Archive for February, 2014

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Revealing the Hidden Motives Behind Couples Seeking Counseling

February 28, 2014

While waiting for my flight to be called in an airport, I checked my cell phone. I dialed the voice mailbox and found there were three urgent messages – all from the same man. He was the husband of a woman I had been counseling and he told me he needed to talk that afternoon. Of course, he had no way of knowing I wasn’t even in California at that moment, so I forgave his presumption that I would be able to drop everything to see him. As I was listening to his last desperate voicemail, he called in live time.

“Mike, I’m glad I finally got you on the phone. I need to see you immediately.”

“Bill, I’m in Arizona right now. Can you tell me what is going on…perhaps one of my co-workers can help you with your problem.”

“Mike, it really has to be you. I’m sorry to be so insistent, but no one else can help with this”. I should stop and say I already knew what this was about and that this was no emergency. Bill’s wife had asked him for several years to go for marriage counseling. He refused, for a number of reasons, and absolutely would not admit there was anything wrong with their relationship. So she decided to seek out help for herself instead. After seeing a couple of other counselors (and physicians) she also came to see me to help her with the marital problems. After working together for a month, she found a place of mental peace, rest and inspiration. She committed herself anew to her marriage, but she also committed herself to not going back to the way things had been for years. Even though she was doing emotionally and spiritually well, Bill did not like the “new Patricia” and became belligerent and verbally abusive to her in front of their two children.

I contend that you can change a marriage by modifying the perspective of just one member of that relationship. When people leave behind their lies and walk instead in peace and truth, that transformation changes the dynamics of their marriage. But these changes are not always welcome by the spouse who is not in counseling. Sometimes, bringing health to one person in a marriage will upset the equilibrium so much that the marriage status may become critical. This is exactly what was happening with Bill and Patricia.

“Mike, Patricia just left me and our marriage. She has taken the kids and gone to live with her sister for now. I need to see you. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Perhaps you’re thinking this was the perfect opportunity for me to counsel Bill as I had his wife. But this was not why Bill was phoning. I could tell immediately when he refused to talk to anyone else but me. He didn’t want me to help him change his life. He wanted me to convince his wife to move back in with him. Probably he assumed he could win me over to his “side” and that I would want to convince Patricia to go back to Bill. In essence, he wanted to do with me what he had been doing with his wife for years. He had no idea when he called that I have no commitment to save his marriage.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I have no intention of helping anyone save their marriage. It doesn’t work and it isn’t even a biblical concept. Nowhere in the Bible does God offer to save people’s marriages. He does offer to save our souls and our lives, transform our passions, decisions, morals and beliefs. God certainly grieves over divorce, but never does he offer to save someone’s marriage. For years, I tried to convince people to stay married. It never worked: not once. Unless a person wants to be married, no one else will change their mind. Marriage is a free choice and not even God will violate that.

Good counseling with people who have marital problems will focus on who the person is, what they believe and why they react the way they do. I only seek to help a person get closer to the God of Truth and then let them decide if they want to stay married. Since I started to practice this kind of counseling, I rarely see the kind of marriage break-ups I saw when I was desperately trying to hold couples together.

As Bill and I talked, I made it clear I wasn’t going to help him save his marriage. That was his job, not mine. He became angry with me over the phone and started to accuse me of being part of the process to end his relationship. I waited out his diatribe and then asked him a question: “What were you expecting me to do for you today?” He blurted out his answer before thinking: “I wanted to start counseling with you so I could call Patricia and tell her”. In summary, he wanted leverage to pressure his wife to do what he wanted. This is a common motivation for people entering marriage counseling – but it is certainly not the only one.

