By Bill Fagan of Pure Desire Ministries
There are seasons, however, when gratitude seems a long way off. I can take for granted the security of my life, the comfort in which I live, the relationships I can count on for love and support. In those times, gratitude seems to be allusive, like some long-forgotten toy that I unwrapped at Christmas and stopped playing with by New Years. Where does it go?
In the summer of my ninth or tenth year, I remember a Saturday I would rather forget. My father, who worked too infrequently but drank to make up for it, had purchased what seemed to me like a gigantic bottle of his favorite liquor (I believe I heard him say it was on sale). Unlike his usual pattern of bingeing after work on Friday, this morning he started drinking early and continued until lunch time, almost as if he was on a mission. He would go outside to do some of the yard work he was hired by our landlord to perform but come inside regularly, taking frequent breaks to imbibe the magic elixir he used to cope.
By lunchtime he and my mother had been arguing and the tension in the house was so strong that my sister and I had to go for a walk to get away from it. But finally, he passed out and all was quiet…for a while. When he awoke, he was enraged, seemingly because my mother had not aroused him so that he might eat lunch. I have no memory of exactly what was yelled back and forth next, but ultimately my father (not usually prone to violence) pushed my mother harshly onto the unmade sofa bed in the living room and bolted out the door. As usual, my mother was distraught and in tears, while I felt relief that at least for the moment he was gone.
This was among the worst of many repeated encounters that occurred over the course of my eighteen years of life with my parents. Most were not as terrifying, but all were fraught with fear, confusion, and uncertainty. Whenever my father was working, it was uncertain if he would come home at the end of the day on Friday carrying a bottle of transforming potion which almost always led to arguments between my parents. Or, if he would just be a “no call, no show” disappearing for a week or so until my mother received that inevitable phone call saying he was sorry and asking if he could come home (the answer was always “yes”). Whether he was home or away, he was mostly distant, likely struggling with tormenting memories of his own childhood which was anything but ideal.
Childhood clearly left its wounds, some deeper than others. It prepared me poorly for relationships. I found marriage difficult, followed by divorce. Insecurity, loneliness, feeling never good enough and not important, I was able to use my cognitive abilities to survive, but the addiction, fears, and dysfunctional behaviors underneath ripped at my sense of self. Finally, at the age of 57, I gave up and gave in to the call of the Lord… ”I can’t do this on my own.” And as the loving Father He is, He responded, providing for me the greatest love I have ever known. Not only did I experience the love of my heavenly Father, but He also gave me someone who was able in the here and now to give me a glimpse of what His love looked like in real time while still on this earth.
I met my amazing wife in graduate school in 2009. It wasn’t until 2010 that we got to know each other and another year until we married. I can honestly say that until my relationship with her, I truly did not know what love was.
I had been the recipient of glimpses of it: teachers who saw potential in me; brothers and sisters who took time from their busy lives to provide respite from the home battles; priests and nuns who showed kindness and understanding; a landlady who would make root beer floats for me; a neighbor who would give me silver dollars for earning “A”s on my report card; two elderly sisters who would give me freshly baked cookies while we played “Old Maid.”
All these people and their acts of kindness are remembered and appreciated, but none of them really knew me, the real me, the me that felt broken, unforgivable, ashamed, and alone. Of course, God knew, and He sent me another human who would know me, wounds and all, and still love me.
She and I have been able to work through the most difficult feelings. We have cried a mountain of tears together and used up a corresponding mountain of tissues in the process. She is my best friend, my favorite human, and my biggest fan. She is the most loving person I have ever known. And what is truly miraculous about all of this, is that the past was all worth it. If I had to go through all the loneliness and despair, all the feelings of being worthless and hopeless, in order to be with my wife, then it was well worth the price. These past ten years have been the best of my life and they continue to get better!
So, if gratitude perhaps requires a contrast, an appreciation of light after darkness, of comfort after pain, then I can say that this/she is at the core of my sense of gratitude. From a dark and lonely place, God has transported me into a person who can feel His love, a person who can know what love is because He gave me her. What an incredible blessing!
By Mike Maxwell of Pure Desire Ministries
Although I couldn’t see it at the time, the pain in my life had to reach a tipping point: was I going to stay stuck in my addiction or was I going to do the work needed to find freedom?
From my perspective, what I’ve learned about myself, about God, and about living a life of sexual integrity would not have happened without the valuable lessons I’ve learned throughout my journey.
Among the lessons I’ve learned through my group experiences, and continue to learn, here’s what stands out as the key components to walking clean before God.
Why is humility first on the list? Because God hates pride and pride leads to destruction (Proverbs 16:8), but with humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). God actually opposes the proud (James 4:6) and His grace is available to the humble.
