Addressing Anxiety in Tumultuous Times

Byron Barlowe connects the dots between the universal problem of anxiety, what brain science is teaching us about our minds, and how Scripture and spiritual disciplines can help. In a world consumed by violent riots and trauma surrounding the Covid virus, this is a timely topic that God and science speak to well.

Millions of people worldwide are battling anxiety in a tumultuous time. The Coronavirus pandemic response has created a new abnormal: heightened fear of sickness and death, economic damage, and social isolation. Loneliness is the number one health crisis in America according to many epidemiologists, psychiatrists, and social scientists.{1} While we’re all still reeling from this, racial strife has erupted into looting, killings, and anarchy in American streets.

download-podcastMental health is an increasing concern too. One study found that during the spring 2020 mass quarantine, prescriptions for anti-anxiety meds spiked.{2} A San Francisco area hospital has seen more deaths by suicide than by Covid-19, prompting a call for an end to mass shutdowns.{3} It’s been a perfect storm of stress.

Are there real solutions right now? Yes, brain science is confirming the truths and promises proclaimed in Scripture in exciting ways! We have wonderfully adaptive minds—especially when they are focused on God. These built-in mind-morphing capabilities show the genius of our design as Image-bearers of God. Audiologist, cognitive researcher and outspoken Christian Dr. Caroline Leaf writes, “As an individual, you are capable of making mental and emotional change in your life. Through your thinking, you can actively recreate thoughts and, therefore, knowledge in your mind.”{4}

And this has profound implications for true hope. Leaf continues: “Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking [it’s happening right now as you read]. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.{5} The biblical book of Hebrews defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The thankful, attentive, willfully hopeful mind creates positive emotions, thoughts, and acts of the will. In other words, we significantly control whether we have a healthy soul.

Dallas Willard writes, “The transformation of the self away from a life of fear and insufficiency takes place as we fix our mind upon God as he truly is.” As Scripture teaches, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In this article we’ll explore this transformation.

Morphing Your Mind—It’s Mostly Up to You!

Everyday stress is hard enough—but what about work-related anxiety? Money? Riots, memories of abuse, bullying, and abandonment? We have little control over family, culture or epidemics. But we can make amazing internal changes through our responses. Science and Scripture agree on this.

The transforming mind-renewal encouraged by Scripture is possible for us all, especially for people who have invited God to lead their lives. We can intentionally train our minds to reshape our brains—we are not perpetual victims of our past or circumstances. Nor are humans mere products of matter in motion. Dr. Caroline Leaf, author of Switch on Your Brain, claims that “Choice is real, and free will exists. You are able to stand outside yourself, observe your own thinking, consult with God, and [work with him to] change the negative, toxic thought or grow a healthy, positive thought. When you do this, your brain responds with a positive neurochemical rush and structural changes that improve your intellect, health, and peace.{6}

Even traumatic memories can be starved, defanged, broken down, and replaced. Brought into conscious awareness, they can become plastic enough to be recreated. Leaf explains that “Neurons that don’t get enough signal (that is, rehearsing of the negative event) will start firing apart, wiring apart, pulling out, and destroying the emotion attached to the trauma.” Also, desirable brain chemicals that bond and remold chemical connections, increase focus and attention, and increase feelings of peace and happiness begin to weaken traumatic memories even more. So bad memories, hatred, hurt, and other negative thoughts and emotions that form toxic beliefs: “If they stop firing together, they will no longer wire together. This leads to . . . rebuilding new ones.”{7}

Ideas have consequences and our beliefs guide our behavior. In the words of King Solomon, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”{8} That is, we construct frameworks of beliefs and then speak and act from them.

Science seems to confirm this biblical view of self-control. Measuring magnetic fields, electrical impulses, chemical effects, photons, vibrations, and quantum energy paints a picture of intricately [networking] neurotransmitters, proteins, and energy—that is, signals—that change the brain’s landscape.{9} This “neuroplasticity [seems to be] God’s design for renewing the mind.”{10}

And there’s nothing magic about it: overcoming anxiety can be helped a lot through habits of the mind, heart, and soul.

Mindfulness & Meditation—Self-Control and Seeking God in Silent Solitude

It’s no wonder that the concept of “mindfulness” has become a “thing” these days. Meditation and concentration are new-old survival skills. How do they work?

Dr. J.P. Moreland, noted philosopher and author of Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and The Practices That Brought Peace, candidly shares his struggles with anxiety and the need he had for medications. He also discovered the power of seeking God in self-directed solitude. He emphasizes sustained habits of the praising, thankful, and self-controlled soul.

Mindful meditation is not like taking a drug, is not a quick fix, or denying the senses to rid oneself of desire.{11} “By charting new pathways in the brain, mindfulness can change the banter inside our heads from chaotic to calm.”{12} New habits are formed over time. When it comes to our minds, “practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes permanent.”{13}

Remaining at rest via the practice of spiritual disciplines takes advantage of our mind’s ability to “move into a highly intelligent, self-reflective, directed state.” And the more often we go there, the more “we get in touch with the deep, spiritual part of who we are.” This exercise switches brain modes in a way that can create wisdom and potential connection with God.{14} As Jesus taught his disciples, “Keep awake (give strict attention, be cautious and active) and watch and pray, that you may not come into temptation.”{15} We can mentor our own minds, settle our souls, habituate
our hearts, and free our spirits to respond to God. Brain science is catching up on this reality.

So, what’s going on physically when we stop to meditate in focused solitude and silence? A post at Mindful.org claims, “The impact that mindfulness exerts on our brain is borne from routine: a slow, steady, and consistent reckoning of our realities, and the ability to take a step back, become more aware, more accepting, less judgmental, and less reactive. . . . Mindfulness over time can make the brain, and thus [ourselves], more efficient regulators, with a penchant for pausing to respond to our world instead of mindlessly reacting.”{16} How different would social media conversations be—especially on politics and race—if more people practiced patient contemplation!

Various regions of our brains change while meditating. The “fight or flight” area actually shrinks in size.{17} It’s a real chill pill!

God keeps “him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”{18}

Thankfulness and Happiness—Healthy Habits of the Mind & Heart

In trying times, we all want to return to happiness. It’s a God-given right to pursue it, according to America’s founders. The biblical worldview recognizes the inherent brokenness of both creation and human beings, so it is no surprise that confusion, discord, and tragedy—along with evil spiritual powers—“steal, kill, and destroy”{19} our joy. What can be done?

Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland writes, “You have it in your power to begin a regimen of choices, assuming you would choose the right things, and form a habit of this that can substantially improve your happiness and decrease or get rid of anxiety. There really is hope.”{20} Our non-conscious mind turns thoughts over and over. Through spiritual disciplines, we bring these into our conscious awareness, which manipulates actual proteins, creating overhauled memories. Intentionally bringing God to mind—His attributes, the wonder of creation and His blessings, promises, answered prayers—such a focus leads to a cycle of good thinking, feeling, and knowing that turns into believing real truth. Faith is a gift so we’re not alone in doing this. But it is up to us to put to use the gifts described here to “work out [our] salvation with [reverence and proper humility].”{21}

Remember, we have a strong influence in reshaping our own brains—especially with God’s help. Secular scientists are discovering the wonderful power of thankfulness. Scientific studies prove seven benefits according to PsychologyToday.com. Gratitude improves relationships, physical and mental health, sleep, self-esteem, and mental resilience. It even reduces aggression, the urge for revenge. Scripture aligns with physical reality again when it tells us: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”{22}

Moreland jokes, “If we’re not careful, we may even come to think we were designed to flourish best when we are thankful and grateful! Yet as exciting as these psychological studies are, we didn’t need them to know the importance and value of expressing gratitude and thanksgiving to God. The Bible insists on this . . . [it’s] filled to overflowing with exhortations to be grateful to God and express thanksgiving to him.”{23} As King David famously prayed in Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”—he trusted a good God to lead, protect, and bless him. That’s joy far beyond happiness!

Takeaways & Practical Applications

Brain networks form an inner life of the mind. We can switch between various networks constantly. Like a mom monitoring kids running around inside several contained rooms, this enables us to control the controllable—our reactions to events and circumstances. Brain scans confirm how we capture and police rogue thoughts in ways prescribed in Scripture: “We . . . take every thought captive to obey Christ.”{24}

UCLA researchers address how our habitual non-conscious thoughts can drive anxiety—negative self-talk like:

• “I’ll be in real trouble if…”

• “What if so and so happens next week?”

• “I’ll probably fail that exam!”

“It’s what we say to ourselves in response to any particular situation that mainly determines our mood and feelings.”{25}

“Forming a new habit requires doing things you may not want to do in the early stages of formation,” as any coach or teacher will tell you.

