The Love Languages of (Most) Men

I have a theory: I suspect The Five Love Languages was written primarily for and about women. As you consider what to do for Valentine’s Day, here’s my take on what makes most men feel loved. I call it the five love languages of men. I realize that it may describe some women too, so forgive any stereotypical language. Perhaps most of us are somewhere on a spectrum between the traditional “love languages” and these alternate expressions of them.

Firstly, men usually are not looking merely for words of affirmation. “Good job. Well done! I knew you could do it.” These words remind us of fifth grade. We weren’t men back then. No—we want words of admiration. This indicates respect for who we are and what we have accomplished. For some reason, many men (and some women) seem to be particularly tuned in to respect.

My wife is really good at helping me feel loved in this way. She shows her love for me through her public and personal admiration. She doesn’t try to nag me to get me to change. When a partner shows admiration, we feel more like a man (or a woman) and less like a child. That boosts our love feelings.

Secondly, we view quality time differently. Some have called this the difference between face-time and shoulder-time. Many men love shoulder-to-shoulder time, where instead of facing someone and sharing our feelings, we do an activity together. Whether it’s working on a project (thanks, Nicole, for helping me with the motorcycle repair!) or a hobby or a sports event, we love being side-by-side. Camaraderie makes us feel loved. When we go to a restaurant to “talk,” it’s often because you’ve asked for it, or frankly, because we’re hungry. (Food should really be another love language for men—but I digress.) Don’t get me wrong; I’m one of those men who love talking to my wife. It’s one of the reasons I married her. But in the balance of things, I need more shoulder-time and she needs more face-time.

There’s a similar problem with the love language of gifts. We see these differently. Nicole loves simple little gifts because they remind her that I love her, and that I’ve been consistently thinking of her. (Bring on the bouquets of wildflowers, boys!) But many men are not impressed by gifts. We don’t know what to do with that little “World’s Best Husband” trinket. We don’t need any more socks and ties (okay, maybe we do, but it still doesn’t cause warm, fuzzy feelings). Our love language is achievements. It’s a longed-for prize that we finally are able to get our hands on. It might be a gift like a longed-for tool, or it might be something more intangible like finishing a project.

Now, this may blow your mind, but I hope you’ll understand. One of the ways in which Nicole lets me know that she loves me is when she says, “I’ve got things under control at home, why don’t you stay on at work and finish what you need to do there.” What a gift! She enables me to achieve something and I feel loved. So, thank you for the card and that little thing that you thought was so cute, but if you really want your man to feel loved, help him achieve longed-for goals.

What about acts of service? Surely that applies to both men and women. But not so fast! I think acts of service misses the point. Most men (and probably quite a few women) are after something else. What makes us feel loved is dominion. When the house is in order, the subjects (children) are happy and obedient, and food is on the table, we feel like kings (and queens). Our oxytocin and dopamine faucets turn on!

Before you accuse me of returning to 1950s characterizations of housewives, let me explain. This applies to both sexes. And it’s good news. In order to make your spouse feel loved you don’t have to slave away trying to do as many projects as possible. Simply ask yourself, “What can I do in thirty minutes that would restore dominion?” Spending a few minutes to do a quick cleanup before your spouse gets home, or taking the kids and getting them out of the house so that the other parent can feel normal again, restores dominion. You may be wasting time doing projects that your partner doesn’t appreciate. Instead, do the things that restore peace and order to his/her dominion, and love sparkles again!

Finally, let’s talk about physical touch. Let’s face it. Touch is often interpreted differently by men and women. The romantic gesture for one tends to be a hormonal injection for the other. In our family, we often joke that women are like crockpots and men are like microwaves. Give a woman romantic love throughout the day and she will slowly build to a nice warm crockpot in the evening. However, for the man, find the right buttons to push, and bam, he’s on! However, once he’s on, there’s also no place where a man is more vulnerable. The bedroom is where a man either feels like a superhero or an emasculated weakling. If you want to make him feel unloved, reject his attentions or ridicule him. That’s where the microwave rapidly turns off or overheats. It’s a particular vulnerability for men.

There’s something else that you need to know about a man’s love language when it comes to touch. For us, touch may be visual. Before you despair of looking like the cover of Cosmopolitan, realize, it doesn’t take much for a man to be visually stimulated (unless there is an underlying problem with pornography, but that’s outside the scope of what we are dealing with here). We fell in love with you and you’re still amazingly beautiful to us. But, changing out those sweat pants for that special dress, throwing that flirtatious look or, for married people, having an intentional wardrobe malfunction ;), makes your partner feel like he’s just hit the jackpot. I suspect that for a number of ladies, how their partner looks affects their love feelings too.

