Monday, July 26, 2010

Moral Living: An Essential Ingredient for Peace of Mind

When we discuss how to live a joyous and fulfilled life, we often overlook the essentials. In her introduction to Against Therapy, Dorothy Rowe writes,

• David Small, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Nottingham University, head of Clinical Psychological services at Nottingham University, and once a practicing psychotherapist, has proposed an alternative to therapy in his book Taking Care. He wrote, ‘Psychological distress occurs for reasons which make it incurable by therapy but which are certainly not beyond the powers of human beings to influence. We suffer pain because we do damage to each other, and we shall continue to suffer pain as long as we continue to do damage. The way to alleviate and mitigate distresses is for us to take care of the world and the other people in it, not to treat them. (Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Against Therapy (Monroe, Maine, Common Courage Press, 1994), 21-22.)

These principles are probably best illustrated within the context of marriage. In this regard, it is interesting to see how the leading names in marriage counseling are counseling couples according to the very principles found in Scripture! Whereas psychotherapists had been jumping on the communication-techniques bandwagon as the means to address marital conflict, now they are returning to the concepts of love and respect. John M. Gottman, professor of psychology and cofounder of The Gottman Institute writes,

• The typical conflict-resolution advice won’t help. Instead, you need to understand the bottom-line difference that is causing the conflict between you—and learn how to live with it by honoring and respecting each other. (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York, Three Rivers Press, 1999), 24.)

Gottman claims that a year after the average couple graduates from a standard course of conflict resolution training, only 18% retain any benefit from it (10). This represents far smaller percentage than those marriages which spontaneously improve. Marriage guru, Harville Hendrix, similarly writes,

• Feel more loving toward each other simply by engaging in more loving behaviors…The husbands and wives are to grant each other a certain number of these caring behaviors a day, no matter how they feel about each other.

The type of “other-centeredness” that Gottman and Hendrix advocate can certainly jump-start a languishing relationship. However, in the long run, more is needed. Loving you mate can be hard work! Besides, if we’re just giving in order to get, the getting will eventually dry up along with the giving. In fact, there may be long periods when we’re not going to see the payoff! This is why it requires quite an effort, driven by deeply held convictions, to keep it going. Our focus must rest upon our spouse’s needs. But how do we do this when our own needs go unmet?

Larry Crabb explains that this “humanistic foundation” sets us up for failure by placing the emphasis upon meeting our own needs. Instead, if we are going to continue to act lovingly towards our mate, we need a true other-centeredness based upon the conviction that it’s right to do so even if we aren’t getting what we want from the relationship. And we will not be able to continue with this type of sacrifice unless we are assured that God is taking care of us, providing seed to the sower (2 Cor. 8:10).

If giving to the mate and going to the marriage counselor is only about getting results, then it isn’t truly giving and it probably won’t bare results over the long-haul. Instead, our mate will perceive our behavior as manipulation—giving to get what we want—a thinly concealed business transaction: “I’m giving to you so that I’ll receive my payments.”

What happens to the guy who brings his wife flowers whenever he wants sex? Eventually, she sees through his manipulation and resents the flowers, which are supposed to be signs of true romance and intimacy, but are no more than payment for services rendered by a body.

What can lift the couple out of self-serving “altruism?” The conviction that their mission is far loftier than the immediate fulfillment of their needs—that they are ambassadors (2 Cor. 2:15; 5:20) of the God of all truth, wisdom, healing, and love and that they belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20)! Consequently, they are no longer the helpless depressive but a servant of Glory (Gal. 2:20).

There are many other psychological needs (forgiveness, humility, contentment, accomplishment, validation, joy, beauty...) we can survey in order to demonstrate how our Lord and His wisdom best address those needs. In contrast, there are numerous counterfeits. Curiously, they provide some relief in the short-run, but as with all drugs, there are hidden costs.

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