Healing the Wounds of Infidelity

Five steps to repairing the damage.

Colossians 3:13

by Louis and Melissa McBurney 

NOTE: This article is one of several that are compiled in a booklet from smallgroups.com. If you would like to receive a free copy of this booklet, contact us at lifegroups@mclanechurch.org

In the ideal scenario, confessing to an affair results in repentance, forgiveness, and a resolve not to repeat the sin. But the forgiveness can be slow to appear, and the fears of reoccurrence very strong. Here are five keys to heal the wounds caused by infidelity. 

Genuine Remorse

As we hear from adulterers in counseling, we find that many try to minimize the significance of betraying their vows. Our secular culture reinforces the notion that just a “one-night stand” isn’t such a big deal. But that thinking is a dangerous deception. All adultery creates hurt and a huge barrier to ever trusting again. Not only was your marriage jeopardized, but any kind of casual attitude about the sinful choice also jeopardizes relationships with your family and God. While there can be repentance, grace, and forgiveness, they have a price.

Genuine Confession

Make no attempt to justify or minimize the sin. That helps rebuild the relationship and makes you aware of your vulnerability. You have a will and the power to make your choices. As a Christian, you also have the Holy Spirit to help you avoid giving in to the temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Develop Self-understanding

You said you don’t know why you had an affair. But if you honestly seek the truth and explore the underlying causes of your adulterous relationship, you’ll find answers. Often they lie in self doubts about being attractive or desired. At other times it may be a need for excitement and risk taking. There may be an impulsivity left over from adolescence. While there are many reasons that can contribute to adulterous behavior, they’re explanations, not excuses.

Spiritual Forgiveness Before God

We can understand Psalm 51 in which King David expressed his broken heart to God about his adultery with Bathsheba. He realized his sin was ultimately an affront to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (verse 4). Realizing the destructive spiritual consequences of adultery is essential to total restoration. David went on to plead, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (verse 10). And he does! Every time.

Set Firm Behavioral Boundaries

Don’t allow yourself to go into relationships and situations where you might be in danger. I (Louis) know when a woman is coming on to me in a seductive way—most men do! And I know I’m titillated by the flirtatious attention. I also know that’s a temptation I don’t need. I can flirt with that woman and expose myself to the excitement of her sensuality (and the risk of indulging in inappropriate touch or talk), or I can make sure I steer clear of her. Choose to set boundaries that will keep you from falling.

—Louis and Melissa McBurney are therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat, a Christian counseling center.

Copyright  2003 Christianity Today International. Originally appeared in Marriage Partnership.

Why Affairs Happen

What you need to know about prevention and recovery. 

NOTE: What follows is one of several articles on adultery that are compiled in a booklet from smallgroups.com. If you would like to have a free copy of this booklet, please contact us at lifegroups@mclanechurch.com.

2 Peter 2:14

by Cindy Crosby

As many as 65 percent of men and 55 percent of women will have an extramarital affair by the time they are 40, according to the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. A Christianity Today survey found that 23 percent of the 300 pastors who responded admitted to sexually inappropriate behavior with someone other than their wives while in the ministry.

In Dave Carder’s and Duncan Jaenicke’s book, Torn Asunder: Recovering from Extramarital Affairs (Moody), Carder notes that adultery and divorce rates in the evangelical population are nearly the same as the general population in the United States. Being a Christian does not lessen our chances of having an affair. Through his counseling experiences, however, Carder has found several “shared threads” woven throughout the experiences of married couples who become tangled in an affair. These patterns can serve as warning signals that married couples should be alert to.

In an interview with Marriage Partnership magazine, Carder discusses how to help people who are contemplating affairs, have experienced an affair, or expect an affair to impact their marriages. 

What types of affairs do Christians tend to fall into?

All types. There’s the “Class One” affair, which is the one-night stand. Then, there is the “Class Two” affair, which is a love relationship that starts as a friendship and grows primarily because of a deficit in the marriage. These often have a powerful emotional connection and involve a shared task or orientation, such as a common ministry or a shared passion. And there is the “Class Three” affair, which involves sexual addiction. Other addictions often go along with it, and many times there is a history of molestation or sexual activity on the part of the person before puberty.

What about the classic “mid-life crisis” people joke about?

We’re finding that these types of affairs are happening when men and women are in their late 30s and 40s. There’s a pattern to them. Usually they happen in a marriage where there is little spousal interaction. Maybe the couple does everything as a family. When the children in the family grow older, the spouses become vulnerable.

Tell us more about emotional affairs. If there’s no sex, just the emotional attachment, is it as serious as a sexual affair?

An emotional affair without sex occurs when two parties share their feelings for each other. These affairs are supercharged with emotion. The sound of her voice, the style of his e-mail—they are all loaded. But if you confront them, they’ll insist they’ve done nothing wrong. These secret emotional affairs are powerful influences in the individuals’ lives. They often live in a fantasy world, where they imagine what the other party is doing, even while appearing to watch sports on TV or doing some other task. 

These individuals rob their marriages of emotional energy. They will save topics of conversation to talk over with the people they are having the emotional affair with, rather than their spouses. They also struggle with feelings of betrayal when they have sex with their spouse. But a lot of these emotional affairs remain non-sexual. They are the hardest affairs to recover from, because there is no guilt.

Should you always tell your spouse if you’ve had an affair?

Almost always. Remember, marriage is a contract and you broke it. The other party has a right to know. The only exception to this is if there is a history of violence on the part of the spouse: if she has a gun or if he has been abusive when he drinks. In this case, you will need a professional to help you know what to disclose.

The same goes for emotional affairs?

I still think you need to tell. Anything that is a secret for you can be enjoyed in private, and this is what we are trying to do away with. And it is very important that there is absolutely no contact between the two people who have had the emotional affair. It is very difficult to break them off.