For retraining our brains, experts have devised methods like The Four Step Solution:

It goes as follows:{26}

Step 1: Relabeling: call out thoughts as having no necessary connection with reality: tell yourself “That is a destructive lie.” Call on Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.”{27}

Step 2: Reframing: take the power out of the bad thoughts. Reset your perception of the deceptive message by being mindful that it exists, its content, and how you are now feeling by correctly categorizing the distorted message. Bad self-talk includes:

• all or nothing thinking (for example: “it was a total failure”)

• overgeneralizing

• singling out one thing to focus on

• catastrophizing (or making too big a deal out of things) and

• discounting the positive

Reframing them creates stable memories formed by repeated updating.

Step 3: Refocusing: Set your mind on anything else—distract yourself from the negative thoughts. Stop obsessing! Get into “the flow” of something. Focus elsewhere. And don’t ruminate about the message—analyzing it will deepen the grooves in your brain.

Step 4: Revaluing: After a while, reflect on how you did Steps 1-3. Recommit to repeat these steps throughout the day.

Over 21 days, a “newly formed neural network” will decay in less than a month: thoughts are like muscles that atrophy and die or get stronger with use.{28} Starve the bad, feed the good.

As Paul instructed the Philippian church, dwell on what is good and pure, true and worthy of praise.{29}

Notes

1. Senator Ben Sasse, Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal, quoted by Richard Doster in Christian Healthcare Newsletter, June 2020, “Can the Church solve the country’s worst health problems?”
2. Nick Givas, Fox News, “Prescriptions for anti-anxiety meds spike amid coronavirus outbreak, new report finds,” posted April 18, 2020. www.foxnews.com/health/prescriptions-anti-anxiety-meds-spike-amid-coronavirus.
3. Amy Hollyfield, “Suicides on the rise amid stay-at-home order, Bay Area medical professionals say,” posted May 21, 2020, abc7news.com/suicide-covid-19-coronavirus-rates-during-pandemic-death-by/6201962.
4. Dr. Caroline Leaf, Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking and Health, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013, p. 19 (emphasis mine).
5. Ibid.
6. Leaf, 39.
7. Leaf, 64.
8. Proverbs 23:7.
9. Leaf, 47.
10. Leaf, 65.
11. As with Buddhist meditation practices seeking utter emptiness.
12. Jennifer Wolkin, Mindful.org, “How the Brain Changes When You Meditate,” posted September 20, 2015, www.mindful.org/how-the-brain-changes-when-you-meditate.
13. J.P. Moreland, Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices that Brought Peace, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 67.
14. Leaf, 82.
15. Matthew 26:41.
16. Ibid. Wolkin
17. Various Authors, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Volume 191, Issue 1, 30 January 2011, Pages 36-43. Posted Nov. 10, 2010: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S092549271000288X.
18. Isaiah 26:3.
19. John 10:10.
20. Finding Quiet, 54-55 (emphasis mine).
21. Ephesians 2:12, Amplified Bible.
22. Philippians 4: 6-7, New Living Translation.
23. Finding Quiet, 113.
24. 2 Corinthians 10:5.
25. Psychologists Edmund Bourne and Lorna Garano, cited by Moreland.
26. Entire section, Finding Quiet, p. ?
27. Proverbs 4:23, CSB.
28. Leaf, 151.
29. Philippians 4:8.

©2020 Probe Ministries


Coddling of the American Mind

Drawing on the book The Coddling of the American Mind, Kerby Anderson examines the insanity on college campuses where students cannot handle ideas and people they disagree with.

In this article we will talk about what is happening on college campuses, and even focus on why it is happening. Much of the material is taken from the book, The Coddling of the American Mind.{1}

download-podcastGreg Lukianoff was trying to solve a puzzle and sat down with Jonathan Haidt. Greg was a first amendment lawyer working with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). He was trying to figure out why students (who used to support free speech on campus) were now working to prevent speakers from coming on campus and triggered by words or phrases used by professors.

Greg also noticed something else. He has suffered from bouts of depression and noticed some striking similarities with some of the comments by students. He found in his treatment that sometimes he and others would engage in “catastrophizing” and assuming the worst outcome. He was seeing these distorted and irrational thought patterns in students.

After a lengthy discussion they decided to write an article about it for The Atlantic with the title, “Arguing Towards Misery: How Campuses Teach Cognitive Distortions.” The editor suggested the more provocative title, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The piece from The Atlantic was one of the most viewed articles of all time and was then expanded to this book.

That book used the same title: The Coddling of the American Mind. Jonathan was on Point of View last year to talk about the book. The authors believe that these significant psychological changes that have taken place in the minds of students explain much of the campus insanity we see on campus today.

They point out that two terms rose from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that are now thought as a kind of violence. Trigger warnings are an alert the professors now must use if they may be discussing a topic that might generate a strong emotional response.

Before we talk about some of the insight in the book, it is worth mentioning that though there is a psychological component to all of this insanity, there is also an ideological component. When the original article appeared, Heather MacDonald asked if “risk-adverse child-rearing is merely the source of the problem. For example, why aren’t heterosexual white males demanding safe spaces?”{2} They all had the same sort of parents who probably coddled many of them.

It would probably be best to say that the mixture of psychological deficits also with the liberal, progressive ideological ideas promoted on campus have given us the insanity we see today. We have had liberal teaching on campuses for a century, but the problem has become worse in the last decade because of the psychological issues described in the book, The Coddling of the American Mind.

Three Untruths (Part 1)

The book can easily be summarized in three untruths that make up the first three chapters of the book. The first is the “Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker.” Nietzsche’s original aphorism was, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The younger generation has turned this idea on its head.

It is true that some things are fragile (like china teacups), while other things are resilient (and can withstand shocks). But they also note that some things are antifragile. In other words, they actually require stressors and challenges to grow. Our muscles are like that. Our immune system is like that. And university education is supposed to be like that. Students are supposed to be challenged by new ideas, not locked away in “safe spaces.”

Unfortunately, most young people have been protected by a culture that promotes what they refer to as “safetyism.” It has become a cult of safety that is obsessed with eliminating threats (whether real or imagined) to the point where fragility becomes expected and routine. And while this is true for the millennial generation (also called Generation Y), it is even truer for the iGen generation (also called Generation Z) who are even more obsessed with safety.

Part of the problem in these untruths is what they call “concept creep.” Safety used to mean to be safe from physical threats. But that has expanded to the idea that safety must also include emotional comfort. In order to provide that comfort, professors and students a few years ago introduced the idea of creating “safe spaces” for students. And in order to keep those students emotionally safe in the classroom, professors must issue “trigger warnings” so these students don’t experience trauma during a classroom lecture or discussion.

The second untruth is the “Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings.” You can get yourself in some difficult circumstances quickly if you always trust your emotions. It is easy in this world to get frustrated, discouraged, and even depressed. Psychologists have found that certain patients can get themselves caught in a feedback loop in which irrational negative beliefs cause powerful negative feelings. We are seeing that on college campuses today.

Psychologists describe “the cognitive triad” of depression. These are: “I’m no good” and “My world is bleak” and “My future is hopeless.” Psychologists have effective ways of helping someone break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. But very few adults (parents, professors, administrators) are working to correct mistaken ideas.

Three Untruths (Part 2)

In a college classroom, students are apt to make some sweeping generalization and engage in simplistic labeling of the lecture or reading material. In that case, we would hope that a professor would move the discussion by asking questions or even challenging the assertion.

Instead, many professors and colleges go along with the student comments. In fact, many even argue that any perceived slight adds up to what today are called “microaggressions.” In many cases, slights may be unintentional and actually wholly formed from the listener’s interpretation.

Here is how it develops. First, you prevent certain topics from being discussed in class. Next, you prevent certain speakers from coming to campus because they might present a perspective that aggrieved students believe should not be discussed. In the book is a chart illustrating how many speakers have been disinvited from universities. Five years ago, the line jumps up significantly.

The third untruth follows from that assumption. It is the “Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People.” The authors argue that “the human mind is prepared for tribalism.” They even provide psychological research demonstrating that. But that doesn’t mean we have to live that way. In fact, conditions in society can turn tribalism up, down, or off. Certain conflicts can turn tribalism up and make them more attentive to signs about which team a person may be on. Peace and prosperity usually turn tribalism down.

Unfortunately, in the university community, distinctions between groups are not downplayed but emphasized. Distinctions defined by race, gender, and sexual preference are given prominence. Mix that with the identity politics we see in society, and you generate the conflict we see almost every day in America.

