There have been times in my life where I have felt overwhelmed by what I was facing. The circumstance or situation felt too big or too difficult and I really had no idea what to… More
What is biblical counseling? That question has been asked, defined, debated, and reconsidered many times. The mere fact that the question continues to be asked speaks to the reality that words are not easily contained within the constructs we give them. They are often more fluid that we prefer, with adjectives being the most frequent to shape-shift. Biblical counseling has not been something that easily fits into one definition as evidenced in the alphabet soup of acronyms that identify the various equipping ministries and models.
In seeking to answering the question, “What is biblical counseling?”, looking at modality or method of care is not sufficient. Why? Because the application of the model or method allows for a significant amount of subjectivity. For example, if we say biblical counseling must be rooted in Scripture, promoting sanctification, or grounded in love, fleshing out what that looks like will be unique to the circumstance and people in the room. I do believe these descriptions are useful and helpful. However, there is a far better way to answer “What is biblical counseling?”
Seeking to sketch out what biblical counseling is must start with the counselors themselves rather than the modality. Biblical counseling will not happen unless there is a biblical counselor. Am I saying that if the person doing the counseling is a Christian they are automatically a biblical counselor? No. If that were the case, then I would have to call my lawyer friend a biblical lawyer because she is a Christian who practices law. We don’t call the nurse who is a Christian a biblical nurse, a professor who is a Christian a biblical professor, or a waiter who is a Christian a biblical waiter.
Defining biblical counseling should be directly tied to the counselor. Biblical counseling will mean the counselor is a Christian, but it will mean more than that. The letters after their name or the acronym of modality they follow do tell us something. They give hints of the emphasis that will flavor the counseling process. They point to who has influenced or mentored the counselor. They give credibility to equipping that has taken place. However the litmus test to defining biblical counseling ought to go beyond these things. Defining biblical counseling must describe the counselor.
Is the counselor anchored to the Word? Are they attune to the Holy Spirit and yielded to the Father? Do they live with biblical perspective? Has their own life been one of humble alignment to the Scripture? Is their commitment in counseling an avenue to love God and others? Have they been open to correction or receptive to their views being challenged? Can they discerningly engage resources, tools, methods of care in a way that aligns with Scripture?
These questions are key if we are seeking to answer what is biblical counseling. Biblical counseling is something done by a biblical counsleor.
So in essence the question we should be asking is “What is a biblical counselor?” When we start there we are in a better place to confirm whether something is biblical counseling or not. The methods may vary but confirmations must be found in the the life of the one bringing care. Asking the question, “What is a biblical counselor?” leads us to explore what essential qualities a counselor must possess in order to determine whether or not what is happening is “biblical counseling”.
This focus emphasizes the counselor rather than the method or approach. With specific qualities affirmed in their life, the biblical counselor will be able to look at every practice, method, resource, training, skill, tool, description, and prescription discerningly, and determine how to engage, adapt, or, if needed, refute it. They will love and care for people as they have been loved and cared for by Jesus. They will walk with others, beggar to beggar, yet with confidence in where to find bread. What is a biblical counselor? This is the questions to be asked. Answering happens by looking at the person’s life.
I rub shoulders with many amazing biblical counselors and there are times when I walk away from a conversation with them and say to myself, “That is someone who I would go see when I need counseling.” What makes me say that is not their degree, certificate, or license, but their life. They model, often without even knowing it, a life captivated by Jesus, a heart compassionate toward others, and a wisdom drawn from a dependence on the Scripture. “What is a biblical counselor?”, may we strive for living a life that answers this question well.
Since writing Raising Kids in a Screen-saturated World, I have had many conversations with parents about issues with children and smartphones. The conversations often include a level of regret from parents. They wish they would have been more proactive in what having a phone would look like for their child. In these conversations, three topics surface with regularity.
These imperative topics I call the 3Cs. They are Confidentiality, Conditions, and Costs.
Parents can avoid regret and conflict by addressing these topics early. The best plan is to have these talks before you give your child their own smartphone. However, if you have already given your child a smartphone, don’t worry! You will find help here, it is never too late to have these conversation. In fact they may be more necessary now than ever before.
