All posts tagged Family

12 Ways Depression-Anxiety Impacts Family and Relationships

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 3: UNDERSTAND the Impact of My Suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

The first two areas of impact we examined were how the experience of depression-anxiety impacts you. Now we are going to examine how your experience of depression-anxiety impacts those around you. You happen to those around you as much as they happen to you. Overcoming depression-anxiety will have social implications and it is good for us to begin considering those now.

This is a point where it is easy for many people to lapse into self-pity and shame. But considering how your emotions impact others is vital to godly change. The best response is effort towards progress rather than an emotional apology. If confession is needed, that will be covered in step five of the sin-based counterpart to this study. For now your objective remains to understand the impact of your depression-anxiety so that you can be equipped to battle it most effectively.

In her book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, Amy Simpson lists twelve ways that family and friend are affected when their loved one experiences significant mental illness (p. 60-80; bold text only). As you read these, ask yourself two questions: (1) when may these be present in my relationships, and (2) how can I minimize their effect? But do not allow these to distract you from your pursuit of hope and peace; which is the best thing you can do for those who care about you.

1. Special Rules: When one person does less others must do more or suffer the consequences. When one person becomes emotionally fragile those around him/her learn the “rules” to keep things “normal.” Whenever certain subjects or activities become “off limits” they become life rules people must follow to stay in good relationship. When some things are “not public knowledge” this creates an artificial social system. All of these are ways that depression-anxiety can create special rules for those around you.

2. Resource Monopoly: Therapy, medication, hospitalization, and missed work all cost money, time, and attention. They may be a very good investment, but they still consume resources. Other family members will do without certain things because of this investment. If you are a parent, the most costly of these resources is attention. Make sure you set aside time to invest your attention in your children. It will bless you and is vital to their healthy development.

3. Confusion: With depression-anxiety there are no bruises, scars, or broken bones; there is not a rash, skin discoloration, or bumps. There is nothing that makes it obvious that something is wrong. This is as confusing to others as it is frustrating to you. Children are especially prone to self-incriminating interpretations of your down mood as being their fault; they need something that “makes sense” of what is occurring in their world. You can love others well by listening for and patiently correcting their confused guilt-interpretations of your emotions.

4. Anxiety: Confusion (previous point) breeds anxiety. This is true for you. If you do not understand what causes your emotional fluctuations that feels unpredictable and stressful. Alleviating this stress is the reason for the amount of assessment work you’re asked to do in this study. The same is true for your family and friends. When you can tell they are confused by your mood changes, acknowledge that you are confused as well. This can let them know they are not “missing something” that is obvious to you and should be to them.

5. Guilt: The quickest way to control and make sense of something emotional is to take responsibility for it (whether it is accurate or healthy or not). The answer to the question, “What can I do to help?” can easily be misconstrued as an answer for the question, “What should I be doing so you would not feel this way?” The former seeks to provide support and gives grace; the latter assumes responsibility and assumes guilt. When this mistake is made it makes your unpleasant mood a tarnish on their clean conscience. Your sadness is perceived as their deficiency. Saying, “You haven’t done anything to make me feel this way,” can be important.

6. Maladjustment: This is particularly true for children. When mom or dad is more internally focused on themselves than externally focused on their children, the children have to adjust to this culture change. It will be the “normal” that they know and from which they form their relational instincts. Spouses also adjust as they accommodate their social and home expectations to the possibilities allowed and environment created by their spouse’s emotions. The best way to account for this factor is to fully engage with pursuit of healthy emotions and demonstrate awareness of when your mood is affecting others in an unhealthy way.

7. Role Reversal: Children can become caregivers or emotional supporters, spouses can become parents, and friendships can become one-way relationships when depression-anxiety dominates our life. These reverse what is healthy for each of these relationships. Resist this most intensely with your children. Kids should be allowed to be kids and not asked to carry the emotional load of their parents. With spouse or friends, overtly acknowledge if there is a role change, which can be helpful, but also keep them informed of the steps you are taking to make this arrangement short-term. Allowing these role reversals to become long-term is what accounts for the “special rules” described in the first item on this list.

8. Instability: When your emotions change the plans of others you introduce instability into their lives. They become less able to prepare for future events and implement reliable patterns for managing basic life tasks and interests. Beyond sensitivity to others, you begin to teach them that your emotions are the top priority and final arbiter of schedules and decisions. Following through on commitments is not just about preventing the passivity that is hospitable for depression-anxiety, but also about loving others well by limiting the instability in their lives.

