Saturday, November 24, 2012

Necessary Losses

Inspired by our pastor’s sermon last weekend, I was thinking about how to be thankful for everything, not just the gains, but also the losses. This really seems like a tough pill to swallow when the losses are involuntary. But I started thinking that some losses are chosen. Why would we do that?

Perhaps we might do that in order to gain something as a result.    

When we became committed to our church there was a loss involved for us. We had become used to spending most weekends down at the marina on our sailboat. It was evident that we would have to make a choice where we would invest our time and money. A sailboat does not maintain itself. There are slip fees, insurance, boat payments and upkeep fees. We still miss the sailboat, but we love our church community better.

The Bible uses the words sacrifice and surrender to describe voluntary losses for the purpose of gain. They are not words that I am naturally drawn to, but they are important concepts if I am to achieve maturity.

Some of our sacrifices are in obedience to God in order to gain favor and accomplish His purposes in our lives and in the lives of others. Parents make sacrifices to promote the welfare of their children. Employers make sacrifices to promote the welfare of their employees. The hope is that the results would be loyalty from children and employees. (And obviously there are no guarantees.)

I think about the people who choose to go on missions trips, often paying for all or much of the expenses themselves. They may use up their vacation time from work, or for longer mission commitments they might even quit their jobs and rely on their savings to fund their calling. The loss of financial security can be significant. 

With marriage there are other necessary losses involved.

  • I give up separate relationships with members of the opposite sex. No more private lunches with co-workers or dinner with friends of the opposite sex without my spouse. I don’t go “hang out” in singles environments anymore. We find couples activities instead.
  •  “My time” becomes “our time”, and my schedule is no longer my own. I don’t make time commitments outside of work without discussing it with my mate first. Girls or boys “night out” is no longer a given. It doesn't have to disappear; it just needs to be agreed upon.
  •  “My money” becomes “our money” and spending decisions must be mutual. I no longer spend like I did when I was single. Things like electronic gear, (musical instruments), smart phones, clothes, shoes, handbags and a hundred other things must be decided based on our “family” budget, not my sole desire. Delayed gratification becomes the rule, not the exception. 

When couples become parents there are further losses.

I know many wives who will allow their husbands to continue in risky behavior up until they become pregnant, but then they insist that things change. The motorcycle has to be sold. No more extreme sports. No more trips to Las Vegas or other gambling behaviors, etc.  No more living on the financial edge, from paycheck to paycheck. Buying toys for the child takes priority over buying “toys” for the adults.

But all these are necessary losses if we are to become fully mature – and trust me, maturity is a huge gain in the long run.

1 Cor. 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It's All About ME!

One of the more difficult personality types to deal with is the narcissist. It is generally accepted that when it becomes extreme in a person, (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) the ability to sustain a relationship with them can be nearly impossible. If you are married to someone with NPD, it is necessary to seek professional help. If you are in a dating relationship with someone you suspect is narcissistic to a pathological degree, it should be a big red flag – some therapists will tell you to run – and run fast.

Narcissism, as opposed to healthy self esteem, can be described as an inflated sense of self importance and excessive self focus. I am not going to go into theories about the formation of a narcissist or the sub-types here, but simply to help you recognize the signs in yourself or others. 

Mary is a pretty girl and easily connects with people. Men are naturally attracted to her outgoing and easy manner. The problem is, every conversation is about her – her life, her interests, her work and her friends. If you try to share some of you own experiences, she will always point out how your experiences relate to her own. Eventually you may become frustrated, but if you express how this makes you feel unheard or alone, she is unable to empathize with your feelings. Instead she will tell you how she feels about what you said – usually criticized or angry or some other defensive emotion. You are aware of how she once again brought the focus back on herself.

Mary probably lacks awareness of how she affects other people negatively. Or if she is aware, her need for attention overrides her ability to manage her behavior. It actually may be low self-esteem that anxiously drives her to maintain the focus on herself. The true narcissist will always see you as the problem in disagreements. They are superior, and your inability to recognize that fact is the difficulty.

What does the Bible say about this?

Romans 12:3 (NLT) Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Other translations say that we should have a sober appraisal of ourselves – neither grandiose nor self debasing. When love is our goal, our focus will naturally shift to the other person.

I can honestly say that it took the transformative power of God to help me grow in this area. My counselor (also named David) told me that he believes most men are (at minimum) a little bit narcissistic and most women, (at minimum) a little bit hysterical. But men can be hysterics, just as women can be narcissists. And either can be an hysteric (excessively emotional) narcissist! It is only by the grace of God working in our lives that we can overcome these character defects.

