I seldom watch reality TV, but this last week I had the opportunity to watch a marathon of 19 Kids and Counting. I had heard a lot about the show, so I watched it out of curiosity. The season involved a wedding, the birth of a grandbaby, and several other family milestones. I was fascinated by the wedding and the birth of the grandbaby. However, I felt unsettled by the parents doing marriage counseling for their daughter and her fiancée, but I ignored the feeling.Two days later, I saw breaking news stories about Josh and his admission to molesting five young girls. My heart sank.
I spent a couple of days reading different articles and comments being posted. There was no middle ground on how people felt about the Dugger family. People were brutally hateful as they commented. Some defended Josh and his parent's with passion, lashing out at those who didn't. Some blasted Josh for his perpetrations, his parents for covering them up, the police for not arresting him, and the Dugger fans for remaining loyal. Some were angry that it's a hot topic, claiming all teenagers mess up or there are just bigger fish to fry. Some have used this as a place to complain about the number of children they have, the brand of Christianity they promote, and the fact that Josh's failure proves all believers are hypocrites. Some have even thrown in the racial card just for good measure.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I believe this is an important topic to discuss, but I doubt that the comments being left resolve this sinful sickness residing in the human race--a sickness found in the homes of believers and nonbelievers alike. It's a sickness that robs the most vulnerable of their innocence, their sense of their personhood, and their sense of being cherished, loved, and protected. It is a sickness that literally changes the human brain and how the body keeps itself safe. It even changes the core beliefs that define what we think and feel about God, people, and ourselves, all of which impact our actions, our reactions, the relationships that we survivors will or will not develop.
As a survivor you might have expected me to be enraged. But as I saw the story unfold, I was filled with sorrow and compassion for a family broken by sexual sin and shame. All of us need to realize our reactions to this story and others like it, say a more about our own hearts and what is going on in them than the people we are reading about. There should be righteous anger, sorrow, and compassion. However, if there are a strong emotions, we should be curious about why that is and figure it out instead of lashing out at others.
For me the compassion and sorrow I first felt was for five little girls who woke up being touched inappropriately by someone who they would have expected to be a protector. They were no longer safe in their own beds, home, family, or bodies. My heart hurt for the one who took a big risk by telling and how well the girls deal with this, will in part be determined by how they were treated when they told. When they told, were they silenced? Were they believed? Were they blamed? Were they cared for? Were they comforted? Were they shamed? Were there boundaries put in place so they could feel safe at home, in their beds, and in their own bodies? Was there a safe place to land when they felt fearful, dirty, and ashamed because of what was done to them? Have they been allowed to continue talking about it or was the kind of forgiveness imposed supposed to forever silence the topic in the home?
The victims will deal with the pain of this betrayal on and off for the rest of their lives. I am concerned that because their parents were involved in the Gothard homeschool movement that they may have used Gothard's literature to handle the sexual abuse. His literature in itself is spiritually abusive. Sexual abuse impacts every part of our being because trauma alters the brain. He suggests victim figure out which part was damaged. Little children can't do this and won't have the capacity for years to uncover how abuse has impacted them. They are also asked questions like which part was damaged by the perpetrator and which part was damaged by their own guilt and their own bitterness? How would a child know the answers to those questions? Even more important Gothard had several people come forward, accusing him of inappropriate behavior. He may not have been the best resource to use to deal with this topic.
Even more sickening are the answers given to the question that most victims ask, "Why did God let this happen to me?" Gothard's answers are aimed at the victims--immodest dress, indecent exposure, being out from the protection of one's parents, and associating with evil people. In addition, victims are told that they sinned if they didn't tell. The impact that abuse has on the victims can make it impossible for them to speak (speechless terror). The fact that he did it while they slept and that they at times woke up to the abuse could have left the victims unsure of the reality of what they experienced, especially in a family system so strong on moral values. In addition, many victims feel dirty and shameful, and it is very hard to tell your parents something shameful has happened because of the fear of rejection. To try to feel safer, children assume the belief that they did something to cause the abuser to hurt them and that if they figure out what caused it they can prevent it. This distorted belief plays into their silence. The rest of the methods Gothard proposes I won't go into here, but they are too simplistic to be helpful. People need to understand the work of recovering from abuse happens in stages and isn't put to rest with a rushed agreement to forgive.
