Saturday, December 29, 2012

Keeping It Real

During a counseling session I am always disappointed when I hear the phrase: “He/she shouldn't … followed by whatever frustrated expectation that they hold. It could be:

“She shouldn't get so upset.”
“He shouldn't care about my weight.”
“She shouldn't expect me to turn off the TV and talk so often.”
“He shouldn't want to spend so much time with his friends.”

I could go on with a long list. I’m sure that you have your own if you are in a relationship. Even if you are not, you may have a generalized list for the opposite sex:

“Men shouldn't expect…….”
“Women don’t really believe that a guy should……, do they?”

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it will keep you either outside of a relationship, or in a very conflicted or dissatisfied one. I am not saying that the expectations that people hold onto are necessarily good or bad – just that they are real. And if we want to be in a relationship with them, we will have to make peace with what is, rather than what we think it should be.

Before we are married we have the luxury of choosing whether we want to abide by the other person’s desires. We can ask ourselves “Can I live with this if it never changes?” Once we are married it is much more difficult. We can ask for changes, but we cannot demand them. If he drinks too much before you get married, he will probably drink too much after. If she is too emotional before you get married, she will still be emotional after the honeymoon.

It is fraudulent to make temporary adjustments for the sake of getting married, and then abandon the changes once the ring is securely on your finger. I have seen guys pay focused attention to their girlfriends during dating, and then nearly ignore them once they are married. I have seen women lose weight in order to attract a man and then rapidly put it back once they are married. There are people who feign interest in sex, sports, movies, music, church, parenthood and all kinds of things until they have settled into married life. This is just plain dishonest. I strongly recommend that you count the cost up front and decide whether you are willing to pay the price or not. Your integrity is on the line.

It may sound like I am being negative here, but that is not the case. My desire is that you would give up illusions in favor of reality, so that you will not be blindsided and disappointed in your relationships. People can, and do change, but we cannot depend on it. However, there are changes that I can make within myself that make me a better and more desirable partner. Those are the things that I can focus on that will make a difference.

As always I like to point to the fruits of the spirit as a great list of attributes to strive for in our personal development. According to Galations 5:22-23
 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we end this year, remember to pick out your "word" for 2013. If you don't know what I'm talking about -- go back and read My Word.

Happy New Year -- stay safe, and may God Bless you.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Relationships, Marriage and the Seven Deadly Sins

I was listening to a talk on spiritual direction and the speaker referenced the seven deadly sins of traditional Christianity. In recent times there has been a distancing from the word sin, the concept of moral absolutes and an acceptance of moral relativity (to our detriment, I might add). As I was going over the list (lust, sloth, gluttony, greed, wrath, envy and pride) I realized how damaging they are not only to our relationship with God, but also to a marriage and other relationships.

Out of the list it is generally accepted that pride is the original and deadliest of the seven sins and the source of all the others.

Traditionally, each of the sins had an opposite which was labeled a “virtue”, and the goal of every true believer. The virtue associated with pride is humility. Often when we are at a stuck place in counseling it is because at least one person is unyielding because of pride.

It is so sad to watch a marriage unravel because of the unnecessary stubbornness of a spouse. There are times when a solution is evident and easy, but one or both are unwilling to take a step towards each other because of selfish pride.

What makes us hold out even though we know we are going to lose something precious? I think it is because we fear we are going to lose something which feels even bigger to us, which is a sense of self. The problem is, we are operating under a lie. The self is always enlarged by humility because it requires strength to lay down one’s life for another. It challenges us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is not an easy task for anyone.

Think of the other sins on the list. Each one of those is an unwelcome guest in a relationship, marriage, or family. Which of these are particularly problematic for you? I know that as I look at the list some jump out at me and I cringe.

Just for the record here are the sins and virtues in pairs: lust/chastity, gluttony/temperance, greed/charity, sloth/diligence, wrath/patience, envy/kindness, and pride/humility.

How can we overcome our sinful tendencies in a culture that often supports them? I think only by surrendering to our loving God who is not looking to punish us, but to draw us towards Himself into an eternal family.

Interestingly, many New Year’s resolutions have traditionally come from this list. I think they are still valid as personal goals for the coming years. What do you think?

Let's begin the new year with some joyful anticipation.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Help! Stress!

I came across a good article on stress the other day – it went into a lot of the biological and physiological changes that take place in us, as well as the emotional. For me, the most helpful part of the article was when it talked about the psychological damage that is caused by stress.

Studies have shown that stress is most damaging when it has one or more of these conditions:

Beyond your control

Repetitive – Prolonged exposure to irritations and annoyances takes its toll on our coping abilities. Doing the same boring task over and over again dulls our mind. It becomes more difficult to concentrate and perform well. We worry that we may make mistakes or reach our limit of patience. “I can’t drive this crowded freeway one more day during rush hour.” “I can’t cook one more meal for this ungrateful family.”

Routine in relationships has the advantage of creating stability, but if the routine is inflexible it may become negative and stressful.

Unpredictable – Even more harmful is when there is no possible way of knowing when something bad is about to happen. If you live with an angry or alcoholic person, there most likely is an atmosphere of “walking on eggshells”. You know that things may fall apart at any moment and you will live in a heightened state of alert. Especially if you are a parent you will feel the stress of wondering when to step in and protect the kids from a spouse or even another sibling.

