Breaking Free From Toxic Relationships

John 8:36

If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed. (NIV).

I was in a toxic relationship for years. It’s not something that I’m proud of. It was life-draining, humiliating, and exhausting. I’m ashamed of some of the things that went down. It felt like that cycle of dysfunction was never going to end.

There were words spoken that broke my self-confidence. It happened all the time. Every moment I built myself back up, I got torn down. In retrospect, I hold myself responsible. I was the one who kept coming back and asking for more. There were multiple times that I could have chosen freedom, but I didn’t. I decided to return to my chains.

Even when freedom is right before our eyes, we have to take that step forward to embrace it. We must be bold enough to make it ours. We are often the ones fueling our own bondage. We continually return to the chains that have held us back for so long.

In John 8:36, Jesus tells us, “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed” (NIV). Let His words resonate in your mind. Freedom is within your grasp! Jesus is trying to tell you that you can break free from the cycle. You can break free from the pain. Stop believing the lies, and no longer return to your chains.

You can break free from the pain. Stop believing the lies, and no longer return to your chains.

Have you ever found yourself in this situation? Why do we do this to ourselves? 

Fear

When we live in a dysfunctional situation for so long, we end up becoming comfortable in it. We are afraid of what’s outside of that reality. It’s fear of the unknown. We start to believe the lie that there is nothing better for us. The most terrifying thought is one of being alone. 

The only answer is to find the courage to break out of our comfort zone and cast aside the lies. We need to embrace Jesus and the freedom He so freely gives. It’s the type of freedom that reminds us we are free to choose life-giving and empowering things. He longs for us to experience this deliverance, but we have the final say on if we accept it or not.

Lack of Confidence

My shattered self-image is what caused me to remain where I was. I couldn’t find it in myself to believe that I deserved better. I took to heart the lies fed to me. I desperately tried to strive towards being something that I was not. I genuinely wanted to please my partner but ended up becoming less and less of who God called me to be.

I devalued myself. I started to become the person that I never wanted to be. My twisted perception of myself started to become a reality. It was a slippery slope, and I couldn’t regain my footing. Ultimately, I was the one allowing it to happen. It took me a long time to be able to see it clearly.

Desire to See Your Partner Change

There is good in everyone, undoubtedly. We see the good in our partner and remember the reasons we connected in the first place. No matter how destructive their patterns become, we want to believe they will change. We desire to be the instrument of that change. Our heart is in shambles because we hate to see our partner in the state that they are in.

If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we realize that it’s up to them to change. That burden is not on you. Ultimately, you don’t have that choice. It’s a tragedy, but something that you must accept. 

It’s up to them to change. That burden is not on you.

Our God is a God of healing. He wants to see you free from anything that holds you back. If you are in a toxic relationship, Jesus wants you to know that freedom is available to you. If you embrace it, there is no need to fear what’s on the other side. He will lead you to true freedom and the chance to retake hold of your life. If you are feeling scared to take this step, let His words in Isaiah 41:10 speak directly to your heart: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (NIV).

The Truth About Sex

Song of Solomon 2:16

My love is mine, and I am his (NLT)

God thinks sex is awesome. So awesome that He decided to make it the only way that we bring new life into this world. No matter how much we may try to avoid the topic sometimes or treat it as taboo, there is no denying that how we view sex is critical. It is an integral part of our reality and a universal truth of human existence. I fear we don’t teach about it enough.

For my fellow Christians, I have a question: Do we want our children to learn about sex from the church or the world around them? I understand the awkwardness of having these conversations, and I understand the hesitancy to speak about it much at church, but it is essential. If we don’t teach our youth about sex, somebody else will. Who do you want them hearing about it from?

If we don’t teach our youth about sex, somebody else will. Who do you want them hearing about it from?

To do this, we ourselves must have a firm grasp on what the truth about sex is. A lot of us don’t know what to say. Our parents perhaps never said much themselves on the matter besides, “don’t do it.” Telling your kids not to do something is not going to stop them from doing it, plain and simple. The universal question of why they shouldn’t be doing it is much more important to express. Through that, you can help them craft a worldview where they view sex with the reverence, respect, and beauty that it deserves.