9. Medications: How to make wise decisions about the use of medication is covered in Appendix A. But, as you likely know, finding the “right” medication is hard. How to identify which medication will be most effective for a given individual’s depression-anxiety can be difficult. In this effort, family and friends’ view of medication and doctors can be affected. Some may grow cynical when results are not as immediate. Others may grow overly-reliant on the role of doctors-medicine for healthy emotions. The resource www.bradhambrick.com/mentalillness is intended to balance these expectations.

10. Grief and Loss: People who love you will experience sorrow as you struggle. This is right and good (Romans 12:15). It can feel awkward or guilt-provoking when your emotions have this kind of influence on others. But when you see this influence simply say, “Thank you… Thank you for caring about me enough that what happens in my life impacts you. I want you to know that my emotions are not your responsibility, but it is comforting to know that I am not alone in this experience.” Affirm their character while releasing their sense of responsibility.

11. Shame: Unfortunately, there is still a social stigma associated with depression-anxiety. It can make other’s knowledge of what you’re experiencing feel like a secret. Secrets create a sense of separation and, with that separation, shame. We face a cultural battle to corporately understand depression-anxiety better so that this stigma can be removed. The removal of every stigma happens when courageous individuals will talk openly about their experience and use it to educate others. This seminar is intended to help you, and thereby strengthen the entire church, in this process.

12. Spiritual Crisis: Depression-anxiety generates many God-questions; for you and those who love you. We will explore these in great detail in chapters four through six. Share what you learn with those who love you. This will help reinforce what you are learning and help them process the corresponding questions they are also asking.

Read I Samuel 1:3-8. It might be easy to conclude from this section that family and friends are innocent by-standers affected by your emotions. That is not always true. Often our “support network” can be less than helpful. Look at the example of Elkannah (v. 8). His “support” revealed that he clearly did not understand. Hannah’s sorrow made him uncomfortable and he wanted her to feel better. But God would have to comfort Hannah in spite of his words instead of through them. Part of the comfort we take from Scripture is the examples of how God was faithful even when his people were clumsy with one another.

Read Galatians 6:1-5. Notice the different ways that God describes how relationships should work when one person needs other to bear their burdens. First, notice that you should go to those who are more mature in their faith (v. 1a). Second, notice that these individuals are instructed to know their own limits (v. 1b). Third, notice how you are providing them an opportunity to fulfill the law of Christ (v. 2). Fourth, notice that even those who are spiritually mature are prone to the same struggles (v. 3). Finally, notice that, while this person comes alongside you for encouragement, each of you maintain responsibility for your own lives and struggles (v. 5).

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.

Generational Sin: Destiny or Context?

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor JD’s sermon “Consequences: 2 Samuel 12-16” preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday February 5-6, 2011.

When we see and hear how the sin of David affected his son Absalom many of us may begin to experience fear. This fear is compounded if we consider God’s words in the second of the Ten Commandments.

“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:5-6).”

The gracious disproportion of numbers is not much comfort if you are in one of the first three generations. So we have to ask, “What is this verse talking about?” Some would say it means that God punishes children for the sins of their parents. God has heard His people ask this question before and answered it in Ezekiel 18:19-21.

“Yet you say, ‘Why should the son suffer for the iniquity of the father? When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But IF a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die (capitalization added).’”

The question we are asking pivots on, “What makes the ‘if’ so hard?” We are all wicked in the sense that we are born in sin and righteousness is unnatural. So the link between Exodus 20 and Ezekiel 18 seems to be that it is harder for someone to turn from sin when their family of origin rejects God.

One reason for this is that following God is unnatural. Proverbs 22:15a describes all our beginnings; “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.” There is a natural consequence to absence of godly parenting – we go in the way that seems right to us which ends in death (Prov. 14:12, 16:25).

But there seems to be more to it than natural consequences in Exodus 20. I would describe it as a “life context with momentum.” There is more than the absence of good; there is the presence of bad. A child learns a lifestyle, collects hurts, gathers fears, and takes on goals. This is the child’s life context for years, even decades.

Like braces on teeth, this molds the child, even if the child can tell the context is wrong and doesn’t want to continue it. The child only knows what not to do. In avoiding the evil they know, there are many more dysfunctions to fall into. After all there is only “one way” that leads to life (John 14:6) and many ways that seem good that lead to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).

I believe this gives us insight into another passage that speaks of influences beyond our immediate life and choice – Ephesians 6:10-20 on spiritual warfare. It is interesting that the only active steps we are called to in spiritual warfare are to “put on the armor (v. 11, 13)” and “stand firm (v. 13).”

