All posts tagged Relationships

Racial Prejudice, Gender Stereotypes, Personality Types, and Love Languages

These four things would seemingly come to two sets of pairs: (1) racial prejudice and gender stereotypes, then (2) personality types and love languages. Whatever dangers may exist with the misuse of personality types and love languages does not compare to the damage that has been done by racial prejudice and gender stereotypes.

However, I believe the cultural awareness that continues to grow about prejudice and stereotypes can help us see more clearly a common misuse of materials like personality tests and love languages (which, for the record, I am not saying are bad). In this post, I want to try to draw three parallels that I believe are instructive.

  1. Each of these is a way of trying to make complex things simple.

From the earliest parts of our education we are taught to make complex things simple by reducing them to categories. This is helpful teaching a child to clean their room (trucks in one drawer; blocks in another). It is also helpful in scientific efforts like dividing the different family, genus, and species of different living things in a biology class.

In relationships and with people, this is often more detrimental than helpful. We use many simple labels for complex things that skew our ability to have meaningful conversations: White, Black, Asian, Latino, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Northerner, Southerner, Hippie, Extrovert, Introvert, Type A, Depressive, Addict, Bipolar, etc…; which leads to the next point.

  1. Each of these miss the person for the category… especially when over relied upon

We think we know someone because of the category they fit in; we confuse knowing something about them for really knowing them. I am a white, Southern, pastor, counselor, rural-born male who now lives in the suburbs of a major city. Do you know me? I hope, culturally, we are getting past the point where the answer would be yes.

But what if I told you I am a Type A, introvert, compulsively structured, detail-oriented, phlegmatic, who prefers quality time to receiving gifts and physical touch to acts of service, and highly values achievement so I am more given to anxiety than depression. Do you know me now?

We are more prone to say yes. But I have told you nothing (at least in this blog) of my wife, two boys, upbringing, hobbies, sense of humor, life dreams, shaping life events, health, religious beliefs, or many other things that would come with being “friends.” The things I have told you would probably not be the things that would determine whether we could be good friends. Yet we live in a day when a test that measures these traits would be believed to tell us whether we’re compatible.

  1.   The greater our confidence in any of these, the greater their danger

The more weight we give to things like personality tests and love languages (I choose those two simply because they’re most prominent), the less we hold ourselves responsible to ask good questions, listen to answers, value our differences, and build relationships around mutual sacrifice. Instead we insist people “accept us for who we are” and that they “meet our needs.”

Personally, I believe we can learn a great deal from personality tests and that we should learn how people close to us most naturally receive love. You can know a good deal about me from the things listed in the first two paragraphs of point two.

My concern is that these become short-cuts to getting to know and continuing to learn about people. When that happens, these useful tools become a form of relational laziness that will harm our relationships. It is not the harm of segregation or the suppression of women.

But it is the harm of marriages ending in divorce, children growing up without parents, and strained friendships because we thought a stereotype, personality trait, or love language could tell us and produce what only comes from getting to know a person and investing in a relationship. May we take the same time to get to know someone as a person who happens to have the traits of a particular temperament as we should getting to know a person who happens to come from a particular ethnic background.

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.

The Myth of Compatibility

Too often we treat compatibility as it were a noun (something two people share – like a cupcake or eye color) instead of a verb (something two people do – like synchronized swimming or conversation). There is a big, often overlooked, difference between compatibility as a noun and a verb.

When I hear commercials for dating sites or listen to marriage seminars talk about compatibility, I often get the impression that these tests are like the blood work done before an organ (i.e., lung, kidney) donation. They allege to tell a couple if they are compatible with one another in some absolute or scientific sense. That is good advertising but not reality.

Think for a moment. Over the course of human history every combination of husband personality traits and wife personality traits have combined to make excellent marriages. Equally true, every combination of personality traits has ended in painful, bitter divorces.

Simply put – compatibility is not the make or break issue for marriage. It may not even exist in the way that the concept is popularly presented.

Are these tests bad? No. They usually do a good job in letting couple’s know what common challenges they will face based upon their values and preferences (less mystical words for “personality types”). From my experience, rarely is a couple surprised by what they find and any of their friends could have given them a similar assessment.

Should couples take these tests? Sure. They’re fun and usually provide a neutral language to discuss differences that would normally come out during an argument (a time when couple’s assign moral language – “good” and “bad”—to their differences).

So what’s my concern? My first concern is that a heavy emphasis on “compatibility” during the dating process opens the door to an “irreconcilable differences” excuse for divorce. The fact is we change over time. Who we are when we are dating is not who we will be on our 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, or if we are lucky 50th anniversary.

What happens to the marriage covenant when “compatibility” fades? What happens when the timid young professional becomes a confident leader in his/her field? What happens when the confidant young athlete ages out of being dominant with physical prowess and becomes insecure? What happens when we scored 23 out of 27 on our eHarmony test in our 20’s and only 13 out of 27 in our 40’s?

My second concern is that “compatibility” emphasizes personality matches over growing in godly character as the foundation of a good marriage. When we think we have what it takes, most people coast or look for new challenges.

Let me offer a contrast to the fact that every combination of personalities has made for both great and disastrous marriages. There has never been a good marriage between two prideful, selfish, lazy people. There has never been a bad marriage between two humble, other-minded, servant-hearted people.

