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Posts tagged ‘grace’

Confessions of a Former Perfectionist

SOURCE:  Todays Christian Woman/Kathy Collard Miller

How four discoveries helped me realize my unreasonable expectations of my husband

One evening when I returned home from shopping, my husband, Larry, met me at the door, grinning. What’s he up to? I wondered.

He led me into the kitchen and announced, “I did the dishes for you!”

As I hugged him and exclaimed, “Thank you!” I looked over his shoulder and noticed crumbs and drops of liquid on the counter.

But you haven’t wiped the counter, I thought. You haven’t finished the dishes! Before I could chastise him, I remembered how my struggles with perfectionism and impatience robbed me of enjoying and appreciating my wonderful husband. I thanked him again, determined not to allow his “mistakes” to bother me.

The next evening Larry did the dishes again. I realized he wouldn’t have washed them a second time if I’d criticized him the day before. I witnessed again the power of affirming his attempts—even if they didn’t meet my expectations.

Someone once said that a perfectionist is a person who takes great pains and passes them on to others. I would have given my husband a great pain that evening if I’d discounted his effort. Yet that’s exactly what perfectionism does: It brings pain and destruction to our lives and marriages.

Throughout the first seven years of our marriage I struggled with perfectionist tendencies. Nothing Larry did was good enough. He wasn’t a good enough provider—even though he worked two jobs to support our family while I stayed home with the kids. He didn’t talk enough to me; he didn’t help properly with the housework; he wasn’t as concerned about my desires and expectations as I was. The list went on and on. My standards were set so high that Larry couldn’t win—ever. Since Larry didn’t meet all my needs, I believed I couldn’t give him credit when he showed me love. Instead I focused on his inadequacies. No matter how Larry tried to please me, I found fault and pointed out his shortcomings to “motivate” him. I “punished” him with my displeasure by withholding sex, affection, joy.

My demands and impatience were destroying my marriage! Larry began to work more overtime, and when he was home, he tuned me out by reading or watching TV. My sense of failed expectations became so bad that I felt I didn’t even love him anymore!

Then one day during my devotions, God opened my eyes to what I was doing. My behavior wasn’t getting me what I wanted. So why was I continuing it? I’d thought, When Larry changes and meets my needs, then I can be joyful and content.But I realized he might never change! God wanted me to be joyful and content regardless.

From that day on I worked to reverse my attitude, become more patient, and strengthen our relationship by putting these four ideas into practice.

It’s okay to give yourself a break.

I realized I couldn’t give Larry a break, because I couldn’t give myself one. Perfectionism can be called a kind of “dys-grace” or “ungrace” because it’s the opposite of grace. Perfectionism says, I need to earn approval, while grace offers approval as a free gift.

I expected myself to be perfect because I felt God—and others!—required it. That pressure spilled into my marriage. From my perspective, I was striving for perfection—so my spouse should too!

Granting myself grace has been a gradual growth process. But if we believe that God understands our mistakes and messes—that he’s willing to forgive—then we can stop expecting too much from ourselves and our spouse. In Philippians 1:6, the apostle Paul assures us God knows our weaknesses and won’t give up on us: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (NASB). As Christians, because we accepted that Jesus bore our sins when he died on the cross, you and I are already perfect in God’s sight. We have nothing to prove; we’re accepted.

It’s okay to give your spouse a break.

Once I was able to understand that God grants me grace, I was able to offer grace and patience to my husband.

One day God helped me put that into practice. Larry, an amateur pilot, was out flying his plane while I was home cleaning the house. I sensed God say, “Tell Larry you love him.” I was shocked. No! I thought. I don’t love Larry. My unmet expectations had squelched my love—because love and a perfectionist attitude can’t really coexist.

Besides, I thought, I haven’t said those words to him in more than two years. If I say them now, he might think I approve of his negligence toward me and the kids. In my perfectionistic thinking since I didn’t feel love for Larry all the time, I couldn’t say I loved him.