I was overwhelmed with compassion for the parents whose hearts had to be broken by what happened to their daughters and by the fact it was at the hands of one of their sons. I am concerned by the fact that in homeschool families there is a lot of isolation (I know this, because I homeschooled) which limits the number of adults to whom a child could safely report abuse. In addition, I personally don't think something as serious as sexual abuse can be handled solely by a family. It is too easy in a family system for people to hide behind denial, dysfunctional beliefs (including religious ones), and shame. The parents, and in my opinion, the church should not have been given the right to choose Josh's treatment. It needed to be a non biased person with training in this particular area who could help the family find the right treatment for both Josh and his victims who might have needed help at the time or might in the future. Those girls need their premarital counseling to deal with that issue from a person who understands the impact abuse can have on a marriage, not the mother and father whose simplistic view of it being that it is a test of real love casting out fear. The church should have reported the abuse to authorities and should have confronted Dad Dugger for choosing not to send his son to a treatment center, but to a friend instead. There are good treatment centers and with good counsel they could have found good help that would not have compromised the Scriptures.
I was also overwhelmed for Josh who confessed the abuse and a struggle with pornography. I can't imagine the pain, guilt, and shame he experienced as he did that in the family and religious system in which he was brought up. I wish he had felt safe enough to be real with someone about his ongoing struggle with pornography as most abusers use it and it may have played a role into his choice to abuse. He has said he didn't tell his parents about the pornography because he was afraid of rejection and because of pride. I can relate to that! How many times I've worn masks rather than admit my imperfections, my fears, my feelings, or my sin because of the fear of rejection. I wish his parent's had gotten him help the first time it came to light so he wouldn't have to deal with multiple failures and multiple victims and the shame that entails. The cover didn't help him.
Some of the reading I came across included a talk given by one of his family members. They cited that in addition to his struggle with pornography he believed he was made vulnerable because he was babysitting younger siblings, changing diapers, and having younger siblings who showed immodest behavior in the home after baths, and by a lack of sexual education. I struggle a bit with the part about a young child running naked or wrapped in a towel after a bath being considered immodest. So, a small part of me thinks he didn't fully own his responsibility, but another part of me says there are some things here that parents need to hear. Should a boy going through puberty whose hormones are surging be asked to babysit little ones, do diaper changes, or bathe younger siblings? What he says might be valuable in helping people put boundaries in place that insure safety of all the children in their home by preventing incest. Teaching children things like personal and emotional boundaries, modesty, respect of personal space, and sexual purity without shaming is really hard work, but not impossible! Boys can be taught they are not victims to their hormones and both boys and girls can be taught no one has a right to touch their body inappropriately. Families need to have healthy discussions about the dangers of pornography and not assume "good families" won't be impacted by it. Pornography is not a harmless passtime and one exposure to it has a huge impact in the person seeing it. Before pornography was so easily accessed, it was proven that in the communities where it was freely sold the number of rapes, sexual assaults, and sexual abuse reported went up substantially. Pornography never just hurts the viewer. It impacts marriages, families, communities, and churches.
I don't know how much of what is being written is accurate. But I know church leadership is never above the law and should report molestations. They should never ever assume men or women in the church can't be guilty. Many of the women in my groups were abused by church going dads or church leaders like pastors, youth pastors, elders and deacons, or Sunday school teachers, or camp counselors. In addition, the churches reputation is never more important than keeping the flock safe or seeing that sin is dealt with. Josh's church did advise them to get counseling for him and the victims, but that wasn't enough. Some of the articles say he received counseling, but his mother has said that he didn't. He was sent to work with someone they knew in another town and "kinda" got mentored. The courts and social services should have been the ones giving them options from which to choose.
The state of Arkansas needs to adjust their laws to make sure perpetrators can be charged. Most victims don't report abuse until later in life and three year statue of limitations allows predators to keep on preying. It bothered me that the man who made the decision to not charge Josh is now in jail for child pornography use. Maybe everything was done according to law or maybe he just didn't believe what Josh did was criminal.
Back to the question proposed by the title of my post...what is a proper response to sin. Sin in the church should always grieve us and should stir up some righteous anger--anger that motivates us to stop the sin and care for its victims.
