Ultimate love

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— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.

Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Center for Enriching Relationships in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.enrichingrelationships.org.


Our beloved housecat died last week. Marvin the Cat was a mere 6 years old and in his prime. We heard a crash in one of the bedrooms and there he was, on the floor, taking his last breath. His death is a mystery. Maybe he fell and hit his head, or maybe it was a heart attack. We will probably never know.

Although my wife and I aren’t “cat people,” we came to love Marvin and accept him as part of our family. Once again, we have loved and lost. To love a person or a pet is to risk feeling the pain of separation. In fact, it’s more than a risk. It’s a certainty.

In his book, “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis points out this harsh truth:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping your heart intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. … The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

Therein lies the trap that so many of us fall into. The safety of isolation—of being a “rock” or an “island” as described by Simon and Garfunkel—also means that we will not know love.

Protecting our fragile hearts by keeping others at bay also means that we will not be truly known for who we are. The wounds of past relationships remind us to keep up the walls in order to stay safe and hidden.

So many horrible beliefs seem true when we live in loneliness and isolation. As a client of mine recently exclaimed, “If you really knew me, you would not like me.” But the opposite is actually true; the more someone knows you, the more they can genuinely love you.

In all my years of being a psychotherapist (nearly 30!), there have been very few times when I found a person to be evil when they revealed themselves to me. Yes, everyone sins and falls short of perfection, but Satan has a way of magnifying those imperfections to create self-loathing and self-condemnation. The lie is clear: Isolation makes us weak, not strong. Our hearts become hardened, like a rock, and just as senseless.

As Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” This is especially true if you buy into the idea that earthly love eventually ends in separation. The only love that never fails, that goes on forever, is godly love. There’s no hiding from it either. God knows everything about you, and yet He loves you even though the imperfections are many.

Maybe the truth is that God loves you because you have no secrets from Him. Maybe God’s love is so deep because He does understand your pain and suffering. The One who loves us cannot be taken from us. There is no need to fear separation or loss of love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

With this foundational truth about our security, let us embrace the “dangers and perturbations of love” by being vulnerable to others with our thoughts and feelings. During this month of February, when we celebrate Valentine’s Day to commemorate those we love, let us step out of our comfort zone and risk loving more

This article was originally posted on Refreshed Magazine's website and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.

The Risk of Opposite-Sex Friendships in Marriage

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Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.


Friends are those people that we do everyday life with. We live or work near each other, we do ministry together, we frequently connect online, or we work out in the same gym. This proximity helps us grow and sustain the relationship, and such “mere presence” leads to increased liking.  And this often leads to growing feelings of closeness or intimacy.

Social psychological research on friendships finds that the essential trait of close friends is that they not only like each other, but they like how they feel in the presence of each other. Close friends feel valued, heard, understood and loved. They can be vulnerable and feel safe in each other’s presence, sharing more of their hopes, dreams, and hearts, as well as more of their personal journeys.

As we grow in this togetherness and love—experiencing similar dreams, hopes, beliefs, values, and affections—an intimate relationship can develop. Here we not only enjoy being around each other, we start to feel more emotionally connected.  We experience feelings of deeper intimacy, synchrony or flow—like we are on the same page, and begin to let our guards down with each other. This is powerfully reinforcing.

The poet and author Dinah Craik elegantly put it this way:

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.                                                                                                                                     

And it is in this place where having a friend of the opposite sex can get complicated, even perilous. It is in such an intimate environment that romantic feelings can begin to spring up. Neuropsychology has shown that the brain produces higher levels of the bonding chemical oxytocin, starting a cascade of pleasurable feelings associated with this person, leading to greater attachment and intimacy, and yes, romantic feelings.

People often ask if it is ok for a married person to have a friend of the opposite sex. I believe that having friends, even of the opposite sex, is normal and healthy. Where there is some debate is about having a close or intimate friend of the opposite sex. I believe that close friendships are riskier because such familiarity deepens intimacy, and can lead to increased levels of romantic feelings.

At all times we are to make our spouse our priority. They must be told of any intimate feelings that may be developing, and there must be no secrets. This is especially true if the close friend is a past lover or someone you and your spouse have had previous disagreements about. Nothing will shake the foundations of a marriage more than a loss of trust or a violation of faithfulness.

So we must carefully count the costs—to our spouses, our selves, and our marriages. And when we do, it is no wonder so many people find the risks simply too great.

This article was originally posted on the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.

How I Talked To My Boyfriend About Pornography pt. II

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anonymous


I’ll admit it—I am not the best at conflict or difficult conversations. The first time I confronted my boyfriend about something, it took me 30 minutes to get one sentence out. I stood there, saying it word by word. Since then, I have gotten better at confrontation and difficult conversations and am still working on it.

A few months back, I had to approach my boyfriend about the topic of pornography. In my innocent mind, I thought it would be an easy conversation since I assumed he had never struggled with porn. Much to my surprise, it quickly turned into a difficult conversation that shed light on some of his sins.

So, with this turn of events, how did I approach this conversation with truth and love? Let me start off by saying that this conversation is normal and healthy to have, as well as important. Many of my friends who are in relationships have had this conversation with their boyfriends, and it has significantly shaped their relationships for the better. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind as you approach this conversation.

Pray. The most important thing you can do before you have this conversation is to pray. There’s no doubt that this conversation will be full of emotions and uncertainty, so being in prayer before you have this conversation will ultimately help you during this conversation.

Stop and Listen. The second most important thing you can do when having this conversation is to listen. It is not your job to do the talking, but simply to hear what your boyfriend is saying. This is his struggle, and therefore, his choice to be telling you. If you simply stay quiet, use nonverbal behavior to show that you are listening, and occasionally offer an empathic statement, the other person will continue to talk.

Don’t just listen with your ears—listen with your heart. In an honest and difficult conversation, it is essential to listen with your heart to what they are saying and feeling. Listen and try to truly understand where they are coming from, what emotions they may have such as hurt and shame, and how they feel towards themselves. Listening with your heart means that you listen empathically, not critically.  

Ask questions gently. If you have questions, ask. I’ve found that if you are in a difficult conversation, it is better to ask your questions right then rather than continuing to bring them up at random times. When you ask your questions, make sure to do it gently. For example, instead of asking, “Well, when did you stop looking at porn?” try, “That must have been really difficult. How were you able to stop?” By simply changing the tone of your voice and adding in a few words of empathy, you will be able to ask your questions in a non-threatening, non-judgemental way.

Be honest. I think my biggest regret from our conversation was not being honest right away. I did not tell him how sad I was or how much it hurt me in the moment. Because of that, later on, I had to bring up the conversation again so that I could explain how I felt. It is essential, to be honest up front so that later on nothing will come as a surprise.  

It is important to remember in this moment that this is not your fault; this is something with which your boyfriend is struggling. Also, keep in mind that this issue won’t just go away, so do not avoid this conversation. Although it may be extremely difficult, you need to know your boyfriend’s struggles so that you will have full knowledge of whom you are dating. This conversation can be very beneficial, bringing light into a once dark area.

It is a difficult conversation, no doubt, but it is well worth having. Pray before you go into this conversation, and pray throughout. Go into this conversation with a kind heart and a forgiving spirit.

This article was originally posted on the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.

How I Talked To My Boyfriend About Pornography pt. I

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anonymous


Never in the first year of dating my boyfriend did I think that he had ever struggled with pornography—not him: he was too good of a person! So when I heard that almost all men, especially college-aged men, have struggled with pornography at some time in their lives, I immediately thought, “At least not him!” I was so confident that he had never struggled with it, so I never thought to ask.

It wasn’t until I was in class when I thought to bring it up with him. I was taking a course called, “Christian Perspectives on Relationships,” when the subject of pornography was discussed. In class, my professor addressed the levels of addiction and how to deal with and support a porn addict. After class, I went up to my professor and asked, “In a dating situation, at what point should an honest conversation about pornography be held?” She told me that it should be discussed within the first year of dating, before anything gets too serious. Since we had been dating over a year, I decided it was time to have this conversation. I had no clue how to approach it, but told myself that I needed to bring it up within the next month.

Later that evening, we were driving back from dinner when he asked me what we talked about in my Christian Relationships course that day. “Here goes nothing,” I thought to myself as I began to tell him we had discussed pornography and the levels of addiction. He responded with something like, “That is super prevalent, even at this university.” There was my chance. “So, have you, umm, ever…” was all I could say before he looked down and said, “Yeah.”

My heart broke. I felt betrayed and deeply saddened at the same time. Before I could say anything, he started to tell me his journey and struggles with pornography. For him, it started at a young age, and after a few years, he decided to deal with it. After being held accountable by his youth group leader and father, his addiction subsided. He expressed how difficult of a journey it was and how it is still a temptation.

