All posts tagged Insecurity

The Twin Obstacles to Generosity

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

“For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help (p. 86-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is easy to think of the obstacle to generosity as the absence of thinking of others. We like to think of it this way because it makes our lack of generosity seem more innocent. We become like the child who knew he was to clean his room or complete his homework and is called on it. We reply, “I forgot,” hoping this will somehow make our neglect seem more neutral.

But absence is a non-entity and, therefore, cannot be an obstacle. By definition an obstacle must be a thing; not a non-thing. Lewis points out that there are two “things” that impede our lack of generosity: fear (namely insecurity) or pride.

The first part of becoming generous is to have the courage (if we are fearful) or humility (if we are prideful) to ask the question, “Which am I?” The same character deficiency which impedes our generosity will also impede our willingness to acknowledge our lack of generosity. This is why honestly asking good questions is vital to the change process.

Usually the lack of generosity rooted in fear does see the needs of others and is concerned about those needs. However, shortly after feeling compelled to be generous, they begin to consider the cost. “If I give [blank] to them, then I would not be able to handle it if something happened to me.”

The insecure person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else shares the same insecurity. Generosity is not assumed (believed to be available for their time of need “if” it were to arise) because fear reigns.

The lack of generosity rooted in pride either does not see the need because of its self-centeredness or condemns the needy person for not having prepared like they did. Self-centered blindness obviously prevents generosity. Condemning makes generosity seem like a reward for laziness.

The prideful person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else should share the same approach to life they have. Generosity is not assumed (a natural response to the ability and opportunity to help) because they are the standard and they do not practice it.

We see in this reflection that generosity is about more than giving something away. Generosity transforms our experience of community. This is consistent with the book of Acts. The early Christians were generous so / because they were experiencing a new form of community.

Our goal in being generous is not to win more points with God, but to allow the Gospel to penetrate our assumptions about life in a new way. God is not punishing us or taxing us with his call to generosity. Rather, He is continuing the work He began when we first experienced the Gospel – freeing us from ourselves. The bars of that self-bondage may be fear or pride.

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

Blame It On the Body?

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

 “Most of the man’s psychological make up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst of this raw material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us; all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises. (p. 91-92).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It would again to be easy to jump into the disease-model debate regarding addictions, depression and the like. But if we engage that debate at every opportunity, we will miss many other relevant and beneficial discussions.

In this quote, we do find Lewis adding something unique to the modern conversation. Lewis attributes both desirable and undesirable traits to human physiology. Too often in modern conversations desirable traits are assumed to be “me” and undesirable traits “not me.”

We are willing to receive credit for our biological advantages, but not willing to take responsibility for our biological disadvantages. Both exist. The question is not whether some people are predisposed to addiction, depression, or numerous other vices – and virtues (in my opinion). The question is, “How should we think about responsibility in light of these responsibilities?”

In the purely volitional realm, no one will ever become an alcoholic without taking the first drink. But that cannot be where the responsibility question ends. Yet depression is harder to discern than addiction. One cannot abstain from the emotional ups and downs of life.

The question does not even end at the point of deciding whether medication is a legitimate or wise option. Medication alone cannot reverse the decision to drink or give hope. In their best usage they curb an urge, make one nauseous for succumbing to drinking, or create a stabilized-to-flat-line emotional effect.

Decisions still have to be made, relationships engaged, work done, and life lived. Even if medication is chosen, the question of responsibility is not answered or bypassed. C.S. Lewis’ point (as I understand it) is that we all have a “me” which exists inside our physical body which is tainted by the Fall. The brokenness (and blessedness) that exists in our physical body influences our “me” for better or worse.

Interlude: Our “me” is also tainted because of the Fall. Our “me” is not innocent or inherently good only to be corrupted by culture and our broken body. This is why Lewis does not vilify the body and even presents the likelihood that some people’s physical giftedness hides the degree of corruption in their soul.

So what do we take away from this reflection? If we understood the influence of our body and valued the judgment of God correctly, then it would be a significant remedy for our insecurity. We would not be competing (another way to say comparing ourselves) with other people. That exercise would reveal itself to be comparing apples to oranges.

Our goal would be simply to steward the life we have been given, in the body we have been given to live it, for the glory of God. Other people would exist to be blessed by and join us on that journey, not as the benchmark of whether we were making progress on that journey.

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

10 Ways Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin Effects You

This resource is taken from the “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sinseminar notebook.

As you seek to understand the impact of your spouse’s sexual sin upon you, it is important to recognize that these impacts will come in two varieties: (1) impacts for which understanding, time, and removing the destructive elements of the suffering story are the remedy; and (2) impacts which call for actions from you or your spouse in order to counter the effects of the suffering. For the first variety, the corrective elements will be defined in chapters four through six. For the second variety, the corrective elements will be defined in chapters seven and eight. Your goal in this chapter is merely to “understand.” If reflecting on these aspects of impact on you is overwhelming, remember you can take your time – recovery is not a race.

