helping people connect & discover true intimacy

Abracadabra. . . Presto-Chango!
The truth about change in our lives

Everyone who comes to see me wants a change. Something (usually a relationship) isn't working and they want it to be different. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all we had to do was say a few magic words, wave a wand and—POOF—everything would be as it should be? But the truth is that change takes time.

The other truth is that we usually want to change the way we feel. For example, we may feel angry or sad or ashamed by what someone has said or done. We don't want to feel those things, so we want that person to change. But we are only given the power by God to decide who or what controls us. We can't change what controls others.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

So often when I'm counseling a couple with marital problems, I inevitably hear something like: "When me husband does 'this' it really makes me feel insecure. If only he would do 'that' then I be okay, then I would be happy and feel good about myself." "If only my wife would support me, be behind me and build me up, then I'd feel sure of myself." In other words, both are saying, "If only my spouse would change then I would be different."

It's not the responsibility of a spouse to fix or correct the image of the other. God didn't create marriage to correct our image problems. Marriage, or any relationship for that matter, doesn't solve image problems—it reveals them. These image distortions are revealed to an increasing degree as we enter into relationships with greater potential for intimacy. The closer we get, the more our distorted images are brought out.

What you think about yourself and how you respond in relationships is based on the image you formed as a child. We develop a picture of ourselves from our significant relationships—our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches-our environment and the circumstances we experience. The image we form is distorted because it's not based on something totally pure and true. Even though we are made in God's image, we can't get in touch with that perfect image. So we develop our image from other "Adams" who are imperfect.

What does that mean for us? Since we are born in Adam—fallen—our senses are not controlled by God, but by the things in this world. This means we can't trust that the information we gather from our senses is necessarily true. That includes the image we hold of ourselves. We make conclusions based on what we perceive to be true. Many of us go through life either trying to disprove our image or live up to an image that isn't true of us.

The Process of Change

So, how do we change? Well, let me start by saying that we shouldn't try to change the way we feel, only the way we think about the way we feel. What we feel is what we feel. We should never deny or ignore our feelings. But our thinking may not be true or biblical.

Remember, our past experiences made us feel something. If we didn't like how we felt, we then avoided that which would make us feel that way again. This is a protection mechanism. Now let's say, that as an adult, a situation evokes those same feelings in us and we act on it as we always had in the past. Once again we want to avoid the hurt or pain or shame. But what if we were only anticipating the hurt? If we try to avoid a hurt that may not occur, we might shut ourselves off from love.

Lori's* past was filled with bad decisions and bad relationships. She had been hurt many times. Lori has feelings of shame associated with intimacy stored in her memory bank. She had never believed she was loved. A few years ago she met a wonderful man—they dated and married. Then the problems really started.

While she is now in an appropriate relationship with a man who dearly loves her, those early feelings are frequently triggered and she's thrown into focusing on the shame and pain. If she dwells on those negative feelings, she will shut out her husband. Many times she tries to "forget" by turning to alcohol.

As she relates her struggle with these feelings with me, I bring her to the truth. Her husband did not hurt her and she can't act now as if he will. She must trust him when he says he loves her. When the negative feelings arise, she shouldn't try to deny or drown them. She must take those feelings and hold them up to God's truth.

So, you want to change something about you or your relationship? If your goal is to eliminate your contradictory feelings, you'll fail. To some degree, those contradictory feelings may never go away. I know because I've still got them. The goal is to focus on the truth and then act on it. Allow God to meet your needs His way. Let Him define your image as a man or a woman, not some past experiences. He is actually replacing the false image we have of ourselves through the retraining and renewing of our senses and our minds (Heb. 5:14 and Rom. 12:2). Know that the only power you are given by God is to know who or what is controlling you—you have no power to change anything about anyone else.

As we face your feelings about ourselves and our relationships, God is faithful to reveal more and more of how distorted our image is to the one we were created in (2 Cor. 3:18). He will show us the truth about ourselves. Through His strength we can let go of the things we used for protection but only separate us from the ones we really want to know. Where there is freedom to be ourselves in relationships, true intimacy can flourish.

*not her real name

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