Sustainable Self-Care Ideas to Improve Your Wellbeing

Over the past few years, it has become increasingly trendy to talk about self-care. This is especially true for people whose work or lifestyle puts them in positions where it is hard to take time for themselves, whether because they work long, exhausting hours, or because they are home with children all day and can’t seem to get a meaningful break. Also, let’s be honest with our current times. COVID-19 has added additional stressors on top of everything else in our everyday lives.

But for many, the understanding of self-care doesn’t go too much further than taking time for yourself, whether by going out for a cup of coffee alone, meeting up with friends, or being available for a long luxurious soak in the bathtub.

However, I would suggest that self-care goes deeper than making sure that you can take those 10-15 minutes (or more) for yourself every day, as one can very quickly go from that relaxed feeling in one moment, back to feeling stressed and under pressure from the next triggering event.

This suggests that you are over-extending yourself and what you perceive to be a state of relaxation is actually a state of constant stress. This state of stress that you perceive to be relaxed is just a lower level of stress compared to the previous overwhelming event—which is why we are easily stressed out by any small event that is stressful. Our cup is already filled to the rim.

Self-care, when we are stressed, keeps our cups from overfilling. But, self-care when we no longer feel as overwhelmed will help lower your cup even more so that when stressful life events happen, you can handle them with more patience, grace, understanding, and love.

Self-Care Ideas to Maintain Overall Health

Self-care needs to make some sort of effort to meet your deeper needs if it is to be meaningful and sustainable. It needs to look at all the areas of your life, your physical needs, like rest and taking care of your physical health, as well as your mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Focus on your physical health

One of the first steps in self-care is recognizing that you are responsible for taking care of your physical health. As an adult, no one is going to remind you that you need to eat or to get enough sleep. So, you need to make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy and nutritious meals, and getting some form of daily exercise, such as going for a walk or cycle around the block.

All these things are important if we want our bodies to be operating at peak capacity. We need to make sure to set ourselves up for success by giving ourselves the fuel we need to feel good and manage our day-to-day responsibilities, and a healthy diet, rest, and movement all contribute to our general good health and wellbeing. Exercise is also known to help counteract feelings of stress by producing endorphins, so it has a double benefit.

Endorphins are chemicals produced naturally by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress. These are often also called the “feel good” chemicals. If your body is not producing enough endorphins you might experience depression, anxiety, or moodiness. This is why your physical health plays an important role in your mental and emotional well-being.

Know yourself

The next step in self-care is to do a little self-reflection. Take some time to look at your life and think about how the various aspects of it affect you and your wellbeing. Understand your capacity and limitations, so that you can know more easily when to say “no” to taking on too much.

Recognize what energizes you and what depletes you so that you can know what to say “yes” to and how to best recharge. Think about what kinds of things add significant stress so that, if possible, you can remember to practice your coping skills and make plans to manage the stress.

Prioritize what relaxes you, make time in your schedule to unwind, and allow yourself to show love to yourself. For some people, a warm bath with music or a book every day is relaxing. For others, cooking, dancing, or drawing are relaxing activities.

Think about what motivates you, so that you can commit yourself to what is important and follow through. The better you know yourself, the better you will be able to anticipate stresses and work to mitigate them, and the better you will be able to identify what is important to you and be able to plan to meet your needs.

Only by taking the time to think about what works and what doesn’t work in your life can you make better decisions about how to use your limited resources of time and energy and how to be your best self.

There’s a saying about self-care being about choosing to create a life that you don’t regularly feel the need to escape from. So, ask the tough questions about your life, career, and habits, and whether these things are draining you or fulfilling you. And then make changes accordingly.

Establish boundaries

Once you have taken the time to figure out what is most important to you, and what you are best capable of handling, then you can begin to establish healthy boundaries for yourself. These will look different to different people and in different situations.

You may find you need a certain amount of time alone to refresh yourself, and once you’ve decided that this is a priority in your self-care you can determine where to take this time and set up boundaries to protect it. Your boundaries may look like saying “no” to certain commitments, or to saying “no” beyond a certain number of social hangouts. But there will be times where you need to establish a limit, and then enforce it.

Yes, life is not perfect, and things will come up that may require the relaxing of a boundary; however, the general trend of protecting your time and the things that are important to you should become a habit that you don’t feel guilty about. Boundaries will help you to prioritize what is important, and then you can let the less important things slide a little if necessary.

Focus on your mental and emotional health

Once you have taken care of your physical needs and taken the time to establish boundaries to protect what is important to you, you can focus on investing in things that will build you up mentally and emotionally. For some, this may look like a change in their job to find something more fulfilling or making better use of their gifts and interests.

But momentous changes like this are not always options for everyone and looking after your mental health may mean investing in a hobby or other activity that challenges you and gives you a feeling of fulfillment. This might include getting involved in community service or taking a class in something that interests you, whether art or economics.

For some, it might mean being available to regularly spend time reading an enjoyable book. However, it is important to be available for things that challenge you positively and give you a sense of progress and growth.

Invest in friendships that build you up

While you may have hundreds of friends on social media, it is important to recognize the friendships that you have in real life. One rarely has the time to invest meaningfully in many friendships in real life, but when you have a solid friendship that uplifts you and builds you up, take the time to invest in that person.

We are made for relationships and do not function well in isolation, and that time with a friend can be life giving, especially when you are going through a challenging time. So don’t forget to prioritize time and energy for investing in the people that are close to you.

Focus on your faith

For many people, the spiritual aspect of life is particularly important. This is a part of life that shouldn’t be left as the last priority. It should be our first priority. For a Christian, God is more than a distant idea, but a close comfort and help in times of trouble.

If your faith is important to you then you will not find fulfillment in just going through the worldly motions but will need to seek a relationship with God by reading His living Word daily, praying without ceasing, and following His commandments.

It will also be important to fellowship with people who share your faith, whether only for the weekly gathering or more frequently. Pay close attention to the people you gather with. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Invest in your faith community and you will find yourself spiritually fulfilled. If your spiritual life is not in alignment with God, it gives license to Satan to attack you in those areas that are not in alignment. Jesus gave us “The Great Commission” as our purpose on earth. Neglecting what Jesus commands us to do can be physically felt as an ache or need that we cannot satisfy in any other way.

This is the Holy Spirit convicting us, “and He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). When you are in alignment with God’s Word, you will feel peace in your Spirit and no longer be at war with your flesh.

Make time to fill your cup

All these things may feel like a lot that needs to be thought through and prioritized, but at the end of the day, we are complex people with needs across all parts of life. If any of these needs – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – are not being met, then we will struggle to feel satisfaction and contentment where we are.

But if you make good choices when it comes to how you fuel your body, what you prioritize, and how you guard what is important to you, you will find yourself increasingly fulfilled by the life you are building. And while you are investing in all these things, you mustn’t forget to allocate time to rest. “Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man’”(Mark 2:28).

Give yourself time to unwind and do the things that fill your cup, whether that is spending time in nature, socializing with good friends, or relaxing with a book, or even taking a long candlelit bubble bath. When the rest of your life is well balanced, these moments of rest will easily refresh and revive you and help you feel prepared to face the next challenge that comes your way.

Photos:
“Wake up and Glow”, Courtesy of Ellieelien, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; Self Love”, Courtesy of Content Pixie, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman Making Heart”, Courtesy of Jackson David, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “White Mug on Chair Arm”, Courtesy of Carolyn V, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Premarital Counseling: Strengthening Your Future Marriage

For some, getting married is the fulfillment of a long-held dream. Finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is no mean feat. The world of dating is peppered with false starts, dead ends, unmet promises, people who aren’t what we thought they were, and much more. So, when you make it through that minefield and find that person you love and want to build a life with, that’s cause for celebration.