The authors make an important distinction between two kinds of identity politics. Martin Luther King, Jr. epitomized what could be called “common-humanity identity politics.” He addressed the evil of racism by appealing to the shared morals of Americans using the unifying language of religion.

That is different from what we find on college campuses today that could be called “common-enemy identity politics.” It attempts to identify a common enemy as a way to enlarge and motivate your tribe. Their slogan sounds like this: Our battle for identity and survival is a battle between good people and bad people. We’re the good guys and need to defeat the bad guys.

An Example: Evergreen State College

One good example of how these untruths play out can be found at what happened on a college campus in Olympia, Washington. The entire story is described in chapter five but also is featured prominently in the opening chapter of the book No Safe Spaces and in the movie with the same title.

Just a few years ago, Evergreen State College was probably best known as the alma mater for rapper Macklemore and Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons. That all changed with an email biology professor Bret Weinstein sent.

In the past, the school had a tradition known as the “National Day of Absence.” Usually, minority faculty and students leave the campus for a day to make a statement. But in 2017, the college wanted to change things and wanted white students and faculty to stay away from campus.

Professor Weinstein argued in an email that there is a difference between letting people be absent and telling people “to go away.” And he added that he would show up for work. When he did, he was confronted by a mob of students. When the administration tried to appease the demonstrators, things got worse.

Weinstein has described himself as a political progressive and left-leaning libertarian. But his liberal commitments did not protect him from the student mob. The campus police warned him about a potential danger. The next morning, as he rode his bike into town, he saw protesters poised along his route tapping into their phones. He rode to the campus police department and was abruptly told: “You’re not safe on campus, and you’re not safe anywhere in town on your bicycle.” Weinstein and his wife eventually resigned and finally received a financial settlement from the
university.

The Evergreen students and faculty displayed each of the three great untruths. The Untruth of Fragility (What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker) came from a faculty member who supported the protesters and addressed some of her faculty colleagues in an angry monologue. She warned, “I am too tired. This [blank] is literally going to kill me.” A student at a large town hall meeting verbalized her anxiety and illustrated the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning (Always trust your feelings). She expressed, “I want to cry. I can’t tell you how fast my heart is beating. I am shaking in my boots.”

And the whole episode illustrates the Untruth of Us Versus Them (Life is a battle between good people and evil people). The students and faculty engaged in common-enemy identity politics by labeling a politically progressive college and liberal professors as examples of white supremacy. One student (who refused to join the protest) later testified to the college trustees, “If you offer any kind of alternative viewpoint, you’re the enemy.”

What Can We Do?

The book, The Coddling of the American Mind, identifies many disturbing trends on college campuses that are beginning to spill over into society. What can we do to stem the tide?

Obviously, the long-term solution to the insanity on campus and in society is to pray for revival in the church and spiritual awakening in America. But there are some practical things that must be done immediately.

First, college administrators must get control of their campus. The riots at some of these universities resulted in violence and property destruction. Often the campus police and even the local police failed to take action. Sadly, the university administration rarely took action afterwards.

Some form of deterrence would have prevented future actions on the University of California, Berkeley campus. Instead, the inaction established a precedent that likely allowed the conflict at Middlebury College. Students not only shut down the lecture, but they assaulted one of the campus professors. Once again, no significant action was taken against the students and outside agitators. The problem will get worse if there is no deterrence.

Second, professors must get control of their classrooms. Students cannot be allowed to determine what subjects cannot be taught and what topics cannot be discussed. The authors of this book are concerned about the tendency to encourage students to develop extra-thin skins just before they enter into the real world. Employers aren’t going to care too much about their feelings. Students don’t have the right not to be offended.

Third, we need to educate this generation about free speech. One poll done by the Brookings Institute discovered that nearly half (44%) of all college students believe that hate speech is NOT protected by the First Amendment. And since many students label just about anything they don’t like as hate speech, you can see why we have this behavior on college campuses. More than half (51%) of college students think they have a right to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. A smaller percentage (19%) of college students think it is acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking on campus.

Finally, the adults need to make their voice heard. We pay for public universities through our tax dollars. Parents send their kids off to some of these schools. We should not tolerate the insanity taking place on many college campuses today.

The authors have identified certain concerns that colleges and universities need to address. They remind us how hostile the academic world has become, not only to traditional Christian values, but also to mere common sense. We need to pray for what is taking place in the college environment.

Notes

1. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, et al., The Coddling of the American Mind: How
Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.
New York City: Penguin Press, 2018.
2. www.thecollegefix.com/heres-the-9-best-takeaways-from-heather-mac-donalds-new-diversity-delusion-book/

©2020 Probe Ministries


Why Every Christian Student Needs Mind Games

You’ve probably heard or read that the vast majority of young Christians are leaving the church after they graduate from high school. But they don’t have to “graduate from God” after they get their diploma.

There are several reasons young adults leave the church, and many of them jettison their faith as well. The biggest reason is that their questions and doubts—which started in junior high school—were not answered by their parents or youth leaders.

Another reason is that they don’t believe Christianity is true. Immersed in a cultural brine of religious lies and deceptions, they don’t know what the truth is and why biblical Christianity blows the false ideas and religions away.

A third reason is that they caught their unbiblical beliefs and practices from their parents and other adults in the church. It turns out that Mom and Dad were almost as pickled in the cultural brine as their kids!

But Probe offers a great way to push back on these reasons.

Our summer Mind Games camp is a total-immersion, life-changing week of instruction in worldview and apologetics designed to build students’ confidence that Christianity is true, and why Christianity is true. We lay the foundation of three major worldviews to give them understanding of how other people think and why Christianity is better because it matches reality. Then we teach them why they can be sure that God exists, why the Bible can be trusted, and how we can know that Jesus is God and the only way to heaven.

After these basics, campers learn how biblical principles apply to issues they need to grapple with: truth and grace about LGBT, how faith and science work together, why a good God allows pain and evil, the value of suffering, how to watch a movie with their brains turned on, genetic engineering, understanding Islam, and more.

But it’s not just lectures. Plenty of free time is built into the schedule for processing what they’ve learned and developing friendships with other campers. The relationships that students form at Mind Games is one of their biggest takeaways. With a max of 40 participants, everyone can enjoy connecting to other campers, and many of the friendships endure year after year.

The biggest reason for leaving the church is unanswered questions and doubts. Probe staffers assure students that Mind Games is a safe place to ask any question—anonymously—and address any doubt. Many of the questions campers come with, are answered during the week in our lectures and discussion times. Whether in large group or the many opportunities for one-on-one conversations with Probe teachers, campers have many ways to get help wrestling with obstacles to their faith.

For over twenty years, Mind Games alumni have grown into leaders on campus, in public service, in the military, and in the church. The fruit of their time with us is “fruit that lasts” (John 15:16).

Mind Games Camp 2021 is June 13-19 at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas, in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Some scholarships are available. Check out videos and much more information at Probe.org/mindgames.

Can you think of a high school student who doesn’t need Mind Games?

We can’t either.

 

© Probe Ministries March 2018, updated March 2021


Verbal Abuse: A Biblical Perspective

Kerby Anderson offers a distinctly Christian view of this important topic. Taking a biblical perspective moves this problem from strictly emotional to its full implications for our spiritual lives.

I would like to address the subject of verbal abuse for two important reasons. First, our behavior is often a great indicator of our worldview. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” What a person thinks in his or her mind and heart will be reflected in his or her words and actions. Verbal abuse and physical abuse result from a worldview that is clearly not biblical.

download-podcast Second, I want to deal with verbal abuse because of the incredible need for Christians to address the subject. Ten years ago I did a week of radio programs on this topic, and I have received more e-mails from men and women who read that transcript than any other article. They were grateful that I addressed the subject. Since there are some new books and web sites, I wanted to update the original article.

Most of us know someone who has been verbally abused. Perhaps you are involved in a verbally abusive relationship. It is also possible that no one even knows your circumstances. Verbal abuse is a kind of battering which doesn’t leave evidence comparable to the bruises of physical battering. You (or your friend) may be suffering in silence and isolation.

I want to tackle this very important issue in an effort to understand this phenomenon and provide answers. First, we should acknowledge that verbal abuse is often more difficult to see since there are rarely any visible scars unless physical abuse has also taken place. It is often less visible simply because the abuse may always take place in private. The victim of verbal abuse lives in a gradually more confusing realm. In public, the victim is with one person. While in private, the abuser may become a completely different person.

Frequently, the perpetrator of verbal abuse is male and the victim is female, but not always. There are many examples of women who are quite verbally abusive. But for the sake of simplicity of pronouns in this program, I will often identify the abuser as male and the victim as female.

