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Posts tagged ‘Abuse’

Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

SOURCE:  Justin and Lindsey Holcomb/familylife.com

Editor’s note: Although this excerpt is addressed to women, we know domestic abuse happens to both men and women. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please seek godly counsel from your pastor or a counselor. Depending on your particular situation, you may also need to seek legal protection and make a safety plan. For a more complete exploration of what Scripture has to say about abuse, please read the Holcombs’ entire book, Is It My Fault: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you.

When the abuse first begins, many women in abusive relationships aren’t sure if what they are experiencing is abusive. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles to addressing domestic violence is that very few victims self-identify as experiencing abuse. Many think abuse happens to “those women” and don’t want to have the stigma of being one of “those women.”

The most telling sign that you are in an abusive relationship is living in fear of your spouse. If you feel like you have to walk on egg shells around him—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blowup—your relationship is unhealthy and likely abusive. Other signs include your spouse’s belittling of you, his attempts to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you. He may employ domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial, blame, and more. What’s more, he is often creative and strategic in when—and how—to put these to their most effective use.

None of this is your fault. Your abuser is the only one to blame.

And because he is so good at deceptively wielding control, it can often be difficult to discern if you are being abused. From the perspective of outside observers, these signs of abuse may be cut-and-dry. But for those trapped in the cycles of abuse, making sense of these complicated relational dynamics—especially when the relationship is intimate—can be suffocating and confusing.

If this is where you find yourself right now, here are some ways to discern if your relationship is abusive.

What the abuser does: eight common profiles

Some abuse victims may be so confused by the relational dynamics in their relationship—understandably so—that they need to hear stories and common experiences from others in order to make sense of their own. Some find it helpful to identify domestic abuse by understanding the common profiles of abusers—and recognizing their partner among them.

Since abuse is defined by an abuser’s behavior—not yours—we’ll start with identifying just that. Here are eight categories or personas abusers commonly exhibit:

  1. Bully
    • Glares
    • Shouts
    • Smashes things
    • Sulks
  2. Jailer
    • Stops you from working and seeing friends
    • Tells you what to wear
    • Keeps you in the house
    • Charms your friends and family
  3. Head worker
    • Puts you down
    • Tells you you’re too fat, too thin, ugly, stupid, useless, etc.
  4. Persuader
    • Threatens to hurt or kill you or the children
    • Cries
    • Says he loves you
    • Threatens to kill himself
    • Threatens to report you to social services
  5. Liar
    • Denies any abuse
    • Says it was “only” a slap
    • Blames drinking, drugs, stress, overwork, you, unemployment, etc.
  6. Bad father
    • Says you are a bad mother
    • Turns the children against you
    • Uses access to harass you
    • Threatens to take the children away
    • Persuades you to have “his” baby then refuses to help you care for it
  7. King of the castle
    • Treats you as a servant/slave
    • Says women are for sex, cooking, and housework
    • Expects sex on demand
    • Controls all the money
  8. Sexual controller
    • Sexually assaults you
    • Won’t accept no for an answer
    • Keeps you pregnant
    • Rejects your advances and allows sex only when he wants it rather than when you initiate

Belittling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Yell at you?
  • Embarrass, insult, criticize you, call you names, or put you down?
  • Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your family or friends to see?
  • Put you down, but then tells you that he loves you?
  • Ignore or belittle your opinions or accomplishments?
  • Blame you for his abusive behavior?
  • Use any mistakes you made in the past against you?
  • Not allow you to disagree?
  • Ignore your feelings and ideas?
  • Tell you that you are a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, tell you it is your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Controlling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Act excessively jealous or possessive?
  • Withhold affection as a way to punish you?
  • Control where you go, what you do, and demand your whereabouts?
  • Keep you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • Withhold basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)?
  • Make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Restrict you to an allowance?
  • Prevent you from working or sabotage your job?
  • Steal from you or take your money?
  • Constantly check up on you?
  • Control your plans and friends?
  • Stop you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Force you to drop charges?

Violent behavior or threats

Does your spouse:

  • Hit, kick, slap, choke, burn, shove, shake, drag, bite, push, punch, or physically harm you in any other way?
  • Throw things at you?
  • Have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • Threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons?
  • Destroy your property or belongings?
  • Threaten to kill your pet?
  • Force, threaten, or coerce you to have sex?
  • Destroy your belongings?

Three kinds of abuse

There are different kinds of abuse but all of them are wrong. To help you take inventory of your unique situation, let’s consider three different kinds of abuse:

Physical
When we talk about domestic violence, we are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. This means using physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack. And you have the right to protect yourself and your children, if you have them.

Sexual
Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Sexual assault includes rape, but it also includes coercion, intimidation, or manipulation to force unwanted sex. We define sexual assault as any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

Sexual assault is a display of power by the perpetrator against the victim. It is not a product of an “uncontrollable” sexual urge. In fact, it is not actually about sex at all; it is about violence and control. Perpetrators use sexual actions and behaviors as weapons to dominate, control, and belittle another person.

If you feel as though you are being pressured into sex or that you are doing something that you do not want in order to placate your spouse, then let us tell you now that your feelings are valid and that it is abuse.

Emotional
Most people can identify physical abuse—pushing, hitting, kicking—if it is happening in their relationship. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, is not always so easily spotted.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, and easier to minimize what’s really going on. It doesn’t leave you bleeding or bruised. The neighbors can’t hear it (not always) through the walls. But emotional abuse is no less destructive than physical abuse, and it is no less wrong.

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence—a violent process, in that it degrades you and your sense of God-given worth. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you will have nothing.

So how can you identify if what you’re experiencing is emotional abuse? There are several ways. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behaviors are also signs of emotional abuse. Sometimes, abusers throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.

Emotional abuse also includes economic abuse such as withholding money and basic necessities, restricting you to an allowance, sabotaging your job, and stealing from you or taking your money.

These are just some examples. But if you don’t see your particular experience listed here, use this as a general guide: Does your partner do something deliberately and repeatedly that puts you down or thwarts your plans? If the person who is supposed to be providing love, support, and guidance is keeping you in a situation where you are constantly made to feel inferior, you aren’t in a healthy relationship.

Your thoughts and feelings

The descriptions above are focused on your spouse’s behavior, which are all the telltale signs of abuse. These next questions are for you—to determine how you feel regarding this behavior. The more “yes” answers here, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Do you:

  • Feel afraid of your spouse most of the time?
  • Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • Feel afraid of your spouse’s temper?
  • Feel afraid to disagree?
  • Feel that you can’t do anything right for your spouse?
  • Believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • Have to justify everything you do, every place you go, every person you talk to in order to avoid your spouse’s anger?
  • Feel afraid to leave or break up because your spouse has threatened to hurt you, himself, or someone else?
  • Avoid seeing family or friends because of your spouse’s jealousy?
  • Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Reflect on your spouse’s abusive behavior. Do you see him in these descriptions? Can you see evidence that the behaviors were deliberate, controlled, or planned? Does he act differently toward you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to his abuse? Does he treat others with respect, while treating you with disrespect?

Take a look at your own experience to get clarity on your situation. Our hope is that as we spell out the nuances of what you may be experiencing, you will be able to call it what it is, plain and simple—abuse.

 

 

Lame Excuses Used to Defend Abusive Behavior

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

Having grown up in an abusive family and now in a relationship with an abusive person, Bailey believed the lame excuses constantly dished out to her. Beaten down, confused, hazy, and exhausted, she sought out help from a therapist. At first, she could not comprehend that she was the victim of abuse. She thought abuse was only physical but then learned it could also be verbal, emotional, mental, sexual, spiritual, and financial.

One of the steps in healing from the abuse was to not accept the excuses her abusers used to justify their behavior. So she made a list, evaluated each individually, changed her perspective, and refused to absorb the tossed responsibly. Here is her list.

  1. “I’m sorry but…” Any apology that ends with “but” is not a real apology. Rather it is an attempt to pass blame onto the other person while not fully accepting responsibility. A true apology is expressed with remorse and doesn’t point the finger.
  2. “It’s all your fault…” Blame shifting is a common tactic abusive people use to deflect their behavior. By pointing out some minor infraction done by the other person, they justify their abusiveness.
  3. “You are so much like…” This statement is typically followed by the name of a person that either the abuser or the abused despises. The idea is that by saying the victim is acting similar to a distasteful person, the abuser is absolved for their behavior.
  4. “You triggered me…” While the statement could be truthful, using past trauma as vindication for future abuse is not acceptable. Victims who want to heal, use their triggers to identify potential negative reactions so they can get better, not so they can continue to harm others.
  5. “You make me so angry…” Here’s a thought, “Why do you want to be around someone who makes you angry?” No one can “make” another person angry, at some point the choice to emote is a decision. But if someone is constantly antagonistic, why be with them?
  6. “If you treated me with more respect…” Respect is earned over time, it cannot be commanded instantly. People who demand respect often don’t deserve it. Respect should be given to in the same measure it is received.
  7. “If you didn’t react that way…” This is another form of blame shifting where the victim’s responses are used to acquit the abuser. Most victims find that even when they modify their reactions, the abuser still does the same thing.
  8. “Because you don’t listen to me, I had to…” Instead of trying to find calmer ways of addressing an issue, the abuser uses this as an opportunity to escalate. There are any number of reasons why a person might not be listening and trying to force the matter does not make things better.
  9. “If you hadn’t done…” This is another combination of shifting the blame by highlighting a flaw in the other person. The underlying manipulation is to impose a parent/child like relationship where the abuser is the authoritarian and the victim is needing correction.
  10. “Your words hurt me so…” There is an old saying, “Hurt people hurt people”. But even if a person is hurt by a statement, they are still responsible for how they react afterwards. Being hurt is not an excuse.
  11. “My whole family is this way…” By assigning blame to their family of origin, the abuser minimizes their actions as a collective behavior. Because everyone in the family does in, then it is OK to continue abusing.
  12. “It’s in the blood…” Instead of using abusive behavior as a means for deciding to change, the abuser says it’s part of their personality or someone in their family is the same way. This allows the abuser to escape responsibility.
  13. “You won’t take me seriously so I had to…” Abusers are generally dichotomous thinkers; things are either one extreme way or another. There is no middle ground. So when the victim minimizes a statement, they are forced to overreact instead of finding an alternative solution.
  14. “You brought this on yourself…” This is another version of blame shifting with an added twist of fortune-telling responsibility. By saying the victim should have predicted the abuse and avoided the subject, once again, the abuser is absolving themselves.
  15. “You know what sets me off…” Everyone can be set off by something. Anger is a normal and healthy response during grieving, when a person feels violated or taken advantage of, or even when someone they love is being harmed. Abusers, however, use anger to abuse.
  16. “If you weren’t such a *#@^%…” Name calling is abusive behavior by itself. It demoralizes a person while elevating the abuser to superior status. Using it instead of apologizing widens the gap further.
  17. “Your just being sensitive…” For the record, being sensitive is a gift, not a curse. This statement takes the positive traits of the victim and turns it into a negative. It is a reflection of an abuser not valuing their victim.

This exercise helped Bailey to set new boundaries with her family and leave her current abusive relationship. These lame excuses are just that: lame. They are not coming from a place of honesty, love, care, or concern for the other person.

Unlearning the Lessons of a Toxic Childhood

SOURCE:   / PsychCentral

I didn’t realize until relatively recently how much my view of things is shaped by childhood. I took the position, until I went into therapy, that at age 42, all of my problems had to do with the present. But they don’t.

Even my therapist said that my mother did the best she could, and I believed that and, frankly, thought I should just make do with what she did give me and muddle through. But that’s not the answer, I now realize. Reading this book has made me realize how much I am getting in my own way.

Everyone in my life keeps telling me to move on, that the past is the past, and I need to just get on with living in the moment. They just don’t get it. The little girl I was needs to be dealt with.

Our culture is characterized by impatience with slow recovery, has a penchant for quick fixes, and a focus on forward motion, and future possibility; these cultural biases make it hard for someone who’s trying to make sense of and deal with childhood experiences as these messages, received from readers of my book Daughter Detox: Healing from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, attest. Get Over It! Is considered by many to be positive cheerleading, even though it belies any understanding of what psychological damage looks like.

 

CONTINUE READING AT THIS LINK:  https://blogs.psychcentral.com/knotted/2018/01/unlearning-the-lessons-of-a-toxic-childhood/

 

What Does The Bible Say About Destructive And Abusive Relationships?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

I receive frantic calls and e-mails each week from Christian women (and some men) who feel scared, trapped, hopeless and helpless because their most intimate relationship is abusive; verbally, physically, economically, sexually, spiritually or all of the above. The Bible has something to say about the way we treat people and as Christians we should all strive to be Biblically wise in how we handle these difficult and painful family issues.

Below are five Biblical principles that will guide your thinking about this topic.

1. Abuse is always sin. The Scriptures are clear. Abuse of authority or power (even legitimate God given authority) is always sin. Abusive speech and/or behavior is never an acceptable way to communicate with someone. (Malachi 2:16-17; Psalm 11:5; Colossians 3:8,19).

2. Abuse is never an appropriate response to being provoked. In working with abusive individuals they often blame the other person. This can be especially tricky when trying to counsel couples. There is no perfect person and victims of abuse aren’t sinless. However, we must be very clear-minded that abusive behavior and/or speech is never justified, even when provoked. People provoke us all the time but we are still responsible for our response (Ephesians 4:26; Luke 6:45)

3. Biblical headship does not entitle a husband to get his own way, make all the family decisions, or to remove his wife’s right to choose. At the heart of most domestic abuse is the sinful use of power to gain control over another individual. Biblical headship is described as sacrificial servanthood, not unlimited authority and/or power. (Mark 10:42-45). Let’s not confuse terms. When a husband demands his own way or tries to dominate his wife, it’s not called biblical headship, its called selfishness, and abuse of power. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 13; Jeremiah 23:1-4; Ezekiel 34:2-4 for God’s rebuke of the leaders of Israel for their self-centered and abusive shepherding of God’s flock.)

4. Unrepentant sin always damages relationships and sometimes people. Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2-5) and from one another (Proverbs 17:9). It is unrealistic and unbiblical to believe that you can continue healthy fellowship with someone who repeatedly sins against you when there is no repentance and no change. We are impacted in every way. (See Proverbs 1:15; 14:7; 21:2822:24; 1 Corinthians 15:33).

5. God’s purpose is to deliver the abused. We are to be champions of the oppressed and abused. God hates the abuse of power and the sin of injustice. (Psalm 5,7,10,140; 2 Corinthians 11:20; Acts 14:5-6.

What’s next? How should we respond when we know abuse is happening to someone?

We must never close our eyes to the sin of injustice or the abuse of power, whether it is in a home, a church, a work setting or a community or country (Micah 6:8). The apostle Paul encountered some spiritually abusive leaders and did not put up with it. (2 Corinthians 11:20). Please don’t be passive when you encounter abuse.

However, because we too are sinners, we are all tempted to react to abusive behavior with a sinful response of our own. The apostle Paul cautions us not to be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Below are five (5) biblical guidelines that will help you respond to the evil of abuse with good.

1. It is good to protect yourself from violent people. David fled King Saul when he was violent toward him. The angel of the Lord warned Joseph to flee to Egypt with Jesus because Herod was trying to kill him. Paul escaped from those who sought to stone him. We must help people to get safe and stay safe when they are in abusive relationships. This is not only good for her and her children, it is good for her abusive partner. If you are not experienced in developing a safety plan and assessing for lethality (often women are more at risk when they leave an abusive partner), refer or consult with someone who is knowledgeable in this area (Proverbs 27:12).

2. It is good to expose the abuser. Secrets are deadly, especially when there is abuse in a home. Bringing the deeds of darkness to light is the only way to get help for both the victim and the abuser. If you are working with a couple and notice that the woman defers to her husband, regularly looks to him before she answers, blames herself for all their conflicts, speak with them separately. (Proverbs 29:1; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20). If you are a victim of an abusive relationship, it is not sinful to tell, it is good to expose the hidden deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Biblical love is always action directed towards the best interest of the beloved, even when it is difficult or involves sacrifice (1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 3:13).

3. It is good not to allow someone to continue to sin against you. It is not only good for the abused person to stop being a victim, it is good for the abuser to stop being a victimizer. It is it is in the abuser’s best interests to repent and to change. (Matthew 18:15-17; James 5:19-20).

4. It is good to stop enabling and to let the violent person experience the consequences of his/her sinful behavior. One of life’s greatest teachers is consequences. God says what we sow, we reap (Galatians 6:7) A person who repeatedly uses violence at home does so because he gets away with it. Don’t allow that to continue. (Proverbs 19:19). God has put civil authorities in place to protect victims of abuse. (Romans 13:1-5) The apostle Paul appealed to the Roman government when he was being mistreated. (Acts 22:24-29). We should encourage victims to do likewise.

5. It is good to wait and see the fruits of repentance before initiating reconciliation. Sin damages relationships. Repeated sin separates people. Although we are called to unconditional forgiveness, the bible does not teach unconditional relationship with everyone nor unconditional reconciliation with a person who continues to mistreat us.

Although Joseph forgave his brothers, he did not initiate a reconciliation of the relationships until he saw that they had a heart change. (See Genesis 42-45.)

Biblical repentance is not simply feeling sorry (2 Corinthians 7:8-12). Repentance requires a change in direction. When we put pressure someone to reconcile a marital relationship with an abusive partner before they have seen some significant change in behavior and attitude we can put them in harm’s way. We have sometimes valued the sanctity of marriage over the emotional, physical, and spiritual safety of the individuals in it.

The apostle Paul encourages us to distance ourselves from other believers who are sinning and refuse correction. (See 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15).

A person cannot discern whether a heart change has taken place without adequate time. Words don’t demonstrate repentance, changed behaviors over time does. (Matthew 7:20; 1 Corinthians 4:20)

As Christians we have the mandate and the responsibility to be champions of peace. Dr. Martin Luther King said “In the end what hurt the most was not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Helping victims of domestic abuse: 4 pitfalls to avoid

SOURCE: Dr. Diane Langberg/Careleader.org

To understand domestic abuse properly, let’s start with the word abuse, which comes from the Latin word abutor, meaning “to use wrongly.” It also means “to insult, violate, tarnish, or walk on.” So domestic abuse, then, occurs when one partner in the home uses the other partner for wrong purposes. Anytime a human being uses another as a punching bag, a depository for rage, or something to be controlled for that person’s own satisfaction, abuse has occurred. Anytime words are used to demean or insult or degrade, abuse has occurred. And anytime there is intimidation and threats and humiliation, abuse has occurred.

Domestic abuse is something you as a pastor may encounter, or it may be a “silent sin” within the church that goes unseen. Either way, it is a reality, and one for which we must be prepared. But how do we do this? How can we prepare to minister to victims of domestic abuse? Below, I share four common pitfalls of pastors and leaders, then conclude by explaining how the church is called to act in these situations.

Pitfall #1: Not realizing the frequency of abuse

We need to realize just how frequently abuse happens. We are surprised by it in the church, but statistically 20 percent of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

That’s almost one-third of women, and that includes women in the church.

20% of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

Further, more than three women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends.

Or here’s another statistic: pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause.

That is astounding. And again, those numbers don’t change when you survey women within the church.

Pitfall #2: Not calling abuse what it really is

One of the most important things we can do is call abuse what it really is, because people have a tendency to rename abuse into other things. For example, an abuser might say, “I was upset from a bad day at work … which is why I turned the table over, broke the dishes, and hit my spouse,” or “It was a mistake.” Abusers use words to minimize what has been done and make it seem normal. And unfortunately, those trying to help do the same thing, saying things like “Can’t you forgive so-and-so for that mistake?”

But domestic abuse is not a mistake. It is abuse; it meets the definition of abuse. So we have to call it what it is, because we are called to the truth. We have to call things by their rightful name. By changing the wording, we diminish the gravity of the sin.

Pitfall #3: Encouraging submission despite abuse

Sadly, many women have been beaten, kicked, and bruised, and then return home in the name of submission. Worse, many of these women have been sent home in the name of submission. But submission does not entitle a husband to abuse his wife.

Unfortunately, this instruction is one of the biggest mistakes pastors and church leaders have been known to make. So many women are sent home by church leaders to be screamed at, humiliated, and beaten, sometimes to death. Their husbands can break their bones, smash in their faces, terrify their children, break things, forbid them access to the money, and all sorts of things, but they are told to submit without a word and be glad for the privilege of suffering for Jesus.

Pitfall #4: Protecting the institution of marriage instead of the victim

Domestic violence is a felony in all fifty states. So, to send people home and not deal with it, not bring it into the light, and not provide safety is to be complicit in lawbreaking, which is also illegal. In sending women home, the church ends up partnering in a crime. But it is not the church’s call to cover up violence. Paul says in Ephesians 5 to expose the deeds of darkness so the light can shine in. That’s the only way there is hope for truth and repentance and healing.

I also find one of the things that confuses Christians is we think that if we take the wife and children out of their home to bring them to a safe place, for example, we are not protecting “the family.” We say that we have to protect the family because it is a God-ordained institution, which it is. But what we forget is that God does not protect institutions, even ones He has ordained, when they are full of sin.

It’s easy for us to forget that truth, and particularly when we know those who are abusive, we tend to want to believe them. We don’t understand how incredibly deceitful and manipulative they are, deceiving first themselves and then others. We think we can tell when people are lying—even though the Scriptures say we are all so deceitful, we can’t even know the depths of it. But we are deceived into thinking that they wouldn’t do something so severe. And while we think we are doing the right thing by believing or trusting them, we are actually completely opposed to Scripture.

The calling of the church

The church is called to be the church. What that means is that we are called to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed; that’s all through the Scriptures. And we are called to hold others accountable, despite the tough road to repentance, even if they are our best friends.

So when a pastor hears from a woman that she is being abused in her home, the first step is to find out what that means. It could be verbal abuse, or it could be that her life is in danger, and she and her children need to be taken out of the home and put in a safe place.

Unfortunately, though, not all victims of domestic abuse feel that they are able to leave, a source of frustration for many caregivers. The vast majority of women in these situations love their husbands and want their marriage to work, and many times, the husband assures her that he won’t do it again. She wants her husband, so she keeps going back. So while we want to ensure her safety by not sending her back to an abusive home, we also want to give her the dignity of being able to make her own decision, which he does not give her.

We must also have the humility to involve other authorities like the police, if need be. They are God-given authorities for matters such as these, but it can be a bit of a revolving door. If she wants to report the abuse to the police, go with her to the police. If she needs to file a protection order, go with her to the courthouse. We must walk with her as she makes her decision.

As pastors and leaders, we must not minimize abuse, nor should we teach women that submission means being a punching bag, even a verbal one. We also cannot minimize the gravity of the issue or be naïve to its prevalence in the church. Instead, the church is called to love and protect those who are vulnerable, to walk with them and care for them well.

The Abuse Epidemic: Silent No More

      SOURCE:  Rick Warren

I said . . . ‘I will not say anything while evil people are near.’ I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end’”

(Psalm 39:1-4 GNT).

The first step in breaking free from abuse, whether it’s sexual or physical or verbal or emotional, is sharing with someone who can help you break free.

Jesus said in John 8:32, “The truth will set you free” (NLT, second edition). Freedom comes when you open up and admit your pain to someone else.

In a study of 10 nations, it was discovered that between 55 to 95 percent of women who have been abused by their partners have never told anybody, and men are even less likely to talk about it or get help.

Abuse is often called the silent epidemic because it’s the big, pink elephant in many marriages that nobody wants to talk about. People suffer in silence.

If anyone in the Bible understood abuse, it was King David. He was the king who wrote most of the book of Psalms and who also spent much of his life dealing with abuse, because there were people who wanted to hurt, kill, abuse, defame, and ridicule him — all kinds of abuse.

In more than 100 passages in the book of Psalms, David expresses his hurt, frustration, and anger at his enemies. He uses the word “enemies” nearly 100 times in the New International Version. He talks about the abuse that they heaped on his life.

But one of the things David modeled for us is this: Don’t hold it in. In Psalm 39:1-4, David explains what happened when he tried to keep his struggles a secret: “I said . . . ‘I will not say anything while evil people are near.’ I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end’” (GNT).

This is a classic response to abuse. David was afraid to talk about it in the presence of his abusers, but his silence only made it worse: “I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety.”

If you are experiencing this right now, I want you to know that God cares about you. I care about you. And there is hope. You don’t have to stay in that cycle of pain, anxiety, and fear.

But first you’ve got to stop being silent. You’ve got to speak up and tell someone you trust. You’ve got to bring it into the light so that God can begin to lead you to healing.

How to Respond When Your Kid is Dealing with Bullies

SOURCE:  All Pro Dad

Two things come to mind when people hear that I was bullied when I was younger. The first thing people think is: You’re an NFL offensive lineman, how were you bullied? And second, Why didn’t you just beat the snot out of the kids who bullied you?

It’s shocking to most, but I didn’t always have the 6’6, 320 lb. frame that I now carry. I grew up an undersized, funny-looking kid with a vocabulary that exceeded my age and the age of my peers. With a ton of freckles and bright red, spiked hair, I was a perfect candidate for kids to pick on. Dads, I want to challenge the common response and advice given to sons when they share their experiences of dealing with bullies at school, and share with you some helpful ways you can communicate and encourage your son.

Be a voice for your son

Often kids who experience bullying don’t have an advocate. I grew up with three sisters and not a ton of great friends. I spent a lot of time by myself. When I started to get picked on, I didn’t have an older brother to stand up for me or protect me. I wish I had that when I was younger, an advocate, a voice to stand up and stop the bullying I experienced. Don’t assume the bullying will stop after having a conversation with your son about “toughening up” or sending an email out to a teacher. Often it takes serious involvement with the school or program where your son is experiencing the bullying.

Keep a record of names and experiences

Often teachers or authorities don’t always catch or see everything that happens. They might be oblivious to certain issues and altercations. When it’s time to go to a teacher, principal, coach or authority about the problem, it will be helpful to have your son’s experiences written down in detail.

Fighting only creates more problems

Teaching your son to use his words to resolve conflict will prepare him for adulthood and the many complications that come with working in a business environment.  If you encourage your son to fight or return abusive talk, it will likely translate to adulthood and hurt him in the long run. Encourage your son to use his words, rather than his size, strength, or ability to fight.

Growing up, my father knew I was going to be a man of great size, even while I was smaller than all the other kids. After a day at school where I was bullied or picked on, my dad would remind me of the importance of using my words. He knew that there would soon be a day that I was no longer the smaller kid, and when that day came, I needed the skill set of using my words, rather than my size because of the danger that comes with being bigger than everyone else. You have a tremendous opportunity to teach and cultivate your son during his difficulties. Encouraging him to fight back will only cheapen those opportunities and rob your son of some important life lessons.

Affirm your son’s identity

Bullying attempts to strip the individual of his identity and self-worth. If your son struggles with low self-esteem or low self-worth affirm his identity as your son. Remind him of his gifts, his talents, and the things he does that make you most proud. Assure him of the great things he will accomplish, and the great plans ahead of him.

Help your son realize that everyone hurts

We can’t expect kids to go through hardship, or suffering, or abuse, and expect them to come out the other side normal. It’s hard enough for us as adults to wade through and endure hardship. Whether there is abuse at home, an absent father, drug issues, depression, anxiety, gang-related issues, their brains don’t have the ability to digest and wade through these things. When kids come from environments that don’t have control, they’re going to want to respond in ways that give them control.

