Authentic Love: The Journey from Infatuation to Intimacy


When my wife, Sue, and I first met it was electric. I was so drawn to her it was as if nothing else mattered. We dated for a few weeks, got engaged, and were married nine months later. Often, this is the way 21 year olds act when they are idealistic and in love.

Romantic relationships follow a predictable path. People meet, date, become infatuated with each other, marry, mate, and then watch entropy erode away their illusion of intimacy. Infatuation carries most couples through engagement and the early years of marriage. We find at Center for Christian Life Enrichment that infatuation is a time characterized by magical thinking and the desire to be made whole and complete by their significant other. Some think the key to marital bliss is finding their perfectly predestined partner while others marry believing that the love of their life can transform the defects of their significant other. These fairy tales never come true. Infatuation only gets us in the game. It offers no assistance in architecting genuine intimacy.

At CLE, we believe intimacy is the result of courageous honesty, deliberate practice, hard work, and supportive counseling. It is not about finding the best partner…it is about becoming the best partner. It begins by dispelling the romantic myths of being saved by another—being miraculously made whole by your mythical mate. It confronts the mistaken belief that love is something you find instead of forge.

In a mistaken attempt to find intimacy, I did for my wife everything I was hoping she would do for me. I would wash the car instead of making time to talk. I would build a deck instead of creating meaningful opportunities to connect and grow as a family.  I had no idea of how little I understood about intimacy. I had confused intimacy with infatuation. There was no work in falling in love. You don’t form it; you simply fall into it. What I associated with intimacy was a copy of the enmeshment I shared with my mother. What I confused with love was the sense of being lost in another person, where my feelings were their feelings and my desires were their desires. I had no differentiated sense of self.

Enmeshment or fusion is one of the most dangerous counterfeits of intimacy. Enmeshment involves the process of getting lost in another as an unconscious way of avoiding ourselves. We confuse supporting another person with unconsciously trying to live our lives through him or her. Most all spouses and parents struggle to discern the difference between true intimacy and enmeshment.

One of the most helpful tips in building intimacy is that both partners must dedicate themselves to their own individual growth and development. I will not be able to shape something with another that I am not in the process of forming within myself. Intimacy begins with me. It is about me stretching and growing into my Christ-self; not, me finding the right person. As I am individuating and becoming more mature, then I am going to have more and more resources to invest in my partnership.

As I am becoming more and more like Christ, I will be bringing more of myself to my relationships with my wife, my kids, and my trusted partners. As I am growing, I will be expecting more from those I love and they of me. I will be speaking the truth in love when they are not living true to their vision and values and expecting the same from them. I will be taking pleasure in the journey toward genuine intimacy.

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The Joy of Living Responsibly

 

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Phil 2:12-13

            Who would ever think that being responsible is a key to having peace and joy?  When we think of someone being responsible, we imagine someone being dependable, trustworthy, and accountable. Sounds boring, right?

At the Center for Christian Life Enrichment we use “responsible” in terms of a principle which, if applied, can empower us to live magnificent lives; instead of simply a way to be good and stay out of trouble. Yalom writes, “Responsibility means authorship. To be aware of responsibility is to be aware of creating one’s own self, destiny, life predicament, feelings and, if such be the case, one’s own suffering.”[1]

            A commitment to being responsible means that I am the author of my life.  I can no longer blame others, circumstances or God for the outcomes of my life.  I am free from the burden of feeling like I am a victim. I am not responsible for what others may do, but I am responsible for how I choose to respond. For example, I cannot prevent you from judging me, but I am can choose how I let your opinion affect me.

            Adhering to the principle of responsibility is the antidote for victimhood.  When we find ourselves operating within the Drama Triangle, whether we are playing the role of victim, persecutor or rescuer, we are disregarding the principle of responsibility. If I am the author of my life, how can I blame you for anything?  I believe we are created in the image of God and as such we are agents of creation and not victims. We are designed to generate and lead productive lives.

