Getting Lost in the Details

I sat across from the couple once again. And once again we were discussing broken trust in their relationship. I asked the wife to share with her husband what it was like for her to try and trust him again. She shared many things but the first thing out of her mouth was that it felt unsafe. She trailed off into how she didn’t know what to expect as they move forward. She then talked about a recent scenario that led her to fear trusting him again. She spoke of the specifics of the situation, detailing things from her perspective of how things played out. She shared the frustration of the circumstance and how it caused further distance.

When she finished sharing, her husband jumped in with his take on the situation she brought up and the conversation headed in a familiar direction. They were no longer really talking about trust or what it was like for her to try to trust him (my original question). Instead they had gotten lost in the details. It was like water finding its familiar path. Once things started going, it was hard to even notice how quickly they flowed down the well-known track as they volleyed perspectives on how things went and words that were said. The frustration was mounting. They had gotten lost in the details.

As counselors, we too have to be careful not to get lost in the details. It is easy to do, and before you know it we are no longer counselors helping people toward knowing one another, but instead we are firefighters just trying to douse the current flame of conflict. What can you do in a situation like this? A counselor needs to be a very attentive listener. But a counselor also needs to be an investigator. We must explore the things said that reveal the heart.

Entry Gates

In the conversation between the husband and wife, something important was said and missed. The husband didn’t hear an entry gate into the heart of his wife. According to Paul Tripp, “An entry gate is a particular person’s experience of the situation, problem, or relationship.”[1] It is not the problem or the situation itself, but their experience of it.  Entry gates happen in the significant conversations when people take a small step toward vulnerability. The movement toward deeper openness happens because we all have a desire to be known and understood, but it is mixed with a fear of what it may mean to be open with another.

The husband’s oversight may not solely be about him learning to listen better. In a conversation it is risky to explore entry gates because of what it might mean to really know another person. We want to go deeper but we also can be afraid of what we may learn. We may not know what to do with it. It may touch on some of our own fears and insecurities. Before we know it, the situational details hijack conversational moments. We talk about communicating better, all the while keeping cautious space between one another. As Larry Crabb insightfully points out, “We devise strategies designed to keep us warmly involved with each other at a safe distance.”[2] This not only keeps our relationships distant, it also keeps us circling around the same arguments again and again.

The Missed Entry Gate

So what was the missed entry gate in this conversation? As you go back and look, it may be clearer. Her first words were some of the most vulnerable. It was just one word that likely packed a lot of meaning. When working with this couple I circled back to the word “unsafe.” I asked her to help us better understand what that meant. I asked her to tell us what being unsafe was like for her. It was at this point that she became most honest about her fears. She shared thoughts of deep questioning and fears of abandonment.

The Heart of the Matter

When her husband began to hear that it was less about the situation and more about what was happening in her heart, he had compassion on her and was able to learn more of the actual struggle she was having. This changed the focus from worrying about the situation and all the details to exploring the fears and hurts that his wife was dealing with that the situation had triggered.

When we take the time to explore the words people say and allow them to bring clearer meaning to their experience, we are using the wisdom laid out for us in Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws it out.” As counselors it is important that we explore the deep waters of the words people say. As we model this, we hope those we counsel can do the same in their own relationships to begin to know and love one another better.

Questions for Reflection

Do you have a tendency to get lost in the details of a conversation or allow your counselees to do so? How can you allow the concept of an entry gate in conversation to keep focused on the heart of the matter?

[1] Paul Tripp, “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change,” (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2002).

[2] Larry Crabb and Lawrence J Crabb, “Inside Out,” (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998).

(This post was originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website.)

I Write Like I Cook

Writing for me is a bit like cooking. Sometimes I have clear intentions about what I want to cook. I purchase the ingredients and generally follow a recipe. Likewise, in writing, sometimes I have a clear topic, an outline, and a destination in mind.

But most often I cook, and write, from what I have gathered. Most of my meals come from my storehouses (aka the pantry or refrigerator) and I have only a general idea of what the outcome will be.

Writing Raising Teens in a Hyper–Sexualized World was more like that. I never planned to write a book about raising teens. But through my own experience of raising teens and counseling parents through the teen years I had gathered a good amount in my storehouses (books, workshops, and wisdom from fellow parents) and I decided to pull together these things and write a short book covering a topic that all parents raising teens face.

No matter how old your child is, the topic of sex will always be a challenging one.

