The Role of Faith

Some look to their faith in God in their happiest or awe-struck moments, or some lean on their faith in their lowest or darkest moments.  Some turn to their faith “just in case it’s true,” and some long for a relationship with a powerful God. Some “just know or feel” that He is real, and others have found “facts” which undergird their faith. Benefits exist for believing in God, and for not believing in God. Others would never go back to their belief in God.

Beyond one’s personal experience, spirituality can also be tied to science and history. One question that is explored from the scientific perspective is how do you get life from non-life? Even if the universe contains as many as 100 billion trillion planets, probabilities would argue against the existence of even one that by natural processes alone would end up with the just-right surface gravity, surface temperature, atmospheric composition, atmospheric pressure, crustal iron abundance, tectonics, volcanism, rotation rate, rotation rate decline, stable rotation axis and degree of tilt to sustain life (Hugh Ross).

Also, the age of the earth is debated through the study of radiometric dating, the influx of salts into the ocean, the rate of decay of the earth’s magnetic field, the growth rate of human populations, and other examples. (One’s answer depends on one’s assumptions about the uniformity of natural law, uniformity of process, uniformity of rate and uniformity of outcome). Some scientists defend a global flood that produced fossil-bearing sedimentary rock on every continent. Some assume there is a God and explain science and history from that assumption, and some assume that the existence of God cannot be determined.

Others look to the Bible for information on both the origins of our world, and their faith.  The Biblical account can be construed as an allegory or history. Hebrew expert Dr. Steven Boyd concludes it is history.  He writes, “For Genesis 1:1-2:3, this probability is between 0.999942 at a 95% confidence level. Thus, we conclude with statistical certainty that this text is narrative, not poetry. It is therefore statistically indefensible to argue that it is poetry. The hermeneutical implication of this finding is that this text should be read as other historical narratives . . . ” (Dr. Steven Boyd, Associate Professor of Bible, The Master’s College, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Volume II, editors Larry Vardiman, Andrew Snelling, and Eugene Chaffin).

Some Bible-believers believe that the beginning of Genesis is an allegory or that a “day” in Genesis is actually a longer period of time.  A complication for those who believe that creation is millions of years old is that in the fossil remains of rock layers, there is evidence of death, violence, suffering, and disease. This contradicts the Bible’s assertion that God’s creation was “very good,” translated as “it was the very best that it could possible be” (Gen. 1:31), and perfect (Duet. 32:4). It has parallels to heaven. Death came into the world through sin (1 Corinthians 15:21; Romans 8:20-22; Romans 5:12).

Others take a historical and a legal approach to look for the preponderance of the evidence in determining the existence and impact of Christ. They ask questions about Christ, who claimed to be God. Is Jesus crazy, a master manipulator, or stable? How did the Christian movement develop quickly, with its founders who quickly transitioned from fear to a willingness to die for their beliefs in Christ? Are the records trustworthy?

Faith will continue to be a source of comfort. Loss of faith is associated with distress. If God is real, and He offers a interactive relationship, such a relationship is attained through faith. Evidence can be found for the existence of God, or against Biblical claims about God. (Evidence cannot be found against a god, but perhaps against a particular definition of God). Often the evidence found reflects one’s personal preference. The existence of suffering though, is not debated. Where the responsibility lies for the suffering though, continues to be debated.

Redemption Story: Blending Families

By Dan Blair Marriage Counselor and Family Therapist

The challenges of remarriage and blending families after the wounds of divorce or the death of a spouse are more difficult than you may initially think. Many hungering for a second chance are yearning for intact family stability. Loving your biological family is automatic and natural; learning to love a new family take an extra “step,” a choice to treat non-biological kids as you would your own. Another difference between the original biological family and the blended family can also occur. With biological families, the best thing you can do for the kids is love the other parent, and that does not change even when divorced or after death. With blended families, loving the new spouse may be difficult for the kids, and may cause a sense of loss and possibly resentment. Protecting time between the biological relationships can provide relief to counter natural feelings of jealousy, inadequacy and resentment. Finally, another difference between the two kinds of families are indicated by the stressors. For the original parents, security is threatened most by financial or intimate issues. For blended families, parenting issues are the top problem reported. Being aware of the issues unique to blended families can save years of struggle due to unrealistic expectations.