Though many people say they go to counseling to save the marriage, that is almost never the real goal. Let me lay out the more common reasons people choose to engage a marriage counselor as a couple:

  1. Story-Telling: When a person has endured pain, grief or difficulty, they desperately want others to both understand what they have endured and to be sympathetic to their hardship. When there are marriage problems, each person wants their spouse to understand what they have been through. I find that people seek out a marriage counselor to provide a safe place where they can tell their story. Most spouses no longer hear any version of the marriage story other than their own. When couples come to me for marriage counseling, they hope my presence will force their spouse to listen to their version of the “story”. What they don’t realize is I cannot make a person listen to something they don’t want to hear. Even if I restate what the person is saying, their partner rarely hears what I hear. Marriage counselors I know who do this sort of three-way counseling spend so much energy attempting to sync the stories so it represents some semblance of the same marriage. Unfortunately, it is most often a fruitless task. Neither party listens nor budges from their version of reality.
  2. Recruitment: I rarely meet anyone in marriage counseling who say “It really is my fault.” As I mentioned in the last article, couples expend a great deal of energy convincing the counselor why they are the injured party. The worst part is that almost all counselors do draw conclusions somewhere along the way, revealing their own weaknesses, prejudices and gender preferences. This is the most heinous motive for going to marriage counseling.
  3. Closure: Dave came into my office for another marriage counseling appointment. I had made an exception with Dave and his wife, helping them because they were in ministry. Not much was accomplished so far, but this appointment started out differently. Dave listened intently and allowed his wife to talk as much as she wanted. Normally, he interrupted her at every turn. He seemed to understand and showed empathy and compassion. I was satisfied that real changes were happening with them. That’s when I gave Dave an opportunity to talk about how the marriage was going from his perspective. Instead, he dropped a bomb on me. “Mike, I wanted you here so I could say what I need to say to my wife: I am getting a divorce. I no longer want to be married.” I felt like punching him in the face. I was simply a witness to his selfish, hard heart and the hurt he wanted to lay on his wife. Many, many people agree to marriage counseling so they can be satisfied they gave their doomed marriage every chance. I can often tell by body language and attitude that one or both spouses have already hardened their hearts. Perhaps you are asking “Why would someone want to go to counseling when they have already given up?” Perhaps we all fear failure and we don’t like to see ourselves as quitters. As a result, many people use marriage counseling to assuage guilt over a failed marriage.
  4. Concern for Children: Many couples couldn’t care less if they stayed with their spouse, but they feel an obligation to their children. They don’t want the stigma of a divorce attached to their kids. Though this sounds like a noble motive, it is also doomed. Ultimately, marriage counseling cannot keep a couple together when neither spouse focuses on their own problems. They may stay together longer to help the kids, but ultimately they will leave when the kids leave. The counselor really has no impact other than agreeing the family needs to stay together at all cost.
  5. Leverage: Every person in a troubled marriage believes their spouse is a controlling person. There are very few exceptions. For the most part, everyone is right. Most people live out their marriages as a “zero-sum game”. What that means is when one person wins an argument, the other loses. When one person gets their way, the other does not. Very few people in bad marriages work cooperatively or seek compromise. The worse the marriage gets, the more each person fears losing control of the situation. To compensate for this fear, they try and control their spouse, whether actively or passively. If they still cannot control their spouse, they seek a counselor to help them get back in control. Both men and women do this. This is what Bill was trying to accomplish by contacting me. He wasn’t the least concerned about anything I would say. He was confident in his ability to convince anyone to support his point of view. As soon as he found out I wanted to give him to another counselor, he wasn’t interested. Another counselor would have no leverage with his wife and that went against his real motive.

Next time, I will present a better rubric for solving the crises of marriage.

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Hidden Motives for Marriage Counseling

February 27, 2014

Time to put up this series again…it is one of the most requested series of marriage helps I have published. Part 1 of 3

The Gates are Open

I sat with my wife at our assigned table for the graduation reception with other students and professors of the nursing faculty. I quickly learned I was the only spouse in this group, and therefore the only “civilian” in medical terms. Graciously, they ignored me, knowing I had little to add to their discussions and plans. They spoke of going on to Masters, Doctorates and Post-doctorates, the profs trying to convince the students to continue on at the Alma Mater. I threw in a comment occasionally, content to let my wife carry the conversation .

Then she left to run an errand. At that moment, they all noticed me simultaneously.

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Dealing with Grief When You Still Have to Work

February 27, 2014

griefI highly recommend this excellent article by Paolina Milana. Very few people can get enough time off from work when they’re dealing with the pain of losing a loved one. This article has some practical and accurate advice. But one thing she says is something I see often when counseling people with recent grief.

