Friday, May 27, 2005

The Samson Syndrome

How Strong Men Fall into Lustful Addictions
By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor, Author, Speaker and Life Coach

Sarah woke up from a deep sleep at 3 AM and realized that her husband wasn’t in bed, so she got up to see if he was okay. She was not prepared for what she saw next. Her husband of 27 years, who she respected as a godly man, was sitting in front of their home computer in some sort of “trance” while looking at the most sexually graphic pictures that she had ever seen. “Mark,” she shouted! “What are you doing?” Mark was shocked to see her, but then looked up into the confused eyes of his wife and sobbed out, “I don’t know.”

Sadly this sort of scene is played out every single day in Christian homes. The research shows that there are over 1,000 “adult” pornographic sites added to the internet every week, which are readily available to anyone surfing the web looking for a quick sexual thrill. Sexual addiction is a huge problem in Christian circles. The Christian Men’s group ‘Promise Keepers’ recently did a confidential survey and discovered that 62% of men attending their stadium events listed lust as their number one life problem. Ministries Today magazine reported that 29 % of men who regularly attend church believe that they have a sexual addiction.

This type of struggle is not new. Thousands of years ago the leader of Israel was a man named Samson. You may remember that the bible teaches us in Judges 14 that he was physically stronger than any other man who ever lived, yet would often struggle with the temptation toward sexual behavior with prostitutes and eventually was seduced into captivity by Delilah. He had seen God work miracles in his life; he had been raised in a godly home by godly parents; he knew the ways of the Lord, and although he was by far the strongest man on the battlefield, he never had any strength or victory over his lustful eyes.

Think of it! The strongest man who ever lived was no match for the sexual temptations of his culture. Could the same reasons that plagued Samson thousands of years ago still be the reasons why so many strong men still fall into this addictive area? Let’s look at some of the main issues that led to Mark’s struggle to discover the answers.

The dictionary defines “lust” as sexual desire, often to an intense or unrestrained degree. There is a simple outline to use to see if someone you love is being overwhelmed by lust, with each letter spelling out the behaviors that had slowly taken over Mark’s life leading to his on-line addiction, and may be warning signs for someone in your home as well.

L- Men today are more lonely and “disconnected” than ever before. This loneliness leaves them feeling empty as they realize that they are totally alone in the world. You may remember that when God looked down on Adam in the Garden of Eden, He saw that man was alone and it was not good, so He made a help-mate for him named Eve.

The Bible models the need for relationships in countless ways. From Jonathan & David, to the twelve disciples, to the connected relationship of the Holy Trinity that God the Father has with God the Son and with God the Spirit, we see the need to do things together for comfort, strength and unity. Sadly, in Mark and Sarah’s case, he had become isolated and had pulled away from her, so he was alone more and ore of the time, leading to his “middle of the night” ritual with pornography that almost destroyed his marriage.

  • Think of the men in your life. Are they connected into a relationship with you or with other godly men? If you see significant times of isolation, especially if it involves the computer or television, you need to be aware of the possible temptations and dangers of sexual addiction that lonely men often turn to and then are trapped by.

U- This letter represents the tremendous levels of being unfulfilled that many men feel in their personal or professional life. They don’t know their purpose or life passion, which can be especially challenging during the middle years of life where there is incredible pressure to be successful and financially secure. If a man begins to question his ability to keep up with the expectations of his culture, or his own personal goals or expectations don’t look like they are going to be realized, he begins to give up inside. It is this lack of fulfillment which leads to the desire for something more than he has, something bigger and something fun or exciting to fill the emptiness of his life.

Sexual addictions are often about escaping from inner pain, but equally common is the short-term pleasure associated with these mental fantasies. Whether the on-line searching behavior is driven by pleasure seeking or by escapism or both; the bottom line is that sexual addictions are an attempt to find some relief from pressure. He might feel empty or like a failure over the things that he believes are going wrong in his business, finances, marriage or family so the secretive behavior of on-line porn usage becomes like a quick ‘fix’ to cope with the pressures. It doesn’t last and it only makes a man feel more empty and more like a failure inside, further trapping him into an addictive pattern of sexual addiction.

