Archive for August, 2014

Depression-Anxiety Daily Symptom Chart

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm” seminar. This portion is one tool from “ACKNOWLEDGE the Specific History and Realness of My Suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

Identifying the types of anxiety-depression with which you struggle is an essential step towards gaining a clear understanding of the intensity and duration of your struggle. (Note: This is referencing the depression-anxiety evaluation in a previous post.) It is odd that we are not always accurate in our perception of the frequency and intensity of our struggle.

  • We may have intense periodic struggles that we continually brace against so we feel they are “always present.”
  • We may have several different anxiety-depression struggles that we lump together and give them a single name.
  • We may have adjusted to low-grade, background depression-anxiety struggle that we don’t “count” anymore.
  • We may intentionally try to ignore milder symptoms until they arrest our attention in peak moments.

If we are going to be effective in overcoming our experience of anxiety-depression, we will need to be accurate in our assessment of when it occurs and the fluctuation in its intensity. It is an unwise general who goes to war against an adversary he does not know well.

Inductive Bible Study: Go to an on-line Bible study tool (for instance biblestudytools.com) and search for passages that include words like “before” and “after.” Notice how much attention the Bible gives to describing when one event occurs in relation to another. Then search for words like “great” and “more” or “less.” Notice how much attention the Bible gives to the intensity of various experiences. Chances are you will not read every passage listed – they are too many – but you should get a sense of how much God cares about the kind of details you are discovering with this exercise.

The tool below is intended to help you track the frequency and intensity of various symptoms of depression-anxiety across a month. The top row demarks one column for each day of the month. Rows along the side give places to track each symptom. If your counselor or friend wants you to track a symptom that is not included a row is provided at the bottom for you to track this.

As you record this information here are several patterns to look for:

  • Look for symptoms that cluster together – occur or peak at the same time.
  • Look for symptoms that occur before or after a significant event (e.g., tragedy, visit from stressful relative, payday, etc…). When something upsetting or exciting occurs mark the day of the month with a symbol and write what occurred on the back of this page next to that symbol.
  • Look for symptoms that occur before or after other symptoms. For instance, what symptoms occur in the days before you experience a panic attack?
  • Look for similarities in the pattern of your emotions across weeks or months. This may indicate biological rhythms (e.g. menstrual cycle) or logistical rhythms (e.g., work week, shift work schedule, child custody schedule, etc…).

More will be assessed about the story behind (chapter four of this study) and the motive for (chapter three of personal responsibility counterpart to this suffering study) in latter portions of your study. At this point in the process you are merely trying to become more self-aware of the fluctuations in frequency and intensity or our various depression-anxiety experiences.

To download this resource: DEP_ANX Daily Symptom Chart_2.0

For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

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

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

Tweets of the Week 8.26.14

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.

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex (Part 9)

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

What’s a way to handle one of us saying no to sex? How do you deal with times when you want sex and the other doesn’t? What do you do if you are not having your physical needs met? When the other person is not in the mood and you are – how do you deal with that?

We can begin to answer these questions by saying, “Expect it to happen.” If you read this question with the sense that this is a marital emergency and this post better “fix your spouse,” then chances are you have a bigger problem with sexual idolatry than sexual infrequency. Not every sexual urge will be fulfilled in marriage; no more than every urge for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream is fulfilled.

If you are shocked or offended by this, then your expectations are unrealistic. But the question is important, because as the adage says, “Sex won’t make a marriage, but it can break one.” How a couple handles disappointment (sexual or otherwise) is one of the primary indicators of the health of their marriage.

In order to proceed well, we will have to address the subject of “need.” So much teaching on marriage focuses on “meeting each other’s needs.” Frequently, it drives couples to begin to emotionally live off of one another for their sense of security and identity in a way that makes God practically irrelevant to a good marriage. In effect, God is only there to meet your needs when you cannot convince your spouse to do so.

This need-language creates a trap. Both spouses can look at areas where their “needs” are not being met (that is what it means to be married to a sinner in a world of limited time and resources). The banter inevitably begins, “How can I meet your need for _____ when you don’t meet my need for _____.” This is a verbal formula that makes any disappointment (sexual or otherwise) relationally toxic. Suddenly the marriage becomes mired in score keeping and everyone has a reason to blame the other person.