There is the obvious emotional impact of your spouse’s sexual sin: numbness, anger, despair, fear, jealousy, regret, embarrassment, shame, depression, and other emotions. These emotions are assumed in each of the impacts discussed below. But the ten changes below focus more on the relational or dispositional affects than the emotional expressions. Most of them have to do with influences that began before the discovery of your spouse’s sin or common unhealthy ways of responding to a spouse’s sexual sin.

1. Tolerating an Unhealthy Lifestyle: Unhealthy does not always mean unfaithful, but unfaithful requires increasing doses of unhealthy in order to grow. The types of unhealthy marital habits can small or large: keeping the computer in a low traffic area of home, not communicating schedules and having blocks of unaccounted for time, separate budgets and unmonitored spending, recreating in mixed gender settings without your spouse, allowing personal hobbies or work to crowd out time for marriage, crude or demanding language about sex, responding in anger to questions about time or money, or growing disinterest and infrequency in sex. When sexual sin is a part of your spouse’s life and you do not know it, then these unhealthy lifestyle changes become the “normal” of your household.

Read Ephesians 4:3-13. Paul says that the lifestyle associated with sexual sin “must not even be named among you (v. 3).” The lifestyle characteristics described above should be changed; not just because they make you uncomfortable, but because they create an atmosphere where sexual sin (and many other sins) are easy. When Paul talks of major changes to language that are “out of place” (v. 4) he says that this should be done with thanksgiving (both in content of speech and attitude of heart). It is not in response to your preferences that these changes should be made (insinuating when you are “less sensitive” things can return to “normal”) but in response to God’s design for a healthy marriage.

2. Changing Role or Identity: It is hard to live in sin and live responsibly. As the offending spouse becomes less responsible, the offended spouse takes on the role of parent, nag, stiff, or rescuer. If the offending spouse is generally irresponsible, these relational roles can become an identity. After the sin has been discovered the roles can become even more pronounced. After discovery, the offended spouse can feel a sense of identity confusion (i.e., “I feel lost. I don’t know who you are or I am anymore.”) or escape into other roles (i.e., devoting yourself fully the kids or work to avoid the pain and confusion that comes with being a spouse).

 “[Case Study and testimony] Lorie, 34, is a nurse and mother of two young children. She believed that her 10-year marriage to Todd, an engineer, was good. True, their sex life had decreased recently, but Todd told her it was because he was involved in an important and demanding project at work, and he was usually exhausted by evening… Lorie’s life began to fall apart when she accidentally discovered Todd’s secret sexual life on the computer… She later said, ‘I felt total distrust in myself, my spouse, and the relationship. I felt betrayed, confused, afraid, and stunned. The person I loved and trusted most in the world had lied about who he was. I felt I had lived through a vast and sinister cover-up (p. 24).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

Read Ephesians 5:22-33. At this time it is better to read this passage for a refresher on marriage functioning. Your marriage is strained and away from what God designed it to be. But it is important to notice that in each case the spouse role (husband and wife) is secondary to and an example of the relationship with God (“as to the Lord” and “as Christ”). Whenever we face trials we have tendency to define ourselves by our struggle. In times like these it is easy to be defined by your marriage more than your God. When that is the case how you see yourself and how you relate to your spouse will be negatively affected..

3. Acquiring Controlling Tendencies: “I don’t want to be hurt again.” The controlling tendency has a very understandable origin. “Healthy” (discussed in impact variable one) becomes controlling when it doesn’t allow the other person to voluntarily choose “healthy.” Controlling claims to know what you’re thinking, feels threatened to be wrong, must have “say” not just awareness of money and time, or demands proof of subjective realities. After the betrayal of sexual sin, these responses are usually done more from self-protection than vengeful punishment. But regardless of motive they eat away at the betrayed, now controlling spouse and withers efforts at marital restoration. Control promises safety but provides a counterfeit version of safety at the cost of creating an environment for healthy restoration.

“What you will have to face, Kelly, is that you cannot make your husband do the right thing. You cannot talk him into it; you can’t shame him into it; you can’t police him into it; and you can’t threaten him into it. However, what you can do is begin learning the secret of how to entrust him into the hands of the Lord. After all, only God can change his heart (p. 94-95).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart

4. Becoming Inconsistent: This is the other side of the controlling tendency. Inconsistency can come into your life in several ways. First, before discovery, you may find that nothing you do makes a difference in the marriage and begin to give up on things that are important. Second, after discovery, you may make so many declarations about changes that “should be made” that not all of them can be done consistently or find that some of them were not as relevant as they seemed in your initial fear. You begin to feel weak or hypocritical for not following through on what you said. Third, after discovery, you become emotionally overwhelmed and quit in areas of life or marriage that you know to be important. Regardless of its cause a lifestyle of inconsistency establishes itself and eats away at the good intentions of a healthy marriage.

