Archive for August, 2013

The Big Question of Grief: Who Am I Now?

Where should we put grief? To what category of struggles does it belong? To what emotional or relational struggles is grief most akin?

For a long time I put it in the basket of emotional struggles. I grouped it together with things like depression, anxiety, anger, and apathy. Then, as I was reading Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide by Gary Collins, I noticed that he classified grief as an identity struggle. While I disagree with Dr. Collins in several ways about counseling, this reclassification of grief has been immensely helpful. Trying to process grief was not primarily about wading through emotional states like denial, anger, bargaining, and depression (although each of the emotions are often present in grief), but answering the question, “Who am I now?”

Consider a Loss

Consider the person who lost their spouse of 40 years, their job of 30 years, the freedom to move about freely due to injury, or their innocence to abuse.

  • How does this now person introduce themselves to a new acquaintance?
  • What do they now see when they look in the mirror?
  • How do they now anticipate the next chapters of their life story?

Each of these are identity-laden questions. They reveal ways in which one’s sense of self can be altered by a significant loss.

Identity, Not Necessarily Idolatry

As biblical counselors, we might read those questions and immediately have our “idolatry alarms” go off. But I would caution us against assuming that an identity struggle automatically means we love someone or something more than God.

We can experience uncertainty without a false view of God being at fault. Faith does not make us into emotional-Teflon; that would be stoicism, not Christianity. Read the Psalms; they’re an emotional mess at times.

Think about how relationships, health, and the freedom of choice (which abuse takes away) impact your sense of identity and normalcy.

  • How many of your decisions are made mindlessly on the basis of your marriage, children, and occupation?
  • How many decisions do you never consider because of your health and expectation that you have control over your immediate environment?

You don’t have to worship those things (relationships, health, or safety) in order to admit that your life would be remarkably different if any of those things were removed. Conversations, daydreaming, mundane events, and various forms of planning which were previously mindless would suddenly become points of pain, challenge, or intense emotion.

Chances are you wouldn’t just be sad or angry, but also disoriented.

Two Types of Disorientation

You can become disoriented in two ways. First, you can become disoriented by not knowing where you want to go. If the aim of your life is no longer Christ, that would be idolatry. But that is not necessarily what is happening during grief because that’s not the only form disorientation can take.

Second, you can become disoriented by losing a sense of where you are. You know where you want to go, but you cannot find your bearings to figure out which way that is from “here.” To illustrate this with personal examples…

  • … a large piece of what it means for me to love God is to love my wife as Christ loved the church. If she died, I would be lost for a while.
  • … a large part of my day is spent serving as a pastor. If I was relieved of those duties, “my week” would become a phrase with much less meaning.
  • … I have a sound body and safe environment in which to live. If my body became impaired or my surroundings unsafe, it would take me a while to adjust to this new way of life.

In each case, I pray I would still value Christ most, but I’m pretty sure I would be confused about what life ought to look  like now for an extended period of time.

As I wrestled with the wrongness of death (1 Corinthians 15:26), the emptiness of the loss of a good calling (1 Timothy 3:1), or the decay of my body (Psalm 102:1-9), I would experience many emotions. Doubtless the emotions would come in mingled waves of varying intensities. I pray I would take each of these emotions to God in prayer, but I think I would pray with the raw honesty we find in the Psalms.

Identity, Emotions, and Hope

Yet, these emotions would each, in their own way, be begging for an answer to the same question, “Who am I now?” It would be an appropriate time to ask that question. It would mark a major transition in how my call to love God and love others was lived out.

There is no time when we sincerely ask the question “Who am I now?” without intense emotions. You can’t ask a question of that magnitude without setting off major emotions (neurological and hormonal fireworks throughout your brain and body) that will not settle quickly or neatly.

