Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Handling Family Issues and Visiting During the Holidays

As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I realize that these holidays can be stressful when visiting others, and I would like to encourage you with a few ideas to make the best of your celebrations, especially family gatherings.

  • Communicate ahead of time what each person expects during the visit. What will you be doing? Who will you visit? Who will stay where? Who is going to pay for what? Who is providing food, and what kind? Are there any special diets or restrictions on treats? Are there any guidelines about acceptable gifts or spending limits? "The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." Proverbs 16:21, 24
  • Prepare for conflict about varying lifestyles. Some people may criticize your decisions on how you raise your children.  Or, they may be open about their own lifestyle choices that you might not approve of. I have found that the best approach to this is to be confident and pleasant about how we live and what we believe, and not get into unnecessary conflicts about how other people live. Smile! If a conversation gets a little too heated, change the subject or quietly leave the room. "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Colossians 4:5-6
  • Be aware of the "emotional baggage" that each person might bring into a situation. Our past relationships with those we are visiting can affect our present relationships of those we bring with us. Do you or your spouse revert to old patterns when you go "home" to your family of origin? Is this a good thing? Talk about this ahead of time -- sweetly, of course! "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:18-19
  • Discuss ahead of time how you will deal with your children's misbehavior. First of all, you can prevent much of this with proper rest, regular meals, and advance training. If you are visiting a house that is filled with people, you may need to come up with creative solutions for privately dealing with an unpleasant situation. "The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools." Ecclesiastes 9:17
  • Remember that wherever you go and whoever you see, if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you must seek to honor him in whatever you do and say. "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." 2 Corinthians 5:20.
  • Be flexible if things don't work out as you have planned. Your children might get sick, your car might break down, you may get snowed in. God is still in control! How you respond to challenging situations will be a powerful example to your children, for better or for worse! "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:2-5

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Help for Hurting Marriages

Dear friends,

I wrote this a few weeks ago and sent it to some friends, but thought I would post it here on the blog for you, too.

Note: This post is for wives in troubled marriages, not dangerous marriages. If you or your children are being abused by your husband, what will "work" in a normal family will probably not work in yours. Your first priority is to get yourself to a safe place, not rebuild a relationship. Please read these posts instead:


    I couldn't sleep this morning, so I decided to get up and write for a little while since there is something that's been on my heart to share. I know that a lot of you are struggling in your marriages right now, and I feel for you. I wanted to give you the title of a book that might be a tremendous help, Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands by Gary Thomas. I first read it a couple of years ago when he sent me a review copy. Then I lent it to a friend last year, and she recently returned it, so I've been flipping through it again. At the same time I've been hearing from a lot of wives who are struggling in their marriages and wondering what to do. There are various opinions floating around about this, and I will share some of my own thoughts a little further down in this blog post, but I think Gary has covered the topic so well that I want to draw your attention to his book first. I've recommended it to many friends, and so many of them have told me what a vital help it has been to them. He starts by encouraging wives to be strong in their own spiritual lives (for their own sakes and to equip them for helping their husbands) rather than giving way to fear or intimidation. He helps them to understand the mind of a man (we are SO different!) and to create a climate for change. In the last section of the book, he presents real life case studies of couples who have faced issues such as anger, marital unfaithfulness, lack of involvement with home & children, etc. He writes:

    "If you always play it safe in your marriage, you’re going to end up in some ruts. What I believe will give you the most boldness and courage to address issues that need to change is, first, understanding who you are in Christ, and second, letting God, not your marital status, define your life. Armed with that acceptance, security, and empowerment, you become a mighty force for good. You can then claim the power of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 31:8: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

    Fear and discouragement create stagnancy and persistent disappointment in marriage. If you’ve had your fill of those, why not try God’s path of faith and boldness?

    One of the things I’ve been trying to do in these opening pages is to awaken in you a capability not often expressed to Christian women. Our culture in general – even Christian culture – is on a long slide toward passivity that completely goes against who God made us to be.

