Conversations for Engaged Couples

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.

This article was first published by Eliza Huie for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison- Video Review

This excellent resource brings compassionate wisdom to those facing trials and suffering. Author, David Powlison offers hope on every single page of this very readable book. Check out my review here and then go order it from Crossway today!

You Are Not Alone: Hope for Hurting Parents of Troubled Kids. – Book Response.

(This post was written and shared anonymously by of a mother of 5 children seeking to honor the Lord in this journey called parenting.)

Every once in a while, life surprises us by converting a seemingly mundane moment into a watershed.  The rather mundane task of finding a book at the library to help my 15-year-old with a research paper led me to a book that breathed new hope into my parched soul. The title jumped out in bold letters, You Are Not Alone:  Hope for Hurting Parents of Troubled Kids.  Instinctively, my hand reached out and picked it up.  I flipped it over to read: “You would go to the ends of the earth for your child.  So, if your teenager or young adult is in the midst of crisis due to self-injury, mental illness, depression, bullying, or destructive choices, you probably feel broken, powerless, and isolated.”  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Did this author know me?  I had been in a hard battle for the past six months with two of my adult children.  I had been reading, discussing, praying, clashing, and pleading with God for answers.  There are answers here?  In this book?  From the public library?  If you say so. . .

I was quite surprised to find this book for a number of reasons.  Primarily, I was surprised that I had never heard of this title or its author, Dena Yohe, given my own personal connections to the biblical counseling world and Christian authorship in general.  Secondly, it surprised me that it was being so predominately displayed in a public library. Though I checked it out, I actually put it aside for a few weeks thinking that it was probably not going to be very biblically sound since it was being endorsed in the public square.  But God has a sense of humor and loves to challenge our faulty thinking!

I started the book with a cynical eye, convinced that it was going to be a weak offering of self-help platitudes and feel good warm fuzzies with little gospel power.  I was wrong.

Dena has personally gone through parenting hell.  She pulls no punches; she makes no excuses; she gives no empty promises. She is self-revealing, compassionate, and full of gospel hope.

After reading, You Are Not Alone, I was impacted most significantly by the reality that there is no perfect parent.  You may be thinking, well, duh, I know that already.  But hear me:  we all start out wanting to be that perfect parent.  We vowed to not make the mistakes we saw other parents make; we dedicated ourselves to do whatever it took to bring our kids up in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord.  We believed that if I do this, this will be the result.   I used to look at troubled kids and say, “I wonder what mistakes their parent made?”  And foolishly concluded, “Well, that won’t happen to me!”  What brought the message home loud and clear was the example of God, Himself.  God is the perfect Parent.  And look how we turned out.  How does knowing this help me?  God having troubled kids is part of a perfect plan.  He is my children’s ultimate parent.  I fail.  He does not.  Yet, even in my failure, His plan will prevail for His glory, my good, and my children’s good.

I was challenged to understand that we need to let our children fail—even miserably.  They need to learn to turn to God in their failure.  We need to stop trying to fix them, their situation, or outcome.  We can still love them as they struggle, but it will look vastly different than what we may have envisioned.  It will take God’s grace for us to accomplish this.  One of the most encouraging things we can do for our child is to work on the issues in our own life that God reveals along the path of parenting, instead of concentrating on our rescue plan for the struggling child.

Dena offers practical suggestions, passages of scripture to cling to, and a plethora of other resources to help us, parents of troubled kids, navigate these uncharted waters.  Equally helpful were reflections scattered throughout the book by her daughter, Renee, giving her unique perspective on being the troubled child.  Even if you aren’t a parent of a child grappling with the difficulties of life, you can benefit from this book.  Parents of troubled kids are some of the most misunderstood, marginalized, and isolated subgroups in our churches today.  Could God be calling you to minister to them?

I am grateful that God, in His providence, had me find this hidden gem in the most unlikely of places for this, my most unexpected of journeys. I look forward to reading it again in the weeks to come.  Will you join me?