I would contend that it is okay, even good, to experience that level of instability during a season of major transition. Unpleasant emotion and uncertainty are not necessarily indicators of hope’s absence. Hope is a product of where we turn, not merely what we feel. As Psalm 56:3 commends to us, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

The hope in grief is not merely the calming of four or more unpleasant emotions (denial, anger questioning, depression) with theological truths. It is confidence (relational trust) that God has an answer for the question, “Who am I now?,” that His answer is good, and that He can be trusted until that answer is known.

Tools for the Journey

So what would I recommend for someone in the early stages of grief?

  • Be honest with yourself, God, and trusted Christian friends about your experience. Find friends who are willing to be patient with you in this uncomfortable journey and don’t try to make your experience “neater” than it is.
  • Realize, that in light of Matthew 5:4, you will have to trust God with your tears and confusion before you will be able to experience His comfort.

Join the Conversation

How would it impact you in the midst of grief to look at grief as an identity question? How would it impact your counseling?

This blog was originally posted on the Grace and Truth blog of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Grief” post which address other facets of this subject.

When Sexual Sin Gets Mentioned in Your Small Group

How would you respond if someone in your small group confessed to a struggle with pornography? What would you do if someone said they suspected their spouse was having an emotional of physical affair? Even if it proves wise to recommend an experienced counselor, how do you walk alongside your friend and, if married, their spouse?

How honest do they need to be about their struggle? How much should they tell their spouse? How much do they need to understand “why” they sinned and how much should they focus on just “stopping it”? Are all struggles with sexual sin the same in their motivation, severity of impact, or severity control over an individual’s life? How would you know and how much should seek to discern as a small group leader or friend?

How do we most effectively minister the gospel to someone struggling with sexual sin? Do we merely say, “You are entertaining yourself with what Jesus died to free you from repent, forsake your sin, and follow Him to the life your seeking in the empty promises of sin”? If more, then what, how, when, and how long?

As a church, we cannot pretend this issue does not exist, choose to remain ignorant on these subjects, or hide behind the excuse that these are private matters.

Lust is not a gender specific issue. Lust is not something “some people” struggle with. Lust is not a “phase we go through.” Lust is not a problem that getting married will solve. Lust may never go beyond your imagination, but still create a persistent dissatisfaction with your current relationships or marriage.

Or, lust may be life dominating. Lust may cause you to put your health, your spouse’s health, your job, or your reputation in jeopardy. Lust may lead you to lie and create a double life in ways that you would have never thought you would.

Regardless of your type or depth of struggle with lust or whether your are single or married the “False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Lust to Adultery” (video recording of a previous presentation is available at this link) seminar is designed to help you walk away from these fantasy-based relationships (yes, even adultery is a fiction and porn is a relationship) and move towards the pure, true love for others than God ordained.

Purity Covenant Discussion

One thing we ask of engaged couples in the Preparing for Marriage ministry at The Summit Church is to sign a Purity Covenant (Purity Covenant). This covenant is presented and discussed as part of the mentoring relationship we arrange for engaged couples.

Knowing this can be an awkward conversation (what conversation about sex isn’t?), we created this brief video to offer a model of the content and tone which leads into this conversation.

Additional information about the sociological and Scriptural reasons for abstaining from sex until marriage can be found in this discussion of cohabitation.

Our goal with each of these resources is to invite young couples into an important conversation; not to “win an argument.” We are for your marriage and believe that following God’s design is essential to enjoying the kind of life you’re envisioning when you say, “I do.”

Tweets of the Week 8.27.13

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it’s little league baseball coaching season…

True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin (Steps 1-3)

Below are the videos from the presentation of “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin. For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

The complementing study “False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery” is also available in a video format.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

STEP 1.
PREPARE yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to face your suffering.

True Betrayal: Step 1 from Equip on Vimeo.

Blog: “How to Talk to Children When Sexual Sin Affects the Family

Blog: “How to End an Extra-Marital Relationship

STEP 2.
ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.

True Betrayal: Step 2 from Equip on Vimeo.

For the “Evaluation – Condition of Marriage Before Sexual Sin” assessment click here.