Experiencing and responding to our feelings is a critical skill in living responsibly.  Many of us grew up learning all kinds of rules limiting the expression of our feelings. For example, for some, it was OK to be sad but shameful to be angry. For others, anger was acceptable but fear was a sign of weakness. All our feelings are part of our divine design. It is our job to learn how to use them responsibly.

            Feelings are vital indicators alerting us to our hungers for what we want and need. For example, when a deer feels fear, immediately the sympathetic nervous system engages and the survival instincts take over.  The deer’s life depends on how he chooses to respond to his fear. A deer must decide whether to freeze, flee or fight. If he freezes in the woods, there is likely to be a much better outcome than if he chooses to freeze on the highway with a truck coming at him.

We disregard our feelings to our detriment.  When we ignore fear we invite the buildup of worry and anxiety. When we acknowledge our fear and thoughtfully consider our response, we act according to the principle of responsibility.  At times we may dismiss an imagined fear, recognizing it as a fantasy. At other times, our fear will inform us that we need to act immediately. It is our responsibility to learn how to better interpret the wisdom of our feelings.

We have been equipped with gifts and talents intended to be used in the fulfillment of our life purpose.  It is our responsibility to strive to uncover what we are most passionate about as we exercise our gifts. Each of us is responsible to fulfill our mission and live the most meaningful lives possible. Assuming full responsibility for our lives is foundational to living lives of meaning, purpose and passion.

Consider how one of our Christian counselors could support you in living the most meaningful and potent lives possible.


[1] Yalom, I. (1980). Esistential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, p. 218

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Wanted: Attachment Needs Met—Adults as well as Children Apply

“See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me” Lyrics from The Who

We are making Attachment Theory a primary focus at CLE this year. One of the major breakthroughs in psychology is the increasing awareness that the relational needs young children have to attach to their mothers and fathers are the same we have as adults.  Children need to be seen, listened to, empathized with, touched and held—and so do adults. At CLE, we are learning how to identify our attachment needs, recognizing when our needs are not being met, and learning how to heal and repair attachment breaches.

Children are born entirely dependent on their primary care givers. They are unable to survive apart from the provisions of those they are dependent on. Children have the basic needs to survive (food, water, shelter, safety, etc.) along with the emotional and social needs of attachment. Attachment is that process in which children discover and expand themselves through the attention and care of others.

Bob Wright summarizes attachment as our need to be accurately perceived in the here and now, with positive regard, consistently and unconditionally.

Perceived accurately: This is when parents see and mirror back to their children an accurate representation of what the child is feelings and experiencing. The child discovers themselves in the accurate reflection of their primary care givers. Parents play the role of mirrors, reflecting back the expressions, feelings and mood of the child.

As adults, we will strengthen our relationships if we attentively listen to one another, accurately reflecting back what our partner is saying. Avoiding giving advice or trying to fix your partner is strongly encouraged. Any unsolicited advice is certain to result in an attachment breach!

In the here and now: This feedback is most potent when it happens immediately in the moment. Take advantage of the opportunities to see and hear each other in the here and now. Sooner is better than later. This means having live interactions in the moment vs. telling stories about our lives with one another.

With Positive Regard: This is a fundamental attitude that holds each human being as whole and complete. Positive regard is a mindset that believes that each person is both capable and responsible for his or her life—adults are not victims. At CLE, we believe that each individual is created in the image of God and able to draw upon an abundance of resources to learn, grow and transform themselves into their most radiant Christ-self.

Consistently: A child learns much more effectively when he or she experiences consistency in the feedback and response of the primary care givers. We need to be consistently seeking to see, listen to, empathize with, and demonstrate positive regard for one another, whether we are parenting our children or spending time with adults.

Unconditionally: This is certainly the goal put forth by Jesus when he asked us to love one another, forgiving each other, and refusing to retaliate when hurt. Unconditional care and concern is what we all long for; however, it often requires divine assistance. The Apostle John wrote, “We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) We must draw upon a resource greater than ourselves in order to be able to love one another.

