All posts tagged Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Find Joy “In” Suffering

When Scripture indicates that Christians should be able to rejoice in their suffering (Rom. 5:3-5) because of the hope we have in the gospel, it can be difficult to accept. Some try to make the teaching more palatable by offering a variant definition of “joy;” others try to promise that the outcomes of how God redeems suffering will be so significant the pleasure will be greater than the pain.

There are times when either approach can be accurate and helpful. Yes, there are times when our expectations of happiness are so temporal that we need to be challenged. And, there are also times when God does amazing things in our hardships which we would never change.

But these two options, by themselves, seem incomplete. I would like to offer a third possibility through a metaphor emphasizing the word “in.”

There is a rainbow “in” every drop of water. When light passes through a water droplet a full spectrum of colors are revealed. Depending on the source of light, shape of the water, and location of the surface on which the rainbow appears different variants of colors show up. The full ROY G BIV spectrum is there, but the thickness of each color varies.

Here is how the metaphor plays out:

  • Water represents the suffering we experience.
  • Light represents the redemptive work / truth of God.
  • Colors represent the various religious affections that can be demonstrated; for the purposes of this blog, the expectation that we should experience joy.

Joy is not the only “color” that can express faith (light) in hardship (water). There is also courage, hope, honesty, authenticity, love, etc… Too often in these suffering-joy discussions we get hung up on one color in the rainbow. There are times; perhaps frequently in the early stages of suffering, when “joy” may be the skinny color in the rainbow.

Consider, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted (Matt. 5:4).” In this case the dominant color of faith is authenticity – being vulnerable about the nature of one’s loss. God’s light takes the form of comfort in this context of loss. The result is the capacity for joy, a very skinny color in the immediate moment, is a slowly returned as precious memories you loved one can be savored again.

The reality is that various forms of suffering (water – pure, salted, colored) will produce different emotional experiences. How God cares for and speaks to each of these situations will be different (light – sun, florescent, colored). In return the emotional form our faith takes (color – full emotional spectrum) will be different and may initially be “dark” or “dull” colors.

But the promise is, as we cooperate with God’s redemptive work in the midst of our suffering, the “joy color” will be restored to our emotional experience. Suffering cannot remove the capacity for joy from our experience.

God does not call us to be emotionally fake – the equivalent of adding food coloring to the water to force the “appropriate-Christian” color change. Instead, God calls us to trust him that the capacity for joy is not removed from our life by the pollution of suffering.

While I know this is stretching the metaphor even further, I believe it is another important point to be made, sometimes God restores the capacity for joy by wiping away the droplet in the form of a tear and collecting it as a tender treasure (Psalm 56:8). God often choose tenderness as his “light,” even more than explanation, as the way he restores our capacity for joy.

Any post built on metaphors runs the risk of being as confusing as clarifying. My attempt has been to help those who are suffering see that God does not expect you to force a pleasant emotion on these experiences. God can comfort you in this moment and still bring forth the “color of joy” in the experience while honoring the genuine emotional turmoil of your suffering.

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

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

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

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

Strengths of the Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Effects of an Affair

We know that the betrayal of an affair hurts, but the intensity of the pain, awkwardness of the subject, and crisis-nature of the disclosure often cause us to neglect asking, “What does an affair do that causes it to hurt so badly?” In this post, we will look at three things that an affair does which account for the level of pain it creates.

Shuffles Our Story

Affairs hide and lie. We live in ignorance. While we may not think things are “great,” we have no idea what is actually occurring in our life story. Innocently, we can live a lie for weeks, months, or years. When the facts come to light we look back on our life and don’t know what parts of our memories are true and what parts are fiction.

Before the facts came to light if someone asked you to tell your life story, you could (although it might be a time consuming request). Now you can’t. That is incredibly painful and disorienting. It makes you feel mentally, emotionally, and narratively naked. We make so many decisions based upon where our life going (tracing the direction of our story). When your story gets shuffled, the ability to make decision can feel paralyzed.

