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

Support for Pastors at No Cost

By Dan Blair, a Christian marriage counselor and family counselor.

The burdens that pastors carry are many. Dr. Greg Smalley reports that 80 percent of pastors leave the ministry within five years of graduating seminary. He adds that 1500 pastors a month leave due to burnout or moral failure. According to a Barna Group study released in 2017, 26% of pastors have faced significant marital problems. And 48% agree their current ministry is difficult on their families. Pastors give so much to others, but the pressures are heavy enough to hamper their availability to their families, or self-care.

  1. Role conflicts. Pastors get asked to do many things above and beyond the job description.
  2. Proliferation of activities. New endeavors are started without adequate support for the programs already in place.
  3. Administrative duties. Pastors are not necessarily trained in spread sheets.
  4. Spiritual dryness. People face deserts in life, but pastors are not expected to be “people.”
  5. Perfectionism or inadequacy. Pastors can hold unrealistic standards for themselves.
  6. Unrelenting standards. Others can hold unrelenting standards for the pastor.
  7. No time to be alone, while feeling alone or lonely. Both can be true.
  8. Intrusions on time. The unexpected often occurs at inopportune times.
  9. Failure of dreams. Often visions don’t occur as planned.
  10. Blocked goals. Attempts at accomplishment are meant with resistance.

Pastors are also vulnerable to a lifestyle of obligation. Resentment and burn out tends to subtly enter the picture which is countered by a sense of pride that discounts seeking help. It becomes easier to justify one’s actions which also may be hurtful to others.

What is missing? Commitment to soul care in the context of community where one can be honest. Pastors most often use an intrapersonal coping style versus interpersonal coping. Balancing coping strategies means pastors need their own support system.

Blair Counseling and Mediation offers wellness checks and personal support for the unique stressors that pastors face at no cost as part of our commitment to the local church. Feel free to call an experienced Christian counselor at anytime.

No Pain, No Gain?

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

The anguish we encounter in life is immeasurable at times. It’s big. Too big. What do you do with anger and the impulse to express it without a satisfying outcome? What do you do with fear/shame that reveals our vulnerability at its core and that our worst fears can come true? What do you do with sadness so profound, so far-reaching that it drains our ability to cope?

Some things you will never get over in this life. Some things you will never get back.

No wonder numbness takes over and leaves one unable to think. Definitely, for a period of time nothing will help. Don’t try to make the feelings go away during this time and do not try to help others in this way. Grief is so varied that no one knows what it is like for another person.

This psalmist describes his experience this way: “My heart is sick, withered like grass, and I have lost my appetite. I lie awake, lonely as a solitary bird on the roof. My tears run down into my drink because of your anger and wrath. For you have picked me up and thrown me out. My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass” (Psalms 102: 4, 7, 10, 11). “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief” (Psalms 22:1-2). The psalmist then turns to his faith in God for comfort. Instead of seeing God as an absent or passive Deity, he relies on God to be transformed. Nothing is more transforming than pain, for better or for worse.

Is this how God works, complicit with evil, working to make good come out of it? God as portrayed in the Bible is about his thwarted intentions for mankind bestowed with free will and then God’s redemptive purposes. The culmination of God’s love and pain is the sacrifice of his Son, and the Son’s experience of abandonment by the Father. Yet the son chose “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

God’s view of evil is not that it is required to accomplish his purposes. He is truly moved, angered and grieved by evil throughout the Bible. There is no remedy, other than “some day.” What He offers now, through his Spirit and the Church, is his Presence. Will the Church provide solidarity for those who suffer?

More on Grief.

Marriage, Divorce and Living Together

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Over time divorce rates and marriage rates have gradually moved closer. More are divorcing and less are marrying.

If marriage interferes with personal happiness, divorce seems to be more of an option. Spouses explore whether or not they can be happy in the marriage, and if not, divorce is the next step. At the same time, people are scared to divorce because they can’t afford it. As the marriage deteriorates further, divorce becomes inevitable, often around the same time a bankruptcy is an option.

Many of the around fifty percent of adults who are not married, would like to get married, but are postponing it. When couples live together before marriage, either they are aiming at commitment, with marriage as a future option, or they fear commitment due to personal or economical reasons. Those who are postponing marriage for economical reasons are waiting for greater financial stability. The lower your income, the less likely you’ll opt out of marriage. Currently, there are more single parents and kids born out of wedlock than ever.

Some couples that live together before marriage will never commit, and some eventually commit because that’s the expectation, not necessarily a wish. Marrying out of expectation is a risk for divorce. Research is not positive about cohabitation, indicating that cohabitators report the lowest levels of sexual satisfaction and higher rates of depression, addiction and aggression. If there are kids involved, there are often more problems with the kids. Another growing segment experiencing such problems is those that live together after divorce.

Commitment appears to be the greatest determinant of a lasting marriage. Couples that involve themselves in spiritual practices more than four times a week have a divorce rate less than one percent. Religious couples also report the highest rates of sexual satisfaction.