The first key to overcoming sexual sin is acknowledging in humility that God’s ways are right and we are sinners. This often involves confessing our sins, but I should warn you: we need to be intentional about the way we confess our struggles.
We need to have a plan and the counsel of a trained professional or others who have gone before us in this process. Confessing to your spouse without having a plan in place, accountability, and wise counsel on how confession and disclosure should take place is a recipe for disaster and possible divorce.
Many of us are willing to humble ourselves and admit we are sinners, but far fewer are willing to truly move toward repentance. Jesus said we need to get drastic with personal sin, even to the point of cutting off a hand or gouging out an eye (Matthew 5:29, 30). Jesus is not literally telling us to maim ourselves. He is pointing out that if we aren’t willing to be as drastic as cutting off our hand (or the Internet) to avoid continuous sin, we haven’t really repented.
The second key to overcoming sexual sin is true repentance. Jesus said that He does not know those who claim His name yet continue to practice sin (Matthew 7:22, 23), so sincere, actionable repentance is crucial for the healing process.
Many of us are willing to humbly admit our sin and are willing to repent but fail to succeed because we are unwilling to submit to the accountability of others. This sin requires accountability over time. This is a fight for our spiritual life, not to mention for our spouse and family. It will take three to five years of committed knock-down, drag-out fighting against the enemy to retrain and renew our mind.
We should be able to see our efforts begin to take root within a few months, but this is a character and integrity issue around faith and trust in God—it takes time to build enduring character and integrity. We will need others around us to help fight this battle and help us understand our personal struggle.
4. God’s Word
God’s Word is our most valuable weapon, yet many of us cut corners here. The Bible describes sexual sin as being as dangerous and sharp as a double-edged sword (Proverbs 5:3, 4) but describes the Word of God as being sharper than the sharpest double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12)! For a person to change the way their brain has been wired toward sexual sin requires that they wash their brain and spirit with the Word of God. This means starting the day with a devotional time and memorizing Scripture.
When I’m tempted to sin, I have found that quoting a Scripture I am trying to memorize works wonders. If I can say it out loud to make sure the enemy can hear me, even better! Spit the Word of God in the enemy’s face every time he comes around. This is how Jesus fought temptation.
Sexual sin is all about wanting what we don’t have, and the enemy of our soul will ensure that we can never truly have our fill (Hebrews 12:16). We will always want more. The enemy entices us with fake intimacy and causes us to focus on the exterior body. When we focus on the body and how a person looks, we are chasing something shallow that cannot last. This will cause us increasing unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
We all age and our looks fade away, but true beauty, character, integrity, and faith in Christ cannot be measured by appearance.
We need to train ourselves to be grateful and express gratitude daily for what God has given us (or for the future He has for us). We are rejecting God when we chase what He has not given us.
If you’re married, God is your father-in-law. Your spouse, His son or daughter, is a gift to you. Find ways to express gratitude to God every day and especially for the spouse He’s given you.
Sexual sin is all about greed (covetousness) and selfishness. The Bible says we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7) and when we sow selfishness by engaging in sexual sin, we become increasingly filled with lust and selfishness (Psalm 115:8). It continues to blind us to the realities of what we are doing and how it affects those around us.
A Christian man or woman who is serious about defeating sexual sin must take their eyes off themselves and unselfishly contribute to the wellbeing of another. For example, we might start serving our spouse and family (even when we don’t feel like it).
For us men, the Bible says that we are to love our wives as Christ loves the Church (His bride), giving His life for her (Ephesians 5:25). If you haven’t died yet, keep serving her.
7. Seek Professional Help
If we’re married, we might need to get professional assistance in navigating the minefield that comes with confessing our sin to our spouse.
If you are hesitant, here is a piece of valuable advice: a counselor is cheaper than a divorce.
If we confess in the wrong way, we may destroy any chance of our marriage surviving. Involving a professional at the beginning of this process can be of great help and eliminate many complications.
We can’t let pride keep us from doing whatever it takes to keep our marriage intact as we go through this process. A professional in this instance can be a pastor or a counselor, but make sure they understand and have dealt with this type of disclosure process.
Why do I wish I had gotten into a purity group sooner? Because I waited too long to get into a group and deal decisively with my sin—and it cost me more than I ever dreamed it would.
In late November 2011, my wife and stepdaughter stumbled across the trail of my pornography habit on our home computer. I arrived home a few hours later to her tears and anger, and she asked me to move out. She was emotional and distraught and felt like she had married a lie. In truth, she had. I spent that holiday season alone in a dark hotel room, dodging family invitations—trying to keep everyone from finding out that my marriage was falling apart and why. And it got worse. My church found out, my family found out, everyone found out.
