Archive for October, 2016

Video: Overcoming Addiction (Step Two)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Addiction.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit

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 (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“I’m Afraid I Can’t Handle the Truth”
ACKNOWLEDGE the breadth and impact of my sin.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 2 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: Proverbs 23:29-35 (ESV), “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.’” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Woe … strife… wounds” – Personal sorrow, relational conflict, and physical pain are the results of addiction.
  • “Do not look” – Seeing the pleasure of addiction distracts you from the pain it causes. Your focus is your future.
  • “Smooth… bites” – This is the contrast between the lies (temporal truths) of addiction and its lasting effect.
  • “I was not hurt” – Whether it’s your own pain or the pain you cause others, minimizing pain is a major red flag.
  • “When shall I awake?” – In the latter stages, you drink to avoid the pain of being sober more than the pleasure.

Teaching Notes

“Drinkers, for example, have their own definition of the amount or pattern of drinking they consider to be out of control. If the individual’s drinking does not meet this definition, he or she believes that it is under control. Such definitions might include drinking before noon; drinking hard liquor instead of beer (because beer is not considered strong alcohol); and drinking alone instead of at bars because there is moderation in numbers (p. 91).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“In any event, all data agree that the consumption of three drinks per day offers no benefits over those observed with one or two, and at four drinks per day the risk for heart disease and cancers as well as other life-threatening problems increases significantly (p. 74).” Marc Schuckit in Drug and Alcohol Abuse: A Clinical Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment

“The more the addictive behavior begins to replace other coping mechanisms, the greater the probability that the individual will progress from use to abuse and dependence… One of the defining features of abuse and dependence is that the behavior begins to take over a larger and larger role in the life of the individual. As other coping mechanisms drop out, the individual begins to rely more and more on the addictive behavior to cope with problems (p. 98).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“Addictions don’t simply pounce on unsuspecting victims. They follow a predictable pattern. They start with personal hardship and end with voluntary slavery (p. 22)… Don’t confuse feeling miserable with an acknowledgement of your sin (p. 54).” Ed Welch in Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction

“Over time, heavy drinking can damage one’s relationships, job, intelligence, and emotional and physical health. Often the damage is gradual, occurring slowly over a period of years, so that one may not even notice that it is happening (p. 2).” William R. Miller in Alcohol and You

“Addicts quite consciously invest the whole activity of their drug taking with significance. They tend to ritualize it, sometimes giving even the most trivial surrounding circumstances the status of inviolable rites (p. 46).” Francis Seeburger in Addiction and Responsibility

“Rather than being things that we have (as diseases are), addictions are more like things that we become (p. 72).” Kent Dunnington in Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice

“Therefore, a person who becomes temporarily addicted to narcotic painkillers in the hospital may be able to withdraw from the drug more quickly and with much greater serenity than another person can withdraw from the loss of a job or a loved one. The first person’s addiction, although chemically intense, involved only a few million cells directly… In the case of losing a job or a loved one, great existential systems are deeply affected by withdrawal, even though the direct impact on any given synapse may not be so great (p. 84).” Gerald May in Addiction & Grace

19 Possible Motive-Triggers for Pornography

Often triggers and motive are treated as two distinct things, and there are differences. But those differences are more akin to two sides of the same coin than apples and oranges. In this post you will examine the things that trigger your sexual sin and the motives attached to those triggers.

As you identify the trigger-motive for your sexual sin, we also want you to begin to see how you are treating your sin like a friend, ally, refuge, etc… These insights are essential for repentance to make sense as a central part of change. Unless we see how our sin seeks to replace God in our life, then our need to be made right with God comes across as if God is unduly hung up about our sexuality.

“Your struggle with sexual addiction doesn’t start with your behavior. It begins with what you want, what you live for (p. 6).” David Powlison in Sexual Addiction

1. Boredom (Sin as My Joy)

When boredom is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin has become our joy. When there is a moment to be filled with something of our choosing, we pursue sin to fill the void rather than God or any of His legitimate pleasures. We begin to lose our appetite for godly pleasure like the child who eats sweets stops wanting healthy food. Even as they feel sluggish from the ups and downs of sugary “treats” they fail to connect this to their diet but go instead for another sugar high as the “obvious” solution.

“Sex is not ultimate… Idols begin as good things to which we give too much importance, and few things slide over into idolatry with greater frequency or greater power than sex. We allow a good gift of God to supersede the God who gave it. Sex is good, even great, but it’s not ultimate (p. 61).” Tim Challies in Sexual Detox

Read Nehemiah 8:9-12. God is a God of great joys and pleasure. Too often we view God as so serious that we believe “fun” must be in His opposite direction. When God called Israel to repentance through Nehemiah and Ezra, He asked them to express their repentance in celebration. If the motive of boredom leads you to sin, then allow this passage to challenge your view of God.

2. Loneliness (Sin as My Friend)

When loneliness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our “friend.” Sexual sin is always relational whether the relationship is fictional or physical, so it fits loneliness well. It is as if our sin (a person, a chat room, or a video) calls to us, “Tell me your troubles.” We are glad to pull up a chair and unload. As we do, talking to a real person or one who is not part of our sin becomes too risky. We now fear being judged or known by anyone but our “friend.”

“It’s a perfect world that I can create. Things always go exactly my way. People do exactly what I want. I’m always on top. Fantasy is a great ego-feeder (p. 19).” Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon.

Read Proverbs 27:6. During sexual sin we write this proverb backwards. We believe, “Faithful are the kisses of any enemy; profuse are the wounds of a friend.” When sin reverses the roles of friend and enemy, it has trapped us until we return the right labels to the people in our lives. If the motive of loneliness leads you to sexual sin, then prayerfully examine who or what you are calling “friend.”

3. Stress (Sin as My Comforter)

When stress is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our comforter. We run to it, her, or him. Sin or our adultery partner makes things better (at least as long as it, she, or he remains hidden and keeps us to themselves). Yet the comfort takes on an addictive quality. The stress from which we are relieved is multiplied by the stress it, she, or he creates. This keeps us in a cycle of stress and returning to a primary source of stress for relief.

“We crave intimacy at a relational level. We feel lonely. But we also fear intimacy. We’re not sure we can attain it or be vulnerable enough to handle it (p. 47).” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

Read John 14:25-31. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “the Helper” or “the Comforter” (v. 26) and as the source of peace that is distinct from the world’s peace which always returns us to fear (v. 27). If a source of comfort does not allow you to be more real with more people, then it is not true comfort. It is a drug that numbs you before it makes you sick. If the motive of stress leads you to sexual sin, then examine whether your “comfort” is real or a form of relational self-medication.

4. Frustration (Sin as My Peace)

When frustration is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of peace. Sin is treated as an “oasis.” When this happens we label sin as our “safe place” as compared to the parts of life that are upsetting. This makes sin our friend and anyone or anything that opposes or interferes with our sin our enemy.

Read Romans 16:17-20 and I Thessalonians 5:22-24: Notice that each of the passages refer to knowing the God of peace as the alternative to falling into temptations based upon deceitful desires. Where you turn for peace from what frustrates you is the determining variable of their character. Once you declare something or someone as the source of your peace, you will be loyal to and obey it.