    Let me be blunt: hope is not a strategy. Merely “wishing” that your husband would change, merely “wanting” your marriage to be different, won’t do anything. The problem is that some Christians spiritualize “wishing – we call it “praying.” Please understand, I’m not knocking prayer; I’m challenging a misconception about prayer, namely, that we can merely voice our displeasure and expect our world and our relationships to be transformed. True Biblical prayer is about much, much more than that. It involves receiving our marching orders and then acting on them.

    A good marriage doesn’t happen by accident, and a good marriage isn’t maintained by accident. I’ve never written a book by accident, and you can’t build a business by accident. These endeavors require deliberate choices and much perseverance. When you start acting instead of merely wishing, when you begin taking initiative instead of simply feeling sorry for yourself, you become an active woman, and active women mirror the active God who made them." (from pages 34-35 of Sacred Influence)

    That's just a tiny sample of this wealth of wisdom for wives, and from just one of his many books. I've lost count of the times I've told you all how much his other books have meant to me over the past few years. They have really pulled me through some rough patches in my faith. You can download free sample chapters and study questions for most of Gary's books, such as Sacred Marriage, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, Holy Available, Authentic Faith, etc.  Just go to http://www.garythomas.com/.

    Oh, I can't resist giving you a paragraph from his earlier book, Sacred Marriage, too:

    “The key to the discipline of fellowship is understanding this fundamental reality: All of us face struggles, and each one of us is currently facing a struggle that we’re having less than one hundred percent success overcoming. If we’re married, the fact is we’re also married to someone who is failing in some way. We can respond to this “bitter juice” by becoming bitter people, or we can use it as a spiritual discipline and transform its exercise into the honey of a holy life. In this fallen world, struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness are a given. The only question is whether our response to these struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness will draw us closer to God – or whether it will estrange us from ourselves, our Creator, and each other. Will we fall forward, or will we fall away?”

    Now, a few thoughts of my own on what to do about a troubled marriage, with the disclaimer that this is my personal perspective after reading, listening, and asking a lot of questions.

    On the one hand, I don't think it particularly helpful for husbands or wives to be overly focused on what is wrong with their marriages. I would say it isn't healthy to expect to fix every little irritating thing. And though we should be willing to honestly confess our own sins and to be prudently aware of the struggles our husbands face, there should also always be a delicate balance between transparency and reserve, even in an intimate marriage. It is not necessarily edifying to know about every little thought that goes through each other's hearts and minds. Some issues, at least initially, might best be handled with the help of a wise and trusted friend or pastor. I also think that gratitude and affirmation for each other's positive qualities can really sweet things up. There are so many petty things that can be overlooked and tolerated with the acknowledgement that we aren't perfect either. A culture of constant confrontation (whining, nitpicking, harsh criticism, accusation, suspicion, assumption, etc.) needs to give way to a culture of grace, patience, and forgiveness.

    That said, I totally agree with Gary that a wife should not be a doormat when her husband is doing or saying things that are truly damaging the marriage or negatively affecting their children. A lot of Christian wives buy into the misconception that in order to be submissive (as the Bible encourages) that they need to suffer in silence and just passively go along with whatever happens. (Remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5?) I've actually heard some people say, "If you bring it up once, that's an appeal. If you bring it up again, that's nagging." Personally, I think that's bosh. That would mean that a husband could just conveniently ignore a glaring problem, figuring that his wife has to shut up if he chooses not to listen right away. A wife has the sacred responsibility of addressing these important issues with feminine strength, prayerfully and firmly persisting, while entrusting the results to God. That doesn't mean her husband will change. She is not responsible for that. But she is responsible to keep speaking the truth in love, as creatively and persuasively and sweetly as she can, until he "gets it." No matter what happens, she at least has the dignity of knowing that she is "beloved in Christ" and precious in the sight of God, whether her husband realizes it or not.


    May God of hope restore to each of us this vision of the glory of marriage.

    I would be glad to hear your thoughts on these things!

    Grace and peace,