Are you longing to be loved?

unconditional love

In the study of human relationships, Psychology and Christianity both explore what it is to be loved. But they’re often at odds about how we should love. One focuses on reciprocity (conditional love), whereas the other focuses on giving (unconditional love). Which of these describes your SOP? And how’s that working out for you?

We’re born vulnerable. And we stay that way … if we’re healthy, that is.
Because vulnerability is a requirement for emotional connection with others.

But Life Experience has told us all to “watch out!”

We’ve all been disappointed and hurt by someone we counted on. And the fact is that the people we love – those who matter most to us – have the power to hurt us most.

Some of us have been abused. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. Sexually. Spiritually. Indeed, every aspect of our vulnerability can be a target for abuse. If that’s you, you need to set boundaries. That’s biblical. And it makes total (psychological + spiritual) sense to seek help in establishing those boundaries. In fact, sticking around for more abuse actually enables someone else’s sin by interfering with the biblical principle of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7). That is, when you abuse someone, you lose them.

NOTE: Do not blame the victim! Take care of her (or him)!

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again … (Romans 8:15a)

God has called us to live in peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15b)

But as a Psychologist, I know we can take “boundaries” too far.
Especially in marriage counseling!

What was designed to keep people safe has been perverted into a self-justification for our tendency to be self-serving. Most believe – with the help of psychology – that if you aren’t getting what you want from a relationship, demand it. Or manipulate. And if the other person doesn’t respond the way you want him to? Replace him?

GOOD NEWS! His “insensitivity” is often not even about you.

No woman wants to be referred to as “The Princess” or “The Diva” or “The Old Lady.” All those titles described a self-centered woman who has no clue that men are people, too.

Honestly, most women are just dealing poorly with hurt feelings. But you can avoid name-calling (and deal with your own hurt) with a simple-but-not-always-easy strategy.

Unconditional Love

The Fact-of-the-Matter is, even if you’re married to an emotionally healthy (yes, most men are emotionally healthy despite the pain of their upbringing), usually kind, godly man, he won’t be perfect at meeting your emotional needs.

He is a human being, right? So perhaps it’s his emotion needs that aren’t being met! And, unfortunately, men are not the best at asking for what they need.

So if he’s inattentive or unkind in a way that’s out of character for him, ask The Lord these three questions:

  1. What is happening in his life now that might cause him to be this way?
  2. What is it that You want him to have or to be right now?
  3. How can I partner with You the process?

Follow God’s Example

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

And it’s perfectly all right to ask The Lord
to help your man love you again.

Love Doesn’t Punish

But that’s what happens to most men … on a regular basis. As one man told researcher Dr. Brené Brown,

… you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see … my wife and my three daughters? They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else. (transcript)

Determine not to punish him – to shame him for his vulnerability. Because …

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:38)

And soak up all the Jesus you can – all day, every day!
Because you need unconditional love, too!

NOTE: If this post on unconditional love raises questions for you, please send a message to mail@drdebismith.com. I will respond personally as time permits.

I failed … again.

Yes, this woman messes up on a regular basis. Repeatedly. Frequently. And I’ve done it again. And I hurt. Yes, I take risks. I swing the bat. And I strike out. Far more than I get a hit. But when I try to hide my vulnerability, someone else gets hurt. I hate that.

When I take matters into my own hands and pretend like I didn’t mess up or try to prevent others others from knowing about it, I’m living in the flesh. And since I’m dead to sin and alive in Christ, that simply won’t do!

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature;
the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB)

From Vulnerability to Shame

You’ve no doubt watched a baby learning to walk, yes? He’s vulnerable. He falls down. A lot. He cries. He looks for empathy. But, no matter what, it’s in his DNA to get back up and try again. His vulnerability doesn’t stop him. He’s just learning what doesn’t work in walking. And he’s training his muscles to do what they’re created to do.

However, long before he reaches adulthood …

  • life experience will teach him to hide his vulnerability.
  • He will go from knowing he’s failed to believing he’s a failure.
  • And that’s called shame.

Everyone experiences vulnerability and shame. And everyone knows shame can be debilitating. But men and women think about vulnerability and shame very differently.