I know those two categories don’t exist in absolutes. We are each a combination of prideful-selfish-lazy and humble-other-minded-servant-hearted. But hopefully you get my point. Character is the better predictor of marital success than personality.

Does this mean any high character person can marry any other high character person and have a great marriage? I would say no. “Spark” and “chemistry” are important to marriage and should not be neglected. But I would say that two high character people without “spark” would have a better marriage than two people who ignore the importance of character with “spark.”

So what is the take away? Learn all you can about your spouse, fiancé, or dating partner. Use personality tests to get to know one another if you like. Be able to predict every foreseeable difference you may have. But do not begin to think that “compatibility” is something you have (noun). Remember compatibility, if the word is to be redeemed, comes from pursuing the same thing of eternal value together – Christ, His character, and His 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.

Being “In Love” and Promises

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

“The idea that being ‘in love’ is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made… As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do (p.107).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is an interesting question. If being “in love” is the pinnacle experience, then why have we added marriage to it? You might begin by asserting that “we” did not add marriage to love, but it was God’s design. I would agree, but that rebuttal does not address the audience who would ask the question.

We find that even those who reject God (at least as defined in the Bible, interpreted by author’s original intent) fight fervently for the right to be married because they believe that it would add something to their experience of being “in love.” I reference the gay-marriage debate here, not for political purposes, but merely as an example.

As I have observed these debates (admittedly from a distance, I am not a highly politically-motivated person), my impression is that their motives are larger than, “You told me I can’t so I’m going to prove I can.” They sincerely want to be married. Why? If one should be free to exit marriage because “I fell out of love” would those not seeking to follow a particular religious code (like the Bible) want to add marriage to their experience of being in love?

We make vows for a reason that is beyond pragmatic. We make vows because we are made in the image of a covenant-making God. There is something higher than being “in love,” namely reflecting the image of the God we were made to glorify.

We do not serve a temporal God. Therefore a temporal experience of being in love is not the ultimate expression of the character of the God who is love (I John 4:8). What is more in keeping with God’s character is when that state of being in love is sealed within a self-sacrificing covenant.

As Lewis notes that Chesterton pointed out, even secular love songs from all cultures and time periods testify to this. True romantic love longs to seal itself in promises of fidelity, exclusivity, and sacrificially finding joy in the joy of the other.

What difference does this make? I would contend that it undercuts one of the primary decision making criteria in our culture. Consider, how many harmful decisions are made based upon the justification that “I am in love” or “I am no longer in love”? If that standard were removed from its place at the pinnacle of decision making, how many life tragedies would be avoided?

As a final addendum, please do not hear this as a condemnation of being “in love.” I firmly believe that being in love is one of the most blissful blessings that God has bestowed upon the human race. It may be one of the purest foretastes of Heaven’s perpetual worship. This reflection is merely a warning against one of the most basic human tendencies – trying to replace God with one of His gifts to us.

The Therapeutic Benefit of Community

Millard Erickson makes an important point when he says, “The church is one of the few aspects of Christian theology that can be observed (p. 1036 in Christian Theology).” If his statement is true, then the place where theology should have its most tangible impact is in the community of people who strive to live in its truth.

Secular researcher Barry Duncan in his quest to determine what makes counseling effective found that 40% of what determines whether counseling will be effective is the quality of relational resources an individual has outside counseling (in The Heart and Soul of  Change).

Too often we only ask the question, “What does the profession of counseling have to offer to the church?” In light of this research, I believe the question, “What does the community of the church have to offer to counseling?” is at least equally valid.

In my counseling, I will frequently ask people, “Who do you have that you can talk to about this struggle? Who are you honest with and don’t have to pretend like everything is okay? Who asks you ‘how are you doing?’ and really wants to know the answer? When do you meet with another person(s) just to discuss how life is going and encourage one another?”

Most often the answer are no one and never. But it is being able to answer this question that accounts for 40% of the success rate in overcoming a life struggle. Notice that counseling will never be able to provide this kind of resource. Even in an ongoing support group you are forever defined by your struggle even as you seek to overcome it.

But the church (when operating as God designed – a living community) is precisely this kind of resource. This becomes even more profound when you consider the second largest variable in success: the level of trust between the counselor and counselee. This accounted for 30% of the success rate.

This means (by secular standards) that if the church operates as the community God designed and its members demonstrate the desire/ability to understand one another in a way that builds trust, the relationships within the church have achieved 70% of what is necessary for a successful helping relationship.

To this point we have not broached the subject of Scripture’s ability to provide a superior theory of counseling. We have only been considering the incredible benefits of living in community as God designed even in life’s toughest moments.

I want to be careful not to imply in this blog that formal counseling training is of no value. I am immensely grateful for the education and counseling experience I have received. I believe it does play an important role in understanding people’s struggles.

But my point here simply this: the church is the kind of community counseling would try to create if it thought such a therapeutically powerful reality could exist. My role as Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church is not to try to solve the church’s problems with counseling knowledge. My role is to encourage the saints that with a biblical equipping to love and understand people that they live in a community designed to transform lives in a way no professional structure can (Eph.4:11-16).

What is the take away? Going to counseling without being meaningfully involved in a church and small group is like going to the dentist when you refuse to brush your teeth each night after eating chocolate covered caramels. In light of this, reflect on Proverbs 18:1, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desires;  he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Are you in a small group?

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling” 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 Counseling Theory” 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?

Gratitude as Weakness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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