Confuses Our Vocabulary

I love you. I’m going to the gym. Every compliment. Every criticism. Every apology. Any reference to the future. Any reference to the past. What do they mean? What did they mean? Do they mean anything? Obviously I missed the message before and I don’t want to miss it again. Every word becomes a riddle.

It is painful to feel forced to live as a constant skeptic in one’s own house for the purpose of self-protection. This is the marital equivalent of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). When language is stripped of meaning, then the currency of relationships has its value removed. We can exchange words, but it doesn’t feel like any transaction is occurring.

Makes Trust Seem Naïve

Home is no longer “safe” for the reasons discussed above, and when home is not safe (a place of rest and replenishing) then the whole world feel more threatening. We begin to believe that only pain and bad news can be true. If I get good news and believe it, I am just being naïve like I was before.

This is the pain of lies. We don’t lie to make things sound worse than they are. So when lies have jolted our world, we begin to believe that everything is worse than we have been told. Common sense is something we gain on the other side of innocence. Now that we are “wordly wise” innocence (expressed partly as trust) it is hard to regain and often feared more than desired.

Where Do We Begin?

This picture sounds pretty bleak. It is. Hope enters a dark place when it returns after an affair. Anything that minimizes this fact gives false hope to the offender and places unwarranted pressure upon the betrayed. There is hope, but hope should not be used to minimize the damage.

So what should the offender do? These points are meant to correspond with the relational damage described above. They both assume that repentance towards God has already occurred and examining the lies and deceitful desires you bought into during the affair.

First, join your spouse where they are. You know what happened; they don’t. Do not speak with a confidence that assumes their world is as certain as yours.

Second, seek to understand their experience. Words will begin to have meaning from you understanding them not them understanding you. You should answer your spouse’s questions (with complete honesty), but trust will build from you understanding them not you giving facts to them.

Third, recognize and honor the faith and risk of trust. This honor will be expressed dispositionally through patience, refraining from self-pity, and not getting defensive. Your spouse will likely be repetitive as they put their story back together (like someone who is grieving). This process is the building of trust and you honor it by not making them walk it alone. You are receiving grace from one who bleeds as they give it. Honor the Jesus you see in them.

For more help and guidance walking through the aftermath of infidelity the True Betrayal videos are available at www.bradhambrick.com/truebetrayal.

 

But My Spouse Won’t Be Honest About His/Her Sexual Sin

Question: After I learned of my husband’s infidelity, I began your nine step study called “True Betrayal.” I found it helpful and started to get some hope back until my husband would not cooperate with the full disclosure exercise in step two. Actually, he will barely answer any of my questions now because he says, “It will only upset me.” I think he’s still lying and hiding his sin. Can your materials still help me? If so, how?

*This question is equally relevant when a wife will not be honest to husband our her sexual sin. Neither sexual sin nor the answer to this question is gender-specific.

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

  • True Betrayal: This is a video based nine step resource for those whose spouse is caught in sexual sin (from pornography to adultery).
  • False Love: This is a video based nine step resource for those, single or married, who are caught in sexual sin (from pornography to adultery).
  • How Specific Should a Spouse be Confessing Sexual Sin?: This is a blog that offers a 5 minute video by David Powlison and specific guidance on this question.
  • Self-Centered Spouse: This is blog series that seeks to answer the question, “What do I do when my spouse is so aggressively or passively self-centered that it is hard to have a normal relationship?”
  • To Speak or Not to Speak: This a section from chapter three of the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication” seminar that looks at how Scripture calls us to respond to various levels of offenses.
  • Unfaithful: This is an excellent book by Gary and Mona Shriver which tells their story of overcoming the pain and relational damage of infidelity.

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

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

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

God’s Words for “Bouncy” Anxiety

Jill would begin by worrying about finances. Things were tight and the economy was down. Being a Christian and knowing she should trust God (Matt 6:25-34) caused her fear to be replaced by guilt. Guilt did a good, short-term job of replacing fear, but it made her feel far from God.