Mark had tried to forget about the pressure that he felt to financially keep his family and business going, while keeping up with the growing expenses of having kids in college and still trying to plan for his retirement. These were huge financial goals, and though he was stressed he was making it financially, still in the back corner of his mind he though he was a financial failure and it was this ongoing fear which continued to fuel his escapism into pornography to forget about the pressures of his life for a few minutes.

S- Stress is the next warning symptom that can snare men into sexual addictions. Every man has stress of course, but what happens when you don’t deal with the stress at it’s source? Answer- it just gets bigger and bigger and that is what happened in Mark’s case. He had learned to cope with the growing stress and financial pressure in his life by just stuffing it inside. He had learned to simply say that ‘it doesn’t bother me’ or ‘no big deal’ but in reality the stress and pressure was eating him alive inside.

Stuffed emotions are a way of life for many men, but eventually those stuffed feelings will come out, sometimes through an explosion of an angry fit of rage, or sometimes through long periods of a moody or depressive type of brooding behavior. Either way, if a man doesn’t deal with the pressures that are eating away at him, he very likely may end up addicted to porn like Mark.

Attempting to use media images and fantasies to avoid the very real fears, doubts, worries and anxieties a man often faces is only a short term escape anyway since nothing is done to actually deal with or resolve the real problems in life. It’s like the classic General Motors commercial about ‘Mr. Goodwrench’ who says ‘pay me now- or pay me later’. The difference being that with stress you have to ‘Deal with it now, or deal with it later,’ because either way, he is going to have to deal with the real issues in his life and the sooner the better because it’s easier to address before it becomes a life dominating problem.

T- This word in the formula is familiar to most men, because Mark was tired, really, really tired. The years of secret, sexual behavior, which were mostly during the night hours had really taken its toll. He had cheated his body out of sleep for too many years and was totally exhausted most of the time. Face it- tired people are really easy to tempt. Think of the chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer when it is late at night and you have starved all day. The more physically fatigued you are, the more likely you are to do and say things that are impulsive as an attempt to find some relief. Mark knew that he was fatigued and that he hated his behavior, but he just didn’t have the energy to say “no” to the temptation anymore so he would cave into to his desires and feel like a failure as a Christian and as a committed husband over and over again.

Put this formula together and you have letters representing the biggest reasons for sexual addiction- L.U.S.T. which represent the symptoms of a lonely, unfulfilled, emotionally stuffed and tired man. No wonder Mark was so open to the temptations of his culture and no wonder he became so enslaved to this increasingly common sin.

Not long ago John Stossel, from ABC News did a TV special on the issue of addiction to pornography. He made this observation at the end of his investigative report.

“Media images trick us into believing that there are many available, attractive people that want to be with me”.

While you and I may know that the perfectly airbrushed Hollywood ‘babes’ of the magazines or movies are not really going to seek out a twenty or thirty year older guy with a big belly and growing bald spot, the need to believe in the fantasy is often is stronger than simply in facing reality. Perhaps it is better understood to consider Ephesians 4:19 “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”

Our culture offers many escapes from facing reality; while God gives us some hard advice about the reality of the danger of lust. Matthew 5:28 says “whoever looks at a women to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Thankfully Mark and Sarah sought out some professional help with a licensed therapist and over time, their marriage was able to recover from the betrayal of an addiction to pornography. This is a real couple I personally know, (although the names were changed), who would want me to share their steps toward a healed relationship. They would want me tell you that you can’t get better by yourself, and to secretly keep stuffing it inside only makes it bigger. Living with a secret that is eating you and your marriage alive is like a cancer that is killing you a little each day. You have to deal with it or it will kill you and your marriage!

They would urge you to open your eyes and ears to any odd behavior that may be an indicator that your mate may be addicted to pornography and often is just too weak to stop the behavior without help. They would plead with you to take this seriously before it ruins another home like it almost did theirs. They would challenge you and your family member to seek out a Bible-teaching church that offers practical teaching and accountability groups for addictive behavior. They would tell you that it can and will change, if you get honest, humble your heart and seek some professional help on your road to break free of sexual addiction and rebuild a life of sexual purity as God designed.

Tragically we know that Samson didn’t do that. He had no power over his lustful eyes, and you may remember that when his enemies captured him. The first thing that they did was to poke out his eyes with a burning hot iron rod. Blinded, and in prison, Samson repented and came back to his God. As a blind man, he could finally see the truth reflected in Psalms 101:3 “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes”. My prayer is that Christian men would live out that Biblical truth, and then boldly reach out to help rescue others trapped in the “Samson Syndrome”.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Why Can’t I Have What I Want?