Now, a few cautions as we end. If you’re a man (or a woman) and you’ve been reading this and sending me virtual high-fives because this describes you, remember that this likely isn’t what your partner responds to. If you want to make her (or him) feel loved, then you should probably go back and read the book by Gary Chapman. It has a lot of good advice on the love languages that probably apply to your partner. Learn their love languages and then teach them yours.

If you’re single, you may have to adjust some of the ideas here. I didn’t primarily have you in mind. Perhaps one day I’ll write the dating perspective to the love languages of men.

Also, please don’t try to use this information to manipulate your partner. It’s meant to give you an understanding of the person you love, not to give you extra tools for getting them to do what you want.

And finally, remember that love relationships are covenants, not contracts. They are not based on “if you do this for me, I’ll do this for you.” Rather, relationships are built on promises of fidelity that involve sacrifice. Love is a willingness to give up your own wants and desires for the sake of the other person. And love will sometimes withhold what the person wants in order to give them what they really need. (Hopefully this briefly-stated principle won’t be misunderstood.)

There you have it—the love languages of men, according to Alan Parker. What do you think? Am I on track here? Would you have stated it differently? Does this describe you or your partner? Let me know. For right now, you’d better get back to considering what you were going to do for Valentine’s Day!

Heavenly principles, earthly applications

Biblical counseling is heavenly ministry, but it is still hard work. Examination of the glorious truths of God’s Word and their application to life is enlightening and enriching. But the brutal realities of entering into others’ pain can be overwhelming.

So far, this blog has mostly focused on the glorious principles undergirding biblical counseling. However, the harsh realities can be grimy. Biblical counseling applies the Gospel to painful, confusing messes. Theological truths about the character of God do indeed reveal the answers to the problems of life. But rebellious teens, anxiety, breakups, depression, abuse, fear of commitment, difficult marriages and complex family situations require tough practical application, not just lofty theoretical ideals. Where does truth meet life?

I deal with many varied topics in counseling, but one of the most difficult is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is an epidemic that is growing exponentially, so cases of sexual abuse and assault make up a significant percentage of my counseling. A later blog will discuss how to help victims of sexual abuse, but for now, I decided to write about the realities of this kind of counseling.

So…what’s it like to be a biblical counselor who specializes in helping people heal from sexual abuse?

Agonizing. I am (usually haltingly) invited into the worst raw trauma a person has ever experienced. I tread gently through the valley at their side, amid grief so intense they sometimes can’t even feel anything at first. The numbness is followed by tears, then rage, then cycles of grief and questions about the character of God. How can He be loving, when He allows this? Where was He? I often weep and rage alongside victims of profound evil. And yes, sometimes the stories keep me awake at night. But I am privileged to kneel alongside people in pain, pointing out evidences that God is still love, and that He never leaves or forsakes them.

Futile. Not for the victim—biblical healing works emotional and spiritual miracles. Our God “heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.” The Gospel heals sexual trauma now, just as surely as it did when Jesus talked with the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery.

The futility is in working with a system bent on defending the predator until there is literally no other possible explanation than what the victim has described. I don’t just speak of the legal system; although sexual abuse is often a crime that has no witnesses and little to no physical evidence, legal issues are not the most difficult barrier.

Well-meaning Christians bubbling with cheap grace often form the most formidable barrier against a restoration of a victim’s understanding of the character of God, and ability to trust Him. The soft, invincible wall of enablers links arms to form a cushion of silence and positive assumptions around the predator. “Can’t you see how sorry he is? He promised he’ll never do it again, and this was the only time.” “I just can’t imagine he did that.” “He said he didn’t do it. You know the Bible says an accusation against an elder has to have two or three witnesses, right?” “Certainly she is responsible too, even if he was her pastor.” “Don’t you believe in forgiveness?” “I guess grace doesn’t mean much to you, like it does to us.” These well-meaning people come out of the woodwork like cockroaches in a dark kitchen, uniting to crush victims into silence and prevent predators from confessing or repenting. Often their stinging remarks and gross misrepresentation of God’s love send victims spinning back into darkness. On Judgment Day, these people may be the ones who must face the reality that they, not we, are the ones who condemned both predators and victims to iron cages they would never escape. But right now, in our cheap-grace-saturated world, it sounds wonderful, and it leaves everyone congratulating themselves that they “showed Jesus’ love.”