The distance from God left her weak to other fears. “What if the kids get made fun of at school because we don’t get them the cool shoes… What if something goes wrong with the car… What if my fear makes me less attractive to my husband… What if…?” These fears created a new onslaught of guilt for not trusting God. Much of her life was a tennis match between anxiety and guilt over anxiety. It took one to interrupt the other.

She never realized how much God could relate to her experience. She thought that because God had nothing to fear that He was aloof to her struggle. One day a friend walked her through Psalm 121.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come (v. 1)?”

The psalm begins with David in battle. When the war is intense he looks to the hills for reinforcements. He begins to doubt. Will help make it in time? Which hill will they come over? Do I just want to believe their coming? David’s fears begin to sound like Jill’s.

“My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth (v. 2).”

David reminds himself of the truth he needed to hear. His fear made him quick to forget that the very hills he scanned for help were craftsmanship of the God who was for him. Jill can rest in the fact that David also had to remind himself of these kinds of truths. More than this, Jill can rest in the fact that God inspired David to pen these words and include them in Scripture for His anxious children.

“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber (v. 3).”

David anticipates the next round of fears that will assault him and his men. Will God keep his feet strong for the journey ahead? Will God take care of him when he is asleep near the battle field? David is not living poetry; he is living a battle. The poetry came later. David remembers these things because they were hard to cling to during the battle. Jill can relate to how remembering God’s faithfulness can easily devolve into focusing on the bad situation in which God must be faithful.

“Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (v. 4).”

David again reminds himself of truth about God. David may sleep near his enemies, but God never sleeps on David’s enemies. David was being forced to live that “God’s strength was made perfect in his weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)” and he was easily distracted. Jill was amazed to see that she shared so much in common with “a man’s after God’s own heart” even in the moments she felt distant from God.

“The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night (v. 5-6).”

David anticipated another round of fears. What if we grow weak in the oppressive heat of the sun? How can we keep this up all day? Or, what will we do when night comes and we can no longer see our enemy? I know God doesn’t have limits, but I do. What happens then? Jill began to smile as she realized how much God could understand the way she thought. It was amazing to think that God have her shameless words like Psalm 121 to speak-sing back to Him in her moments of fear.

“The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (v. 7-8).”

David reminds himself of the far-reaching truths of God’s protection. They cover all of life; from when he leaves his door until he returns home and from this moment as far as time or his imagination can extend. God’s faithfulness is found not only in his power and sovereignty but also his loving understanding. Walking with God in His Word through her “bouncy” fears gave Jill great confidence that she could cast her cares on God because He really did care for her (I Pet. 5:7).

When the Holy Spirit Prays for You

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on John 14:12-26 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday February 25-26, 2012.

If the Holy Spirit is indeed “the shy member of the Trinity” (always drawing attention to Jesus), then Romans 8 is a passage where His bashfulness if most noticeable. The role of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8 is often tragically lost and often leads to applications of this passage that do not reflect Paul’s pastoral intent when he penned these verses.

Most Christians know (whether they quote or cringe) verse 28, “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But few recitations of this passage trace the journey of how Paul applied this truth; as a result the sovereignty of the Father is emphasized to the neglect of the compassion of the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a journey from verse 25 to verse 28.

“But if we hope for what we do not see…” (v. 25)

Paul is writing to hurting, longing, waiting Christians. They want something (every indication is that their desire is for a good thing) but they do not have it. God seems silent to their prayers and they are struggling to maintain an accurate view of Him as gracious and good.

“…we wait for it with patience.” (v. 25)

Patience is a pretty word on paper. It sounds nice. We use it as a compliment. But patience is a virtue only necessary because of sin, so it feels like Hell. In the perfect rest of Heaven patience will be as irrelevant as time. So these waiting, hoping believers are withering as they cling to a belief in God’s faithfulness with their patience.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness…” (v. 26)

We know their wasting away because Paul speaks to their growing weakness. In this moment the Holy Spirit softly enters the text… and our lives. “Likewise” reveals how much the Spirit embraces our sorrows. The Spirit is there to help. But if the Spirit’s help is like much of the help we get from those who lead with Romans 8:28 during our suffering, we may be hesitant to receive it.

