Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Overcoming Homosexual Pornography (Part 1)

The following is a two-part series on overcoming homosexual pornography by Robert Brennan, director of Apokata Psychotherapy Services which is a professional network ministry of Exodus International and a professional psychotherapy service for those struggling with same-sex pornography and opposite sex pornography. He is a graduate of Western Seminary in Marriage and Family Therapy, and he regularly speaks to churches about recovery from same-sex attraction. He practices in San Francisco and Fremont California.

I have never met a man in the psychotherapy context living with same-sex attraction that did not struggle with pornography. If I ask the question, “do you want to overcome your addiction to pornography?” in most cases the answer is yes. As therapy progresses we often find out that there is a secret love for pornography that is a very difficult love relationship to give up.

We cannot simply condemn such a person for this love relationship, but we must investigate further the meaning of these attractions and why they are so strong to begin with. We must unlock the mystery of the source of temptation if we are to change behavior. If we only work towards abstinence without dealing with the source of temptation, we do a disservice to those who have chosen recovery. I have met many frustrated men who have reached out for help, latched onto good resources such as support groups, and yet not experienced sufficient change. These resources are useful as long as they are paired with the emotional investigation purposed to root out the source of temptation.

To honor the true intensity of the struggle that same-sex attracted men go through within these blog posts, you will not read about simple one-two-three steps to success. The solution is not simple and often takes in-depth work to find resolution. While the resolution is hard work, it is very possible, and men are successfully overcoming the addiction to pornography every day according to God’s sufficient grace and timing. This in-depth work can take place within ministries such as “Living Waters,” and psychotherapy by a specialist in same sex recovery.

Please realize that I will be presenting information about same sex attraction and attraction to pornography because they are so highly related and always operating simultaneously. My descriptions of men struggling with same sex attraction and pornography are typical to my work; however, they do not describe each person’s struggle. This is to say that there are many variations to my analogies because each person is different and unique.

Why the same sex is attractive

One man told me that when he is around certain attractive men who are powerful, he feels they have power over him. Whatever that powerful man may say will influence the struggler to act in a pleasing manner in order to gain the powerful man’s favor. This is an unconscious form of gaining self approval in an attempt to feel strong as a man. We could say that simply interacting with powerful people, we become powerful, at least temporarily. When these basic needs are uncovered, such as the need for approval, we are beginning to deal with the source of temptation.

This real life example is often relived in pornography via fantasy. Fantasy is the power of the mind to create symbols of love.

Our goal is to diffuse the power of these temptations by understanding what each man is seeking to get from another man in pornography. Envy is a word we often use to describe these attractions because the struggler is attempting to acquire something from the seen and unseen strengths he finds in a powerful male image. What is so attractive? It is the possibility of acquiring masculine strength from another man. When strugglers can learn to find themselves as a strong man apart from sexualizing men, then they can find a true experience of manhood and no longer need pornography to fill the masculine void.

What is it about a man that becomes so intoxicating?

Is it his physical build, his attractive face, his relaxed and easy-going manner, his confidence or simply the fact that he gives men eye contact and attention that is focused and sincere? This man often lives in the moment and exudes masculine confidence that becomes exciting for some men. To be in his presence is like a drug-high to those who find him attractive.

The struggler often feels like he is the little boy who is surrounded by a man who accepts him unconditionally. Unconditional acceptance is the great void that was not met by his father growing up and, so the boy feels he is an emotional orphan, seeking out a man who will love him. Because the man in a pornographic image can become the father he has been seeking, viewing porn is a way to artificially find that father figure. The struggler can create a fantasy that allows him to believe that the porn image is the caring father figure he is longing for, a fantasy figure that is sexually arousing.

“Envy Him”: Unfulfilled masculine development

The means by which a man struggling with same-sex attraction can begin to reduce his level of addiction to pornography is by identifying what qualities he finds attractive in other men. Those qualities are parts of the attractive man that the struggler is attempting to claim for himself via his attraction.

I find most men wanting the characteristic of confidence. The scene often described by my clients is in a restaurant where a man and woman are sitting at a table enjoying themselves. My client is attracted to the man who is calm, easy-going, and confident of himself enough to be with a woman. He relates to the woman as she admires the attractive man and seeks his undivided attention.

The goal is to identify these characteristics that the struggler wants for himself and realize that these represent very real unmet needs. For example, to be attracted to a confident man is to desire our own personal confidence. Personal confidence or masculine confidence is the need. In other words, we can say our needs are being expressed through our attraction. The reduction of pornography can be achieved when we identify our root need and learn to have it filled in a healthy way. A healthy fulfillment is to be in inclusive, accepting, and uplifting relationships that are non-sexualized.

Same sex pornography is the fantasy of a man needing an attractive man to complete the user of pornography as a man. I often ask these men what they enjoy most about pornography. Their answer is that when they view pornography they feel accepted. They feel they are in the company of someone like themselves, someone who truly understands them and therefore feels acceptable.

The root of this need to be accepted as a man begins in childhood. While I will not delineate the causations of homosexuality, a large percentage of men were rejected by their father at a young age. That rejection created a wound that these men have been attempting to heal through the approval and love of other men since childhood. When we can reconcile the issues that caused a boy to be rejected and therefore stuck in his development stage as a boy, then we will often see the need for pornography to decline. This is truly dealing with the roots of pornography.

What is reconciliation? Reconciliation takes on many forms. Sometimes it is talking about the pain for the first time to a trusted person, forgiving someone, confronting a father with the way he has wounded his son, etc. Reconciliation is different for each person.

(to be continued...)

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Father Heart of God

A short reflection from our Lenten Courage Recollection by Andrew Comiskey (Living Waters)

Do you have any idea how attractive you are to God? One of the biggest hindrances to our walk with Him is a sense that our flesh is repulsive to Him because of sin. When my small son is covered with mud from the back yard, I pick him up and clean him off with the garden hose. I reject the mud, not the boy. Yes, you have sinned. Yes, you have broken God's heart. But you are still the center of God's affections - the apple of his eye. It is He who pursues us with a forgiving heart. We say "I found the Lord," but the truth is, He found us.

Many children particularly boys, have had no physical display of affection from their fathers, or no compassion when they are hurt. Because of our false concept of masculinity, we are told "Don't cry, boys don't cry". Jesus is not like that. His compassion and understanding are measureless. He feels our hurts more deeply than we do because His sensitivity to suffering is so much greater.

I once had to hold my screaming two-year old while a doctor stitched a large gash in his forehead. He quickly forgot his painful experience and fell asleep in my arms. But I was tormented by the experience and grieved for hours. You have forgotten most of your pains, but God has not. He has perfect recall of every moment of your life. Your tears are still mingled with His at this very moment.

Sometimes we don't understand what a fussy, doting father God is. Your parents may proudly display bronzed baby booties on the mantle, or trophies on the wall - but how does that compare with God's infinite capacity to be overjoyed with your every success? It was actually God who hear you speak your first real word. The hours you spent alone exploring new textures with baby hands were a delight to your Heavenly Father. Some of his greatest treasures are the memories of your childhood laughter. There has never been another child like you, and there never will be.

Moses once invoked a blessing on each of the tribes of Israel. To one tribe he said, "You shall dwell between the shoulders of God". What a fantastic blessing! But that is where you dwell also. Whatever you become in the eyes of men, even in person of great authority, fame or title, you will never cease to be more or less than a babe in the arms of God.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons

Take time to watch this two-part educational videos regarding the Catholic moral perspective on the topic of homosexuality.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It Happened!

This is the true confession of Rollie II delos Reyes, head of Courage Philippines, as told to Judith Concepcion and published in the Kerygma Magazine March 2009 issue.

"I was ditched in the well of homosexuality until someone sent me a rope."

I HATED MEN. My hatred for them started when I was five. My male classmates teased me because of my unclear speech due to my harelip. My male cousins and uncle called me names like lampayatot (feeble and skinny), pangit (ugly), and bakla (gay) – they were harsh and mean, I thought to myself. I started viewing men as bad and vicious creatures that meant only harm and from whom I must flee. I then closed myself to anything male.

Early Manifestations

It didn’t help that I grew up in the company of women. My family lived in a compound dominated by females and my playmates were my female cousins. Though there were male figures around, none of them taught me the ways of men or affirmed my masculinity. They concerned themselves mainly with work and left the care of the home to the women. As a young boy, I unconsciously looked for the male authority figure at home but I saw that in my mother. The other women in the family appeared to be able to control their children better than their husbands.