STEP 3.
UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.

True Betrayal: Step 3 from Equip on Vimeo.

The Role of Language in the Stigma of Mental Illness

There is a stigma that attaches to all things counseling. I experience it as a counselor. The second question people ask when you meet someone new, after “What is your name?” is “What do you do?” Having to answer, “I’m a Pastor of Counseling,” is the double social kiss of death.

The conversation either immediately accelerates into a personal subject that carries more weight than this fledgling social relationship should bear, or there is the awkward silence as that person wonders, “Does he have telepathic powers that can read my thoughts and knows my secrets? I’d better be careful what I say… What’s that?… Am I married?… Yes, my marriage is great.”

Whatever awkwardness exists for a counselor can be greater for a counselee. I don’t think this is what “should be” but I’m merely describing what I frequently hear reported to me.

The Role of Language

One of the culprits is language. Counseling is about as awkward to talk about as sex is, and it produces a similar amount of inappropriate slang. How many slang words do you know for counselor, psychological diagnoses, the therapeutic process, psychotropic medications, or a person who struggles emotionally? The common vernacular about such matters can often be on par with a middle school locker room.

Then you take the common-versus-clinical struggle of counseling language and matters get more complicated. Consider the breadth of meaning that can be contained within the simple sentence, “I’m depressed.” That’s what we say after a bad math test, the end of romantic relationship, the death of a parent, after prolonged isolation, and when we’re hung over from alcohol (a depressant).

Then there is clinical depression which has some relation to these experiences, but may or may not be present in the down mood associated with the list of experiences above.

The problem is a vicious Catch-22. If counseling is going to be effective, then it must use language that people can understand and readily use. However, if clinical depression (or some other clinical phrase) is going to mean something more than “I’m down,” then counseling needs a language it can define and protect from being confused by common usage. We can’t have both.

C.S. Lewis describes a similar struggle in the development of the word “gentleman.” In his example we see how the “communizing” of language often robs words of their useful meaning.

“The word gentlemen originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone ‘a gentleman’ you were not paying them a compliment, but merely stating a fact (p. xiii)… A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result gentleman is now a useless word… Now if once we allow people to start spiritualizing and refining, as they might say ‘deepening’, the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word” (Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, p. xiv).

However, in the case of depression and many other common counseling words, we are left wondering who “owned” the word first and who should “own” it now? It has to be “shared,” but when have people ever been good at sharing?

From Language to Stigma

The problem with shared language is that it both (a) gives people the impression they understand something they may not and (b) convinces people they are saying something helpful when they may or may not be.

Consider this simple dialogue between two friends.

Person A: “I think I’m depressed. Have you ever been depressed?”

Person B: “Yes, I’ve been depressed several times.”

Person A: “What did you do to move past it?”

What are the odds that these two people are discussing the same experience? How likely is it that what was helpful for Person B will be equally helpful for Person A? How likely is it that these two people are considering the difference between the common experiences of being depression? How many situational and personal variables will be weighed in this conversation as advice is given?

What happens when the most common answers to these questions reveal an uninformed conversation?

People get hurt. People give / receive bad or ineffective advice. People become insecure about the discussion of depression (on both sides of the conversation). A stigma emerges as this subject becomes a source of more pain rather than relief. A stigma often produces humor to cover the awkwardness and clichés to move past the complexity. Silence seems like the best alternative and it builds an insulation around the pain; ironically, this keeps it fresh.

Ultimately, the helper, helpee, and helping process begin to take on a distorted significance – either marginalized or glorified, depending on the level of hope or cynicism of a given individual.

From Stigma to Hope

It is highly unlikely that we are going to train an entire culture, or even an entire church, to know the difference between the counseling-versus-clinical usages of terms like depression. Even less likely that common conversation will be marked by intentionality and precision each time a word like depression is used.