I looked him in the eyes and said, “I am so sorry that you have struggled with that, and I truly appreciate your honesty. Just know that I forgive you and love you just the same.” He told me that he was going to tell me, but was just unsure of how to bring it up. As we discussed further, I felt an odd sense of peace—he is honest and open, even about his sins.

We agreed that within a dating relationship, I should not be his main accountability partner for something such as lust and pornography, but his guy friends and older men should be.

I am thankful we had this conversation because as a result our relationship has changed. It has been a good change — a change to complete honesty, no hiding, and no shame. A simple conversation, approached with love and forgiveness, was extremely difficult, but well worth it in the long run. 

This article was originally posted on the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.

So What Does the Bible Say About Marital Sex?


Don't do it until you're married.

Sexual sin will send you to hell.

If your spouse wants it, you better do it, or they will struggle with sexual temptation and go find it somewhere else.

That is about the sum total of what most people think the bible says about sex. God, in His word, addresses sexuality in a much deeper and finer way, so this entry is devoted to a beginning discussion on that. Many of you reading this text may have experienced reading books on sex or gone to marriage retreats where sex was one of the topics. For many, books and retreats discussing sex are discouraging and to be avoided. Lessons about how sex should be great, that everyone should be having great sex, and that you need to make your sex life great, can lead to hopelessness when things are not going well. It is nor our wish that this next chapter fall into that category. You may have some serious areas you are working on in order to develop a mutually fulfilling sex life. In order to get there, it is important to understand what the genuine, biblical expectations and views are of the marital sexual relationship. That is the goal of this entry: gaining a clearer understanding of some of the most used scriptures in the bible on sex and sexuality in order to align those views with how we live out our sexual relationship.

One of our favorite texts for helping people understand the biblical and spiritual view of sex is Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by Piper and Taylor. We have obtained the permission of Piper and Taylor to briefly review 3 major points from their book here. God has used the language and imagery of sexuality to both communicate with us and help us know him. It is often difficult for Christians to grasp this idea because for many, views and thoughts about sexuality have no connection to their views and thoughts about God. Sex is over here on the far right and God is over here on the far left and they never interact. Even the two words, God and Sex, in the same sentence seems inappropriate. This is even more true of the words Sex and Christ. When you think about it, really, he never had sex, so that seems so inappropriate to put sex and Christ in the same sentence, right?. What do the two have to do with each other? Yet that is not what we find in the bible. Jesus is to be Lord over every area of our life and God speaks to us in every area of our life, as we will see. We do not have to divorce ourselves from God and Jesus in the middle of sex in order to allow ourselves to experience the full, sensual enjoyment possible during sex.

"The language and imagery of sexuality are the most graphic and most powerful that the bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people - both positively (when we are faithful) and negatively (when we are not)." Piper and Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ

"God has Designed Sexuality as a Way to Know Him More Fully"

This is found in the first chapter of Piper and Taylor's book. Read Ezekiel 16 and then Ezekiel 23. When he is speaking about the nation of Israel and their worship of other idols, he uses words such as prostitute, lavished your favors, degraded your beauty, "offering your body with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by", breasts being fondled, genitals like those of donkeys, emission like that of horses. Why? Why would God use such graphic sexual language? He is describing the spiritual choices Israel has made in idol worship and he is using sexual language to depict what they had done.

For many couples, the biggest fear they have or the greatest emotional pain they have experienced is about their spouse being unfaithful. We have sat with couples who have expressed the devastating pain of sexual betrayal in their marriage, of finding out that their spouse has intimately touched another man and woman in a way they should only touch them. When God talks here about the incredible pain of Israel's betrayal with idols, He uses the language of sexual betrayal and adultery, and He talks about it by using the physical, sexual body; words such as breasts, genitals, and emission. Why? Because He wants us to understand the level of pain He feels when we choose to worship something other than Him, when we choose to turn our backs on Him and His love for us ("you became mine" Ez 16:8). God uses sexual language to communicate who He is and how He feels so that we can understand and come close to Him.

This is similar to how God communicates to us overall. He uses the creation to tell us who He is (Romans 1:2, Ps 19:1-3). He shows us who He is through making us in His image (Gen 1:27) and He ultimately wanted us to know Him so well that He incarnated Himself into the physical body of Jesus to show us (John 1:14, Is 9:6, John 14:9, Col 1:15). God uses the physical to express the spiritual. He also uses the physical language of sexuality to tell us about Himself and to communicate to us.

Knowing God

"I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father." (John 10:14). God knows us. Jesus knows us. Jesus knows God and God the Father knows Jesus. The word knows here is gnosko in the Greek. The definition of gnosko is: to know first hand through personal experience; to learn, to recognize, to perceive. It is the word used here to describe the depth to which God and Jesus know each other. This is an intimate understanding of the other at an indescribably deep level. What is interesting is that it is the same word to describe the sexual interaction between Jesus and Mary. "He (Joseph) did not know (gnosko) her (Mary) until she gave birth to a son" (Matt 1:25).

We see something very similar in the Hebrew. "No longer will a man teach his neighbor... 'Know the lord,' because they will all know me" (Jer 31:34). The Hebrew word here for know is yada, meaning: to know, acknowledge, understand through all the senses. And guess what? We find it also in Gen 4:1. "Adam knew his wife Eve." So in both the Greek and Hebrew, this word that describes how God knows us, how we know Jesus the shepherd, how Jesus knows God, how God wants us to know Him, is also used to describe the sexual relationship between Adam and Eve and between Joseph and Mary. In many translations the word know is no longer used and has been variously translated to say "lay with her", and "had relations with her". The latest translation of the NIV says "made love to." This is not to say in any weird way that our relationship with God or the relationship between God and Jesus is about sex. That would be like the pagans and temple worship with temple prostitutes. But this does help to convey how God understands the sexual relationship. The depth of intimate knowing between Jesus and God, the depth to which He knows us, the depth to which God wants us to know Him is the depth of intimacy God intends for us and wants us to have in our marital sexual relationship.

This puts the importance of sexuality on a whole different level. John 17:3 says, "This is eternal life, that they know (gnosko) you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ." The definition here biblically of eternal life is the word know. We will spend eternity in an intimate knowledge and understanding and closeness with God and Jesus. Wow! And we believe that God gives us a taste of that in our sexual relationship. The level of intimate knowing that we can attain when we are ecstatically, intimately and erotically bonded with our spouse during sexual intimacy and at orgasm is a taste of the depths and levels of the wonderful, intimate connection we will have with God for eternity. God uses the physical to express the spiritual and so that we may KNOW him.

"Knowing God Guides and Guards our Spirituality"

Piper and Taylor do such an amazing job describing this in their book. I will again include their point here. The knowing we wrote about above is the foundation God uses to guard our sexual choices and to guide our sexual lives. When we have that deep, intimate connection with our Father, he directs us in how we should live our lives overall and in the sexual arena. When we do not retain our knowledge for God, this disorders our sexual lives. "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie... Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (Rom 1:24-25, 28). When we do not retain, when we do not nurture, our knowledge, our knowing of God, it messes us up sexually.

What else does the bible say about sex?

Do it. In fact, if you're struggling with wanting to have sex, get married and have it a lot. Well, that's basically what God is saying in 1 Cor 7:9: "If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." OKaaaay!

What else does the bible say about having sex? It says a lot actually, and this book would be quite a bit bigger if we included all of it. However, we will cover some of the important basics.

Song of Solomon

Most of the scriptures about sex are about what NOT to do. Don't do it with your father's wife, with an animal, with an unmarried person, or with anyone other than your husband or wife. This is all very clear from the scriptures. So, when you do do it, what kind of direction does God give? Well, the bible is the only world religion scriptural text that devotes an entire book to sensuality and sexuality. The Song of Solomon is full of much that is helpful. We will cover some of that in different chapters, but it is important to notice here that God, even in how He handed His word to us, prioritizes the marital sexual relationship by writing an entire book about it. We need to take note of that. Sensual touch and sensual talk is all over the Song of Solomon. Both the Lover and the Beloved describe each other in sensual, poetic terms. They also use poetic language to describe the delights of the sexual relationship. Note the scriptures below.

Lover: "How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights? Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, 'I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of it's fruit.'" The Lover here speaks of climbing the palm tree (her body) to grasp the fruit (her breasts).

The Lover says: "You are a garden fountain, a well of flowing water, streaming down from Lebanon." And the Beloved responds: "Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits." The Lover here describes the flowing streams of her garden and the Beloved calls him to blow on the garden and taste it's fruit. This is considered by many to be a clear allusion to their enjoyment of the act of oral sex and the flowing waters of her orgasm.

