Category Archives: truth and grace

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

Using Grace to Change

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor. What if instead of judging yourself, you fully accepted yourself as does God? The Christian concept of grace is based on the finished work of Jesus as a completely effective mediator between God and man. Depression, anxiety, and addictions all depend on a negative cycle and sense of inadequacy that is fed by stress, fear, and shame.

Grace puts hope back in the equation when feeling totally accepted increases personal response-ability to make personal changes, without meeting performance demands. What difference would it make in daily decisions and struggles if you knew you were okay versus believing you were not? The challenge comes in the form of one’s personal faith in the means of God’s acceptance. Can you believe?

  • Sin is strengthened by law (1 Cor. 15:56)
  • The gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17)
  • No condemnation (Rom. 8:1)
  • Sin loses its hold (Rom. 6:14)
  • Jesus is the mediator (1 John 2:1)
  • Those struggling have forgotten their sins are gone (1 Peter 1:9)

Time and again Jesus expressed anger toward religious people who focused on their own works. (One example is depicted in Grace over Judgment). Jesus also pointed out the inadequacy of justification by human effort when the rich young ruler asked him what else he can do (Luke 18:18-23). The rich young ruler walked away. In the next chapter, Jesus responded to Zacchaeus with grace, and Zacchaeus changed his life. Grace is not only meant to save, it is meant to empower. Paul is consistent with this definition when he wrote to the Galatians, who were also focused on their own works,” Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Gal. 3:3). In contrast, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, who were stuck in their sin, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:7-8).

Viewing oneself as righteous is not self-righteousness; that is evident. Viewing oneself as recipients of grace also does not justify behavior.  But viewing oneself as righteous does change the way one thinks, and thus changes behavior. Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30). “No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalms 34:22b).

Attachment Patterns and God

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

To say that a parent’s attachment to his or her kids is strong may be a negative statement. Attachment is described as secure and insecure, so it is possible to have a strong attachment that is insecure.

Insecure attachment descriptors reflect parental styles mentioned in the posts What is Attachment? and Disrupted Attachment These parental styles are associated with the types of attachment: secure attachment with parental flexibility and stability, avoidant attachment with dismissive parenting, ambivalent attachment with preoccupied parents, and disorganized attachment with overwhelmed parents. These relationship patterns are often reflective in one’s perception of God.

Avoidant attachment is reinforced from parental messages that emotions are not important in a child’s self-identity and in making decisions. Thus, the child (and as an adult) may feel like he or she does not really matter. An avoidant person may even believe that emotions steer one into danger or disaster and are not to be trusted. So emotions are left out of daily interactions. It may be hard to comfort or connect with an avoidant person. A second type of avoidant attachment seeks to please a significant other and downgrade one’s own needs because one can only accept emotions if they are not opposed by the significant other. This is a co-dependent relationship.

Ambivalent attachment patterns are derived from close connections that are not stable. The parent could be hot or cold. When cold, the parent may be preoccupied; it does not mean that the parent’s love wavers. So fear may develop associated with closeness and connection, because the closeness and connection could be lost. The child or adult in this case may crave intimacy but not want to ask for it because of fear that it could be lost. If intimacy does happen, this person may eventually find it stifling. The child or adult may then experience anger and would distance from the significant other, but then fear would overtake from being alone. The pattern then becomes hot pursuit, but then cold distancing.

Disorganized or dysregulated attachment patterns stem from parents who are ruled by the “fight or flight” autonomic nervous system. Parents tend to be aggressive or controlling, stemming from fear. On the other hand, parents could be overwhelmed or a victim, again stemming from fear.

Secure attachments are stable patterns but do not have to be perfect. They stem from a parent’s capacity at a particular place and time to recognize and value the emotions of a child or connect with what the child is doing. When the child comes to the parent, the parent in effect says to the child that the child is okay even when the child or parent is having negative emotions. The child is allowed to be separate from the parent, with the child’s own set of valid emotions and self-confidence that comes from faith. The concept of grace found in Christianity opens up a growth process that does not depend on performance to gain acceptance by God, and thus creating the capacity for a responsiveness to God.

Forgiving Versus Reconciling

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Many choose to forgive because forgiveness has benefits for the forgiver. Forgiveness is a canceling of a “debt”. One can choose to forgive so that anger doesn’t destroy one’s own sense of well-being, though this may require a grieving process. To forgive is to release oneself from an expectation that another person has to fulfill some requirement or redeem the relationship. It is no longer holding in hostility. Restoring the relationship, though, is a step further. A Biblical example of reconciliation, the restoring of proper relationship, is forgiveness and repentance. Repentance is a u-turn involving a realization of the impact of a wrong, full remorse, a commitment to change, and actual behavioral changes over time.

Seeing the impact of your behavior on another when there has been hurt is difficult. We are called to have a clear view of our actions (1 John 1:8). The Bible describes repentance as a knowledge of truth (2 Timothy 2:25-26). Understanding the full impact of one’s actions requires compassion and patient excavation of the hurt person’s experience and emotion. Only that person can say when he or she feels understood.

Healthy frustration and sorrow over one’s actions sets the stage for legitimate change. The Bible distinguishes between sorrow that leads to valuable change and sorrow that destroys. Paul writes, “For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (1 Corinthians 7:9-10). Sorrow without change leads to depression, anxiety and addictions.