The following are extracts of an article from the Northwest Herald in McHenry County:

By HILARY GOWINS – hgowins@shawmedia.com:

To Tie or Not to Tie (the Knot)

To have and to hold. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish. Until death do us part.

In a day when the wedding industry brings in billions of dollars each year and love and commitment have come to be symbolized by the size of a diamond or the price of a dress, these simple, sacred vows can get lost.

It’s easy to stick to a promise when times are good. It’s the sicker and poorer parts that test the strength of a couple’s commitment.

Penny and Ken Schwall of McHenry know what it means to endure those tests. They have faced the joys and struggles of parenthood and both have lost jobs, but what happened 2 1⁄2 years ago changed their lives forever.

Ken Schwall had to move into a Barringtonnursing home after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 36, on top of two other lifelong birth defects in his spine.

Now both in their 50s, the Schwalls are living separately – he in the nursing home and she with their two adult daughters in the family’s McHenry home.

“What I tease about now is that we’ve had every test of our wedding vows,” Schwall said. “There are times when it seems easier just to walk away – it’s the till death do us part’ thing you always come back to.”

Times weren’t always so difficult for the couple. Penny Schwall still remembers the feeling she got when she first met Ken, how they dated for three years before getting married. Their parents are now dead, but Penny remembers that they set an example of staying together.

“Wedding vows should be a sacred commitment and taken seriously,” she said. “We didn’t live together or anything beforehand; we waited till we got married. That’s really been one of the first and foremost things, taking it seriously. Marriage was very important to us as far as being together and having a family.”


“Trends all around the United States seem to show that this is what’s happening – there are fewer marriages and more people residing together,” said Sara Busche, an attorney with Gitlin, Busche and Stetler in Woodstock. “A lot of the time, this is a way people cut costs. The law has to catch up to try to address issues when these breakups occur later, though. Because when you live together with someone for a long time and acquire assets together, there’s no law that addresses how that’s handled with unmarried people.”

The ways in which arrangements such as this affect individual relationships can’t be described in uniform terms. However, the Rev. Ken Gibson of Grace Lutheran Church in Woodstock said that there are dangers that come when couples decide to cohabitate before marriage.

“A lot of young people are looking through some rose-colored glasses and don’t get where they’re at in life,” he said. “There is some danger in it because they haven’t done the work. It’s a convenience.”

Gibson said his church provides counseling before big steps such as marriage and combining households, which help couples prepare for their life together by helping them figure out what to expect.

“What I tell my young people is, ‘You’re coming in talking about a wedding, I’m talking about a marriage,’ ” he said. “A wedding is one day – a marriage is a much longer commitment.”


The faces of those deciding to end their marriages are changing, as well, Busche said.

“There’s no typical or mean age for divorce, but lately I’ve noticed there are a lot of people coming in who are older, who had long-term marriages,” she said. “Their children are gone and they’re deciding the marriage is dead.”

When Busche joined the firm nine years ago, she typically saw people coming in after their “seven-year itch,” she said. Now the crumbling of 17- to 23-year marriages is much more prevalent.

“When they got married the idea was that there’s no such thing as a divorce, but now it’s more accepted,” Busche said.

Gibson sees a different story in the younger generation, although he doesn’t have exact numbers. For the three years he’s been at the church, he says the number of marriages he performs has been going up.

“Our young people seem to be excited about the institution of it all and the commitment,” he said. “A lot of them are getting married older and they seem much more in tune with life and its realities.”

He said he can’t remember the last time he performed the marriage of a young couple, meaning those ages 18 to their young 20s. The couples he sees are at least in their late 20s or early 30s, Gibson said.

In the end, whether a couple is old or young, rich or poor, rushing into things or taking their time, nothing is certain. Ken and Penny Schwall met before either had turned 20 and married three years later.

“I say all the time, not only to our kids, but to friends and family, I’d rather be a light in a dark place,” Penny Schwall said. “Our big thing is … taking those vows seriously and knowing that it’s a commitment we made before God.”

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.

Church Conflicts

Research by the Barna Group uncovered two surprising facts: (1) the majority of the nation’s non-churched are comprised of people, not who say they are not Christians, but who say they are, and (2) about 4 out of 10 of these stopped attending due to a “painful” or “negative” ordeal. Barna projected that at the current drop-out rate attendance nationally will be half of what it is today in 15 years.

Research shows that there is a direct correlation between conflict and attendance: the more conflict a church has the fewer people remain in attendance. To address this growing problem churches need an in-house system which conveys to its members that the church is able and willing to gracefully and effectively address disputes as they emerge, for the good of all. One such program based on a Biblical model is the Judeo-Christian Model of Peacemaking developed by Dr. Ken Newberger. Its application in local congregations is detailed in his book entitled, Hope in the Face of Conflict. This practical step-by-step process looks to the pattern God used to make peace with us. It is based on love as the first foundation, justice the second, with reconciliation the goal and mediation the means.