What kind of things should married couples be aware of that can lead to an affair?

The fastest growing rate of infidelity is among young married women. Many of them have been molested or are the adult children of divorce. They are looking for marriage to make up a deficit that comes from their childhood. “Intimacy deficits” stem from your family of origin. They may be from a lack of touching or hugging, from a need for a lot of admiration, affirmation, and adoration, or from another vacuum that a spouse wants satisfied. Everybody has deficits.

How does a cheating spouse handle his or her emotions?

He or she is usually overwhelmed with guilt. They are sure that revealing the affair to their spouse will absolutely kill him or her. And they don’t want to ruin the image of family they’ve built.

How can you tell if someone is tempting you to cheat?

If someone tells you things that you know are much better than they really are about yourself, then run. If someone admires you at a level beyond what you know to be true, it can get dangerous. And remember: there are beautiful, bright, charming, or caring women out in the workforce in big numbers who are better at seducing your husband than your husband is at being able to resist.

What are some other risky situations?

If a couple doesn’t share a ministry, one spouse may get into a ministry with another individual and boom! They are in trouble. Or perhaps one spouse has a hobby that they share with someone of the opposite sex. Think about this: What don’t I have in my marriage that I have the urgent need to share with someone?

You wrote that the tendency toward extramarital affairs runs in families. Why is this so?

We don’t know why. Part of the homework I give a couple in counseling for infidelity is to explore what their parents did. Go back and ask them. Not to embarrass them. Ask them how they handled infidelity, if it happened in their marriage. Why did they stay together? What advice do they have? It’s amazing how many of the couples I counsel talk to their family members and are shocked at what they find out.

So, is it inevitable, if you have a family where infidelity has occurred, that you will cheat on your partner?

No. But I believe it is inevitable that you will be tempted to have an affair.

How difficult is it to trust your spouse after an affair?

Trust is the big question. You have to forgive your spouse before you can trust him or her again. The repentant spouse must be careful to keep his or her word. No matter how small or unimportant a promise may seem, he or she can’t afford to make promises that won’t be kept anymore.

What about sex?

First you have to rebuild non-sexual touch. If you don’t have good touch, you don’t have anything special. It’s also important to have the cheating spouse cleared by a physician before you have sex again. There should be no unprotected sex between you until he or she is checked for sexually transmitted diseases. 

If there wasn’t much sex in the marriage before, it will be difficult to initiate sexual activity after the affair. But in many cases, there is often a lot of sex between the spouses after an affair. Women will think, “I’ll show my husband that I’m better than this other woman.”

A husband might wonder, “Am I as good as the person whom she was with?” Then, the wronged spouse becomes disgusted again, and anger and withdrawal follow. Communication is key here. This is a topic you will have to talk about.

How does anger factor into all this?

It’s different for everyone. If the wife has an affair, the guy’s rage is often never resolved. It just doesn’t take much to bring the affair back to his mind. Women seem to be able to let go of their anger more easily. 

Anger can play a positive role. I encourage the wives I counsel who have been cheated on to try to find and enlarge pictures of the husband and the other woman, lay the pictures on a bed, then beat the snot out of them. I tell her not to stop beating until she is sobbing and exhausted. If she doesn’t get angry about the affair, the anger will eventually leak out all over the relationship in a variety of ways.

Um, that sounds a bit extreme … 

When Jesus was in the garden before the crucifixion, he was bloody, teary, messy, and sweaty. He was working through emotional upheaval. Betrayal and abandonment are two of the most painful emotions known to man.

What do you tell the kids?

Children are your first priority here. Make sure you don’t injure them for life. Both of you need to sit down together with the child or the children, and both of you need to take responsibility for whatever you have contributed to the experience—not to the affair, necessarily, but for the tension that exists in the family environment.

Does age impact this?

If your children are under eight years old, they’ve already made up their own story. They are egocentric and will think they have caused the tension. If your children are teenagers, the kids probably already suspect the affair. Tell them the whole story: Dad had a girlfriend; Mom got involved with someone at work. Sharing the truth allows them to process the issue with Mom and Dad instead of guessing and keeps them from expending emotional energy checking on how well Mom and Dad are doing.

That’s a lot of honesty.

The issues for your kids are, “Will Mom and Dad make it? Will we stay together as a family?” Do not lie. If you are not sure your marriage can be saved, tell them to pray; tell them you are seeing a counselor. Then, give lots and lots of touching and hugging and stroking and eye contact to your child. They need that reassurance.

Whom else should we tell?

Each person going through recovery from an affair needs a same-sex friend. The key here is that the person is available 24/7. You need to be able to talk with them anytime. Don’t tough it out on your own. If you do, you’ll prolong the recovery process, and spend a lot more money on your therapist. Save the money for a vacation.

After an affair, how long can it take for a couple to put their marriage back together?

Think about adolescence, when you put your identity together. It took a long time—maybe six or seven years. This is the same kind of process of shaping your identities, to redo and reform them. Two years is a good point of reference to use. And I don’t mean that you will be in crisis for the whole time; the emotions will still be near the surface. Healing takes time, whether you are wounded physically or emotionally.

At what point do you give up on your marriage?

I tell couples to do three things before they throw in the towel, or else they will take all the anger and betrayal they feel into the next marriage. And another man or woman will not take care of the problems. First, know how and why the affair happened. Life is cyclical. If you had an affair, you will probably go through the same pattern in your next marriage. Second, you have to forgive—for yourself—whether you want to or not. Third, you have to rebuild the trust you had. Even if you divorce, you will still have financial ties, ties with your children, grandchildren, events you will attend together such as weddings and graduations and birthdays, and you have to be able to trust each other. The goal in therapy is to have these three components. 

If 20 percent of your marital history before the affair was not what I would rank a “4” or a “5” mutually—with “5” being the highest satisfaction and happiness—you will need a miracle to keep your marriage together. Not every marriage is salvageable after an affair.

