t do this by gritting our teeth and forcing it!

How do we learn to forgive and bless the one who curses us? “Train yourselves to be godly” Paul answers (1 Timothy 4:7). We each need to grow in grace to become the kind of person who, like God, forgives. We need to be formed in God’s forgiveness through a heart connection to God’s favor in which we’re thankful that God has blessed us though we don’t deserve it and his blessings are flowing through us to others. Then we can offer the gift of his mercy to those who sin against us, even if in some cases it takes some time to pray our way to that point.

 

15 Effective Ways Clever People Handle Toxic People

SOURCE:  /Lifehack Magazine

Dealing with toxic people is something we all have to confront in our lives at one point or another.

Narcissists, compulsive liars, sociopaths, manipulators, gossipers, and those wallowing in self-pity are just a few examples of toxic people. Toxic people always find a way of worming their way into people’s lives and creating drama and anarchy in order to manipulate a social circle to suit their needs. Often they will apply a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, in which they sow the seeds of instability, in order to make themselves seem essential to a social group. The actions of toxic people usually stem from innate insecurity that compels them to drag people around them into their vacuous hole of insecurity and instability; not only can toxic people ruin your life and hinder your progress, but they can put you at risk of dragging you down to their level and turning you into a toxic person as well.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to avoid letting toxic people rule your life, employed by clever people who have usually dealt with toxic people in the past.

1. They ignore attention seekers

Often toxic people compulsively seek attention at all costs. Even if it’s somebody’s birthday, toxic people will always find a way of making everything about them. It usually begins with small actions, interrupting people or talking over them, being unnecessarily loud or obnoxious, or acting out. Usually, if they do not get the attention they crave, their actions become more drastic, starting arguments, throwing a tantrum, or acting destructively. Good social cohesion relies on everybody getting their chance to talk, joke, and have fun. A social circle should never revolve around one person. If this is the case, the best course of action is to pay little or no attention to that person, and instead spend more time with the quieter and more reserved members of the group.

2. They do not trust or share secrets with gossipers

Toxic people will share deep secrets with people just to seem momentarily interesting and they will frequently judge or gossip about people behind their backs. If you meet somebody who does this, do not be fooled into thinking that they are gossiping with you because they like you or trust you. They will just as easily betray your trust. Toxic people will often talk behind somebody’s back to you in the hopes that they will agree with them. They will then go and tell the other person what you said. This creates friction between two people, leaving the toxic person in the middle holding all the cards. It’s a divisive and manipulative method of gaining friends or power in a social group. Do not take the bait.

3. They spend a lot of time with trustworthy and loyal friends

In contrast to the point made previously, clever people will develop a strong support network of loyal and trustworthy people. They know that they do not have to be everybody’s friend, and not everybody is deserving of their friendship. In turn, they reward their friends’ loyalty and trust by showing that it works both ways. Clever people know that true friendship and fidelity is one of the rarest and most valuable commodities you will ever have in life, and they will not allow this to be corrupted by toxic, negative and untrustworthy people.

4. They avoid manipulative people

Manipulative people will ruin your life. They will callously manipulate your feelings in order to make you act in a certain way to further their goals. Compulsively manipulative people often have few redeemable qualities, so it is worth avoiding them altogether. In order to avoid them, however, you must first recognize the signs of a manipulative person. Do you find yourself constantly feeling strong or unstable emotions when they are around; anger, irritation, sadness, or inadequacy? Do you often question why they might have said something? Do you get the suspicion that you’re being deceived? If so, it is likely that the person is trying to toy with your emotions, and are best avoided.

5. They allow liars to trip themselves up

Toxic people will often lie compulsively, not just to others, but to themselves. They will often perform mental gymnastics to convince themselves that their lies are reality. Unfortunately, lies are actually very hard to keep up. Recounting a true event is relatively easy, but keeping track of a bunch of made-up stories is difficult. Liars end up exposing themselves over time, by contradicting themselves with other lies.

6. They do not get involved in petty feuds and drama

Most people like to keep arguments solely in the realms of themselves, and whoever they are arguing with. Toxic people aren’t like that, they love to air their dirty laundry in public, and when an argument breaks out, they want everybody to pick a side. It doesn’t matter if you’re involved or not, it barely matters if you even know the two people involved, a toxic person will not allow you to remain neutral. Often fights between one or more toxic people can be cataclysmic, and it’s the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire that will suffer the most. There are six words that will save you from being sucked into the storm in a teacup that comes when toxic people argue; “It’s nothing to do with me”.

7. They stand up to bullies

This is perhaps the most important way of handling a toxic person. Standing up to bullying wherever you see it. Most decent people will help the helpless, defend the vulnerable and assist those who need it. Toxic people prey on anybody they consider to be weak. It could be somebody who’s a little shy, socially awkward, or even somebody who lacks physical prowess. Toxic people will bully and take advantage of anybody who they think won’t stand up to them, which is why it’s so important to stand up to toxic people, not just for yourself, but for others around you.

8. They ignore insults

Insults come in many forms, but the most cleverly-disguised insults are actually disguised as compliments. “I’d never have the confidence to wear that.” “You’re so funny, and you don’t even realize it!” “You’re such a nice person.” These are just a few thinly veiled insults that will leave you wondering what they actually meant, which in turn leaves you seeking approval, and ultimately

9. They do not indulge self-pitying people

Toxic people will often put on a mask of helplessness in order to trick and manipulate people, or emancipate themselves from responsibility. You’ll often hear a toxic person saying that they can’t pay you back because they can’t find a job, and they can’t find a job because they haven’t got any qualifications, and they haven’t got any qualifications because their teachers mistreated them at school, etc. There is always a reason for their failure which is out of their hands, and it is always up to you to sort it out. And if you don’t, well, then you’re just the same as everybody else who’s mistreated them throughout the terrible ordeal that is their life.

Some level of self-pity is totally healthy, after a nasty breakup, a death in the family or something similar, but there is always a point where you have to grow up and accept responsibility for your own destiny, because it’s nobody else’s job but yours. Self-pitying people live in a vacuous maelstrom of misery, and make absolutely no effort to effect any change in their lives. Avoiding self-pitying people and refusing to justify their apathy is not only good for them, but will stop you from being sucked into their depressing world of self-perpetuating failure.

10. They demand straight answers to their questions

Toxic people will often go out of their way to give arbitrary, vague, non-committal, or misleading answers to questions. Just ask anybody whose ever been involved in the criminal justice system. The lengths a toxic person will go to avoid giving a satisfactory answer are incredible. This is done not just to withhold information, but also to prevent anybody from telling them they’ve backtracked later. The trick to getting around this is to present them with only closed questions, that is, a question with a yes or no answer. This will force them to make their intentions clear, and prevent them from playing mind games with you or others.

11. They do not indulge narcissists

Narcissists love themselves. Or perhaps more accurately, they love the idea of themselves. They are often so deluded in their own favor that they genuinely lose touch with reality. Narcissists will often fish for compliments, often by pretending that they do not feel so highly about themselves. They will often take numerous pictures of themselves and constantly seek comment on them. The best way to deal with a narcissist is to simply ignore their insatiable appetite for gratification. You do not have to criticize them or try to make them feel bad, but by simply ignoring them, you will help to remind them that we are all human, and our lives are all equally meaningful.

12. They will tell them when they are at fault

Toxic people will do almost anything to absolve themselves from blame. Even if they are clearly at fault, they will justify their actions by bringing up something somebody else has done. Handling toxic people cleverly means telling them they are at fault and refusing to accept their excuses. This can be difficult to do when they are being evasive, but ultimately it will help them to grow.

13. They are not won over by false kindness

There is an old African saying “Beware of a naked man who offers you a shirt.”
Effectively, it means that you cannot accept something from somebody who is in no position to give it. Namely, compliments and gestures of love. Toxic people will often try to win over certain people by showering them with compliments. This is often done because they want something from you, or you present some kind of a threat to them. You may notice that they are not nearly so complimentary of others around them, perhaps they are rude to customer service staff or abrasive towards strangers. Do not be fooled into believing that this person genuinely likes you, or that they are actually a nice person. They are just trying to get something from you.

14. They are in control of their own emotions

Toxic people will try to manipulate people’s emotions to engineer a social group to suit their needs. In order to avoid this, clever people make sure that they are aware of the emotions they are feeling, and the root causes of why they are feeling them, in order to ensure that they are the only person in control of them. This is easier said than done. Controlling one’s emotions takes years of mental discipline, so for the majority of us, it is better to avoid situations that may cause us to act irrationally, or feel emotionally unstable. For example, an argument or discussion which flares your emotions may be best carried out through written -rather than spoken- word. This gives you a chance to properly process what is being said, and provide a coherent and controlled reply, rather than an emotional outburst.

15. They focus on solutions, not problems

Toxic people are often the first to place blame when something goes wrong. They do this to emancipate themselves from having to make an effort to right the wrong. It’s very easy to hate stuff and to blame people, but it’s much harder to make it change. Clever people will circumvent the power of a toxic person by looking for a solution to a problem, rather than just focusing on the guilty party. They will help to put something right, whether they had any part in it or not. This shows that they are compassionate, protective, and loyal, and on a long enough timescale, this will always beat toxic people. Blaming somebody for a problem shows that you are afraid of confronting it; helping to resolve a problem shows real leadership.

The 5 Don’ts of Dysfunctional Family Communication

SOURCE:  Eric Scalise, Ph.D.

Every family has its own unique set of rules.

They are typically established by parents and set the tone for communication, decision-making, and conflict resolution, as well as defining the parameters for how relationships are supposed to function within the home environment. Sometimes these rules are written, perhaps even posted; however, in most cases, they are of the unspoken variety, yet clearly understood as the “norms” of the household.

Here are five such rules I have seen over the course of working with hundreds of families—rules that often create chaos, hurt, and confusion—though you will never see them attached to the refrigerator with a magnet. Their impact often leaves family members, especially children, too afraid to try anything, too hurt to love anybody and too angry to obey.

Let’s unpack them one at a time:

Rule #1 – Don’t Talk

This rule implies that you are not really allowed to share your thoughts, concerns or ideas on almost any matter.

Conflicts, differences of opinion, problem behaviors, etc., are all either completely ignored or quickly silenced. There are no “family” conferences or pow-wows whenever a crisis occurs and avoidance is the name of the game. Take for example, a father who drinks too much. Everyone knows Dad is drinking. Everyone knows Dad comes home drunk sometimes, gets rough with Mom or the kids, but no one talks about what’s going on. It’s like having the proverbial elephant right in the living room. Everyone clearly sees it; everyone can smell it and everyone knows what it’s doing to the carpet. Yet, no one talks about the elephant. Instead, they tiptoe around it, pretending there are no obstacles in the way. Of course, the big “no-no” is that you are not permitted to talk with anyone outside the family circle. This is viewed as being disloyal, even treasonous. Maintaining the “secret” becomes the status quo. Kids who grow up with this rule often have difficulty being open and honest or are timid and unsure of themselves whenever a decision needs to be made.

Rule #2 – Don’t Feel

With this rule, family members are not permitted to express their true feelings and if they attempt to do so, their efforts are usually met with resistance and disdain.

Feelings are shut down, excused away, minimized, made fun of, misinterpreted, or simply discarded as illegitimate. After a while, family members just give up, concluding others don’t honestly care anyway, so why bother putting forth the necessary time and/or emotional labor. Their feelings don’t count in the long run and the thought of transparency becomes too large of a risk, especially when combined with Rule #1. This dynamic results in people who grow up more defensive, suspicious and guarded in their relationships. When asked how they are doing in life, the answer is almost always, “Fine… everything is fine,” even when the world is falling apart all around them. Suffering in silence feels less disappointing or traumatic than rejection by someone who once again may be saying all the right words and using socially acceptable protocols, but isn’t truly interested in having an authentic relationship.

Rule #3 – Don’t Touch

In some families, there is no healthy sense of touch, or the touch that is experienced is hurtful and abusive.

Statistics indicate one out of every 3-4 girls and one out of every 4-5 boys will suffer some form of abuse before they graduate from high school. However, this rule is not exclusively the domain of physical touch. Emotional and verbal forms of touch are just as critical. When I grew up, there was a saying that went like this, “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never kill you.” Baloney! Long after the physical bruises are gone, the emotional devastation of hurtful words and emotional responses can linger well into adulthood. The research on this subject reveals that for every negative, critical or abusive message someone takes in on a personal level, he or she needs 17 positives before “balance” is perceived once again. Imagine how buried in negativity some people really are. Numerous clients have told me things like, “I can’t ever remember my Dad or my Mom hugging me or saying they loved me. We just didn’t do that in our home.”

Rule #4 – Don’t Resolve

This rule typically leaves individuals stuck in a crisis mode or with the hurtful aftermath of a confrontation that did not play out very well.

Over time, family members become convinced there are no helpful or significant resolutions for family “business.” Forgiveness over hurts, heartaches and misunderstandings, are nonexistent or fleeting at best. The issues keep getting dragged back into the forefront, often used to shore up an accusation, defend a point of view or bludgeon someone into silence or submission. In other words, problems are not only avoided and left unaddressed in most cases, they are rarely—if ever—solved. Like a scab that keeps getting picked, the desire for healing and restoration is shoved to the back burner. The wound bleeds once again and eventually, leaves a scar; only in this case, the consequences are potentially carried into the next generation. This difficulty in navigating the daily pressures of life using core problem solving skills, impacts a person’s emotional, psychological, relational and spiritual well-being.

Rule #5 – Don’t Trust

The last rule is based on the previous four.

If you are never allowed to talk about anything of substance; if you are never permitted to share or display your feelings, if there is no healthy sense of touch; and if problems and issues are never fully resolved…then the sad conclusion is that you cannot and must not trust anyone. No one is deemed to be safe or trustworthy, not even God. Trust, along with honesty, represents the glue that holds any relationship together. Without them, the trials and pressures of life, even everyday stress, may result in the relationship being torn asunder, leaving it ripped and shredded in small detached pieces. Ultimately, and when combined with the first four rules, a person’s journey through this kind of family system weakens and compromises the formation of a well-adjusted self-identity.

So what then is the antidote to these dysfunctional family rules?

The first step is to have an honest conversation with yourself—especially if you are a mom or dad—and determine if any of these describe the unwritten rules of your home. If so, here are a few brief thoughts worth considering:

Do Invite – Send the message to your children that they are welcome (and expected) to be fully engaged in the life of the family, encouraging them to take ownership and personal responsibility. Their opinions matter, their ideas will be given a fair hearing and they can do so in an atmosphere of safety, mutual love and respect. There is nothing they should ever be anxious, embarrassed or too afraid to talk with you about—“Come now and let us reason together” (Is. 1:18).

Do Express – Model your feelings with honesty, genuineness, transparency, and in such a manner that honors Christ. God gave us emotions, even the strong ones, and they are what make us human. Teach your children balance and decency when it comes to self-expression. If they are never allowed to show emotion, they will dry up. If they only show emotion, they will blow up. However, if there is a healthy balance between the two, they will grow up—“The Joy of the Lord is your strength” – (Neh. 8:10).

Do Affirm – Love can be communicated in many ways and forms—physically, verbally, spiritually, etc., in word and in deed. Employ all of them—frequently, consistently and with a determined initiative. The blessing of affirmation has the power to touch deep into the soul and releases our children with confidence to a future that is more secure—“God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” – (2 Cor. 2:8-9).

Do Forgive – Closure is an important element in moving past relational pain and the hurts and disappointments that are normal within any family. The goal is not the avoidance of all conflict, but how to effectively resolve issues and restore relationships that is essential. Helping family members work through a problem, employing Christ-like forgiveness, is better in the long run than simply letting them work their way out of a problem—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” – (2 Cor. 5:17).

Do Empower – When a home is filled with the invitation to be engaged, with consistent expressions of love and affirmation, and a strong belief problems can and will be successfully addressed and resolved, then an environment of trust is created, one that brings hope and empowers family members. Children understand and experience what it means to be given a blessing for a hopeful future, to step out in faith and embrace all that God has for them—“Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” – (Ps. 9:10).