Finally, I was willing to join a group.
Why didn’t I join a group sooner? Simply because of my pride. The consequence of my pride cost me my marriage, my family, and the respect of everyone who believed me to be a man I wasn’t.
The biggest lesson I learned through this process is this: my Father in heaven loves me too much to let sin have me forever. He disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). Period.
I had given my life to Christ and He wouldn’t let me escape the consequences of my sin (Galatians 6:7). I’ll admit, there had been stop signs all along the way, starting in my twenties, but I blew right through them. God simply kept raising the stakes—the consequences—until He got my attention.
In the pit of my journey, all alone and desperate, I met God in a new way. He gave me this song and, even now, I still get emotional listening to it because it is my story. I am so grateful I found a love greater than life itself.
Group was a crucial part of my journey—I just wish I hadn’t waited so long.
Get in a group and fight! Every. Day.
By Eileen Fagan of Pure Desire Ministries
I learned early on in my marriage how to minimize anxiety in many ways, including avoiding conflict, image management, perfectionism, and stuffing my feelings. The latter didn’t work so well, as I began to suffer physical manifestations of my anxiety, including headaches, digestive issues, and the development of an ulcer. I avoided sharing my true feelings and anxieties because I feared criticism, making change and intimacy difficult.
Fortunately, Jesus, with His loving mercy and gentleness, showed me a better way. I used to look at gratitude rather flippantly, not really understanding the difference between thankfulness and gratitude. Thankfulness is a feeling, usually in relationship to what we are given. Gratitude, on the other hand, is an action word. So, we feel thankful and express gratitude in our actions.
In his almost 50 years of marriage research, John Gottman has studied the beneficial effects of gratitude in relationships. His studies of couples indicated that people who practice gratitude are less likely to divorce. They also report fewer symptoms of both physical and mental illness, increased optimism and happiness, stronger relationships, and increased generosity, among many other benefits.
Spiritually, we reap the benefits of gratitude in other ways. In Philippians 4, Paul tells us,
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV
In Greek, the word “thanksgiving” translates to eucharistia: grateful language to God.
The spiritual benefits of swapping out gratitude for anxiety are: 1. Peace; 2. Not having to have all the answers myself; 3. Protection over my heart and mind. This is priceless!
As you keep reading in Philippians 4, verse 8, Paul uses the imperative finally, meaning (my translation), “If you didn’t hear anything else, pay attention to this!” Paul not only tells us how NOT to think (“be anxious for nothing” v. 6), but he tells us how TO think: “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” He then reminds us that if we think this way, the God of peace will be with us (v. 9)!
In the Pure Desire book, Connected, Dr. Ted Roberts discussed the levels of gratitude, moving from thanking God for THINGS, to thanking God in the midst of trials, to eventual gratitude for counting all things as loss for the glory of God (Philippians 3:8). Moreover, Dr. Ted reminds us that living in gratitude transcends performance; it’s all about our relationship with the Lord.
This is good news for me, as I continually battle with feeling “good enough” and shedding my “value by performance” mentality.
Growing up in a constant state of hypervigilance can leave people with the feeling that they are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For some of us, gratitude can seem difficult because life was difficult. But Jesus is telling us to let go:
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.
Matthew 11:28-30 NLT
As I began to be intentional about worshiping the Lord, expressing thankfulness, and walking in gratitude, my thinking began to change, and I experienced more peace than I ever imagined.
Are you ready to exchange anxiety, heaviness, and stress for peace, lightheartedness, and rest? Begin to practice gratitude at whatever level you feel you’re at and watch as God begins to change your thinking and give you the desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)!
By Rich More of Pure Desire Ministries
When we listen to someone’s battle story, the picture that forms in our mind tells us a lot about the struggles they’ve faced and their victories. We know it wasn’t easy. We know there were others involved in the process. And we know, even when they experienced minor setbacks, they gave 100%!
Sound familiar? It should. This is what recovery looks like.
No one ever said recovery would be easy. We all have experienced this at some level, either being the one who struggles with addictive behaviors or married to someone who struggles. So we know, up close and personal, what these battles look like.
For so many of us, we have tried to fight this battle on our own—trying to make our life look clean and put together on the outside so others can’t see just how messy we are on the inside. It’s often during times that our addiction was at its worst, we made sure to say all the right things and look the part. But on the inside, we were a mess. We cannot fight this battle alone.
Does your battle picture show others who fought with you and for you? Were there times when they carried you through the muck of life?
You may wonder, Why would we want to fight this battle with others? Pretty simple really. Here are three reasons to keep in mind.