If a couple decides to find a therapist or counselor to help, what should they look for?

Look for someone who will give you structure and hold you on course. A counselor should give you follow-up work to complete, things to work on every day. You need to find a counselor who will help you work on the marriage, not just the affair. Pastors are actually quite good at providing structure and helping couples work through this. 

—Cindy Crosby is the author of Waiting for Morning: Hearing God’s Voice in the Darkness to be published by Baker Book House.

Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today International. Originally appeared in Marriage Partnership.

 

When a Friend Divorces

How to provide support through the emotional and spiritual fallout

by Judy Corey

When my friend Amy announced she was getting a divorce, I was shocked. She was a dedicated, patient Christian married to an unbeliever, and though I knew there were problems, I naively thought patience, faith, and love would conquer everything. When she told me Stan had left, I didn’t know what to say. If he had died, I would have gone to the funeral, brought food and flowers, and kept her company during the grieving process. Divorce seemed more awkward. I offered my sympathy and encouragement, but kept a “hands off” approach as Amy began sorting out her new single life.

Five years later, when my own marriage dissolved in divorce, I learned the hard way how painful it is when Christian friends don’t know how to comfort. Like Amy, I’d masked the chaos in my life and the life of my children behind a calm facade; my Christian friends had no idea of the seriously troubled dynamics of my marriage to an alcoholic. When they learned of the pending divorce I hadn’t initiated, a few awkwardly offered words of comfort. Many, however, just avoided me or chirped a cheery, “How are you,” then zipped into the sanctuary without waiting for an answer. I often suffered alone; my friends didn’t have words to help me.

Amy and I both changed churches following our divorces, but it took Amy nearly ten years to find a new, more loving congregation. Another friend abandoned church nearly 20 years ago after her devastating experience with a congregation that failed to model Christ’s love, and she’s never returned. Yet it really isn’t hard to be a friend to someone who is divorced; all it takes is common sense and compassion. Here are some ways to be a better friend to your friends who are divorced:

Don’t Be Afraid to Share the Pain and Anger

There’s always pain in divorce, both for the parting spouses and for any children from the marriage. Yet your friend may be afraid to trust you with her pain. When my feelings were raw from rejection, I covered up my fear and inadequacy with busyness. Inwardly, however, I desperately needed emotional support, love, and affirmation. When my Christian friends avoided me, not knowing how to help, I felt even more rejected and unloved.

Through a writers’ group, God led me to two very special Christian sisters from another church, Nancy and Carma. They listened to my pain and anger as I sorted things out, and refrained from mouthing platitudes such as “Just trust God and everything will be fine.” They befriended me, prayed for me, and cheered me on as I went through the grieving process.

Those who had suffered great loss themselves were the biggest help. For example, Amy could comfort me in a way I’d not been able to comfort her, because she understood my situation far better than my still-married friends. Her encouragement, private prayers, and shared experience helped me have hope for the future. When I doubted my own ability to survive the divorce, Amy’s quiet determination to live a happy and godly life as a single woman gave me courage.

Help Meet Real Physical Needs

Divorce disrupts not only the emotional and spiritual life of a family, but the financial side, too. Listen to what your friend may notbe saying. Melissa was divorced and coping with four children. She needed to work, but her car broke down and she lived in a rural county with no public transportation system. Although she didn’t ask for help finding a car, her friends recognized her need and helped her connect with a Christian organization that specializes in finding used cars for people in adverse circumstances. Before long, Melissa was driving a van big enough to hold all the children, and she was able to start working again.

One of Melissa’s boys was having difficulty adjusting to his new circumstances. A church friend volunteered to become a “big brother,” a male role model who could share his time and interests on occasional weekends. Children of divorce need special attention and acceptance. Mentoring these children may completely change their outlook and help them feel God’s love—despite all that’s happened.

Maybe your friend has a simple, practical need you can meet. For example, I hung my clothes in the basement one terrible winter because I couldn’t afford to hire a repairman to look at my ailing dryer. As it turned out, when I finally overcame my embarrassment and talked to a church member about it, he told me to check the dryer fuse, something I didn’t realize existed. Sure enough, that solved the problem! If you can offer minor handyman repairs or occasional childcare, let your friend know you’re willing to do this.

Encourage Your Friend Toward a Deeper Faith in God 

Christ calls us to heal and to comfort, and our friends who are divorced certainly need that healing. Those who are divorced often feel like failures, and are hurting, angry, lonely people. Whether or not we agree with all their decisions, they need a big dose of unconditional love and hope, rather than condemnation. Friends can encourage divorced people to pay attention to what God is telling them through this experience. You can be the bearer of the good news that God can bring rebirth and joy despite the pain of divorce.

Nancy and Carma lived out the Scriptures, “Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). During my darkest days, I “borrowed” Nancy and Carma’s faith when I was too weak to sort out the tangled threads on my own. Nancy encouraged me to spend an hour each morning in prayer and meditation on God’s Word. At first I resisted; however, when I finally followed her example, I experienced God’s measureless strength and peace.

At Nancy’s suggestion, I started journaling about my losses. And studying Bible stories of people like Tamar and Daniel, who had suffered unjustly, also helped put my losses in perspective.

One of the tasks I had to struggle with was facing the fact that the God of my childhood, the father figure who would work miracles to rescue me, was a false image. What Christ called me to do was to follow him in grown-up ways, taking responsibility for my own actions while at the same time admitting my limitations. I had to “grow up” in the Lord—to sort through the painful truths about my shattered marriage. Blaming all the problems on my spouse wasn’t allowed. God, and my friends, gently demanded honesty and fairness from me.