5. Fatigue (Sin as My Source of Life)

When fatigue is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of life. We turn to sin as our boost to get through the day. The thought of our sin keeps us going when we feel like giving up. The adrenaline of sexual satisfaction (physical or romantic) becomes a drug that we use to artificially stimulate ourselves and one that we begin to wonder whether we could live without.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18: This passage uses many words that can be synonyms for or create fatigue: afflicted (v. 8), perplexed (v. 8), persecuted (v. 9), struck down (v. 9), and wasting away (v. 16). Fatigue can make you feel alone and sexual sin becomes your life giving companion. Paul says that it is only Christ who can be the life in us that counters the fatiguing death around us (v. 10-12). To doubt this truth reveals that we are believing (or at least listening attentively to) lies.

6. Hurt (Sin as My Refuge)

When hurt is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our refuge. In our moments of sinful escape we feel protected from life and a growing allegiance develops towards our sin. In actuality our sexual sin provides as much protection as a child pulling the covers over his/her head, but in our moment of hurt we are appreciative for even the pseudo-refuge of sin compared to the perceived absence of any other refuge.

Read Psalm 31: This Psalm alternates between a cry for help and a song of confidence. In this the Psalm reveals the realness with which Scripture speaks to life. Sexual sin is a pseudo-refuge on demand. Even when we cannot have the sin, we can fantasize about his/her presence. However, the real refuge of God is available through the same type of prayerful-meditative exercise as our fantasy, but is able to actually deliver us through the guidance of Scripture, the presence of His Spirit, and the involvement of His people.

7. Betrayal (Sin as My Revenge)

When betrayal is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our revenge. We know how powerful betrayal is (especially sexual betrayal), so we decide to use its power for our purposes to avenge those who have hurt us. Blinded by pain we try to use pain to conquer pain but only multiply pain. We continue this potentially infinite domino train that pummels us with alternating experiences of betrayal’s pain and betraying’s shame in spite of knowing how it perpetuates pain.

Read Romans 12:17-21: It is so tempting to read this passage as God “holding you back” from sweet relief and satisfaction. But, in reality, it is God “holding you back” from turning another’s betrayal into self-destruction. God is not removing vengeance. God is simply saying He is the only one who can handle its power without being overcome by it. Sin can never conquer sin; any more than oil can remove a stain from your clothes. It is foolish to believe that your sexual sin could do what only Christ’s death on the cross could do – bring justice to injustice.

8. Bitterness (Sin as My Justice)

When bitterness is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our justice. If sin as revenge is fast and hot, then sin as justice is slow and cold. No longer are we seeking to hurt another by our actions; now we are merely nursing our wound. If we tried to explain our sin in words, we would have to say we believed our sin had some healing power. But because that seems foolish, we are more prone to just excuse our sin by the sin done to us.

Read Hebrews 12:15-17: In this passage a “root of bitterness” is directly linked to sexual sin (v. 16). When bitterness distorts our perspective we will trade things of great value (our integrity and/or family unity) for things of little value (a sexual release or fantasy briefly brought to life) like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.

9. Opportunity (Sin as My Pleasure)

When opportunity is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pleasure. Often sexual sin requires no more trigger than time alone with a computer, a free moment to text, or an available member of the opposite sex to “talk” (i.e., flirt or allow to carry my burdens). When this is the case, sexual sin has become our default recreation; our preferred hobby. The more our sexual sin seeps into the common parts of life the more pervasive the lifestyle and heart changes necessary to root it out.

“The reality is that often we dislike the shame and consequences of sin, but we still like the sin itself… That’s because porn is pleasurable. Let’s be honest about that. If we pretend otherwise, we’ll never fight it successfully. People like watching porn—otherwise they wouldn’t watch. The Bible talks about the pleasures of sin. They’re temporary. They’re dangerous. They’re empty pleasures, compared with the glory of God. But they are pleasures, nonetheless (p. 15).” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

Read Philippians 3:17-21: Paul is addressing those whose “god is their belly” (v. 19). These are people whose basic appetites, the mundane parts of their life, were at odds with God. Paul wept at the thought of people in this condition (v. 18). Chances are they had become so comfortable serving their appetites that it would seem odd that Paul was crying for them and “radical” to change. If mere opportunity has become a primary trigger for you sin, let this passage shock you awake!

10. Rejection (Sin as My Comfort)

When rejection is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our comfort. Our culture has made things done from a “fear of rejection” seem neutral; as if the defensive motive negated the badness of sin; as if we become the victim of our own sin when we fear rejection. The problem with a fear of rejection is that it makes us foolish. Only the fear of the Lord can make us wise (Prov. 1:7). When we react from a fear of rejection, we naturally seek the comfort of people rather than the comfort of God.

“Once we understand that the primary goal of sexually addictive behavior is to avoid relational pain—essentially, to control life—we can begin to uncover the core problem (20)… Several tiers below the surface is a pervasive, integral force that demands the right to avoid pain and experience self-fulfillment. This self-centered energy is the very essence of what the Bible calls ‘sin’ (p. 24).” Harry Schaumburg in False Intimacy

Read Proverbs 29:25: Scripture calls the “fear of rejection” the “fear of man.” It is not innocent because it replaces God as the One for whose approval we live. It is the values, character, and preferences of the one we fear that influence our decisions, emotions, morality, and instinctive responses. If rejection is your primary motive for sexual sin, allow this passage to challenge the orientation of your life.

11. Failure (Sin as My Success)

When failure is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our success. In the fantasy world of sexual sin (porn, romance media, or adultery), you always win. You get the girl. You are the beauty who is rescued. No part of real life can compete with the early success rate of sin. Sin pays up front and costs in the back. Real success costs up front and pays in the back. In healthy marriages sacrifice is a primary part of the joy. As you give into sexual sin as a form of success it will drive you to desire the kinds of successes that destroy a family. Even if the adultery relationship is made permanent, it will then become “real” enough that it will no longer play by your preferred rules of success.

Read Matthew 21:28-32: Why would the second son say, “I go, sir” and not do the assigned task (v. 30)? One potential reason is the fear of failure. Doubtless he would then view his father as upset with him and feel closer to someone who only asked of him what he wanted to do (i.e., porn, romantic media, or adultery partner). Using sexual sin as cheap success results in harming real relationships, lying, defensiveness towards being “judged,” and retreating to unhealthy or fictitious relationships. Rather than grading others by how they make you feel, repent of your fear of failure.

12. Success (Sin as My Reward)

When success is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our reward. Has your sexual sin become what you do when you need a break or what you have “earned” after completing something difficult? Has your sexual sin become the carrot you dangle in front of yourself in order to maintain motivation? When sin becomes our reward we feel cheated by repentance. God and anyone who speaks on His behalf becomes a kill-joy.

Read Hebrews 11:23-28: Moses was faced with a choice between which reward he believed would be most satisfying: the treasure of Egypt or the privilege of being God’s servant (v. 26). Sexual sin gives us a similar reward choice: easy treasure or humble servant. Unless Christ is our hero and God our admired Father, then the choice seems like a no-brainer in the direction of destruction.

13. Entitlement (Sin as My Deserved)

When entitlement is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes what we deserve. When you are confronted with your sexual sin, do you think or say, “How else am I going to get what I need… deserve… earned?” Can you see how sexual sin has become your measure for a “good day” and whether someone is “for” or “against” you? Are you willing to allow anyone other than Christ who died for the sin you are trying to squeeze life out of to be the measure of “good” in your life?