1. We Need Others
There is just no way we can do this on our own. This battle is too hard and there are too many obstacles that we can not defeat on our own. Sexual temptation is coming at us from every direction. And, just when we think we are making traction in the right direction, the enemy starts calling an audible (changing the play). If we are not careful and cannot see the enemy’s schemes, he may call an audible that will totally set us back.
It is very important to lean on others who have gone before you in this battle and can see the enemy’s misdirections. People who are battle-tested, so to speak. People who have beautiful battle scars.
2. There is Power in Numbers
Matthew 18:20 says: For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
The Bible clearly states that there is power in numbers. We need the support of others throughout this journey. At times, it might get ugly. We might become exhausted and feel like we can’t keep going. I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside and helping guys find freedom. In the same way, there are guys who have supported and carried me through some pretty messy times.
Don’t underestimate the power of your group. A group that runs like a well-oiled machine is strong, dynamic, and influential! God has put you in your group for a reason. Your group is a Band of Brothers (or a Band of Sisters) who can facilitate what we all thought was impossible.
3. Showing Your Scars Makes a Difference
Our scars do not define us. If anything, our scars show just how powerful we are. The trauma, abuse, and pain that we’ve experienced is a part of our story. Our scars are evidence of where we came from; not where we are going. Sometimes, it’s our scars that can make a difference in the lives of others. It can be a symbol of hope to those who are just starting their healing journey.
I can imagine that one day, when I meet God, he will say to me, “Your scars are beautiful.” They definitely got me where I am today. I get emotional just thinking about it. Our scars are beautiful in the eyes of God.
As we continue to live out our healing and help others find freedom, remember, don’t be afraid to show your scars. You may not see it or feel it now, but your scars are powerful.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed.
Yesterday I may have sworn that there was no way I was ever going to fall again. Things were getting better, but what happened? Now I’m sitting here, aching inside, and cursing myself. I allowed temptation to lure me into looking at something on my phone that I promised that I never would return to. I thought I was strong enough to handle it, but I couldn’t, or at least I didn’t, and now I’m miserable.
Peter had his own morning after experience. He had sworn to Jesus, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.” Jesus replied, I tell you the truth, Peter-this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” “No!” Peter insisted. “ Even if I have to die with you, I will never betray you!” (Matthew 26:33-35). Jesus had been right, as always! Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, and beaten. It was more than Peter could bear; but he couldn’t walk away. So he followed. He was suspected of being a collaborator. Each time he lied to protect himself. The third time, “Peter swore, A curse on me if I’m lying-I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “ Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” “And he went away, weeping bitterly.” (Matthew 26: 74-75).
Jesus knew Peter was going to fall in advance; and his love didn’t skip a beat! God doesn’t hate us the morning after. He loves us every bit as much today as he did before we fell.
We may accept God’s forgiveness, but feel that our fall has disqualified us from serving God or aspiring to great things. We may conclude that we naught as well go back to the old lifestyle we had before we began to hope and work for something better.
The apostle Peter started out as a fisherman named Simon. That was all he was qualified for, at least before Jesus came along. “One day as Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers-Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew-throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people! And they left their nets at once and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20). For the next three years, Jesus trained him to “fish for souls,” and during that time Peter witnessed many miracles. But then he blew it! In the end he denied Jesus. He went through three days of utter hell, and then the greatest miracle of all happened. Jesus was alive again!” But Peter still thought of himself as disqualified. He started up his fishing business again. That’s where Jesus found him, back in his old life. It was on that same shore that Jesus reaffirmed his call. Again he said to Peter, “Follow me”.
We may consider ourselves disqualified after a fall, but God doesn’t. The apostle Paul said, “For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn” (Romans 11:29). Just because we’ve blown it doesn’t mean that we should give up and go back to our old lives. God still has a wonderful future for us. We only really fail when we refuse to get up and start again.
Jesus, the Good Samaritan will find us, beaten down and feeling broken because of our choice to give in. He will dust us off, bandage our wounds, and once again tell us to follow him.
Taken from “The Life Recovery Devotional” by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop, page 374 & 375
Then you took my hand. Transformation began. Commotion where it once was still. Fireworks explode. Front row tickets to the show. This hand I will never let it go.
True transformation. What a concept. Fireworks…Wow!
In our family, we affectionately call this “love bursts.” My husband and I refer to experiences with God—the little every day moments and the big hard to ignore events—as places that are “opening up my heart space.” We try to stop and just be aware of these things. We use “being present” as a guide: holding onto what is reflecting our true nature and letting go of what is not.