So, lovingly and gently challenge your friend to grow through this experience. Suggest that your church offer a “Coping with Divorce” class, and invite divorced friends to attend. Model mature faith, and encourage your friend to seek out a solid biblical image of God. If your friend is unchurched, suggest that she find a body of believers who emphasize love and partnership.

Gently Nourish Your Friend’s Creative Side 

When so many dreams have died, our God-given spark of creativity often seems buried, too. Time pressures can make creative work seem like a luxury we can ill afford. Yet when we most need a reason to feel alive again, to have new purpose, discovering new artistic or creative abilities can be life-giving. God may call us, especially in midlife, to develop gifts we’ve neglected or ignored. Perhaps you can help by offering to babysit once in a while so your friend can explore new hobbies, interests, or talents. Or you might invite your friend to ride with you to a class or meeting, saving money for gas.

Nancy and Carma encouraged me, shy as I was, to begin speaking out of my experience. A gifted public speaker, Nancy soon had me assisting with workshops, calling forth a gift I could not have guessed I possessed. This gave me great confidence and opened new doors in both the sacred and secular world.

You, too, may be able to help your divorced friends see possibilities they might never have envisioned. God is full of surprises!

Include Your Friend in Both Worship and Play

“Keep close to God’s Word, get plenty of sleep, take time to exercise, eat healthy food, and eliminate some of the stress in your life,” my friend Jim advised me. Then he added, to my surprise, “Relax and learn to have fun!” Jim instructed me to create opportunities for fun and relaxation at least once or twice a week in order to balance the grief work that was part of my healing process.

My teenage daughter, Jen, encouraged me to buy a bathing suit, despite my generous figure, and start swimming again. I forced myself to start inviting other single Christian women over to my apartment to watch a video or share supper, or to go out to a party or a church event. Friends invited me to take up cross-country skiing, line dancing, and camping, and every week I learned to schedule some “fun” times.

These activities complemented my regular church attendance, and with my new confidence, I accepted an invitation to co-lead a Christian singles group. Friends invited me to spend an occasional refreshing weekend at a Christian retreat center, and eventually to take classes at seminary. All these activities helped restore my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Say Something to Let Your Friend Know You Care 

You may believe that you have no words to offer a divorced friend. However, even a simple “I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?” is better than silence, which can be interpreted as rejection. Good friends give hope, strength, and love in a time when these are desperately needed. Friends encourage divorced people to find the freedom of forgiveness and the ability to dream again.

In this freedom, I’m rebuilding my life. Because of the encouragement and faith of good Christian friends, I grew greatly in my faith and learned how to love again. Now, eight years later, I know God can bring transformation and healing out of the ashes of divorce. You can be the bearer of the good news that God can bring rebirth and joy despite the pain of divorce!

Not long ago, I was driving my car on a particularly foggy morning. Most of the time, I could see the sun like a distant star shining feebly through the haze, but occasionally I drove through low places where the fog completely blocked out the sun. Surrounded by mist, unable to see the next bend in the road, I felt terrified and alone. When finally the fog lifted so I could again see the sun peeking through, I was overjoyed! It was there all along; all I needed to do was trust and keep driving.

As a friend to someone who is divorced, you can encourage them to “keep driving” until the road becomes clear again. You can model light and hope until your friend again can see the sunshine of God’s love and grace.

—Judy Corey is the owner of her own consulting company, Word and Spirit, in White Cloud, Michigan

From smallgroups.com, copyright 2007; Christianity Today Intl.

Divorce Needs

A look at the emotional, practical, and spiritual needs of people going through divorce

by Connie M. Valentini

Fifty percent of marriages today will end in divorce. Because these numbers are consistent for both Christians and non-Christians, the church must learn to respond lovingly to this group of hurting people. Divorce is profoundly painful, and a better understanding of the difficulties and needs of a divorced person will provide us with the sensitivity and wisdom required to be effective ministers of God’s grace and mercy. Here are a few of the main needs a person faces during a divorce:

Need for Understanding

Numerous problems can contribute to a couple’s divorce: patterns of conflict, addiction, abuse, the trauma of an affair, stressful events that impact the marriage, neglect and/or emotional distance within the marriage. The reasons for a divorce are important as you seek to minister to a hurting divorced person. 

Spouses often experience long-standing private difficulties in their marriage long before the public event of a divorce. It is important to take the time to listen and understand the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage. Only when you listen can you offer the kind of emotional and spiritual support that your friend needs. 

In some cases, he or she might be verbalizing his or her experiences for the first time, and coming to terms with many new or unfamiliar feelings. For example, a spouse who has suffered many years of physical and emotional abuse may be overwhelmed by the feelings of anger that she suppressed during the marriage. In this case, listening to the anger can be a vital step in helping this person in the recovery process.

What you can do:

  • Ask your friend going through a divorce to tell you what he or she has been learning through this experience.

  • Don’t give advice while you are seeking to understand your friend’s difficult choices. Try not to display shock or judgment if your friend conveys painful details from his ordeal.

  • Convey a commitment to confidentiality so that your friend feels safe to share honestly about her experience.

Need for Grieving

People suffer many losses when they get divorced: the loss of a best friend and companion, financial security, a home, shared friends, daily time with children, and—perhaps most importantly—a particular vision of the future. These losses all lead to a deep sense of grief, not unlike the grief that people experience following a death. There is no way to fill the emptiness that divorce creates, but being present in the midst of your friend’s sadness can be a source of comfort and strength.

While a period of grief and sadness is expected, unremitting sadness and symptoms of depression can be serious. Symptoms of depression include sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating and completing daily activities, loss of appetite or weight, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you notice these symptoms, it is best to give a referral to a professional psychologist or psychiatrist.  

What you can do:

  • When you spend time with your friend who is getting a divorce, make mental notes of his or her physical, mental, and emotional health.

  • Encourage your friend to journal his or her feelings of grief, which can be a good way to understand and move through the difficult emotions.