“…for we do not know what to pray for as we ought…” (v. 26)

These weak Christians, wearied by waiting for God to deliver, are beyond words to speak. When asked, “What’s wrong?” They shake their head as if to say, “I don’t know where to begin… Reciting it again would only magnify the echo of sorrow… I’ve talked to God and He was silent; what good would it do tell my sorrows to you?”

“…but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (v. 26)

What is going on here? The Spirit is speaking truth, but He is speaking to the Father, not the weary believers. The Spirit is not saying “just do this” or “something good is about to happen.” The Spirit is taking our pain and despair to the ear of the Father. Even our hopeless silence cannot be silent in the Father’s presence because of the Holy Spirit.

“And he who searches hearts…” (v. 27)

The words of the Holy Spirit are not just “on our behalf,” they are the exact representation of our heart. The words coming before the Father in our suffering are everything we would say if we had the wherewithal to articulate our hope depleted soul-aches. Our pain screams we are alone. The prayers of the Spirit remind us we are known.

“…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (v. 27)

Not only is our heart’s cry translated to God, our soul’s essence is knitted with God’s will (i.e., direction) for our life. The reach of the Spirit’s prayer is so great that it can connect our pain and God’s redemptive agenda. The distance that leaves our mind speechless is not too far for the Holy Spirit.

“And we know…” (v. 28)

This ministry of intercession by the Holy Spirit is what gives Paul confidence to speak into suffering. Paul is not offering a quick answer. Instead Paul is summarizing the implication of the tender, personal ministry of the Holy Spirit. We should only speak this truth to others in the same pastoral way that the Spirit brought Paul to this truth, through much listening and great compassion.

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

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

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

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

Strengths of the Book

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

  • Honest and Real: The greatest strength of this book is how it allows a couple to see and hear their experience from an outside perspective. It gives them something they can say, “Yes! That sounds like us. That’s what we’re going through,” when it is hard for them to believe anyone could comprehend the magnitude of their experience. The vividness and honesty with which the Shrivers tell their story (without unnecessary details) is what I have seen God use repeatedly to give couples a first taste of hope after adultery comes to light.
  • “I heard Gary come in, and I heard the boys greet their father. Normal sounds. But this wasn’t a normal household. Nothing was normal anymore. I wasn’t normal. All I could do was cry and ask questions. I was obsessed. Everyone would be fine if I could just move on. They could all just live their normal little lives with all the other normal people (p. 41)… Nothing surprised me anymore. Except me—I surprised me all the time (p. 177).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

  • Sequential: While acknowledging that recovering from an adultery is not neat and does not follow systematic “steps,” the Shrivers do organize the book around principles or themes that have a general order. They buffer from making this a “uniform process” by telling snippets of their story at the beginning of each chapter, and the vignettes vary in the time period of their recovery addressed. Within this principled lay out, I appreciated that they put forgiveness after disclosure, learning about the marriage, and mourning. Too often I find couples focus on forgiveness to early in the restoration process and it harms their ability to maintain hope that they “have what it takes.”
  • “Gary was not the man I had thought he was, but I was no longer sure who I was either. For that matter, who were we as a couple? Were we a couple (p. 24)?… That night my life took on a new timetable: before the affair, during the affair, and after the affair. Everything during was now marred and distorted: our family trip to Disneyland, Gary and I going to Hawaii. I recalled snippets of conversation with both Gary and my friend and suddenly heard and saw completely different things (p. 26)… You each will process at your own pace. Remember, the infidel began this process before the affair even began. The spouse typically begins at revelation (p. 54).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