Inherently, in human nature, we try to exert our control over weaker beings. So, when we see kids who are oppressing other kids, there are always internal reasons for why these kids are doing that. Everyone hurts, everyone has struggles. When we encourage our son to develop empathy for those around him, it will greatly help him respond well.

Sexual Addiction: Help for Female Sex Addicts

SOURCE:  Rob Jackson, MS, LPC, LMHC, NCC

While sex addiction affects both males and females, the challenges faced by female addicts are greater.

Sex addiction is never really about sex, but about a hungry heart that craves intimacy. Sex is merely the vehicle that a person uses to find nurture and acceptance. This is the same mechanism of action at work in alcohol, drug, and other addictions.

While sex addiction affects both males and females, the challenges faced by female addicts are greater. As a foundation to understanding the unique plight of female sex addicts, a better understanding of sex addiction in general will be helpful.

Understanding sex addiction
Research varies on the prevalence of sex addiction and it is difficult to state with certainty that one gender has a higher incidence of sex addiction than the other does. Estimates of sex addiction range from three to ten percent within the general population. Dr. Patrick Carnes’ research has indicated that approximately 20% of those seeking help for sex addiction are female. This male female ratio is consistent with that found among recovering alcoholics.

Some of the factors that push sex addiction include the need to medicate emotional pain or escape an unsatisfactory situation, and the impulsive or even compulsive quest to satisfy unmet emotional needs. In short, sex addiction is best viewed as an attachment or intimacy disorder.

Regardless of gender, sex addicts are prone to multiple addictions and typically come from severely dysfunctional families. This is not always the case, however. In the majority of cases, at least one other member of the family has an addiction as well. Multiple addictions occur when an addict is addicted to sex and at least one other thing. For females, eating disorders are common, as is chemical dependency, and compulsions for work, spending, and gambling.

Women continue to be underrepresented in health and addiction studies. Many individuals, both professionals and non professionals, assume sex addiction is for men only. Research demonstrates that the majority of abuse survivors are female, making them more susceptible to addiction. Sadly, however, many females will go undiagnosed and often treatment of past sex abuse will be too limited to prevent later sex addiction. Even if counselors recognize that females can be sexually addicted, they may fail to recognize the feminine nuances that typically define female sex addiction.

The impact of childhood sexual abuse
A high correlation exists between childhood abuse and sex addiction in adulthood. Varieties of abuse include verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse. Each of these types of abuse can be either obvious or hidden. For example, obvious verbal abuse involves the misuse of words, tone, and volume. A hidden type of verbal abuse is the failure to affirm someone with words of love and encouragement. More often than not, two or more types of abuse have occurred in the developmental history of sex addiction. When one considers the need for intimacy to be the primary motivator of a human being, it’s easy to see how abuse of any type undermines this core need and damages one’s ability to foster healthy attachment to others.

The double edge of females’ need for relationship
Females are generally more relational and nurturing than males. Their roles develop from playing dolls and babysitting to bearing and caring for children of their own. Even as wives and adult daughters, most women continue to provide the larger portion of nurture found in family life. This feminine giving of self is a godly attribute when done in a healthy, balanced way. The greater reception to relationship, however, can be both blessing and curse if the female’s trust in others has been violated by one or more forms of abuse. The hunger to connect remains, but it becomes combined with fear and mistrust. A false self may emerge as the female inadvertently seeks to protect herself from further exploitation. Left to her own fallen human nature, an exploited female may to seek to protect herself psychologically with various defenses and manipulations – both sexual and non-sexual. It’s not difficult to understand how a sexually wounded female might want to regain the innocence that was stolen from her during a vulnerable moment.

Without treatment and a safe recovery path, an exploited female may inadvertently use her sexuality either to punish men or herself. Sadly, the untreated sex abuse survivor often maintains distorted thoughts of how she and the perpetrator share blame for the abuse. The seductive survivor can be motivated to get even by enticing men. The closet female sex addict riddled with shame and self-contempt may punish herself by seeking to meet sexual needs privately and compulsively versus investing in an intimate relationship with her husband. Alternatively, she may starve herself sexually. Whatever the behavior, either obvious or hidden, it remains “the tip of the iceberg” where inner motivations laced with anger often remain a profound mystery for the addict and those who love her.

It is important to note that while all traumatic experiences affect us negatively, those involving abuse during childhood deeply affect the way we navigate life as adults. If you have suffered abuse in your past, please consider seeking out the professional treatment of a trained Christian counselor who specializes in this issue. Fear of disturbing old wounds may initially keep you from seeking out such help. Understand, however, that healing and resolving the wounds of your past will open up opportunities to live a healthier and happier life and will go a long way to preventing these damaged emotions and behaviors from being passed down to your children.

Unique challenges for the female sex addict

Gateways
For the last 50 years, our culture has promoted a heightened sexuality where children, particularly girls, are hyper eroticized with seductive fashions designed for adults. Particularly immodest clothing—or clothing designed to drawn unnecessary attention to the body—alters how a young girl views herself and presents herself to others. In turn, fashion also alters how others react to her. The culture’s emphasis on seductive media and casual sex, typified by the magazines in supermarket checkout lanes, can also serve as gateways to sex addiction.

The responsibility to identify this cultural trap rests with parents, but it’s not easy to wage an effective defense against the onslaught of sexualized media messages. The best defense begins in early childhood where both parents maintain an ongoing dialogue with their child about the blessings and responsibilities of sexuality. When parents approach this topic relationally during early childhood development, children are spiritually and emotionally empowered to make better choices as adolescents and adults.

Double Standards
Female addicts often suffer a greater social stigma and inner shame than do male addicts. Society promotes the stereotypes of “boys will be boys” and “good girls don’t,” even while grooming females to play the coy seductress. Female addicts may compartmentalize their sexually addicted self from the roles of wife, mother, and Sunday school teacher. This type of denial, duplicity, or splitting off only serves to strengthen the addiction, given the secrecy of a double life.

As Christians, we recognize that before God “there is neither …male nor female” (Galatians 3:28), thus double standards don’t exist within the mind of God. In His great compassion, God hates sin (not the sinner) and the traumatic effect it has on His children. The promotion of godly living for both males and females will pave the road to equal treatment and respect.

Special Considerations for Female Sex Addicts

The nuances of female sex addiction can perhaps best be explained by looking at the body, mind, and spirit connection.

The Body Physically and physiologically, males and females are obviously different. The less obvious factors encompassed in the physicality of being female include a woman’s innate desire to look attractive and her more complicated sexual arousal and release. When too great an emphasis is given to the body because of the culture, exploitation, or addiction, the balance of the inner woman is disturbed.

The Mind Mentally and emotionally, females are typically aroused in different ways than males. Where men tend to be visual and have greater interests in a woman’s body, or sadly, just parts of her body, women tend to remain relational – even in their attraction and arousal. For example, gateways for feminine arousal will often include ambience or environmental setting, the personality traits of the man, and how he seems to nurture her with attention. These factors are often exploited in soap operas, romance novels, and other things traditionally targeted to females.

The Spirit While both sexes suffered spiritual damage from the fall of humanity, the consequences for males and females are different. One consequence for females is that the woman’s “desire will be for (her) husband” (Genesis 3:10). This may account for greater vulnerability in females. Their hearts are turned more to their masculine counterparts, than, perhaps, men’s are toward women. This vulnerability is not inherently bad, but it can foster a heightened need for masculine approval.

The Recovery Goal
Ultimately, the recovery goal of a female sex addict is not unlike that of the male addict, but her journey differs from that of men. She must learn to harmonize her body, mind, and spirit in a way that affirms God’s design. In her feminine spirit, she is unique and her personality bears the creativity of God. Supports for her will include personal accountability, professional counseling, and participation in the community of faith and in recovery groups if available. Like the male addict, the female must get beneath the behavior in order to heal distorted thoughts, damaged emotions, and a wounded spirit.

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Rob Jackson is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice who specializes in intimacy disorders, including sex addiction and codependency.

Sexual Addiction: NOT just for MEN ONLY!!

SOURCE:  Marnie Ferree

Women and Sexual Addiction

While most people tend to assume that sexual addiction is a problem only for men, the evidence suggests the contrary. Addictions, all addictions, are pretty much equal opportunity diseases. And sexual addiction is no exception.

Marnie Ferree is a pioneer in the treatment of female sex and relationship addicts. This article is material taken from a workshop she gave recently in Seattle. Sex is the fastest growing addiction in this country. And it is, I believe, the addiction of choice among Christians. Because of the immediacy, availability and affordability of the Internet, more and more Christians find themselves struggling with sexual addiction. A third of the participants who come to the workshops we do for male sexual addicts are involved in some kind of church ministry. Men who would not be caught dead going into a liquor store, or gambling or using any kind of illegal drugs, can—within the privacy of their own home—be sexually involved with people on the Internet. It is an incredible problem.

I don’t know if you have a picture in your mind of what a sexual addict looks like. I would be even more surprised if you had a picture of what a female sexual addict looks like.

There are, however, many of us. And all of us must deal with the enormous shame connected with sexual addiction. Today, if someone said in a social setting—even in a Christian social setting—”I’m a recovering alcoholic,” I think many people might respond with: “Good for you. You’ve admitted you have a problem. You’re doing something about it. You’re getting help.” We have an element of respect for someone who admits to being a recovering alcoholic. But if you say, “I’m a recovering sex addict,” you will still experience enormous amounts of shame and very little understanding.

There was a time when alcoholism was thought to be only a male problem. Surely women didn’t struggle like this. But we know today, of course, that females have about the same incidence of alcoholism as do males. It is probably about the same in the area of sexual addiction. If the shame associated with sexual addiction is great, the shame associated with being a female sex addict is even greater.

Sexual addiction is not, of course, a new problem. I’m not going to suggest that the Apostle Paul was a sex addict. But he certainly understood powerlessness and unmanageability. When you read what he says in Romans 7 about the struggle between the flesh and the desire to do good—this is a man who knew what it was like to feel powerless, a man who kept doing what he did not want to do. That is the essence of all addictions.

Sin or Disease?

I’m asked often, “Is sexual addiction a sin, or is it a disease?” The answer is yes. It is both. Undeniably the kinds of behaviors we are going to be talking about are sinful. The affairs that I was involved in, the great promiscuity that I was involved in before my marriage, these are unquestionably sin. And they are also part of a disease called addiction.

Sometimes people come to a Christian pastor or counselor looking for help with sexual addiction and they get an answer like this: “Pray more, go to church more, read your Bible more. Be more committed. Be more [whatever].” I don’t want to be misunderstood. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in reading the Bible. I believe in being connected with other Christians and going to church. And I believe in surrendering to Christ. So I’m not minimizing the importance of these things. But these things in and of themselves will not help with the disease of addiction. Believe me, people who struggle with sexual addictions have prayed. They have tried to surrender their will to God. They have tried to get connected at church. And it has not helped. Putting a kind of spiritual Band-Aid on this problem is not going to be helpful. It is going to be harmful, because it will contribute to the hopelessness that people feel. Suppose you tell someone to “just pray more,” and they take your advice and pray more, and it doesn’t help. Then what? It will add to their despair. And few things are more powerful fuel for addictions than despair.

So what is the solution?

Sexual addiction is a multifaceted disease, and it requires a multifaceted solution. There is a physiological aspect to the problem. We know that there is a neurochemical component to sex addiction. The neurochemical changes that happen in your brain when you engage in sexual activity are closely related to the changes that take place in your brain when you take crack cocaine. So there is a physiological, biological base to this addiction. There is also an emotional component to this addiction. The shame that the addicted person feels is overwhelming. There is a mental component. There is a relationship component. And there is a spiritual component. All these components need to be addressed if the addicted person is to experience healing.

Characteristics of Addiction

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of sexual addiction.  There are four components that make any addiction an addiction.

First, there has to be a compulsion. I can’t stop. I keep doing what I don’t want to do. I’m powerless to stop. You will always hear addicts say, “I know what I’m doing is wrong; I want to stop, but I can’t.” That was certainly true for me. I was raised in a pastor’s home. I went to church all my life. I knew that the affairs I was involved in were wrong. I felt incredible shame about the affairs. I wanted to stop. I had chosen to stop many times. But I could not.

A second key component of any addiction is obsession. It’s all I can think about. It’s like a blanket that covers me. I’m spending so much time being sexual, recovering from being sexual, figuring out how to hide the fact that I’ve been sexual, planning my next sexual or relationship encounter. It’s like a little bird sitting on your shoulder; it’s always, always, always with you. Either as guilt and shame or the planning or the preparation. Some part is always with you.

The third main hallmark of an addiction is continuing in spite of negative consequences.

Because of my promiscuity and sexual behaviors I was diagnosed with cervical cancer caused by a sexually transmitted disease. I had three major surgeries within a year. I literally almost died because of massive hemorrhaging resulting from the first surgery. But even that was not enough; I still could not stop. I lost one marriage because of my sexual acting out. I married very young for all kinds of unhealthy reasons. I was unfaithful in that marriage. The truth is that he was happy to get rid of me. And I was happy to get rid of him because he was determined to fix me and I was angry about that. But I still could not stop. I married a second time and had a fairly long period of sobriety—or rather at least a fairly long period of the absence of acting out. But I was not in recovery. When the stresses of life hit again, I returned to acting out. I knew intellectually, This is going to mess up my life. I had been there once before. I’d had one divorce because of this behavior. I can tell that things aren’t going well here. They are not going well in our marriage. They are not going well for our children. We had two very young children who were already very angry and impaired by being part of an addicted family. And then the health consequences began to hit. I knew this was not working for me. And yet I could not stop. When we continue in spite of adverse consequences, that is a clear sign of addiction.

The last main characteristic of addiction is tolerance.

The idea of tolerance is borrowed from our understanding of chemical dependency. We understand that, for a person who does not usually drink, a glass of wine will make you feel however it makes you feel. Tomorrow a glass of wine will make you feel about the same. And the next day maybe the same. But it won’t take very long before that one glass of wine will no longer give you the same kind of feeling that it once did. It might take two glasses, or three. That same phenomenon happens around our sexual activity. There is a tolerance component to the process. Part of the tolerance effect is a purely neurochemical, physiological change in the brain. We are up against our own brain chemistry. That’s one aspect of the problem. But we addicts are also often adrenaline junkies. We are in this for the high. So if the high of one kind of behavior isn’t enough, then either it will take more and more of that same kind of behavior or it will take going on to other, higher risk behaviors to get the same effect. The disease progresses either to more and more of the same behavior or to higher risk behaviors.

There are other characteristics to all addictions. All addictions lead to an unmanageable life. It is a progressive or degenerative process. Addictions are used to escape feelings. What an addiction does is alter our moods.

Addictions are often fueled by a sense of entitlement. I think about a pastor who is overworked and underpaid. There are so many demands on his life, he’s fighting with the deacon board, nobody understands him, and he is not appreciated the way he should be. Eventually he asks himself, Who is meeting my needs? I deserve something. That is a typical way for addicts to think. No one is meeting my needs. I’ll just have to do it myself. That’s what I mean by entitlement. I deserve this.

Addictions are also often used by addicts as a reward. Sexual addicts experience sex as the answer to everything. If I feel overworked or lonely or sad, sex can make me feel better. If I feel happy and things are wonderful, what’s the best way to celebrate? Sex. It’s the answer to everything. It can medicate the kind of entitlement, anger and loneliness that we experience or it can serve as a reward.

Finally, addictions, and certainly sexual addiction, can create a feeling of power. This is particularly true for women who are sexually addicted. There is an incredible feeling of power involved. In our culture we learn that a woman’s core worth in the world is her sexuality. We use sex to sell everything from cars to dishwashing liquid to carpets. Everything you can imagine. Those cultural messages are very powerful. So particularly for women who are sex addicts there is a big power component at work.

The Link Between Abuse and Addiction

The roots of sexual addiction are often found in childhood abuse—physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual. One out of three women and one out of six men will experience some kind of overt sexual abuse before the age of eighteen.

My susceptibility to sexual addiction is deeply rooted in my experience of childhood abuse and neglect. My mother died when I was three. My father was a pastor whose duties kept him absent from our home a great deal of the time. He spoke somewhere seven nights out of seven for the entirety of my childhood. And I felt very lonely. When I was five a twenty-year-old man, a deacon in the church, came into my life as a substitute father figure. He took me roller-skating every Saturday morning for years. He encouraged my writing. He would read to me and spend an enormous amount of time with me. From the age of five to the age of twenty, when I left my father’s home to be married, he abused me sexually. I never thought of it as sexual abuse. He never hurt me physically. He never coerced me physically. He loved me—I thought. I loved him—I knew. We had a relationship.

The level of sexual activity did not escalate to intercourse until I was fifteen years old. Well, by fifteen—remember I was a good preacher’s daughter—I knew that was wrong. In my limited understanding I had consented to this relationship with a man who at that time would have been over thirty. The only way I could explain those experiences was, I must be a whore. I know this is wrong. I know I’m not supposed to do it. From the age of five he began to sexualize me, training me to respond to him sexually. But my experience was that it was all my fault. It was only many years later when I was in counseling that I began to see that, of course, it was sexual abuse. Even the nongenital behaviors starting at age five were clearly sexual abuse.

The wounds of sexual abuse are profound. It is my conviction that until we face clearly the wounds of childhood abuse we will not be helpful to sexual addicts whose struggles are rooted in abuse. We know that eighty-one percent of sexual addicts, both men and women, are adult sexual trauma survivors—untreated trauma survivors. It is critical to understand this link between sexually abusive experiences and sexual addiction.

It is also important to emphasize that the experience of abandonment in childhood can be as problematic as the experience of abuse. I have worked with some sex addicts who are not sexual trauma survivors, but I have never worked with a sex addict who is not a survivor of childhood abandonment. After my mother died my father buried his grief in his work addiction. It was this abandonment that set me up for the sexual abuse. Physical abandonment—through death, as in my case, or through the work addiction of a parent, or through divorce—is only one kind of abandonment. Sexual abandonment—the lack of appropriate information and appropriate modeling of sexual closeness—can also cause problems. If parents display no appropriate affection around their children, there is a neglect. I have had many women tell me of the shock of their first menstruation. No one had bothered to tell them basic information about their sexuality. That’s sexual abandonment. Spiritual abandonment can also be a factor. We seem to model rules-based spirituality. But many people have never had grace-based spirituality modeled for them in their family. That’s a kind of spiritual abandonment. These kinds of experiences give us some very unhealthy core beliefs that, in turn, prepare us for the addictive process.

Let me say something briefly abut the core beliefs of addicts and how they are connected to neglect, abandonment and abuse.

The first core belief of sexual addicts is, I am a horrible, terrible person. When we are abandoned or abused, that is what we conclude. I thought, If I had been a better little girl, my mom would not have died. Or, for sure, If I had been a better little girl my dad would have wanted to spend some time with me. If you add on top of this the sexual abuse I experienced, what can a child conclude other than, I am a horrible person.

The second core belief shared by all sexual addicts is, No one will meet my needs.

Is it any surprise that a child who experiences abandonment comes to this conclusion? The people that I should be able to trust and depend on are not there for me. The third core belief is this: Sex is my most important need. Again, the connection between sexual abuse and sexual addiction is profound. When we are sexualized at an early age and experience all the confusion around that abuse, we inappropriately sexualize love, touch, nurture and affection. Everything really important in life becomes sexualized. We come to believe that love or relationship is our most important need.

Finally, sex addicts believe this: If you really knew me, you would leave me. There is this front that I present to the world, and maybe it looks really good on the outside, but it’s not what is on my inside. If you knew me, you would leave. These core beliefs, often impacting us on an unconscious level, set us up for addictions of all kinds.

Healing from Sex Addiction

There are a number of key ingredients that make recovery possible. I’ll discuss just a few.

Fellowship.Fellowship is the antidote to trauma and the key to long-term recovery. We cannot recover in isolation. God made us for fellowship. We were wounded in relationships, and we have to heal in relationships. Fellowship is also the antidote to lust. Healthy fellowship is what will help us become free from lust.

Accountability. It’s not enough to just have fellowship. We can have fellowship that does not involve accountability, and that’s not going to solve the problem. We need people who know our story and who will hold us accountable for the rituals as well as for the acting out. In my opinion, Twelve Step programs are the best place to find the right mix of fellowship and accountability. When I walk into a Twelve Step group and say, “Hi, my name is Marnie, and I’m a grateful, recovering sexaholic,” I am home. I know these people understand. They have been there themselves. And I know that we can provide for each other the fellowship and accountability we need. I won’t preach the whole sermon, but I believe that Christ intended churches to operate a whole lot more like Twelve Step groups. They need to be places where it’s okay to be real, okay to have problems. Places where you don’t have to have all your problems fixed before you feel at home.

Counseling. The Twelve Steps lead us through a methodical process that focuses on our addictive behaviors and on the defects of character that underlie our addictive behaviors. But the Twelve Steps, as wonderful and useful as they are, will not adequately address all the problems of abuse and abandonment that are at the root of sexual addiction. That’s not their goal. The goal of Twelve Step programs is sobriety. And sobriety gives us an opportunity to work on the other problems that have led to our addictions or that accompany our addictions.

For example, sexual addicts, in addition to being addicted to sex, are also often depressed. And that’s a problem for which counseling and medications can be very helpful. In the Christian community we do not hesitate to treat most medical problems. It bothers me that in the Christian community we so often experience resistance to the treatments and medication that have been shown to be helpful for depression. We don’t tell an insulin-dependent diabetic, “Just pray more and you’ll feel better. You don’t need the insulin.” But people who are depressed do hear people say things just like that. Depression is a medical illness. It often requires medication in addition to counseling in order to be helpful. Counseling and medication can play an important part in the recovery process. Sometimes intensive workshops or inpatient programs can also be helpful. For some people an intensive treatment program is essential for recovery, and almost all sex addicts can be helped by having an intensive jump-start to the recovery process.

Courage. Recovery requires courage. It is a difficult journey—and one that is not undertaken lightly or easily. In the Twelve Step community we say that recovery is simple but it is not easy. It will cost a lot. For many of us giving up an addiction feels like death. It is our addiction that has helped us cope with the wounds of abuse and abandonment. When we have no other, healthier coping skills, becoming abstinent from our addictions can be an absolutely terrifying, incredibly painful process. That’s another reason why the fellowship and accountability is so important. Without support we will inevitably retreat into “safer” territory.

Grace. The experience of grace is central to the recovery process. I know clearly when I first felt grace. It was when I was in the middle of getting a divorce from my first husband. I was a full-blown sex addict. My life was totally out of control. And it was the first time in my life that I felt suicidal. Some people that I worked with—people that I didn’t know well at all—saw my distress. It wasn’t really because of the divorce. The real pain and despair I was experiencing came from the shame I experienced from the religious community of my father, the pastor. I was disowned. And shamed. I had sweet church people coming to my home at ten o’clock at night and at seven o’clock in the morning to tell me I was going to hell for divorcing my husband. I was distraught about that as much as I was about anything else. These friends put me in their car and took me to a Christian counselor. I assume that they had arranged this ahead of time, since he was available to see me. They walked me in and introduced me to this man, and then they left. I was not comfortable in that office. I did not want to be there. He said something like, “What can I do for you?” And I unleashed on him a long speech complete with some pretty salty adjectives about what I thought about Christians and what I thought about pastors. I let him have it. I said I didn’t care anything about his blankety-blank whatever. But, I said, if you can stop me from killing myself I’ll give you ten minutes.

You know what he said? “Okay.” Just “Okay.” No moralizing. No lectures on right and wrong. Right then I felt grace for the first time in my life. I let this man know just a little about who I really was. At that moment I was a really, really angry person. But he accepted me without judgment. I only met with him a few times; I wasn’t ready yet to do the hard work I needed to do. So my life continued in the pattern of acting out for another twelve years after that. But I think he saved my life that day. With a single word he showed me more of the grace of God than I had experienced before. That helped me to believe twelve years later that it just might be possible for a counselor to help me. It helped me to return to that kind of resource when I was ready and able to do so.

When we experience grace, instead of the preoccupation and fantasy that drives the addictive process, we develop a vision for a different kind of life. Part of recovery is recovering a graced vision for our lives. We need a vision of a life of sobriety, a life in recovery. We need to be able to envision a life truly connected to God in a deep spirituality. And to envision ourselves and our families living a healthy life. Instead of the unhealthy rituals that lead to acting out, we need a vision of healthy rituals and disciplines in our lives. Prayer, meditation and Bible study are healthy disciplines. To be a part of a community of faith or a support group is a healthy discipline. These kinds of healthy disciplines can support healthy choices. Instead of despair, we need a vision of joy. That’s what recovery is about.

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Marnie Ferree offers individual and couples counseling through the Woodmont Hills Counseling Center in Nashville, Tennessee (www.woodmont.org).

Abuse: Who Defines My Self-Image?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

Perhaps you are a victim of spouse abuse. Or maybe you were in the past. Like other abuse victims, you have probably been challenged by the shame, guilt, and false sense of responsibility all victims take on as part of the “victimization” process.

You are probably also dealing with low self-esteem. Abuse attacks self-esteem in several ways. Grant Martin describes these areas in Transformed by Thorns.

They include the following:

  • Sense of being: Who are we in Christ Jesus? As we grow in our understanding of that and learn to cast our cares on Jesus, we can begin to walk in comfort. We develop a sense of well-being that reassures us of the love and healing God has for us.
  • Sense of purpose: Why are we in Christ Jesus? What purpose do we have? What does God plan to do with us? Why did he save us? God wants us to know we have purpose and meaning in our life. He is our meaning, and he gives us purpose.
  • Sense of ministry: We are here to serve God and be his body that ministers to one another. We are here to present the gospel to unbelievers so they can see and experience God’s love for them.

Meditate on these scriptures. Build your self-image on what God thinks about you—not what others think, your spouse thinks, or even what you think. Read the scriptures aloud. Write them. Put them on your phone or computer or post-its as constant reminders of who you are in Christ and how he cares for you.

You are his child. He cares for you. You are not alone.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. (1 John 3:1 NLT)

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7 NLT)

Jesus created you for a purpose. He has a good plan for your life, and he has equipped you to accomplish his purpose.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

Part of your purpose is to minister to others and allow them to minister to you. To share the gospel. He has made you unique and special.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. (Romans 12:6 NLT)

Always remember, when you received Jesus as Lord and Savior, God clothed you in the righteousness of Christ. When he looks at you, he sees Jesus’ righteousness, not your sins. Not because of anything you have or haven’t done but because of what Jesus did.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Romans 3:22-25 NLT)

If you’ve never taken this step, you can do so right now. Jesus loves you so much he died for your sins. He wants to have a personal relationship with you, to care for you. Talk to him now. He is waiting for you with open arms.

Dear God, I sometimes feel alone, and I don’t like myself very much. I want to invite Jesus to come into my heart. Please forgive my sins. And then help me see myself as you do. I want to be your child. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

 Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Q&A: Ten (10) Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling Post-Abuse

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: Can you give suggestions as to what to look for regarding “success” in couples counseling? I am in a marriage that is destructive. For months I went to individual counseling, and really was on a trajectory toward separation/divorce.

Surprisingly my husband agreed to couples counseling. He almost immediately took responsibility for abusive behaviors toward me (which for 16 years he’s denied) and his angry rants ended simultaneously to beginning counseling. I am grateful for the changes, though leery–how is it so easy now that there is a “watchful eye”.