In light of this discussion, I would say this means:

  1. Study the Bible diligently to “put on the armor of God”: to learn God’s truth, gain a vision for God’s righteousness, embrace and live in the gospel of peace, by faith resist the lies of your upbringing, trust in God’s salvation, and ask the Spirit to penetrate these things into your heart.
  2. Understand the context of your family of origin. Examine what you learned inaccurately from them—what things they taught you to be good, valuable or desirable that are not. What things did they model to be scarce or withhold that are plentiful in Christ? Know these influences “with momentum” so that you can “stand firm” in God’s armor when they push you towards destruction.

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

Special Trip IV: Keeping Rules and Relationship Balanced

One of the things I have found most satisfying as a parent is defining special occasions and major lessons with a memorable trip. In previous posts I have discussed (1) the kindergarten right of passage trip I took with my first son, (2) a trip we took when he was especially discouraged at school, and (3) the kindergarten right of passage with my youngest son.

This post is about our fourth “special trip” – this is now a technical term in our family referring to a trip I take with one or both of our boys to mark a special occasion or teach a particular lesson.

Our recent trip was unique in that it was not a “right of passage” trip for one son or triggered by a difficult life circumstance. Based upon the incredible memories we created on the earlier trips (see concluding note), it was a trip we wanted to take together.

On this trip I had two primary objectives:

  1. As a father who is firm in discipline and structure of our home, I wanted to ensure there was a balance in rules and relationship in my parenting. I believe in the adage “rules without relationship equal rebellion.” The opposite is also true, but I don’t fear that imbalance in myself (at least until I become a grandparent).
  2. Create an opportunity to speak to a key area of growth in each son during a positive, memorable occasion. In this case, the issue was the role of speech in the character of a young man. The main passage we talked about on a couple of occasions was James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body.”
    • My rising third grader is in a stage of cognitive development where his critical thinking skills and problem solving skills are emerging. The result is offering a better solution to a large percentage of things adults ask of him – non-malicious backtalk.
    • My rising first grader, who idolizes his big brother, can be a bit loose with the truth when it means appearing bigger or doing an unpleasant task – lying.
    • I wanted to describe these patterns in a setting where it was beyond doubt that I was “for them” and offer a challenge be alert to and grow in those areas.

As for the itinerary of the trip we had a few planned activities: go to Sliding Rock in the mountains of North Carolina to coast down a waterfall, go to Six Flags because my oldest loves roller coasters, and go to the Georgia Aquarium because my youngest wanted to take his brother to what he saw the year before. We found a few other adventures along the way (pictures here).

Here are my thoughts on the trip.

  • Traditions are starting to form which add to the anticipation and nostalgia of these trips – things as simple as starting with a McDonald’s cinnamelt breakfast and ending with an Applebee’s two-for-twenty dinner to review the trip.
  • I like having at least one item on the trip that stretches their sense of adventure. In this case it was riding the waterfall ($1 per person) and then we spontaneously added rock climbing at the Bass Pro Shop ($3 per person). I want my boys to have a sense that they can do anything and have fun doing it.
  • Working in assertive life lessons is something that these trips offer the opportunity to teach – pumping gas, checking into a hotel, or ordering at a restaurant.
  • Having 72 uninterrupted hours to hear my boys chatter and play, while getting to be a part of it all, was a blessing when most often I get a couple of hours at the end of the day.
  • Finding an unexpected waterfall and spending an hour trying to catch tiny brim with our bare hands was a great memory. Leaving room for these unplanned moments adds to the sense that these trips are an adventure.
  • Sliding Rock was a complete bomb – too cold for my boys to enjoy. I had to be okay with that. The waterfall more than made up for it.
  • Six Flags faced a similar challenge. In the middle of the day when it was hot and lines were long, the boys were down on the experience. It was tempting to scold them about how special this time was and how grateful they should be. But I managed to keep them going. About 3pm the lines shortened and we found our favorite coaster (the Ninja). After that I couldn’t get them to leave the park until 8pm.
  • Waiting until the week before to book the hotel at kayak.com allowed us to get a great rate on a four star hotel; almost at a two star price (the commercials didn’t lie on this one and my boys were impressed).
  • Getting to see the excitement and pride on my 6 year old’s face when he rode a roller coaster with his eyes open for the first time was priceless. He was beaming and couldn’t stop asking, “Can we do it again?” I want to share as many of those moments as I can.
  • Meals are a great time to review what has happened on the trip to build the sense of story that develops. This builds the sense that we’re doing something special.
  • The travel legs of the trip can be important for younger kids to catch a nap if activities push you past their bedtime.
  • Both times we did our Bible study we reviewed the same passage and these ideas. It was great that at the end of the trip both boys could articulate where they needed to grow and talk about it without a sense of discouragement or shame.
  • Walking through downtown Atlanta, from the hotel to the aquarium, we saw several homeless people and spoke to one man. This was an opportunity to talk to my boys about suffering, choices, and generosity.
  • While in Atlanta the boys commented many times on the size of the city. This allowed us to talk about how important cities are in the advancement of the gospel; planting a little missions-DNA into their thinking process.
  • We got to read a map and navigate streets of a major city as we looked for our Dunkin Donuts for breakfast; another adventure and instructional moment for young boys.
  • Having our “big meal” at the end to review the trip was great. It slowed us down for conversation as we waited for our meal and then dessert. It was another opportunity to solidify the stories of the trip in their memory and remind them why we took the trip.