Read Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12: The people of God had lost their ability to blush at sin. Why? One possible explanation (that can explain our inability to blush even if it doesn’t apply to them), is they believed they deserved their sin. When this happens, we believe we know better than God. We believe the unique features of our life trump the timeless truths of God’s created order. Our confidence to debate robs us of the humility necessary to blush.

14. Desire to Please (Sin as My Affirmation)

When the desire to please is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our affirmation. It is easy to please a porn star or an adultery partner. They have a vested interest in being pleased. The entire relationship is based upon commerce (“the customer is always right”) or convenience (“if I am not pleasing to you, you have somewhere else to return”) rather than commitment (“I choose you unconditionally and faithfully in good times and in bad”). Too often sexual sin becomes a place of escape when we don’t feel like we can make everyone/anyone happy.

Read Ephesians 4:25-32: Notice that the type of relational interaction described in these verses is incompatible with an overly strong desire to please others. We cannot live the life God called us to (regardless of whether we are sinning sexually or not) if our driving desire is the affirmation of others. Our conversation must be gracious and good for building up (v. 29), but that assumes that we are willing to speak into areas of weakness with those we love.

15. Time of Day (Sin as Pacifier)

When time of day is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pacifier. Do you use your sexual sin to help you sleep, get the day started, serve as a pick-me-up, fight boredom, or kill dead time? What are the common times of day or week when you struggle with sexual sin? When has your sexual sin become routine?

Read I Timothy 4:7-10: When you use sin as a pacifier you are training yourself for ungodliness (contra. v. 7). Often, because these occurrence happen during down times or transitions of our day, we view these occurrences of sin as less bad. We view them more like a child who is still sucking his/her fingers rather than a child who is defying a parent’s direct instruction. If disciplining ourselves for godliness means anything, it must be relevant when we feel undisciplined.

16. Location (Sin as My Escape)

When location is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our escape. The fantasy nature of all sexual sin makes it a perfect escape from an unpleasant location. We can “be there” and “not be there” at the same time. We get credit for attendance (or at least avoid the discredit of absence) without having to attend. We can mentally be with our lover while enduring the boring meeting, stressful kids, uninteresting spouse, lonely apartment, or other unpleasant setting.

Read Psalm 32: Notice that the Psalm begins talking about an unpleasant place or time (v. 1-5). But rather than escaping David ran to God (v. 7) and found the joy you are seeking through escape into sexual sin (v. 10-11). When we escape through sexual fantasy we are using our fantasy as a substitute God. We are, in effect, praying to and meditating on our sin during a time of hardship seeking deliverance.

17. Negative Self-Thoughts (Sin as My Silencer)

When negative self-thoughts are our trigger for sin, then sin becomes our silencer. In sexual fantasy (porn, romance media, or adultery partner), we are always desired and see ourselves through the eyes of the one desiring us. We give ourselves to them not just physically but also imaginatively. Because we know the relationship is short-lived we are willing to do this. If the relationship were permanent the power of silencing-effect would be diluted over the expanse of time and contradicted by our growing number of failures in his/her presence.

Read Psalm 103: Sin will never do (or even a healthy human relationship) what only God can do. The ultimate “Peace, be still” to our negative self-thoughts is Christ’s death on the cross – affirming that we were as bad as we thought, but replacing our deficiency with His righteousness. Sexual sin provides fantasy righteousness. It provides the kind of covering mocked in the classic children’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes.

18. Public (Sin as My Carnival)

When public is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our carnival. We walk through life like a kid at an amusement park; gawking at every person we see like a new ride or romantic adventure, making a clownish sexual innuendo out of every comment, or treating everything present as if it existed to entertain us and stimulate us sexually. Our private thoughts of fantasy become fueled by a hyper-sexualized interpretation of our surroundings.

“The act of looking at porn is itself part of the succor it purports to offer. I can search for women who are available to me. I can choose between them like some sovereign being. It offers a sense of control (p. 50).” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

Read Romans 1:24-25: Can you hear in the description of sex as carnival what it means to have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (v. 25)”? God will give us over to this kind of lustful heart (v. 24). This is why a radical amputation of sin is a necessary and wise response to prevent sexual sin from becoming our carnival (Matt 5:27-30).

19. Weakness (Sin as My Power)

When weakness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our power. The stimulation (both the physical and chemical changes associated with arousal) of sexual sin gives a façade of strength. Having another person delight in you also provides a veneer of significance. As with most of these motives/triggers, sex becomes a means to an end. Sex is no longer an expression of love but an attempt to gain something. That is always a recipe for dysfunctional, unsatisfying sex.

“My pastor has preached that the primary issue in adultery is that you want someone else to worship you and serve you, to be at your beck and call. That resonated with me. I could see that theme in my fantasies (p. 15).” Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon.

Read 2 Corinthians 11:30: Are you willing to boast (verbally put on public display) your weakness as a way to make Christ more known and live in more authentic relationships? That is the only freedom that will allow you to enduringly enjoy what you are seeking in sexual sin. If that sounds backwards to you read what Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:20-25) and ask yourself if your “wisdom” is getting you closer or farther from where you want to be.

List and rank the top five motives/triggers for your sexual sin.

  1. __________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________

“Porn is always about a symptom of deeper issues. It’s about lust, but it’s also about anger, intimacy, control, fear, escape, and so on. Many of these problems will show up in other areas of a person’s life (p. 109).” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

For some people the motive for their sexual sin will be very self-evident. Maybe you could quickly pick out the motive-triggers that deceive you into believing sin is “worth it” or will “work out” this time. For others, it requires reflection in the moment of temptation to discern what is luring them. If this is you, here a journaling tool from the False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery seminar that is designed to help you understand your motives.

The value in understanding the motive for our sin is that it allows us to hear to the empty promises sin makes so that we can turn to our loving Heavenly Father who is willing and able to fulfill those promises. I hope this post has helped you see the emptiness of sin so that you are prepared to embrace the fullness of God in the gospel.

Video: Overcoming Addiction (Step One)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Addiction.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit

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 (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“I Want to be Free… Sometimes and Sometimes Not”
ADMIT I have a struggle I cannot overcome without God.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 1 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: Romans 7:18-19 (ESV), “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “For I know” – These verses are the Bible’s “introduction to addiction and human experience” passage.
  • “Desire to do what is right” – There are times when you want to be free from your addiction.
  • “Not the ability” – Our sin nature is stronger than our personal will to be good apart from God’s grace.
  • “I do not the good I want” – There are times when you don’t want to be free from your addiction.
  • “Keep on doing” – The result of these truths is that our addiction continues until we fully surrender.