Milana remarks,

“The urge to change may hit hard. You always wanted to study gorillas in Rwanda—should you quit your job and go? You never imagined you’d be working 24/7 as cook, maid, babysitter, home improvement maven, and financial manager, without even a dime to show for it—should you divorce your spouse and abandon your kids? Is it too late to run away and join the circus? Know that all of these thoughts are normal. Know, too, that experts strongly suggest not making any major life changes during periods of grief.”

My experience is that during seasons of grief we believe it is time to change everything. This helps to acknowledge that nothing will ever be the same now that this person is gone; but it causes way more problems in the long run. The best idea is to change some minor things and leave one year before any major life changes. Read the entire article for some other great advice.

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Things Charismatic/Pentecostal/Renewal Preachers Do

February 25, 2014

This begins with true confession time. Hi; my name is Mike, and I’m a charismatic (“Hi Mike”). That is, I believe in the existence of and proper practice of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. I speak in tongues occasionally. I have prophesied. I get down with Jesus, I have danced, laughed and laid prostrate in the Spirit, and I know what it is like to be preaching one sermon and have to stop to preach a totally different one.

I say all of that to say this: all of what I will say next applies to my tribe. This is an insider’s view, not a sniper’s shot from on top of the hill.

Unfortunately, I have come to my upper limit on being able to listen to podcasts by Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wavers, Renewal speakers and Holy Ghost Here-We-Go Anointed individuals.

It is not the content per se. It is not the ministry time at the end (well, maybe a little bit of that, but we’ll let that slide). It is the gimmicks that the preachers use in our circles that have got to stop. Guys and gals of the Holy Spirit persuasion: don’t you know they’re making fun of us, and not for the good reasons?

For the sake of bringing this whole shabang back to sanity, I propose we call for a permanent moratorium on some of the things charismatic preachers do. I have done three of these and I repent in dust and ashes. And no, I’m not admitting which three I have used. My friends know.

So, here are the most egregious practices of our tribe:

1. Simon Says.  This is where the preacher likes the point they’re making and tells the audience to “Say ____________”. Then the whole group repeats whatever the key phrase is. Let’s say the sermon is on Jesus raising Lazarus and the preacher wants to get across the point that Lazarus smelled bad after three days of putrification. The preacher might order the congregation, “Say, ‘smell bad‘” and then “Say, ‘Lazarus come out‘”.  And then it’s “Say ‘Take those stinky clothes off'” … and on and on. Some teachers do it so much that it is a constant litany of Simon Says repeat-after-me’s that you end up losing the point of the preacher. I suppose that Aimee Semple McPherson probably started this and since she was anointed, it became the acceptable way of hammering home the point. But to me, after 50 of these in a message, I actually get belligerent and say to myself, “I’m not saying that”. And then I have to deal with a spirit of rebellion.

2. FYI Moments.  If you listen to any charismatic preachers lately, you’ve heard this one. It all starts with the preacher saying “How many know…” and then it divulges some charismatic buzz concept that is making the conference rounds. As in “how many know the enemy only has a short time left” or “how many know that these are the Days of Elijah” etc. The problem here is that anyone who doesn’t know this meme feels like an idiot and most people will just agree even if this is a new teaching to them. Who wants to feel left out? In addition, I suspect a lot of teachers do this to let the congregation know that they are part of the latest instruction and listening to the Spirit. Let your congregation off the hook. They don’t need to get hooked on novel theories that will not be spoken of ever again. Fortunately, no one asks any more “How many know there’s a Jezebel spirit around these days?”

3. This Just In From Holy Spirit. You know the big gimmick that Fox News and CNN practice several times an hour. They know that everyone has been watching for a couple of hours and they need to make it interesting. So they pop up the words “Special News Alert“. It isn’t just the news. Preachers are now doing it all the time. They’ll be in a teaching message and they have to stop and tell us that Holy Spirit has just moved them to say something important. What I struggle with is not that Holy Spirit breaks in on their message or that they share it. But do they have to announce what they’re doing? Just do it. I can’t imagine Jesus stopping on his way to heal the Centurion’s son and then looking at the crowd and saying, “Wait, Holy Spirit just showed me someone may have touched me. And oh yeah….power just went out from me. How many know that power goes out from you sometime? Say “power goes out” people.” No, Jesus just turned around and said “Who touched me?” The mechanics behind his ministry in the Spirit stayed with him.