I feel that in an effort to validate my husband, too many issues are normalized—and my husband walks away believing that our troubles are part of common every day married life. I feel as if couples counseling is a threat to the work I have done as an individual to be honest about how poorly I was treated and gain the fortitude to no longer accept it.

Answer: It is very interesting how much self-control someone can have once the abuse is disclosed and he is in an accountability relationship. However, that does not mean that the underlying entitlement thinking or other problems that caused the blindness and denial to go on for 16 years have been adequately confronted, talked through, or healed.

From what you said, once you decided to leave the marriage he said he would do marital counseling. But he’s never done his own work to explore what was behind his abusive behaviors and destructive attitudes, even though he has stopped his rages. It’s like an alcoholic who stops drinking but never does the work to understand why he was drinking in the first place or the damage he or she has caused to others. Yes, the drinking is over – and that’s a good thing, but some of the same problems are still there and still unresolved.

Now that you are in marital counseling with him, the counselor is exploring things that were problems in your marriage. The counselor is trying to get your husband to express some of the things he was unhappy with. However, without first adequately addressing his abusive behaviors and attitudes and the damage that’s caused you and your marriage, things can start to get very fuzzy. It can start to feel like you are being held responsible for his unhappiness and the problems in the marriage that triggered him to abuse in the first place.

In addition, marital counselors attempt to stay neutral and not take sides, but when they do this where there is a history of abuse, without realizing it, the counselor is taking sides. By not first validating the pain your husband has caused you, and speaking about how unacceptable his behaviors were, both you and your husband are left with the impression that the marriage counselor doesn’t think what happened was all that serious or did not damage the relationship all that much.

I believe that any couple attempting to reconcile their marriage after abuse will at some point, need to have some joint marital counseling but not until they have each processed their own issues and they are also able to safely and sanely talk about what happened in the past with the abuser taking full responsibility for abusive behaviors. That does not mean that the non-abusive spouse doesn’t have problems that have contributed to the marital unhappiness, but that those problems were not a cause for abusive behavior and attitudes.

Here are Ten (10) Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling Post-Abuse.

1. The past is the past. It has been talked about, grieved, repented of, forgiven, and owned. The past is not currently happening in the present.

2. Both people in the marriage can freely bring up hot topics or difficult feelings in their marriage relationship with safety. No shaming, no retaliating, no minimizing or blaming.

3. Both people would be open, and willing to learn how to be a better spouse and build a healthier relationship. They would feel free to disagree with one another and there would be a teachable attitude on both of their parts.

4. Time outs as well as other boundaries would be honored and respected. If one or the other was having a hard time communicating effectively, they would wait until things cooled down or they could get back in to see the counselor.

5. Both partners would now take responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the relationship and other family responsibilities.

6. Power and responsibility would be shared. There would not be a double standard where the rules that applied to one person in the marriage didn’t apply to the other.

7. Trust is being rebuilt in the here and now. It is seen as precious and safeguarded.

8. If there is a slip, or a repeat of past history or other serious sin, or even a reminder of it, the person responsible would acknowledge it and take corrective action, whether that means apologize and make amends, or get back into counseling in order to stop a further downward spiral of the marital progress.

9. A person’s feelings would inform him or her, not control him or her. Self-awareness, self-reflection, self-control and self-correction would be part of their daily habits.

10. They have invited several close friends or family into their lives to help them grow and keep them accountable.

Marriage Q&A: Is Hitting Someone Ever Justified?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Is Hitting Someone Ever Justified?

Question:  Is physical abuse ever justified in a marriage as “defending” yourself?

I attacked my husband physically in frustration by hitting and scratching. I know it was sinful and wrong and I made a choice to attack him.

He, in turn, held me down, punched me in the head several times and smashed my head up against the headboard of our bed.

He said he did it to “defend” himself and to “get me to stop”.

Answer:  Self-defense is legally acceptable when you are being physical harmed, however it seemed like your husband used a bazooka against you when a fly swatter may have been sufficient.  In other words, from your description of his behavior your husband took it over the top and did more than defend, he retaliated and abused you.

But I want to ask you a question. If your husband attacked you by hitting and scratching you because he was frustrated with something you did or said would that be justified?  Just because you are a woman and may not have as much physical strength as he does, does not excuse you handling your frustration with him by attacking him and scratching him.  What else could you have done in that moment of frustration?

The truth is marriage and family life can be frustrating at times. Who hasn’t gotten frustrated in marriage? Or in raising children?  Or while stuck in traffic?  Or waiting in a long line?  If frustration excused abusive behavior we’d live in a much more violent world than we already live in.

So what do healthy people do when they are frustrated? When they are provoked? They learn to press pause, and practice self-control, which is one of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Yes we may feel like reacting with physical force – such as slapping or scratching someone when we’re frustrated, but if we want good relationships with people, we learn to control those urges.

It’s important to realize that we are not helpless victims over our own emotional state. Yes, we have feelings, but we must not allow our feelings to have us.  God has clearly told us that we are to be in charge of how we behave when we’re provoked or angry.

In Ephesians he says “In your anger, do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26).

If I were talking further with you and/or your spouse about your marriage I would ask you about the overall patterns of your marriage.  Have there been regular incidents of you reacting with physical attacks when you are frustrated or was this an isolated incident?  If this has been a pattern, have you recognized it as a problem for you?  For your marriage?

Has your spouse asked you to stop, get help for your emotional distress, or go to counseling?  Does he purposefully provoke you to the point of emotional overload? Has he used physical violence against you in the past?  If so have you implemented consequences like calling the police?

I hope you will take this incident as a warning bell to show you how close you are to the edge of a very scary cliff.  Your inability to know what else to do in the moments of your frustration and your husband’s over-the-top reaction could have ended with you being pummeled to death.  Please, don’t ignore this. Seek more professional advice about what your next steps should be for your own mental health, physical safety and marriage.

Book Review/Domestic Violence: Is It My Fault?

Source:  Aaron Armstrong/The Gospel Coalition

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2014. 240 pp. $14.99.

As we sat in the school auditorium where our church meets, I could feel my wife seething beside me. Our pastor had come to a crucial text in one of the Gospels—Jesus’ teaching on divorce. As we listened to him strongly (and faithfully) teach what the Bible says about marriage and divorce, Emily became increasingly agitated—not because of what was said, but because of what hadn’t been. What about women being abused?

Many assume the Bible’s teaching on divorce is too simplistic to deal with such issues. Bad counsel based on incomplete teaching leaves many women (and men) feeling trapped with nowhere to turn when their spouses begin to spiritually, psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse them. When the abuse somehow becomes their fault in the counseling session. When they’re too ashamed to say anything at all—or don’t even know if it “counts.”

Whose Fault Is It?

My wife’s anger was birthed from experiences in both her childhood and adolescent years, and her empathy for several friends who have experienced abuse in their marriages. If we will offer meaningful hope and encouragement to those suffering from domestic violence, we need to know what the Bible says to them.

This is why books like Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence are so necessary. From its opening pages, the Holcombs, who also co-authored Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway, 2011), offer a compassionate and biblical look at the problem of domestic violence, beginning with five words victims need to hear: It is never your fault.

No matter what kind of abuse you have experienced, there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you think that makes you deserving of it. There is no mistake you could have made and no sin you could have committed to make you deserving of violence.

You did not deserve this. And it is never your fault.

You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. You are not damaged goods, forgotten or ignored by God, or “getting what you deserve.” (21)

These truths should be obvious, but for someone in an abusive relationship, they’re anything but. And I’m not sure how obvious they are to some of us who aren’t. For example, we tend to look at marital problems and try to figure out how to divide responsibility equally between spouses. While some measure of “shared blame” is certainly warranted in most relationships, we need to be careful to not apply this assumption too broadly. Sometimes, it really is the problem of just one person—and in the case of domestic violence, in whatever form it takes, it is always the abuser’s fault.

Although a bit of a loose example, consider the shootings in May in Santa Barbara, California, when 22-year-old Elliott Rodger stabbed three people to death, shot three more, and left 13 more injured before killing himself. Why did he do it? Because “girls have never been attracted to me,” he said. What surprised me wasn’t that Rodger placed the blame for his yet-to-be-committed crimes on women, but that some online commenters seemed to agree—saying that if he wasn’t a virgin, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

Yeah. Someone actually said that.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Keeping this background in mind is especially important when you consider how tricky it can be to develop a concrete definition of domestic violence. You need one broad enough to capture the full spectrum of abuse without leaving all readers paranoid they’re either being abused or are abusers themselves. Here’s the Holcombs’ definition:

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling, or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner. (57)

Despite being a little clinical, and maybe a bit lawyer-y, this definition is strong. I believe the key word here is pattern. An abuser isn’t necessarily someone who says something stupid and hurtful once (again, if that were the case, we would all be abusers). An abuser is someone who makes an intentional behavior of it. Sinful and hurtful words must be dealt with, but we ought not label the one-time offender—depending on the nature of the offense—as being guilty of domestic violence. (There’s no such thing as being just a little stabby.)

What Will God Do About It?

The first several chapters of the book offer necessary definitions and categories readers may lack; beyond a definition of domestic violence, they may not know what the cycle of abuse looks like, or what types of personas exist among abusers—all of which the Holcombs provide. But the strength of Is It My Fault?really comes through when they turn to the Scriptures to show readers what God says about this issue. They display a God who “hates abuse, viewing it as sinful and unacceptable” (107), and who “delights in rescuing the oppressed (2 Sam. 22:49)” (108).

This testimony isn’t always easy for us to believe, though. In their day-to-day circumstance, many suffering abuse struggle to see God at work. They cry out asking for the Lord to deliver them, just as David did many times in the psalms. But it’s the tension we all face. Suffering and pain are real, but deliverance is real, too—even if it doesn’t come when or how we wish it did. Despite how it may seem at times, “God is not standing idly by to watch evil run its course. He will not allow evil to have the final word. His response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and recreation” (113).

I appreciate how the Holcombs hold this tension in their reflections on selected psalms. They don’t offer a pat “God’s in control,” though that would be easy to do. Instead they dig into the reality of the pain, the difficulty of the circumstances. But they don’t leave us there. Instead, they redirect despair to hope, showing how we can be confident that God’s deliverance will come.

This, arguably, may be the most vital practical takeaway for readers (aside from the helpful action plan in the appendices). When the darkness won’t lift, we need the hope that God isn’t ignoring our circumstances. That God is at work, even when we can’t see it. That his promises are still true—and because his promises are true, hope cannot be extinguished.

What Will We Do About It?

Is It My Fault? will provoke some strong feelings: anger that abuse happens at all, perhaps the temptation to seek vengeance, a longing for Jesus’ return and the coming the new creation. I hope it reminds readers that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse. To humbly, earnestly, and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance and let them endure the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and let them begin some form of healing, all the while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when he comes to wipe every tear from our eyes.

This is what victims of abuse need and, by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer if we’re willing.

Aaron Armstrong is the author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty (Cruciform Press, 2011). He is a writer for an international Christian ministry focused on caring for the needs of the poor, serves as an itinerate preacher throughout southern Ontario, Canada, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.

Abuse: Call It What It Is

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Leslie Vernick

Let’s Not Call It Abuse

 [This article was originally published on ChristianCounseling.com on June 9, 2014]

 Samantha had high hopes that something might change after she got an appointment with a Biblical counselor at her church.  She had hoped that her counselor would stand with her and be her advocate.  When she began to describe what was happening in her home, her counselor carefully listened to everything she told him.

Samantha recounted the names her husband called her when he got angry or she failed him.  She described things such as not allowing her to give her own perspective during an argument, not allowing her to leave a room when she was feeling scared, and demanding she submit to his most trivial demands like cook him a full breakfast every morning even though she worked full time and had a baby to get ready to take to the babysitter.  She told him how her husband lied, how he twisted Scriptures, how he bullied her and threatened her.

Samantha took a huge risk sharing these things with her counselor but she believed that if her counselor and church leaders knew what was happening, they would get behind her and lovingly but firmly tell her husband (who was active in their church) that his behavior was sinful and ungodly.  She thought that once she got others to agree that his behavior was destructive, he’d be less likely to tell himself the lie that what he was doing wasn’t that bad.

Sadly the counselor became fixed on two words Samantha used when finishing her story.  She asked her counselor, “Please tell him to stop emotionally abusing me.”  Her counselor’s first response to Samantha’s story was, “Samantha, let’s not use the words emotional abuse.  It’s such a trendy term these days.”

Samantha’s heart sank.  It was hard for her to breathe. Her chest pounded, her head started spinning. Now what?  She thought to herself, If this isn’t emotional abuse, what is it?

Our culture is adept at watering down language so that it becomes vague, meaningless and doesn’t offend.   For example the phrase termination of a pregnancy is softer than the phrase killing an unborn child. Terminating a pregnancy lacks the emotional wallop of the truth – a real baby is being killed.  Termination of pregnancy sounds nicer and it whitewashes and sanitizes the true meaning of what’s happening to both the child and the mother.

When we refuse to recognize and name emotional abuse for what it is and instead describe it as marital conflict or mutual sin, it’s not that we’re incorrect; it’s that we are imprecise.  We water down what’s really happening.

When a doctor tells a patient who has cancer he’s sick, that’s true.  But if he doesn’t use the C word because it’s too potent, he’s not telling his patient the whole truth.  As a result, the patient might not get the treatment he or she needs because he or she doesn’t see the full problem they face.

As biblical counselors our mission is not only to be truth seekers but truth tellers.

Naming things in Biblical days had special significance. Names represented a character trait, a special ability, a future expectation or a proclamation of what’s happened in the past.  Names are significant and what we name things has meaning.

When we say to our clients, “Let’s not call what’s happening to you ‘abuse’,” that’s wrong. What we’re saying is that what’s happening to her is no big deal?and that is not true.  Minimizing what’s happening in her marriage damages her, her husband, and their marriage. Abusive behavior is always bad, always sinful and always destructive.

The Bible repeatedly tells us that God comes alongside the victim. He is against those who seek to destroy and damage others.  He never tells them it’s not that bad or calls it something other than what it truly is. We need to speak the truth about what is happening, without flattering abusers that their behavior is not as bad as their spouse claims (Psalm 12:2-3).

Does FEAR Control Your Life?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet Lerner

“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” 1 John 4:17-18 NLT

Daily the media reports violence and abuse, especially in the home … child neglect, sexual violence, rape, abandonment, and on and on. Victims of abuse continue suffering pain long after the actual abuse has ended. Memories haunt them. They still feel the shame, fear, anger and grief brought about by painful events of the past.

Are you or someone you love a surviving victim of abuse? If so, you may be allowing fear to rule in your life. The fear you experienced when you were being abused has become a fear of everyday life. Fear of committing to a relationship. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of intimacy.

These feelings of fear often cause victims to put up barriers to God and to relationships with other people. Fear is an extremely powerful emotion that we don’t know how to control. It attacks our ability to trust. It compromises our ability to relax in relationships. Fear of becoming vulnerable, of being betrayed by others, or even by God.

One of the first steps to overcoming fear and tearing down the barriers it has built between you and others is to ask God’s forgiveness for your failure to trust him. This will open the door for you to begin building a relationship with him. To know him better by spending time talking to him and reading about him in the Bible. Only then can you begin to know how much he loves you. Only then can you grow to understand his character. With that understanding you will know that you can trust him, and he will help you build closer relationships with those around you.

Children reared by an abusive or neglectful father often have an incorrect view of God, picturing him like their earthly father. The good news is that our Heavenly Father is perfect and fair. Perfect love drives out fear. God’s love is perfect. And he wants to set you free.

Father, forgive me for not trusting you as I should. I believe that you love me. I believe that Jesus died for me. I want to be your child. Help me to trust you and your perfect love … and then to be able to overcome the fear that has ruled my life. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Marriage: Does God Want Me To Suffer?

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Leslie Vernick

This week’s topic is one that underlies most Biblical counsel women in destructive marriages receive. It is something that we must understand if we are going to wisely deal with a destructive spouse. It is the issue of suffering

Suffering is universal, and we will all experience it at some point in our lives. Although most of us would never willingly choose suffering, the Bible clearly tells us that it is used by God to help us see him more clearly (1 Peter 4:13), to help us be done with lesser things (1 Peter 4:1-3), as well as to help us mature in our character (Romans 5:3-5).

Over the past weeks, I’ve been deluged with e-mails from women in terribly destructive and abusive marriages, and the common theme in each of their struggles is this question:

Is Christ calling them to suffer by patiently and quietly enduring harsh and abusive treatment within their marriage?

The passage that is usually cited by church leaders to support a “yes” response is found in 1 Peter 2:13-3:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith.

There is much to say about this passage and the entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but I want to focus only on a few points to help us understand what Peter is trying to teach us about suffering especially for women in destructive marriages.

Peter anticipates that the new believers will be persecuted for their faith. Therefore, instead of talking about the normal mutual household duty codes between slaves and their masters and husbands and wives that Paul already covered in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Peter zeros in on where the relationships are not mutual or reciprocal. Peter wants to talk about what Christians should do when the government or slave owner misuses his power or is abusive or when a husband is a non-believer and isn’t following the mutual household duty codes that Paul spoke about such as “husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the church.” To a non-believing husband, those words would hold no weight.

First, Peter is clear that believers should be respectful to all persons, not because the person deserves our respect, but because they are created in God’s image and, for that reason alone, we choose to honor them regardless of their behaviors towards us. Often in destructive marriages, a woman who is regularly verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. Instead of learning to handle such mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband and God by her reactions and responses.

Peter strongly cautions us against that kind of behavior and, when we try to keep our mouths shut in the presence of such provocation, we may indeed suffer. In fact, the psalmist talks about his struggle with keeping quiet in Psalm 39 when he says, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me. But as I stood there in silence – not even speaking of good things – the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words.” (Psalm 39:1-3)

Second, Peter reminds us that God sees our mistreatment and is pleased with us when we bear it without retaliating. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus who, when reviled, did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22-23). In not retaliating or executing our own revenge, we may suffer, but we can do so knowing God is pleased with us.

Third, Peter says, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” It’s important that we understand that the good Peter is talking about is a moral good, a doing the right thing kind of good. It may not necessarily feel like good to the other person.

For example, Peter himself suffered for doing good when he was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been told to cease. Peter refused to submit to the authorities (even though he said we’re to submit to them) because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).

[W]hen a wife stands up for her children who are being verbally abused, refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself, she is honoring God and doing her family good.

She will suffer because it’s unlikely that her husband will view her actions as good and thank her. Instead he will get angry, defensive and retaliate against her for what she’s done, but that’s the kind of suffering Peter is talking about. He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all. Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.

Lastly, when Peter writes that unbelieving husbands who refuse to obey the word can be won by the conduct of their wives when they observe their respectful and pure conduct, he’s saying that our actions and non-verbal attitudes are far more influential toward winning our husband over to Jesus than our words are.

He’s right, but I don’t believe Peter’s instructions preclude a wife from respectfully implementing appropriate consequences (her respectful and pure conduct) that hopefully will influence her husband to look at his destructive behaviors differently and repent, coming to Christ in the process.

Counselors and pastors often advise a wife that God calls her to suffer in her marriage while continuing to provide all the privileges and benefits of marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her or violates their marital vows. This stance only reinforces the delusion of the destructive spouse who believes he can do as he pleases with no consequences. Marriage does not give someone a “get out of jail free” card that entitles a husband to lie, mistreat, ignore, be cruel or crush his wife’s God-given dignity.

To believe otherwise is not to know the heart of God.

The alternative interpretation, that a wife should stay passive and quiet and do nothing to help her spouse see the damage he is causing his family, harms him. It enables him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways which is not good for him, for her or for their family.

When a woman takes these brave steps of implementing consequences, she will still suffer. She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her. She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse. She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, or disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken.

My colleagues, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, write in their book, How People Grow:

Sometimes people have difficulty understanding when they should suffer and when they should avoid it.”

A person in a difficult relationship may endure abuse thinking that this is part of the path of suffering when actually this suffering can injure her soul and also help her abuser stay immature.

Peter reminds us, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19)

Can This Marriage Be Saved? (Part 1)

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

As biblical counselors our goal is to help marriages stay together but we must be careful to not be like the priests in Jeremiahs’ day who healed God’s people superficially by saying peace, peace, when there was no peace.

When working with couples in destructive and abusive marriages, I think it’s important that we understand what it takes to put their marriage back together in a godly way.  And, if one of them won’t do the work required, then what?  Do we encourage them to stay legally together even if they’re relationally separated or divorced?

God gives us a means for healing damaged relationships, but his blueprint is not unilateral.  Healing a destructive marriage can never be the sole responsibility of one person in the relationship.   It always takes two people willing to work to achieve godly change.  There needs to be forgiveness sought, and forgiveness granted.  There needs to be amends made and a willingness to rebuild trust.  There needs to be constructive feedback given and willingly received.  When one person refuses to participate or take responsibility for his or her part, healing or restoration of the relationship cannot fully take place.

As biblical counselors, working with individuals and couples in destructive marriages, I want to give you a few mile markers that will help you identify where you are on the healing journey or whether or not you’re even on the right path toward getting there. [I’m] going to talk about the importance of safety.

Safety

Safety in an intimate relationship such as marriage must never be underestimated. You cannot put a marriage together in a healthy way if one person in the marriage feels afraid of the other. Without question, whenever there has been any kind of physical abuse, destruction of property, and/or threats against one’s self or others there is no safety.

Shirley e-mailed me.  She wrote, “My biblical counselor says that I must allow my husband back into the home if we want our marriage to heal. He said, ‘How can we work on our marriage when we’re not living together?’

“What are your concerns about him moving back home?”  I asked.

“We’ve been separated for over a year after he gave me a black eye. It wasn’t the first time he hit me, but it was the worst. I never pressed charges or called the police, but I told him he’d have to move out. Honestly, I haven’t seen any real change in him. My counselor says that Ray is changing.  He hasn’t hit me for a long time. I agreed, but his underlying attitudes of entitlement are still there.”

“Give me a few examples,” I said.

“He badgers me to give in to him when I disagree. When he visits with the kids at the house and I tell him I’m tired and I want him to leave, he says I’m selfish and only thinking about myself. He thinks it’s okay if he walks into our house without knocking even though I’ve asked him not to.  If he won’t respect my requests when we’re separated, how will he do it if he moves back home? “

“He won’t. ” I said. “Either he’s not willing to respect you or he’s not capable of doing it but either way you are not safe until he learns to do this.  Please, stick up for yourself with your counselor.  Before you can work on the marriage, your husband need to value the importance of your safety and demonstrate that he can control himself and honor your feelings and boundaries without badgering or retaliation.  If he won’t do this much, you cannot go any further to repair your relationship. ”

There are other issues of safety that also must be resolved to some degree if a marriage is going to be wisely restored. For example, Kathy still loves her husband despite his sins against her. She longs for Jeff to be the man she knows he could be. Yet she must not throw caution to the side and be fully reconciled with Jeff without the proper safety measures in place.  She knows Jeff has a problem with sexual addiction.  He has a long history of pornography, affairs, prostitutes and one night stands.

Does God ask Kathy to ignore these dangers to her health and safety in order to reconcile her marriage?  Or, is it both in her and Jeff’s best interest that she stay firm and not resume sexual intimacy with Jeff until he gets a clean bill of health as well as demonstrates a change of heart and some progress in his change of habits?

In a different situation, Gina’s husband, Matthew, feels entitled to keep his income in a separate bank account with only his name on it.  He gives Gina an allowance each week for household expenses but requires her to give him give a detailed account of everything she spends.  Gina is an RN, but she and Matthew agreed it was best for her to stay home with their four children.  Gina does not feel safe financially or emotionally.  She feels like a child when she has to give an account, yet Matthew refuses to let Gina know what he’s spending.  He says it’s his money.  Gina feels vulnerable and scared whenever Matthew travels, especially overseas.  What if something happened to him and she ran out of cash?  When she’s expressed her concerns to Matthew, he tells her not to worry, nothing will happen to him.

Legally Gina is an adult and considered an equal partner in their financial responsibilities, yet she has no voice, no power, and no idea what is happening with their assets. Should she submit to Matthew when he says she’s not allowed to have a credit card even though she’s never been irresponsible with money?   Gina’s observed Matthew being deceitful at times in his business expenses. What if Matthew has been deceitful in other ways?  What if he has underreported their income tax?  Gina would be held equally responsible even if she didn’t know.   What if he is not paying their mortgage or their home equity loan faithfully?   The financial consequences of his irresponsibility would fall equally on her shoulders. Gina and Matthew will never have a healthy marriage if these issues aren’t discussed with the underlying imbalance of power and control changed.

I’m dismayed by the number of people helpers, pastors, lay counselors, marriage mentors and professional counselors who don’t understand safety issues must come first. There can be no constructive conversation about other marital issues nor can there be any joint marital counseling  if one person has no say or isn’t safe to tell the truth or disagree without fear of physical, emotional, sexual, financial or spiritual retaliation.

How God Thinks of Me

SOURCE:  Living Free

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39 NLT

Perhaps you have suffered abuse from a parent or spouse or another “trusted” person. Maybe you have suffered a traumatic personal loss. Or perhaps you have made poor choices and are suffering from the consequences.

God promises that despite all these things, you can have overwhelming victory through Christ. Come to him for help … and forgiveness. If you do, nothing … absolutely nothing … can separate you from his love.

Sometimes it is easy to look at scriptures about God’s love and think, Yes, God loves all people. But in our innermost being we don’t include ourselves in the “all people.” We think I’m different … I’m just not good enough … that’s alright for other people, but I’ve made too many mistakes. It’s too late for me.

But God’s Word makes it abundantly clear that you are included.

No matter what you have done. No matter what other people say or think about you. No matter what you think about yourself. God loves you. Jesus died for you. Nothing can ever separate you from his love.

And as you walk with Jesus, you can have overwhelming victory over every problem and obstacle in your life. 

The problems might still be there … the obstacles may still come. But you won’t have to face them alone … and Jesus will give you the strength to overcome.

Lord, thank you that these promises are not just for other people … but they are really for me. Thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you that no matter what has happened in the past or comes my way in the future, I can walk in victory through Jesus. In Jesus’ name …

———————————————————————————————–

These thoughts were drawn from …

Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W. This study helps to minister to families caught in the cycle of abusive relationships. 

Ending Toxic Relationships: Am I being a poor example of Christ to others by my decision?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Topic: Am I Being a Bad Example?

This week’s question: I separated from my husband after 25 years. I can remember being pregnant with my now 22 year old son feeling distraught and asking myself why I am having this man’s baby?

The emotional destruction took place throughout 22 years of the marriage. I have asked numerous times to go for counseling and actually moved out twice only to come back to empty promises of change from him.

I feel a sense of peace in every cell of my body that I have not felt in decades. My concern is am I honoring God with my decision for self-preservation, my sanity? 

Am I being a poor example of Christ to others by my decision?

Answer: Your question captures the dilemma so many women who are in an emotionally abusive/destructive marriage experience once they prioritize their sanity and safety over keeping the marriage together. They fear God’s anger and his disappointment. They fear being a poor representative of Christ and feel guilty when they finally say “I can’t do this anymore.”

I deeply appreciate that you don’t take your marriage vows lightly. We ought to press pause for self examination, prayer, and Biblical counsel if ever we consider separating from our spouse, so that if we separate, we are separating for biblical reasons and have as clear a conscious as possible.

Let me encourage you that God values physical safety and relational safety as much if not more than you do. For example, in spite of God’s general instructions to submit to the laws of the land and to higher authorities, when David feared for his life because of King Saul’s jealous rages, God didn’t instruct David to “submit to the King and trust me to take care of you” Instead, David fled, always respecting the position of King Saul, but not allowing himself to be abused by him. (Read 1Samuel 18-31 for the story.)