At this point, the focal point of the marriage has become on “getting” not “giving.” The Gospel has left the home, and everything is about fairness, rights, and equality. When the Bible is mentioned, it is a tool of guilt, manipulation, or demand. No longer is it used as a book of grace and life. The whole Bible (and marriage) becomes about submission, your body belongs to me, if we’re not praying we should be having sex, and it is not good for man to be alone.

The whole time we are making it harder to come close to one another in a way that makes sex satisfying and something we would want to do frequently. The question that has been lost (and must be regained in content and tone) is: Does our marriage foster an environment where we joyfully sacrifice for the pleasure of our spouse in all things? If the answer is yes, we can navigate the differing timing of sexual urges with grace and unity.

To answer the practical side of the question, I’ll lay out a five step process by which you can evaluate how healthy conversations about declining a sexual invitation should go. As you read, this should serve as a “map” to help you see where your conversations may get “off track.” This progression assumes the decline is not based on verbal/physical abuse or medical reasons.

1. Recognize that sex is good but not ultimate. This is the danger of the word “need.” It makes whatever we designate as a need a matter of relational survival. The interaction about this need begins to overpower each moment when it is discussed.

2. Initiate in a way that gives honor (see blog posts for questions 4 and 5). Sex should not be presumed even within marriage. Initiating sex is an invitation not a demand, otherwise it becomes a functional ultimatum – have sex with me or be punished. Thoughts towards sex being mutually enjoyable (timing and tact) should be evident in every initiation of sex.

3. Decline only with reason and with grace. A married couple does belong to one another (I Cor. 7:3-4). The desire for marital sex is a good thing. Unless there is a reason not to engage your spouse’s desire, it is good to accept. If there is a reason, then the initiation should be received as a compliment of affection (per #2 above) and declined graciously.

4. Receive decline without pouting or punishing. A passive aggressive or angry response to a decline sets the wheels in motion for a sexual spiral. If you’re thinking, “Who cares, I’m never going to have sex anyway,” then you likely need to return to #1 above.

5. Reciprocate initiation within 24-48 hours. If the spouse declines, then he/she should seek to be the initiator of sex within a prompt time frame. This prevents a cycle of begging and rejection from emerging within the marriage and is a way to honor the desire that your spouse has for you.

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

9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Your Life for God’s Glory

If the law of God can be summarized in a positive command, then we consider how to “run to” God rather than merely how to “run from” sin. Life is not primarily about what we avoid, but what we pursue.

As you read through and answer these nine questions, remember God’s patience and timing. There will be some aspects of God’s design that you can engage in immediately. But there will also be ways you want to serve God that will require you to mature more or be equipped before you are prepared to fulfill them. The main thing is to begin to have a vision for life that involves being God’s servant and actively engaging that vision where you are currently equipped.

1. Am I willing to commit my life to whatever God asks of me? This is a “do not pass go” question. If your answer is “no,” it will bias the answers you give to each subsequent question. Do not get lost in guilt or pretend that your answer is “yes” (both responses would lead you back into sin). Rather, identify the obstacle. What is the cost you are unwilling to pay?

Are there specific things you believe God is asking of you? Be sure to record your thoughts on this question before reflecting on the subsequent questions.

2. What roles have I neglected that God has placed me in? The first part of being a good steward of one’s life is to fulfill one’s primary roles with excellence. When Paul says in Ephesians 5:17 that we are to “understand what the will of the Lord is,” he goes on to describe God’s design for major life roles (spouse, parent, child, and worker in 5:22-6:9).

3. What are my spiritual gifts? Stewarding your life for the glory of God involves utilizing the spiritual gifts God has given you. God gives spiritual gifts that coincide with the calling He places on each individual’s life. Read Romans 12:1-8 and I Corinthians 12:1-30. If you need further assistance discerning this, talk to a pastor about taking a spiritual gifts inventory.

4. For what group of people (age, struggle, career, nation, language, etc…) am I burdened? From God’s earliest covenant with people His intention was to bless us that we might be a blessing to others (Gen 12:2). By investing your life in those you have a burden for allows you to be other-minded and find joy in it.