FEAR & PANIC: DO’S AND DON’TS for Family and Friends

SOURCE:  June Hunt

To support a loved one who is struggling with fear, learn what to do and what not to do. You can very well be that person’s answer to prayer.

“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

• Don’t become impatient when you don’t understand their fear.
Do understand that what fearful people feel is real.
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)

• Don’t think they are doing this for attention.
Do realize they are embarrassed and want to change.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

• Don’t be critical or use demeaning statements.
Do be gentle and supportive, and build up their self-confidence.
“Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

• Don’t assume you know what is best.
Do ask how you can help.
“We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

• Don’t make them face a threatening situation without planning.
Do give them instruction in positive self-talk and relaxation exercises.
“Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” (Proverbs 4:13)

• Don’t make them face the situation alone.
Do be there and assure them of your support.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

• Don’t begin with difficult situations.
Do help them to begin facing their fear in small increments.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2–3)

• Don’t constantly ask, “How are you feeling?”
Do help them see the value of having other interests.
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

• Don’t show disappointment and displeasure if they fail.
Do encourage them and compliment their efforts to conquer their fear.
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27)

• Don’t say, “Don’t be absurd; there’s nothing for you to fear!”
Do say, “No matter how you feel, tell yourself the truth, ‘I will take one step at a time.’”
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)

• Don’t say, “Don’t be a coward; you have to do this!”
Do say, “I know this is difficult for you, but it’s not dangerous. You have the courage to do this.”
“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:23)

• Don’t say, “Quit living in the past; this is not that bad.”
Do say, “Remember to stay in the present and remind yourself, ‘That was then, and this is now.’”
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)

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Hunt, J. (2013). Fear (june hunt hope for the heart). Torrance, CA: Aspire Press.

What You Have to Do Before You Forgive Someone: The Surprising First Step

SOURCE:  Heather Caliri/Relevant Magazine

My grandfather molested my older brother back when all of us were kids.

And not long after I found out, Grandpa died. When I heard the news of his passing, I felt a colossal indifference settle in my chest. I was surprised how much space nothingness takes up. I knew that nothingness is not forgiveness. I knew I was commanded to forgive my grandfather. But for a long time, I did not care.

This year, our grandmother also died. I realized I could not really mourn her passing without figuring out how to feel something about my grandfather. Forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity. We refer to it during the Lord’s Prayer, study the Sermon on the Mount and confess our sins in order to rest in God’s pardon. I used to think I understood forgiveness. I used to think believing in Jesus made forgiveness easy. I imagined forgiveness was an act of will.

I used to think believing in Jesus made forgiveness easy. I imagined forgiveness was an act of will. Instead, I have learned that forgiveness is an undoing.

While I struggled to forgive my grandfather, I read Walter Brueggemann’s Spirituality of the Psalms.

Much of the book is devoted to the complaint, or lament psalms, the ones we often avoid or edit because of their violence and bitterness. Brueggemann writes, “The psalms issue a mighty protest and invite us into a more honest facing of the darkness.”

It was in Brueggemann’s book that I started learning a way to forgive my grandfather. It did not involve clichés or forgetting. It lay in lament: a fierce reckoning with what had happened, and how I felt about it.

Brueggemann taught me that without lament, there’s no forgiveness. Here’s why:

Lament Forces Us to Be Honest With God

Psalm 137 starts so prettily—“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept. …” But its ending has a shocking twist: the Psalmist wishes for the deaths of Babylonian infants. Back when I thought I understood forgiveness, I did not know what to make of it.

But I’ve found answers in the book of Daniel. Putting Daniel and Psalm 137 side-by-side, it’s shocking that Daniel chose to be a faithful servant to the empire that decimated his world.

How did Daniel forgive?

I think it’s because his community did not sugarcoat their rage or explain away their bitterness. Instead, they shouted everything at God. As Brueggemann puts it, “What is said to Yahweh may be scandalous … but these speakers are completely committed. … Yahweh is expected and presumed to receive the fullness of Israel’s speech.”

I think the Israelite’s lament helped them surrender their hatred, reconcile with their enemies, achieve positions of influence and sow seeds for their eventual return to the Holy Land.

Lament Ensures We’re Not Deluding Ourselves About the State of Our Hearts

It’s easy to pay lip service to forgiveness when we’re still stuck in indifference. It’s easy to say we’ve forgiven if we haven’t felt our anger.

But if we look at Christ, He raged in the temple and wept by a grave. On the cross, God’s forgiveness was accompanied by tearing, shaking and darkness. It required suffering, torture and anguish.

How could I think forgiveness is ever easy?

In his book, The Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender says that smooth, unruffled acceptance is delusion. “For many [Christians], strong feelings are an infrequent, foreign experience. Their inner life is characterized by an inner coolness, bordering on indifference. Unfortunately, this is often mistaken for trust.”

It’s easy to pay lip service to forgiveness when we’re still stuck in indifference. It’s easy to say we’ve forgiven if we haven’t felt our anger.

Lament allows us to unleash our emotions to God so that we can get real about what we actually feel.

Lament Protects Us from Exposing Ourselves to People Who Aren’t Safe

When people hurt us, God commands us to forgive, period. But that doesn’t always mean we reconcile with them. In fact, without repentance, complete reconciliation is unwise.

Lewis B. Smedes put it this way in Forgive and Forget: “Forgiveness involves a heart that cancels the debt but does not lend new money until repentance occurs.”

Lament is an audit of our heart that gives us clear-eyed understanding. That process of discernment shields our hearts from unsafe people, so we can stay tender for everyone else.

It took years for God to start shifting the cold indifference I felt for my grandfather. And the biggest shift happened when I started writing laments.

I asked my brother for permission. Then, I sat and wrote out my anger, bitterness and numbness. I shared it with my siblings. I discussed it with some of my extended family. I posted it on my blog.

And to my surprise, the act of expressing my rage started moving my heart.

I am still trying to forgive my grandfather. I feel pity for his weakness and selfishness. I ache to consider the state of a heart capable of such destruction. I wonder if what he did to my brother was done to him.

I no longer expect forgiveness to happen easy-as-pie. Instead, I depend on the incredible power of lament. It will lead us to truth, connect us to God’s mercy and soften our hearts.

20 Questions To Ask Your Child

Source:  Patti Ghezzi/School Family

One day your child tells you everything, from the consistency of the macaroni and cheese in the cafeteria to the hard words on the spelling test to the funny conversation she had with her best friend.

The next day…poof.

Parent: “So, what’s going on at school?”

Child: “Nothing.”

For many parents, the information they receive about what’s happening at school ebbs and flows, especially once their kids hit 10 or 11 years of age. Even younger children may be reluctant sometimes to share the details of school life.

It doesn’t mean that something’s wrong or that you’re somehow missing a key piece of the parenting puzzle. It may simply be that your child is asserting independence and craving a little privacy. “No one tells parents this,” says Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in adolescent relationships, family relationships, and stress. “Parents feel they are not very good at parenting.”

Of course, that’s not the case. You might just need to tweak your approach. Don’t interrogate, Sheras says. Kids don’t want to be grilled. Be subtle; be patient. Learn to listen intently to the words your child does offer. Watch your child’s body language and demeanor. Avoid yes-or-no questions if possible, and be specific. Try escalating—starting with simple questions and gradually delving into more sensitive topics.

If all else fails, wait it out. Try again later with a different approach, such as choosing a different time of day to start a conversation or taking your child out for a burger before asking questions. In a place where she’s comfortable, she might feel more talkative.

Don’t start the conversation with “We need to have a talk,” Sheras says: “That’s when a child dives under the table.”

Here are some questions that can help you get started.

  1. “I know you were stressed out about that math test. How did it go?”
  2. “I’m really proud of how well you’re doing in school. What are you studying these days that really interests you?”
  3. “You seem to have some good teachers this year. Which one is your favorite?”
  4. “If you could make up a teacher from scratch, a perfect teacher, what would he or she be like?”
  5. “When I was your age, I really didn’t like social studies. I just didn’t see the point in studying how people in Russia lived or what kind of languages Native Americans spoke. What subject are you really not liking these days?”
  6. “What’s your favorite time of day at school?”
  7. “What do you think about your grades? How does your report card compare with what you were expecting?”
  8. “We used to have the meanest boy in my class when I was your age. I still remember what a bully he was. Do you have anyone like that in your class?”
  9. “I’ve been reading a lot in the news about kids picking on other kids. What about at your school? Is that happening?”
  10. “I’m hearing a lot about bullying on the Internet. It sounds a little scary, but I really don’t know what it’s all about. Can you tell me about it?”
  11. “I noticed a few new kids in your class. Which ones have you been able to get to know? What are they like?”
  12. “I know it was hard for you when Kenny transferred to a different school. How’s it going without your best friend around?”
  13. “Who did you sit with at lunch today?”
  14. “I’m sorry you didn’t get invited to Sarah’s birthday party. I know you’re disappointed. How have things changed between you and Sarah now that you’re not in the same class?”
  15. “I really like the way you choose such nice friends. What qualities do you look for in a friend?”
  16. “I know you really like your new friend Caroline, but whenever I see her she’s being disrespectful to adults. Why don’t you tell me what I’m missing? What do you like about her that I’m not seeing?”
  17. “I can tell it embarrasses you when I insist on meeting your friends’ parents before letting you go to their house, but it’s something I need to do as your mom. Is there a way I could do it that would make you feel more comfortable?”
  18. “How’s it going with your activities and schoolwork? What would make it easier for you to manage your schedule and responsibilities?”
  19. “I feel like I haven’t talked to you in ages. How about we go for a walk and catch up?”
  20. “I’m sure I do things that embarrass you. What do I do that embarrasses you the most?”

Talking with your child should be an ongoing process. Keep the dialogue open, and be available so your child can find you when she feels like chatting.

One final piece of advice from Sheras: “Keep talking even when you think your kids aren’t listening,” he says. “Your children are listening whether they act like it or not.”

Whose Dream is it Anyway: Damaging Parenting Styles

Source:  Tim Elmore/Growing Leaders

My son loves participating in a community theatre program here in Atlanta. He is a true thespian. He loves the drama of a Broadway show. He loves the drama of television or movies. He loves the drama of musical theatre. Unfortunately, he’s seen a little too much drama from the adults in his life. If a parent in this community theatre program feels their child wasn’t’ cast appropriately, or if someone doesn’t affirm their child’s talent when her self-esteem is low, or if they don’t spotlight their son’s abilities when the talent scouts are present, these parents can turn into terrorists. There’s nothing more intimidating than a mom or dad who’s determined to fight for their kid’s rights. I cannot tell you how many times the parents in this community theatre program have embarrassed me by their immature behavior. They fail to lead themselves well, much less their kids. I find myself thinking: “Please…let’s keep the drama on the stage.”

And it’s not just the parents. It’s the teachers and staff as well. There is a general lack of healthy leadership and maturity among the adults, period. There are actually times when I’ve felt the kids are more mature than their adult teachers or parents. I consistently watch parents who behave like spoiled children, yet when they’re confronted by a leader for their behavior, they cry foul, or act hurt, like they’re the victim. It’s a sad commentary on the most educated generation of parents in U.S. history.

But the real issue is not the education of these parents or teachers. They have sound minds. Our problems are issues of the heart. In my last “Leadership Link”, I shared four damaging parenting styles. The truth is-these damaging styles can also be found among teachers in our schools today. Highly educated faculty can have emotional issues that prevent them from leading well in their classrooms. For that matter, these issues can surface in a corporate executive or a youth pastor. Let’s examine these damaging styles and explore what we can do to correct them.

WHAT TO DO WITH HELICOPTERS, DRY CLEANERS AND MONSTERS…

The Helicopter Parent or Teacher
These parents hover over their kids, working to make sure they get every imaginable advantage. This parenting style has been written up most widely in journals. They are the parents who want to ensure that doors open for their children and no negative incident affects their self-esteem or diminishes their chances of being accepted at an Ivy League school. Helicopter parents are committed to helping their children make the grade, make the team and make the money. When teachers become helicopters, they hover over students and create unfair environments and unrealistic scenarios that students must recover from when they enter the real world as adults.

The Problem: They don’t allow their kids the privilege of learning to fail and persevere.

The Issue: It is very possible parents and teachers can be “helicopters” because they possess a controlling spirit. Adults who struggle with being “out of control” or who find it difficult to trust others to deal with items they hold precious tend to be “hovering” and micromanaging in style. They mean well-but they feel it is up to them to make sure life turns out well for the kids. These adults, quite frankly, must learn to trust the process. I must face this issue from time to time myself. I must realize I am not in control and one day my children will enter a world where they cannot ask me for advice. Control is a myth-and the sooner we acknowledge that fact the better we’ll act as parents.

The Karaoke Parent or Teacher
Like the karaoke bar, where you can grab a microphone and sing like Barry Manilow did in the 1970s, these parents or teachers want to look and sound like their students. They want to dress like their child, talk like their child, even be cool like their child. They hunger to be a “buddy” to their kids and emulate this younger generation. They somehow hope to stay “cool” and “hip” so they can relate to their children all through their young adult years. They don’t like the thought of being out of style-and work to maintain an image. Sadly, these karaoke parents and teachers don’t offer their kids the boundaries and authority they desperately need. Last month, I read about a mother who allowed her daughter to have a house full of friends over-all minors-then allowed them to drink alcohol and even bought it for the kids. Several got completely inebriated; damaged the house and neighborhood; the police were called and a mess had to be cleaned up. The reason? Mom reported she wanted her daughter to feel like she trusted her. Mom didn’t want to be disliked by her daughter and was willing to take big risks to accomplish that goal. The children of these adults often grow up needing a therapist at 28, angry at their impotent parent.

The Problem: They don’t provide their kids the clear parameters that build security and esteem.

The issue: Frequently, parents and teachers become karaoke in their style because of their own emotional insecurities. Adults may have an extremely high I.Q., but if their E.Q. (Emotional Quotient) is low, smart people begin to do dumb things. These adults will rationalize why they do what they do, but in the end, the only remedy is for them to embrace their own age and stage, and relate to the students in an appropriate manner. I remember when I began to teach students in 1979, I related to them like an older brother. Within a few years, I realized I needed to change the way I was relating to them if I was to stay “real.” I moved to the role of an uncle. Some years later, I remember moving to the role of a dad. I could be a father to the students I teach today. I must embrace this and give them what they need, not necessarily what they want.

3. The Dry Cleaner Parent or Teacher
We take our wrinkled or soiled clothes to the dry cleaners to have them cleaned and pressed by professionals. It’s so handy to drop them off and have them handed back to us looking like new. These “dry cleaner” parents don’t feel equipped to raise their kids so they drop them off for experts to fix them. Although the home environment has spoiled or damaged their child’s character, they hope a school, or counselor or soccer team or church youth group can fix them. Sadly, these parents forget that none of us are “pros” at raising kids. It is a learning experience for all of us, but we must recognize it is our most important task. Yesterday, I met with a teacher who reported the mothers of her young students are nearly all stay-at-home moms but drop their kids off (with a tennis racket in their hand) because they aren’t ready for the responsibility of caring for their child. They leave them at the school for ten hours each day.

The Problem: Dry Cleaner parents don’t furnish their kids the mentoring and authentic face to face time they require.

The issue: For some of these teachers or parents-connecting with kids is just not their specialty. There may be an inadequacy and identity issue. They don’t feel adequate for the task, or they just don’t believe it is part of their identity. Sadly, this parent or teacher has kids staring them in the face. It’s time to be what they need. Sadly, it is too much work for them to connect with the student. Consequently, they hide behind the fact that they are busy with so many other priorities-even work-which enables them to pay for their child’s interests. These teachers or parents need to run toward the very challenge in which they feel they’re weak.  Relationships make it all happen. Parents and teachers must build bridges of relationship that can bear the weight of truth.