Finally, I felt God whisper, “Think it the next time you see Larry.”

That’s strange, I thought. But if he doesn’t hear me, then he can’t use it against me. All right, Lord, I’ll do it, even if it isn’t true.

That evening when Larry returned, I stared at him, gulped, and thought, I love you … but I don’t really.

Even though I obeyed God begrudgingly, an amazing thing happened. Over the following months, as I continued to think the words I love you whenever I looked at Larry, I began to feel love for him. I also recognized that I’d been holding Larry responsible for my happiness. As I received grace for myself and then offered it to Larry, my “all or nothing” thinking changed. I accepted the truth that Larry couldn’t meet all my needs—only God could. In time, Larry noticed that I wasn’t as angry and demanding. And our marriage became more comfortable and enjoyable for both of us.

It’s okay to give positive feedback.

I remember one time when Larry was hanging pictures, I refrained from saying anything positive until all were placed precisely the way I wanted. I reasoned, If I tell Larry he’s doing a great job before he’s finished, he’ll get lazy and not complete the project the way I need it done. I didn’t realize I was discouraging him; I thought I was motivating him.

But excellence is doing our best with the resources at hand. Positive feedback is what really motivates my spouse—even in the middle of a project or when it may not be done as “perfectly” as I’d like! That’s why I could say “thank you” the day he did the dishes, even though he hadn’t wiped the counter. Years ago, I would have felt it was my duty to correct him immediately, withholding approval until the job was done exactly to my specifications.

When I sense the need to correct my spouse and withhold praise for the job he’s done, I ask myself these questions: Is it really that important? Can I wait until another time when he isn’t basking in the glory of his accomplishment? Waiting helps diminish those perfectionistic tendencies.

Once I began to lighten up, Larry confessed, “I used to think, Kathy is never satisfied no matter what I do, so I might as well give up trying to please her. I don’t think that anymore. Now I want to please you because I know you’ll appreciate it.”

It’s okay to be different.

While this is an obvious statement, it was a shocker for me to grasp: My spouse views life differently than I do. I always believed Larry saw life from my perspective. And since there was only one way of doing things, he should do them the right way—my way!

My viewpoint took a 180 degree turn, however, after a friend gave Larry and me a personality test. After we finished, we discovered our temperaments and learning styles are different.

My temperament, combined with my perfectionism, makes me want to over-analyze all the facts before making a decision. And then I constantly second-guess myself. Larry’s temperament enables him to make fast decisions and feel confident about them. Before, I’d thought fast decision-making indicated he wasn’t sensitive to my opinions.

The test stressed that different is different; it’s not necessarily wrong. It didn’t mean he was insensitive to my opinions. As I recognized that Larry and I view situations differently—and that’s okay!—I became more patient, loving, and kind toward him. I have to remind myself that there are several ways to do something—not just my way. As someone once said, “Two plus two may equal four. But so does three plus one.”

While sometimes it still frustrates me that he “can’t get his act together,” I rely on patience and grace. I ask myself, Is this because we define “act” differently? Are different motives energizing us? Then I take a look at my answers. Usually, I’m the one who’s more rigid, so I stop taking his behavior personally, back off, and accept our differences.

Now that Larry and I have been married 35 years, we look back on that time 28 years ago when my perfectionism brought “great pains” into our relationship with gratitude for God’s healing. By changing my viewpoint and giving grace and patience to myself and to my husband, I’ve learned to appreciate him. Now I express my love many times a day—and so does he. And yes, we even rejoice in our differences!

God’s Grace: No Matter WHAT, WHERE, or WHO

SOURCE:  Desiring God/Jonathan Parnell

God’s Grace Will Find You

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 

(Psalm 23:3–4)

The grace of God will find you.

No matter where you’ve gone or how far you’ve drifted, nowhere is out of the reach of God’s grace.

This is the truth behind David’s words in Psalm 23:3–4. The focus is on the Lord’s active nearness as the shepherd of his people. The Lord makes us to lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside the still waters. He restores our souls and leads us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

In the Shadow of Death

This is a boundless nearness. It is a nearness even in the valley of the shadow of death.