The Verbally Abusive RelationshipOne of the first books to describe verbal abuse in adults was Patricia Evan’s book The Verbally Abusive Relationship.{1} She interviewed forty verbally abused women who ranged in age from 21 to 66. Most of the women had left a verbally abusive relationship. We will use some of the characteristics and categories of verbal abuse these women describe in this book.

Years later, she wrote a second book, The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change?{2} In that book she makes the claim the some men can change under certain circumstances. That led to the subtitle of her book, “A Woman’s Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go.”

The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change?Is there hope that some abusers can change? Yes, but the key to healing is for the person being abused to recognize verbal abuse for what it is and to begin to take deliberate steps to stop it and bring healing. Since the abuser is usually in denial, the responsibility for recognizing verbal abuse often rests with the partner.

Characteristics of Verbal Abuse

What are some of the characteristics of verbal abuse? Here is a list as outlined in The Verbally Abusive Relationship.{3}

1. Verbal abuse is hurtful and usually attacks the nature and abilities of the partner. Over time, the partner may begin to believe that there is something wrong with her or her abilities. She may come to feel that she is the problem, rather than her partner.

2. Verbal abuse may be overt (through angry outbursts and name-calling) or covert (involving very subtle comments, even something that approaches brainwashing). Overt verbal abuse is usually blaming and accusatory, and consequently confusing to the partner. Covert verbal abuse, which is hidden aggression, is even more confusing to the partner. Its aim is to control her without her knowing.

3. Verbal abuse is manipulative and controlling. Even disparaging comments may be voiced in an extremely sincere and concerned way. But the goal is to control and manipulate.

4. Verbal abuse is insidious. The partner’s self-esteem gradually diminishes, usually without her realizing it. She may consciously or unconsciously try to change her behavior so as not to upset the abuser.

5. Verbal abuse is unpredictable. In fact, unpredictability is one of the most significant characteristics of verbal abuse. The partner is stunned, shocked, and thrown off balance by her mate’s sarcasm, angry jab, put-down, or hurtful comment.

6. Verbal abuse is not a side issue. It is the issue in the relationship. When a couple is having an argument about a real issue, the issue can be resolved. In a verbally abusive relationship, there is no specific conflict. The issue is the abuse, and this issue is not resolved. There is no closure.

7. Verbal abuse expresses a double message. There is incongruence between the way the abuser speaks and her real feelings. For example, she may sound very sincere and honest while she is telling her partner what is wrong with him.

8. Verbal abuse usually escalates, increasing in intensity, frequency, and variety. The verbal abuse may begin with put-downs disguised as jokes. Later other forms might surface. Sometimes the verbal abuse may escalate into physical abuse, starting with “accidental” shoves, pushes, and bumps.

Categories of Verbal Abuse

What are some of the categories of verbal abuse? Here is a list as outlined in The Verbally Abusive Relationship.{4}

The first category of verbal abuse is withholding. A marriage requires intimacy, and intimacy requires empathy. If one partner withholds information and feelings, then the marriage bond weakens. The abuser who refuses to listen to his partner denies her experience and leaves her isolated.

The second is countering. This is the dominant response of the verbal abuser who sees his partner as an adversary. He is constantly countering and correcting everything she says and does. Internally he may even be thinking, “How dare she have a different view!”

Countering is very destructive to a relationship because it prevents the partner from knowing what his mate thinks about anything. Sometimes the verbal abuser will cut off discussion in mid-sentence before he can finish his thought. In many ways, she cannot even allow him to have his own thoughts.

A third category of verbal abuse is discounting. This is like taking a one hundred-dollar item and reducing its price to one cent. Discounting denies the reality and experience of the partner and is extremely destructive. It can be a most insidious form of verbal abuse because it denies and distorts the partner’s actual perception of the abuse.

Sometimes verbal abuse is disguised as jokes. Although his comments may masquerade as humor, they cut the partner to the quick. The verbal jabs may be delivered crassly or with great skill, but they all have the same effect of diminishing the partner and throwing her off balance.

A fifth form of verbal abuse is blocking and diverting. The verbal abuser refuses to communicate, establishes what can be discussed, or withholds information. He can prevent any possibility of resolving conflicts by blocking and diverting.

Accusing and blaming is another form. A verbal abuser will accuse his partner of some wrongdoing or some breach of the basic agreement of the relationship. This has the effect of diverting the conversation and putting the other partner on the defensive.

Another form of verbal abuse is judging and criticizing. The verbal abuser may judge her partner and then express her judgment in a critical way. If he objects, she may tell him that she is just pointing something out to be helpful, but in reality she is expressing her lack of acceptance of him.

These are just a few of the categories of verbal abuse. Next we will look at a number of other forms of verbal abuse.

Other Forms of Verbal Abuse

Trivializing can also be a form of verbal abuse. I discuss this in more detail in my article on why marriages fail.{5} It is an attempt to take something that is said or done and make it insignificant. Often the partner becomes confused and believes she hasn’t effectively explained to her mate how important certain things are to her.

Undermining is also verbal abuse. The abuser not only withholds emotional support, but also erodes confidence and determination. The abuser often will squelch an idea or suggestion just by a single comment.

Threatening is a classic form of verbal abuse. He manipulates his partner by bringing up her biggest fears. This may include threatening to leave or threatening to get a divorce. In some cases, the threat may be to escalate the abuse.

Name-calling can also be verbal abuse. Continually calling someone “stupid” because she isn’t as intelligent as you or calling her a “klutz” because she is not as coordinated can have a devastating effect on the partner’s self esteem.

Verbal abuse may also involve forgetting. This may involve both overt and covert manipulation. Everyone forgets things from time to time, but the verbal abuser consistently does so. After the partner collects himself, subsequent to being yelled at, he may confront his mate only to find that she has “forgotten” about the incident. Some abusers consistently forget about the promises they have made which are most important to their partners.

Ordering is another classic form of verbal abuse. It denies the equality and autonomy of the partner. When an abuser gives orders instead of asking, he treats her like a slave or subordinate.

Denial is the last category of verbal abuse. Although all forms of verbal abuse have serious consequences, denial can be very insidious because it denies the reality of the partner. In fact, a verbal abuser could read over this list of categories and insist that he is not abusive.

That is why it is so important for the partner to recognize these characteristics and categories since the abuser is usually in denial. Thus, the responsibility for recognizing verbal abuse and doing something about it often rests with the partner.

We have described various characteristics of verbal abuse and have even discussed the various categories of verbal abuse. Finally, I would like to provide a biblical perspective.

A Biblical Perspective of Verbal Abuse

The Bible clearly warns us about the dangers of an angry person. Proverbs 22:24 says, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man.” And Proverbs 29:22 says, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.”

It is not God’s will for you (or your friend) to be in a verbally abusive relationship. Those angry and critical words will destroy your confidence and self-esteem. Being submissive in a marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:22) does not mean allowing yourself to be verbally beaten by your partner. 1 Peter 3:1 does teach that wives, by being submissive to their husbands, may win them to Christ by their behavior. But it does not teach that they must allow themselves to be verbally or physically abused.

Here are some key biblical principles. First, know that God loves you. The Bible teaches, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Second, deal with your feelings of guilt. You may be feeling that the problems in your marriage are your fault. “If only I would do better, he wouldn’t be so angry with me.” The Bible teaches in Psalm 51:6 that “Surely You desire truth in the inner parts; You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” Even though you may have feelings of guilt, you may not be the guilty party. I would recommend you read my article on the subject of false guilt.{6}

A related issue is shame. You may feel that something is wrong with you. You may feel that you are a bad person. But God declares you His cherished creation. Psalms 139:14 says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

A key element in this area of verbal abuse will no doubt be confrontation of the abuser. It’s important for you to realize that confrontation is a biblical principle. Jesus taught about this in Matthew 18:15-20. I would recommend that you seek help from a pastor or counselor. But I would also recommend that you gather godly men and women together who can lovingly confront the person who is verbally abusing you. Their goal should be to break through their denial and lovingly restore them with a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).

But whether you confront the abuser or not, I do recommend that you seek out others who can encourage you and support you. If the abuser is willing to confront his sin and get help, that is good. But even if he will not, your hope is in the Lord and in those who should surround you and encourage you.

Notes

1. Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship (Holbrook, MA: Adams Media Corporation, 1996).
2. Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change? (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2006).
3. Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, 81-84.
4. Ibid., 85-104.
5. Kerby Anderson, “Why Marriages Fail,” Probe, 1998, probe.org/why-marriages-fail/.
6. Kerby Anderson, “False Guilt,” Probe, 1996, www.probe.org/false-guilt/.

