Month: March 2018

First Steps: Students and Same-Sex Attraction

“I really need to talk,” one student said to me over the phone. We met at a good BBQ place and, for the first couple of minutes, caught up on life. Then he fell silent.

After an intense and awkward pause, he spoke.

“I can’t tell you what I need to tell you. But I’ve written it down for you.”

He pulled a letter out of his jacket pocket, put it on the table, and slid it across to me. I unfolded it and began to read. On page after page, he described his four-year battle with same-sex attraction.

Imagine yourself in that moment. Imagine the importance of your time together. What will you say? How will you respond?

Let me offer some initial, first steps we can take together.

Listen and Learn

If you’re anything like me, when students come and talk about their struggles, you want to do something about it quickly. And our desire to help is certainly good! Unfortunately, this fix-it-quick attitude tends to ignore students as complex people with unique stories. Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.

What helps us take students’ complexity and uniqueness seriously is when we pause, listen, and learn from them as fellow strugglers on this journey. Let’s begin by asking questions of our students rather than trying to simply fix their broken situation. Where are they in their lives right now? How has their struggle with same-sex attraction affected their lives in the past? How has it affected their lives in the present? How can we best support them and walk with them now?

You might begin by asking this simple question: “What has life been like for you as you’ve struggled?”

Be Realistic

Along with learning from them, we also want to be realistic with our students about what life is going to be like on this side of things. Because we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs, an affirming LGBTQ community will look like home, especially when the church has done such a poor job in this area. But we also want to help same-sex attracted students see that following Christ is now, and will be in the future, truly life-giving. It’s a hard sell, but we must reveal the tension.

We also want to give our students the ultimate, realistic goal of life: holiness and Christ-likeness, not heterosexuality. God never promises heterosexual desires to the exclusively same-sex attracted person. God wants us to seek Him above all things, even if He might leave those same-sex desires in place to drive us to Himself. Pursuing Christ above a simple, 180-degree change of desires is hard to grasp, but it makes Christ, not heterosexuality, the goal of our pursuit of holiness.

Give Them a Vocabulary for the Christian Life

Along with this realistic view of the Christian life, we must give same-sex attracted students a vocabulary for following Christ. This life is lived in daily faith, repentance, and love (Mark 1:15; Matthew 22:36-40); we must daily reorient our trust around the person of Christ, daily turn from our sins to follow Him, and daily love others by serving them. How can we practically help our students engage in these practices? The key is detailed, practical measures, not lofty goals.

Help Them Grow in Community

We must let students know that they have a community in Christ’s Church. Oftentimes, same-sex attracted students struggle to grow in openness and community because of the intense, prison-like nature of shame, other people’s judging gazes, and the church’s unwillingness to talk about these sensitive topics.

Part of our job in ministering to our students who wrestle in this way is to help them, over time, open up about their temptations, sufferings, and sins to other godly people and find life in godly community. This doesn’t have to happen right away. But as you meet with this student, instilling within them the grace of God and the identity he has in Jesus, we should be helping him to identify other people in whom he can confide, encouraging him to let in more and more light into his life. We should also help them see that, we, in fact, will be committed to loving, discipling, and walking alongside them in this journey. In other words, helping students grow in community begins by embodying community personally with them.

Help Them Grow in Love and Ministry

Same-sex attracted students, like the rest of us, have been given gifts to contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ. Let’s help them discover, develop, and use those gifts in love and ministry, helping them to cultivate their God-given uniqueness to build up the Kingdom. We need to be aware, however, that many times, same-sex attracted students’ gifts will not match the gender-stereotyped norms of the culture in which they live. This is more than okay. The question is: what gifts has God given them, and how can they, in turn, use them for His glory?

It’s a blessing when any student approaches a student minister for help, and it is our privilege to walk alongside them. Let’s commit to bringing the truth and mercy of Christ to our same-sex attracted students, to walk alongside them as we both move forward in the life-long process of discipleship.

Cooper Pinson

(This blog has been re-posted from Harvest USA | harvestusa.org. Used with permission.)

How to Have Better Conversations with Your Partner, and Just About Anyone Else

Do you want to create a richer connection with your partner? To have those conversations that are intimate and meaningful? Are you shutting down opportunities for a deeper relationship with someone you love by the way you talk with them?

Wait, I’m sorry. Let me try those questions again.

How do you connect better with people? Recount a time when you had a meaningful conversation. What kinds of questions elicit a deeper engagement?

We all have conversations with people who are not gifted in connecting, and maybe we struggle to connect in conversations. Connecting through conversation is integral to any relationship, and our questions often determine the quality of that engagement. The key to asking engaging questions may be simpler than you think.

There’s a colloquial expression: it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Although the tone of our questions is important, the actual questions themselves are the key to engaging conversations. Read the first paragraph of this article again. How can someone respond to the questions in this first paragraph? They are all closed-ended questions, which typically prompt simple one-word answers, so what you say does matter.

My favorite Saturday Night Live skit comes from The Chris Farley Show, where he painstakingly struggles to interview his famous guests. He labors through interview questions that all begin with, “Do you remember…?” Leaving the famous interviewee to blandly respond, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

The point of the skit is to show how poor Farley is in interviewing his guests, barraging them with yes-or-no questions that cause the audience to feel the lack of connection or depth. It’s brilliantly hilarious, but also terrifyingly familiar.

All of us have been the one uncomfortably asking questions of the person we want to impress or connect with, only to find ourselves running the conversation into a brick wall. These types of questions narrow down the possible responses to a version of either yes or no. When you ask closed-ended questions, you lead your conversation partner down a path that severely limits opportunity for depth and connection.

So, in what ways are closed-ended questions a part of those conversations? How can we free ourselves from this limited way of speaking?

How to Ask Open-Ended Questions

There is a very simple strategy in how you talk with your loved ones that can enhance your ability to create better conversations—especially with your partner—and that is to ask open-ended questions. The idea of open-ended questions comes from Miller and Rollnick’s Motivational Interviewing, which is a widely accepted form of dialogue that enhances the participant’s motivation to accept change. But open-ended questions are not only good for therapy; they are also key to fostering engaging conversations in our everyday lives.

To better enhance the opportunity for deeper, richer conversation, according to Miller and Rollnick, you have to work on your phrasing of questions. Open-ended means that the questions cannot be appropriately answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions do not begin with “do” or “did,” which generally prompt a simple answer; open-ended types of questions usually begin with these words:

  • How did you…
  • In what ways…
  • Tell me about…
  • What’s it like…

If you have a teenage child, imagine asking them this question at the end of the day: “Did you have a good day today?” Do you think that will prompt a thrilling conversation where your teen opens up to you about all their hopes and dreams? Of course it won’t. Instead, you could try: “In what ways did you feel accomplished today?”

Asking open-ended questions encourages the person you’re conversing with to think critically and therefore to be more engaging, because open-ended questions allow the respondent, not the asker, to control the response.

Try reading the second paragraph of this article again, and notice how the paragraph is entirely comprised of open-ended questions that require much more critical thought than the questions in the first paragraph. You are invited to self-reflect and to dive into descriptive answers that are ripe for follow-up questions. In using more open-ended questions in conversation, you invite people to talk with you rather than talk to you. That is the recipe for better conversations.

When it comes to romantic relationships, asking open-ended questions is especially important, and The Gottman Institute’s methods encourage couples to ask open-ended questions of each other on a regular basis to deepen their intimacy. Let’s imagine those moments in a romantic relationship where connection is difficult, where busyness is the norm, yet you long for a rich conversation with your partner like you used to have.

You turn to your partner and ask, “Do you feel happy with our relationship right now?” How does someone begin to answer this question when it might seem so reductive? Let’s reword this question to be more open-ended and see how it evokes conversation: “In what ways do you feel happy with our relationship?” This open-ended example provides a much more constructive setting to better know what is going well in the relationship.

Which brings us to this: better conversation is more vulnerable and more intimate conversation. It is very difficult to share your thoughts and emotions by answering closed-ended questions, but with open-ended questions, the door for deeper connectedness is flung wide open. Granted, you cannot force someone to be open and honest and share their deeper selves, but you can create an atmosphere that invites deeper connection.

Open-ended questions require us to be engaged in what we are saying. And when we are engaged in what we are saying, we create better and more meaningful conversation.

The Gottman Card Decks App

Need some guidance on how to ask open-ended questions of your partner? Download our free Gottman Card Decks, a relationships app that includes our popular Love Maps, Open-Ended Questions, and more virtual card decks to help you and your partner connect and deepen your intimacy.

This blog has been re-posted from The Gottman Institute. Used with permission.
Written by Andy Reynolds, MSW, LCSW. You can read his blog at  onsecondthought.blog.

What Did I Do Wrong?

When a family member—a spouse or a child—misbehaves or breaks your heart, the most natural reaction is to ask, “What did I do wrong?”

Wrong question entirely.

A therapist friend of mine, who has worked with thousands of couples in heartbreaking situations, always asks such people, “When God created the perfect world for Adam and Eve and even that wasn’t enough to keep them from sinning, do you think the Trinity asked, ‘Where did we go wrong?’”

When God blessed David, called him out of nowhere to make him a man of significance, put him on a throne, and David responded with adultery and murder, do you think God asked, “What could I have done differently?”

When Jesus lived as the perfect Messiah, giving Judas copious amounts of wondrous teaching, perfect counsel, and absolutely the best example anyone could ever demonstrate, and yet all that proved not to be enough for Judas, did Jesus ask, “What did I do wrong? Why did Judas stray?”

A near universal response for wives who find out their husbands have had affairs or been dabbling in porn—in fact, I’ve heard this from just about every wife I’ve talked to whose marriage has been marred by this—is, “What’s wrong with me? Am I not pretty enough? Am I not creative enough in bed?”

Wives, it’s never about you. Sex can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to either spouse thinking they have to be more beautiful, younger, more creative, and better “mechanically” than anyone else in the world or their spouse might be unfaithful. Think about that line of thinking for just a second—that’s not marriage, that’s not real intimacy. It’s sick to even consider all that as necessary for a spouse to be faithful. It turns sex into an ugly performance instead of a cherishing act.

Thinking that we can be such good parents or such good spouses that our loved ones will never stray is to think we can “outdo” the Trinity. You cannot, as a parent, create a perfect Garden of Eden experience for your kids, but even if you did, they’d mess it up. You cannot, as a partner, be a truer companion than Jesus, but even if you were, you’d face betrayal.

There may be a time, later, when you reflect on what you could have done better, as a parent or a spouse. We can all improve, and the Bible urges us to grow in every area. But that’s different than thinking you can be such a good parent or such a good spouse that your loved ones will never stumble. “We all stumble in many ways.” James 3:2

If anything, the real answer to “What did I do wrong?” is, “You were born in sin and you live in a world where every family member has been born in sin.”

God’s remedy to this isn’t you, it’s Jesus. His grace, his forgiveness, his wisdom, his power, his redemption—that’s the ultimate solution. As much as we’d like to be, we’re not the answer; Jesus is.

So let’s stop wondering, “What did I do wrong?” and start asking, “How can surrendering to Jesus’ grace and presence help us find our way back?”

Gary Thomas

(This blog has been re-posted from Gary Thomas’s blog. Used with permission.)

Four Steps to Rebuild Trust

“Trust is essential.

According to one researcher, trust is the cornerstone of every relationship. But how do we become trustworthy? And how do we regain trust in someone when they’ve done something to betray our trust?

As essential as trust is for healthy relationships, trust is also tricky. In my counseling training, I was taught, “Trust is the result of trustworthy actions.” This is a handy description, but it needs some nuance to be effective. The obvious question is “What are trustworthy actions?” The answer may seem easy at first blush, but relationships of any length quickly reveal that what one person conceives of as trustworthy activity often goes unnoticed or underappreciated by the other.”

Read the full article at Desiring God.