Category Archives: Desires

What to do with our emotions? #CCEF16 

Continuing a summary of the Emotions conference, CCEF faculty member Alisdair Groves presented two plenary talks having to do with our emotions. In the first he defined emotions as the expression of what we value, desire, even worship. Our emotions are ours and they are complex responses to our histories. However, they are windows into what is most important to us. 

In the second plenary he asked what we can do with our emotions. Before giving suggestions as to what to do with our emotions he suggested two unhelpful responses: deify them or deny them. The larger culture may over-value our emotions as our self, but Groves feels the church can do this as well by expecting spiritual highs (“amped”) all the time and that life in the valley is a sign of a problem. The flip side is a stoic response, stiff upper lip. He reminded the audience that both extremes do have a valid point but skew in the wrong direction. 

So, what to do? Engage our emotions. Note he did not suggest we change them, vent them, or embrace them. More specifically, he made a couple points:

  1. Engage your body. Take care of it. Eat and sleep well. You will be better able to engage your negative emotions when you are your physical best. He quoted someone who said, “eating is the most over-used anti-depressant while exercise is the most under-used anti-anxiety tool.” 
  2. Engage your emotions in the Lord. He gave several dos and don’ts. Don’t vent. Don’t stew. Do bring your pain to God. Do connect with others over your pain and ask for their help, do insert Scripture and other goods into your life (like turning on a faucet of good clean water). Do repent. Not so much repent of your negative emotions but bring them to God and recognize you need to repent of those things that are not of God (e.g., bitterness, unforgiveness).


Question for you: Do our emotions only show what we love/worship/value? (Note, I do not believe this is what Alisdair was teaching the audience!)

If I am attacked and react in fear, does this show what I worship? Or does it show I value my life and my dominion is being stolen from me? I think Alisdair is right in that often our emotions do reveal our assumptions, perceptions, and yes, our values. But I believe and I think he would believe that emotions reveal our humanness AND our imaging of God’s emotions as well. They reveal the good and bad of relationships. I would argue that emotions are to be (a) listened to, (b) accepted, and (c) evaluated from the vantage point of life in Christ. Now, that last phrase, life in Christ, needs great unpacking. It would be easy to make that mean something like, “since Jesus has saved you, your negative emotions have no place here. In everything give thanks.” That would not be an accurate picture of what I mean by Life in Christ. Life in Christ with the hope of heaven does not deny what is broken in the life. It REQUIRES lament, confusion, anger, jealousy, even as it requires hope, joy, peace, and comfort. So, our emotions reveal something about ourselves and something about God and the world he has made. 


Filed under biblical counseling, CCEF, christian counseling, Desires

Protecting Desire in an Age of Gluttony

[These thoughts on living with unfulfilled desire were first published here back on October 20, 2006. Since I am teaching on addictions and the need to protect (no slake nor deny) desire this week, I thought I might resurrect this introduction to a short series on the topic of protecting desire. To read the remaining posts, follow the links at the bottom of the post.]

I have a confession to make: desire, not cotton, is the fabric of my life. I crave foods, comfortable living, excitement, time with my wife without interruptions, sex, prestige, freedom from illicit temptations (or is it freedom to indulge without penalty?), free time, obedient children, and employment that doesn’t seem like work. Satisfaction is the name of my game. And with 4 decades of experience in achieving at least partial satisfaction, I still find it ever elusive, never lasting more than a moment in time. Even when I get what I want, it’s never enough. Continue reading


Filed under addiction, Biblical Reflection, Desires

Intractable conflict in marriage

The latest American Psychologist (65:4, 2010) has an interesting article on the topic of intractable conflicts. These can be seen in families, communities or whole country disputes like found recently in Rwanda and the Congo.

The authors make this point at the outset of the article,

Conflict resolution should be easy. Conventional wisdom…has it that conflict arises when people feel their respective interests or needs are incompatible….A conflict that has become intractable should be especially easy to resolve….After all, a conflict with no ed in sight serves the interests of very few people, drains both parties’ resources, wastes energy, and diminishes human capital in service of a futile endeavor. Even a compromise solution that only partially addresses the salient needs and interests of the parties should be embraced when they realize that such a compromise represents a far better deal than pursuing a self-defeating pattern of behavior that offers them nothing but aversive outcomes with a highly uncertain prospect of goal attainment.  (p. 262)

True, but since when does logic ever beat conflict? It doesn’t and these authors know it.

As a conflict becomes a primary focus of each party’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, even factors that are irrelevant to the conflict become framed in a way that intensifies or maintains the conflict. It is as though the conflict acts like a gravity well into which the surrounding mental, behavioral, and social-structural landscape begins to slide. Once parties are trapped in such a well, escape requires tremendous will and energy and thus feels impossible. (ibid, my emphasis)

This is EXACTLY why marriage counseling is so difficult. Everything is read through the lens of “He is so controlling,” or “She won’t respect me.”

Why does this happen? On the surface, an intractable conflict might seem to be about land (e.g., Palestinians vs. Israelis) or about ideological solidarity (republicans vs. democrats) or about bald desire for power. In marriage conflict may appear to be about respect, money, or power. But these authors suggest that conflict becomes intractable because the larger system is supported by the conflict and would more or less collapse if peace were to overtake it. Attractors, they say help maintain a coherent view of the world, a way of promoting unequivocal action without hesitation. Truth be told. We like living in a black/white world where our actions are always clear to us and the bad guys are always bad. A word about power. In conflict, we use power to get what we want (via direct use or manipulation). But there are always power differences between parties. Someone always has more power. In couples, one spouse will always want more sex than the other. This isn’t a bad thing. It only becomes bad when either party refuses to accept the differences or show any capacity to be influenced by the other.

When peaceful resolutions take place, it is because a new system has been developed; a new set of values and definers of reality.

How do you implement such a change? You cannot go directly after the thing that maintains the conflict. In other words, don’t say, “You, wife, stop believing your husband doesn’t love you”; or “You, husband, start loving your wife by…” Built into the maintainers of conflict is a strain of resistance. “I know you just did something nice for me but you really are just trying to get on my good side so you can [fill in the blank], but I’m on to you!”

The authors say, and I agree, that, “Attempts to challenge directly the validity or practicality of an attractor for intractable conflict are therefore often doomed to fail and in fact are likely to intensify people’s beliefs and energize their response tendencies.” (p. 273)

Again, how do we deal with these longstanding conflicts? How do we stop seeing the problem as a simple equation (you stink and I’m great) to something more complex (we’re both broken and here’s what I can do to make things better)?

1. Force self to step back to see the complexity of the situation. This sometimes happens when something blows our mind (we act in a way we THOUGHT we never would). To do this we have to believe that the simple answer is easy but ALWAYS wrong and desire to have a more nuanced view of self and other

2. Go back to see previous unity. So, a couple might go back to remember their first love. What affinities did they once have? Can they recover them? Some couples can. From here, they may find the power to fix problems that seem just a wee bit smaller because of a more powerful unifying narrative that was forgotten.

3. Focus on who we want to be in the midst of trials and tribulations. What kind of person do I want to be (that God empowers me to be) come what may?

Notice that only #2 has to work towards maintaining the marriage and living in close quarters. One can develop a more complex and realistic view of the problem (#1) or focus on character development (#3) and still choose to end a violent or destructive relationship. Both also require that we value something greater than self-interest. From a Christian point of view, love must be the reason for all three options–a love given to us by God alone.


Filed under christian counseling, Cognitive biases, conflicts, counseling skills, Desires, marriage, Psychology, Relationships, Uncategorized

Measuring minor victories

One person’s victory is another person’s reminder of failure.

I put my socks on by myself this morning. A minor victory don’t you think? No, not for most of you. Normally–and that word is loaded–I put my socks on every morning without thinking about what I’m doing. However, I hurt my back on Friday afternoon and couldn’t move without help. It hurt to sit, stand, lie down, cough, sneeze or do anything at all. It is amazing how the lumbar muscles connect to just about every other muscle group.

With high doses of anti-inflammatory meds, muscle relaxants, and walking (yes, quite counter-intuitive), I was able to put on my socks by myself by Sunday.

Funny how something we do without thinking one day becomes a huge accomplishment the next day. What changed? My perspective and my standards. If my perspective and standards remain the same, then I don’t view putting on my socks as a minor victory but as sign of continuing failure.

What minor victories do you overlook in your life because your standards and perspective are based on a set of assumptions that no longer fit? What minor victories do you dismiss as meaningless because they don’t seem to make a dent in the progress toward your desired goal? Maybe you handle a difficult situation with grace but because it didn’t turn out well you deem your graciousness to be of little value. Maybe a family member gets up and goes to work despite crushing depression but because they do it without joy, you don’t see the minor victory. Maybe a couple fights without curses and put-downs. Is it yet another minor victory?

This is Thanksgiving week. Let us take special notice of God’s grace and power when we observe minor victories in ourselves and those around us–especially in those areas of chronic struggles.


Filed under christian counseling, Desires

Fantasy vs. Desire?

Been thinking about these two words. How are they related, if at all? Does one precede the other? Do you need the ability to fantasize to build desire? Or vice versa?

The reason why I’m thinking about these words is because I’ve been working on some writing regarding the bible’s take on desire. Fantasy, per se, isn’t discussed in the bible but seems so much a part of desire.

Not to dismiss fantasy, but seems to me that when we fantasize, we passively engage in pleasure-seeking. But when we talk about desire, we often think about active attempts to satiate desire.

Any clarifying thoughts?


Filed under Desires

Expectations and the will

We’ve been thinking a bit about expectations this week. Now, when our expectations fail to be met, we have a couple of less than optimal options;

1. Slide toward despair and anger. A passive response to not getting what we hoped for.

2. Find new ways to get what we expect or want (and, if necessary, justify our actions in case others think we are selfish).

On this second point, my pastor preached last Sunday on Judges 18 (The tribe of Dan looking for a reason to take a land not offered them by God). He listed several ways (tongue in cheek) we can become good syncretists (having the appearance of Christianity but operating on unbiblical principles). They are worth repeating as we may find that we actively seek to justify willful behavior so that we get what we want. I don’t have his list in front of me so I’m going on memory here:

1. Start going after what you want but then on the way ask God if he’s going to bless what you are doing

2. When you get an answer, be sure to read any ambiguity as supporting your own interests. Don’t consider that the person telling you that God is favoring you might be off his rocker (the priest was not following the Law because he was allowing Micah to have idols as well).

3. When you see that you can be successful at grabbing something not yours, assume that success means that God is in it. Assume might makes right.

4. If a better deal comes along (the priest or seeming success of Micah and his idols), assume the better deal is a good idea and grab all you can.

My pastor did a better job with these and I’m not doing justice here to his creativity but I do find that it is so easy for me to justify my expectations, find ways to fulfill them–even if I know God is not in it. Some examples I see from others:

1. Justifying rage towards children because they are rebellious

2. Justifying sexual sin because God wants me to be happy

3. Justifying overeating/undereating because celebration is good/too many people overindulge

4. Justifying withholding love because others aren’t doing their fair share

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Cognitive biases, conflicts, deception, Desires, Psychology, self-deception, Uncategorized

Evaluating your life: Are you satisfied?

If you are in the Eastern part of of the US, you probably got an opportunity to feel some warmth, shed some layers, and see small signs of Spring. Its hard not to feel just a little less dismal about life. So, in honor of impending Spring, I’m going to post a few times this week about the continuous evaluations we make about life and their impact on our experience and feelings about said life.

Are you satisfied?

Just how would you go about answering that question? The very idea of satisfaction brings up many questions. What does satisfaction look and feel like? How does it differ from peace, hope, joy, contentment, etc.? Is it a feeling? A conclusion? What areas of life are we talking about?

Despite these many questions, part of the curse of living in Western culture is that we are taught to obsessively evaluate our lives and question if we are getting all that is available to us. (I’ve written in the past about tendency for individuals in my program to rate their optimism high but their happiness low–a sign of discontentment but hope for the future).

Of course, repeated evaluations generally lead to a sense of missing out on some important part of life (isn’t that what advertising is all about?)

What lack do you use to evaluate your life?

Most of us know we lack something that many others have. We may indeed have many good things–things that others would grab in a heartbeat. But those things we take for granted while we ruminate on what we wish for. “If only I had…then I would be able to…”

What is on your list? Home ownership? Education? Sex? Being pursued by someone? Children? Successful career? How does the lack you perceive you have shape your sense of life satisfaction? What does it cause you to ignore (or diminish) in your life that is blessing you?

Changing the criteria

If you have ever travelled to a part of the world where it is obvious that you are wealthy in comparison, you know that such an experience immediately changes your focus and evaluation. You see immense blessings. You feel guilty for spending 3 bucks on a coffee when someone in front of you hasn’t eaten for 3 days.

So, what might you use this week to change your focus? How might you look more at what you have rather than put your hopes in what you do not have but want so very much? How is God sustaining and enriching your life even though a desire you have (quite possibly a very holy desire) has not been satisfied?

Concluding thought

Satisfaction is not some higher plane of life; a nirvana. It happens in fleeting moments. We live with unmet desire but also with opportunities for pleasure and contentment. Challenge yourself to notice satisfying moments and take pleasure in them by engaging in thankful meditation.


Filed under christian psychology, Christianity, church and culture, Cultural Anthropology, Desires, Mindfulness

Great illustration of the strength of addiction

Am reading CS Lewis’ The Silver Chairagain (my least favorite of the Narnia chronicles). If you’ve not read it, it tells the story of the King Caspian’s son, Prince Rilian, and his escape from the underworld by the help of two British children and a Marshwiggle. Prince Rilian has been captured by a witch who keeps him insane and believing that he was rescued by her and that she will put him on a throne soon in the overworld. He stays sane except for an hour when he is bound to a silver chair at which point he comes to and know who he is and that the evil witch murdered his mother.

The children and the marshwiggle help him escape the chair while he is sane. He turns on the chair with a sword and shreds it to pieces. At that moment, he has all the clarity of sane thinking and sees reality as it really is. But moments later, the witch returns and begins to cloud his mind with a soothing music, voice and something thrown on the fire. Within minutes they begin to doubt the truth and believe that what is bad is good and what is good is only a fantasy. They disbelieve Aslan, the sun. The Overworld is fantasy and the underworld is the true world.

Now, this story is not about addiction but it reminded me how quickly we can move from seeing the abomination of an addictive habit to beginning to believe it might not be so bad. The addict “repents” from the consequences of their action only to fall right back because the siren song has their number.

Do you notice this in your life about irritability, rage, jealousy, substances, food, internet sex? It doesn’t have to be a traditional addiction, just something that we find ourselves telling (to ourselves) those sweet little lies.


Filed under addiction, christian counseling, christian psychology, Desires, self-deception, sin

God’s response to a people addicted to evil

Later this week I’ll be speaking at CCEF’s Annual Conference about addiction (more to come on that tomorrow) and so lately I’ve been thinking about sin and addiction.

It is common for Christian folk stuck in repetitive sin to move away from God. Why? There are a variety of reasons but often they include overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, and a desire to fix the problem through some sort of penance. But when individuals suffer from being sinned against, they are much more likely to go to God and talk to him about it.

With that in mind, I went to church yesterday and heard a sermon by our pastor on Judges 4-5 (The Deborah/Barak/Sisera story). And Pastor Traylor made this point,

Israel brought their oppression on themselves by their own idolatry. Yes, the king of Caanan was the oppressor but the cause was their own foolishness and evil inclination. What do they do? It seems that after 20 years of oppression, they cry to the Lord and he provides, yet again, a rescuer. This pattern is evident throughout Scripture but nowhere clearer than in the book of Judges. Sinners return to God, cry out for mercy and rescue, and God hears and delivers.

What if we were to cry out for deliverance much quicker? When we are righteously suffering it seems easy to do. But when we know we have fallen away, we find it much harder.

Do you suffer from the consequences of repetitive sin? Turn to God the second after to seek his deliverance. Continue that pattern (in an honest fashion) and you will discover that God provides the way of escape BEFORE you give in to that temptation.

We need to beat it into our heads that God wants us to turn to him even when we sin. The illustrations are numerous that we are loved by a pursuing God. Unfortunately, we also see that we are very committed to covering up our brokenness. Let us remember it is a losing battle. We will not be able to cover up for ever…

May God have mercy and deliver us from evil.


Filed under addiction, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Desires, self-deception

Hating the desire for intimacy

In prep for a presentation next week I have been reviewing Dan Allender’s”The Wounded Heart.” While I’m not a fan of his approach in this book (it’s too much at once for those with PTSD), I do think he has many, many nuggets of truth. Here’s one on p. 41:

Let me state an important observation: I have never worked with an abused man or woman who did not hate or mistrust the hunger for intimacy. In most victims, the essence of the battle is a hatred of their hunger for love and a strong distaste for any passion that might lead to a vulnerable expression of desire….The enemy, or so it feels, is the passion to be lovingly pursued and nourishingly touched by a person whose heart is utterly disposed to do us good. Such people (if they exist at all) are rare; it is therefore easier to hate the hunger than to wait expectantly for the day of satisfaction.

I see this love/hate/fear theme in many troubled marriages–even those where abuse is absent. When we desire this nourishment from someone “utterly disposed to do us good” and then continually wake to the realization that the person we married is not–no, cannot–disposed to do us good in the way we dream, we often feel rejected and invalidated because it seems to us the person is holding out on us. In response to these fears, we have one of several choices:

  1. Demand/pursue via criticism, complaint, accusation, suggestion, etc. that the person give what they are withholding: perfect validation and intimacy
  2. Withdraw into coldness, self-hatred, workaholism, fantasy, etc. to avoid the intimacy that is present in the marriage because it is not what we think it should be
  3. Actively pursue the dream of intimacy with others, or
  4. Daily die to the dream that the other will make us fully secure and happy WHILE continuing to offer unconditional intimacy, support, validation of the other in order to better provide sacrificial love AND yet still communicating (without demand) clearly our requests for how the other can love us well or what behaviors they should stop that are hurtful.

As you can see the 4th is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit. The first 3 are much easier choices. They require less of us and maintain our all/nothing view of self and the world. The truth is we can only approach the 4th position if we place our trust in God to sustain us in a broken world. And therein lies the problem. It is hard for us humans to trust an unseen God, especially when our experience with the seen world tells us that love is conditional, that we are not valued, etc.

What’s the answer then? There is no one answer. But am I willing today to do one thing where I trust the Lord and show love/civility to the other as a creature made in the image of God. If I can answer yes, then I need to find another human being (since we are made for community) to help me discern what that love might look like today (hint: it may not look anything like what my spouse thinks it should look like).


Filed under Abuse, Anxiety, christian counseling, christian psychology, Communication, conflicts, Desires, Great Quotes, love, marriage, Relationships