Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘Denial’

Weathering The Storms Of Life

Source: (Adapted from the article, Weathering The Storms Of Life by Noel Yeatts; Christian Counseling Connection Vol. 16/Iss.1)

The following article excerpt is based on one’s overwhelming life struggle and what was learned.

How does one who is going through unbearable and indescribable pain, misery, and uncertainty face this deep, dark struggle?  One answer is to believe that God is going to do incredible things through this trial of life.

However, before God can use us in light of this circumstance, He made need to teach us come critical lessons as follows:

1.  God is ultimately in control and He has our best interest at heart.

Every one of us will be called upon to face adversity.  It is a fact of life.  We may not be able to see the reason for our trials and challenges, and we might not know the purpose right away, but rest assured that God is sovereign and is working behind the scenes for our benefit.

2.  We are never alone.

Even on our weakest days, God is with us.  He will never forsake us and longs to gather us under His wings of protection.

3.  We need to focus on what really matters.

Charles Swindoll says, “We shouldn’t deny the pain of what happens in our lives. We should just refuse to focus on the valleys.”  Consider what is most important to you in life.  Then decide not to waste your time and energy worrying about the small stuff.  When you focus on what really matters, your family becomes more valuable to you than ever before and each moment becomes so precious.

4.  We need to cope one day at a time.

When you are going through a storm, don’t try to take on your entire life—live one day at a time.  Minimize the bad days.  Maximize the good days.  Thank God for today and accept it.

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Characteristics of Dysfunctional Families

SOURCE:  Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

*Enmeshment – This means family members become too closely bonded with each other.  Strong families connect in a balanced way.  They have a strong sense of togetherness, but it’s tempered by allowing members to be independent.  They feel close and committed to each other, but their closeness empowers them as separate persons.  Enmeshed families, in contrast, allow their connectedness to stifle individuality.  They may also swing to the opposite extreme and be so independent that the members are disengaged.

Under the control of a parent, cohesiveness is often forced on the members.  In an effort to overcome family shame, efforts are made to keep the family together.  Members are expected to be loyal – being together is not necessarily desired; it is required.  Members of strong families may get together for Christmas because they want to, but dysfunctional family members do so because they have to.  Members of strong families enjoy each other; those of troubled families tend to endure each other.  Enmeshment is often referred to as co-dependence, and it manifests itself in number of harmful ways.  Family members sometimes feel too much, depend too much on, or do too much for each other.  While some sacrifice is o.k., sacrifice can be harmful, not just to the one who is sacrificing but also to the one for whom the sacrifice is made.  Jesus, by His crucifixion, is the greatest example of sacrifice, but His sacrifice was with purpose.

*Inadequate Communication – Dysfunctional families are notorious for their poor communication.  They have the now-famous rules:  “Don’t trust; don’t feel, and don’t talk.”  A functional family has no such rules.  The rules that keep dysfunctional families from talking come from the “elephant in the living room” phenomenon. The large beast represents the family’s problem.  Fear and shame keep family members from discussing it. Initially their feelings may be so overwhelming that they deal with them by trying not to feel.  Ignoring the most important family matter causes them to ignore other feelings and thoughts as well.  Communication is superficial because of the threat of talking about their shame, fear, and depression.  The family avoids healthy conflict and urges members not to rock the boat.  Their desire for peace at all costs inhibits any authenticity, vulnerability, or transparency.  Since they are unable to talk, family members struggle to adapt and survive, employing numerous defenses to ward off the pain.  One of those defenses is denial.

*Denial and Reality Shifting – People in dysfunctional families usually have a distorted view of reality.  They see the terrible things happening in their homes, yet they don’t recognize them for what they are.  This denial takes any number of forms.  They may minimize the problem.  They may consider themselves normal.  They may delay doing anything about it, thinking the problem will eventually solve itself.  Being in denial causes people to experience what is called “reality shifting.”  This is when there is a major discrepancy between what is said and what a child experiences.  Forcing children to disregard what they experience distorts their sense of what is true and normal, causing them to live in doubt and confusion.

*Wet – Dry Cycle – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde often come to mind when referring to addicts.  They have a sober personality and an addicted one – and their families do too.  This sobriety-intoxication cycle deprives them of one of the major traits of strong families – consistency.  What is so amazing about these cycles is that the family members tend to behave like the addict.  Families are not all alike when one of the members is an addict.  While some families may feel close to each other, others may feel isolated from one another. Some may be tranquil, others combative.  Yet they definitely exhibit two states.  During the sober period, the home atmosphere may be very tense with children fearing the addict may move to his/her addiction.  The contrast between the two states can be extreme:

Dry                                                     Wet_________________

Promises Made                              Promises Broken

Overpunitive                                  Overcaring

Rigid                                                  Adaptive

This unpredictability and inconsistency can exact a toll on family members.

*Role Reversals — When one family member becomes increasingly disabled, other family members will begin to carry an extra load to keep the family going. Unlike the teamwork that exists in a healthy family, these responsibilities are unfairly distributed.  As a result, the family members bearing the burden begin to feel resentful, angry, and frustrated.  But the “don’t talk rule” keeps them from confronting the troubled member about his or her irresponsibility.  They may also suffer their hard feelings to avoid arguments and uncomfortable scenes.