I was effeminate because I acquired the behavior of my female cousins. But because of the ruthless teasing of my male cousins, I clung more and more to my feminine ways and thinking.

I had a distorted view of what a real man should be: handsome, muscular, strong, not accident-prone, energetic and not sickly. I didn’t possess any of these qualities, thus it reinforced the message that I wasn’t man enough. I began to embrace other people’s negative opinion of me as truth.

Slowly, I became aware that I was different. When I studied in an exclusive male school, I was a loner until I found a group of friends who shared the same interest as mine: same sex attraction.

The Beginning of the Gay Life

When I reached puberty, my innocent crushes turned into lustful admiration. I engaged in sexual fantasies whenever I read mushy magazines. These became more graphic when I discovered the pornographic video tapes of my father, which I watched every time my parents were not around.

I had my first sexual encounter with a male neighbor when I was 14. These encounters continued for a year until that fateful day when my parents caught us in the act right in the dining hall of our house. I was filled with great fear, guilt, remorse and anger.

The gnawing guilt made me repress these same-sex attractions and the sexual sins for the rest of my high school years. Although I went to confession, that, for me, wasn’t enough to blot out my sins. I felt I needed to serve God more as reparation for my wrongdoings so I busied myself with different religious activities. Whenever I was tempted, I flagellated myself by praying the rosary, going to Mass, not eating lunch, or walking home.

Adopting the Gay Lifestyle

After high school, I gave up the opportunity to study in the University of the Philippines or the University of Santo Tomas. I chose to enter the seminary. Aside from my desire to bring back my father to the Catholic faith, I thought that entering fully into the Lord’s service would make me forget my same-sex attractions.

When I entered the seminary, I thought I was safe because my mind was preoccupied with the things of God. But when the counseling course was offered, my repressed longings for male affirmation resurfaced – and so did my sexual urges. After a few months, I had sexual encounters with two seminarians.

I left the seminary and entered the liberal world of UP. I read gay literature and began to explore the gay lifestyle. After college, I worked as a high school teacher. My gay co-teachers taught me about the heights of gay life. I went to gay clubs, bathhouses, etc. I had sexual encounters with every Tom, Dick, and Harry – anytime and anywhere.

I became a sex and love addict. I was in search for true love but I ended up being exploited. They were just after my money or sexual pleasure. The four long years of living the gay life was filled with rejections from men (straight and gays), insecurities, depression, danger, and near-death experiences. I felt bad after every encounter but I thought that rejection was part of being gay.

I thought I was happy. After one lustful night in a bar, I asked my friend, “Ganito na lang ba tayo hanggang pagtanda natin? (Will we remain like this until we’re old?)” The deafening silence revealed a deep sadness and emptiness in my soul.

I began to search for God and to look for the answers to these questions: Why am I gay? Why am I not happy? Where can I find my true love?

Finding Support Groups

In 1998, I attended a Christian Life Program (CLP) conducted by Singles for Christ (SFC). After I graduated from the CLP, I backslid and left SFC Mandaluyong. When I returned in 2001 to SFC in their Mandaluyong Chapter, I confronted the chapter head, “I'm gay. Do I have a place here in SFC?” He responded, “Of course,” and then hugged me. It was the first time I felt that someone truly cared for me inspite of who I was.

It was in SFC that I found my two best friends and mentors in masculinity – Benj and Biboy – who welcomed me into their accountability circle. They taught me the ways of men and listened and prayed for and with me in my deepest struggles. Through them, I felt genuine acceptance from men.

I had a deep longing to know that I was not alone in my struggle with homosexuality so I searched the net and came across Courage, a spiritual support group for persons with same-sex attractions who wanted to live a chaste life. During the first meeting I attended, I cried because for the first time I was with people who understood from their guts how it was to struggle with homosexuality and lust. It was here that I began to confront my deep-seated issues that surfaced in my counseling course in the seminary but didn’t know how to handle then. That’s when Living Waters entered.

Living Waters is a Christian healing ministry for persons with sexual and relational brokenness. I attended a 25-week healing program. Through the weekly sessions and reading of the books of John Eldredge, a Christian preacher and counselor, God revealed to me these truths: I am His beloved; I am His son, of whom He is well pleased; He has chosen me to carry out an important mission; He has forgiven me.

I stopped flagellating myself for my past sins and received the grace to forgive those who have wronged me.

Struggling to Victory

I liken my homosexual struggle to a man ditched into a well. The farther and deeper the man went down into the well, the more difficult it was for him to get out. In my case, I fell flat all the way to the bottom. I struggled in vain to get out by myself. I was glad that Someone threw me a rope.

I thought God hated me and would never love me until I was perfect. But now I realize that God has always been there. He pursued, watched and protected me even in the darkest places of my sin. He shared my pains, sufferings and rejections, and longed to share His love for me.

The battle is not yet over. I still struggle against lust and homosexuality but it doesn’t permeate my life anymore. It has ceased to be my whole personality; it is now only a thorn in the flesh.

My road to healing may be long and arduous but I’m not giving up. God never gave up on me. And now that I have found Jesus, my One True Love, I have pure joy.

Courage Philippines is a spiritual support system designed to assist men and women struggling with same-sex attraction to live chaste lives through prayer, fellowship, truth and love in obedience to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Courage may be reached through 0928-5066974, 0917-8427434 and courageph@gmail.com. Visit also their website and its affiliate organizations:


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Go To Joseph

Today, March 19, the Church celebrates the solemnity of the feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary. I am giving this little tribute to him because I believe every Christian, even if you're not Catholic, should look up to St. Joseph as the perfect model, after Jesus and Mary, of how the Christian life should be lived. Not much is known about his life except from a few chapters in the gospel of Luke, that is why I recommend the book Saint Joseph As Seen by Mystics and Historians for those who want to get acquainted with St. Joseph's life.

In St. Joseph, I find that "authentic manhood" can be fully integrated with holiness as opposed to our culture which teaches us "machismo" with an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength, and entitlement to dominate are attributes of real masculinity. Not Joseph. St. Joseph's manhood is anchored in loving service to Jesus and faithfulness to his marital vows with Mary. Also, people struggling with SSA (same sex attraction) who have father issues should also consider making St. Joseph their spiritual father (next to our Heavenly Father).

Below is an excerpt from the book I mentioned above about St. Joseph's power of intercession and his role as a patron of dying Christians.

The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, that God has been pleased to give some saints a special power to protect under certain peculiar necessities, and others He has endowed with gifts of various kinds; but to St. Joseph He has been more generous - He has made him, as it were, His plenipotentiary, His treasurer-general, that he may have it in his power to assist and relieve every description of person, whatever may be his necessity.

The other saints, it is true, have great power, but only to a certain extent. They intercede and supplicate as dependants, but they do not rule as masters; whereas St. Joseph, to whom at Nazareth Jesus and Mary had lived submissive, as being the father of One and husband to the Other, now that he dwells in the House of God, where his titles, far from being obscured, shine out with incomparable brilliancy, may doubtless obtain all he desires from the King, his Son, and the Queen, his Spouse. His influence with Both is unbounded, and as Gerson says, "he rather commands than supplicates." Hence it may be seen, how powerful is the intercession of St. Joseph!

As the sentence of death has been pronounced on all, without exception, it follows that all and each, without exception, should endeavor to secure the interest and friendship of him who is all-powerful in procuring every assistance for his clients at that awful and decisive hour, to enable them to die happily. If a person engages in a lawsuit, on the event of which depends an immense gain or utter ruin, does he not call in the aid of some eminent lawyer, of one whose zeal for his interest he may safely depend?

Now every Christian at the hour of death, is about to hear an irrevocable sentence pronounced upon him, upon which will depend his eternal life or death, the rage and temptations of the devil at that critical moment - the remembrance of past sins - the uncertainty as to the real state of one's soul at that awful moment - the terror of the future - all combine in disputing, as it were, his claim to the Kingdom of Heaven, and in torturing his spirit with the dread apprehension of being condemned to the eternal loss of that God, Who loved him even so well as to die for him, Who alone can make him happy - to that Hell of fire where the worm dieth not, and the fire is never extinguished!

Why not, at that critical moment, call on some saint to plead his cause, and to obtain a favorable sentence for him at that awful tribunal, whence there is no appeal, should he once have the misfortune to be condemned? Who is there better qualified to perform this charitable office than St. Joseph? He is acknowledged by all Christendom to be the special advocate of dying Christians; whence it is that congregations have been everywhere established and altars raised in his name, and that the feast of his blessed death is celebrated in many places.