4. Hit Like on My Good Point. This next habit has been around for a long, long time. I can tell you as a conference speaker and preacher that we are some of the most insecure people on the planet. And small wonder: We are constantly putting out ideas for others to critique and comment upon. That would reduce a macho man to jello. The problem comes in when the preacher is fishing for “likes”. It sounds like, “can I have an amen at that point?” and then goes on from there. The preacher who always needs the crowd to agree with them lives in the same camp with the Facebook person who checks every ten minutes to see how many likes his latest observation has scored. Preachers even have their own particular phrases designed to garner these likes. “Can I have a witness?” “Am I alone in here?”, “Is anyone with me?”, “Amen all by myself?” etc. ad nauseum. You know, most of the prophets preached with an expectation that stones could start flying at any moment. The crowd in that day was saying “I’ll give you an amen brother…right between the eyes.” Man up and stop asking every twenty seconds for affirmation. It’s a little weak.

5. Lucky Lexicon. I am all for a teacher doing good background work. Get into the Greek, Hebrew, the lexicon, the bible dictionary and so on. That’s not this problem. I am pained lately at the preponderance of charismatic preachers who are discovering the original languages and when they find an unusual option for the interpretation, grab a hold of it. If your interpretation can’t be found in any of the translations, you are not ‘probably wrong’ you are ‘most definitely wrong’. This mistake is made because there is a mad dash these days to be an original voice in the wilderness. That is just not possible: There are too many teachers around to be the only one saying anything.

6. Where Was I?  Any teacher doing most of the above is going to run into this problem. They’ve taken so many side-excursions to play Simon Says and FYI and “This Just In” that they can’t remember the point they were trying to make. Believe me teachers, if you can’t remember where you are, the congregation got lost a long time ago. There is no virtue in starting in one direction and having no idea where you went only to have you arrive at a strange conclusion. Call it the “leading of the Holy Spirit” all you want, it is just bad teaching. And the only ones who will remember it are the ones who “fake it until they make it”, ashamed they don’t recall all your finer points.

7. Ritalin Aids. Let’s assume in this information age that the average person gets distracted so often we have a national crisis of ADHD. None of us can pay attention for that long. This may explain why so many charismatic leaders are constantly telling us that the good part is coming. “You’re going to love this” they promise. “Listen carefully, this is where it gets good” they predict. “You don’t want to fall asleep and miss this” they warn. Recently, I heard a guy everyone is calling today’s Prophet preach on 1 Corinthians 12. It is a difficult passage and one needs care in going through it. I actually thought he did a decent job of teaching, but then I had to stop listening. I counted 27 times where he told the listener about something coming that was critical. I finally just lost all credible ability to keep focusing. If everything is important, then nothing is.

That’s the danger of all of these. They pollute and dilute the truth of God. Nothing is worth doing if that is the result.

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Causes of Class Envy

February 17, 2014

The class warThe man pounded on the trunk of this woman’s car repeatedly. He was yelling something incoherent but his angry volume made my wife and I turn around to see what was happening. We were on vacation last week and went into a department store to pick up some essentials we had forgotten at home. We were walking back to our rental car when we heard the commotion.

From what I could determine from his tirade, the woman had come close to hitting his little daughter as they were crossing the road. I could understand why he was angry. But what he said next went way beyond anger and got Kathy and I thinking and talking about it the rest of the evening.

As the woman got out of the car to address this angry man–not a good idea by the way–he started to go crazy. He pointed at her and let her know getting out of the car was a dumb idea. That just made her angry and she stared at him, almost daring him to say something. That’s when he made a statement which came from somewhere beyond anger.

“Get back in your b***** Lexus, you rich b*****. Get back in your rich Lexus car and leave us poor slobs alone. Drive away in your rich Lexus and live your privileged life and leave the rest of us alone.”

He went on in this venue for a minute. Finally, the woman drove away and the man started to address the small crowd of onlookers, regaling them with this woman’s rich smugness and her obvious wealth, which apparently he believed led her to almost run over a little girl in the parking lot of Target.

On the way back to our hotel, Kathy and I mentioned how unusual that scene was. Where did his vitriol against the “privileged” class come from? The answer to that may shock you.