*Isolation – Troubled families often lack a key factor of healthy family life – contact with those outside the house.  They are cut off from the many benefits people receive by being linked to the wider community and their contact with growth-producing relationships is limited.  Because the family members are so enmeshed with one another, outsiders threaten the precarious “balance” of co-dependency.  Also, because of their rigidity, they reject others whose ideas and practices may challenge theirs. Keeping the family secret of addiction or abuse makes them shun outsiders.  Shame about that secret inhibits their getting close to others.  In some cases, this isolation is a contributing cause of the family’s problems as well as a result.  Physical and sexual abuse can more easily happen where it is unlikely to be detected by members of the community.

Codependency: Definition – Signs – Characteristics – Resources

SOURCE:  Mental Health America

Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Co-dependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.

Who Does Co-dependency Affect?

Co-dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or drug dependence. Originally, co-dependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person. Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals. Today, however, the term has broadened to describe any co-dependent person from any dysfunctional family.

What is a Dysfunctional Family and How Does it Lead to Co-dependency?

A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied. Underlying problems may include any of the following:

  • An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
  • The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
  • The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.

Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.” They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited

Attention and energy focus on the family member who is ill or addicted. The co-dependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs to take care of a person who is sick. When co-dependents place other people’s health, welfare and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.

How Do Co-dependent People Behave?

Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine – and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.

They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. A wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a truant child; or a father may “pull some strings” to keep his child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behavior.

The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the co-dependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.” When the caretaking becomes compulsive, the co-dependent feels choiceless and helpless in the relationship, but is unable to break away from the cycle of behavior that causes it. Co-dependents view themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in the love and friendship relationships.

Characteristics of Co-dependent People Are:

  • An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
  • A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
  • A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
  • An extreme need for approval and recognition
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
  • A compelling need to control others
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others
  • Fear of being abandoned or alone
  • Difficulty identifying feelings
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with intimacy/boundaries
  • Chronic anger
  • Lying/dishonesty
  • Poor communications
  • Difficulty making decisions

Questionnaire To Identify Signs Of Co-dependency

This condition appears to run in different degrees, whereby the intensity of symptoms are on a spectrum of severity, as opposed to an all or nothing scale. Please note that only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of co-dependency; not everyone experiencing these symptoms suffers from co-dependency.

1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?
3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?
7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?
8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
10. Have you ever felt inadequate?
11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?
12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?
13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
19. Do you have trouble asking for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?

If you identify with several of these symptoms; are dissatisfied with yourself or your relationships; you should consider seeking professional help. Arrange for a diagnostic evaluation with a licensed physician or psychologist experienced in treating co-dependency.

How is Co-dependency Treated?

Because co-dependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment includes education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through which co-dependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behavior patterns. Treatment also focuses on helping patients getting in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood and on reconstructing family dynamics. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again.

When Co-dependency Hits Home

The first step in changing unhealthy behavior is to understand it. It is important for co-dependents and their family members to educate themselves about the course and cycle of addiction and how it extends into their relationships. Libraries, drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers and mental health centers often offer educational materials and programs to the public.

A lot of change and growth is necessary for the co-dependent and his or her family. Any caretaking behavior that allows or enables abuse to continue in the family needs to be recognized and stopped. The co-dependent must identify and embrace his or her feelings and needs. This may include learning to say “no,” to be loving yet tough, and learning to be self-reliant. People find freedom, love, and serenity in their recovery.

Hope lies in learning more. The more you understand co-dependency the better you can cope with its effects. Reaching out for information and assistance can help someone live a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Other Resources

Co-dependents Anonymous
PO Box 33577
Phoenix, AZ 85067
Phone:
(602) 277-7991 {This number provides only meeting information}
(888) 444-2359 {Toll free}
(888) 444-2379 {Spanish toll free}
Website: http://www.coda.org/

The Emotional & Relational Cost of Addiction

SOURCE:  Chip Dodd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Choice: Denial, Delusion, or Truth

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dan Strickland/Jimmy Ray Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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These thoughts were drawn from …

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

Life Feel Out-Of-Control?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.” Proverbs 3:5-8 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


These thoughts were drawn from …


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

Why Smart People Accept Unacceptable Behavior

SOURCE:  Dr. John Townsend/Beyond Boundaries

When I (Dr. Townsend) guide people through a process of examining a previous difficult relationship, the one question I have found most helpful is this: What was the “payoff” in your choice? In other words, what good things did you think you’d get when you began a relationship with that person?

We wind up with difficult people for a reason—there was something we valued, wanted, or hoped for. And because the need was strong, we may not have paid attention to something unacceptable in that person’s character. We either minimized or denied some sign, some reality, some warning light that all was not well. And the character problem ended up being a bigger deal than we thought.

When smart people accept unacceptable relationships, they tend to see traits and abilities in others that they think will make life better for them. We see positive aspects of a person’s psyche that we are drawn to or feel we need. A longing for them dulls an awareness of that person’s darker side.

Here are a few examples. For some period of time in the relationship, the person had the following:

  • Warmth: She was gentle and nurturing with me
  • Affirmation: He saw the good in me
  • Safety: He did not condemn or judge me
  • Structure: She was organized and got things done
  • Humor: She helped lighten the burdens and cheered me up
  • A great family: His relatives were much healthier than mine
  • Drive: She was focused and knew where she was going
  • Initiative: She took risks and was brave in making decisions
  • Competency: He was talented, and I needed his talent in my organization
  • People skills: He handled people better than I did, so I depended on him
  • Intelligence: She was smart, and I needed smarts in my department

In the toughest cases, the trait is simply that “he liked me.” That is, sometimes people feel so alone and desperate that they are grateful just for someone to be pursuing them, no matter what that person’s character may be.