By: Jessica Gilstrap, LMHC
More and more these days, we find parents having to justify to their children why all of their wants and wishes are not met. Often we find that the parents are feeling guilty, because so many of our children today “expect”, “feel entitled” and even “demand” that all of their wishes be fulfilled freely.

Many of my discussions with parents often center themselves around the subject of “Entitlement”, and their child’s perception of the world. “I am, therefore I am entitled to my wishes, because everyone else has whatever it is that I want.” This is not a new challenge, but one that has become much more prevalent as our society has become more affluent and financially stratified.

Most of our teenagers today are grandchildren of the Baby Boomer generation. In many cases, our teenager’s grandparents grew up in a society that was just recovering from depression, the Great War, and tremendous opportunity for growth and wealth. A very strong work ethic remained in place, two parent families were the norm, and the middle-class was the dominant class where most folks worked very hard for the basics in life. Most Boomers became inculcated in the traditions of hard work, and their goal was for their children to have the things that they did not have growing up; like new clothes, an automobile, overseas travel, free college, and ample spending money. When we look around, it seems that they were fairly successful in this goal. Our parents today, by in large, have enjoyed more opportunities to go to college, have better paying jobs, and greater opportunities to gain wealth and position. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not! It is the dream of our parents and grandparents, and the fulfillment of our personal goals and ambitions. So what’s the problem? How does this relate to “Entitlement and our children”?

Teenagers today are being exposed to more affluence than ever before. They are bombarded with the most titillating advertising designed by some of the brightest minds in the world creating a desire to buy or consume. Brand names have taken the place of need. Brand new has taken the place of repair or second hand. Computer e-mails have taken the place of handwritten letters and personal notes. In short, the lives of our children are moving at a far more rapid pace than our grandparents or our parents ever could have imagined. Our children see young athletes, rap singers, computer whizzes making millions easily without the seemingly hard work ethic that parents and grandparents preach. So, what are some things we can do with these societal changes?

First, recognize that this is a phenomenon that is existent within a society that is experiencing great affluence. Also know that because of our affluent society the entitlement issue may have been caused not by what you have done or failed to do, but by what your child has been exposed to on a daily basis.

Secondly, know that the cure for entitlement issues is found in communication, discipline, setting boundaries and adhering to them, and in some cases tough love.

Thirdly, know also that you can work through this challenge if you are consistent when dealing with your children on this very hard issue. It requires your close attention.

What steps should I take?

This all depends on the age of your child, but in principle the rules apply at all ages. First, begin to discuss the financial impact of today’s life. Permit the age and maturity to be a gauge for specificity. When a challenge comes up, discuss the alternatives and the costs associated with each alternative. Work with your child to make a choice on which alternative will fit yours and the child’s budget. Recently I was discussing this with one of my own childhood friends, and he was commenting on how his mother took him shopping and gave him a specific amount he could spend on clothes for that month. Instead of selecting several cheaper shirts, he chose one very expensive name brand shirt. To make the point, his mother caused him to wear that shirt every day for a month. To this day, it is a great lesson to him. This is the communication piece that we discussed earlier. Communicate clearly what the boundaries are that you are willing to commit to, and stick by them.

Each child should have jobs or chores to complete around the house on a scheduled basis. Remember that entitlement is a state of mind that exists without the realization of cost. When you have your children working for their money, it is much easier to discuss alternatives. Help your child develop a budget. It should be simple, and designed for their age bracket. They must learn to relate cost to wants. When we do a budget, the selection of alternatives become an easier decision for your child. This is the part that demands discipline. You must work with the child to maintain this budget. When you place emphasis on this area, children will recognize the importance for themselves. Set a goal for that want your child has in mind. Celebrate their success when they meet that goal that they saved for.

Finally, remember that in our affluent society some child will always have a newer car, better clothes, more money, and a bigger home. This is the tough love part. Do not cave in! This will teach your child a life lesson that work produces alternatives from which we can choose. We can never have everything. If we did, we have nothing to work for.

In closing, do not become discouraged. This is an issue that all parents face. Be determined to give your child all you can, but do so in a way that they realize that it is through hard work, savings, and wise decision making that we realize our dreams.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

So You Have A Graduate?