5. Growing Gullible or Cynical: The lies of a spouse’s sexual sin can push the offended spouse in one of two unhealthy directions: gullible or cynical. You feel torn. “At some point I have to give the benefit of the doubt, right?” But on the other hand, “So much that sounded plausible was a lie, why believe anything but my doubts now?” It feels like the only choice is to believe everything or believe nothing. “Truth” begins to feel like a cruel joke. You want it to know the truth, but each time you have thought you did, it changes (i.e., more of the story comes out or another hurtful choice is made).

“One of the terrible and frightening aspects of sin is the unbelief it fosters (p. 141).” Steve Gallagher in At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry

Read Hebrews 2:10-18. This passage raises the question of trust in the midst of suffering. That is the difficult battle you are facing as you seek to resist being either gullible or cynical – learning how to trust wisely in the midst of suffering. Notice the passage ends with Jesus compassion for your predicament (v. 18). Jesus to was betrayed by one he committed His life to (Matt 10:1-4), whom he trusted enough to manage His earthly money (John 13:29), and had the power to destroy Him with affection (Luke 22:47-48). You may feel like this skepticism and uncertainty is a “lifelong slavery” (v. 15) know that Jesus is able to deliver. He is with you in the midst of this uncertainty (Heb. 13:20-21) and will ultimately let the truth be known (Heb. 4:12-13). The True Betrayal and False Love studies are designed to allow truth to be known by confession, which is best for your spouse’s restoration and the benefit of your family.

6. Growing Passive Toward Life: “It doesn’t matter what I do.” These are painful words. Whenever we speak them it reveals that we have lost the exclusive ability to do, protect, or create what is most important to us. They are the words of a parent whose child has a terminal disease, the business owner facing bankruptcy, and the spouse whose partner has been unfaithful. Nothing feels permanent, solid, or dependable anymore. Emotional or relational investment no longer guarantee the desired result like they once seemed to. It is easy in this environment to become passive in such a way that depression becomes a cocoon protecting you from the unpleasant realities of your marriage and family.

Read Philippians 3:7-16. Paul knew he did not have what it took to continue (v. 12a) and that what he had been building his life upon was not capable sustaining him through his current situation (v. 7). He had to remind himself and his readers to “press on” and not allow this sense of being overwhelmed to paralyze them (v. 12b). Paul did not literally forget his past (v. 13). He frequently referenced it (2 Cor. 11:21-33; 1 Tim. 1:12-17). But Paul is talking about not allowing our past to define us more than God’s ability to work in our present and future. This is the mark of maturity (v. 15) to which he was striving and calls on us to strive for.

7. Growing Insecurity: This insecurity may be expressed through fear or anger, but regardless of its expression you begin to live with a constant barrage of questions about yourself, your spouse, and your marriage. Everything is being evaluated and there seem to be no certain answers to any of the questions. The net effect of living in this kind of questioning is that everything begins to feel personal, as if it is a commentary on your actions and worth. It is from this self-referential way of thinking that each action, word, or even silence in you day begins to illicit fear, doubt, anger, quick hope, deep disappointment, and other intense emotions.

“We wives need to know that when we allow fear and doubt to consume our minds we become just as self-centered as the man who is controlled by lust. Why? Because when we do, we are only thinking about ourselves, and everything centers around us (p. 65).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart

Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-18. Paul is in the midst of an intense and personal conflict. He is struggling with how he comes across (weak in person; strong in his letters). He wants to maintain the humility of Christ while boldly answering his critics who question his ministry. Notice how Paul struggles to avoid making an intensely personal conflict self-referential. From the tone of his public letter, it is safe to say that Paul also struggled to maintain this distinction in his personal thought/emotional life. Be encouraged by his vulnerability while learning from his example.

8. Living a One Variable Life: Living a one variable life can happen in several ways after a spouse’s sexual sin. First, as your marriage becomes the most intense issue in your life, it is easy to allow the condition of your marriage to define your life. Second, you can focus on the “one thing” your spouse should do next as if it would make everything better. Third, you can use your fluctuating response to your spouse’s sin as the measure of your faith in or walk with God. However we reduce our life to a single variable it has two effects: (a) it makes our world smaller, and (b) it makes every problem in our now small world seem bigger. The result is that we create a mental environment that is inhospitable for hope or encouragement.

9. Relating as a Codependent: Codependency can be defined as a relational style built upon the false assumption that sin plays by consistent rules. The “game” in codependency is to learn the “rules of sin” (at least the particular sin of the particular person that is affecting you) so that you can prevent the sin from occurring. The “advantage” to the game is that it gives the façade of control over another person. The problem with codependency is that these rules do not exist, it makes you responsible for your spouse’s sin, and it results in the preferences of your spouse becoming your functional god. As you resist the urge to relate codependently, you will experience the fear of realizing that your spouse’s sexual sin is outside your ability to control. But you will also be laying the foundation for a marriage that can be a relationship of mutually responsible, mutually honoring people.