Blended families are complex, and complexity is stressful. Stress can strengthen biological bonds and weaken other bonds. Over time as blended families forge a new identity they remain vulnerable but are strengthened by overcoming opposition together. This takes flexibility, adaptability, and a sense of humor when needed. The key to building new bonds is low pressure, giving kids all the time in the world to connect, and finding middle ground when there is a culture clash. Bonds are built best when there is no demand for it. Susan Papernow, a renown researcher on step-families, uses the terns “insider” and “outsider” to reflect biological bonds, and step-bonds. Ron Deal, in his book “The Smart Stepfamily,” refers biological bonds has having auto-responses, like auto-acceptance, auto-access (my space is your space), and auto-patience and grace to one’s own kids, and that an extra step may be needed to provide that in step-relationships. In step-relationships, three weeds can prevail: jealousy, inadequacy, and resentment. These weeds are fed by a sense of loss. These feelings of loss, including loss of time with biological parents and kids, appear throughout life especially at major life events. When there is uncertainty, fear or resistance in new step-relationships, kids are often feeling the loss. It must be acknowledged and expressed. Step-parents have to learn to not take it personally. The other biological parent may have to give some kind of permission to develop a step-relationship. Respecting that step-bonds are different than biological bonds, but both kinds can grow strong, and are often the strongest after the kids are grown.

Since a healthy marriage is crucial for a healthy family, the best thing you can do for your kids is invest in your marriage. The top-down trickle effect impacts kids. Kids will benefit from a secure marriage. That means the marriage comes first, but biological bonds are not neglected, and step-relationships benefit from these prerequisites. Kids don’t want to be in the middle of a contest for a biological parent’s attention.

When it comes to parenting, biological parents are the most effective, but declaring your loyalty to your spouse can enable the step-parent to back you up. The biological parent has relational authority and the step-parent has positional authority, but is ineffective without the biological parent taking the lead in family routines and discipline. Since there probably is some sort of family culture clash, meeting in the middle when it comes to parenting decisions is probably the best. The toughest time reported by Deal to start a step-family is between the ages of 10 and 15. Error on the side of protecting your marriage to limit the struggle.

For more information: What to Expect When Blending a Family and Blending Family Myths.

The challenge to build new relationships with a new spouse and new kids and parent together in a blended family is hard enough but some feel out of place or even ostracized by their religion when faced with divorce and remarriage. The Bible, though, is marked by dysfunctional people and families even in the “faith hall of fame” (Hebrews 11). Also, God divorced Israel at one point and Christians refer to His remarriage to the Church. Even Jesus had a step-dad. When feeling trapped, choose trust. God may not always be seen, but we know from the Bible that he does not forget. Throughout Scripture we see the gradual unfolding of God’s plan, even though like any good movie there are times where hope is lost. Hanging on to your faith is sometimes all you got. God is in the business of redeeming all our pain.

Promoting Marriage

By Sheri Mueller, licensed professional counselor, and Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Broken Family

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my practice, marriage is being questioned by Christian clients and considered dispensable, and even optional, by others.

Christian universities have counseling students debating the merits of living together outside of marriage, believing there are no pitfalls to what the culture is telling them, even when research clearly supports otherwise.

The greatest benefit to married mean is health and the greatest benefit for women is wealth. In addition, children are most protected and thrive in intact families. Contrary to media portrayals, married couples report greater happiness, greater physical safety (i.e. less domestic violence), better mental health, and a more satisfying sex life than their unmarried counterparts.