Teaching Notes

“I woke up and knew I couldn’t take another drink. But I also knew I couldn’t live without one (p. 15)!” John Baker in Celebrate Recovery: Leader’s Guide

“This is, of course, what is utterly puzzling about addiction – that we should repeatedly and compulsively do that which we know is damaging us (p. 12).” Kent Dunnington in Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice

“If addicts really believed that there were no positives to the addictive behavior and only negatives, they would be acting irrationally to continue to engage in the behavior… An accurate evaluation of what role the behavior plays in the life of the addict appears to be an important element in fostering serious consideration of change (p. 144).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“I am not being flippant when I say that all of us suffer from addiction. Nor am I reducing the meaning of addiction. I mean in all truth that the psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every human being (p. 3)… It is as if these severely addicted people have played out, on an extreme scale, a drama that all human beings experience more subtly and more covertly (p. 43).” Gerald May in Addiction & Grace

“It takes choice and commitment to continue to obtain effective access and to seek the addictive behavior when there are negative personal and social consequences that begin to emerge… The addicted individual appears to be functioning more on autopilot than choosing. Nevertheless, a chosen commitment to the addictive behavior continues (p. 50)… There are virtually hundreds of little decisions that are made daily and weekly to ensure access to the behavior. Arranging schedules, making excuses, sneaking off for periods of time, and minimizing consequences are all part of the process of protecting continued engagement in the addiction (p. 52).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“In addiction, as in all of life, we overcomplicate things in order to avoid facing the truth (p. 179).” Gerald May in Addiction & Grace

“We are as sick as our secrets (p. 59)… Remember it is always better to tell the ugly truth rather than a beautiful lie (p. 60)… Truth often hurts. But it’s the lie that leaves the scars (p. 79).” John Baker in Celebrate Recovery: Leader’s Guide

“Do this work with someone else. Addictions are private, so doing this in public is a way to take a stand against your addiction (p. 3).” Ed Welch in Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction

“Should addiction be understood as a disease or as a choice? This is the most longstanding and contentious question in addiction research. The question, however, rests on a false dichotomy. The false dichotomy arises from a failure or an inability to conceive of a genuine space between compulsion and choice, between, in philosophical terms, determinism and voluntarism… The philosophical category that covers this terrain is the category of habit (p. 31).” Kent Dunnington in Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice

“Actually, the addiction becomes a constant companion, a friend, and something to count on for a predictable effect or outcome. Some commentators on addiction describe it as a love relationship because of the intensity of the bond and the commitment to the behavior (p. 61).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“Perfection is not your goal; trust is. When your aim is perfection, you are actually headed away from God because you are trusting in your own acts rather than trusting in God (p. 36).” Ed Welch in Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction

Parent Equip: Talking to Our Children about Purity

Recently the family ministries team at Summit hosted a parent equip evening on the subject of, “Why and how we should talk to our students about sex and purity?”

As a part of that evening our pastor J.D. Greear and myself did video interviews which were part of the discussion  for parents at each of our campuses.

Parent Equip: J.D. Greear on Purity Talks from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

Parent Equip: Brad Hambrick on Purity Talks from The Summit Church on Vimeo.


Overcoming Codependency (Seminar Videos)

Below is a video from the presentation of the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar For the various counseling options available from this material visit

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 (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

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

Overcoming Codependency – Step 1 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.

Overcoming Codependency – Step 2 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.

Overcoming Codependency – Step 3 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

LEARN MY SUFFERING STORY which I used to make sense of my experience.

step 4 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

MOURN the wrongness of what happened and receive God’s comfort.

step 5 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience.

Overcoming Codependency – Step 6 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.

step 7 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

step 8 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Overcoming Codependency – Step 9 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Blog Post: 9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Your Life for

Appendix A: How to Develop a Safety Plan for Domestic Violence

Appendix B: How to Conduct an Effective Intervention

Appendix C: Emotional Clarity Article

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

Resource on Emotional Clarity & Naming Our Emotions

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from Appendix C. To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

Why ask a question like, “Would a rose by any other name smell just as sweet?” What could we hope to get from this deliberation that would be of value? Doesn’t everything “flowery” smell good? I remember when I learned that the answer is a definitive no.

Our trash can was beginning to smell. I was sure that I had an ingenious double solution that would win the admiration of my wife: potpourri roach spray. With one thorough application any odor from the trash can would be gone and any potential bug problem would be eliminated. When my wife arrived from the other room, I was informed that a roach spray by any other name smells just as foul. To this day I still think it should have worked.

What about with our emotions? If we mislabel an emotion, does that impact our ability to respond to a situation biblically? The clear answer is yes. This is because emotions are not passive. Emotions are not inconsequential fluctuations in our heart that “just happen to us.”

Emotions are (among other things) a call to specific actions. One of the ways that our emotions reveal our hearts is that they call us to do something about the events around us. Consider the following list of examples:

  • Guilt is a call to acknowledge wrongdoing, repent, and make restoration.
  • Shame is a call to hide or make up for a deficiency.
  • Anger is a call to aggressively correct an injustice.
  • Joy is a call to celebrate a significant, good event.
  • Anxiety is a call to eliminate a threat or to plan for protection.
  • Peace is a call to rest.
  • Frustration is a call to solve a recurring problem.
  • Annoyance is a call to quiet a relatively insignificant interference.
  • Depression is a call to give up in the face of hopelessness.
  • Offendedness is a call to defend rules of decency and respect.
  • Passion is a call to deliver a significant message or carry out an important vision.
  • Confusion is a call to look for answers.

What happens if we mislabel confusion (lack of clarity about how to resolve a situation) as guilt (a sense that we should take responsibility and repent)? What happens if we confuse anxiety (a timid, defensive planning to protect) with offendedness (a bold, righteous defense of decency)? What happens if we call hurt (let down from a reasonable expectation) anger (the desire to aggressively defend what should have been mine)?

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

Strategies for Overcoming Codependency: Growing Positive Influence (3 of 3)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from Step 7 “IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

One of the typical impacts of being in an unhealthy relationship is the habit of being reactive; merely responding to the crisis created by your loved one or trying to predict how to prevent the next outburst. The result is that your loved one begins to exert more influence over your world than you do.

“Yet by believing that she had no choice in the matter, she was not able to realize any of the self-respect or satisfaction we gain when we know we are making good or right choices (p. 107).” Leslie Vernick in How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong

This section looks at how you can begin to grow the amount of positive influence in the space and time you share with your loved one. Again, these approaches are not presented as having the force to coerce unwanted change in your loved one’s life. However, they can (a) prevent your loved one’s negative behaviors from having an undue influence on you and (b) create an environment that is more conducive for healthy behaviors.

We will consider this subject in two ways. First, we will describe four options for responding to problematic behaviors. Second, we will think through an approach to fostering desired behaviors.

1. Responding to Problematic Behaviors

When your loved one behaves in a way that exemplifies the destructive patterns that prompted you to start this study (or in ways that demand unwarranted trust for their initial efforts at change), then you have four possible healthy responses. By this point in the study, these responses and the explanation of each should begin to feel fairly intuitive.

A. Allow Natural Consequences:

This is not punishment (which we’ll discuss in a moment). It is simply you removing yourself as the buffer between your loved one and life. Unless doing so would unduly harm an innocent person, this response should be your new normal.

“People learn from the direct consequences of their actions. When it comes to negative consequences, you only have to step out of the way (p. 134)… We call this strategy ‘quiet confrontation’ because allowing natural consequences helps relocate the stress, frustration, and fight within your loved one, rather than between the two of you (p. 196).” Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

B. Ignore:

Some problematic behaviors are not worth addressing; addressing them would only give them more negative influence. Ignoring is particularly effective when there is reason to believe your loved one’s problematic behavior was engaged with the motive of punishing you. The most effective (and enjoyable) means of ignoring problematic behaviors is by engaging one of your personal interests.

“We can’t sell ignoring without a product label warning. Sometimes ignoring the behavior you don’t want results, initially, in an escalation of the behavior, a phenomenon called ‘behavioral burst.’ Bursts are often seen right before the behavior extinguishes, or stops altogether, and they are hard for everyone involved (p. 201).’ Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

“We don’t have to yell to show power. The more certain we are about our limits and our rights to have them, the softer we’ll speak (p. 38)” Melody Beattie in The New Codependency

C. Punish: Punishment should be the most seldom used strategy. Punishment tempts you towards controlling motives and allows your actions to become a distraction from the natural consequences of your loved one’s choices. The lack of punishment does not mean you allow your loved one to “get away with it.” Rather, it means you refuse to become enmeshed in a parental style relationship with someone for whom you do not (or no longer) play a disciplinary role.