There is also a special kind of futility unique to women in ministry. Research indicates that when men and women express intense emotions such as anger or grief, men are taken more seriously, but women are more often dismissed as irrational. Even women often tend to dismiss other women who show emotion. This means that when I bring abuse situations to church leaders’ attention, if I seem to actually care that this woman or child has been sexually abused, leaders are less likely to act. Emotions are seen as a flag revealing that I must be illogical. I must calmly spout facts and statistics, avoiding any mention of the emotional turmoil of the victim. Leaders often even admit they have close to zero training and experience in dealing with sexual abuse. If I were male, I could educate them, and they would listen. But I am female, and therefore I will often be taken less seriously, especially if I seem to feel anything about the situation. Until men connect emotionally with the situation themselves—when their daughter, their sister, or their wife, is the victim—my work is often futile.

There is an old song called “The Ambulance Down in the Valley,” that tells the story of people who refuse to build a fence at the top of the cliff, preferring instead to cart away victims with an ambulance at the bottom. Any appeals for fence-building are met with scorn and accusations that the fence-builder doesn’t support the ambulance work. This song rings in my head sometimes as I rage meaninglessly against the soft, invincible wall of enablers. Building fences—notifying authorities, banning people from church membership and leadership, and pressing charges—are seen as messy and graceless, a waste of time and resources and a public shame to the predator, church and family. If leaders will not act, sadly, often the fences are not built. This is why predators typically have dozens or hundreds of victims instead of one or two. (Estimates based on prison interviews place the average at 50-150 victims before the predator is first reported.)

But always, in the midst of the frustration of this futility, I must remind myself that the majority of these enablers—these people who build the soft, unyielding wall preventing change and healing for both predators and victims—honestly mean to help. They think their response is loving.

Beautiful. The candle flame glows brightest in the blackest night. Gospel glory blazes most brilliant in contrast with deep darkness. And certainly, sexual abuse causes such darkness. The shame, betrayal and injustice scream a concoction of potent lies about the character of God. If God is my loving Father, why did He stand by and watch this happen? Why did He send this father, or pastor, or teacher into my life? If God is fair, why does He let predators get away with such things—even while their victims pray for Him to intervene? These are questions that must be answered to release victims from the iron grip of trauma.

To believe that God is still good in the face of such powerful evidences that He may not be requires victims to become heroes and heroines of faith. As they reach up to grasp the hand of God, and experience His grip in the midst of their fear, anxiety, depression and despair, life is transformed. Unbelief collapses in cowardice before invincible faith. The dungeon becomes a palace, and those who were once the prisoners of Satan throw off his chains with savage joy. They become emissaries of rare conviction, warriors with the wisdom to blend justice and mercy in a rainbow displaying the character of God in daily life. They have tasted and seen that God is good, and no evidence on earth can convince them otherwise. Lighting such candles—the flames of faith forever vanquishing doubts about whether God can be trusted—is a rare and precious privilege, worth every ounce of heartache. This is the work of the Gospel—the work of binding up the brokenhearted and proclaiming deliverance to the captives.

Why do I choose this agonizing, often futile ministry? Because, especially in light of the epidemic of porn and resulting sexual abuse, I have no choice—it is where the gospel must meet life. Because often those who most need missionaries are suffering silently in the pews of our churches, unable to grasp the love of God without answers to hard questions. Because love cannot sit by and watch such suffering without responding in compassion. Because if the Gospel works at all, it must bring light to the darkest corners of our hearts.

For relevant information on how to protect children from sexual abusers, and how to handle sexual abuse reports, I recommend “Seducers Among Our Children” by Patrick Crough.

Are You Called to Biblical Counseling?

The problem

Last week, I sat in my living room with a devastated young man dripping tears on my couch. The story is always familiar, though the details differ. Someone sinned against him repeatedly, early in his life. The traumatic details have stained his thinking, spiraling him into burning cycles of anger, despair, anxiety, and compulsive behaviors. I invested two hours of listening, grieving alongside him, and charting a course for him to apply Scripture to his life. He left with hope, beginning to realize that the God he has been attempting to worship at church every week all his life is very different from the actual God who rules the universe. We talked about the God who is love.

Earlier the same day, I had spent a similar two hours with another young person, a girl with the same story but different details. Sins against her had led her to sins of response. For the first time, she was able to choke out some of the words that circle like vultures in her mind, making her long for death as a sweet release. Together we began unraveling the net of lies that has tangled her in despair for years. She left with hope, having been introduced to a God she had never met before: the God who is love.