10. Post-Traumatic Stress: After the discovery of your spouse’s sexual sin, it is common to live with a high degree of emotional and situational intensity for a period of time. This can be “traumatic” in both the descriptive and clinical sense of the word.

“The deception and the secret life of the sex addict bring unprecedented turmoil, fear, and pain to the partner (p. 11).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

In some cases, this trauma can create the experience of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD). PTSD is when an individual faces an event he/she is unprepared to handle and the impact of that event has a lingering impact on life functioning. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms six months after the discovery of your spouse’s sin, then you are likely experiencing the affects of PTSD. As you create a safe and transparent home environment, these symptoms should subside. If not, then seeking personal counseling for these affects is advisable.

  • Intrusive recollections of the events surrounding your spouse’s sexual sin or your discovery.
  • Recurrent dreams associated with your spouse’s sexual sin.
  • Flashbacks where you feel like you are re-experiencing your spouse’s sin or the discovery of it.
  • Intense distress when you experience things that remind you of your spouse’s sexual sin.
  • Feelings of detachment from others.
  • Difficulty concentrating at your normal levels.
  • Hypervigilance – always looking for what is about to go wrong.

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

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

Loving the Unlovable in Me

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

“I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it? You love it simply because it is yourself. God intends us to love all selves in the same way and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out in our own case to show us how it works. We have then to go on and apply the rule to all the other selves (p. 120).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

There is beautiful discomfort in this quote. It is simultaneously offensive and relieving. I want to rebuttal, “What do you mean that there is nothing lovable in me? What do you mean God made it that way so I would be able to love the unlovable in others?”

But at the same time I want give a relieved sigh and say, “You mean I don’t have to ‘keep it together’? There really isn’t this perpetual pressure to be ‘good enough’ for God?”

I want the beauty of the gospel without the discomfort. I want the relief without the offense. But we simply cannot have it both ways. We want to figure out a way to overcome our insecurity without having to extend the same unmerited grace to others.

The most common approach is to do away with the biblical category of our sinful nature. Somehow we want to say that “everyone is really good” but also “nobody’s perfect” (awkward contradiction not beautiful discomfort). We try to build our self-esteem by saying that our nature is good, but then get defensive when our sinfulness breaks through our idealistic veneer and reveals our real nature.

Lewis acknowledges our sinfulness, but does not succumb to a sense of self-condemnation. His acknowledgement that there is nothing good in us to love does not cause him to sound pessimistic, negative, or hopeless. He still speaks of love and God’s design to teach us how to love with a sense of optimistic hopefulness.

In this regard, I believe we can learn as much from Lewis’ style and tone as his content. He makes a very unpopular point is the most palatable way. Lewis forces me to see my total depravity and lack of deserving love in a way that keeps the focus on God’s love and design.

I walk away thinking, “God allows me to respond to me the way I do – seeking my preservation and best interest in spite of my failure because of a love for self that is stronger than my dislike for self – so that I can learn how to love others like He loves all of us.”

I am not called to relinquish that care for self. But I am called to see that it is a faint picture of His love for me. It is a clue left in my soul meant to cause me to question, “Why would I respond to myself this way when it’s so hard to respond to anyone else this way?”

Either we are more selfish than we realize – giving ourselves advantage we won’t give anyone else. In which case, any sense of affection for self is continued self-delusion. Or, we are following a design left in us by our Creator, after the Fall, to give us a first-person experience of what His love for us is like. In this case, we follow this self-affection away from ourselves back to the source from which it came.

Let us follow Lewis’ example and realize that God’s truth always unravels very personal parts of our life struggles. When we walk to God’s truth through these questions and struggles, then even when the answers are offensive they will bring awkward comfort that leaves us trusting God more.

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

C.S. Lewis on Loving Myself

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

“For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated these things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things (p. 117).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Is the primary problem of the human condition that I don’t love myself enough (low self-esteem) or that I love myself too much (pride)? That is a question that can stir a great deal of debate.

I would contend that the fervor of the debate itself reveals that the scales tip toward pride. If low self-esteem were really the core human ailment, then we would timidly defer to one another and our disagreements would be mousy.

When reading the larger works of C.S. Lewis you will find that he sides on the pride side of this debate. However, here he is discussing self-love in a way that is distinct from pride. He does not seem to denigrate the self-love he describes here as pride (nor do I think he should).

Lewis describes this healthy self-love as hating the sin in my life because it destroys something that was intended to be good – namely self.

This points helps to answer one of the strongest points made by critics of the self-esteem movement (and I count myself in that number) – self-esteem assumes that we are basically good people who only do bad things because of negative outside influences. Scripture clearly teaches the opposite. We are people marred by sin who naturally love darkness instead of light (John 3:16-21).