How about you? Do you see this characteristic in yourself? Can you commit to grow in this area?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

You're Killing Me, Jesus (no mattresses)

Today I am going to post an excerpt from Tim Keller’s excellent book “The Meaning of Marriage”. It will be a startling revelation for some – as it was for me.

In Mark 11: 25, Jesus says that if you are praying, and you realize that you have something against someone, you must forgive him or her right there. Does that mean you should not confront the person? No, you should, since Jesus in Matthew 18— as well as Paul in Galatians 6 and elsewhere— tells Christians that if someone wrongs them, they should go to the person and discuss their sin. Wait, we say. The Bible says we are supposed to forgive people and then go and confront them? Yes! The reason we are surprised by this is almost always because we confront people who have wronged us as a way of paying them back. By telling them off, we are actually getting revenge. They made us feel bad and now we are going to make them feel bad, too. But this is absolutely deadly. The person you are confronting knows you are doing payback, and he or she will either be devastated or infuriated— or both. You are not really telling the truth for their sake; you are telling it for your sake, and the fruit of that will be grief, bitterness, and despair.

Jesus gives us the solution. 

He says that Christians, knowing that they live only by the forgiving grace of God, must do the work of forgiving wrongdoers in their hearts and then go to confront them. If you do that, the confrontation will be so different. In other words, without the “compound”— the power of forgiving grace in your life— you will use the truth to hurt. The other person will either attack you back or withdraw. Your marriage will go either into a truth-without-love mode, with constant fighting, or a shallow love-without-truth mode, in which both partners simply avoid the underlying problems.

How different confrontations would be if we could follow Jesus’ words. How transformed marriages could be if we learned this lesson. I believe this would empower us to actually "speak the truth in love" instead of in anger or resentment. 

For me this means intentionally praying for people who feel wronged by me, or who I am having feelings of resentment towards. It is not something that I naturally feel motivated to do. In fact, it is usually just the opposite. It all comes down to my willingness to be obedient to Christ. 

What about you? Does this offend you or excite you?

Keller, Timothy (2011-11-01). The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the 
Wisdom of God (pp. 156-157). Penguin Group. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Running to the Roar

Abandonment issues often get discussed in counseling settings. Generally, it is not difficult to identify, especially because it is so prevalent in this current culture. So many children have been unintentionally abandoned because of economic needs. They are brought up in single parent families where their parent must work outside the home or in two parent families where both must work. Some children feel this separation at a deep level and as a result they turn into anxious adults.

There are other conditions that create a feeling of abandonment in a child. When a parent withdraws and uses silence as a punishment a child will feel scared and rejected. This form of manipulation may inflict an attachment wound, causing a child to become anxious or insecure.

The child is at risk of growing up into an adult that will react fearfully when encountering distancing from another adult. 

A fearful adult may shrink from conflict, but often it is just the opposite. To them conflict becomes a form of connection, even if it is a negative connection. If a person tries to walk away from them during the conflict, the historical feelings of abandonment are triggered and the fear escalates into rage.

So what is needed here?  

If you are facing a raging spouse, I recommend a technique called “Running to the Roar”. Although counter-intuitive, moving towards the conflict rather than backing away from it will usually yield the best results. Think of it like this: giving a fire more oxygen (space) will increase the size of the blaze, whereas putting a blanket over it will reduce the oxygen and smother the flame. An angry spouse is like a burning fire – it is scary. But our job is to determine whether our spouse is dangerous or just noisy (roaring). Most of the time it is the latter.

When I explained this concept to one of my couple clients, the husband said “I’m not sticking my head into the mouth of a roaring lion (his wife).” I said to him “The lion has no teeth – she’s actually safe, just scared and noisy.” She was in the room nodding her head, agreeing with me. The tears came as she realized that her real need was to feel valuable enough to her husband that he wouldn’t leave her when she was feeling emotional. We were able to get him to reverse his tactics during future conflicts, and both the intensity and the duration were significantly reduced. Often all she needed was for him to hug her and reassure her that everything would be OK.

If you are the fearful spouse, you must realize that it is still your responsibility to work on the problem. It is important that you develop self-soothing strategies, positive self-talk, an active prayer connection and to practice containing your emotions. Your spouse is not the source of your fear, just the trigger. Working together you will create a much more peaceful and satisfying relationship.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.