Among the many motives for which St. Joseph has been constituted the particular patron of dying persons in preference to other saints, there are three which more especially engage us to consider him as such: 1st, St. Joseph is the adopted father of our Judge, whereas the other saints are only His friends; 2nd, his power is more formidable to the devils: 3rd, his death was the most singularly privileged, and the happiest ever recorded in the annals of mankind.

(Source: pp 393-396 Saint Joseph As Seen by Mystics and Historians)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Life Coach Is Here!

You've probably seen him on TV. He is the resident psychologist of the hit reality show Pinoy Big Brother. In this exclusive Courage article, "Doc Randy" shares his experience in handling cases pertaining to SSA and his approach in dealing with their issues.

Who is Doc Randy?

Randy Misael Sebastian Dellosa, M.D., Psy.D. is a Filipino life coach, counselor, psychotherapist, clinical psychologist, wellness physician, and psychiatrist all rolled into one with over 25 years of experience in counseling and psychotherapy. He helps people heal from their physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual problems and assists them in attaining their fullest human potential and spiritual growth. He is popularly known as the "celebrity shrink" and is sought-after as a consultant for reality TV shows and resource person for talk shows.

To find out more about Doc Randy, visit his website at www.randydellosa.com.

Hi _______!

Thanks for your email. I am always impressed by people like you who pursue healing, wholeness, and growth in their personal lives. It is also inspiring for me to know that you don't only help yourself, but have a blog that aims to encourage and support others as well. I hope that you keep up your good work!

In my practice as a psychotherapist, I receive clients with all types of problems. I estimate that around 10-15% of those who consult me (both male and female, young and old) do so due to homosexual issues. Some want to quit their homosexuality, others don’t, but nevertheless, the stories they tell me are commonly infused with feelings of frustration, alienation, anger, despair, angst, and helplessness.

More than a decade ago, because I had already been receiving a number of clients with SSA issues, I decided to equip myself by studying various therapeutic approaches aimed at helping people extinguish, diminish, or at least manage their homosexual struggles. I remember studying material by Leanne Payne, Michael Saia, Frank Worthen, and even Joseph Nicolosi. As part of my psychotherapeutic training and exposure, I was even able to visit a Christian organization in Reichelsheim, Germany- the Reichenberg Fellowship- which published materials on Biblical Counseling for Homosexuals.

Regarding Nicolosi's Reparative Therapy, I believe that it can certainly be a helpful approach for people with SSA issues. As much as I remember though, Nicolosi focuses on the failure of the father-son relationship and ambivalence in the mother-son relationship. These themes however, may be true for some homosexuals but not for all. Reparative Therapy therefore
is applicable only to the subgroup of homosexuals for which those themes apply.

These days, after many years of counseling people, I like to keep therapy simple yet meaningful, holistic, insightful, and practical. In my sessions, I work with themes that are relevant to most people, whether they have SSA issues or not. The themes include- healing from one’s childhood wounds; loving one’s self; befriending one’s ‘shadow’ nature; practicing forgiveness and gratitude; creating authentic and harmonious relationships; choosing to be joyful; living in the here and now; nurturing one’s personal spirituality; and finding purpose and meaning in life.

By focusing on positive themes, hope and inspiration grows. Focusing on positive themes also extinguishes the homosexual neurosis, characterized by an obsession with or constant rumination over homosexual struggles, gender identity, and sensuality. I discovered that even if I do not directly work on SSA issues, these themes naturally and spontaneously
start people on a journey of self-discovery, personal growth, emotional healing, and spiritual maturity. Of course, depending on the situation or on my client’s wishes, I can also choose to focus directly on SSA issues or other matters deemed important by the client.

Well, _______, this is all for now. I don’t always have the luxury of time to write lengthy pieces. Thanks for reading what I have to share and I wish you well on your journey of becoming the person God wants you to be.

God bless you, your family, and your ministry,


Thank you, Doc Randy, for finding time to write this article for Courage and for giving us a refreshing insight into your holistic approach in treating people with SSA. God bless you too in your sincere and wholehearted dedication to your work.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Forgiveness - Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness

by Katherine M. Piderman, Ph.D.

When someone hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge or embrace forgiveness and move forward.

Nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. Your mother criticized your parenting skills. Your friend gossiped about you. Your partner had an affair. These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness and even vengeance.

But when you don't practice forgiveness, you may be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Here, Katherine M. Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., discusses forgiveness and how it can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

What is forgiveness?

There's no one definition of forgiveness. But in general, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentments and thoughts of revenge. Forgiveness is the act of untying yourself from thoughts and feelings that bind you to the offense committed against you. This can reduce the power these feelings otherwise have over you, so that you can live a freer and happier life in the present. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy, and compassion for the one who hurt you.

Doesn't forgiving someone mean you're forgetting or condoning what happened?

Absolutely not! Forgiving isn't the same as forgetting what happened to you. The act that hurt or offended you may always remain a part of your life. But forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness also doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone?

Researchers have recently become interested in studying the effects of being unforgiving and being forgiving. Evidence is mounting that holding on to grudges and bitterness results in long-term health problems. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers numerous benefits, including:

* Lower blood pressure
* Stress reduction
* Less hostility
* Better anger management skills
* Lower heart rate
* Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse
* Fewer depression symptoms
* Fewer anxiety symptoms
* Reduction in chronic pain
* More friendships
* Healthier relationships
* Greater religious or spiritual well-being
* Improved psychological well-being

Why do we hold grudges and become resentful and unforgiving?

The people most likely to hurt us are those closest to us - our partners, friends, siblings and parents. When we're hurt by someone we love and trust - whether it's a lie, betrayal, rejection, abuse or insult - it can be extremely difficult to overcome. And even minor offenses can turn into huge conflicts.

When you experience hurt or harm from someone's actions or words, whether this is intended or not, you may begin experiencing negative feelings such as anger, confusion, or sadness, especially when it's someone close to you. These feelings may start out small. But if you don't deal with them quickly, they can grow bigger and more powerful. They may even begin to crowd out positive feelings. Grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility take root when you dwell on hurtful events or situations, replaying them in your mind many times.

Soon, you may find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. You may feel trapped and may not see a way out. It's very hard to let go of grudges at this point and instead you may remain resentful and unforgiving.

How do I know it's time to try to embrace forgiveness?

When we hold on to pain, old grudges, bitterness and even hatred, many areas of our lives can suffer. When we're unforgiving, it's we who pay the price over and over. We may bring our anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Our lives may be so wrapped up in the wrong that we can't enjoy the present. Other signs that it may be time to consider forgiveness include:

* Dwelling on the events surrounding the offense
* Hearing from others that you have a chip on your shoulder or that you're wallowing in self-pity * Being avoided by family and friends because they don't enjoy being around you
* Having angry outbursts at the smallest perceived slights
* Often feeling misunderstood
* Drinking excessively, smoking or using drugs to try to cope with your pain
* Having symptoms of depression or anxiety.
* Being consumed by a desire for revenge or punishment
* Automatically thinking the worst about people or situations
* Regretting the loss of a valued relationship
* Feeling like your life lacks meaning or purpose
* Feeling at odds with your religious or spiritual beliefs

The bottom line is that you may often feel miserable in your current life.

How do I reach a state of forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change. It can be difficult and it can take time. Everyone moves toward forgiveness a little differently. One step is to recognize the value of forgiveness and its importance in our lives at a given time. Another is to reflect on the facts of the situation, how we've reacted, and how this combination has affected our lives, our health and our well-being. Then, as we are ready, we can actively choose to forgive the one who has offended us. In this way, we move away from our role as a victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in our lives.

Forgiveness also means that we change old patterns of belief and actions that are driven by our bitterness. As we let go of grudges, we'll no longer define our lives by how we've been hurt, and we may even find compassion and understanding.

What happens if I can't forgive someone?

Forgiveness can be very challenging. It may be particularly hard to forgive someone who doesn't admit wrong or doesn't speak of their sorrow. Keep in mind that the key benefits of forgiveness are for you. If you find yourself stuck, it may be helpful to take some time to talk with a person you've found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider or an unbiased family member or friend.

It may also be helpful to reflect on times you've hurt others and on those who have forgiven you. As you recall how you felt, it may help you to understand the position of the person who hurt you. It can also be beneficial to pray, use guided meditation or journal. In any case, if the intention to forgive is present, forgiveness will come in its time.