Yet Lewis’ depiction of healthy self-love allows for a fundamental moral brokenness in the human race. His take on self-love still allowed him to admit, “I was the sort of man who did those things.” No silly, illogical excuses like, “You know I didn’t mean it,” or “I only behaved that way because…,” or “That wasn’t really me who did/said that.”

I believe it is instructive to see how Lewis got to this view of self-love. He got there by thinking of others. He wanted to know how you could hate the sin and love the sinner. Taking the Second Great Commandment seriously led him to consider the one example where he already obeyed it. Coincidentally, it was the example Jesus said to use – love others “as” (implying something that is already naturally occurs) you love yourself (Matt. 22:39).

It was from this example that he got an answer to his question: how do you hate the sin and love the sinner? Answer: You are grieved for how sin destroys the life of the sinner. Even when the sinner gets an advantage or pleasure from his/her sin, you are grieved that sin’s addictive roots are being reinforced.

How is this love? It is love, because all grief is rooted in love. You will only grieve after you have loved. You are saddened because of an obstruction in a desired joy. In this case, another person’s good.

So let us realize that we love ourselves naturally even when we are made miserable by our actions. Our misery actually reveals our love for self – we genuinely desire our good. After realizing this let us love others with that same desire for their good. That is the only thing that will prevent a healthy self-love from becoming pride, self-centeredness, or self-preoccupation (insecurity).

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

A Practical Description of “The Fear of the Lord”

When you fear something, it is the first thing for which you look. The change is powerful, but often unnoticed, because we don’t see what we don’t see.

If you fear snakes and you are walking in the woods, you could almost walk into a tree because you are so snake-vigilant.

If you are a young boy who fears the rhyme, “Step on a crack and you’ll break your mama’s back,” then you scan every new room for tiles. A dozen people may be knocked down, but mama’s back is safe.

If you have a fear of rejection, then you look for and reinterpret every verbal exchange (and even the absence of exchanges) for possibility of not fitting in. Many compliments are deemed “only polite” in the name of avoiding rejection.

The point is, fear is more than an emotion. Fear changes how we think and what we see. Fear makes some things super-relevant and because of our limited cognitive capacity, forces other things (we’re never sure what) to relative irrelevance.

It is with this perspective that we can better understand how “the fear of the Lord is the beginning or wisdom (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7).” When we fear God we will look for Him in all situations and consider His will.

To help you personalize this, make a list of your most prevalent fears. From that list consider how you have organized your life to ease (please) those fears. Do you begin to see how innately fear brings practical change into our lives? We do not have to make plans, seek accountability, or find ways to remind ourselves when fear is involved.

The question becomes, “How do we grow in the fear of the Lord?” The answer begins with, “We must want to.” That may sound odd, but we entertain ourselves with fear all the time – movies, amusement park rides, novels, or the suspense of sporting events. Each of these are major industries of our culture that feed off fear (and its cousin emotions).

Isaiah 11:3 says, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear.” Notice that the fear of the Lord is said to be a delight. Also, notice that this fear changed what was seen and heard.

The answer continues with, “We must listen to our rival fears.” These fears (by definition) have a strong tendency to push us into folly. The problem is often not that our fears are wrong or misguided, but that we view our fears as more real, powerful, and present than our God. It is not that our fears completely lie; they just neglect the most important Fact in the universe.

The answer continues with, “We must allow our fears to point us back to God.” God is often not nearly so rough on us in our fear as we are on ourselves. The prayer that God gives us to pray is, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (Psalm 56:3).” While fear does reveal a diminished view of God, God is more concerned (even elated) with the return of His children than He is offended by their departure (Luke 15:11-32).

The answer concludes with, “We must express our renewed view of God in practical faith.” This is where we often fear not being creative enough to figure out what to do. But this is also where our introduction provides great relief. When fear is present, the corresponding life changes are natural.

Once you have taken the journey of the first three steps, then you can trust this final step will be clear (although clear should not be mistaken for easy). This assurance can be particularly strong when you take this journey with mature Christian friends that you involve in the process.

Remember, you serve a God who delights in making Himself known; not playing hard to get.

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.

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

God’s Words for Our Insecurity: Psalm 139

Case Study: Jeff would tell people he was a private, introverted person; that he just didn’t want people to know “his business.” But it was more than personality or temperament. It was an insecurity that made relationships feel dangerous. Jeff had a hard time putting his finger on what it was that made him want to withdraw when conversation moved (or might move) beyond casual.

As Jeff got older, the reason that he settled on was that “nobody really understands me; nobody gets me.” He included his wife, kids, and fellow church members in “nobody.” The more he thought this way, the more he felt like an outsider and the more irrelevant every piece of advice for his loneliness and fearfulness became. If nobody understood him, then nobody could speak into his experience.