Should pastors seek to nuance the common-versus-clinical distinction every time they speak of anxiety, depression, someone being compulsive, or hyperactive? No. That would probably add to the stigma as people feel compelled to be that precise in their day-to-day conversations.

Should churches leave this issue to the professionals and avoid such subjects? No. Again, that only adds to the stigma as people would feel like these struggles made them “different” in a way that was socially “off limits” if they admitted it. Therefore, people would have to be “that bad” before they would talk to anyone (friend or professional).

Here a few suggestions that I believe can help remove the stigma.

  1. Don’t make counseling jokes in preaching and teaching. I love a good counselor joke and I hear a lot of them, but at this stage in the Christian discourse on mental illness I believe humor reinforces stigma more than it edifies or alleviates tension.
  2. Offer discipleship classes on basic emotions like depression, anxiety, anger, and grief which include clinically accurate descriptions of these struggles and their more severe expressions bipolar, OCD, control, and PTSD. More of these resources need to be created. We won’t agree with them all and we’ll have to be okay with that.
  3. Downplay the disease model debate. For most people it is not essential that they have a position on this issue before they seek help. Scripture presents sin as a condition and as a choice. Scripture presents suffering as the environment in which we live (bodies and social networks affected by sin) and gives us hope / voice in the midst of suffering.
  4. Don’t assume that taking psychotropic medication means someone is buying into the disease model. Medication can both provide relief from symptoms and treat underlying causes; it’s not either/or. Medication does not prevent spiritual maturity.
  5. Post good Christian testimonies and resources of counseling-related struggles in our social media channels. This is where many people begin their exploration of how to understand their struggles and how conversation will be received.
  6. Encourage testimonies about counseling-related struggles in small groups and larger gatherings, but the more public the forum, the more informed the testimony needs to be about the common-versus-clinical language in their story.
  7.  In public testimonies we need to be more nuanced about anecdotal (what worked for me) versus prescriptive (general recommendations) regarding emotional struggles. Testimonies are usually better for giving hope and an example of this being a safe conversation than drawing a correlation, “My experience of depression is like your experience of depression, so what worked for me will work for you.”
  8. Be authentic about our own seasons of emotional difficulty in our preaching and teaching.
  9. Quit using air quotes when we refer to diagnoses. This is demeaning and shuts down conversation.
  10. Most importantly, every pastor should build a friendship with several people who clearly struggle with clinical depression, childhood sexual abuse, chronic pain, unwanted same-sex attraction, and similar struggles (we already know them, if we have courage and authenticity to ask). There is nothing like friendship to help us find language that is accurate, honoring, and inviting.

Join the Conversation

What suggestions would you add to the ten provided above? Which might you re-word and why?

This blog was originally posted on the Grace and Truth blog of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Mental Illness and Medication” post which address other facets of this subject.

Little League Baseball Defensive Responsibilities Chart

Marshall-Game-FaceThose who know me, know my passion for coaching little league baseball. It is one of my “therapeutic outlets” as I get to spend quality time with my boys, get to know families from our community, and put the “fun” in fundamentals for a couple dozen kids each Fall / Spring.

A little eye black, a post-game “offense makes your mama holler, defense wins the game” chant, and putting minor league logos on the lineup card makes little league feel like the big leagues at these ages.

As we venture into kid pitch a whole new world of drills, strategy, concepts, and skills are part of the game. In preparing our kids for this new level of competition I developed our “defensive responsibilities” chart. I’m not sure what it has to do with counseling or discipleship, but its a lot of fun and something I thought I would pass along in case I have any fellow coaches in my readership.

For anyone who cares to review our A’s_Defensive Responsibilities here you go.

 

Tweets of the Week 8.20.13

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a longway of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it’s funny…

VLOG – When Does Grieving an Offense Become Bitterness?

