Sunday, October 30, 2011


The final component that enhances bonding or that sense of love is touch. Research shows us that the hormones (vasopressin and oxytoin) stimulated by touch promote a sense of bonding and connection. Just recently I read how holding hands with your spouse can actually can raise your immune system response and lower your blood pressure. Touch is a powerful factor to maintain bounding or attachment between a couple.

How does touch in a marital relationship reflect how Christ loves the church? That’s a great question! For some time I have been seen the value of Gary Chapman’s ‘love languages" as a great metaphor to help couples understand each other and learn how to speak each other’s love language. However, I was amazed when I read his book "The Love Languages of God" and he illustrated how God expresses His love to us in all five languages (including touch), and how we tend to express our love for God through our own primary love language. Many of those who have the primary love language of touch seem to enjoy expressing their worship of God through physical expressions such as uplifted hands and forms of worship that include physical expression like clapping hands, dancing, etc. If Chapman’s theory is correct, touch is a primary way for some to express their love, both to spouse and God.

On a much deeper level, biblically the act of sexual union is viewed as two bodies becoming one-Genesis 2:24: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." That "one flesh" connection or relationship was meant to be shared with only one other human, according to God’s original plan. Biblically, this type of oneness is unique in that we do not have it with other friends or relationships, only with our spouse.

The unique oneness in marriage is a wonderful picture of the oneness God desires that we have with him spiritually. Among some of the analogies of Christ and the church in the New Testament, the church is compared to being a body, with Christ as the head (I Corinthians 12 and many other passages). Christ considers us one with him.

Often throughout the Scriptures unfaithfulness to God is compared to unfaithfulness in marriage. Jeremiah 2:20 speaks of the children of Israel and their lack of faithfulness to worship the one and only God: "Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute." In the New Testament I Corinthians 6:15 says "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!" Our faithfulness to Christ requires oneness with Him and no other god.

In the New Testament numerous passages refer to the truth that Christ lives in you, or "oneness." Romans 8:10-11 "But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." Not only are we one in spirit, but just as the sexual union produces new life physically (a child), so oneness with Christ produces new life within us spiritually.

Our physical union in marriage is a beautiful picture of our oneness with Christ. The commitment that keeps us physically and emotionally pure (faithful) in our marriage is a strong image of the commitment each Christian should have to be spiritually pure and have unity with Christ in their relationship with Him. Remaining strongly attached, or bonded to Christ requires this "oneness," just as sexual oneness is a factor in maintaining attachment in marriage.

So, all five factors identified in science to be crucial to maintain a healthy attachment to a marital partner (know, trust, rely, commitment, and touch) are also factors that are crucial to maintain a healthy attachment to God. No wonder God uses marriage as a symbol of His love for and relationship with the church!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Have you ever felt like you have "lost your first love?" (Revelation 2:4). While Christ was speaking directly of the love of the Ephesian's church toward him, there are many couples that come to counseling and feel that they are not "in love" with their spouse anymore. One of the secrets to maintaining that ‘first love" is commitment. Commitment, one of the strongest and most obvious factors in God’s love for us, is reflected powerfully in the idea that marriage is an earthly picture of how Christ loves the church. Commitment is also the 4th factor essential to bonding for a couple in Van Epp’s RAM model.
The heart of commitment has been described as "how you belong to each other in the relationship" (John Van Epp).Van Epp goes on to remind us that commitment produces a "resiliency in marriage that strengthens a couple’s ability to cope with stress, required separations (military duty, etc), and difficulties. But, it "must be more than a vow made those many years ago. It must be translated into daily promises and actions." What a great description of God’s commitment to us and our commitment to Him! In the same way that commitment produces resiliency in marriage, commitment to God, and an assurance of God’s commitment to us produces resiliency for His children in dealing with the difficulties of every day life. It is essential that we remember that we "belong" to God (Mark 9:41; Romans 1:6; Romans 14:8; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; I Corinthians 15:23; 2 Corinthians 10:7 –just to name a few).

For many years I have thought the heart of biblical marriage, the truest definition of love, is the concept of "commitment." The vows that were used for many years in most churches reflected this concept in the phrase "til death do us part." We committed to love no matter what financial difficulties, physical illnesses, or emotional pains came in the relationship. In a study of how people would describe love and commitment, researchers discovered that about two thirds of the words used for commitment were also used as synonyms for love.

Dr. Scott Stanley (sometimes known as Dr. Commitment) has done extensive research on commitment. He believes there are two sides of the coin of commitment: 1. Dedicated (devoted) commitment and 2. Constraint commitment.

1. Dedicated commitment is the sense of connection, of desire to stay together (bonding)–no matter what happens. Most couples experience this type of commitment in the beginning of their relationship, but it tends to come and go, and can be impacted not only by the quality of the relationship but also by emotional ups and downs most individuals experience. Brain research has revealed that there are several neurotransmitters that impact our sense of bonding or dedication to each other.

"In humans, oxytocin is released during hugging and pleasant physical touch, and plays a part in the human sexual response cycle. It appears to change the brain signals related to social recognition via facial expressions, perhaps by changing the firing of the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a primary role in the processing of important emotional stimuli. In this way, oxytocin in the brain may be a potent mediator of human social behavior. ‘That’s why oxytocin is sometimes called ‘the love hormone,’said MacDonald. ‘It’s said that the eyes are the window to the soul…they certainly are the window to the emotional brain. We know that the eye-to-eye communication—which is affected by oxytocin—is critical to intimate emotional communication for all kind of emotions – love, fear, trust, anxiety.’" (

It fascinates me that eye-to-eye communication produces oxytocin, and that God has instructed us to focus on Him. In Matthew 6:22-24 Jesus speaks about the eyes. "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Jesus connects the importance of where our focus is and where our commitment (devotion) will be.