Piercing heartache and unresolved grief whirl sin’s tornadoes through the minds of broken people. And I, as a biblical counselor, am called to come alongside each one in an attempt to heal the broken in heart. “How can God be love, when He allows these things to happen?” is the question that must be answered. In each situation, my goal is to reveal pertinent aspects of God’s love yet undiscovered.

In the meantime, my dishes often sit unwashed, my floors unswept. The toys need to be sorted and put away. When I do pause to sit down, the stream of emails from people pouring out similar devastation never stops. How do I answer them all? And in the meantime, who will read stories to my precious children and laugh with my beloved husband? Who will clean my refrigerator and buy my groceries?

The work is unending—and I don’t just mean the housework. The unceasing flow of broken people, who despite frenzied or hopeless searching, are unable to discern a God of love, even despite desperate searching of His Word. Overwhelming misperceptions of His character, usually based on life experiences, camouflage His face. He seems distant, harsh, demanding, or indifferent–often remarkably like their parents. Who can help? Who has time? Who is willing and trained? We need a thousand biblical counselors, where we have but one.

The solution

Starting a biblical counseling blog has been my intention for some time, and despite my inadequacy, at the urging of many people, I have begun. Why, then, do I devote so many of the first posts to a theoretical, theological discussion of God’s love? (Especially when every humanistic and pop psychology movement frantically waves this cheap word “love” as its banner?)

Why not just get into the meat of how to actually counsel? If I can give some simple recipes, maybe others can roll their sleeves up and join in the work.

The reason is simple: biblical counseling is the process by which a counselor communicates the love of God, and its practical applications in daily life, to the counselee.

That’s it.

God’s love is the method and message of biblical counseling.

If you have a clear understanding of God’s love, and are committed to living it out in your life, by His grace, you are ready to begin.

How does it work? God’s love transforms as:

1)   The counselor images God (reflects the character of God) to the counselee, and

2)   The counselor explains the love of God to the counselee.

Biblical counseling is the revolutionizing application of the law of God—the law of love, the law of the universe—in earthly sinners’ daily life. It is the messy process of helping others be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

In summary, biblical counseling is how humans cooperate in the work of redemption in one another’s lives.

When counseling is defined this way, what aspects of ministry are not counseling? Parenting, preaching, eating lunch with your co-workers, encouraging your spouse, picking up your dry cleaning—all of these are opportunities to image God in your daily life, and when opportunity arises, to explain in words how love works.

Drinking in the love of God—understanding and believing in God’s love as the Bible defines it—is the first step toward becoming a biblical counselor.

Letting the love of God overflow, spilling from your heart into others’ lives, is the natural second step.

People often ask me if I think they should get into biblical counseling. My answer is always a resounding, “Yes!” I believe in biblical counseling with all my heart, because I believe in the love of God and its application to life. Since biblical counseling is merely helping people apply God’s law of love to life, it is not merely an option, but the responsibility of every Christian. In fact, if any person is drinking in the love of God, it should start coming out of their mouths, and be reflected in their lives, as biblical counseling. If it doesn’t, there is something wrong.

All of us are counselors. “You should leave that jerk!” and “Just stop getting so worked up about things!” are counsel. So are, “Here is a verse that has been helping me with a similar struggle,” and “It breaks my heart to see you hurting.” Not only our words, but also the tones of our voices and the looks on our faces communicate God’s love–or don’t. Who has ever fallen in love with God without first seeing His love reflected in human relationships? In everything we are called to image God to others. Even the words of Scripture are often powerless until human actions have first mirrored God’s love to hurting people.

Are you called to be a biblical counselor? Yes! You were called to it the day you accepted Jesus. As His follower, He asks you to disciple others. That happens through telling others about Him, both by words and actions.

Of course, future blog posts will get into more detail regarding how to apply biblical truth to specific situations and problems. But you don’t have to wait until you have read the blog or the books, or have taken the classes and gotten certified with a paper that has your name and “Biblical Counselor” stamped on it in gold letters, to begin biblical counseling. You can—and must—start immediately, using your only two essential tools:

a)    The love of God flowing through your life, and

b)   The ability to describe God’s love, based on the Word of God.

Pray that God will send you counselees today. (Be assured, He will!) You may counsel while patiently waiting in line at the checkout; you may counsel by texting a discouraged friend who He lays upon your heart. Or you may find yourself drinking tea with a weeping friend, as I often do.

We all counsel constantly. Make yours biblical today.

