Category Archives: Spiritual Self Care

When does looking become lusting?

When does a look become lust? Where is line that separates normal, healthy, God-given sexual response from sinful, destructive lust?

Christians generally focus on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-28 as the standard for moral purity: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So if this is our goal, we need to be clear about what it actually means to “look at a person lustfully.”

Let’s say you go to a restaurant. You look over to your left, and notice someone at the next table who is very attractive. Maybe they are dressed provocatively. You look at them, and their attractiveness registers in your mind. You might even notice something about their body that is attractive or alluring.

Is that lust? When does awareness and/or sexual attraction cross the line into lust? Continue reading When does looking become lusting?

Guarding Against Emotional Affairs

An emotional affair happens when a person invests too much emotional energy with someone outside their marriage, and in turn receives too much emotional support and companionship from that relationship. How much is “too much?” There aren’t black and white rules for when a relationship moves from innocent friendship to an emotional affair … but there are patterns, and signs to watch for. In an emotional affair, people often feel closer to each other than their spouses, and often experience increasing sexual tension.

In fact, emotional affairs are often the gateway leading to Continue reading Guarding Against Emotional Affairs

On the danger of pedestals – Part 2

Recently I wrote about the danger of people in churches projecting idealized images onto their pastors. This is not only unhelpful for the people, it’s dangerous and damaging for the leader. (See part 1 of this series here). So now the question is, what can we do about it? What is the answer?

Humanity. Let the leader be human.

Continue reading On the danger of pedestals – Part 2

On the Danger of Pedestals – part 1

As an ordained minister and the senior pastor of two churches, I know from experience that pedestals are dangerous. People often come into the church with a powerful mixture of expectations and illusions about what an uber-spiritual person should be. They may assume the pastor will embody that. This is a problem when we let them down – when they see how we fall short of the ideal that they created in their minds.

But it’s maybe an even bigger problem when they don’t see our flaws, because they don’t want to see our flaws, and we get too good at hiding them. Most of the people in our churches want to see us in a good light, because this reinforces their faith … the leader of their spiritual community can serve to validate the power of that faith. I think it is rare that anyone Continue reading On the Danger of Pedestals – part 1

Relating without manipulating: overcoming codependence

There’s a new article on our companion site sexualsanity.com about the topic of manipulation-free relationships. It starts out by saying:

Without understanding our motives, we can easily lapse into behavior aimed at manipulating others. We can do this by passive-aggressively punishing them, or doing things that seem kind and sweet as a way of getting them to respond to us in a certain way.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win our approval.
  • Flattery is a false expression of approval that we don’t really feel – giving others good strokes for our own purpose.
  • Withholding deserved praise is a means of putting others down, something we’re likely to do because of our jealousy.

Read the full article here

Practicing Acceptance

Recovery has provided me with many lessons about leadership. One principle of recovery challenges the focus of leadership in many church settings: namely … it teaches us to look at ourselves instead of trying to fix others. We can’t waste time trying to change other people, we can only change ourselves.

I find that really refreshing. I am trying to let go of my need to fix everybody … I am just trying to love them.

But if we can’t fix the people around us, how can we live with them? By practicing acceptance.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes that we cannot find serenity until we accept things and people as they are. This is hard for many of us, for many reasons.

As Christians, we often struggle to accept people who disagree with us, or who have different standards of behavior. We worry that if we accept someone just as they are, then we are endorsing their moral and spiritual choices. If we want to help them grow or change, we feel we need to withhold acceptance. But that’s not true. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When we withhold acceptance – from others or from ourselves – we create conflict and lose the opportunity to stimulate positive change.

Carl Jung said, “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

We can accept someone without approving or agreeing with what they do. The reality is that we can’t change them – or control their behavior – anyway. All we can control is our own responses to them.

Our lack of acceptance creates stress and tension in relationships. It also cuts us off from many blessings.