Statistics report that marriage is declining and optional to bear children. This correlates with immense financial stress. Marriage is also believed to contribute to the stability of neighborhoods, when fathers are frequently involved in the lives of children

Simply put, everybody wins when marriages are strong. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1943 advised a couple on their wedding day: “It is not your love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, your marriage that sustains your love.”

We have three objectives:

1) Address the need for premarital counseling and training churches.
2) Provide a network of classes and services for couples to enhance their marriages.
3) Advocate and build strong marriages in McHenry County.

The McHenry County Marriage Initiative is intended to be a community-wide outreach accessible to all who share the vision and mission to promote healthy marriages. We are hoping to eventually align with over 300 marriage initiative programs throughout the country. We also hope to promote programs your church is using to strengthen marriages.

We would like to collaborate and work as a team in building a community-wide outreach with all who share the vision and mission to promote healthy marriages. Would you be open to attending a meeting with other pastors in the area? And, would your church be willing to host a meeting?

A Mediation Model for Christians

Jesus was fully immersed in the identity, experiences and perspective of both God and man as mediator between the two. So for mediation to be successful, each has to identify with the experience and perspective of the other, overcome strong emotional states, and consider all options to bridge the gap. “Each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).

Remember, neither side is without fault. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). God repeatedly commands his people to seek and pursue peace (Psalms 34:14; Jer. 29:7; Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; Col. 3:15; 1 Thes.5:13; Heb. 12:14. He also promises to bless those who do so (Psalms 37:37; Prov. 12:20; Mat. 5:9; James 3:18).

God’s sovereignty is so complete that he exercises ultimate control even over painful and unjust events (Ex. 4:10-12; Job 1:6-12; 42:11; Psalms 71:20-22; Isaiah 45:5-7; Lam. 3:37-38; Amos 3:6; 1 Peter 3:17). The biblical examples of Joseph resisting the same temptation David failed to resist resulted in suffering for both, but God used both greatly. God will remain present in our suffering and accomplish good through our trust in Him (Isaiah 43:2-3).

Resources

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?

Divorce and Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology by Rubel Shelly

The Peacemaker by Ken Sande

Hope in the Face of Conflict by Ken C. Newberger

 

Cross

 

What Does the Bible Say about Divorce?

By Dean Whitfield

I believe in the inspired inerrancy of Scripture in the original manuscripts and all that implies; which includes that (1) Scripture does not contradict itself (Luke 16:11), (2) Christ fulfilled the Law (Matt. 5:17), (3) our God is a god of logic, not confusion (I Cor. 14:33), and (4) the truths of Scripture are available to everyone without prior need of special education or intellectual capabilities (II Tim. 3:16-17; Jas. 1:5).

Any discussion concerning the divorced and the church must of necessity begin with an understanding of God’s position on divorce. Continue reading What Does the Bible Say about Divorce?

The Twelve Steps for Christians

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

path of stones on the waterSTEP ONE is about recognizing our brokenness.
We admitted we were powerless over the effects of our separation from God – that our lives had become unmanageable.
“I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time” (Rom. 7:18).

What were you taught about the substance or behavior in question by your family?
List current problems.
List all the enticements of the substance or behavior in question.
List current secrets.
How was it manageable, and then become unmanageable?
What were the warning signs that it was becoming unmanageable?
How did you justify the continued use of the substances or behavior?
List all the consequences of the use of the substance or behavior in question.
Why did it take so long to see that it was unmanageable?
What were your worst moments?
Are you one hundred percent convinced you are powerless to control it on your own?

Patrick Carnes references in his books on addiction four core beliefs that can drive addiction:

1. I am basically bad and unworthy.

  • Feelings of inadequacy and failure.
  • I deserve it.
  • Hide the secret.
  • Addiction guides behavior.
  • Front of normalcy, even egocentricity or exaggerated self-importance.