The first time I heard the above song, in a movie, it opened up my heart space. I immediately connected it to the most beautiful parts of life—intimacy with God. True transformation, that feels like “front row tickets” to what God is doing in the world, first starts in me.
I also refer to this as going to wide open places. I think we all know what it’s like to be in a closed place on the inside. It could be due to secrets, grief, or bitterness; but we feel small, alone, and closed off. We also have experienced those places of freedom, where we somehow let go of all the “extras” and were just present in experiencing the pure joy of the moment. Something big like a child being born or something small like a great song at a concert that makes us get up and dance.
The journey of life often includes some of the dry, dead stuff which turns into a fireworks show: front row tickets to what the Divine is doing and the Trinity’s ever present invitation for me to participate.
However true, this does not mean everything in my life is sweet sailing.
This past year has been one of mountain top highs (first child and only daughter getting married) and deep valley lows (my parents, married 50 years, navigating betrayal and separation). I am acquainted with feeling overwhelmed with the grief or anxiety due to unfulfilled expectations, an empty nest, disappointing others, and a variety of other things.
My friend described this once as holding joy and sorrow at the same time. I surely know this to be true.
Transformation is about what is going on inside of us much more than what is going on around us. It is embracing what is real. It is often letting go of the old to grab onto something new that God is showing us.
And in the dark places, when life feels hard or chaotic, and I question what is real, it means holding on to the “deeper yeses” I read about in a recent meditation:
Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.
In the moments of insecurity and crisis, “shoulds” and “oughts” don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out.
Bigger and Better
Have you ever played the bigger and better game? It’s a kids game where you start with something small, and you go from door to door exchanging it for something bigger. You have to let go of what is smaller to grab onto the next, bigger and better thing. I think transformation always involves letting go of something smaller for something “bigger and better” that God has for me in my understanding, emotions, and behavior.
I like to call this living spirituality. I know what dead spirituality is and this doesn’t just mean boring (although that is a thing). It can be a spirituality that looks very much alive and demonstrative but lacks the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). In fact, at times I see evidence of this around me and often in me.
An example of this from my life involves following rules. I know what it is to follow the rules. I grew up as a pretty good rule-follower. This goes all the way back to my first memories: “I have to be good. I have to be loving to others. I have to love God. I have to read my Bible, pray, tithe, go to church…”
It looked like the rules I needed to follow were sometimes more important than experiencing a relationship with God and the unconditional love of Christ. At best, it was some transformation. At worst, it was something false but I didn’t see it. Nevertheless, I don’t want to live with partial transformation anymore. I try to curiously observe and let go of anything that looks, talks, or smells like conformity, for something better. If it quacks like a duck, I ain’t doin’ it!
Life sometimes throws us curveballs, and there’s nothing quite like the betrayal of a spouse to blow up your “God box” into a million scattered pieces.
My construct—my belief in God, myself, my spouse, every pastor, person, and maybe stranger—was suddenly up for debate. Everything became suspect.
The day I took my wedding pictures off the wall (let’s say they were getting outdated anyway because, you know, the 80s), in my mind I saw them shattered on the ground. Okay, more like blown up by a bomb. This was a clear time my God-box was blown up. Although it was difficult, it helped me start over and let go of many things I did because I thought I was supposed to.
When this happened, I didn’t sweep up the pieces and throw them away in the trash. Instead, I kept all the pieces. Over time, I looked at them carefully and slowly chose what I would keep and what didn’t serve a purpose in my life anymore.
I’m the kind of person who gets a little (or a lot) angry at God and has those really strong conversations with Him, so that’s exactly what I did. At the time, I lacked understanding of sexual addiction and where to find support. So much of it didn’t make sense: my marriage, my relationship, and my understanding of God. And when my life felt shattered, I wanted to only pick back up the things that were real, that I truly believe in, and that are essential to my faith.
I believe I have been sifting through this brokenness continually over the past 20 years, since the beginning of my adult life and throughout my recovery journey. All of this has taken me to a much more healed and grateful place.
Throughout this process, what I picked back up included some of the same things but with a completely different motivation. On the outside, my life might not look a whole lot different (remember I am good at following “the rules”). But on the inside, it’s lived more often from a place of transformation rather than conformity.
Here’s another thing that helped me with this process. One morning when my husband was speaking, he used the term “faith community” when referring to our church. This changed my perspective. For me, attending a local church is a part of a faith community, but so is my Betrayal & Beyond group, grief class, family and extended family, conversation with a friend, a 12-step group—really, any time I get together with another person or a group of people (where two or more are gathered, Matthew 18:20).
True transformation comes from relationship: being open and honest in the context of community. If you are going to Sunday morning service once a week and you don’t have a way of opening up your heart to others (and multiple ways is even better), then I believe you are missing a key part of transformation.