This belief began to crush Jeff’s marriage and overall sense of hope. Depression became his only comfort, his only friend, and painful reality. Repeated messages of “being misunderstood and alone” were the only thing that made sense of his life. But the explanation he sought as a means of comfort quickly soured into despair. The answer he created eliminated the opportunity to share his insight with anyone else. Jeff’s answer fed Jeff’s struggle.

Even when people (especially his wife and kids) shared that they loved or cared for Jeff, he would smile, but shrug it off thinking, “They cannot love somebody they don’t know and nobody gets me.” His unwillingness to receive their affirmation resulted in receiving less of it. That only confirmed his suspicion that they were only words of obligation.

When Jeff would get down he would often replay in his mind past experiences of being mocked or on the stinging end of jokes. These experiences gave more cold comfort to his pattern of insecurity-isolation-withdrawal as “the only right/wise course of action.”

It was in one of these dark times of reminiscence that Jeff mustered up the strength and courage to read his Bible. That day he turned to Psalm139 he had his life story re-written. Jeff saw that he was both understood and loved by God. This was uncomfortably comforting in a new way. It gave him the needed courage to begin to risk being known by his wife, then his children, and even a few close friends.

As Jeff risked being known by others he found that he could receive their love in a new way. With each good interaction his old story made less and less sense of his life, although bad (or even neutral) interactions still caused him to shrink back into the old insecurity. So Jeff decided to rewrite Psalm 139 in his own words to help him personalize the message that was transforming his life.

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 139. Use the question to both stir application and to give you new insight into the psalm.

  • What is the difference between being introverted and being insecure or fearing relationships?
  • How did Jeff’s fears become self-fulfilling?
  • How could Jeff’s family and friends have helped earlier as Jeff’s fear of relationship caused him to retreat from their overtures of interest/concern?

Read Psalm 139 in your preferred Bible translation. The “rewrite” of Psalm 139 below is an attempt to capture the words that God would give Jeff to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This would be something Jeff would need to pray many times as he struggled with insecurity.

A re-write of Psalm 139

1. Wow! You know me, Lord. You get me, all of me!

2. You not only care to know the trivial happenings of my day, You are concerned about what I think.

3. You understand my fears and all I do to “protect” myself. The awkward things that I do which make other people pull away in confusion, You get them!

4. I may speak to others and they look at me funny, but you understand what I am saying, why I am saying it, and the response I am longing for to comfort me.

5. I am safe with you. Like a good parent with a fearful child, You hold me close with Your hands and do not let me exasperate my fears by running from my source of comfort.

6. This is overwhelming! It kind of makes me uncomfortable, but I like it. I am not sure I have the categories (yet) to make sense of what I’m saying. I know the words but not the experience.

7. But my fearful running really doesn’t make sense any more. Where could I go to escape being known by You? My fearful running was as foolish as it was impossible.

8. If I go to church and try to do lots of things and keep busy to keep people away, You know and love me there. If I do lots of bad things and withdraw to make You feel far away, You are still with me and love me even then.

9. If I wake up early to make earnest plans of how I can avoid as many people as possible, You understand what I am doing and never leave my side.

10. More than not leaving my side, You are prompting me through my pain and loneliness to turn around and return to Your community. Even in my fearful resistance, You are content to hold me in Your hands until I finally “get myself” and see my insecurity for what it is.

11. My old lies seem silly now. I would say, “Nobody understands me; nobody gets me; nobody can see into my darkness.” I would say these things even when You sent family and friends to penetrate that darkness.

12. My old lies were not too thick for you. You saw through them as if they were crisp morning. I thought I had convinced everyone, including You, when I had only deceived myself.

13. How funny! I thought I was unknown to the one who knit together my DNA and set me apart by name before the foundations of the world.

14. Praise God! I am known from the inside out, because I am made by the hands and in the image of the God of deep, personal, compassionate love! I am finally letting that truth penetrate my soul and spill into my relationships.

15. There was no hiding from You even when no other eyes had yet seen me. When I was a fetus you knew me like a quilter knows her quilt.

16. Before I was literally anything, You knew me and loved me. Even then You could write my life story and would enjoy reading of Your redemption for my struggles. But somehow I had convinced myself I was unknown and unloved.

17. Lord, these thoughts liberate my fearful heart! I feel a freedom to love and be loved emerging that is larger than I can put into words.

18. The thoughts of Your presence and love are more numerous than my previous thoughts of being mocked and alone. I used to wake up and fear the day because it had people in it. Now I awake and embrace the day because You are with me!

19. Lord, I see now that you hate mockery. You are against those who speak hate and use words to harm. Before when I heard words of destruction, I assumed they were true. And if they were true (false assumption), then You must agree with them (terrifying reality).

20. You are against such words and actions. They spoke falsely as if their words were true. I wrongly accounted the power of their words as Your confirmation of their words.

21. I can now reject what You reject, my God. I do not have to receive as true what You declare to be false and worthless.

22. I can now completely reject and despise what I once feared to be true. Those thoughts and memories were my enemies which held me as their captive in a prison of fear and isolation.