4.  The Monster Parent or Teacher
These parents can transform into a rage, like the Incredible Hulk if they are backed into a corner. They often will write papers for their children, do homework, apply for jobs or colleges just like the helicopter parent-but for a different reason. They do the work of their kids attempting to live out their unlived life through their child. When their child receives a poor grade on a paper, they have been known to storm into a principal’s office and argue over the grade. Why? They actually wrote the paper. It has been a bad reflection on them! They want so much for their child to make it because their child is their last hope of leaving some sort of name or legacy themselves. They have unrealized dreams or baggage inside they never dealt with in a healthy way. Sadly, they don’t provide the model or the healthy environment young people long for.

The Problem: These parents still have some unrealized dreams from their past-sometimes an unhealthy past.

The issue: The child represents the best way for the adult parent or teacher to accomplish the dream they gave up on years earlier, even if it is vicariously done. Their behavior is often the result of baggage from their past. The best step this adult can take is self-care. They must address their own emotional health; deal with their own issues, so they don’t further damage a child in their wake. Children have a much better chance of growing up if their parents (or teachers) have done so first. The best way we can help kids become healthy leaders is to model it for them.

I should be clear on the fact that I believe there are millions of healthy parents and teachers around the U.S. and across the globe. Yet, each of us lean toward one of these styles above to some degree. I simply wish to address the issues preventing us from authentic leadership and mentoring in the life of our children. I believe healthy leadership from healthy parents and teachers produces healthy students who become healthy leaders themselves. I am haunted by the truth that James Baldwin once penned: “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

IS THIS A SPIRITUAL ATTACK, OR IS MY SPOUSE JUST A JERK?

SOURCE:  Dr. Mike Bechtle/Focus on the Family

“Who are you …. and what have you done with my spouse?”

Have you ever wondered if you and your spouse are under spiritual attack or if your spouse is just a jerk? Before you said “I do,” your spouse seemed perfect — except for a few tiny dings and scratches. But after a few months (or years), all you can see is the imperfections in your relationship:

  • Your spouse isn’t as kind or loving toward you as they used to be.
  • They know which of your buttons to push and the worst time to push them.
  • You’re afraid to bring up any tough issues because it leads to conflict.
  • You have a low-grade irritation with your spouse most of the time.
  • Your husband or wife doesn’t meet your needs.
  • You try to stay positive and focus on their needs and interests, but you’re faking it.
  • You blame one person for every issue; either it’s your fault or their fault.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” you say. The marriage feels defective, and there’s no warranty or “return policy.” You don’t want to form the words aloud, but inside your head you’re saying, My spouse is a jerk.

Then a friend suggests that there could be a bigger issue: spiritual warfare. Satan is attacking your marriage, and you need to rebuke him and pray for protection. A spiritual battle needs to be fought in the spiritual realm.

So, which is it? And what should you do?

Acknowledge two truths

We can spend a lot of emotional energy trying to determine if it’s a spiritual attack or just an everyday marriage issue. But does it really matter?

Two things are true:

  1. Satan has your marriage on his radar and wants to mess it up.
  2. Your spouse is human — and so are you.

Yes, you’re under attack. And yes, growing in marriage is a process and takes serious work. Both things are true at the same time. If that’s accurate, your strategy should always involve a two-pronged approach:

  1. Pray for protection.
  2. Work on your relationship.

It’s not one or the other. Both things occur simultaneously, so our response should deal with them together.

Make conflict a trigger

We know that prayer should be our first response to everything that happens in our lives and marriages. But in the heat of the battle, it’s often our last response. We’re emotionally involved and focused on the conflict. That’s OK, because it’s happening in real time and needs to be dealt with in real time.

What if we made that conflict a trigger to ask God for wisdom, right at the beginning? That doesn’t mean dropping to your knees and spending 10 minutes in prayer. It’s just a simple acknowledgement and connection with God for wisdom during the conflict. It’s saying, “OK, I’m frustrated (or angry or discouraged or afraid). Help me think clearly and see my spouse through Your eyes. Block the Enemy in our marriage.” This acknowledges the reality of Satan’s plan as well as the process of growing our relationship.

Philippians 4:6 tells us that “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests
be made known to God.” The word “everything” is pretty clear; prayer should be a component in dealing with every marital challenge, no matter how big or small.

“With thanksgiving” gives us a practical way to keep our perspective about our spouse. While we’re taking our spouse before God in prayer, we can ask for a spirit of gratefulness. It might seem tough to be grateful for the spouse who’s irritating us. Through prayer, God can give us a thankful spirit that we might not have on our own. It might not happen right away, but that’s OK. We don’t have to fake it; we’re giving God “permission” to work on our attitude.

Pray for your marriage

Dealing with the spiritual side of our marriage simply means consistently inviting God into our relationship. We talk to Him about what we’re thinking and feeling. And ask Him to do His work.

Here are some practical suggestions to make prayer a meaningful and powerful tool:

  • Don’t pray “fix-it” prayers about your spouse. Be honest with God about what you’re feeling, but simply ask Him to do His work in your spouse — and in you.
  • Ask God to give you the confidence that He’s capable of working in your lives.
  • Don’t give God a timetable; His schedule might not match your desires.
  • Pray for spiritual protection for you and your spouse.
  • Pray for God to bring the right people into your spouse’s life — the ones who can come alongside and help them grow.
  • Pray for empathy, the ability to see through your spouse’s eyes. It doesn’t mean you agree with them on everything; it means you’re seeking to understand.
  • Pray that your communication skills will grow.

Get on the same team

When you’re frustrated with each other, it’s easy to assume that the other person is the problem. That’s a no-win situation, because you’re convinced that things won’t get better until the other person changes — and they’re assuming the same thing.

Instead of making your spouse the enemy, make the current issue the enemy. Find a time when there are no emotional issues and discuss how you can become partners in solving these issues when they occur. It’s not a panacea for every problem, but it puts you on the same team. Joining forces multiplies your strength in solving problems.

Work on yourself first

Here’s the biggest practical issue: The only person you can change is yourself. You can pray for your spouse, influence them and use logic with them — but you can’t force them to change. If that’s what you’re waiting for, you’ll end up continually frustrated.

Instead, work on becoming a better person and spouse. That’s something you can control. If you grow, your capacity to invest in your marriage grows.

Make regular investments in your marriage

Finally, don’t forget regular maintenance on your relationship. Just as your car needs regular oil changes, your marriage needs consistent tune-ups. Read a marriage book, attend a seminar or take a course together at least once a year. It’s a way of catching little problems before they grow into big problems. That’s why Solomon said, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards.” (Song of Solomon 2:15)

If the problems are already big, look for professional help (such as what’s available through Focus on the Family). If I have a sore throat, I might take care of it on my own. But if I had a brain tumor, I seek out the best professional I can find — a seasoned, trained expert.

The key to a healthy marriage is to recognize the reality of Satan’s attacks, as well as the challenges of normal communication and growth issues. Both are taking place all the time, so look for solutions that deal with both aspects simultaneously.

Focus on the solutions, not the problems. Then let God do His work!”

How to Handle Toxic and Critical People

SOURCE: Leslie Vernick

We all have encounters with difficult people who leave us rattled and shaken. A co-worker undermines us in front of our boss; our friend puts us down and says she was “just kidding.” Our spouse rages and then turns everything around to make us think that it’s our fault.

Most of us would prefer to minimize our contact with people like this but sometimes it’s just not possible. We may work with them, be married to them, or have some other connection that keeps us in regular contact with toxic individuals. For a long time, Christians have been taught to forbear and forgive. While Biblical in essence, most of us aren’t exactly sure how to live it out in real life.

We know that Jesus tells us that we’re to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us but actually doing it is much more challenging. The apostle Paul counsels us in these instances not to be overcome with evil but instead, to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). But honestly, there are times when evil feels stronger and we are not sure how to stop it from getting the best of us.

Below are 5 specific steps I have found helpful in putting these Biblical truths into practice, especially when dealing with a toxic or destructive person.

1. Press Pause: As soon as you feel that poisonous dart, take a deep breath and pray for God’s help. The words or behaviors of another person have just knocked you off balance and will infect you with its toxic effects if you don’t quickly apply an antidote.

2. Don’t panic and overreact or be passive and under-react. Stay calm and don’t fall for their bait. Try not to take what they have done or said personally (which is very tempting to do). Remember, the way someone treats you, whether it be good or bad, really has little to do with you. It reveals something about who they are.

3. Ask yourself this question: What in this present moment do I need to learn (or change) in order to become the person I want to become? Here are a few examples of things I have found I needed after I asked myself this question.

Courage

Humility

Generosity

To speak the truth in love

To set firmer boundaries

Patience

Not to worry so much what others think of me

Let go of my desire to make everyone happy

Not to let this person get the best of me or to make me act crazy

Believe me, it is very tempting in the moment to defend yourself, feel responsible for someone else’s feelings, become totally intimidated and overwhelmed, or strike back with your own attack. None of these responses will help you move forward with a toxic person. However, God does promise to use these painful moments for our good. Therefore, learn what you can and let go of the rest.

4. Teach yourself to respond out of who you want to be rather than how you feel at the moment. We already know how to do this when we act responsibly and get out of bed to go to work even when we want to sleep in or when we patiently work with our child on their homework even though we’d rather be doing anything else. If you must respond to a provocative situation, speak calmly, truthfully and firmly especially when you have to set a limit or say “no”. Refuse to engage in arguing, defending yourself, or circular conversations that go nowhere.

5. Practice (and this takes time) looking at this difficult/destructive person in a different way than you have in the past. Instead of meditating on his or her faults or sin against you, search for her goodness, his humanness, or his/her woundedness. When we can see a person in this new way, it’s much easier to allow God to fill us with His love and compassion for this pitiful person who would be so blind as to treat us (or anyone) in such a sinful way. Having this change in perspective doesn’t excuse the toxic person or give him or her license to continue to do damage, but it does help us not to judge and empowers us to forgive him/her, even if we can’t reconcile the relationship.

We can honestly pray God’s best for this person and leave him/her in His capable hands. We all encounter evil situations and difficult and destructive people, but by practicing these five steps, we can learn to overcome evil’s toxic effects in us with good.

Adult Children Dealing With Toxic Parents

SOURCE:  Based on an article at Psychology Today/Karyl McBride, Ph.D

Recognizing, understanding and overcoming the debilitating impact of maternal narcissism.

The most frequently asked question from adult children of narcissistic parents is whether or not to remain in contact with that parent and/or the rest of the dysfunctional family nest.

It goes deep and is difficult to know what’s best.

Your family roots, your very beginnings, and subsequent history are all a significant part of you. We are who we are based on where we’ve been. Juggling decisions for sound mental health can be packed with arduous cognitive and emotional machinations that create distress. Sometimes these imminent decisions become paramount to every day life. Our hearts can be wrapped with it. The question and the struggle are not to be underestimated.

In loving recovery with self, decisions can be made that feel right to the heart. Without recovery work, however, those decisions may steer in wrong directions. If you simply detach and remove yourself from your narcissistic parent without doing your own work, you will not diminish your pain and your true self cannot emerge to the peacefulness that you desire. As Dr. Murray Bowen reminds us in Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, “Less-differentiated people are moved about like pawns by emotional tensions. Better-differentiated people are less vulnerable to tension.” If you take yourself out of the situation without completing your internal growth, you have accomplished less and can remain troubled.

It is important for adult children of narcissistic parents to know that there are truly some parents who are too toxic and are what I call the “untreatables.” If someone is abusive and cruel and continues to be without remorse or empathy, it cannot be healthy for anyone to be around that person. That’s ok and important to know. Full-blown narcissists do not change, do not realize the need to change, are not accountable or receptive to input from their children.

Because narcissism is a spectrum disorder on a continuum, there are many people who have narcissistic traits but are not full blown narcissists. Many of these people can move in therapeutic directions if they choose. Your decision regarding contact with the toxic untreatable or the highly-traited narcissist can best be made by working your own recovery and taking adequate time to allow the healing to happen. When developing my five-step recovery model, I found that the decisions about contact should not be made until step four. That means you are working acceptance, grief, separation, and building a stronger sense of self before deciding what kind of contact you will continue to have with your narcissistic parent. The five-step model can be found in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and is too complicated to fully explain in a blog post.

In short, however, I usually recommend taking a temporary separation to work your own recovery first. This means you simply explain a need for some space from the parent so you can sort out the issues and keep the clear focus on self. When you get to step four, you will know if it is best to make a decision of Therapeutic Resolution, No Contact, or Civil Connection with that parent.

Let’s take a look at each possible decision.

Therapeutic Resolution:
Some parents with less narcissistic traits are open to family therapy and this can be very effective with the right therapist. It can only be done if the parent is accountable and wants to work through family issues and childhood pain. For those who are lucky to have parents like this, a seasoned family therapist can provide wonderful healing for the entire family.

No Contact:
The decision to go “No Contact” is a big one but is made when the parent is too toxic and never accountable and continues to be abusive to the adult child. It’s a sad but necessary solution in many cases. This decision can only be made in sound mind when the adult child has really worked the internal recovery model. Without this internal healing, guilt may be over-burdensome to the adult child and pain not diminished. Sometimes, with recovery, the decision becomes a desire for a civil connect instead.

Civil Connection:
A decision to have a civil connection is really the most common. This is an educated place where the adult child knows and accepts that the connection with the narcissistic parent will not be an emotional bond or relationship. It will be civil, polite, light, and not emotionally close. Because of the internal work done by the adult child, this place of understanding allows the superficial relationship to be ok without expectations. Because the adult child has completed separation, acceptance and grief, and has developed sound boundaries, it is possible then to be “apart of and apart from” at the same time. It is possible to keep your solid sense of self and not get sucked into the family dysfunction that has not changed.

If you are struggling with contact decisions regarding your narcissistic parent or family, please know that recovery does work and makes it all so much easier.  We are accountable for our own growth and it takes time and effort to accomplish. As the late child psychiatrist, Margaret Mahler points out, “Insofar as the infant’s development of the sense of self takes place in the context of the dependency on the mother, the sense of self that results will bear the imprint of her caregiving.” That imprint of maternal or paternal narcissism can be re-drawn when the authentic self is brought to the surface and given proper nourishment for re-parenting and growth.

What could be more important? This newfound self is what we joyfully give back in the form of true love. The legacy of distorted love is then uprooted and authentic unconditional compassion takes its place. I remain a “hopeaholic” for the sisterhood and brotherhood out there.

Love restored that begins within is worth the journey.

You Affect me AND I Affect You

SOURCE:  Living Free

“I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.

Exodus 20:5 NLT

When we are struggling with life-controlling problems, one of the most damaging delusions we entertain is that our problems are not hurting anyone other than ourselves. On the contrary, one person’s problems affect a network of personal relationships. The closer the relationship, the greater the impact. For example, our misbehavior may only slightly affect our job performance, but it may devastate our immediate family. This is known as the domino effect.

If a husband is too involved at work, this may trigger conflict with his wife. The parents’ preoccupation with their own issues, in turn, may cause one child to misbehave at school and another to turn to an eating disorder. As this happens, again and again, relationships are destroyed.

We use the term family system to describe the attitudes and patterns by which families operate. When one member of the family system has a problem, the others will deal with the problem according to the pattern they have learned. Each family member is an element in the whole, affecting and being affected by the system.

We can become more effective in helping ourselves and others when we understand that all of us are affected by a system of relationships that extends into past generations and that our actions will also impact future generations.

Father, help me to better understand this bigger picture of how my behavior can have long-lasting ripple effects on those around me. Help me make the changes that will turn my influence from negative to positive. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

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

Why I Do What I Do

SOURCE:  Living Free

“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” 

1 Peter 1:17 NIV. Suggested reading 1 Peter 1:17-23

When a family is struggling with the life-controlling issues of one or more members, it usually becomes dysfunctional. In other words, there are relationship problems in the family that keep it from being an emotionally healthy environment.