Women and Vulnerability

The point where vulnerability hits us women hardest is in our belief that we must do everything perfectly. Like the Proverbs 31 Woman. Which, of course, we can’t. We compare ourselves to other women – mostly the airbrushed ones – and anxiety takes over. Here are two ways to look at it:

  • Psychologically: When you hide your vulnerability and set yourself up as “having arrived,” you’re partnering with shame. You’ve set up a wall between you and the man you love. And the disconnection hurts you both. Deeply.
  • Spiritually: Jesus has set you free to learn without fearing your failures. Perfect love casts out fear. Because fear has to do with punishment. And God is not about to punish you for being vulnerable. Jesus took your punishment for you so that you would be free to learn to walk in His Righteousness instead. (1 John 4:18)

Men and Vulnerability

I’ve written extensively about men and vulnerability in my books and could simply quote myself here.

  • Psychologically: But for this post, I want to quote Dr. Brené Brown in her TED video, “Listening to Shame.”

For men, shame is not a bunch of competing, conflicting expectations. Shame is one: Do not be perceived as what? Weak. I did not interview men for the first four years of my study. It wasn’t until a man looked at me after a book signing, and said, “I love what [you] say about shame, I’m curious why you didn’t mention men.” And I said, “I don’t study men.”And he said, “That’s convenient.”

And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters?” I said, “Yeah.” “They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.”

  • Spiritually: Our Creator never meant life to be that way for men! That means He is deeply invested in helping us make things right again! (Ephesians 5:21-33)

He who finds a wife finds what is good
    and receives favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22)

She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:12)

Problem or Possibility?

Whenever a new couple comes to me for counseling, The Lord quickly shows me what He has in mind for them. So my initial goal is always to help them see how their issue, when the problem is defined, is pointing toward the possibility for their marriage. That is, without the issue they would probably continue to ignore the problem – and thereby miss out on all that God has for them both.

My method is pretty easy actually. You can do it, too. Just define the problem; then name its opposite. And there you have it!

If you’d like some help identifying your possibility,
just send a message to mail@drdebismith.com

HINT: The problem is usually the how we deal with our vulnerability (by being defensive) and shame (by hiding).

The Truth: There is Freedom in Vulnerability

Psychologically: People who can allow themselves to be vulnerable with one another have achieved the Core Skill needed for Emotional Connection. And according to Dr. Brown, vulnerability is also “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Spiritually: We are free to stumble while we are learning. The Lord knows we are dust. After all, He is the Potter, and we are the clay. (Jeremiah 29:16)

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24-25)

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-13)

REMINDER: Seek the Holy Spirit to examine the Scriptures.

… they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11b)

Once Upon a Time

She was 14 and alone. The kitchen sink was full of sewage. No one knew, but her

… and the Lord.

Junior high had been a struggle for her, as it is for many a lonely teenager. But her experience in 9th grade had rocked everything in her world.

The pain of her shame was so sharp she couldn’t sleep.

Night after night, she’d stay up ‘til the wee hours, crying – sobbing – because she didn’t fit in. And she never would.

She’d wanted so badly to fit in. But she was poor. Very poor. Living in a middleclass neighborhood. Pretending she was middleclass. But she wasn’t. How many of her friends knew that? Only the few who’d dared to enter her house.

From the outside, the family home seemed quaint – some might even say it was charming. Yellow unpainted stucco that, seen up close, looked like thick cornbread batter, dolloped and swirled in a more-or-less uniform pattern. Perhaps the oldest structure on the block, its uniqueness stood out among the rows of neatly painted white houses that lined both sides of the street in a very quiet neighborhood. French doors led from the small veranda into the living room on one side and into the dining room on the adjacent side, adding to its enchanting ambience.

If you looked closely at sunny reflections in its huge picture window, you’d see wavy places, revealing the fact that it had been installed a long time before its present tenant had been born.

The grass was green enough, except for the scattering of bright dandelions, which always seemed to pop up in defiance within just a few hours of being mowed down. A closer look revealed that the lawn’s rich color was the result of a thick combination of clover, broadleaf, and volunteer grasses that had drifted onto the lot from other, more intentional plantings over the years.

