Category Archives: Spiritual Self Care

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

What pastors need to know about sexual struggle – free teleseminar on May 6

We’re hosting a free teleseminar for Christian leaders on Wednesday, May 6. This teleseminar is open to any pastor, church staff member, or Christian leader who’d like to learn more about how to help people recover from sexual struggle. The focus of the teleseminar will be “What pastors need to know to help others – and themselves – deal with the growing epidemic of sexual addiction in the church today.”

Date: Wednesday, May 6

Time: 2pm, central standard time

Duration: 60 minutes

This teleseminar will be an “expert interview” call. I will be interviewing Dr. Mark Laaser, of Faithful and True Ministries. Dr. Laaser has been a leader in the field of sex addiction recovery for over 20 years, and has written a number of books on the subject, including “Healing the Wounds of Sex Addiction,” “Talking to your Kids about Sex” and “The Seven Desires of Every Heart.” He has also been a part of several ground-breaking studies of sexual struggle among Christian leaders, and has written three  books about this subject: “Before the Fall,” “The Pornography Trap,” and “Restoring the Soul of a Church.”

During this call, I will be interviewing Dr. Laaser about the extent of the challenge of sexual struggle in the church today, and what Christian leaders must do to: (1) protect themselves and find healing from their own sexual struggles, and (2) establish ministries and teaching that help people in their churches find healing. There will also be time for listeners to ask questions as well.

This free teleseminar is part of our ongoing efforts to equip Christian leaders to deal with this important area. We will let you know on this call about two resources we offer to that end: (1) a one day training event for Christian leaders called “Helping the sexual strugglers,” coming up on June 4, and (2) three-day intensive workshops for men dealing with sexual addiction that we offer monthly.

To register for this free teleseminar, send an email with your name, phone number, and email address to:

mary@recoveryremixed.com

NOTE: Participating in the teleseminar live is free. A recording of the teleseminar will be available for purchase ($9.95) after the event is over.

How to take back your power in relationships – set deadlines

People who feel victimized or mistreated in relationships struggle to know when and how to draw the line. We want to give people second chances … but what about fifth or sixth chances? Fiftieth or sixtieth chances?

I know that Jesus said we should forgive people not just seven times, but “seventy times seven” times. But forgiving people multiple times does not imply remaining in the same kind of relationship. If my “friend” ignores or mistreats me again and again, I can forgive him, but that doesn’t mean I will continue to engage with him as if he’s still my friend. At some point, I have to acknowledge the reality that he: (a) doesn’t like or respect me, or (b) isn’t trustworthy … and decide to relate differently to him.

This is important for leaders, especially pastors, who feel pressure to be nice and friendly to stakeholders, often at the expense of their own emotional well-being. This is part of the price of leadership. Part of us wants to tell the other person to get lost (or worse), but we restrain ourselves for the sake of the mission and/or the organization. It’s okay to do that, as long as you know what you are doing, and why you’re doing it. But when it becomes a pattern (being the nice guy and pleasing people) it can come back to hurt you and the organization.

Melodie Beattie has a great meditation in her book “The Language of Letting Go” on this subject. She points out the wisdom in setting deadlines for ourselves. We don’t need to let other people know about these deadlines, and they don’t need to be set in stone. But deadlines can help us take back our power, and stop feeling like victims. This meditation is so good, I want to share the full version with you. Enjoy:

I don’t know whether I want in or out of this relationship. I’ve been struggling with it for months now. It’s not appropriate to let it hang indefinitely. I will give myself two months to make a decision.
—Anonymous

Sometimes, it helps to set a deadline.

This can be true when we face unsolved problems, are struggling with a tough decision, have been sitting on the fence for a while, or have been floundering in confusion about a particular issue for a time.

That does not mean a deadline is written in stone. It means that we are establishing a time frame to help ourselves not feel so helpless and to help bring a solution into focus. Setting deadlines can free our energy to set the problem or issue aside, to let go, and allow the universe, our Higher Power, and ourselves to begin to move toward a solution.

We don’t always need to tell people we’ve got a deadline. Sometimes, it’s better to be silent, or else they may feel we are trying to control them and may rebel against our deadline. Sometimes, it is appropriate to share our deadlines with others.

Deadlines are primarily a tool to help ourselves. They need to be reasonable and appropriate to each individual situation. Used properly, deadlines can be a beneficial tool to help us get through difficult problems and situations without feeling trapped and helpless. They can help us let go of worrying and obsessing, so we can focus our energies in more constructive directions. Setting a deadline can help move us out of that uncomfortable spot of feeling victimized by a person or a problem we can’t solve.

Deadlines can help us detach and move forward.

Today, I will consider whether a deadline might be helpful in some areas in my life. I claim Divine Wisdom and Guidance in setting appropriate deadlines for any problems or relationship issues that may be lingering.

Too many interruptions: more serious than it sounds

Just read a fascinating post in the wiredscience blog with the provocative title: Digital overload is frying our brains. It’s worth a look, in spite of the creepy photo-shopped picture they lead with. Let me start with en extended quote:

“Paying attention isn’t a simple act of self-discipline, but a cognitive ability with deep neurobiological roots — and these roots, says Maggie Jackson, are in danger of dying.

“In Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, Jackson explores the effects of “our high-speed, overloaded, split-focus and even cybercentric society” on attention. It’s not a pretty picture: a never-ending stream of phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, text messages and tweets is part of an institutionalized culture of interruption, and makes it hard to concentrate and think creatively.”

So begins the blog post, which is mostly an interview with Jackson. The question of attention and focus has become increasingly important, as technologies proliferate that allow us to be interrupted. Jackson says that information workers now switch tasks an average of three minutes throughout the day. This is a problem for pastors … it’s hard to write a sermon in three minute chunks!

Another fascinating connection here: continual interruption is correlated with stress, which is an epidemic today. Jackson again:

“This degree of interruption is correlated with stress and frustration and lowered creativity. That makes sense. When you’re scattered and diffuse, you’re less creative. When your times of reflection are always punctured, it’s hard to go deeply into problem-solving, into relating, into thinking….Interruptions are correlated with stress, and a cascade of stress hormones accompany that state of being. Stress, frustration and lowered creativity are pretty toxic.”

Give the article a quick read. If you don’t get interrupted first.