Having gone through the dating ordeal and confirmed your intentions for one another, talking about premarital counseling seems like putting one last obstacle in your way just before the finish line. Do you need premarital counseling, or is it something for people who aren’t sure about what they want?

The broad consensus is that doing premarital counseling is a wise decision for couples. Instead of looking at it as an obstacle to your happiness or a buzzkill for the planning around color schemes and your wedding menu, premarital counseling is one of the cornerstones in building your marriage.

It’s a vital step that will challenge you, but it will strengthen your commitment to one another while giving you the tools you need to navigate married life. It will confirm that you made the right decision to marry your beloved or provide you with insight and wisdom into your relationship so that you make an informed decision about the future.

What is the value of premarital counseling?

The value of premarital counseling is that it will help you prepare for married life with your partner. Pre-marriage counseling provides you with a space to reflect on aspects of your future lives together that will be vital for a flourishing and committed marriage. Sometimes, in the thrill of our intoxicating emotional connection with our partner, we don’t always ask the probing questions we ought to.

Or we simply assume that we’re on the same page about everything, even though we may not have gone into the specifics. Pre-marriage counseling is infinitely practical, getting you into those conversations that will make sure that as you set off on your life together you are united in purpose, clear about your expectations of one another and your relationship, and you have the skills you need to manage conflict well.

What kind of questions will come up?

Pre-marriage counseling covers a wide range of topics for discussion. Depending on your sessions and areas that need more focus than others, you may cover some or all these questions in depth.

Finances

Some of the fiercest and most common fights in marriage are about money. Money has a significant impact on your married life, from where you live, what you eat, whether you can take vacations, and what charities you can support financially.

There are many decisions to make that concern money in a relationship, and these include who works (one of you may earn enough to support you both, or both of you may need to work to support your family), who handles the finances (balancing the checkbook, managing your savings and investments), how will you use money in your spending, saving, investing, and giving.

These and other decisions need to be made within a marriage, and pre-marriage counseling addresses these so that the couple thinks through the practicalities of their married life.

Children

Another important question for a couple is whether they want children. How many children would you want to have? If biological children aren’t an option, would you consider adoption? Some couples find out when they do marriage counseling that their partner doesn’t want to have children, and they may want a house full of them.

Being clear about your hopes and expectations can save you from heartache later. During sessions you may also think through your own parenting beliefs and styles, to discern whether you are on the same page and share the same values around raising children.

Relating to family

In many cases, the couple that plans to get married is part of an extended family. Some people are close to their families, while others aren’t. Depending on those relationships, a couple may need to figure out practical things like where they will spend the holidays, how involved they want the family to be in their lives, and who will broach the subject if there’s an issue with the in-laws. The couple will need to set boundaries that work for both partners.

Goals and goal setting

Pre-marriage counseling can help a couple to speak openly about their life goals as individuals and as a couple, along with helping them be effective in setting and meeting goals together. Perhaps one of you wants to go to school, and you’ll have to work out for how long, how you will afford it, and then pivot to focus on the other partner’s development.

The goals can be renegotiated later but agreeing on goals and setting expectations early helps with accountability for a couple. Additionally, during pre-marriage counseling, a couple can be taught how to set and meet goals together.

Roles and distribution of tasks

The families that we grew up in taught and gave us our basic ideas of who does what in the family. Those ideas may change over time, but they are often our first and most important influences in that respect.

The times have changed, and more than ever there needs to be a discussion about what roles each partner assumes. Some people passionately believe that the man takes a leading role, while others would hold to equality in all things. Who does the dishes, who takes the car for a service, who works, or who takes care of the kids?

Each of us may think the answer to those questions is obvious, but too many couples find that their assumptions are wrong. A couple may choose to divide tasks according to capability, or they may stick to traditional roles in some things while mixing it up in others. The point is, each couple must figure out what works for them, and the starting point is asking probing questions.

Spirituality

For people of faith, their relationship with God is important and they want to nurture it. How will you cultivate this relationship? At which church community will you make your home? This is important and relevant if you aren’t in the same community.

Will you pray, fast, and read Scripture together or separately? How will you keep one another accountable and growing? Through this process, you may discover that you may have radically different or opposing ideas about spirituality, which means that tough decisions lie ahead.

Sex

Sex is a huge part of the physical and emotional connection between a couple. Questions will have to be answered about each person’s expectations about sex. How frequently does one expect it? What are the boundaries you’re establishing about sexual intimacy? These and other questions must be asked to ensure that this aspect of their lives is also addressed.

Time

With busy lives taken up by various commitments, how a couple uses their leisure time is another key area to reflect on. How will you use your leisure time? Will you use it to volunteer, chill at home and watch tv, start a sport or a hobby, or spend time with friends? When children come into the picture, how you use your time may need to be renegotiated as your priorities and commitments shift.

Conflict

Lastly, though a couple may hate to think it, there will be some disagreements and conflict that arises within a relationship. Each person handles conflict differently. Some avoid conflict, preferring not to bring up thorny issues, while others are confrontational.

Pre-marriage counseling can help a couple to figure out their individual “conflict style,” developing their communication skills, along with how to help one another address conflict in a healthy way so that you address the issue and don’t attack each other. Being able to manage conflict will go a long way to helping a couple face life’s struggles together.

Is premarital counseling right for you?

Premarital counseling is advisable for all couples, regardless of their age, ethnicity, socio-economic background, level of education, or whether they’ve been married before. Addressing issues ahead of time and gleaning wisdom to conduct your marriage wisely are some of the benefits of pre-marriage counseling.

Premarital counseling spaces can be found within religious institutions such as churches, but the services are also offered at community centers and private practices. You can even access pre-marriage counseling services online if your work hours or other obstacles don’t permit an in-person visit.

Whether in private sessions with a counselor or as part of a group with couples walking the journey toward marriage together, taking up pre-marriage counseling may be the best thing you can do to prepare for and strengthen the foundation of your future marriage.

Photos:
“Married”, Courtesy of Wendel Moretti, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Kissing in the Field”, Courtesy of Lood Goosen, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Couple”, Courtesy of Cottonbro, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Couple in Counseling”, Courtesy of Anthony Shkraba, Pexels.com, CC0 License

How to Forgive Someone: Biblical Guidance on Forgiveness

Have you ever been asked to do something that seemed impossible? How did you respond to the challenge? Sometimes in life, we face situations that take us to our limits and beyond. The sort of people we are – our character – shows in those moments. Though we may fail in the attempt, being willing to give something a go has great value.

If we are familiar with what the Bible says about living a life that is rooted in love for God and neighbor, then we know how challenging living such a life can be. We don’t always meet our self-expectations, and that’s to say nothing of the high standard to which God holds his people.

Nonetheless, we try to live faithfully, to be just and loving people through the power of the Holy Spirit. We may not get it right, but we try; and when we fail, we dust ourselves off ask the Lord for His grace and mercy and try again. It matters that we keep going despite the challenges and setbacks. The life of faith as a disciple of Jesus means staying in alignment with the Word of God.

One area that most of us find challenging is forgiving others. When people wrong us, we may find ourselves inclined toward wanting to see them pay for what they did. In other instances, we may not wish them harm, and many times we certainly want nothing more to do with them.

The sins we and others commit are many, varied, and complex in the kinds of effects and traumas they produce. In the Bible there are three categories of sins mentioned: sin, transgressions, and iniquities. Forgiving others is thus not always a simple matter, and it may feel like we are betraying ourselves and our experiences to forgive someone who has wronged us.

What is written below is in no way intended to guilt us into forgiving someone or to do something we aren’t ready to do. Forgiveness is ultimately a choice we must make to let go of our anger and desire for revenge and forgive as our Father forgave us.

Forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving, not the person receiving the forgiveness. That’s not a choice anyone can make for another person, but we must reflect on the biblical teaching about God’s will for us to live free of resentment and vengeance.

After all, holding onto unforgiveness, according to some research studies, negatively affects our physical and mental health by making us more vulnerable to stress, heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.

We too are forgiven

One of the realities with which we are regularly confronted in the Bible is that we all need God’s forgiveness. The word “sin” doesn’t roll off our tongues easily, but essentially what that word conveys is the notion that we are morally bankrupt. We miss the mark in a variety of ways, whether it’s by not doing what we’re meant to do, or by doing the things we aren’t supposed to. We sin because we seek after fleshly gratifications.

Our attitudes towards other people may be less than generous; we might treat others with more respect because they are like us in one way or the other. We show favoritism or partiality; at other times we are unwilling to consider the feelings of others. In our thoughts, feelings, and actions, none of us is perfect and lives the way God wants us to. For this and more, God has forgiven us.

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.Ephesians 2:1-10

This is a powerful message that shows how God has bestowed on us his undeserved favor. The first few verses of that passage read, “Though we were disobedient, God forgave. us and gave us new life.

This forgiveness isn’t a thing of the past. We continue to sin, and God continues to forgive us – “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” –1 John 1:8-9

God meets us in our weakness and forgives us. Even as we consider how others may have wronged us, we must also consider how we have wronged God and others, and yet we are forgiven.

We forgive others as we are forgiven

Forgiving others is likely one of the hardest things about the Christian life. We mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that forgiveness means that you aren’t taking a person’s actions seriously. On the contrary, because we understand that God’s forgiveness came to us through Jesus and the sacrifice he made on our behalf, we know that forgiveness is serious business.

It’s so serious in fact that we are reminded that if we understand just what it is God has done in forgiving us, we will extend that forgiveness to others. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Matthew 6 Jesus teaches his followers to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” and then he adds this difficult word – “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. The gift we have received from God, we are to pass along to others; if we have understood God’s gift to us, that is.

Additionally, forgiving another person is more about us than it is about them. Have you ever noticed how stressful it is to be around someone you have something against? You either try to avoid them, or you grit your teeth when they’re speaking all the while thinking less-than-healthy thoughts.

Forgiveness allows us to let go of our toxic emotions such as hatred towards the other person. We reclaim our thoughts and don’t allow them to live “rent-free” in our hearts and minds because of the negative emotions we bear toward them. When we forgive them, we can move on with our lives, free of resentment.

We forgive often

The things that people do that require forgiveness may vary, but the act of forgiveness, the choice of letting go of the desire to pay back remains a tough one. It often doesn’t happen overnight; we must sometimes choose to forgive daily. If you live with the person, or if the things the person does occur often, that makes the act of forgiveness a daily choice.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples once asked Jesus the question “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus responded, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22). Peter’s question is all too relatable. It would be nice to have an upper limit when it comes to forgiveness, beyond which we can hold onto our resentment with divine approval. Jesus scuppers that hope. We forgive as often as we must.

Of course, we must understand that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that no natural consequences will flow from their actions. If a crime has been committed, forgiveness doesn’t mean the law can’t take its natural course. If a person repeatedly breaks their word to you, forgiving them doesn’t mean you are required to give them anything more than that forgiveness.

We can do all things

Forgiveness is hard. But in this, as in other areas of life, God has not left us to our own devices and to figure it out on our own. We “can do all things through him who gives [us] strength” as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13. God gives us strength to do the impossible – to forgive those who sin against us and to trust in God’s good judgment, leaving vengeance to God alone (Romans 12).

For the sake of our mental, physical, and spiritual health, forgiving others is a healthy practice that is tough in the doing, but worth it in the end. Ephesians 4:26-27 states, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

Prayer for forgiveness

This prayer was written by Sue Fernandez in her book, Deliverance for Christians: Claiming Your Freedom In Christ.

“Father, in Jesus’ name, I ask that You take back the ground that was given to the enemy when (Name of Person)(List Specific Incidents). I ask that You break every stronghold from my soul. And as an act of my will, I choose to forgive (Name of Person) and I ask that You give me Your Grace to do so, from the bottom of my heart. I renounce unforgiveness. I renounce bitterness, and I ask that You remove every root of bitterness.

“If anyone has been defiled by my bitterness, I ask that You show me who that is and what I need to do. I ask that you bind the enemy from (Name of Person); take off all the veils of the enemy: and open his eyes, ears, heart, and soul to the truth of God. I also ask that You bring someone to him who can lead him to salvation. I release (Name of Person) now to You, Lord, for You to work in his heart, soul, and life, as You will.”

Photos:
“Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Cathy Mu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Purple White Flowers”, Courtesy of Vlad Zaytsev, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hug”, Courtesy of Igor Erico, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pink Flowers”, Courtesy of Hannah Olinger, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Finding Hope in the Midst of Darkness

Depression as a Christian seems contradictory since the Bible promises us peace and joy. Peace and joy are very different feelings when compared to a depressed mood. We can have peace in our hearts about the future and our current situation. We can have the joy of the Lord through our salvation. However, our mood may tell us that we are sad even though there is no identifiable reason to be sad.

This is where I like to implement distractions. I may know in my mind that there is nothing to be sad about. I may have a wonderful life, a great spouse, successful children who are walking with the Lord, but I still don’t feel good, and I lack the desire to participate in things I once found interesting. The enemy tries to discourage a person and pressure them to feel guilty about these feelings. Naturally, we tend to look inward for the reason.

The goal is to immediately use Scripture to fight those automatic negative thoughts (fiery darts) that the enemy shoots into our minds. Find certain Scriptures that speak to you in the specific area in which you are struggling. Write these down on a small piece of paper to carry with you until you memorize them.

Do not allow these darts to enter your long-term memory. Short-term memory is anything under thirty seconds. If you rehearse something, a telephone number, a name, a time, or a phrase using certain rehearsal techniques they will convert to long-term memory. The trick here is to get to those fiery darts immediately with Scripture you have previously memorized.

Repeat God’s word to yourself and get his promises into your long-term memory. Carry your Bible around with you wherever you go. Put it in your purse, carry a small Gideon’s Bible in your back pocket so you can get used to using your sword. Keep seeking, keep knocking. Don’t grow weary.

Another reason we may continue to be affected by feelings of sadness is that we may have conditioned ourselves to be in this state. People find it comfortable to sit in darkness, wallowing in self-defeating thoughts. Though it’s not necessarily a desire to feel depressed, we may experience a physiological response (physical response throughout the body) to a depressed mood.

When we feel tired, we prefer to lay in bed to get some additional sleep. We feel hungry so we find something to nourish our bodies. Working through depression feels unnatural because our emotions or our bodies may prompt us to do things that will keep us remaining depressed:

  • Loss of interest
  • Excessive sleep
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive Guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death

Depression has many faces and many different presentations, and the sufferer may experience a variety of symptoms. As Christians, we may think that the Lord would relieve us from these feelings if we were in His good graces. This is false. There are instances where we may be experiencing guilt, shame, sad mood, and difficulty sleeping due to unconfessed sin. If we continue to live in a specific sin, the Holy Spirit will convict us and prompt us in this way.

Do not mistake this for condemnation, however. Christ sent his Holy Spirit to us to encourage us and to convict us of sin. Conviction is meant to prompt us to repent, not to condemn us. The Bible says that His goodness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Out of love, we turn back to Christ knowing that his plans for our lives are far better than our own.

