Monday, September 7, 2009

Silencing Martial Guilt

Because I have been on a little bit or a roll lately with the blog I thought I would post another entry. This is an excerpt from the book I am working on. It comes from the chapter called The Redemptive Pathway for a Husband: Interpsonal Humility. I define Interpersonal Humility as the ability to let someone help you with your inadequacies. In this chapter I talk about the 3 most common internal problems a husband deals with: guilt, contempt and frustration. As he lets the Lord help him with these he becomes a better husband. A husband often doesn't learn how to relate better to his wife by focusing on her but instead grows in his ability to relate with his wife as he grows in his relationship with the Lord.

It is not easy to keep missing the mark as a husband. It is genuinely exasperating for any husband to care about his wife when he is confronting daily impediments. This often creates a determination in a husband to get it right or a resolve to stop trying. Either way the path to meaningful freedom for a husband lies on the other side of condemning guilt.
Guilt evolves from any fracture in relationship we experience where there is personal culpability. Because a husband will often be personally liable for the break in relationship with his wife he will have an ongoing sense of guilt. The only way a husband cannot experience guilt in marriage is to harden to its existence. Prior to marriage most men have not stuck to a relationship of choice where the transgressions between the parties began to pile up. Friendships are the only relationship of choice that men experience prior to marriage and they are not as close or as meaningful as marriage and when they become tough men usually distance themselves or find new friends. Men have little experience prior to marriage in dealing with guilt in an ongoing relationship.
Add into the mix that the evil one will be quick to beat the husband up with reminders that his lack of regular success is sealing a fate of unrelenting disappointment from his wife. Evil regularly pelted me with an arrogant accusation such as, “Laughter is the most important aspect of martial happiness,” because that was where I was weakest. I was good at talking about meaningful things but had a much harder time laughing as things got difficult. Every couple under the sun who laughed well became a reminder I was a failure as a husband. This fueled a desire to run from my guilt not look for help with it.
In addition, it was so easy to fall into my fleshly groove. I remember talking about the book on sex my wife and I both read before we were married. As I discussed what I learned my wife said something like, “I don’t think sex is supposed to happen according to a manual.” She was exposing my tendency to fall right into my fleshly groove. Often something opposite of my fleshly groove like a spontaneous outing would be the thing that would encourage my wife but that rarely appeared as an option in my mind. My continued acquiescence to my fleshly groove and to arrogant accusations seemed to mock my longing for liberty from my guilt.
All along I knew that Christ’s forgiveness mattered but I had a hard time receiving it personally. I might hear Christ saying, “I forgive you and I am with you,” but my wife continued hurting, being irritated or afraid by my behavior in such a way that Christ’s forgiveness didn’t seem to mean that much. I was often repenting over my sins or admitting my weaknesses but what was changing were thoughts and attitudes on the inside that were not directly demonstrated or noticed in the relationship. In addition, my change was progressive so I was still hurting Dawn at the same time that I was growing into more. Since Dawn did not necessarily see or taste the fruit of my repentance she did not believe it was really happening.
This is where the husband’s advantages come into play. He is designed to be able to lift his countenance towards God before his wife. The extra ‘energy’ of his advantages is to help him hear God say, “Well done. You are changing and growing. Do not despise the day of small beginnings,” (Zech 4:10) before his wife can hear it. I had to start believing that I heard something my wife couldn’t hear. I kind of heard it like this, “I know you care about Dawn. She does not have to affirm the genuineness of your repentance for it to be true. Trust me. As you learn to really hear and believe I am saying ‘well done’ and learn to rest in it you will gain the strength to communicate grace to your wife and wait with her so she too can see your change more clearly.”
I had to start accepting and believing what the Holy Spirit was saying in my heart instead of being so owned by what my wife was often focusing on. When Paul said to, “Put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness,” I had no idea how much my heart would be attacked through my wife’s disappointment and how much courage it would take to believe that Jesus death was bigger than her discontentment.
In the flesh evil wants a man to get his significance and validation of his masculinity from his wife. Many men see the path to masculinity supported by a wife who cheers louder and louder instead of really playing the game and learning to listen to the coach. A man wants a woman to create a shortcut for him on the path of Godly masculinity. I have done enough marital counseling to watch this theme play out again and again. I often help the husband get moving into repentance and he starts changing. As he does he wants the wife to affirm it. It is very rare that a wife has the depth of mercy to affirm this change early in the process to her husband. She may feel and see some of the change but to say it out loud to him involves a level of spiritual maturity few wives posses. In the midst of actually doing better and changing the husband must learn to look beyond his wife.
If a husband begins to step into interpersonal humility and accept Christ’s ministry to him he begins to feel accepted and is less owned by his limitations. The purpose of a husband’s insufficiency is to bring him into deeper fellowship with Jesus. It is to get him to rely on God’s grace and not his performance. As he begins to hear Jesus say, “Husband you will never get it right. I did that so you could see me. As you see me, as you start trusting my grace in such a way that your wife’s discontent is not so debilitating, than you are on the way to freedom.” The husband now begins to hear, “Well done!” more regularly in a way that surprises him.
Most husbands and wives believe that if a husband would pay more attention to his wife and work at relating to her that the marriage will get better. That seems right but is actually very foolish. That will only increase the distance between the husband and wife. Instead, a husband must endure through difficulty long enough for his self-reliant dependence on performance to be dislodged and be transformed into a dependence on God’s care for him. God’s acceptance of him, his love for him is a much surer anchor than his performance or his wife’s validation. Learning to hear well done from the Lord more regularly is what will help a husband to pay better attention to his wife and relate to her with more kindness.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Self Discipline vs. Self Control

“Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. Colossians 2:21-23

Self-discipline seems like such a good idea. I wish we were all able to genuinely produce whatever type of change we wanted to see in ourselves. I was recently asked what the difference between self-discipline and self-control was. I said self-discipline is pushing ourselves or putting pressure on ourselves to change. This pressure is often maintained through goals or rules. The emphasis is generally on working and doing as the means to change. If we change as a result of self-discipline we feel proud of what we have accomplished. This type of pride is busy and noisy and the opposite of the gratefulness and awe the Lord wants to grow in us. Self-control, on the other hand is a fruit of the spirit. It is something God does in and for us. The way we grow self-control is to admit we lack it, long for it to change and wait for God to work in us. Self-control grows by admitting, longing and waiting. The 'work' we do in this way of changing is being honest about our failures and limitations, allowing ourselves to feel pain as we long for more and standing up to the condemnation from evil that says God will never show up for us. I believe that 'work' is actually harder than doing something. We are often fooled that activity and self-inflicted pressure leads to change more than truth, desire and relationship. In fact, in Christian circles we often think desire is bad or gets us in to trouble. However, it says "Blessed are those who hunger or thirst for righteousness for they will be filled" (Matt 5:6).
In a more 'Gospel centered' process of change we may use a 'means of grace'. There are many examples of a means of grace. We might not have dessert in the home to help with self-indulgence or use Covenant Eyes to help with lust, or have a friend we talk to about our tendency to gossip. We then pray and wait for the change to happen because the absence of dessert or the exposure of what we are doing through Covenant Eyes or the honesty of a God relationship might help us to say no to indulgence, lust or gossip but that doesn't mean we have actually changed. The freedom to genuinely say no comes not from removing the obstacle but is something God does in us. Perhaps you have heard the term 'a dry drunk.' This is someone who has stopped drinking but underlying problems that contributed to the drinking have not changed. Removing the alcohol and being part of a group that helps you to say no is a means to grace. It helps you do what you want to do but it doesn't mean you have changed. Alcohol might be the particular idol and it’s good for the idol to be removed but it doesn't mean the false worship has been replaced with genuine worship. That takes time. So in any case I think we are quieter when we aim for inner change through truth, desire and relationship with the living God and employ a means of grace as necessary. Devotion, pious self-denial and severe bodily discipline are not ways to genuinely experience life giving and God-breathed change. So as a reminder...
Self-discpline we work, push and fret
Self-control we admit, long and wait