By Trevor Winsor of Pure Desire Ministries
This last year, many of us experienced loss, trauma, difficulty, and TONS of stress.
With all that 2020 unexpectedly brought into our lives, what does it look like to walk into a new year with purpose? What does it look like to be healthy in 2021? Is it possible?
Call me an optimist, but I say yes.
But, I think for these things to be possible, we need to do at least three things: grieve, reflect, and hope.
You’ve heard someone say, “Good grief!” This reaction is normally one that carries negative connotations. We tend to think this way about grief, just in general. Grief equals bad in my mind. And let’s be honest, the definition of grief isn’t much happier.
GRIEF: deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.
By its very definition, grief shows up when bad stuff happens.
So, why would I encourage you to grieve, like, on purpose?
Grief, contrary to what feels normal, is like a balm to our souls.
Let me break it down––I encourage you to grieve because, without it, these feelings of loss and suffering you carry will go untreated. And like all wounds that remain untreated, it will get infected and cause more issues.
Think of our pain, loss, and suffering from this last year. Okay, now that you have the list of 48 things you’ve tried to avoid thinking about, I want you to imagine them as a large open wound on your person.
If you walk through your day, allowing life and relationships to bump against this wound, while it’s uncovered and untreated, infection is coming. And once it’s infected, its impact grows.
Grief, though a painful and joyless process, is an effective way to treat the wounds of pain, loss, and suffering. As I’ve learned, grief tends to cycle in and through multiple steps, and for some people, they may experience these steps multiple times.
Here are the steps:
- Identify and acknowledge our pain, loss, and suffering
- Identify how it makes us feel
- Identify the narrative we’ve allowed it to tell us
- Allow ourselves to feel the pain
- Share our pain, loss, and suffering with God and others
- Accept the reality of our loss
It won’t be fun, but anything we can do to avoid the infection of our heart is well worth it.
When you look in the mirror, you see your reflection. For some of us, this is a really difficult thing to do. We don’t like what we see, we see all the imperfections, and we walk away disappointed. But looking in the mirror shows us the truth about ourselves.
This is also what internal reflection does––it gives us the truth about how our inner selves process our outer world. If we want to live a life of health in any area, reflection is essential.
Over the past two years, a great gift that I’ve been given from the Lord has been the practice of journaling.
I can hear some of you thinking, “We get it, journaling has helped you, Trevor. Don’t you have something new to share?”
My response––honestly, no.
With zero exaggeration, the regular practice of journaling has changed my life. Literally. And I think I’ve figured out why.
Rarely, do any of us, at the end of day, sit down with our spouse or our kid or a friend and process our entire day. We often process how work went, if anything cool or fun happened, maybe even share a low point in the day. But my guess is, we don’t share everything.
By “everything” I’m referring to how we experienced our day in our inner world. Our thoughts, emotions, physical reactions, fears, guilt, and so on. I know, if I sat down with my wife and shared my entire day, I’d probably have to dig her out from under the mountain of my day’s experiences. This doesn’t sound fun for either of us.
This is where journaling has helped me.
In my journal, I can be present with my emotions. Reflective of my thoughts during the day. I can put the day under review and explore, knowing that the only thing I’m burdening is a blank page.
Truly, the most impactful realizations and reflections over the past two years have come from my time journaling. Sure, these times are walking along the edge of my conversations with others, my time in Scripture, and the relationships I have. But journaling is what ties all these experiences together and helps me make sense of it.
Journaling is my way of looking at my internal mirror. What’s yours?
Hope and I have a complicated relationship. If I’m honest, hope is a lot like some of my past relationships. When I back off, she starts to invite me back into a relationship just to pull the rug out from underneath me when I start pursuing her.
Hope is powerful. It’s scary. And honestly, after a year like we just had, hope is crucial to living the life God has designed for us.
What is hope? Hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. An expectation for a desired outcome to take place.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but hope is extremely motivating. If we have hope, there is a lot we can withstand. There is a lot we can endure in order to see the potential outcome come to fruition.
But what if hope is dashed? What if a year like 2020 happens and it sucks all the energy and momentum out of our hope?
These are the times where God graciously reveals what we have hope in.
There were plenty of things to have hope in during 2020: politics, our sports team being successful, the vacation we’ve been planning for a year, the birth of a child, holidays with family, events we’ve been anticipating, and so much more.
But these things might have been milked dry of the hope we once carried. They took the wind from our sails and caused us to walk through this year with a limp. And this is where God shows us what’s holding top spot in our lives.
In the coming year, we have the opportunity, on a daily basis, to place hope in the one thing that won’t ever disappoint. The one thing that will remain constant. The one thing that will forever be most beneficial for our souls. You know the answer: Jesus.
As we step into the first year of a new decade, I encourage you to grieve all the loss, pain, and suffering from this previous year. Allow this process to be the ointment your soul needs to take your next courageous steps in your journey. Also, press into reflection. Allow God to use the mirror of reflection to show you where you need Him and where growth is possible. And grab hope’s hand and walk alongside her this year. Grab her hand and walk toward Jesus––He has some amazing things ahead for you this year. Believe it and walk into it.