We have an ability to spin the truth when it comes to our relationships. When we want something so badly that we ignore reality. Love is not blind, but desire can be. Here are some examples of how we spin the truth:

  • You allowed him to control you because you were weak and afraid.
  • You ignored detachment and disconnection because she was a nice person.
  • You minimized irresponsibility because she had a great personality and charm.
  • You put up with his tendency to divide people on the team because he was a good strategist.
  • You didn’t pay attention to childishness because she was needy, and you felt protective.
  • You let him into your life because you were compliant and guilt-based, and he was free and a rebel.

Do you see how the problem occurs? It is an insidious process. It tends to occur slowly over time. The good aspects are generally apparent and right out there. The bad ones don’t come out until later, when the euphoria wears off and the honeymoon is over. We are simply not aware of the repercussions while we are in the middle of the relationship. Instead, we are focused on solving problems, improving things, questioning our own judgment, and trying to be positive about it all. It’s not until later, after we have some distance, that we can gain clarity and perspective on the true dynamics of what went on.

Here are a few questions to help you review your relationships and gain some helpful insights:

  • What drew me to this person?
  • What led me to think this person had what I needed?
  • When did I first notice a significant problem in the relationship?
  • How did I minimize the problem in order to get the good from the person?
  • What was the result of minimizing the problem?

The information you gather here will help you avoid these issues in future relationships. This doesn’t mean that the other person has some plan or agenda to hook you in. This occurs sometimes, but certainly not always. In most cases, difficult people are responding to their own issues but remain unaware of them or the impact they have on others. I say this to prevent you from feeling like you were sucked into a trap. Most of the time, both parties are in a dysfunctional dance, and neither one knows what’s going on. The difference now is that you can choose to stop dancing so that your future will be better than your past!

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Beyond Boundaries_sm

 

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

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When It’s Not “Okay”

SOURCE: Kasey Van Norman, M.A.

Discovering Raw Faith in the Midst of Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better than Okay

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

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

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

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

The Myth of Happy Parenting

SOURCE:  Rachel Marie Stone

How did we come to expect pain-free child rearing?

The way of the parent is often the way of the Cross: the glory and grace and joy in it come at significant cost.

With my first pregnancy, it seemed everyone was more excited than me.

My mother squealed when I told her the news. People at church kept hugging me and grinning in my general direction. Even my OB-GYN’s secretary shrieked, “Congratulations!” when I asked for a prenatal appointment.

None of them were spending hours curled in bed, barely moving due to nausea. They did not endure 12 hours of labor, during which I cried, “Why, God? Why do you want me to suffer so much?” To which my nurse replied, “This is what it takes to have a baby, sweetheart.”

Then I’m not sure I want to have a baby, I thought.

As a friend recently put it, raising children requires holding joy and sorrow in the same hand at once.

When my son finally arrived, I was in love. But soon it became clear that he was not one of those coveted “easy” babies. He cried incessantly and slept little. Frankly, there was a lot I didn’t like about him. I carried a crushing burden of guilt. Weren’t children a blessing from God, as the Bible and church people told me? Shouldn’t I like him more? Shouldn’t I be happier?

As he grew, he became a delightful child. Still, my guilt continued. I felt bad that endless peekaboo, reading the same board book for the 100th time, and changing dozens of diapers left me bored and restless. It left me wishing for a small injury to land me in the hospital, where someone would take care of me for a change.

Of course, my secret resentment of the difficulties of raising children has deep roots. In her satiric novel of 1927, Twilight Sleep, novelist Edith Wharton uses the title concept (“twilight sleep” being an anesthetic regimen that let wealthy women sleep through labor and delivery) to sum up the privileged 20th-century attitude toward pain, including the pain of childbearing:

“Of course there ought to be no Pain . . . nothing but Beauty. . . . It ought to be one of the loveliest, most poetic things in the world to have a baby,” Mrs. Manford declared, in that bright efficient voice which made loveliness and poetry sound like the attributes of an advanced industrialism, and babies something to be turned out in series like Fords.

The idea that there ought to be “nothing but Beauty” is, I think, part of the modern myth of parenting. Our expectations for our kids and for ourselves get higher and higher. (Writer Micha Boyett recently said that if she hears about another toddler taking Mandarin lessons, she’ll heave.)

We want our children to be perfect, and we want to be perfect parents. Yet we don’t even know what that means. In her recent book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, Jennifer Senior notes that “happiness” is a vague concept, and perhaps the wrong goal for parenting.

The truth is that parenthood is not always fun. In the church, where we rightly acknowledge that children are gifts from God, perhaps we are especially afraid to say this. There’s so much pain and heartache. The way of the parent is often the way of the Cross: the glory and grace and joy in it come at significant cost. We relinquish our time, energy, money, and personal desires for our children.

English novelist John Lancaster recently called for “a revival of the concept of duty.” It’s the moral obligation to fulfill a responsibility to another, regardless of whether it makes us happy. By God’s grace, duty often yields not to happiness but to something better: joy. As the early church in Acts teaches us, joy can coincide with suffering and struggle.