© 2001 [revised 2013], Probe Ministries


Your Work Matters to God

Sue Bohlin helps us look at work from a biblical perspective.  If we apply a Christian worldview to our concept of work, it takes on greater significance within the kingdom of God.

Spanish flag This article is also available in Spanish.

Many Christians hold a decidedly unbiblical view of work. Some view it as a curse, or at least as part of the curse of living in a fallen world. Others make a false distinction between what they perceive as the sacred—serving God—and the secular—everything else. And others make it into an idol, expecting it to provide them with their identity and purpose in life as well as being a source of joy and fulfillment that only God can provide.
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Your Work Matters to GodIn their excellent book Your Work Matters to God,{1} Doug Sherman and William Hendricks expose the wrong ways of thinking about work, and explain how God invests work with intrinsic value and honor. Rick Warren echoes this idea in his blockbuster The Purpose Driven Life when he writes, “Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence.”{2}

First, let’s explore some faulty views of work: the secular view, some inappropriate hierarchies that affect how we view work, and work as merely a platform for doing evangelism.

Those who hold a secular view of work believe that life is divided into two disconnected parts. God is in one spiritual dimension and work is in the other real dimension, and the two have nothing to do with each other. God stays in His corner of the universe while I go to work and live my life, and these different realms never interact.

One problem with this secular view is that it sets us up for disappointment. If you leave God out of the picture, you’ll have to get your sense of importance, fulfillment and reward from someplace else: work. Work is the answer to the question, “Who am I, and why am I important?” That is a very shaky foundation—because what happens if you lose your job? You’re suddenly a “nobody,” and you are not important because you are not employed.

The secular view of work tends to make an idol of career. Career becomes the number one priority in your life. Your relationship with God takes a back seat, family takes a back seat, even your relationship with other people takes a back seat to work. Everything gets filtered through the question, “What impact will this have on my career?”

The secular view of work leaves God out of the system. This is particularly unacceptable for Christians, because God calls us to make Him the center of our life.{3} He wants us to have a biblical worldview that weaves Him into every aspect of our lives, including work. He wants to be invited into our work; He wants to be Lord of our work.{4}

Inappropriate Hierarchies: Soul/Body, Temporal/Eternal

In this article, we’re examining some faulty views of work. One comes from believing that the soul matters more than the body. We can wrongly believe that God only cares about our soul, and our bodies don’t really matter. The body is not important, we can think: it is only temporal, and it will fade and die. But if that view were true, then why did God make a physical universe? Why did He put Adam and Eve in the garden to cultivate and keep it? He didn’t charge them with, “Go and make disciples of all nations which aren’t in existence yet, but they will be as soon as you guys go off and start making babies.” No, He said, “Here’s the garden, now cultivate it.” He gave them a job to do that had nothing to do with evangelism or church work. There is something important about our bodies, and God is honored by work that honors and cares for the body—which, after all, is His good creation.

Another wrong way of thinking is to value the eternal over the temporal so much that we believe only eternal things matter. Some people believe that if you work for things that won’t last into eternity—jobs like roofing and party planning and advertising—you’re wasting your time. This wrong thinking needs to be countered by the truth that God created two sides to reality, the temporal and the eternal. The natural universe God made is very real, just as real as the supernatural universe. Asking which one is real and important is like asking which is real, our nine months in our mother’s womb or life after birth? They are both real; they are both necessary. We have to go through one to get to the other.

Those things we do and make on earth DO have value, given the category they were made for: time. It’s okay for things to have simply temporal value, since God chose for us to live in time before we live in eternity. Our work counts in both time and eternity because God is looking for faithfulness now, and the only way to demonstrate faithfulness is within this physical world. Spiritual needs are important, of course, but first physical needs need to be met. Try sharing the gospel with someone who hasn’t eaten in three days! Some needs are temporal, and those needs must be met. So God equips people with abilities to meet the needs of His creation. In meeting the legitimate physical, temporal needs of people, our work serves people, and people have eternal value because God loves us and made us in His image.

The Sacred/Spiritual Dichotomy; Work as a Platform for Evangelism

Another faulty view of work comes from believing that spiritual, sacred things are far more important than physical, secular things. REAL work, people can think, is serving God in full-time Christian service, and then there’s everything else running a very poor second. This can induce us to think either too highly of ourselves or too lowly of ourselves. We can think, “Real work is serving God, and then there’s what others do” (which sets us up for condescension), or “Real work is serving God, and then there’s what I have to do” (which sets us up for false guilt and a sense of “missing it”).

It’s an improper way to view life as divided between the sacred and the secular. ALL of life relates to God and is sacred, whether we’re making a business presentation or changing soiled diapers or leading someone to faith in Christ. It’s unwise to think there are sacred things we do and there are secular things we do. It all depends on what’s going on in our hearts. You can engage in what looks like holy activity like prayer and Bible study with a dark, self-centered, unforgiving spirit. Remember the Pharisees? And on the other hand, you can work at a job in a very secular atmosphere where the conversation is littered with profanity, the work is slipshod, the politics are wearisome, and yet like Daniel or Joseph in the Old Testament you can keep your own conversation pure and your behavior above reproach. You can bring honor and glory to God in a very worldly environment. God does not want us to do holy things, He wants us to be holy people.

A final faulty view of work sees it only as a platform for doing evangelism. If every interaction doesn’t lead to an opportunity to share the gospel, one is a failure. Evangelism should be a priority, true, but not our only priority. Life is broader than evangelism. In Ephesians 1, Paul says three times that God made us, not for evangelism, but to live to the praise of His glory.{5} Instead of concentrating only on evangelism, we need to concentrate on living a life that honors God and loves people. That is far more winsome than all the evangelistic strategies in the world. Besides, if work is only a platform for evangelism, it devalues the work itself, and this view of work is too narrow and unfulfilling.

Next we’ll examine at how God wants us to look at work. You might be quite surprised!

How God Wants Us to See Work

So far, we have discussed faulty views of work, but how does God want us to see it? Here’s a startling thought: we actually work for God Himself! Consider Ephesians 6:5-8, which Paul writes to slaves but which we can apply to employees:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

It’s helpful to envision that behind every employer stands the Lord Jesus. He sees everything we do, and He appreciates it and will reward us, regardless of the type of work we do. I learned this lesson one day when I was cleaning the grungy bathtub of a family that wouldn’t notice and would never acknowledge or thank me even if they did. I was getting madder by the minute, throwing myself a pity party, when the Lord broke into my thoughts. He quietly said, “I see you. And I appreciate what you’re doing.” Whoa! In an instant, that totally changed everything. Suddenly, I was able to do a menial job—and later on, more important ones—as a labor of love and worship for Jesus. I know He sees and appreciates what I do. It forever changed my view of work.

God also wants us to see that work is His gift to us. It is not a result of the Fall. God gave Adam and Eve the job of cultivating the garden and exercising dominion over the world before sin entered the world. We were created to work, and for work. Work is God’s good gift to us!

Listen to what Solomon wrote:

After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift!{6}

Being happy in our work doesn’t depend on the work, it depends on our attitude. To make the most of our job and be happy in our work is a gift God wants to give us!

Why Work is Good

In this article we’re talking about how to think about work correctly. One question needs to be asked, though: Is all work equally valid? Well, no. All legitimate work is an extension of God’s work of maintaining and providing for His creation. Legitimate work is work that contributes to what God wants done in the world and doesn’t contribute to what He doesn’t want done. So non-legitimate work would include jobs that are illegal, such as prostitution, drug dealing, and professional thieves. Then there are jobs that are legal, but still questionable in terms of ethics and morality, such as working in abortion clinics, pornography, and the gambling industry. These jobs are legal, but you have to ask, how are they cooperating with God to benefit His creation?

Work is God’s gift to us. It is His provision in a number of ways. In Your Work Matters to God, the authors suggest five major reasons why work is valuable:

1. Through work we serve people. Most work is part of a huge network of interconnected jobs, industries, goods and services that work together to meet people’s physical needs. Other jobs meet people’s aesthetic and spiritual needs as well.

2. Through work we meet our own needs. Work allows us to exercise the gifts and abilities God gives each person, whether paid or unpaid. God expects adults to provide for themselves and not mooch off others. Scripture says, “If one will not work, neither let him eat!”{7}

3. Through work we meet our family’s needs. God expects the heads of households to provide for their families. He says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”{8}

4. Through work we earn money to give to others. In both the Old and New Testaments, God tells us to be generous in meeting the needs of the poor and those who minister to us spiritually. {9}

5. Through work we love God. One of God’s love languages is obedience. When we work, we are obeying His two great commandments to love Him and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.{10} We love God by obeying Him from the heart. We love our neighbor as we serve other people through our work.