When we grow up in a dysfunctional family environment, we live with pain and chaos. We see destructive behaviors modeled before us, and we often carry these learned behaviors into our adult lives, recreating the type of environment we grew up in by repeating the mistakes of our elders. These behaviors handed down from generation to generation are what we call hand-me-downs.

Hand-me-downs are behavior patterns that have their roots in the family system and can help us understand why we behave as we do. A child growing up accepts the behaviors they observe every day at home as normal because they have no other reference. And then as adults, they tend to create the same type of family relationships they knew as children.

Consider This . . .

Are you weighed down with hand-me-downs that are having a negative effect on your life? Today’s scripture reading offers you hope.

First, God is fair (v. 17). Children raised by an abusive or neglectful father often have an incorrect view of God, picturing him as their earthly father. The good news is that our Heavenly Father is perfect and fair. No matter what your background, he loves you and wants you to be his child.

It is also important to recognize that God’s impartiality does not take away our personal responsibility. Although we are influenced by genetic inheritance and social surroundings, we still have a personal responsibility to God. To choose him. To make him Lord of our life.

Prayer

Father, I thank you that I can count on you to be a loving and fair father. Help me not to use my past as an excuse for my behavior. I want to turn my life—and all the hand-me-downs—over to you. To receive your healing. And to serve you.
In Jesus’ name …

Family Wounds Are Slow to Heal

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

Family wounds are slow to heal.

I hope your childhood was a happy time when your parents kept everyone fed, safe, and chuckling. I hope your dad came home every day, your mom tucked you in bed every night, and your siblings were your best friends.

But if not, you need to know you aren’t alone. The most famous family tree in the Bible suffered from a serious case of blight. Adam accused Eve. Cain killed his little brother. Abraham lied about Sarah. Rebekah favored Jacob. Jacob cheated Esau and then raised a gang of hoodlums.

The book of Genesis is a relative disaster.

Joseph didn’t deserve to be abandoned by his brothers. True, he wasn’t the easiest guy to live with. He boasted about his dreams and tattled on his siblings. He deserved some of the blame for the family friction. But he certainly didn’t deserve to be dumped into a pit and sold to merchants for pocket change.

The perpetrators were his ten older brothers. His brothers were supposed to look out for him. Joseph’s next of kin were out of line. And his father? Jacob was out of touch.

With all due respect, the patriarch could have used a course on marriage and family life.

Mistake number one: he married a woman he didn’t love so he could marry one he did. Mistake number two: the two wives were sisters. (Might as well toss a lit match into a fireworks stand.) The first sister bore him sons. The second sister bore him none. So to expand his clan, he slept with an assortment of handmaidens and concubines until he had a covey of kids. Rachel, his favorite wife, finally gave birth to Joseph, who became his favorite son. She later died giving birth to a second son, Benjamin, leaving Jacob with a contentious household and a broken heart.

Jacob coped by checking out. Obstinate sons. Oblivious dad. The brothers needed a father. The father needed a wake-up call. And Joseph needed a protector. But he wasn’t protected; he was neglected. And he landed in a distant, dark place.

Initially, Joseph chose not to face his past. By the time he saw his brothers again, Joseph had been prime minister for nearly a decade. The kid from Canaan had come a long way.

Joseph could travel anywhere he wanted, yet he chose not to return to Canaan. He knew where to find his family, but he chose not to contact them.

He kept family secrets a secret. Untouched and untreated. Joseph was content to leave his past in the past. But God was not.

Restoration matters to God. The healing of the heart involves the healing of the past.

So God shook things up.
All countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands. — Genesis 41:57


And in the long line of folks appealing for an Egyptian handout, look what the cat dragged in.

Joseph heard them before he saw them. He was fielding a question from a servant when he detected the Hebrew chatter. Not just the language of his heart but the dialect of his home. The prince motioned for the servant to stop speaking. He turned and looked. There they stood.

The brothers were balder, grayer, rough-skinned. They were pale and gaunt with hunger. Sweaty robes clung to their shins, and road dust chalked their cheeks. These Hebrews stuck out in sophisticated Egypt like hillbillies at Times Square.

They didn’t recognize him. His beard was shaved, his robe was royal, and the language he spoke was Egyptian. It never occurred to them that they were standing before their baby brother.

Thinking the prince couldn’t understand Hebrew, the brothers spoke to him with their eyes and gestures. They pointed at the stalks of grain and then at their mouths. They motioned to the brother who carried the money, and he stumbled forward and spilled the coins on the table.

When Joseph saw the silver, his lips curled, and his stomach turned. He had named his son God Made Me Forget, but the money made him remember. The last time he saw coins in the hands of Jacob’s older boys, they were laughing, and he was whimpering. That day at the pit he searched these faces for a friend, but he found none. And now they dared bring silver to him?

Joseph called for a Hebrew-speaking servant to translate. Then Joseph scowled at his brothers.
He acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. — Genesis 42:7


The brothers fell face-first in the dirt, which brought to Joseph’s mind a childhood dream.

“Uh, well, we’re from up the road in Canaan. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”

Joseph glared at them. “Nah, I don’t believe you. Guards, put these spies under arrest. They are here to infiltrate our country.”

The ten brothers spoke at once. “You’ve got it all wrong, Your High, Holy, and Esteemed Honor. We’re salt of the earth. We belong to the same family. That’s Simeon over there. That’s Judah… Well, there are twelve of us in all. At least there used to be.
The youngest is now with our father, and one is no longer living. — Genesis 42:13


Joseph gulped at the words. This was the first report on his family he had heard in twenty years. Jacob was alive. Benjamin was alive. And they thought he was dead.

“Tell you what,” he snapped. “I’ll let one of you go back and get your brother and bring him here. The rest of you I’ll throw in jail.”

With that, Joseph had their hands bound. A nod of his head, and they were marched off to jail. Perhaps the same jail where he had spent at least two years of his life.

What a curious series of events. The gruff voice, harsh treatment. The jail sentence. The abrupt dismissal. We’ve seen this sequence before with Joseph and his brothers, only the roles were reversed. On the first occasion they conspired against him. This time he conspired against them. They spoke angrily. He turned the tables. They threw him in the hole and ignored his cries for help. Now it was his turn to give them the cold shoulder.

What was going on?

I think he was trying to get his bearings. This was the toughest challenge of his life. The famine, by comparison, was easy. Mrs. Potiphar he could resist. Pharaoh’s assignments he could manage. But this mixture of hurt and hate that surged when he saw his flesh and blood? Joseph didn’t know what to do.

Maybe you don’t either.

Your family failed you. Your early years were hard ones. The people who should have cared for you didn’t. But, like Joseph, you made the best of it. You’ve made a life for yourself. Even started your own family. You are happy to leave Canaan in the rearview mirror. But God isn’t.

He gives us more than we request by going deeper than we ask. He wants not only your whole heart; He wants your heart whole. Why? Hurt people hurt people. Think about it. Why do you fly off the handle? Why do you avoid conflict? Why do you seek to please everyone? Might your tendencies have something to do with an unhealed hurt in your heart?

God wants to help you for your sake. And for the sake of your posterity.

Suppose Joseph had refused his brothers? Summarily dismissed them? Washed his hands of the whole mess? God’s plan for the nation of Israel depended upon the compassion of Joseph. A lot was at stake here.

There is a lot at stake with you too. Yes, your family history has some sad chapters. But your history doesn’t have to be your future. The generational garbage can stop here and now. You don’t have to give your kids what your ancestors gave you.

Talk to God about the scandals and scoundrels. Invite Him to relive the betrayal with you. Bring it out in the open. Joseph restaged the hurt for a reason.

Revealing leads to healing.

Let God do His work. The process may take a long time. It may take a lifetime.
Family pain is the deepest pain because it was inflicted so early and because it involves people who should have been trustworthy.

Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. — Romans 12:2


Let Him replace childish thinking with mature truth (1 Corinthians 13:11). You are God’s child. His creation. Destined for heaven. You are a part of His family. Let Him set you on the path to reconciliation.

Joseph did. The process would prove to be long and difficult. It occupies four chapters of the Bible and at least a year on the calendar, but Joseph took the first step. After three days Joseph released his brothers from jail. He played the tough guy again. “Go on back. But I want to see this kid brother you talk about. I’ll keep one of you as a guarantee.”

They agreed and then, right in front of Joseph, rehashed the day they dry-gulched him:
Then they said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us’. — Genesis 42:21


Again, they did not know that the prince understood Hebrew. But he did. And when he heard the words, Joseph turned away so they couldn’t see his eyes fill with tears. He stepped into the shadows and wept. He did this seven more times. He didn’t cry when he was promoted by Potiphar or crowned by Pharaoh, but he blubbered like a baby when he learned that his brothers hadn’t forgotten him after all. When he sent them back to Canaan, he loaded their saddlebags with grain. A moment of grace.

With that small act, healing started. If God healed that family, who’s to say He won’t heal yours?

For Reflection

Listed below are several words and phrases that characterize some of the hardships and dysfunction evident in Joseph’s family. Which issues have marked your family?

❑ abandonment
❑ troubled marriage(s)
❑ premature death
❑ hatred
❑ sibling rivalry
❑ favoritism
❑ severe grief
❑ disregard for others
❑ parental abdication
❑ guilt
❑ deception
❑ betrayal
❑ infertility
❑ resentment
❑ abuse
❑ extramarital relationships
❑ harsh treatment
❑ brokenness
❑ self-absorption
❑ secrecy
❑ neglect

Part of the healing process includes unearthing the details — the specifics of how you were hurt — and inviting God to relive those experiences with you. What help do you need from God? How do you want to experience His presence, comfort, or guidance?

Coming face-to-face with old hurts can be disorienting. When Joseph first encountered his brothers again, he withheld his identity, spoke harshly, made false accusations, jailed them, released them, put conditions on their departure and return, held one of them hostage, concealed powerful emotions, and was secretly generous to them (Genesis 42:6-28). What conflicting thoughts and emotions surface when you consider the possibility of engaging old hurts and the people connected with them?

Joseph’s path to reconciliation with his family was long and difficult, but it began with a small act of mercy and grace — he loaded his brothers’ saddlebags with grain and quietly returned the silver they had paid for it. A gift, free and clear.

What small act of mercy and grace do you sense God inviting you to extend to someone in your family?

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Excerpted from You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado, copyright Thomas Nelson.

CODEPENDENCY: STEPS TO A SOLUTION

SOURCE:  June Hunt

The primary problem with codependency can be called “idolatry”—giving a greater priority to anything or anyone other than God Himself. Our God is the One who created you and who has a wonderful plan for your life. He is the Lord who loves you and knows how to fulfill you.

If you are in a codependent relationship:

• Your excessive care causes you to compromise your convictions.
• Your excessive loyalty leaves you without healthy boundaries.
• Your excessive “love” allows you to say yes when you should say no.

However, our Maker and Master has the right to have primary rule in our hearts and over our lives. Any other substitute is simply idolatry. The Bible says …

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Key Passage to Read and Reread

Notice two thoughts in this passage that seem to be in opposition to one another:

“If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:1–5)

Does Scripture Contradict Itself?

Verse 2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens,” and verse 5 says, “Each one should carry his own load.”
Since these two clear-cut directives seem contradictory to each other, which one is true? When you carefully analyze what is being said, there is no contradiction.

• Verse 1—Gently encourage another person to change from negative behavior, but beware of your own temptation.
• Verse 2—The Greek word for “burden” is baros, which means “weight,” implying a load or something that is pressing heavily. When you help carry what is too heavy for someone else to bear alone, your caring response fulfills the law of Christ.
• Verse 5—The Greek word for “load” is phortion, which means “something carried.” Clearly, when you carry what others should carry, you are not wise. You are not called by God to relieve others of their rightful responsibilities.

CONCLUSION: Those who are codependent try to get their needs met by carrying loads that others should be carrying. To move out of a codependent relationship, both individuals need to quit trying to be the other person’s “all-in-all” and instead encourage each other to take responsibility for their own lives and to live dependently on the strength of God.

KEY VERSE TO MEMORIZE

No other verse in the Bible is better at helping us set our priorities straight, put our relationships in the right order. We must put “first things first” or else we, in our relationships, will never have the fulfillment that God has planned for us.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

RECOVERY STEP #1: Confront Your Own Codependency

Codependency does not flow from an unchangeable personality flaw or some genetic fluke. A codependent relationship is rooted in immaturity, a fact that should give great hope to those caught in its addictive cycle. While change is never easy, growing up is always within the grasp of anyone who desires to move from immaturity to maturity.

Any of us can move from codependency to a healthy, mutual give-and-take in our relationships. The key to change is motivation. What kind of motivation? When your pain in the relationship is greater than your fear of abandonment, the motivation for change is powerful. Moving away from the pain of codependency then becomes a matter of choice and commitment. If you feel that the relationship you are in is more a curse than a blessing—when it brings more death to your soul than life—this is motivation for change.

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you … may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20)

• Confront the Fact That You Are Codependent.

▆ Admit the truth to yourself. Before you can be free from the grasp of codependency, you must be honest with yourself about your emotional addiction to another person.
▆ Admit the truth to someone else. Identify the beliefs and behaviors that have perpetuated your emotional addiction and share them with an objective, trusted friend.
▆ Admit the truth to God. Realize that your emotional addiction is a serious sin in the eyes of God. Choose now to confess it to Him.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)

• Confront the Consequences of Your Codependency.

▆ Accept responsibility for how your past experiences and reactions have hurt your adult relationships (such as your becoming manipulative, controlling, possessive, or angry).
▆ Accept responsibility for the pain you have caused yourself because of your codependency (such as your becoming jealous, envious, selfish, or obsessive).
▆ Accept responsibility for the ways in which your codependency has weakened your relationship with God (such as a loss of quantity time, quality time, and intimacy with the Lord).

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

• Confront Your Painful Emotions.

▆ Understand that you will have pain no matter what you choose. If you leave the codependent relationship, you will hurt, but if you stay, you will hurt. However, the only hope for future healing is leaving the codependent lifestyle.
▆ Understand that when the intensity of the relationship diminishes you will experience emotional “withdrawal” from the exhilarating highs.
▆ Understand that you will need the support of others to get you through the initial pain of withdrawal and to help you avoid anesthetizing your pain with a “secondary addiction.”

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” (Proverbs 27:9)

• Confront Your “Secondary Addictions.”

▆ Recognize that, in an effort to numb the emotional pain of the relationship, codependency often leads to other addictions, such as a chemical dependency, sexual addiction, compulsive eating, or excessive spending.
▆ Recognize your “secondary addictions”; then seek counseling and spiritual support to overcome them.
▆ Recognize that recovery from a “secondary addiction” is dependent on recovery from your primary addiction.

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)

• Confront Your Current Codependent Relationship.

▆ Acknowledge your codependent role in the relationship and cease relating through codependent patterns.
▆ Acknowledge your destructive behaviors. (Write them down.) Then replace them with constructive behaviors. (Write them down.)
▆ Acknowledge the natural pain of emotional withdrawal (common to the healing of addictions) and focus on God’s supernatural purpose (conforming you to the character of Christ).

“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)

• Confront Your Codependent Focus.

▆ Stop focusing on what the other person is doing and start focusing on what you need to do in order to become emotionally healthy.
▆ Stop focusing on the other person’s problems and start focusing on solving your own problems (those resulting from your neglect of people and projects in your life).
▆ Stop focusing on trying to change the other person and start focusing on changing yourself.

“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” (Proverbs 14:8)

• Confront Your Codependent Conflicts.

▆ Do not allow yourself to become trapped in heated arguments or to become emotionally hooked by the bad behavior of the other person. Instead, say to yourself several times, I will not argue—and then disengage from the conflict. Decide ahead of time that, when agitation begins, you will distance yourself.
▆ Do not defend yourself when you are unjustly blamed. Instead, say only once, “I’m sorry you feel that way. That doesn’t reflect my heart.”
▆ Do not be afraid to leave if the conflict continues. State, “I will be gone for a while.” Then calmly walk away.

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23)

• Confront Your Codependent Responses.