By Jessica Gilstrap, LMHC
As summertime approaches, it signals the close of another school year. Whether elementary school, high school, or college, many of us will be involved with the graduation of a child of our own or that of a relative or friend. Graduation is an event that recognizes accomplishment! It is a joyous time for all to offer congratulations and praise for the graduate. Graduation is also an event that recognizes change and “moving forward.” As we know, change in one’s life brings a multitude of emotions, fear, joy and sometimes anger. As we gather to recognize the accomplishments of the graduate, it is important that we acknowledge that underneath the joy of moving from one point in life to another, the emotions of fear and/or anger may be present. I recall that in high school, one of my friends was very angry because the school year was over, and she believed that all of her friends would be separating. She was right, but guess what, we all met new friends. It is difficult to turn loose of what we have today for an unknown future.

Here are some hints that will help as graduation approaches.

First, spend some time with the graduate and discuss what their plans may be. If it is your child, and more education is planned, talk about it. Sit down and talk through the previous school and discuss the highs and lows. Who were their best friends, and what are they doing this upcoming year. Be an encourager because even though it is a happy event, their future will be different than what they are coming from, which can be stressful.

Recognize that the emotion that accompanies change is often fear. Do you remember how you felt the first time you registered for classes in college? Do you remember what you felt the first day of basic training? Do you remember what your feelings were the first day of your new job? Well those feelings of uncertainty will be present with the new graduate. Just be aware of this, and be an encourager. Let them know that their feelings are common to our lives, and that you are there for them. Be open and share the feelings that accompany change.

Be available to the graduate to help them bridge the gap from where they are now, to where they are going in the future. They will need to talk to someone, be there with an open ear and an open heart. Remember, you will be doing something new someday, and you will face change when you “move on.”

Congratulations on your role in helping the Graduates in your life!

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When Should Parents Begin to Let Go of Their Children?

by Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor and Life Coach
Christian parents are told to give their children "roots and wings" from the time they are born until it is time to leave the nest, some twenty years later. I believe that the first part comes easier than the second, which may not come at all. Let me explain why.

Giving a child 'roots' is about shared traditions, Christian values, personal accountability to a standard of behavior like the ten commandments or the golden rule as well as providing a safe and loving home environment. I believe that most parents do their best to care and provide for their kids and that building these core values into the heart of their child, so that it will come out through their behavior and choices later on in life. If a child knows what they believe they are stronger and more focused to go through the teen years without getting hung up on the distractions that cause so many to fall.

Frankly, I don't think that most parents really struggle with knowing what they should be doing, and for many actually are doing to give kids the strength of being deeply rooted in a personal belief system. If they aren't building these values into the lives of their kids, they are likely supplementing those values through Sunday school, private Christian education or Christian media. Giving kids these kind of traditional family values will root them into knowing what they believe, but it won't protect them when they are challenged as to why they believe it.

How do you take a child that you have loved, cared for, taken care of and protected for their entire lifetime the space to 'fly' forward on their own wings? Let me warn you, it's hard! Yet as hard as it may be for parents to even consider letting go of the children that they have invested so much time and energy into, it is essential for their development and strength as a person who will one day have to move out and tackle the issues in their life.

Here's the problem though. If you never let a child test their wings by moving a little further away from Mom or dad's care, then they can develop the symptoms of a social phobia and end up being afraid of moving forward in life. We love our kids, yet part of that love is to equip them and prepare them to one day leave the nest. When they are well equipped, they soar and when they aren't they crash-it's about that simple. So what to do? Here's some parenting tips to coach you through the process of what you can do at every stage of childhood now to build strong kids now, who will one day go out and build successful lives.

Parenting Stages to build strong kids:

Birth to puberty, (ages 0-12)- Kids need a 'caretaker' who helps with daily tasks and skills while learning to master areas of self-discipline and control.

Puberty to College Years, (12-21)- The teen years are a combination of part counselor and part coach to guide through the emotional issues of building relationships, learning to deal with the difficulties of life and career selection.

College years to Adulthood, (21-30)- We always need our parents and this stage is no different. These years are a great time for the parent/adult-child relationship to prosper since the young adult is out on their own dealing with life, yet still needs a 'consultant' to bounce ideas off of.