Want an extraordinary year? Start with the ordinary.

I am a creature of habit. So are you. We breath in and out daily routines without even noticing. What do you do when you first wake up? Not what do you want to do, or what you think you should do, but what do you do? Think about it for a moment. That is your routine. What do you do tackle first in your work? How do you engage daily with your family, your co-wokers, and your classmates? That is your routine. Where does God fit in in your daily life? Prayer? Worship? Are these things reserved for Sunday or are there ways you engage day to day? That is your routine. There is usually nothing extraordinary about it. It is…well…routine.

As a new year dawns it is an appropriate time to reflect on what ordinary things you could be doing to make the new year extraordinary. If you are like me there are probably some long-time daily rituals that need evicting. Namely, those things that seem to steal away your time. The daily habits that hijack your best intentions. They are mindless routines that are not helping you live fully invested in the weightier matters. They may not be bad things but they are keeping you from engaging in the best things. And they are shaping you. In her brilliant book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren explains further, “We move in patterns that we have set over time, day by day. These habits and practices shape our loves, our desires, and ultimately who we are and what we worship.”

As you enter in to a new year take some time to take a look at your ordinary life. Do an inventory. Are there things you need to get very serious about eliminating from your day in 2018? Look at the ordinary activities that, on the surface, look harmless and insignificant but minute by minute, day by day, they are keeping you from being faithful to the call you have on your life from the Lord. Are your routines helping or hindering you from engaging in eternal things. Do your daily rituals bring value to your relationships? How are your little habits impacting your walk with the Lord?

As 2017 ends, consider the ordinary in your day. Think about the things you may need to remove but also consider the things you may need to get more serious about including. Let this be the year you finish that book, the year you read through the Bible, or the year you pursue with passion a life fully committed to Jesus. Start with the ordinary. That is where you will find what is needed to make 2018 an extraordinary year.

Practical Point

Do you want to make 2018 an extraordinary year? Share this with someone close to you and tell them what you plan to eliminate from your daily routine and what you plan to include. Ask if they would keep you accountable, or even better, join you!


What Disappointment Reveals

If you are like me you have lived long enough to have been through disappointment. We actually encounter disappointment often. The disappointment in missing out on an event with friends, or disappointment when your team loses a championship game, or perhaps the disappointment of not winning that latest gadget after standing in line for hours. As much as these can ruin our day this is not the disappointment I want to look at. The disappointment I am talking about is the disappointment that is coupled with grief and hurt. Broken friendships or relationships, a job loss, being let down by a leader you trusted, or a crisis of health that changes the way life looks are just a few ways deep disappointment can take us to a place of great discouragement and pain.

Facing moments of significant disappointment can be revealing. It can reveal what we believe about people, suffering, and even God.

Disappointment reveals what we believe about people.

When a relationship fails to be what we had hoped often there is significant hurt. The investment we gave can feel wasted or worse it can leave us feeling used. In moments like this it is easy to only think of the bad things the relationship brought. But in reality the fact that there is disappointment and even pain is because there was once happiness. Grief is there because there was once joy. Only if we avoid deep relationships can we possibly avoid some of the pain but we will certainly miss out on the joy as well.

We are called to be in relationships. But those relationships are not called to be life for us. They cannot bear the weight of that. We are to find life in Jesus alone. In resting our hopes in Him we are then able to enjoy relationships with people in ways that free them from bearing the responsibility of our happiness.

Disappointment reveals what we believe about suffering.

When life disappoints us our responses expose our understanding of suffering. If we are shocked that things are not going as we had hoped or if we feel utterly confused by the trials we face it may be that we need to expand our understanding of what it means to be called to suffer (1 Peter 2:21). Suffering should not be looked at only through a lens of punishment or opposition. Suffering is a refining agent that makes us more beautiful (1 Peter 1: 6-7). With this view of suffering we can know that the Lord will use disappointment to shape us into a more beautiful person if we allow it. It is good to remember that he is in the fire with us (Daniel 3:24-25). We do not suffer alone.