God has intended for us to thoroughly enjoy sexuality and the erotic sexual bond we can have with our husband or wife.

Pleasing Your Spouse: Stewards of Each Other's Bodies

"But a married man is concerned with... how he can please his wife... A married woman is concerned about... how she can please her husband" (1 Cor 7:33-34).

"The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband... Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Cor 7:3, 5).

"The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife" (1 Cor 7:4).

These scriptures in 1 Corinthians 7 are some of the most specific, helpful, and misunderstood scriptures of the bible on sex. So let's go over a few important points.

God wants us to live our sexual lives focused on the pleasure we can bring to our spouse. That doesn't mean you don't have likes and dislikes, preferences and turnoffs, and that you should just shut those down and only think about your spouse. In fact, it is crucial to communicate openly and honestly about what you prefer. We're going to devote quite a bit of space in these entries to that exact issue. However, God does call us to consider one another better than ourselves, and prioritize the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4). If both the husband and wife kept that as their focus, many of the difficulties in the sexual relationship would go much more smoothly. God makes it clear that a husband should be focused on pleasing his wife; it is actually a reason why Paul says it is better not to get married. And the wife is to please her husband.

In a similar way, Paul points out that the wife and husband have the authority over each other's bodies. What does that mean? This has often been taught in the churches to mean that a wife should never deny her husband sex. Though that question is an important one to answer, it misses the fact that 1 Cor 7:4 is not even addressing that. The wording in the Greek here is quite helpful. The term that is important is exousiazo, which means: to exercise authority over. This is a term describing a delegated or conferred power or authority.

This is much like the idea of stewardship taught about throughout the bible where you are to use something that God has given you for the good of others. We understand this when it comes to money. God give us money and we are but stewards of that money while in this life. We are to use that money as God sees fit. This is financial stewardship (Matt 25:20-21, 23). It is also a common understanding that when you borrow something, you should return it in as good or better shape than when you received it. We know that God calls husbands to imitate Jesus and present their wives radiant (Eph 5:27). These are the concepts reflected in 1 Cor 7:4. A wife is given her husbands body from God. God has conferred power over that body to her and she is to be a good steward of that body and present his body back to God in as good or better condition than when it was given to her. The husband in the same way is given delegated authority from God over his wife's body, and he is to care for it as for his own body (Eph 5:28). When he seeks first to please his wife, he is then able to present her as radiant to God.

1 Cor 7 is also often used to demand or command sex. This is in opposition to these very scriptures and to the overall use of authority in the bible. If God has delegated to the wife authority over her husband's body, how is she supposed to use or wield that authority? If God has delegated to the husband authority over his wife's body, how is he supposed to use or wield that authority? Jesus taught that the disciples where not to Lord it over others the way the Pharisees did (Matt 20:25-26). Instead, a leader is to be a servant. So when we are given authority over each others bodies, we are to use that authority as Jesus taught; as a servant, not making demands or being selfish.

For many couples, when they examine these scriptures, it puts the command not to deprive one another into a different perspective. If a husband or wife ends up using this scripture to say "you are depriving me," they may be using the scriptures as a club or a weapon, much like a Pharisee would. If a wife or husband continues to "deprive" their spouse of sex out of selfishness, they are not being a good steward of their spouses body. If both the husband and wife were focused on pleasing one another, holy sex can be the outcome, where the focus is mutual pleasure through giving, fun exploration that results in a "delightful convergence of duty and desire" (Piper & Taylor).

Intoxication and Fire

"May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love." (Prov 5:18-19)

So what does the bible say about sex? The above scripture says it so eloquently. We are to rejoice in our spouse and be intoxicated by our love for one another. And we are to feel this intoxicated satisfaction about each other sexually. The word satisfy in the Hebrew here is ravah, which means to drink one's fill, to be saturated. The word intoxicated in the Hebrew here is shagah, which means to reel, as in reeling when drunk. It also means ravished, intoxicated, enraptured, captivated; or to stray, reel, or swerve while intoxicated. That is how God portrays the effect the wife, and her love, and her breasts, have on the husband. That he drinks so thoroughly of her that he is completely intoxicated and cannot walk straight.

This is such a clear statement of God's intention for sexuality in the bible. The passage right before this details how a man of God should drink only from his own cistern and not share his strength and wealth, the springs of water from his well, clearly his sexuality, with anyone else other than the wife of his youth. And when they do share it, it should make him reel.

This may be a passage directly written to the husband, perhaps because sexual temptation is such a challenge for men. However, it is a great illustration of the incredible, emotional, physical, and ecstatic way that God describes the marital sexual relationship. In 1 Cor 7:9, Paul admonishes the unmarried to get married because they were burning with passion for another (puroo in the Greek, meaning set on fire). Sex sets us on fire so God says the place for it is in the marital bed. In other words, our sexual life should set us on fire. It should make us reel like a drunkard. It should saturate us and captivate us. This should be true for BOTH the husband and wife.

Many commentaries on the bible talk about the duties of the marital relationship when they are describing sex in the marriage. Duty is such an awful word to describe the wonder of marital sex. When our giving is out of duty, out of compulsion, that is not God's desire. "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7). Yes, this passage in 2 Cor 9 is about giving money, but it lays out clearly the heart God desires from us when we give. So much more in the marital sexual relationship. God does not want duty. He desires for us to enjoy, to be intoxicated by, to be set on fire by, each other's love and our sexual relationship.

The Enjoyment of Her Body

One of the biggest cultural stereotypes is of men who ogle women. Well, it is a stereotype that has quite a bit of foundation behind it. It is commonly seen and portrayed, from what happens on the street to what it shown in movies and TV. And it is not in God's plan. Jesus clearly taught that looking at a woman in lust was the same as adultery (Matthew 5). However, put into biblical perspective, the male enjoyment of the female body can be both godly and enriching. Unfortunately, because of sin and sinful behaviors, it can be challenging to appreciate the rightness of a husband loving the view of his wife's body. We have often heard wives express that it really bothers them how their husband likes to touch them sensually and sexually ("all he touches is my butt and my boobs"). It may really bother them how easily their husbands become aroused when they see their wife naked or when they get in bed with their naked or lightly clothed wife. It has caused some women to stop dressing in front of their husbands. For others, they wear their pajamas like protective armor.

Their can be many different things influencing the challenge women have with their husband's fascination with their wife's body. It may be that the only time the husband touches his wife is when he is sexually interested. It may be that the wife has a lower body image. The husband may have made derogatory comments about her body or about her weight. The wife may have a background of being objectified by men or may have seen many poor examples of men who objectified women. If any of these things are true, it would be important to get help with them and to talk openly about them.

It is important to put the male interest in the female body into biblical perspective, for when it is right, it is very right. After God created Eve, "God saw all he had made, and it was very good." Not just good. Very Good. We see the Lover, in Song of Songs, speak about how he wants to hear his Beloved's voice and how he wants to see her form, her shape, her countenance, her appearance (according to different translations). Prov 5:19, as mentioned earlier, tells how captivating, intoxicating, and satisfying the wife's love and breasts are to her husband. God has created in men a love for the view of the female body and form. He even puts it in His holy word. It is good, and right, and godly for a husband to be drawn to looking at and touching his wife's body, both naked and clothed. Sam Laing, author of Five Senses of Romantic Love, says it so well:

"His [the Lover's] poetic, rhapsodic language expresses his fascination and arousal and gives honor to the entirety of her divinely given beauty without a hint of demeaning vulgarity... The husband asks... his beloved to let him see her "form"... Most men will readily identify with this statement, and with this sentiment. They long to see their wife unclothed. Wives, have you noticed that your husband will stop whatever he is doing to get a glimpse of your body? If you are having an argument and in the middle of it you happen to change your clothes, he will completely lose his train of thought. He will wander into the bathroom while you are bathing just to get a look at you. Rather than resenting this as juvenile and boorish, come to appreciate that the sight of your unclothed form is one of the greatest pleasures and joys your husband has in his life." (p. 60-61, Laing).

For women, it is important to make the distinction between the objectification in the world of the female body and the genuine, godly appreciation of her body as seen in the scriptures. A husband's enjoyment of his wife's body is from God. However, husbands, if the only time you touch her is to squeeze her breasts and butt, this will not feel like godly enjoyment. I, Jennifer, had a female client explain to me that when she was dressing, she would love it if her husband would come up to her from behind while she was naked, wrap his arms around her, and tell her what a good mom she was. Not that she was beautiful. Not that he loved her body. But that as he wrapped his arms around the body he so loved to see and touch, he told her how much he loved and appreciated the woman she was and what she gave to their family. This is such a delicate balance. Women loved to feel admired by the men God has given to love them. They do love to feel beautiful. But if that beauty is not admired in the context of the whole beauty of the woman, it can lead to a unintended confirmation of that message she's been hearing from Satan that she is just another body; that she is only wanted for sex; that she, the woman, is not known and valued.