▆ Remind yourself that “problem people” have the right to choose wrong. Don’t react to their problem behavior—they are independent of you.
▆ Remind yourself not to return insult for insult—refuse to raise your voice.
▆ Remind yourself that your Christlike role is to respond with respect—even when others are disrespectful.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. … But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:9, 15–16)

• Confront What You Need to Leave in Order to Receive.

▆ Leave your childhood and your dependent thinking. (I can’t live without you.) Then enter into healthy adulthood. (I want you in my life, but if something were to happen, I could still live without you.) That is reality.
▆ Leave your immature need to be dependent on someone else and embrace your mature need to be dependent on the Lord, who will make you whole within yourself.
▆ Leave your fantasy relationships (thinking, You are my “all-in-all”) and instead nurture several balanced relationships of healthy give-and-take.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)

• Confront Your Need to Build Mature Non-Codependent Relationships.

▆ Establish several interdependent relationships—not just one exclusive relationship. You need mature relationships in which your codependency issues can be resolved and your needs can be met in healthy ways.
▆ Establish emotionally balanced relationships without being needy of the extreme highs and lows of codependent relationships.
▆ Establish personal boundaries in all of your relationships, saying no when you need to say no and holding to your no.

“Let us … go on to maturity.” (Hebrews 6:1)

RECOVERY STEP #2: Look at Your Past Love Addictions

One effective way to confront codependent love relationships is by using the “written word.” Spelling out your thoughts, feelings, and actions will actually distance them from you so that you can look at them. Putting your relationships on paper helps paint a more complete picture, which in turn enables you to gain insights and devise a recovery plan. Putting your life on paper is not easy, but until you are ready to take a close look at your love addiction, you cannot expect to change it.

Write down the history of your codependent love relationships. First ask the Spirit of God to bring to mind what you need to know and then to teach you what you need to do. He will give you both understanding and wisdom to know how to free yourself of the fettered addictions and how to live in His glorious freedom.

“He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers.” (Proverbs 19:8)

Make a list of every person with whom you have had a codependent relationship. Think through your family and friends. Put each name at the top of a separate page and then answer the following questions for each relationship:

1. Write out …

• How did you meet and how were you attracted to this person?
• How did you pursue and draw this person to you?
• How did you feel and what did you fantasize about this person?

Conclude by answering …

• How do you think God felt about your choices?
• Realize that the Lord is ready to meet your deepest emotional needs. Yet, when we live with misplaced priorities, the Bible says we commit spiritual adultery.

“I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices.” (Ezekiel 6:9)

2. Write out …

• How did the relationship progress through various stages (Fascination, Fantasy, Fog, Fear, Forsaking, Fixation, Frenzy)?
• How did you feel in each stage?
• How did you act during each stage?

Conclude by answering …

• How did you fail to involve God in your life during each stage?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to intervene.

“When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. I clothe the sky with darkness and make sackcloth its covering.” (Isaiah 50:2–3)

3. Write out …

• How did you become preoccupied with the relationship?
• How did you start neglecting yourself and start focusing on taking care of the other person?
• How did you come to expect that person to meet all of your needs?

Conclude by answering …

• How did you start neglecting God and when did you stop relying on Him?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to make you fruitful.

“I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21)

4. Write out …

• How has this relationship replicated your painful childhood experiences?
• How were you mistreated in the relationship and how did you react?
• How does the relationship impact you today?

Conclude by answering …

• How is God replacing (or wanting to replace) your self-destructive, love-addicted patterns with constructive, healthy, holy patterns?
• Realize how ready the Lord is to “re-parent” you in order to meet your deepest needs and heal your deepest hurts.

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” (Psalm 27:10)

5. Write out …

• How have you experienced fear, envy, jealousy, abandonment, and anger in the relationship?
• How did you assign a higher priority to this person than to everything else?
• How have you made the person the focus of your thought life?

Conclude by answering …

• How can you appropriate “the mind of Christ” in order to overcome destructive feelings and to live out of your resources in Christ?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to give you His thinking.

“We have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

6. Write out …

• How do you feel about the person and the relationship now?
• How has your perspective changed?
• How did things, people, and circumstances become factors in changing your perspective?

Conclude by answering …

• How do you think God has been involved in changing your perspective?
• Realize how ready the Lord is to complete His perfect plan for your life.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

RECOVERY STEP #3: Get on the Road to Interdependent Relationships

We all love to see pictures of babies and then to see their stair step growth into young adulthood. Built within little, immature children is the ability to grow to maturity. Why should it be any less for immature adults? They too can move from their immaturity and develop mature relationships.

Once we understand the goal of each developmental stage for reestablishing healthy relationships, we can set out to accomplish those goals—without the aid of earthly parents. Many have done this by “taking the hand” of the heavenly Father and allowing Him to “re-parent” them. You too can do this by having a plan and then working your plan with the caring support of others. It is an enormously important journey with enormously gratifying rewards. This is the journey God intended for you to take from the beginning.

“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)

• Make it your goal to develop an intimate relationship with God and to form interdependent relationships with significant people in your life.

▆ Commit to becoming actively involved in a group Bible study and in group prayer.
▆ Commit to reading God’s Word on a daily basis and memorizing Scripture.
▆ Commit to finding an accountability group and a Christian “relationship mentor” who will be available to you, spend time with you on a regular basis, be honest with you, and coach you in your relationships.

“Let us not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)

• Make a plan to move toward maturity in your relationships.

▆ Ask God to help you discern where you are stuck in the relationship developmental stages.
▆ Ask your mentor or another wise person to help you identify your relationship needs (for example, sharing, problem-solving, listening, negotiating).
▆ Ask your accountability group to hold you accountable to establish appropriate goals in order to meet each of your relationship needs.

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

• Make your relationship with your parents complete.

▆ Choose to resolve any unhealthy patterns with your parents. Break any unhealthy bond and, if possible, establish mature, adult bonds with each parent.
▆ Choose to not be emotionally enmeshed, needy, or controlled by your parents. If necessary, separate yourself emotionally until you can respond in a healthy way with “no strings attached.”
▆ Choose to identify and process your “family of origin” problems, forgive your offenders, and grieve your losses. Say, “That was then; this is now.”

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

• Make a vow to be a person of integrity in thought, word, and deed.

▆ Learn to free yourself of any family secrets—refuse to carry them any longer.
▆ Learn to listen, to say no, to set boundaries, to give and receive, and to ask for what you need from people. Then practice, practice, practice these new, healthy patterns.
▆ Learn to feel your feelings, to express hurt, and to withdraw and think about what you need to do or say. Write out your action plan; rehearse it; then do it.

“Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:13–15)

• Make a new job description.

▆ My job is to discern the character of a person and to respond accordingly with maturity.
▆ My job is to be a safe person for my friends and family and to be present and attentive in my relationships.
▆ My job is to take care of myself and to be responsible for myself without hurting, punishing, attacking, getting even, or lying to myself or to others.

“I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:6)

• Make a new commitment to yourself.

▆ I will let go of the “old,” self-centered me because I am growing into a “new,” Christ-centered me.
▆ I will exchange the lies I’ve believed about myself for God’s truth about me according to His Word.
▆ I will no longer betray myself by making immature choices, and I will redeem my past, bad choices by making good, mature choices.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

• Make maturity, not emotional relationships, your highest goal.

▆ Focus on forming friendships in which you are free to learn, grow, and mature, not emotional attachments that lead to roller-coaster relationships.
▆ Focus on any potential relationships that might trigger your codependent tendencies and guard your heart from the emotional highs and lows.
▆ Focus on building relationships with trustworthy, mature Christians whose goal is Christlikeness.
▆ During a severe time of trial, David’s dear friend, Jonathan “helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16)

RECOVERY STEP #4: Find the Road to Freedom

When you are behaving in a codependent way, you are trying to get your needs met through a drive to “do it all” or to be another person’s “all-in-all.” However, you can “travel the road to recovery” by releasing your desire to control or to change the person you love.

RELEASE

RECOGNIZE that you are overly dependent on a person and instead place your dependency on God.

Admit that your codependency is a sin.

• Pray that God will give you the desire to put Him first and to please Him in all your relationships.
• Determine to look to the Lord to meet your needs for love, for significance, and for security.
• Realize that God did not create you to meet all the needs of another person.

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

EXAMINE your patterns of codependent thinking.

Don’t believe that pleasing people is always Christlike.

• Don’t think that you should always assume the role of peacemaker.
• Don’t fear losing the love of others when you allow them to suffer the consequences of their negative actions.
• Don’t say yes when you really believe you should say no.

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Psalm 51:6)

LET GO of your “super responsible” mentality.

Confess that you are trying to be like God in the life of another person.

• Trust God to be actively working in the life of your loved one.
• Realize that you cannot make another person be dependable or responsible.
• Rest in God’s sovereign control over all people, events, and circumstances.

“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17–18)

EXTEND forgiveness to those who have caused you pain.

Reflect on any type of abuse you have experienced in the past—verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual.

• What has been unjust and painful in your life?
• Whom do you need to forgive?
• Would you be willing to release this person and your pain to God?
• Choose to forgive again whenever your angry feelings resurface.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

APPROPRIATE your identity in Christ.

Learn to live out of your resources in Christ Jesus.

• Know the truth: “I can be emotionally set free because Christ lives in me.”
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

• Believe the truth: “I can change my dependency on people through the power of Christ in me.”
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

• Appropriate the truth: “I will nurture only healthy, godly relationships because I have been given Christ’s divine nature.”

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3–4)

SET healthy boundaries.

Communicate the necessity for change.

“I realize that I have not been responding to you in a healthy way. I have been far too dependent on you to meet my needs. And I have sought to meet all of your needs. I am committed to having healthy relationships and to putting God first in my life. I know that I have had negative responses to you, and I intend to begin having positive responses by making decisions based on what is right in the eyes of God.”

• Establish what you need to ask forgiveness for.
“I realize I was wrong for _________ (not speaking up when I should have, not being the person I should have been in this relationship, etc.). Will you forgive me?”

• Establish what your limits of responsibility will be.
“I feel responsible for _________. But I am not responsible for _________ (making you happy, making you feel significant, etc.). I want you to be happy, but I don’t have the power to make you happy.”

• Establish your limits of involvement.
“I want to do with/for you, but I don’t feel led by God to do .”

“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12)

EXCHANGE your emotional focus for spiritual focus.

Make God and your spiritual growth your first priority.

• Attend an in-depth Bible study in order to learn the heart of God and to grow spiritually with the people of God.
• Memorize sections of Scripture in order to put God’s Word in your heart and to learn the ways of God.
• Redirect your thoughts to the Lord and take “prayer walks” (talking out loud to the Lord as you walk regularly in your neighborhood or on a trail).

“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (Psalm 119:35–37)

The cure for codependency is rooted in developing an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Your increased intimacy with Him will naturally conform you to His character. When you let the Lord live inside you, you can live in His power. This means that because Christ was not codependent, you have His power to overcome codependency.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS
“God, You know the pain
I experienced in my past.
I don’t want to keep carrying all this pain for the rest of my life.
I release (list hurts) into Your hands,
and I ask You to heal my emotional pain.
Lord, You know what (name of person) has done to hurt me.
As an act of my will, I choose to forgive (name).
I take (name) off my emotional hook
and put (name) onto Your emotional hook.
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for setting me FREE.
In Your holy name I pray. Amen.”

CODEPENDENCY PRAYER
“Lord Jesus, I renounce as a lie
the thought that I could ever be
truly abandoned or alone.
Thank You that You will
never abandon me
or leave me without support.
Thank You that no matter what I do
or what my circumstances,
no matter who is in my life
or not in my life,
You will be with me and
provide for my needs.
Thank You that Your plans for me
are for my good and that
You will carry them out.
Thank You that You are not
dependent on anything or anyone
other than Yourself to bring about
Your good intentions toward me.
I trust in You and You alone
to give me meaning and purpose and fulfillment in life.
In Your holy name I pray,
Amen.”

Help for an Unhealthy Relationship

Releasing You
Releasing is not to stop loving you, but is to love enough to stop leaning on you.
Releasing is not to stop caring for you, but is to care enough to stop controlling you.
Releasing is not to turn away from you, but is to turn to Christ, trusting His control over you.
Releasing is not to harm you, but is to realize “my help” has been harmful.
Releasing is not to hurt you, but is to be willing to be hurt for healing.
Releasing is not to judge you, but is to let the divine Judge judge me.
Releasing is not to restrict you, but is to restrict my demands of you.
Releasing is not to refuse you, but is to refuse to keep reality from you.
Releasing is not to cut myself off from you, but is to prune the unfruitful away from you.
Releasing is not to prove my power over you, but is to admit I am powerless to change you.
Releasing is not to stop believing in you, but is to believe the Lord alone will build character in you.
Releasing you is not to condemn the past, but is to cherish the present and commit our future to God.
—June Hunt

My Commitment Because of Christ in Me
Because Jesus lives in me … I will conquer codependency.
Because Christ was not a “people-pleaser” … I will not be a “people-pleaser.”
Because Christ refused to compromise … I will not yield to compromise.
Because Christ kept healthy boundaries … I will keep healthy boundaries.
Because Christ stood up to pressure … I will not cave in to pressure.
Because Jesus lives in me … I will conquer codependency!
—June Hunt

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

——————————————————————————————————
Hunt, J. (2013). Codependency (june hunt hope for the heart). Torrance, CA: Aspire Press.

How to Ruin Your Sex Life in 10 Easy Steps

Sex can be uncomfortable for married couples to talk about. Quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable to write about as well!

But haven’t you found that the hard-to-talk-about stuff is what really needs discussion?

In our current culture, there’s a lot of conversation centered on having a “great” sex life. Pick up any copy of CosmopolitanGQ, or similar magazines, and you can read all the different ways you could be having sex, where you should be having sex, and even more ways to “spice up” your sex life. (I’m not even sure everything they mention is legal in all 50 states.)

But one thing these articles rarely touch on is how easy it is to ruin your sex life.

It’s true. While we have to put some effort into maintaining a great (or even good) sex life, it takes little energy, time, or even thought to take your bedroom romps from great to nonexistent.

In fact, you could be ruining your sexual intimacy right now and have no idea. Scary, huh?

Here are 10 easy ways to ruin your sex life. No crazy tricks, literally zero effort required. And please, feel free to embrace the sarcasm.

1. Let the kids sleep in the middle.

Not just during the occasional thunderstorm. I mean any time those sweet little faces want to snuggle up with mom and dad for the night.

Besides, you did purchase the king-size bed. You’ll find a time/place for sex later. You said “I do” forever, but the kids are only little for so long, right?

2. Forget foreplay.

You’ve already given her the look. The one that says with no uncertainty that it’s time to head to the bedroom.

Yes, she was in the middle of washing the dishes, but you’re ready to go. Your spouse should be, too. Isn’t that foreplay? Besides, it’s already 10:30 p.m. and the alarm’s set for 5 a.m. Who has time for this?

3. Prioritize your hobbies above your spouse.

After all the hours you put in at work (or home with the kids), you deserve time to yourself on the weekends. You’re not saying video games/golf/girls night is more important than time with your spouse, it’s just more relaxing. And you need regular time doing these things to be a better partner, anyway.

4. Don’t engage in conversation with your spouse.

It’s been a long day, and it takes too much energy to engage in a lengthy discussion. Please, can we just relax and turn the TV on already? Better yet, escape into social media. Knowing what’s going on in everyone else’s lives helps distract you from your own.

5. Use pornography.

At least you aren’t having an actual affair. Sometimes pornography even helps get you in the mood, right? At least that’s what you’ve heard.

If videos aren’t your thing, ladies, grab the latest copy of one of the Shades of Grey books. Word porn works well, too.

6. Fantasize about someone else.

He’ll never know you’re really thinking about Justin Timberlake. Unless you accidentally say his name. (Make a mental note about that.)