Do you even know what the Bible says the truth about sex is? Sex is an expression of the oneness in marriage: “and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one” (Mark 10:8, NLT). It is two people, who have made a life-long commitment to one another, expressing the image of God together and reflecting it more clearly. Think about it. Men and women are both different, but both have the image of God within them. What happens when they join as one? They reflect that image more fully! Sex in marriage is a physical expression of this truth. We find power in living out truth in a physical way. That’s what we do in worship. We are acting out our faith in a physical way, praising God with our bodies. Isn’t sex the same way? So think of it as an act of worship to God.

In contrast to this, the world promotes sex as a pleasure, something we can indulge in with whoever we want. Millions of TV shows, movies, magazines, etc. promote it as far, far less than what it truly is. This is what our youth is seeing and what is shaping their perception of sex. They are being robbed of seeing the true value, the true fulfillment, and the true significance that it holds. That’s why so many grow up ending up very hurt in their relationships and struggling to ever find lasting happiness in love.

What God wants us to find in sex is lifelong love, security, and fulfillment. God wants to shape our minds to see sex as a complete giving of one’s self to their spouse, and the receiving of the other in return. It is a beautiful way to say, “I give myself up to live for you” while your spouse says the same. It can serve as a reminder of how to live this out in our everyday lives as well, putting the needs of your spouse before your own. That’s why the Bible says, “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations” (1 Corinthians 7:5). It’s a gentle nudge to focus on the needs of your spouse before your own. It is a reminder to continually return to the love that sparked your relationship in the first place. It helps us never to forget that sex is not only an act of receiving but also of giving. This mutual giving and receiving serves to strengthen our bonds with our spouse.

What God wants us to find in sex is lifelong love, security, and fulfillment.

I challenge you to ask God to reshape the way that you view sex and help to teach you how to express it healthily so that we can educate each other and our youth as the church. Let us together remind the world of the true value that sex holds, instead of diminishing its worth so greatly.

Note: if you like what you read, check out these other articles on love and marriage!

Does True Love Exist?

Why Marriage Matters

How to Heal a Broken Heart

How to Heal a Broken Heart

Proverbs 4:23

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (NLT)

Let’s face it, waiting sucks. Especially when it is for something that you know you were created for, something that brings true value and meaning to your life. Take love for instance. Why is it so elusive, and often so exceedingly painful? Can waiting help us prevent, and possibly heal, a broken heart?

We are not merely flesh and bones. In this body God has planted a heart. This heart gives us an immense capacity to love and be loved. It allows us to experience both moments of passion and a lifetime of commitment. Our lives thrive when we find this sort of love and especially when it is lasting. This is because it is a fundamental truth about the human condition that we were created to be interconnected, and in relationship with one another.

It is a fundamental truth about the human condition that we were created to be interconnected, and in relationship with one another.

This is what makes the hurt we experience as a result of a broken heart so crushingly painful. It is not natural. It is the complete antithesis of what we are supposed to experience. It drains our hope, and it drains our passion because we have lost something that was supposed to be life-giving. It is an innate part of our design and when it is taken away we are left disconnected from ourselves and it is easy to lose sight of our mission, value, and worth.

This is why there is such a huge responsibility to be found in the way that we handle our relationships. When did we get away from understanding the impact that we have on one another? Isolation, depression, and loneliness is killing our world. It’s sweeping through contagiously infecting all of those found in its path. It seems overwhelming and unconquerable. The solution to this problem starts with us, and it needs to start today.

The hard part about this solution is that ultimately we can only control our own behavior and our own choices. We can be the best witnesses to others and influence them in powerful ways, but when it comes down to it they will choose how they behave. The cure for a broken heart comes down to balancing two things: being preventative and being proactive.