2. No one would love me as I am.

  • What if the truth were known?
  • Fear of being dependent on others.
  • I am the bad one in the relationship.
  • Cannot be honest.
  • Isolated.
  • Do not need anybody and appear unaffected.
  • Family does not understand and feels pushed away, useless, confused and hurt.
  • I become unreachable.

3. My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others.

  • Depression, resentment, self-pity
  • Not trusting means I have to become calculating and manipulative.
  • Rules are for the loveable, not the un-loveable.
  • Try to be cared for without expressing that need.

4. (My addiction) is my most important need.

  • (My addiction) replaces relationships.
  • Afraid to live without(my addiction).
  • Preoccupation
  • Compulsion
  • Loss of control
  • Progressive
  • Cover ups
  • Resets the cycle

STEP TWO is about the birth of faith in us.
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
“That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

How often do you ask for help, or turn to someone you can trust? How about while you were growing up?
How do you view God? Punishing? Accepting? Noninvolved? Nonexistent?
Who or what has influenced your view of God?

How does this view compare to the story of the welcoming Father (Luke 15:11-24)?

11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

STEP THREE involves a decision to let God be in charge of our lives.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Rom. 12:1).

What would prevent you from turning your life over and trusting a Higher Power?
How is God working in your life now?
How would you finish the statement, “I’m only loveable if . . .. “

“My wounds are my teachers. I am open to their lessons. I embrace my past.”

“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

“I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins. 
Once sins are taken care of for good, there’s no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them” (Hebrews 10:18).

STEP FOUR involves self-examination.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, positive and negative.
“Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living and reorder our lives under God” (Lam. 3:40).

Investigate my life, O God,
    find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
    get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
    then guide me on the road to eternal life (Psalm 139:23-24).

Patrick Carnes uses an inventory called the Personal Craziness Index:

  • Physical Health. How do you know that you are not taking care of your body?
  • Transportation. What behaviors indicate your life is getting out of control?
  • Environment. What are ways in which you neglect your home or living space?
  • Work. When work is overwhelming, what are your behaviors?
  • Interests. What are you doing when you are not overextended?
  • Social Life. What are the signs that you’ve become isolated or disconnected?
  • Family and Significant Others. What are the signs that you’re withdrawing or disconnected?
  • Finances. What signs indicate that you are financially overextended?
  • Spiritual Life. What aspects do you neglect when you are overextended?
  • Compulsive Behavior. What compulsive behaviors are present when you feel “on edge”?
  • 12 Steps and Sponsorship. Which recovery activities do you neglect first?
  • Healthy Relationships. What are the signs that a relationship is becoming unhealthy or dishonest?

Next, these signs can be used to develop relapse prevention including:

  • Probable Preconditions
  • Sobriety Challenges
  • Self-Talk
  • Worst Possible Consequences
  • Probable Consequences

STEP FIVE is the discipline of confession.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed” (James 5:16).  “My people are broken—shattered! – and they put on Band-Aids, Saying, ‘It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.’ But things are not ‘just fine’!” (Jeremiah 6:14). “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God” (1 John 1:9-10).

STEP SIX is an inner transformation sometimes called repentance.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
“Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). The way is not through your own effort, it is through a broken and repentant heart (Psalms 51:17). “So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet” (James 4:10).

STEP SEVEN involves the transformation or purification of our character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

A sobriety statement includes one’s personal definition of sobriety using:

  • Abstinence List
  • Boundaries List
  • Healthy Relationship Plan

Patrick Carnes also suggests the use of the following tools:

“Fire Drill”

  • Signs or Symptom of Trouble
  • Practice or Drill Steps
  • Immediate Action Steps

“Emergency First Aid Kit”

  • Symbols of recovery, including medallions, tokens, sponsor gifts, and anything that reminds you of significant moments in your recovery
  • Pictures and mementos of loved ones
  • Spiritual items
  • Letters
  • Favorite affirmations, meditations or quotes
  • Phone numbers of sponsor and peers
  • Anything else meaningful to you, including music

“Letter to Yourself”

  • What are the probable circumstances under which it is being read?
  • What are the consequences if you ignore the letter?
  • What would you really need at a time of lapse?
  • What is the hope if you don’t act out?
  • What is at stake if you do act out?
  • What is the plea you need to hear at this moment?