“Gift love longs to serve or even to suffer” for the beloved, wrote C. S. Lewis. Perhaps it is advanced industrialism and the advertising age that have beguiled us into thinking that parenthood should always be fun, satisfying, and merrymaking. It’s the same cultural trap that convinces us marriage should last “as long as we both shall remain happy with each other.”

Lightening the burden of raising our children begins with recognizing that as imperfect beings, neither we nor they will always be our best or happiest. Instead, gift love—the kind of love God bestows on us, his children—calls us to fulfill our obligations to one another, personal happiness aside.

The way of gift love necessarily entails cost, sacrifice, and pain. But God’s grace is such that even a semi-sleepless night curled next to a small, feverish boy has a certain beauty in it. It’s the small hands reaching for me, seeking and finding a measure of comfort, even joy.

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Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat With Joy, a regular contributor to Her.meneutics, and a blogger forReligion News Service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The glorious solution?

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

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

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

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

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

Addiction – I Bet You Got One

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

Newsflash:  Every one of us is an addict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:3

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

Ephesians 2:1-3

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

2 Corinthians 12:9,10

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

Ecclesiastes 12:1,8,10,13

To Ignore or Not Ignore the Pain……

SOURCE:  Living Free Ministry

Freeing the Balloon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


These thoughts were drawn from …

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

Denial … Delusion … Destruction

SOURCE:  Living Free

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this … 

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

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

Prayer …

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

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These thoughts were drawn from …

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

Pornography: Q & A — Should I Marry A Man With Porn Struggles?

SOURCE:  Russell Moore

Should I Marry a Man with Pornography Struggles?

A couple of months ago, I posted a question about an ethical dilemma a recently engaged woman is facing. She just found out that her spouse to-be has had “ongoing struggles with pornography.” She isn’t sure what to do, or how to make sure the issue is sufficiently addressed. You gave your thoughts on the issue, and here are mine.

Dear Engaged and Confused,

Far too many women are watching “The Notebook” or “Twilight” for indicators on what kind of man they should marry. Instead, you probably should watch “The Wolf Man.”

Have you ever seen any of those old werewolf movies? You know, those in which the terrified man, dripping with sweat, chains himself in the basement and says to his friends, “Whatever you do, no matter what I say or how I beg, don’t let me out of there.” He sees the full-moon coming and he’s taking action to protect everyone against himself.

In a very real sense, that’s what the Christian life is about. We all have points of vulnerability, areas of susceptibility to sin and self-destruction. There are beings afoot in the universe who watch these points and who know how to collaborate with our biology and our environment to slaughter us.

Wisdom means knowing where those weak points are, recognizing deception for what it is, and warring against ourselves in order to maintain fidelity to Christ and to those God has given us.

What worries me about your situation is not that your potential husband has a weakness for pornography, but that you are just now finding out about it. That tells me he either doesn’t see it as the marriage-engulfing horror that it is, or that he has been too paralyzed with shame.

What you need is not a sinless man. You need a man deeply aware of his sin and of his potential for further sin. You need a man who can see just how capable he is of destroying himself and your family. And you need a man with the wisdom to, as Jesus put it, gouge out whatever is dragging him under to self-destruction.

This means a man who knows how to subvert himself. I’d want to know who in his life knows about the porn and how they, with him, are working to see to it that he can’t transgress without exposure. I’d want to know from him how he plans to see to it that he can’t hide this temptation from you, after the marriage.

It may mean that the nature of his temptation means that you two shouldn’t have computer in the house. It might mean that you have immediate transcription of all his Internet activity. It might be all sorts of obstacles that he’s placing in his way. The point is that, in order to love you,  he must fight (Eph. 5:25; Jn. 10), and part of that fight will be against himself.

Pornography is a universal temptation precisely because it does exactly what the satanic powers wish to do. It lashes out at the Trinitarian nature of reality, a loving communion of persons, replacing it with a masturbatory Unitarianism.

And pornography strikes out against the picture of Christ and his church by disrupting the one-flesh union, leaving couples like our prehistoric ancestors, hiding from one another and from God in the darkness of shame.

And pornography rages, as Satan always does, against Incarnation (1 Jn. 4:2-3), replacing flesh-to-flesh intimacy with the illusion of fleshless intimacy.

There’s not a guarantee that you can keep your marriage from infidelity, either digital or carnal, but you can make sure the man you’re following into it knows the stakes, knows how to repent, and knows the meaning of fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil all the way to a cross.

In short, find a man who knows what his “full moon” is, what it is that drives him to vulnerability to his beastly self. Find a man who knows how to subvert himself, and how to ask others to help.

You won’t find a silver bullet for all of this, but you just might find a gospel-clinging wolf man.

(Image Credit)

What Questions Should I Be Asking God?

SOURCE:  John Eldredge

Most of Us Have Been Misinterpreting Life

Most of us have been misinterpreting life and what God is doing for a long time.

“I think I’m just trying to get God to make my life work easier,” a client of mine confessed, but he could have been speaking for most of us.

We’re asking the wrong questions.

Most of us are asking, “God, why did you let this happen to me?” Or, “God, why won’t you just ________” (fill in the blank-help me succeed, get my kids to straighten out, fix my marriage-you know what you’ve been whining about).

But to enter into a journey of initiation with God requires a new set of questions: What are you trying to teach me here? What issues in my heart are you trying to raise through this? What is it you want me to see? What are you asking me to let go of ? In truth, God has been trying to initiate you for a long time. What is in the way is how you’ve mishandled your wound and the life you’ve constructed as a result.