The enemy has effective methods of making us feel as though we will never measure up, leading us to feel beaten down by the world and our sin. Don’t grow weary of doing good, “At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:9).”

A thorn is a struggle or an ailment that the Lord has not freed us from so that He may be glorified through us. This is not to be confused with a stronghold. A stronghold stems from a certain sin we continuously fall into (i.e., binge-eating, sexual sin, continuous anger outbursts, slander/gossip, pride, lying, or substance use.)

Jacob experienced a thorn following his wrestling with God. Paul had a thorn that he was forced to live with, the nature of which the Bible does not reveal (however, many Biblical scholars think it may have had something to do with his eyes). A thorn may also be the loss of a child, the death of a spouse at a young age, a physical ailment, cancer, and even mental illness. The propensity to experience depression may also be a thorn.

It may keep us clinging to Jesus, running back to Him for continual support because we realize that during periods of intense depression, He is the only way we can make it through the day. Ultimately, Jesus wants us to be close to Him. He wants us to spend time in His word and rely on Him.

This does not mean that the Lord is devious and crafty, but He permits these ailments so that we will cling to Him. We live in a fallen world and as fallen creatures we do not fully understand His methods. We may not know why He would allow a young child to die prematurely, but we trust in His essential goodness and love. We constantly fight a spiritual battle with an enemy who is much smarter than we are, so we reach to Jesus to guide and strengthen us moment by moment during times of depression.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:17-18

One biblical truth you can hold fast to is that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Don’t lose faith or become discouraged when the storm rages between your ears. Cling to the hope that though you may be sitting in darkness, the Lord is your light (Micah 7:7b).

If you are in grip of mental health difficulties such as these depressive symptoms and would like to speak with someone to help identify the problem in a more clear and identifiable way, please reach out to a counselor for guidance and encouragement. We have a team of mental health professionals that will provide a hand to help you walk through your spiritual wilderness. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Photos:
“A Walk in the Woods”, Courtesy of Geran de Klerk, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Skeleton Keys on Book”, Courtesy of Carolyn V, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chains”, Courtesy of Zulmaury Saavedra, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Victory!”, Courtesy of Svyatoslav Romanov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

8 Marks of a True Friend

In a world where people count friends by the hundreds on social media, one may want to consider how you can determine whether someone is indeed a true friend. There are many kinds of friendships, colleagues, and acquaintances, but not all friends are the kind of friends that one would want to keep close or allow into your deepest confidence. So how does one recognize a true friend?

8 Signs of a True Friend

1. A true friend is loyal.

A true friend is the kind of person that will stand by you no matter what. They will have your back when it feels like everyone else is against you and will defend you to anyone that questions your integrity. A true friend will not participate in gossip and will not stand for others gossiping about you.

When a friend has been around long enough to know your weaknesses and failures, but they think that you are worth having around anyway, then you know that you have found a true friend. They will accept that you are not perfect and not expect perfection from you. A true friend will remain committed to you despite your faults, flaws, and mistakes that you may have made in the past.

Their friendship isn’t fickle or changeable when the seasons in your life change. When a true friend is hurt or offended by you, they will allow you the chance to make it up to them and keep the door open to reconciliation. They won’t easily give up on you and will want to make the friendship work, even if for a time it is difficult.

2. A true friend is trustworthy.

A true friend is someone that you can always count on. They will have earned your trust over time, and you will know that whatever you share with them will be kept in strict confidence. You can also count on a true friend to keep their promises and do the things they commit to doing.

Not all people are naturally dependable, and some people will struggle more than others to show up when they say they will, but if someone is a true friend, they will prioritize the relationship to the point that other things will rarely stop them from doing whatever it is that they have promised to do.

You will also find that your deepest feelings and concerns are always safe with that friend. You can trust that your friend’s intentions towards you are good, and they will not be looking for ways to do things that would hurt you. They will respect your boundaries and not push you to do anything that you do not wish to do.

3. You can be real with a true friend.

When you have a true friend there will be no need to put your best foot forward on every occasion and you will know that you can truly be yourself with this person. When a friend can join in with you in everyday activities and participate in your daily life without finding such activities mundane or boring, then you will know that you have found something special.

A true friend will find joy and freedom in knowing that they are included in your more personal moments and that they can relax and be who they are around you. True friends will be content spending time in each other’s homes and will become well known to each other’s families.

Some may even begin to feel like they are a part of each other’s families. They will enjoy the freedom of being able to be completely real with each other and not worry about censoring themselves about any topic of conversation. This is because there will be a level of trust that they will be accepted wholly as they are, even if there are areas where you may disagree.

4. A true friend will show their care in practical ways.

While there is room for showing affection for a friend in a variety of ways, whether through gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, and practical help, etc., a true friend will make the effort to show their care in some or other practical way. The true friend will make the time to help in ways that show they understand your needs at the moment.

If you are going through a tough time emotionally then a true friend will be the first to call just to see how you are doing. They are the kind of people who will send an unexpected gift or note of encouragement when you need it.

They will also step up to help where they are able when you are in need, whether in need of a ride somewhere or of something material, like bringing by some groceries or a cooked meal if you are unwell. They will take the time needed to be there in a way that will lighten the load and help to ease any burden that you carry.

5. A true friend will share common ground.

This one seems obvious, but true friends enjoy spending time together and this is usually done around things that you both enjoy. Most friendships are initially formed around things that two people share, whether an interest in similar things or a shared activity.

With a true friend, shared things will likely hold a higher significance in your life, whether through a shared history or shared values. While true friends do not need to share the same faith and can have a mutual respect that allows for different beliefs, true friends usually have the things that are most important to them in common, like their faith. That way true friends can pursue their faith together, encouraging one another in that journey.

6. A true friend celebrates your success.

There is no room for envy in a true friendship. True friends will celebrate each other’s successes and be each other’s greatest cheerleaders. A true friend will want you to succeed in your endeavors and provide support and encouragement along the way.

7. A true friend will challenge you to be better.

On the other side, a true friend will also be willing to challenge you when you do something wrong. They will challenge any negative thinking or actions that are unhelpful to you. They will also be brave enough to speak out when they think you are making a mistake or acting in a way that is unhelpful or unkind or to those around you.

If you share a common faith or belief system this may also be something that they challenge you on. They won’t be afraid to risk offending you if they believe that challenging you in something is for your good. They will want you to grow as a person and will be ready to challenge you to do better whenever it is needed. They will also feel secure enough in the relationship that they will feel it is safe to do so.

So, if you have a friend who is brave enough to disagree with you, or to challenge a decision you have made, don’t be quick to discard them as a bad friend. Rather, recognize the courage it takes to confront someone and take the time to weigh the wisdom of what they are saying before deciding whether you will act on what they say or not.

8. A true friend is a rare treasure.

While a person may have many friends in their lives, many sharing characteristics of true friendship, a true friend is a precious and wonderful gift. True friendship takes time to develop and doesn’t happen without a solid commitment on both sides to push through the challenges together, even on the hard days.

It is only when a friendship has survived the storms and stood the test of time that its sweetness can best be appreciated. This kind of friendship only happens when both parties are equally committed to it, and willing to put in the effort for each other. Nothing dulls a friendship like one where a person feels like they are constantly giving and not receiving similarly from the other party.

A true friend will give without expecting to receive, but for the friendship to last, at some point, the amount of investment must be reciprocated. The way to determine how important a friendship is to you is to ask yourself how much you are willing to invest in it to keep it. To slightly modify the adage, the best way to gain a true friend is to be a true friend.

Photos:
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Marriage Won’t Make You a Better Communicator

In the Christian world, marriage is held in high esteem. It is largely considered a natural step toward a mature and fulfilling Christian life. This emphasis, while in many ways positive, can overly-glorify the experience of marriage. It’s not that marriage isn’t a significant gift from God, but that gift does not come without relational difficulties.