Question: My spouse hurt me very badly by having an affair. As a result of that we lost many things – a large amount of money, trust, and peace of mind to name a few. Admittedly, I am really struggling. Several friends tell me I’m bitter, but I think I’m in the midst of grieving these losses. I don’t deny I’m angry, but isn’t anger part of the grieving process? How would I know if my grief was degenerating into bitterness? Is there a time limit (expiration date, statute of limitations) or some kind of emotional temperature gauge?

Resources: Here are several resources that can be useful in preparing for of following up with the conversation discussed in this VLOG post.

  • True Betrayal: The material for this post was adapted from material in Step 5 of this seminar.
  • Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope: If you want to learn more about how to grieve with hope, this seminar can guide you through this process.
  • Sin and Suffering Videos: Videos three and four in our Freedom Group leader training curriculum give a more detailed look at how the gospel speaks differently to our struggles when they are rooted in sin versus suffering.
  • What Is Emotional Maturity?: This blog provides guidance on and an example of how to differentiate between emotions that are similar in their emotional and physical expression.

Additional notes used for creating this video are included below:

What do bitterness and mourning share in common?

  • Both are triggered by an event that is personal and negative.
  • Both exist on the unpleasant end of the emotional spectrum.
  • Both feel very justified and make sense in light of the event.
  • Both feel very natural and like we are not “doing” them but that they are “happening” to us.
  • Both involve a high degree of mental repetition.
  • Both are seeking to make sense of life in light of the negative event.
  • Both begin to shape the way you interpret the events and people around you.

In his booklet Help! My Spouse Has Been Unfaithful Mike Summers describes six things that bitterness does (bold text and bitterness statements only; p. 23-25).

1. Bitterness Disrupts Peace vs. Mourning Makes Peace Possible Again – There is no peace where evil is called good or is overlooked. That is denial and is a pseudo-peace that gives no more “peace juice” than a plastic orange gives orange juice. However, simply looking at a wrong does not bring peace. Thinking about a wrong over and over again is the essence of bitterness. One of the litmus tests for the degree of bitterness is the level of detail in our memory about the offense. This detail is maintained through repetition.

It is mourning that drains a wrong of its emotional power over you. Mourning is only something we do when we feel safe. Soldiers don’t mourn a fallen friend in the midst of a battle; they survive. Once they return home, they mourn. By coming to a place where you can mourn what has happened (hopefully your spouse’s work in the False Love materials has helped with this) you are declaring yourself safe.

2. Bitterness Destroys Joy vs. Mourning Is Foundational for Joy – Bitterness keeps pain in the present. Bitterness knows no boundaries of time. Bitterness does not have memories; it has experiences. If a memory hurts, the offense is responded to as if it is happening all over again. When this is the case joy is an emotional mirage that is attempted to be used as a sedative that disappears whenever a painful thought enters the mind.

Mourning allows pain to be in the past. It may still hurt, but you can see that the past hurt and present pain exist in different time zones. The present loss that you are mourning can be restored even if the past hurt cannot be unwritten. As you mourn, you realize that those things in your present are capable of being good or becoming better. You can acknowledge this without ever going through the self-deception of declaring your spouse’s past sin to be good. This provides a foundation for joy as your present improves without having to play mental games with yourself about the past.

3. Bitterness Depletes Strength vs. Mourning Replenishes Strength – Bitterness is a form of anger and anger requires a great deal of energy. Anger feels strong, but that is because it is pulling from an excessive amount of your bodily reserves to artificially amp up your emotional and physical stamina. The result is an inevitably crash. Bitterness is the equivalent of an emotional parasite that feeds off the life of its host. The longer it resides in your life, the weaker you become.

Mourning is a form of rest. When we mourn we quit fighting to control a pain that we did not cause which is in a time zone we cannot touch (the past). We surrender; not to the evil in our past but to living in the present. This surrender does require including our spouse’s sin in our life story redemptively (that is next chapter), but the ceasing from an unconquerable battle provides the rest that replenishes strength.

4. Bitterness Distorts Focus vs. Mourning Restores Focus – Bitterness cannot think of anything for long without returning to the offense that ignited it. Every subject feels like derivative of our pain. Emotionally our pain feels relevant to everything and when our pain is relevant it trumps anything else.