Happy New Year, everyone! I will be hoping with you.
By Harry Flanagan of Pure Desire Ministries
But what is grace? As a young Christian, I remember hearing the oft-quoted Joseph Henry Thayer who published a monumental lexicon in 1885. He defined the Greek word that has been translated to “grace” as “unmerited favor.” This remains a popular definition of grace. But the word truly means so much more than me and you receiving unmerited favor.
Several years into my journey of healing, I ran across Larry Crabb’s view of grace. It remains one of my favorite quotes. Crabb is a Christian counselor who has published over 40 books and also holds a PhD in Psychology. Here is the quote that rocked my world and started me down a path of embracing His grace for me.
Neither does God tinker with our old nature, the tangled system of God-doubting, self-protective, pain-denying passions within us that the Bible calls our flesh. Rather than entering the dark places of our souls with a flashlight and a scalpel, intent on repairing what’s wrong, he enters with a flashlight and a smile, eager to let us see how he feels about us even when we stand exposed in his presence. …He looks at us with eyes of delight, with eyes that see a goodness beneath the mess, with a heart that beats wildly with excitement over who we are and who we will become. And sometimes he exposes what we are convinced would make him turn away in disgust in order to amaze us with his grace.
Larry Crabb, Connecting: healing for ourselves and our relationships.
I read this over several times. It was like he was reading my mail. It exposed my fears and preoccupations; but mostly, it presented God’s love in a proactive way. He was intent on loving me. I saw God in a new light.
Brene’ Brown defines generosity as extending the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. This is a great view of God’s love for us and what His grace looks like between humans. God certainly has been generous to me in extending His grace in the midst of my brokenness.
Then, in my research, I came across Phillip Yancey’s book, What’s so amazing about Grace. Again, God took me deeper in my understanding of grace. The book was so amazing, I started taking quotes that spoke to me from the book and writing them in my journal. It was over four pages of thoughtful and awesome quotes.
Here are a couple of quotes that spoke to me:
Grace baffles us because it goes against the intuition everyone has in the face of injustice, some price must be paid. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. A murderer cannot simply go free. A child abuser cannot shrug and say, “I just felt like doing it.” Anticipating these objections, Paul stressed that a price had been paid by God Himself. God gave his own son rather than give up on humanity.
I observed people who followed the rules and missed God, and people who broke the rules and missed God. What burdens me, though, is that group of people who still believe that they missed God because they broke the rules.
This was huge for me because I believed my relationship with God was based on my performance. True, He knows my struggles; but it was my belief that He didn’t want to interact with me based on my performance. I expected God wanted me to be moving toward perfection and when I failed, I thought He would reject me. Ouch. So when I read Yancey’s book and saw it was talking about my belief system—because I broke the rules—God would distance Himself from me. But this is not the God I have come to know. Instead of God distancing Himself from me when I broke the rules, it was me, in my shame, distancing myself from God!
So practically speaking, how do we experience God’s grace? Paul leads us to the answer. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 (TPT), it says:
But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.
Wow, what a verse on grace! His grace is proactive and He is telling us that in the weak and broken moments of our lives, His grace is enough for us. He literally makes us adequate where we feel inadequate. What a great God we serve! This is why the verse ends with Paul stating, he would even celebrate his weakness because God will make him sufficient.
When I was young, one of my favorite mentors said God’s love would be revealed through acceptance and forgiveness. We can’t feel loved or forgiven if we don’t feel accepted. The whole point of grace is that He accepts us where we are instead of where He wants us to be. Even when we make dumb decisions (and I have made plenty of them). His love and, therefore, His grace interacts with us through His acceptance. This is God’s cry for intimacy with us.
His acceptance paves the way for us to experience the depths of His love and the power of His forgiveness for our sin and destructive choices. His grace is enough. His acceptance of us, where we are at, is enough. He actually rejoices in giving us His power in our weakness.
So, 28 years ago, I identified myself as the classic and worst kind of hypocrite. I called myself a pastor, but used the position to fulfill my addiction. I hurt everyone who loved or trusted in me. Then on September 20, 1993, God exposed my sin. I was toast. I swam in a sea of shame and guilt. I knew I deserved all of the pain and rejection I was experiencing. I just wanted the pain to go away. I wanted God to take me home. But instead, He used the pain and the struggle as a furnace of transformation (see Daniel 3).
Now, 27 years later, I see how His grace was enough for me. He gave me more life and joy than I deserved. His grace led me to the glorious place I am today. I have friends and family who love me with my strengths and my weaknesses. I have the privilege of being the first full-time clinician at Pure Desire. I get to serve people and help them find healing! I don’t deserve this blessing.
But here is the greatest gift: He is teaching me how to be gracious. To give acceptance, love, and forgiveness. I am learning to accept people where they are, with all of their shortcomings and faults—and have the wonderful job of helping others experience His grace through me—even in my imperfections.
His grace really is amazing.
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)!