So husbands, imitate the Lover. Look at what he says about his Beloved. When he describes the body of his beloved, he talks about her eyes, hair, teeth, lips, mouth, temple, navel, waist, neck, and breasts (Prov 4:1-15, 7:1-9). He even tells her that her breath smells good, that her legs are graceful, that her voice is sweet, that her feet are beautifully sandaled (yes, compliment her shoes), and that her face is lovely. If all you focus on is her breasts and her butt, you have not followed this incredible example found in God's word. You may be obeying God's word in reading it daily, in reaching out to the lost, in being a loving, giving father, and a good provider. But if you wish to touch the heart and soul of your wife, your words to her must be full of Proverbs 31 (how faithful and hard working she is, what a great hostess she is, what a great mother and wife) AND Song of Solomon (her physical beauty in it's entirety).

He is Altogether Lovely!

In an amazingly similar way, in the book Song of Songs, the Beloved describes her Lover in intimate, bold, and admiring language (Song of Songs 1:16, 2:3-4, 5:10-16). She talks about his head, hair, eyes, cheeks, lips, arms, and legs. She calls him handsome, radiant, ruddy, and outstanding. She compliments his arms of gold and his body of polished ivory. She talks about the kisses of his mouth. She delights to be with him and talks in detail about his affection and care for her. She shares a very revealing phrase at the end of the book. "I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment" (8:10). How does he come to view her in that way?

Hopefully, at this point in your reading of this book, you have already been at work as a couple on your verbal and relational intimacy. Hopefully as well you have had some victories in working through conflict. It is important as well that you have gotten help with any long term injuries. There may be some rather difficult things that have happened between you that make imitating the way the Beloved talks about her Lover seem impossible. It is incredibly important, however, that as you are working at improving and repairing your intimate relationship, you examine the heart of God and his heart for you and have the same heart for your husband.

God is rich in mercy. While we were still his enemies, while we were still in sin, he looked at us with longing and affection (Romans 5:8; Is 30:18). One of the greatest needs of the human condition is to feel loved and accepted. God does both of those things. We strive to do those things for our children, to love them and accept them even though they do things that are not OK, choose paths we do not support or that are sinful. It is sometimes much harder to show that same kind of mercy, compassion, patience, and vision for someone who is not our child, but who is an adult who should know better. And yet God does call us to make sure our husband is "respected at the city gates" (Prov 31:23) and that his wife is one who brings contentment. The longer you are married, the more you see your spouse's faults and the weaknesses in their character. It is an opportunity for either mercy or for resentment. If we decide to imitate the heart of God, what we will offer is a love and admiration for an imperfect sinner.

As wives, we are called to imitate the example of the Beloved. She is so eloquent in her admiration of her lover. Your husband needs you to admire his beauty for "he is altogether lovely" (Prov 5:13). Tell him what you like about how he looks. At the same time, he needs to know that you admire and appreciate what he does for you. It is not uncommon for husbands to share about how angry and frustrated they feel because they do not sense that their wife appreciates them. There may be a lot behind that. He may work longer hours than you feel good about. Or the opposite. He may not be the kind of hard worker you feel he should be. You may have had many arguments about how he uses his time. You may strongly disagree about what to prioritize. It is important, however, to keep our eyes on the cross. Our sins put Jesus on the cross and God calls us to have the same kind of compassion toward others that He shows to us (2 Cor 1:3-4). Wives need to view their husband's weaknesses with honesty, wisdom, humility, compassion, and vision. When you reach that point, you will be able to genuinely speak of your husband with the heart of the Beloved.

In Song of Songs, God shows how the Lover needs to be appreciated for how his arms that are rods of gold (his strength, SS 5:14), his arms that embrace you (his love of touching you and holding you, SS 2:6), and his legs that are pillars of marble (again, his strength, beauty, and power, SS 5:15). Tell him about the beauty of his body, tell him what you admire about his love making, and tell him what you appreciate about what he does for you. Tell him. Tell him.

The level of intimacy and closeness in marriage is hugely influenced by the amount and type of words like those that the Beloved and the Lover share with each other. So check how much you admire your spouse. Check how much you tell them about their beauty and their strengths. See what happens to your overall intimacy when you decide to imitate the Lover's and Beloved's vivid, sensual, enriching, life giving language.

The power of community

DanielJenkins.jpg

— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.

Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Center for Enriching Relationships in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.enrichingrelationships.org.


“If we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other.”— I John 1:7

My wife has a brother, Steve, who has been an alcoholic for most of his life. Given that he is 56 years old, his alcoholism has spanned decades. The good news is that he has broken the chains of addiction and is now more than six months sober.

During the last few months, he has reached out to family and re-established relationships. We thought he was a lost cause, having reached out to Steve many times in the past, so you can imagine our surprise when he made a move in our direction.

He came to stay with us for six weeks. During this time, I saw him go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings once or twice a day. He would often pedal his way to a local meeting on a bicycle while my wife and I were at work. I was amazed at how many AA meetings were available to him within our community. This time, he was determined to make his recovery successful.

After all the research conducted by psychologists over the past 20 years on human addiction, impulse control and recovery, nothing has been as successful in helping alcoholics stay sober as AA.

I called Steve and asked him what the secret was to his success thus far. He said that like-minded friends who provide support, honesty and accountability have made this process much more bearable.

“We do life better because we are doing life together,” he said.

How true! The power of small groups, where you are able to be open, honest and accountable, is synergistic. I have the opportunity of facilitating several small groups as a professor at a local Christian university and as a clinician at a private practice. In both venues, people benefit from being connected and accountable.

If we were to be analyzed from space by an alien sociologist, he would describe human beings as creatures who cluster together in groups. From the nuclear family to large metropolises, humans need each other to function at maximum capacity. In fact, to not have this need is abnormal enough to warrant the diagnosis of Schizoid Personality Disorder.

No wonder the church is described as a body of believers who interact together (I Corinthians 12:12). When churches create small groups where individuals can find safe relationships, and trust is built on honesty, then these individuals are “doing life better.”

Unfortunately, there are those who prefer to avoid connection and the risk of being known by others (see Hebrews 10: 24-25). They can cite the ills of “organized religion,” but often this is simply a cover for a deep fear of emotional intimacy that has resulted from wounds inflicted upon them in the past.

The best way to overcome any fear is to face it again—but not alone this time. Do it as part of a team of like-minded friends who have the same goals as you. If you meet up with friends once or twice a day, like my Steve, or just once a month, and listen to what others are sharing from their lives, you will gain clarity, new insights and sharper perspectives on just about any topic.

When you add in the guidance and wisdom from God’s Word, you add another level of synergism.

Once he gained sobriety, brother Steve has reached out to his family. This was a frightening, huge step for him. More importantly, he has also reached out to God and is now trying to grow in his faith. In addition to AA meetings, he is now going to church and he is learning what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

Likewise, may you find connection in small groups with others who are also fixing their eyes on Christ (Hebrews 12:2).

Try it and see if you will be “doing life better.”

The One Sentence Explosion

Tim Muehlhoff

Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.


Whenever a friend of mine talks about disagreement with her teen-age daughter, she often says, “It’s not about the muffins.” One morning before school her daughter shouted at her, “I hate muffins!” as she bolted out the door. With the sound of the door slamming still ringing in her ears, she looked at the muffins she baked for breakfast. The night before she had informed her daughter of a curfew that was going into effect that upcoming weekend. “That outburst was about many things,” she said to me, “but I’m pretty sure it’s not about muffins.” What my friend was experiencing is something communication scholars call, latent conflict.

Most conflicts begin with a latency period where tension or disagreements exist between individuals, but have not been communicated. Tension, anger, or hurt may exist consciously or subconsciously and last for long periods of time before coming out. In fact, it may never explicitly emerge. Two significant problems arise when latent conflict is present.

First, individuals adopt the neglect response to conflict that denies or minimizes problems, disagreements, anger, tension, or other matters that lead to overt conflict. Denying or minimizing issues is fertile ground for latent conflict. For whatever reason, individuals who are angry or disagree with each other may decide not to overtly discuss the tension, thus allowing the anger or disagreement to build up. In an interview with Katie Couric, former super-model Heidi Klum was asked to pinpoint the primary cause she couldn’t salvage her marriage with pop-singer, Seal. Her approach to conflict, she explained, was not to address a particular conflict, but just smile, push it away, and move on. Eventually, the approach backfired.