23. I invite You to search me, O God, know me completely. That is the key which has unlocked the prison of my fear and isolation. I AM KNOWN AND LOVED! Read my thoughts and see that I now draw comfort from that reality.

24. Whenever I begin to act as if that is not true, as if I am not known and loved by You, lead me back to the truth that unlocks Your freedom, peace, and joy. Remind me that You are with me and for me all the way to eternal life.

Passages for Further Study: Psalm 136; John 1:48; Ephesians 1:3-14; Hebrews 4:14-16

Post Questions: Now that you have read Psalm 139, examined how Jeff might rewrite it for his situation, and studied several other passages, consider the following questions:

  • How does the reality of being known and loved by God create the courage to allow ourselves to be known by others?
  • When we fear the harmful words of others and in our mind declaring them true, how are we also ascribing those harmful words to God?
  • How would your answers to the “pre-questions” have changed as a result of reflecting on Psalm 139?
  • For what instances of work or performance-based identity do you need to re-write your own version of Psalm 139?

What Fuels Your Engine?

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

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself… God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing (p. 50).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What are you using to fuel your life?

  • Acceptance
  • Achievement
  • Appearance
  • Athleticism
  • Family
  • Influence
  • Intelligence
  • Morality
  • Wealth

You could add to the list. These are all things that can easily become “why we get out of bed in the morning” or the basis of our personal identity. But they are all deficient fuels for life. Each one will wear us out if we depend on it, because each one is unsustainable and ultimately non-dependable.

There is only one fuel that is self-sustaining and completely reliable. That is God. The only problem (as compared to the other “fuels”) is that God is also uncontrollable. We decide what to do with each of the other fuels. God has already prepared what He will do with/through us (Eph. 2:10).

We might be tempted to think that we prefer these alternative fuels because they are more tangible than God (which might have some validity). But I would dare say it has more to do with our sense of control than any of the “five senses.”

We like to choose who we want to be accepted by and see if we can make them like us. We want to choose the achievement we like best and see if we can tackle it. We define beauty according to our standards and see if we can live up to it. Influence is a commodity we believe we know how to manage. We prefer to narrow our pursuit of morality to those virtues we hold highest. We want to accumulate wealth to fulfill our dreams or attain our markers of security.

If we ran on the more (most) dependable fuel (the fuel which we were created to run on), then we would surrender these freedoms. At least we would surrender the freedom to define these “alternative fuels” as we please.

God has promised to provide our every need (Phil. 4:19), but He has not promised to do so in a Build-A-Bear fashion. We want a Build-A-Bear life. But that has been the temptation from the very beginning (Gen 3:5). The serpent enticed Eve to attain the ability to discern good and bad for herself—to acquire a personal definition and taste for the things that really mattered. Since then our lives have been running down on every “alternative fuel” imaginable.

FAQ’s About Sex, Lust & the Gospel

 

How should I think about sex?

Here is a quote that I believe captures the glory of sex and cautions us against the over-emphasis of sex.

“Our Christian task is to remember that every sexual union is profound.  It always points to the deeper union that we have with Christ by faith.  Sex mirrors the glory of God in the gospel.  It exists because it expresses God’s oneness with His people, His fidelity to us, His ownership of us, His self-sacrifice, and the pleasure we can take in this relationship… Sex is a good thing, there’s no question about that, but we don’t need sex.  Humanness, found in Jesus, is not defined by sexual intercourse.” Edward T. Welch in “The Apostle Paul: On Sex” The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Fall 2005).

How does sexual sin (or any other sin) begin to change me?

The article “Not Again Sin” by Brad Hambrick [SIN_article_Hambrick] takes you through nine questions to help you see the influence of your sin in your life. Often, like David, we miss the subtle changes. He moved from sense of entitlement about rest (staying home “because he had already won many battles and deserved a rest”) to a sense of entitlement about pleasure (having Bathsheba). Chances are, he didn’t see the connection. When we see the ways our sin influences us, then our resolve to avoid temptation becomes stronger.

What should I do if I struggle with pornography?

Act now! You need to talk to somebody. Private sins, like pornography, fester in anonymity. We would highly recommend you join our Freedom Group on purity.

Install accountability and blocking software on your computer. For free accountability software on your computer, see www.xxxchurch.com. If you want a slightly more sophisticated program, see www.covenanteyes.com.

How hurt or offended should I be by my spouse’s pornography problem?

The article “Is Pornography Biblical Grounds for Divorce?” by Brad Hambrick [PORN_MARRIAGE_article_Hambrick] is meant to walk couples through this question. Don’t let the title make you think it’s a debative article. It attempts to walk a couple form hurt (intense and personal) to hope (real and honest). The article walks a couple through understanding the hurt, what to ask, who to involve, and what each spouse should do next.