Note from Previous Trips: My mom took the pictures from our two right of passage trips and made children books for each boy using shutterfly.com. This is a book both boys love to get out each time we have company over. It is incredible to hear the amount of detail they can remember (i.e., events, conversations, etc…) and how excited they get to tell the story of the “special trips.”

These are a great keepsake and a way to get the boys to review these trips in their minds many times. Reviewing these books and seeing others get excited about our adventures build the sense that these will be memorable times. I build a sense of excitement in them and me for Special Trip V (stay tuned).

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

Hambrick Family Christmas Letter 2012

Dear Friends,

Seems like I was just writing the 2011 version of this letter. But while the time has passed quickly, much has happened to update our friends and family about.  This was our first full year settled in our new house. After not decorating for Christmas in 2010 because of our holiday move, the boys responded to our Christmas decorations like they’d never seen them. It was almost enough to make me look forward to all of the work of putting them out this year #bahumbug.

Marshall has started kindergarten and absolutely loves it. Our formerly “silent child” chatters up a storm and is excited about getting to do homework every night. I thought that would have wore off by now, but I’m not complaining. We took a “right of passage” trip in August to make starting school feel more special (story and pictures at link). By his request we climbed a mountain and then walked under the ocean.

Lawson is growing in his love for sports and adventure. We went to Disney this summer and he caught the roller coaster bug. I think we will be taking several trips to amusement parks in the coming years. Our coach-pitch baseball team this Fall was a perfect 9-0, and Lawson is already talking about the Spring season. To help the boys bond with our new city, we’ve started an expedition of visiting all the chili cheese dogs joints in RDU (story and pictures at link).

Sallie couldn’t stand having free time with Marshall in school so she has started substitute teaching at the boys school, created a small “design on a dime” decorating business, and launched a small group for single young professional women at our church. She has painted every room in our home since we moved in last June (badly needed since it was a highly distressed seller house).

Brad has had no problem staying busy between his role at Summit (www.summitrdu.com) and Southeastern (www.sebts.edu). His first two booklets were published this year and he has three more publications coming out this year (www.bradhambrick.com/publications) including being a featured counselor in the new DivorceCare product line. Brad is creating a series of marriage seminars for our church “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage” (posted at link).

Over the next year we would appreciate your prayers that we will (1) fully enjoy this sweet season when our boys are young and lay a good foundation for their future, (2) prioritize marriage and family during a very busy season of life and ministry, and (3) grow in our trust in God’s character and effectiveness at sharing His hope with others.

We want to thank you for your friendship and the unique role you have played in the life our family. Our prayer is that this Christmas you will experience the power, peace, and joy of Immanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23) – and have opportunity to multiply the experience of that hope by sharing it with others.

Merry Christmas!
The Hambrick Family

P.S. For an idea of how to teach your children the real meaning of Christmas, check out this article.

Why We Do “Chili Cheese Dog Adventures”

We moved to Raleigh-Durham in January of 2011. Two years prior we had moved from one side of Augusta, GA to the other (we weren’t expecting to relocate from our ministry position there). The result would be that my then seven and four year old boys would live in four homes and two cities in the course of three years.

Other than our outdoor-loving child being depressed by a cramped apartment in winter, the boys adapted well. Their school performance remained constant, there were not significant regressions in their developmental markers, and they continued to bond decently well with friends.

But I noticed that they talked about moving frequently. Their expectation was that we would move annually. That was now normal to them. They daydreamed about where they wanted to live next and why. They compared what they knew (Georgia) with what they didn’t know (North Carolina).

As parents, my wife and I realized that we needed to help our boys plant roots in Raleigh-Durham. As far as we can know, God’s will is that this will be “home” for them. But their life experience didn’t confirm this reality. We believed this was an important part of their discipleship because it was an important part of their sense of identity – where are you from?