The tensions of marriage are not as often discussed as the beauty and sacredness of marriage. This absence can create an unrealistic expectation of marriage and even make newly married Christians think that marital problems are abnormal, creating a sense of shame surrounding getting help for their marriage.

Spoiler Alert: Marriage Won’t Make You a Better Communicator

One specific area of conflict not openly discussed is communication. Other than saying something like, “communication is key,” pastors and Christian leaders rarely spend much time illustrating the need for clear and honest communication or teaching on how to become a better communicator in marriage.

As a result, when seriously dating or engaged Christians experience conflict and poor communication, there is the temptation to brush it aside, thinking something along the lines of “when we get married this will get better.” That is a false reality.

Marriage will not make you a better communicator. Only you can make yourself a better communicator, and it will require time and effort. However, if you push it to the side and continue to hope for marriage to solve the problem, then your frustration at your or your partner’s inability to communicate will continue to grow into deeper and deeper marriage problems.

The reality is marriage will not make you a better communicator. Acknowledging this fact is a step toward building a better marriage. Once you are aware of this, you can begin identifying the communication issues in your relationship and work toward establishing healthy patterns of communication to fortify your marriage and intimacy.

The Marriage Lie

The marriage lie is the idea that marriage will fix the problems in your relationships. These problems can be financial, relational, in-laws, career – the list goes on and on. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, if you think marriage is the solution, you are mistaken. In fact, marriage often times intensifies the conflict. For the sake of this article, we will only discuss the issue of communication and how to become a better communicator.

How does marriage make your communication conflict more intense? For starters, marriage is initiated by the wedding, a season that often brings tremendous emotional, financial, and relational stress. Many couples survive the crucible of the wedding rather than thrive through the experience.

Even if your wedding is a positive experience, there is still the added stress of covenant commitment. When you are dating someone, there is always the security of separating if things don’t work out. This may sound callus or uncaring, but it’s human nature. If in the back of your mind you know that you can walk away, then there is always a certain level of security you feel. You have control and can opt out if you feel the need.

Once you get married, however, the commitment is final. If you are seeking to honor God with your marriage, then Biblically, there are very few circumstances that allow for a divorce. This sense of commitment can escalate your conflicts because where before you felt like you had a back door (whether you planned on using it or not), now, you are committed to this for better or for worse.

So when you experience conflict, things can get primal and instinctual very quickly as you fight for what you feel you need. It should come as no surprise that primal and instinctual are not great qualities for communication.

While you may have hoped for marriage to help your communication issues, you will quickly discover that the added commitment of marriage can actually create more stress, resulting in more marital problems.

It is important to note that marriage doesn’t create the problems. The problems were already there. It’s just that marriage cannot and will not deliver on the promise of solving your problems. That will require patience, love, commitment, and humility. You know, the hard stuff.

Communicating through Marriage Problems

So if marriage is not the solution to your communication issues, then what will help you handle your relational and marital problems? There are a lot of answers to this question. Each person and relationship will need something a little bit different. But that being said, there are some universal practices that can help you become a better communicator and resolve communication issues.

The first is recognizing your communication style. Are you someone who speaks what’s on your mind and can’t hide your feelings? Or are you someone who stuffs everything you feel inside hoping to avoid conflict? Step back and consider how you usually communicate.

Consider asking your partner or close friends to get their input. If you are struggling to understand how you communicate, then you may want to meet with a Christian counselor who can help you reflect on how you communicate with other people.

Second, consider the communication culture of your family. Was your family a place of healthy, mediated discussion where everyone got to share and express their emotions? Or was there an unwritten rule that the family does not discuss problems openly? Or maybe your family was more characterized by explosions of anger followed by peace as family members recovered from the intense outbursts.

You and your partner will likely repeat or continue the patterns you learned in your family. Discussing the pattern of communication in your family can be a helpful way for married couples to recognize their own issues in communication and set a vision for how they want to communicate.

If you begin to seriously explore your family patterns and find them painful or difficult to understand, then you should give serious consideration to working with a Christian counselor. Family of origin issues are complicated and very difficult to parse out on your own. Having a trained professional to help guide you and draw out your experience with your family is tremendously important.

Finally, recognizing the patterns in your marriage is key. Marital problems don’t appear overnight. They take time to grow and develop. Once you’ve considered your own style of communication and how your family communicated, it’s time to look at the details of how you and your spouse are communicating.

Look for patterns in your conflict. Are there topics, phrases, or behaviors that set you or your partner off? It is very important to recognize the detailed progression of your communication conflict in order to stop and resolve the issues before they get out of hand.

If things are already extremely tense between your partner and yourself, and you need relationship help, then consider Christian marriage counseling. Don’t wait until you are in a serious crisis to get professional help. A Christian marriage counselor can help mediate the conflict and explore the deeper issues behind the communication conflict.

These kinds of marital issues are not uncommon and there is no reason to feel ashamed to seek relationship help. Christian marriage counseling is too often seen as a last resort when it actually is much more effective at resolving issues earlier on in the process.

Don’t wait to get relationship help

In marriage, like in any other relationship, there will be conflict. But marriage is different because the commitment level is much, much higher. Most people put hope in marriage to solve their problems and are surprised to find that marriage can actually aggravate the problems.

Don’t let the shame of acknowledging issues in your marriage prevent you from seeking relationship help. Christian marriage counseling can turn a struggling relationship into a healthy, strong relationship. It will take openness, sacrifice, and humility, but remember resolving conflict in your marriage is possible.

Photos:
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5 Tips for Life After Divorce

There is a saying that “you never step into the same river twice.” Transitions and movement are a part of life – we change, or our circumstances change, or we find both changed in ways that are irrevocable, and sometimes painful. One of life’s changes is when you get divorced, a reality that has been in decline in the last few years in the US, but still affects thousands of people every year.

Getting married is usually attended with joy at the transition into life with someone and getting divorced separates you from the person with whom you shared life and dreams for that life together.

How to Navigate Life After Divorce

The situations in each marriage are different, and so divorce can bring with it a broad mix of emotional responses, from anger, relief, confusion, grief, or a combination of these. Life after divorce is about navigating a new reality with its own complexities that others may struggle to relate to. How do you move into life after divorce in a way that allows you to flourish?

Grieving loss

One aspect of life after divorce for some is that it is a time of grieving loss. Even in the most difficult marriages where their end comes as a relief, there is still a sense of loss. Sharing a life with someone isn’t an easy thing; you form emotional, physical, and other ties to one another, and that includes whatever hopes and dreams you shared with the person you married.

When you get divorced, all of what could have been, all that you’d hoped for and desired from a shared life must be laid to rest. The relationship changes in profound ways, and that’s something you must come to terms with, whether you’re happy, feeling regret, or lost because of what’s happened. Grieving is about giving yourself the room you need to feel your feelings, whatever they may be, and not gloss them over or pretend they aren’t there.

One avenue for this important work is through therapy. Group and individual therapy might be helpful as a part of your process of coming to terms with what’s happened and addressing issues in your soul.

The work of regaining your sense of self can happen in a therapy setting where you have the support and understanding of others. And if you need to heal, take time out for that to happen. The point behind grieving is not to wallow in self-pity but to acknowledge that in getting divorced, something profound has happened in your life, and you need to come to terms with the full scope of it.

Practice self-care

Being able to take care of yourself is important no matter what stage of life or experiences you’ve gone through. Divorce is one of the most stressful things a person will ever experience. Stress has many negative impacts on one’s health, and that includes comprising the immune system, something that many studies have shown.