Confidentiality is a big issue. For our purposes, confidentiality is about privacy and hiding, both of which can lead to unhelpful and even dangerous realities for your child. So parents must talk about it.
Establish first that privacy is a thing of the past. Children must understand that their activity on a device, including a password protected smartphone, is not private. Your child’s activity on their phone is discoverable and recoverable.
The conversation about confidentiality should include a discussion about privacy and hiding. The scope of your parenting includes your child’s personal activity with their smartphones. Access to your child’s phones is a parental responsibility. Establish ways you will engage with them and their phones that is reasonable and respectful.
Teach them what wise interaction looks like with social media, texting, browsing, and app use. Help them understand the weight of sending something that can never be unsent. Instill in their thinking that even though they may feel a certain level of privacy it is a a penetrable illusion. Walk with them in understanding that hiding is a dangerous path.
This conversation is about limits and boundaries. The conversation about conditions answers questions regarding with whom your child gives their number. What social media apps will they use? Where will the phone be kept when not in use? Are there times or places that will be “no phone zones”? Should they have data limits? What will those limits be?
Parents and kids have expectations regarding conditions so it is best to have the conversation right away. This will set the course and help to avoid conflict that regularly arises on this issue. Remember you are the parent and this is a topic where your children need your guidance, even if they push back against it.
Parents must set the stage for what the conditions will look like. If your child really wants a social media app, and you feel it is reasonable, explore it with them. Engage it with them. Your involvement should be a regular condition to them having a phone. Your involvement should be positive as well. If your engagement only comes in the form of punishment or consequences, you are paving a path of resistance.
What are the expenses and how will your child be a part of them? Most kids will be added to their parent’s phone plan. It will be the most affordable option for everyone. However, just because they are being added to your plan doesn’t mean your child has no responsibility.
Getting a phone is a long-term decision. I have rarely heard of a kids who, after getting a smartphone, willingly reverts back to a cheaper non-data flip phone or no phone at all. So have a conversation about costs right from the start. This conversation helps you child avoid a sense of entitlement and allows them to view a phone as a privilege.
I encourage parents to give their children some skin in the game. Discussions about costs should be age and resource appropriate. If you have given your child a phone as a gift, discuss how and when they will begin contributing to the monthly cost. If you plan on paying for their full phone bill, talk about when that will change. Parents who have not had that conversation will often find that they are still paying for their son or daughter’s phone bill even after they have launched on their own.
Continuing the Conversations
Giving your child a smartphone opens up uncharted territory for most parents. If you have read this article you may have more questions on how to better engage your child regarding wise cellphone use. Maybe you haven’t given your child a phone and are wondering what is the appropriate right-of-passage age. Maybe you have concerns about guarding them from concerning issues like sexting or bullying. Or perhaps you want to learn more about how to wisely walk with them in this world where everyone carries a mini computer in their pocket.
These and other questions are answered in Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. It provides age appropriate questions to engage conversations with your child. You will also find plenty of other resources in the “for further reading” portion at the conclusion of the book. Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World is available from 10ofThose.com.
Last month I shared some pictures on my Instagram story that got people asking me questions. The pictures were from an experiment I did for 90 days.
If you know me, you know I like challenges. I have done food challenges, where I abstain from certain foods for 30 days. I’ve tried fitness challenges that had me hiking miles and miles of trails and terrains. Month-long reading challenges and screen fasts I did made for interesting evenings and new habits. Challenges are ways I learn about myself, and this last one was no exception. It was a clothing challenge.
Let me share what I learned form this challenge and perhaps, in the future, take you along on my future challenges. (I am currently in the middle of a challenge that has me learning a new language. Check out the Duolingo app.)
But first, here’s how this particular challenge came my way.
One evening my oldest son encouraged me to watch a documentary he said he had watched three times. The thing about having older kids is they do know you well, so when he said I would like it- I watched.
The show, The Minimalists, is a documentary about two guys who sought to live more meaningful lives with less. It is full of interesting ideas about multi-utilization, tiny living, and prioritizing. One concept shared had to do with clothing. I don’t need to quote stats to convince anyone that people own a ton of clothes. Instead,take a glance at the next clothing donation drop-off and notice how it cascades with our clothing rejects. Americans clearly have plenty to wear.
The clothing challenge came from something highlighted in the film. It is called Project 333. The goal is to wear only 33 items of clothing for 3 months. A major closet clean out!
I didn’t do the project exactly as described, but I did reduce my clothing to just over 40 items and stuck with it for 90 days. For me that was a challenge! There may have even been a few moments of grief, especially when I started eliminating the shoes! But I did it. And after 90 days, here is what I learned.
- It is much easier with less.
- Nobody notices.
- I saved time and money.
- Quality matters.
- I have more than I need.
- I focused on appearance more than I realize.
I could go into detail on each of these points but I actually think it is better, and in the spirit of minimalism, to simply share what I learned and let you to fill in the blanks.
Did I miss some things? Absolutely! Options are not always bad. If I were to ever live as a minimalist, I would likely fail due to my love of shoes alone. There was much I realized I could live without, and living without it was actually more valuable than having it.
This experience affirmed why I do challenges in the first place. I grow when I break out of the familiar routines of life. Every challenge is a learning experience. When I step into what is hard, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar I become more open to ways I need to change. That is a lesson always worth learning.
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. -Mahatma Gandhi
Have you ever disagreed with someone’s counsel or counseling approach? Have you ever disagreed with someone else’s approach to care? Counseling is about caring for others in the discord of life. As counselors, we transact with dissonance. When someone disagrees with your counsel, or you disagree with theirs, you find yourself in that dissonance.
What to do with concerning counsel
Perhaps you have had situations where people share “biblical counseling” they have received that raises an eyebrow of concern. What should you do?
When this happens, try and keep in mind that what you are receiving is the person’s recollection and interpretation of what they heard their counselor say. Also keep in mind that most likely, the Christian counselor is seeking to care. Despite what might sound like concerning counsel, presume they meant well, are trying to honor God, and want the best for those with whom they are counseling.
Your own counsel could raise concern when shared in sound bites or through the interpretive grid of another. What do you do when someone disagrees with your direction of care? With your methodology? With your application of ministry? How you respond is your counsel in practice.
Truth and Love
Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15
“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” This quote by Warren Wiersbe captures the essence of why we must approach difficult conversations with both truth and love. It is important to take time to look closely at what it means to hold both truth and love in balance. We don’t want to be bristly or harsh but we also don’t want to be solely sentimental or people-pleasing. Jesus balanced these perfectly. In his interactions with people he was a champion of truth and, at the same time, he was a loving friend of sinners.
In his book, Speaking Truth in Love, David Powlison shares a story where this occurred in his own life. Below are words someone shared with David at a significant time in his life.
“’I love and respect you as a person, and I want what is good for you. But you are destroying yourself with what you believe and how you are living.’ Those were precisely the words that changed my life (says Powlison). The cruise missile of wise love blew apart the bunker of self-will in which I lived. My friend’s words were not a product of technique. They were artless. But they had four things going for them. They were true, loving, personal, and appropriate.”
There is significant wisdom for us in this excerpt, but I want to highlight three words easily missed. “My friend’s words.” These three words are so important to how we interact with colleagues or anyone with whom we disagree. It is the phrase that brings the needed balance. “My friend”- speaks of investment, of knowing, of commitment, of love. “Words” mean that there is active and engaging truth shared.
There were not just words, there was friendship– loving friendship. There was not just friendship, there were words– true words. This is a picture of truth and love.
When counselors disagree are we equally committed to being a loving friend as much as garrisoning truth?
United on essentials while valuing differences
When working with married couples in conflict I often share a bit of wisdom that was once shared with me. “If two people in a marriage are exactly alike, then one is no longer needed.” This phrase has served me in my own marriage when my husband and I disagree. We both have strong opinions about a lot of things. Despite the declaration in our dating years that “we have so much in common,” we often see things quite differently. Many of these differences are in the application of issues on which we actually agree. We are united in essentials, yet varied in practicals.