Does forgiveness guarantee reconciliation?

Not always. In some cases, reconciliation may be impossible because the offender has died. In other cases, reconciliation may not be appropriate, especially if you were attacked or assaulted. But even in those cases, forgiveness is still possible, even if reconciliation isn't.

On the other hand, if the hurtful event involved a family member or friend whose relationship you otherwise value, forgiveness may lead to reconciliation. This may not happen quickly, as you both may need time to re-establish trust. But in the end, your relationship may very well be one that is rich and fulfilling.

What if I have to interact with the person who hurt me but I don't want to?

These situations are difficult. If the hurt involves a family member, it may not always be possible to avoid him or her entirely. You may be invited to the same family holiday gatherings, for instance. If you've reached a state of forgiveness, you may be able to enjoy these gatherings without bringing up the old hurts. If you haven't reached forgiveness, these gatherings may be tense and stressful for everyone, particularly if other family members have chosen sides in the conflict.

So how do you handle this? First, remember that you do have a choice whether to attend or not attend family get-togethers. Respect yourself and do what seems best. If you choose to go, don't be surprised by a certain amount of awkwardness and perhaps even more intense feelings. It's important to keep an eye on those feelings. You don't want them to lead you to be unjust or unkind in return for what was done to you.

Also, avoid drinking too much alcohol as a way to try to numb your feelings or feel better - it'll likely backfire. And keep an open heart and mind. People do change, and perhaps the offender will want to apologize or make amends. You also may find that the gathering helps you to move forward with forgiveness.

How do I know when I've truly forgiven someone?

Forgiveness may result in sincerely spoken words such as "I forgive you" or tender actions that fit the relationship. But more than this, forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life. The offense is no longer front and center in your thoughts or feelings. Your hostility, resentment and misery have made way for compassion, kindness, and peace.

Also, remember that forgiveness often isn't a one-time thing. It begins with a decision, but because memories or another set of words or actions may trigger old feelings, you may need to recommit to forgiveness over and over again.

What if the person I'm forgiving doesn't change?

Getting the other person to change their actions, behavior or words isn't the point of forgiveness. In fact, the other person may never change or apologize for the offense. Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life - by bringing you more peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing.

Forgiveness takes away the power the other person continues to wield in your life. Through forgiveness, you choose to no longer define yourself as a victim. Forgiveness is done primarily for yourself, and less so for the person who wronged you.

What if I'm the one who needs forgiveness?

It may help to spend some time thinking about the offense you've committed and trying to determine the effect it has had on others. Unless it may cause more harm or distress, consider admitting the wrong you've done to those you've harmed, speaking of your sincere sorrow or regret, and specifically asking for forgiveness - without making excuses.

But if this seems unwise because it may further harm or distress, don't do it - it's not about making yourself feel better by apologizing. You don't want to add salt to a painful wound. Also, keep in mind that you can't force someone to forgive you. They will need to move to forgiveness in their own time.

In any case, we have to be willing to forgive ourselves. Holding on to resentment against yourself can be just as toxic as holding on to resentment against someone else. Recognize that poor behavior or mistakes don't make you worthless or bad.

Accept the fact that you - like everyone else - aren't perfect. Accept yourself despite your faults. Admit your mistakes. Commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect. And again, talking with a spiritual leader, mental health provider or trusted friend or relative may be helpful.

Forgiveness of yourself or someone else, though not easy, can transform your life. Instead of dwelling on the injustice and revenge, instead of being angry and bitter, you can move toward a life of peace, compassion, mercy, joy and kindness.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Prayer for Emotional Healing

by Maribi M. Garcia

Loving Father, I come before you with faith in your promise that whatever I ask for in your name you will grant to me if it is for the good of my soul and in accordance with your Divine Will. I come trusting in your great love for me and believing that only you know what is best for me. I come to you now to ask that you enter my heart and heal all my wounded emotions.

You know me better that I know myself. Bring your healing love into every corner of my heart and release all the buried negative emotions inside that have not been resolved and continue to cause me pain and anguish. Remove all my unhealed hurts and painful memories that block the flow of your graces, robbing me of your peace, love and joy. Heal all feelings of sadness, loneliness, fear and anxiety. Heal all guilt, despair, feelings of betrayal and rejection. Heal all feelings of anger, hatred, resentment and bitterness. Bring your healing love to all my emotions that have caused me feelings of hopelessness, discouragement, helplessness, and despair. Grant me the grace to forgive all those who caused these negative emotions and likewise to be forgiven by those to whom I have done the same harm.

O Lord, give me a repentant heart, forgive me for my sins and failures, be merciful to me. Help me to realize the blessings that resulted from each painful experience and how this has led me closer to you. As you release from me all these painful emotions, fill all the empty spaces with your love, your peace, your joy and the powerful presence of your Holy Spirit. After I have been healed, may my life be a witness to your power and glory and may I reach out to others, too.

All these I pray in Jesus' name with Mary and all the angels and saints. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why Men Don't Pray

by Fr. Thomas D. Williams, LC

Ask any catechized Catholic whether prayer is important, and he will immediately assure you that it is. He may even enthusiastically spout a series of reasons why we should pray. Then ask him how much he prays. He will probably look at the floor, shift his weight nervously from foot to foot, and murmur an inaudible excuse as to how tough it is these days...with work and all...and the family...

If prayer is so wonderful, why do so few people—especially men—practice it with any regularity? Prayer is the sort of thing we all know is necessary but never seem to find enough time for. Despite our good intentions, other urgent affairs always seem to take precedence over prayer time and effectively crowd our prayer.

This nearly pandemic neglect of prayer undoubtedly has multiple causes. The following list presents six of the more common rationalizations I have heard (and used!) over the years. Like most good excuses, each of these bears an element of truth, but also an element of falsehood. Unmasking them may help us overcome them.

1. “I don’t have time to pray.”

No one has time to pray, really. The idyllic notion of “free time” simply doesn’t exist. We all have twenty-four hours in a day, and we fill those hours with something. Yet in these twenty-four hours some men pray and others don’t. Why is that? Here a glance at Christ’s life can prove illuminating. The first striking feature of Christ’s prayer life is not the way he prayed, or what he said, but the fact that he prayed. Simply put, Christ was a man of prayer. Since Jesus was God, we may think that he wouldn’t have needed to pray. And yet in the Gospels we find him praying all the time: in the morning, at night, alone and with others.

We don’t have much disposable time in our hectic lives, but the same was true in the case of our Lord. His days were packed with activities (just as ours often are): foot travel from town to town, long hours of preaching and teaching, visiting people, listening to their questions and problems, curing the sick, and so forth. True, he didn’t have a wife and kids, but he did have twelve needy Apostles and a vibrant ministry that occupied his waking hours. The Gospel relates that Jesus was so busy that sometimes he had no time even for eating (see, for example, Mark 3:20, 6:31; John 4:31). How many of us can say that? And still, he always had time to pray. Or, to be more exact, he always made time to pray.

This seems to be the key to Christ’s prayer life. He made it a priority. He preferred prayer to other good, wholesome activities. He specifically set aside blocks of time to speak with his Father in prayer. And if he did this, it was because he was convinced of his need for prayer. It’s not that he had “nothing better to do,” but rather that for Him prayer was not a filler activity but a priority.

Prayer doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t spontaneously occur like breathing or our heartbeat. It doesn’t impose itself on our organism like eating and drinking. If we don’t make time to pray, it simply won’t happen. Sure, on occasion we can spontaneously be moved to direct a word or two to our Lord, but a vigorous, constant life of prayer and union with God is more the result of hard work and willpower than chance occurrence.

We often allow other “urgent” activities to displace prayer in our lives. The more work we have to do, the less time we leave for prayer, under the pretext that we simply have no time to pray. Our Lord teaches us by his example that the contrary is true. The more we have to do, the more we need prayer. The bigger our business decisions, the more transcendent our choices for our family and future, the more we need prayer. Meetings, strategic planning, and careful consideration are important, but they don’t match the impact of prayer. Otherwise, what value does all our work have? The psalmist reminds us: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

2. “I don’t know how to pray.”

Sometimes we deal with prayer the way we would attempt brain surgery or glass-blowing. It can seem so daunting that we approach it with exaggerated reserve, as if we needed a PhD in spirituality in order to pray. We think that prayer requires extensive training to master complicated techniques. And since we “don’t know how” to pray, we don’t do it.

