Unfortunately, the retreat center that hosts our retreat has decided to shut down for the remainder of 2020 due to COVID-19. Therefore, we have decided to cancel this year’s retreat. We look forward to having a retreat in 2021!
Sexual Purity Posts
“Can I ask you a personal question?” she said.
“Of course,” I replied. I already knew what she was going to say. Many before her had already asked, but I was still grappling with how to answer.
She hesitated, as if bracing herself to speak words physically painful to pronounce.
“Did your dad’s sexual abuse negatively affect your romantic relationship with your husband?” she asked. “I’ve been married for 20 years, and I still can’t shake this feeling of shame and anxiety. Every time we’re intimate, I feel sick. I’m afraid something is broken in my mind. I’m afraid my trauma is hurting my husband and destroying our marriage. What should I do? How can I heal from this?”
If you’re a pastor or counselor, you’ve likely encountered similar questions. If you’re a survivor of abuse, you may have asked them yourself. The devastating trauma of abuse is incalculable. Its pervasive pain affects the most intimate aspects of life.
And it’s not just women asking these questions. Men and women have confided that, while they desire intimacy, they can’t imagine feeling secure in a relationship. They fear their marriage is doomed to misery and divorce, or that they’d make terrible parents. Husbands and wives of survivors have asked me how they can help their traumatized spouse feel safe, loved, and attractive.
Part of the reason I struggle to answer such sensitive and complicated questions is because I’m still experiencing and working to understand my own recovery. I know from experience that these injuries are raw, painful, and personal. I don’t want to give superficial advice, or weigh survivors down under works-oriented to-do lists.
Thankfully, God has blessed us with therapists, physicians, and medications that can help us manage depression, anxiety, and other emotional injuries resultant from trauma. Ultimately, though, only God can heal the soul.
With that in mind, I’ve composed a series of prayers, in hope that you’ll be able to adapt them to fit your own situation, pray them for a loved one, or share them with a friend in need.
1. God, help me understand that you made sex.
Lord, in the beginning, you told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). You designed Adam to be attractive for Eve, and Eve to be attractive for Adam. You said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
It’s not good for me to feel alone. It’s not good for me to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or fearful of my own sexuality—you made it, and you designed it for me to enjoy. The pain of my past and the evil of others has clouded my perception of what you have made; yet I know everything you do is good.
Please help me to understand that sex is not sinful, degrading, or harmful. Free me from anxiety, humiliation, and dark memories. Let me feel the peace and love that you intend for me. Let me rest in the knowledge that you are my Creator and every part of my body—from my figure to my hormones—was designed by you.
2. Show me that sex is pure.
In Song of Solomon, the bride exclaims, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. . . . No wonder the young women love you! Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers” (Song 1:1–4).
Lord, I can’t imagine feeling the way this bride does. I can’t imagine viewing sex or sexuality with such innocence or confidence. She is bold. She is unabashedly desirous and flirtatious. She finds her fiancé attractive, and she can’t blame all the other ladies for thinking so too. She is eager to express her love physically.
I was taught by experience to be embarrassed and fearful of sex. Ungodly sexuality distorts my understanding, inhibits my expression, and weighs down my soul.
Lord, take away the confusion caused by abuse, betrayal, injustice, and other people’s evil. Help me to see sex as you see it: a pure gift from a holy God. Help me to realize that—though my abuser is guilty—I am innocent. Though my abuser expressed sexuality in heinous, distorted ways, I can express mine in righteous and loving ways. Because of your work in me, I can desire my spouse without shame or reserve. I can express the longings you gave me in holiness and healthiness.
3. Show me Jesus in my spouse.
Lord, you have blessed me with a godly spouse. They aren’t perfect, but they love me. They sometimes sin, but they aren’t abusive. Lord, teach me to view them how you view them. Let me see Jesus working in them. Let me seek and treasure the fruit of the Spirit in their words and actions. Lord, empower me to me see my spouse as you see them; someone you are conforming into the image of Christ.
Lord, free me from associating our intimacy with abuse, or their motives with my abuser’s motives. Instead, allow me to associate their good character with the Good Shepherd. Grow me in faith to adore my lover with unabashed passion and grace. For you did not give us a spirit of fear and embarrassment, but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). Free me to love fearlessly.
4. Bless my spouse.
God, it’s hard to trust that you’re good and faithful. It’s even harder to believe that my spouse really loves me. My abuser betrayed me. Those who should have intervened abandoned me. I expect disappointment and rejection, because that’s what I’m used to. But you, God, are unchangeable, righteous, and true. You are sovereign over my spouse’s heart. Fill me with such certainty of your devotion that I cannot doubt your work in my heart or theirs.
Help my spouse to forgive me when I’m wrong and be patient when I’m weak. Help me to forgive them when they’re wrong and be patient when they fail. Bless them with wisdom, Lord. Give them the clarity they need to help me navigate these challenges, and the wise advice to support my healing. Bolster them up behind and before. May my recovery be such a miraculous work, that their faith is strengthened because of it.
5. Show me how you see me.
Before your face, God, my value is not defined by what’s happened to me, or even by what I have done. Rather, my value is defined by what Jesus has done for me.