Second, latent conflict often results in the practice of kitchen-sinking. Once a conflict begins, everything that has been stored up is thrown in. Theorists often call this the one sentence explosion. For example, if my friend’s daughter finally expresses her displeasure at a weekend curfew she may also explode with the anger she feels toward other family rules. The problem is that multiple issues now compound one issue—displeasure at a curfew.

In an attempt to curb latent conflict, the apostle Paul commands readers to "not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Eph. 4:26). Paul is paraphrasing a similar idea expressed in the Psalms: “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent” (Ps. 4:4). Notice that the focus in both passages is on dealing with anger, not resolving conflict. Many have misinterpreted Paul to mean that the conflict you are dealing with needs to be dealt with fully before you go to sleep.

In most situations quickly resolving conflict is not only impractical, but could worsen it. Paul is admonishing us to promptly deal with our latent or overt anger so as to not let it take root.

Dealing with anger may mean a multitude of actions: asking God to show you the cause of anger, confessing unloving thoughts or actions, the start of a spiritual discipline to address your feelings, getting godly advice, or reaching out to the person who caused such powerful feelings. Notice that the primary motivation Paul gives for dealing with anger is to avoid giving the devil “a foothold” (Eph. 4:27).

The Surprising Key to Creating an Unbreakable Family Bond

Ashley D. Cox
MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and
Family Therapist
LMFT 91052


It’s been one of those nightmare days from start to finish. Not only did you leave your presentation notes at home, but you hit every red light on the way back and now you have to deal with your son’s failing math grade.

Whatever caused your stress, it’s important to talk about it with loved ones instead of keeping your frustrations bottled inside. And what’s a better way to do this than around a dinner table with food? When you eat as a family, you can actually leave the table feeling more than just satiated: you can feel less stressed and tense, too.

Here are five expert-backed reasons you should gather around the table with your family more often.

EATING AS A FAMILY IMPROVES BRAIN STIMULATION.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Ashley Cox of The Center For Enriching Relationships (formerly Lighthouse Psychological Services) explains that sitting down for a meal with your family is great for the brain, body and spirit.

“Several studies have shown that family dinners boost mood, conversation, vocabulary and create positive feelings in children and teenagers,” she tells ENTITY. “Children who eat with the family engage in conversation and will learn more words than their peers that do not have a regular dinner. Scientists have found that children who have regular dinners know six times more words that are rare and show greater school performance.  Research has also shown that adolescents are two times more likely to get As when having a family meal five to seven times per week.”

 

 

This article was originally posted on Entity Magazine and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.

 

How to Deal with Your Partner's Faults

willawilliams

Willa Williams is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and serves at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as a consulting therapist. She has been married for 30 years, and has two teenage children. Willa has a passion for healthy relationships, and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), and a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL).


You’re doing it wrong!!!!

Have you ever found yourself thinking this about your partner? It’s amazing how many things they do the wrong way!  We may notice a few things when we are dating, but this revelation comes front and center once we are married and living with our spouse. They don’t do the small things the right way, like squeezing the toothpaste from the end, replacing the toilet paper roll with the end coming over the top, or making the bed with the fluffy pillows on top. They may also do the big things the wrong way, such as not calling us when they are going to be late, not inviting all of the extended family over for the holidays, or not appreciating our efforts to keep the insurance up to date. 

They do things the wrong way, and it can be very frustrating and aggravating!!

However, while this may be experientially true, have you ever considered that maybe there isn’t always a right way to do things? What if there are a few different ways to do things?

Actually, research has found this to be true. John Gottman, a leading, well-respected couples researcher, has found from his research that the majority of things that couples fight over have no right or wrong answer. For example, there is no set right or wrong amount of time that couples should spend with their extended families. There is no right or wrong way to load the dishwasher or clean the house. There is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays. There is no right or wrong way to entertain friends.

3 HELPFUL TIPS TO REMEMBER

1. Remember that your partner’s way of doing things is not right or wrong, but different.

We all grow up in families that have a certain way of doing things. Because we grow up doing these things this certain way, to us that way is the right way, the normal way. And when our partner does things differently, that just feels wrong. It is to our advantage to remember that it’s not right or wrong, but different. When we think something is wrong, we are much more apt to fight for what we think is right. But when it’s just different, then we can relax a bit, and we can work towards collaboration with our partner to find a way to do things in which we both can feel comfortable. We can collaborate to find the way that our family will do things from now on. 

2. Remember that these situations reveal underlying concerns.

When it comes to doing things the “right” way, people often joke about how couples fight over the little things like the toothpaste being squeezed from the bottom or the toilet seat being left up or the dishes being left in the sink. However, fights over those issues are not really about the toothpaste or the seat or the dishes. Those fights are about us feeling like our partner doesn’t really care about what we think or what we want. We fear that we, and our wants and needs, are just not that important to them, and that we will not be considered. And so we feel we have to fight for consideration. We fight so that we won’t be taken advantage of or run over. So then the dishes don’t seem like such a little thing anymore; we feel we are fighting for big things. 

3. Hold off on the fighting, and instead describe to your partner what you are feeling.

Describe how you feel when your ideas, wants, or needs are just not that important. Describe how you fear that you won’t be considered. Describe how you fear being run over or taken advantage of. When you describe what you are feeling, you will be less likely to criticize your partner, and so they will be better able to hear you. They likely will feel some compassion for you and will not think that you are truly being unreasonable about the dishes. 

When you can remember that there is no set right or wrong way to do many things, and when you can describe your underlying concerns to your partner, that paves the way for you and your partner to be able to collaborate together on how you want to do things in your home. Bickering over the little things will decrease. You will feel more considered, and you will be more able to extend consideration. You may be happy to see how many things your partner is actually doing “right!”

“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” – Proverbs 17:9 (NLT)

This article was originally posted on the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.

The Counseling Process

--Donald W. Welch Ph.D., LMFT

Dr. Welch left his full-time teaching post to move his family and Enriching Relationships, Inc. to California where he currently serves as Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Enriching Relationships™.


Christian counseling is a reconciliation process: a person seeking healing needs to be fully reconciled to God and others. Gary Collins describes it as “a long-term, in-depth helping process that attempts to bring fundamental changes in the counselee’s personality, spiritual values, and ways of thinking.”11 Although there are a myriad of areas important to the counseling process, there are three areas essential to successful Christian counseling: establishing confidentiality, building relationship, and creating awareness. 

The first area is confidentiality. The exchange of information shared during the counseling session must remain confidential, or the counselee may never feel secure enough to openly work through the presenting issues. Confidentiality produces confidence towards the minister or counselor. Confidentiality also serves to turn the counseling area into a secure and safe haven; the dark secrets will remain inside the walls. Unless the information is life threatening to the counselee or to someone else, the counselor must maintain a strict code of confidentiality.

One method to assist in the area of confidentiality is to provide an intake form describing the counselor’s mode of operation. On this form, the counselor would describe his or her counseling expertise, including degrees, ordination, licensure (including the state in which he or she received it), and years of counseling. Also included on this form would be the scope of the counselor’s limitations, meaning that the work with the counselee will need to operate within the counselor’s skill-level and area of expertise. For instance, if a person in the congregation with schizophrenia seeks out the pastor’s counsel, it would be well for the pastor to advise the person that his skill level precludes him from assisting with the disorder; however, he could assist the person with spiritual issues related to the disorder. A referral would take place depending upon the severity of the counselee’s problem. Assisting the person(s) under your care to know your skill-level limits will help him or her know the specific ways in which you may assist. The intake form should also include a description of the counselee’s understanding of the counselor’s role as a mandated reporter, meaning that a report to the local authorities would occur if the counselee is believed to be harmful to self or others or to have committed certain crimes. The counselee’s signature on this form, giving the counselor the privilege to provide counseling, is essential for establishing clear boundaries. 

A second area essential to the counseling process is relationship. Those in counseling need to know that they are not being judged or condemned. The counselee needs to sense early on that the counselor is an unbiased therapeutic listener. This is necessary to a healthy relationship. Michael Nichols says, “The real issue in listening isn’t whether we do or don’t give advice but whether or not our response is focused on reading and responding to the other person’s feelings or is simply a way of dealing with our own.”12 Focused listening has been referred to as “mirroring” or “attending.” Deciphering eye contact, hand gestures, and the differences between a closed or open stance on the part of the counselee may reveal nonverbal communication. This interpretation skill is a continual process as the counselor seeks to understand the developmental, social, environmental, economic, and overall functioning of the counselee. 

