When Love Has to Get Tough

Sin is deadly, and unrepentant sin will kill a marriage. Regardless of the sin, whether “big” or “small” (from a human point of view), a spouse’s refusal to repent marks the beginning of the end of the marriage. However, there is hope. Like a cancer, if detected, identified, and treated, the marriage can become stronger than anyone ever imagined. Unfortunately, the remedy may be horrifically unpleasant for everyone involved. Nevertheless, unrepentant sin must be confronted. In the words of Christian author and psychologist, Dr. James Dobson, “love must be tough.”

The Lord is relentlessly loving yet utterly uncompromising when it comes to behavior that undermines our relationship. Similarly, we must be willing to stand firmly against sin. However, as women have discovered–more so than men–expressing anger or sorrow is not enough. No amount of arguing or tears will turn a sinner from his sin. It is a sad fact that when the Holy Spirit cracks the shell of a hardening heart, His tool of choice is usually the consequence of wrongdoing. Therefore, our response can be no different. For a tough-love confrontation to be truly effective, it must include no less than five essential steps. Moreover, each step must be thought out well in advance and then expressed with calm resolve at a single confrontation.

To understand the inner workings of a tough-love conversation, read the rest of this article on the Covenant Eyes blog, “Breaking Free.”

Forgiveness is a Condition for Our Own Freedom

30 - The Bondage Breaker CoverThe following is an excerpt from Neil Anderson’s excellent work, The Bondage Breaker. While I differ with him in a few respects, particularly his recommended response to personified evil (Satan and demons), his explanation of forgiveness is superb. I only wish I could have written it as well. Because he has explained forgiveness so well and described the practical steps with such clarity, and because this section of his book has been so instrumental in my own healing and growth, I have excerpted it  below.

Forgiveness is a Condition for Our Own Freedom

by Neil T. Anderson

from The Bondage Breaker: Overcoming Negative Thoughts, Irrational Feelings, Habitual Sins

Most of the ground that Satan gains in the lives of Christians is due to unforgiveness.  We are warned to forgive others so that Satan cannot take advantage of us (2 Corinthians 2,. 10, 11).  God requires us to forgive others from our hearts or He will turn us over to the tormentors (Matthew 18:34,35).  Why is forgiveness so critical to our freedom?  Because of the cross.  God didn’t give us what we deserve; He gave us what we needed according to His mercy.  We are to be merciful just as our heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).  We are to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:31,32).

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  People who try to forget find that they cannot.  God says He will “remember no more” our sins (Hebrews 10: 17), but God, being omniscient, cannot forget.  “Remember no more” means that God will never use the past against us (Psalm 103:12).  Forgetting may be a result of forgiveness, but it is never the means of forgiveness.  When we bring up the past against others, we haven’t forgiven them.

Forgiveness is a choice, a crisis of the will.  Since God requires us to forgive, it is something we can do. (He would never require us to do something we cannot do.) But forgiveness is difficult for us because it pulls against our concept of justice.  We want revenge for offenses suffered.  But we are told never to take our own revenge (Romans 12:19).  “Why should I let them off the hook?” we protest.  You let them off your hook, but they are never off God’s hook.  He will deal with them fairly-something we cannot do.

If you don’t let offenders off your hook, you are hooked to them and the past, and that just means continued pain for you.  Stop the pain; let it go.  You don’t forgive someone merely for their sake; you do it for your sake so you can be free.  Your need to forgive isn’t an issue between you and the offender; it’s between you and God.

Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin.  Forgiveness is costly; we pay the price of the evil we forgive.  Yet you’re going to live with those consequences whether you want to or not; your only choice is whether you will do so in the bitterness of unforgiveness or the freedom of forgiveness.  That’s how Jesus forgave you-He took the consequences of your sin upon Himself.  All true forgiveness is substitutional, because no one really forgives without bearing the penalty of the other person’s sin.

Why then do we forgive?  Because Christ forgave us. God the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Where is the justice?  The cross makes forgiveness legally and morally right: “For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all” (Romans 6: 10).

How do you forgive from the heart?  First you acknowledge the hurt and the hate.  If your forgiveness doesn’t visit the emotional core of your past, it will be incomplete.  This is the great evangelical cover-up.  Christians feel the pain of interpersonal offenses, but we won’t acknowledge it.  Let God bring the pain to the surface so He can deal with it.  This is where the healing takes place.  Ask God to bring to your mind those you need to forgive as you read the following prayer aloud:

Dear heavenly Father, I thank You for the riches of Your kindness, forbearance, and patience, knowing that Your kindness has led me to repentance (Romans 2:4). I confess that I have not extended that same patience and kindness toward others who have offended me, but instead I have harbored bitterness and resentment.  I pray that during this time of self-examination You would bring to mind only those people that I have not forgiven in order that I may do so (Matthew 18:35). I also pray that if I have offended others You would bring to mind only those people from whom I need to seek forgiveness and the extent to which I need to seek it (Matthew 5:23,24). I ask this in the precious name of Jesus.  Amen.