Going through a divorce and dealing with the aftermath of it can have a significant impact on your overall health, which heightens the need for practicing self-care. There are several ways to deal with stress and make sure that you’re staying healthy.

Get some sleep. Good sleep allows the body to recover from whatever wear and tear it has experienced during the day. Not only does it help with energy, creativity, and emotional intelligence, but sleeping well also helps with what you eat.

Poor sleep has been linked to the consumption of foods that aren’t good for you because they are too refined, are high in sugar and the fats your body could use less of. You make better eating choices when you sleep well, and when you eat well it also impacts your sleep positively.

Eat well. As pointed out above, eating well by eating foods that help with your digestion, boost your immunity, and improve brain health not only keeps you physically and mentally healthy, but it aids good sleep and the emotional benefits from that. So, eating good fiber, taking in nuts, citrus, fresh vegetables, oily fish, and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids all help to boost your health.

Move. Whether you’re a runner, swimmer, cyclist, dancer, or walker, do whatever you enjoy doing that gets you moving and that has your physician’s backing. Not only does exercise reduce stress, but it keeps your body healthy, and your mood elevated.

Deal with the negative self-talk. In some situations, there may be negative talk from the people around you about your divorce, but also from yourself. You may be blaming yourself, calling yourself names, or feeling unworthy of love. Practicing self-acceptance and speaking gently with yourself are effective ways to counter this negative self-talk that only serves to paralyze and disempower you.

Lean on your circle

At all times, community matters. Life after divorce is no different, even if your community might shift a little during and after the process. Divorce may cause your circles to change – people can take sides about your divorce, and friends can be lost in the process.

However, you need your people – whoever they may be – in your life after divorce. This may be to help with chores that your partner used to do or to take the kids when you can’t, or just to come alongside you in support.

As mentioned before, group therapy can function as a supportive community to help bear some of the load of a new situation. Your spiritual community, as a community of people also on the way, may also be a bastion of support. Instead of shying away from the community, drawing nearer towards others who are safe is vital for emotional and mental health.

Dealing with the new you

Life after divorce doesn’t stop, and neither does your growth as an individual. God has built us in such a way that even the devastating events in our lives aren’t the end of us, and the evil that comes upon us can be used for good by God (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28), though it’s hard to tell at the moment how pain can birth anything good.

Part of life after divorce is to deal with the new you and come to terms with the changes your new status brings. Being married shifts not only our self-understanding but how other people relate to us. Getting divorced can have the same impact, and that sense of who we are and how people treat us can shift because of the new status.

Where you may have gotten used to going certain places because of and/or with your spouse, including the people you mingled with, you now must figure out doing life without them. The things you liked, and indeed the entire trajectory of your life may have changed because of your contact with your ex, and rediscovering who you are again away from that relationship becomes a whole new adventure. Take your time in figuring out what comes next for you.

Continue living your life

Divorce is not the end of your life, but a new chapter in it. If you have children with your ex, continue being present for them. They need to be reassured and know that their parents love them and that though things have changed for the adults in the room, how they are loved hasn’t.

Whatever may have happened between you and your ex, being present for your kids is important, as is protecting them from whatever issues you may have with your ex. They don’t need to be read in on the messier points of the relationship, used as spies to find out what your ex is doing or as messengers to communicate with your ex.

Go to work, keep enjoying your relationship with God, your hobbies, your church community, your friends, and continue developing yourself as a person. Though you may not be ready for love again just yet, it’s a possibility that may lie ahead in your future, and something that you can remain open to.

Photos:
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3 Ways to Save Your Marriage

You are here because you want to save your marriage? Good for you! We are proud that you are not giving up so easily as many others do. The divorce rate is steadily increasing to 60% in many parts of the U.S. and sadly those are the ones that are being reported.

For example, my wife’s parents want a divorce, but they can’t afford it, so they have just agreed to separate. Their hearts, though, are divorced. There are many couples like that and despite the sad reality, we offer you a fresh way to look at your marriage in hopes to help you retake back that amazing relationship that God destined you to have!

3 Ways to Save Your Marriage

There are three C’s that we will be covering today: Compatibility, Compromising, and the most powerful one, Complimentary. These three stages of relationship maturity can help put some perspective to see where you are at in your marriage to see what is next for us to move on.

Sometimes having perspective can guide you in a gentle practical way that disarms both partners instead of having to make one of you the villain and the other the hero. My perspective has always been not to make one person the terrible monster but to understand the other person’s upbringing and what has transpired throughout the relationship that has aided both partners to be who they are today.

If there has been infidelity or betrayal, we don’t excuse that behavior by looking away. We confront it and deal with it so that there can be a resolution between both spouses, where appropriate. The 3 C’s are designed to help the partners in a relationship start a dialogue that will show them how they can move together to the next step.

Compatibility

Compatibility is a nice start to any relationship because it’s about sharing common interests. I’m sure both you and your partner were mutually attracted to each other. You both shared great moments that bonded you together.

Many couples love hiking, dancing, watching movies together, traveling, working on projects, they love pets, they have strong academic values, they want kids, they don’t want kids, etc. They have a common sharing that defines who they are that joins them together.

The riff between compatible people is when the sharing runs out. One spouse may like sports and that spouse may choose to watch ESPN instead of going on a date with their partner. That can cause tensions that turn into arguments. That same couple will then argue because the same spouse who loves watching sports may now want sexual intimacy but the spouse who was neglected will feel distant and say that they are tired.

By now I’m sure you see that these issues can slowly begin to turn a marriage into a rusty and withered relationship. How can compatibility save your marriage? This can save your marriage because you can talk to your spouse about how both of you had a great start but how you need to move forward. The start needs to be celebrated. Reflect on the enjoyable times you had together which will help you both to bond again.

It’s hard to stay angry when both of you reminisce about awesome times that both of you had. This can disarm the angriest of spouses and turn their cynicism to hope. Compatibility is not the complete answer, however, because no couple on this planet relies only on compatibility.

There will always need to be a sacrifice made to support the other spouse. Unfortunately, many couples end their relationship right at this step and don’t move beyond because the differences separate them to the point of no return. The good news is that it doesn’t have to end here and that it can mature and move on.

Compromising

We need to humble ourselves sometimes with big decisions so that as a couple we can mutually benefit. This is a noble perspective and helpful for compatible couples to understand. My wife and I use to argue about our dates which ended up ruining some of our Saturday nights. We made a pact to alternate our dates by giving each other two dates per month for us to coordinate.

When it was my turn, I would love to go to an open mall, eat some spicy food and then go see an action movie. Not the most romantic I know. When it was my wife’s turn, we would go to the beach and then eat dinner at sunset which was definitely romantic. We were able to learn about each other and appreciate how the other loved to have fun.

We learned to compromise which helped us to grow in our relationship before it got stale. Maybe your relationship is stale at this point, and it needs some saving. Most couples may be at this stage, which is a great step to be on, however, sometimes there are betrayals and hurts during this stage and we must compromise to make the marriage work. Many couples are in this stage because they have been dating and been married for years.

If you have suffered pain because of your spouse or both of you are in deep stuff my heart goes out to you. I want you to feel validated and supported by this article which may spark a talk between you and your partner to talk about this stage. You can talk about how you have compromised in certain areas in your relationship which can then uplift the marriage in its strengths.

A positive tone will help a lot with communication because it can win someone over. The main issue with the stage of compromise is that it can take you far but not all the way. It’s great to compromise however, one spouse may get burned out if they don’t have the constant refreshment.

Hebrews 3:12-13 says that our hearts need daily encouragement to remain soft. If we aren’t open and don’t encourage one another then it will take only a day to harden our hearts. Compromising also begs the spouse who is constantly sacrificing to request love in return. I sure feel that way when I sacrifice for my wife. If I help her with the home or take care of the car, I can expect favors in return.