What if my goal is to get my husband to be just like me, or vise versa? If either of us succeed then it would mean that one of us is no longer needed. But I need him. And he needs me. Without him, our children would have painted our hardwood floors to satisfy their budding artistic expression, without me our home would likely be managed by spreadsheets and run like well oiled machine. Each of us may feel differently about which of those ideas would actually be a good thing, but we need each other.
We need our unity on the foundation of love we want our home built upon, and we need our differences in how life plays out practically. Our marriage needs my grey and his black and white. I am the bend in his straight path and he is the guard rail that keeps me from falling off the cliff. We are different and necessary. When counselors disagree yet remember the unity of essentials we share, it is then that we are open to the value and helpfulness of our differences.
Can you see value in the different approach of counsel you are hearing? Can you help others see this value? Where does it bring balance? Where might it bring creativity to care? What might you learn from their different approach? Are you open to have loving conversation with a colleague that differs with your model or method of care?
As biblical counselors (or anyone giving counsel, advice, or care), we must be committed to speaking the truth in love and not compromise on either. We hold on to the fact that the Gospel is the most unifying element for all of us. We cling to the Scripture to lead us as we care. In that unity we seek out the value in our differences believing that the Lord actually uses are differences as well as our similarities.
Walking with someone in their struggle is not easy. If you are in the role of counselor, mentor, or friend and are asked to speak into someone’s life what can you do to prepare for those conversations?
Recently I was invited to speak at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation’s national conference on this very topic. I spent time looking at what the most important things you can focus on as a biblical counselor. In this talk I covered the following:
- Why Prepare?
- We are ministering the word and it deserves appropriate handling.
- We are ministering to people and they deserve appropriate handling.
- Why we don’t prepare?
- We don’t fully realize our need.
- We don’t fully realize our call.
- We are busy, distracted people.
- We have been successful without it.
- What does preparation look like?
- Focused time in the Word.
- Looking at who God is.
- Looking at who you are.
So much of our time in preparation might look very different than we think. In my talk I bring to light vital things that keep us ready to care for people. These are things that bring hope to us as caregivers as well as to those we care for. The teaching audio is available along with many other helpful messages at CCEF.org
Mention the word meditation and you will get differing understandings of what you are talking about. To say it in a conversation with a millennial may get you on the topic of eastern religious practices. To talk of it in a conversation with a yogi or health coach you might find discussions of inner peace and unity. To mention it in Christian circles could get a variety of responses from a questioning raised eyebrow to a affirming nod or “amen”.
As mentioned in my previous post about mindfulness, our culture has a heightened value on wellness that gives comprehensive and integrated attention to more than just physical well being. The understanding that our bodies are only a portion of our total health actually fits well with Scripture. Consider 3 John 1:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 for example. We also know that a well-bodied person may be spiritually sick just as much as a person whose physical body is failing can be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally well.
Meditation is a part of holistic health and should be something every believer gives attention to. But just like mindfulness we must be clear as to what we are talking about.
Meditation is thinking. When a person meditates they are focusing their thoughts on a particular subject. Meditation is not the suppression of rational thought, it is the practice of focused thought. It is the drawing of the mind to a specific target. As believers that target is truth, ultimately the truth found in Scripture. The value of mediation is clear throughout Scripture. Psalm 119 gives many examples of the importance of this. Here are a few passages that are worth reading.
Psalm 119:15-16 points out that meditation on God’s precepts bring a person to consider God’s way and delight in them.
Psalm 119:23-24 tells how meditation on the decrees of God in the midst of conflict brings counsel and delight.
Psalm 119:99 says that meditation leads to great insight.
Psalm 119:148-149 shows how meditation on the promises of God give helpful purpose to sleepless nights leading to reminders of God’s love are protection.
We see in these verses the value of meditation. The focused fixing of your thoughts on truth is something Christians need to engage daily. Meditation can be practiced by taking a passage of Scripture and focusing your thinking on it through prayerful rehearsing of the words. It is the mental holding of truth while pushing out warring thoughts. It can be the singular focus on one word, the calling to mind rich promises, or the intentional focus on the manifold character of God. Meditation is focused thinking.
There are other places in the Bible that talk about mediation. But Psalm 1:1-3 is one of those places that highlights the connection between meditation and health.