Some comments I read indicated the Dugger's actions hurt God's reputation. But, not one of us is big enough, powerful enough, and bad enough to do that. God is still faithful! God is still loving. God is still righteous. God is still just. God is still merciful. God is still omniscient. God is still omnipotent. God is still God. He is still God even when we lie, when we gossip, when we peek at porn, when we assault others with words, when we are unfaithful to Him, unfaithful in marriage, love poorly, or choose to abuse. Man's actions reflect man's heart, not God's.
Maybe in his struggle with pornography, Josh forgot who God is and who he is as a child of God. His fear of rejection is something with which we can identify and it could have been alleviated if he remembered in the face of porn he was deeply loved by God who had a better plan for him to get his needs met, to deal with his loneliness, and his family conflict. His struggle with anger, lust, pride (his words, not mine), and arousal could have been nipped in the bud, had he believed he had safe people with whom he could be real. Sometimes the prevention of strongholds lies in the truth that Christianity is more about what we believe about God and ourselves and the amount of trust we place in God and in ourselves in our community than about our attempts at "good" works.
This whole stone casting thing we Christians and non Christians alike do bothers me. Why do we feel so threatened by others' opinions and thoughts when they differ from ours? As a believer, I am sure there are plenty of us sitting in church pews every Sunday wearing masks--masks that hide secret sins we have yet to confess, denial of pain we have caused others, broken relationships we fail to mend because pride gets in the way of our apology, and pain of abusive relationships we have yet to share. I am hoping now that both the Duggers and us will have the opportunity take off our "Good People" masks and become healthier, more godly churches and families. I hope we will have the opportunities to share our real stories as we grow compassion for other victims, perpetrators, and families so broken by sin.
I hope all of us will find a godly balance of truth and grace that promotes growth, allows us to experience real love, and ultimately sets us free from the strongholds with which we are plagued. I hope as we get more real so others will see that God is still God and that God is still in the business of loving broken people like you and me and that God is still a God who is in the business of writing beautiful redeeming stories. I hope Josh doesn't disappear from the public eye. Too many of the victims we work with stay stuck because perpetrators don't own their actions and continue to look like monsters in their eyes. There are definitely predators who have no remorse, no capacity to empathize, and who will keep on abusing. Then there are those who have perpetrated and experienced remorse, regret, sorrow, and who have confessed their sins and are willing to bear the consequences of their actions and willing to do whatever it takes to change. These are people who are truly broken by their sin. They live daily with the truth of what they have done and have understood the God's grace wasn't cheap. It not only came as a result of the shed blood of Christ, it came through the facing of ugly sin that ran deep in their souls and the pain that they have caused others.
We would do well to remember true grace can't be extended in the darkness of cover up or in the presence of denial and/or blame shifting--it can only be experienced in the presence of the truth of what we have done, real sorrow can be birthed by God who grieves over sin, heart repentance that drives us to change, and the willingness to fully face our victims' pain.
The Duggers have lived very public lives and are being forced into the public eye by journalists to deal with this. I don't think that is in the best interest of the survivors. The law is supposed to protect victims of sexual assault because others cause secondary wounding by discounting their stories or blaming them. Maybe we as a nation need to realize we have no right to demand the girls live this out in our eyes and grow compassionate enough to allow the survivors the privacy they need to deal with this and the right to tell their stories when and if they choose to do so. To do anything less is to abuse them again. None of us have the right to do that.
In closing, I must say that if you are a victim and this story has triggered your pain and memories, there is help for this. Go to either www.passionateheartministry.com for resources and information or to the Association of Christian Counselors and look for a therapist on their referral list who works with abuse. There is really good help available. There is also good help available for those struggling with pornography and sexual addiction through www.bethesdaworkshops.org.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."
Since that time I have been serving in a ministry that offers support groups for women and many of them come into our group with some deep heart wounds. And some of the stuff Christians have said to them as they attempted to share about their emotional pain is what I have come to place in the category of "Stupid stuff Christians say to hurting people!" Today I want to just address a few of those things we graced humans have a tendency to say when we come into contact with another's pain.