The problem was its hard to do a Bible study at an early-elementary level on a “theology of place” as it relates to your personal identity. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I want to tackle that subject at the graduate level.

But living missionally is largely contingent upon having a sense of belonging to the place that you live. I don’t know many effective missionaries or pastors who do not have a deep sense of belonging to the place they live.

So what did we do? We brainstormed a way to help our boys bond with our city. What was our answer? Chili cheese dog adventures. My oldest son loves them and my youngest son idolizes his brother. So we pitched the idea and they loved it.

From there it was simple. We did an on-line search for all the hotdog joints in RDU. Now whenever we have a free afternoon, we hit one (pictures available on Facebook). Now my boys frequently ask, “Papa, when can we go on another chili cheese dog adventure?” It makes for great conversations.

My hope for these adventures would be:

  1. My boys bond with our city and begin to feel at home in a new place.
  2. My relationship with my boys is strengthened as we have another set of memories together.
  3. My boys will have a positive experience of their family following God’s lead.

What is the take away from this blog? It’s not that every father should take his children on a highly unhealthy food adventure. The point is that discipleship is rooted in relationship. In this case, my boys were beginning to see every relationship except our core family as transient. We could also hear hints of the belief that following God creates more loss than gain.

In this case, I believe the best way to disciple my boys was with something like our “Chili Cheese Dog Adventures.” They weren’t having an intellectual struggle. They were having an emotional-relational struggle. Until I helped them bond with this city, little that I shared about following God’s lead to RDU would impact them in a positive way.

So the take away questions would be – What are the challenges that your children are facing? What are the best ways to set up the truths they need to learn about who God is and how they should live to glorify Him? Be creative and remember that discipleship is rooted in relationship, so develop your relationship with them in a way that prepares the way for your discipleship efforts.

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

Contented Contentment

I used to think that contentment merely meant being satisfied with what God provided. With this definition all I had to do was to avoid grumbling and anxiety (easier said than done), and I passed the contentment test.

But I realized I was cheating, or, at least, that my definition was incomplete. I was only measuring contentment by my attitude towards “stuff” not the “time” I exchanged for that stuff for or the “drive” that fueled the time I traded for stuff.

The harder I worked and the more I did, the more God provided. I could expand my margins of contentment through a good work ethic, sound financial management, and a strong entrepreneurial drive. I don’t think these things are bad, they just allowed me to avoid a key area of my character development.

When I only looked at contentment as a money issue, I could unhealthily pull on “my” reserves of time and energy to equal the ledger for my desire for stuff.

Further, this definition served my flesh well, because I value achievement much more than I value stuff. So not only could I cheat the self-defined system, I could become more self-righteous as I did it. Contentment was a virtue for greedy people not ambitious people – I wasn’t “one of them.”

As I have wrestled with this expanded definition of contentment, I have realized that contentment was not a limit God put on me (be satisfied with less), but a gift of rest God offers and wants me to embrace. God offers contentment to people at every point on the socio-economic spectrum and at every rung on the ladder of success.

Now my definition for contentment goes like this, “Contentment is being satisfied with what God provides when we exercise our God given gifts and abilities within a godly stewardship of our time and relationships for God’s glory.”

This view of contentment is harder to cheat. At least it is new enough that my flesh has not been able to exercise its full creative energies upon it yet.

In my contented (i.e., restfully sane) moments, I don’t want to cheat this definition. When I truly see that contentment is the rest that God wants to inject into everything I do, I run to this virtue not away from it.

This challenges me with a larger question, “What is wrong with me that I do not always see every virtue that God offers me in Christ as a gift? How can my moral vision be so skewed that death looks like life?”

For me, and I suspect for many others, the answer is pride. I resist rest because it insults me. Rest reminds me that God is capable of everything even when I’m doing nothing. Rest shows me how little my effort actually adds to God’s sovereignty.

Rest reminds me that God involves me because He loves me and takes pleasure in my pleasure as I express the gifts He gave me. When I am content enough to see this, it gives me a joy that makes my work and my rest the life-sustaining pleasure they were intended to be.

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

Michelle Bachmann and Submission

This is not a political blog. It is neither for nor against any party or candidate. But in the midst of the recent Republican debate a question was raised of Michelle Bachmann about how her beliefs in the biblical teaching on wives submitting to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22) would affect her service to our country if she were elected president.

I believe this is a unique context in which evangelicals can define our beliefs on this issue. Most often we are the one’s initiating this topic of conversation or defending against an attack. In this context, however, we have the opportunity to join an existing cultural conversation.