In another example, when Jesus was born and King Herod sought to exterminate all the Jewish babies two years and younger, God told Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt until it was safe to return (Matthew 2:13-15).

When Rehab hid the Jewish spies, she lied to keep them safe and God commended her (Hebrews 11:31). I suspect those who lied to keep Jews safe from the Nazi army were equally commended by God.

Jesus himself valued safety and said even the well-being of an ox was a higher value to God than legalistically keeping the Sabbath by not working (Luke 14:5).

Safety is an important component of trust especially in marriage. There can be no freedom or honest communication if someone feels afraid or is threatened, either physically and/or emotionally or has a price to pay whenever they honestly share their thoughts and feelings.

Women (and sometimes men) fear taking measures to protect themselves because they’ve been taught it’s unbiblical or ungodly. They suffer endlessly with verbal battering, even physical abuse believing that by doing so, they’re being godly martyr’s. Keeping the family together at all costs is seen as God’s highest value.

Yet Proverbs 27:12 teaches us, “The prudent see danger and take refuge.”

Sanity is also an important value to God. By sanity I don’t just mean good mental health from a secular point of view, but good mental health from God’s point of view. Again the writer of Proverbs warns us of the devastating consequences of living with a contentious and argumentative person (Proverbs 15:4; 17:1; 25:24; 26:28).

The scriptures are clear. People influence and impact us, both for good and for evil. When we live with an abusive, destructive, manipulative, deceitful person, it definitely takes its toll on our mental, spiritual, emotional, physical and spiritual health.

Being sane from God’s perspective involves knowing, believing, and walking in the truth. Jesus says, “If your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is (Matthew 6:33). The apostle Paul says by nature we exchange the truth of God for a lie and that the more we do that, we become more and more insane (depraved mind) (Romans 1:25-28).

Walking in the light and truth are important values of God. When you live with someone who prefers deceit and darkness and twists and manipulates the truth, it can be very stressful.

However your question is, Are you being a poor example of Christ to others by leaving? My answer is maybe. You also could be a poor example of Christ by staying. You see it’s not whether you leave or stay that determines whether you are letting the love of Christ rule you, but how you leave or how you stay.

There are people who choose to stay in a destructive marriage (for lots of reasons) and are terrible examples of Christ. They are bitter, angry, spiteful, depressed, resentful, and demonstrate no joy, peace, or hope in their countenance. Likewise, those who leave a bad marriage can also leave with those same negative emotions in control rather than Christ.

So what would it look like to be Christ-like and God-honoring even while leaving a destructive marriage?

Here are a few thoughts for you to ponder. The apostle Paul says that we’re not to only look out for our own interests, but also to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). You are looking out for your interests for safety and sanity by leaving. That’s not ungodly or sinful. But if you want to be a godly wife, you must also look out for your husband’s interests. So what is your husband’s greatest need right now? Is it to stay with him, make his dinner, be his companion, and meet his sexual needs or is it something far more crucial to his long-term well-being? I believe your husband’s greatest need right now is to wake up from his slumber, from his darkness and to come to Christ and repent of his destructive behaviors. The question you must answer is would you more likely help meet his greatest need by leaving or by staying?

Second, God calls you to love your husband, even if he feels like your enemy right now. That is being Christ-like. However, you must also understand that unconditional love doesn’t entitle someone to unconditional relationship even with Jesus. The scriptures tell us that our sin separates us from close relationship from God. It doesn’t separate us from his love as Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38,39), but it does separate us from his Presence.

If Jesus doesn’t offer unconditional relationship with everyone even when he loves them, I don’t think he expects that of us either. Sin not only separates us from God, it separates us from one another. Until your husband can see his sinful heart and actions as damaging not only you, but your marriage and is willing to actually do the work it takes to change them, it may be most Christ-like to stay compassionate toward him yet separate from him.

One more thing. For your own peace of mind, please ask God to show you how to represent him well in this time. You must let go of your desire for everyone to agree with your decision to separate. You may be Christ-like in all your actions and attitudes and people still may not like it. Jesus represented the character of God perfectly and yet there were those, especially religious leaders, who did not approve.

Q & A: Husband says he’s sorry and will change, but doesn’t. Now what?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My husband has had two affairs, he throws things when he’s angry, abandons me for days at a time after an argument, and now has just completely detached himself from our family. He also lies about his whereabouts. I want to be the wife God has called me to be, but I can’t continue this way. My husband always says he is sorry and will change, but these behaviors continue to resurface. Please help.

Answer: I think the first question you must settle is what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be for your husband? Is it a wife that allows herself to be abused, abandoned, lied to, and cheated on with no consequences?

You say I can’t continue this way. I don’t blame you. No one would want to be married this way. But I think your dilemma is that although you can, with God’s help, be the wife that God wants you to be, that doesn’t guarantee that your husband will become the husband God wants him to be or that you want him to be.

But the question remains, what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be here? Do you think he wants you to be passive and continue to live with a man who lies to you, cheats on you, leaves you, and scares you when he’s angry? Or, might God be calling you to love your husband in such a courageous way that you boldly confront his sinfulness, refuse to accept his excuses, and, if he wants to remain married to you, require him to show through his behaviors that he’s repentant and truly wants to change. His words are meaningless. He lies. If he wants to be married, it’s time that he takes specific and consistent action steps that demonstrate that he’s serious and willing to work hard to change.

What might that look like? For starters, he needs to get some accountability partners that will help him stay honest, engaged, and sexually faithful. He needs a plan to help him learn how to manage his emotions when he’s angry or hurt so that he doesn’t get destructive, deceitful, or disengage for long periods of time. Obviously he hasn’t been able to change these habit patterns by himself, so he will need to get professional or pastoral help to learn how to deal with his emotions and understand why he does the things he does. These changes do not happen quickly or painlessly but, with God’s help, are possible for the person who is committed and teachable.

I think you fear that if you hold your husband to these necessary changes and he refuses, then what? I’m going to tell you the unvarnished truth. Your relationship is broken. You may stay legally married, you may even still live together, but you cannot have a good marriage if your husband will not change.

Hear me. You can make a bad marriage better all by yourself (by not retaliating or repaying evil for evil), but you cannot make a bad marriage a good marriage all by yourself no matter how good a wife you are. We only have to read through the book of Jeremiah to see how God longed for Israel to repent, to come to her senses and change, but she would not. God loved Israel, but He could not and would not have a close and intimate relationship with her until she was willing to change her sinful, adulterous, deceitful ways.

God knows what you’re going through. Let him empower you to be the wife he wants you to be and the wife your husband most desperately needs. You don’t have to live this way.

Men Are Victims of Domestic Violence, Too!

Editor’s Note:  No matter who is the perpetrator, the very sinfulness of bullying behavior is exactly the same whether the abusive behavior is initiated by the husband or the wife.  This article by Leslie Vernick, nationally known author –  counselor – speaker, is important.  It is important because it can be wrongly assumed that domestic violence always is about a female being victimized by a male.  While this scenario is regrettably too often true, it is only “part” of the total picture.  No one, female nor male, who is victimized via domestic violence must be overlooked.

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

In this week’s blog, I’m (Leslie Vernick) doing something different. It’s not exactly a question, but rather some comments from a man who responded to my last newsletter titled, Is Your Marriage Healthy? and wants people to know that men are victims of domestic violence too.

I applaud his bravery in speaking out and giving us this reminder that the Church as well as society needs to be much more aware and sensitive to the problem of domestic violence in general, but not to forget about men who suffer abuse at the hands of their wives.

I’ve (Leslie Vernick) condensed his rather lengthy comments and have a few of my own thoughts at the end. My second newsletter this month is on the topic of  Five Things You Can do to Help Someone that Has been Abused.

Sign up on my home page at http://www.leslievernick.com/ if you’d like to receive it.

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A Reader’s Response:

In your last newsletter on healthy marriages, one sentence grabbed my attention. You wrote,

“When a woman bullies her husband, the sinfulness and inappropriateness of the interactions are much more obvious to church leaders”

What??

My experience is anything but that. My experience is that women bullying and abusing men is considered funny. Men have no place to turn. They can be hit, abused, bullied and terrorized by their wives, and the only way they can hope to have contact with their children is if they continue to allow themselves to be victimized.

My experience has been that doors of help close for men. Social services make excuse after excuse for a woman’s abusive behavior and scorn the man for taking photos or videos during her perpetration. The man must be ultra perfect, and if he ever does wrong, he goes to jail. If she does wrong, she needs more compassion, more money, more help.

My experience has been that very few church leaders have the courage to look a woman in the eye and confront her about her abusive behavior. Church leaders, therapists, and other professionals often migrate to the “most reasonable” partner and the partner willing to make changes. So that one is the one who changes and changes and changes, only to be hit, raged at, and made out to be a monster, because well “all men are monsters.”

My wife posted as her Facebook profile photo, a picture my mom took of my wife, our daughter and me in front of the Christmas tree (2010) in which, under my shirt, I was physically injured by my wife. The picture literally makes me want to vomit, and I cannot look at it for more than a few seconds. It is still in my wife’s photo album on FB. I avoid looking there.

And as long as therapists, authors and professionals look at this issue with even a hint of “gender” in view, then, frankly, right now, I feel we’ve lost. Abuse is to be confronted and our children are to be protected. Families are to be protected. And women’s help lines and shelters simply MUST be opened up to men. Either that or parallel organizations can fill the need.

Out of about 20 calls to women’s help lines (yes, I’ve been that desperate), there was ONE time where someone actually fielded my call. Someone actually gave me the counsel, information, and advice that they would have given a woman. That was a VERY helpful and healing call in my life, and I am grateful that the woman on the other end of the line neither yelled at me nor hung up on me as others had.

In the meantime, I am raising our daughter. I separated from my wife in mid August and even though we have a 1week on 1 week off caretaking arrangement — oops, she’s sick, oh, she brings our daughter to kindergarten late or not at all, oops, she dresses our daughter in clothes that don’t fit right — oh combing her hair is just too much of a hassle, so forget about it, she can just look like a nappy mop in KG, that’s cool.

And no one would suspect it, considering her doe-faced kind-smile and soft-eyed presentation. Which is of course, the woman I married, but not the woman my wife is and was towards me behind closed doors.

And as the man, I am urged to “be more understanding.” Of what? Of outright abuse? I have never hit my wife. She has hit, bitten, restrained, yelled, raged, etc.

The counselors want to discuss how both of us are perpetrators. Maybe make the discussion “fair” by seeing it as 50/50.

Well some things are not 50/50.

A sniper can kill you from 2 miles away with a single bullet. Was the exchange 50/50? A robber can steal your car. Was that 50/50? Are you just as much to blame as the person who stole your car? Do you need to do “personal work,” because someone stole your car?

I have spent about a decade now absorbing abuse, compensating for constant chaos, and I am now repairing my life.

Thank God, now that I have separated from my wife, the kindergarten teachers and administration see more of what is going on. My daughter is well dressed, well taken care of, and OK when she is with me. When she is with my wife, she is either very very late, ragged, or distressed. My wife hasn’t kept her appointments with the kindergarten staff and, oh, now my wife wants to pull her out of her kindergarten, where she is loved, has friends, and plays on a mountainside.

In one sense, I am fortunate, because my wife’s neglect of her own child is pretty obvious to those who are in contact with her regularly. I have deep sympathy for men who are abused by women who do a “good job” with their children. That’s got to be an even more impossible situation.

And how does it feel as a man to have “escaped” from an abusive relationship with a child? I feel like a complete idiot. Sure, people smile at me and my daughter a lot in public. She sings and is well dressed and both my wife and I are good looking people, so our daughter is simply a beautiful child. But the “background” behind this father with the adorable daughter is simply: horrific.

Please don’t forget, men are victims of domestic violence too.

My Response (Leslie Vernick):

Thank you for your poignant and passionate response. For those of you who did not get my last newsletter, the larger context of my comment he’s referring to is:

When a husband bullies his wife, his behavior does not describe biblical headship, nor is her forced “submission” characteristic of biblical submission. The correct terms are coercion, manipulation, intimidation, or rape and she is the victim. Let’s make sure we use the right words.

When a woman bullies her husband, the sinfulness and inappropriateness of the interactions are much [less] obvious to church leaders, but the very sinfulness of bullying behavior is exactly the same whether the abusive behaviors is initiated by the wife or the husband.

Your points are well taken. Men are victims of abuse and here is more sad news:

1. The Family Violence survey as well as numerous other studies have found that men are just as likely to be the victims of domestic violence as women are.

2. Men indeed have fewer resources to help them. The only national toll-free helpline for men is the Domestic Abuse Helpline (888 743 5754). Go to their website at http://dahmw.org/ to find other helpful websites and resources for men who are abused. There are very few shelters (out of 1,200-1,800 DV shelters) that offers services to men.

3. Men are less likely to be supported or validated. Men who report abuse are often seen as wimpy, frail, passive, or stupid, thus making it much more likely that they won’t report. Suzanne Steinmentz, director of the Family Research Institute at Indiana University/Purdue said, “They [men] wouldn’t dream of reporting the kind of minor abuse – – such as slapping or kicking – – that women routinely report.” Why not? Because men are supposed to “take it like a man.”

4. Society doesn’t deem men as “victims” and we tend to perceive women more vulnerable than men, therefore abuse by a woman toward a man may seem more justified or excusable than abuse by a man toward a woman. A recent study revealed that more than 51% of men and 52% of women felt that sometimes it was appropriate for a wife to slap her husband. On the other hand, only 26% of men and 21% of women felt it was ever appropriate for a husband to slap his wife.

5. A man calling the police to report domestic abuse is three times more likely to be arrested than the woman who is abusing him. This makes him afraid to report, thus making the statistics for abuse of men higher than we know.

6. When a woman is abusive, she is more likely to be seen as “sick” and labeled with a mental health diagnosis. People tend to be more compassionate toward someone labeled sick. When a man is abusive, he is more likely to be labeled with entitlement issues, power and control problems, character defects or sin problems. Compassion is directed toward the female victim, not the male offender.

To the man who wrote his comments and other men who are victims of domestic violence, we hear you. Domestic violence isn’t a woman’s problem or a man’s problem, it is a human problem and a tragedy.

Please know, God gives wisdom for both the victim and abuser to heal and to change so that generational patterns are broken, but it’s only as we speak up and speak out about this can we receive the help we and our loved ones need.

“I’ve Got A Hole Inside Me”

Editors Note:  The following article is about the topic of  homosexuality.  In reality, what the author writes about could pertain to any life-controlling problem any of us is affected by.  Regardless of whether your life struggle is with homosexuality or not, read this article keeping your particular struggle in mind and know that your Heavenly Father  relates to you in the same way that this author experienced.

SOURCE:  Anonymous/Discipleship Journal

The reasons people develop a sexual attraction to persons of the same sex are varied and complex. One thing is certain: becoming a Christian does not automatically take away those wrong desires. Many, many homosexuals are able to change their orientation with the help of caring ministries and God’s power. But the battle is seldom easy.

A Christian man wrote the following testimony to read at his church’s support group. You may disagree with some of his perceptions. Nevertheless, we hope it will help you understand and develop compassion for those who struggle with homosexuality.

I’ve got a hole inside me. I’m not sure where it is, but I know it’s there. It’s deep, wide, and ugly, and if I don’t find ways to let God heal or fill it, it will continue to grow until I am all hole and no me.

My father helped dig the hole. He was a minister who loved his congregation and God more than his family. He wasn’t there for me. Because of his relationship with his father, he probably wouldn’t have known how to love me even if he had been there.

My mother helped dig the hole. She was alone while my father ministered, and I was cast in the role of her best friend, always there to keep her company.

Once when she travelled with my father, I was sexually abused by the oldest son of the family with whom I was staying. I tried to tell my parents, but I was five and I didn’t have the words. I dug the hole deeper. I was bad and dirty because I had allowed the older boy to touch me.

In early grade school, I knew I was different. I followed boys I admired home just to find out where they lived. In school I couldn’t look at them enough. If only, I thought. If only I could be like them in every way, maybe … maybe I would be whole instead of a hole.

I learned I could check out these boys in the school washrooms. Then in sixth grade, I discovered that in the downtown washrooms there were curious men like me. I thought I had come home.

I didn’t fit with the kids who went to church. I wasn’t concerned about whether it was wrong to go to movies. I wanted to know why God didn’t save me from my differentness and my desires. I tried to explain myself to our assistant pastor, and he said I had to resist sin or else. My hole got bigger.

As a teen, the hole was filled with pain. I knew I was a wretched sinner, and I had to keep up the appearance of being a nice person. I landscaped my deep hole—tall trees, low shrubs, even a weeping willow. Everyone loves weeping willows. I spent two semesters at a Christian college majoring in Bible, but I couldn’t keep up the pretense.

In desperation, I quit school, ended a long-term relationship with a male friend, and started attending a new church. There I heard about healing for homosexuals. I got busy in the local body of believers, but all my activity was like a shovel or two of dirt into my bottomless pit.

I started to date women—more shovels into my crater. Eventually I met a woman I thought I could commit to. I told her my homosexual behavior was in the past. On one level I thought I was being honest. Now, I know that, on a deeper level, I was aware of the deception.

I wanted to believe I could replace a bad habit with a good one. Perhaps marriage would be God’s ordained lid to fit over my chasm of pain. It was … for a while.

But my emptiness was too great. I started visiting forest preserves where I could meet others who were in pain. I would feel temporarily refreshed after these sexual encounters, but I knew they were wrong. When I tried to stop, the pain would become too much.

One day a forest ranger caught me and called the police. I was arrested for indecent exposure. I knew I had to deal with my problem: I had a compulsive habit.

I started attending Sexual Addicts Anonymous and Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers, all held in Bible-believing churches and attended by men like me who had grown up naming Jesus as Lord. I found a group of married Christian men whom I could talk with, pray with, and depend on, because we were all struggling.

I was surrounded by people who were incredibly gifted pray-ers. They made me accountable. They allowed me to call them night after night when I traveled for business.

All of their efforts helped to make my problem … worse!

I couldn’t stand it. Everyone else was getting it together with God, and I was actually going backwards. God was not supposed to work that way. I thought He had promised to make it all better.

What He really promised, of course, was that He would be with me. Big help that was! I wanted Him to fix me. The least He could do was fill up my horrible pit, right now! I had prayed, hadn’t I? He was the Mighty One, wasn’t He?

I felt hopeless, deserted, and alone. Something was wrong here. I hadn’t prayed right. I hadn’t done morning devotions correctly or long enough or early enough.

The only thing that comforted me was the psalms. David was a man in pain, and I was too. He cried as I did: “God, where are You?” There was no hope. I had tried everything I could think of. All the landscaping around the hole was uprooted and I stood staring down into the crater.

“God, where are You?” I cried. This time, instead of a hollow echo over my hole, I thought I heard Him answer, “Wait.” No! I couldn’t do that. I had to get healing. I had books to read on healing the homosexual. I had intense spiritual people to pray me out of this. But Jesus said, “Wait. I will be your good Shepherd, but you have to wait on Me. And I want you to learn to listen for My voice while you wait. Do you think you can handle this? It will not be easy.”

Wait! Learn to listen! I had exhausted all the alternatives. I had to do what God asked.

I’m gaining confidence in my Shepherd as I learn to wait. I’m learning to recognize His voice. At times, I feel His love wash over me. I’ve started to journal our conversations. I write what I think He is saying. Then I write my responses. I say, “Thank you, Lord.” He answers, “You’re welcome, special man.” Sometimes I think I will never stop crying, but He is crying with me.

Jesus never said He would just ZAP! and my hole would be filled, leaving the ground of my being unmarked. He said He would always be there for me. I am learning to wait on Him.

I’ve learned to see Him on the Cross. Sometimes when I ask for forgiveness, I see my sin go into Him as if it were lightning. Sometimes I see Him cutting the connections I’ve made in past unhealthy, sinful relationships. I see those bonds disappearing into the slash in His side.

My prayer: Thank You, Father, that You are using the pain in my life to teach me to stand before Your Cross and wait and listen. Thank You for my tears and Yours, which are just beginning to fill my crater. I’m vulnerable and scarred. You are the Master Landscaper who can take my internal disaster and create in me a garden for Your use, in Your time.

—Anonymous

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The author and his wife have been married for eleven years and are best friends. Although their relationship is platonic, they support and care for one another, openly discussing their feelings and struggles.

Emotionally Destructive Relationships: Close to home

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

SOURCE:  Leslike Vernick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I Set Boundaries with An Abusive Spouse?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question: I have one other question which I hope you can also address. My husband says that he is put into a kind of uncontrollable rage when I disrespect him because it is his god given right as the husband to be respected. Last night I told my husband who has physically struck me in the past that I felt unsafe in our marriage and that I thought it was necessary that we lay some ground rules and boundaries specifically to be enforced during our times of arguing and fighting so that we can keep each other accountable.

He resisted in agreeing boundaries were the issue but finally agreed. I told him that a universal boundary should be absolutely no physical striking or threats of physically hurting of any kind toward one another. To that he said that his boundary equivalent to that was “no disrespect/raising my voice to him.” He said that when he is disrespected, he feels he is being verbally abused by me and it feels as terrible as I feel when he slaps me on the arm/leg/head.

In theory this sounds “right”. He says that I am making a double standard when I put a boundary on his behavior but that he cannot on me. And yet, something does not seem right at all about what he is saying. I agree that disrespecting your husband is as sinful as physically striking your spouse in anger. Is it biblical to see these exactly the same in terms of setting “off limit” boundaries in disagreements?

Answer: Your struggle to think clearly in this muddle is common to women who live with abusive men. I want to help clarify some important truths.

First your husband’s rage and subsequent acts of violence toward you are not uncontrollable. His behavior is always his choice. I’m sure he has experienced disrespect from other people in his life – his employer, a rude driver, your children, a friend, an enemy. People sin against us all the time in many ways and sometimes we do get angry. However, that doesn’t mean we hit them. In fact, isn’t that what we teach our children NOT to do when someone takes their toy or makes them mad? We don’t hit people when we’re mad. Period!

Let me ask you a question. Does your husband hit other people in the arm/leg/head when he feels disrespected? What do you imagine a police officer would say if your husband used that as his excuse when he hit someone who disrespected him in traffic or at the mall?

Hear this important truth. Your husband hits you when he is mad because he chooses to and you have continued to enable him by not enforcing legal consequences that would protect you from this kind of abusive behavior.

He says that it is his god-given right to be respected. It’s also your god given right to be loved and cherished. When he fails to love and cherish you and you feel hurt or angry, do you hit him?

The second truth I want you be crystal clear on is that you will fail your spouse and he will fail you. Sometimes these failures are big but often they occur in little ways. He doesn’t love me like I’d like or she doesn’t respect me like I want her to. The truth is, our spouse doesn’t always give us what we want even if what we want is a good and godly thing. Hurt and disappointment occur in every marriage and we can feel angry.

But is the right answer to treat our spouse with abusive behavior or abusive speech when they don’t give us what we want? Jesus says “never!” The Bible labels that kind of behavior sin and selfishness and is never justified.

The truth is no one get’s everything he or she wants all of the time. Part of growing up and maturing is learning how to handle ourselves in a godly, mature way when we are disappointed, angry and hurt when we don’t get what we want.

Your husband’s entitlement thinking has deceived him into believing that since he’s entitled to be respected, he’s entitled to hit you when you’re not complying with what he wants. That is absolutely not true. How do other men handle being disrespected by their wives? They might pray for their wife. They might talk with their wife. They might get counseling as a couple. A much healthier response to his disappointment or hurt when you don’t respect him is for him to say, “Honey, that hurts me when you talk to me that way. Would you please stop?” Or even, “When you talk to me that way, I can’t hear you. I’m ending the conversation.”

As far as boundaries – you’re right, you will never feel safe to have a conversation with your husband let alone disagree if you fear for your safety. In the same way, if your husband fears your tongue and being disrespected, it’s hard for him to share his honest thoughts and feelings with you.

However, I’m not sure of his definition of disrespect. You were very clear with your definition of what you want stopped, no physical threats or physical violence. His definition was fuzzy – “No disrespect or raising your voice”. Does that mean that when you feel strongly about something or disagree, you can’t speak with an elevated voice without him feeling disrespected? Does that mean that you cannot argue because he will feel you don’t respect his opinion? Does that mean you have to agree with everything he thinks because not to will feel disrespectful to him?

You need to ask him to define for you the behavior that feels disrespectful to him. Is it calling him names? Is it swearing at him? Is it rolling your eyes? If you know what it is specifically, then you can decide whether or not you can agree to stop or change it. If you don’t know what it is, then the rules always change and he can feel disrespected just because you open your mouth in protest.

Finally, a first step boundary or safety plan for both of you might be that when either one of you feels unsafe, the one who feels unsafe can stop the conversation and the other person will respect that boundary and stop talking.

If it continues to be unsafe to have difficult discussions together and you have important things that need to be decided, then you will agree together to engage the help of a counselor to help you learn to speak safely and respectfully with one another and to handle your disappointment in a more godly way.

These “rules” need to be agreed to by both of you and if he does not keep them, then it’s time to let him experience the consequences.

Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:  This is a lengthy article, but it is so well worth the investment of time to read thoughtfully and prayerfully through these truths.

SOURCE:  David Powison/CCEF

3. It’s a WIDER war

Sexual sins grab everyone’s attention. They haunt the conscience and excite the gossip. They push other sins into the background. They go up on the marquee in red letters 10 feet high.i But consider the struggle with sin this way. Imagine a multiplex theater screening many movies simultaneously. Sexual sin is the “feature film” advertised on the marquee. But other significant films are playing in other screening rooms. The war with sin takes place in many places simultaneously. In ministry to people who struggle with sexual sins, you may get the breakthrough in another screening room, with a sin that you might not have noticed or might not have considered to be related. A breakthrough – with anger, or pride, or anxiety, or laziness – may have ripple effects that eventually help disarm the big bogie-man that has been hogging all the attention and earnest concern. It’s very important to widen the battlefront, and not to let the high profile sins blinker us from seeing the whole picture. I will give a case study of how sexual sin can and must be located within wider battles.

“My temper tantrum at God.” Tom is a single man, 35 years old. You might be able to fill in the rest of his story, because his pattern is so typical! He came to Christ, with a sincere profession of faith, when he was 15. At about the same time, his 20-year struggle with sexual lust began. It involves episodic use of pornography and episodic masturbation, about which Tom is deeply discouraged. Over the years he has experienced many ups of “victory,” and just as many downs of “defeat.”

Tom came for help from me as his elder and small group leader. He was currently discouraged by recent failures, by the latest downturn in a seemingly endless cycle. Over the years he has tried “all the right things,” the standard answers and techniques. He’s tried accountability – sincerely. It helped some, but not decisively. Accountability had a way of starting strong, but slipping to the side. At a certain point, to tell others you failed yet again, and to receive either sympathy or exhortation, stopped being helpful. Tom has memorized Scripture, and wrestled to apply truth in moments of battle. It’s often helped, but then in snow-blind moments, when he most needs help, he’ll forget everything he knows. Sex fills his mind and Scripture vanishes from sight. Other times he just overrides the truth in an act of “Who cares?” rebellion. Then he feels terrible – his conscience only goes snow-blind for half an hour at a time! He’s prayed, and continues to pray. He’s fasted. He’s sought to discipline himself. He’s planned constructive things to do with his time, and to do with and for others. He’s gotten involved in ministry to teens. He’s tried things that aren’t in the Bible: vigorous exercise, cold showers. dietary regimes. Briefly, he even tried the advice of a self-help book, trying to think of masturbation as “normal, everybody does it, so give yourself permission.” His conscience, wisely, could never get around Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28. Tom has tried it all. Most things (except giving up the fight) helped a bit. But in the end, success was always spotty and fragile. Tom has gained no greater insight into his heart and into the inner workings of sin and grace. For twenty years it’s been: “Sin is bad. Don’t do it. Just do _____ to help you not sin.” His entire Christian life has been conceived and constructed around this struggle with episodic sexual sin.