I’ve now seen enough of what doesn’t work in my life to recognize that I only really want what does work. I want true transformation. I believe most of us do. We just don’t always know how to get there, or we don’t have the support or tools to take the sometimes really, really hard next step. In recovery, this is often referred to as doing “the next right thing.”
Not behavior modification but repentance (metanoia): changing the way you think—about yourself, God, and others. Really, it’s a response to love.
I can try to transform; in fact, I have surely done this in many ways.
Do you want to know why I can truly see the gifts that walking through betrayal in my marriage brought me? Experiencing true transformation? The aftermath of suddenly having my whole world explode—not in the beautiful fireworks kind of way but more like the “roadkill” kind of way—gave me a new perspective; seeing the path that led toward transformation and my own recovery.
We are all in recovery because we are all human. And we’re not only in recovery for 2-5 years. Best case scenario is that we are in recovery for a lifetime. What else is this journey about? Restoring us to our true self, to the very image of God that is stamped inside each one of us.
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.
2 Corinthians 5:18 NLT
This is now a regular part of my relationship with God—the Divine just keeps breaking out of the box I put the Father, Son, and Spirit into! It helps me to imagine something bigger than myself, so amazing that I can’t fully understand it.
What can I say, I’m a work in progress. I know you are too. We are all human, and…
…we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
This is such a beautiful picture of true transformation.
To transform is to become more and more changed into the very character and nature of God. It is the process of becoming who we were designed to be.
It is where we find lasting freedom.
By Trevor Winsor of Pure Desire Ministries
I yelled at my son.
Not like a, “I raised my voice at him,” type of yell. I’m talking, “At the top of my lungs, spit coming out of my mouth, he has a terrified look on his face” type of yell.
The shame I felt right after…wow.
It only took three and a half years. I finally did it.
Nine months into 2020, arguably the hardest year we’ve had in a long time. Personally, this has been an extremely challenging year for me and my family. But not just for the reasons you might think.
We got debt free, moved out of my in-laws, had our second son, all around the time COVID-19 started impacting the world.
These things are stressful enough, but recently, Oregon had significant fires that were putting many people in danger, polluting the air quality, and scaring me more than I’d like to admit.
Due to the fires being only a few miles away, my wife, boys, and I had to evacuate our home. We grabbed all the things we thought were most “essential,” whatever that means, and stayed with friends in a safe zone.
It was not an easy time for me. My wife was emotional (understandably), my three and a half year old knew something was wrong but couldn’t explain why, and my 4-month-old son started regressing in his sleep. The stress was simmering below the surface.
I felt like my job was to be the stable one. The one who doesn’t freak out. The one who completely trusted God and stood firm as the rock of our family.
Does this mean that under the surface it wasn’t a volcanic eruption of emotions? Absolutely not. My inner world was wild and hectic.
But I was keeping a lid on it. Keeping the emotions in, trying to protect my family and those around me from my negative emotions.
And I thought I was doing a good job.
At least, until I yelled at my son so loudly and forcefully that he started screaming and crying.
We had been living with friends, evacuated, for almost a week at this point. Brady, my three and a half year old, had been struggling for a couple of days with his emotions. Super high highs and super low lows. That morning, he was in a very low low.
He wouldn’t listen, couldn’t control his body—flailing about, couldn’t calm down or sit still—and I basically drug him into the car so we could just get out of the house.
I knew he was struggling with what was going on. Even though we didn’t tell him that we could lose our house to fires, he still could sense something was wrong. Whether it was Amy and I being uptight or if he heard us talk about all the smoke, he knew something was wrong and he didn’t know how to process it.
He was yelling at me, crying he didn’t have his shoes, and wouldn’t let me think. That’s when I hit my limit.
I turned around and yelled at the top of my lungs. This was now a few weeks ago and I still can’t remember what I yelled at him. But I do know what I was trying to communicate, “Don’t you get it? I’m stressed too. This sucks for me too! Just give me a break!”
When we blow up and do the things we don’t want to do (in my case, blow up at my kid), it’s not just a decision we make in one moment. I didn’t just decide calmly and non-limbically that yelling at my kid was the best idea. No. These responses are the result of a string of events–emotional experiences and directional thoughts–that take us to the places we don’t want to go and to actions we don’t want to do.
That morning, in the car, the events of evacuating, the fear of losing our home, and the thoughts of “I can’t protect my family from losing our home,” all led me to responding in uncontrollable anger toward my son. The irony of this is, I felt like I was taking back control by responding in anger. So much was out of control and anger would give me a sense of getting some of it back.
