Stanley: Sex is Easy—Not Easy are Relationships; Be the Right Person

Stanley_LSD_03032015Andy Stanley. 2014. The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Life has become increasingly complicated in the new millennium, in part, because American culture has thrown out “the rule book”. Some blame the pill; some blame the feminists; some blame the media.  Whoever you blame, the irony is that the emotional and financial costs of broken relationships have never been higher.

In his new book, The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating, Andy Stanley writes:

“I’m not all that interested in why things are the way they are.  I’m more interested in helping you navigate the way things are. My purpose in writing is to increase your relational satisfaction” (14).

Fair enough. But then Stanley then offers a rather rare insight:

“I’ve met with many struggling married couples who would describe themselves as having ‘marriage problems.’ But in all my years I’ve never talked to a married couple that actually had a marriage problem. What I have discovered is that people with problems get married and their problems collide. What was manageable as a single person eventually becomes unmanageable within the context of marriage” (20).

Wow.  Instead of looking for that perfect person to solve all your problems, Stanley says—hey, look in the mirror![1]

Andy Stanley is a pastor who does not sound or write like a pastor. He describes himself as a communicator, author, and pastor and founder of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. His book is written in 10 chapters, including:

  1. The Right Person Myth;
  2. Commitment is Overrated;
  3. Becoming the Right Person;
  4. So Becoming;
  5. Love Is;
  6. Gentleman’s Club;
  7. The Way Forward;
  8. The Talk;
  9. Designer Sex; and
  10. If I were You (7-8).

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction.  They are followed by conclusions, notes, and a small group discussion guide.  A DVD video study is also available.

This is a book filled with a lot of wisdom.  For example, Stanley’s discussion of 1 Corinthians 13 in chapter 5 is priceless—he describes it as your list of suggestions on becoming the person that you would want to meet (76).  One item on this list is patience:  Love is patient (1 Cor 13:4). Stanley notes that impatience is an emotion, not a decision, and patience does not come naturally.  We all have a natural pace and get angry when others don’t go along.  Stanley explains that love means deferring to someone else’s pace—in time, space, and margin—just as much as they need (79).

Summarizing all the wisdom would be hard. The cliff notes version of Stanley’s advice is found in chapter 10 which he describes as the “hard sell”.

Stanley knows his audience.  He starts this chapter by repeating a challenge that he made earlier: “Beginning today, take a year off from all romantic and sexual pursuits” (170). This is the hard sell part. Bad habits take two weeks to break;  psychiatrists tell us that addictions are forever—abstinence is the only prescription that truly works.  Bad sexual habits fall somewhere in-between a bad habit and an addiction.  While this might sound like a high price to pay for moral clarity, but the life you save may be your own[2].

Stanley suggests that you spend this year off doing some important things…working to become yourself the kind of person that you would want to meet.  He suggests 5 things:

  1. Address your past—face up to your issues;
  2. Break some bad habits (substance abuse, bad attitudes, poor fashion choices…);
  3. Set some standards—how far is too far?
  4. Get out of Debt—don’t expect to dump debt on a potential spouse; and
  5. Go (back) to church—hang out in the right place (172).

Remember the mirror mentioned earlier?  You cannot change someone else but you can change yourself and become someone that your Mr/Ms perfect might actually want to meet.

This is not a preachy book, but it is an in-your-face book.  Although my wife, Maryam, and I have been married for 30 years, I was already 30 when I got married.  In other words, I was single for a long time—it seemed like forever at the time.  Reading Stanley’s book back then would have saved me a lot of pain.  In today’s social context where learning how to engage in healthy relationships can no longer be learned by osmosis and errors are costly, how does one intentionally learn the lessons needed?

Buy and read this book. Single or not, you will be glad you did.

 

[1] Stanley writes:  “ever purchase something from a big box retailer and open the box to find a card that reads something along these lines?  If this product is defective or a piece is missing, do not return to the place of purchase.  Instead, contact us at 1-800-ITS-YOUR-FAULT.” (59)

[2] The leading cause of suicide among young people is a broken relationship.