Numerous recent studies (such as this one and this) have determined that the gap between rich and poor is expanding every year and has been since the early 1990s. You don’t have to have a degree in Economics to understand this. You can feel it every time you go to the grocery store and realize you have less buying power than the month before. You feel it every time you look at the cost of educating your children in a university setting and realize they will be paying up to 20 times as much (in real dollars) than you did in college. You see it every time you enter certain parts of town and wonder “how does anyone afford a house like that”. The gap is real.

When the “99%” movement tried to occupy many different locales two years ago, people involved didn’t know what they were protesting or what they demanded, but they felt the problem nonetheless. This is called “Class Envy” and is becoming more real every day. What we witnessed in the Target parking lot is felt, even if not expressed, all over our country. Let me count the reasons we have come to this place.

1. Wealth is now produced, not earned: President Obama, in a December 2013 speech talked extensively about income inequality. In real dollars–figuring inflation and devalued dollar–90% of all Americans are making less money than in 1980. But 10% are making more. And lest you think you know who these people making more money are, you probably don’t. Doctors are making less, so are dentists, therapists, teachers, nurses, small business owners, entertainers, musicians, writers etc. Professionals are making much less in real dollars than they did in 1980. So who is making more money? Investors. And we’re not talking about the guy with a 401(k) either. We’re talking about stock market gurus, investment brokers, commodities traders, mortgage executives, real estate investors, oil executives etc. It used to be that the harder you worked, the more money you made. That is no longer true. You have to make money by investing in some kind of derivative. Even the physician who puts in 80 hours a week has trouble paying off student loans. Wealth is no longer earned, it is produced by learning the secrets of taking the money of other people and placing it on “the winning horses”. Therefore, there is less incentive in the general public to work.

2. The largest stake of money ever passed from one generation to another is now happening. The generation before the baby boomers amassed more capital through saving and buying property than any other generation. That transfer of wealth is happening now. The reason this adds to class envy is that it is only happening for about 25% of our citizens. The other 75% are inheriting nothing. And in the past 10 years, many of these same children are now having to spend money to care for their parents. So even though more wealth is being transferred between generations than ever before, it is concentrated on a few.

3. Class Envy Makes Great Television. Admit it; most of you watched the protests and had an opinion on them. When our nation heard that 1% of the population had increases of 275% in wealth over the past ten years compared to 18% growth for all the rest of Americans, this made for entertaining sound bites. Many people would rather watch Jerry Springer guests spouting off how the rich are exploiting them than look at the reality of each person’s situation.

4. Class Envy is endemic to almost every civilization. In other words, we inherited this from our ancestors. It is only in the 19th and 20th centuries that successive generations were better off financially than their parents. That made us expect it would always be that way. We are angry that it has ceased to be that way. Less than two centuries ago, Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo showed us how the rich and poor really lived. Even in the 1960s, the “Projects” built in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago created instant ghettos from which subsequent generations never emerged. The only thing that insulated the Average American from seeing poverty was the emergence of the suburbs. But now the suburbs are full of foreclosures and television makes it hard to escape the realities of class differences. The point it, class disparity has always been with us. We just found a way to ignore it for awhile. Guess what–it’s back.

5. Advertising is designed to make us envious. The Lexus “December to Remember” campaign is shameless. They know that very few people could afford to go out and buy a car for Christmas. They are flaunting the ability of a few to do it. But they also know that the idea of buying that luxury car will eat away at many who can’t afford it. I constantly see people driving way more car than they can afford. Advertising makes a living out of fomenting envy.

6. Political parties love to stir up the class-envy crowds. You can get any group to listen to you if you can make yourself look like the “party of the people.” Just blame the other guys as being “elitist” and you’re halfway there. Denounce the wealthy and the majority will jump on board with you. Right or wrong, it’s a proven political strategy and both major parties have used it consistently over the years. What is ironic is it is usually the party that appeals most to the poor who have the largest donors among the wealthy. It is easy to be cynical about the process.

7. There actually is a class struggle and it has always been there. We just don’t like to admit it. Though Communism is a colossal failure, Marx and Engels were identifying some real problems with their society. Very few people are paid what their labor is worth. And the ones making the most money often do not work anywhere near as hard as the rest. Even Jesus said “you will always have the poor with you.” He was not endorsing that state, simply observing a fact. Life is not fair.

In the next article, I will delineate some biblical and practical ideas that can help any person stay out of the emotional state of class envy.

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