But like all of my unwanted behavior, I felt immense shame immediately following. I knew I messed up. I knew I scared him and hurt him. I knew immediately that I had to restore our relationship.
You see, I’ve realized over these past few weeks that Brady and I were experiencing very similar things. Life is out of our control. I don’t really understand what’s going on inside of me. I don’t know how to regulate my emotions. I want to take control back any way that I can.
Brady chose to act out and lose control of his body. I chose to yell in anger.
Oddly, we were in the same situation, responding to the same emotions, and revealing the brokenness inside both of us.
So, how do we stop from reacting in anger or going to pornography or emotionally eating before bed or any other unwanted behavior?
Well, I’ve come to start asking the question, “Why am I so angry?”
Doing some internal searching, I now see that I was stressed, sad, afraid, and felt completely powerless. But instead of expressing this and being honest about my feelings with trusted people around me, I kept it inside, letting it fester and then eventually blowing up. That blow up hurt my relationship with my son.
If you have unwanted behavior in your life right now, why not ask it questions?
- “Why are you here?”
- “What emotion are you helping me avoid?”
- “What memory are you keeping me from revisiting?”
- “Why do I run to you when I feel this way?”
The cool thing is, if you start to ask yourself these questions, you’ll realize that you have some really good and revealing answers. You’ll start to see how our unwanted behavior is connected by a string of events, emotions, and thoughts that bring us back to the same old numbing agents we’ve used. Whether it’s food, social media, sex, or anything else, we all use them for the same reasons.
Ask some questions, face what’s really going on under the surface, and make the changes in your life that you’ve always wanted.
And if you do yell at your kids at the top of your lungs, with spit coming out of your mouth, and he’s screaming and crying…be quick to apologize and vulnerably explain what’s going on in your inner world. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one dealing with negative emotions.
Here are my first few thoughts when I hear the word “Holiday.” You know those thoughts that come fast, before you have a chance to try and edit them to something more civil or acceptable.
Overplayed Christmas songs for a month straight, usually with a few terrible modern interpretations. Look, the time for Little Drummer Boy has passed, so please don’t think you can come up with a clever musical arrangement to take my attention away from that ridiculous pretend word salad of “Pa rum pum pum pum.“
The movie Elf. It’s better than any Hallmark movie out there and probably better than It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s okay, we can disagree and still be friends.
Tinsel. Yep, I grew up in a family where we were allowed to carefully place strands of metal-like plastic on the Christmas tree. In our town, it was an annual grudge match between flocked trees and tinseled ones. And though Team Tinsel was severely outnumbered, I think we had the edge on style.
But there is one particular holiday that made a bigger impact on me and my family than any other. If you want my wife’s side on this one, you can find it here. The extremely condensed version: the secrets I had worked so hard to keep from her finally came to light. But out of this horrific experience came a healing journey that would help me move from just getting through the holidays to making them special and allowing me to engage in them with my family.
Since you’re a constant reader of these blogs, you are most likely expecting tips and tricks on how to survive the holidays and all the stuff that goes along with it. We focus on health and recovery, so it would make sense we would want to help you just get through the next month without blowing up your entire life. Let’s not count existing equal to living! If my legacy with my family is surviving and existing through this time of year, I’ve missed the mark.
Here are a couple of the important things I know keep me anchored in health through these times.
I finally realized I need to simply acknowledge that this time of year is different from any other time of year. There isn’t one other time of year when I want to give a present to every family member on the same day. It’s the one time of year when we break out the special plates. This is a unique break from our typical routine. If it’s going to be different, it’s better to acknowledge it and be real about it.
I now know that routine is a really important part of recovery and sustained health. We engage in healthy routines to meet our own needs and the needs others have in healthy, practical ways. It’s easy to let things slip as the season gets busy, but maintaining those healthy routines and activities is important. For years, the problem for me was that I really had no idea what my needs were. And as much as we preach about self-care and how important it is, if I don’t know my needs, I can’t possibly care for myself.
Part of the way I deal with the realities and difficulties of life is by serving others. It has always helped shift the focus away from my self-image (unworthy of love and invisible) to my desired image of being valuable to others and appearing to be kind. If I don’t remember this about myself, I’ll end up over-committing, over-serving and in the end become resentful because people didn’t respond the way I wanted. That’s not a very merry Christmas!
It is important for me to slow down and listen. It would be impossible for me to count the times I’ve asked a question, only to immediately check out mentally and start thinking about the next thing on my list while the other person is answering. It really started to sink in when my wife would reply to my question with, “We just talked about that, Dan.” I didn’t remember the answer, because I didn’t remember asking the question.