  • Sensitively Biblical: While Gary and Mona make it clear that overcoming the affects of adultery is a God-sized task and they frequently teach from Scripture, they do not lead with the Bible. They walk towards their reader in compassion, identifying with their pain and confusion, and then walk the reader towards the hope of Scripture. In that sense, Unfaithful reads a bit theologically light, but I found their approach to be very effective and theologically powerful for their audience.
  • “We found that not recognizing the loss, not mourning, only made it worse (p. 131)… It took us a while to identify the things we had lost, and even when we did, accepting that they were really gone was more difficult that we expected it would be. However, once we were able to name them, it seemed we had taken another step on the path of healing. We didn’t feel so stuck (p. 132)… We had to mourn the time of Gary’s unfaithfulness, but that did not mean his faithfulness to Mona or to God could not be resumed (p. 135).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

  • Lay Written But Well Informed: Gary and Mona are not trained counselors; nor do they have any formal theological education. They are “regular lay people” who experienced a tragedy, saw a void in the church’s care, and studied hard in their area of need to be equipped to serve the church by serving others in the area of adultery recovery. I found them to be well read and well thought out in their subject matter. Their lack of training gave them an extra dose of humility that made them more readable than some “experts.”
  • “How many people knew about the affair? I didn’t know and would never know… I felt as if I were wearing a sign that read, “NOT GOOD ENOUGH!’ (p. 61)…. God, I need a miracle here. You’re the great Healer. Heal us! Let me wake up from this nightmare. We’re sitting here breathing, and yet as surely as there is air moving in and out of my lungs, I know we’re dying. But I want to know why I have to die when the sin is not mine! I didn’t do this (p. 75)… In my weary brain there were only three alternatives: lying to myself, being lied to, or pain. If there was no pain, then someone must be lying (p. 98).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

  • Experienced as Helpee and Helper: After their marriage was restored, Gary and Mona started Hope & Healing Ministries and have walked with many couples through the aftermath of adultery in a support group setting. As you read their book, you hear the voices of other couples and other experiences. This adds to the richness of a book that otherwise could become too anecdotal and based upon what worked for one couple, with one set of personalities, in one set of circumstances. With this experience the book reads like a musical with two soloists singing a song of redemption backed by a large choir of voices agreeing and filling out the redemptive song.
  • “She suddenly realized she had lost not only her marriage and her husband but also part of herself. There was absolutely nothing left to hang on to. She found herself completely insufficient for the first time in her life, and terror gripped her… She came to understand that she had put Gary above God. It was not that she thought Gary was God—especially now—but she looked to Gary to be her source of strength, comfort, and love (p. 66)… Our faith grew because we found we were not enough and God was (p. 67).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

Ministry Usage at Summit

As Summit launches our recovery ministry for spouses processing the affects of marital infidelity, Gary and Mona Shriver’s book will be a core resource that we use. Of all the books I read on the subject it did the best job of capturing the gospel-centered, Bible-based redemptive tone that we want to promote in all our ministries. If you are interested in learning more about our men’s and women’s purity ministries, I would encourage you to attend our upcoming seminar.

True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin
February 19, 2012 // 5:00 to 8:00 pm
The Summit Church; Brier Creek South Venue
2415 Presidential Drive, Suite 107; Durham, NC 27703
Free – No RSVP Needed

The Advantage of Going Second

I was recently reminded of how when you talk to someone, it affects the effectiveness of what you are trying to say. When you try to talk to someone who is discouraged after trying to do “the right thing” and failing, anything instructional is often hard for them to receive. They feel like, “Great, here is something else I won’t be able to do.”

Other times you might talk to someone who is desperate after trying to do “the right thing” and failing. They can be like a sponge wanting to know another way. However, their desperation can lead them to quickly dismiss instruction if the results are not as prompt as their emotions demand.

There are many other dispositions with which you might talk to someone who failed and equally as many dispositions after someone succeeds. But the point is, what has just happened “before” affects how they listen. If you pay attention, that can be a real advantage to building trust as a counselor.