STEP EIGHT involves examining our relationships and preparing ourselves to make amends.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” (Luke 6:31).

STEP NINE is the discipline of making amends.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God” (Mat. 5:23-24).

STEP TEN is about maintaining progress in recovery.
Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
“These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence” (1 Cor. 10:12).

More tools that can be used in this step include:

  • Relapse Contract (with yourself)
  • Clear Vision of Recovery including facing emotions and needs, maintaining a sense of accomplishment,  connection with God and others, and gratitude/enjoyment.

STEP ELEVEN involves the spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditation.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

“Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives” (Col. 3:16).

STEP TWELVE is about ministry.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
“Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived” (Gal. 6:1).

(Bible verses translated from The Message).

Making Marriage Work

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Conflict between man and woman standing on either side of a door

As a marriage and family therapist I have learned techniques to help marriages and family relationships work. The one that works best by far is the unconditional love of Christ. How that works out in the marriage is my next question.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when I would have an argument with my wife, we would have spirited discussions about the same old topics. Often for us, it was about the use of time. We have lots of kids and a lot of work falls on her. We also have lots of bills and that weight falls on me. For you, you might argue about something that happened that you are having a hard time forgiving.

So what does unconditional love do? I turn to Paul’s description of marital love in Ephesians 5:21-33:

21Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

22-24 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

29-33 No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.

This approach would be consistent with the humility Jesus called being “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Philippians 2:13 says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” My relationship with my wife started by being selfish, thinking about how the qualities of my wife would benefit me. Then I gained my wife’s love by impressing her. However, this is not unconditional love. I cannot depend on a love that depends on my ability to impress. Certainly, it is not the kind of love that can last.

Turning toward our own ability to humbly and unconditionally love someone, have you felt, as I have, that there are moments where you just do not feel like you have love to give? Often when I feel this way I criticize my wife and defend myself, or I act like a victim and run away. Then I dwell on what is right and wrong in order to think of a way to get my needs met. Then I present my argument to my wife, but it seems to have the same impact as if I am saying to her, “I don’t love you.” I am not saying that, but I wonder how if this is what she feels when I argue with her.

I remember the time my wife was telling me about the frustrations of her day and I was tired but attempting to be empathetic. I recall an instant turn in my emotions when she unexpectedly added, “And if you were around, this would not have happened.” It ignited an anger in me, so I retorted, “Do you really want this to blow up?” Luckily I came to my senses enough to walk away. “Empty” is the word that came to mind as I retreated. “I’ve got nothing more to give.”

Greg Baer in his book Real Love compares arguments to feeling attacked while drowning. When someone is drowning they lash out. In fear, someone drowning may hit you or grab onto you and pull you under, resulting in two victims. When we are arguing, we are drowning and lashing out. Research shows that similar events are occurring in our brain when we argue as when we are drowning.

When I realize that I feel like I am drowning when I do not feel loved, and I am feeling empty and alone, how can I respond with unconditional love?

First, I remember that my wife may also be drowning, feeling empty and alone. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 that when someone is drowning, we are urged to reaffirm our love. If I view my wife who at times lashes out at me as drowning, my anger at her is reduced. I feel less interested in criticizing her and defending myself, but I still feel like a victim and want to run away. I am drowning and need to get back on solid ground myself.