We bring glory to God by working industriously, demonstrating what He is like, and serving others by cooperating with God to meet their needs. In serving others, we serve God. And that’s why our work matters to God.

Notes

1. Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1987.

2. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. p. 67.

3. Philippians 1:21

4. Romans 12:1, 2

5. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14

6. Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, The Message.

7. 2 Thess. 3:10

8. 1 Tim. 5:8

9. Leviticus 19:10—Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. Ephesians 4:28—Let him who steals, steal no longer but rather let him labor performing with his own hands what is good in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. Gal 6:6—The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.

10. Matthew 22:37-39

© 2004 Probe Ministries.


3 Life Hacks That Will Revolutionize Your Relationships

Ever hear of “life hacks”? Little tips and tricks to make your life easier, like running a sticky note between your keyboard keys to collect crumbs and computer lint. Here are three life hacks that will act like relational lubricant.

“When you said/did X, I felt Y. Did you mean to communicate that?”

Instead of assuming we know someone’s motives and thinking, we need to clarify that we understand what they intend. Sometimes things just come out wrong, not at all what is meant, and it’s easily misinterpreted.

“When you gave me permission to take comp time after I worked all weekend, I sensed you were giving it begrudgingly and you weren’t happy about it at all, like I had broken an unwritten rule or expectation. Did I read you right?”

“When I asked you about _____, it seemed that you got really quiet and shut down. It felt like you were shutting me out. Is that accurate, or am I missing something?”

“When I asked you to unload the dishwasher, you rolled your eyes and sighed. It’s the only thing I’ve asked in two days, but it sounded to me like you were upset. As if it were an unfair burden to place on you. Is that what you meant to communicate?”

The other person might respond with, “Yeah, I was upset and felt put-upon, but really I have no right to be. I’m sorry for reacting so badly.” Or they might say, “I did? I don’t remember tha—oh wait, you know what? I had just heard such-and-so on TV and it disgusted me. My body language was in response to what was going on in the other room. Sorry, I didn’t hear you at all.”

It’s always a good idea to clarify what’s going on. And not assume you can read the other person’s mind. Only God can do that.

Own the Plank in Your Eye

Whenever there is a conflict, it’s the result of clashing perspectives or motives or interpretations. According to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:3, the first step to resolving conflict is to take responsibility for our part in it. It’s amazing how hostilities can de-escalate when someone steps up to the plate and takes responsibility for their contribution to a problem.

Even if our part is only 5%, we’re 100% responsible for that 5%. And even if we’re sure we haven’t done anything wrong, we can acknowledge the possibility that we may have said or did something that was misinterpreted, and we can own that.

It’s natural to expect the other person to then take responsibility for their part in the conflict, but alas, very often that doesn’t happen. They will just let you take the blame/credit all by yourself even though you know perfectly well the other person was at fault at well. That’s okay. When you live for an Audience of One, it’s always right to do the right thing, trusting God to work out the justice part. Guilty parties never get away with it forever.

It’s not just a life hack, it’s supernatural, divine direction from the One who designed people and intended us to be in relationship. Own your part in a conflict—and watch the tension deflate like letting air out of a balloon.

How to Apologize

The specifics on this life hack came from one of the best blog posts in the history of the internet. There are four parts:

1) I’m sorry for _____. . .: Be specific. Show the person you’re apologizing to that you really understand what they are upset about.

Wrong: I’m sorry for being mean.

Right: I’m sorry for being unkind when I said you were fat and ugly.

2) This is wrong because _____: This might take some more thinking, but this is one of the most important parts. Until you understand why it was wrong or how it hurt someone’s feelings, it’s unlikely you will change. This is also important to show the person you hurt that you really understand how they feel. I can’t tell you how much of a difference this makes! Sometimes, people want to feel understood more than they want an apology. Sometimes just showing understanding- even without an apology- is enough to make them feel better!

Wrong: This is wrong because you are hyper-sensitive.

Right: This is wrong because I hurt your feelings and made you feel bad about yourself.

3) In the future, I will _____: Use positive language, and tell me what you WILL do, not what you won’t do.

Wrong: In the future, I will not say that.

Right: In the future, I will keep unkind words in my head.

4) Will you forgive me? This is important to try to restore your friendship. Now, there is no rule that the other person has to forgive you. Sometimes, they won’t. That’s their decision. Hopefully, you will all try to be the kind of friends who will forgive easily, but that’s not something you automatically get just because you apologized. But you should at least ask for it.

I love these four steps, and I would add eye contact to the mix.

These four steps to apologizing are powerful because they are biblical.

1. “I’m sorry for” means you are confessing, or agreeing with the other person, that you did something wrong. Biblical prayers of confession are very specific in naming the sins committed, such as idolatry, adultery, and murder. Apologizing to another person needs to be just as specific.

2. “This is wrong because” reveals that you understand of why it’s a problem. David prayed for that kind of self-awareness in Ps. 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”

3. “In the future, I will” is a commitment to repent and choose a better, more righteous behavior than the one being renounced and forsaken. Zaccheus gave an example of this in Luke 19:8-“Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.’”

4. “Will you forgive me?” is a humbling, difficult question to ask. Putting ourselves in the “one-down position” of asking for forgiveness risks exposure and shame-after all, the other person may say no-but forgiveness was extraordinarily important to Jesus. “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15)

Apologizing the right way is probably the most powerful way to restore a strained or broken relationship.

God created us for relationships and for community. These three life hacks can go a long way toward make them run more smoothly.

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/engage/sue_bohlin/3_life_hacks_that_will_revolutionize_your_relationships_ on April 5, 2016


Interracial Dating

July 21, 2011

Dear Renea,

We are a strong, white, Christian family. Our 22 year old daughter is dating a black boy. He is very nice, kind, well-mannered. However, we just are not in favor of this inter-racial relationship. We never envisioned one of daughters dating a black boy. We know all the biblical verses pertaining to this. We’re just not sure what to say to her. Need some thoughts on this situation. Your thoughts are so welcome. Thanks.

Dear E,

Thank you for writing in with your question.

I’m surprised to hear you mention knowing the scriptures pertaining to interracial relationships because I confess, I am wholly unaware of any verse which addresses the subject. Old Testament passages speak about the importance of Hebrews marrying Hebrews and not pagans who worship false gods and idols, but that has to do with a person’s relationship with God rather than his or her nationality. We know this to be the case when we consider heroes of the faith such as Rahab and Ruth, neither of whom were Hebrews, both of whom came to fear (know) the Lord better than many natural Hebrews and were used by God in significant ways, most significantly as women in the lineage of Christ! This is the same vein which runs through the New Testament command not to be unequally yoked in 2 Corinthians 6. Biblical warnings against marrying certain types of people have everything to do with their relationship with the Holy One (and ours) and nothing to do with nationality, ethnicity or race.

That being said, your feelings and your conflict are real and no doubt a significant part of how you were raised. Based on your letter, it seems you and your husband probably grew up in Bible-believing churches and/or homes which taught against interracial marriages. You certainly grew up in a time in our culture when such relationships were anathema. Your situation reminds me of what the Disciples must have experienced upon seeing Jesus conversing with, not only a woman one-on-one, but a Samaritan woman. That’s not how they grew up! That’s not how a good Jewish man was to behave, yet here was their Master, their Teacher, their Messiah breaking all the rules about race-relations (and gender-relations). I’m sure it was a shock. I’m sure it was quite unsettling, perhaps even unacceptable at first. And I appreciate that what I am saying might be just as jarring, just as maddening perhaps, just difficult to accept.

And so it’s okay to need time to wrestle with this radical biblical truth that goes against everything you’ve been taught just as Christ’s first followers were constantly having to do. Since Christ’s Loving-Truth sets us free, I beg you to wrestle with it, to try to accept it; but even if you cannot, I appeal now to your love for your daughter, a love that has no doubt grown from parent-child love to also include friend-love now that she is an adult. Support your daughter, love your daughter, respect her (decisions) as the adult she is. Don’t let your preferences—reasoned as they may be considering the difficulties that can still come as a part of interracial relationships—drive a wedge between you, driving your daughter away from you. Don’t give the Enemy a foothold to break down and breakup your family, your love for one another. I implore you with familial affection in Christ our Lord.

Dear E, may our great God give you grace and bless your family in this scary step of faith we call life.

With love and respect,
Renea

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2011/07/21/interracial-dating/


Expectations in Dating: Part One

Mar. 20, 2009

Today we’re going to talk about boundaries and expectations. Both of which cause us to be selective.