The inside, however, told a different story. The whole place reeked of wet wallpaper. Layers and layers of ancient wallpaper that someone had tried unsuccessfully to strip away. Here and there the bare plaster revealed an old and now-ugly past … stained with yellowed paste, chipped in places, and sometimes revealing the rough surface of the lathe underneath.

No central air. No central furnace. Only a gas stove that stood on the weathered wooden floor in the dining room. The kitchen cabinets, painted with thick ivory enamel, were no longer squarely connected with their doors. Behind the kitchen stove and the hot water heater that stood next to it, someone had attempted to pretty it all by tacking up a large piece of bright yellow linoleum trimmed with broad black stripes that made its crookedness all the more apparent. Nothing matched.

The dark hardwood floors of the living room and bedrooms no longer shined. Their varnish had worn away decades before. The stairs creaked. The lighting was dim. Dark and lonely. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. No wonder she escaped so often … sometimes to neighbors’. Sometimes to her only friend’s house. Mostly to her church.

She felt safe at church.
She knew it’s where she belonged.

When she was younger and lived on the other side of town, she’d ridden the Sunday School bus with her older brother. They’d walk two blocks to stand on the corner in front of the Christian Bookstore and pitch pennies while they waited to be picked up. Back then, she only got to go on an occasional Sunday morning.

Thanks to an urban renewal project, however, they had to move to another house, which was back in the old neighborhood. The best thing about it: Now church was just six blocks from home. Before the family owned a car, she’d walk there and back three times each and every week – Sunday morning services, Sunday evening services, and Wednesday night prayer meetings.

The summer she was 12, she left church shortly after dark to walk home. She remembered that it was that particular June because she was wearing the polka dot blouse and matching wraparound skirt she’d make in 7th grade home economics that spring. Ever cautious about her surroundings, she watched and listened as she headed for home.

Just a block or two from the church, she heard footsteps behind her and looked over her shoulder. It was a man in a checkered shirt. Not wanting to appear afraid, she turned her head back in the direction she was going and quickened her steps, but only slightly so as to appear calmer than she actually felt. Kansas was always rainy in June, and the sidewalks had puddles here and there – mostly small, but some large. She lengthened her stride to make it over one of them – at the same instant the man did.

He wrapped his arm around her neck, slapping his hand tightly over her mouth, and commanded, “Don’t scream.”

Then he yanked her purse from her hand and took off. She didn’t know in which direction. Her heart was pounding so hard she couldn’t think. As soon as the man had let her go, she began screaming at the top of her lungs. Instinctively, she headed back to the church. Visibly shaken and out of breath, she ran into the foyer where several adults were still visiting. Her Sunday School teacher offered her comfort as she told the story. The police were called, and the pastor gave her a ride home. She didn’t sleep well for months. Lots of months.

Now she was 14 … and living alone. The kitchen sink was full of sewage. No one knew, but her … and the Lord. Instead of crying, she plunged. And plunged some more. And as she plunged, she sang aloud every hymn she’d ever learned. How Great Thou Art. Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. Glorious Freedom. All four verses of every song she knew.

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus
Sing his mercy and his grace
In the mansions bright and blessed
He’ll prepare for us a place.

When we all get to Heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory.

Instead of singing and plunging her way through her fears, she should have told someone so they could call a plumber. It all seems pointless now. Or does it? How could she have made it through such a dark time without the Lord?

Many times throughout the years, life struggles would cause her to question the reliability of His love for her. But she always knew He was there.

I know this story well because it’s mine.

However, it’s only one chapter of my story … a chapter that had its origins in early life experiences and beliefs I’d held about who I was.

Excerpt from Ephesians 5 Romance: the Truth about Love by Dr. Debi Smith

This is just one of many early experiences that helped shape who I am becoming. Several decades and many more experiences later, I am just beginning to learn how to ride the waves of life with Jesus by my side. When I feel like I’m sinking, I just look into His eyes and see His love for me. Then I am stronger than before.

Never give up!