We've had women share about their journey with clinical depression. Most were told at one time or another by Christians that if they would just read their Bible more, pray harder, serve others, love God more, and quit being self-centered they would feel better. Now, I know when I have a melancholy day, I can try anyone of those things and I will feel better. But people who are struggling with clinical depression have brain chemical imbalances that are severe enough to cause the negative thoughts with which they struggle. The imbalance also causes body aches and a lack of energy so profound that getting out of bed and into clothes can leave them totally exhausted. Sometimes the imbalance even causes dense brain fog that makes focusing on prayer and Bible reading next to impossible. Most all of them also express shame that runs deep because they mistakenly believe good Christians aren't supposed to feel depressed. They label themselves as defective because they haven't been able to pull themselves out of the funk they feel like they are drowning in. Quite frankly, the simplistic suggestions and admonitions others give them don't help. If anything, the comments deepen the shame they experience, reinforce the desire to isolate, and feeds the negative view of themselves. Thankfully, most of our ladies connect with Christian therapists who offer them the support that they need to get better. Out of all the ladies I have worked with in group, I can only remember one who had a caring response from someone with whom she had shared her struggle with depression. The person told her she was sorry she was hurting, was thankful she shared her story, and that she would love to hear what God teaches her through the season of depression when she was ready to share it. Our lady felt validated and began to hope that God would even use the depression in her life." Sadly, one of the most shaming statements depressed women hear, is that God won't give them more than they can handle. They are trying hard to hold on, but the joy seems out of reach.
A few years ago I sat in the ICU unit with our son for a two week span. I did everything I was supposed to do as a good Christian lady. I pretty much held it together and stuffed the overwhelming fear I felt and the grief of almost losing him. I sat with him day after day silently praying his body would heal and he could come home with me. I had some good friends who were checking up on us, but at the time I had a lot of misconceptions of what a Christian was supposed to be like. My friends told me letter they were both worried that our circumstances were going to catch up with me sooner or later, but I maintained I was fine when asked. It was not until after our son was well enough to come home that I had a chance to breath and my emotions began to churn inside. I bumped into a couple of acquaintances who had heard about our sons accident. They asked about him and as I thought about what we had been through I became overwhelmed with emotion and I began blurting out the whole story to these people I casually knew. Both of the them interrupted my monologue, saying, "Isn't he okay now?" In the moment I needed to share my story and what it felt like to sit in a hospital praying for my child to be healed, knowing there was nothing I could do to insure I would get the answer my heart desired. I needed to share how vulnerable it felt to trust doctors we had just met to make crucial decisions concerning his health and treatment plan. I just needed the people to hear my story and mirror my fear and grief before I could rejoice. I realize they had no clue their question triggered suppressed emotions and I really caught them off guard with the intensity I felt. I learned from that experience to journal prayers and in those prayers to be honest and transparent with God as I go through things. I learned how to ask safe people to let me talk during painful events so that I don't bottle it up. But I also leaned that when I ask someone how she is doing and she begins to tell me her story, to let her talk about her deepest fears, anxieties, and desires. I learned to thank her for trusting me enough to be real. It feels sacred to have another person share their hard with me. The most frustrating words I heard during that time, "Thank goodness God will only give you what you can handle."
As I sat in the hospital I remembered having coffee with a friend whose child is severely disabled and requires constant care. She allowed me to ask her questions about her journey and I was blessed by her honesty. Her daughter suffers severe pain daily that would make any mama feel as if her heart is being squeezed in two by a vice grip. Her daughter's health is fragile and she faces the possibility of losing her often. Their suffering is long term and their suffering is intense. When I asked how people have responded to their situation she shared that when she first tells people about it, they are compassionate and offer to pray with and for her and her family. Some have been, still are, and will continue to be their faithful prayer warriors for as long as they are on this difficult journey. Others follow up to see how they are doing and when she gives them an honest account of their week it becomes obvious they are uncomfortable with her truth. Some hoped things would be better. Some hoped she would say they are doing fine. But the truth of it is their "fine" is truly never going to be fine. Then there are those people who think if she and her husband just had enough faith, truly confessed their sin, or prayed harder that their daughter would improve, maybe even be healed. Then their comes those words I hate the most, "God will only give you what you can handle.