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The words there explain that daily meditation on Scripture is what brings blessing and produces a life that is strong and stable like a tree planted by streams of water. This passage alone ought to encourage us to make meditation a regular practice. As we meditate on God’s promises, there is no doubt that our inner spirit is helped but we can also see the value that meditations brings to our whole person. The focused attention on truth brings about well-being that encompasses all of who we are.
Books on grief are not sparse or hard to find. One quick search on Amazon will tell you that the subject takes up no small corner in the publishing world. In some ways this makes sense for a various reasons. One reason might simply be the reality that grief is not one size fits all. Grief comes in different forms and it impacts people uniquely. Another reason is probably because grief is something everyone faces eventually. You can’t get through this life without experiencing some kind of loss. But perhaps the main reason why it has been written on so much is because we need a lot of help getting through the agony of grief.
It is that last reason that makes me excited for a brand new book by my friend Bob Kelleman. Bob is no stranger to book writing. He has written many helpful resources for those seeking to better walk with people through the struggles we face in life. He is also no stranger to grief himself. His own experience has certainly contributed to how personal the book feels. Grief: Walking with Jesus brings a much needed approach to this prolific topic.
The book is a 31 day devotional that highlights the deepest levels of the compassion of Jesus for those suffering in heartache and loss. Each day provides hope to those beaten down with grief. The readings are filled with grace and comfort that will move the sorrow-filled heart toward our loving God.
What I appreciated most about this book was that the daily devotions are immediately practical. Opportunity is given to reflect and act on what was presented in the reading The reflections encourage the reader to move from grief-filled living to abundant life. All of this is done while being fully honest with the pain of loss.
The devotionals don’t side-step the heartache and simply provide optimistic platitudes. Bob helpfully acknowledges that “future hope does not obliterate our current pain.” He shows how Jesus’ own life did not deny this reality. Each page brings comforting truth in a way the motivates the mourner to cling to the Savior who is acquainted with grief and understands our sorrows.
It is the daily approach that I love so much about this book. You can read it every day or just pick it up and read the devotional for whatever day of the month you find it in your hands. I was personally ministered to in reading it and it is on the top of my list for recommendations to anyone struggling with grief and loss.
Grief: Walking with Jesus is available for pre-order from P&R Publishing. I highly recommend it. It is a book you will want for yourself and for anyone you know who is struggling with loss of any kind.
We live in a therapeutic age. One way we see this is in the heightened focus on inner health and wellness. More and more people are motivated toward living balanced and whole lives. This has had valuable outcomes. One of those outcomes is that it has led people to recognize the need to nourish their mental and spiritual condition. Conversations about the need for mindfulness, meditation, and reflection for internal health are common themes of workshops, news articles, blog posts, and tweets.
Secular modalities embolden people to find the source of healing from within where the journey for wholeness concludes in the self. The desire people have to focus attention on mental and emotional stability is understandable. However, the world’s approaches have an orientation for restoration that come through self-actualization. While the conclusion is flawed the pursuit of internal health is not.
Christians should pursue things that lead to human flourishing but the pursuit must have a different orientation than that of secular models. Christians realize that part of understanding true health must include internal wellness. Despite the reality that the body may have ailments a person can still thrive. This is especially true in regard to spiritual wellness. Internal steadiness comes from orienting our lives to our Creator not ourselves.
With that said, methods utilized by the secular world do not have to lead to the faulty conclusion reached by mainstream health and wellness coaches. Some of the methods, in fact, are tools Christians can and should use. This is because some of these methods are in line with both how God has created us and how God has called us to live well. Two of those tools are mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness mostly refers to a focus on the present moment in a way that acknowledges how the moment is impacting you mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is the focusing of your thoughts on a reality in front of you or. Mindfulness simply notices and intentionally recognizes how things effect you.
Meditation is thinking. When a person meditates they are focusing their thoughts on a particular subject. It is likely that you were meditating the last time you sat at a long red light. The last time you had a decision to make you likely meditated on the subject before making a decision. You thought about all the possible consequences of the idea. Meditation is not the suppression of rational thought it is a practice of focused thought.
While secular definitions may vary, believers can consider mindfulness and meditation as simply noticing and thinking.
In effort to better understand how these two things can help believers we will look at each in turn with an emphasis on how believers can use these tools in a way that honors God and encourages spiritual health and well being.
For this blog we will look at mindfulness. Mindfulness that leads to spiritual health is an intentional directing of the mind toward truth and noticing how you are impacted by your focused thought.
We see an example of this in the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:21-22. In this passage we have a call to mindfulness.
“This I call to mind and therefore I have hope, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.”
Jeremiah is mentally invoking something specific; the steadfast love of the Lord and His never ending mercies. What do you think of when you call to mind God’s unfaltering love? When you consider His eternal mercy what do you think of? What do these thoughts do to you? For Jeremiah these thoughts caused a reaction: Hope. “This I call to mind therefore I have hope.” Mindfulness isn’t just focusing on a specific truth but it is noticing what this intentional thought does to your whole being. In this case it brings hope.
Prayer is another way mindfulness can be practiced. As you bring the burdens of your heart to the Lord, you call to mind who God is as you place your burden in His care. Your circumstance have not changed because you prayed but your focus has, and this change in focus has an impact on you. The next time you pray about something notice how you feel after. Are you less worried? Do you have peace? The Lord intended that we notice the peace that passes all understanding. Mindfulness is taking the time to notice the impact that spending time with the Lord has on you.
With this explanation of mindfulness it is easy to see why this practice would promote holistic well being. The value of noticing what happens to us can help us experience more fully what we might otherwise move quickly from.
Too often we are fast to move from moments with the Lord to the daily hustle and bustle. Mindfulness means you take time to notice what you gain from time in the Word or prayer. Take time to mindfully experience God’s presence. Allow this practice to nourish your soul toward spiritual health.
Have unwanted graphic texts, violent video games, pornography, cyber bullying, sexting, or screen addition been a concern for you as a parent raising children in this cyber age?
These name only a few of the concerning vices that our screen-saturated world has brought about. Parents can feel lost in the digital landscape where their children are the technological experts and mom and dad struggle just to keep up. But keeping your child screen-free is about as realistic as keeping them from outgrowing their clothes.
If it isn’t already your reality, eventually your child will one day have that tell-tail rectangular pattern lining their jean’s pocket. Most parents are dependent on their child having a phone of some type in order to keep up with one another in a full and fast pace life. Despite the discouraging engagement that a world of devices can bring, the question to ask is this; Are screens really the problem?
Is the solution to avoid giving your child technology? Most parents have already found that is an unrealistic option. Screens enter children’s lives at the earliest ages. Pediatrician’s offices have screens in their waiting room to help the children pass the time. Libraries rent colorful tablets that are preloaded with books and games for preschoolers. Schools begin using iPads at the elementary level and many students will be assigned a device at the start of a school year.
Parents fighting for screen-free space in their family can wrongly vilify the device as the problem. But if the screen is not the problem what is? In Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World, parents will find practical answers to this tension. Consider the following:
“We are not fighting against technology. Phones, tablets, laptops, etc., are amoral. They are tools that can be used for good or evil. Don’t over- spiritualize activities because they either include or exclude a screen. Certainly there are times where living a life pleasing to the Lord will mean the intentional absence of screens but keep in mind that the screen is not the enemy. The frailty of weak and wandering hearts turns a potentially helpful tool into an instrument of destruction. In a world so profoundly dependent on technology, the answer is not to label devices as the problem and avoid them. Rather, reflect on what technology is revealing about what is in your heart and your children’s heart.”
This approach deals with the deeper issue. Conversations must be about what is driving screen activity is more important. What is motivating what they consume, produce, and promote online is ultimately where the problem lies. The screen simply gives a platform for the heart.
Recognizing that technology or screens are not the root problem will create a avenue to see the potential positive use that screens can bring into your child’s world. Rather than focusing on the screen consider how to better understand what is drawing your child and begin to have conversations there.
As a marriage counselor, I have seen my share of troubled marriages. While each marital crisis is unique, one thing is universal for these couples- they did not get married to be miserable. They, like you, hoped to live happily ever after. They didn’t plan on one day looking at each other and questioning the decision of “‘till death do us part.” In many cases, the troubles these couples face predate the marriage. The marital disappointments connect to the couple’s interaction before they said, “I do.”
If you are engaged, there are important conversations the two of you should have about your current relationship. The topics below highlight key pitfalls that engaged couples can fall into that will lead to marital distress if not addressed. Building a strong marriage begins now. As you read, consider where your own relationship is and what may need to be addressed. Then share your thoughts with a trusted mentor or counselor.
Common premarital pitfalls include:
1. Expecting Your Fiancé or the Relationship to Carry Too Much
If your relationship has advanced to engagement it means you have shared significant moments together. You are likely a source of strength for each other. Your fiancé may know you better than anyone else. This is wonderful and probably a big reason why you want to spend the rest of your life together. However, if your fiancé or the relationship is your ultimate source of hope or help, it will be more than the person or relationship can bear. We are designed to be dependent, but that dependency must always be ultimately on the Lord (Ps. 62:5-8). Have you felt the weight of being the source of your fiancé’s emotional balance? Is your fiancé the only one you turn to when you need hope? Does the status of your relationship determine your happiness? Your relationship will buckle under this weight, but the Lord will not.
Couples must point each other to the Lord. You can pray together and share Scripture to encourage each other. These are wonderful habits, but you both need to personally be resting in Jesus and looking ultimately and regularly to Him. Jesus is the best savior and refuge for your fiancé; you are not able to carry that weight (Ps. 46:1). This truth must be the foundation on which you build your marriage.
2. Swimming at Only One End of the Conversational Pool
When a couple only occupies the shallow end of this pool, they ignore vital conversations. They have a lot of fun and often have great memories of exciting times. They talk about the things they enjoy doing or interests they both have. Life is fun, just like kids playing in the shallow end of the pool. But when things get difficult, talking is hard. They tend to get out of the pool when conversations go deep. They don’t have the relational stamina to swim in the deep end. It’s exhausting.
On the other end of this pool are the couples who tend to only swim in the deep end. Their conversations are often about vital areas of the relationship. They discuss their relationship, faith, family, and plans very deeply (and often late into the night). When they have conflict, they talk through all the areas of hurt or misunderstanding. Every aspect of their relationship has deep meaning, and they intend to find it. While this kind of relationship has more stamina to tread the waters of deep conversation, they can lack the enjoyment, playful interaction, and rest that the shallow end can bring. This too is exhausting.
Couples need both. You need to know how to enjoy the less deep end of life that finds joy and pleasure in the little blessings all around you (1 Tim. 6:7). You also need to have the relational stamina to go deep with one another and not drown (Prov. 20:5). Learning this balance now will greatly help your future marriage.
3. Getting Physical
Until you are married, sexual activity is stepping outside of God’s plan for your relationship. God designed sex with a purpose. Sex invites another person into the most vulnerable places of your life. It is an act of building trust. Sex is also one of the most significant ways couples experience betrayal. Sex can build or break trust in a relationship. Infidelity or adultery is when married couples take sex outside of God’s plan (Ex. 20:14). Fornication or sexual immorality is when unmarried couples take sex outside of God’s plan (1 Thess. 4:3-5). These activities are battering rams to the walls of trust in your relationship and future marriage. If you are engaging sexually now, you and your fiancé are saying, “I am willing to compromise on God’s plan of faithfulness for our relationship.” If you and your fiancé will compromise on faithfulness to God’s plan now, why should you trust that compromise in faithfulness won’t happen once you are married? God wants you to have sex. He just wants you to enjoy it the way He designed it (Heb. 13:4). His design protects your future marriage. His design also builds trust into your relationship.
As you read through these pitfalls, did you see some characteristics of your relationship? If so, it isn’t a deal-breaker but it should be a conversation starter. The Lord is a redeeming God. He is gracious and forgiving. Turn to Him for grace and consider talking with someone about these pitfalls. Seek out a wise mentor, a respected married couple, or a biblical counselor. Share this with them and begin the conversation. Having these conversations will help you now and in your future marriage.