From the first time they begin to recognize their body to the later years of coming of age, sex is something that parents can feel unsure of what to do with. While the book is focused on teens, the subject of sex will come up throughout all stages of parenting. Most people who have read Raising Teens have said they wish they’d read it earlier in their parenting.
Parents need practical help for the here and now. That is the focus of this book. What does it look like to parent well with the issue of sex? The book succinctly describes 7 things parents should not do when interacting with their teens on the subject of sex. However, each “don’t” is coupled with redemptive “do’s” to help parents find hope in the midst of possible mistakes.

It was my goal to write something that was brief enough for any parent to get through.

Let’s face it, parenting is a life full of hustling and juggling to fit everything in. Reading a book may be helpful, but it is challenging to find the time.

An important reminder comes right at the beginning of the book:
“It is my hope that this small book will help parents, who are raising teens, to engage more effectively on this topic. There is no easy way to approach the teen years and all of the challenges they bring. Listing several tips will not make navigating this subject easier. Yet my desire is that the guidance here will give you direction where you may feel lost, and encouragement where you may feel defeated.”

I am not a chef but I hope that my cooking isn’t too bad. Sometimes I should follow that recipe a little closer, but other times I just cook and things come together. I am not an expert on raising teens. I have made my share of mistakes, but this little book is a joining together of experience and expertise that I have gathered along my own journey. It is my hope that it will be helpful and even nourishing to parents as they seek to walk well with their teens.

(This post was originally published on www.10ofthose.com.)

Raising Teens Podcast with Michael Crawford

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Pastor Michael Crawford from Freedom Church Baltimore to discuss the topic of Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World.

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At The Deep End Recording Studios with Pastor Michael Crawford.

A Needed Book

book-coverI never meant to write a book on raising teens. I don’t claim to have the corner on how to do it right nor do I claim to have all the answers. In fact if I was tasked to write on anything I completely grasped or mastered the book would basically have a front and back cover. I am a work in progress and I suppose most reading this would say the same of themselves. Probably my favorite lines in this small book are, “There are no perfect parents. There are no perfect teens. And there are no perfect parenting books!” So why write a book about teens then? And more specifically about teens and sex?

To say it simply, because it is needed.

There are many books on talking to your kids about sex but many of them are things to do to prepare for a conversation. You know that awkward conversation? The one that you dread having and then once you have it you hope to never have it again. This is not that kind of book. This book explores how to respond to your teen when you are faced with the reality that they may know more than you thought and possibly be engaging in more than you hoped. The pages contain situations and stories that come from many years of counseling parents who desperately want to respond well to their teens. Leaning on the wisdom of Scripture as well as faithful authors who have more extensive experience than myself helped me to compile what I hope will be helpful tips for parents of teens.They are tips to help keep the conversations going.

Teens today are being bombarded with sexual content and images making it difficult for even the most engaged parents to keep up with. It can feel you feeling exhausted and defeated before you even get a chance to really try and engage them. This book is for parents who are trying to keep up but also for parents who may find themselves feeling behind in this face paced hyper-sexualized world.

The tips given in this book are things to avoid but they are also coupled with positive affirmations of hope for how God can use even the mistakes as opportunities to go deeper with your teen and create an environment that lends toward further conversation.

The book is short enough that even the busiest parents can get through it. The counsel is concise and practical. It is my hope and prayer that parents will come away from reading this with a hopeful outlook, knowing that God is at work in both them and their teen and that they can be a voice in their teenager’s life that influences and guides them towards a life that honors the Lord in the midst of an alluring world.

Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World is available at 10ofthose.us (<-best price for bulk orders) and Amazon.com

Incarnating in Conflict

(This post first appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition)
Incarnating means putting something into flesh. Jesus was God incarnate. God put on human flesh or, another way to say it, he was clothed in humanity. In a similar way, as believers, we are called to incarnate Jesus. We are to be clothed in Christ (Romans 13:14). And indeed we are (Galatians 3:27). As believers our lives become testimonies of this truth. Jesus clothes us in His righteousness. This truth means we are called to resist putting back on the filthy rags of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. Being filled with the Spirit of Christ means we give great attention to the commands the Lord left for us regarding how to interact with people. As we seek to fulfill the first and greatest commandment to love God (Matthew 22:38-39), we are simultaneously called to love others like Jesus loved (John 15:12).

So how do we do this, especially when things are particularly challenging in our relationships? When things heat up how can we incarnate Christ in our conflict?

Show Instead of Tell

Inside each of us is a little lawyer’s voice. Sometimes the voice is small, just little whispers or tiny thoughts. There might be thoughts of how you have done far more diaper changes than your spouse. Reminders that you are always the one initiating the phone call or text message in a particular friendship. Little whispers of how you always apologize first and how you folded the laundry without being asked last week. Often the little lawyer voice gets louder in conflict.