Then there are those who have suffered losses--losses of things, homes, dreams and people. Some of the deaths experienced were expected, some weren't. Some losses were gradual as in the case of cancer where goodbyes were said, regrets expressed, and forgiveness granted. Others were unable to convey those things because dementia took away the ability to do so. Some deaths were so sudden that goodbyes, sorrow, love, grace, and regrets went unvoiced. And then after the loss came the stupid stuff that people say that stings--stupid stuff like, "You can always get pregnant again," "The good die young," and yep, you know it, "At least we know God will never give you more than you can handle!"
Then their are those who share stories of abuses of all kinds--physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual. Those are the stories that people don't want to hear, because they don't want to believe humans can really be so harsh, so hurtful, and so despicable, but we can! Those are the stories believers don't want to hear, because they are afraid to wrestle with the question of a good God and such evil co-existing. Those are the stories that believers don't want to hear, because they don't understand that trauma has changed the human brains that store such horrible stories. Those changes hinder the ability to trust, to connect at a heart level, and to move past the trauma pain. But what we don't realize is when we offer the usual platitudes or we stare blankly bathing another in a deafening silence we cause the person to push down the pain at the same time the shame they feel intensifies it. Oh the things we have heard in our groups concerning those things, "You just need to forgive and forget." "You need to keep quiet or you will destroy the family." "You need to keep quiet or you will hurt the church's reputation." "It is all in the past, you just need to move on." And then, yes, you have guessed it, "Thank goodness God didn't give you more than you can handle."
I am not going to address all the stupid stuff we people say, just the more than you can handle bit. In Galations 6 Paul tells us to bear one another's burdens and for each to bear his own burden. In the original language the burdens we are to bear are the ones too big for one person to handle alone. At the same time we aren't supposed to bear the burdens another is capable of bearing themselves. It takes wisdom and godly discernment to know the difference. Spouses of people with chronic illness get these verses. There at time have to take over for their spouse and they at times have to gently encourage them to do what they are able. We use the phrase that God won't give you more than you can handle to suppress our uncomfortable feelings of powerlessness. A better option would be honest conversations that would help us find out if there is anything we can do to help bear those big burdens. It might be a ministry of meals, a ministry of encouragement, a ministry of praying, a ministry of offering child care, a ministry of lawn mowing, a ministry of listening, or even a simple ministry of presence.
But one of the most important ministries we can offer is found in the verse at the top of the blog..."Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Sounds simple, but believe me it isn't. To do this, we have to stay present physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To do this, we have to let down our defenses that guard our heart from pain to enter into another's pain--pain that we may or may not fully understand, pain that we can't remove, or heal. As I have shared, I worked with a counselor on abuse. After I shared my story the first time, I sat silently looking at the floor because it was safer than facing those infamous counselor eyes. I waited for admonitions to forgive, to move on, and maybe a few other stupid things we Christians say. But there was silence. When the shame had calmed enough, I glanced up and saw that she was sitting there with tears streaming down her face. She was crying the tears I was shoving down deep inside. Seeing her compassion melted the hard shell I had built around my heart and made way for a long hard journey we took together. She cried with me when I lost friends, parents, and faced the fears of having kids in combat. We didn't just cry, we identified and expressed all sorts of emotions. At times we even laughed and we laughed hard. She rejoiced with me when I published each book and prayed over each one of them with me. All the admonitions and platitudes I heard over the years didn't heal the wounds in my heart or return my soul to joy. It was having that counselor in addition to some very extraordinary friends who understood the healing journey and who were willing to walk with me and hear all the words I needed to say, made it safe for me to feel, and were willing to weep with me when I wept and then rejoiced with me when my joy returned. That was what gave me the freedom to feel the pain that needed to be healed. That was what opened the door of my heart that allowed me to experience God at deeper levels. That was what made it possible to become real enough to fully experience His grace and to let go of the critical inner voice that so often bathed me in shame. Sometimes the hard we are tempted to try to fix with platitudes--those stupid sayings we have all said and all hate to hear--is the hard that is the medium that God uses to form the heart connections that are the conduit for healing. When we shame others with our words we shut down the very process they need to go through to heal the brain changes that were caused by trauma. Oh, how I pray with the psalmist, "set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!" (Psalm 141:3) I so want my words to not wound. I want them to impart hope and life as they invite others to face truth and to rest close to the Savior's heart.
Saturday, May 2, 2015
"Wives submit to you own husbands, as to the Lord..