A sample piece of advice: don’t let your wife be your primary or exclusive accountability partner (or vice versa). These dual roles of spouse and accountability are hard to balance. The wife should be allowed to ask any question she would like to know, but the husband should protect his wife by not forcing her to perpetually ask him uncomfortable questions or risk her husband being alone in his battle with pornography.

What do I do if my spouse has been unfaithful?

Don’t continue to hurt alone and in silence. Yelling at your spouse doesn’t count as speaking up. Infidelity should not be handled alone.  The powerful emotions of anger, betrayal, fear, shame, shock, and the corresponding temptations to denial, blame-shifting, manipulation, and quick fixes are too strong to be navigated alone. Reach out to our counseling office for help (919.383.7100).

What if my struggle stems from insecurity?

Our culture tells us that the universal solution to all our problems is to love ourselves more. The Bible predicted this and warned against it long before psychology “discovered” it (2 Tim. 3:1-2). Focusing on and thinking more of self doesn’t provide relief from insecurity – it makes it worse. Staring in a mirror longer and closer doesn’t excite us any more about our appearance. This is especially true when we “score” ourselves by appearance, instead of treasuring who we are in/to Christ and what God has done for us and is willing to do through us.

The following four articles should help you think through this further.

How should I talk to my children about sex and lust?

You should talk to your children about sex and lust. If you don’t, somebody else will. With that said, it is an intimidating and awkward subject. Paul Tripp’s booklet Teens & Sex: How Should We Teach Them? provides an excellent brief discussion of how to have these talks (yes, plural). Joshua Harris’ book Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World  is an excellent PG book on lust written for teens with a gospel focus.

Pastor JD talked about not dressing for attention. This is not an attack on style and is difficult. Carolyn Mahaney has written a four page “modesty checklist” [PARENTING_Modesty Checklist_Mahaney] that takes you from heart to heels. It is an excellent tool for parents to talk through with their daughters (and their sons concerning what attracts them to girls).

How do I train myself to be “captivated by God’s beauty”?

Too often a phrase like this can be good rhetoric, but hard to apply. There are no picture magazines of God’s beauty and our captivation in God’s beauty is more declaration than self-gratification. If this question intrigues you and you want to make a reality in your life, I would recommend chapters 25-27 of Future Grace by John Piper (only 30 pages total for all three chapters combined). The title of chapter 27 is “Faith in Future Grace vs. Lust.”

The Same Personality But With a Refined Character

Have you ever heard someone defend their sinful actions with the words, “I can’t help it.  That is just the way I am.  God made me this way, so if it bothers you, you’ll have to take it up with Him not me”?  It might be appropriate to ask if you have ever used those words to defend your sinful actions.

How are we to think about statements like that?  God did make us unique.  Any parent of multiple children can tell you that there are parts of the human personality that are present and distinct from the earliest days of life.  I believe we can learn something of this from watching the life of Moses.

In Exodus 3, as God calls Moses to deliver Israel from their Egyptian bondage, we hear the words of one who is fearful and quite possibly socially intimidated (hence the stuttering).  Moses was more than willing to let someone else have the limelight.  Actually, in Exodus 4:13, Moses asked God to send someone else.

We see a very similar Moses in Exodus 32.  This time God is telling Moses that He has had it with Israel.  They have rebelled against him one too many times.  God offers to consume Israel in His hot anger and start over with the family line of Moses (Exodus 32:10).  Once again, Moses is not fond of the limelight.  Again, Moses requests that God not make him the focal point.

We see the same personality in Moses, but there is a definite refinement of Moses’ character.

In Exodus 3 and 4 Moses is motivated by personal fear and insecurity.  That aspect of his character that made him comfortable letting others lead was expressed in doubt of God, condemnation of self, and the pursuit of convenience.

In Exodus 32 the willingness to let others have center stage is motivated by a desire to see God have glory amongst the nations.  The same personality trait was present, but the focal point was God’s glory and not self-preservation.

This brings us back to the opening question.  God does make us with distinct personality traits.  Those traits are often discernable to others and can be relatively consistent throughout a lifetime.  However, sin is not found in a personality trait.  Sin is found in our motivations.  Either we are seeking to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves, or we are seeking to love ourselves first and manipulating others to play along.

We may not be able to change certain personality traits to any strong degree.  But we can change (by God’s grace) what we live for.  Repentance is more than saying we are sorry.  Repentance is seeing what our actions reveal about our heart (conviction) and committing to live for the love of God/others as evidenced by new action.

Go back and read Exodus 3-4 and then 32.  Listen for the aspects of the conversation between God and Moses that are the same.  Get to know Moses as a real person, not a transcendent figure of Scripture.  See how God changed him.  Then go back and read through the entirety of Exodus to get the unabridged version.

Now go back to the last time you heard (or said) the opening sentences of this post.  How does this reflection on the life of Moses allow you to acknowledge the legitimacy of the struggle while holding out hope/responsibility to change by God’s grace and for God’s glory?

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