His pattern is as follows. Seasons of relative purity might last for days, weeks, even for a few months. He measures his success by “How long since I last fell?” The longer he goes, the more his hopes rise, “Maybe now I’ve finally broken the back of my besetting sin.” Then he falls again. He stumbles through seasons of defeat, wandering back to the same old pigsty. “Am I even a Christian? Why bother? What’s the point? Nothing ever works.” He’s plagued with guilt, discouragement, despair, shame. Sometimes Tom will even turn to pornography to dull the misery of his guilt over using pornography. He’ll beg God’s forgiveness over and over and over, without any relief or any joy. Two weeks or a month of “victory” does far more to alleviate his guilt than anything arising from his relationship with Christ. Then, for unaccountable reasons the season will change for the better. He’ll get sick of sin or get inspired to fight again. That’s when he gave me a call. He really wanted deliverance once and for all.

What should I do in trying to help Tom? I was reticent to simply give Tom more of the same things he’d tried dozens of times, and found wanting. I didn’t want to just give him a pep talk and a Scripture, urge him to gird his loins to run the race, and offer accountability phone calls. What is he missing? What’s happening in the other theaters of his life? Are there motives and patterns neither of us yet sees? What’s going on in the days or hours before he stumbles? What about how he (mis)handles the days and weeks after a fall? Why does his whole approach to life seem like so much complicated machinery for managing moral failure? Why does his approach to the Christian life seem so dehumanized and depersonalized? His Christianity seems like a big production, a lot of earnest effort at self-improvement. Why does his collection of truths and techniques never seem to warm up and invigorate the quality of his relationships with God and people? Is the centerpiece of the Christian life really this endless cycle of “I sin. I don’t sin. I sin. I don’t sin. I sin.” What are we missing?

I asked Tom to do a simple thing, attempting to gain a better sense of the overall terrain of his life: “Would you keep a log of when you are tempted?” I wanted to know what’s going on when he struggles. When? Where? What just happened? What did you do? What were you feeling? What were you thinking? If you resisted, how did you do it? If you fell, how did you react afterwards? Does anything else correlate to sexual temptations?

Through all the ups and downs, Tom had maintained a great sense of humor. He laughed at me, and said, “I don’t need to keep a log. I already know the answer. I only fall on Friday or Saturday nights – usually Friday, since Saturday is right before Sunday.” If you have any pastoral counseling genes in you, you light up at an answer like that. Repeated patterns always prove extremely revealing on inspection. I asked, “Why does sexual sin surface on Friday night? What’s going on with that?” He said, “I go out and buy Playboy magazine as my temper tantrum at God.”

Amazing. Look what we’ve just found out: another movie is playing in a theater next door. Now we’re not only dealing with a couple of bad behaviors, buying pornography and masturbating. We’re dealing with anger at God that drives those behaviors. What’s that about? Tom went on to give a fuller picture. “I come home from work on Friday night, back to the apartment. I’m all alone. I imagine that all my single friends are out on dates, and my married friends are spending time with their wives. But I’m all alone in my apartment. I build up a good head of steam of self-pity. Then by nine or ten o’clock, I think, ‘You deserve a break today’ – I even hear the little MacDonald’s jingle in my head, and then sexual desires start to look really, really sweet. ‘God has cheated you. If only I had a girlfriend or a wife. I can’t stand how I feel. Why not feel good for awhile? What does it matter anyway?’ Then I hop in the car, head to 7-11, and fall into sin.”

Amazing, isn’t it? Pornography and masturbation grabbed all the attention, generated all the guilt, defined the moment and act of “falling.” Let’s call that Screening Room #1. But we’ve also heard about anger at God that precedes and legitimates sexual sin: Screening Room #2. We’ve heard about hours of low-grade self-pity, grumbling, and envious fantasies: a matinee performance in Screening Room #3. We’ve heard Tom name the original desire that leads to self-pity, to anger at God, and finally to sexual lust: “God owes me a wife. I need, want, demand a woman to love me.” That’s playing in Screening Room #4, an unobtrusive G-rated film, seemingly no problem at all. It’s a classic non-sexual lust of the flesh that Tom has never viewed as problematic. In fact, in his mind, it’s practically a promise from God: “Psalm 37:4. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. If I do my part, God should do His part and give me a wife.”

As Tom and I kept talking, I found out why God owes him a wife: “I’ve tried to do all the right things. I’ve served Him. I’ve tried accountability. I’ve memorized Scripture. I’ve tried to be a good Christian. I do ministry. I witness. I tithe.… but God hasn’t come through.” In other words, the “right answers” for fighting sin are also the levers to pry goodies out of God. Tom’s words sound eerily like the self-righteous whine of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son: “I’m good, therefore God owes me the goodies I want.” Subsequent anger at God operates like any other sinful anger: “You aren’t giving me what I want, expect, need, and demand.” This fatally-flawed, proud ‘upside’ of the classic legalistic construct has been showing in Screening Room #5. And why does Tom mope in self-lacerating depression for days and weeks after falling, rather than finding God’s living mercies new every morning? That’s the self-punitive, despairing ‘downside’ of the legalistic construct: “I’m bad, therefore God won’t give me the goodies.” Screening Room #6 is where self-punishment, self-atonement, penance, and self-hatred play out.

It doesn’t take much theological insight to see how all these distortions of Tom’s relationship with God express different forms of basic unbelief. We suppress living knowledge of the true God. We create a universe for ourselves voided of the real God’s presence, truth, and purposes. Unbelief does not mean a vacuum; rather the universe fills up with seductive, persuasive fictions. Screening Room #7 is showing a blockbuster that Tom had never noticed as trouble. (When Dame Folly keeps her clothes on she sounds like common sense.) In fact, we even found out why Tom is so eager right now to get my counsel and advice. Why did he want to have victory over his lust problem, to try again, to defeat the dragon of lust once and for all? He’s recently had his eye on an eligible young lady who started to attend our church. That’s reawakened his motivation to fight. If only lust goes, then God owes, and maybe he’ll get the wife of his dreams. Even Tom’s agenda for counseling plays a bit part in the wider battle: Screening Room #8!

Look how far we’ve come in half an hour. Tom’s “fall” at 9:30 P.M. last Friday was not where he started to fall. It was not even his most devastating fall. For me to assist Tom’s discipleship to Jesus is not simply to offer tips and truths that might help him remain “morally pure” on subsequent Fridays. Counseling must be about rewiring Tom’s entire life. “Cure of souls” is what ministry does.

You can see why we must widen the battlefront in order to cure souls. Tom concentrates all his attention on one marquee sin that sporadically surfaces, defining and energizing all his guilty feelings. But that narrowing of attention serves to mask far more serious, pervasive sins. As a pastor, friend, or other counselor, you don’t want to concentrate all your energies in the same place Tom does. There are other, deeper opportunities for grace and truth to rewrite the script of this man’s life. Tom had turned his whole relationship with God into flimsy scaffolding. Self-righteousness (“victory at last”) would get him the goodies he really wanted out of life. Though Tom knew and professed sound theology, in daily practice he reduced God to the “errand boy of his wandering desires” (Bob Dylan).

Tom and I put the fire of truth and grace to the scaffolding. Wonderful changes started to run through his life. We didn’t ignore temptations to sexual sin, but many other things that he had never before noticed became urgently important. We spent far more time talking about self-pity and grumbling as “early warning” sins, about how the desire for a wife becomes a mastering lust, about how the self-righteousness construct falls before the dynamics of grace. Temptations to sexual sin greatly diminished. The topography of the battlefield radically changed. The significance of Jesus Christ’s love went off the charts. The lights of more accurate and comprehensive self-knowledge came on. A man going in circles, muddling in the middle, started to leap and bound in the right direction. We experienced the delights of a season of gazelle growth. Ministering to someone who has struggled for 20 years with the exact same thing is disheartening, and frequently a recipe for futility. Ministering to someone who is starting to battle a half-dozen foes that were previously invisible is extremely heartening! Widening the war served to deepen and heighten the significance of the Savior who met Tom on every battlefront.

4. It’s a DEEPER war

The Bible is always about behavior, but it is never only about behavior. God’s indictment of human nature always gets below the surface, into the “heart.” His gaze and Word expose the thoughts, intentions, desires, and fears that shape the entire way that we approach life. An immoral act or fantasy – behavior – is a sin in itself. But such behavior always arises from desires and beliefs that dethrone God. Whenever I do wrong, I am loving something besides God with all my heart, soul, mind, and might. I am listening attentively to some other voice. Typically (but not always!), immoral actions arise in connection with erotic desires that squirm out from under God’s lordship. But immorality results from many other motives, too, and usually arises from a combination of motives. We saw some of this in describing Tom. Erotic motives, the “feel good” of sex, played an important role. But other motives – “I want a wife”; “If I’m good, God owes me goodies”; “I’m angry because God has let me down” – interconnected with his eroticism. Many co-conspirators play a role when Tom starts rummaging in the gutter of “I want to look at a naked Playmate” and “I need sexual release now.” Many other lusts join hands to give a boost to sexual lust. It’s worth digging, both in order to understand yourself and in order to minister wisely to other people. As our understanding of sin’s inner cravings deepens, our ability to know and appreciate the God of grace grows deeper still. Consider a handful of typical examples to prime the pump.

a. Angry desires for revenge.

Sexual acting out can be a way to express anger. I once counseled a couple who had committed backlash adulteries. First they had a big fight, full of yelling, threats and bitter accusations. In anger the man went out and slept with a prostitute. Still burning with anger, he came home and gloated about it to his wife. In retaliatory anger, the woman went out and seduced her husband’s best friend. Did they get any erotic pleasure out of those acts? Probably. But was eros the driving force? No way. Though it’s not always so dramatic, anger often plays a role in immorality: a teenager finds sex a convenient way to rebel against and to hurt morally upright parents; a man cruises the internet after he and his wife exchange words; a woman masturbates to fantasies of former boyfriends after she and her husband argue. In all these situations, the redemption of dirtied sexuality can only happen alongside the redemption of dirtied anger.

b. Longings to feel loved, approved, affirmed, given romantic attention.

Consider the situation of an overweight, lonely, teenage girl with acne, whose enjoyment of sex as an act is minimal or even nil. Why then is she promiscuous, giving away sexual favors to any boy who pays her any attention? She barters her body in service not to erotic lust, but in order to feed her consuming lust for romantic attention. When boys say sweet things and pledge their faithful love, she might even know inside that they are lying. She knows that they are merely using her as a receptacle for their lust, but she temporarily blocks out the thought. She does sex anyway – because she’s hooked on “feeling loved.” Ministry to such a young woman does her a disservice if we only concentrate on the wrong of fornication, and do not help her to understand the subtler enslavement of living for human attention. Sex can be an instrument in the hands of non-sexual lust. Both evils must find the mercies and transforming power of Christ.

c. Thrilling desires for the power and excitement of the chase.

Some people enjoy the sense of power and control over another person’s sexual response. The flirt, the tease, the Don Juan, the seducer are not motivated solely by sexual desires. Often evil erotic pleasure is enhanced and complemented by deeper evil pleasures: the chase, the hunt, the thrill of conquest, the rush that comes with being able to manipulate the romantic-erotic arousal of another. There is a kind of sadistic pleasure driving through such sexual sins. They like to see people get aroused, “fall” for them, and squirm. They may become indifferent to a willing sexual partner once that particular chase has ended. Repentance and change for seducers will address lusts for perverse power and excitement, as well as lusts for sex.

d. Anxious desires for money to meet basic survival needs.

The obvious link of sex to money is the “sex industry”: sex makes lots money for lots of people. As in the previous cases, eros may be one factor. But in money-making sex, pleasure plays second fiddle to mammon. There are also more subtle situations. A single mother in our church was in very tight financial straits. She found herself strongly tempted by her sleazy landlord’s offer of free rent in exchange for sexual favors. If she had fallen, sexual desire might have been non-existent. In fact, she might have fornicated despite feeling active repugnance, shame, and guilt in the act. To God’s glory, she opened up her struggle to a wise woman. In a variety of appropriate ways the church was able to come to her aid with care and counsel. One aspect of care for her came from the deacons (who didn’t even know what almost happened): “Know that you will not end up on the street. We are your family. If you get stuck, if you wonder where the money will come from for rent, or groceries, or a doctor’s bill, don’t think twice about asking for help.” Interesting, isn’t it? Mercy ministry to financial needs played a significant role in reducing a woman’s vulnerability to one particular sort of sexual temptation. She needed counsel, too, in order to run further in her race of repentance. But anxiety, finances, and the character of God were more salient than her sexual temptation.

e. Distorted messianic desire to help another.

Certainly there are pastors and priests who are sexual predators, but that’s not the only dynamic of sexual sin in the ministry. I’ve dealt with a number of situations that involved the very impulses that make for ministry – run far off the rails. For example, a pastor feels deep concern for a lonely young widow or divorcée. He so much (too much) wants to help her and comfort her. She so appreciates his wise, Scriptural counsel. He’s such a role model of kindness, gentleness, communication, attentive concern. But life is still very hard and lonely for her. He starts to console her with hugs. They end up in bed. The motives? Sexual, yes. But more significant in the early going was a warped desire to be helpful, to be admired, to make a real difference, to be important, to “save” her. When anyone who is not the Messiah starts to act messianic, it gets very ugly very fast. When you minister to a minister who has committed sexual sin, you might find that sex was only the poisoned dessert. The poisonous entrée might be a very different set of deceitful desires, desires arising more in the mind than from the body (Eph. 4:22; 2:3).

f. Desires for relief and rest amid the pressures of life.

Sexual sin often serves as a kind of “escape valve” from other problems. When steam pressure gets too high in a pressure cooker, it blows off steam. That’s a metaphor for what’s often true with people, too. Consider a man who faces, and mishandles, extreme pressures in his work place. He’s part of a team facing a drop-dead deadline for a major project. They’ve been running behind. He’s had a month of 80-hour work weeks. He’s harried, driven, preoccupied, worried, worn out. Every day his boss applies more pressure, more panic, more threats. There’s been vicious infighting on the project team: who’s responsible for what task, who’s to blame for what glitch, who gets credit for what achievement. All along, he is not casting real cares on the God who cares for him; he is not “anxious for nothing,” but anxious about lots of things. After two straight all-nighters, just under the wire, they finish the project. They made it. He made it. Success. Finally he has a free night, with no deadlines, no jungle of intramural combat, no tomorrow to worry about. But after a month of living ‘stressed-out’, he feels no relief. He finds no satisfaction in achievement. So he surfs the internet, revels in pornography, forgets his troubles. What’s going on with him?

Erotic sin is part of his picture, but there’s lots more. Every deviant motive – all lusts of the flesh, lies, false loves – is a hijacker. It mimics some aspect of God. It usurps some promise of God. Consider that about 2/3s of the Psalms present God as “our refuge” in the midst of the troubles of life. Amid threat, hurt, disappointment, and attack, God protects, cares, and looks out for us. Our friend has faced troubles: people out to get him, threats to his job, intolerable demands, relentless weeks. But he’s been finding no true refuge during this frenzied month. Now, in a spasm of immorality, he takes “false refuge” in eroticism. His erotic behavior serves as a counterfeit rest from his troubles. Psalm 23 breathes true refuge: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” This man pants after false refuge: “After I’ve walked through that godforsaken valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because the photograph of a surgically-enhanced female wearing no clothes is with me.” A false refuge looks pretty silly when it’s exposed for what it really is.

Sexual sin is one expression of a deeper war for the heart’s loyalty and primary love. Learning to see more clearly is a crucial part of your sanctification journey. Teaching others to have eyes open to the deeper battles is a crucial part of wise pastoral ministry. Jesus Christ looks better and better the more we see what He is about. He is not simply in the business of cleaning up a few embarrassing moral blots. Deepening the battle deepens the significance of the Savior. He alone sees your heart accurately. He alone loves you well enough to make you love Him.

5. It’s a SUBTLER war

A newcomer to war imagines that the first battles are the hardest battles. When you’re first coming out of the morass of an adulterous relationship, of being betrayed by a spouse’s adultery, of promiscuous fornications, of having experienced rape or molestation, of a homosexual lifestyle, of an obsession with internet porn, it can seem like your troubles will be over if you can only get past the particular bad behavior (yours or another’s) that insulted God and sucked the life out of you.

Those battles are hard. But will your troubles be over? That’s not how life works. That’s not how sanctification works in the clean-up from sexual dirt. In fact, in some ways it’s the opposite. The more obviously destructive sins can be “easier” to deal with. The subtler sins can be more stubborn, pervasive, sneaky, and elusive.

Consider a metaphor for this. Many computer and video games send you out on a quest, a sort of pilgrim’s progress. You proceed through level after level, facing test after test, until, say, at Level 50 you’ve run the race and won. Level 1 starts you out with easier challenges. The tasks are clear cut. The enemies are slower, more limited in their abilities, more obvious in their approach, not so smart. With some practice, you learn to accomplish your task and blow away your attackers. Level 2 gets a little harder. Each successive level gets harder still. The tasks get trickier. The enemies are wilier, stronger, quicker, more numerous. The skills you need are subtler and more varied. If you ever arrive at, say, Level 40, it’s because you’ve died often, but you learned something each time, and you kept coming back. You’ve come a distance in the right direction.

The struggle with sexual sin (as with any other sin) has a certain similarity to those video games. There is typically a front-and-center issue, and the “front lines” of the current battle move from the more overt sins to subtler sins.ii Let’s work out the metaphor.

a. High-effort, high-cost sins.

Think of consenting sex (adultery, fornication, homosexuality, prostitution) and criminal sex (rape, child abuse) as the Level 1 sins. These are the obvious evils. I don’t mean that such sins are easy to break or easy to change. But they are relatively easy to see. Easier to recognize as wrong. Easier to know when you’re doing wrong, once your conscience starts to see straight. And such sins are usually harder to do and harder to get away with. Think about that. You have to put in a lot of effort scheming in order to arrange a liaison. You have to hide things from people who love you, who would be unhappy if they found out what you’ve been doing. You have to tell consistent and increasingly complex lies in order to get away with it. You have to lie to your own conscience to persuade yourself that everything’s OK. Because these actions involve actual copulation with other people, those partners may blow your cover, or blackmail you, or slip up, or report you. These sins can catch up with you very quickly, taking you down in an instant. They can destroy your reputation. Destroy family relationships. Destroy finances. Destroy health by a sexually-transmitted disease. Even send you to jail. In other words, these sins take a lot of work and can bite back hard. If you’re willing to seek mercy and change, it’s easier to set up meaningful barriers against the high-effort, high-cost sins.

Jesus Christ often begins His work of mercy and renewal by dealing with such high-handed sins. Often the dramatic first steps of sanctification shake off overt evils. Oily-rag people make leaps and bounds into the garden of light. There are adulterers who repent and never have sexual relations with anyone who is not their own wife or husband. It is entirely possible to have lived an immoral life for many years, with a string of lovers, and then to make such a complete break with that sin that you will never be immoral again – in the Level 1 sense. That does not always happen. And it’s never a snap of the fingers. And you may still face ongoing consequences. And believers do fall back into such sins. But grace and change can be as easy to see and as powerful as the sin once was. Accountability relationships can really help. The Scriptures openly and frequently speak into the obvious sins to bring transformation. (By doing this, God also familiarizes us with how the subtler versions of sin and love work, teaching us how to see more of life for what it is and can become.)

b. Lower-effort, lower-cost sins.

Let’s say you’ve done some growing. You’ve put away overt evils. No immoral liaisons. By grace you’ve worked and fought your way to a Level 8 battle. Pornography was around before, but now it’s the biggie. In some ways, pornography is a tougher problem than adultery. In one sense, it’s “not as bad,” because it doesn’t involve an accomplice or victim. But it’s harder to get rid of. Harder to set up protective barriers. Why is this? Pornography is easier to do and easier to get away with. The necessary deceit is not as complicated. It doesn’t take much work for you to do the sin. Adultery usually takes a lot of effort, both to arrange and to cover your tracks. But pornography? The gap between temptation and sin can be a matter of seconds. Three clicks of the mouse, and you’re there. A few dollars at an airport magazine shop. Standard fare in films. A remote control in your hand to check out what’s on cable TV. And who’s to know? No one. Pornography use is harder to discover. Unless you fail to erase it off your computer. Or you spend so many hours on-line late at night that friends and family get suspicious. Or someone walks in on you. Or you get depressed and grouchy because you feel guilty. Or your relationships slowly fray and alienate because of your preoccupation, defensiveness, and hiding. The consequences are shameful – but usually not as disastrous as with the interpersonal sins.

So pornography is both “not as bad” as adultery, and yet harder to defeat because it’s easier to do and not as devastating. Christ is merciful here, too. Lots of people have broken with pornography and never gone back. You learn the joys of righteousness, the deeper pleasures of a clear conscience and honest relationships. You learn to say No to yourself. You get more interested in good things. You care about people, and sin just doesn’t have as much room to insinuate itself into your heart. Some practical tools can help, too. A friend who will look you in the eye, ask a direct question, and expect an honest answer can help you. You can set up Covenant Eyes software (www.covenanteyes.com) to monitor your internet use and e-mail a report to a friend.

c. No-effort sins.

Let’s say you’ve put pornography and immoral copulation aside. The acted-out sins no longer draw you. Are there no more enemies to fight? Now we’re up to Level 16: mental tapes. This is an even subtler problem. You don’t even have to do anything. No effort, no expense. You aren’t copulating outside of marriage. You aren’t cruising the internet. But you have a theater and library in your own mind. It’s all stored there: memories, images, stories. At your mind’s fingertips are things you did, experiences you had, people you watched or read about. You don’t have to tell any lies or arrange anything. You just open a door in your mind. You can’t get caught – except by the Searcher of hearts, before whose eyes all things are open and laid bare, Him with whom we have to do. Because He sees us on the inside, and because He’s merciful both inside and out, grace is available here, too.

Sometimes the battle with mental tapes stalls because you actively cherish and nurture old memories. But when you actually start to fight, you wish you could push ERASE, and obliterate the collection of old videos. But the erase button on memories doesn’t work on request. It’s a subtler battle, learning to say No inside your mind, and Yes to your Father who is right at hand. The point is clear. The enemies get subtler. They aren’t as “bad” outwardly. But they’re “worse” when it comes to getting rid of them, because sins are so easy to arrange and not so immediately self-destructive.

I’ve chosen examples from the active sins. But there is an analogy for those who experienced the dark splash of evil as the victim of another’s sin. In some ways, it can be “easier” to deal with an abusive relationship (Level 1). Hard as it is to get away, it can be done. The problem is clear cut and definable. Like adultery, the wrongdoer can be caught in the act. Violence can be intercepted. The action steps are more obvious. Friends will help you. The law can help protect you: police intervention, a restraining order, criminal charges against the offender. You can flee. When you aren’t in the same room, the person can’t hurt you anymore. There are places to live where you are safe. But how do you deal with the memories (Level 16)? Memories aren’t as “bad” as being abused, but they can be “worse” when it comes to getting rid of them. They inhabit the room of your mind. Or, how do you deal with the fact that your pump is primed to interpret anyone’s irritation at you as a threat of imminent violence (Level 24)? How do you deal with the subtle fears that you now bring to all relationships, apprehensions so automatic that you don’t even know you’re doing it (Level 40)? Those motions of your soul are almost invisible, pervasive, hard to intercept, and highly corrosive to developing future trust and love. Safe refuge, peace, and watchful care run deep in the psalms. God is trustworthy at every level. Psalm 23 means one very good thing at Level 1, something still richer at Level 16, and wonders beyond wonders at Level 40. The significance of the Lord’s kindness is not exhausted at the more obvious levels. The psalms go deep, deeper, and deepest, the more you bring complex, honest experience onto the table.

d. Sins that come looking for you.

Let’s say you’ve left adultery and pornography behind, and simply don’t go there. You’re closing and locking the door on mental tapes. But how about those situations where you aren’t looking for sin, but sin is out looking for you? Let’s call that Level 24. In this battle the insurgents are trickier. An invitation to lust can sneak up and attack you in ways that no actual human being with adulterous copulation on the mind could find you. Our culture has many “acceptable” predators. Have you ever been blindsided by a lewd image or suggestion that you were not looking for, but it was looking for you? The fashion industry, entertainment industry, advertising industry, and sex industry know their business well. They are looking to find you, to snag your heart, to shape your identity, your goals, your worries, your spending. Some of my examples arise because we live in a culture of visual media, where such ambushes are increasingly common.

    • You’re doing a book search on the internet, looking for an out-of-print theology book. A slightly mistyped web address pipes hardcore porn onto your screen. Or, you open an e-mail that looks like it’s for real, but it turns out to be well-disguised spam spewing gutter words in bold, colorful print. Or, you recognize that an e-mail is spam and delete it, but you can’t avoid reading the filth on the subject line. You feel splashed with sewer water. You weren’t looking for sin; you didn’t linger; you’re dirtied anyway.
    • In the grocery store, a handsome, charming young man starts to flirt suggestively with you, a mature, married woman with well over 100,000 miles on your odometer! Is there an answering flutter inside you?
    • You hear that a certain movie is worth watching, but get blindsided. A lewd scene was gratuitously inserted into an otherwise good movie for the sake of avoiding a G rating. Or, the cinematography is beautiful, but deep emotional empathy is created for a man and woman whose respective spouses are portrayed unfavorably. The couple is portrayed as committing wondrously life-affirming adultery. Are you neutral and detached? Disgusted? Somehow hooked?
    • You’re driving down the highway, and voilà, a 20’x60’ billboard advertises Coors beer by featuring a lady wearing practically no clothes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were nothing inside answering back to her call, if that ad created the same neutral indifference as the neighboring billboard, on which Citizen’s Bank advertises its thrilling 5.25% mortgage rate?! Suddenly, you’re in a fight that you didn’t start. You didn’t do anything to put yourself in harm’s way. Nobody (except God and your conscience) will ever know if you sin by responding to the Coors woman’s initiative in a way that commits adultery in your heart. No one ever came under church discipline or was sued for divorce by driving on the interstate and looking twice at the billboard of a mostly naked lady sprawling behind a beer bottle. But that’s where an ambush occurs.
    • You’ve learned to deeply trust and love your God and a circle of dear friends, after torturous experiences many years ago. You’ve learned not to shrink from new people. Your new boss generally treats you reasonably, but his appearance, voice, and mannerisms bear an uncanny resemblance to the person who once betrayed you. Where that person was cruel, your boss is only irritable and sarcastic on occasion. His sins are 1% of what you once experienced; but that’s where today’s battle erupts.

You can have a lot of light growing in your life, good latticework in place, gardens of healthy sexuality. But wherever there’s still a broken lattice, an oily stain, then an inner spark or inner flinch can answer to what comes at you. Redemption proceeds exactly in such places. You face things that whisper the very things that once shouted in your life. And Christ speaks loud and clear, so at this level, too, you learn to choose well.

e. Sins so atmospheric they seem like who you are.