However, she may not be so ready to return that love the way that I expect. I confess that it hurts, and I feel resentment in my heart, so I become quiet and resistant. It happens the other way around too. My wife may help me out with m projects or take care of responsibilities in the home and then she can expect me to be grateful for her efforts. Sometimes I don’t notice which hurts her and I let her down. Compromising is a great stage to be in, but it won’t be the stage to save your marriage.

Complimentary

I don’t mean complimentary as in saying compliments to your spouse. All though I highly recommend that you verbally compliment your partner to lift them up. I can testify that verbally complimenting my wife has helped our marriage so much. My wife feels acknowledged and honored in our home. You can never go wrong with that.

However, the real meaning of being a complimentary couple is being a couple who helps elevate each other. This perspective and lifestyle will save your marriage. It takes both of you, no matter the past or present, to get this right on point. One spouse trying this out may not get it done but it’s a start.

After a few weeks if you don’t see a change in your spouse please reach out for help. Therapy, couples’ groups, church retreats, classes, training, support groups, group dates, being ministered by a shepherding couple in your church, all these things can help support you and your spouse.

Before I get derailed, let’s go back to what a complimentary couple looks like. That couple is first willing to help and initiate help. This is a stark contrast to Compromising (the second of the 3 C’s), because with Compromising you must sacrifice. Most times, when we sacrifice, we aren’t willing. We sacrifice out of nobility or necessity. We may be talked into it or discipled into it. It’s not from our willing hearts.

Most of us sacrifice begrudgingly and hope for the best. With this last C, the Compromising couple serves and helps each other so that the couple is elevated. They are thinking “How can I help my spouse so both of us succeed?” This is an amazing perspective because both partners will feel inspired by the other to the point where both are going to try to outgive themselves in a healthy way.

Think about that vision for a moment. Both spouses work together to help elevate each other. What kind of marriage do you think they’ll have? It won’t be just a surviving marriage; it will be a thriving marriage! This is the secret to saving your marriage. Both of you must sit down, most likely with another couple, and process this vision to help both learn to inspire each other. This cannot be done alone. Both partners must work together so both of you can prosper.

Remember that none of these stages are bad. They are all good. The point of this article is to prepare you to have a fruitful discussion with your spouse about where both of you are. You may be tempted to think that both of you are in different stages. Please remember that it’s both of you together. So, both of you would be in the same stage.

Maybe one of you is ready to move on, but I strongly encourage that spouse to slow down and wait for the other spouse to catch up before moving on. This way doing the stages together will help the other spouse feel loved by you and ready to move forward. Once you identify which stage you are in then you will be ready to discuss how to take the appropriate steps for the next one.

The process of the 3 C’s will help disarm both of you and help ensure that you are taking the same steps onward as a couple. Have another couple walk with you in this way so that you have accountability and support if there are any riffs between you. My deepest conviction is that if you give the 3 C’s a try, it can show you where you are and help you see where you want to go. And that’s to be the best marriage you can be!

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.

“For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.Ephesians 5:21-33

Christian Marriage Counseling

If you’re looking for additional support, I invite you to contact me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory to schedule an appointment. It would be my pleasure to meet with you to help you not only save your marriage, but to strengthen it beyond what you’ve experienced before.

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8 Important Pre-Marriage Counseling Questions

As you approach engagement or if you are newly engaged, it is important to the start of a thriving and successful marriage to take time to learn more about your significant other. This often means having difficult conversations, talking about the future, and digging deeper into your past to discover how it made you into who you are today and where you hope to go.

It is better to have important and life-shaping conversations before you vow to spend your lives together. These conversations can help you discover any red flags or draw you closer to one another as you prepare to spend your lives together, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.

Having important conversations before you wed can help you set realistic expectations for your marriage, improve your communication skills, and strive to improve your conflict-resolution skills before you face any major relationship challenges and barriers.

Greg Smalley said, “Make it your goal to create a marriage that feels like the safest place on earth.” The goal of marriage is not to appear perfect all the time, the goal is to create a safe place for pure authenticity between two people.

Pre-Marriage Counseling Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do”

Here are a few questions to delve into with your significant other as you prepare to say “I do”:

1. What does a marriage commitment mean to you?

It is important to talk through commitment and what it means to each of you. Once you walk down the aisle and vow to spend your lives together, does that mean through thick and thin? Does that mean you vow to keep working even when you feel disconnected and distant from one another? What does that mean when one of you gets a job offer in a different place? Take time to talk through marriage commitment and why you were drawn to your significant other.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “Every successful marriage is the result of two people working diligently and skillfully to cultivate their love.” Spoiler alert: marriages face difficult seasons, therefore having these conversations and vowing to put the work into your marriage will help it grow and thrive on a beautiful level.

2. What are your life goals?

You must talk through your life goals, not only so your spouse can support you, but so that you can support them. Ask one another about your personal goals, career goals, and spiritual goals. What dreams do you have for your marriage? Do you hope to retire to the Arizona desert and start a nonprofit one day? Dreaming big together can draw you closer and help you support one another now and in the future.

3. What is your financial plan?

The battle with finances and how to handle finances is one of the major causes of fighting and disagreements in marriage. Engaged and married couples must continue to have financial conversations and plan together. Sit down and create a financial plan. Put your expenses on paper. See if you need to cut any expenses so you are not living hand-to-mouth.

Take time to talk through the plan for handling money:

  • Will you have separate bank accounts, joint checking accounts, or both?
  • Who will pay the bills?
  • How will you handle disagreements about how money should be spent?
  • Do you plan and agree to have full financial disclosure with your spouse?
  • What kind of debt are you going into marriage with?
  • Do you have or plan to have credit cards?
  • What is your credit score goal and how can you work together to get there?
  • Will you have an emergency savings fund?
  • Do you plan to start saving for a home or another major first purchase together?
  • Do you plan to start savings accounts for your children?

4. What is your plan for living arrangements?

If you both have your own place right now, what is your plan once you are married? Where do you hope to live once you begin having children? Talking through your plans can help alleviate stress and begin your journey in the best way possible. Establishing healthy communication is one of the best things you can do for your marriage relationship.

5. What are your desires for growing your family?

Some couples wait until years into their marriage to talk about their hopes and dreams for a family. To avoid miscommunication in the future, it is helpful to just talk through what you pray for someday. Do you hope to have children? Are you wanting a big family or a small family?

Have you had an abortion in the past that you have not discussed with your significant other? Do you hope to raise your child in church? What are your hopes and dreams for your family? Do you hope mom stays home with the children or do you hope to continue working?

How did your childhood impact your hopes and dreams of having a family? If you were raised in an abusive home and previously felt reluctant to tell your significant other, now is the time. If there were parts of your childhood and upbringing that made you into the person you are today and hope the same for your family, share those memories and dreams.

6. What are your mutual expectations?

Talking through various parts of your life and relationship can help avoid major disagreements and fallout in the future. Just talking through mutual expectations for your marriage can help cut those disagreements and frustrations in half. It is crucial to know that couples will have disagreements. Marriage is a game of working together to find common ground.

  • Will you spend holidays rotating between both sides of your family?
  • How will you support one another through chaotic work seasons?
  • What are your hopes for physical intimacy?
  • Do you hope to attend church together?
  • What kind of relationship do you hope your children have with your parents?
  • How will you continue dating one another?
  • Do you hope to continue date night once a week?
  • Do you agree on time with friends – separately and together?