Need for Acceptance

Divorce often results in feelings of guilt, rejection, and shame. Nearly all people, Christians in particular, will struggle intensely with the decision to divorce because of the cultural and spiritual stigma of failure attached to it. Be sure to show your friend non-judgmental acceptance, which will provide a healing message that he or she is still deeply loved and valued. This love and acceptance from others—especially those within the church—can be a deeply reassuring comfort, and a step toward experiencing God’s forgiveness.

What you can do:

  • Offer to pray with your friend, particularly if you sense that shame and guilt are an encumbrance for her.

  • Have some Scripture at hand to read with your friend to remind him of God’s forgiveness and grace.

Need for Relationship

Many divorced people experience a deep sense of alienation from others. This is particularly true for Christians. They might perceive that their divorce is such a stain of failure that others simply can’t relate or no longer wish to associate with them. By reaching out to a hurting divorced person, you can help him or her feel connected and loved. 

Be sensitive, though, to the potential discomfort a recently divorced person may feel in spending time with other married couples. Sometimes this can highlight the state of his or her recently severed relationship and prompt feelings of sadness or loneliness. With this in mind, an offer of time from a same-sex friend can be especially effective.

What you can do:

  • Invite your friend to do something that does not involve serious conversation, such as browsing through a bookstore or seeing a movie.

  • Consider asking your friend to help you in some way, such as a project around the house or a ministry at church. Being offered an opportunity to care about others can help him or her feel worthwhile and important. 

Need for Tangible Support

We have certain cultural traditions that we practice after a person dies: a time of visitation, a funeral, bringing food to the grieving family, and phone calls to keep in touch. But there are no recognizable rituals to acknowledge the event of divorce, nor are there prescribed responses to minister to those who have undergone a divorce. Yet divorce can include a significant time of stressful transition, disorganization, and deep grief that can be alleviated through the loving support of others.

What you can do:

  • Call your friend regularly while he is going through his divorce. Give him a chance to talk about the details of the events transpiring and offer your support.

  • Bring over meals and offer to babysit if your friend has children.

  • Offer to help with reorganizing or packing if your friend needs to move.

Need for God’s Forgiveness

Christians who divorce are often quite troubled with their need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Most Christians clearly understand that God despises divorce (Malachi 2:16), but they are often so broken and fragile that they feel too unworthy to embrace the grace that God offers all sinners. 

This is where the church can communicate God’s redemptive love and his capacity to restore us to wholeness. Spending time together in prayer and speaking God’s truth can be a healing balm over the wounds of failure and loss.

What you can do:

  • Each time you visit your friend, express your confidence in God’s forgiving character and ask for a specific request you can pray for.

  • Consider whether your friend would benefit from a formal time of healing prayer with a pastor or prayer minister. Experiencing compassion and forgiveness from a church leader can be a powerful representation and encounter with God’s love.

Need for Hope

Divorce causes grief over the loss of a particular future and a fear about what the future will now hold. Your divorced friend needs a renewed sense of hope for her future, with trust that God will provide for her needs. You can communicate through prayer and conversation that God has not abandoned her because of divorce, but that he still desires to bless her life. 

What you can do:

  • Encourage your friend to join a church-based, divorce recovery group as a way to grow and learn with others who have gone through similar difficult experiences.

  • When you see your friend acting hopeless, remind her of her many strengths, and the fact God will remain faithful to her.

—Dr. Connie M. Valentini is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in the Chicago suburbs.

From smallgroups.com, copyright 2007 Christianity Today Intl.

When Divorce Visits Your Small Group

What to do in the likely event of a marital crisis

by Lee A. Dean

Whether your small group is open or closed, or whether or not you always leave an empty chair, there’s one uninvited guest hovering around the meeting place ready to barge into the proceedings. The longer your group lasts, the more likely this intruder is to make an appearance. The name of this party crasher is divorce.

The chances are good that either a couple or an individual in your small group will have to wrestle directly with this crisis, which means the entire group will deal with it as well. What should a small-group leader do to prepare for the impact of divorce on individuals, couples, and the group?

Be Prepared

The statistics about divorce are by now all too familiar. Half of all first marriages end in divorce, while 60 percent of remarriages eventually fall apart. The divorce rates among evangelical Christians are little better than the rates of the population as a whole. Now plug these statistics into the life of a church small group. Logic tells you that small groups would not be immune to the problem, and logic would be correct.

This is especially true if the group stays together for a longer period of time. Dennis Anderson—pastor of adult ministries at Crossroads Covenant Church in Loveland, Colorado—estimates that if a group has been meeting for three or more years, the chances are better than 50-50 that someone in the group will deal with divorce. In addition, almost every group has members who are affected by the divorce of a family member or a friend.

Be Alert

A small group leader must be alert to warning signs that a marriage is in trouble. The leader must also know how to deal with divorce after the fact. The bottom line is that small-group leaders should always be on the lookout for signs of marital breakup and ways to minister to people affected by divorce. But on the lookout for exactly what?

Verbal clues. Watch for how a husband and wife talk to each other, both in the group and in non-group social settings. Be alert for someone criticizing his or her spouse in front of another group member. Behavior at social events can be a telltale sign of impending trouble, because some people are less inhibited at social events than at group meetings.

Physical clues. Leaders should watch for how couples touch each other, their posture, and how closely they sit next to each other. “Is there warmth?” asks Rex Minor, pastor of adult discipleship at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California. “If you’re in a group with people for six weeks, you can just tell if there’s marital warmth or marital distance.”

Behavioral clues. Watch for changes in behavior. If a person is usually talkative and begins to brood or is unusually quiet, it may be time to ask whether there’s a problem. Watch for flashes of anger from a normally calm and quiet person. The surest sign of trouble is when one or both of the couple stops attending the meetings.

Hidden clues. Another sign of trouble is more hidden: when an individual does not open up or become vulnerable enough to share their struggles. Your course is to continue to be observant and gently challenge people when their words don’t match up with their attitudes, postures, and behaviors. “We’re not called to be mind readers, but we are called to love each other and ask questions,” says Minor.

Be Proactive

Because timing is so important when dealing with sensitive issues, leaders should keep the following in mind:

Too soon is better than too late. When a small-group leader suspects someone is struggling with a potential divorce, when is the best time to get involved? As soon as possible, say both Anderson and Minor. Some leaders may feel reluctant to intervene, especially early in the life of the group, if the leader is inexperienced, or if there is a fear of jumping to conclusions. In practice, however, most leaders move too slowly.

Say it in private. The first step is to have a private conversation with the person or the couple. Share the things you have noticed and ask, “Are you okay? If not, there are ways we can help.” You will not always get the person to open up about their problems on the first try, but you will at least serve notice that you’re watching and that you care.

“More often than not, people want to get help, but they don’t know how to ask for it. They may be ashamed to,” said Minor.

“They may say that everything’s fine. Then you can say ‘I’m confused by these two or three signals I’m getting,’” Anderson explained.

If possible in these private conversations, men should talk to men and women to women. This approach is especially appropriate when talking to a couple in crisis. If this approach isn’t possible, a leader could still contact a member of the opposite sex, but only with the foreknowledge of the other partner.

Ask for help. Small-group leaders need not feel like the Lone Ranger when addressing divorce. Leaders should get pastors, staff members, and other appropriate church leaders involved, but not immediately. Some pastors may want to step in too quickly and do the work of the group leader. The better alternative is for the pastor to become aware of the problem and then offer insight to the leader on how to proceed. Then the pastor steps back and lets the leader tackle the problem. If the small-group leader keeps coming back for help, the pastor may want to take a more active role. Even in this instance, Minor is less likely to step in and more apt to use the experience as a teaching tool for his group leaders.

Confronting sin. If the divorce has taken place or is in process, the group leader needs to evaluate and confront the situation from a posture of grace. Each party shares some degree of responsibility for the end of the marriage. But when should a leader confront a person whose sinful behavior is largely responsible for the divorce?

The leader should alert the person to the harmful effects of their behavior, both to the individual and to the group. Set a boundary: if the person persists in the behavior, the fellowship of the group will be withdrawn. The leader should continue to pursue the erring person as a lost sheep by maintaining contact and expressing concern.

Be Unified

Perhaps the most powerful assets available to a leader in ministering to someone suffering through divorce are the other members of the group.

Talk as a group. If the person or couple needing help isn’t at the meeting, this provides a great opportunity for group members to talk about how they can provide ministry to the hurting person. “The leader should avoid the common mistakes of overkill and undercare,” Anderson explains. Leaders should consider who in the group has the best relationship with the person and let them take on the primary ministry roles, with the other group members playing supporting roles.

Serve as role models. Small groups can be a great place to be for people having marital difficulties or who are already divorced. Group members who have successfully saved threatened marriages, or who have navigated the rocky waters of divorce with success, can provide wise counsel to people in crisis. This kind of advice and encouragement is crucial.

Have a plan for when the wounded person wants to share. Sometimes a person wounded by divorce will want to share his or her feelings and needs with the group. How much time should the leader give this person? The best leaders do not plow ahead with the planned activities if someone is crying out for help. Be prepared to give over the proceedings of at least one entire meeting to the needs of the suffering person. Let them vent and get their feelings on the table.

From that point on, leaders can be flexible. Some leaders may want to avoid having subsequent meetings dominated by the person’s needs while at the same time making sure that the person receives care outside the meeting. Other leaders may want to devote as much group time as necessary to help steer the group member past the worst part of the crisis.

“You really can’t put a time limit on something like this,” said Minor. “I’ve seen some groups take three months. That feels too long, but at the same time, to limit it to one night doesn’t seem reasonable.”

Encourage ministry between meetings. One of the most effective times for other group members to minister is outside the official group meeting times. Encourage your group members to pray for the person, make encouraging telephone calls, and invite them into their homes for meals. If there is a workshop or support group meeting coming up, encourage the person to attend and offer to go with them.

— Lee A. Dean is a freelance writer and editor based in Plainwell, Michigan.

From smallgroups.com Copyright 2007 Christianity Today Intl.

7 Days of Praying for Your Family

Have You Been Concerned About Your Family Lately?

So often, we remember to pray for other people, but we forget to pray for ourselves and for those closest to us. We simply forget the power of prayer and that God longs for us to be in prayer with him! He especially desires for each of us to be in prayer about our family, the people closest to us on this side of heaven. To help you pray for yourself and for your family, here is a short, bullet-point, seven-day prayer guide that covers nearly every aspect of life.

Courtesy of iBelieve.com

Answering Tough Questions

Smallgroups.com provides this series of helpful articles for your use in preparing for challenging discussions about the tough questions of life. In this publication you will find the following articles:

  • Listen before you answer
  • A new kind of answer
  • Why is life so unfair?
  • Why does God allow abuse?
  • Is God to blame for natural disasters?
  • Why doesn't God always heal those who pray?
  • Where is God in suffering?
  • Will that person be in heaven?
  • Suffering can be good.

Could your next curriculum be a book study?

Some pros and cons to to choosing this model

Recently we learned that one of our small groups is using a book rather than a pre-formatted 6-8 week study. The leader, Becky Hess, is finding it to be a refreshing change of pace and has offered us some observations about how it is going.

The group is looking at this as a kind of "book club" experience. To carry this off well, all the members of the group need to own the idea and commit to being actively involved in the discussion planning and of course in the discussion itself.