“Men are taught over and over when they are boys that a wound that hurts is shameful,” notes Robert Bly in Iron John. Like a man who’s broken his leg in a marathon, he finishes the race even if he has to crawl and he doesn’t say a word about it. A man’s not supposed to get hurt; he’s certainly not supposed to let it really matter. We’ve seen too many movies where the good guy takes an arrow, just breaks it off, and keeps on fighting; or maybe he gets shot but is still able to leap across a canyon and get the bad guys. And so most men minimize their wound. King David (a guy who’s hardly a pushover) didn’t act like that at all. “I am poor and needy,” he confessed openly, “and my heart is wounded within me” (Ps. 109:22).

Or perhaps they’ll admit it happened, but deny it was a wound because they deserved it. Suck it up, as the saying goes. The only thing more tragic than the tragedy that happens to us is the way we handle it.

(Wild at Heart , 104-6)

Where I Am Strong, I Might Stumble!

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  Oswald Chambers

Joab had defected to Adonijah, though he had not defected to Absalom —1 Kings 2:28

Joab withstood the greatest test of his life, remaining absolutely loyal to David by not turning to follow after the fascinating and ambitious Absalom. Yet toward the end of his life he turned to follow after the weak and cowardly Adonijah.

Always remain alert to the fact that where one person has turned back is exactly where anyone may be tempted to turn back (see 1 Corinthians 10:11-13). You may have just victoriously gone through a great crisis, but now be alert about the things that may appear to be the least likely to tempt you. Beware of thinking that the areas of your life where you have experienced victory in the past are now the least likely to cause you to stumble and fall.

We are apt to say, “It is not at all likely that having been through the greatest crisis of my life I would now turn back to the things of the world.” Do not try to predict where the temptation will come; it is the least likely thing that is the real danger.

It is in the aftermath of a great spiritual event that the least likely things begin to have an effect. They may not be forceful and dominant, but they are there. And if you are not careful to be forewarned, they will trip you. You have remained true to God under great and intense trials— now beware of the undercurrent. Do not be abnormally examining your inner self, looking forward with dread, but stay alert; keep your memory sharp before God. Unguarded strength is actually a double weakness, because that is where the least likely temptations will be effective in sapping strength. The Bible characters stumbled over their strong points, never their weak ones.

“. . . kept by the power of God . . .”— that is the only safety. (1 Peter 1:5).

Overlooking An Offense (in a healthy way)

Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 83.

Overlooking offenses is appropriate under two conditions. First, the offense should not have created a wall between you and the other person or caused you to feel different toward him or her for more than a short period of time. Second, the offense should not be causing serious harm to God’s reputation, to others, or to the offender.

Overlooking is not a passive process in which you simply remain silent for the moment but file away the offense for later use against someone. That is actually a form of denial that can easily lead to brooding over the offense and building up internal bitterness and resentment that will eventually explode in anger. Instead, overlooking is an active process that is inspired by God’s mercy through the gospel. To truly overlook an offense means to deliberately decide not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness. If you cannot let go of an offense in this way, if it is too serious to overlook, or if it continues as part of a pattern in the other person’s life, then you will need to go and talk to the other person about it in a loving and constructive manner.

Food for Thought

Overlooking an offense is deeper than we like to believe. It is so much more than giving lip service because it seems the right thing to do. It is truly a heart issue. In a society where letting people off the hook is seen as a weakness, we have great opportunity to show God’s love and forgiveness in the midst of our conflicts. Ken provides excellent criteria to help decide if it is appropriate to overlook an offense. In light of God’s mercy, is there an offense you can truly overlook today?

Proverbs 19:11 says “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” The first step to resolving a conflict is to think seriously about whether it is appropriate to overlook an offense. If it is, then put the matter to rest and commit, with God’s help, not to dwell on the issue. If not, then it is appropriate to go to your brother and discuss it between the two of you.

5 Myths About Suffering: See Your Pain From God’s Perspective

SOURCE:  Stacy Padrick/Discipleship Journal – NavPress

“Your blood pressure is fine,” said the nurse, leaving me to wait for the doctor.

“Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “please help the doctor find out what is wrong with my body.”

After leaving numerous doctors’ offices with no answers over the course of 18 months, I was desperately seeking a cure for the mysterious virus that often confined me to home and bed. I longed to reclaim my active lifestyle, resume working full time, and eventually return to the mission field.

“Hello, Stacey,” the doctor’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “How are you feeling?” As I began describing my symptoms, she nodded as if already suspecting the answer. When lab results confirmed her diagnosis, my hope of simply “getting over it” vanished, leaving me to live with the daily limitations of an incurable disease. As a previously energetic and ambitious 27 year old, I watched in fear as this illness crept into every area of my life, threatening my work, my ministry, my finances, my dreams, my relationship with the man I loved, and even my walk with God. I cried out to Him, groping to know His presence in the midst of my pain.

Suffering. Just hearing that word can make us cringe. Under the influence of a society that abhors even the thought of suffering, we seek to escape the reality of pain in our lives any way we can—television, busyness, entertainment, drugs. Suffering doesn’t fit with the world’s notion of success or with the theology of God’s goodness and victorious living in Christ we often espouse. Never mind that Jesus often spoke about suffering. Like Peter and the disciples to whom Christ revealed His imminent suffering and death, we, too, are tempted to respond, “Oh, that will never happen to you!” (see Mt. 16:22).