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The Transforming Power of Gratitude

Sue and I had been married for about a year and we were in the process of raising our financial support to go on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. We had just gotten back from our New Staff Training, and had exhausted all the money we had in savings in order to pay for our training. We had no money and were excited to be living by faith.

One morning the reality of our depleted finances hit us. I had finished balancing the checkbook and announced to Sue that we had seventy-five cents left in our account.  Suddenly, she cried out, “We don’t even have the money to pay the toll to drive across the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Bridge!” I, however, had a peculiar sense of exhilaration as I saw our circumstances as an opportunity for God to provide for us. Sure enough, we experienced what we believed were the provisions of God appearing just as we needed them and not a second too soon!

As I have grown in my years and maturity, I often find it difficult to draw upon the fearless trust I had as a new believer in Christ. When I was younger I was so confident and excited to be living out on the edge, trusting in the goodness of God. Although, I often don’t have the same unguarded enthusiasm in the face of risk, I have learned to rely upon the faithfulness of God.

One of the tools which has helped me when my present circumstances are overwhelming is what I call the Red Sea List. The idea came to me while I was reading the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. I found myself identifying with the struggles of the children of Israel. As I was reading I could so clearly see the effects of their selective memory. It was not long after having been miraculously delivered from the harsh enslavement in Egypt that the Israelites were grumbling and complaining about their hardships in the desert wilderness. Some were even willing to exchange their freedom for the security of slavery in Egypt.

I could so relate with the Children of Israel. How soon after some extraordinary answers to prayer am I complaining and worrying about my next hardship or difficulty. The scripture taught that their mistake was that they had forgotten all the good things God had done and instead were focusing on the troubles of their present circumstances. It is so much easier for me to worry about what lies ahead than express my gratitude for all that I am thankful for in the here and now.

The Red Sea List is a list of what we are grateful for. It is a tool designed to help us combat worry and grumbling by encouraging us to remember all the good things God has done. It is as simple as listing all the things you are grateful for. Small or large, material or spiritual, mundane or miraculous. Just start listing anything that comes to your mind.  Don’t get distracted by the order or significance. Your mind will want to divert you from simply listing anything and everything you feel thankful for. It is helpful to set a timer and write your list for even just a minute or two.

Focusing on God and His goodness helps to shift our attention from past regrets or future worries to the fruit of faith expressed in gratitude for all our blessings. The expression of gratitude helps exchange resentment and anxiety for faith, hope, and love.

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The Journey of Transformation

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  Romans 7:15

I can’t believe I am heavier than I have ever been before. I start losing weight and then the next thing I know I am gaining again. I know what to do. I have lost weight so many times before. I have all kinds of excellent support and resources along with an abundant network of people who care about me; yet, I continue to comfort myself with food. I am a therapist and help others change; yet, I can’t change myself! Why is it so difficult? Why won’t I change?

Hard and soft addictions multiply in times of fear, stress, and pain. Overeating, restricting food, drinking, drugging, shopping, spending, gaming, television watching, Facebooking, emailing, texting, exercising, worrying, reading, sleeping, and working—the list is limitless. Anything done to excess can enable us to disregard our deeper hungers and deny our pain.

When I am a fugitive on the run from myself, I am suspicious of everything that is good for me. I feel like a wounded animal that is backed into a corner. I fear the truth. I am scared and distrustful of nearly everyone. Curiously, I am very receptive to the counterfeit support that would deaden me to my feelings and dampen me to my pain.

I am quick to forget that my consciousness, my feelings, and my concerned community are my allies even though they may disturb and disrupt my binge. My good friend carved into my heart, “Truth is love.” Listening to the truth and attending to my feelings is the first act of self-love and compassion.  This is the first step toward freedom. When we yield to the truth, like the prodigal son, we will return to the genuine light and warmth of love. I often have to remind myself that the God I adore is a God of love. He is not seeking to chastise; instead, he longs to welcome me home without shame or retribution. This is one of our central missions of the Center for Christian Life Enrichment.

How can we wake up and lay aside our bad habits? The question of concern is, “When we are resistant to transformation, what does it take to penetrate our denial and initiate change?” What will awaken my intention and engage my resources in order to bring about needed changes in my life? Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that alcoholics often need to hit bottom before they will get sober. What is our bottom and will we change? Will we look up for help when we are broken and scared?

Transformation is a process of ups and downs. It is cyclical not linear. Overthrowing denial is foundational to transformation. Once the light of truth burns the fog of denial away, the issue is not whether I have a problem, but whether I am willing to do what it takes to overcome it. As we penetrate our denial, we then must  confront our rationalizations, excuses and stinking thinking.

My biggest battles are internal. I get hurt and angry and refuse to work through my upset with God and those who I perceive have wronged me. I get scared and instead of reaching out and up for help I isolate and withdraw from those who most can support me. I am learning to overcome shame and resist the temptation to self medicate with soft addictions. I am accepting that I make mistakes and learning how to have compassion for myself.

Personal transformation is a way of living and being. It is focused on investing our lives in the pursuit of fulfilling our life purpose. I believe each of us is a child of God with a responsibility to find our calling and fulfill our mission. It requires courage and the willingness to accept that the good fight is a bout with unlimited rounds. The prize goes to those one who persist, picking themselves up after inevitable setbacks, and rededicating themselves to the lifelong journey of transformation.

 

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The Great Exchange: Our Worry for God’s Peace

What would you say if someone gave you the opportunity to eliminate unnecessary worry and anxiety from your life? I and 45 other people from CLE jumped at the chance to get away for a weekend and explore our relationship with fear, anxiety and faith. Our intent was to apply the principle of aliveness and practice being fully present and authentically engaged in the here and now. My expectation was that if we were able to improve our abilities to stay conscious we would experience more peace and joy in our lives.

What do you find yourself worrying most about? Is it the well being of your children, your relationship with your spouse, finances, the future, being alone, disappointing others, not being accepted, saying no, displeasing God? We all have anxiety; however, change can happen when we start recognizing the common themes of what we worry about. Usually, our anxiety is related to things we fear in the future or regret in the past.

I am operating from the assumption that one of our primary feelings is fear. When we fail to address our fear we experience anxiety. This unnecessary worry and anxiety are the result of regretful reflection as well as fearful anticipation. Worry and anxiety tempt us to leave our experience of the here and now, focusing instead on what John Stevens refers to as fantasy. Stevens says that fantasy activity includes, “All mental activities beyond present awareness of ongoing experience: All explaining, imagining, interpreting, guessing, thinking, comparing, planning, remembering the past, anticipating the future, etc.”  (Stevens, 1971, p. 6)

In response to Stevens, we decided to be mindful of our awareness of the outside world, what we experience with our senses, and awareness of our inside world, what we feel from inside our skin. Unlike our fantasies, these two areas of awareness we know exist. Most often what we make up might happen in the future rarely happens. We made it a point to label any mental activity beyond our present awareness as fantasy. We learned that the purpose of fantasy was to distract us from the truth of our experience in the moment. We saw that fantasy intensified anxiety.

I had a powerful opportunity to practice what we were learning on Saturday night at the retreat. After an amazing day of learning and growing, I was teaching about the relationship between fear and faith. I was excited and in awe at the depth and genuineness of the work being done by the participants. Unexpectedly, one of the people attempted to make a joke at my expense. The room went quiet and I was completely caught off guard, feeling scared, hurt and angry. My first impulse was to ignore the slight and act like it never happened. My next thought was revenge—how could I pay him back!