The book that they are currently using is The Promise, by Robert Morgan (dealing with Romans 8:28). When members received their books, everyone agreed to read the first chapter and come to the next meeting with one or two questions from the material to ask others in the group. Becky is finding this a great model, as long as the group members follow through on getting their reading done and bringing their questions. It hasn't always worked out that way. When the members don't prep, discussion can be very limited. However this is providing a good coaching opportunity for Becky to help the group members see how important each of them is to the success of the experience.  The side benefit: It is providing experience to everyone in leading a study as they do the reading and preparation before the meeting.

Specifically, Becky has asked the group members to come up with one of these options to bring to their meeting:

  • A question that they were asking themselves about the reading.
  • A question from their understanding of the material.
  • An experience from the past or present in their own lives that ties into the material in the chapter.

Becky is enjoying this experience, and is communicating between meetings via text to coach the group members, which is helping build consistency and enthusiasm for the study.

Our take on this concept is that, as a leader, you provide structure for your meeting time. If  you’ve chosen a book that doesn’t support your structure, this can be a challenge for you.  It’s always best to use professional curriculum that have open ended questions.  However, if you are brave enough to chose a book study, you will need to figure out the structure and routines that curriculum typically provides for you. Becky has done this well, putting the onus on the group to share the responsibility. The success of the group meetings doesn’t all stand or fall on her because everyone has a part of it.  

We looked up this concept to get some outside opinions on how it works. Here's an excerpt from a 2012 article by Sam O'Neal from Smallgroups.com about using a book instead of curriculum for your group.

Many small groups prefer to interact with a well-known book instead of using shorter curriculum guides. These are usually the "cream of the crop" from Christian prose, including titles such as The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman or Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Some groups enjoy digging into controversial works—The Shack by William P. Young would be a good example. Many of these books are now accompanied by journals or workbooks designed for use in a small group.

There are several advantages to this approach. For one thing, books that have weathered the test of time usually contain genuinely life-changing material. They are great books, pure and simple, and they can have a deep impact on small-group participants. These kinds of studies are also a nice break from the "same old, same old" feel of many curriculum guides. They offer something new and a little more exciting.

The danger of taking this approach is that it can be hard to pair these books with an in-depth study of Scripture. The material in the book usually takes precedence over God's Word. That's okay for a six to eight week break every now and again, but it becomes less appealing if a group wants to study these kinds of books most of the time. At some point, things transition from a small group to a book club.

Another disadvantage of this approach is that it can be quite expensive, especially if you are asking group members to purchase both the original book and a group-based study guide.


from An Overview of Small Group Material

i am n - From Voice of the Martyrs

At least two McLane small groups have used or are currently using this challenging six week video-based study from Voice of the Martyrs.  It is an overview of the current persecution of Christians in the Middle East, primarily by ISIS.

Here is a link to a video overview of the study.

I Am N reminds us that we are each "n," the Arabic letter that radical Muslims use to identify followers of Jesus the Nazarene.

Scripture calls us to count the cost of following Jesus. For our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, that cost can be extremely high.

In this curriculum, our eyes are opened to the present day reality of their plight. The material is presented in a way that provides inspiration to how we might pray for them and otherwise support them in their time of greatest need.

Chris Norris, a leader of one of our Erie small groups, had this to say about their time with this study:

The curriculum was incredibly challenging and eye-opening. Our group was moved to prayer and awareness of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for the sake of their faith. Highly recommended but be prepared to feel convicted!

The study material is comprised of a book, a participants guide, and the videos, which are available on RightNow Media.  The book is composed of short chapters relating the personal stories of persecuted Christians. They are grouped in six categories, which follow the themes of the curriculum: Sacrifice, Courage, Joy, Perseverance, Forgiveness, and Faithfulness.

Roger Scarlett, who also led a group with this curriculum, describes the experience as "very revealing as to the heartbreaking reality of what is happening in the world to our Christian family members." He said that his group is "having great discussions about how our faith calls us to be the light of Christ in a dark world." 

The material is not all gloom and despair. Christians in the Middle East are also seeing doors opening to the Gospel message as never before from many Muslims who are ashamed of what ISIS is doing. This is very encouraging.

Both group leaders give a strong recommendation for other groups to consider using this curriculum.

Caring for Your Group Members - Financial Crisis

From time to time, many people go through a season where they are in a temporary financial pinch. When this happens to someone in your small group, you as their group leader can play a role in helping them over that hump.

Our Church Care Fund is a ministry designed to meet these needs and we encourage you to fill out the form.  (Note: this form is behind a password page. All small group leaders have been made aware of that password. However if you have misplaced or forgotten what it is, email us at grouplife@mclanechurch.org and we will be glad to provide it to you.) Your site pastor will respond to you directly within 48 hours during the weekdays. (It may be 72 hours over the weekend.)  

Simple guidelines are:

  • The Care Fund addresses basic needs of groceries, clothing (i.e. snow boots), rent, medical bills, and car repairs & payments.
  • This is available for catastrophic emergency needs, such as fire, and traveling expenses related to out-of-town medical care.
  • Anyone within the church or outside of the church who has any of the above needs may benefit from the Care Fund.
  • Any payments may take up to a week.

Thank you for being on the front lines of this important way that McLane Church is able to bring a blessing to people during their time of need.  If you have any questions about this process or its applicability to a specific situation, feel free to get in touch with Tavia or Roger.

ServErie

If your group has been wondering how to serve together in our region, one of the best ways to do this is jumping on board with ServErie. You can sign up as an individual, or as entire group. They do all the organizing of the projects, and all you and your group needs to do is show up, ready to get to work.  So, what is ServErie? 

ServErie is a community renewal program spearheaded by churches across the Erie area.  Our desire is to connect willing volunteers with specific neighborhoods and organizations who are poised to serve those in need in our city.  Our dream is to see the statistics associated with poverty, homelessness, teen pregnancy, high school dropout rates, etc. begin to go down instead of up. We believe that as hundreds of individuals, families, groups, and churches come together and adopt neighborhoods and agencies that eventually we can blanket the whole city with the love and hope of the gospel.

Learn more about ServErie

Help Guests Feel Warm and Welcome

These helpful hints are useful for any small group.

By Reid Smith

When people visit your small group for the first time, they come with all sorts of questions. "Will we like it?" "Will we connect with the people there?" "Will this be helpful for us?" Just showing up can be intimidating because they don't know how they'll be received, if they'll feel like they "fit," and if they'll want to return.

And that's human nature, of course—most people feel less than relaxed entering a new social situation with new people in a new place. But there are things you can do as the small-group leader to help ease any tension that guests may be feeling. Here are some tips to help your guests feel more comfortable, received, and accepted in your small group.

Read full article on smallgroups.com

How to Handle Emotions in Your Small Group

When groups value authenticity, it’s only a matter of time before we face a highly emotional moment.

By Jon Noto

Would you opt into being a Bible study leader if you had absolutely no knowledge of the Bible? Your answer is likely "no." It's certain that any discussion would require some familiarity with the Bible, and you'd want to be prepared with at least a baseline level of knowledge.

In the same way, we need to be prepared—at least at a baseline level—to engage with people at a deep heart level if we desire authenticity in our small groups. When our groups hold the value of authenticity, it's only a matter of time before we'll encounter high emotions, including passion, pain, or fear.

Moments of high emotion can actually be great turning points for groups. But you'll need to plan proactively how you might handle these situations. As with most group dynamics questions, the answer involves a combination of three things: your leadership style, the maturity of the group, and the group's vision for the future (often described in the group agreement). In this article you'll find six ways to minister to group members in the midst of emotional moments.

The Basics of Facilitating

 

 

Serving Project Small Group Questions

So your small group has decided to break out of the normal routine of weekly meetings. You are going to meet together and tackle a community project, visit a nursing home, help in the kitchen at church. How do you capitalize on the experience? How can you make the serve more than just a task-based event on your group members' calendar?

Former Erie site pastor Paul Macosko has provided a list of questions that you can use the next time your group gets together.  It's a great way to reflect on what happened to your group members and their perspective on that experience.

  1. Have each member who went on the serve talk about a memorable/poignant/humorous moment during the project.
     
  2. What were your thoughts or feelings before we served?
     
  3. Was there anything particularly difficult for you about the project?
     
  4. What did you learn about yourself, our group, or our city as a result of participating in the project?
     
  5. Our church's mission is to "Eliminating barriers to give people access to Jesus Christ." How you feel doing service projects furthers that mission?
     
  6. Do you think our group should go back to the same place or try something different for our next project?

Can you add to this list of questions?  Feel free to post comments with this article to provide ways to build on and improve this idea.

Movie Discussion Series - A Fun Summer Option!

Small groups often change up their routine during the summer months. Throw in a picnic, a Seawolves game, maybe a day trip together somewhere fun.  But what about something to keep your spiritual muscles working, while at the same time doing it differently than the normal routine?

Smallgroups.com has created a series of studies based on movies that might be an interesting option to consider.  You may want to get together one week to watch the movie, and at the next meeting you could use the study guide to discuss specific scenes within the film.  

Here are the movies in the discussion series (click the title for the study guide), along with links to investigate the movie further:

Dead Poets SocietyIMDB / Rotten Tomatoes / Amazon

Les Miserables (1998 version) - IMDB / Rotten Tomatoes / Amazon

RadioIMDB / Rotten Tomatoes / Amazon

Cheaper by the Dozen (2003 version) - IMDB / Rotten Tomatoes / Amazon

About a Boy (2002 version) - IMDB / Rotten Tomatoes / Amazon

Finding NeverlandIMDB / Rotten Tomatoes / Amazon

Want to be an All Star? Serve in our kitchen!

Each week over a thousand people come through the doors of McLane Church.  Most of them enjoy a nice meal before or after their worship service. That wouldn't happen if it weren't for the willing hands and hearts of those whom we call our Kitchen All-Stars.

We would love to have your small group become part of our team, serving together on a given weekend, or as individuals if that is more convenient for their schedules.  Our team members prep, cook, serve and clean up the food and drink.

To learn more, or to join this team, simply drop an email to info@mclanechurch.org or fill out a MAP card while you're in church.

Calling All Cars!

From time to time the Care Ministry at McLane Church is approached with a need for transportation. Namely, the person needs a car, but has no means to acquire one on their own.

It may be that you have a vehicle that you have been considering trading in or selling for a newer model.  Perhaps you may want to consider donating that car to McLane Church and receive a tax deduction for it's fair market value.  

If you would like to make a vehicle contribution, please contact us by email at carefund@mclanechurch.org with the details.

Weekly Prayer Requests

Prayer Button

We invite your group to include into its prayer time a weekly list that comes from the leaders of McLane Church. Please feel free to use these prayer issues in any way that fits within your own small group prayer time.

Thanks for helping to expand the depth of prayer intercession for McLane Church!

 

 

Prayers for this week - 3/20/19

  • For people to realize God’s great love for them.

  • For God’s leading and blessing of Mike as he preaches our Lenten sermon series “Road to the Cross.”

  • For the planning of our Good Friday and Easter services.

  • For our children and youth to experience Christ in a new way during this Lent season and at Easter

  • For a willingness for people to continue serving...with passion.

  • For people who really need Jesus to find him at McLane church and among all of us who attend.

  • For God’s blessing on Pastor Brian as he teaches the New Testament study on Wednesdays through Lent.

  • For our wonderful Life Group leaders to stay strong in their call to shepherd others in God’s kingdom.

  • For a deep desire for growth in the Lord.

  • For people who are struggling with health issues both mental and physical.

  • For Holy Spirit inspired teaching.