The phrase is so popular, do we really know what David is saying? “Even though,” he begins, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil . . .” (verse 4). This is death, remember. Death. It is the great enemy of mankind, the place that every person will go — and go alone. Death stands off in the darkness, hunkering down in the shadows of our lives like a monster. It is terrible, lonely, fearful. But not for David — not for us who are in Christ.

Why? Because God is with us even there.

The grace of God will find us. We won’t be afraid. We will fear no evil. The Father will not forsake us. Just like Jesus wasn’t left in the tomb — and because he wasn’t — we won’t be left alone either. God will be with us. Like yesterday, and now, God will be with us even as the shadow of death falls over us.

Help for Today

So what does that mean for us now? How does the assurance of God’s nearness in our final moments of this life help us today?

It means that if God is with us in our greatest affliction — in the shadow of death — he will be with us in all the other afflictions of our lives. Painful as they are, as dark as the night may get, we know it is not too painful for God. It is not too dark for him.

God is there as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death — and he is there in every valley along the way. His grace will find us. That grace that saw us before the foundation of the world, that spoke creation into existence, that led Jesus to the cross, that will abound for us in eternity — that grace will find us.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. The great grace of God is able to reach you. God in his grace is able to be there with you. In the midst of pain and uncertainty, in the high of blessing and cheer, God is with you. His grace will find you.

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).

Marriage Q&A: Choosing To Live With A Very Difficult Spouse

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

How Do I Live With A Basically Good Man Who Is A Tyrant?

QuestionMy husband is basically a good man.   He is a school teacher and the music director/organist of our Church.  He can be patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual.  He can also be demanding, tyrannical and irrational.

He blames everyone and anyone for any problems that arise. It is a knee-jerk reaction to even the slightest, most inconsequential of events. If one of our children falls down, his first reaction is to scream an “I told you so” at them- never is his first reaction one of concern for their well-being or safety.  He expects our older children- living away from our home with lives of their own- to always be at his beck and call.  If he wants them to do something for him, it does not matter that they have jobs, plans, etc.  He refuses to be told no.  And, everyone cow-tows to him just to keep him on an even keel and avoid the rants and literal rages that he has demonstrated.

While he is a school teacher, his passion is the piano and he is an accomplished pianist and composer- just not as revered and accomplished as he would like to be.  Whose fault is that?  His parents. His father for having a health crisis when he was younger or his mother for not knowing or doing enough to promote his career.  The children and I are also to blame because he has to work a “meaningless” job to put food on the table.

He takes no responsibility for any failure, real or imagined, in his life.  He doesn’t seem to have any concept that not everyone’s life revolves around him and that people are allowed their own lives and opinions.  He is negative in all aspects of his life- except, of course, if it relates to music.   While I could write pages about this aspect of his personality, suffice it to say that he will always see the dark cloud around the silver lining.   He is also very vocal about his negative thoughts and when he’s challenged, he plays the victim and accuses the challenger of attacking him.  It’s to the point where conversation with him is seldom initiated because we all know what his reaction will be.  Want his opinion?  Just think of the most irrational response, and go with that.

He is like a petulant two-year-old who demands his own way and nothing is ever right for him.  Even if you do something considerate to try and make life easier for him or take care of something that he hadn’t time to do, his reaction is never one of gratitude- there is always, always, always a negative reaction.  Things are still done or taken care of for him, but it’s never brought up to him and, if he does notice, it’s never mentioned.

While we all love him, he is driving a wide and very deep wedge between himself and the rest of our family.  It is very difficult to live with someone when you are walking on eggshells at all times.  I am not looking to leave him or my marriage.  I am looking for help in how to live with him and how to help my children live with him.  I do not want my children to grow up like their father.