Even if we do attempt prayer, we may quickly abandon it out of discouragement. Knowing that we possess no special spiritual credentials, we may feel that our prayer is second-rate, that we aren’t doing it right, and that God surely has more interesting people to listen to. If we compare our ramblings, say, to the soaring spiritual poetry of John Donne or Teresa of Avila, we can’t help but feel more than a little inadequate.

These considerations would be valid if God were a professional prayer critic whose primary concern was the technical perfection of our performance. But God isn’t a critic, or an Olympic prayer judge, but a Father. Think, instead, of a small child who brings home a crayon drawing from school for Mothers’ or Fathers’ Day. A child’s drawing will lack the technical expertise of the practiced artist, but will charm a mother or father’s heart more than a work by Raphael or Rembrandt. Its value to a parent does not depend on its artistic merits, but on the effort and love invested in the work, and the fact that it is done by a son or daughter. In a similar fashion, God is predisposed to be delighted with whatever we offer him, by the mere fact that we are the ones offering it. Sincere manifestations of our desire to please him, however imperfect, do indeed please him.

Others simply don’t know what to do during prayer time. Like an adolescent boy calling a girl for the first time, many would-be prayer practitioners quickly run out of topics of conversation and end with a clumsy and premature good-bye. Such failed attempts sometimes lead to the abandonment of prayer, with a shrug of the shoulders and resignation to the sad fact that “I guess I wasn’t made for prayer.” In these cases, some revert to the rote recitation of standard formulae, which, in spite of their real value, often leave one with the vague interior nagging that prayer should somehow be more than that.

We mustn’t be afraid to dive into prayer, and to stick with it once we have begun. We learn to pray by praying. We learn to love by loving. We make progress when we get out of the theoretical stage and move on to the active. We will make more progress in prayer by praying than by reading 100 good books on prayer techniques, just as we will learn more about swimming by jumping in the water than by sitting on dry land consulting swimming manuals. But we must persevere despite setbacks. Prayer is an act of love, a lifting up of the heart to God. The more we do it, the more natural it becomes.

3. “Nothing happens when I pray.”

Our prayer can often feel ineffectual. We experience no interior heat, hear no angelic choirs, see no flashes of light, and often get no quick answers to our problems and queries. Yet we would be wrong to think that nothing happens when we pray. True, we may not get the result we expect, but something happens nonetheless. In the first place, even without its many consequences prayer is good. Spending time with God is never time wasted, but time well spent. We should find it very strange if a young man valued time spent with his girlfriend only according to the productivity of their time together. And a girlfriend treated in such a way could rightly feel used. Surely God must often feel used if we see him only as a sugar daddy whose sole purpose is to grant us favors. God is worth loving for his own sake, regardless of the favors he bestows.

But prayer does bring favors as well. Things do indeed happen every time we pray. They may not coincide exactly with our expectations, but that doesn’t mean that our words fall on deaf ears. Remember that prayer is not meant to “bring God around” to our way of seeing things. We do not present ourselves before our Maker armed with convincing arguments like an attorney pleading a case. Nor do we say a magic word and expect an automatic result. In prayer we praise God, place our needs before him, thank him and enjoy his company. And he in turn transforms us. We may not feel it right away, but all experienced pray-ers know, that God answers every prayer we utter. True, he does so in his own time and in his own way, but that is part of the adventure of living a personal relationship with your Creator. By persevering in prayer we experience the special delight of discovering, little by little, how wonderful and unexpected God’s responses are.

4. “I get along fine without prayer.”

Though most of us would vehemently assert the necessity of prayer for the Christian life, in practice it often seems that we can get by all right without it. Some writers compare the spiritual life to our bodily existence, such that what eating, breathing, and sleeping are to the body, prayer is to the spirit. Yet like all analogies, the comparison only goes so far. If we fail to sleep at night, the effects make themselves immediately felt on our next day’s performance, whereas a day without prayer often produces no such immediate consequences. Parallels to eating and breathing seem even more forced. Neglect of prayer often produces no evident harm, especially in the short run.

Yet the absence of prayer does produce negative effects in our life, just as its presence produces positive ones. They are often gradual effects, but real ones nonetheless. Removing prayer from the Christian life is like trading in a color television for a black and white. Life without prayer slowly becomes a drudgery. It dries up, grows dull and sad, and saps our energy and enthusiasm. Prayer doesn’t only affect prayer time; it affects every moment of our lives and colors them with excitement, depth and meaning. Prayer means going through life in the company of the One who loves us, instead of trying to wing it on our own. Though it seems we can get along without it, how much richer and colorful life is when we travel it in God’s company through an active prayer life!

5. “I’m a spiritual person, but I don’t pray.”

Often these days people make the pseudo-sophisticated claim of being interested in “spirituality” but not particularly big on “religion.” Personal prayer is out; “spirituality” is in. Forgive my bluntness, but spirituality without religion strikes me as the ultimate cop-out. Like live-in lovers who want all the benefits of marriage with none of the commitment, chasing “spirituality” in lieu of religion substitutes a sham for the real thing. What in the world does it mean to be a “spiritual” person? For many, it seems to be nothing more than a justification to feel somehow engaged with the transcendent without those bothersome demands of a personal God. Instead of having to adore one’s Creator and live up to his expectations, we would rather lower the bar, creating a comfortable little spiritual world under our own control. That way we feel “spiritual” but are accountable to no one but ourselves.

Those advocating a religion-free spirituality remind me of what Holocaust victim Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Bonhoeffer, a Christian theologian, described cheap grace as “preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance....It is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross. Cheap grace is grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” This is why people who pursue religion-free spirituality become victims of fashion. They end up following the most popular guru-du-jour for a little while, until the novelty wears off. Then they have to find another one, and another. They are trying to get into shape by eating potato chips when what they really need is some hearty meat and fresh vegetables—spiritual nourishment, not junk food.

Christian revelation can be uncomfortable, since we must give up the reins of our lives and allow Someone else to be God. The last word is his, not ours. Yet letting God be God is also immensely liberating. The weight of the world sits on his shoulders, not ours. He is the Savior, we are not. And in our personal lives as well, he has the solutions even to our most difficult problems. Christian prayer recognizes God for who he is, and accepts him on his own terms. It doesn’t try to downsize him to our own measure, or to replace authentic discipleship with a vague, feel-good spirituality.

6. “I am an active sort, not a contemplative.”

Many men find prayer difficult and naturally prefer action to contemplation. We are practical, even pragmatic, and figure we can leave the praying to others who like that sort of thing. We may even consider prayer to be a less “manly” activity. Besides, isn’t doing good to others the essence of true religion? And all that precious time wasted in idleness, couldn’t it be better invested in fruitful activity? Well, no. Both prayer and action are essential to the Christian life, but prayer takes precedence. Prayer is not idleness, and as odd as it may seem, prayer provides more good for the world than all sorts of human activity.

There was a saint who once tried this excuse on Jesus, but it backfired. You probably remember the Gospel story of two sisters, named Martha and Mary, who invited Jesus over to their house (See Luke 10:38-42). While Martha bustled about preparing supper and waiting on her guest, Mary sat “idly” by at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. Martha finally reached the end of her rope and came over to Jesus in a huff. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Yet rather than acknowledge Martha’s complaint, Jesus defends her sister. “Martha, Martha,” he says, “you worry and fret about so many things, yet few are needed, indeed, only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken from her.”

Good and worthwhile as activity is, prayer is more needful still. It is prayer, after all, that gives meaning and worth to action. Prayer is, as one writer puts it, “the soul of the apostolate.” Our activity would be an empty shell, a “gong booming or a cymbal clashing” (1 Corinthians 13:1) without prayer, without personal contact with our Lord. No number of good works, no matter how useful, can compensate for our lack of prayer.

Some have gone so far as to accuse contemplatives of escapism. Instead of getting their hands dirty with hard work, contemplatives would hide away in their safe, inner retreats. I think that those who indulge in such criticisms must never have tried praying. Once we strip away its romantic trappings, prayer is really hard work. Beautiful moments of inner peace and consolation do indeed sweeten the task, but ongoing struggles against distractions and listlessness are just as common. Of the three types of work—physical work, intellectual work and spiritual work—spiritual work is the hardest. Wasn’t it that great woman of prayer Saint Teresa of Avila who said that for a long period of her religious life she would have preferred to do anything rather than pray? Her exact words were these:

And very often, for some years, I was more anxious that the hour I had determined to spend in prayer be over than I was to remain there, and more anxious to listen for the striking of the clock than to attend to other good things. And I don’t know what heavy penance could have come to mind that frequently I would not have gladly undertaken rather than recollect myself in the practice of prayer (The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, pp. 97-98).

