A Workable Marriage-Counseling Template

newlywedsPer some requests, I’ve decided to post the marriage-counseling template that I shared in last Sunday’s message at Grace. As I stated in that message, when a couple asks for my help in strengthening their relationship, I urge them to gently but honestly ponder and discuss the following questions:

  1. Based on an understanding of Scripture and the desire of our heart, what would our marriage look like if it were a “10”?
  2. How does our marriage compare to that “10”? Be careful to answer this question gently, without inflicting any unnecessary wounds with your words.
  3. Where have we wounded each other?
  4. Where have we stopped “husband-ing” each other? The word “husband” used to be a verb that referenced the cultivation or tilling of land. Implied in the name husband, then, is the idea of cultivating and tending to the relationship.
  5. Where do we need to ask for and extend forgiveness?
  6. What action steps would most quickly move us toward that “10” standard? Each partner can usually list two or three simple things that, if done, would jump-start the healing and recovery process.
  7. What tools do we need to receive to begin those steps? It’s great to have an action plan, but if we don’t have the necessary tools to complete the steps, the problem will compound and we will struggle with additional feelings of failure or inadequacy.
  8. Are we full of the Holy Spirit? And if we’re not, do we now how to get full?
  9. How do we work this process while speaking nothing but “gentle”? Remember, harshness is a death sentence to a marriage relationship, but gentleness is its lifeblood. 

Cured of backsliding

Is it possible?rock climber

Is it actually a legitimate possibility to live free from the issues, angst, and strongholds that cloud our consciences, hurt our loved ones, and dull our spiritual sensitivities?

God thinks yes.

In Jeremiah 3:22 the prophet recorded God’s hope-filled promise, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22).

What an awesome phrase! “Cured of backsliding.” How is that possible? How do we become cured of the sins that have plagued and defeated us for a lifetime? According to Jeremiah, the cure is in the returning.

“Return…I will cure you.”

Every time we return–moving toward a place of increasing surrender and reliance on God–the cure works a little deeper into our spirit, liberating us from sin’s addictive pull. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never struggle or stumble–it means that if we are habitual returners our backsliding will never have the final word.

Jude, Jesus’ natural half-brother, said it this way. He said that God is “able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 1:24).

Let’s be lifelong returners until we are characterized by the cure.

Unimpressive miracles

Bee Happy

My body took a minor beating this weekend. I was stung by a bee, developed a fierce ingrown nose hair, and tweaked my shoulder while weightlifting. Strangely, I didn’t react to the bee sting until two days later when I woke up with swelling, redness, and a noticeable heat emanating from the sting site. On the same day, my nose hair became more painful than the bee sting, and I almost dropped a cup of scalding coffee when I extended my shoulder at the wrong angle.

The combination of these mild maladies was enough for me to remember that I’m no longer eighteen, and to attempt leveraging some sympathy out of Jessica. However, the craziest thing happened last night when I was sleeping.

I started to heal.

This morning the swelling was down on my arm, I could touch my nose without crying, and my shoulder is well on its way to recovery. Granted, it’s not the most impressive miracle in the world but it’s still a testimony to the amazing, God-given power resident in the human body. Even as we age and move closer to our final days, our bodies continue to work miracles of physical healing, reminding us that life is still at work in the midst of death.

The Apostle Paul said it this way: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Eustace and Aslan

eustace“Strictly speaking he began to be a different boy…the cure had begun.” So ends the chapter in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader wherein the self-centered, scornful Eustace Clarence Scrubb is transformed in to a greedy dragon and then ultimately healed by Aslan.

Following is an excerpt from the chapter that beautifully describes the process that we go through when the Lord begins the work of transforming our character.

“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg, but the lion told me I must undress first.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before.

The lion said, ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.

Then he caught hold of me and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me. And then suddenly I was back here.”

“And we all…are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  2 Corinthians 3:18

Curing Eeyore

Eeyore as depicted by Disney

Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.

“Pathetic,” he said. “That’s what it is. Pathetic.”

He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.

“As I thought,” he said. “No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.” (Excerpt from Winnie the Pooh)

Everyone knows an Eeyore, someone who is habitually negative or pessimistic and can find a way to rain on even the happiest of parades. Eeyores find problems in every solution, constantly expect the worst, and project their unhappiness on to everyone around them.

Eeyores must be stopped.  They’re hurting themselves, they’re exhausting their friends, and they’re polluting the atmosphere in the 40-acre wood.

Chronic criticism and negativity poison relationships, assassinate joy, and damage faith, and at risk of offering pat, overly simplistic counsel let me suggest some potential cures for Eyore’s gloominess:

  1. Go on a “thank you” fast. Designate some time to express gratitude for every blessing you can identify regardless of how small it might be.
  2. Embark on a total life makeover, an aggressive but realistic campaign to overhaul your fitness, budget, friendships, hobbies, and self-esteem.
  3. Join a small group and inform them of your plans to change.
  4. If necessary get the appropriate therapy or medical help.
  5. Read…pray…worship…reach out—do whatever it takes to get in God’s presence and linger there. He adores you, and His ultimate plan for you is good.

Poking the sea anemones

Be honest…do you poke the sea anemones when you see them in tide pools at the beach? It’s sort of hard to resist. They’re so exotic and tropical, and their recoiling feature always makes me want to stick a shell in to their soft center so I can watch them curl up in a tight, protective ball. It’s probably against the rules to poke the sea anemones, but their sticky, retracting tentacles are pretty compelling.

English: Sea Anemones at California tideppols....

Sometimes you and I share a commonality with sea anemones. We recoil and shut down when we’re threatened or touched. It’s not a bad thing; it’s actually a safeguard. It only becomes problematic when it’s time to open ourselves up again and we’re still crouched in a closed, defensive posture.

Sometimes we need to take the risk to open up again.

The natural response to hurt, misunderstanding, or wounding is to put up our guard and minimize our vulnerabilities; however, if we want to heal we will eventually need to open back up. We will need to release our hurts to the Lord, make peace with our past, forgive our offenders, and courageously stretch out again.

None of this is easy to do, but true love is never easy. It is always a selfless endeavor that stretches and challenges us, while pulling the greatness out of us.

Don’t let yesterday’s hurts keep you from today’s opportunities to receive, give, bless, and love. You will get hurt again, and you’ll retract like those pretty sea anemones. But after regrouping for a while make sure you bounce back and reach out one more time.

People are worth it.

Trapped in yesterday

English: The Zin Valley in the Negev Desert of...
The Negev (Southern Israel)

You would never know it’s fall in Los Angeles. The leaves haven’t changed, the temperature is in the 100s, and I didn’t know my body could produce this much sweat.

And yet it’s officially autumn—the calendar told me so.

Sometimes the seasons of our lives are like that too. The season has shifted and things are brand new, but everything still feels like yesterday.

If your season of life has changed, or if you’ve sensed God telling you that “new things are coming,” don’t be discouraged when it feels like you’re still stuck in the past. If you hold steady, yesterday will yield to tomorrow and your season really will shift for the good.

Psalm 126:4 says, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.” This prayer doesn’t really mean much to us until we learn that by late summer the river bottoms in the Negev (the desert country in Southern Israel) had become bone dry, and the thought of retrieving water from them was laughable. However, when the winter’s rainy season finally trumped summer, fresh, clean, life giving water would begin to flow once more.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that life will flow again. That’s my prayer for you and your loved ones this week—that the life-giving flow of God’s Spirit would wet and flood this current season of your life.