Disappointment reveals what we believe about God.

When we face disappointment it reveals what we believe about God. Where did you go the last time you were disappointed. Did you call your best friend? Did you call your parents? Did you isolate believing that you were the only one who would protect you from further disappointment? I have done some of those things. Calling on friends and family is not a bad idea (it can actually be helpful) but if that is the only place we go it could point to our belief about who God is in suffering. He someone to run to in trouble. Do you believe He has something for you in this disappointment?  Do you believe He will help you? Do you believe that He is an “ever present help” in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1)?

So when life brings disappointment it is important to take the time to reflect on what it reveals. Certainly there is more it can reveal than what is written here but in looking at these things it can begin to reframe how we see things. In this place we are more likely to grow and become stronger in our faith and love toward God as we trust His purposes and follow His perfect plan for us when things don’t turn out how we hoped.





How to Fight the Pull of Anxiety

Anxiety is a pulling experience. How much it is pulling often goes unnoticed. Although much of what you feel, when dealing with anxiety, is felt in the present moment it is doesn’t have its strongest hold on the present. Instead anxiety is about the future and the past.

The Pull to the Future

Anxiety pulls you into the future and throws a millions “what ifs” at you. What if this happens or what if that doesn’t happen? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I will be alone? What if my loved ones get hurt? What if get hurt? What if I panic? What if things go wrong? These questions and so many others are what anxiety asks persistently. They are all thoughts about the future. They say to you that you must prepare for the war ahead. Anxiety is the forecast of harm and danger that awaits you. Thoughts of the impending harm begins to feel very present by their continual tormenting.

The Pull to the Past

Anxiety also pulls to the past. Perhaps you have had a troubling experience that replays when situations seem similar. Maybe you have known intimately the feeling of being alone or rejected. The thoughts quickly pull you into the past and another set of “what ifs” invade. What if I fail once more? Maybe the money is going to run out again? What if my illness returns? He/she might leave me a second time? What if my family hurts me again? These thoughts flood your mind and say that life went bad before and it will probably go bad again. Anxiety causes you to look at the present situation through the shadow of past hurts and tells you things are not safe. <–Click to Tweet.

Your Body’s Response

In both of these situations your body begins to respond to future and past struggles in the present. I heard someone once explain the physiological effects of anxiety as your mind telling your body that the war is not over. Despite the fact that often, in the present moment, none of the doom imagined is actually happening the body begins to react as if it is.

Your “fight or flight response” has been triggered by the pull of anxiety. In reaction your brain begins to produce adrenaline to aid you against the perceived harmful attack. You may begin to feel your heart rate increasing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow. You will likely experience trouble concentrating on anything other than the worry. Normal tasks you used to be able to do are much more difficult. You sense you have a shorter tolerance for frustrating moments. You may find sleep is very difficult and so you often feel tired. You might even notice occasionally trembling, numbness in hands and feet, and sweating.

Your body responds even when you aren’t thinking about the anxious thoughts. The anxious buildup from the many thoughts that have flooded your thinking are having their effect on the body. Much like a teacup that is filled to the brim, you don’t notice it is a problem until one more little drop is placed in and then the spillover comes. These physical symptoms can actually cause even more anxiety.

Stay in the Present

So what can be done with these strong pulls to the future and past? The key is to stay in the present. This can be hard for someone who is feeling the physical effects of anxiety. Staying in the present is the way out of the anxious moment. Respond to the physical symptoms of built up anxiety with physical activity in the present moment. Taking slow deep breaths is one of the best ways to fight the physical symptoms of anxiety. Deep breathing actually triggers the “rest and digest response” in your brain. By taking a couple slow deep breaths your body begins to respond to the rich oxygenated blood that is going throughout your body all the way to your fingers and toes. In contrast to the rapid shallow breathing that tells your brain something is wrong.