“God transforms people’s lives as people bring His Word to others.” (Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 19)

The Definition of Love

“God is love.” I John 4:8

“Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10

Love is the atmosphere of heaven. It is the force that connects the universe in one glorious community of peace and harmony. It is the law and character of God. It is the measure by which God sorts people into the “saved” and “lost” baskets for eternity. So it makes sense that the key agenda of God’s vilest foe is helping us redefine love.

“I don’t judge; I just love,” is the postmodern mantra. Love is reinvented variously according to anyone’s whims, using warm, comfortable words like “acceptance” or “grace.” Love’s opposite, of course, is just as easily subjectified into a spectrum of fluid characterizations that could be summarized by my current least favorite, “judgmentalism.” What is sin, the opposite of love, in this context? Naturally, sin is just whatever seems wrong to me at that moment.

So, what is love?

Many people would define love as the passionate longing to connect with another. But this cannot be the biblical definition of love, for it would sanctify lust. Even worse, “God is love” would mean an all-powerful Being angrily incinerates sinners who exasperate Him to the point He no longer desires connection with them.

Others would define love as the commitment to doing right, or doing what is best for the other. This is closer to the biblical definition, for “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10). But love defined this way is emotionless, clinical. “God is love” makes God an excellent chess player, a slight smiling playing on His lips as He strategically outwits His intellectual inferior on every move.

Will God’s overwhelming craving for relationship with me lead Him to overlook my disobedience, because He wants so badly to spend eternity with me?

Conversely, was Jesus’ decision to disciple a betrayer a cunning scheme, or the embrace of a piercing agony? When He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” was that merely the expression of an intellectual commitment to doing right? Or was it the wrenching apart of the strongest bond in the universe?

If we define love as merely desire to connect, love is easy for the carnal heart. If love is merely commitment to righteousness—doing what is right or best for the other—we casually dismiss sin’s laceration of the heart of God.

Love is the combination of the two—and only in the right order. God’s love is the perfect blend of commitment to righteousness, and overwhelming, nearly unbearable desire for community. The only force powerful enough to restrain this relational God from connecting with those He longs to take in His arms must, therefore, be righteousness.

The principle of righteousness comes first in the definition of love. If we love well, as God does, we must seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Love is righteous community—the pursuit of connection only when connection is in harmony with the character of God.

Love thus defined does not always pursue connection. Love will lead the tempted husband on a weekend away to avoid connection with some (other women), while pursuing connection with others (God and his wife). This will be true regardless of his desires. The heart craving relationship will first cultivate attachment to God, and will submit all other relationships to this great underlying connection. It is this love that will wring the heart of God when He finally destroys the wicked, not because He no longer desires community with them, but because they have turned their backs on connection with Him permanently. In justice and mercy, He will respect their wishes and remove them from a torturous eternity in a universe committed unanimously to righteous community.

Love longs for connection, but respects the freedom of the other to choose not to connect. Respecting the choice to disconnect is the greatest heartbreak of the universe. But it is also the glory of the Gospel. It is mute testimony to the love of God, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. He had to choose to embrace either sin or pain—to be self-protective in His relationships, or to have His heart torn in half.

He chooses to love us. How will we respond?

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” I John 4:10, 11

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

The Strategy of Love

Like the rest of us, in His humanity Jesus was limited by hours in the day. But this was not purposeless: Jesus was to be our Example in all things. He had to model for us how to engage in balanced, healthy relationships with others. To do so, He invested His time with people strategically.

The relationships of Jesus might be mapped out as three concentric circles. The outermost circle would consist of people with whom He had casual contact—the crowds, the Nicodemus types, and even the Pharisees and scribes. He didn’t spend much quality time—didn’t develop deep community—but in His limited contact with them, He showed love. He didn’t expect much from them, though. Regarding His relationship with the fickle multitude, the Bible says, “But Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24, 25). He didn’t trust the crowds, but He cared about them. They were people to whom He gave, not really expecting to get anything in return. At best, He hoped to draw some of them into His second circle.

The second circle consisted of people Jesus was actively discipling. The twelve disciples, the seventy He sent out, the women who followed Him, and probably others fit in here. With these He spent more quality time, though primarily He was still giving, not getting. But these were distinguished from the multitude because Jesus was investing in them long-term. He therefore demonstrated a level of trust.

Jesus’ inner circle was relatively small. As far as I can tell, it consisted of seven—His mother, Peter, James, John, Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus. Not all of them understood His mission or were trustworthy, but Jesus treated them differently than others. These were people He trusted. Not only did He allow them to lean on Him, but at times He leaned on them as well. He appealed to them for support, even when He knew they would let Him down. When He needed encouragement and strength–like every other human being created in God’s relational image–He longed for assurance that He was loved too. After all, wasn’t He human? He faced the agony of every human soul, in order to be our Example.

It’s clear Jesus embraced His longing for community, and therefore the pain of love and loss, even more deeply than we do. He did not shrink from the pain of betrayal. He was tempted in all points like we are, so He experienced the bitterness of trusting untrustworthy people. Maybe what’s most amazing of all is that Jesus, knowing how much it would hurt, trusted anyway. Because He took refuge in safe relationship with His Father, He could brave any amount of unsafe relationship with sinners, for the purpose of allowing the love of His Father to flow to them.

God doesn’t just call us to self-inflicted relational agony for the joy of suffering. Jesus did not masochistically build His inner circle of Pharisees. But He did deliberately engage in vulnerable relationship with those who would hurt Him. He did this strategically, including Judas in His second circle, and Peter in His inner one. He voluntarily drew close to those who would hurt Him, modeling to us how to handle the inevitable disappointments of close, vulnerable relationships with broken people.

If I had been shown the future on the morning of my wedding, and discovered that my husband was going to cheat on me, beat me, and cause me the worst suffering imaginable, would I have had the courage to walk down that aisle joyfully? Could I have given my whole heart in vulnerable relationship, knowing that this love is going to cause me the most intense pain I’ve ever known? I know the answer to that. It’s plain I don’t love like Jesus did.

But maybe I’d like to. Maybe that’s what I was born to do—to love without expecting or demanding love in return, simply because I’m commanded to love. Maybe I am called to take up God’s challenge to “love one another,” and to trust that He will be there to wipe my tears when it hurts. Maybe this is the highest calling of Christianity, to live like sacrificial lambs, learning to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in sacrificial relationship. Maybe the greatest thing that I could ever do with my life is to cover other sinners with my skin, as the lambs outside of Eden.

Not that my sacrifice will cover anyone else’s sin, of course. But like the sacrificial lambs, my sacrifice can point others toward the love of the One whose sacrifice truly can. As I love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, that love will inevitably pour through me and spill into my relationships with others. And in that process, I begin measuring up to the standard by which God has said we will all be judged—His relational law of love.

The Path of Love

“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This declaration by Jesus asserts the Christian’s need for quality personal relationships with other Christians. It is not enough to hand out brochures to strangers, or even to invite others over to eat with you now and then. There must be a deeper commitment to genuine community—to vulnerable relationships with other human beings.

Practically, that means living as oysters without shells in a church of prickles and stings. It means loving deeply, and consequently, hurting deeply. I don’t really like this interpretation of the Gospel, but I can’t seem to avoid it. That’s because in my recent prayerful contemplation of Jesus’ friendships, I have come to the conclusion that this is how He lived. In fact, it seems that the majority of the pain He suffered during His life on earth came from relationships. From His terribly awkward beginning—obvious but mysterious sexual sin in an eagerly whispering small village—to His disciples’ devastating abandonment at the end, Jesus’ closest relationships caused Him continual anguish. Perhaps most astonishing, He never seemed to “learn the lesson” of putting up walls to protect His heart. Gazing at Jerusalem just before His crucifixion, He was overwhelmed, not with anger, but with grief that the people He loved utterly rejected His invitation to community.

Psalm 41:9, a Messianic prophecy, says, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Jesus referenced this in John 13:18, speaking of Judas. But more than that—could this be a reference to Genesis 3:15, where God prophesied that Lucifer, one of Jesus’ former best friends, would someday “bruise His heel”? It seems that God is no Stranger to pain. The essence of sin is the rejection of community.

God is a Community. He offers community continually. I have scoured the Gospels, but I can’t find a single story evidencing that Jesus allowed fear of pain to limit His vulnerability to others. He was strategic in His interactions with others, inviting some into closer fellowship, while kindly but firmly limiting His availability to others (Mark 6:31, 32; Luke 8:38, 39). But He only completely withdrew from community with others when they testified that they wanted no communion with Him.

Love respects choice. Jesus did not refuse His betrayer’s kiss; He spoke kindly to Judas instead. When Peter had just denied Him, Jesus looked at him with love. Before telling the rich young ruler the cost of discipleship, Jesus already knew He would be deemed unworthy of that price. The longing of His soul to connect with this selfish young man was so intense that the watching disciples, years later, testified to what they saw in His eyes: Jesus “beholding him loved him” (Mark 10:21, 22).

These were situations in which Jesus knew each person still desired His presence in some way. Only Herod, who had apparently defied the Holy Spirit until he had no desire whatsoever for true relationship with God, faced the silence of Jesus. Jesus’ love for Herod was expressed in acceptance of Herod’s hardened choice. But Jesus maintained an open door to community with every receptive human being. Those who proved themselves untrustworthy He did not feel obligated to trust (John 2:23, 24), but He never stopped loving. While He modeled boundaries, Jesus refused to build walls.

“Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (I John 2:6).

The Law of Love

The Gospel is all about relationships. It tells us to follow God, and “God is love” (I John 4:8). Love is a relational word; God is a relational God. His law, the transcript of His character, consists of only two commands: to love Him, and to love others as ourselves. “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).

What does that mean? Could it be that the Gospel first demands, and then enables, us to live in authentic community? Of course, this would be first with God. But Adam in Eden was still unsatisfied, and God summarized the situation as “not good.” In other words, communion with God in a perfect world, without intimate fellowship with other humans, would leave us incomplete.

It seems easy to live in vulnerable community with God, at least in theory. He knows my heart, and I can pour out my soul to Him in prayer. I trust His love (again, at least in theory). He knows me deeply and accepts me the way I am.

But Jesus prayed “that they may be one, even as We are One” (John 17:22). He prayed this over an assortment of self-centered men vying for top position, discouragingly selfish despite just finishing the greatest 3 ½ year mission trip ever. When His prayer was answered less than two months later, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these same men because they were all “with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).

How powerful! The process of preparation for the Holy Spirit’s outpouring—moving from seeking the highest place, to humbly making things right with each other— tells me that authentic community is a crucial preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus both commands and enables us to live in vulnerable community with other followers of Him. He wants us to build deep relationships with other believers. Far from crippling us in our fulfillment of the Gospel Commission, investing in such deep relationships with a few will empower us to share the Gospel with the many. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

 

Must They Be Silent?

One of the hardest things I’ve done is publicly share my testimony of healing from sexual abuse. The shame and fear were overpowering. This was despite the fact that my abuser had been dead for nearly 25 years, and I was a happy, fulfilled wife, mother and Christian.

Buy levitra no prescriptiher and a mature Christian. But for months beforehand I was tormented with dread. The Word of God became my only effective weapon. “God has not given us the spirit of fear.” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Day after day I clung to those promises.

One thought drove me forward in my determination to speak the unspeakable. I did it for those who cannot find their voices. I did it because no one had done it for me. Having come so far toward peace with myself and God, I determined to go back into the dark maze and bring others out to the light. For those who have not been there, that may sound overly dramatic. But I mostly write for them. I also write in the hope that those who have not experienced sexual abuse will care enough to try to understand.

Why do victims stay silent?

1. Shame. Publicly admitting I had been sexually abused felt very much like being stripped naked in front of a crowd. And some of them were my friends! I have yet to meet a sexual abuse survivor who did not feel humiliation over the abuse. Many are so acutely traumatized that they literally cannot remember the details of the encounter. Shame is one of the fundamental reasons that victims need counseling—someone to come alongside them and balance their overpowering feelings with the voice of reason. Most victims confuse guilt (“I have done something bad”) with shame (“I am bad”). According to the Bible, guilt can be removed by confession and repentance; guilt is a message of hope from God, promising healing and freedom through the cross. Shame, on the other hand, feels like guilt, but can never be shaken by confession or repentance. Unresolved, it sends victims into powerful mood swings and feeds addictions, compulsive behaviors and other vain attempts to find refuge from pain in something other than Christ. Telling people about what I had been through empowered me and ultimately drained away the last of the shame. Today I am no longer ashamed, no longer a victim. Telling my story helped finally break me free from the shame and to guide others out of that same darkness.

2. Self-blame. Nearly every victim of sexual abuse blames himself or herself. Because they usually have trust relationships with their abusers, or are in positions under their power, most victims do not fight ferociously against their attackers. Shock and disbelief blend with fear of exposure, danger, and humiliation. Predators often shrewdly maximize the resultant self-blame to maintain control of their victims afterward. “You shouldn’t have worn that dress” works on children and adults alike. And yes, even children tend to blame themselves for adults’ behavior in preying upon them. As a young child, I remember reasoning that since my abuser couldn’t get spanked, the punishment surely would fall on me instead. But for those who consider themselves “old enough to know better,” the self-blame may be even more intense. Overpowered by their own self-accusation, they fear that if they tell anyone, the criticism and attacks of others will be even worse. If they participated willingly in the situation in any way (such as feeling flattered or submitting to kisses), it may be exponentially tougher for them to recognize that they do not bear responsibility for other acts done against their will.

3. Control. There are some sexual predators who prey on random victims. However, most predators rely on an ongoing relationship with their victims as their best method of keeping them silent. In his book The Serpents Among Us, Patrick Crough traces the stages of the typical sexual predator’s approach. It begins with establishing trust and ends with maintaining control. The majority of predators invest considerable time and energy in cultivating the trust of the victim, and if necessary, the victim’s support network (parents, teachers, friends, etc.). Trust is an essential ingredient in eventual control. This is why predators love to hide in respectable professions such as coaching, teaching, counseling or ministry. Respectability and power give them a shortcut to gaining trust. And in order to maintain their cover, it is vital that the predator develop and maintain control of the victim, both to continue the abuse and to continue to find pleasure in it.

Predators purposefully build and carefully maintain control of their victims. Gifts, favoritism, and intense emotional bonding are some of the most common methods. They may call victims affectionate names like “my little one” to emphasize both their power over and close relationship with the victims. “I love you so much…you are closer than a daughter to me…If you tell on me, my life will be over.” Words like these are especially powerful for young people who have grown up thirsting for love and tenderness. In order to maintain control predators are experts at identifying vulnerable young people, and in giving their victims the affirmation or affection they crave. They also often use fear of humiliation or physical harm. “I have a gun and you know I’m not afraid to use it…I will show everyone those pictures I took of you…Your job is on the line…You would destroy our family if you told anyone…No one would ever believe you anyway.” This is why most predators establish close friendships with their victims and victims’ families—to maintain control. They gather data and build trust with the victim’s support network, while simultaneously alienating the victim from that network. Even if someone leaks information that calls the relationship into question, predators are typically charismatic, passionate and convincing in their own self-defense. Victims, on the other hand, are usually hesitant, embarrassed and quick to back down. Most people are hesitant to level life-destroying charges against a trusted friend or respected authority figure with “no hard evidence.” Since sexual abusers typically do their deeds in secret, and lie vehemently if confronted, the only “evidence” that usually exists is the testimony of the victim.

4. Survival. As hard as it is for others to understand, some victims feel they simply cannot survive exposure of their most humiliating experiences. They are convinced that the least painful course to pursue is denial—pretending it didn’t happen. Predators often add spiritual abuse to their other crimes. It is one of their most effective tools. They may pressure victims into promising not to tell (thereby making them “liars” if they tell anyone), or urge victims to show loving Christian spirit by “forgiving and forgetting.” Usually they hold before their victims the specter of how “un-loving” it would be to hurt the predator’s reputation and destroy their family by telling. Victims may believe that their eternal life is at risk if they tell. Immersed in the pain of their own experiences, victims often do not realize that predators will have many other victims if the situation remains secret, and that it is not an act of love to help a person conceal criminal behavior, thereby fostering its growth.

Victims of acutely traumatic abuse tend to dissociate from experiences they wish were not reality. Ironically, the more acute their suffering, the more likely victims are to try to pick themselves up and pretend nothing happened. Even if no physical threat is posed, victims often fear for their social survival. Made in the image of God, we’re wired for relationship. Especially for young people, social death can be the worst kind of death to die. Because they are often well-liked, popular, and charismatic, perpetrators seem to hold the victim’s social standing in the palm of their hands. They use this as a tool to threaten victims into submission.

Relationships with others are designed to teach us about relationship with God. The greatest damage caused by abuse (of any kind) is spiritual devastation—the inability to connect with God. Abuse warps our understanding of God. This is especially true of sexual abuse, because it strikes deeply at the root of who we are—sexual beings. Depending on a victim’s personal emotional response (and on the details of how their abuser twisted their view of love), God may feel cruel, indifferent, or faraway. Until they face and heal from their abuse, most survivors battle, often vainly, to believe in God’s love and helping power.

Victims of abuse need first to connect with God through prayer and Bible study, and realize that God is not who they may feel He is. Second, they need to get help from others who can reflect God’s love to them. Books and resources can also be very helpful.

Living a lie is a poor imitation of freedom. It is a diversionary tactic of the father of lies, calculated to separate us from God. Only telling—and living—in truth enables us to truly leave the past behind and discover healing and freedom. I often tell people in counseling, “The only way out is through.” Those who have suffered abuse of any kind must experience the promise of God: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). That binding up is a process, not a single event. But the promise is sure.

Facing past abuse is a difficult first step toward healing, but it is well worth it. Trust me. I know.