Answer:  I feel a little confused. You say that your husband is basically a good man, patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual.  Then you go on for several paragraphs listing all the ways he is not patient, loving, good or spiritual.  Perhaps what you mean is that your husband can be charming and act loving when everything is going his way and everyone meets his needs and expectations in exactly the way he wants.  When that doesn’t happen, (which is real life) watch out!

Now your question, how do you live with someone like that and how do you help your children live with someone like that?  The best answer I can offer you is you can only live with this (if you choose to) with a good support system and lots of grace and truth, with no expectations of a meaningful relationship or mutual give and take.

I am reluctant to put a label on anyone but your description of your husband’s behavior is typical of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  A craving for admiration, an attitude of entitlement and lack of empathy for anyone else’s needs are usually the big red flags.   You can google it and read more information on it if you want to see if it fits.

Let’s start with grace. In order to live with someone like this you will need to learn to lean hard into God’s loving grace, knowing that when your husband doesn’t treat you well or love you like you wished he did, you are still deeply loved and valued by God.  You will need God’s grace to continually forgive your husband and keep a clean slate of the wrongs he does against you so that you don’t become hardened by bitterness and resentment. Your husband will never apologize or take responsibility for the wrong’s he’s done which makes it that much harder to forgive and let things go so your strength must come from outside yourself. It can only be from God.

You will need God’s grace to biblically love your husband when you feel like screaming at him and grace to not repay evil for evil. Jesus calls us to love our enemies but we rarely have to live with our enemies day in and day out.  To live in a relatively conflict-free relationship with your husband you will need to accept that you will always be more the giver. God sees how much you give whether or not your husband notices or appreciates it.  You will need His eternal perspective on your marital loneliness and suffering because you will feel unheard, unloved and unvalued much of the time, which may tempt you to seek other male companionship.

You will need grace to not judge your husband and have contempt for him as a man or as a person, even though truth tells you his attitudes and actions are sinful.  Grace keeps us humble, reminding us that we too are sinful and have our own brokenness.  Grace keeps us mindful of the logs in our own eyes before trying to remove the speck in our spouse’s.

You will also need to stay focused on God’s truth to stay healthy emotionally, spiritually and mentally.  Your husband blames and shames everyone around him and it’s tempting to believe his harsh words.  Don’t do it. Listen to what God says about who you are and not your husband’s words.  You will need God’s truth to explain to yourself and even your children that sometimes their father acts selfishly and it’s not wrong of them to say “no” or to ask him to consider their needs, and not just think of his own (Philippians 2:4).

Truth will help you know when boundaries are important and how to set them. For example, when he begins his angry tirade you might stop talking, turn around and walk away. If he continues, leave the house.  When you return you can say something like, “I can’t listen to you when you scream at me. You would do the same if I talked to you that way”  Keep it short and simple.  Or “I don’t want to feel angry and hateful toward you so I’m leaving until you can cool down.”  Then do it.

You will also need truth to guide you when to confront your husband’s sinful behavior and how.  There may be a strategic or teachable moment where you could say something that may cause him to press pause and think about his actions and you want to look for those moments and ask God to give you an anointed tongue.

We are to speak the truth in love to one another but it’s tempting to either to placate this kind of person or eventually get sick of it and blow up, only to later feel guilty, regretting your reaction which only adds more fuel to his fire.  Wear truth as a necklace and she will teach you when the time is right to speak. Hard words need not be harsh words.

For example, when he’s inconsiderate of your needs or your schedule, you could say, “I know this is important to you, but this is important to me so I have to do this first.”  Your goal in this kind of statement is to remind him that you are a separate PERSON with your own needs, feelings and thoughts.  You are not just a slave or a robot or a “wife” but a person and even if he doesn’t value you, you are going to value yourself.

You said you don’t’ want your children growing up to be like their father.  Children do learn a lot from their parents, but their father isn’t their only influencer.  You have a huge impact on your children and the way you interact with their father will say a lot to them about not only who he is, but who you are.  If you act as if he’s right and he’s entitled to act this way, they get the picture that men (fathers, husbands) get to have their way all the time that’s “normal”.  Therefore it’s important to speak truthfully to your children about things such as, “I think sometimes your father can be self-absorbed and not realize that you have your own plans. It’s okay to remind him that you can’t always accommodate him and stick to what you need to do for yourself.”