Here’s a question: According to the Judeo-Christian Model of Peacemaking (JCMP), when parties are in conflict, who is supposed to make the first move toward reconciliation, and what does that first move consist of?

Because the Judeo-Christian Model is based on the pattern that God used to make peace with us, the first question really is this:  In God’s conflict with mankind (due to human sin), who made the first move toward reconciliation, the offended party or the offending party?  The answer is, God, the offended party, did.  More specifically, he created a mediatorial structure in both the Old and New Testaments by which peace with mankind could be established. Since the undergirding framework of the JCMP is “like Father, like Son,” if you are in conflict with another and are the offended party, you have the responsibility to make the first move toward resolution and reconciliation.

What is that move?  Contacting a mediator.  This is done with regularity in all types of organizational settings such as government, universities, and hospitals. The reason this is rare to find in churches, however, is because no in-house structure has been established which members can utilize.  Making peace falls almost wholly on their shoulders even if there are factors that contribute to the problem that have nothing to do with them.  This is why we take a “systems approach” to peacemaking.  But the benefits of such an approach cannot occur until and unless the church leaders first put such a system in place.  Even in this respect, if leaders want to be like God (“like Father, like Son”), they should ponder this question: “When did God establish his peace plan with mankind, before or after we entered into conflict with Him?”  The answer is before.  Churches should do the same by establishing a peace plan for their congregation before (the next) conflict emerges.

If you are a pastor or church leader, feel free to view a 6 minute PowerPoint overview presentation at: resolvechurchconflict.com

To learn more, please contact Dan Blair at Blair Counseling and Mediation. or Dr. Kenneth Newberger at resolvechurchconflict.com.

Mediation Practices for Families
For families devoted to a biblical process to resolve conflict but torn asunder by unresolved issues, family mediation is recommended using the 12-step process of reconciliation described in the book Hope in the Face of Conflict by Dr. Kenneth C. Newberger.

Arresting Anxiety

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

The same emotion can either be positive or negative in the Bible. The Bible may command an emotion in one place and prohibit it in another depending on the context. For example, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26). Sorrow has its place but also has limits. Likewise, fear is appropriate in particular circumstances but a state of prolonged fear becomes problematic.

The direction to not fear is one of the most common proscriptions in the Bible. You could read one reference a day for over a year!

Emotions are signals and send messages that are sometimes misread. In that case the signal gets stuck and the emotion is prolonged excessively. If warning signals on the dashboard continue to light up one may develop anxiety about “driving,” especially if the signals represent danger. Some may cover the dashboard, avoid feeling, and make some reckless decisions. Others may learn to devalue the signals. Still others may overanalyze the signal.

Signals to be properly interpreted need to be felt without fear. God provides a healthy option otherwise not available: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Christ has come to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Like a parent who grabs a child from falling, Christ is saying, “I got you!” Even when we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel, Christ is saying, “I got you!” “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you (Isaiah 43:2).

Christian Mindfulness

Top Ten Benefits to Christianity

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

While various human beliefs and interpretations of Christianity have played a part in creating havoc in personal and political realms, there are benefits to believing in a loving and personal God. Belief in God has persisted in spite of all the failings of followers. Benefits of faith in God are themselves topics of research. Each is also based on one’s faith (which is often based on what one wants to believe). Everyone has faith; the object of one’s faith differs.

Belief in God affects your view of suffering. Some believe that because of God or other reasons suffering has value or is redeemable. Some think there is too much suffering and that lessens the likelihood of God. Either way, benefits of faith remain:

  1. Gratitude. A renewing of reasons to feel thankful.
  2. Ongoing social support.
  3. Random acts of kindness and organized movements to relieve suffering.
  4. Optimism where good comes from bad.
  5. Strategies for coping; making meaning out of difficulty.
  6. Full forgiveness and the freedom it gives.
  7. Stress management.
  8. A reduction in overthinking and social comparison.
  9. Lasting accomplishments.
  10. Great retirement plan.

We all worship something or someone. The faith of Christianity is also based on intelligent design of the universe and life itself, historical manuscript evidence, archeological finds, accurate prophecy, and the unlikely probability that the Bible written over thousands of years could maintain its integrity and unity. Christians worship a God who is more than a personal crutch; He is a stretcher that carries you. “I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free” (Isaiah 44:22).

The belief is based on the historical Jesus, rejected and crucified on the most recognized symbol in the world, the cross. After his death his followers were swept away and scattered. How did Jesus in relatively short time transform fearful followers to men and women going to their deaths for their beliefs, to transforming a view of humanity of persons and forgiveness, and inspiring all of the institutions, music and art that have roots in Christianity? One cannot reference the calendar or the year without referring to the life of Jesus. For most though, people remain unconvinced until they see God working in their own lives, through regular prayer, Bible reading, and church attendance.

For more information on the reliability of the Bible see this short article.

The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally. – Professor Andrew Sims, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists