I have really enjoyed the Sunday series on “Heaven”. What I have really enjoyed is rediscovering what the Bible says about this wonderful place that is to come. I have found myself daydreaming about this new heaven and new earth that is going to come down and replace what we have now. I hope I get to run again the way I use to when I was 19. I even hope that we have competitive sports, snorkeling on a barrier reef, coconut cream pie, and cold days by the fireplace. Everything that I have enjoyed and hope to enjoy on this earth, I hope to experience even better in heaven.
When people hear me talk about how their prayers are keeping them miserable and stuck, they look at me as though I’m a reprobate. I quickly say that it is not that they are praying that keeps them stuck. That’s good. That’s great!!! The problem comes when their prayers never change. Imagine the following scenarios:
1. Father is working diligently on son’s bike. Son comes and pleads with his father to “please fix my bike.” Father is working on it and is confused as to why he is asking him to do something he is already doing.
2. Wife confesses and apologizes for her inappropriate actions against her husband. He hears her and whole heartedly forgives her. She continues to plead for his forgiveness months later despite his continual reminding her of his forgiveness.
3. Employee believes his employer expects perfection. The employee becomes very anxious and concentrates only on what he is not doing perfectly instead of on what he is doing right. The employee finally quits his jobs because of the pressure.
What does this have to do with prayer? Well, I deal a lot with people who struggle with guilt, depression, and anxiety. They deal with frustration that their pain never seems to go away even though they are constantly praying to God for the pain to be gone. They pray for a change in their behavior that they know needs changed, such as anger, suspicion, worry, negative thoughts, gossip, mind reading, impatience, etc. Nothing seems to change despite worn out knees. Hope is replaced with hopelessness. What was strong faith now is doubt.
Consider changing your prayers. Instead of praying that He would act upon the things you are asking Him to do in you, why not thank Him for what He is doing. What I am suggesting is the prayer becomes a realization of God’s power and recognition that He is working regardless of what you are feeling and seeing. For instance, a grieving mother after several years of the loss of her child, begins to change her prayer from “Please remove this pain,” to “Thank you for helping me each day find a little more peace.” The husband who is praying for a change in his heart toward his wife begins to pray, “Thank you for preparing my heart for change. I don’t feel it yet, but I know you are working.” Even the parent who is praying for their adult child to get their act together but is seeing little positive change, could change the prayers from “Please”, to “I know Father, you love them more than I could ever and I know you are working on their hearts as I have asked. I look forward to seeing how you are going to get their attention in ways I have not.”
Now, this is not “name it and claim it” theology or just “positive thinking.” I have difficulty with believing that just because I want something that God will say, “Yes”. I know His love for me is deeper than being such a permissive and enabling Father. What I am suggesting is that our prayers keep us doubting God’s activity in our lives and the lives of others. We get so caught up in expecting things to painlessly happen immediately that we forget our view of time is different than God’s. Not to mention how we think things should take place. Prayers of hope and thanksgiving while taking in the long view of life, have a positive impact on our personal peace. As Paul said:
Philippians 4:6,7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I have recently been reminded that the prayer does not insure things will be fixed my way. Paul is saying that praying while also being thankful is therapeutic in itself. What I am suggesting is a way to be thankful in your prayers to get our hearts unstuck.
I would love to hear your comments and even stories of how you changed your prayers and the affects it had on you.
It has been three years since Doug, my good friend, died. To describe him as a good friend is quite different than how we both would have described our relationship before we reconnected three and a half years ago.
I had joined Facebook in an attempt to connect with some old High School classmates. My graduating class was preparing for their 40th reunion back in my home state of West Virginia. My class of around 170 had scattered across the globe and this medium was helping them reconnect. As we were beginning to “friend” each other, I saw that Doug was already on Facebook. It was only natural I asked him to “friend me”.
Now Doug and I were not really that close through High School. In fact, Doug wasn’t close to anyone of whom I was aware. He and I were on the same sprint relay team and competed at the state level. He and I shared running back responsibilities on the football team. But that was as far as it went. Honestly, Doug was the guy of whom everyone kept clear. He always seemed angry. I remember him outside the War Memorial building during a dance just as drunk and belligerent as one could get. He always seemed to be in trouble at school, walking in the front door and out the back. He and the principal, Mr. Mullet, were often seen having serious discussions together. I always kept Doug at an arm’s length but we were never hateful toward each other.
Doug’s response to my friend request really surprised me. He snapped back a confusing comment about why I wanted to be his friend. I innocently asked for a clarification and he again lashed back at me. I felt like I wanted to unpack this issue between him and me and so I gave him my phone number to call.
I was glad when he called me back. He almost immediately went back to our school’s fifth year reunion, at which I don’t even remember being present. He remembered me snubbing him and acting like I didn’t even know him. He had held that inside of him for almost 40 years and was still seething over it. He was positive we had shared in this interaction and the resentment was still alive.
The next two hours was me trying to get closer to him while he kept pushing me away with his words. He let me explain that if I had done what he said, it probably spoke more about my issues than his. I apologized for my actions and let him know that I realized how deeply my actions hurt him. Then he began to share what his life had been like. As he shared the distance between our two locations seemed insignificant, he in Pennsylvania and I in Texas.
When he was growing up, Doug struggled with an undiagnosed learning disability which made certain subjects very difficult to learn in a traditional setting. His grades were poor which were in stark comparison to his honor society older siblings. He was far from dumb. He learned calculus over the course of a few weekends through his mother who was one of our advanced math teachers. I also seem to remember him telling me of some very unhealthy family relationships that caused him even more emotional pain.
While listening to his story, I remember him vividly saying, “Wib, I have been an angry drunk for over 40 years.” My heart sank as I heard his pain. He had tried to hold together jobs and relationships. During the time of this conversation, he was helping his wife raise some horses and trying to keeping his family together.
Doug and I talked almost every weekend for the next four months. We shared stories from our past and insights into the present world. We talked religion, politics while he also shared his talent in creating jewelry. Over those four months, we became very good friends. The resentment was gone. I encouraged him to start Alcoholics Anonymous and he had made several of the meetings. I told him he could beat this addiction and he began to understand how his resentment and anger over the years were the reasons for his drinking.
They say that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person. During one of our calls, he told me that his liver and kidneys were shutting down because of his alcohol abuse. I knew that it wasn’t the alcohol that was going to take his life. He had let go of the resentment too late.
I said goodbye for good to my friend over the phone while he laid in his bed at home, barely able to carry on the conversation. Two days later he slipped quietly away in his sleep. This was probably the first glimpse of peace he had enjoyed since playing as a child. I missed seeing Doug in person when I went to the reunion that summer. While I did enjoy seeing many of my old friends and sharing some stories, it was Doug I wanted to see most.
Our lives are too short and friendships too precious to allow resentment to destroy us. They do destroy us; the bearer of those resentments. They do not hurt anyone else. So, to all those family members, business associates, and friends who wronged you at one time or another, let the resentment go. It will kill you. And it might even be keeping you from experiencing a joy you were unaware was available. Thank you, Doug, for snapping back at me on Facebook. Thank you for the friendship we enjoyed for 4 months.
Sue and John arrive at Rick Husband International Airport at two different times, two different airlines, from two different departure cities. Steve Trafton picks them up and welcomes them to Amarillo with his friendly West Texas smile and draw.. The couple barely looks at each and only politely smiles at Steve. Steve thinks to himself, “They are right where they need to be.”
They are coming from another state which feels like a world away from the flat plans that Steve escorts them through. They take the scenic route through Claude and head west over a couple dips in the road we call hills. Sue and John are not impressed. They have invested time and money to try to save a marriage that is hanging on a thread. Sue had admitted to an affair months ago, but really had checked out of the marriage a year ago. John, in his typical “take charge” manner, convinced her to try this marriage intensive. Both look out their back seat windows, looking at nothing but sky and different shades of brown questioning to themselves what they were getting themselves into.
Steve takes a left turn on a county dirt road. After a few minutes of stirring up dust, they enter the gates of the Hideaway Experience. A few more feet they see the Palo Duro Canyon and beautiful, welcoming lodge that resembles as oasis in a desert. There waiting for them is Steve’s wife, Rajan. They recognize that melodic voice from several investigative phone calls they had made; trying to make sure that this was the place for them.
They are ushered to their private room that is decorated in an elegant rustic Texas style. After getting a little settled they take the short walk to the main lodge where they are now sitting down with three other couples, all wearing the same nervous and protective smile; all wondering if these four days with these strangers are really going to make a difference in their marriage.
I have done marital therapy for over 25 years…the traditional way… the only way I thought you could do it. Hour after hour, week after week, couples would come in to my office, and share their problems and pathological ways of dealing with issues. In turn, I would listen, intervene, teach skills, and send them on their way and then see them a week or two later with the hopes they would follow through with what had been discussed in session. I still do therapy like this. However, as often as possible, I suggest to couples the option of a “Marriage Intensive”; a type of “Boot Camp” for couples in trouble.
The fall of 2006, I was introduced to this new way of doing marital therapy. It had been done in two other parts of the country with great success. I was chosen along with a few other marriage therapists in the Amarillo area to look at this new model; a model that incorporated a group of four couples, two therapists, for four days. We wondered how a group filled with hurting marriages would work because we already knew how much shame ruled people’s lives. Wouldn’t a group be too threatening?
Well, this leads me to a short list of reasons why the marriage intensives are so special. #1 –Group Experience. Your problems are seen in context with everyone else’s. You are not that different or strange. Addictions, affairs, betrayals, control, pain; problematic ways of communicating; forgiveness and trust issues; hopelessness and despair are all typical human conditions. Couples discover that their condition is more common than they believed. There is immediately some comfort in that.
The group experience also offers a unique opportunity to been known deeply by people you will probably never see again. People have come from all across the country and several foreign countries to the Hideaway. We are not meant to live in a vacuum, although many of us do in our society today. Within moments of couples sharing their stories with others, their shame is lifted. Acceptance and compassion of each other is the norm at the intensive. The couples who attend often admit that no one knows them as deeply as those whom they shared meals, stories, and intimate conversations over these four days.
#2-Safety. The hosts & therapists go to great lengths to make sure safety is present for all involved. All emotions are accepted; judgment is replaced with curiosity; respect and honor fills the room. With safety in place, people go to private rooms in their own heart that before they were unaware existed. Once expressed verbally, they are often amazed at the personal impact this has along with the grace with which the group accepts them.
While I was making a teaching point during one of our group settings, it was obvious that what I had said sent Jane into a bad place. (“Jane” is not her real name and this story represents several people who have had this happen to them during the course of a group setting.) I watched her withdraw from the group interaction. During a break I approached to see what was going on. She began to cope with her pain the same way she had been coping in her marriage that brought her to the Hideaway. Gently and patiently I positioned and presented myself as safe as possible for her. It took about 15 minutes, but she worked through the issue. It was the safety of the environment that helped her see clearly how her coping style was causing so much more pain for her.
#3- Sequestered Environment. One of the frustrating elements of the traditional therapy model is that it is squeezed into a weekly, 50 minute session. A couple comes in, we redevelop rapport, proceed with the business of that session, and then they leave. Whatever pains, insights or new skills that was gone over in the session often takes a back seat to the pressures of work, dealing with kids, paying bills, and all types of media clambering for your attention . At an intensive, the couples are in a remote location with limited access to media. Couples are encouraged to refrain from business calls, checking emails, or generally being distracted from the business at hand… their marriage. For four days the couples opens themselves and their marriages up to do the work needed without the chaos of the world. Many people reconnect spiritually to God. Others find a peace they had forgotten existed.
#4-Service. Steve and Rajan utilize their gifts of hospitality from the moment a couple makes contact with them through phone or email. It continues as they carry guest bags to the rooms; provide four star meals; and a variety of other special touches. Everything they do is to emphasize something that many people forget… you are special. How important is this to a person who is ashamed of what they have done to their marriage or is overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness about the future?
If I had my way, I would have every couple that comes to me for therapy to consider investing in a marriage intensive. What that couple receives during those four days takes me 4-6 months to give in private sessions. And still, they don’t get everything the intensive has to offer in my office. It is a great way to help a marriage move from hopelessness to one full of hope.
If you would like more information about this great experience, I would encourage you to look at www.thehideawayexperience.com. There are others out there, but this is the one with which I work closely. Also, I would be glad to answer any questions you might have. Just call me at my office at (806) 350-5867.
Droughts will happen, but you can take these few simple steps to becoming a marriage that withstands the drought. It will rain again… sometime. But until it does, AVOID ISOLATION, CHECK YOUR SOIL (HEART), FERTILIZE, and WATER DEEPLY.