Sometimes lust is so subtle it doesn’t even seem like lust – until you think about it, unmask it, pull it towards the light: Level 40. For example, have you ever tried to battle the instinct to employ sexual-attraction criteria in sizing up what a person look like? It can be a largely unconscious operation. Subliminal radar attends, explores, notices, registers on the wavelength of mildly sexualized desire. It’s a quiet current trending in the direction of lust. You’re subtly aware of a body’s shape, of the cues communicated by posture and gesture, of the messages expressed through clothing, hairstyle, makeup, scent, tone of voice. This subtle attentiveness correlates to the heart’s erotic attraction: “Is this person desirable to my eyes, worth further exploratory interest?” Perhaps this thought process rarely surfaces into conscious awareness. Perhaps you almost as instinctively say No, resisting the impulse to convert its intentions into a conscious lewd look. (Garden of light within the lattice! Unchosen, unplanned, freely given fruit of the Holy Spirit!) But the very existence of such atmospheric erotic intentionality subtly stains you. It is yet another aspect of our battle with darkness.

When you see sin’s subtlety, you realize how much our lives hang upon sheer mercy from God. He is utterly aware of thoughts and intentions of which we may be barely aware or wholly unaware. Mercy extends here, too. “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.… May the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:12, 14). The stains that corrupt our hearts are not simply the planned, willful, chosen, enacted sins that emerge at the more obvious levels of our battle.

Is it possible to alter the subtle tendencies that pattern how you look at people? Yes. The Holy Spirit is about this business. It takes awhile: a lot of walking on the paths of light, a lot of needing God and loving God, a lot of receiving His mercies, a lot of learning to genuinely love people. But you can grow wiser even at this subtlest of levels. You can increasingly view each human being as a sister or brother, a mother or father, a daughter or son, not as a sexual object. Your gaze and intentions can become more and more about the business of caring and protecting.

f. Truly changed, truly changing, and still at war.

All this – from Level 1 to Level 40 – is the arena of sanctification. Heart, soul, mind, and might we are being conformed and transformed into radiant purity. A heightened view of our war brings with it a heightened view of the significance of our Jesus Christ. One of the deep truths of sanctification is that you get “better” and “worse” at the same time!

You truly shine more brightly as you move towards the light. You hold onto God more steadily. You’re more loving and joyful. You’re more trustworthy. More teachable. You give to people rather than use them. But brighter light also exposes more dark corners, pockets of unconscionable and once unimaginable iniquity. As we have seen, sin is not only the worst things I ever did. It’s also an atmospheric narcissism: “Is that person pleasing to the sexual beck and call that animates my desires?” John Calvin captured well the historical wisdom of the church regarding these things:

The children of God [are] freed through regeneration from bondage to sin. Yet… there still remains in them a continuing occasion for struggle whereby they may be exercised; and not only be exercised, but also better learn their own weakness. In this matter all writers of sounder judgment agree that there remains in a regenerate man a smoldering cinder of evil, from which desires continually leap forth to allure and spur him to commit sin.iii

A smoldering cinder of evil. A restless inner motion of sin. Jesus’ first beatitude is first for a reason. Awareness of impoverished need for mercies from outside is the opening motion of living faith. Jesus’ blessing on the inwardly poor is not “first” in the sense that having once experienced it, we move on and leave our need for grace behind. The first beatitude is foundational. It sets the shape and infrastructure of the entire building. The better I know my Christ, the better I know my need for what He alone is and does.

When you understand your subtle sinfulness, you will never say of any human being, “How could he do that?” or “She’s so unbelievable!” We are fundamentally more alike than different. You may never have been an adulterer, fornicator, homosexual, or consumer of pornography. But you know with all your heart that no temptation overtakes anyone that is not common to everyone (1 Cor. 10:13). And you know how significant it is that God is faithful. Grasping the subtlety of the battle helps you to grasp the true subtlety and scope of the work of our Savior. Remember me, O LORD, according to Your loving-kindness.

6. Remember the goal

We’ve looked at many varieties of sexual darkness. The war is longer, wider, deeper, more subtle than we might imagine. It is no accident that the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love and work of Jesus is more wonderful than we understand at first. What is God after in remaking our lives? Is His purpose that we would just stop sinning? Is His purpose to get us diligently involved in religious activities?: have a quiet time, participate in corporate worship services, find fellowship. Yes, stop sinning. Yes, use the means of grace. But neither is an end in itself. The point is to become like Jesus in real life. The ends of grace are the active opposites of sin: love.

Jesus loves God. He lives out a head-on, honest relationship with His Father. The psalms open up his inner workings. He’s talking, not just living in his head. Whether in pain or joy, whether needy or exultant, whether looking at the weather or looking at the people out to hurt Him, whether considering God’s love or considering God’s wrath, Jesus talks it all out. He needs God, thanks God, trusts God, serves God. The psalms aren’t “devotions.” When Jesus talks and acts, He brings life to God and brings God to life. That’s what God intends the means of grace to accomplish. As you stop sinning, that’s how you live instead.

The way Jesus works as a person is the diametric opposite from how the oily rag works. When you’re living in sexual sin (or swamped in unredeemed sexual sufferings), you live in your own head. Sin pulls us into an incurving, self-absorbing inertia. We shut God out. The universe becomes all about me. Suffering tends to have the same effect, because we return evils (40 levels, from obvious revenge to subtle apprehensions) for evils. But Jesus suffers in the exact opposite way, opening out to God in need. As Jesus starts to rearrange how your personhood operates, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person. You operate differently. He teaches a life lived in God’s direction. He teaches you how to talk out everything that matters with the One whose opinion most matters, the only One who can do something about it all.

In the same way, Jesus loves people. He notices others. He stops. He helps people where they most need help. He answers real questions. He inverts hostile questions. He relentlessly leads people to think about the two decisive life-or-death questions: “Who are you living for? How are you living?” He’s dedicated to the true welfare of others. He protects and promotes the sexual purity of others (even when interacting with notoriously immoral women). He attacks oppressors, and tenderly bends towards the helpless. He dies willingly, the innocent for the guilty. Jesus works with people in the very terms we’ve been talking about throughout this article. He takes in hand the gamut of real problems. He initiates a war that is much longer, wider, deeper, and subtler than people realize. He gives graces, mercies, and truths that are much longer, wider, deeper, and subtler than we realize.

The way Jesus loves is the diametric opposite from how sexual sin works. Whether flagrant or atmospheric, whether copulatory or imaginary, sexual sin is hate. It misuses people. Jesus’ love treasures and serves our sexual purity. We misuse a gift when we do not treasure and serve the sexual purity of others. We degrade ourselves and degrade others. As Jesus starts to rearrange how you treat people, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person. A James Ward spiritual puts it this way: “I won’t treat you like I used to, since I laid my burden down.” Let me give two simple examples.

First, you learn to see and treat all people in wise, constructive ways. In principle, every person of the opposite sex fits into one of three categories: either family member, or spouse, or threat. (Every person of the same sex fits into one of two categories: either family member or threat.) Family member is the controlling category. In general we are to view and treat people like beloved sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers. The lines are clear: anything that sexualizes familial relationships is wrong. True affection and fierce protection go hand in hand. The notion of incestuous sexuality is abhorrent before the face of God. In marriage, one sister, Nan, becomes my wife, and I become her husband. All our sexuality belongs rightly and freely to each other. The notion of treacherous sexuality – infidelity – is abhorrent before the face of God. A third group of people fall into the category of threat. Males and females who prove unfamilial in their intentions are threats. Again, the lines are clear: nothing sexualized, so flee seduction, whether in person or in imagination. The notion of an invitation to immoral sexuality is abhorrent before the face of God. Love is radically free to be fiercely faithful.

Second, good sexual love is simply “normal.” Sometimes the idealized view of good sex can sound overheated, even when we prize and protect marital sexuality. Sometimes we can give the idea that good sex (in both senses) is a gymnastic, ecstatic, romantic, athletic, electric, semi-psychotic, erotic, high-wire, bug-eyed, luxuriating, ravishing bliss of marital passion! Sorry to disillusion you. But much of good sex is just… well, normal, everyday. Think about it. Most people in the history of the world have lived in one-room huts, where the kids sleep in the same room with their parents! Countless families have lived in flats, with only curtains for room dividers, your mother-in-law in the far corner, your wife’s younger brother sleeping on the couch. Or they’ve lived in tents, as nomads. Not much sound-proofing or major privacy operative in that housing arrangement! Not much in the way of gymnastics or sound effects is possible unless you have no children. That’s not to say that a married couple with children shouldn’t get away for a weekend, or close the door, or do things to make sex special. Nothing wrong with some high-wire encounters that bring a little extra spice.

But think of the analogy with food, another of life’s very redeemable pleasures. Occasionally you pull out the stops for a memorable feast with all the fixings: Thanksgiving dinner. But in normal life, you eat a lot of healthy breakfasts. In the redemption of sex, lots of normal things flourish. How about courtesy? Basic kindness and patience? How about humor – pet names, teasing, irony, private jokes? Good sex is not that serious! How about mercy? How about a shower, shave, and being relaxed? How about a fundamental willingness to be available to another, simply to give. How about conversation? How about quiet, slow, leisurely time together? Basic love goes a long way towards making good sex good. It’s great when the Richter Scale tops out at an earth-shattering 8.1. But in normalized good sex, you’ll also enjoy 3.1 temblors that hardly rattle the teacups.

Get your goals straight. It heightens the significance of your Savior. He alone restores you to practical love for God and to the practical love appropriate for each of your various kinds of neighbors. He alone makes daily life shine with visible glory.

7. Get down to today’s skirmish in the Great War

We’ve talked about the war, the direction of the journey, the destination. The final word in restoring  joy is to get down to business. And your business has three parts.

First, where is today’s skirmish? Your battle always gets fought at the next step, not all at once. “Today’s trouble” is where you find God’s aid. A clear view of what you face defines the fork-in-the-road, your choice points. Where are you tempted, now? For example, Tom had to figure out how to refight his Friday nights so he wouldn’t keep coming out a loser. How about you? You are somewhere between Levels 1 and 40. Where is today’s choice point? The current struggle is the place the Vinedresser is pruning. It’s where you need life support from the Vine. Making all things new is always about something going on today. Restoring pure joys is not theory. It’s what’s happening here and now. It’s not about instant perfection (I hope that’s clear by now). And it’s not about yesterday. If you’re still brooding and obsessing over yesterday’s failures, then today’s choice point is, “How do you handle failure?” How will you quit curving in on yourself after you fall, and start dealing with your sins the way Psalm 25 does? (See section 1-c above). You’ll always need your Father, Savior, and Comforter to help you, forgive you, and teach you. Today’s trouble identifies where.

Second, what one thing about God in Christ speaks directly into today’s trouble? I gave an example earlier from Psalm 25. Just as we don’t change all at once, so we don’t swallow all of truth in one gulp. We are simple people. You can’t remember ten things at once. Invariably, if you could remember just ONE true thing in the moment of trial, you’d be different. Bible “verses” aren’t magic. But God’s words are revelations of God from God for our redemption. When you actually remember God, you do not sin. The only way we ever sin is by suppressing God, by forgetting, by tuning out His voice, switching channels, and listening to other voices. When you actually remember, you actually change. In fact, remembering is the first change.

Here’s a simple example. God says, “I am with you.” Those are his exact words. How does taking that to heart utterly change the script of your sexual darkness? What if you are facing a temptation to some immorality? For starters, nothing is private, no secrets are possible: “I am with you.” “I… am… with… you.” Say it ten different ways. Slow it down. Speed it up. Say it out loud. Say it out loud back to him: “You are with me, Lord.” You’ll probably find that you immediately need to say more, like “Help me. Have mercy on me. I need you. Make me understand that you are with me.” You will find that the competing voices, sly and argumentative, will become more obvious. To the degree that you remember that your Lord is with you, then what those other voices have to say will sound devious, tawdry, hostile to your welfare. How did they ever sound so appealing?! The contrast, the battle of wills, the battle between good and evil, will be more evident. Your immediate choice – which voice will I listen to? – will become stark. Remembering what’s true does not chalk up automatic victory. It’s not magic. It’s life. It’s not easy. Your battle will heat up. But we only do secretive things when we’re kidding ourselves. Every time you remember that you are out in public, then you live an out-in-public life. “I AM WITH YOU” means you’re always out in public. In order to sin, you’ll have to drown out the voice of reality, put your fingers in your ears, and switch channels to the fantasy channel, the lie channel, the death channel. And even if you switch channels and sin by high-handed choice, you will still be in broad daylight before God’s searching eyes. You can shut your eyes and plug your ears, He’s still right here. You’ll never get away. And you only have to open your eyes, listen, and turn around in order to find help. After all, He who loves you says, “I am with you,” mainly to encourage you. You have some degree of shame and secrecy attached to your sexual sin, unless you are a brazen, sleazy advocate for your fornications (not yet even fighting enemies at Level 1, but still committed to adore your enemies). Sin can’t stand to be out in public where everybody knows and everybody’s watching. “I am with you” means that the person who can help you right now knows and is watching. In fact, He is watching over you to protect you. He will help you escape darkness, because he has transferred you into the kingdom of the Son whom He loves.

What if you face a different struggle today? What if you feel overwhelmed with aloneness and fear, buried under your hurt, abandoned and betrayed by people? “I am with you.” “I am with you.” Again, when you really hear that, and take it to heart, you know you are not alone. You are safe. Manipulative or violent lust betrayed you; steadfast love never betrays you. Or what if you’re overwhelmed by the grime of past failures? “I am with you.” God is not shocked by the ugliness of your real-time evils. He came to die for “the worst of sinners” (as Paul twice refers to himself – 1 Timothy 1:15f). Whatever your struggle, “I am with you” changes the terrain of battle. You now see a fork in the road. A good road runs uphill towards the light, where previously you only knew to hurl yourself down a bobsled run into the abyss.

Third, put trouble and God together. Start talking, and start walking. We already began to do this in the previous paragraphs. It was impossible simply to identify choice points and then to offer promises and revelations of God without starting to capture the honest human responses: faith’s need for God, and constructive love for others. The Psalms put trouble and God together and talk it out. “Remembering” is not some la-de-da recitation of Bible verses. You fiercely pursue God. He must be to you what He says He is, and do for you what He says He does. In remembering, you change what’s on your mind. You change direction. You seek help. No face-plant in the muck today? That matters – even though tomorrow, or next month, the battle will mutate into some new form. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, step by step in real life. The Proverbs put you on the street before God’s eyes, and walk out how to live as a wise, loving person. The voice you listen to determines the choice you make. (Interestingly, Proverbs 1-9 drives this truth home by using sexual immorality as a vivid case in point.) How will you treat people today? Will love contain and express your sexuality well? Or will evil squander and warp your sexuality, treating others as sex objects?

Walking in the light is not magic. When you see the fork in the road more clearly (today’s skirmish)…, and when you see and hear your Lord more clearly (something He says)…, then you start talking, start needing, start trusting, and then you start making the hard, significant, joyous choice to love people rather than use them.

Go into action in today’s battle. That’s our final word. It gets us down to where our Savior is going into action. It’s where our Father is making us more fruitful. It’s exactly where the Spirit of life is changing us into His image of light and delight.

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This characterization partly arises from tendencies within American Christian culture. Other Christian cultures may do their calculus of the conscience a bit differently. In Uganda, for example, anger is particularly shameful, the bogie-man sin that automatically disqualifies from ministry. But Ugandans view sexual immorality the way that Americans view anger outbursts or gluttony. Such behaviors are sinful, but aren’t uniquely shocking and damning. Dante’s Divine Comedy portrays ‘normal’ sexual sins – sensuality, fornication – as meriting a shallower circle in hell. Like gluttony or sloth, these are distortions of normal desires. But sins of treachery, sexual and otherwise, involve betrayal of trust, and they sit in the deepest pit of hell.

ii The video game metaphor captures a progression of different kinds of battles we face . It does not capture how in real life we also “regress,” and may have to fight an old battle over again. It also does not capture that in real life the subtler sins are actually present all the way through. But they don’t tend to come front-and-center when some other struggle is more overt and decisive for that moment.

iii Calvin, Ibid., III:iii:10.

Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (Part 1)

Editor’s Note:  This is a lengthy article, but it is so well worth the investment of time to read thoughtfully and prayerfully through these truths.

SOURCE:  David Powilson/CCEF

For many years, a quilt has adorned one wall of our living room. The artist took swatches of fabric and cut hundreds of tiny squares and triangles. She created a lattice pattern through which you gaze into a luminous, iridescent garden. I view her quilt as an invitation to pause and catch a glimpse into paradise. The latticework encloses, protects, provides structure, revealing wonders. The garden within creates an impression of color and light, flower and air, life and pleasure.

It gives a small picture of our God’s great work, the brightness of all creation, the brightness of our salvation.

As such, it gives us a picture of sexuality – and of every other luminous thing that becomes darkened and can be redeemed. Sex is one good strand of God’s good work in creation. Sex is one good strand of his good work in salvation. Imagine your sexuality transformed into a garden of delight protected within the lattice. God began to do good work in you, and He is working to complete this. You will flourish in a garden of safety and joy. Wrongs are made right, “and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich). The highest pleasure, the joy that remakes all lesser pleasures innocent, is our pleasure in Christ, the inexpressible gift. He is light. He is lifegiver. In his light, your sexuality transforms into one blossom among all that is good.

I needed a contrasting object lesson, so I stopped in to talk with my auto mechanic. He fished a greasy rag from the trash bin at the back of his garage, and handed it to me. Unnamable filth had soaked through that scrap of fabric. Ground-in, oily dirt. If your hands are clean, you don’t really feel like touching such a sordid rag. If you must handle such an object, you pick it up by one corner between thumb and forefinger, holding it out away from you at arm’s length. The filthy rag gives us a second, all-too-familiar picture of sexuality. Sex soaks up dark, dirty stains. We must deal with such ground-in evils if we are to fix what’s wrong with us and with others. We understand why Jude evokes an unpleasant sense of wariness even amid his call to generous-hearted love: “On some show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 23).

You can hardly bear to put a name on what some people do, or on what happens to some people. Is your sexuality misshapen and misdirected? Sexual evils are among the dark things that pour forth from within our hearts. Jesus bluntly indicts a roster of sexual wrongs (Mark 7:21-23) – and offers costly mercy to the repentant. Has your sexuality been harmed by others? Some people experience terrible sufferings at the hands of predators, users, misusers, and abusers. Jesus fiercely curses those who trip up others (Matthew 18:6-7) – and offers safe refuge to sufferers.

On the one hand, sex becomes a complex darkness. On the other hand, sex becomes a garden of simple, pure delights. Which picture represents you?

It’s not really a fair question! You probably can’t answer either-or, because most likely you’re somewhere in the middle, aren’t you? That’s important. This article is about making new, about the long restoring of joys to the broken and dirtied. In other words, it’s about the process of change. It’s about moving along a trajectory away from the dark and towards the light. It’s about knowing where you’re heading while you’re still somewhere in the middle.

Are you tilted more towards darkness? Of course, some human beings aren’t in the middle, but live utterly mired within sexual darkness. They even call “good” what God calls “evil.” But they’re not likely to have kept reading this far, because they want to feel justified in wrong, not to be remade right. They want more of what they already have. But if you have read this far, that very persevering has been because light, however far away it seems, is drawing you. There is no darkness so deep that it is immune to light. Perhaps you’ve been wronged sexually, and have lived a nightmare of fear and hurt. But you long for light. Such longing is a blossom of light pulling you in the direction of more light. Or, perhaps you’ve been wrong sexually, and have lived in a fantasyland of lewd, nude, and crude. But you feel sick and tired, dirty and ashamed. Such honest guilt is a blossom of honesty. It pushes you somewhere towards the middle. Your sins delight you less and less; they afflict you more and more. Kyrie, eleison; Lord, have mercy, You whose mercies are new every morning. When you know you need help, then you’re already moving in the middle, not stuck in filth.

Are you tilted more towards light? One man did live utterly as that garden of light shining through the lattice. Jesus did no sin. Yet He chose to enter our deepest darkness. He bore your stains, and did so without becoming stained. He is able to sympathize with your particular weakness and struggles, because He has entered your plight, facing the temptations of sin and suffering. He is able to help you in your failure and your vulnerability to future failure, because He remains unstained. He does not hold you at arm’s length. Jesus is willing to deal gently and truthfully, however ignorant and wayward we are. He is bringing us back to the paradise of light. Perhaps you have come far along this good path already. You have been given much light sexually. Much of the garden of faithful pleasures already flourishes in you. Much latticework of loving restraints is set in place. O hopeful joy, so much has already been purified! Gloria in excelsis Deo; glory to God in the highest. But I know, and you know, that oily stains and cracked slats remain in the fabric of every person’s life. We must still run the race of renewal.

A contemporary hymn contains this line, “In all I do, I honor You.” When I sing that hymn, I always think, “Well, Iwant to honor You in all I do, but I don’t.” The line is truest as a statement of honest intention, but often false as a statement of achievement. We want the garden, but grime still clings to us and oozes from us. Augustine put his struggle starkly: “As I prayed to you for the gift of chastity I had even pleaded, ‘Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.’ I was afraid that you might hear me immediately and heal me forthwith of the morbid lust which I was more anxious to satisfy than to snuff out.”i We want the latticework to protect us, but dark creatures slip into or out of our hearts. When talking about something as important and troublesome as sex, it is important to affirm that the desire for light is the beginning of the emergence of light in our lives.

One theme runs through this article: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). What does that lifelong process look like? How do you get from here to there? How does dirt transform into beauty? What’s the battle like? You’re somewhere in the middle, but Christ has begun a good work in you. He has washed away true guilt. He has broken your willing bondage. Jesus knows his business well. He is looking out for you. He is working to clear away sin’s rot. Jesus is remaking you into a person who actually loves people, and who begins to consider their best interests. Your opinions and impulses no longer reign. What He has begun, He will complete. On the final day, He will entirely remove the instincts and energies of sin from you. How does the war work out? We will look at seven aspects.

1. Bring light to ALL that darkens sex

You fight on many fronts. There are many kinds of evil, more than you might imagine. Some are obvious, some not so obvious. So what are you up against?

a. Unholy pleasure

The most obvious forms of sexual darkness involve the sins of overt immorality. There are countless ways that sexuality veers into extramarital eroticism. Sex can become like living in a Carnival of intoxicating fires, a dreamworld of erotic arousal, predatory instinct, manipulative intention, and the pursuit of carnal knowledge. In a nutshell, in each of the many forms of wrong, a person copulates with the wrong object of desire. Sexual love flourishes as a loving intimacy between one husband and wife. But desire is easily distorted and action misdirected. Such miscopulation can occur either in reality or in fantasy. These are the typical, red-letter, on-the-marquee sins. So what do the weeds of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, pornography, rape, bestiality, voyeurism, incest, pedophilia, fetishism, sado-masochism, transvestitism, prostitution, and bigamy-polygamy have in common? You copulate, in person or in your imagination, with the wrong object of desire.ii Others become objects of unholy desire. These fantasies and interpersonal transactions are the obvious ways in which human sexuality is misdirected into overt sins.

Historically, the behaviors mentioned have usually been evaluated and stigmatized as socially shameful. They have often been named as criminal acts in legal codes. To the degree that cultural values and laws mirror the call of love for others, rather than endorsing lust, they express the way that God sizes up human sexuality. Of course, when mores and laws change for the worse, such behaviors may even be reinterpreted as good, right, and sweet, rather than evil, wrong, and bitter (Isaiah 5:20f). But God teaches us to see things for what they are.

The bold-print sins point in the direction of the fine-print versions of the same sins. Many varieties of flirtation, self-display, foreplay, and entertainment don’t necessarily “go all the way” to orgasm: dressing to attract and tease the lust of others, looking voyeuristically, suggestive remarks, crude humor, erotic kissing, petting, and the like. All these intend in the direction of immoral copulation, whether they consummate their intention or not. Such behaviors (whether occurring in daily life or portrayed on film or page) cross the line of love. Whether or not our cultural context views such things as acceptable, or even as entertaining, they are evils. Love considers the true welfare of others in the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Jesus Christ comes to those who have pursued unholy pleasures. He who hates the gamut of perversities listed in previous paragraphs, is not ashamed to love sinners. He does not weary in the task of rewiring sexuality into a servant of love. He is not only willing to forgive those who turn; he takes the initiative to forgive, and to turn us, and to give us countless reasons to turn. He says, “You need mercy and help in your time of need. Come to me. Turn from evils, and turn to mercies that are new every morning. Flee what is wrong. Seek help. Everyone who seeks finds. Fight with yourself. Don’t justify things that God names as evil. Don’t despair when you find evils within yourself. The only unforgivable sin is the impenitence that justifies sin and opposes the purifying mercies of God in Christ. Come to me, and I will begin to teach you how to love.”

Our culture thinks that any consenting object of desire is fair game for copulation. Individual will is the supreme value. But Christ thinks differently, and He gets last say. He backs up His point of view with a promise of clear-eyed, unavoidable reckoning: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Eph. 5:6). He backs up His point of view with a promise of hard-won mercies and with power to patiently change you so that you learn to love Him supremely. Each of the perversities makes sex too important (and makes the maker, evaluator, and redeemer of sex irrelevant). Sex becomes your identity, your right, your fulfillment, your need. That is nonsense. Each ends up degrading sex, as a mere urge that must find an outlet. That, too, is nonsense. Whether exalted or degraded, sex ends up disappointing, self-destructive, and mutually-destructive.

Jesus brings sanity and good sense. He starts by making sex of secondary importance. Sex is a real, but secondary, good. God neither overvalues nor degrades the good things He has made. By realigning who youmost love (away from yourself and distorted pleasures), He makes all secondary loves, including sexuality, flourish in their proper place. That might mean containing sexual expression during a long season, even a lifetime, of purposeful celibacy as a single adult. Jesus himself lived this way. It might mean a season of frequent sexual expression within loving marriage. That’s the most common calling. It might mean short or long seasons of again containing sexual expression because of the different kinds of celibacy that arise in the course of marital life: e.g., advanced pregnancy and post-partum; forced separation for business or military reasons; a chosen fast from sexual expression because of more pressing needs; the diminution of sexual arousal with advancing age; consequences of prostate surgery or other illnesses; the loss of your spouse if you are widowed. Whether by containment or by expression, our sexuality can be remade into love.

When we think about the forms of “sexual brokenness” that need to be made new, it is natural that we think first of the obvious sins. But other evils also begrime us as sexual beings. These also lie within the scope of redeeming love.

b. Unholy pain

Many people experience pain and fear attached to sexual victimization. Have you ever been attacked or betrayed sexually? Sex becomes like life in Auschwitz, like a burn survivor, a waking nightmare of hurt, fear, and helplessness from the hands of tormentors. Jesus’ kindness redeems both sinners and sufferers. He rights all wrongs. Jesus is merciful to people who do wrong (forgiving and changing you). He is merciful to people who are done wrong (comforting and changing you). When you are used, misused, and abused, sex grows dark. If you are or were a victim of sexual aggression, if you were violated, betrayed, or threatened by the sins of others, then sex often becomes ambivalent or fearful.