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex (Part 6)

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

How do you overcome expectations you have from past sexual experiences?

This question is packed with scenarios, both positive and negative: the expectation that sex will be used for control, the expectation of a certain energy level or spark in sex, the expectation of “great sex” in a bad relationship or “mediocre sex” in a good relationship, the expectation of inevitable betrayal, or the “practical” expectation of how we will move from foreplay through intercourse to afterglow.

This is also a vitally important question. Foreign expectations (positive or negative) have a detrimental impact on a marriage. No longer is a couple crafting a life that is an expression of how God is making these two individual lives into one unique, mutually satisfying relationship. Rather, foreign expectations mixes oneness with fears, hurts, pleasures, and hopes from other relationships.

We should pause and reflect for a moment on a general dynamic of how sin works. Sin creates false standards and tries to convince us to live within or in light of them. Lying creates the standard (expectation) that the truth is expendable in the name of self-protection or convenience. This effect exists whether we are the one lying or the one being lied to. All future communication is filtered through this lens of convenience and/or suspicion.

Drug usage creates the standard (expectation) of an artificial high and the ability to escape stressful circumstances. “Normal” is now measured as boring or unacceptable. “Stress” is now deemed something that must be chemically escaped. Friends and family now live as if the drug user “cannot handle” things that life requires and begin to make unhealthy compensations.

The same happens with sexual sin (whether you committed the sin or the sin was committed against you). It creates a false standard by which we enter future experience. We begin to overcome by recognizing that this struggle is not exclusive to the domain of sexuality. We have faced a similar dynamic with any sin (and its influence) we have seen God purge from our lives.

After taking the encouragement from this reflection, we need to articulate the falseness of our expectations. The degree of impact our expectations have is determined by the degree to which we believe those expectations to be right and true. Part of “taking every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5b)” is to see the lie we are tempted to believe as false and detestable.

  • The past girlfriend/wife who was a passionate lover is not the standard of a good wife. That reduces what it means to be a good wife to being a sex object.
  • The past girlfriend/wife who punished you by withholding sex is not something to be conquered in this marriage. That imposes a history and motive on your bride that she has not earned.
  • The past girlfriend/wife who cheated on you is not something to be controlled in this marriage. That makes you a fearful slave to something that “could happen” and creates the kind of relational strain that only manifests the kind of awkwardness that confirms your fears.

Articulating the expectation allows you to approach God with it in a new way. We now come unconvinced by (or at least willing to question) our expectations. We now desire freedom from our sin-induced expectations more than fulfillment of them. We no longer view them as “good” or necessary to be “safe.” These expectations only masqueraded as light, but were darkness. We believed they offered life, but now see (or are beginning to see) they offered death. Sin had fooled us again into using these expectations as a God-substitute as the basis for our pleasure, identity, security, or protection.

In light of this journey, we can begin to see that God offers sex in marriage as a portrait of the Gospel and as the standard by which we think about marital sex. Sex is no longer good or safe primarily because it meets our criteria developed from our past experiences, but because it conforms to the design of our Creator who makes sex for our good, our pleasure, and as a portrait of something greater.

This reality of God’s design for sex can now capture our imagination (the source of our pleasurable expectations and fears) in a greater way than our past experiences ever did. This captivation and delight in the Gospel expressed through sex is something that, like all other emotionally-related experiences, have an ebb and flow. Therefore, we should expect this is a process we will go through many times as the expectation fades. But that is what we should “expect” this kind of change to look like based upon Paul’s instructions about these kinds of things in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.

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

A Sample Letter to Help Cultivate Community While Struggling with Depression-Anxiety

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm” seminar. This portion is one element of five from “Step One: PREPARE Yourself Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually to Face Your Suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

What is the most painful part of depression-anxiety? Each person will have to answer that question for themselves, but one of the leading answers would have to be “the alone-ness.” Unfortunately, it is hard for us to admit, “I am depressed” or “I am controlled by fear” to those who care about us.

For too many people, the dysfunctional and unspoken rules of depression-anxiety are:

  1. Don’t talk about it.
  2. Everything is fine.
  3. No one will understand.

It is sad that we use the same logic to isolate ourselves in the experience of depression-anxiety that is commonly used to silence an abused child or a spouse experiencing domestic violence. With our silence about our struggles we become the warden to our cell of isolation.