Teach me, Lord, to see myself as you do. Help me to know myself as your perfect, spotless, beautiful child and cherished heir of heaven. If I truly grasped in my heart of hearts how treasured, lovely, and pure you consider me, I’d never be ashamed again. Scatter the shadows that haunt me. Lift the veil that shrouds my face. Let me see myself as loved and accepted by you.
6. Take my heart and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Jesus, I cannot overcome my pain. There is too much fear, sorrow, anxiety, and confusion for me to untangle, let alone fix. But you are the Great Physician. You are my Wonderful Counselor (Isa. 9:6). You carried my sin to the cross. Jesus, you can carry my trauma, too. Bury it far from me. Let it weigh me down no more.
You are the Redeemer who made the lame walk and the blind see. By your power, the sick are healed and the dead raised to life again. You can heal my broken heart.
My recovery isn’t a to-do list. My happiness isn’t a standard I have to live up to, or a goal I must struggle to achieve. When I rely on my own efforts, I rely less on yours. Fix my eyes on you, Lord. You are my joy. You are my peace. You are Love. You knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13); knit me whole again now. Heal me for your glory, Lord. Empower me to love you better, not because I deserve your love, but because you deserve mine.
In Christ’s name I pray,
SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell
*Enmeshment – This means family members become too closely bonded with each other. Strong families connect in a balanced way. They have a strong sense of togetherness, but it’s tempered by allowing members to be independent. They feel close and committed to each other, but their closeness empowers them as separate persons. Enmeshed families, in contrast, allow their connectedness to stifle individuality. They may also swing to the opposite extreme and be so independent that the members are disengaged.
Under the control of a parent, cohesiveness is often forced on the members. In an effort to overcome family shame, efforts are made to keep the family together. Members are expected to be loyal – being together is not necessarily desired; it is required. Members of strong families may get together for Christmas because they want to, but dysfunctional family members do so because they have to. Members of strong families enjoy each other; those of troubled families tend to endure each other. Enmeshment is often referred to as co-dependence, and it manifests itself in number of harmful ways. Family members sometimes feel too much, depend too much on, or do too much for each other. While some sacrifice is o.k., sacrifice can be harmful, not just to the one who is sacrificing but also to the one for whom the sacrifice is made. Jesus, by His crucifixion, is the greatest example of sacrifice, but His sacrifice was with purpose.
*Inadequate Communication – Dysfunctional families are notorious for their poor communication. They have the now-famous rules: “Don’t trust; don’t feel, and don’t talk.” A functional family has no such rules. The rules that keep dysfunctional families from talking come from the “elephant in the living room” phenomenon. The large beast represents the family’s problem. Fear and shame keep family members from discussing it. Initially their feelings may be so overwhelming that they deal with them by trying not to feel. Ignoring the most important family matter causes them to ignore other feelings and thoughts as well. Communication is superficial because of the threat of talking about their shame, fear, and depression. The family avoids healthy conflict and urges members not to rock the boat. Their desire for peace at all costs inhibits any authenticity, vulnerability, or transparency. Since they are unable to talk, family members struggle to adapt and survive, employing numerous defenses to ward off the pain. One of those defenses is denial.
*Denial and Reality Shifting – People in dysfunctional families usually have a distorted view of reality. They see the terrible things happening in their homes, yet they don’t recognize them for what they are. This denial takes any number of forms. They may minimize the problem. They may consider themselves normal. They may delay doing anything about it, thinking the problem will eventually solve itself. Being in denial causes people to experience what is called “reality shifting.” This is when there is a major discrepancy between what is said and what a child experiences. Forcing children to disregard what they experience distorts their sense of what is true and normal, causing them to live in doubt and confusion.
*Wet – Dry Cycle – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde often come to mind when referring to addicts. They have a sober personality and an addicted one – and their families do too. This sobriety-intoxication cycle deprives them of one of the major traits of strong families – consistency. What is so amazing about these cycles is that the family members tend to behave like the addict. Families are not all alike when one of the members is an addict. While some families may feel close to each other, others may feel isolated from one another. Some may be tranquil, others combative. Yet they definitely exhibit two states. During the sober period, the home atmosphere may be very tense with children fearing the addict may move to his/her addiction. The contrast between the two states can be extreme:
Promises Made Promises Broken
This unpredictability and inconsistency can exact a toll on family members.
*Role Reversals — When one family member becomes increasingly disabled, other family members will begin to carry an extra load to keep the family going. Unlike the teamwork that exists in a healthy family, these responsibilities are unfairly distributed. As a result, the family members bearing the burden begin to feel resentful, angry, and frustrated. But the “don’t talk rule” keeps them from confronting the troubled member about his or her irresponsibility. They may also suffer their hard feelings to avoid arguments and uncomfortable scenes.