Save

Breaking Free

Growing up is a process. Jesus did it. And so do we. We go from dependence on our parents to independence. If we keep going as we should in our human relationships, we will begin to understand interdependence. Ultimately, we realize that we have always been – and always will be – dependent on Our Creator.

At the time I wrote the following essay, I was just beginning to realize how to achieve my independence from dysfunctional relationships. Yes, my freshman year of college – at the age of 40 – was a great time in my life. Part of my story that I often forget. So I decided to share it with you.


The afternoon was beautifully complete with emerald grass, sapphire skies, and the moist heat of August as I pulled my van onto the airport road.

Was it just yesterday that I stood at the end of this same runway and watched a sleek King Air carry my husband off on another adventure? As a full-time wife and mother, I envied his business world. There in the wind, my feet planted firmly on the ground and three little boys in tow, I had said to myself, “I’m going to do that someday.”

At the time I thought I meant that I would go places and be somebody too, but perhaps I meant much more than that. Maybe even then I knew that I would fly.

My husband and I were now divorced. Having to fend for myself and my sons, I attained a position as a marketing assistant for an avionics company. Several times a year we called on customers in our company aircraft. I looked forward to every trip, but it was not enough. I just had to fly myself.

I parked the van, scooped up my log book, and walked around the huge gray hangar. The airport seemed deserted except for the varying hum of single engine aircraft muffled by distance and the sound of my own pounding heart. I spotted the Cessna 152, a mere speck in the southern sky that disappeared as it approached the runway then reappeared as it took off again.

The late afternoon sun was scorching, but I was too excited to care. I had been through ground school, studied the flight training videos, and logged several hours in the Cessna, but this day was special. My heart picked up the pace as the white and blue airplane rounded the corner and headed toward the hangar.

Randy, the student who had been flying the plane, grinned at me through the windshield as he shut down the engine. We were coworkers and often kidded each other about our abilities as pilots.

“Hey, Randy, not too bad! When are you going to solo?”

“I don’t know. That’s up to the boss here,” he said, referring to Arik, our flight instructor who remained seated in the plane. We exchanged a few pleasantries and Randy headed for home as I took his place in the left seat.

Arik, an engineer with the company, was still dressed in his usual office attire of white shirt and black slacks. His short blond hair and fair complexion sparkled with perspiration, but I knew it was from the summer heat and not from nervousness. He was at home in any aircraft, even with unskilled student pilots. He briefed me on the goals of the lesson.

“We’re going to stay in the pattern today and do touch-and-go’s to get you ready for your solo. There’s nothing to worry about, right? All we’re going to do is practice.”

Arik was from Israel, and his Hebrew accent coupled with the static on the headset made communication difficult. I frequently asked him to repeat his instructions, but he never lost patience with me.

I ran through the preflight checklist out loud, contacted the control tower, and taxied to the end of the runway. Cleared for takeoff, I checked the instruments again and pulled the plane up on the center line of the airstrip. I drew a long breath that didn’t seem long enough and pushed the throttle all the way in. My heartbeat accelerated in direct proportion to the speed of the airplane. At eighty knots, I gently pulled the yoke toward me, looked out the window, and checked my pitch attitude against the horizon. The plane lifted off and left the world behind us.

As we reached the desired altitude and cleared the end of the runway, I automatically banked to the right. I usually looked to Arik for affirmation, but that day I was more confident; I knew what to do. It just felt right. I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment I experienced at that moment. All the details of previous training were finally coming together. I was really flying. I wasn’t just playing the notes; I heard the music.

Above the airport, above the circumstances of life, I found a new and refreshing perspective. Not so long ago, I had looked to my husband for affirmation in my life, much as I had looked to Arik in the plane, but I had come a long way. I no longer required the constant reassurance of another person. I could read the instruments myself. I sensed the freedom that comes with the willingness to take risks on one’s own.

Although we still need other people, there comes a time when we must put the pieces together for ourselves – and fly.


Do you remember a time when you felt free?

  • Where were you?
  • Who was with you?
  • What feelings did you experience?
  • How did that sense of freedom impact your life going forward?