Fellas, as long as you don’t tell your wife you’re thinking about the waitress from the other night, no harm done.  Surely, all these fantasies are a harmless way to escape the issues at home. Again, at least you aren’t having an affair.

7. Flirt openly.

With anyone other than your spouse, that is. But it’s not really flirting if you have no intentions to actually have an affair, right? It’s fun and harmless. Besides, it feels good to know someone thinks you’re witty and interesting.

8. Criticize or nag your spouse.

Seriously, what does she do all day? Not laundry, apparently. She always asks what you’re thinking, so tell her.

And you’ve repeatedly told him you need some help around the house. So it should be no surprise you just yelled “Help me!” at him for the fifth time today.

9. Don’t take on your spouse’s burdens.

Sure, they might be overwhelmed, depressed, or stressed out. So are you. You have plenty on your own plate, thank you very much.

10. Don’t talk about your sexual relationship.

Ever. It’s awkward. Some things are just best left unsaid. As long as you’re having sex sometimes you’re doing okay, right?

Right?

Healthy Relationships Will Have Conflict

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

You’ll never have a strong relationship without conflict. It’s impossible. Open and frank conversations are a bridge every relationship must cross to reach relational depth.

Proverbs 24:26 says, “An honest answer is a sign of true friendship” (GNT). Being candid and connected go together; you can’t have one without the other. That’s why a true friend doesn’t use flattery. Empty encouragement is a sign of a manipulator, not of someone who sincerely cares about you.

It sounds counterintuitive, but all healthy relationships must allow for the opportunity to express frustration and anger. Out-of-control anger isn’t good, but anger is part of a loving relationship. If you don’t get angry, you don’t care. If you don’t care, you don’t love.

Many people are too afraid of showing any anger in their relationships. They run from conflict. As a result, they’re always masking the issues and refusing to deal with them. That may lead to a 20-year-old friendship with hidden conflict that could have been resolved 10 years ago.

Going through the tunnel of conflict

You won’t have a genuine friendship without going through what I call “the tunnel of conflict.” This truth relates to your marriage, friendships, and all of your other significant relationships. I’ve told this truth to countless married couples throughout the years.

On one side of the tunnel you have superficial intimacy, where you’re acquainted with someone and you like them, but that’s as far as it goes without conflict. You might go to a movie or sit in a Bible study with the person (or even be married to the person for years), but you’re not ready to share your deepest, darkest secrets with them. You’re not dealing with the gut issues of the relationship: your faults, their faults, and what’s causing both of you pain. You’re ignoring the tough parts of the relationship, as well as the greater connection that comes from them.

On the other side of the tunnel is genuine, deep intimacy. It’s a place where you’re fully understood by another person in a way that you never thought was possible on this planet. Every person craves to reach this level in their relationships.

How do you get from a superficial relationship to genuine, soul-satisfying intimacy with another human being? There’s no smooth path to the other side. You must go through the tunnel of conflict—it’s the only way.

Moving toward intimacy

Conflict is painful, which means it isn’t easy; this often leads to poor decisions. Conflict is necessary for intimacy, but don’t make the conflict harder than it needs to be. Here are three guidelines that will help conflict bring your relationships closer rather than pulling them apart:

  1. Compliment in public, correct in private. This statement is true regardless of the relationship. You need to do this with your children, your spouse, your best friend, and so on. Save your criticism for a time when others aren’t around. It’ll increase the chances that the other person will hear and respond to your concerns.
  2. Correct when they’re up and not down. Nobody handles correction well when they’re fatigued or depressed. My wife has always given me great feedback on my sermons, but she never gives me constructive criticism immediately after the service. She knows that after preaching multiple services, I’m out of energy. I can handle almost any correction when I’m feeling strong but not when I’m worn out. Timing is everything in candidness.
  3. Never offer correction until you’ve proven that you’re open to it. This is an area of relationships where you need to lead by example. Demonstrate that you are able to receive correction before you start giving correction. You must open up your life before you expect others to open up theirs.

You’ve got to be candid and honest and genuine if you want healthy relationships—and you won’t grow if you’re missing those kinds of relationships. Go through that tunnel of conflict and move toward greater intimacy, and watch your life change.

When to Say NO as a Mom

SOURCE:   Jill Savage/Family Life

 

You can’t do everything. Here are nine strategies to help you set some boundaries.

I was supposed to bring dinner to Amanda, a new mother at the church.  On the day the meal was to be delivered, Austin came down with a fever.  I left him at home with his homeschooled sister while I attended a parent-teacher conference for our son Kolya.  Then I dropped off a couple of boxes to be mailed, and stopped by the store to pick up a few things we needed. Once home, Erica needed some help with her schoolwork and Austin just wanted Mom to sit on the couch with him, rub his back, and watch a movie.  When my husband, Mark, came home, I was quite proud that I actually had dinner in the oven, considering the craziness of the day.

When we sat down to eat, Mark’s words stopped me in my tracks, “Jill, this is a great meal.  Is this what you took to Amanda’s family tonight too?”

I choked on the food I had just put in my mouth as I gasped in horror.  In the midst of everything that had happened, I had completely forgotten to take the meal to the new mom!  I was horrified as I pictured them sitting there waiting for me to bring their dinner, which should have been delivered well over an hour ago.

I rushed to the phone and dialed Amanda, apologizing all over the place and offering to order them a pizza that would be delivered to their home.  This sweet young mom was so gracious and reassured me that they had so many leftovers from the other meals brought that they had already warmed up some food and eaten.

I felt like such a failure.  How could I forget something I’d promised to do for someone else?

When I evaluated that incident over the next few days, I came to realize that it had nothing to do with that particular day, but it had everything to do with how much was on my plate in general.  I had enough going on that week that I had no business saying yes to bring a meal.

I needed to set some boundaries, and then I needed to abide by them.

Following Jesus’ example

Jesus said no when His mother and brothers tried to use their relationship to pull Him away from the people He was ministering to (Matthew 12:46-50).  Jesus said no to Peter and the disciples who thought Jesus should be a political king or military warrior rather than a Savior who would go to the cross for us (Matthew 16:23).  He said no to King Herod when he requested a miracle just for the purpose of entertainment (Luke 23:8-9).

Following His example, we know it’s perfectly okay for us to learn to say no as well.  As a mother you can’t do everything people ask you to do.  So here are several suggestions for setting boundaries that will help us follow Jesus’ example:

1. Keep in mind that you know what is best for you and your family.  With many mothers working outside the home, there are fewer school, church, and community volunteers available during the day.  Therefore, you are likely to be asked more often, simply because you are perceived to be more available.  Remember, even with church activities, that our families are our first ministries.

2. Never say yes on the spot.  Always tell them you will call them back after you’ve had time to pray and think about it.  This keeps you from making an on-the-spot decision you may regret later.  You can say no immediately if you know that the position or responsibility is wrong for you.

3. When considering a time commitment, make sure you take into account preparation time.  Most of us underestimate the time it really takes to do a job.  If you have been asked to bake five dozen cookies, look at the calendar and determine whether you truly have that much free time available before the cookies need to be delivered.  If it looks too busy, say you’re sorry, but you can’t do it.

4. Carefully consider the “brain space” this responsibility will require.  Have you ever been listening to your children, but really thinking about a new project or the hundreds of things you need to do?  When your mind is cluttered, you are not mentally available to your family.

5. Remember every minute of your day does not have to be scheduled!  If you have a doer mentality, you will think of a spare hour or two as a way to fit in one more yes.  Yet we need some time to do nothing.  If you need to, schedule in downtime each day.  Write it on your calendar and say no to anything that would fill that time.

6. Ask for accountability.  Ask your husband, a close friend, or your Bible study group to hold you accountable for the number of commitments you will carry.  Be open to their insight.  If you have trouble saying no, ask them to help you during the first few months while you get things back in balance.  When you tell someone you will call him or her back, check with your accountability partner first before answering.  Sort through your schedule with her.  Eventually you won’t need the partner’s help, but it can help you while you are learning to say no.

7. When you do say no, don’t feel that you need to give a long list of excuses.  You know what is best for your family and for yourself.  If you feel you need to give an excuse, simply say that it would not fit into your schedule at this time.

8. Keep in mind that you do not have to say yes simply because you are capable.  You may have strong leadership skills and will most likely be asked to lead most anything you will be involved in.  That doesn’t mean you have to say yes to those responsibilities.  You should say yes only after considering your time availability, other volunteer responsibilities, your family commitments, and what you might need to give up to properly do this job.  Of course, above all, you should say yes only after praying and seeking God’s will.

9. Remember that saying no allows others the opportunity to say yes.  Don’t take service opportunities away from others.  Don’t forget to make time to have a friend over, take your kids to the park, write a letter, or go on a date with your husband.  We don’t usually schedule these kinds of activities, but they are the first to go when we are overcommitted.

Remember that saying yes to some activities outside the home will be important to your sanity.  Moms of young children need to get out of the house to socialize and think about something other than diapers, bottles, and coupons.  Contrary to popular belief, your brain will not turn to mush—it will just feel like it at times.  We need to carefully choose those activities we will be involved in so that our time will be used wisely.  You will be amazed at the patience you will have with your family when you find balance in your activity schedule.


Adapted from Real Moms … Real Jesus ©2009 by Jill Savage. Published by Moody Publishers.

How to release emotional pain

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

We have natural responses to being hurt that are part of our imperfections. We do not always respond well to stresses in our lives. These responses come easily to us, but they are not helpful to our personal growth. Next time someone hurts you, try using these tools:

Acknowledge the Wound. Don’t Deny it.

When we are hurt emotionally, we tend to deny it. For example, an unloving wife may wound a husband’s heart, but he may not want to appear weak or vulnerable. Or he may think he is being overly sensitive. Or he may think that admitting his hurt is being disloyal or mean to his wife. So he shrugs off the wound. However, he is living a lie. Just saying something doesn’t hurt us doesn’t make it go away, and the wounded heart stays injured.

Stay Connected. Don’t Isolate.

We tend to withdraw from a relationship when we hurt. Some people are afraid of their dependencies on others. Others feel guilty about burdening friends with their problems. Still, others try to be self-sufficient. None of these responses helps a person heal and grow.

Love and Forgive. Don’t Retaliate.

People also “naturally” lash back when they are hurt, and they desire revenge on the one who hurt them. Like little kids, they will harbor murderous intentions and attempt to retaliate. For example, a woman who has been betrayed by a man she is dating may then do the same to him. Perhaps they had agreed to an exclusive relationship, deepening their commitment and trust. Then she found out he was seeing someone else. The problem with rationalizing retaliation is that while he certainly needs to know how he hurts others, it’s more likely to help him justify his own behavior.

Practice Self Control. Don’t be Controlled.

Our initial response to being hurt is that we lose self-control. Our getting hurt in a relationship is proof of how little control we have over others in the first place. Many times we transfer power onto the person who has hurt us, which makes things worse. For example, a man may realize his parents have been emotionally unresponsive to him all his life. He may see how this unresponsiveness has made his relational life difficult, as he has not been connected enough to his inner self to connect to others. As he understands this, he may then also become obsessed with trying to get his parents to see what they did to him or get them to apologize, or get them to re-parent him and provide him for what they did not when he was a child.

Good relationships do involve confronting, forgiving, and reconciling. However, some people make the injured self the focus of their lives, letting the other person control them. In this way, they put their hearts under the power of the very ones who injured them. That’s not a productive way to live.

A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce

SOURCE:  Rebecca VanDoodewaard

God hates divorce, doesn’t He? Absolutely.

Isn’t the gospel about forgiveness and love? Yes, it is.

And pastors and elders can use these two truths in isolation from the rest of Scripture and biblical principles to deny people divorce for biblical grounds. “But marriage is a precious thing,” one pastor told a woman whose husband was in prison for pedophilia. “It would be a wonderful picture of God’s grace to move on from this and focus on your marriage,” another one told the husband of an adulteress. “We’re working with him; he’s really struggling, and so you need to forgive him,” a session tells a woman whose husband has been using pornography for years.

Evangelical and confessional churches are striving to maintain a high view of marriage in a culture that is ripping the institution to shreds. So extra-biblical barriers to divorce can be well-meant. They try to protect marriage by doing everything possible to avoid divorce. In doing so, they not only fail to keep a high view of marriage. They also spread lies about the gospel, divorce, the value of people, the character of God and the nature of sexual sin.

The first lie is that forgiveness means that the offended party is bound to continue living with the guilty party once there’s an apology.

Wives in particular are told that God requires that they forgive a repentant spouse, which is true, and that this means that they need to stay in the marriage, which is not true. It’s like saying to parents who discover that the babysitter molested their children: “Oh, but the sitter said sorry. It would be unloving to not ask them to watch the kids again. You need to demonstrate your forgiveness.” The argument is that Jesus forgave you and took you in: Why can’t you do the same for a spouse? Because I am not God: I am human, too, and can’t atone for my spouse’s sin in a way that can restore an earthly marriage.

Sacrificing a person to save a relationship is not the gospel. The gospel is that Someone was sacrificed to free us from sin and bring us to God. We cannot always bear the relational punishment for someone else’s sin. We can forgive them, and will if we are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with them. You can forgive someone and divorce them. Scripture commands forgiveness where there is repentance, but it never requires that a relationship be continued in the way that it was before covenant was shattered. This lie of “forgiveness” places the burden on the innocent party. The sinner gets counsel, support, help and prayer, while the sinned-against gets pressure, guilt and a crushing future. Acceptance is often labelled the “Christian” thing to do. Since Christ gave divorce as an option in some circumstances, divorce can be the Christian thing to do, too. Forgiveness is always the Christian thing to do, and it simply means that the guilty party is forgiven, not absolved from all earthly consequences.

The second lie is implied: God hates divorce more than He hates abuse and sexual sin.

To put the lie a different way, God loves marriage more than He loves the women in it. While God created marriage, loves marriage and says that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, Jesus didn’t die to save marriage. He died to save people. He sacrificed His life to protect His sons and daughters, and hates when they are abused, violated and humiliated, particularly in a relationship that is supposed to picture Christ and the church.

This fact is especially true for women, who suffer at the hands of men whose actions mock servant leadership and so blaspheme the name of the Christ whom they are called to represent. Denying a woman legitimate divorce allows an unrepentant man to continue in this abuse and blasphemy. If we want to value and treat marriage rightly, we need to think about Jesus! His care for His church is not an abstract idea. We see it lived out in the gospels every day in purity, tender care for widows and intolerance of the Pharisees who thought they could be right with God while checking out beautiful women at the market. Christ’s love for His church found very concrete expression on the cross—willingness to die to save His beloved people. Yes, God hates divorce. And there are some things that He hates even more.

The third lie is that divorce is an unclean thing, often the fault of the innocent party.

This is a misunderstanding of divorce. Divorce is not the innocent party ending a marriage. Divorce is the innocent party obtaining legal recognition that the guilty party has destroyed the marriage. So often, we see the divorcing person as the one who ends the marriage—they are not! Where there has been sexual unfaithfulness, abuse or abandonment, it is the guilty party who ended it by breaking covenant. While legitimate divorce is not mandatory, it is a biblical option, on moral par with maintaining the marriage. The 1992 report by the PCA study committee on divorce and remarriage comments:

It is also interesting to recall in this connection Jeremiah 3:8, where Yahweh is said to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery (idolatry):?“I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.” If God himself can properly divorce his bride because of adultery, then, given Christ’s unqualified adherence to the authority of the Old Testament, it seems difficult to conclude that Jesus would not have had similar words on his own lips. (218)

The church needs to be clear about this: Legitimate divorce is holy and biblical if God Himself can speak of initiating it. And it is initiated to publicly recognize the destruction already there. Divorce does not end a covenant. It protects the spouse whose covenant has been violated—a picture of covenant protection in the face of human unfaithfulness. Always discouraging divorce, always making it a last, desperate option that really fails to show gospel power, implies that we know more about marriage than God does and value it more highly. If there are legitimate reasons for divorce, then making divorce look like a lesser option is wrong. God allows it: Who are we to discourage people from choosing a biblical option?