Yet is it possible that our view of suffering has been colored by pervasive myths we have unthinkingly accepted? As I’ve faced pain in my own life and turned to God’s Word for consolation, I’ve identified five myths that tempt us to shrink back, doubt God, or experience despair during times of suffering.

Myth 1: Suffering is negative and to be avoided at all costs.

How often do we pray to know Christ better? Quite often, most of us would say. How often do we pray to know Him better through suffering? If you are like me, seldom, if ever! Shortly after my diagnosis, I read Paul’s words in Phil. 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” I passionately prayed, “Yes, Lord, I want to know You better!” But as I came to the words that followed—”and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”—my tongue froze. The idea of praying for suffering made me shudder! Why would Paul pray for fellowship in Christ’s sufferings? I began to wonder if he knew something we unknowingly miss in our rush to avoid or “get through” suffering.

Scripture clearly teaches that affliction and tribulation work to make us complete and mature. James wrote,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

—Jas. 1:2–4

For the believer, suffering works on the seeds of faith in the same way manure works as a fertilizer. We abhor the stench of manure and, similarly, the agony of pain. Yet though it seems like waste material, suffering nourishes and feeds the growing fruits of faith and maturity in the garden of our lives. God does not waste any experience in our lives when we willingly surrender it to Him. Even Jesus, although He was God’s Son, learned obedience from the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8).

Truth: The spiritual fruit for which we often pray is fertilized by adversity.

Myth 2: We can only experience joy and peace when we are not experiencing pain.

Knowing that suffering develops character only partially comforted me at times. Though I tried to “consider it pure joy” as James advised, my emotions often swayed from peace to anxiety when my body battled unpredictable symptoms. How could I experience joy when I was losing my health, my independence, my dreams of returning to the mission field, and a love relationship?

The psalmist wrote: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:5–6). When God gave me the seeds of sadness and brokenness, I wanted to cast them aside and implore Him to give me seeds of joy and peace instead. But then it struck me that joy and peace are fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), fruit which is often mysteriously born from seeds of suffering. Only as we willingly accept these uncomely seeds and allow Him to sow them in our lives will the lasting fruit of joy and peace bloom.

In 1873, Horatio Spafford, a prominent American businessman, waved good-bye to his wife and four daughters as they boarded a ship for Europe, where he was soon to join them. Days later, he received the shattering news that the ship had collided with another, and his four daughters had drowned in the Atlantic. Journeying to Europe to meet his wife, his ship sailed over the waters where his daughters had perished. As his tears poured forth, he returned to his cabin, committed his immense sorrow to God, and wrote the following: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: It is well. It is well with my soul.”

Not only did he experience God’s peace for himself, but with the seeds of his suffering, he sowed a five-stanza hymn that has brought comfort and peace to countless people in pain for more than a century.

Truth: Suffering and sorrow, when willingly accepted, become the seeds of joy and peace in our lives.

Myth 3: Suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure or judgment.

As months passed and God did not answer the many prayers of friends and family for my healing, I began to wonder, Did I do something to invite this? Is this a sign of God’s judgment of me? Then the enemy, prowling about for an opportunity to attack when my spirit and body had grown weary, tempted me to believe that God had condemned me or, at best, overlooked me. Yet turning again to Scripture, I found truth in Paul’s words: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29, NASB).

Rather than a sign of God’s disapproval or neglect, adversity is a sign of God’s work in our lives. My pastor once said, “In God’s economy, sometimes the measure of our hurt is the measure of our success.” Why? Because suffering makes us more like the Author of our salvation. Allowing us to suffer is actually a sign of His grace! He cares so deeply for us that He will do whatever is necessary for us to know Him better and to become more like Him. God does not test us, as the enemy would have us believe, simply to see how much we can stand. Earlier in this century, an anonymous writer penned these words:

The very fact of trial proves that there is something in us very precious to our Lord; else He would not spend so much pains and time on us. Christ would not test us if He did not see the precious ore of faith mingled in the rocky matrix of our nature; and it is to bring this out into purity and beauty that He forces us through the fiery ordeal.

Truth: Affliction allowed by God is a sign of His grace in our lives and His love for us.

Myth 4: Only voluntary suffering “for the sake of Christ” has spiritual value in the kingdom of God.

To sustain my spirit during the most difficult times, I meditated on Scripture about tribulation and claimed the promises and hope they offered. Initially, I found comfort in Peter’s words:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.

—1 Pet. 4:12–13

However, the enemy soon began tempting me with thoughts such as, These verses don’t apply to you! They are for those who suffer voluntarily for the sake of the gospel. Your affliction just happened; it isn’t a result of your obedience to God. As I read verse 14—”If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you”—I had to concur that I was not being reviled for the sake of Christ. Perhaps the deceiver was right, and my affliction lacked real spiritual value.

Yet one night as I anguished over the apparent lack of purpose in my hardships, I stumbled upon a statement in C. S. Lewis’ Letters to an American Lady that challenged my narrow definition of suffering for Christ. Responding to a letter from a woman who laments about her many ailments and trials (from toothaches to budget problems), Lewis wrote: “Always remember that poverty and every other ill, lovingly accepted, has all the spiritual value of voluntary poverty or penance” (emphasis mine). What comfort these simple words brought!