Ideally, the counselor should not attempt to counsel someone when he or she is also dealing with personal issues similar to those of the counselee (s). A professor of pastoral counseling illustrated this by saying, “If you are moving through some difficult times in your marriage, it is important to remember that you should not be attempting to help those who are also moving through a similar and difficult time in their marriage.” 13 It would be impossible to differentiate between the difficulties in your own marriage and those in the counselee’s marriage. This can produce “countertransference,” where the listener becomes the subject rather than the objective listener.14

Although listening is essential to providing an atmosphere whereby the counselee can feel safe and is able to work through life challenges, building rapport is also very critical. A person experiencing trauma is tentative and prone to withdraw. Determining the types of questions that probe the sensitive areas without being threatening will usually begin to soften the clenched heart. Permitting God’s compassion to flow through counseling is a tremendous gift to the person searching for health and wholeness. Martin Buber expressed this best by saying, “Relation is reciprocity.”15

If a person believes the counselor is sincerely interested, reciprocity will occur. And if a person feels cared for, hope may open the way for healing. As one put it, “The greatest gift I ever received was another person who believed in me.” Viktor Frankl learned a prevailing truth that revealed itself through his experiences in the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau: “The truth— that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”16 Since love is God’s greatest command, a Christian counselor will only be effective as his or her love relationship with God is extended to others in need. 

Awareness is a third area essential to Christian counseling. It is a catalyst for the healing process to begin. Viktor Frankl quotes Spinoza as saying: “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.”17 Another way to look at this is to consider that we cannot change something of which we are not aware. In Mark 10:51 Jesus looked past the blind man’s eyes and into the man’s heart when he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” This question revealed that there was more than just a physical need—there was a spiritual need as well. Until this question was asked, the blind man may have been unaware of the great chasm inside his heart. Jesus was giving him the opportunity for this realization. 

An ultimate concern for the counselor is helping people recognize the source of their personal pain. Once a counselee recognizes and embraces the pain, Christian counseling provides a safe place where the counselee can discover and implement more useful ways for confronting and dealing with the source of the pain. Defenses can often disable a person from facing threatening challenges. Henry Cloud suggests, “If people can’t admit their faults, they can’t bring their real self into a confessional relationship with God and others. They can never resolve their critical conscience, and they can never emotionally reach the state of ‘no condemnation.’”

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

DanielJenkins.jpg

— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.

Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Center for Enriching Relationships in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.enrichingrelationships.org.


“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” — Jesus

What if you could slow down the effects of stress and time on your body by taking a daily pill? There are no negative side effects. Would you take this pill? I bet you would.

Our fitness club offers a free body analysis to determine your health age compared to your chronological age. As it turns out, my wife is four years younger than her chronological age, while my health age is exactly the same as my chronological age.

Bummer! I thought I was doing better than that.

Although the trainer took into account things like body composition, amount of sleep, exercise, and diet, there is a very important component that seems to be missing in his analysis—thought life.

How important is your thought life in the aging process and the quality of your life? Research has shown that your mind and body are inexplicably intertwined and that your propensity to develop illnesses of aging and your ability to recover are directly tied to factors related to your mental state.

Stress accelerates biological aging, whether in the form of the “fight or flight response” or in the more subtle form of a negative attitude. It’s almost as if the cells in our bodies are listening when we experience suffering in the form of anxiety, trauma, depression, and the like.

In a nutshell, cellular reproduction is impacted while under psychological stress, including the chromosomal end caps (telomeres) that help keep the double helix chromosomes from unraveling. It is very clear now that telomere length reduction is directly related to aging.

This may sound like old news, but recent research continues to show that aging slows down when people take specific steps to change the focus of their thoughts.

Those of us who focus our thought life on anticipating danger are at risk for rapid cell degeneration. Perceived threats may come in the form of threats to our ego, our bank accounts, our jobs, or . . . the list is endless. We choose to focus on these potential threats, usually out of fear. Going from crisis to crisis is no way to live, and our cells seem to know this, too.

In addition to seeing danger and threats on a daily basis, ruminating about the past is linked to shorter telomeres. Do you carry around stressful thoughts long after the event has happened? If you live in the past by dwelling on previous stressful events, or if you anticipate bad things happening in the future, you are unknowingly doing damage to your health.

God’s Word is clear about how important it is to take a Sabbath rest from our work, but how often do you take a Sabbath rest from your worries? In Matthew 6:25, Jesus instructs us to set aside our worries and concerns about the future. Truth is, the vast majority of things we tend to worry about never really materialize.

The challenge is to be grounded in the present moment rather than time-traveling in our minds to the past or the future. Jesus points out that each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34), so adding all the past and potential future troubles only compounds our stress and our propensity to age and develop age-related illnesses.

OK, I’m not going to worry about my biological age and my chronological age being the same, but instead I’m going to focus on things I’m grateful for right now. In the big scheme of things, the battle is already over and God is the victor.

Everything else is small stuff.

Biblical Foundations of Counseling

--Donald W. Welch Ph.D., LMFT

Dr. Welch left his full-time teaching post to move his family and Enriching Relationships, Inc. to California where he currently serves as Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Enriching Relationships™.


Christian counseling, more than any other field of study, focuses on the very core of who we are as God’s creation. This helping ministry first attempts to assist people in their understanding of who they are in relationship to God their Creator. Second, Christian counseling assists those who are committed in applying their relationship with God to forming healthy relationships with those around them. Essentially, it applies God-ordained principles to relationships, recognizing “that the Scriptures are more than a description of human nature, a listing of moral principles, or a guidebook for behavior. The Bible calls for commitment and obedience.”4

The Bible contains numerous references to the importance of good counsel. From the very first days in the Garden of Eden when God counseled Adam and Eve, there was a need for objective counsel that would help people rise above their subjective outlook on life. Throughout its pages, the Bible continues to espouse the importance of wise counsel for abundant living. During the wilderness years, Moses sought God’s counsel and utilized this counsel as he led the children of Israel. Isaiah presented counsel through his prophetic announcements. Jesus, our supreme role model, frequently sought counsel from his heavenly Father throughout his earthly ministry (Luke 3:21; 6:12; 9:29). From the forty days in the wilderness to his grueling moments in Gethsemane, Jesus continued to seek his Father’s counsel. Jesus also prayed for his counselees; in John 17:21, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one, as he was one with the Father. The apostle Paul provided counsel on a number of occasions. For example, he encouraged and admonished the young pastor Timothy.

17 Ways to Make Your Kid's Day

AlisaGrace

Alisa Grace ('92) serves as a consultant to the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships where she also co-teaches a class on Christian perspectives on marriage and relationships. While she speaks regularly on topics such as dating relationships, marriage and love, she also loves mentoring younger women and newly married couples, speaking at retreats and providing premarital counseling.


Raising children is a difficult, but rewarding task. As a parent, you already work hard and sacrifice much to care for your children. But in this culture of busyness, it is important to take the time to connect with your children and be intentional about building a relationship with them. Here are some simple but effective ways to express love to your kid and make him or her feel special on an ordinary day.

1. Do your kid’s chores for the day.

2. Plan a special day with your kids, but don’t tell them.

3. Surprise them with their favorite fast-food lunch at school.

4. Listen without judging or giving advice.

5. Buy their favorite snacks.

6. Prepare their favorite breakfast/dinner.

7. Snuggle with them as you put them to bed.

8. Let them pick out whatever treat they want for $1 at the mini-mart.

9. Read their favorite book series and discuss it with them.

10. Compliment them on a job well done.

11. Express appreciation for ordinary and routine things done well.

12. Hug them every morning when they get up and say, “I love you.”

13. Tell them, “I’m so glad you’re my kid and not someone else’s.”

14. Tell them, “If I was your age, I think we’d be good friends.”

15. Express your belief that God will do something great with them throughout their life.

16. Pray a blessing over them before they leave for school.

17. Create a fun family tradition like getting donuts on Saturday mornings.

 

This article was originally posted on the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.

Selfie Ascension

— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.

Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Center for Enriching Relationships in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.enrichingrelationships.org.


Over the holiday season we decided to visit Balboa Park with some relatives. As we were walking around I couldn’t help noticing the latest accessory to the ubiquitous mobile phone: The “Selfie Stick” attaches to your phone and allows you to take a picture of yourself by extending its telescopic arm to snap a picture with yourself in the foreground.

Selfie photos and videos can be immediately published for all to see on social media such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Once again we have confirmation that the world revolves around us, and we want the world to know it.

Self-aggrandizement in its extreme form is known as narcissism. Research, using objective personality inventories, has confirmed that narcissism rates have been rising over the past 30 years. There are many reasons for this significant uptick, but let me propose a reason that may surprise you.