The fourth lie usually involved in this discussion is about pornography.

It is often classified as not technically adultery, so spouses are denied the biblical right to divorce. This is mind-boggling. Someone who seeks out sexually explicit material and has a physical response to it is in the same mental, physical and spiritual condition as someone in bed with a coworker. The difference is that the relationship with the coworker is at least private and limited, while porn use accepts and subsidizes an entire industry of sexual sin that is maintained by abuse and slavery, involves hundreds of people, and is tracked by the producing companies and Internet servers. Deliberate and repeated porn use is at least adultery, regardless of whether there is repentance at some point. Denying this makes people ask why some pastors are so committed to denying what porn really is. Our pre-technology definition of adultery allows souls and marriages to be ravaged from the inside out because we fail to admit what a porn habit really is. We look away from the institutionalized rape that it subsidizes. Countenancing sexual sin for any reason reveals a poor understanding of sexual sin as well as the gospel.

Do you see how these lies, sometimes borne out of a desire to protect marriage, actually bring about a low view of marriage? By granting, supporting and even facilitating a biblical divorce, we take a stand to say that we can forgive without being forced to live with people who have shattered us. This protects marriage by allowing the innocent party to leave a relationship that has been broken. By backing biblical divorce, we protect women whom God loves, showing Christ’s love when spouses have not. This protects marriage by refusing to allow sinners to abuse the institution with impunity. By publicly stating that sexual sin and abuse, not wounded spouses, ends marriages, we hold the marriage bed in honor. This protects marriage by creating a holy fear of violating it. By offering biblical divorce, the church affirms that pornography is depravity, and will not be countenanced by Christ’s church. Naming and disciplining sexual sin as the evil it is and offering divorce to the innocent party makes the value of marriage clear as we refuse to see it damaged, abused or treated lightly.

Developing and maintaining a high view of marriage does a lot. It protects women and children, often the people most hurt by sexual sin. It keeps us from falling into sin ourselves: The higher our view of marriage, the less likely we will be to dabble in something so devastating. And a high view of marriage honors the One who created it for our good and His glory—the One who promises to judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.

Marriage: ‘I Stayed’

There’s power in knowing you and your spouse are in it for the long haul.

Source:  Christy Scannell

One of the advantages of living in San Diego, aside from the fantastic weather, is that we have two theaters that stage Broadway-bound shows, both to test how they fare with audiences and to get out the kinks before hitting the Great White Way.  In the last few years I’ve seen several of these big productions, some winners (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and others not (The Full Monty).

A few years ago, my husband, Rich, and I zipped over to the Old Globe Theatre to take in A Catered Affair.  We agreed the musical had its plusses and minuses, but one of the standouts was Tom Wopat (yes, that guy from the Dukes of Hazzard) singing a lump-in-the-throat-inducing number, “I Stayed.”

To understand the impact of this song, you have to know that Wopat plays a 1950s middle-aged husband whose wife, among other issues, is accusing Wopat’s character of having never really loved her.  They married because she was pregnant, so she always suspected he rather would have been anywhere but with her.  Now that their daughter is marrying and moving out of their home, she frets over what kind of life she will have with this man who only tolerates her.

In response to her anxiety, Wopat angrily belts out, “I stayed.”   The song goes on to explain how perhaps she wasn’t his first choice, but he is confident he did the right thing by marrying her.  And most importantly—he stayed.  In other words, his loyalty to her, he felt, was his way of showing he loved her.  It might not have been a storybook romance, but theirs was a solid, faithful marriage that produced two children and, one would assume, a lot of family memories.

Needless to say, Wopat’s powerful song produced many tears in the audience (even from Faith Prince, who plays his wife).  I think that is because most of us know the value of “staying.”  Regardless of how a marriage comes about—from love at first sight to a shotgun ceremony—it’s more than anything a decision to say, “No matter what happens, I’m sticking with you—I’ll stay.”  And to say it over and over again.

I’m reminded of this commitment’s influence every week when I read in our Sunday newspaper the feature on a local couple celebrating a notable anniversary.  Somewhere in the piece the couple is asked some form of, “How on earth did you stay married for 50 (or more) years?”  Without fail, the couple responds in the fashion of, “We stuck out the bad times and celebrated the good ones.”  In other words, they stayed.

When Rich and I married, we agreed it was for life.  Regardless of what the church teaches, we all know Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the American population.  We knew we couldn’t go into a marriage with that as a looming option.  So we looked each other in the eye weeks before our wedding and made a pact that we would work out whatever problems came our way.  There would be no “growing apart,” no “irreconcilable differences,” no “dissolution.”  While we agreed to the same things in our marriage vows a few months later, I’ll never forget the muscle of our plain language that day when we said, in essence, “Whatever happens, we will stay.”

Lest you think this understanding moves us beyond the occasional squabble, may I point out that he is Irish and I am Scottish?  Yes, we fight.  We accuse.  We toss a few barbs.  I slam doors and he raises his voice.  Sometimes we go a whole day without talking.

But it’s all for naught.  Even when we’re at the height of an argument, eyes narrowed and faces flushed, deep down we know it all will end peacefully.  There won’t be any moving out or filing papers.  Within hours, or sometimes minutes, there are tears and hugs and “sorrys” and weak smiles.  Later, it’s almost as if the disagreement never happened. Life goes on.

Someday when our fiftieth anniversary approaches, I hope the newspaper (if such a thing still exists!) interviews us.  When the reporter asks the requisite “How did you do it?”  I’ll reach my wrinkled hand over to clasp Rich’s and say, “Because—we stayed.”

 

 

 

 

BOUNDARIES – What Are They?

(Adapted from Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend)

Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.

We are responsible to others and for ourselves. “Carry each other’s burdens, ” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This verse shows our responsibility to one another.

Many times others have “burdens” that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; He saved us. This is being responsible “to.”

On the other hand, verse 5 says, “… each one should carry his own load.” Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular “load” that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load.”

Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Boundaries are not walls. The Bible does not say that we are to be “walled off” from others; in fact, it says that we are to be “one” with them (John 17:11). We are to be in community with them. But in every community, all members have their own space and property. The important thing is that property lines/boundaries be permeable enough to allow passing in and out, but strong enough to keep out danger.

Examples of boundaries:

Words – The most basic boundary-setting word is “no.” Being clear about your no – and your yes – is a theme that runs throughout the Bible (Matt. 5:37; James 5:12). “NO” is a confrontational word. The Bible says that we are to confront people we love, saying, “No, that behavior is not okay. I will not participate in that.” The word “no” is also important in setting limits on abuse. People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands, and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that is they say no to someone, they will endanger their relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent. If you cannot say no to this external or internal pressure, you have lost control of your property and are not enjoying the fruit of “self-control.” Your words also define your property for others as you communicate your feelings, intentions, or dislikes. It is difficult for people to know where you stand when you do not use words to define your property. God even does this when He says, “I like this and I hate that,” or “I will do this, and I will not do that.”

Truth – Knowing the truth about God and His property puts limits on you and shows you His boundaries. To be in touch with God’s Truth is to be in touch with reality, and to live in accord with that reality makes for a better life (Ps. 119:2, 45). Satan is the great distorter of reality. Honesty about who you are gives you the biblical value of integrity.

Geographical Distance – Sometimes physically removing yourself from a situation will help maintain boundaries. You can do this to replenish yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually after you have given to your limit, as Jesus often did. Or, you can remove yourself to get away from danger and put limits on evil. The Bible urges us to separate from those who continue to hurt us and to create a safe place for ourselves. Removing yourself from the situation will also cause the one who is left behind to experience a loss of fellowship that may lead to changed behavior (Matt. 18:17 – 18; I Cor. 5:11-13). When a relationship is abusive, many times the only way to finally show the other person that your boundaries are real is to create space until they are ready to deal with the problem. The Bible supports the idea of limiting togetherness for the sake of “binding evil.”

Time – Taking time off from a person, or a project, can be a way of regaining ownership over some out-of-control aspect of your life where boundaries need to be set.

Emotional Distance – Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe; it is never a permanent way of living. Sometimes in abusive marriages the abused spouse needs to keep emotional distance until the abusive partner begins to face his or her problems and become trustworthy. You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment. If you have been in an abusive relationship, you should wait until it is safe and until the real patterns of change have been demonstrated before you go back. Many people are too quick to trust someone in the name of forgiveness and not make sure that the other is producing “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Forgive, but guard your heart until you see sustained change.

Other People – You need to depend on others to help you set and keep boundaries. For many, a support system gives the strength to say no to abuse and control for the first time in one’s life. There are two reasons why you need others to help with boundaries. The first is that your most basic need in life is for relationship. The other reason we need others is because we need new input and teaching. Boundaries are not built in a vacuum; creating boundaries always involves a support network.

Consequences – Trespassing on other people’s property carries consequences. “No Trespassing” signs usually carry a threat of prosecution if someone steps over the boundaries. The Bible teaches this principle over and over, saying that if we walk one way, this will happen, and if we walk another way, something else will happen. Just as the Bible sets consequences for certain behaviors, we need to back up our boundaries with consequences. God does not enable irresponsible behavior. Consequences give some good “barbs” to fences. They let people know the seriousness of the trespass and the seriousness of our respect for ourselves. This teaches them that our commitment to living according to helpful values is something we hold dear and will fight to protect and guard.

What falls within our boundaries; what are we responsible for?

Feelings – Feelings should neither be ignored nor placed in charge. The Bible says to “own” your feelings and be aware of them. Feelings come from your heart and can tell you the state of your relationships. They can tell you if things are going well, or if there is a problem. But, your feelings are your responsibility and you must own them and see them as your problem so you can begin to find an answer to whatever issue they are pointing to.

Attitudes and Beliefs – Attitudes have to do with your orientation toward something, the stance you take toward others, God, life, work, and relationships. Beliefs are anything that you accept as true. We need to own our attitudes and convictions because they fall within our property line. We are the ones who feel their effect, and the only ones who can change them. People with boundary problems usually have distorted attitudes about responsibility. They feel that to hold people responsible for their feelings, choices, and behaviors is mean.

Behaviors – Behaviors have consequences. To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behaviors is to render them powerless.

Choices – We need to take responsibility for our choices. A common boundary problem is disowning our choices and trying to lay the responsibility for them on someone else. We think someone else is in control, thus relieving us of our basic responsibility. We need to realize that we are in control of our choices no matter how we feel. Throughout Scripture, people are reminded of their choices and asked to take responsibility for them. Making decisions based on others’ approval or on guilt breeds resentment. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for our choices. We are the ones who make them. We are the ones who must live with our consequences.

Values – What we value is what we love and assign importance to. Often we do not take responsibility for what we value. When we take responsibility for out-of-control behavior caused by loving the wrong things, or valuing things that have no lasting value, when we confess that we have a heart that values things that will not satisfy, we can receive help from God to “create a new heart” within us. Boundaries help us not to deny but to own our old hurtful values so God can change them.

Limits – Tow aspects of limits stand out when it comes to creating better boundaries. The first is setting limits on others. In reality, setting limits on others is a misnomer. We can’t do that. What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right. God sets standards, but He lets people be who they are and then separates Himself from them when they misbehave. But God limits His exposure to evil, unrepentant people, as should we. Scripture is full of admonitions to separate ourselves from people who act in destructive ways. The other aspect of limits is setting our own internal limits. We need to have spaces inside ourselves where we can have a feeling, an impulse, or a desire, without acting it out. We need self-control without repression. We need to be able to say “no” to ourselves. This includes both our destructive desires and some good ones that are not wise to pursue at a given time.

Talents – Our talents are clearly within our boundaries and are our responsibility. Yet taking ownership of them is often frightening and always risky. The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:23, 26-28) says that we are accountable — not to mention much happier – when we are experiencing our gifts and being productive. It takes work, practice, learning, prayer, resources, and grace to overcome the fear of failure that the “wicked and lazy” servant gave in to. He was not chastised for being afraid; we are all afraid when trying something new and difficult. He was chastised for not confronting his fear and trying the best he could.

Thoughts – Establishing boundaries in thinking involves three things.

  1. We must own our own thoughts. Many people have not taken ownership of their own thinking processes. They are mechanically thinking the thoughts of others without ever examining them. Certainly we should listen to the thoughts of others and weigh them; but we should never “give our minds” over to anyone.
  2. We must grow in knowledge and expand our minds. One area in which we need to grow is in knowledge of God and His Word. We must use our brains to have better lives and glorify God.
  3. We must clarify distorted thinking. We all have a tendency to not see things clearly, to think and perceive in distorted ways. Taking ownership of our thinking in relationships requires being active in checking out where we may be wrong. Also we need to make sure that we are communicating our thoughts to others. Many people think that others should be able to read their minds and know what they want. This leads to frustration.

Desires – Our desires lie within our boundaries. Each of us has different desires, wants, dreams, wishes, goals, plans, hungers, and thirsts. We all want to be satisfied, but too often we are not. Part of the problem lies in the lack of structured boundaries within our personality. We can’t define who the real “me” is and what we truly desire. Many desires masquerade as the real thing. We often do not actively seek our desires from God, and those desires are mixed up with things that we do not really need. God is truly interested in our desires; He made them. God loves to give gifts to His children, but He is a wise Parent. He wants to make sure His gifts are right for us. To know what to ask for, we have to be in touch with who we really are and what are our real motives.

Love – Many people have difficulty giving and receiving love because of hurt and fear. Having closed their heart to others, they feel empty and meaningless. We need to take responsibility for our God-given loving function and use it. Love concealed or love rejected can both kill us. Many people do not take ownership for how they resist love. They have a lot of love around them, but do not realize that their loneliness is a result of their own lack of responsiveness. Often they will say, “Others’ love can not ‘get in.'” This statement negates their responsibility to respond. We maneuver subtly to avoid responsibility in love; we need to claim our hearts as our property and work on our weaknesses in that area.

Considering all of the above, setting boundaries and maintaining them is hard work. But it is worth it!

How to Set Boundaries with a Hostile Spouse

SOURCE: Dr. Henry Cloud

Amy and Blake had been married for eight years, and they loved each other. However, when he was angry or upset, Blake became moody and would withdraw from Amy and the kids, except for occasional outbursts of anger. When his manufacturing business was struggling, he would sit silently through dinner. Once, during this period, the children were arguing at the dinner table. Out of the blue, Blake said, “Amy, can’t you keep control of the kids? I can’t even have a quiet meal in my own home!” And with that, he stormed out of the kitchen into his home office, turned on the computer, and stayed there until the kids went to bed.

Amy was hurt and confused. But she had a pattern of “handling” Blake’s moods. She would try to cheer him up by being positive, encouraging, and compliant. “He has a hard job,” Amy would think. “Nurturance is what he needs.” And for the next few hours, and sometimes days, she would center the family’s existence around Dad’s mood. Everyone would walk on eggshells around him. No one was to complain or be negative about any subject, for fear of setting him off again. And Amy would constantly try to draw him out, affirm him, and make him happy. All her emotional energy went into helping Blake feel better.

Amy and Blake’s struggle illustrates the importance of the first law of boundaries: “The Law of Sowing and Reaping.” Simply put, this principle means that our actions have consequences. When we do loving, responsible things, people draw close to us. When we are unloving or irresponsible, people withdraw from us by emotionally shutting down, or avoiding us, or eventually leaving the relationship.

In their marriage, Blake was sowing anger, selfishness, and withdrawal of love. These hurt Amy’s feelings and disrupted the family. Yet Blake was not paying any consequences for what he was sowing. He could have his tantrum, get over it, and go about his business as if nothing had happened. Amy, however, had a problem. She was bearing the entire burden of his moodiness. She stopped what she was doing to take on the project of changing her moody husband into a happy man. Blake was “playing,” and Amy was “paying.” And because of this, he was not changing his ways. Blake had no incentive to change, as Amy, not he, was dealing with his problem.

