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Adulting requires a lot of grit. Whether you feel like getting out of bed, whether you want to go to work or cook or pack boxes, you often must suck it up and just do it. By the way, I’m starting to believe that the marketing geniuses at Nike really encapsulated the essence of what it takes to be successful at fitness, and even life, when they came up with that slogan–“Just Do It.” Stop whining! Stop complaining about what other people have! Stop worrying about what could go wrong or how sore and tired you’re going to be tomorrow. Just man up and do it! (And please ultra-feminists, don’t be offended by that term. It doesn’t mean that you can’t woman-up).
But then there’s the flip side. Sometimes you push forward tirelessly, yet repeatedly get knocked onto your butt. Sometimes you try different approaches and routes only to find that you’ve run a big circle and you’re right back where you started. Sometimes even with a decent work ethic and a persevering spirit, you still get stuck in a rut.
If you’re vulnerable enough with your struggle, people who love you will offer their help and encouragement. Indeed, there are times when friends and family can willingly enter your mess and lovingly give you the respite that you need. During these moments, it’s mature to lay down your pride and accept the help. It’s very much a grown-up thing to do, to say thank you and recognize the need for a rest. It’s also grown-up to know when to admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working, and that its time to ask for help.
Earlier this year, Bryan and I came to that place in our marriage. We knew that we needed some serious help with communication. We had trouble discussing certain topics without getting into a fight that usually ended with me crying, befuddled and angry, and him discouraged, befuddled and angry, and it would take us days to find a resolution. But because we love each other and are dead-serious about our commitment to each other and to the Lord in our marriage, we both want to be able to communicate well. We need to be able to talk to each other about money, family, large and small plans and even just be open about our feelings and thoughts. And when communication breaks down over the serious, business-y aspects of marriage, it begins to erode trust in feeling safe to share what’s on your heart.
So that’s where we were. And I wanted things to get better because what we had been trying on our own wasn’t working and we were both becoming selfish. I knew that although neither of us would throw in the towel, we could very well become married strangers. And I don’t want that. What we’ve had is too special. I also think it’s vital that our children learn how to manage conflict, how to do the challenging work in relationships to make them better.
I signed us up for counseling. We’d never been to any kind of counseling together aside from pre-marital counseling when we were engaged. In the beginning, it was a little embarrassing admitting to family and friends that we were seeing counselors. There’s only a degree to which people let even their closest family and friends into what’s really going on in their lives. Usually only a handful of people know the intricacies of our lives. There’s something about saying out loud “we’re going to counseling” that prompts the question, “are you guys okay?” I didn’t quite know how to answer that. Are we okay right now? No. Things are not right and we need some help. Perhaps the better question is: “Are you going to be okay?” Or even better, a definitive statement of belief: “You guys are going to be okay.” In the weeks of starting counseling I opened up too much to some family members about our problems and found that their responses really colored how I saw my marriage. If someone responded with a “whoa-what-happened-to-you-guys” kind of message, I started feeling ashamed and discouraged about the health of my marriage. However, if the person prayed for me, encouraged me and helped me believe in the Lord’s power to heal relationships, I felt more hope for me and Bryan and was motivated to try harder.
From experience, I knew that even professionals who operate under the name “Christian” counselor are sometimes no different than secular counselors. They will often give you a fancy pep talk and charge you $100 for one hour of their time, and all their encouragement will sound great until you face your next hurdle. But what about when your boot-straps snap and you can’t use them to pull yourself up any longer? What about when you’ve argued for the fifth time in one week and you’re just too tired to reason?
That’s when you need a Savior. That’s when you need a reminder of God’s promises in the Bible about grace, and forgiveness and restoration. That’s when it’s crucial to pick up your sword (the Bible, see Ephesians chapter 6) and reread the scriptures that teach us how to lay down our lives, refocus on Jesus and live in peace with each other. Biblical counseling helps you do this. We were paired with a couple of trained Biblical counselors and for 10 weeks Bryan and I were given assigned readings from topical Christian articles on conflict, communication, forgiveness, assessing motives, and much more. We were asked to memorize scripture and recite it at our meetings with our counselors. We went through our life stories and our counselors took extensive notes and asked us detailed questions about how we’d navigated through many hairy parts of our lives. We read the same Bible passages and looked for ways to apply Christ’s qualities and characteristics to our struggles. There were many times during counseling that I felt uncomfortable and borderline offended. I was regularly tempted to hide the truth. But becoming vulnerable, humbling myself, and listening was required of me to see my heart and behaviors change.
I learned new patterns of behavior. I learned that the exhaustion of raising three needy children often played into how much patience, kindness and grace I extended to my husband. I learned to take my burdens to the Lord, and even though I’ve heard the scripture time and time again, I got back into the habit of FIRST casting my cares on Jesus (1 Pet 5:7) so that I can be caring to Bryan, not another needy, pleading voice. I learned in moments of anger to practice being silent instead of unleashing my destructive tongue –waiting for passions to cool so that I can speak wisely and logically to my husband. I also learned that prayer is the most important thing to do, as a couple, before discussing lightening-rod issues.
We are not perfect, and we’re never going to be. Who knows what lurks just around the corner for us in our married life? We already had a big challenge the week after counseling ended from which we are still recovering, but I am trying to see these things as attacks from Satan, who doesn’t like healthy Christian marriages, instead of putting the blame squarely on my husband.
I know that Bryan and I are not alone. I recently met with a group of friends and ended up spilling my guts about some of these things, and it was so encouraging to me to hear some of these other women “come clean.” Although what I’m about to say seems silly, it really is possible to scroll through your Facebook or Instagram feed, see your friends smiling with their families and think, “I’m all alone in this battle.” It’s easy to believe, when you see people bragging about their spouses, that your problems are unique and that no one else can empathize, so it’s better to pretend. But then you find out, EVERYONE is pretending, or just being very optimistic. And there’s nothing wrong with optimism, but it’s also healthy to get real with people who won’t worry about you or judge you. It’s good to have friends who surround you with care, compassion and prayer.
Help comes in all forms, but part of getting help is acknowledging that you need it and being humble enough to take it. It also sometimes means that you must do some work, and it’s okay to admit that you don’t have everything together. Only soft hearts make fertile ground for new growth. Stop pretending and just do it–reach out for help before you give up.
Adrienne Gross is a writer based in North Carolina. She is a lover of travel, fitness, wine, good conversation and quality time with her friends and husband and three young children. You can find her blog at presentlysite.blog or on Twitter at @adrienne_gross.