The erotic is meant to be a bright expression of mutual loving kindness. Sex thrives in a context of commitment, safety, trust, affection, giving, closeness, intimacy, generosity. The erotic flourishes as one normal, everyday expression of genuine love within marriage. A man and woman are “naked and unashamed” with each other and under God. They give mutual pleasure. Sex with your spouse can be simple self-giving, freely given and freely received. Your sexual interactions can express honesty, laughter, play, prayer, and ecstasy. Sex can be open before the eyes of God, approved in your own conscience, and approved in the eyes of family and friends who care for you.

But sex can become very distasteful. Pawing, seduction, bullying, predation, attack, betrayal, and abandonment are among the many ways that sex becomes stained by sufferings at the hands of others. When you’ve been treated like an object, the mere thought of the act can become filled with tense torment. Sexual darkness is not always lust; sometimes it is fear, pain, haunting memories. If immoral fantasies bring one poison into sex, then nightmarish memories infiltrate a different poison. The arena for trusting friendship can become a prison of mistrust. The experience of violation can leave the victim self-labeled as “damaged goods.” Sex becomes intrinsically dirty, shameful, dangerous. Even in marriage, it can become an unpleasant duty, a necessary evil, not the delightful convergence of duty and desire.

If such things happened to you, you might well feel hatred, terror, and disgust. You might feel guilt, shame, and self-reproach over what someone else did to you. Your thoughts of sex might be filled with loathing and despair, the furthest thing from lustful desire. This, too, is a rag soaked in the grease of nameless dirt. To those for whom sexual experience has resulted in unholy pain, Christ says, “I understand well your experience. Psalm 10 captures the outcry of a victim of predators. I hear the cry of the needy, afflicted, and broken. Come to Me. I am your refuge. I am safe. I will remake what is broken. I will give you reason to trust, and then to love. I will remake your joy.” With reason, two-thirds of the Psalms engage the experience of those who suffer violence, violation, and threat. These sufferings found their point of reference in the God who hears you now, who is your refuge, your hope, who is willing to hear your anguish and loneliness, who overflows with comforts. The reference point makes all the difference. God cares, and will patiently repair what has been torn.

In different ways, both violator and violated are stained with the filth of a fallen world. In different ways, Jesus Christ washes both. And there’s still other dirt on the shop floor, and other fresh mercies.

c. Guilt

The activity of doing sin is different from the repercussion of feeling guilt. Temptation arises as internal desire and external allure culminate into action. Then, if the conscience is not seared, comes the typical aftermath: guilt, shame, regret, remorse, resolves to change, penance, self-reproach, despair, making up, concealment, and so forth. The “carrot” draws us into one sort of darkness; the “stick” pounds us into a different darkness. Obsession with erotic pleasure yields to obsession with moral failure. Grace addresses both in different ways, because both are part of the dynamic of sexual evils.

Are you haunted by your sins, in the eyes of God, in the eyes of your conscience, and in the eyes of others who might find out? The sin may have just occurred a few minutes ago; it may be a distant but potent memory. Perhaps you don’t actively participate in that sin anymore. You’ve come far, and no longer feel any allure to a lifestyle you once avidly pursued. Or perhaps you just did it again. But the memory – whether fresh-minted or ancient history – fills you with dismay. Perhaps immediate and long-term consequences of your sin run far beyond the repercussions within your conscience: an abortion, STD, inability to bear children, ongoing vulnerability to certain kinds of temptations, a bad reputation, ruined relationships, wasted time, failed responsibilities. Nobody did this to you; you did it to yourself and to others. The same sense of dirty distaste haunts your sexuality as haunts those who were victimized. You victimized yourself (and others you betrayed). You, too, feel like damaged goods. Sex is not bright, iridescent, cheerful, generous, matter-of-fact. It is not a flat-out good to be enjoyed with your spouse or saved should you ever marry. You might live with such guilty feelings in your singleness. You might have brought them into your marriage. Perhaps you are afraid of relationships, because you know from bitter experience that you can’t be trusted. Perhaps it’s hard to shake off the train of bleak associations that attach to sexual feelings and acts.

We often underestimate just how radically biblical faith relies on grace. Grace means that what makes things right comes to you from the outside. It’s the sheer gift that someone else gives to you. You don’t get it by jumping through certain religious hoops. You are forgiven, accepted, saved from death outside of yourself andbecause of Another. Listen to how a man of faith dealt forthrightly with his former sins. The italics highlight how much your hope amid real guilt lies outside of you:

Remember, O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses,

for they have been from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.

According to Your lovingkindness remember me,

for Your goodness’ sake, O LORD.…

For Your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity for it is great.

– Psalm 25:6f, 11

David’s sexual sin was high-handed. It tore his conscience (Ps. 51; cf. Pss. 32, 38). It brought immediate and long-lasting consequences (2 Sam. 12:10-12, 14). Yet David was truly forgiven (2 Sam 12:13). He experienced the joy of repentance, and the wisdom, clarity, and purposeful energy that real repentance brings (those same psalms, and the rest of 2 Sam. 12). Notice: David radically appeals to the quality of “Your mercy, O LORD.” David’s own conscience remembers only too well, but he appeals to what someone else will choose to remember: “When God looks at me, will He remember my sin, or His own mercies?”

Sin itself turns you in on yourself, blinding you to God. Guilt also tends to turn you in on yourself. Self-laceration exalts your opinion of yourself as supremely important; shame exalts the opinion of other people. But living repentance and living faith turn outward to the one whose opinion most matters. What God chooses to “remember” about you will prove decisive. Your conscience, if well-tuned, is secondary and dependent on the stance He takes. If the Lord is merciful, then mercy has final say. It is beyond our comprehension that God acts mercifully for His sake, because of what He is like. Wrap your heart around this, and the typical aftermath of sin will never be the same. You will stand in joy and gratitude, not grovel in shame. You’ll be able to get back about the business of life with fresh resolve, not just with good intentions and some flimsy New Year’s resolutions to do better next time. This is our hope. This is our deepest need. This is our Lord’s essential, foundational gift. You know people who need to know this. They typically mishandle the aftermath of sin with further forms of the God-lessness that also manufactured sin. You, too, need to know how faith in Christ’s mercy decenters you off of yourself and recenters you onto the living God’s promise and character. The one with whom we have to do freely offers mercy and grace to help us by the lovingkindness of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:13-16).

d. Don’t view sexual sin as just a male problem

When the church talks about “struggles with sexual lust,” the implicit assumptions are often far too narrow. As we have seen, our teaching, love, illustrations, and applications must not only mention the obvious behavioral sins. We also must touch the ways people brood over sexual suffering and over sexual guilt. In the same way, teaching too often only assumes and targets the struggles of men. Seductive women (“out there”) may be viewed as sources of temptation to men (provocative clothing; participation in making pornography; the temptress at work; the prostitute working in the sex industry). But women often slip under the radar of “struggles with lust.” Unvarnished erotic lust is seen as a typically male problem: e.g., the familiar line, “95% of men struggle with lust…, and the other 5% are lying.” But what about 100% of women in here? There are core similarities between men and women, along with some typical differences.

For starters, the Bible is candid that “there is no temptation that is not common to all” (1 Cor. 10:13). This doesn’t mean temptations always take exactly the same form, but there are underlying similarities. By God’s creation, men and women are primarily the same (human). By His creation and providence, we are secondarily different (male-female differences tied to biology, masculine-feminine differences tied to culture). Add it up, and we struggle with the same kind of thing, but may struggle in different kinds of ways. That does not mean that a female is not perfectly capable of the same unvarnished, immoral eroticism that characterizes some males. It takes two to tango in any act of adultery or fornication. The woman may well be the initiator/aggressor in sending out sexual signals or in arranging a liaison. Women have roving eyes and get hooked on erotic pleasures. Women masturbate. Women adopt a homosexual lifestyle. A woman can pattern her identity around fulfilling sexual self-interest and having a magnetic effect on male sexual interest. When she finds mercy in Christ and starts her journey towards the garden of light, her struggle may directly parallel the struggle of a man who has similarly patterned his lifestyle around immoralities. Both must learn how to love, rather than how to fulfill and arouse lust.

Second, it’s noticeable that female sexuality in America has taken on cruder forms in recent years (or, at least, is far more willing to be brazen). Open lewdness and frank immorality have replaced coy, suggestive hints of availability. Male or female, if you want it, go for it. For example, female athletes increasingly do the openly obscene behaviors that were once the prerogative of male athletes: gutter humor, mooning, streaking, sexualized hazing and initiation rites, predatory sexual acts, an atmospheric grossness. Using obscene language, attending a strip show, and surfing pornographic websites are not exclusively male sins. Women’s magazines (e.g., Cosmopolitan, and the like) have increasingly become sex manuals for how to have wildly ecstatic sex with your “partner” of choice. Marital status is an optional, irrelevant category. But Jesus Christ is “no respecter of persons”: a coarse female is as ugly as a coarse male. Jesus loathes the degradation of sex (Ephesians 5:3-8a). His self-sacrificing mercy works to transform sex into an expression of love, light, and fruitfulness (Eph. 5:1f, 8b-10) for females and males alike.

Third, there are some typical and noteworthy differences between men and women. Both strugglers and those who minister to them should be aware of variations on the common themes. At the level of motive, for example, male sexual sin and female sexual sin often operate in somewhat different ways. An old joke plays off the difference between simple and complex eroticisms:

Question: What is the difference between men and women?

Answer: A woman wants one man to meet her every need, while a man wants every woman to meet his one need.

Men are often more wired to visual cues, to anonymous “body parts” eroticism. Women are often more wired to feelings of personal intimacy and emotional closeness as cues for sexual arousal. These aren’t absolute differences (notice the ‘oftens’). They are bell curves that slide one way or the other. But being aware of the tendencies can be helpful. The motives driving adultery, fornication, and promiscuity may follow somewhat different patterns.

Homosexuality provides a particularly obvious example. Lesbianism typically presents a different picture from male homosexuality. Many lesbians were once actively, unambivalently heterosexual, whether promiscuous or faithfully married. They might have conceived, borne and raised children without much questioning of their sexual identity. But over time the men in their life proved disappointing, violent, drunken, uncomprehending, or unfaithful. Perhaps during the unhappiness of a slow marital disintegration, or while picking up the wreckage after a divorce, other women proved to be far more understanding and sympathetic friends. Emotional intimacy and communication opened a new door. Sexual repatterning as a lesbian came later, often the result of a slow process of experimentation that followed emotional closeness. The life-reshaping “lusts of the flesh” were not initially sexual. Instead, cravings to be treated tenderly and sympathetically – to be known, understood, loved, and accepted – played first violin, and sex per se played viola. Often the core dynamic in lesbianism is intimacy lust running out of control. In male homosexuality, the core dynamic is often sexual lust running out of control. (Again, notice the ‘often’. I’ve known male homosexuals where desires for acceptance or for power played first violin). What the Bible terms ‘lusts of the flesh’ include many different kinds of desires that run amok, hijacking the human heart.

It’s no surprise, then, that lesbians tend to form more stable relationships, and tend to be less promiscuous than male homosexuals. It’s no surprise that homosexualist ideology rarely attempts to make the argument that female homosexuality is genetic, though it often attempts that argument for men. Raw, obsessive sexuality seems to invite biological rationalizations in a way that a more multi-factored relationship doesn’t. Many homosexuals, both male and female, make comments along the following lines: “Why bother with the whole male-female thing? It’s easier to be gay! If men just want sex, let them score with each other. If women want to be known, understood, and loved, let them build relationships with each other. You can avoid the whole hassle of trying to bridge the male-female divide in relationships. It’s easier to get what you want with the same sex. And you can have simpler friendships with the opposite sex, too, when you take the sex thing off the table.”

Fourth, the culture of romance novels, soap operas, and women’s magazines does not draw nearly as much attention as male-oriented pornography. Men do graphic pornography. That’s an obvious problem. Women do romance. It’s the same kind of problem, though the participants keep their clothes on a while longer, and there’s more of a story to tell before they tumble into bed. Romance novels are female pornography. The sin comes wired through intimacy lust first, and builds towards erotic lust. The formulaic fantasies offer narrative emotion-candy, not visual eye-candy. Romance tells a story about someone with a name, someone you fall in love with. It builds slowly. It’s more than a moment of instant gratification with anonymous, naked, willing bodies. But like male pornography, there is a progression from soft-core (e.g., Harlequin series), to more openly erotic (e.g., Silhouette series), to frankly pornographic writings that target women. The male model Fabio made his career posing for the formulaic book cover art. A big, strong guy, stripped to the waist, tenderly cradles a beautiful woman. He’s the knight in shining armor, protective, gentle, understanding – and the handsome hunk of beefcake. The romantic novel genre has even made a crossover to evangelical Christian publishing houses. The sex is cleaned up; the knight in shining armor is also a deep spiritual leader who marries you before sleeping with you. But the fantasy appeal to intimacy and romance lusts remains as the inner engine that allures readers.

Female versions of sexual-romantic sin are shop-floor rags as much as male versions. Jesus Christ calls all of us out of fantasy, delusion, and lust, whether the fantasyland is filled with naked bodies or with romantic knights. Jesus Christ is about the reality business. Francis of Assisi got things straight: “Grant that I would not so much seek to be loved as to love.” Jesus teaches us how to be committed, patient, kind, protective, able to make peace, keeping no record of wrongs, merciful, forgiving, generous, and all the other hard, wonderful characteristics of grace. He teaches us to consider the true interests of others. He teaches us a positive, loving purity that protects the purity of others. Instead of our instinctual ways – narcissism, fascination with our own desires and opinions, self-indulgence – Jesus Christ takes us by the hand to lead us in ways that make vive la difference shine brightly.

e. Sexual struggles within marriage

We mislead ourselves and others if we say or imply that just getting married solves all the problems of sexual sin, sexual pain, sexual confusion. All sorts of remnant sins can carry on in marriage. All sorts of remnant heartaches and fears can still play out. “Making all things new” continues to remake sex within marriage. Here are some examples.

  • One person may need to learn that sex is good, not dirty. You can relax rather than tense up. You can give yourself freely, rather than worry about what will happen to you. Pleasure will not betray you. Your spouse is faithful and can be trusted. (Only larger, deeper, fundamental trust in God can free us to grant simple trust and generous love to another human being, who will in fact let us down and do us wrong in some ways.)
  • Another person may need to learn that sexual bliss is not the summum bonum of human life. You still need to say No to lust. There are seasons and reasons for self-denial and temporary celibacy. Your spouse may struggle, in sex as in other areas, and you will need to learn that “love is patient” comes first for a reason.
  • Some people may need to learn whole new patterns of sexual arousal. Willing nymphomania, copulatory gymnastics, and oral sex may have turned on your fantasies and fornications. But your spouse, God’s gift to you, may enjoy quiet, tender moments being held in your arms. The Richter Scale of raw ecstasies may have spiked higher in your past immoralities than in your marriage. But you need to learn that the scale of solid joys and lasting treasures proves incomparably deeper and more satisfying.
  • Still other marriages may need to give up evil relational patterns: game-playing, manipulation, give to get, avoidance, bartering sex for other goodies, sulking. Even high-stakes criminal sins – sadistic sexual aggression, violence, and rape – can occur in marriage.
  • Still other people must sever the link that equated sex with “success or failure,” with “performance” and “identity.” As Christ redefines and recenters your identity, he changes what sex means. Sex can become a simple and meaningful way to give. It can become a simple pleasure, as normal as eating breakfast. It can become a safe place where failures and struggles can be talked about and prayed through.
  • Some marriages may deal with impotence and frigidity (‘erectile dysfunction’ and ‘arousal disorder’ in the medicalizing jargon of our times). On the male side, Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra present a purely chemical solution for symptoms. The problem sometimes has a significant biological component unrelated to normal aging. But most often there are significant links to spiritual issues: performance anxiety, an unwillingness to face the diminishments of aging, the separation of sex from love, guilt over premarital sex, or unreal expectations of potency that have been learned from the media, pornography, or fornication.
  • Still others may face temptations to make comparisons with previous partners, or with fantasy partners, or with some idealized fantasy of what marital bliss should be like. Wise sex loves your husband or wife.
  • Still others will continue to struggle with familiar patterns of lust. They may be tempted to flirt, or to cheat, or to view pornography, or to masturbate in the shower, or to fantasize about past experiences.
  • Finally, every person will struggle with garden variety anger, anxiety, grumbling, selfishness, unbelief, and the weight of life’s difficulties. The everyday non-sexual sins and troubles don’t disappear! Other sins and hardships can clutter the bedroom with non-sexual troubles that greatly affect sexual intimacy. Christ’s ongoing mercies will remake your sexuality in part by remaking worry and irritability (and the rest) that arise in response to life’s pressures.

You get the picture! He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. His redemption will touch every form of grease. We can’t do justice to “sexual brokenness” or bring mercy unless we get the whole problem on the table. Jesus works with us. And it is our joy that He works with far more than just the Technicolor sexual immoralities.

2. It’s a LONGER war

One key to fighting well is to lengthen your view of the battles. If you think that one week of “shock and awe” combat will win this war, you’re bound for disappointment. If you’re looking for some quick fix, an easy answer, a one-and-done solution, then you’ll never really understand the nature of the honest fight. And if you promise easy, once-for-all victories to others, then you’ll never be much help to other strugglers.

The day of “completion” will not arrive until the Day that Jesus Christ arrives (Phil. 1:6). When we see Him, then we will be like Him perfectly (1 Jo. 3:2). The wiping away of all tears, the taking away of every reason for sorrow, crying, and pain, will not come until God lives visibly in our midst (Rev. 21:3-4). Someday, not today, all things will be made new (Rev. 21:5). Much of the failure to fight well, pastor well, counsel well, arises because we don’t really understand and work well with this long truth. Consider two specific implications. First, sanctification is a direction you are heading. Second, repentance is a lifestyle you are living.

a. Sanctification is a direction

Too often our practical view of sanctification, discipleship, and counseling takes the short view. If you memorize and call to mind one special Bible verse, will it clean up all the mess? Will prayer drive all the darkness away? Will remembering that you are a child of God, justified by faith, shield your heart against every evil? Will careful self-discipline and a plan to live constructively eliminate all failure? Is it enough to sit under good preaching and have daily devotions? Is honest accountability to others the decisive key to walking in purity? These are all very good things. But none of them guarantees that three weeks from now, or three years, or thirty years, you will not struggle to learn how to love rather than lust. We must have a vision for a long process (life-long), with a glorious end (the Day), that is actually going somewhere (today). Put those three together in the right way, and you have a practical theology that’s good to go and good for the going.

Look at church history. Look at denominations. Look at local churches. Look at people groups. Look at families. Look at individuals. Look at all the people in the Bible. They all have a history and keep making history. Things are never finished. No one ever says, “I’ve made it. No more forks in the road. No more places I might stumble and fall flat. No more hard, daily choices to make.” Look at yourself. Life never operates on cruise control. The living God seems content to work in His church and in people groups on a scale of generations and centuries. The living God seems content to work in individuals (you, me, the person you are trying to help) on a scale of decades, throughout a whole lifetime. At every step, there’s some crucial watershed issue. What will you choose? Who will you love and serve? There’s always something that the Vinedresser is pruning, some difficult lesson that the Father is teaching the children He loves (John 15; Heb. 12). It’s no accident that “God is love” and “love is patient” fit together seamlessly. God takes His time with us.

In your sanctification journey and in your ministry to others, you must operate on a scale that can envision a lifetime, even while communicating the urgency of today’s significant choice. ‘Disciple’ is the most common New Testament term describing God’s people. A disciple is simply a life-long learner of wisdom, living in relationship to a wise master. The second most common term, ‘son/child/daughter’, contains the same purpose: by living in life-long relationship to a loving Father, we learn how to love. When you think in terms of the moral absolutes, it’s EITHER oily rag OR garden of delights. But when you think in terms of the change process, it’s FROM oily rag TO garden of delights. We are each and all on a trajectory from what we are to what we will be. The moral absolutes rightly orient us on the road map. But the process heads out on the actual long, long journey in the right direction. The key to getting a long view of sanctification is to understand direction. What matters most is not the distance you’ve covered. It’s not the speed you’re going. It’s not how long you’ve been a Christian. It’s the direction you’re heading.

Do you remember any high school math? “A man drives the 300 miles from Boston to Philadelphia. He goes 60 mph for 2 hours, 40 mph for 3 hours, and then sits in traffic for 1 hour not moving. If traffic lightens up, and he can drive the rest of the way at 30 mph, how many hours will the whole trip take?” If you know the formula, “distance equals rate times time,” you can figure it out (8 hours!). Is sanctification like that, a calculation of how far and how fast for how long? Not really. The key question in sanctification is whether you’re even heading in the direction of Philadelphia. If you’re heading north towards Montreal, you can go 75 mph for as long as you want; you’ll never, ever get to Philadelphia. And if you’re simply sitting outside Boston, and have no idea which direction you’re supposed to go, you’ll never get anywhere. But if you’re heading in the right direction, you can go 10 mph or 60 mph; you can get stuck in traffic and sit awhile; you can get out and walk; you can crawl on your hands and knees; you can even get temporarily turned around. But at some point you’ll get where you need to go.

The rate of sanctification is completely variable. We cannot predict how it will go. Some people, during some seasons of life, leap and bound like gazelles. Let’s say you’ve been living in flagrant sexual sins. You turn from sin to Christ; the open sins disappear. No more fornication: sleeping with your girlfriend or boyfriend. No more exhibitionism: flashing in your trenchcoat or wearing that particularly revealing blouse. No more pornography: buying Penthouse or the latest salacious romance novel. Ever. It sometimes happens like that. For other people (and the same people, at another season of life) sanctification is a steady, measured walk. You learn truth. You learn to serve others constructively. You build new disciplines. You learn basic life wisdom. You learn who God is, who you are, how life works. You learn to worship, to pray, to give time, money, and caring. And you grow steadily – wonder of wonders! Other people (and same people, another season) trudge. It’s hard going. You limp. You don’t seem to get very far very fast. But if you’re trudging in the right direction – high praises to the Lord of glory! One day, you will see Him face to face, and you will be like Him. Some people crawl on their hands and knees. Progress is painful. Praise God for the glory of His grace, you are inching in the right direction. And then there are times you aren’t even moving, stuck in gridlock, broken down – but you’re still facing in the right direction. That’s Psalm 88, the “basement” of the Psalms. This man feels dark despair – but it’s despair in the Lord’s direction. In other words, it’s still faith, even when faith feels so discouraged you can only say, “You are my only hope. Help. Where are You?” That counts – it made it into the Bible. There are times you might fall asleep in the blizzard and lie down comatose and forgetful – but grace wakes you up, reminds you, and gets you moving again. There are times you slowly wander off in the wrong direction, beguiled by some false promise, or disappointed by a true promise that you falsely understood. But He who began a good work in you awakens you from your sleepwalk, sooner or later, and puts you back on the path. And then there are times you revolt, and do a face-plant in the muck, a swan dive into the abyss – but grace picks you up and washes you off again, and turns you back. Slowly you get the point. Perhaps then you leap and bound, or walk steadily, or trudge, or crawl, or face with greater hope in the right direction.

We love gazelles. Graceful leaps make for a great testimony to God’s wonderworking power. And we like steady and predictable. It seems to vindicate our efforts at making the Christian life work in a businesslike manner. But, in fact, there’s no formula, no secret, no technique, no program, and no truth that guarantees the speed, distance, or time frame. On the day you die, you’ll still be somewhere in the middle, but further along. When we lengthen the battle, we realize that our business is the direction. God manages to work His wonderworking glory in and through all of the above scenarios! God’s people need to know that, so someone else’s story doesn’t set the bar in a place that is not how your story of Christ’s grace is working out in real life.

b. Repentance is a lifestyle

What was the first trumpet call of the Reformation?

It was not the authority of Scripture, foundational as that is. Scripture is the very voice, face, and revelation of God. A Person presses through the pages. You learn how He thinks. How He acts. Who He is. What He’s up to. But Scripture alone did not stand first in line.

It was not justification by faith, crucial as that is. We are oily-rag people. Christ is the garden of light. We are saved by His doing, His dying, His goodness. We are saved from ourselves outside of ourselves. No religious hocus-pocus. No climbing up a ladder of good works, or religious knowledge, or mystical experience. He came down, full of grace and truth, Word made flesh, Lamb of God. We receive. That’s crucial. But faith alone wasn’t actually where it all started.

It was not the priesthood of all believers, revolutionary as that is. Imagine, there aren’t two classes of people, the religious people who do holy things by a special call from God, and the masses of laity toiling in the slums of secular reality. The “man of God” is not doing God’s show before an audience of bystanders. We all assemble as God’s people, doing the work and worship together, with differing gifts. The one Lord, our common King and attentive audience, powerfully enables faith and love. Yes and amen, but this radical revision of church didn’t come first.

The trumpet call, Thesis Number One of Luther’s 95 Theses, was this: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That dismantled all the machinery of religiosity, and called us back to human reality. Luther glimpsed and aimed to recover the essential inner dynamic of the Christian life. It is an ongoing change process. It involves a continual turning motion, turning towards God, and turning away from the riot of other voices, other desires, other loves. We tend to use the word ‘repentance’ in its more narrow sense, for decisive moments of realization, conviction, confession, turning. But Luther uses the word in its wider, more inclusive sense. We live FROM-TO, when we live in Christ. John Calvin put it in a similar way: “This restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year…. In order that believers may reach this goal [the shining image of God], God assigns to them a race of repentance, which they are to run throughout their lives.”iii The entire Christian life (including the more specific moments of repentance) follows a pattern of turning from other things and turning to the Lord.

Luther went on to write a beautiful statement describing the transformation dynamic that occurs as we live FROM-TO.

This life, therefore,

is not righteousness but growth in righteousness,

not health but healing,

not being but becoming,

not rest but exercise.

We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.

The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.

This is not the end but it is the road.

All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.iv

Lifelong progressive sanctification was the trumpet call back to biblical faith. It was a call back to this life – including sex – in which the living God is on scene throughout your life. He planned a good work. He began a good work. He continues a good work. He will finish a good work. He has staked His glory on the completion of that work. Lengthening the battle heightens the significance of our Savior for every step along the way. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.

————————————————————————————————-


i Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding, Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1997, Book VIII, Chapter 17, p. 198.

ii Marriage per se is neither magic nor magically loving. A few of these perversions of sexual goodness can be performed between married parties: e.g., joint use of pornography, sado-masochism, ‘homosexual marriage’, rape, bigamy. But such practices violate the call to loving intimacy before the eyes of God, who created sex good and defines good sex. The sexual identity and desires of one or both parties can be warped, whatever the marital status. The last part of this section will discuss sexual sins that more typically occur within marriage.

iii John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III:iii:9.

iv Martin Luther, “Defense and Explanation of all the Articles,” Second Article.

*****

David Powlison is a faculty member at CCEF and has been counseling for over thirty years.

This article appeared as a chapter in the book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, and published in 2005 by Crossway Books.

THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS

SOURCE:  Adapted from    The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiving Oneself

Forgiving yourself is an opportunity to free you of pain and anger that has built up over time. Forgiveness moves you from focusing on a past hurt into the present.  You may not forget the hurtful event, but you can move on with your life.  This choice to forgive yourself may not be a one-time event and may take time to do, but over time you will find yourself living without the familiar pain you are used to carrying with you. Forgiving yourself may not be easy, but the alternative is choosing to live with the pain of bitterness and resentment toward yourself.

Failure to forgive ourselves can result in:

•Continually being hurt by unresolved pain, suffering and ways of acting that harm us

•Low self-esteem and low self-worth

• Being overly defensive or distant in relationships

• Unnecessary guilt and remorse that wear us down.