If your job situation is unstable and could end, or your stability is tied to the financial markets there will be a lot of pressure on you. If you live paycheck to paycheck and drive old cars and own old appliances you may always be waiting for something to break and wreak havoc.

Beyond your control – This is most likely the worst of the lot. Having control makes us feel safe and we will often go to great lengths to try to keep from the anxiety produced by uncertainty. Unfortunately that includes trying to control other people or uncontrollable situations. When we try to control others, they will likely rebel after a certain point and we will feel even more at a loss.

As a business owner I can’t make people buy from me. As a husband I can’t force my wife to agree with me. When taxes are raised and food and gas prices continue to escalate, I can mostly sit by and watch it happen.

What are the solutions?

Minimize your exposure to the really annoying people or tasks and alter your routines to break up the tedium of life if repetitiveness is your stressor. Try making more positive responses to people and take the negative thoughts captive.

For the last two, I would encourage you to take control of what you can control. For things that are unpredictable, rather than focusing on worst case scenarios and feeling stuck, work on having several contingency plans to address possible events. When situations are beyond your control, set boundaries and limits and ask for what you need in order to maintain as much positive control as you can. Focus on gratitude even when you don’t feel like it.

Then let the rest go. Be comforted that God is in control – always. He is never blindsided. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Leadership in the Home

If you hang around a church or business for any length of time you are going to hear about leadership issues. Usually this topic concerns the kind of organizational leadership that occurs with the top layer of any entity that has to interact with people.

The home is also a people unit that must have structure and leadership as well.

It doesn't matter if you are a man, woman, single parent, or the principle person in a household; leadership skills are required to maintain an effective and peaceful environment. The Bible has things to say about what constitutes a good leader. They are not just spiritual in nature, but also very practical – when applied, they work.

  • Sober-minded – this means exercising self-control over the decisions that must be made in order maintain a functional household. It means managing money well, managing time well, and managing people with wisdom.

  • Physically sober – this means having self-control over alcohol, food, and other substances.

  • Calm – You might not always be able to remain completely calm in the face of stressful situations, but you can always be the least anxious person in the room. When you are able to do this, people will look up to you for guidance and will likely trust your decisions. Anger will cause family members to distance from you and see you as emotionally unreliable.

  • Responsible – 1 Tim 5:8 - But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. It is clear that leaders are to do whatever is necessary to take care of their families. It can be particularly hard when the only jobs available feel beneath our abilities. Being responsible also means doing the other hard stuff as well; keeping our promises, whether that means being on time, showing up for events, or even holding boundaries and following through with discipline.

  • Sacrificial – a good leader knows that they are to be a servant. Whatever they would impose on their family they must be willing to do themselves, and do it first. A good leader is last in line, making sure all the others have been cared for first. If you can do this you will have loyal followers.  

  • Generous – in more than just physical goods. They are also looking for opportunities to show love and speak words of praise and affirmation. They search for the positive in people and limit the criticisms.  

I’m sure you can come up with many more attributes of a good leader. How would you like to be regarded in your family? Do you want to be feared or distrusted? Or do you want to be respected, loved and obeyed? It is your choice.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


There are times as a counselor when I feel a deep sadness along with a large dollop of frustration. I expect to feel sad as I hear of people’s pain. It is just plain hard to listen to the results of sin, regret, and/or natural or unfortunate circumstances in the lives of people.

But my frustration comes when progress is blocked by a client tenaciously holding on to something of a destructive nature that yields no possible benefit.

Bitterness is one of these with disastrous relational results.

Bitterness separates parents from children, husbands from wives, and congregants from churches. It can rip close friends apart from one another leaving both lonely and dissatisfied. Why would we hold on to such a destructive force as cold resentment when we are quite aware of how it hurts us and others?    

The answer is not very pretty: It is power that can be used to control or punish others and justify our bad behavior. I give myself permission to withhold love and approval. I build a fortress of protection from relational risk. But I am also out of the will of God.

There are times when it is appropriate to set boundaries with people in order to stop or prevent damage. But these boundaries must be set with love with a goal towards restoration, if possible. How can we move towards reconciliation if our heart is cold and hard?

In bitterness spouses will withhold conversation, friendliness or sex, or communicate only in anger, sarcasm or irritability, needlessly maintaining walls of separation. The results are a loveless or shallow marriage. Children will become rebellious and disrespectful and parents will deny the nurturance that all sons and daughter need to become healthy adults.

The Bible says that forgiveness (as opposed to reconciliation) is not an option. And the truth is that often we are the only one that suffers as our heart shuts down. The ability to forgive is both an act of the will and an act of obedience. It is also a supernatural occurrence because the truth is that I rarely feel the strength or the inclination. Can I really utter the words “not my will but thy will be done” in my humanness?

It is with love that I write these words because my joy is in seeing reconciliation and restoration in the lives of people I care about. It is always difficult to be the one who takes a risk and makes a first move. Often that first move is internal, allowing God to work on our hearts. It is a surrender to love that far surpasses our ability to comprehend it. Only God can effectively remove our bitterroot judgments. And only with our cooperation will He do that.

Eph 4:31-32 (NLT) Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.