I had a friend from one of the 12 Step programs who was needing more support. I recommended a certain group to him. When he attended the group, he was dismayed because some of the members had a different approach to sobriety than he did. Rather than adopt a “live and let live” approach, and seek to learn from this other program and find the help he needed, he chose to go into a critical, judgmental mode, and refused to participate in the group any longer. He couldn’t get over his disagreement with how they approached recovery – and so lost the opportunity to get support and help he really needed.

Serenity comes when we concentrate on the attitudes we need to change instead of how the world around us needs to change. When we focus on another person’s negative qualities, those qualities grow larger. So why not focus instead on the good qualities?

Our serenity will grow as we develop reasonable, appropriate expectations of others. Remember that everyone is a work in progress. No one is perfect.  Can we accept them – and ourselves – even in the midst of that imperfection?

Why accountability partners don’t work

Most of the men I work with who are battling sexual temptation have a long history of failed attempts at overcoming their struggles. One of the most common strategies people in churches use is having an accountability partner. I have nothing against accountability partners … they just don’t work.

Listen to this recording – a short excerpt from an audio program called “The Spiritual Questions and Challenges of Recovery” – to find out why:

Show me a pornography or other type of sex addict who has an accountability partner – and is doing little else for his recovery – and I will show you someone who is struggling. Either acting out with whatever behaviors he’s dealing with, or hanging onto his sobriety with his fingernails and really struggling. Church leaders, spouses of strugglers, parents … please hear me on this … accountability is over-rated! It’s only part of the solution.

If you want to hear more about this and other subjects related to dealing with sexual struggle, check out this audio program

New study suggests that loneliness may be contagious

Loneliness is an important issue – and personal challenge – for many leaders and the people they are leading. For this reason, I was especially interested in the results of a recent study on the topic. What follows are highlights from a recent article about the study.

A new study suggests that feelings of loneliness can spread through social networks like the common cold.

“People on the edge of the network spread their loneliness to others and then cut their ties,” says Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School in Boston, a coauthor of the new study in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “It’s like the edge of a sweater: You start pulling at it and it unravels the network.”

This study is the latest in a series that Christakis and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego have conducted to see how habits and feelings move through social networks. Their earlier studies suggested that obesity, smoking and happiness are contagious. The new study, led by John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, found that loneliness is catching as well, possibly because lonely people don’t trust their connections and foster that mistrust in others.

Christakis and Fowler examined data from a long-term health study based in Framingham, Mass., a small town where many of the study’s participants knew each other. The Framingham study followed thousands of people over 60 years, keeping track of physical and mental heath, habits and diet.

From this information, Christakis and Fowler reconstructed the social network of Framingham, including more than 12,000 ties between 5,124 people (see diagram below). The researchers plotted how reported loneliness, measured via a diagnostic test for depression, changed over time.

Feeling lonely doesn’t mean you have no connections, Cacioppo says. It only means those connections aren’t satisfying enough. Loneliness can start as a sense that the world is hostile, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Loneliness causes people to be alert for social threats,” Cacioppo says. “You engage in more self-protective behavior, which is paradoxically self-defeating.” Lonely people can become standoffish and eventually withdraw from their social networks, leaving their former friends less well-connected and more likely to mistrust the world themselves.

Other insights about loneliness from the study:

  • It appears to be easier to catch from friends than from family
  • It appears to spread more among women than men
  • It is most contagious among neighbors who live within a mile of each other.
  • It can spread to three degrees of separation, as in the studies of obesity, smoking and happiness.
  • One lonely friend makes you 40 to 65 percent more likely to be lonely, but a lonely friend-of-a-friend increases your chances of loneliness by 14 to 36 percent
  • A friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend adds between 6 and 26 percent

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The image at left is a graphical representation of the social network of Framingham, Mass. It shows lonely people clustering at the periphery of the network. Each point represents a person (greater loneliness from yellow to green to blue) and lines between points indicate types of relationships (red for siblings and black for friends and spouses).