How do we break through the barrier of our own silence? We speak. What do we say? The following letter is a sample you could write in your own words to a friend. It is meant to be a prompt for conversation with those who already care for you. In it, we include the basic requests you might make of a friend at this stage in your journey.

Friend,

Thank you for the ways you’ve cared for me and valued our friendship. That means more to me than you know. It is because of that trust that I feel like I can tell you something that is hard for me to admit. I struggle with depression-anxiety. That may not seem like a big admission to you, but it is something I have resisted telling anyone for a long time.

The worst part about not telling anyone about my struggle is that I have felt very alone with it. For some reason, I have treated depression-anxiety as if it were a secret about which I should feel ashamed. Because of that I have wondered if people would still like me “if they knew.” The implied answer was always “no, they wouldn’t.”

The main thing I would ask of you is that you do very little different when we’re together. It is would be nice if you ask me how I’m doing periodically and show concern for my response (as I trust you would). But the biggest benefit will come from you knowing and still valuing our friendship.

If there are times when I share with you that I am especially down or fearful, it would be great if you would pray for me and find a way to spend some extra time together (i.e., getting lunch, sending a card, offering to do a project together, etc…). I don’t like to ask for those things when I’m down, but they would greatly help me get outside my own thoughts and emotions.

I’m going through a study right now to help me assess how I can best respond to the challenge of depression-anxiety. If you are interested you can look over the study, you can find it at bradhambrick.com/depression (note: this link will not be active until after the live presentation is recorded).

It would be nice if I could share with you what I’m learning about myself and my struggle. I like that this study has structure and provides a process for finding hope and relief for depression-anxiety. In the first step it asks me to be more honest with friends, so I can quit believing that these emotions make me a person less worth caring for.

If there are ways I can pray for you, I would be interested to know those as well. Part of the struggle with depression-anxiety is that I think a lot about myself and my experience. Being able to reciprocate by praying for you would be an effective way for me to weaken that emotional habit.

I’m sure I’ll learn a lot as I go through this study, but, for now, I have a lot more hope that I’ll see it through to the end because I’m not doing it alone. It is probably too much to ask that I will never be down or anxious again, but I like the idea of learning how to make those emotional dips more shallow and how to maintain my trust in God during those times.

Thank you caring enough to listen to my burden. Like I said, I don’t want much to change in our relationship. But it is a big relief to allow talking to you to break the silent sense of shame I was living in. That is a great gift you’ve given me already.

How well would those words capture how you would like a conversation like this to begin? What parts would you change?

You will need to make this your own by putting it in your words. As you think about having this conversation with a handful of friends, between two and five, is it intimidating or exhilarating? How different would your day-to-day emotional experience be if you had a few people you could talk to this way?

Who are the people to whom you would send this kind of letter or have this kind of conversation?

For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

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

My Reflections on the Events in Ferguson in Light of Miroslav Volf

A couple of weeks ago I began reading The End of Memory by Miroslav Volf to better understand how those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress can deal with the unwanted memories of the trauma they experienced. That is to say, I did not begin reading his book as part of a political or cultural reflection.

But, as I was reading this book, the events in Ferguson, Missouri have come to the forefront of the national conversation. As I’ve read, I believe what Volf has to say could benefit this national dialogue. More importantly, I believe it could benefit personal conversations between people of different cultures as they understand, process, and remember these tragic-traumatic events differently.

A few preface points about what this post is not:

  • I am not implying that Volf himself would agree with my application of his writing.
  • I am not trying to make a political point or implying that I know what “justice” should look like.
  • I make no claim to know how these events and their surrounding social dynamics should be resolved.

A few points about what I am attempting in this post:

  • These are my personal reflections as I try to understand a culturally complex situation.
  • My primary intention is to be someone from the majority-privileged culture who tries to love his neighbor by attempting to listen well.
  • I acknowledge I have many blind spots and ask my readers to be gracious if these blind spots are more evident to you than they are to me.

With that said, I will begin to reflect on Volf’s book. In The End of Memory, Volf’s objective is to help people “remember well” the traumas they have experienced. By “remembering well” Volf means to remember in such a way that it (a) is personally healthy for the victim, (b) contributes to societal flourishing, and (c) desires the redemption of the victimizer (if the tragedy was inflicted by another individual or group) without minimizing the offense or subverting justice.

In describing the impact of trauma Volf says such experiences impact us in at least two ways:

  1. Shatters our assumption that we live in a just world where wrongs will, or even can be, righted.
  2. The wound trauma creates allows us to feel justified in wanting others to hurt like we are hurting.

To illustrate these points Volf draws upon his own experience as a political prisoner in the former communist Yugoslavia during the mid 1980’s. His book is very vulnerable about his own struggle to practice what he advocates. Volf refers to his primary interrogator as “Captian G.” and illustrates these two points in his own battle with memories:

“Consider my possible reaction to my military interrogations. As a person wronged by Captian G., I might deem all military officers or all socialists evil. I might think of them as ‘beasts’ who understand no other language than that of brute force, and I might dream of avenging myself of the mistreatment to which I was subjected (p. 86).”

He then describes how the impacts above contribute to civil unrest when the two parties (individuals or groups) involved in the trauma live in close proximity for an extended period of time:

“The more the histories of individuals and peoples are intertwined and the longer they engage in conflict, the more the lines between victim and victimizer blur. Yesterday’s victims [are] today’s victimizers and today’s victimizers [become] tomorrow’s victims (p. 90).”

Finally Volf draws these points together:

“Belief in the possibility of justice is the condition of the struggle for justice, but the memory of wrong suffered is unable to generate that belief. Even worse, the memory of wrong suffered may strengthen the belief in the impossibility of justice. After all, suffering inflicted by others is an assault against the conviction that we live in a moral universe… It is possible to struggle for justice using unjust means, and it is possible to do so without contradiction if one believes that he lives in a world in which it is possible to know what is just but in which most people do not care about acting justly (p. 91-92).”

The dynamics that Volf describes seem, at least from what I can tell, to be active in the debates that exist around the events in Ferguson. Both sides seem to have lost trust in the other to reasonably pursue, or even desire, justice.

I can understand the challenges both sides face:

  • Nothing that is said or done will bring Michael Brown back to this family. The legal process will not absolve their grief.
  • Police officers regularly risk their life and are asked to make split second decisions of immense consequence. I could not imagine if my daily occupation involved this potential reality.
  • A larger percentage of minority individuals are apprehended by law enforcement and that would create mistrust in me if this were true of parts of my demographic profile.
  • Minority individuals disproportionally live in poverty and this leads to desperate circumstances where crime seems like a more viable option. Having worked for several years in a Boys & Girls Club, I have seen how education can seem like a very long road out of desperate circumstances and offers more hope for the young than the old.
  • Police departments must prioritize their efforts in high-crime areas as a matter of wisdom and stewardship.
  • Police frequently are accused of various biases and asked to see the exception whenever they make an arrest. No one wants to believe they should be arrested.
  • Punishments like incarceration are rarely corrective-restorative for the individual committing the crime and adds a social stigma that makes future employment more difficult. Having led a counseling ministry that counsels individuals in incarceration, I hurt for these “wasted years” that seem to have little redemptive impact.
  • Without strong consequences that inevitably produce stigma, there is no deterrent against the relatively easy, short-term win of crime in hard times. There can be a social good where there is little individual benefit.
  • This back-and-forth spiral could go back much further. In these reflections we have not extended present realities to consider the civil rights movement or slavery.

In many ways, that is the question. How far back do we go? When is tracing a problem back its origin beneficial and when do we need to focus on the immediate realities? How possible is it to identify the origin of a problem with such a long history?

With the follow up question, if we can agree on when to stop the spiral, what do we do now? What counts as justice for the offenses found? What do we do if we cannot agree on which offenses are primary and which are reactionary?

Like I said in my introduction, it is not my intent to try to answer these questions. But my observation is that much of the impasse of the conversation is found in the fact that we’re trying to answer the second set of questions (what do we do now) before answering the first set (how far back).

Actually, more than not answering the questions, we’ve lost all faith in the conversation.

I am not optimistic that we’ll find wide-spread agreement on the first question; which will make the second question perpetually difficult for us to answer at the national-political level. Whenever a complex issue gets compressed into talking points, they become volatile.

I do have hope that trust can begin to be restored at the person-to-person level of conversation, as people give greater weight to the experience that the other person is bringing to the conversation. Whenever people honor one another by providing the space of listening, even hostile conversations can be had productively.

This response must happen in living rooms, ball fields, coffee shops, churches, and work places before it happens on podiums, in legislation, and as crowds response to tragedies. The question for us, if my assessments are correct, would be, “Are we currently cultivating the kind of cross-cultural friendships that would allow for us to create pockets of peace that would help buffer, without silencing, the next culturally-conflicted tragedy that occurs?”

Locally, my prayer is that Summit Church would become a place of so many cross-cultural friendships that our city will never be the same; and that churches across our nation will be places of powerfully-simple, nation-changing, cross-cultural friendships. The more I reflect on this situation, the more I am convinced that only the gospel can reconcile people – marred by sin within us and scarred by sin around us – with long histories of mistrust and offense.

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex (Part 2)

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

How do I keep my thought-life pure leading up to the honeymoon? What about masturbation—is it sinful? How do you navigate from the sin of lusting for your fiancé to the lusting of your spouse (or is that a sin)? How does attraction change when you get married and begin having sex?

These questions are more than (but not less than) practical. They require more than a “how to” answer; they presuppose “what is it” questions. What is the difference between a single person’s lust, an engaged person’s anticipation, and a married person’s delight? What is purity at each stage: dating, engagement, and marriage? Until we define what each of these things are, we will not effectively answer any “how to” achieve or avoid questions.

It is easy to think of purity as the absence of lust or sexual desire. But it is wrong to think of purity as a mere void of activity, desire, or thought. When we think of purity this way it tends to lead towards passivity, legalism, prudishness, and an idea that Christian romance (at all stages) is boring or less than secular romance.

Purity is the full engagement and enjoyment of all that is wise and godly at a given moment. Purity is active, engaging, grace-filled, celebratory, and exciting. We should ask the question, “How has God allowed me to enjoy my fiancé or spouse at this time?” rather than “What won’t God allow me to do yet?” In the latter question, we presuppose that God is holding out on us before we even consider an answer or application.

When we fully engage (body, soul, mind, imagination, emotion, affection, will) and enjoy what God calls good, we are pure. We must remember that marital sex is good; not just the act itself, but all the planning, preparation, anticipation, imagination, and conversation that leads into it. This may even include the thoughts, desires, and conversations of one fiancé towards the other.

At this point, I think we have to introduce a new category of thought in order to proceed well. The conversation is now moving from “what is good” to “what is wise.” We are not talking about pre-marital sex, but about anticipation of marital sex. This anticipation is not wrong. However, the timing, duration, and type of thinking may prove unwise if it leads to sin (sexual activity – intercourse, fondling, or masturbation) or conflict (from sexual tension or trying to change the other’s standards).

I would go so far as to say that the anticipation of marital sex (both for pre-marital and married couples) which does not lead into sin meets every criteria of thought given in Philippians 4:8 – true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. This realization is part of the transition from viewing sex as shameful to viewing sex as good (see previous post in this series).

With this in mind, the principle to be applied is found in I Corinthians 10:23-24.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

If the exercise of my freedom leads me to sin, it does not take my freedom away; rather I should lay down my freedom to pursue the true life God has for me in the Gospel (Luke 9:23-24). For instance, if anticipating marital sex leads to the expression of sex contrary to God’s design – either outside of marriage pre-martially or self-sex through masturbation – what is lawful (joyful anticipation) is no longer helpful and does not build up.

Practically, this requires giving up something that is permissible to be abstained from until it can be practiced in a way that does not harm another or violate the conscience (that is the whole point of I Corinthians 10:23-33, but there it is applied to food sacrificed to idols). However, no longer is this abstinence rooted in guilt, fear, or shame. Rather, abstaining is now a matter of worshiping God (declaring Him more valuable than the desired object) and love for others.

This is the essence of how attraction changes as you get married. No longer is attraction a mere feasting on the body, voice, and character of another person for my own delight (which is all sexual desire can be outside of marriage) and the satisfaction of my own desires. Now affection is a way to “build up” your spouse through affection and appreciation and to celebrate the unique good pleasure that God has provided for the two of you to exclusively enjoy.

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

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex & Intimacy

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

QUESTION 1: How do you transition from “sex is wrong” to “sex is right”? How do we move from shame into freedom? How do you transfer from guilt associated with sex to pleasure with sex?

Click here to read my reply to Question 1.

QUESTION 2: How do I keep my thought-life pure leading up to the honeymoon? What about masturbation—is it sinful? How do you navigate from the sin of lusting for your fiancé to the lusting of your spouse (or is that a sin)? How does attraction change when you get married and begin having sex?

Click here to read my reply to Question 2.

QUESTION 3: If sex is painful for my wife, how do I help her through it? How can I practically serve, respect and honor my wife on the first night?

Click here to read my reply to Question 3.

QUESTION 4: What’s a good way to honor my wife in sex? What common things are dishonorable?

Click here to read my reply to Question 4.

QUESTION 5: Are men supposed to “lead” in sex as in other parts of the relationship?  Is there an appropriate balance for initiating intimacy?

Click here to read my reply to Question 5.

QUESTION 6: How do you overcome expectations you have from past sexual experiences?

Click here to read my reply to Question 6.

QUESTION 7: How long is reasonable for my fiancé to get over my sexual past?

Click here to read my reply to Question 7.

QUESTION 8: How do we control the carnal nature of ourselves and replace it with selfless love that the Bible teaches with regards to sex in marriage?

Click here to read my reply to Question 8.

QUESTION 9: What’s a way to handle one of us saying no to sex? How do you deal with times when you want sex and the other doesn’t? What do you do if you are not having your physical needs met? When the other person is not in the mood and you are – how do you deal with that?

Click here to read my reply to Question 9.

QUESTION 10: How do you ensure you and your spouse are having “enough” sex given a hectic and busy weekly schedule? How “intentional” do you find yourself having to be to have a “good” sex life? Are encounters scheduled a la date nights? What is the best way to maintain passion within sex as your marriage progresses?

Click here to read my reply to Question 10.

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

“I Wish I Could Go To Sleep Before Thanksgiving and Wake Up After New Years”

Many people share this testimony. If you do, know that you are not alone and that God longs to give you words and His companionship in the midst of this experience. What follows is a sample of God concerns for you might look and sound like and is rooted largely in Psalm 88.

This is a dark Psalm, but only one among many dark Psalms. Again, God knew we would need many expressions for the suffering we face in a fallen world. To help u see this, read Psalm 88 – the “black hole” of dark Psalms. Read it slowly and let it have its full impact. The only hope in this Psalm is that is it addressed to God. For a moment, let the cynicism of the questions grip you; let the fruitless search for answers swallow you.

Psalm 88

1O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.
2Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
3For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
5like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.  Selah
8You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?  Selah
11Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
18You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.

An alternate translation of that final phrase could be “darkness has become my only companion (see ESV footnote).” Where is the hope in this? What are we supposed to take from such a grim passage? Paul Tripp answers this way:

Psalm 88 gives us hope in our grief precisely because it has no hope in it! It means that God understands the darkness we face. He is right there in it with us, “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). The Lord of light is your friend in darkness. The Lord of life stands beside you in death. The Lord of hope is your companion in your despair. The Prince of Peace supports you when no peace can be found. The God of all comfort waits faithfully near you. The Source of all joy is close by when death has robbed you of joy.[1]

God invites us to come to Him in all of our brokenness even before we attempt to “put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” Our Messiah is one who, “was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). In these Psalms we get a picture of deep the incarnation went into our world of suffering and how uncomfortably close we must be willing to our friend’s suffering if we are going to counseling in a way that reflects the personal touch of the Gospel.

If this is your experience at this time of year, you might also find encouragement in my post “Gospel-Driven Counseling for Suffering (Psalm 102)” a free audio download of a sermon on God’s identification with and comfort for our suffering.


[1] Paul David Tripp, Grief: Finding Hope Again (Greensboro, N.C.: New Growth Press, 2004), 5.