Now as the church submits to Christ,
so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love you wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her...
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself."
I was recently sitting in a meeting with a group of people discussing things our church could do to foster healthy marriages. I pointed out that our men's ministry was doing a Bible study for men on marriage. I was very excited about this because this is the first time I have ever heard of the men doing this kind of study on their own. Usually it is the women in the church who buy books on marriage, who discuss it with their friends, or who drag their husbands to marriage conferences, hoping to learn how to have better marriage. One of the men jokingly said that maybe they would get a better turn out if they didn't advertise that the study was on marriage as he held up his hand in a feminine gesture. I know the guy was joking, but I was so irritated by the gesture and by his statement. Later I realized I was really irritated because there is probably truth to his statement.
As I have done research for different writing projects I've come across articles casting blame on the issue of men not rising to be spiritual leaders. Some articles indicated it was the women's lib movement that removed men from leadership. Some have said it is due to the harsh criticisms spouted by hurting, angry wives that left men too fearful to step up to their God-given role. Some have said it is technology and higher education that replaced the apprenticeships in which young teenaged boys learned a trade from grown men, which also allowed them to learn what it meant to be a man. Some have suggested it's the business of our culture and the long work hours preventing men from teaching sons how to be men. Some have suggested that it is the educational system that used methods of education that doesn't help young men to be strong men. Some have suggested it is due to the breakdown of the family unit that leaves dads less involved. Probably all of those things have played a part in the break down of male leadership, but I believe there is a whole lot more to it. Regardless of the reasons, we need to understand a profound truth--marriage isn't for sissies!
There are five reasons that marriage isn't for sissies. I believe our culture (including the church) has lost sight of the sacredness of marriage. Marriage wasn't invented by man, it was designed by God to reflect His love for the church and His relationship to her. Marriage was also designed to reflect the truth that God is a relational God and He created us to be relational beings. He designed marriage to be the most intimate relationship we have. It is to be what we call a "oneness" relationship, picturing the relationship between the members of the Trinity. This kind of intimacy isn't for the faint hearted, it requires hard work. It requires each person to give100%. everyday Men are called to love as Christ loved the church. That isn't a sissy thing! His love is a love that initiates. It is bold. It is radical in its expressions. It is hard because man from the time of the fall has been a selfish, prideful being. Because of this, to love as Jesus loves requires great amounts of strength, humility, courage, self-sacrifice, restraint, and faith. It is a love that stands firm in the face of hardship, relational difficulties, sin, hurt, and misunderstanding. It is a love that seeks to serve when ever thing in him wants to be served. It is a love that stands firm when everything in him wants to leave physically and/or emotionally. The gospels show Jesus modeling this love. Loving like this will be the hardest thing a man ever does because everything in him will want to demand his rights, demand respect, and to do his own thing his own way in his own time. Everything in him will want to give up, walk away, withdraw, and disregard his wife out of anger, disappointment, frustration, or maybe even out of lust. But the staying, the moment by moment choices to love, that is where really masculinity is born. Masculinity is men rising up and consistently doing what God has called them to do.
Conversely if men think women have the easier role, they are wrong. God has called us to submit and to respect our own husbands. We have the same flesh problems men do. We have to deal with our own selfish hearts that want what we want when we want it. We have to live down insecurities that tell us we are too much and not enough at the same times. Believe it or not, we have to deal with lust as well. We have to choose to be godly with all sorts of crazy hormonal fluctuations and relational demands that our families put on us. We have the crazy calling of being like Sarah who showed godly respect to her lying, fearful husband who cared more about his life than her sexual integrity. It takes as much strength, courage, self-sacrifice, and faith for a woman to submit to a very human spouse as it does for a man to fully love his wife as Jesus loved the church.
The second reason marriage isn't for sissies is because God has called us to covenant marriages, not contract ones. We live in a society that is contract oriented and we carry this orientation over to marriage. Sadly, there is a huge difference in contracts and covenants. Contracts are first written and then relationships flow from the keeping of the contracts and relationships end when contracts are broken. Contract marriages evoke a fear of abandonment which leads to two things. First, they lead to perfectionism and self-contempt. Second, they lead to a strong tendency towards legalism and self-protection and we end up looking out for ourselves above the other person. We watch his or her every move to be sure the contract is upheld. Contempt for others flows out of this.