What consequence should Blake have been experiencing? Amy could have said to him, “Honey, I know you’re under stress, and I want to support any way I can. But your withdrawal and rage hurt me and the children. They are unacceptable. I want you to talk more respectfully to us when you’re in a bad mood. The next time you yell at us like that, we’ll need some emotional distance from you for a while. We may leave the house and go to a movie or see some friends.” Then Blake would have to deal with the result of his actions: loneliness and isolation.

When you sow mistreatment of people, you should reap people’s not wanting to be around you. It is to be hoped that the pain of this loneliness would help Blake take steps to deal with his feelings. Sowing and reaping has to do with how spouses affect and impact each other’s heart. Amy and Blake had a problem in relational sowing and reaping. He was being hurtful and difficult, yet Amy took the consequences of his behavior for him.

In their relationship, the one who has the problem isn’t facing the effects of the problem. And things don’t change in a marriage until the spouse who is taking responsibility for a problem that is not hers decides to say or do something about it. This can range from mentioning how her spouse’s behavior hurts her feelings, all the way to setting a limit on the behavior. This helps place both the sowing and the reaping with the same person and begins to solve the boundary violation.

How to Become More Self-Aware

SOURCE:  Dr. John Townsend

Have you ever made a mistake in relationships or at work, and then said to yourself, “I was clueless!” We all do, and it’s all tied up in having problems in being self-aware (of which cluelessness is a part).

People who have healthy self-awareness tend to have better relationships, be generally more content, make better decisions, and focus better at work. And people who suffer from low self-awareness tend to not only make mistakes in life, but they repeat them and repeat them, even when those mistakes have a negative impact on those they care about. But things can change. Here are some tips to help increase your capacity to observe yourself.

Practice a mindfulness exercise. I have a habit that has paid off for my own self-awareness. On a daily basis, get a few minutes away from people and tech and ask yourself these 9 simple questions, takes about a minute:

  1. What am I seeing?
  2. What am I hearing?
  3. What am I smelling?
  4. What am I touching?
  5. What am I tasting?
  6. What positive feeling am I experiencing about myself?
  7. What negative feeling am I experiencing about myself?
  8. What positive feeling am I experiencing about someone else?
  9. What negative feeling am I experiencing about someone else?

You will be surprised about how “in touch” you will become about your body and your interior life. There is a lot of information there to be aware of.

Develop the habit of asking “Why?” Curiosity is one of the highest level developers of self-awareness. It helps us search out our motivations behind our actions and cures cluelessness. When you make a mistake, instead of beating yourself up, or blaming others, just ask yourself “Why?” Why did I snap at her in the meeting? Why did I keep answering emails and avoid finishing the report? Why did I shut down and not say anything when I went out on that blind date? The very practice of “why” will help you figure out what kind of person you are, and help you make better decisions as well.

Deal with fear. Often, individuals with low self-awareness are afraid to stop and look in the mirror, for they fear they won’t like what they see. They don’t scrutinize their behavior or check out how they come across. Inside them, they are pretty sure the answer is painful, as in “I am a selfish failure who is useless to anyone in my life.” So they basically put the engine of life on autopilot, and run through their days running into things and people, but never stopping to figure it out. The answer here is to be able to tolerate the bad news about ourselves in the community of good people who won’t cast you aside and judge you.

Ask for feedback. Getting info from a few safe and honest people in your life can be extremely helpful in developing self-awareness. Simply say to them, “I’m working on improving my self-awareness. I’d like your opinion on situations when I seem to show a lack of awareness of how I’m coming across or impacting people.” I did this with my wife Barbi and she said, “When we are talking and you start thinking about something, you look over my shoulder.” I had no idea! Now I look at her eyes, and things are better.

Know thyself. It pays off.

The Wrong Reason to Say “Yes”

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

If anyone had it together, it was Jason. He had a good job, beautiful wife and two children whom he loved. He exercised regularly and looked it, and he was always one to keep in touch with friends and family members.

But one day out of the blue, a deep depression hit Jason so heavily, he could hardly get out of bed. It made no sense to him. He came to see me.

We talked for awhile about Jason’s snug and untroubled life before his breakdown. We gradually uncovered that Jason’s structured lifestyle was basically a way to send off a lifelong depression. He had grown up in an alcoholic and abusive family, where he’d lived through all sorts of chaos and crises.

His activity and responsibility saved Jason. Because no one else in the house washed his clothes, prepared meals and budgeted money, Jason learned to. He became a 30-year-old at the age of 9.

Jason did the right thing, not because he was selfless and loving, but to stay alive. The depression inevitably caught up with him.

Not that it’s unhealthy to be responsible. The reasons behind the responsibility are the problem. Jason has lived a lifetime of sacrifice. Fearful of falling apart inside, he stayed busy and active to ward off a breakdown. He was driven by fear and panic.

A truly responsible lifestyle is the product of being loved just as we are, with our imperfections, our wounds, our weaknesses. Then as we are loved in that state, we learn to give back and love. Jason had not been so loved, and so it was impossible for him to obey love.

Some people lead highly functional lives not so much to keep their depressions away, but to keep from being shamed by others. I knew a woman who kept her weight in check by being around critical people who would come down on her for gaining weight. When her critical friends moved away one year, this woman put on 70 pounds in several months. The shaming external control hadn’t solved the problem — it had postponed it. She finally lost the weight for the right reasons, but she first had to learn mercy and sacrifice: She had to receive mercy in order to sacrifice her longing for food.

When we do the right thing reluctantly or under compulsion, not freely, we live in fear. It may be fear of loss, of falling apart, of guilt, or of others’ disapproval. But no one can grow or flourish in a fear-based atmosphere. Love has no place there, for perfect love drives out fear.

How To Overcome Rejection

SOURCE:  Dr. John Townsend

Rejection. The word itself can make us wince. It brings up marriage and dating failures, job problems, and friendship and family snafus. Simply defined as “dismissing”, rejection is the act of turning away from someone or something. Actually, rejection is not a bad thing, we do it all the time. We reject one menu entrée for another at dinner, and we reject one Netflix show for another. But when we are rejected in a personal relationship, it can be very painful and derailing. Oh yeah, and 100% of us have been rejected at some time or another in our lives. So it is a normal human experience. So here are some tips to help you overcome it. You can’t overcome the reality of rejection. People have the freedom to reject us, and we do as well. But you can do something about the emotional disruptiveness that occurs.

Be honest about the feeling. Just say or write down, “X has rejected me. He is no longer in my life, and I feel unlikeable, cut off, unimportant, not valuable”, whatever. That’s just the reality of how you feel. Neuroscience research tells us that when we don’t face a negative, we can’t fix it. So bite the bullet and be clear about the feeling.

Parcel out the causes. There are very few cases where rejection is 100% the other person, though they do exist. So take a hard look at the relationship. What was the other person’s responsibility? Maybe they were critical, judging, dishonest or perfectionistic person. That’s bad! But go beyond that, to what your part was: perhaps you chose to overlook issues instead of addressing them, didn’t respect yourself, or didn’t admit your own flaws. That needs to be recognized. And then get to work on whatever was the beam in your own eye. That will also help decrease the pain of the rejection.

Bring to mind the “rest of” yourself. Sure, you were rejected. But that doesn’t mean that you’re a worthless person at all. Remember that you are also a pretty decent and kind person as well. Don’t get lost in the “I’m totally unlovable” thinking pattern, it will get you nowhere.

Replace the one who left. No one should be alone. Make sure you have other people in your life who “get” you, who are good listeners and who believe in you. The more you are isolated after a rejection, the more powerful the rejection. And if we’re talking dating or marriage, don’t rebound. I know it feels great. But the statistics say that if you use romantic attachment as a self-soother, you are very likely to be in the same position a few months down the line. Get with non-romantic, deep, faithful friends before you venture out into romance again.

Here is a goal: get so balanced and healthy that the next time you are rejected you’ll say, “Ouch, that’s sad. Oh well, I’ll call some friends and learn from it and have a great dinner.” Well, it won’t be that easy, but it will be better!

Doing Life with Your Adult Children

SOURCE:  Jim Burns

Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out

“The first forty years of parenting are always the hardest!”

A woman I know was asked at her son’s wedding, “What is the responsibility of the mother of the groom?” She smiled and said, “Wear beige and keep your mouth shut.” She got a chuckle, but it was great advice, especially when it comes to relationships with in-laws.

Many comedians like to do a bit on in-laws, especially a mother-in-law. I must admit I have done my share of laughing at those jokes. The reason so many comedians take on the in-law routine is because the in-law stereotypes are based on realities most people can relate to. Some in-laws do meddle. When it comes to dealing with in-laws, stepfamilies, and the blend, the wisecrack wisdom of “wear beige and keep your mouth shut” is a much more effective strategy than meddling. Here’s my short take on navigating a successful relationship with an in-law or an in-law-to-be:

■ Don’t criticize the in-law.
■ Don’t criticize the in-law’s parenting.
■ Don’t criticize the in-law’s treatment of your son or daughter.
■ Don’t criticize anything about the in-law.

If I might be so blunt, it’s not about you; it’s about them. You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to agree with them. Your job is to honor your child by honoring your in-law because they chose your in-law and you didn’t.

Susan and Matt confided in me that their new daughter-in-law was not the type of person they had hoped their son would marry. She was brash, bossy, opinionated, and a bit narcissistic. They also felt she was keeping their son away from the family. While Matt wanted to confront the couple, Susan was nervous that a confrontation would push her new daughter-in-law and son away. They asked me what I thought. Although I do believe that gentle confrontations can work, I wasn’t sure that was the best strategy in this case.

“It seems like she is a bit rough around the edges,” I said. “I’d shower her with kindness and pray for a transformation. It doesn’t sound like she has a vendetta against you as much as this is her personality with everyone. What if you took on the task of nixing any negativity toward her or your son? Be the people in their lives who support their marriage. Be the safe in-laws to whom they will be drawn, rather than the ones causing tension. Lower your expectations for a while and support them whenever and however you can.”

Susan also shared she was struggling over the loss of closeness with her son. Before his marriage, the son and his mother had been close. Now, not so much. “Your access to your son and future grandkids is through your daughter-in-law,” I said. “So it’s back to supporting her in any way you can. Without being intrusive, offer to babysit anytime she needs a break and it works with your schedule. Go out of your way to bring her a small gift or write an affirming card. You’d do it for a friend, so why not for your daughter-in-law, who can become your friend? When you honor her, you are honoring your son. Be the person they want to spend time with because you are investing in their lives. Then sit back and watch the relationship change.”

I know my advice to Susan might sound like an oversimplification because life and relationships can get complicated — even good, well-intentioned people can make mistakes when hurt feelings get the best of them. But for those in Susan’s situation, the decision to support the marriage of your grown kids can help keep it from being unnecessarily complicated. Stay away from disputes with your kid’s spouse on anything. You just can’t take it personally.

WHAT IF YOU DON’T LIKE THEM?

Sometimes people tell me they just don’t like the person their adult child is dating or has married. I get it. But unless the situation is abusive or destructive, it’s better to focus on learning to like them than to focus on what you don’t like about them.

One mom I know changed a relationship with her daughter-in-law through small gifts. Her daughter-in-law had a shell that was difficult to penetrate. She didn’t have much of a filter and would say hurtful words to her mother-in-law and talk negatively about her son. She was simply a negative and draining person. One day when the mom was at Starbucks, she realized that her daughter-in-law loved Starbucks, but the young couple was on a pretty tight budget. So the mom bought her a ten-dollar gift card. Next door was a candy store that sold chocolate-dipped strawberries, and she purchased two. On her way home, she stopped by her son and daughter-in-law’s apartment with the gift card, strawberries, and a short note. The daughter-in-law loved the gesture. From that time on, it became a weekly ritual. Eventually, the daughter-in-law reached out and asked to get together for coffee. One year later, they are best friends. Of course, this wonderful ending isn’t always the case, but the point is clear: reach out in love, even if you don’t start off liking them.

Carly and David pulled me aside at one of our Doing Life with Your Adult Child seminars. They told me they had taken an instant disliking to their daughter’s husband and made both subtle and not-so-subtle comments to their daughter about him before the wedding. Their daughter went ahead and married, and now they were the proud grandparents of three children and still not too crazy about their son-in-law. But their story was a good one.

They decided against complaining about the son-in-law to their daughter. Even when she made negative comments (with which they agreed), they kept quiet. They just listened. Their philosophy was, “He’s your husband and we will stay out of the fray.” When grandchildren entered the picture, the son-in-law routinely limited their access to the grandkids and the hurts deepened. When Carly and David asked to stop by, he would say, “Not today — we are really busy.” They waited for more access with wounded hearts. They offered to babysit. They bought gifts. They didn’t miss any occasion to celebrate together. Slowly but surely, access was granted. Babysitters were needed, and they got their time. They were smart enough to wait it out and keep their mouths shut, and eventually things changed.

When I asked them how the breakthrough happened, they said, “We decided to become the fun grandparents and fun in-laws. This meant our grandkids started asking for us. We tried to create family fun as a vital part of our family culture.” When I asked if they liked their son-in-law any better, they said, “When we lowered our expectations and accepted him for who he is, things got better. We want to do everything we can to help them succeed as a family.”

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Excerpted from Doing Life with Your Adult Children by Jim Burns, copyright Jim Burns.

3 Things to Remember When It’s Hard to Forgive

SOURCE:   Lysa TerKeurst, author of Uninvited

Have you ever struggled to choose forgiveness over bitterness in the midst of feeling rejected, abandoned, or hurt?

Let me be the friend who takes you by the hand to say… I understand. Choosing to forgive is hard, especially when it feels like you or someone you care for has been treated unfairly.

But the truth is, it’s good (and biblical) for us to extend forgiveness. And when we release the offense into the hands of God, we can begin to make room for healing in our hearts.

Here are 3 things to remember when forgiving others is the last thing we want to do:

Forgiveness doesn’t justify them, it frees YOU!

Forgiving someone is making the decision to choose mercy and grace over bitterness and resentment. To love God is to cooperate with His grace. Luke 6:36 says,

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Since I’m so very aware of my own need for grace, I must be willing to freely give it away, too.

Each hole left from rejection must become an opportunity to create more and more space for grace in my heart. Forgiveness doesn’t validate them, and it doesn’t justify their hurtful actions.

Giving grace helps me. It sets me free.

What does giving grace look like in my life?

…do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. — Luke 6:27-28

Today I will:

Speak with honor in the midst of being dishonored.

Speak with peace in the midst of being threatened.

Speak of good things in the midst of a bad situation.

We have an enemy, but it’s not each other.

Truth proclaimed and lived out is a fiercely accurate weapon against evil.

How I feel:

I very much feel like my struggle is against them.

I have been deeply hurt by this struggle.

It’s hard to see that my struggle isn’t with them or caused by them.

However, truth tells me something different. Truth says I have an enemy… but it’s not the person I’m trying hard to forgive. They may very well be the cause of some hurt in my life, but they’re not my enemy.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. — Ephesians 6:12

Point your crosshairs at the real enemy and start firing off positive statements about this person who has caused pain in your life. List three things about them that are good. Then remember a fourth and fifth. Picture each of these positive statements wounding the devil and shaming him away from you.

Forgiveness releases an offense into the hands of God so that you can heal.

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean I’ll get my storybook ending. But it will bring peace and honor to a situation that would otherwise leave me bitter, defensive, and hurting. I have to trust God to get me through this forgiveness journey so that I can finally heal.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you. — Isaiah 26:3

Lift up your hurt and honest feelings to the Lord through prayer, whether it’s written or verbal. Here’s one to get you started:

Lord, I don’t know all the details entangled in this issue. But You know all. Therefore, You are the only one who can handle all. There are a lot of things my flesh is tempted to seek — fairness, my right to be right, proof of their wrongdoing, to make them see things from my vantage point — but at this point, the only thing healthy for me to seek is You. You alone. I’m going to be obedient to You and let You handle everything else. In Your Name, Amen.

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Original devotion written by Lysa TerKeurst for Devotionals Daily featuring Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely, copyright TerKeurst Foundation. 

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