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Silk Shares Wisdom About Relationships

Silk_review_07302016Danny Silk. 2013. Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication, and Boundaries. Sacramento: Loving On Purpose[1] (publisher).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The intrusion of technology into our lives has increased the time spent interacting with machines and reduced the time spent interacting with people. Because developing healthy relationships take time, the reallocation of time away from development of healthy relationships has contributed to declining civility and increasing violence, both at home and in public places. Against this rather bleak environment, an emerging role for the church in these postmodern times has been to teach the basic relational and social skills that can no longer be assumed to exist: enter Danny Silk.

In his book, Keep Your Love On, Danny Silk starts by writing:

“I wrote this book to help people build, strengthen, and heal their relational connections.” (11)

Silk sees three themes as components of healthy relationships—connection, communication, and setting boundaries (12)—and he structures his book around these three themes. Let me turn to each of these themes in turn.

Connection. Silk starts his discussion of connection by distinguishing powerful people from powerless people, writing:

“You need to be a powerful person. Powerful people take responsibility for their lives and choices. Powerful people choose who they want to be with, what they are going to pursue in life, and how they are going to go after it.” (20)

Being powerful is important in relationship because:

“A healthy, lasting relationship can only be built between two people who choose one another and take full responsibility for that choice.” (20)

Powerless people are driven by fear and anxiety in making choices and look to other people to fill in for their perceived lack of power (21-24); powerful people realize that they can only control themselves and do not look to others to solve their problems (25). Consequently, it is powerless people who feel a need to role-play as victims, villains, or rescuers (23), because these roles focus on sharing power that powerless people feel they lack, as Silk writes:

“Powerless people use various tactics, such as getting upset, withdrawing, nagging, ridiculing, pouting, crying, or getting angry, to pressure, manipulate, and punishing one another into keeping their pact” [in being victims, villains, or rescuers] (24).

Real love is a challenge for powerless people because being deeply insecure in themselves they approach relationships as consumers (21) who have trouble being full partners in relationships … Obviously, a lot more can be said about the subject of connection and relationships.

Communication. Silk sees communication as a transaction between the inner and outer life, citing Jesus:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 ESV; 81)

Silk sees powerful people insisting on assertive communication where: “My thoughts, feelings, and needs matter and so do yours” (86), not motivated by fear. Powerless people are governed by fear, trying “to hide what is really going on inside” (81), not able or willing to communicate on an equal basis. Instead, powerless people adopt a passive communication style (you matter, I don’t), an aggressive style (I matter, you don’t), or a passive aggressive style (you matter, but not really) (82-84).

Silk offers some helpful advice on dealing with these three powerless, communication styles:

“A powerful assertive communicator responds to a passive person with, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ They respond to an aggressive person with, ‘I can only talk with you when you decide to be respectful.’ And they respond to a passive aggressive person with, ‘We can talk later when you choose to be responsible and tell me what is really going on.’” (87)

Clearly, not everyone starts out as an assertive communicator—Silk himself admits that he started out as a passive communicator married to an aggressive communicator. Because he had to learn to be an assertive communicator paying attention to the needs of others, there is hope for the rest of us.

Boundaries. Silk begins his discussion of boundaries by observing:

“…not everyone should have the same access to you. You are responsible to manage different levels of intimacy, responsibilities, influence, and trust with people in your life.” (124)

Silk starts by recounting several stories about Christians who did not understand this issue of levels of intimacy and counters these stories by observing that “Jesus prioritized certain relationships over others”, as in (most intimate) =>God the Father=>John=>Peter, James, and John=> the twelve disciples=>other disciples=>spectators=>everyone else (125).  He goes on to state:

“I love lots of people through my ministry. I counsel them, pray with them, laugh with them, and cry with them. But that’s it. They don’t get the bulk of my time, attention, or money. They don’t get to know my heart and influence my decisions. After our few hours together, I leave those people at church and go home to my family and close friends.” 128-129)

This insight into Silk’s own relationships might come as a shock to many Christians who have trouble establishing such priorities and maintaining them, especially Silk’s comment about the “God-spot” (126), reserved only for God—not spouse, not work, not kids, not political causes, and so on. You get the idea—if not, remember how the Ten Commandments start out:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exod 20:2-6)

Danny Silk’s book, Keep Your Love On, is an important resource for church groups, readable, and interesting. Before I had finished the first 20 pages, I started thinking of all the people that I would like to share this book with, especially newlyweds and family members. Read it; discuss it; share it. You will be glad that you did.

[1] http://www.LovingOnPurpose.com.

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Unprepared


ShipOfFools_web_07292016“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;

nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:39)

Unprepared

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In graduate school, I met and dated quite a few women, particularly during my time at Cornell University. Ironically, Cornell had just gone “co-ed” during my time there so the girls I met were often quite choosy and many guys I knew had very little success dating. But since my definition of success was developing a more permanent relationship, my frustration with dating grew to be a major theme because the women I dated did not seem to value relationship, except within limited bounds. Offering a 100 percent commitment and finding a 20 percent commitment being offered in return left me feeling used and abused.

Commitment, of course, meant that I needed to make some adjustments—expecting to meet “miss right” meant that I had to become “mister right”. In the 1970s as now, “mister right” had to have the financial capacity to support a family and not everyone was willing to date someone with great expectations. With rapid inflation, high energy prices, and a deteriorating job market, my economics training suggested that the package for “miss right” also needed now to include a serious career, which suggested that dating attractive younger women was risky because a serious career required more commitment than many people—male or female—were willing to invest.

Those women willing to invest the time and energy in a career expressed less interest in men and had much higher expectations, which posed a real problem in dating. The problem was simple—career expectations for men were going down with a weak economy and competition from women while the expectations of attractive women with career potential of eligible men were going up. If women’s expectations were unrealistically high because of the historically unique nature of this problem, then the dating market need not yield a solution—a disconnect would emerge.[1]

This disconnect was obvious to me from the quirky responses I received from American women that I dated. One woman I dated broke up with me because she wanted to spend more time with the rowing team; another women who I dated was still in the process of divorce; still another wanted to meet me and bring along half-a-dozen friends from her department; another was engaged but wanted just to hang out with me until she got married. By the time I left Cornell, I resolved not to date American women because of all the relational confusion and the pain that it caused. It was simply much easier to date foreign students who were more committed to and conventional in their relational expectations.

During the late 1970s, I had a serious relationship (more than a year) with a foreign student—let me call her Betsy (not her name) and let me be vague about time and place and nationality so that I can speak more freely. Betsy and I worked hard to find a financial path to marriage while continuing our education. While that path never materialized, another problem emerged to threw our relationship in disarray.

This disarray began when Betsy and I traveled to her hometown to visit her mother, where Betsy put me up for the night with a friend. In the morning when Betsy came to pick me up, she looked like someone who had been beaten up—unkept and shaken—and she had been. At this point, she shared with me that she was an only child and her mother had had her at a young age out of wedlock; her untimely birth caused a scandal so her parents never married; and in the years that followed her mother became an alcoholic and blamed Betsy for all her troubles. When her mother learned that Betsy was dating an American, she went nuts and beat her up—as a consequence, my introduction to mom never took place.

Unprepared to deal with physical abuse and alcoholism, I quietly freaked out. I had never the financial nor the emotional resources to offer Betsy the shelter she needed. I was no use at all—useless, helpless, and unable to process what was happening. I offered her the support that I could, but I was clearly out of my league, having hit my emotional threshold. Sheltered in family and church, I had never learned to deal with abuse, addiction, or a chronic illness—the bandwidth on my empathy was too limited and I withdrew emotionally. Over the next few months, our relationship melted away, like an ice cream cone left too long in the sun, and we eventually broke up.

In my shame, I started reading about alcoholism, especially Howard Clinebell’s Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic (1978). I learned to recognize the signs of alcoholism, some of the contributing factors, and the spiritual nature of the problem. More than simply learning the details of the problem and of various groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, that have attempted to deal with it, I gained an appreciation for the need to study brokenness before attempting to deal with it—a lesson which has served me well over the years. Clinebell’s book was the first counseling book that I ever read; interestingly, it is still in use and is considered a classic in counseling addicts.

The spiritual side of alcoholism is well known. For me, the story of Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane is most instructive—when we are faced with a difficult pain or decision, do we turn to God in our hour of need or do we turn into our pain? If we turn to God, our faith is strengthened and he promises to walk with us through our afflictions; if we turn into our pain, then we are easily deceived into thinking that our drugs of choice—food, liquor, sex, work, or narcotics—are part of the solution, not part of the problem. This confusion over problems and solutions means that the alcoholic cannot be helped until this twisted thinking is exposed for what it is—Satan’s bondage.

While I was never myself an alcoholic, alcoholism runs in parts of my mother’s family, which suggests that I may be genetically predisposed. Since this experience I have felt fortunate to have learned enough about the problem of alcoholism in time to learn to avoid it—not everyone I know has been so fortunate. During this period of my life, I began avoiding hard liquor and, significantly, I made a serious effort to enter the mission field, applying for a position in Latin America with the Reformed Church of America.

Reference

Clinebell, Howard J. Jr. 1978. Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic: Through Religion and Psychology. Nashville: Abingdon.

[1] Evidence of this disconnect between the expectations of men and women was everywhere to be seen, but it was most obvious in the high divorce rates during this period. Many of my male colleagues in graduate school had married their high school sweet-hearts who supported them both financially and emotionally during graduate school only to divorce on graduation—evidence that the guys were taking advantage of their new earning power to divorce.

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1 Corinthians 7: Don’t Be Anxious

Maryam and Stephen Hiemstra, 1984
Maryam and Stephen Hiemstra, 1984

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (v16)

Do you believe in salvation?

Because my father married at age 21, I spent of most of my 20s anxious that I had missed the boat.  My consolation was that my grandfather married at age 28.

My anxiety was misplaced.  For example, in my first visit to a lock-down, psychiatric ward in college, I was shocked to run into the president of my senior class in high school—I was not there to visit her!  Two years out of high school, she had had two children and attempted suicide when her husband divorced her.  While I envied my peers in graduate school who were married, many of them were divorced only a few years later.  By the time I married at age 30, many of the people I knew had been divorced and remarried one or more times.

The Apostle Paul seems aware of this problem of unstable relationships and advises us not to be anxious about our marital status.  He writes:  Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called (v 20).  Elsewhere, he advises:  I wish that all were as I myself am [single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another (v 7).  Do you think of your marital status as a gift of God?

Paul expands on this thought.  Before God, neither male nor female, neither circumcised nor un-circumcised, neither slave nor free, counts for anything (vv 17-22).  In case you were thinking Paul was having a bad hair day, he repeats this point in Galatians 3:28.  Why is Paul adamant about this issue?  He gives at least 2 reasons:

  • For the present form of this world is passing away (v 31).  In other words, don’t be rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titantic!
  • But the married man [woman] is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife [her husband], and his [her] interests are divided (vv 33-34).
Balance
Balance

In fact, Paul maintains a balanced view of relationships, not favoring the married or the single (vv 7-9), the man or the woman (v 4).  He also gives his motivation for this balanced view:  I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (v 35).

This brings us back to the question about salvation.  If your identity is in Christ and you sincerely believe in salvation, then it will bear fruit in your relationships.  For example, how patient are you?  Are you willing to wait on God’s timing for your marriage?

Paul sees marriage as a formative institution instituted by God himself.  It is interesting that the Kellers[1] describe the Bible as a book that begins with a wedding! Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24 ESV). It is interesting that Jesus’ first miracle was saving a wedding (John 2) and the book of Revelations reaches a climax in the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelations 19:9). God cares about marriage: it was His idea!

If marriage is instituted by God, then how is it formative?  It is formative because spouses care about the health and well-being of their spouses.  What is one of the signs that the person you are dating is serious about your relationship?  They start working on your bad habits—if you smoke, they ask you to stop—that kind of thing.  In marriage God gives us someone who cares enough to tell us things we do not want to hear.

The photograph above is of my wife, Maryam, and I when we were engaged.  We will celebrate our 30th anniversary in November.

[1]Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011.  The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton. page 13.

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