For the first person mentioned above, acknowledging how hard it would be to hear “one more thing” you “should have done” would be very encouraging. They would at least know that whatever guidance they receive next would be from a person who understood them.

The second person would benefit from having someone speak to the “pace” of their desperation before speaking to the content of their struggle. Unless this happened the wisest counsel would get lost in the intensity of their “try anything” to “fix it now” mindset which is retention-light and even weaker on perseverance.

I think this is a dynamic we have to be particularly aware of for those believers who sincerely try to please God and are facing a significant struggle of suffering (an intense struggle not caused by their personal sin). At this point, sin has the advantage of talking second.

Sin (here used as a personification that might be negative influencing friend or an escapist habit) can listen to the hurts of the believer and express compassion for their plight. All of the questions raised are questions against (even if only from confusion) the Christian faith.

Sin can respond with the momentum of these questions at its back. It has the advantage of swimming with our emotional current. The thoughts and emotions of the suffering believer are set us to receive what sin has to say and offer.

This is why we must be able to not only give answers but respond to a person. In cases like these, the response will be more soul-winning (used in terms of discipleship more than evangelism) that the content of our answers.

I think this dynamic is equally relevant when we are talking to broken unbelievers. In these cases, all of the previously discussed advantages of sin are working for the Christian faith. The broken unbeliever is asking questions that are against the old life (looking for a new life).

We can now respond and listen to their hurts and express compassion for their plight. We have the momentum of sin’s broken promises at our back. Their thoughts and emotions are looking for something more solid that what they’ve known.

In many ways, the principle is simple – and therefore easy to forget. We must listen and not lose the person in the topic of the conversation. A conversation happens between two points in a person’s life. We must read the momentum if we are going to effectively influence the direction of the ship.

C.S. Lewis Meets His Murderer

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first World War, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it (p. 119).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It must be noted that this quote is based upon Lewis’ personal speculations and his own retrospective assessment of what his response would be in a purely hypothetical circumstance. So whatever we do with this quote, we should not treat it as doctrine.

But the quote does challenge us to consider the question, “How much difference will Heaven make for the greatest atrocities and offenses we face now?”  This is a question that runs a great risk of being misused.

Many would use a question like this to minimize the pain or significance of current suffering. There is no indication (nor would I suggest as a good idea) that Lewis used this type of question to belittle the dangers he faced in WWI. Neither would it have been of any benefit to manipulate himself into thinking, “the young German doesn’t really mean to take my life with the bullets he’s firing over my head.”

“Perspective” should never be used to craft an alternative reality. Perspective does not make danger less dangerous, evil less evil, or pain less painful.

So what good does perspective bring to suffering?

In a word – hope.

This perspective gained from the kind of reflection Lewis is engaging in reminds us that evil never gets the final or definitive word. God’s redemption is so complete that the darkest evil becomes like the awkward moment before the punch line in a really good joke.

In that moment of awkwardness, you legitimately do not know how to respond. It feels like the story is painfully incomplete or about to become offensive. Then with the punch line the size of the awkwardness only serves to accentuate the humor.

Again, it should be said, any use of “perspective” that seeks to minimize the painfully awkward moments in which we live on this side of God’s redemption, is a poor (possibly abusive or traumatic) use of perspective.

The point of perspective is to remind us that while evil may be “winning,” it cannot “win.” With this thought secured, then core aspects of personhood – hope, courage, meaning – are able to withstand the barrage of suffering.

The main lie of suffering – this is all we will ever know – is broken. It is as if an evil enchantment of mental and emotional slavery (we are dealing with C.S. Lewis, the author of Narnia) has been lifted from our soul. We remain a person who have been given personhood by the King’s authority which cannot be usurped by any invading tyrants (or German soldiers) or intrusions into our lives.

We are free children of the King, who must be reminded of who we are. When we remember, and even more when we enter His kingdom, the threats of this world will be like silly jokes. But again, that should give us hope, not cause us to minimize the threats of this world.