In the present you can begin to counter the anxious thoughts with what is true. Calling to mind helpful truths will give less space in your brain for the anxious pulls of replaying the past or the frenetic thoughts of preparing for the future. Tell yourself that you have gotten through anxious moments before and this moment will likewise pass. Think of the people who have been helpful to you and remind yourself in the moment of how they have helped.

Allow God to be your comfort and hold on tightly to his truth. You do not suffer alone. He promises to help you. It is no coincidence that in Psalm 46:1 it says that, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The present is where your help is. He will not leave you or forsake you. Cling to that truth and stay present with it. The Scripture is full of promises from God to be with you in trouble and that he will faithfully help you. The opposite of anxiety is peace. Peace comes from knowing that God is in control when you feel your life is out of control.  (<-lCick to tweet.) Take your struggles to the Lord. Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

*Mindfulness activities can help calm anxiety and give your brain a rest from the flooding happening in your body. In addition to deep breathing, here is a simple mindfulness activity to try the next time you are struggling with the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Caring Starts with Prayer

Prepare for the session

As a counselor I want to be prepared for each one of my sessions. I can look over past notes, consider resources, or maybe consider homework to suggest. Preparation may mean I do some reading on what the person is struggling with and learn ways others have helped people in similar situations. Preparing for a session can be very helpful both for me and the person I am seeing.

Prayer for the session

But as a biblical counselor I am convinced that as important as being prepared is, it is not the most important thing. In order to care for people well I have to have spent time in prayer with God for them. Prayer centers my mind and heart and takes the focus and pressure off me. Prayer reminds me that the people who are coming in for counseling need the same thing I need. I am not what people need. My words are not what people need. What people need is the comfort and care of the Lord. In order for me to care well for people I need to hear from the Lord, I need to be with the Lord.

Diane Langberg in her book, In Our Lives First, Meditations for Counselors, states so wisely…

“How quickly our eyes become riveted on the task and not the Master! We think somehow that our primary task is the work we do. It is a good work. It is an important work. It is even a work that God himself has called us to do. It is, however, never to become our main work. Our first task, the one that is to govern all else, is that of maintaining relationship with the only One who is needful.”

The Reminders of Prayer

Prayer also reminds me that I am not alone in counseling. God is present and ready to help those who I am seeking to care for. God is invested in their good and their needed healing more than anyone else in the room. Prayer reorients my agenda so that I can get out of the way and yield to what God wants to do in each situation.

For me, this means I must commit to praying for each person I am caring for. Most of the time this comes in a daily review of my calendar. I look at the names I have on my schedule and I take time to pray for each person. I know very intimately the struggle and suffering they face so my prayers can be very focused. I pray for help in their situations. I pray for wisdom and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s work as I walk with them. I also pray that they would know God’s love in very specific ways as we meet. I pray that I would be able to love them well and speak the words God has for them rather than what I think they should hear.

The Reorientation of Prayer

It has been my experience that the sessions where I confess my total dependence through prayer and I seek the Lord for help are far more helpful meetings than if I took a good amount of time to prepare, read, or study up on things. This isn’t to say I don’t prepare. I do. But it is not the most important thing. Prayer reorients me to the One who is able to bring healing and change to people’s lives.

Scripture gives examples of those called to ministry being called to a life of prayer. Samuel saw it as potential sin to not pray for the people who were under his direction and care. Consider what this means regarding the place of prayer in ministry.

“Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.” 1 Samuel 12:23

All in all prayer centers my heart and positions me to give better care and counsel when I have spent time with the Wonderful Counselor.

God and Conflict Resolution

If you are in any relationship you have experienced conflict. Starting in the earliest years in your family life you began to learn how to respond to conflict. From there you may have adapted and changed but you still have a style or approach to conflict that will show up no matter the struggle. Resolving conflict is something people will have to face. Psychology tells us that there are basically 5 ways people resolve conflict. Most people will yield to one these five ways. They are:

Avoidant– A person doesn’t like to deal with the conflict and will seek ways to evade it. They may withdraw from or ignore the person with whom they are in conflict. They are usually good at pretending that nothing happened and move on with life as normal. Being avoidant can lead to continual repeats of conflict because ultimately things are never addressed.