Jon’s wife was upset because she felt he cared more about his golf swing than about her. Jon’s little lawyer voice began flooding him with reminders of how much he has sacrificed for her. Bob and Jane listened to their teenaged son complain that he can never please them and that they never encourage him. Simultaneously Bob and Jane’s little lawyers brought out evidence as recent as that very week proving they had encouraged him. Paul Tripp speaks of this little lawyer voice and how harmful it is in marriage relationships, “I tell husbands and wives around the world that if they want to experience lasting change in their marriage, they first need to fire their inner defense lawyer.”1The truth is no matter what relationship you are in, the little lawyer voice needs to go.

Incarnating Christ means you avoid defending your love and instead demonstrate it. The moment your love is challenged don’t defend it—display it. (John 11:32), or the question from the disciples, “Lord don’t you care that we are perishing” (Mark 4:38), he did not defend himself, but instead he displayed it by raising Lazarus back to life and calming the sea. He showed his love; he did not defend it.

Ask Instead of State

Asking questions is probably one of the best ways we can incarnate Jesus. Jesus was the master questioner. His questions were explorations of the heart of a person. Asking questions opens conversations; making statements closes them. (Avoiding Assumacide”2 says that honoring others with questions rather than assumptions allows intimacy to have a chance.

When Jeff’s roommate shared with him that he had once again fallen to the temptation of pornography, Jeff stated, “If you wanted to stop you would stop.” The statement not only led his friend to feel even deeper shame, but also made him less inclined to share with Jeff again. Asking a question in this situation would have allowed Jeff to learn more about his friend and his struggle and perhaps open the opportunity for Jeff to walk with him.

Hope Instead of Despair

In order to incarnate Christ in conflict, we must lean fully on him. Demonstrating love and asking questions are just two ways to incarnate Christ. Conflicts are full of challenges, and even when we seek to incarnate Jesus there may still be difficulties.  We fail in our attempts and can become discouraged. Yet, the Lord is merciful and forgiving and often provides more opportunity to incarnate His grace and love. He is committed to the good work He started in us.

Join the Conversations

Each one of us has had difficult times in relationships. Perhaps even now you are facing a challenge. What are some other ways you have found we can incarnate Jesus in your relationships?

Notes

  1. This quote came from: http://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/were-not-independent.
  2. See http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2016/06/22/avoiding-assumicide/

Considering Counseling?

Do I Need Counseling?

Frequently friends ask me this question: “How do I know if I need counseling?” The truth is, we receive counseling every day as we interact in relationships; however, it can be difficult to know when to seek formal counseling.

For some people counseling is viewed in the same way as going to a doctor; the final step toward getting help for a problem. These are the people who avoid going to the doctor until there is something seriously wrong. They’ve tried the home remedies and over-the-counter treatments. Things do not seem to be getting better. More than likely things are actually getting worse. Seeking counseling can feel similar to this. There can even be a sense of failure attached to it—a line of thinking that says, “Something is wrong with you.”

Perhaps a better way to approach counseling would be to view it like the “well-checks” that children go through while growing, or the routine physical, or maybe even the yearly recommended flu shot. While raising my children, I found they went to the doctor more often when they were healthy than when they were sick. They had to receive check-ups and immunizations to insure their proper development and prevent harmful illnesses. I never thought there was reason for concern in attending these appointments. They were considered precautionary measures.

Counseling can be viewed this way also. It’s true; most people don’t seek counsel when things are going trouble-free in their lives. However, looking for counseling doesn’t have to only be an option when in the middle of a major crisis.

Our circumstances, big or small, often are so up close and personal that we can be either overwhelmed or blinded by them. Counseling allows a new set of eyes to look in on what’s happening in your life; eyes that are not biased to parties involved, or emotionally connected to the situation.  Counseling provides eyes that can objectively observe with better clarity.

What Should I Expect from Counseling?

Once you have decided to seek counseling, the next question you need to wrestle with, both privately and with your counselor, is what to expect. People bring expectations to nearly every situation and counseling is no exception.

While there are some aspects of counseling that can be clearly defined; cost, length of session, appointment regularity, etc., there are others that need clarification. If you are seeking formal counseling, you should have at least a general idea of the areas on which you want to focus.  When you seek counsel, be ready to discuss the presenting issue. What is bringing you in for counseling?  With that said, don’t be surprised if that changes. Often what seems to be the “big issue” is only masking other things that are left untouched or tucked away. Often we need the insight of others to carefully take us to things we may otherwise avoid.

What do you expect from your counselor? Perhaps taking the question from a different angle would be more helpful. How about what not to expect? One thing you should definitely not expect is for your counselor to fix things for you. Personal struggles and relational issues are not something to be fixed like an appliance, nor are they problems to solve like a word puzzle.