I do not pretend that what I have to say will represent all evangelicalism on this subject. But I do hope that these reflections can be a constructive part of the conversation. While I will discuss two areas in which I disagree with the Bachmann family and one where I would articulate their point differently, I do not intend for this post to question the genuineness of their faith.

I fully recognize that I am limited to responding to a sound bite (which may not accurately represent the Bachmann family), but since that is what is in the cultural dialogue, I believe it is appropriate to do so provided one speaks with humility and about the issue rather than against the person.

I merely think this is an important time for evangelicals to enter the cultural dialogue in a positive, edifying way. I greatly appreciate the fact that the Bachmann family is willing to express their beliefs and invite our country to a discussion of marriage where the husband and wife love one another and seek to honor each other. I believe that alone is a significant, positive change in most conversations we have about marriage and family in the political realm.

Disagree About Career Choice

I would disagree with the application of submission that Michelle Bachmann made about submission to her husband and the choice to study tax law in her 2006 statement. In my opinion this over extends the jurisdiction of submission. Choosing the field of work for one’s wife is not what it means for a husband to lead his family.

My wife has been a full time teacher, full time mother, part time financial coach, and considered taking up refinishing antique furniture. The only role that submission has played in those decisions is in determining whether our family was in a position whether those transitions were wise and feasible for our family given our season of life and financial status at that time.

Our initial conversations were about the priorities by which we wanted to guide our family and those things my wife would find most fulfilling. With agreement on priorities (without which marriage is generally messy; not just with reference to submission), the points at which submission becomes relevant would be feasibility and timing.

Irrelevant to White House

While I don’t know how it would have come across in a political debate or if it would have fit in her allotted 60 second response time, I believe the question about submission and the presidency should have been responded to as a bad question. Submission is a relational dynamic that applies to the home and not the work place.

When my wife was a teacher, her responding to me in a submissive way did not mean that she should have felt compelled to utilize each of my classroom management suggestions. Once we made a family decision that her teaching was a good choice for our family during that season of our lives, my role as her husband to her as a teacher became one of love and support, not leadership over her educational responsibilities.

The question she was asked framed submission in a way which implied submission removed the voice of women (both in and outside the home). Any articulation of submission which does this is one that I believe misapplies biblical teaching.

More Than Respect

With that said, I would have to disagree with Michelle Bachmann’s assertion that submission merely means respecting her husband. While Ephesians 5:33 says that a wife should respect her husband, Ephesians 5:22 calls wives to submit to their own husbands. If they were the same, both would not need to be said.

In a relationship that is life long and requires the sharing of so many precious assets (not just money, time, and house, but children, interests, and faith), someone must have a final say. I cannot fathom how any relationship between fallen people would function otherwise.

However, let me state this just as clearly and with equal confidence: any marriage that is relying upon submission regularly in its decision making is an unhealthy marriage that has much bigger problems than gender roles. If I asked my wife to submit to me in a decision and she resisted, then I would either assume I had failed to lovingly understand and display sincere value for her position or that we had problems in other areas of our personal-marital life that I was unaware of or neglecting. Either way, my next response as a husband called to love my wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) is to listen better as I examine my own heart.

 

God’s Words for Workaholics: Psalm 127

Case Study: When Philip said, “I am a teacher,” he was making a true statement of his identity. If they allowed the same person to win “Teacher of the Year” multiple times, his would be the only name on the hallway plaque. Reading, preparing lectures, designing classroom projects, giving feedback on student papers, and meeting with students were all a joy to Philip. “Changing the future one student at a time,” was a motto and a drug for Philip.

Philip’s wife, however, wanted some of the attention and passion directed towards students for her. Admittedly, she had grown angry (with a strong dose of jealousy), then bitter, then distant, and now disinterested in their 30 years of marriage. Marriage was now only a convenient way to have more time and money to pursue her other interests.

When she used to try to talk to Philip about balance in his life, he would only complain that she didn’t support him and she should be proud to have a husband who works that hard. Now Philip is the one on the bitter-distant cycle as he feels like his wife only uses him for money. But when that thought gets him down, Philip pours himself back into teaching in order to “stay positive.”

What hurts Philip most is how disinterested his boys are in him or education. The boys also began to resent school when they could see it was stealing their father and becoming the definition of “being a good son.” While they wanted to be a real person worth knowing, they felt reduced to their mind and their future when talking with Dad. Dad’s connections were helpful to get into nicer schools, but they vowed not to take their education too seriously because they feared becoming “like Dad.”

Philip is wrestling with mid-life issues. He has worked for three decades on “his dreams” but it not sure what to do with them now. His relationships with his wife, boys, and grandkids are functional at best. Making a will is almost depressing. He wanted to leave something to his boys to help them pursue their dreams. But the boys seem allergic to pursuing a dream (intentionally so).