D. Withhold Reward: Next we will look at the use of reward as a way of fostering an environment conducive to desired behaviors. This response is stronger than allowing natural consequences (because its volitional on our part) without crossing into punishment (adding to natural consequences). We want to be kind enough (previous section) that the removal of our kindness in response to abusive-addictive behaviors is felt by our loved one. This is part of the power of kindness.

Read I Thessalonians 5:14-15. First, notice that there are a variety of responses advocated for in response to problematic behaviors in this passage. We see that there is no one “biblical” response to problematic behaviors. The premise of this study is that the behaviors we are addressing fit in the “unruly, disorderly, disruptive” (depending on your translation) category. This study also presumes that initial appeals to admonish (verbally ask for change) were not received. The approaches above are meant to be next tier responses for how to continue to have influence with someone who persists in problematic behaviors without having their choices dominate your life.

2. Fostering Desired Behaviors

Part of being “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16) is endeavoring to create a context in which a godly life is as easy and desirable as possible to pursue. In the same way that we do not personally grow without intentionality, we will not create environments that foster the growth of others accidentally.

Below we outline a five step process for cultivating an environment which promotes a more godly, or at least healthier, life for your loved one.

1. Create a concrete list of concrete behaviors between how your loved one currently acts and what would be God honoring (not exactly the same as “what you want”).

All growth involves knowing what we want to become; not just what we want to stop. Too often with destructive relationships what needs to stop is clearer than what needs to start. Behaviorally define the journey from terrible to bad to less bad to acceptable to good.

“A doable goal is put in positive terms – what will be done rather than what won’t. Here ‘positive’ doesn’t refer to your feelings or demeanor. It doesn’t mean ‘cheerful.’ For the purposes of goal setting we define a positive goal or communication by what you do want rather than what you don’t want (p. 146).” Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

In times when your loved one seems open to constructive conversation ask for the behavior that is “next” for them on their journey to honoring God in your relationship. If they are receptive, thank them for hearing you without defensiveness. If they are not, then use a responding to problematic behaviors strategy (see above).

“Simply asking permission to offer your thoughts can communicate respect for your loved one’s feelings before you say another word, and set a better stage for what follows (p. 167).” Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

2. Be content with progress (not just perfection).

You have worked hard to get to this point in your journey. It is understandable for you to expect your loved one to work equally as hard. But your effort is not their standard. When you are not content with progress, then you reinforce the idea that your loved one will never get it right enough to please you and reinforce your own destructive script that the relationship is hopeless.

3. Refuse to be a distraction for non-progress (see – responding to problematic behaviors). One of the values of this study is that you should feel like there is plenty for you to work on while you prayerfully wait for your loved one to engage God on their journey. By engaging your own journey you are both serving as an example and refusing to be distraction for your loved one’s non-progress.

4. Reward incremental progress (with joy). It is easy for those who struggle with addiction or relate destructively to begin to believe that everyone is against them. Once we are free from feeling like we have to appease them to have stability in our world, we can consider how to counter this destructive narrative in their world.

Remember, we are not taking responsibility for their destructive actions or their change. But our response to their progress can foster a sense that additional effort at change would be “worth it.”

“The most common mistake people make in reinforcement is choosing rewards they would like rather than what’s most rewarding for the person they want to reward… The power of rewards to effect lasting change come from their integration into the fabric of your lives together, so they should be affordable and sustainable (p. 178).” Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

What are the rewards that your loved one would appreciate that would not involve enablement, denial, or undue relational risk on your part?

5. Creating a satisfying homeostasis that does not involve addiction / abuse (creating a new, healthy normal).

Over time and with your loved one’s cooperation, your actions can create a new homeostasis for your relationship. “Homeostasis” is a term from biology that refers to an environment in which an organism thrives.

If your loved one is not a believer, the trust-equity that is built during this process will create an opportunity for you to share more overtly about the motive behind your love (i.e., a response to Christ’s love for you that enabled you to endure the difficult season in the relationship and that you long for them to know).

When your negative response to their destructive choices can no longer be used as an excuse for their destructive-addictive choices, they will be left more bare before the eyes of God. You can be praying God would use this experience to open their eyes to their need for Christ.

Read I Peter 2:13-3:6. Often this is a scary passage for people in destructive relationships. It is interpreted to mean that the only biblical response to abuse is to endure it. Hopefully, at this point in your journey, you can both understand (a) that God does not call you to be a doormat for addiction and abuse and (b) that God’s call to undermine destructive patterns through quiet means is wise; more aggressive methods tend to only further destabilize the situation. The goal of this study has been that God would both restore your life from the effects of abuse or addiction and redeem your loved one from the snare of their sin. Whether the latter has happened, you can rest knowing that you walked a journey that honored God, relied on His Word, and afforded your loved one every opportunity to change.

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

Strategies for Overcoming Codependency: Building Resilience (2 of 3)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from Step 7 “IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

As we look at building resilience, the approaches in this section will form a sandwich: caution-freedom-caution. Healthy resilience, especially in the context of chronically broken relationships, requires both. Because you’ve lived in unhealthy relationships for an extended period of time, we will place the emphasis on caution.

However, caution alone leaves us feeling emotionally incarcerated. In order to be emotionally healthy, we must maintain the emotional freedom to be “nice” at whatever level of trust a given relationship currently merits. Without this freedom, a demeanor of suspicion begins to deteriorate all of our relationships and cause our lives to be marked by anxiety.

1. Wise Trust

“Either you trust me or you don’t,” is the epitome of an abusive-addictive, all-or-nothing statement. Whatever degree of trust you choose to give, and it is your choice, this decision should be made with a different mentality. Trust is something that develops. Wise trust grows as a relationship becomes more mutual and authentic.

The ten step progression provided below begins with a relationship at its most trust-broken point. Not all relationships will start at level one (most broken). As you read through this progression, two key questions to ask are, (a) “Where was I (or, should I have been) at the darkest point in this relationship?” and (b) “Where am I now?”

The wise progress you have already made should be a source of encouragement for the journey ahead. Unwise “progress” (moving too fast) should be a reminder that taking this journey well is better than taking this journey quickly.

The goal for this section is to help you see that even if you currently think, “I could never be at a ‘ten’ of trust again,” that there are many practical steps that can and should be taken between where you are and a “ten.”

Your goal should not be to regain a “level ten trust.” That would be an example of you taking responsibility for something that is not yours to control. Your goal should be to trust at the level that you’re loved one’s life makes it wise for you to trust. Trusting too much is not a virtue; it hurts both of you.

Movement through this progression will be a dance between your loved one’s effort at change and your willingness to take relational risks. Your loved one’s growth alone will not create trust without your willingness to take a relational risk. Your willingness to a relational risk alone without your love one’s growth will not produce trust. The dance may not be one step by your loved one followed by one step by you. But unless both of you are moving, you’re not dancing.

It should be noted, this progress is meant to represent “what is.” This progression represents how trust generally grows back after it has been damaged. The benefit is that it provides smaller steps towards what trust-restoration looks like, instead of one giant leap of faith.