Far from being a dreamer’s escape, prayer requires a good deal of mettle, which many of us lack. Again, without courage we won’t get very far in the Christian life, even in something as basic as prayer.

Prayer is a Christian duty, to be sure, but even more it is a privilege. Our God is not an unapproachable legislator or a distant, indifferent watchmaker, but a Father personally interested in his children. Christ revealed to us a God who listens, a God who has counted every hair on your head, a God who hastens to give good things to those who ask him. The same almighty Lord who spoke a single word and all things came to be, now bends his ear to listen to every word that you utter. Let us take to heart the words so often repeated in the liturgy: Let us pray! There is simply no better use of our time.

(Father Thomas D. Williams, LC, is dean of the Theology School at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University and author of Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Letter from an Anonymous Blog Reader

I got this short anonymous comment from my other blog after I wrote about Courage. Read on.

I just learned that Courage exists. My husband and I just learned that our brother-in-law, his sister's husband, has a sexual relationship with another man. We are very troubled because she has given him her blessing to pursue this relationship. She has welcomed her husband's boyfriend to their home for dinner and allowed him to interact with their children. As she puts it, he is becoming a "fixed" part of their family. From where we are standing, she is trying to be very tolerant, but is getting increasingly insecure and confused. To be "fair" as they put it, she has begun pursuing other men.

Please pray for them. Thank you for letting me blog here. Just knowing others understand how homosexuality can affect the family is so helpful. Thank you for sharing your story. We are very grateful to not be so alone.

I have never heard from this reader again since she posted this comment, but I did encourage her to help her brother-in-law find a support group like Courage to help him cope with his struggles.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dynamics of Emotional Dependency (Part 3)

Part 3

“For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true, and find out what pleases the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8-10

The conclusion of this three-part article on “Emotional Dependency” brings relief to our readers: there is freedom from emotional dependency! Healing for this sin that so deeply affects our ability to relate to others is found through right relationship with Christ and the members of His body. In exploring “The Path Out of Dependency”, we look at suggestions coming directly from Christians who’ve battled this sin, yet now are learning to enjoy relationships that reflect God’s design and intent.

The Path Out of Dependency.

The tendency to draw our life and security from another human being is a problem nearly everyone faces. However, it’s only after we encounter repeated frustration and sorrow in emotionally dependent relationships that we hunger for something more satisfying. We long to find contentment and rest in our relationships with others, but how do we break the old patterns?

Before we start exploring the different elements in overcoming dependency, we need to grasp an important truth: there is NO FORMULA that leads us to a transformed life. Lifelong tendencies towards dependent relationships can’t be changed by following “ten easy steps”. Jesus Christ desires to do an intimate and unique work within each of us by the power of His Holy Spirit. Change will come as we submit to Him and cooperate with that work. The guidelines we’re considering here illustrate ways God has worked in various people’s lives to bring them out of emotional dependency. Some of the suggestions apply to gaining freedom from a specific relationship, others pertain to breaking lifelong patterns. All represent different aspects of a whole picture: turning away from forms of relationship rooted in our sin nature and learning new ways of relating based on our new natures in Christ.

Elements In Overcoming Emotional Dependency

Making a commitment to Honesty.

In the second part of this series, we covered some reasons why dependencies are hard to break. One reason was that as a result of the deception that sets in, we can’t see dependency as sin. This deception is broken when we are honest with ourselves, admitting we’re involved in a dependent relationship and acknowledging our dependency as sin. Then we’re ready for honesty with God, confessing our sin to Him. We don’t have to hide our confusion, our anger, or any of our feelings, we just need to pour out our hearts to Him, asking Him to give us the willingness to obey His will in this matter. The next challenge is being honest with another person. We can seek out a mature brother or sister in Christ and confess to them, “Look I’m really struggling with my feelings towards my partner on the evangelism team. I’m getting way too attached to her. Could you pray with me about this?” As we “walk in the light” in this way, we can be cleansed and forgiven. If we’re aware of specific ways we’ve manipulated circumstances to promote the dependent relationship, we can ask forgiveness for these actions, too. The deeper the honesty, the deeper the cleansing we’ll receive. In choosing someone to share with, the best choice is a stable, trustworthy Christian who is not emotionally involved in the situation. This person can then intercede for us in prayer and hold us accountable, especially if we give them freedom to periodically ask us “how things are going”. Extreme caution needs to be used in sharing our feelings with the one we’re dependent on. At Love In Action, San Rafael, we’ve seen regretful results when one brother (or sister) has shared with another in an intimate setting, “Hey, I’m really attracted to you. I think I’m getting dependent”. It’s better to seek the counsel and prayer of a spiritual elder before even considering this step, and even then, we need to ask the Lord to shine His light on our motives.

Introducing Changes in Activities: Gradual Separation.

Whether the dependency has been mutual or one-sided, we usually begin to plan our lives around the other person’s activities. In dealing with dependent relationships in Love in Action, San Rafael, we don’t advocate the idea of totally avoiding another member of the body of Christ. However, we do recognize that a “parting of the ways” is necessary in breaking dependency. For example, we don’t recommend that a person stop attending church just because the other person will be there. But we do know that placing ourselves unnecessarily in the presence of the person we’re dependent on will only prolong the pain and delay God’s work in our lives.

Allow God To Work.

This sounds so obvious, but it’s not as easy as it seems! After we confess to God that we’re hopelessly attached to this individual and are powerless to do anything about it, we invite Him to come in and “change the situation”. The Lord never ignores a prayer like this. Some people begin to confront us about this relationship, but we assure them we have it all under control. Our friend decides to start going to a different Bible study, and soon we find a good reason to switch to the same one. The Holy Spirit nudges us to get rid of certain record albums, but we keep forgetting to do it. We ask God to work in our lives, but then we do everything in our power to make sure He doesn’t! I’ve learned from my own experience that thwarting God’s attempts to take someone out of my life only produces prolonged unrest and agony. Cooperation with the Holy Spirit brings the quickest possible healing from broken relationships.

Preparing for Grief and Depression.

Letting go of a dependent relationship can be a painful as going through a divorce. If we acquaint ourselves with the grief process and allow ourselves to hurt for a season, our healing will come faster. If we repress our pain and deny ourselves the time we need to recover, we’ll carry around unnecessary guilt and bitterness. Some people have said that they found the Psalms to be especially comforting during this time of “letting go”.

Cultivate Other Friendships.

Even if it’s difficult, scary, and our hearts are not in it … we need to do it. Our feelings will catch up later, and we’ll be glad we’ve made the investment in the lives of our new friends. The Lord will choose relationships for us if we’ll let Him. Willingness to accept the friends He gives us will deepen our relationship with Him as well. He knows just the relationships we need to draw out our special qualities and chip off our rough edges.

Discover God’s Vision for Relationships.

If we love another person as God loves him, we’ll desire to see that man (or woman) conformed to the image of Christ. The Lord wants to bring forth qualities in us that reflect His character and gifts that enable us to do His work. In a recent issue of the Desert Stream newsletter, Andy Comiskey said,”At the onset of any friendship, we must choose a motivation. Either we mirror a friend’s homosexual desirability or his/her new identity in Christ. This may sound tough, but our willingness to be disciplined emotionally might just make or break a friendship. When we exchange another’s best interests for our own neediness, we run the risk of losing the friendship.” If we desire an exclusive emotional involvement with this friend, then our desires are in conflict with what the Lord wants. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I working with God or Against Him in the person’s life?

Resolve The Deeper Issues.

The compulsion to form dependent relationships is a symptom of deeper spiritual and emotional problems that need to be faced and resolved. Self analysis is the least effective way to uncover these problems. The most effective way is to go directly to Jesus and ask Him to show us what’s wrong. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) Another effective way is to go to those God has placed in positions of authority over us and submit to their counsel and prayer. For some, a long-term counseling relationship will help us face the sins we need to repent of and the hurts that need healing. For others, a small covenant group that meets regularly for deep sharing and prayer will help tremendously. Sometimes personal prayer and fasting draws us to God and breaks sin bondages in a way nothing else will. The desire to find our identity and security in another human being is a common sin problem with a myriad of possible causes. Confession, repentance, deliverance, counseling, and inner healing are means the Lord will use to bring purity and emotional stability into our lives. The healing and forgiveness we need are ours through Jesus’ atonement. We can receive them by humbling ourselves before Him and before others in His body.