• Self-destructive behavior

Forgiving ourselves can have many benefits such as:

• Learning to love yourself in healthy ways and no longer beating yourself up for your mistakes

• Realizing we are human and all make mistakes

• Letting go of hurtful memories and painful events and developing an optimistic view for the future

•Realizing you have value and self-worth can open you up to loving others in new ways and demanding respect for yourself

Forgiving Another Person

Even in the closest of our relationships we can harbor unforgiveness.  Taking some time to reflect on our relationship can help us identify and dislodge any unforgiveness that may be present.  If pain and resentment are left unchecked in our relationship, and the healing power of forgiveness has not been made use of resentment, bitterness or a loss of hope could develop.

We often carry around misperceptions of what forgiveness is and these misperceptions impede our ability to forgive or be forgiven.

It is important to know what forgiveness is not:

• Forgiveness is not forgetting.  We often will not forget a hurtful event, but we can still seek and grant forgiveness.

• Forgiveness is not having resolved all the painful feelings.  Often the hurtful feelings will last. But we can still seek and grant forgiveness.

• Forgiveness is not absolving someone from the responsibility of what they have done. What they did was wrong; you are simply choosing to not let it negatively impact you (and your relationship) anymore.

• Forgiveness is not accepting being continually hurt.  If you are in an abusive relationship or one in which you are regularly being hurt, then that pattern must change.  You do not deserve to be hurt.  This may require staying away from the offending person to protect yourself.

• Forgiveness does not mean the relationship is always back to where it was before.  If the offense is minor, you might be able to go back to where you were.  If the offense is serious, it may take time (even years) to rebuild trust in the relationship.  Forgiveness is simply starting this healing process.

Parents Teaching Children to Forgive

Parents teach their children forgiveness in a variety of ways.  While there are many ways to learn forgiveness, one of the most effective is for children to see their parents modeling forgiveness in their daily life.  Children can also benefit from their parents instruction on forgiveness.  Like most life lessons, teaching forgiveness to your child will be a continual process, but one that can bear great fruit.

Children, especially young children, are very impressionable.  As you teach your child how to forgive it will be an on-going process.  You may even have to give your child the words to say if they have not developed the vocabulary of forgiveness yet.

An example might look like:

Parent: “Johnny, you hit your sister and now she is hurt. You need to say “I’m sorry.’”

(Or if the child is older, “I feel bad that I hurt you and I am sorry for hitting you.”)

Johnny: “I’m sorry Sally.”

Parent: “Very good Johnny. Now give your sister a hug to let her know that you are sorry.”

Johnny hugs his sister.

Parent: “Now I want you to play nicely with your sister.  If you get angry, use your words.

Hitting is not appropriate.  Have fun.”

The parent gave her child the words and actions to do in step-by-step fashion.  Children often can only remember one step at time.  Following the words and actions of forgiveness, the parent set a new course of action for the child, one without violence.  When your child responds to your request, be sure to reward his behavior by saying “Thank you” or “Good job” or hug them yourself.  This process may have to be repeated over and over, but in time it can bear fruit.

As your children get older their lives will get more complex and nuanced and they will need an ever expanding capacity to forgive.  They will need to learn problem-solving and conflict resolution skills as they get older, but the foundation that you have taught them as a child will help make this process go smoother.  They will always need to see you role model these and other skills.

If you feel ill-equipped to teach your children forgiveness, take the time to go to your local library and get some books or tapes on forgiveness. Check your local community for parenting classes. These resources will be especially important if you did not receive these skills yourself as you were growing up.  We all learn forgiveness in a variety of ways.


What does the Bible really teach about divorce?

(Adapted from: Christianity Today online 10/05/07 – by David Instone-Brewer)

What Does the Bible Say?

The New Testament presents a problem in understanding both what the text says about divorce and its pastoral implications. Jesus appears to say that divorce is allowed only if adultery has occurred: “Whoever divorces a wife, except for sexual indecency, and remarries, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). However, this has been interpreted in many different ways. Most say that Jesus allows divorce only for adultery. But some argue that Jesus originally didn’t allow even that. Only in Matthew does he offer an out from marriage: “except for sexual indecency.” Beyond what Jesus says, Paul also allows divorce. He permits it for abandonment by a nonbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-15). Many theologians add this as a second ground for divorce.

Yet some pastors have found this teaching difficult to accept, because it seems so impractical—even cruel in certain situations. It suggests there can be no divorce for physical or emotional abuse, and Paul even seems to forbid separation (1 Cor. 7:10).

As a result, some Christians quietly ignore this seemingly “impractical” biblical teaching or find ways around it. For example, they suggest that when Jesus talked about “sexual immorality,” perhaps he included other things like abuse. Or when Paul talked about abandonment by a nonbeliever, perhaps he included any behavior that is not supportive of the marriage or abandonment by anyone who is acting like a nonbeliever. Many have welcomed such stretching of Scripture because they couldn’t accept what they believed the text apparently said.

But does the literal text mean what we think it does? While doing doctoral studies at Cambridge, I likely read every surviving writing of the rabbis of Jesus’ time. I “got inside their heads” enough to begin to understand them. When I began working as a pastor and was confronted almost immediately with divorced men and women who wanted to remarry, my first response was to re-read the Bible. I’d read the biblical texts on divorce many times in the past, but I found something strange as I did so again. They now said something I hadn’t heard before I read the rabbis!

‘Any Cause’ Divorce

The texts hadn’t changed, but my knowledge of the language and culture in which they were written had. I was now reading them like a first-century Jew would have read them, and this time those confusing passages made more sense. My book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (InterVarsity Press), is a summary of several academic papers and books I began writing with this new understanding of what Jesus taught.

One of my most dramatic findings concerns a question the Pharisees asked Jesus: “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3). This question reminded me that a few decades before Jesus, some rabbis (the Hillelites) had invented a new form of divorce called the “any cause” divorce. By the time of Jesus, this “any cause” divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the literal Old Testament grounds for divorce.

The “any cause” divorce was invented from a single word in Deuteronomy 24:1. Moses allowed divorce for “a cause of immorality,” or, more literally, “a thing of nakedness.” Most Jews recognized that this unusual phrase was talking about adultery. But the Hillelite rabbis wondered why Moses had added the word “thing” or “cause” when he only needed to use the word “immorality.” They decided this extra word implied another ground for divorce—divorce for “a cause.” They argued that anything, including a burnt meal or wrinkles not there when you married your wife, could be a cause! The text, they said, taught that divorce was allowed both for adultery and for “any cause.”

Another group of rabbis (the Shammaites) disagreed with this interpretation. They said Moses’ words were a single phrase that referred to no type of divorce “except immorality”—and therefore the new “any cause” divorces were invalid. These opposing views were well known to all first-century Jews. And the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood. “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?” they asked. In other words: “Is it lawful for us to use the ‘any cause’ divorce?”

When Jesus answered with a resounding no, he wasn’t condemning “divorce for any cause,” but rather the newly invented “any cause” divorce. Jesus agreed firmly with the second group that the phrase didn’t mean divorce was allowable for “immorality” and for “any cause,” but that Deutermonomy 24:1 referred to no type of divorce “except immorality.”

This was a shocking statement for the crowd and for the disciples. It meant they couldn’t get a divorce whenever they wanted it—there had to be a lawful cause. It also meant that virtually every divorced man or women was not really divorced, because most of them had “any cause” divorces. Luke and Matthew summarized the whole debate in one sentence: Any divorced person who remarried was committing adultery (Matt. 5:32; Luke 16:18), because they were still married. The fact that they said “any divorced person” instead of “virtually all divorced people” is typical Jewish hyperbole—like Mark saying that “everyone” in Jerusalem came to be baptized by John (Mark 1:5). It may not be obvious to us, but their first readers understood clearly what they meant.

Within a few decades, however, no one understood these terms any more. Language often changes quickly (as I found out when my children first heard the Flintstones sing about “a gay old time”). The early church, and even Jewish rabbis, forgot what the “any cause” divorce was, because soon after the days of Jesus, it became the only type of divorce on offer. It was simply called divorce. This meant that when Jesus condemned “divorce for ‘any cause,’ ” later generations thought he meant “divorce for any cause.”

Reaffirming marriage

Now that we know what Jesus did reject, we can also see what he didn’t reject. He wasn’t rejecting the Old Testament—he was rejecting a faulty Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. He defended the true meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1. And there is one other surprising thing he didn’t reject: Jesus didn’t reject the other ground for divorce in the Old Testament, which all Jews accepted.

Although the church forgot the other cause for divorce, every Jew in Jesus’ day knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect. Before rabbis introduced the “any cause” divorce, this was probably the most common type. Exodus says that everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage—the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage. Even women could, and did, get divorces for neglect—though the man still had to write out the divorce certificate. Rabbis said he had to do it voluntarily, so if he resisted, the courts had him beaten till he volunteered!

These three rights became the basis of Jewish marriage vows—we find them listed in marriage certificates discovered near the Dead Sea. In later Jewish and Christian marriages, the language became more formal, such as “love, honor, and keep.” These vows, together with a vow of sexual faithfulness, have always been the basis for marriage. Thus, the vows we make when we marry correspond directly to the biblical grounds for divorce.

The three provisions of food, clothing, and love were understood literally by the Jews. The wife had to cook and sew, while the husband provided food and materials, or money. They both had to provide the emotional support of marital love, though they could abstain from sex for short periods. Paul taught the same thing. He said that married couples owed each other love (1 Cor. 7:3-5) and material support (1 Cor. 7:33-34). He didn’t say that neglect of these rights was the basis of divorce because he didn’t need to—it was stated on the marriage certificate. Anyone who was neglected, in terms of emotional support or physical support, could legally claim a divorce.

Divorce for neglect included divorce for abuse, because this was extreme neglect. There was no question about that end of the spectrum of neglect, but what about the other end? What about abandonment, which was merely a kind of passive neglect? This was an uncertain matter, so Paul deals with it. He says to all believers that they may not abandon their partners, and if they have done so, they should return (1 Cor. 7:10-11). In the case of someone who is abandoned by an unbeliever—someone who won’t obey the command to return—he says that the abandoned person is “no longer bound.”  Anyone in first-century Palestine reading this phrase would think immediately of the wording at the end of all Jewish, and most Roman, divorce certificates: “You are free to marry anyone you wish.”

Putting all this together gives us a clear and consistent set of rules for divorce and remarriage. Divorce is only allowed for a limited number of grounds that are found in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament:

  • Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
  • Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7)
  • Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7)

Jewish couples listed these biblical grounds for divorce in their marriage vows. We reiterate them as love, honor, and keep and be faithful to each other. When these vows were broken, it threatened to break up the marriage. As in any broken contract, the wronged party had the right to say, “I forgive you; let’s carry on,” or, “I can’t go on, because this marriage is broken.”

Therefore, while divorce should never happen, God allows it (and subsequent remarriage) when your partner breaks the marriage vows.

Reading the Bible and ancient Jewish documents side-by-side helped me understand much more of the Bible’s teaching about divorce and marriage, not all of which I can summarize here. Dusty scraps of parchment rescued from synagogue rubbish rooms, desert caves, and neglected scholarly collections shone fresh light on the New Testament.

Theologians who have long felt that divorce should be allowed for abuse and abandonment may be vindicated. And, more importantly, victims of broken marriages can see that God’s law is both practical and loving.

A WAY OF HOPE – ABUSE

(Adapted from Family Life Today/A Weekend to Remember)

You Are Not Alone

When you are abused, you feel desperately alone.  You may think, Why me? Other women don’t have this problem.  Something must be wrong with me. And you may feel so ashamed that this is happening to you that you don’t want anyone to know about it.  But the truth is that many wives suffer some form of domestic abuse regardless of racial, religious, educational or economic backgrounds.

According to the American Medical Association, husbands and boyfriends severely assault as many as four million women every year.  One in four women will experience some type of spousal abuse during their lifetime.  Many of these women feel trapped, anxious, afraid, and helpless.  Some feel they are to blame – that if they could just do better at pleasing their husbands, they could change their situations.  Others don’t know what to do, or where to go to get help.  Most suffer in silence, hiding their situations from family and friends because of the shame and embarrassment they feel.  Or perhaps they fear others will not believe them.

No, you are not alone.  But there is hope!  Many women have taken bold and courageous steps to seek help, to find freedom from abuse, and to begin the journey toward to a new life.  Some have even seen their abusers find the help they desperately needed to stop their destructive behavior and to experience healing and recovery in their own lives.  Some couples, through the help of intervention and a structured recovery process guided by pastors or qualified counselors, have been able to experience healing and reconciliation in their marriages.

Yes, it is true that change does take time, a lot of courage, and a great deal of support, but change can happen.  And if you are in an abusive situation, change must happen.

What Is Abuse?

A crucial first step in this process will be to acknowledge and understand the abuse occurring in your marriage.  Abuse means to mistreat or misuse someone.  People abuse others to dominate or control, or to prevent others from making free choices.

There are several different forms of abuse:

*Emotional or psychological abuse:  Mistreating and controlling someone through fear, manipulation, and intimidation, and by attacking that person’s sense of self-worth.  The abuser seeks to make his wife feel afraid, helpless, confused, and worthless.  This form of abuse includes:  name-calling, mocking, belittling, accusing, blaming, yelling, swearing, harassing, isolating from family and friends, abusing authority, withholding emotional support and affection, and betraying trust.

*Physical abuse:  Assaulting, threatening, or restraining a person through force. Men who batter use physical violence to control women – to scare them into doing whatever they want them to do.  Physical abuse includes:  hitting, slapping, punching, beating, grabbing, shoving, biting, kicking, pulling hair, burning, using or threatening the use of weapons, blocking you from leaving a room or the house during an argument, driving recklessly, or intimidating you with threatening gestures.

*Sexual abuse:  Behavior that dominates or controls someone through sexual acts, demands or insults.  Sexual abuse includes:  making you do sexual things when it is against your will, when you are sick, or when it is painful; using force (including rape in or out of marriage), threats, or coercion to obtain sex or perform sexual acts; forcing you to have unprotected sex, or sex with others; treating you like a sex object, and calling you names like “frigid” or “whore.”

Facing the Facts … And Facing Your Fears

Denying the abuse or the impact of abuse may have helped you to cope with the problem until now.  However, denial is also the very thing that will hinder you from breaking the cycle of violence in your life, and from experiencing peace and freedom from abuse.

Facing the fact that you are being abused or battered by your husband, and that his behavior is not normal, can stir up deep emotional feelings – especially fear.  You must acknowledge these fears in order to face and deal with the problem.  In her book, Invisible Wounds – A Self-Help Guide for Women in Destructive Relationships, Kay Douglas writes, “Unacknowledged fears play on our minds and sap our confidence until we have no energy left to deal with the problems at hand.  The way out of fear is through it.”  She goes on to say, “As we face and feel our vulnerability, our fear may increase in intensity for a brief time.  Then it begins to diminish.  When we know what we are dealing with, much of the power of that feeling goes.  We move through fear to a calmer, stronger place within.  Having faced the worst, we are free to put our energy into coping creatively with our situation.”

It’s Time to Make the Right Choices

You do not deserve to be abused, nor are you to blame for the abuse that you have suffered.  Abuse of any type is wrong, and if you are in an abusive situation, the first step toward new life and freedom is to recognize that there is a need for a change in your life.  Change can be difficult, and in some cases, change can be frightening.  However, in any type of an abusive situation, change is absolutely necessary for your own well being.

Remember, abuse is about power and control.  You may be experiencing verbal or emotional abuse now.  But if changes are not made to resolve your current situation, then when your husband begins feeling as if he still does not have enough control, the abuse will escalate into more violent forms.  According to some authorities, when abusers hit or break objects or make threats, almost 100 percent resort to physical battering.  What might be verbal abuse now could turn into physical abuse down the road.  No form of abuse is acceptable!

Contrary to what you may believe, you are not powerless! You are a worthwhile person and you do not have to continue to accept the mistreatment of your husband.  You have the power to make your own choices.

 

 

The Bullying Epidemic

From:  Heartlife Soul-Care
 

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea’.” Matthew 18:1-6

Bullying has certainly become an epidemic in our schools today. Yet, because it is often something that parents, teachers, and even friends cannot detect, many people don’t understand how extreme bullying can get. Now more than ever, children and teens are waking up afraid to go to school. The American Justice Department says that this month 1 out of every 4 children will be abused by a peer. In a recent study, 77% of students said they had been bullied, and 14% of those who were bullied said they experienced severe reactions to the abuse.

What exactly does bullying entail? Bullying is described as being picked on repeatedly, either by physical force or verbally. Two of the main reasons people are bullied are because of appearance and social status. For the most part, bullies pick on the kids they think “don’t fit in”; such as how they look, how they act (for example, kids who are shy and withdrawn), or their race or religion. “Being bullied is not just an unpleasant rite of passage through childhood,” says Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, “It’s a public health problem that merits attention. People who were bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self esteem well into adulthood, and the bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.” Other long lasting effects of bullying include health problems, poor grades, and suicidal thoughts.

Bullies and the Warning Signs…

A common thread among bullies is that they like to dominate others and are generally focused on themselves. Often times they have poor social skills and poor social judgment, as well as no feelings of empathy toward other people. The purpose in bullying is to put other people down in order to make themselves feel better, or more powerful. Unfortunately, some bullies act the way they do because they’ve been hurt by a bully themselves, possibly by someone in their own family.

Although there are two main types of bullying, physical and emotional, there are several ways that bullying can be manifested. In order to understand the warning signs, let’s look at the different types of bullying:

1.    Verbal bullying, which includes derogatory comments and/or calling someone bad names

2.    Bullying through social exclusion or isolation

3.    Physical bullying such as hitting, kicking, shoving, and spitting

4.    Bullying through lies and/or spreading rumors

5.     Having money or personal belongings taken or damaged

6.     Being threatened or being forced to do things against one’s will

7.     Racial bullying

8.     Sexual bullying

9.     Cyber bullying (via cell phone or Internet), using websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Springboard.

Boys vs. Girls

Four ways That Boys and Girls Bully Differently:

  1. Boys are more likely than girls to display bullying behavior through physical intimidation. Girls bully verbally more than physically, and they leave other girls out of their circle, or gossip and spread rumors.
  2. When boys bully, they bully both girls and boys. Girls usually only bully other girls.
  3. Boys tend to bully openly, whereas girls disguise their bullying and act out in more passive aggressive ways. Because of this, girl-on-girl bullying is harder to spot. The majority of researchers think that boys bully more than girls, but more recent studies suggest that adults simply have a harder time recognizing when girls bully.
  4. Experts believe that boys are more likely to cyber-bully. Girls who are cyber-bullied are more likely to report the bullying to adults.

Four Ways That Boys and Girls Bully The Same:

  1. Both genders can bully in the form of racist, sexist or homophobic remarks.
  2. Bullying by both boys and girls is harmful and can lead to depression, body image issues, and low self-esteem.
  3. Both male and female bullies will at times turn on their friends.
  4. Both genders start to bully around the same age, in their younger teens. Bullying for both girls and boys starts to fade away by the later teen years.

In order to know if your child is being bullied, keep a close watch for a change in their behavior. Some of the milder behaviors that may indicate your child is being bullied are: social isolation/lack of friends with whom he or she spends time; being afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, or riding the school bus; not taking part in organized activities with peers (such as clubs); lack of interest in school work or suddenly performing poorly in school. Some of the more serious warning signs are: coming home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings; showing unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches; appearing sad, tearful, or depressed when he or she comes home; appearing anxious and suffering from low self esteem; and experiencing a loss of appetite, or a refusal to eat.

Perhaps the most apparent effect that bullying is having on our teens today is a significant change in their self worth. Kids, who were once homecoming queens, football stars, artists, and actors, are starting to believe that they are hated by everyone and are worthless in society’s eyes. No amount of external processing or encouragement is penetrating the minds of these teens. They have been utterly convinced that they are what their bullies say they are.

Prevention/Intervention

As parents, it is very troublesome for a child to come home exhibiting any of the behaviors or warning signs listed above. For most parents, the school environment has always been completely trusted and held in high regard. So, what happens when the teachers and administration that you trust, don’t detect that your child is being bullied?

First, let’s address what to do if you suspect that your child is being bullied. The first step is to talk to your child. It sounds cliché, but simply asking your child about what is going on, and letting them know that you are concerned about them, is an empowering step. It promotes autonomy and provides a voice for them.  It shows them that you care and that you are an advocate for them. Without judgment, condemnation, or blaming, explore their experience of what is going on at school. Other questions to ask include, but are not limited to: “Who are the friends that you hang out with at school?”, “Are there any kids that you avoid or don’t like being around?”, and “Are there kids at school that leave you out on purpose, or who say hurtful things?”

Secondly, it’s important to simply be aware of this epidemic occurring in schools and churches, and be prepared to do something about it. At the beginning of the school year, or at the beginning of a new semester, reach out to your child’s teachers and especially their guidance counselors. Both teachers and guidance counselors will be in the best position to understand how your child relates to their peers at school. Also, share your concerns about your child’s behavior and alert their teachers as soon as you see warning signs. Engaging in prevention on the front end will often times do away with any intervention in the future.

The Future of Bullying

Prevention will be the key for dealing with the issue of bullying. Parents, schools, teachers, counselors, youth pastors, ministers, and all adults need to be aware of this increasingly prevalent problem. Make no mistake, bullying is real and it is affecting 1 in 4 teens as you read this article. More people are speaking out about bullying and publishing articles and books on the subject. Hayley DiMarco recently published a book titled Mean Girls, and in it she paints a real picture about the nature of cliques and how hurtful girls are being towards other girls. Hayley writes about her own experience being bullied. She says,

“When I was a teenager, my spirit was imprisoned by fear, maybe like yours is right now. I had no sense of the greatness of God or the power of his hand in my life. I couldn’t see life from his point of view, only from my weak little place on the planet. I didn’t understand a bigger picture because I had not yet discovered Christ and his teachings, his Spirit, and his love. I didn’t come to understand that until after college. If I had known then what I know now, maybe those girls would have ended up my friends or at least left me alone a little bit. No one ever told me how to handle them, what to say to them, or how to be around them. Instead I was just plain scared of them. I lived a lot of my life in fear, and it didn’t have to be that way. How sad that no one was there to tell me about the amazing truth of godliness with love. Now that I have come through years of fighting with the Mean Girl and of not knowing how to avoid her or get rid of her, I have a new understanding of how I am supposed to react to her, even if I can’t get rid of her”.

May we all seek to be on the front end of bullying and proactively teach our children to see themselves in the way that their Heavenly Father does. God’s word tells us, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear…Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29,32). We must take an active stand against harm perpetrated against our children.  In our key text, Matthew 18:1-6, the Amplified Bible describes children as trusting, lowly, loving, and forgiving.  When a child is harmed, the view of themselves, others, and God is diminished.  We have a great responsibility to protect the hearts of our children-let’s exercise it.

Hope After Spousal Abuse

(Adapted from Family Life Today/A Weekend to Remember)

You Are Not Alone

When you are abused, you feel desperately alone.

You may think, Why me?

Other women don’t have this problem. Something must be wrong with me. And you may feel so ashamed that this is happening to you that you don’t want anyone to know about it. But the truth is that many wives suffer some form of domestic abuse regardless of racial, religious, educational or economic backgrounds.

According to the American Medical Association, husbands and boyfriends severely assault as many as four million women every year. One in four women will experience some type of spousal abuse during their lifetime. Many of these women feel trapped, anxious, afraid, and helpless. Some feel they are to blame – that if they could just do better at pleasing their husbands, they could change their situations. Others don’t know what to do, or where to go to get help. Most suffer in silence, hiding their situations from family and friends because of the shame and embarrassment they feel. Or perhaps they fear others will not believe them.

No, you are not alone. But there is hope!

Many women have taken bold and courageous steps to seek help, to find freedom from abuse, and to begin the journey toward to a new life. Some have even seen their abusers find the help they desperately needed to stop their destructive behavior and to experience healing and recovery in their own lives. Some couples, through the help of intervention and a structured recovery process guided by pastors or qualified counselors, have been able to experience healing and reconciliation in their marriages.

Yes, it is true that change does take time, a lot of courage, and a great deal of support, but change can happen. And if you are in an abusive situation, change must happen.

What Is Abuse?

A crucial first step in this process will be to acknowledge and understand the abuse occurring in your marriage. Abuse means to mistreat or misuse someone. People abuse others to dominate or control, or to prevent others from making free choices.

There are several different forms of abuse:

*Emotional or psychological abuse: Mistreating and controlling someone through fear, manipulation, and intimidation, and by attacking that person’s sense of self-worth. The abuser seeks to make his wife feel afraid, helpless, confused, and worthless. This form of abuse includes: name-calling, mocking, belittling, accusing, blaming, yelling, swearing, harassing, isolating from family and friends, abusing authority, withholding emotional support and affection, and betraying trust.

*Physical abuse: Assaulting, threatening, or restraining a person through force. Men who batter use physical violence to control women – to scare them into doing whatever they want them to do. Physical abuse includes: hitting, slapping, punching, beating, grabbing, shoving, biting, kicking, pulling hair, burning, using or threatening the use of weapons, blocking you from leaving a room or the house during an argument, driving recklessly, or intimidating you with threatening gestures.

*Sexual abuse: Behavior that dominates or controls someone through sexual acts, demands or insults. Sexual abuse includes: making you do sexual things when it is against your will, when you are sick, or when it is painful; using force (including rape in or out of marriage), threats, or coercion to obtain sex or perform sexual acts; forcing you to have unprotected sex, or sex with others; treating you like a sex object, and calling you names like “frigid” or “whore.”

Facing the Facts – And Facing Your Fears

Denying the abuse or the impact of abuse may have helped you to cope with the problem until now. However, denial is also the very thing that will hinder you from breaking the cycle of violence in your life, and from experiencing peace and freedom from abuse.

Facing the fact that you are being abused or battered by your husband, and that his behavior is not normal, can stir up deep emotional feelings – especially fear. You must acknowledge these fears in order to face and deal with the problem. In her book, Invisible Wounds – A Self-Help Guide for Women in Destructive Relationships, Kay Douglas writes, “Unacknowledged fears play on our minds and sap our confidence until we have no energy left to deal with the problems at hand. The way out of fear is through it.” She goes on to say, “As we face and feel our vulnerability, our fear may increase in intensity for a brief time. Then it begins to diminish. When we know what we are dealing with, much of the power of that feeling goes. We move through fear to a calmer, stronger place within. Having faced the worst, we are free to put our energy into coping creatively with our situation.”

It’s Time to Make the Right Choices

You do not deserve to be abused, nor are you to blame for the abuse that you have suffered. Abuse of any type is wrong, and if you are in an abusive situation, the first step toward new life and freedom is to recognize that there is a need for a change in your life. Change can be difficult, and in some cases, change can be frightening. However, in any type of an abusive situation, change is absolutely necessary for your own well being.

Remember, abuse is about power and control. You may be experiencing verbal or emotional abuse now. But if changes are not made to resolve your current situation, then when your husband begins feeling as if he still does not have enough control, the abuse will escalate into more violent forms. According to some authorities, when abusers hit or break objects or make threats, almost 100 percent resort to physical battering. What might be verbal abuse now could turn into physical abuse down the road. No form of abuse is acceptable!

Contrary to what you may believe, you are not powerless! You are a worthwhile person and you do not have to continue to accept the mistreatment of your husband. You have the power to make your own choices.

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