To get back on solid ground I remember that love as described in 1 Corinthians 13:6 rejoices with the truth. I recall how David was fleeing for his life when he wrote that Psalms 139 asking God to search is own heart so that he can admit his own faults. I also remember that 1 John 4:18 says that love casts out fear. If I speak the truth about myself, my struggle, and my weaknesses, what does unconditional love do? The Bible says that love embraces the truth and is accepting. When we confess, love offers help and hope. Jesus did not confess his sins, but in the garden before the cross he did confess that he was crushed in sorrow.

My wife nor I may be able to unconditionally love at any moment. If someone was overwhelmed and upset, or stressed, or maybe has had a lifetime of not feeling loved, there will be times that person will not be able to love. So it falls on me to search myself and speak the truth about myself to God, and to someone that He provides to love me. I would never recommend that this be a person of the opposite sex.

So I reflected on my own emptiness and thought about ways I can restore my energy for unconditional love. This may involve self-care, for which we are responsible, and seeking care from others. I thought of this acronym, “ACES” to remind me of ways to restore energy for unconditional love.

“A” stands for a sense of accomplishment, which I see as God working in and through me.

“C” stands for the connection I have to God, family, and friends, that I need to seek out to feel loved enough to love my spouse.

“E” stands for God-given enjoyment, the “small” parts of life, often overlooked, that I need to remember in gratitude to God.

“S” stands for self-care, sleep, diet, exercise and other needs for which I am responsible to meet.

Most importantly, I needed to confess to someone my struggle and feel their acceptance. If I am loved for what I do for others, what is that? That is a performance-based love. That is how we got married in the first place. But I need the kind of love the Bible describes as “agape love,” or “grace:” someone who sees me for who I am and then accepts me. I need this kind of love in order to love others.

I may have seek this out on a regular basis. It takes courage. Who wants to talk about their struggles and faults? I would rather talk to someone and they tell me I am in the right. But that is back to performance-based love. So I turned to my “ACES,” and turned to a friend to whom I can admit my faults. He still liked me, and accepted me as I am. With time I was ready to understand and give to my wife.

What are some ways I can unconditionally love my spouse? Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.

Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends. Perhaps consider “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.

In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, how their relationship died. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and . . . you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.”

A common need for a man is to feel their spouses’ respect. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.

Let me conclude by asking if love is the goal in marriage, and unconditional love is what makes marriage work, then what is unconditional love look like for you? Everybody may have a different definition. For some, unconditional love may mean that they set boundaries so that sin does not continue. Proverbs 10:10 says to not “wink” at sin. For others, love is characterized as giving without getting. Immediately, when I hear this definition, I think, “But what about me? What about my needs?” I guess the better question is, what is the best way to meet my needs? If I am angry or disappointed in my partner, I am thinking of myself and my needs. I may be feeling empty, overwhelmed or drowning. The Bible offers a lifeline: confession. It is speaking truth to someone who accepts and loves us as we are, faults and all. I think that is better than finding someone who agrees with you that you are in the right. I do not know about you, but being right has not inspired me to be more loving. Feeling loved has inspired me to be more loving. This is how I see the unconditional love of Christ fuel our love for our spouse.

“We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first” (1 John 4:19).

Real Love in Marriage by Greg Baer explains the principles that will make dramatic changes in your marriage.

In their groundbreaking classic, For Men Only, Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn reveal the eye-opening truths and simple acts that will radically improve your relationship with the woman you love.

The man in your life carries important feelings so deep inside he barely knows they’re there, much less how to talk about them. Yet your man genuinely wants you to “get” him—to understand his inner life, to know his fears and needs, to hear what he wishes he could tell you. In her landmark bestseller, For Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn reveals what every woman—single or married—needs to know.

Falling in love is easy, but maintaining healthy relationships is a lifelong pursuit. Once you understand “love languages,” you’ll be able to nurture not only a romantic relationship, but also casual, business, and familial relationships effectually. With more 8 million copies sold, Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages will help you succeed in having joyful, enduring relationships.