As Philip struggled with depression, he tried returning to his faith. His teacher-side likes poetry so he began reading through the Psalms. When he came to Psalm 127 he read it many times over. For him it was “he Psalm less traveled.” He saw in it a warning against his life-dominating error. He prayed through it many times and eventually rewrote it in his words to use as part of his repentance to his wife and boys.

Pre-Questions: This case study is meant to challenge you to think biblically about the real struggles of life. These questions will not be answered completely in the sections below. But they do represent the kind of struggles that are being wrestled with in Psalm 127. Use the question to both stir application and to give you new insight into the psalm.

  • What are the warning signs that a job is becoming an identity?
  • What kind of relationships should Philip have established to serve a warning system?
  • How did an over-emphasis on work become both the cause and “cure” of Philip’s family problems?
  • How did Philip’s dream become both the standard and methodology of his parenting?

Read Psalm 127 in your preferred Bible translation. The “rewrite” of Psalm 127 below is an attempt to capture the words that God would give Philip to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This would be something Philip would need to pray many times as he struggled to surrender his work-based identity to the Lord.

A re-write of Psalm 127

1. I thought I could build my own dream life. I labored hard and excelled (in every tangible way I knew to measure or pursue “success”), but I am starting to wonder if it was worth it. I built a career, but I can’t live in it and it’s lonely.  I gave my wife and boys every “thing” and “opportunity” I knew existed, but that has not made us a family.

2. I was the first one in the office and stayed up late researching or grading. My labor has not provided what was most important. I would work through lunch and be distracted during “family dinners,” but I think God (and I) would have been much happier if I had learned to rest and enjoy life. I see now that God wanted to give me rest, not because I was weak, but because He loved me and my family.

3. I thought my career was my gift from God and that with it I could reward my children. I realize now that my boys were my primary gift from God and that they were given to me to be enjoyed and loved more than rewarded and advanced. I have always seemed to miss relationships in the name of progress.

4. I thought my lectures, my writings, or my students would be my legacy. Now that they are all I have, I see I was wrong. My children are where I could have had the biggest impact on the world. My boys were God’s designed weapon with which I should have focused on advancing God’s kingdom and changing the world.

5. Fortunate is the father who pours himself into his children first; whose satisfaction is in his children more than his career or reputation. Everything I once did for my own glory now brings me shame as I see the damage it did to my family. When I speak with those I used to “compete with” for glory, I am only reminded of how they distracted me from what was most important.

Passages for Further Study: I Corinthians 6:12; Ephesians 4:15-17, notice that Ephesians 6:1-4 (parenting) comes before 6:5-9 (work); 2 Thessalonians 2:6-16

Post Questions: Now that you have read Psalm 127, examined how Philip might rewrite it for his situation, and studied several other passages, consider the following questions:

  • How should Philip deal with the sense of regret and guilt he feels for the damage his focus on work did to his family?
  • How should Philip respond to the anger or indifference his wife and boys may have when he comes to them in repentance?
  • How would your answers to the “pre-questions” have changed as a result of reflecting on Psalm 127?
  • For what instances of work or performance-based identity do you need to re-write your own version of Psalm 127?

Gratitude as Weakness

You might read the title of this post and assume that I was implying that gratitude was a bad thing. But that would be because you might assume that weakness was a bad thing. Actually I am saying the opposite of both. Gratitude is a good thing because weakness is a good thing.

Most of our relational civilities are built upon the assumption that it is safe to be weak in trusted relationships.  Whenever we say, “Thank you… I like… that was nice… would you… please… excuse me… yes sir, etc…” we are making ourselves vulnerable to a harsh response. The other person could say, “You better say thank you… I don’t like… don’t expect it again… who do you think I am… No!” or ignore us.

Beyond a harsh response, we also are declaring the other person as worthy of honor. Kings and Queens stand for the presence of no one and have no need of the words “Thank you.” When we are grateful we are declaring I am not a king or queen. When we are grateful with a glad heart we are saying that we do not have to be a king or queen in order to be safe or secure.

With this in mind, consider Jesus’ words in Mark 9:35:

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

The problem with being a king or queen is that everyone is a threat to your position. There can be only one king or queen (unless you live in a fantasy world like Narnia, of course). In the norm

al scope of thing being “first” is lonely and unsafe.

It is only in the kingdom of God that being first can be shared and safe.  In heaven, where competition will be eliminated, gratitude will be natural because strength will be irrelevant. We are invited to begin living that way now. We are encouraged to pray that this would be more common in the Lord’s Prayer:

“Your will be done one earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10b).”