I have to thank Brad Paisley for a song of his which has provided me with this metaphor: dating is a lot like shopping for new clothes. The line from the song goes like this:

When you go out shopping, you try on brand new clothes.
To see if something fits or not, there’s just one way to know.
Why’s it any different when someone asks you out?
You might as well just try me on before you turn me down.

I appreciate this metaphor. I walk into a store — even ones I frequent — and sometimes I don’t know how something is going to fit until I try it on. Other times I can tell simply by looking at a piece that it isn’t my style or is too big or too small. There are some stores I don’t even have to go into because those clothes aren’t for me: they might be too trashy or too preppy or whatever. Also, having friends with me whom I trust is helpful. They’re honest with me and will encourage me to try things I might not otherwise; items they know will look good on me when I may be unsure — and they’re almost always right! I also depend on them to tell me, “No, Renea. That dress doesn’t do you right; that color is not for you. Renea, seriously; put that one back.” :)

You see where this is going don’t you? Okay, so dating, well, living really, is about risk, but it’s calculated risk — more or less. To say that it’s important to take risks… in any relationship, dating or otherwise, is not to say we should be uncritical or haphazard. Not being selective about who you’ll date is like letting a perfect stranger pick out all your clothes for you; whatever that person brings you, that’s what you have to buy, take home, and wear. You wouldn’t do that. Why would you be unbiased about who you date?

Okay. So let’s talk about dating non-Christians. How many of you think it’s probably okay to date unbelievers? You can be honest. Come on. Forget for a minute that you know what the right answers are supposed to be, or that you think you know what I want you to say. ‘Cuz let’s be real, if you’re unconvinced about what the church has to say about dating unbelievers, chances are we’re dropping the ball in some way. And hey, we aren’t right about everything; that’s impossible; maybe we’re wrong about this. So if you think we are, let’s talk about it.

Worldview. Whole persons. Intimacy. (Sorry, I did this part extemporaneously.)

The author of our book* puts it this way: “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it. Is that how you want to aim for your husband – with an open, blank slate? Or do you want to dream of someone who is just right for you, who complements your weaknesses, and who fulfills your hopes and desires” (63)?

And the point she’s making is the same one Brad and I were making with the shopping illustration. If we don’t have certain standards, goals, ideas and expectations for our lives, including our love-lives, we’ll be directionless. We’ll zig and zag here and there following any story about sex and romance that’s compelling in the moment. And that makes us incredibly vulnerable to believing the lies and distorted views the world has about who we are and how we should live, distorted views about who we are sexually and how we should live our romantic lives.

I’d like to take this thought a bit further, if you’ll let me. I’d like to suggest a bigger target. That instead of aiming for a husband who will fulfill the hopes you’ve pinned upon him, we aim for the Bridegroom of the Church, Jesus, and put our hope in him. As you release your arrow in the direction of the Kingdom, if you happen to snag a husband by the shirt collar, FAN-TASTIC! More to the point, if your arrow becomes intertwined with another going in the same direction, WONDERFUL!

______________

* Gresh, Dannah. And the Bride Wore White. Chicago: Moody, 2004.

Stay tuned for part two, and see where we go from here.

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2009/03/20/expectations-in-dating-part-one/


Expectations in Dating: Part Two

Mar. 20, 2009

(If you haven’t already, see Part One.)

I want to really drive this idea home, so I’d like to read a story from — yep, you guessed it — Lauren Winner’s Real Sex.*

I recently attended a women’s retreat where one of the workshops was about singleness. The speaker, whom I’ll call Myrtle, encouraged the single women in the audience to think carefully about what type of guy they’re looking for. “You want a Prince Charming,” Myrtle said, “and Prince Charmings are attracted to modest women. You might attract certain men by sporting skimpy skirts, but you won’t attract the kind of man you really want to be with.”

It’s encouraging to think that mature Christians are more interested in character than cleavage; yet there is something unsettling about this assurance that chastity will be the erotic mystery that will lead Mr. Right (or Miss Right) to our door. Prince Charming can begin to rival God as the object of our attentions. Myrtle ended her talk on this note: “What we single women have to do is no more and no less than faithfully pray that our perfect guy is out there. We don’t need to hunt him down, we just need to wait for the Lord to deliver him to us. [Is he a pizza?] We don’t need to worry about him. Instead we need to focus on ourselves, becoming the pure, modest woman that our Prince Charming will be on the lookout for. We need to devote ourselves to prayer, humility, and grace. We need to continue becoming godly women, so that when the time is right, we will have those godly characteristics that the godly man we dream about will love.”

[And that sounds right doesn’t it? I mean, that does sound like what we ought to be doing: focusing on prayer, humility, and grace. But this is the point:] I’m not disputing the desirability of the chaste woman or man. It may well be that one of the benefits of practicing chastity is that you attract friends and admirers that admire chastity. But attracting others is not the goal of chastity. Indeed, if Myrtle is focused on catching the eye of the guy who likes chaste women, she may not be inhabiting chastity at all.

Myrtle seems to be working toward becoming, principally, the kind of woman Prince Charming wants, which incidentally may be the kind of woman God wants. Her priorities, I would suggest, need to flip-flop. We are to become the persons of God, and this may bear the incidental fruit of attracting a great partner. The point of chastity is not that you turn your attention away from other people to make you more attractive to them, but that you turn your attention away from sexual and romantic entanglements with other people, and orient yourself toward God. (129-131, bracketed parentheticals mine)

What does it mean to orient our lives toward God?

Right. It means we align ourselves with God’s ways. Why would we do that?

[Silence.]

It’s a tough question, I know, but an important one. Why does it matter? Why should we bother? Let me help you put words to what I suspect some of you know in that deep, unspeakable way. God’s way is the way it’s supposed to be. We talked last week about the physical reality of sex being evidence that God’s creational intention for sex is good and right and true; how sexually transmitted diseases evidence the fact that when we misdirect our sex-lives, something isn’t right. Look around you. Look around you and you’ll see things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. There’s so much hurting in the world. There’s so much hurting sexually; things are no longer true — or straight — they’re bent. Jesus came and he began the process of righting all the wrong and healing all the hurt. Those of us who believe are called to continue the work Christ began until he returns, when everything will be made right at long last! We do this by orienting our lives toward God.

Here’s where I get back to why it’s important to have standards concerning who you will and will not date. Because purity, sexual purity, is bigger than sets of dos and don’ts, rights and wrongs, standards and judgments; it’s about shaping our lives to the themes of the Gospel, themes such as love, mercy, justice, healing, forgiveness; themes such as defending the oppressed and supporting the weak; themes that express God’s way. Learning how to do this is a life-long process. Jesus promises in Matthew 6 that if we will orient our lives toward God’s Kingdom, everything else will work out. In light of this promise, let me challenge you to commit the rest of your lives invested in communities dedicated to learning what it means to pray and live out, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Marry the man who has oriented his life toward God and journey toward the Kingdom together… for as long as you both shall live.

______________

* Winner, Lauren. Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005.

This blog post originally appeared at http://reneamac.com/2009/03/20/expectations-in-dating-part-two/


To Live Is Christ: On Singleness and Waiting

Apr. 9, 2010

We live in the tension between contentment and craving. Whether you are married or single or widowed or divorced; dating, not dating, wanting to date, not wanting to date—for now, forever. If you are wondering about your sexuality or your sex-appeal, your marriage, the strength of your love or your hope. . . And if you can empathize with the faith-struggle of doubt and dashed or delayed dreams (because without empathy we are nothing but the annoying, repetitive clanging of construction in the city streets) . . . Angela Severson has bravely opened a vein to unleash the power that only life-blood has for the healing and cleansing of telling the truth.

This poem is so very well done. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s holistic and honest and inspiring and right on the money. The single life and the married life illustrate and teach us about life with Christ and the character of God. The story of “This Life” is one that all too often gets marginalized and left untold, or told unwell—But, we’re doing better. When both stories are told (and listened to), all lives (and theologies) are enriched.

This Life

We wait, we long for, we pine after, … we desire, we yearn. We wait.

I wait
I am thirteen
Puberty explodes like a rash, an epidemic.
My girlfriends hold hands with boys we only months ago snickered at, turned up our noses at, as though their very essence was a disease. Now the disease appears to be, that my girlfriends can’t stop gawking over these same specimen. I decide to play along and choose my crushes. I crush my way through high school, waiting to be asked out. Waiting by locker stalls during break, waiting for a nudge in the hall, a simple “hey,” a nod. I wait, standing pressed against the wall, through all the slow songs on Friday nights in the darkened gymnasiums. I wait for an invitation to senior prom. I wait.
Through this waiting, I feel like it is not working, meaning me.
Something is not working with me…my friends acquire boyfriends, hold hands, kiss, and I acquire journals, stashed by my bedside, full of wonderings and waiting.