The first fruit of change is planning change. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). What internal changes are needed to make long-lasting external change? Producing fruit requires growth and learning to fully understand the emotions that drive unhealthy outcomes. An honest look at these “unacceptable” feelings requires a relationship that can accept those feelings and one’s failures so that the usual patterns of avoidance are disrupted. This is called grace, and is the only way to grow. Otherwise, instead of pruning and growing, one cuts down the tree. (The Bible uses this metaphor for judgment).

Finally, repentance is proven by change (Acts 26:20). It is making agreements and building trust by keeping those agreements. The Bible says let your “yes” be “yes” and “no” be “no” so that honest agreements will be kept (Matthew 5:37). A covenant represents honest intentions for a renewed relationship. “Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us” (Genesis 31:44).

While humans continue to fail, remorse and grace can lead to reconciliation by caring about the impact of one’s behavior, making personal changes that lead to lasting changes, and re-working honest agreements for the future. “Though the mountains be shaken, and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:10). God is able to forgive and reconcile based on repentance simultaneously, while we may have to separate the two processes.

Connection Before Correction

Connection Before Correction

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

While doing right leads to healthy relationships, the Bible also promotes the opposite: healthy relationships lead to doing right. Healthy relationships start between human and the divine, and then between humans. Here’s an example of the importance of relationships: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

What are some ways to maintain healthy relationships? These approaches can work when addressing difficult subjects. A positive start, humility, listening and understanding teamed with honesty is summed up by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Whatever is a good place to start? “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Starting on a negative note can automatically trigger resistance and defensiveness – a product of the “fight or flight response”. Paul said, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good  and helpful, so that your words will be an encourage­ment to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29). Avoiding such negativity will mean overlooking some offenses. “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (Proverbs 19:11). “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Other times a negative cycle must be stopped. “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).

Next, comes the humble part. People are more receptive to hearing about their “human side” if they see a willingness to admit weaknesses. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5). One who thinks he has done nothing wrong may have trouble accepting the human side. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Psalms 36:2).

Listening to others conveys that one understands and cares, regardless of agreement. On that basis of respect, a foundation allows a connection to be built. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 17:27, 18:2). Once the other feels understood, one has an ability to connect.

Speaking the truth about one’s own interests balanced by another’s forges the relationship. A one-sided relationship is lop-sided. “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Creatively looking for options breathes life into a relationship as opposed to one side flourishing at the expense of another.

God finds a way to confront us with truth but not without grace. Holding in the truth can result in passivity and resentment. But expressing the truth aggressively can leave you with the same feelings. “Picking your battles,” a positive or understanding start, quick admittance to your own faults, and leaving the other feeling understood, connecting before correcting can bolster any relationship. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 5:29-32).

Next Steps to Forgiveness

Grace Over Judgment

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

When you have been wronged it can be hard to consider mercy, but when you are the one who has done wrong, mercy can be what saves you. Certainly looking at truth about yourself can be unacceptable without grace. The Bible is essentially stories of redemption, and how a living and interactive God intervenes in the lives of regular people. Due to the graphic nature of man’s offenses in the Bible, one is left with the impression that God can redeem anything.

Without grace, we cannot grow. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:11-13). God, time and again, takes unfortunate circumstances and makes them lead to something better for those that seek Him. The concept of grace, knowing that one is fully accepted by God, disrupts the shame cycle that perpetuates sin.

While grace is essential for growth, the Bible uses cutting down a tree as a metaphor for judgment. Some treat the Bible as a legal document used to condemn. The religious order of the Pharisees neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4). Religious people can turn people away from God. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:13-14). These are strong words from Jesus.

So grace is preferred over judgment because grace is the way to grow while judgment is used to destroy. Judgment is growth-producing when accompanied by grace, and thus is a pruning process. So one’s Biblical interpretations are to be interpreted with a goal of redemption and hope, and not oppression.

How Relationship Leads to Change

Are Emotions Commanded?

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

There are many commands to have or not have particular emotions in the Bible in a given context. Many Christians focus on what they do or not do, and leave the emotional side as out of their control. However, emotions reflect beliefs and values, and thus are a valid window into the soul. They are not to be left behind in view of “doing the right thing.” Many come to counseling because they feel their emotions are out of control.

One difficult command in the Bible is to love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-28, 32-36). Those that have enemies know this difficulty; in fact following Biblical precepts are difficult. It is understandable that Christians then focus on what they do or don’t do in spite of what they feel.

The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of loving your enemy. Reading the story suggests that the Samaritan acted out of compassion, and not a command to “do good.” Love is more than an action. For instance, God “pours” love into hearts (Romans 5:5). In the Bible, Paul’s love was deeply felt (2 Corinthians 2:4). Matthew A. Elliott supports the importance of emotion in Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. On page 157 he writes “If love was action how could it be judged as insincere?” The Bible distinguishes between love and actions (1 Corinthians 13:3, Revelations 2:2-4).

But what if one does not feel such compassion? Are there ways to control emotions? The Bible points to the effect of knowledge, beliefs and values on emotions (Philippians 1:9). Finding truth and experiencing truth changes emotions. However it is a process and thus grace is needed.