Mourning is the process that allows current events to stand on their own. Having grieved the losses related to your spouse’s sin, his/her sin does not have to be “relevant” at irrelevant times. Immediately after losing a close loved one everything reminds you of them. It is hard to think of anything else. After grieving you still remember them, but you are able to engage fully in life (even activities of which they were a part) without losing focus.

5. Bitterness Defiles Relationships vs. Mourning Honors Relationships – Bitterness defines a relationship by the painful event. Often bitterness defines an entire gender by the painful event. When we are bitter, cynicism becomes mistaken for wisdom. The guiding questions of life become, “When are you going to hurt me again? How are you going to hurt me this time? How can I stop it?” Even if the marriage is maintained, the environment created by bitterness makes it inhospitable for the marriage to be restored.

Mourning recognizes the painful event as real but sees the marriage as larger. Mourning can see the spouse’s sin as “part” of the marriage; not the whole marriage. The marriage is honored as it is recognized as good, while the sin is grieved as being bad. It is mourning that allows us to make this distinction. Honor is given to someone or something when we recognize they are not defined by their weakest moment.

6. Bitterness Displeases God vs. Mourning Pleases God – Bitterness is a sin (not “the sin”). Like every other sin, it displeases God and creates separation in our relationship with Him. At a time when we are already feeling separated from our closest relationship, this can be particularly hard to accept.

However, God is pleased with our mourning and draws close to us in our sorrow. When we resist the approach captured in the old adage, “It is easier to be angry than hurt,” God approves of the courage represented in our grief. God does not delight in your pain, but He is pleased when you display His character with His strength in the midst of your pain. While mourning may not feel like faith, in the midst of suffering it can be the essence of faith.

To review the other questions addressed in this VLOG series click here.

Note: The VLOG (video-blog) Q&A is a regular series on my blog. If you would like to submit a question, it can be e-mailed to Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail). Please limit your questions to 3-7 sentences. This is not a forum for to request or receive counseling. No responses will be sent to questions other than those selected for a video response.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Emotions” post which address other facets of this subject.

Book Review: Unfaithful: Hope and Healing After Infidelity by Gary and Mona Shriver

When I counsel couples who are experiencing the affects of infidelity one of the most common things I hear them ask for is an example of a couple who has been where they are and restored their marriage. Usually the only time we hear of infidelity is when a couple gets divorced. Hence when a couple is facing this challenge, the only examples they know of are failed marriages. This compounds pain and betrayal with hopelessness.

Gary and Mona Shriver show great courage by allowing their testimony to speak into that void. Telling the story of Gary’s unfaithfulness and their marital recovery, they write a book about what restoration looks like. However, the book is more than their story. It is a book  about the process of recovery which is effectively illustrated with Gary and Mona’s experience of that process.

Strengths of the Book

There is great deal to like about Unfaithful, so for space considerations I will highlight those in a bulleted format which mixes my thoughts with excerpts from the book.

  • Honest and Real: The greatest strength of this book is how it allows a couple to see and hear their experience from an outside perspective. It gives them something they can say, “Yes! That sounds like us. That’s what we’re going through,” when it is hard for them to believe anyone could comprehend the magnitude of their experience. The vividness and honesty with which the Shrivers tell their story (without unnecessary details) is what I have seen God use repeatedly to give couples a first taste of hope after adultery comes to light.

“I heard Gary come in, and I heard the boys greet their father. Normal sounds. But this wasn’t a normal household. Nothing was normal anymore. I wasn’t normal. All I could do was cry and ask questions. I was obsessed. Everyone would be fine if I could just move on. They could all just live their normal little lives with all the other normal people (p. 41)… Nothing surprised me anymore. Except me—I surprised me all the time (p. 177).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

  •  Sequential: While acknowledging that recovering from an adultery is not neat and does not follow systematic “steps,” the Shrivers do organize the book around principles or themes that have a general order. They buffer from making this a “uniform process” by telling snippets of their story at the beginning of each chapter, and the vignettes vary in the time period of their recovery addressed. Within this principled lay out, I appreciated that they put forgiveness after disclosure, learning about the marriage, and mourning. Too often I find couples focus on forgiveness to early in the restoration process and it harms their ability to maintain hope that they “have what it takes.”