How Can Christians Stay Married

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

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At times people think about how problems would be solved if they were married to someone else. Some problems may be solved this way, but it also is true that we carry our response to problems from relationship to relationship. John Gottman, a leading marital researcher, gives this example:

  • Paul married Alice and Alice gets loud at parties and Paul, who is shy, hates that. But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Paul is always late and Susan hates to be kept waiting. She would feel taken for granted, which she is very sensitive about. Paul would see her complaining about this as her attempt to dominate him, which he is very sensitive about. If Paul had married Gail, they wouldn’t have even gone to the party because they would still be upset about an argument they had the day before about Paul’s not helping with the housework. To Gail when Paul does not help she feels abandoned, which she is sensitive about, and to Paul Gail’s complaining is an attempt at domination, which he is sensitive about. The same is true about Alice. If she had married Steve, she would have the opposite problem, because Steve gets drunk at parties and she would get so angry at his drinking that they would get into a fight about it. If she had married Lou, she and Lou would have enjoyed the party but when they got home the trouble would begin when Lou wanted sex because he always wanted sex when he wants to feel closer, but sex is something Alice only wants when she already feels close.

 

Even rock-solid marriages have sensitivities like the ones described above. All marriages “fall short of the glory of God.” So what is God’s purpose for marriage?

Genesis 1:26-28 tells us, “Then God said, ‘Let us (the triune God) make man in our image, in our likeness…’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In the Old and New Testament we can see four purposes for marriage: to reflect the image and unity of the triune God, to experience of Christ’s love for His church, along with procreation and management of creation.

This is where it can hurt. It is common to think of marriage as something that is difficult, discouraging, and even hurtful. Many think of personal failure. It is difficult to respond well in an intimate relationship when we are not treated well. We all can think of examples where we are not treated well. Maybe you can think of a time you were betrayed by a childhood friend. Or, you ask your teenage daughter how her evening went, and she nearly bites off your head. Possibly you are caring for aging parents and in spite of all your efforts, they are still unhappy. Or, you are unhappily married but stay together for a number of reasons. Others do not. Every 45 seconds a marriage ends in divorce (Dr. Greg Smalley).

An incredible statistic is the one that predicts divorce. Marriage is one of the most researched topics over the last 40 years and this prediction is well-documented. John Gottman and other researchers underscore that your response, when you are treated poorly in your marriage, is predictive of eventual divorce with 91 percent accuracy.

It is not exactly what is said, or what is done, that is so predictive. It is the feeling that one spouse is above or below the other. It results in defensiveness. It can come from dwelling on the injustices in your relationship, or from ruminating on the weaknesses of the other. It leaks out in one’s tone, facial expressions, and non-verbal body language. It is contempt. We often do not mean to be contemptuous. Maybe you just want to bring up an issue, or just talk about it, and your spouse interprets it as criticism and wants to defend, attack back, and finally withdraw. Dan Allender, in his book with Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies says that “many couples live with an underlying contempt for each other.” Later they write, “Spouses degrade each other when they show a contemptuous, shaming, judgmental spirit.”

We are all treated poorly at times. We all have different desires and these can turn into expectations. When these expectations are not met, we get angry, or at least disappointed. We can feel that the other is not living up to their end of the bargain. The contract is not being fulfilled. If you a sign a contract, there are certainly expectations to be met. If you use that mentality in marriage, you are set up for more disappointment and hurt. Tension develops between the idea of marriage being a contract, and marriage being a covenant.

So what do spouses do, who generally get treated well, in their marriage, act at those moments when they are not treated well?

The Bible starts with the heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Luke 12:34). The Bible also contrasts open and hardened hearts. On one hand is the verse, “Love each other deeply with all your heart” (1 Peter 1:22b). In contrast, Jesus said that Moses permitted divorce in the Old Testament because of hardened hearts (Matthew 19:8a).