After losing his sight when Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus, and regaining his sight 3 days later when Ananias came to him, Paul prayed for believers in Ephesians 1:18 "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints." We must focus our eyes on Christ to truly know Him.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us to "fix our eyes on Jesus." The more we focus on Him, the deeper our commitment and devotion to Him will be.

Because the chemicals in our brain come and go, husbands and wives do not always, every day, feel a strong sense of "devotion" to each other. Some days I just don’t feel very "loving." Fortunately God created us in such as way that our commitment is not dependent only on a set of chemicals in our brain. He saw the need for another side to commitment. Constraint commitment (the second side of commitment identified by Stanley) includes the impact of those issues that might keep us committed to our marriage even when our heart is not in it. It would include things like not leaving a marriage due to what the family, co-workers or friends might say, religious beliefs or convictions, staying together for the children’s sake, or even fears of the financial impact. As Christians, husbands are commanded to love their wife as Christ loves the church. Wives, although never directly commanded to love their husbands (wives are commanded to respect their husband), would certainly fall under the command to love your neighbor as yourself. When the sense of commitment due to desire (devotion) waxes and wanes, constraint commitment will often keep us in the relationship until the difficult time passes. Constraint commitment based on our beliefs and convictions about what the Bible teaches can enable us to keep acting in loving ways even on those days we don’t feel very loving.

Of all the factors involved in the bond and connection for the marital relationship, commitment is probably the most reflective of our relationship with God. He loved us–committed to us-- before we knew Him, and before we loved Him. Romans 8 is a beautiful picture of the depth and strength of God’s commitment to us. It ends reminding us that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39).

Not only is there nothing that can ever separate us from His love once we have become His child, but He is always with us. (Matthew 29:20). The most common rationale people give for wanting to get married is to not live this life alone, to have a companion to go through the experiences of life. We always have Christ with us, no matter what we face, what we experience. Marriage is one of the closest reflections here on earth of that wonderful experience of having someone with you to face life.

When a couple or even one partner in the marriage "feels" like they are not "in love" anymore, constraint commitment will enable them to stay in the relationship and to keep acting "as if" they loved their partner. Love in the scriptures is described in I Corinthians 13 as a set of actions and behaviors. Words like "patient, kind, not envying, not boasting, not self-seeking, keeping no record of wrongs, protecting, trusting, hoping, persevering" are all actions that we can chose to do or not to do. These are the words of love, but also of commitment!

These same concepts of commitment in marriage are essential in maintaining a healthy relationship with God. My challenge to you and myself is that we continue to work at keeping our eyes on Christ and our spouse, and we recognize we have the ability to "chose" commitment in our everyday behavior whether we feel like it or not.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Reliability is the third factor  Dr. Van Epp places in the Relationship Attachment Model that will enable couples to maintain healthy connection. 

Reliability is trust put into action.  When your mental image of a person is accurate, they will (unless there is an unusual circumstance) follow fairly closely what they have told you they will do. If you ask them to pick up the children from school, they are reliable to do that. If they said they will be responsible to vacuum each week, they will do it most weeks. You know that they will do what they have said they will do.

Across seasons of life, levels of reliability can shift. For example, when a new baby is born, the new mom may not be able to complete the responsibilities she has previously been completing, and may need to rely on the husband more for some of those tasks. When the husband opens a new business, he may need the wife to complete certain tasks for him in the new business. A lack of reliability almost always begins to break down the level of trust between a couple.

How is reliability reflected in our relationship with God?  Most of us, if asked, would quickly say that God is reliable.  At least in our prefrontal cortex (that part of the brain that reasons and makes judgments) we would assert that God will do what He says he will do. But when it comes to everyday life, we often doubt that God will do what He says He will do.  God says He will provide our every need. The children of Exodus doubted Him when they were thirsty, and began complaining and grumbling, instead of asking God to provide for their needs.  They had already witnessed great miracles from God, including the plagues in Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. 

We often are quick to doubt God, and not believe that He is reliable.  When we need something, and don't have the money to meet that need, often our first action is to get out our credit card and go purchase whatever we think we need, instead of asking and waiting to let God provide.  When we are in a difficult or painful situation, instead of crying out to God to comfort and strengthen us, our response may be to complain and do whatever it takes to run from the circumstances, or to numb our pain in some way.  Our behaviors betray our words that we believe we can rely on God. Is He able to direct the decisions of  my boss or supervisor? Is He able to direct the heart of my husband or wife? Can I rely on Him to use even painful losses or illness?  Putting our trust or faith into action is one of the behaviors that pleases God most. (Hebrews 11:6  "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

I wonder how reliable we are for God?  As Christians we claim to be His servants.  But how often do we bring disgrace to Him for our un-Christ-like behaviors and attitudes?  How often do people think "If that is what being a Christian is all about, I'm not interested." 

To have a strong bond, a strong attachment between myself and God, I need to believe that He is reliable and I need to be reliable to God. I am convinced that God is reliable...He always is who He says He is, and does what He says He will do. But I need to work on my confidence in that and be sure my life reflects that belief.  And I need to evaluate my own behavior and attitudes....can God rely on me?