As I committed my illness to God and asked Him to accomplish His will through it, my struggles no longer seemed in vain. Thomas À Kempis wrote, “Do not despair or be discouraged but accept God’s will calmly, bearing all that befalls you for the glory of Christ.” My disease, as frustrating and limiting as it was, could still be used for God’s glory.

Truth: All suffering can be used for God’s glory when we willingly accept and surrender our hardships to Him.

Myth 5: If God were truly good, He would remove this suffering from me.

As another year ended, I prayed once again, “Lord, may this new year be one of healing.” Even knowing the maturing benefits of affliction, I grew weary of the struggles. “Enough, Lord!” I wanted to say. “Haven’t I been pruned enough for a while?” How desperately I longed for Him to deliver me from the trials and bring restoration of the losses I had endured. If God was God, He could do that, right? If He were loving, He would do that, right? How tempted I was to believe that if God truly cared about me, if He were all powerful, He would take away the pain.

Yet as I continued praying, I stumbled upon a treasure I would have easily missed had I looked to healing as the only sign of His love. More often than not, God does not remove our suffering. He does something better: He enters into our suffering. The Lord Jesus enters into the fullness of our pain and bears it with us. He is the God who is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).

I finally understood why Paul prayed to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. The path upon which we come to know Him better winds through the valley of suffering. If we seek a detour around the valley, we forfeit a chance to walk alongside the Suffering Servant. To know Christ more intimately, to more fully identify with Him, I must share in His sufferings by experiencing it myself. Whatever the nature of our affliction, sharing our pain with Him forges a deeper bond of intimacy. Nothing—not healing, not restoration, not success—compares with the comfort and sweetness of this fellowship.

The jewels of suffering abound: maturing faith, growing obedience, increased fruit. Yet the greatest treasure I have found is deepened intimacy with Christ as I fellowship with Him in the midst of my suffering.

Truth: Suffering helps us identify with the Lord Jesus more fully and deepens our intimacy with Him.

The Mythmaker

Where do these myths originate? I believe they come from none other than the father of lies. The tempter has thoroughly duped us into believing that suffering is negative, a sign of God’s neglect or of our own failure. Why would Satan be so determined to tempt us to avoid suffering (and sadly, sometimes to avoid those we know who are suffering)? Because he knows that suffering is one of the greatest means to draw us closer to Jesus and teach us increasing dependence upon Him. Thus, he will do whatever it takes to entice us to run from it  . . . until God, in His grace, allows suffering from which we cannot run.

When Peter refused to accept Jesus’ imminent suffering and death, He responded, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt. 16:23). In the midst of our pain, we must refuse to accept Satan’s lies about suffering. When we believe that God loves us perfectly and that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18), we need no longer submit to the fear of suffering.

We live in a fallen world where the prince of darkness rules. Trials, hardships, and adversity are more normal in this life than abnormal. If this life were absent of suffering, we might begin to mistake it for the real thing. Suffering makes us hunger for heaven, our real home, where God will wipe away every tear. Though we may never fully understand our suffering, we can rest in the hope that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Ro. 8:18).

Marital Jealousy: Overcome It Before Damage Is Done

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

How can people overcome jealousy before it reaches the point of disaster?

Below are several useful tactics for battling and overcoming jealousy in one’s marriage.

Action Steps:

  1. Listen to Others
    • If good friends and loved ones comment on their jealousy, it’s a good sign that a problem exists and should be faced.
  2. Be Honest
    • If you are being accused of jealousy, do not react with, “I’m not jealous!” You must ask yourself, “Do I try to control and manipulate my loved one? What or who is causing these jealous feelings? Am I pushing my loved ones away? Do I attempt to make my loved ones account for every minute, look, or thought?”
  3. Spend Time with God
    • If you are dealing with jealousy, you must soak each question above in prayer, asking God to reveal the truth and to give you the courage to act on it. You must ask God to transform your need for security into dependence on and confidence in Him.
  4. Transform the Mind
    • If you are a jealous person, you can use your anxious thoughts and suspicions as cues to stop your dark reactions, take a deep cleansing breath, pray, and get control. Then you should pray for the beloved, think about all the positives in the relationship, and consider what special things you could do, right then, to show love to him [her]. A phone call, a touch, or a gift could do wonders — for both of you.

Biblical Insights:

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast… Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Genesis 4:3–5, 8 NIV

Jealousy is a dangerous emotion that has been with man for a very long time. Jealousy can get out of control, as is evidenced in the story of Cain and Abel. Think about the drastic contrast displayed in the above passage: Cain is giving an offering to God, and soon afterward his jealousy drives him to commit a terrible deed.

Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. 1 Samuel 18:8–9 NIV

The Israelites sang a song that was designed to honor David and tease their king, Saul. If the Israelites were trying to get at Saul with their teasing, they very much succeeded. When Saul realized David’s popularity, his envy was so great he became an adversary to him.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.Proverbs 14:30 NIV

This piece of biblical wisdom from Proverbs has been proven in many lives. New clinical evidence shows the detrimental effects of stress on the human body—and jealousy always brings on a great deal of stress. Persons who harbor jealousy — emotionally, spiritually, and physically — are doing damage to themselves.