If there is any recourse from a hardened heart to one that is open, safety is key. “The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10). It is hard to open up and admit feelings and failures, if you are afraid of your partner’s response. A covenantal approach, though, invites this kind of vulnerability. If one feels safe, you can be honest about feelings and failures. It creates a joint struggle to expose the beautiful, and the broken. It allows for true love, the grace that provides the elements needed to grow, and it feeds passion. It is a picture of God’s love for us. Accordingly, we are to love our spouse as a reflection of God. Imagine, as Allender and Longman write, “I am to see my spouse as a unique reflection of God. She is a woman like no other.” They return to this theme when they write, “I must learn what it means to draw out my wife’s uniqueness.” They point out that both spouses reflect God’s glory, and as they treat each other with this respect they move closer together. How might you do that? We can glorify or degrade our spouses in our words, in our silence, in how we look at them, and how we treat them. It matters.

Contempt, on the other hand,  is beyond the inevitable frustration with your spouse. It does not just say that I am angry, afraid or sad; it puts the emphasis on that the other is wrong or bad. We are all wrong or bad at times. We all struggle. But people that get treated well do not put down the other resulting in defensiveness. 1 Peter 3:7 sets a foundation with “Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.”

Paul describes the marital relationship in Ephesians 5:21-28:

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. 

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

Here we see a model representing a divine relationship. Both roles show a heart that is open, a willingness to be responsive and to yield to one another out of love. Marital researchers agree. This approach seeks to make sense of your partner, and understand what he or she is feeling, and to make his or her feelings as important as your own. Marital researchers underscore that this non-judgmental approach happens in the context of equal regard, creating a sense of safety. It does not deny truth or grace. It acknowledges underlying needs on both sides of the equation.

Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.

Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need an infusion of energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends.

In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, about what happened between them. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and . . . you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.” If Elizabeth felt if she asked him to come after her, she would never know if he would on his own.

Men need to be proud of. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.

What if I am not open to this kind of covenantal approach? Impulsivity, stress, lack of time and energy, built-up anger, hurt and resentment are all facts of life but get in the way. A formidable obstacle is the belief that one’s partner is more to blame for the relationship problems. An urgent need is for personal support to make personal changes from friends, support groups, Bible study, accountability, and counseling.

What if my partner isn’t open to this kind of covenantal approach? This kind of approach is for the sake of the giver as much as the receiver. It allows the giver to feel settled and in control about their part, even if your partner does not respond well. Researchers underscore that when one partner is not treated well, this is precisely the time that this approach is needed. When it gets tough, take a break and come back allowing both sides time to process to a better conclusion. Or break the discussion and ask your partner for proposals, or make proposals. Living in a fallen world and being self-responsible means that we have to set personal boundaries. The key is to not look down on your partner in the meantime, because looking down on your partner itself pust your relationship at risk. Remember that God is walking this journey with you.

Can we trust God when we see no way out? Can we say like the father in Mark 9:24 who said “I believe. Help me with my doubts!” I know how hard marriage can be. We all have challenges to face in our relationships. God provides a way to look at others through his eyes. God will honor the covenant you made with each other. When our heart is open, when we provide safety, and we are vulnerable ourselves, it opens the door for hope. God has a covenantal love for us, as seen here in Isaiah 43:1-3:

Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
    That’s how much I love you!

Effective Listening

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

What are some criteria for effective listening in the Bible? Some seek to correct more than connect when “listening” and find the discussion frustrating. Use the following as a checklist to accomplish effective listening:

 

Continue reading Effective Listening

Christian Mindfulness

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Christian Mindfulness“More than 100 million American adults who describe themselves as Christian contend . . . they are still searching for clarity regarding their purpose in life (George Barna, Maximum Faith).” Is there a connection between awareness of God and self-awareness? As one form of awareness goes up, does the other go down? Or does awareness of God and self-awareness work together? John Calvin writes, “The knowledge of God and that of ourselves are connected. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” Continue reading Christian Mindfulness

An exploration on how Christianity impacts mental health counseling.