“Behind every great relationship are difficult and uncomfortable conversations we rarely get to see. Great relationships don’t just fall into our laps. They require people to move through their fears and insecurities and do the hard work to move wounds into healing.” – Vienna Pharaon

7. How will you resolve conflicts?

Having a plan for resolving conflict is one that every relationship can benefit from. If you are having a conversation that continues to escalate, how can you manage it before it spins out of control? Can you ask each other for a timeout to calm down and take a deep breath? Are you willing to get creative with your critical thinking skills?

8. What does your spiritual life mean to you and for your marriage?

I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. Philippians 1:9

To marry someone of like faith is the beginning of a beautiful and one-of-a-kind love story. Marriage, God’s way, is a marriage of forgiveness, grace, compassion, and unique and selfless love. As you begin to embark on your journey together, take time to set goals, pray for your significant other, pray as a couple, and let your faith live larger and louder than your fear.

It is important to realize before you say “I do” that marriage is a journey, not a destination. You will face difficulties. You will have disagreements. You will make up and work through disagreements. You will have seasons of disconnect. You will have seasons of beautiful and one-of-a-kind connection. Marriage is a beautiful ride and one that is worth the difficult conversations.

Christian Premarital Counseling

As you prepare for marriage, consider pre-marriage counseling to help work through these topics and to help you set realistic expectations for your marriage, improve your communication skills, and strive to improve your conflict-resolution skills before you face any major relationship challenges and barriers. You can invest in the future of your marriage by attending pre-marital counseling with a counselor who wants to see your relationship soar.

Photos:
“Holding Pinkies”, Courtesy of Jasmine Wallace Carter, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Save the Date”, Courtesy of Olya Kobruseva, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Surprise Proposal”, Courtesy of Radu Florin, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Forehead Kiss”, Courtesy of Jonathan Borba, Pexels.com, CC0 License

Married Life: The Mystery, the Magic, and the Mundane

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord,” says Proverbs 18:22. Married life is a joy and a blessing. Sharing that most intimate of human relationships is indeed finding what is good and receiving favor from the Lord. As humans, we are wired to relate to others, including in the context of a marriage.

When God created us, we were fashioned in God’s image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God, who is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is deeply and inextricably relational.

As creatures made in God’s image, we reflect that in our nature. No wonder we gravitate toward relationships with other people, and we continue to desire relationships such as marriage.

If the story ended where we left off, there wouldn’t be a need to go on any further. The reality is that people don’t get married in the context of Genesis 1 and 2. Married life is now more complicated than that. Ever after Adam and Eve and their rebellion, all marriage happens in the context and shadow of Genesis 3.

Adam went from calling Eve, his beloved (“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” – Genesis 2:23) to blaming her for his disobedience of God’s command (“The woman you put here with me – she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it” – Genesis 3:12).

Humanity moved from loving adoration to shifting blame onto the other, from being both “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25) to covering our nakedness and hiding from one another and God. Instead of mutual care and self-giving, there is now selfishness, inordinate desire and seeking dominance over the other (Genesis 3:16). Something entered our lives and has complicated this beautiful relationship given to us by God.

Even though people get married in the shadow and wake of Genesis 3, the opening verse quoted from Proverbs still holds true. Finding a marriage partner is finding a good thing.

Reflecting on marriage while writing to the Christians in Ephesus, the apostle Paul recalls what was said in Genesis 2 and reminds them that when two people get married, something monumental takes place – the two become one flesh. But then he drops the bombshell that human marriage is an echo of the relationship that Jesus has with his people. This is a “profound mystery”, he writes (Ephesians 5:32).

As such, marriage is this weird mix of the magical, the mysterious and the mundane. The ups and downs of life touch married people in the same way as anyone else under the sun. Issues of loneliness, anger, fear, discontent, and anxiety beset the married in common with everyone else.

While being “magical” in the sense of being enjoyable, there is nothing magical about being married in the sense that it doesn’t insulate you from real life. While being special and a source of great joy, marriage, and married life is not a fairytale. Sometimes, especially for those with an idealized picture of marriage, this may come as a disappointment.

What is married life like?

It is good

As we pointed out above, marriage is still a good gift from God, even amid hearts and a world gone wrong. It is a blessings having someone to share life with, to pick their brain before making a decision, to be deeply intimate with them (emotionally and physically), a partner with whom to laugh and meet the challenges that come to us all – sickness, the loss of loved ones, losing a job, moving house and so much more.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Presumably, the point also applies when a couple lives together – they sharpen one another by giving each other wisdom and guidance to live life well.

Ecclesiastes also makes this observation about human life: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion” (Eccl. 4:9-10). The next verse then goes on to say, “Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?” (Eccl. 4:11).

This was written before the advent of the electric blanket, but the point is well-taken. Having someone to share life and a bed with is pleasant. Many married couples can attest to the joy of having someone to pre-warm the bed and snuggle up to, and how the input of their partner has helped them to make a better life and business decisions.

It can be mundane

As author Mike Mason put it in his book The Mystery of Marriage, while marriage is a brilliant gift, a miracle even, it is also “full of awkwardness and indelicacy, as unromantic at times as a sinkful of dirty dishes”. Laundry and dirty dishes aren’t a myth for married folk, but an everyday reality.

The trash needs taking out; groceries need to be bought and put away; lawns need mowing, snow-laden driveways need shoveling; and if kids are part of the picture, snotty noses and dirty diapers are par for the course.

All of this can be very unromantic, but there is a beauty in the mundane that can still be celebrated. It is in these small, everyday moments when we can serve the other person, and see some of their best qualities emerging.

Forgiveness is required

Being close to someone else means that they get to see you as you are, the beautiful and the ugly. They are exposed to not only your frailties and inconsistencies but also your humor, generosity of spirit and much more. The weaknesses will often have to be forgiven.

The kindness and consideration that married couples show one another is a lifeline and the lifeblood of a good marriage. Without it, the constant drip-drip-drip of irritations with one another will build up until it’s unbearable. “Be kind and compassionate, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

A Christian marriage, that is, a marriage in which both parties know and serve the Lord, is one in which grace flows from one partner to the other and vice versa, and in which there is an open-eyed understanding that there are two sinners in the relationship. No one person is to blame for the issues in the relationship, and both parties must learn to walk in humility with each other.

Growing together as a married couple

One thing is sure when it comes to life – people don’t stay the same. Yes, there is a sense in which people remain who they are through the years. However, we go through different phases in life, and we experience things that can change our opinion on matters.

The birth of children can change our priorities; the loss of a job can drastically change how you perceive yourself; meeting new people or reading new books can shift our views on politics or other areas of life. In all this, rather than growing apart, a couple can share in one another’s journey so they grow together.

The importance of date night, among other things, is to continue sharing life together and stay on the same page. Life can get hectic, sometimes to the point that a couple becomes like ships in the night – mere roommates and not life partners. Date night helps a couple to touch base regularly.

Ask one another questions about your interests,  what’s occupying your headspace; what your dreams, hopes, fears and so on are. In this way, you know what your partner is dealing with, and how best to be supporting them in this season.

Contrary to popular culture (especially idealized portraits of relationships in movies and songs), a good marriage takes work. We know that we are living in the post-Genesis 3 situation, and so this doesn’t come as a surprise to us.

Christian couples counseling

Our marriages need strengthening and for us to grow in listening, handling conflict and hardship constructively. Couples counseling is a great way to continue this growth and address any underlying unaddressed issues so that your marriage flourishes. Whether you are encountering persistent difficulties within your marriage or simply want to continue on the path toward a flourishing marriage, prayerfully consider couples counseling with your spouse.

Photos:
“In Love”, Courtesy of Hian Oliveira, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Andrew Welch, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hugs”, Courtesy of Candice Picard, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Beach Watch”, Courtesy of James Hose Jr., Unsplash.com, CC0 License