Facing our love / hate experience with God

I am increasingly convinced that spiritual inauthenticity is a major roadblock for many Christians in general, and especially Christian leaders. When we try to convince ourselves to believe something we don’t really believe, or when we struggle with thoughts and feelings about God that we “shouldn’t have,” we get stuck. There are no easy answers here, but I believe it is essential to face our questions, doubts, and jumble of feelings about God in an honest way if our leadership is going to be sustainable. I see this as an important issue for Christians in recovery, and have posted this on the sexual-sanity.com blog as well … but I want to include it here too. In my work I’m seeing too many pastors who are unwilling to face their questions, doubts, and frustrations.

To that end, I want to share an article written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder of Committed to Freedom, an organization that helps “provide people with spiritual tools to move beyond abuse.” People who are dealing with the aftermath of abuse face many deep spiritual challenges. This article will hopefully help leaders identify with them. But I don’t think that the spiritual challenges Sally talks about are limited to abuse survivors.

This article was sent in a newsletter, and I’m quoting it in its entirety, because I don’t know where I can link to. It’s worth reading.

This is an article about honesty . . . and honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with God. I’ve been on the up and down roller coaster of belief and doubt, righteousness and debauchery, faithfulness and apostasy. I know that’s disturbing to a lot of people, but God gets that completely . . . gets me completely. Gets you completely too.

Let me be the first to admit that I don’t have many answers, especially when it comes to God. Honestly, the ministry of Committed to Freedom began because of my own spiritual search for answers to questions that really have no good answers. The dilemma for anyone who has experienced trauma or suffering is to have co-existing contradictions. God is love. Suffering is real. God has the capacity to create. Trauma has the capacity to destroy. The idea of God being powerful and one who intervenes in the circumstances of our lives held up in contrast to unanswered prayer, vulnerable people being abused and exploited, or diseases that progress, ravage, and destroy. Like I said: love/hate.

Continue reading Facing our love / hate experience with God

The Spiritual Questions and Challenges of Recovery – free teleseminar July 23

We’re hosting a free teleseminar on Thursday night, July 23. This teleseminar is open to anyone who’d like to learn more about recovery from sexual struggle, either for themselves or someone they know. The theme will be: The spiritual questions and challenges of recovery.

Many people who come into recovery with a strong religious background find that their faith complicates things. The reverse is also the case: their addiction complicates their experience of faith. They struggle to figure out why the spiritual approaches they tried in the past didn’t work. I have come to believe that for some of us who come out of church backgrounds, recovery will involve unlearning as well as learning. As the saying goes in AA, “it was our own best thinking that got us into the mess that we’re in.” Let’s face it: for many Christians, struggle with addiction creates a crisis of faith as well as a crisis of life and relationships.

Some people are disappointed or even angry at God for not answering their prayers for healing from their addiction in the past. Some people struggle with heightened sense of shame around their behaviors (”Since I’m a Christian and have access to God’s power to change my life, why am I not getting this?”).  Some people deal with unspoken questions and doubts about their faith. Other people find that approaches to recovery that involve compassion for their past wounding are hard to reconcile with the stern moralistic tone of what they have been taught is “biblical” Christianity. They find it hard to balance the psychological insights they encounter in recovery with the black and white “just trust God and don’t do it” teaching that they’ve grown accustomed to from their church.

In this teleseminar, I will address these spiritual challenges, talking about my own experiences of recovery after 15 years as a pastor of two evangelical churches. I’ll address topics such as:

  • Why so many prayers for recovery go unanswered
  • How “faith” helps and hinders recovery
  • What is God’s part and what is my part in recovery
  • How to deal with it as a believer when important recovery insights come from non-believers

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this topic! Many men that I know and work with in recovery are facing profound struggles with this topic, and there are few places where we can talk honestly about them. I certainly don’t want to present myself as having “arrived” in any way, shape, or form with respect to this issue, but I do want to share what I am learning.

When will it take place?
· Date: July 23 (Thursday)
· Time: 7:00pm, central standard time

How much will it cost? free

How long will it last? 60 minutes

To register, send an email with your name, phone number, and email address to:

mary@recoveryremixed.com