When A Spouse Exhibits A “Jekyll/Hyde” Syndrome

SOURCE: Taken from a letter to  Dr. Diane Mandt Langberg

Dear Dr. Langberg,
I’ve been married only a few months, but I’m discovering my husband is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! When we’re in public, he’s usually happy and friendly. But at home he loses his temper easily and has a negative attitude. He didn’t behave this way before we married, so I’m feeling betrayed and discouraged. What should I do?

Let’s face it: There’s no way to know everything about the person you marry until after you take those vows. But your matrimonial “surprise” is beyond the norm.

Your new husband may have a serious anger problem—and may even be potentially abusive. Many abusive, explosive men exhibit a public and private self that’s vastly different; sometimes it’s because they need to feel in control at home since they feel inadequate outside it.

Not only do these men often exhibit a Jekyll/Hyde syndrome, they usually get worse over time. That means what’s anger in an earlier stage later can become abuse. The intensity of anger increases—as well as the frequency.

Answer the following questions about your husband’s outbursts: Does he berate or ridicule you? Does he attempt to control what you say, where you go, what you do? Is his anger full of blame? Has he ever been physically threatening (shaking his fist in your face, throwing something, putting his fist through a wall)? If your answer is “yes,” you need to take action right away.

Be clear with your husband about what is permissible behavior. It’s never okay for either marriage partner to berate, criticize, control, or ridicule the other. If you excuse or minimize his behavior, you’re partnering with your husband in allowing abusive words and/or behavior into your relationship.

Don’t dismiss your concerns. Seek help from someone who will take them seriously. Start with a pastor or a Christian counselor familiar with abuse.

Remember, you aren’t responsible for your husband’s anger; it’s his problem. You can’t manage his anger for him or live so perfectly as to avoid arousing it. Scripture makes it clear that what comes out of a person is because of what’s in his heart, not his environment (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 12:35).

Too often a wife tolerates awful words and behavior “for the sake of the marriage.” But that passively permits destruction to enter the marriage. What goes on behind closed doors needs to reflect Christ’s love. When it doesn’t, help is needed.

Emotions Gone Bad and Mad

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Dr. Robert Kellemen

Even though God designed us as emotional beings, we’d be quite naïve to imagine that our emotions and moods are always well-ordered. Because of our fall into sin, we’re not the way we’re supposed to be—we are depraved and disordered. For emotions, we call this “Mood Disorder.”

In Ephesians 4:19, Paul chooses a very rare Greek word,apēlgēkotes, to describe mood disorder. The word literally means “past feeling.” We cease to feel and care. Tired of feeling, we shut ourselves down to the messages that pain sends. As a result, we lack emotional intelligence, sensitivity, and awareness.

Designed to be responsive to the world, others, and God, we close ourselves off. We think we’re too smart to smart anymore. In our folly, we decide that hurt is too painful, even if reflecting on hurt enhances our relationships. We become obtuse to emotional messages—emotionally dense, relationally stunted.

Refusing to Need God: Emotions Gone Bad

What is the essence of fallen emotionality? Instead of using emotions to experience deeply the life God grants us, we misuse our emotions to forget the pain in our soul and the sin in our heart. We pursue whatever pleases us for a season. We live as if this world is all there is.

We also pursue whatever pleases us for a reason. We live to survive, to make it somehow—without God. You see, facing our feelings force us to face the fact that we must live face-to-face with God to survive.

In our refusal to depend upon God, we pinball between two self-centered, self-sufficient emotional survival modes.

• Out-of-Control Emotional Expression

• Over-Controlled Emotional Repression

Both styles share the refusal to listen well to our emotions, the refusal to use our emotionality to evaluate where we are spiritually. We refuse to face our feelings because we refuse to need God.

Using Our Feelings as Spears: Out-of-Control Emotional Expression

Paul further describes sinful emotions in Ephesians 4:19 as “giving themselves over to sensuality.” We’re ungoverned. Out of control. We’ve taken the brakes off our emotions.

We decide that we want nothing to do with managed moods. If we feel it; we express it. If it hurts others; so be it.

Consider King Saul. He massaged his jealousy toward David. When the women of Israel met Saul and David with dancing and song, they sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul was enraged. This refrain galled him. “And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David” (1 Samuel 18:9).

Caressed anger leads to expressed anger.

“Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, ‘I’ll pin David to the wall’” (1 Samuel 18:10b-11a). Saul perfectly pictures imperfect, sinful emotions—we use our feelings as spears to hurt others.

Like all unmanaged moods, Saul’s resulted from a foolish internal evaluation of a difficult external situation. No doubt it would be emotionally distressing for most leaders to hear subordinates praised to the extent people praised David.

Experiencing this, Saul kept thinking to himself, rather than talking to God. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” (1 Samuel 18:8b).

Saul catastrophized. Imagining God to be a Hoarder, Saul could not imagine that there was enough respect and responsibility to go around for both David and himself. This town was not big enough for the both of them because God was not big enough for Saul.

Emotional sensationalists wear their emotions on their sleeves and hurl their feelings like a spear. They will not be controlled. They refuse to be inhibited. Their feelings become their god.

Yet, their feelings never direct them to God. They may feel their feelings, indulge their feelings, but they never engage their feelings, never use their mood states to detect their spiritual state.

And Us?

I know. We’re all thinking about people—other people. People who have treated us like this.

But what about us? Am I, are you, are we ever guilty of indulging our feelings? Do we ever use our feelings as spears to harm others? Do we refuse to face our feelings face-to-face with God?

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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