Prepare For The Long Haul.

Sometimes victory escapes us because we prepare for a battle rather than a war. Whether we are trying to gain freedom from a specific attachment or from lifelong patterns of dependency, we need to prepare for long-term warfare. We need to know ourselves: our vulnerabilities, the types of personalities we are likely to “fall for”, the times when we need to be especially careful. We need to know our adversary: know the specific lies Satan is likely to tempt us with and be prepared to reject those lies, even when they sound good to us! More than anything, we need to know our Lord. We need to be willing to believe God loves us. Even if we cannot seem to feel His love, we can take a stand by faith that He does love us and begin to thank Him for this fact. As we learn of God’s character through His Word, we can relinquish our images of Him as being cruel, distant, or unloving. A love relationship with Jesus is our best safeguard against emotionally dependent relationships.

Is There Life After Dependency?

Though overcoming dependence may be painful for a season, it is one of the most curable ailments known to man. Often people are so healed that they cannot even conceive of the extent of their former bondage to dependent relationships. The immediate reward in giving up a dependent relationship is peace with God. Even in the midst of pain over the loss of the dependency, we experience peace, relief, and joy as our fellowship with God is restored. “It’s like waking up after a bad dream” one woman told us.

Peace with ourselves is another blessing we receive. It’s much easier to like ourselves when we are not scheming and striving to maintain a relationship we know God does not desire for us. When we have relinquished a dependent attachment, we are no longer tormented with fear of losing the relationship. This, too, brings peace to our hearts.

In the aftermath of dependency, we discover a new freedom to love others. We are members of one another in the body of Christ. When our attentions and affections are wrapped up totally in one individual, other people in our lives are suffering for it. They are not receiving the love from us God intends them to have.

Individuals who have given up dependent relationships say they discover a new caring and compassion for people that’s not based on sexual or emotional attraction. They find they are less critical of people and less defensive. They begin to notice that their lives are founded on the real security found through their relationship with Christ, not the false security of a dependent relationship.

And, finally, overcoming dependency brings us a freedom to minister to others. We can only lead others where we have been willing to go ourselves. When we are no longer rationalizing wrong attachments, we have new liberty in the Spirit to exhort and encourage others! Our discernment becomes clearer, and spiritual truth is easier to understand and accept. We become clean vessels, fit for the Lord’s use.

In our desire to remain free from this problem, we need to remember that hiding from people is not the alternative to dependency. Dependency is a subtle counterfeit to the tremendously rich and fulfilling relationship the Lord intends for us to have through Him. If we are trying to overcome the sin of dependency, let’s remember that Jesus is not harsh with us. He will teach us to love people in a holy way, and He knows that this takes time. There is a battle between the flesh and the spirit in every way of our lives - relationships are no exception. But Jesus is the one who is bringing His body together, and we are learning.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dynamics of Emotional Dependency (Part 2)

Part 2

“All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart” - Proverbs 21:2

Next, we explore the role manipulation plays in these relationships, plus a look at some reasons why emotional dependencies are hard to break.

Maintenance through Manipulation.

Manipulation is an ugly word. None of us likes to believe we could ever be guilty of this activity. Yet when emotionally dependent relationships form, manipulation often becomes the glue that holds them together.

To explain what we mean by manipulation, we came up with a working definition:

“attempting to control people or circumstances through deceptive or indirect means”.

Webster’s Dictionary describes manipulation as being insidious, which means:

treacherous - awaiting a chance to entrap.
seductive - harmful but enticing.
subtle - developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent, having a gradual but cumulative effect.

Some typical forms of manipulation used to begin and maintain dependencies:

Finances - combining finances and personal possessions, moving in together.
Gifts - giving gifts and cards regularly for no special occasion, such as flowers, jewelry, baked goods, and gifts symbolic of the relationship.
Clothes - wearing each others’ clothing, copying each others’ styles.
Romanticisms - using poetry, music, or other romanticisms to provoke an emotional response.
Physical affection - body language, frequent hugging, touching, roughhousing, back and neck rubs, tickling, and wrestling.
Eye contact - staring, giving meaningful or seductive looks; refusing to make eye contact as a means of punishment.
Flattery and praise - “You’re the only one who understands me.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Proverbs 29:5 says “Whoever flatters his neighbour is spreading a net for his feet.”

Conversational triggers - flirting, teasing, using special nicknames, referring to things that have special meaning to both of you.
Failing to be honest - repressing negative feelings or differing opinions.
Needing “help” - creating or exaggerating problems to gain attention and sympathy.
Guilt - making the other feel guilty over unmet expectations: “If you love me, then … “
“I was going to call you last night, but I know you’re probably too busy to bother with me.”
Threats - threats of suicide and backsliding can be manipulative.
Pouting, brooding, cold silences - when asked, “What’s wrong”, replying by sighing or saying, “Nothing”.
Undermining partner’s other relationships - convincing him others do not care about him, making friends with partner’s other friends in order to control the situation.
Provoking insecurity - withholding approval, picking on partner’s weak points, threatening to end the relationship.
Time - keeping the other’s time occupied so as not to allow for separate activities.

These are common ways manipulation is used to hold dependent relationships together. Some of these things are not sinful in and of themselves. Honest praise and encouragement, giving of gifts, hugging and touching are important aspects of godly friendship. Only when these things are used for selfish ends — to bind or control another, to arouse responses leading to sin — do they become manipulative.

Why Are Dependencies Hard To Break?

Even when both parties realize a relationship is unhealthy, they may experience great difficulty in breaking the dependency. Often those involved will begin to separate, only to run back to each other. Even after dependencies are broken, the effects may linger on for some time. Let’s look at some reasons why these attachments are so persistent.

There are benefits.

We usually don’t involve ourselves in any kind of behaviour if we don’t believe it benefits us in some way. As painful as dependency is, it does give us some gratification. The fear of losing this gratification makes dependent relationships hard to give up. Some of the perceived benefits of an emotional dependency include:

Emotional security - A dependent relationship gives us the sense that we have at least one relationship we can count on. This gives us a feeling of belonging to someone.
Intimacy - Our need for intimacy, warmth, and affection might be filled through this relationship.
Self-worth - Our ego is boosted when someone admires us or is attracted to us. We also appreciate feeling needed.
Relief from boredom - A relationship like this might add excitement and romance when life seems dull otherwise. In fact, the stressful ups and downs of the relationship can become addictive.
Escape from responsibility - The focus on maintaining the relationship can provide an escape from confronting personal problems and responsibilities.
Familiarity - Many people don’t know any other way of relating. They are afraid to give up the “known” for the “unknown”.

We can’t see it as sin.

The culture we live in has taken the truth that “God is love” and turned it around to mean, “Love is god”. In modern history, romantic or emotional love is viewed as a law unto itself: when you “love” someone (meaning: when you have intense romantic feelings for someone), anything you do with that person is “OK”. Viewed in this light, dependent relationships seem beautiful and noble. Especially if there is no sexual involvement, dependent attachments are easy to rationalize. Genuine feelings of love and friendship might be used to excuse the intense jealously and possessiveness present in the dependency.

Also, we may not be able to see how a dependent relationship separates us from God. “I pray more than ever”, one woman told us. What she didn’t mention was that she never prayed about anything but her dependent relationship. Sometimes people say, “This friend draws me even closer to God.” What usually has happened is that the emotional dependency has given them a euphoric feeling that masquerades as “closeness to God”. When the friend withdraws even slightly, God suddenly seems far away!

Root problems are not dealt with.

We might end a dependent relationship by breaking it off or moving away. However, if we still have unhealed hurts, unfilled needs, or an unrepentant heart, we’ll fall right into another dependent relationship or return to the one we left. Dealing with the surface symptom rather than the real problem leaves the door open to future stumbling.

Spiritual influences are overlooked.

When we ignore the Holy Spirit’s correction, we make ourselves vulnerable to satanic oppression. Those who willingly enter dependent relationships become candidates for spiritual deception. Wrong begins to seem right to them and truth begins to sound like a lie. When breaking free from dependent relationships, we sometimes overlook the importance of spiritual warfare: prayer, fasting and deliverance. If emotional ties have gone deep into a person’s life, especially if sexual sin has been involved, there’s the need to break the bonds that have formed between the two people. When dependency has been a lifelong pattern, ties need to be broken with all past partners as well, If the spiritual aspects are not dealt with thoroughly, this sin pattern will continue.