You say your husband is deeply spiritual. Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about the person who lives in the spirit and one who lives in the flesh.  Perhaps in a moment when your husband seems open or more in tune with God, you could ask him which one he inhabits most often?  Or when he is most negative or critical say, “You don’t seem to experience God’s joy or peace very much.  Why do you think that is?”  Your words will have little impact on him but God tells us that His words are powerful and don’t return void. They have the power to cut right to the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Ask God to use His Word, even those in the lyrics of the music he plays each week at church, to cause him to see the truth about why he is so critical, so miserable and so unhappy.

Lastly, don’t forget you do need good relationships, even if it’s not in your marriage. Seek out healthy girlfriends that can encourage you, love on you, pray for you and hold you accountable to be the kind of person you want to be while living in this difficult marriage.

It’s Okay for Your Kids to Fail

Source:  Jim Daly/Focus on the Family

How do we teach our kids how to deal with mistakes correctly?

I think Christians may have a harder time dealing with mistakes than nonbelievers.

Some of my friends who aren’t Christians have tremendous relationships with their kids. They have a great rapport with them, in part because they have a basic acceptance of their humanity, an understanding of their own innate weaknesses. That seems easier for nonbelievers to accept.

As Christians, we have very high standards for our kids, and perhaps rightly so. But that can also make us more intolerant of mistakes than we should be. When we aim for perfection, an inherently impossible standard to reach, we run the danger of not just encouraging our children to do better and to improve, but also of telling them they’re just not good enough and they will never be good enough.

But that’s a me problem, not a God problem. When you look at it from God’s point of view, I doubt He’s looking for perfection, since He knows it’s impossible for us to attain. He’s looking instead for a continuously better relationship with Him. Sometimes the moments we veer off course are the exact moments we swerve closer to our Lord. Sometimes when we feel as though God is grading us with an F, we’re actually getting an A. Why? Because we’re getting closer to the One who made us and realizing our dependence on Him. We’re depending on the payment of perfection that Jesus provided by dying for each of us.

Learning lessons

This doesn’t mean God likes us to make mistakes or commit sins. He simply knows that we will and expects us to learn from them and not repeat those mistakes. So how do we turn our mistakes into lessons? How do we teach our kids how to deal with mistakes correctly, not flogging themselves over them, not by accepting them like they’re no big deal, but by growing from them?

In my family, it begins with a talk. If you were to ask my kids what I tell them about perfection, they’d say, “Oh, he says he’s not perfect. And we’re not perfect.” I’ve tried to plant that thought in their minds—that we’re all works in progress in God’s eyes.

There’s a big difference between “not good enough” and “not perfect.” When you’re talking about perfection, you’re talking about God’s standard of measure. To understand that we’re not perfect, and can never be perfect in God’s eyes, develops in us a healthy understanding of reality—God’s reality. We all fall short of God’s standard of perfection.

From there, we build in the theology of the acceptance of Christ and sanctification and trying by His power to do better. We can teach our kids that, when we fail, we must turn to God and ask for forgiveness. And by extension, doing this will help us teach how important it is to apologize to the people in our lives whom we’ve hurt through our mistakes and shortcomings.

This understanding of our own imperfections helps us avoid the modern-day legalism that endangers so many Christians. We in the Christian community need to learn to relax a little, to realize that perfection for our kids remains out of reach. Sure, we want them to learn and grow from their mistakes all the time; we will help them see that God wants us to live every day in a way that shows we are making progress. But we have to understand, and help our kids understand, that we all fail sometimes. And that failure is okay.

Let me repeat that: It’s okay for your kids to fail sometimes. Because that’s often how they learn the best.

It’s a tough balancing act, but it’s a challenge that all dads deal with at some point—and may even have opportunities to teach several times a day.