I try to make a point of putting away whatever has my attention and engaging fully. It makes a difference. When I stop, slow down, and listen, I’m present. I move from hearing to listening and this leads to engagement. When I’m engaged, I don’t make judgments and assumptions nearly as often. These judgments and assumptions are almost always the source of my conflicts.
I’ve got a lot to be grateful for and can actually look forward to the season rather than getting through it. Who knows, maybe I’ll hit the dollar store, grab some tinsel and throw on a few Christmas carols while bringing back that impeccable 70’s style Christmas tree. But don’t think I won’t hit the skip button when that certain song comes on.
As I prepare to write my annual Christmas letter, I realize I’ve started several of our family letters with that phrase. And this year is no exception! While our world-wide communal experience with COVID certainly underlines this statement, it’s not the only “crazy” you or I may have experienced this year.
Perhaps you’ve overcome an addiction, survived a betrayal, added a new child to your home, or become empty nesters. Maybe you’re in a new house, a new apartment, a new city, or a new country. You may have lost a loved one this year, ended a relationship, or gained a new love. Hopefully, throughout it all, you’ve gained a new appreciation for the person God created you to be.
The only constant in this life is change—especially in 2020.
In light of this, it might be time to look at our holiday traditions. I don’t know about you, but my holiday situation this year is definitely looking different than years past—which can be a good thing! Shaking things up can be healthy and even fun.
Although my husband and I have been “empty nesters” for the past two years, our oldest daughter has been able to make the trek from southern Oregon to our home in northern Oregon during her school break to spend her Christmas vacations with us; while our younger daughter has been “Making Magic” for Disney World guests in Orlando, Florida. We were able to connect as family via FaceTime and open presents together—it almost felt like we were still together. My mother-in-law was also able to come over and enjoy time with our family.
This year, however, will be different. For our family, this will be the first year that I won’t be having Christmas in my home, with at least one of my kids.
Hazel graduated from her Master’s Program last spring, and now works as a mental health therapist for children and adolescents—a job that comes with a lot of responsibility and a schedule that doesn’t allow for two weeks off at Christmas. Emma continues to work at Walt Disney World and Christmas season is an especially busy time in the hospitality industry. My mother-in-law moved into a senior community last February and we aren’t sure right now whether she’ll be able to leave the community due to COVID concerns.
Here’s to our new normal!
Just like us, your old traditions may not be appropriate or possible this year. Things change and although our heart-strings may tug a little, wanting us to continue those tried-and-true traditions we’ve developed over the years, embracing change with a positive mindset can be a healthy thing.
Let’s look at ten ways to shake up your holiday season and embrace this new normal:
Write a holiday letter! Yes, we’re bringing back an oldie but a goodie. Part of the fun of this experience is getting the whole family involved. Have everyone write their own paragraph, from their perspective, about how this year has been. Even your littles can dictate their thoughts to you. What have been the successes, the concerns, the hopes, the dreams of each family member. As your family grows, these annual letters can become a diary of your years together.
Decorate! We all “need a little Christmas—right this very minute!” There’s something about twinkling lights and bringing out the ornaments you’ve collected over the years that brightens the home. Turn on the Christmas music, put some cinnamon, cloves, and orange peels to simmer on the stove or in the crockpot, and enjoy the beauty of your home.
Bake some cookies—and have a cookie decorating day with the family. You’re home anyway and what better way to enjoy time together than creating a delicious snack that’s a work of art, too!
Speaking of works of art: go to the craft store and have each child choose a porcelain ornament to paint. Over the years, you’ll have a great collection that stirs memories and warms hearts every year.
Watch movies together or maybe bring out the old family movies. Pop some popcorn, brew up some spiced cider or hot cocoa, and snuggle on the couch together.
Play board games or cards (unless you have a couple of highly competitive family members, like I do!), or maybe work on a 1,000 piece puzzle together!
Take a drive to look at the neighborhood light show. Bring along a thermos of hot chocolate and crank up the Christmas music!
Read the Nativity Story. Go to a candlelight service or find an online church service to attend. Don’t pass by the reason for the season.
Fill a need. Do you know someone who might need a little extra help this year? Maybe an anonymous gift left on their doorstep, or a bill paid for them, or a basket of holiday goodies would give hope to a person or a family who is struggling in this season.
Honor yourself: recognize possible triggers during this season and take proactive steps to address them. Reach out for support from family, friends, or a counselor who can help. Identify healthy self-care, and take time out for yourself so you can be there for others without burning out.
Whatever your holiday season looks like this year, whatever your new normal looks like, take the time to be present in all you do. Embrace the beauty you find in this season, connect with those around you, and give thanks for God’s amazing gift of his Son, Jesus. May your holiday season be blessed!