We don’t want to give up our sin.

Counselors know the frustration of going through all imaginable steps of counselling, support, and spiritual warfare on behalf of a counsellee only to realize this individual has no interest in changing. People in dependent relationships sometimes say they want out, but they really want to be relieved from the responsibility of doing anything about the problem. They hope talking to a counsellor will free them from the pressures of their conscience. Meanwhile, their desire and intent is to continue having the dependent relationship. Sometimes the bottom line is this: an emotional dependency is hard to break because the individuals involved don’t want it to be broken.

to be continued...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dynamics of Emotional Dependency (Part 1)

Note: After attending a talk on emotional dependency yesterday given by a brother in the community, I decided to feature a 3-part series of article on ED (emotional dependency) based on the book of Lori Rentzel. This will give an overview of ED, the dynamics involved, and a suggested plan of action to help the struggler overcome this major roadblock in attaining wholeness and healing in relationships.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” - Proverbs 4:23

Throughout the years, we’ve realized that one of the most intense struggles people encounter is the problem of emotional dependency. Emotional dependency can range from a powerful romantic attachment to another person to a platonic friendship that has become too ingrown and possessive. Part 1 defines the problem and looks at some of the set-ups that lead to dependent relationships.

Part 1

Mary had spent long hours with Sarah, counseling her and helping her through the struggles of being a new Christian. They seemed to have a great friendship with lots of common interests and a mutual love for the Lord. Sarah felt Mary understood her better than anyone ever had. Even Sarah’s husband, Bill, couldn’t provide her with the closeness she experienced with Mary. Mary and her husband, Tom, had a fulfilling marriage, but Tom’s sales career kept him away from home often. A loving person, Mary willingly invested her time and caring in Sarah, who really seemed to need her. It was rewarding for Mary to see Sarah growing the Lord, and she enjoyed Sarah’s obvious admiration.

The shock came when Mary and Sarah found themselves emotionally and physically involved with each other. Neither woman had ever been aware of homosexual feelings before. Both of them loved God and cared for their husbands. Their friendship had appeared to be Christ-centred, as they frequently prayed and read the Bible together. If what they were doing was wrong, why hadn’t God stopped them? Why hadn’t they seen the danger signals along the way? Now that they were so closely involved, they couldn’t imagine being apart. “What are we going to do?”, they wondered.

What Is Emotional Dependency?

Long before Mary and Sarah were involved homosexually, they’d entered into an emotionally dependent relationship. Emotional dependency, as we’ve defined it, is:

the condition resulting when the on-going presence and/or nurturing of another is believed necessary for personal security. This nurturing comes in many different forms of input from one person’s life into another:

time spent together

Emotionally dependent relationships may appear harmless or even healthy at first, but they can lead to destruction and bondage greater than most people can imagine. Whether or not physical involvement exists, sin enters the picture when a friendship becomes a dependent relationship. To differentiate between the normal interdependency that happens in wholesome relationships and an unhealthy dependency, we’ll look at the factors that make up dependent relationships: how and why they get started and how they are maintained.

Characteristics of a Dependent Relationship.

We all have a deep need, placed in us by God, for intimate friendships. How do we know when we’re meeting this need legitimately? Is there some way to recognize when we’ve crossed the line into dependency? Here are some signs that an emotional dependency has started:

When either party in a relationship:

experiences frequent jealously, possessiveness and a desire for exclusivism, viewing other people as a threat to the relationship.
prefers to spend time alone with this friend and becomes frustrated when this doesn’t happen.
becomes irrationally angry or depressed when this friend withdraws slightly.
loses interest in friendships other than this one.
experiences romantic or sexual feelings leading to fantasy about this person.
becomes preoccupied with this person’s appearance, personality, problems and interests.
is unwilling to make short or long range plans that don’t include the other person,
is unable to see the other’s faults realistically.
becomes defensive about the relationship when asked about it.
displays physical affection beyond that which is appropriate for a friendship.
refers frequently to the other in conversation; feels free to “speak for” the other.
exhibits an intimacy and familiarity with this friend that causes others to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in their presence.

How Does a Dependent Relationship Differ from a Healthy Friendship?

A healthy relationship is free and generous. Both friends are eager to include others in their activities. They experience joy when one friend hits it off with another. In a good friendship, we desire to see our friend reach his or her full potential, developing new interests and skills. A dependent relationship is ingrown, creating mutual stagnation and limiting personal growth. In normal relationships, we are affected by things our friends say and do, but our reactions are balanced. When we’re emotionally dependent, a casual remark from our friend can send us into the heights of ecstasy or the pits of grief. If a close friend moves away, it is normal for us to feel sorrow and a sense of loss. If one of the partners in a dependent relationship moves, the other is gripped with anguish, panic and desperation. A healthy friendship is joyful, healing, and upbuilding; an emotional dependency produces bondage.

Set-ups for Emotional Dependency.

Emotional dependency comes as a surprise to most people. Like Mary and Sarah, they don’t see the problem coming until it has hold of them. However, dependencies don’t happen in a vacuum. Definite elements in our personalities and situations can set us up for binding relationships. Sins and hurts from the past leave us vulnerable, too. Having an awareness of these set-ups helps us to know when we need to exercise special caution in our relationships.

Personality Set-ups: Who Is Susceptible?

Anyone can fall into a dependent relationship given the right pressures and circumstances. However, there are a few common personality patterns that consistently gravitate towards each other to form dependencies. The basic combination seems to be the individual who appears to “have it all together” teamed up with one who needs the attention, protection or strength the other offers. Variations on this theme include:

counsellor / person with problems
“in control” person / one who needs direction
parent / child
teacher / student.

Although these pairs appear to include one strong person and one needy person, they actually consist of two needy people. The “strong” one usually has a deep need to be needed. As often as not, the one who appears weaker actually controls the relationship. We’ve talked with people who have been “weak” in one relationship and “strong” in another, and sometimes these elements aren’t apparent at all. A balanced friendship can turn into a dependent relationship if other set-ups are present.

Situational Set-ups: When Are We Most Vulnerable?

Certain times in our lives find us feeling insecure, ready to grasp hold of whatever security is available to us. Some of these times include:

Life crises - relationship break-up, death of someone close, loss of job.
Transition periods - adjusting to new job, moving to new home, getting engaged or being newly married, starting university, becoming a Christian.
Peak pressure periods - final examinations week, deadlines at work, personal or family illness, holidays such as Christmas.
When we’re away from the familiar and secure - vacation, camp, conferences, prison, military service.

We’re also vulnerable during times of boredom or depression. The best way to avoid trouble is to recognize our need for special support during these times and plan ahead for these needs to be met in healthy ways. These might include sharing our burdens with a small prayer group, scheduling a series of appointments with a counsellor or pastor, increasing our contact with family members and most important, cultivating our relationship with Jesus through special quiet times. Also, there’s nothing wrong with letting our friends know we need their support! Problems only develop when we lean too much on one particular friend to meet all our needs.

Roots: Why Are We Prone to Dependency?

In a dependent relationship, one or both people are looking to a person to meet their basic needs for love and security, rather than to Jesus. Unless underlying spiritual and emotional problems are resolved, this pattern will continue unbroken. Typical root problems that promote dependency include:

covetousness, which is desiring to possess something (or someone) God has not given us
idolatry, which results when a person or thing is at the centre of our lives rather than Christ.
rebellion, which is refusing to surrender areas of our lives to God, and
mistrust, failing to believe God will meet our needs if we do things His way.
Sometimes hurts from our past leave us with low self-esteem, feelings of rejection and a deep unmet need for love. Bitterness or resentment toward those who have hurt us also open us up for wrong relationships. These sins and hurts need to be confessed and healed before real freedom can be experienced. This can happen through confession and prayer, both in our personal times with the Lord and with other members of the body of Christ.

Emotional dependency is a painful thing to discuss. Most of us have experienced this problem. None of us are exempt from the temptation to draw our life and security from another person, especially when that person is handy and cooperative. Dependent relationships can form in opposite and same sex friendships. They can happen between married couples and between parents and children. But in the heart of the Gospel, there’s a message of truth that can free us from self-seeking relationships. For a lot of us, that really is good news!

(to be continued...)