Being preventative simply means loving deeply, but loving the right person. We always need to be giving in a relationship, yes, but there is a time when you can be too giving. Think about it like this: if you and the other person are not in the place where you have been able to make the lifelong commitment of marriage to each other, than why would you be so giving to the point where you will lose so much that you can never regain if they leave? Giving of that intensity should come from a place of deep commitment and lifelong love. Think twice before giving what you can never take back. Again, waiting sucks, I get it, but that’s what God is trying to tell us in Proverbs 4:23.

Giving of that intensity should come from a place of deep commitment and lifelong love. Think twice before giving what you can never take back.

Being proactive is making the decision to choose God as your number one relationship no matter what stage in life you find yourself in. Single or married, never stop pursuing God. Is the love we find in Him different than the kind of love we find in another? It sure is. But it is irreplaceable nonetheless and will fill you with hope, patience, and value far above what you can find anywhere else.

Waiting sucks, but it is worth it. Waiting for the right time and person helps us to find love that lasts. Seeking and waiting for God’s healing gives us the space to heal. If God has placed a desire on your heart that is honorable and faithful to His Word, He will surely deliver on His promises. The joy you will receive on that day will far exceed the pain of this moment. Cling tight to that truth and “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT).

Does True Love Exist?

Why Marriage Matters: Part 2

Song of Solomon 6:3

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (NIV)

I’m going to flip the script here and ditch the clever opening story in order to get right to the answer poised in the title of this reflection: does true love exist? The answer is a resounding YES! True love DOES exist, but perhaps it isn’t what we expected it to be.

We live in a culture that promotes radical individuality. It is encouraged to spend a great deal of our lives focused on defining ourselves and making sure that we have a distinct identity separate from others. I fear that it has grown to a point in which we are beginning to worship this individuality to the degree that we are teetering awfully close to the ledge of idolatry.

True love DOES exist, but perhaps it isn’t what we expected it to be.

The message of the Gospel is counter-culture and radically opposed to the ways of the world around us. This holds true in marriage as well. God doesn’t call us to seek individuality in marriage, He calls us to seek oneness. Radical individuality makes oneness very difficult, hence the struggles we see in the statistics on marriage, even Christian marriage. How do we find this oneness?

Find a Biblical Definition of Self, but Prepare to be Redefined in Marriage:Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV).

Our sense of self needs to be primarily rooted in our understanding of our role as children of God, not in our particular interests, hobbies, or work. For example, I am very passionate about writing, but I don’t cease to be myself if such an artistic medium no longer existed. It’s something I enjoy, but it doesn’t define me. Also, in marriage I’ve become more myself than I was before marriage. I didn’t lose myself. Despite what many say, even in the Christian community, don’t be afraid of your identity changing in the midst of your marriage: welcome it! Holding on too tightly to what we thought we were will just create isolation, strife, and misunderstanding. Jesus didn’t cling to any earthly conception of anything, rather He was willing to give away His life itself in service to those He loved! If Christ can give His very life, why do we cling to such little things that divide us?

Make the Needs of Your Spouse Your Own:Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10, NIV).

Making the needs of your spouse your own cultivates the intimacy, trust, and oneness that so many marriages are missing today. Don’t worry, your needs won’t go unmet, because serving your spouse in this way will help to inspire them to do the same for you. Truly rejoice in their highs, grieve with them in their lows, and ALWAYS take the time to listen. Invest in your spouse richly and do everything you can to help them thrive.

Create and Pursue Dreams Together:Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, NIV).

Be willing to put your marriage before your personal dreams. Controversial, I know, but I believe it’s important. There are dreams I’ve sacrificed in order to become one with my wife and now, years later, I’m glad I did! The dreams we’ve created, pursued, and conquered together are far greater than the ones I had myself. And through it all, we’ve attained a oneness we could have never imagined.

The dreams we’ve created, pursued, and conquered together are far greater than the ones I had myself.

Of course, these steps only work when pursued in unison with your partner, and I’m not claiming it will happen overnight. Rather, it is an overall mindset worth considering and cultivating within your own life and marriage. Pray and ask God to lead you in this, as you would in any area of your life.