“Gary was not the man I had thought he was, but I was no longer sure who I was either. For that matter, who were we as a couple? Were we a couple (p. 24)?… That night my life took on a new timetable: before the affair, during the affair, and after the affair. Everything during was now marred and distorted: our family trip to Disneyland, Gary and I going to Hawaii. I recalled snippets of conversation with both Gary and my friend and suddenly heard and saw completely different things (p. 26)… You each will process at your own pace. Remember, the infidel began this process before the affair even began. The spouse typically begins at revelation (p. 54).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

  •  Sensitively Biblical: While Gary and Mona make it clear that overcoming the affects of adultery is a God-sized task and they frequently teach from Scripture, they do not lead with the Bible. They walk towards their reader in compassion, identifying with their pain and confusion, and then walk the reader towards the hope of Scripture. In that sense, Unfaithful reads a bit theologically light, but I found their approach to be very effective and theologically powerful for their audience.

“We found that not recognizing the loss, not mourning, only made it worse (p. 131)… It took us a while to identify the things we had lost, and even when we did, accepting that they were really gone was more difficult that we expected it would be. However, once we were able to name them, it seemed we had taken another step on the path of healing. We didn’t feel so stuck (p. 132)… We had to mourn the time of Gary’s unfaithfulness, but that did not mean his faithfulness to Mona or to God could not be resumed (p. 135).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

  •  Lay Written But Well Informed: Gary and Mona are not trained counselors; nor do they have any formal theological education. They are “regular lay people” who experienced a tragedy, saw a void in the church’s care, and studied hard in their area of need to be equipped to serve the church by serving others in the area of adultery recovery. I found them to be well read and well thought out in their subject matter. Their lack of training gave them an extra dose of humility that made them more readable than some “experts.”

“How many people knew about the affair? I didn’t know and would never know… I felt as if I were wearing a sign that read, “NOT GOOD ENOUGH!’ (p. 61)…. God, I need a miracle here. You’re the great Healer. Heal us! Let me wake up from this nightmare. We’re sitting here breathing, and yet as surely as there is air moving in and out of my lungs, I know we’re dying. But I want to know why I have to die when the sin is not mine! I didn’t do this (p. 75)… In my weary brain there were only three alternatives: lying to myself, being lied to, or pain. If there was no pain, then someone must be lying (p. 98).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

  • Experienced as Helpee and Helper: After their marriage was restored, Gary and Mona started Hope & Healing Ministries and have walked with many couples through the aftermath of adultery in a support group setting. As you read their book, you hear the voices of other couples and other experiences. This adds to the richness of a book that otherwise could become too anecdotal and based upon what worked for one couple, with one set of personalities, in one set of circumstances. With this experience the book reads like a musical with two soloists singing a song of redemption backed by a large choir of voices agreeing and filling out the redemptive song.

“She suddenly realized she had lost not only her marriage and her husband but also part of herself. There was absolutely nothing left to hang on to. She found herself completely insufficient for the first time in her life, and terror gripped her… She came to understand that she had put Gary above God. It was not that she thought Gary was God—especially now—but she looked to Gary to be her source of strength, comfort, and love (p. 66)… Our faith grew because we found we were not enough and God was (p. 67).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

Gary and Mona Shriver’s book will be a featured resource in our upcoming  “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin” (video recording of previous presentation at this link) seminar. Of all the books I read on the subject it did the best job of capturing the gospel-centered, Bible-based redemptive tone that we want to promote in all our ministries.