Always remember, you are dealing with a person (whether it is yourself or another person you are struggling with). We are not called to fix people; we are called to love them. Counseling always deals with people and relationships. A good counselor will help you see that people are not problems to be solved.

When Does Counseling End?

While regular counseling can taper down and even have a closing to it, try viewing counseling like building a house. When you are in the building stage, you spend a lot of time focusing on the plans and even go into significant detail on how you want things to progress. You spend a lot of time talking to designers and contractors. They are your guides through the entire project.

However, once the house is complete you cannot assume you will never need an electrician, plumber, or handyman to ever darken your doorway again. General maintenance is essential to keeping the home in good condition. Neglecting issues only leads to bigger, more costly problems.

The same can be said of counseling. If you have invested in building the foundation in personal growth or relational harmony, then recognize that it is wise to address issues as they arise. This does not mean you run to counseling with every bump in the road; however, it does mean you don’t have to wait until things are falling apart to check back in for some insight or direction.

Hopefully this helps you view counseling with less of the stigma of “something is wrong,” but instead with hopeful encouragement.

(This post was originally posted on the Biblical Counseling Coalition as Three Questions Asked About Getting Biblical Counseling.)

Three Principles to Consider During Marital Contention

A Foundational Reality

To start, let’s agree on one foundational reality; having a good marriage does not mean you do not have conflict. No matter how much two people love one another the truth is there will be moments of conflict to some degree or another.

Too often we view conflict as something to avoid. Or maybe we view it as a sign that the relationship is in serious trouble. While conflict is certainly a call for reflection and redirection, it does not necessarily mean the relationship is in trouble. A loving and healthy marriage will experience conflict. However there are some things to consider that can help your conflict have deeper purpose. As you consider each of these three principles, where might you need to rethink what means about your own marital conflict?

1. Know What You Are Fighting About

This is often where conversations get derailed the fastest. A conflict over where you want to go to dinner or what brand of toothpaste was purchased is rarely about those issues. In fact, most often, the things we argue about are not what is really upsetting us. Those are secondary issues that are easier to argue about but the real struggle lies deeper. The problem is we often don’t know how to talk about those deeper issues. Or, we don’t always like what those deeper issues reveal.

We are people of desire. In every waking hour our hearts are continually after something. Even right now my desire is to protect this quiet moment in my life so I can write this article. If someone or something blocks that desire I have a moment of conflict in my heart with my desire. How I respond to that will have varying results. We all are constantly desiring things. Some of those things are very good things and some can be not so good. It doesn’t always have to do with what we desire but simply how we respond when that desire is interrupted.

Scripture affirms that what we are fighting about has everything to do with our desires.

“What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and you do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2).

Consider thinking deeper the next time you have a conflict. Slow down long enough to see if you can determine what exactly you really are fighting about.

2. Remember Who Is Present

When we are in conflict with our spouse we can get caught up in the moment and it can be very easy to feel like there are only two people present. This is never the case. In some situations you may have other people around who are greatly affected by the conflict. Children are often the spectators to conflicts in marriage. This has significant impact on them. Even if you think they seem unfazed by your conflict they are processing what is going on. As a married couple you will disagree in front of your children but be responsible enough to hold heated arguments at bay when children are around.

Even if children or others are not present, conflict is never unobserved. We live before an ever-present, all-seeing God. It is far too easy for us to forget this. But God is present with us in our conflict. He is not just present as an observer but as a helper. Psalm 46 says he is a very present help in troubled times. Marital conflict qualifies as a troubled time. What would it look like to live in the light of this? Would we cry out to Him for help? Would we chose our words more carefully? The fact is every single one of our marital conflicts have been observed by our God. He cares about what we do and what we say (as we are reminded in Matthew 12:36-37).

3. Understand the Purpose of Conflict

This is probably one of the most important things we can do to make sure our conflict does not lead us to hopeless discouragement. Conflict is a negative word. It is viewed as negative because of the damage we often see and feel from it. However conflict is not always negative in its purpose and does not have to be negative in its outcome.

Conflict is an opportunity to know and understand ourselves better. Looking at what we desire as well as how we view God’s presence in the moment is an opportunity for growth and dependence on God. Conflict is an opportunity to see our need of Christ.

If we only view conflict as bad we forget the purpose in it. We would like to avoid many of our conflicts but often times they actually need to happen in order to bring about redemptive change in our relationships. Instead of resisting the conflict lean into it to understand the deeper issues. Respond to in light of God’s promised presence with you and then look for what God is doing in it.

(This post was originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition)