Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage

As a marriage counselor, I highly recommend the new book from NavPress titled Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage by Michael and Chuck Misja. This book offers real hope to everyone who is married. In fact, while it is a good title, I am afraid some people will say, “My marriage isn’t difficult, so this isn’t the book for me.” And that would be a shame, because this book has a lot to say to every married person. In a sense, every married person is in a difficult marriage. I say that as a man who is happily married and would never choose anyone else as my wife. But if both parties to the marriage are truly alive, fully engaged with their intellects, emotions, and wills, there will be difficulty. You’re going to clash. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed, you have a bad marriage, it’s just the reality of relationships. It can add richness to your marriage, in fact, if you see differences as a blessing. To paraphrase Ruth Graham, if we both agree on everything one of us is unnecessary.

What I appreciate so much about Thriving Despite is that it keeps the focus where it should be, on me and my own sinful heart in the context of my marriage. Most Christian marriage books are focused on “how do I manipulate my partner into the behavior I want so that all my needs are met and I feel happy and fulfilled.” Of course, they’re not so blatant about it, but when you boil it down, that’s really what they’re saying.

The Misja brothers define the problem of difficult marriages like this:

“Simply put:

  • Your spouse does not offer what you long to receive.
  • He or she does not ask of you what you desire to give.
  • Consequently, you suffer the pain of disappointment.

    Your basic problem is:
  • You have difficulty keeping your heart alive and good in the face of ongoing, painful disappointment.”

    Now you might read what I’ve written so far and think, “They sound pretty uncaring. It doesn’t sound like they offer any hope at all.” The truth is that they come across in the book as very caring, and the effect of what they say is to offer the only true hope we really have (or need): no matter what happens to me in this life, including in my marriage, God will be with me and he offers personal change, deep joy, and a richness of life even in the midst of my pain.

    Of course, there are very tragic things that happen in marriages, including affairs and abuse, and the Misja brothers deal very thoughtfully and carefully with this.

    Here is a thought-provoking excerpt from the last page of Chapter One:

    “What If:

    You believed God was less concerned with whether or not your needs were being met and more concerned with the state of your heart?

    You were able to give up all efforts to become happy by trying to
    change your spouse?

    You no longer desired to show your spouse how poorly you are
    being loved?

    You had the capacity to accept your spouse as he or she is and have a lifestyle of forgiveness?

    You knew God’s grace in a way that freed you from guilt and shame
    so you could honestly explore the ways you don’t love well?

    You believed in God’s love for you so deeply that you were confident you could love strongly and wisely no matter what?

    You committed to finding purpose and passion for life that didn’t
    depend on your spouse’s response or approval?

    Your heart was no longer characterized by bitterness, despair, pride, or apathy?

    You were able to disengage from the destructiveness of your marriage while developing a desire to constructively engage in what was God-honoring?

    Sample from Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage / ISBN 9781600062148
    Copyright © 2009 NavPress Publishing. All rights reserved.

    I hope I’ve whetted your appetite to buy and read the entire book. If I haven’t here are a couple more things to try to accomplish that:

    A link from NavPress to a PDF of the first chapter of the book:

    A link to their Focus on the Family interview on March 19 and 20 (scroll down the left side to Web Exclusives):

Monday, March 9, 2009

Daisy Chain

Mary DeMuth has done it again. I read her previous novels, Watching the Tree Limbs and Wishing on Dandelions, and fell in love with her writing. As good as those books are, and they are very good, she has surpassed them with her latest novel, Daisy Chain.

Mary states that she wrote the book “after having some significant conversations with a friend whose parent appeared like an upstanding Christian leader in public, but abused behind closed doors.” If that is your story—suffering at the hands of someone who put on a good front in public—or describes someone you know, you will want to read this book. Unfortunately, many of us know someone who appears one way in public but is very different out of the public view. Perhaps I’m jaded by my job as a counselor, but I think there are a lot of people out there who’ve suffered this way, but not all of them share their stories. As a counselor, I appreciate Mary’s willingness to tackle difficult subject matter. In Daisy Chain she does it in a way that you feel both pain and hope. There’s no saccharin here but there is redemption, and a feeling that there is more redemption yet to come.

In Daisy Chain Mary tells the story of Jed Pepper, a fourteen year-old boy whose father is a pastor and an abuser. Jed’s best friend, Daisy Chance, has disappeared, and Jed thinks it’s his fault, a notion that several, including his father, do not try to dispel. The whole thing leads to deeper confusion for Jed, leaving him wondering: Who is telling the truth? Who can I trust? Can God be trusted? Mary’s rich description of and faithfulness to her characters, along with a bone-chilling mystery, keep you turning the pages. It’s one of those put everything off so you can read, I’ll-do-the-taxes-later-the-laundry-can-wait-and-two-more-nights-of-fast-food-won’t-be-that-bad, kind of books.

I love hearing people’s stories. As a counselor I’ve found that most people minimize their stories. I’ve heard terrible things accompanied by, “it was nothing, no big deal.” I want to help people honor their stories and to grasp how their story fits into the grand story of redemption that God is telling. In Daisy Chain Mary puts a couple of good friends around Jed who glimpse the larger story. The single most breathtaking moment in the book for me was when one of Jed’s friends was talking about a mural scene another friend painted, and the scene was a winding path with deep ditches on either side. “One ditch is our full-fisted rebellion. The other, she said, is our response to someone else’s rebellion. She told me, ‘The Devil couldn’t care less which ditch we fall into, he just wants us off the road.’” That caused me to lay the book aside for a few moments and consider the ways I’ve responded to ones who have hurt me. Too many times I’ve gone into the ditch. I’m feeling challenged even as I write this to leave others in God’s hand and concentrate on what he wants to do in my own heart.

I said earlier that if your story is like Jed’s you’ll want to read this book. I must say, though, that even if your family was closer to The Waltons you should still read this book. It’s a great story, and we all have something more to learn about suffering and redemption, the confusion it all brings, and God’s role in it. I don’t know what is yet to happen for Jed (Daisy Chain is first of a trilogy) but he’s found a place in my heart and I am looking forward to learning from him.

And by the way, sometimes people can be awfully weighed down by the secrets they carry. It’s often helpful just to tell someone. Mary has created an anonymous blog for people to share painful secrets. It is at