The paradox is that deep inside a person who struggles with narcissism is an intense lack of self-acceptance. The outward expression of self-importance is really an indication of deeper insecurities. Like a pendulum, the insecurities are compensated for by the external appearance of arrogance.

Jesus had a lot to say about the arrogant nature of the Pharisees (Matthew 23). These religious leaders presented a façade of perfection while hiding their true sinful nature, and to make matters worse they also felt entitled to judge everyone else (Matthew 23:4).

Clearly, our worth as individuals does not come from being perfect, being the best, or fooling ourselves into thinking such things. Our worth is intrinsic to our creation in God’s image.

To accept our faults, weaknesses and shortcomings as reality, rather than to pretend that they don’t exist, is the first step in learning how to overcome them. Acceptance of our shortcomings also breeds humility and the ability to learn from our mistakes. So, reality is our friend when it comes to personal growth and maturity.

But the seemingly easier solution is to defend against the guilt or shame by distorting our reality. It appears so much easier to shift the blame onto others, or to justify our shameful actions, or to bury our secret pain where no one will find it.

But such attempts only delay that fateful day when reality will confront us, face to face.

 

False reality
The Selfie Stick gives its user the impression that they are in control. No longer do you rely upon someone else to snap that photograph. Likewise, self-promotion can seem like an answer to feeling less valuable than someone else. But maybe it is really an attempt to control reality, both our own and the image that others have of us.

In the age of PhotoShop, we have learned that photographs can indeed lie (just Google “Dove Evolution” for an example). People love to make themselves look better or more interesting than they really are. It is so much easier to take a few pounds off with some fancy software than to actually go on a diet, or use a photograph that is decades old to represent us on social media.

Easier, that is, until someone sees you face to face, sees you as you really are. Sadly, if you don’t accept yourself, warts and all, it will be hard to believe that others will accept you, too, including our Savior. Scripture tell us, Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13). To be intimately known and yet still accepted is the essence of unconditional love.

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself. – Abraham Lincoln

Turning the Relational Battleship

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— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.

Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Center for Enriching Relationships in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.enrichingrelationships.org.


Turning a battleship 180 degrees while moving ahead at 30 knots is no easy endeavor. The “turning circle” is the shortest distance that a warship can turn around without keeling over.

Some battleships are very maneuverable with an 800-yard turning circle, while larger ships take well over 1,000 yards to do an about face. The size of the ship and the speed it is moving forward must be taken into consideration in making the turning circle calculation.

Momentum carries objects forward in the direction that they have been going, and it takes a lot of force to make them change, according to Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion. For example, to stop a really large vessel, such as an oil supertanker, it takes 5.5 miles and the turning circle is over 2 miles.

Apparently this First Law of Motion applies to nonphysical things as well, such as trust levels in a relationship, reputations in a group or even our perspectives of reality.

For example, I once counseled a married couple who believed they knew each other very well, and yet how they saw each other was 180 degrees different from their own self-perceptions. Getting the couple back into alignment was like trying to turn a battleship—it took a lot of force.

According to the wife, her husband was a liar, and every word out of his mouth had to be questioned and closely examined. She knew that he had cheated on a previous spouse, and she knew that he had lied to her before, so everything he now said had to be questioned with skepticism.

The husband adopted a passive role in the relationship. He did not want to face conflict, so he rarely revealed his true motivations or intentions to his wife. However, the more he hid, the more she felt alienated, and so the problems only escalated.

To make matters even worse, the husband was passive-aggressive. The repressed anger he felt for his wife’s controlling and condescending behaviors seeped out in subtle and manipulative ways that were designed to infuriate her further. Like most passive-aggressive individuals, he was not fully conscious of how his actions provoked her anger.

But, once they started therapy and were instructed to focus more upon their own feelings and behaviors, things started to slowly change. He became more expressive of his anger in direct and appropriate ways. She began to feel like she was seeing the real person in her husband, rather than a factitious façade. There were many setbacks along the way, but like a turning battleship, trust slowly returned.

Changing one’s behavior to promote trust is hard work, but changing one’s mind about our partner is much more difficult. Even if a husband stops lying to his wife, there may be months or even years before she changes her mind about his integrity.

“He will never change.”

“She’s always been this way.”

These kinds of statements make the battleship of our mind move full steam ahead rather than turn in the direction of trust. If you refuse to see the good, even if it is an incremental change in the right direction, then you are the one who is subverting positive change.

Emotional pain creates a powerful momentum that slows down the process of forgiveness and the rebuilding of trust. By talking about the pain, in a safe and controlled environment, we can shorten that turning circle significantly. Conversely, if hurts and resentments are ignored or denied, then changing your perception of your partner will be very difficult.

It is so much easier to keep the status quo in our most important relationships. Trusting again means being vulnerable again, and probably suffering again. But what are the alternatives? They aren’t nearly as pleasant as repairing the relationship.

Changing the reality of your relationship is partly up to you. Change can and does happen, but you can only change yourself. Try disputing the negative beliefs you have about your partner and see if your feelings turn the corner in a more positive direction.

Why Adopt?

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Wendy Kaiser Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #LMFT 83952


Why Adopt? – by Wendy Kaiser

There is quite a variety of adoption scenarios.  The child might be an infant or a teenager or any age in between.  The prospective parents may have no children yet or 10 children already.  There could be a single child awaiting adoption or a sibling group hoping for a family to adopt them.  But the common theme in the adoption story is that there is a child in need of a family and a home, and there is a set of parents or a single parent with a desire to love and care for a child or children in need.

It seems like a perfect match.  What could go wrong?

Whatever the circumstances, another theme of adoption is that it represents enormous loss.  For the child of any age, adoption represents the loss of their original parents.  For an infertile couple, it represents the loss of the biological child they had hoped for.  So the prospective parents make a choice to adopt.  And generally, they bring to the story a tremendous amount of determination to love that child or children with all of their hearts, possibly with even more fervor than a biological child, because parents have to work so hard and jump through so many hoops to adopt.  But for the child, there is no choice about whether or not to lose the original parents. 

You may have heard, as I have, that the unborn child can hear the mother’s heart beating, hears and recognizes her voice.  Expectant mothers are encouraged to think positive and stay in an upbeat mood, because the unborn baby may even be able to pick up on negative emotions and feel the effects of cortisol if the mother is stressed.  I would guess that most expectant mothers who are contemplating relinquishing their baby for adoption have some difficult emotions to deal with, and feel some stress during the pregnancy.

So what may be considered the best of adoption circumstances?  A newborn baby is delivered, biological mom says goodbye, and the baby goes into the arms of eager, loving adoptive parents.  Even in this scenario, the baby feels the loss.  What happened to that familiar voice and heartbeat?

I remember bringing home my 10 week old baby.  He had lost not only his biological parents, but now was losing the foster mom who had cared for him for the last 10 weeks.  He cried a heartwrenching cry the entire 45 minute drive home, a memory that still brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart.  I loved him with all my heart, but everything he was experiencing then was unfamiliar.  The car felt and sounded unfamiliar and I sounded unfamiliar, no matter how soothingly I spoke to him.  Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been for a 10 week old infant?  Yes, he did come to know my and my husband’s voices and the sights and sounds of our home, but that familiarity did not erase the loss he had suffered.

So, why adopt?  Because there are and will always be children in need.  In this imperfect world, there will always be biological parents who, for whatever reason, are unable to provide the life they want for their child.  And so they make the excruciating choice to relinquish.  For adoptive parents who believe in God, they may feel that it is God’s call on their life to adopt a child or children.  And it is a blessed calling, to invest your life in another’s, especially in the treasured relationship of parent and child. There are ways for adoptive parents to help their adopted children process the loss of biological parents in a healthy way.  When they provide this kind of help, there is the added benefit of a deepened bond between the child and adoptive parents.  What a great opportunity!  For the adoptive parents, making this commitment to raise a child brings a richness and deeper meaning to life.  And for the child?  Astable, loving home is priceless!

I’ll be sharing more ideas for adoptive parents in future blogs.

Adoption is a beautiful way to have a family.  If it is something that you are considering, I'd love to have a free 15 minute phone consultation about adopting and the benefits of seeing a therapist for support along the way as you make the most of your unique family.  Click here to send me an email, or call the office anytime and ask for Wendy.

“When You are Considering Counseling”

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By Diane Louise, MA, IMF Registered Intern #91995

Supervised by Donald W. Welch, Ph. D, LMFT, Lic. #MFC 50129


Those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide know first-hand how devastating this type of grief is. It was not a “natural” death. We were not prepared for it. It was most likely a violent death, yet there is no killer to blame, or prosecute and imprison. We experience a broad range of emotions which may include tremendous sorrow, disbelief, anger, guilt, shock, and even sometimes a sense of relief. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the feelings that we as survivors of suicide loss may experience.