Turning a mistake into an opportunity

I had a moment like this with my son Trent not too long ago. He lied to me about finishing his math homework. When I discovered the truth, I sat him down for a talk. We talked about why it’s important to work hard in school. We talked about why lying, particularly to your father, is never appropriate. We talked about how we’re made in God’s image and how we need to strive to be more like Jesus every day.

I wanted to turn his mistake into an opportunity to learn and grow—not to make him feel like a failure (because he had failed) but to help him understand why it’s important to do better the next time.

It took time to get to this point, to understand that mistakes are just lessons in disguise. My frustration level when my boys were younger rose much higher than it does today. I can feel myself mellowing out. And I’m happy with that. I like it.

For me, it’s all about concentrating on the things I should concentrate on. The things I can teach. The love I can show. The ability, when something bad happens, to put my arm around my child and say, “It’ll be okay.”

That’s so important, because kids have such great fears about disappointing us or letting us down. They worry about consequences. And honestly, they may have to face big consequences for what they do. Just because we understand that kids make mistakes doesn’t alleviate the importance of trying to correct those mistakes. But we should always help our children understand that, even if they get punished for something, it isn’t going to separate them from our love.

Own up to your mistakes

And somehow in the middle of all that, as parents we must find a way to convey that we’re not perfect either. Now that doesn’t mean we should spill out our guts to our kids when they’re 5. They don’t need to hear about the time you tried pot in high school or about your sexual experiences in college. There may be a time and a place to talk with your kids about your less than God-honoring experiences, but sometimes what’s in the past is better served staying there for a while.

But when it comes down to the mistakes you make today, particularly the moments you wrong your own children, it’s important to confess and tell them you’re sorry, just as you’d expect them to confess and apologize to you.

It’s a wonderful model and an enriching moment to deal openly and honestly with your kids, to be able to say, “I’m sorry, I think I’ve offended you,” or to ask, “Have I hurt you in some way? Have I embarrassed you? Have I in the last week made you angry?”

I know families who do this around the dinner table during a family chat. It has to be a safe environment in which kids can answer questions honestly, without fear of punishment. They teach the kids that it’s safe to answer candidly and to transparently share their own feelings.

Parents need some training too. They have to resist the temptation to rationalize or correct their children. I know we feel strongly tempted to brush off a child’s hurt and concerns because when we do this exercise in my own house, I feel as tempted as anyone. I want to rationalize or explain why I did this or that. It’s hard to ask a really frightening question—“Have I done anything this week to offend you?”—and then just accept the answer, particularly when your kids are 12 or 13 or 14. So many things can offend kids who are that age.

It can be both hard and humbling. But it can also open the doors to an enriching honesty that’ll pay huge dividends later on.

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The Good Dad  Adapted excerpt from The Good Dad by Jim Daly

A Prayer for Letting Go of the Desire to Get Even

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom. 12:19). Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice (Prov. 24:17). Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Pet. 3:9)

Dear heavenly Father, I love the taste of deep dish, double-crusted apple cobbler, topped with sharp cheddar cheese and homemade vanilla ice cream. But, with less nutritional value, I also savor stories of creative revenge, seasoned with spiteful retaliation, and topped off with the gravy of humiliating retribution—when the bad guys “get it”1000 times worse than they gave it. Alas, the very attitude confronted by these Scriptures.

You commend, even command, that we work for justice, and long for the Day of ultimate righteousness. But we must heed your many warnings to avoid a vengeful spirit, as surely as we’d run from coiled rattlesnakes, toxic fumes, threatened momma bears, or E. coli poisoned waters.

No matter what the provocation—from a personal “dissing,” to evil parading its hatred of beauty—you tell us that we have no right to revenge, no right to gloat when an enemy falls, no right to get even with anybody. The gospel calls us to a different way of stewarding our hurts and anger.