A covenant marriage is different in that a relationship is first initiated and then laws, limits, and boundaries are established to confirm and protect both the relationship and those in it. We feel more secure in this type of relationship because the driving force behind it is love. The mindset of this would be for each person in the covenant to choose to act and react in such a way that the relationship and those in it are continuously protected. I know spiritual abusers can use the idea of the covenant marriage to act abusively and/or negligently, knowing the other won't leave because of the covenant and that kind of spiritual abuse needs to be strongly confronted. At the end of the day, covenant people wisely reflect on how they' themselves have affirmed and protected their covenant--their sacred marriage--and when failure occurs, they take ownership of the failure and quickly make amends.
Third, marriage isn't for sissies because it is a sacred ground for growth. Because of this it is a relationship that requires enormous amounts of transparency and vulnerability. It's a relationship in which old wounds and old messages get triggered. Due to the fall, when this happens, we have a tendency to blame our emotions and reactions on the one who triggers them. Out of unresolved hurts flow defensiveness, anger, hurtful words, and wounding actions. Think of people standing in lines in a department store at Christmas time. Some people wait patiently. They smile at others, send up arrow prayers for the overworked cashiers, let someone with less items go ahead of them, and play peep eye with the toddler sitting in the basket ahead of them. Then there are the people who sigh loudly, impatiently shift from one foot to the other, try to crowd the line, and make rude comments about the competency of those working. Every one standing in line is subject to the same trigger--the "wait." However, they respond differently because the trigger exposes what was in their hearts. Those with impatient hearts believe they are entitled and shouldn't have to wait. Their actions expose the selfishness inside. (I'm thankful for a few long lines that exposed the selfish heart in me.) Because marriage is the most intimate of all relationships, it tends to trigger our "stuff" the most. It exposes past unhealed wounds, selfish attitudes, defensive responses, and insecurities based on lies. Because of this it is the relationship that has the most potential to help us become more like Christ. And that isn't for sissies, because the exposure of those things hurts. and requires courage, humility, and plain old gumption to put down fleshly tendencies that cause us to want to control or hide from someone who exposes the messiness in our heart. It takes courage to not run from the exposure. Quite frankly sissies don't qualify for intimate relationships that foster growth.
The fourth reason marriage isn't for sissies is because when we marry we enter a very real battle with a very cunning enemy who seeks to destroy marriages because they were designed to picture the relationship Christ has to His church. Even though Satan was defeated at the cross, many of us give him power by believing his lies and his half truths--those lies that tells us we are unloved and unloveable, that we are too much and/or too little, that we are called to entitlement instead of servanthood, and that old wounds don't need healing. We also give him power when we listen to his cunning voice and allow it to draw us into sick bondages like eating disorders that rob us of life, joy, healthy, and human relationships, addictions that kill both the body and the soul, or into pornography which isolates, increases selfishness, and destroys the potential for the real intimacy that can satisfy the human heart.
Finally the fifth reason that marriage isn't for sissies is because it is the home base for raising the next generation of believers. There is no place better for sons to learn to be spiritual leaders who love radically, nurture gently, serve humbly, and fight the enemy aggressively to protect the covenant bond. There is also no better place for daughters to learn what is to be loved with godly love that values and protects their personhood, beauty, and integrity so she has the courage to wait for God's best. It is the best place for her to learn how to walk with God in such a way that submission and respect flow out of a deep abiding trust in God who is good and who radically loves her.
Could it be that it is time for us to change how we view marriage and what it takes to be men and women of God? We aren't just called to be "nice" people. We are called to be warriors and warrior princesses who are wise, recognizing the schemes of the enemy who seeks to destroy all that emulates God and His great love. Maybe men need to accept the fact that they are called to a radical love that takes more courage than anything else that they will ever be called to do. Maybe, women need to rise up and realize they have been called to respect their husbands as Sarah did which takes greater courage and grace than we can muster up without the Lord. Maybe it is time for men to live courageously and become passionate about marriage and women to realize shaming won't give courage. Maybe both men and women need to quit viewing their spouses as the enemy and quit being sissies so that we can fight together to defeat the real enemy. Joy comes from being the warrior spouses that walk in victory loving as He loves.
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!