Instead, I stayed with myself, expressing my hurt, embarrassment and anger. I asked him to look at what he was feeling in the moment and why he might want to embarrass me. He was totally unprepared for my vulnerability and began looking at what was going on for him below his level of consciousness. Eventually he was able to track back and see how his hunger for attention and affirmation had been intensifying for a while. He mistakenly believed that I was in the way of him getting what he needed and the only way to get any attention was to take me down. This mistaken belief reflected unfinished business he never had been able to clear up with his father.

We are invited in Scripture to look to God for comfort when we are anxious. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.” (Phil 4:6-7) God offers to exchange our worry for the peace which transcends all understanding. When you notice you are anxious, track your worries and offer them up to God l  in exchange for peace. Don’t stockpile fear lest it turn into worry.  Use fear to motivate you to action, whether it be to freeze, fight or flee.

We also practiced applying what I call the “manna principle.” This concept conveys the idea that God’s way is to live one day at a time and I would add one moment at a time. Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt 6:34) Avoid the danger of trying to manage tomorrow; instead, recognize God is availing his resources for our needs in the here and now.

Each day has sufficient trouble and we need our daily portion of God’s nourishment to sustain us throughout our battles. Live every moment to the max, experience your feelings, exchange anxiety for God’s transcendent peace and exercise the courage to be your most authentic self in every moment.

Ask God for your daily portion of the manna of peace which transcends all understanding.

 

 

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Love: The Hope of the Holidays

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.   1 John 4:16 (NIV)

My wife, Sue, and I just returned from a Christmas get-a-way in Chicago. We spent a nourishing night and a day together while we shopped ‘til I dropped, enjoyed delicious food, and gazed in awe at the Chicago skyline while being mesmerized by Lake Michigan. Our surprising highlight was celebrating Advent at the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue.

Stepping into this stunning cathedral, with every seat taken, immediately caught me off guard. In an instant, I went from worship to worry. We were a late and I was hoping to slip into the back of the church unnoticed. Before I could hang a u-turn and regroup, an attentive and forceful usher was leading us down the center isle while the service was in progress and instructing several parishioners to squish in to accommodate us. I was mortified and unsure how this all had happened so quickly. As I recovered from my shock I realized I was not breathing.

Sue wedged herself in first. I looked at the space remaining and knew there was not enough runway to land this plane. Not breathing was helpful as I, as inconspicuously as possible, wedged myself into the cubbyhole left for me at the end of the pew.  I felt like a Hummer being parked in a small car only space. I was so grateful that I had the presence of mind to rip my coat off while marching down the aisle; otherwise, I would never have been able to wedge myself in.

Within seconds of my insertion, my right leg had gone numb and the high end piece on the 100 year old oak pew was threatening to sever the brachial artery in my arm. At this state of shock, my only other concern was that when I get nervous I sweat abundantly. I am not the guy who has the oil spill under his arms—no, I am the one who looks like someone just turned the sprinklers on my balding head.

The next thing I remember hearing was the warmth and strength of the voice of John Buchanan, the Senior Pastor at Fourth Pres. He was introducing of all things a capital campaign. I found myself feeling a sense of love and experiencing a sense of peace flood over me. I knew Buchanan’s heart for relationships and his concern for those who were less fortunate. He was guiding his congregation to embrace the point where service, faith and love all came together.

Buchanan was creating an experience of God’s love that was precisely what my soul needed. How ironic, that in a style of worship I was not familiar and a church in which I was a guest, I felt myself calm down and experience the peace of God. I was safe and I was at home. I experienced the love, acceptance, and patience of God through our usher, my buddies in the pew, the community of saints, and my pastor for the morning.

I was reminded of the primacy of relationships and the irreplaceable foundation of love. I had a renewed vision for the work being done at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment. At CLE we are encouraging and training each other to multiply our talents, fulfill our mission, and remind each other that he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him. I knew John Buchanan was not only my brother but my ally in the ministry of redemption. Until all know and experience the personal and unconditional love of God, we won’t rest.

John Buchanan closed his message with a beautiful poem:

I know that I have life

only insofoar as I have love.

I have no love

except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry

this candle against the wind.

Wendell Berry

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