Father, I’m so glad you didn’t “get even” with me, for all the ways I’ve rebelled (and do rebel) against you; for all the ways I’ve chosen my gain over your glory; for all the ways I’ve misrepresented you to the world, even to my own heart.

You didn’t get even; you got generous—lavishing mercy and grace upon this ill-deserving man. May the gospel keep me humble and patient, prayerful and expectant of the Day of consummate justice. I don’t want to waste one more self-absorbed moment rehearsing things that hurt me and relishing personal revenge.  So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

Doesn’t Love Cover A Multitude of Sins?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick LCSW [www.leslievernick.com]

A woman struggling in an emotionally destructive marriage once asked me, “Doesn’t love cover a multitude of sins? (1 Peter 4:8). Who am I to hold my husband’s sin or blindness against him? The bible teaches us, “It is good for us to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Shouldn’t I just keep quiet and minister to him, and pray that he will see God’s love in me?

Many of us in a destructive relationship struggle with this same question.

Jesus makes it clear. We are not to judge or condemn anyone (Matthew 7:1,2). God instructs all his followers to forbear with and forgive one another. We know we all fail one another (James 3:2), and we know that we should take the log out of our own eye before attempting to deal with the speck in someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). To bring up each and every offense in any relationship would become tiresome indeed.

Love does cover a multitude of sins but not all sins.

The scriptures also instruct us to warn those who are lazy (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We are not to participate in unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). We’re told to bring a brother back who has wandered from the truth (James 5:19), as well as restore someone who is caught in a trespass (Galatians 6:1). When someone offends us, we’re to go talk with them so that our relationship can be repaired (Matthew 18:15-17).

Yes, we ought to forgive and forbear, overlooking minor offenses hoping others will do the same for us. And, we are to speak up when someone’s sin is hurting them, hurting others, or hurting us.

Serious and repetitive sin is lethal to any relationship. We would not be loving the destructive person if we kept quiet and colluded with his self-deception or enabled his sin to flourish without any attempt to speak truth into his life (Ephesians 4:15). Yes, we are called to be imitators of Christ and live a life of love, however, let’s be careful that we do not put a heavy burden on ourselves (or allow someone else to put it on us) to do something that God himself does not do. God is gracious to the saint and unrepentant sinner alike, but he does not have close relationship with both. He says our sins separate us from him (Isaiah 59:2Jeremiah 5:25).

When someone repeatedly and seriously sins against us and is not willing to look at what he’s done and is not willing to change, it is not possible to have a warm or close relationship. We’ve misunderstood (or been taught) unconditional love requires unconditional relationship. Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisee’s are examples of him challenging their self-deception and pride so they would repent and experience true fellowship with him (Matthew 23). He loved them, but they did not enjoy a loving or safe relationship. Jesus never pretended otherwise.

A marriage or relationship that has no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy nor is it spiritually sound. It enables someone to continue to believe that the rules of life don’t apply to him and if he does something hurtful or sinful, he or she shouldn’t have to suffer the relational fallout. That thinking is not biblical, healthy, or true. For the good of the destructive person, our marriage, our own emotional and spiritual health as well as our children’s well-being, there are times we must make some tough choices. We must speak up, set boundaries and implement consequences when a destructive person’s behavior is destroying what God holds so precious—people, marriage, and family. Scripture warns, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper” (Proverbs 28:18).

Yes, the destructive person desperately needs to see God’s love, but he or she also desperately needs to see himself more truthfully so that he can wake up and ask God to help him make necessary changes. We are not better and God doesn’t love us more than he loves the destructive individual. We are all broken and in desperate need of God’s healing grace. The problem for the destructive person is that he or she has been unwilling to acknowledge his part of the destruction. She’s been unwilling to confess or take responsibility or get the help she needs to change her destructive ways. Instead she’s minimized, denied, lied, excused, rationalized, or blamed others.

Confronting someone and/or implementing tough consequences should never be done to scold, shame, condemn, or punish. We have one purpose—to jolt someone awake. We hope that by doing so, they will come to their senses, turn to God and stop their destructive behaviors.

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