*Isolation – Troubled families often lack a key factor of healthy family life – contact with those outside the house. They are cut off from the many benefits people receive by being linked to the wider community and their contact with growth-producing relationships is limited. Because the family members are so enmeshed with one another, outsiders threaten the precarious “balance” of co-dependency. Also, because of their rigidity, they reject others whose ideas and practices may challenge theirs. Keeping the family secret of addiction or abuse makes them shun outsiders. Shame about that secret inhibits their getting close to others. In some cases, this isolation is a contributing cause of the family’s problems as well as a result. Physical and sexual abuse can more easily happen where it is unlikely to be detected by members of the community.
Doug talks through some action steps and analogies for addiction recovery. He points to theidea of treating every day like we are prepping for war…Remember that you are not alone on this road of recovery…..for more information please email email@example.com
SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell
An addictive or compulsive family member troubles the whole family, just as an injured part of the body affects the whole person. So too family members will compensate for an addicted/compulsive’s erratic and unreliable conduct by behaving in ways that might worsen the situation. This may shock spouses and children who thought all their problems would go away once the alcoholic stopped drinking or the workaholic took more time off. They were not aware that the whole family, not just the addict, would need to be fixed.
Dysfunctional Family Organization
Typically a troubled family organizes itself around the troubled person with the person becoming the center around which family members orbit. Families need leadership, the kind that empowers its members to express themselves and mature. The kind of control discussed here results in demoralizing family members and stifling their growth. When family life is regulated by such persons, their chaotic, unpredictable, unmanaged life creates a chaotic, unpredictable, unmanaged household. Individual family members’ behavior becomes tied to the troubled person. The tension family members feel makes them describe living at home like “walking on eggshells.” The family’s adjustment to the addiction or compulsive behavior of one of their members is similar to their accommodating themselves to a parent’s working schedule. The effort to make these adjustments is what family systems experts call a process of homeostasis. The family adjusts itself to keep things stable when circumstances disrupt family life. When one person’s behavior changes drastically, the family will adjust to that. They’ll do this for addicts because they care about them and because his or her welfare is tied to their own.
Because the family members are bound together with the abuser, they cannot simply ignore him or her. The troubled person’s erratic, irresponsible behavior becomes unsettling, serious, even traumatic, and family members feel they must do something to get the person to gain control of himself or herself. They will try any commonsense thing to get the person to stop – plead with or threaten him or her, cry, and tell the person how badly they feel. And if those tactics don’t work, they pour the person’s liquor down the drain or send someone to the bar to tell the drinker to come home. Some of these strategies may work, especially in the case of someone whose addiction problems are not terribly out of control. But if these efforts don’t work and the problem persists, the family will make subtle, slow adjustments to accommodate the addict’s behavior, even though they don’t approve of it.
These families will alter their life in a number of areas including:
*Routines – through routines families maintain some stability and order. A strong family is one where these routines are consistently carried out. When families allow their routines to be determined by someone who is out of control, like an addict, the family behavior will become as inconsistent and chaotic as the addict’s life.
*Rituals — Rituals are routines with an added ingredient – significance. Rituals govern the way the family carries out important activities, like praying together, celebrating special occasions, etc. For an example, a mother with an anger problem, under stress of preparing a Thanksgiving Dinner, might lose control of her temper, dampening the family’s holiday mood. If these become regular holiday occurrences, families will begin to expect them and do what they can to lessen the impact. When rituals are modified, their significance may be greatly diminished. Rituals are ruined when the emotions and meanings associated with them are supplanted by the anger and disappointment of having to deal with the problem behavior. It should be noted that all of these alterations in the family are designed to deal with the troubled parent’s behavior not by ignoring it or continuing in spite of it but changing to accommodate it. Families least likely to reproduce addicts were those who did not permit the troubled person’s presence to disrupt the family’s routines and rituals. They distanced themselves instead of accommodated themselves.
*Problem-Solving Procedures – Besides routines and rituals, the family also tries to regulate itself by modifying its problem-solving procedures. These modifications involve doing things to bring a member back into line if that person threatens the family’s stability. Troubled families may use two distinct problem-solving methods. First, they vigilantly guard the status quo, because they tend to be unusually sensitive to any destabilization of the family. Once the family has stabilized around the out-of-control person, they appear to be uncommonly threatened by any other change. Dysfunctional families are generally rigid. Strong families are flexible. As children get older and conditions change in the family, the family needs to adjust. Many of these changes are related to the family’s life phases. All change (good and bad) is stressful, and it can be both good and bad at the same time – like the birth of a child, for example. Arriving at a life stage may trigger a crisis in the family if it is too rigid to handle it properly. The second distinct feature of the troubled family’s problem-solving procedure is using the problem person’s behavior to assist the family in dealing with problems. If this happens, the addictive problem becomes a part of the family’s normal functioning. This has major implications when, for example, an addict stops drinking. The alcohol that has become necessary for the family to function is now gone. Learning how to operate without it may become very difficult for all of them.
*Family Devastation – These changes are especially devastating because the family’s stability now depends on the continued behavior by the addict. This insight helps us understand why it is crucial that the family system change when treating an addictive/compulsive behavior. Otherwise, the system will continue to pressure the troubled persons to stay as they are. Despite the conscious wish to see the troubled person change, family members may have an unconscious desire to have the person continue as he or she is.