When we conduct our homes, friendship, and workplaces in a manner that makes strength irrelevant and gratitude natural, we are making those environments more “heavenly.” Unfortunately, in our fallen world this often takes great courage and sometimes results in suffering.

However, when this happens let us resist the temptation to envy the powerful person who has made gratitude unnatural. Rather, let us pity this person as being trapped in a relational world that requires strength in order to be safe. Our compassion will likely increase their anger (at least at first) because receiving compassion (another relational civility) requires admitting weakness.

As their anger increases, so will their conviction (Heb 11:7). But we must remember than while we do not succumb to the false gospel of their anger (“strength will deliver me”), we are not a slave to their demanding (Rom 12:17-18 implies we can walk away when things are unreasonable).

Our goal, however, is to live in the safety of the gospel as an open invitation to those around us and to be able to echo the words of Paul in II Corinthians 12:9 at all times:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”

Life In/Under Christ – Ephesians 1:15-23

The Eyes of Your Heart (1:18)

How can two people look at the same thing or event and come away with very different conclusions? Culturally, this is explained through a system of beliefs called “relativism” which states that only perspective (as opposed to real, objective truth) exists. This belief system is summed up in the phrase, “What may be right to you may not be so to me; who am I to judge?”

Ephesians points us in a different direction for answering this question. People come away with different conclusions because of the varying conditions of their hearts. Our beliefs, values, agenda, priorities, hopes, allegiances, pet peeves, and affections shape what we see. Christians believe in more than objective truth. Christians believe that our hearts must be in tune with God’s heart in order to perceive and respond to our world correctly.

Application: When you and a friend recall a given conversation or event differently consider how the “eyes of your heart” (beliefs, values, agenda, priorities, hopes, allegiances, pet peeves, and affections) shaped the difference. Try to step out of your perspective and vested interest to ask what God’s heart for that moment was. Until we begin to ask questions about the “eyes of heart” we will not know if they are blind.

Hope to Which He Has Called You (1:18)

 

We are called to hope. That seems like a simple statement, but (to be honest) it caught me off guard. It seemed much more natural to say we have been called as God’s children (relationship), to share the Gospel (mission), or to live holy lives (character).  But it seemed a bit odd to think that we have been called to hope (disposition).

While I do not believe there is one ultimate personality – as if fully sanctified people will share the same sense of humor or risk-tolerance, it does seem that we are called to express our personalities (extrovert/introvert, optimist/pessimist, random/orderly, spender/saver) displaying a disposition of hope.

Reflection: This must mean that hope can come in many different “flavors.” Do you tend to think of hope as having one mode of expression? What about other virtues of disposition (humility, faith, love, courage, patience)? What do we lose when we assign these virtues

to particular personality types or modes of expression? Use you imagination to consider what each virtue (especially hope) might look like when expressed by different types of people.

Christ the Head

Any debate over what it means for a husband to be the head of his wife in Ephesians 5:23, should not begin until a study has been done of what it means for Christ to be the head of the church in Ephesians 1:22. The relationship of husband and wife are meant to mirror the relationship of Christ and the church. To start with husband and wife questions would be like learning about the Grand Canyon from a picture when you could take a tour by donkey back.

There is no way to answer the breadth of questions this subject creates and this goal here is not to debate skeptics. What can be offered is a process of reflection for the genuinely confused or those seeking a more complete understanding. Use the following questions to help you journey from Ephesians 1 (where Paul starts) to Ephesians 5.

  • How does Christ relate to the church in authority, compassion, guidance, allowing freedom/preference, sacrifice, patience, etc…?
  • What are other titles/metaphors/roles by which Christ relates to the church? How are these similar to, different from, or complementary with that of “head”?
  • How well does the church respond to Christ as her head?
  • How does Christ respond to the church in the midst of her struggles to submit?
  • What decisions do a husband and wife face where headship and submission are needed? In what situations should general obedience (actions, values, and disposition) to God’s Word make headship and submission largely irrelevant categories?
  • How should a husband relate to his wife in authority, compassion, guidance, allowing freedom/preference, sacrifice, patience, etc…?
  • What other titles/metaphors/roles does Scripture give for how a husband relates to his wife?
  • What should happen when a husband fails to be a Christ-like head? What should happen when a wife fails to respond in church-like submission?
  • What practical or theological questions remain for you about husband-wife relations?

As you continue in this study of Ephesians, pay careful attention to the relationship between Christ and the church to prepare you to accurately apply the marriage section.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.