As you pray, be prepared to have names come to your mind that have been blocked from your memory.  In 95 percent of the people I work with in this process, the first two names which come to mind are their parents.  The other often overlooked name on the list is self.  Why might you need to forgive yourself?  Because when you discovered that you can’t blame God for your problems, you blamed yourself.

Make a list of all those who have offended you.  Face the cross; it makes forgiveness legally and morally right.  Since God has forgiven them, you can too.  Decide that you will bear the burden of their offenses by not using the information about their offenses against them in the future.  This doesn’t mean that you tolerate their sin.  Tolerating sin makes a mockery of forgiveness.  You must always take a stand against sin.

Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving; you will never get there.  Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made and Satan has lost his place (Ephesians 4:26,27).

For each person on your list, say: “Lord, I forgive (name) for (offenses).” Don’t say, “Lord, please help me to forgive,” because He is already helping you.  Don’t say, “Lord, I want to forgive,” because you are bypassing the hard-core choice to forgive, which is your own personal responsibility.  Keep praying about each individual until you are sure that all the remembered pain has been dealt with.  As you pray, God may bring to mind offending people and experiences you have totally forgotten.  Let Him do it even if it is painful for you.  He wants you to be free.  I have seen many people forgive unspeakable atrocities with a great deal of emotion, but the freedom which resulted was tremendous.  Don’t try to rationalize or explain the offender’s behavior.  Forgiveness deals with your pain, not another’s behavior.  Remember: Positive feelings will follow in time; freeing yourself from the past is the critical issue.[1]

 


[1] Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House Publishers, 1990), 194–196.

What to Do When She’s Ready to Walk Out

02 - Walkaway Spouse 1 Cropped (iStock_000007434507Small)

After twenty-seven years of marriage, “John” suddenly found himself the sole caretaker of a dying marriage, helplessly watching his wife move toward the door, first emotionally, then literally. Her wanting out might have made sense if he had done something wrong, but she offered no insight, other than, “she has been unhappy for 20 years and now isn’t sure that she is in love with him or wants to stay in the marriage.”

John explained his difficulty in a letter asking for suggestions on how to rescue his marriage.

She has told me that there isn’t another man and I believe that this is true. I am devastated and don’t know how to proceed. She is currently getting counseling, but doesn’t want to share information with me or to discuss details of her counseling or her feelings. I have suggested that we seek counseling together and she has told me that she doesn’t want to do that yet. She has asked me to give her time to sort things out, but has been very direct in telling me that divorce is a possible and maybe likely solution.”

Because men detest the feeling of helplessness, they typically spring into action with the best of intentions, only to reap disastrous consequences. First, they chase after the woman they fear losing, which only causes her to flee farther and faster. Then, they resort to begging, which women find even more repulsive. Finally, unable to bear uncertainty for very long, anxious husbands resolve the stalemate by pushing her out the door. Fortunately, John is wiser than most men. He recognized the futility of acting on his instincts.

I am willing to be patient while my wife works through her feelings with her counselor, but I am afraid that she will make a decision to proceed with a divorce without making an attempt to resolve things together. I don’t want to be passive and just have things happen, but I also don’t want to be demanding and drive my wife further away.”

In my book, Redemptive Divorce, I discourage passivity when one’s partner destroys the marriage by stubbornly pursuing sin, but John’s wife has not yet done anything to compromise their union. She is not involved in another relationship, she has not turned to drugs or alcohol, she has not filed for divorce, and she hasn’t moved out of their home. Instead, she has expressed deep dissatisfaction with the marriage and her husband, honestly communicated her emotions, and has even sought Christian counsel. These are positive—albeit painful—responses on her part. In John’s case, a “tough-love” confrontation is not appropriate. However, he doesn’t have to remain passive. Continue reading “What to Do When She’s Ready to Walk Out”

For Enduring Relationships, Respond Rather than React

 16 - Conflict (iStock_000006932860XSmall)

You’ve probably seen or experienced this yourself: one person in a relationship does something dramatic to upset their harmonious balance, which prompts the other to react, which in turn triggers a reaction to the reaction. Pretty soon, a series of escalating reactions shatters the relationship into a million pieces, leaving both partners feeling helpless, misunderstood, victimized, and even bewildered. If their relationship survives and neither learns how to behave differently, they are doomed to endure lifelong drama—perpetual conflict occasionally interrupted by episodes of remorse.