  1. Require Third Party Mediation: At this level of trust-brokenness you do not feel safe to be with your loved one without someone else present. This is the stage in which your loved one has been actively resistant to acknowledging his/her need for change and responds aggressively (physically or verbally) to the subject. At this level of trust deterioration, you want to hear your loved one be honest about the extent of the problem with someone else (usually a counselor), so that you are not left alone to assess the level of ownership and wise next steps. As your loved one cooperates, you begin to trust your spouse vicariously through the trust that you build for the counselor. Willingness to get help becomes the basis for your trust.
  2. Listen and Require Validation: Now you are willing to talk with your loved one in a one-on-one conversation, but you are skeptical of most everything he/she says. You don’t believe your loved one. You believe facts. If your loved one has facts to back up with he/she says, you will trust that much and little more. This is a tedious way to communicate, but feels necessary in order to avoid greater pain. Any statement that is not factual (i.e., future promise, interpretation of event, expression of feeling, etc…) is viewed as deceptive, unsafe, manipulative, or insulting. As a pattern of validated facts emerge, you begin to trust that there is some commitment to live in reality and do the hard work of relational restoration.
  3. Listen and Require Less Validation: At this stage in trust-restoration, listening to your loved one feels less like work. The rate at which you are searching for questions and processing information as you listen decreases. Giving the “benefit of the doubt” for things you are uncertain about is still unnatural and feels dangerous. Any statement that is incomplete or slanted too positively is assumed to be intentional deceit and creates a trust regression. As your love one’s statements prove to be majority accurate, the practical necessities of life create an increasing reliance upon your loved one. However, each time you notice this happening you may still feel anxious. At this stage, a track record of validity begins to be established and serves as the foundation for trust.
  4. Rely on Loved One Functionally: Now you begin to “do life together” again. A process of basic life tasks (for instance, if married; budgeting, scheduling, transporting children, etc.) begins to be created or reinstituted. This level of trust within a marriage feels very much like “living as roommates.” In other relationships, it feels like a less bonded relationship than you previously had. The dissatisfying nature of this arrangement can often discourage continued growth, but this discouragement should be decreased by understanding where it falls in the process of trust restoration. The absence of crises due to addiction or abuse and the faithfulness in following through on basic life commitments now becomes the basis for trust.
  5. Share Facts: As you functionally “do life” with your loved one, there is the opportunity for you to begin to share more of you again. To this point you have been receiving information much more than giving information. You begin the process of “giving yourself” in the relationship again. You allow yourself to be known at a factual level. Questions that start with “Why” or “How come” may still be met with defensiveness. During this stage questions that start with “Would you” become more comfortable as you allow your loved one to influence the “facts” (for instance, schedule) of your life again. Your loved one’s honoring the limits of this burgeoning trust becomes the basis for assessing that it is wise to trust more.
  6. Share Beliefs: As you become more comfortable sharing facts, that naturally leads into sharing what you think about those facts. Conversations become more meaningful as you share more of what you like, dislike, agree with, disagree with, and want from the events of life. You can now talk about the way you believe things “should” be without a tone of judgment, sadness, or guilt overpowering the conversation. As you share your beliefs, you feel more understood and honored. At this stage, you and your loved one may have to relearn (or learn for the first time) how to have different opinions or perspectives while honoring the relationship.
  7. Share Feelings: Up until this stage emotions have likely been “thrust at” or “shown to” more than “shared with” each other; loved one at you before the problem was acknowledged and you at them to try to get engagement towards change. At this level of trust you are willing to receive support, encouragement or shared participation in your emotions. An aspect of a “one another” relationship, mutual care, is emerging. You are beginning to experience your burden being reduced and your joys multiplied as you share them. The friendship or marriage is beginning to feel like a blessing again; like the reason you were willing to sacrifice so much to preserve it.
  8. Rely on Loved One Emotionally: Now you find yourself able to relax when he/she is away. You are able to believe your loved one is transparent and sincere when he/she tells you about their experiences or shares with you how he/she is feeling. It is now the exception to the rule when suspicions arise within you about your loved one’s motive for saying or doing something.
  9. Allow Your Loved One to Care for You: Allowing your loved one to express appreciation or endearment has lost a sense of wondering what they’ve done or what they want. When your loved one offers to serve you, you no longer think he/she is doing an act of penance or is indebting you for something later. Your loved one’s efforts to bless you can be received as blessings rather than being treated as riddles to be solved or dangerous weights on the “scales of justice” that will be used to pressure you later
  10. Relax and Feel Safer with Loved One than Apart: This is trust restored. Your love one’s presence has become a source of security rather than insecurity. Your loved one’s presence reduces stress in troubling circumstances. You find yourself instinctively drawn to them when something is difficult, upsetting, or confusing. Even when he/she doesn’t have the answer, their presence is its own form of relief and comfort.

Trust and Ultimatums or Time Tables: There is intentionally no pacing guide for this trust progression. In this regard, growing in trust requires trust. It is an act of faith not to say, “I’ll give it three months and if we’re not at level seven, then I’m done.” That kind of time-pressured environment stifles the growth of trust. Ultimatums are even more ineffective. When you try to make a deal (i.e., “Unless you stop [blank] or tell me [blank], then I am not moving to the next level of trust”) you undermine actual trust being built (i.e., “You only did that, because I made you”). Your goal in reading this progression is merely to gain an understanding of where you are in the development of trust. Efforts at artificially accelerating the process will ultimately do more harm than good.

“Threats or ultimatums haven’t worked in the past and learning newer ways to handle situations that use to confuse you is difficult in the beginning. By pacing your responses, you allow yourself time to gain perspective in an objective way, which distances you from personalizing the behaviors and empowers you to act in more effective ways. The addict acts out because of difficulty in relating to life in a responsible and adult fashion—not because of who you are (p. 71).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

2. Freedom to Be “Nice”

Being intentional about trust can easily make you feel guarded about being “nice.” Being guarded about being nice, can lead to feeling bad about yourself. Feeling bad about yourself, can lead to compromising on things that are wise (i.e., trusting) before it is wise. That is why this section is essential to the application of the previous section.

First we need to define the word in quotes. What does it mean to be nice? Being nice is being pleasant to another individual in ways that contribute to a pleasant emotional atmosphere without pretending real problems do not exist or taking relational risks (i.e., trusting) that are unwarranted.

By contrast, “enabling” is being pleasant to another individual in ways that foster continued dysfunction by pretending real problems do not exist or taking relational risks (i.e., trusting) that are unwarranted.

In this, you should see that the difference between niceness and enabling is not activity, but context and motive. With that in mind, use the chart below to help you grow in kindness towards your loved one. This kindness will extend your emotional resilience and create a context that is optimal for growth (if you loved one is cooperative).

Your goal is not to out-nice your loved one (as if “nicenesss” were a competition) or to be so kind that your loved one “has to” change (as if you had that much influence). Instead, your goal is to be intentionally kind, in ways that are situationally wise so that you leave your loved one without excuse for his/her needed changes and your conscience is clear if he/she chooses not to make their needed changes.

Now, use these three questions to help you discern whether the kind actions on the chart (expressions-of-kindness-chart) would be unproductive.

  1. Am I using this form of kindness as a way to pretend that our relationship is in a better place than it really is?
  2. Does this form of kindness bestow a level of trust that is unwise for my safety or my loved one’s recovery?
  3. What forms of kindness would clearly be temptation towards enablement or control at this time?