Because of the unique nature of suicide grief, it is likely that the bereavement period and the work of healing will take longer than we would expect. Fortunately SOSL (Survivors of Suicide Loss, www.soslsd.org) and other organizations exist to provide support to those who are grieving a suicide death. For example, SOSL has a newsletter and several links on their website that direct people to resources for education, peer support, and weekly group meetings. Along with these resources, some people decide to seek professional counseling for additional support as they struggle with the intensity of their feelings. Survivors may be overwhelmed by grief or depression. Parents and other adults may not know how to talk to children about the death. Additionally, there may have been the traumatic experience of finding the body of the loved one who died by suicide. How does one go about choosing the right therapist at such a tender time?

A practical consideration is to be certain that the therapist has the proper credentials, including bereavement training and experience. Psychologists, Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), and Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) are some of the most common types of mental health professionals in California who are qualified to treat bereaved individuals. When seeking a therapist, there are questions to first ask yourself, such as: Do I want to work with a male or female therapist? Does the therapist’s race, ethnicity, culture, or spiritual beliefs need to be the same as mine? Does it matter if the therapist is older or younger than me? Do I want to be seen for individual counseling, or as a couple or family? What are my goals for therapy?

When first calling a therapist, ask about his or her approach to treatment. Is psychotherapy (also known as “talk therapy”) the primary modality used, or does the therapist also incorporate creative expression such as art therapy, or play therapy for children? Ask about the fee schedule, and if the practice accepts insurance. One good way to find a therapist is to ask for referrals from people you know and trust. However, even then, you may or may not “click” with the therapist. It’s important to find a professional with whom you feel safe, and who provides empathy along with solid therapeutic support. When you connect with the therapist who is right for you, it is one more helpful resource to move you toward healing.

This “Little Piggy” Needs to be Fed!

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Mary Beth Difley, CER Board Member


As all of you probably know nonprofits, including Center for Enriching Relationships (CER) have a financial struggle during the summer months. Typically, donations are down, yet clients who are in need of counseling, and the needs of the organization continue. So, the bottom line is that CER is in need of your financial support. We are asking you to financially support CER on a monthly basis or with a one-time gift. You can do this at www.cersandiego.org or on the CER Face Book page. You can also send your donation to 2525 Camino del Rio, Suite 315, San Diego, CA 92108 or call (619) 858-3105 and ask for Denise. We need to replenish CER’s scholarship/co-pay fund for the underserved clients throughout San Diego County. Watch the video to find out about CER and how we serve the local community.

We recently reviewed an article printed in Hillsdale College’s Imprimus publication. The article is taken from a talk by Karl Zinsmeister, who is the Vice President for publications at the Philanthropy Roundtable. His comments and interesting facts should spur us all on to give more to private non-profits.

“Our nonprofit sector now comprises eleven percent of the total United States workforce. It will contribute around six percent of gross domestic product this year. To put this in perspective, the charitable sector passed the national defense sector in size in 1993, and it continues to grow. So philanthropy is clearly a huge force in our society.”

“Only 14 percent of charitable giving in our country comes from foundations, and only five percent from corporations. The rest comes from individuals, and the bulk of it comes from small givers …” How does private philanthropy compare to government funding? Private philanthropy “is superior in its ability to be individual and pluralistic. As Mother Teresa used to say, ‘I never think in terms of a crowd, but of individual persons.’ Government programs, by necessity, focus on the crowd…but one-size- fits-all standardization is not really how humans thrive.” CER exists to serve individual and family needs!

“We humans are social animals, and we naturally become disturbed and want to help when we see fellow creatures in trouble. Early on, Americans discovered that voluntary action to lift others up is not only possible, it is superior to the kind of state paternalism that diminishes freedom. Private charitable giving and the spirit of volunteerism have been essential bulwarks of the American character, and they remain indispensable to our national success.”

For the complete article: Click Here

Get to Know: Jo A. Henry

Jo A. Henry MA, Intern
Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern #IMF 73203


1. How would your friends describe you?

My serious side: kind, forgiving, loving, caring, positive, giving, and compassionate
My casual side: gullible, fun / playful, silly, a lover of laughter, and a little spacy (at times)

2. Why did you want to become a therapist?

In my first years of marriage (it has now been 43 years), I went to a counselor whose wisdom helped and had a profound impact on my life. Since then I have sought out learning opportunities to become a people helper. The Lord used me for many years as a lay counselor: helping women in crisis pregnancies, helping teen girls struggling emotionally; and helping people in addiction toward recovery (even though I’m a “normy”). As a “late bloomer” God recently opened the door for continued education receiving my master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy. I consider being a therapist more than just a job; I consider being a therapist my calling from God with years of on the job training.

3. What's your favorite author and book?

“SOOOO many books & SOOOO little time” – I inherited my mother’s vast library of books. When people see them they ask if I’ve read them all. I usually say “they have all been read, just not all by me”. Suffice it to say; with such a rich collection I cannot narrow my preference down to one book or one author. Some of my favorite authors are: (Classic Authors) J. I. Packer, C. S. Lewis, J. Vernon McGee, A. W. Tozer, D. L. Moody, Andrew Murray, Paul Tournier, Adrian Rogers; (Contemporary Authors) Charles Swindoll, David Jeremiah, John Piper, Larry Crabb, Gary Collins, Henri Nouwen, and Philip Yancey; (IMPACTFUL BOOKS) Dietrich Bonhoeffer –The Cost of Discipleship; Charles Finney – Holy Spirit Revivals; Roy Hession – The Calvary Road; Brother Lawrence – The practice of the presence of God; Michael Yaconelli – Messy Spirituality; H. Norman Wright – Experiencing Grief; John Gottman – Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; Irvin Yalom – The Gift of Therapy; and Robert McGee – The Search for Significance

4. Describe your perfect day.

On a perfect day I will wake up rested. I will spend time reading God’s Word and time in prayer. On a perfect day I will purposefully take time to eat, breathe deeply, and walk. On a perfect day I will accomplish the day’s plans including both tasks and something of eternal value. I will end my day reconnecting with my best friend (my husband – I don’t have a dog).

5. My favorite recreational activities are . . . 

I love spending time with my family. No matter how busy I am, I will always stop and take time when one of my kids or grandkids wants to spend time with me. Other activities that excite and/or sooth my soul include reading; my love of photography – taking pictures while watching sunsets, sunrises, humming birds and bees; while sitting at the beach watching, listening to and photographing the waves. AND – I love going on spontaneous “dates” with my hubby. Oh, and did I say reading?

Generosity in July

Mary Beth Difley, CER Board Member


As all of you probably know nonprofits, including Center for Enriching Relationships (CER) have a financial struggle during the summer months. Typically, donations are down, yet clients who are in need of counseling, and the needs of the organization continue. So, the bottom line is that CER is in need of your financial support. We are asking you to financially support CER on a monthly basis or with a one-time gift. You can do this at www.cersandiego.org or on the CER Face Book page. You can also send your donation to 2525 Camino del Rio, Suite 315, San Diego, CA 92108 or call (619) 858-3105 and ask for Denise. We need to replenish CER’s scholarship/co-pay fund for the underserved clients throughout San Diego County. Watch the video to find out about CER and how we serve the local community.

We recently reviewed an article printed in Hillsdale College’s Imprimus publication. The article is taken from a talk by Karl Zinsmeister, who is the Vice President for publications at the Philanthropy Roundtable. His comments and interesting facts should spur us all on to give more to private non-profits.

“Our nonprofit sector now comprises eleven percent of the total United States workforce. It will contribute around six percent of gross domestic product this year. To put this in perspective, the charitable sector passed the national defense sector in size in 1993, and it continues to grow. So philanthropy is clearly a huge force in our society.”

“Only 14 percent of charitable giving in our country comes from foundations, and only five percent from corporations. The rest comes from individuals, and the bulk of it comes from small givers …” How does private philanthropy compare to government funding? Private philanthropy “is superior in its ability to be individual and pluralistic. As Mother Teresa used to say, ‘I never think in terms of a crowd, but of individual persons.’ Government programs, by necessity, focus on the crowd…but one-size- fits-all standardization is not really how humans thrive.” CER exists to serve individual and family needs!

“We humans are social animals, and we naturally become disturbed and want to help when we see fellow creatures in trouble. Early on, Americans discovered that voluntary action to lift others up is not only possible, it is superior to the kind of state paternalism that diminishes freedom. Private charitable giving and the spirit of volunteerism have been essential bulwarks of the American character, and they remain indispensable to our national success.”

For the complete article: Click Here