Relationships survive when at least one partner understands the difference between responding and reacting. Relationships thrive when both partners learn how to take a deep breath and then respond, rather than react, to the actions of their mate.

What’s the difference between responding and reacting? Consider the following comparisons and their corresponding truths:  Continue reading “For Enduring Relationships, Respond Rather than React”

Ten Characteristics of a Great Apology

A great apology can be a powerful agent for healing, both for the person you harmed and your relationship. It’s a crucial first step toward rebuilding trust. A lousy apology, on the other hand, can be like acid on an open wound.

To be certain your next apology heals rather than harms, review these ten characteristics of a great apology. Then, choose your words carefully and let your humility do the talking.

A great apology fully acknowledges all wrongdoing.

A great apology accepts complete responsibility for wrongdoing.

A great apology empathizes with the offended person.

A great apology gives priority to the good of the offended person over self.

A great apology rejects excuses and avoids defensiveness.

A great apology refuses to presume upon grace.

A great apology places no expectations on the offended person.

A great apology accompanies restitution, when possible.

A great apology strives to heal the offended person’s injuries.

A great apology embraces humility.

Share your most memorable apology story with us. Were you healed or harmed by it?

Learning to Forgive by Learning How to Be Offended

Knight.I remember a time when I didn’t carry grudges. I had the uncanny ability to absorb the most outrageous offenses with barely a flinch and then return unconditional love without resentment. In fact, my armor-like invulnerability to pain and my remarkable freedom from bitterness became a curious source of pride. I could forgive-and-forget with almost supernatural ease. But then something changed all of that. A bizarre combination of circumstances I had never faced before. First, an offense so great, so destructive, I actually wondered if it were possible to die from grief. Second, an apology. Not your run-of-the-mill, mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry.” But a request for forgiveness laced with such deep, empathetic sorrow, I thought my offender might die with me. Still, I struggled to forgive.

Sorrow weighed heavily on my heart while resentment coiled around my chest like a python. To survive, I had to learn why I couldn’t simply shrug off this transgression like I had so many before. This forced me to learn about the true nature of forgiveness, and I soon discovered that I had never actually forgiven anyone of anything before. Instead, as I examined my past, I discovered a number of clever coping mechanisms in my relationship repertoire. Here are a few examples: Continue reading “Learning to Forgive by Learning How to Be Offended”

How to Recover from a Fall

10 - Falling Down

Let’s face it; we’ve all done it.

Fallen.

Morally, I mean.

Theologians refer to the first sin—the original sin—as “the Fall.” And it’s an appropriate image. God did not intend for humanity to crawl like beasts. Animals don’t bear His likeness. Nor did our Creator intend for us to slither like the archetype of evil. He designed our bodies to walk upright, a posture befitting our dignity as the crown of creation and bearers of the divine image. But sin makes us less than human. When we fall—morally, I mean—we are closer to the earth and further from our created purpose. Rather than ruling over the world, we become subject to it.

Fortunately, God did not leave humanity to crawl in the dust. After pronouncing curses on all of creation—the forewarned consequences of disobedience—the Triune God pronounced the gravest curse of all upon Himself. One day, the Father would send His Son to suffer the same evil that plagues all of humanity and to be “attacked” by the author of sin (Gen. 3:15).

In the person of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled His promise by becoming one of us. And, as one of us, He bore the penalty of sin. Unjustly, because He had never fallen. Voluntarily, because He loves us. Completely, because he is almighty God. He did this on behalf of all humanity and now offers complete restoration to any who would receive it. He invites us to stand upright again. No longer by our own strength, but in trusting dependence upon Him.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ to save you from the penalty of your sin, you never need worry about condemnation—not from others and not from God (Romans 8:1). Therefore, sin has become a fundamentally different matter in the life of a believer. We are no longer subject to condemnation, so guilt and shame have no place in the life of a believer. Nevertheless, we remain vulnerable to temptation and prone to sin. We will stumble. We will fall.  Even as we earnestly attempt to honor God, we will inevitably harm others by the poor choices we make and the sinful acts we commit.

While we never have to fear the eternal consequences of wrongdoing, unresolved sin can complicate our lives with earthly consequences, frustrate the Lord’s desire to bless us, and cause others immeasurable heartache. Despite our secure relationship with God, sin is still a deadly serious matter. Thankfully, the Lord has given us a means by which we can clear away the clutter of wrongdoing.

If you have unresolved sin in your life, consider the following actions: Continue reading “How to Recover from a Fall”