Let Us Pursue Unity

We live in a divided world. Some days it feels impossible to find common ground. A quick scroll through Facebook or Twitter reveals a handful of topics on which Christians bitterly disagree. Conversations about politics quickly descend into malicious and vilifying words. Judgmental arguments about topics such as government policies, healthcare, and matters of social justice abound. Our commitment to our own views can create unnecessary divides and shut out those who disagree with our way of thinking. Even topics of theology can lead to disunity. Who do we baptize? What versions of the Bible should we use? What is the role of men and women in the church? Unified relationships–even with other believers–can feel impossible to attain. 

In the face of these challenges, Scripture unapologetically calls us to persevere towards unity in Christ. Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!” I like that word “behold” at the beginning of verse. It’s basically telling us to stop for a moment and look at our relationships. Psalm 133 tells us that unity is the active ingredient that makes our relationships good and pleasant. We experience unity when we center our relationships around a shared faith and mutual goal of pleasing Christ and making him known.

Psalm 133 goes further to show us that the unity we experience in our relationships is a picture of the unity we experience with God. In verse two of Psalm 133 we are given a picture of Aaron, the priest, being covered with oil. This priestly act foreshadows the atoning work of Jesus. Just as the priest would be covered in oil and go before God on behalf of the people bringing unity again between God and man, Jesus brings that for believers. He allows us to be fully accepted by and united to God.  

“We experience unity when we center our relationships around a shared faith and mutual goal of pleasing Christ and making him known.”

Despite our differences, we help each other through suffering, build up each other’s faith, and work together for the glory of God and the good of his people. When we remember that the bonds of Christ are more important than our differing opinions, we create a context to work, relax, play, worship, and enjoy life in each other’s company. With Christ as our center our relationships become characterized by encouraging and fulfilling interactions. Despite our differences, we can still experience good and pleasant relationships filled with happiness, humor, and enjoyment of one another. 

Are you in unity with other believers, connected by your shared faith in Christ? Or, do you tend to cut people out of your life when you disagree? Take a look at your relationships. Are any of your relationships marked by bitterness, annoyance, or disdain? While, we may need to distance ourselves from relationships that are harmful or abusive, as far as it depends on us, we should live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). A mutual love for Jesus forms a foundation towards the goal of unified relationships which serve the wider community, and make Christ known to the watching world.  Where can you pursue unity in your relationships today?

This post is an excerpt taken from The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self Care by Eliza Huie and Esther Smith.

Are Screens the Problem?

Click to pre-order at 10ofThose.com.

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.”[1]

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.

[1] From Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. Pre-order your copy at 10of Those.com.

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.)