Accommodating– This is the person who gives in when faced with conflict. The accommodating person will accept another’s ideas even if they do not agree. It is a surrender of opinion to let the other person have their way. While one person walks away happy the accommodating person is likely to begin to feel significant resentment leading toward possible bitterness.

Competitive– This person stands their ground. Their goal is to beat the other person out when it comes to a disagreement. The conversation is more of a competition of proving that they are right rather than working toward any kind of resolution. It can often be attacking and inconsiderate. A competitive person will likely gain immediate ground in conflict but in the long run their approach will prove be detrimental to relationships.

Compromising– This method of conflict resolution is more of a give and take. Both people look to consider the common ground and work toward negotiating things they each will let go of in order to meet a resolution. This approach seems like a win-win but often neither party feels they got what they wanted and passive aggressive interaction is common.

Collaborating– This is a considerate method of working together for a solution. Both parties seek to listen, understand, and discuss what their goals are for the situation. It requires a joining together to work for a solution that is better than what was presented individually. People who collaborate are usually respected and appreciated in relationships.

As you read those descriptions you likely saw yourself in one or maybe two of them. But where does God fit in this brief look at resolutions to conflict? Where would you classify his style of conflict resolution? Maybe you would put him as compromising or collaborative but there is just something that doesn’t fully fit. This is where God is not like us.

God is not afraid of conflict. In fact the greatest conflict of the world was something God planned. The conflict of the cross was by far the most significant conflict in human history. No war, civil rights movement, or historical ruling ever marked history like the cross (click to tweet). But the conflict of the cross shows us how God the Father brings resolution to conflict. He doesn’t avoid or compete. He doesn’t even collaborate. Instead God redeems in conflict. The cross brought redemption for us from the state that we were in, separated from God by sin, to where we now stand as believers in Jesus, fully accepted as beloved children. God redeems what was lost and beyond repair and brings new hope and purpose.

What does that mean for us? Certainly we cannot expect to be able to redeem every conflict. Some conflict will never fully be resolved until the last day when the Lord pronounces justice through his judgement or acquittal through the blood of Jesus. On that day he will wipe away the tears of conflict that have lasted a lifetime. Instead we should seek to approach conflict in a way that reflects our call to love one another. Our approach to conflict resolution should be impacted by the redemptive resolution shown to us by a merciful and loving God. So far as it depends on us, we ought to seek to live peaceably with everyone with a disposition of humility that reflects a heart of trust in the Lord. Often our attempts will bring peace but sometimes things will remain unresolved. When this is the case, trusting God is imperative.

If God had our backs in the greatest conflict there ever was (the cross) then he certainly will have our backs as we seek to honor him when faced with conflict. This will not be easy. We may find ourselves terribly misunderstood, misrepresented, and ultimately misjudged in a conflict with another. Despite humble and loving attempts discord may still remain. What can we do then?

Once again the cross teaches us about God and conflict resolution. This time we must look at God the Son. Jesus was right in the middle of the conflict of the cross. He was misunderstood, misrepresented, and ultimately misjudged. How did he get through that? In 1 Peter 2:23 it says, “When he was reviled he he did not revile in return; when he suffered her did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”  Jesus kept his focus on God when faced with conflict. He didn’t put his trust in his ability to defend himself nor did he hope the courts would bring a just ruling. He continued entrusting himself to God.  When we face conflict we ought to make efforts to work through it and pursue peace, but if it remain unsettled we need to follow the example of Jesus and look to God.

God knows how to redeem all of our conflict. We may or may not see it fully resolved despite our efforts to pursue peace. We must trust him and rest in the work of Jesus for us. He may be using conflict to bring about further sanctification in our own lives as we continue to look to our redeeming God.


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.

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