If the answer to either of the first two questions is “yes,” then pray that God would move them to a place where this form of kindness would be wise. This protects your heart from becoming cynical and blesses them. If you are uncertain how to answer these questions, consult with members of your support network.

Read Romans 2:4. Reflect on this in light of the parable of the prodigal son. God is not lenient with sin (2 Peter 3:9). God is not mocked in any relationship (Galatians 6:7). Yet, it is God’s kindness that draws us to repentance. The previous section was about you modeling the firmness of God towards sin. This section has been about you modeling the kindness of God towards sinners. As you do this, remember you can only create an atmosphere that is ripe for change. If you grow impatient towards your loved one, that likely means either you are trying to use kindness to compel change (well-intended manipulation) or that your level of trust has gotten ahead of their level of change.

3. Fear of the Lord

What is it that allows us to wisely trust another person without allowing our muddled fear/desire to be kind to lead us into foolish choices? The fear of the Lord. It is the fear of the Lord that enables us to live in the space between foolish enablement and cautious distance.

Another way to ask this question is, “Whose agenda has both my best interest and my loved one’s best interest at heart?” God is the one who desires to redeem us both. God is the one who can sustain us both until we are ready to have our relationship restored. Relying on God as “enough” is what allows each of us to prevent our perceived needs from rushing relational restoration or writing off the possibility.

The diagram below from Ed Welch in When People Are Big and God Is Small (p. 97) provides a visual for what growth in the fear of the Lord looks like.


Trace your journey in the relationship(s) that prompted you to embark on this study through this progression. Chances are you will notice that your relationship with this other person(s) bordered on worship: whatever they said must be “right” and whatever they wanted must be “good,” so you bent your will accordingly.

When the other person was god (little “g”), then God was likely scary (far left on this spectrum), especially if the person with whom you had a toxic relationship quoted Scripture and appealed to God to justify their actions.

When you began this study, it required your acknowledgement that other person was actually the one who merited being responded to with terror, dread, or trembling (partially filling God’s role). That was the first part of the script that needed to flip. They had to get out of God’s rightful position in your life, in order for the seat to be vacant for God.

But that was only half of the change that needed to happen. In order for someone or something else not to tyrannically claim God’s rightful role in our lives, that seat must be occupied by God; which is what allows for the devotion-trust-worship end of the spectrum to be experienced. The throne of our lives will not remain vacant. If we do not continually place God there, then other things will claim the role and enact their dysfunctional (i.e., scary) reign.

Read Proverbs 9:10 and Psalm 111:10. Both these passages state, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs states it as a wisdom principle. Psalms makes it a matter of worship. It is only when the main thing (God) really is the main thing (our top priority and allegiance) that life works and our worship is pure. We all struggle to maintain this priority every day. Allow the diagram above to give you a visual measure for when a human relationship is beginning to take on a God-sized role in your life. Realize the most effective way to fight against this distortion happening in your horizontal relationships with people is to maintain your vertical relationship with God.

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

Strategies for Overcoming Codependency: Gaining Perspective (1 of 3)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from Step 7 “IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

This entire journey has been about gaining perspective. Things that once seemed hopeless and overwhelming, hopefully, now only seem difficult and frustrating. If things are not good, then “gaining perspective” does not mean generating a falsely positive perspective on them. Rather, it means having an accurate perception of the situation and, based on that accurate assessment, identifying what you can (and can’t) do to be a positive influence on the situation.

We will consider how to gain perspective with two approaches. The first is to allow consequences. We place this one first because we do not want the active-approach of the second strategy – process for problem solving – to take you back into the mentality of trying to solve problems over which you have no jurisdiction (i.e., being controlling or feeling powerless).

1. Allowing Consequence

Before exploring this subject further and to assess how much you’ve already grown in the course of this study, define the two concepts below in your own words.

Allowing Consequences:


Come up with recent examples for:

  • When you allowed consequences for unhealthy actions in the life of a loved one
  • When you unhealthily resorted to punishment for undesired choices in the life of a loved one
  • When someone wisely allowed consequences in your life, but you were tempted to view it as punishment

The first part of gaining a healthy perspective on an unhealthy situation is rightly assessing (a) what you are responsible for and (b) what you can influence. The practical expression of these two realizations is the willingness to allow negative consequences for those actions that you are not responsible for; meaning you do not have adequate influence to change in a healthy way (i.e., without reverting to controlling or over-compensating behaviors).

Read Luke 15: 11-32. Make a list of all the consequences the father allowed. Make a list of all the unwise choices the father allowed his adult child to make. This is a parable, so there was not a real father talking to a real son who had real conversations from which we could get a literal transcript of the dialogue. But we see in this parable, in how the drama is set up, a willingness of God to honor our autonomy even when it hurts us and breaks his heart. Notice the balance in the father’s response – he is neither closed off to the son’s repentance, nor trying to rescue his son from the consequences that would eventually bring him to repentance.

You are healthily allowing consequences when:

  • You were willing to be available for advisement and accountability before the destructive choice
  • It was reasonable for your loved one to have known that his/her choice would result in negative consequences
  • You take no delight in and do not add to the suffering of your loved one for his/her choice
  • You remove yourself from situations when you become a target for outbursts about the consequences and, thereby, become a distraction from the potential redemptive benefits of those consequences.
  • You remain willing to be available to help address life patterns that would prevent future bad choices
  • If you have done those things then all you can do is: (a) pray that God will soften your loved one’s heart towards their need for change, (b) think through healthy problem solving approaches – see below – with the indirect influence you have, and (c) continue to enjoy your life so you do not become an emotional hostage to your loved one’s choices.

2. Healthy Process for Problem Solving

Pause and consider, “What was your old model of relational problem solving?” Chances are it was reactive and trying to make everyone happy. While these are generally ineffective ways to make decisions, reflect on what you’ve learned in the first six steps and consider what your probability of success was.

Once you have settled your soul to be willing to allow consequences, then your problem solving approach can begin to be proactive and looking for the healthiest possible outcome (whether it makes everybody happy or not).

When your loved one brings you an urgent dilemma you should invite them to participate in the process outlined below. If they are unwilling to walk through a deliberate process that defines the problems and considers solutions, then they are not inviting you into a healthy conversation and you should remove yourself from the interaction.

More often, at least until your loved consistently acknowledges their need to change, this will be a process you and your support network engage together. Initially, forcing yourself to walk through these stages intentionally will be a helpful way to retrain your decision making habits. With time you should begin to notice that you approach emotion-laden decision less frenetically. This decision making process is modified and adapted from Get Your Loved One Sober by Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe (p. 126 ff; italicized text only).

1. Define the Problem:

Be as specific and concrete as possible. Focus on the behaviors of you and your loved one, along with their triggers, more than the emotional reactions. The quality of the description of the problem will go a long way towards determining how effective the other problem steps can be.

Vague, Emotion-Focused Definition: “She came home drunk and ruined the entire evening I had planned for us to enjoy. She ranted until I couldn’t take it and then I lashed out and watched television for the rest of the evening. When I shut down, she just kept drinking.”

Concrete, Behavior-Focused Definition: “She had a conflict with her mother and coped with it by stopping for a ‘drink to calm down’ on the way home. After the conflict, even before drinking, she forgot about our evening plans. She came home already mad, but only mildly buzzed (her sentences were mostly coherent and she was trying to tell me about the conflict). As soon as I smelled alcohol, I immediately allowed my disappointment to become the most important part of the evening and engaged an argument I knew would be unfruitful.”

Write a concrete, behavior focused description of your latest instance:

2. Brainstorm:

Come up with as many ideas as you can. Some of them will be ridiculous; providing little more than comic relief, but you are breaking out of the mentality of powerlessness. As you brainstorm, consider ideas that would influence the problem at each stage of its development (i.e., before the problem arose, at first awareness of the problem, during the middle of the problem, and after everything “returns to normal”).

Before: Block all calls from her mother, move to another country without cell phone access, send a text during the day talking about what I’m looking forward to in the evening, encouraging her to think about bad times to take a call from her mother, develop a habit of talking on the phone together as she comes home

First Awareness: Discipline myself to assess situations better before I react, create a list of indicators that give me a better idea of her level of drinking, have a better plan for what I will do when she is intoxicated so I am less prone to be reactive, know which friend I should talk to about my hurt so I don’t feel like my choices are rant or silence

Middle: Threaten to go on a hunger strike if things don’t change, establishing a ground rule (when she’s sober) we will not try to have a difficult conversation unless we are willing to remain seated during the discussion, know where I would go if she follows me through the house after I try to get out of an unproductive conversation

After: Continue pretending that nothing happened, disrupt something that is important to her so she knows better how it feels, ask her to share with me her recollection of the argument, type out my recollection of the argument and invite her to write what she remembers differently if she unwilling to talk it out.

Brainstorm for the event you described above to begin the habit of thinking in these categories.


First Awareness:



3. Evaluate and Select Solution:

Now that you have options, you need to begin to weed them down to what you will actually implement. Begin by striking those ideas that are unrealistic, but it made you feel better to write them down. Then use the chart below (or at least the logic of its organization) to arrive at your best options.

Options Probability of Effectiveness Ease of implementation Temptation to control Temptation to enable Now Later
1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale Y / N Y / N
1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale Y / N Y / N
Text about end of day plans 6 9 3 1 Y
Hunger Strike 1 9 9 1 N N

For each idea you want to assess how likely you believe it is to be effective and the amount of effort required implementing the idea. Unless there are temptation variables, you would want to choose the idea(s) that have the highest effectiveness score and lowest effort score.

You also want to evaluate whether each option would result in you controlling or enabling your loved one. If there is concern in either of these areas, you would want to consult with members of your support network before implementing the idea and, if you use the idea, while you implement it.

4. Try It and Track It:

Take your best ideas (criteria above) from your brainstorming list, make sure they are well defined, implement them for a defined period of time, and track the results.

Example: Because the drive home is a time when my wife frequently argues with her mother on the phone and becomes a temptation, I will call her on her drive home. I will do this for at least 4 weeks to see what it’s impact and sustainability is like.

Example: When we have evening plans, I will text my wife notes about things I’m looking forward to in our time together as a way to serve as a positive reminder of our plans.

It should be noted, plans like these will be much more effective when there is acknowledgement of the problem and engagement in recovery. If there is not acknowledgement and cooperation, then the husband making these plans would need to weigh whether these actions were an attempt to control his wife even though the actions are constructive (remember, control is a motive, not an action).

5. Evaluate, Refine, or Try Another Idea:

As you implement the idea, evaluate how it works and how it could be refined. If it’s not working (after a period of time long enough to make that assessment), scrap it and try another idea from your list.

Example: Initially this worked well and led to less conflict, but her mother began to feel shut out and was even more agitated when they finally did get to talk. We decided I would call three days a week and my wife would text me her stress level before leaving work to help identify the days that would be most beneficial for me to help her be “unavailable to talk” with her mom.

Example: This worked really well. Led to more flirty communication about things we were looking forward to and became a fruitful marriage enrichment practice; not just an addiction preventative strategy.

Read Ephesians 5:15-18. This section is all about “looking carefully at how you walk” so that you are not living “unwise, but wise” (v. 15). It requires forethought and assessment to determine how to “make the best use of your time” (v. 16). While the distinctions made in this section may seem very mundane, they are vital parts of spiritual and relational maturity (i.e., avoiding folly, v. 17). Even if your loved one is uncooperative, these are practices that you can begin to implement and know you are doing those things in your power to honor God with your life and in this relationship.

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

Four Principles for Thinking Well about Boundaries

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Three: UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

Christians have often struggled with how to think best about boundaries in broken relationships. Some use the word “boundaries” to communicate that Christians don’t have to be doormats because we want to model grace. Others resist the concept because they recognize that Christ crossed all boundaries to rescue us in our rebelliousness and believe Christians are called to model this same love to the lost world around us.

Both seem to be making valid points. As we think about the impact that relating codependently has had on our lives, we are going to have to navigate this tension.

The first principle to consider is that a healthy concept of boundaries views the barrier being placed as existing between wisdom and folly rather than between me and you. I am not rejecting you or giving up on you if I refuse to participate in foolishness. However, if you insist on living foolishly, you will find yourself on the other side of my boundary from folly. In this sense, a synonym for boundaries would be “reasonable expectations” or “limits of wisdom.”

Read Proverbs. Yes, the whole book; it may be easier to read a chapter per day if reading the whole book seems daunting. As you read, underline every use of the word fool, foolishness, and folly (or comparable language). Pay attention to the verbs that accompany the fool-family of words. They are all cautionary. One means of God’s protection for you is his warning against folly. We appreciate the protection, but are grieved when adhering to the warnings creates distance between us and those we love. Both responses are appropriate. Don’t allow the grieving to distract you from the warning.

A second principle when considering the concept of boundaries is that boundaries, when rightly communicated, are an invitation not a rejection. Thinking of boundaries this way will help you communicate your limits in a more receivable manner. When you are confident in what you will and will not do, pressure from others becomes less threatening. You can begin to say, “I will not [describe what is unhealthy in the moment], but I would be happy to [describe a healthy interaction alternative].” In this sense you are not “enforcing” the boundary (as if you were the boundary police), you are providing another opportunity to your loved one to choose wisdom over folly.

A third principle is that “boundaries” can become an unhealthy concept when we use it to mean “walls” that make our relationships less authentic. This use of boundaries can come in the form of a “fake wall” when we are silent or deceitful or a “safe wall” when we are angry or fearful to keep people away. These uses of boundaries do not protect us from folly, but insulate us from authentic relationships; and serve as another example of coping mechanisms that serve well in dysfunctional relationships becoming disruptive to potentially healthy relationships.

A final principle for using the term “boundaries” well is the ability to distinguish felt needs from real needs. Because boundaries are only needed in unsafe contexts, our instinct is to become increasingly self-centered when we think about boundaries. This doesn’t mean that felt needs are less real or unimportant. It means that we should use boundaries to protect our real needs from being damaged and, if someone is living in a way that frequently places them on the other side of these boundaries, we should not expect that person to meet our felt needs. Instead, we grieve the condition of this relationship and find ways, through God and healthy Christian relationships, to fulfill these legitimate desires.

“We should be careful about saying, ‘Jesus meets all our needs.’ It makes Christ the answer to our problems. Yet if our use of the term ‘needs’ is ambiguous, and its range of meaning extends all the way to selfish desires, then there will be some situations where we should say that Jesus does not intend to meet our needs, but that he intends to change our needs (p. 89).” Ed Welch in When People Are Big and God Is Small

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