{Wait: as defined by Webster’s: To be ready and available}

It is July.
I’m twenty-two.
My days of being a serial “crushest’ are about to end.
I am standing in a parking lot surrounded by pigeons pecking at croissant crumbs. The aroma of Newman’s fish-n-chips deep fat fryers heating up engulfs me. In the slant of the morning sun my current crush tells me, that he has a crush on me.
……finally! He likes me and I like him. So, this is what it’s like to be loved, this is what I’ve been waiting for… this messy, dizzy, complicated, delicious, heart pounding love. We dance the dating dance for months and then on a quiet unexpected spring day he wants me to be his…asks me to be his, opens the door to the promise of forever and stamps soul-mate on my heart.

{Wait: as defined by Webster’s: To stay in a place of expectation of}

I am twenty-six.
I am engaged to the same fellow.
I am still waiting.
I’ve waited through friends getting married, through showers and bridesmaids dresses, through banquets and bouquet tossing, through Martha Stewart Wedding Magazines and honeymoon trip photos. It is now my turn. I am next in line to run from the church doors dodging birdseed and blessings.
However, love is delicate, as fragile as the blossoms of spring, opening in trust to the slanting sun and quick to close in the cool of the evening, so too was this promise, one that could not take hold, a love aborted, out of fear and wisdom, full of pain, and awe. Stunned with grief, the love in my heart shrinks, evaporates, dies and God becomes small, cruel and unkind.
Hope aborted.

For what do I wait?
Am I waiting for what I want, or what I need?
For that which I desire, or believe that I deserve?
Am I longing for wisdom? …opening myself to the God, who loves me into this deep-down empty sorrow…

{Romans Eight}
“In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

I am 30 or 32 or somewhere in between.
I have dates that last 10 minutes or 2 years. I avoid answering calls from some and linger hours by the phone waiting for others. In and out of love, infatuation, intrigue…sometimes going through the motions, other times knowing he is.
….I’m into men, I’m tired of men. One day I’m free as a bird and content in my singleness, the next I am desperately pining away for every male that crosses my path, searching his finger for a wedding ring. I seize the day, travel over seas, take classes, switch careers, indulging in the delights and rewards of being single and still I wait. I watch my married friends build homes, families and history.

It is summer wedding season again. My cousin is getting married. I congratulate myself that I am actually excited about being there, really o.k with my place in life, o.k. that I don’t have a date for this wedding, feeling genuinely happy for the two tying the knot. At the reception, between sipping white wine and sampling stuffed mushrooms, she approaches me….that token distant relative, you know the one…she has known me since birth, and kept up on me through my parents Christmas cards…and she asks “So are you going to be next?” I politely answer that I am not currently dating anyone…and she replies, “Well, what is a pretty girl like you still doing single?” Deep in my heart I have to trust that she means well, but the thoughts in my head and the words about to fly off my tongue feel like dragon fire. I want set blaze to her lovely over-sprayed doo. I smile and shrug, and pop another mushroom in my mouth to choke down my anger and my shame. “Yeah, what is wrong with me?” A moment ago I was confident in my singleness and now I feel other. I feel like a freak of nature, an alien, a misfit. I feel shaken.

{Hebrews 11/12}
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth……They are longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them……..Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

I am thirty-six.
I am single.
Singleness seems to be the new “have it all” lifestyle.
I decide to take a break in my day, a little escape from work.
I brew my cup of tea, add a dash of cream and sit back on the sofa with a magazine for some creative inspiration. I flip open into the middle and look down on the page. It is an advice column. The first question I glance at reads {Capital Q, semicolon} “Help, Please! What should I say to people who ask “why are you single?” It’s so rude, I can never think of a response. (yeah, I agree and can’t wait to hear the answer) {Capital A, semicolon} Shake your head, frown and say, “I loathe giving up all the fabulous sex” The answer hits me in the gut. I feel sad, disgusted, disappointed and angry. I’m appalled at the culture in which I live and yet not surprised. What do you expect, Angela….this world is not going to encourage you in your singleness, at least in a moral sense. I’ve read that singleness is on the rise…more people are single now that ever before. I want to think, great, I’m not so different, not so alone, but there is a huge chasm that defines this single lifestyle. The chasm is sexuality. It is one thing to be single and living with someone, single and sleeping with someone, single and sleeping with anyone and a very different state to be single and abstinent.
Abstinent not because it feels good or is pious, but because it honors God. Choosing abstinence out of obedience and respect for the vulnerability of the human body and spirit. I am ashamed to admit that I often hide the truth that I am nearly forty and a virgin. In this culture being a virgin makes me feel small, prude, asexual. Some nights I lay in bed at night aching to be held, longing for sexual intimacy. Gravity pulls my bones toward the earth, my body fills hollow…..I lay one hand on my belly and the other over my breast, not with the intention of arousal, but to be held. It would be easy to deny my sexuality and I have. But tonight I want to acknowledge that my body was designed for sexual intimacy, and although that yearning is not being fulfilled, I am still a sensual creation.

{Psalms 139}
“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.”

{Martin Luther}
“This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness;
not health, but healing;
not being, but becoming;
not rest, but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.
This is not the end, but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”

I am thirty-eight.
There are days when I feel content knowing that I am growing in wisdom, I am awaiting the Kingdom. That my singleness is just part of my journey here, it is the color of my life. Our stories all get colored in, mine just happens to be green at the moment.
Perhaps I’ll meet someone and get married and then I’ll get to add some purple and red, but today it’s green. I feel blessed with my greenness, alive and grateful. I love my career. I have rich, beautiful friends, and family….. my daily needs are always met, and still there is this tension.
I’m driving home from Eugene, marveling over the spring grass, the baby lambs, the sinking sun…the beauty is intoxicating and warm tears roll down my cheeks. I’ve just come from holding my new godson. His sweet newborn smell, his fragile breath, his parents (my beloved friends) and his sisters (my other two god children) all nestled in unison. This is a family. In this moment I am so grateful to be a part of it, but now I must travel north on I-5 towards home, alone. These tears are full of sorrow and joy, so bittersweet. In my heart I hold the hope that I may one day receive the blessing of a family like this earth but I know that this earth in all it’s beauty, is broken, so that for which I was made, I may not receive. There are bigger promises, larger hopes…to that I must cling.

{Hebrews 11}
“none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

{Wait: as defined by Webster’s: To look forward expectantly, to hold back expectantly.
To remain neglected or to remain in readiness.}

Today, as I write this, it is hard to wait.
I squirm. I writhe.
My skin crawls. The discomfort is visceral. Anything would feel better than here. The loneliness penetrates and all I see around me is what I don’t have. I hike through Forest Park and I see love and families. I see holding hands and holding hearts. I see couples with babies and couples with dogs and couples melting into one another, sharing food, laughter, words and breath. I cry out “God, spare me from this loneliness, this waiting. I want my feelings to change. I feel guilty for not being satisfied with what I have in this moment. My head knows the gospel’s truth.
The God of the Universe cares for me, loves me to the core, is for me,….and he has promised me life.
Not this life, but the everlasting kind.
The one without pain and suffering, hungering and squirming. A promise that is more than I can conceive, contain, or deserve. His grace covers the reality that my heart, at this moment, does not feel any better with this knowledge. I feel small and fragile, achy, and tired. Right now I am marred then I shall be perfect, right now I am broken, then I shall be fixed. I cry out for redemption.

{Deuteronomy 31}
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

What is it that I wait for? For what do I long? Is it Connection? Wholeness? Safety? Love?
I wait with myself, with my family, my friends,
I wait with my neighbor, the clerk at the grocery store, the lady next to me on the bus.
I wait with those across the country, across the sea, across the world, in places I know nothing of, filled with people waiting….
They wait for things that I have. They wait for warm food in their bellies and water on their lips, they wait to see their sick child healed, or the miracle of their bodies restored, they wait for a soft place to lay down at night, and the demon voices in their heads be stilled. The wait for the terror to stop and the monsters slain. We all wait.
We wait for hope, for freedom, for comfort
We wait for love.
Deep, deep love that will never fail. A love that will fill us.
We wait for Christ.

{Romans 8}
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angel nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Angela Severson
http://www.imagodeiwomen.com/2010/03/this-life.html

 

This blog post originally appeared at http://reneamac.com/2010/04/09/to-live-is-christ/