Using Others for my Physical and Emotional Needs
William Barclay, a British theologian, tells a story about a boy who came to an intersection of the road, where one sign pointed to the city of Seattle, and another pointed to the city of Tacoma. The boy then wondered to himself, “How many people could I send down the wrong road if I changed the signs?”
Our lives are signposts with signs on. Are we sending people down the wrong road or the right road?
I’ve been asked to write about flirting, and using others to meet our physical and emotional needs. So, are these behaviours always wrong?
Let’s face it, most of us know when we are flirting; it usually starts when we fancy someone, and the behaviour we show to that person is different from what would be normal for us; prolonged eye contact, we touch someone whilst they talk, even laughing when they say something that isn’t particularly funny. Playful affection in and of itself probably isn’t wrong, but it depends why we’re doing it, and what is our end goal. That’s when it’s especially good to ask ourselves questions like, ”What do I really want?” If we want what God wants, then we can follow that up with, ”What does God want me to do in this situation?”
Made for community
We were made by God for community (“it’s not good for man to be alone” – Gen 2:18) and, as His hands and feet in this world, God uses others in our lives to help meet our physical and emotional needs. When examining our relationships with others, a good question to ask is, “what wisdom does God give me about healthy boundaries for these relationships?”.
God speaks in so many ways about how we need to be careful about the effect of our actions, or lack thereof, on others. For instance, in Romans 14:13-23, especially verse 21, it says “it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” In my first job after university, I worked with people trying to overcome alcohol and drug addictions. So, for over five years, I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol, primarily because of this verse. The young men and women I worked with had stolen so consistently from friends and family that many came to the charity, usually straight from prison, utterly estranged from their loved ones. Yet, despite knowing to a certain degree the consequences of their actions, they would pretty much do whatever was needed to get their next fix. In their moments of craving a fix, part of their brain (the responsive part that is most associated with fight, flight or freeze), took over their reasoning logical part.
Biologically there can be a conflict, such as unhealed issues, frequently stemming from our childhood (but not always), often meaning we have developed ways of thinking and behaving that are more related to the emotional parts of our brain than the logical parts. We can rarely truly understand the action we took with our ‘logical brain’ after the event.
Our brain can be our friend!
For those that have developed bad habits or ingrained behaviours as a part of their lives, their brain in these situations is not their friend. For instance, “my spirit wants to do one thing, but my flesh does another” (Rom 7:15-23). But our brain can become our friend! There are very real things we can do to help our brain change. Verse 2 of Romans 12 describes not being conformed to the pattern of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our mind. This is not just make-believe – it is very possible!
An emotional need that I carried from childhood was a desire to be accepted by my peers of the same sex. In adulthood, I found seeking other men who’d want to kiss me, or do other inappropriate behaviour, meant that somewhere in my brain I felt that emotional need was being met. It was invariably followed by shame, as the consequence emerged of doing something that logically I genuinely didn’t want to do.
Part of my story is that relying on my prayers, white-knuckling, accountability relationships and talking with my close friends about struggles just wasn’t cutting it. With the help of an excellent therapist, recommended by someone in the TFT office, God has enabled me to understand my own brain a little better, and the way it works, and allow it to be my friend. I’ve also joined a support group, and through this I benefit greatly from having twice-weekly check-in calls and honest conversations with someone who has in the past struggled with similar behaviours to myself.
Last year I got a puppy and found that the regular cuddles I get from her, combined with the therapy, has meant that I don’t crave for guys to meet my emotional needs as much in an unhealthy way, meaning that resisting temptation has become so much easier.
Regularly pausing and reflecting on our emotions can be immensely helpful. Personally, I like to use the moment I’ve just made a cup of tea before it’s cool enough to drink. I ask myself questions such as, “What am feeling at the moment? What is causing that feeling? What does God want to say to me right now about this?”
When someone does something that causes someone else to stumble, or draws someone away from God, relationships are damaged. Both sides usually end up being hurt. Anger at the sin is a godly thing. The perpetrator may also feel deep shame. As brothers and sisters observing from the outside, how can we love both the perpetrator and the one who has stumbled?
In Mark 9:42 Jesus warns, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” One commentator, Matthew Henry, notes that Jesus said it is better to endure all possible pain, hardship and self-denial, and to be happy forever in heaven hereafter, than to enjoy all kinds of worldly pleasure for a season and be miserable forever. We would do well to bear this in mind next time we are tempted to flirt or take advantage of our relationships for ungodly purposes.
In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus talks about God’s forgiveness and love for us, and our responsibility to forgive others.
We can think that tempting others is just enticing them to do wrong. At its core, though, all temptation is an attempt to draw someone away from God. Jesus says this could be by stopping others serving (Mark 9:38) or discouraging them from approaching Jesus (Mark 10:13-16). Have we established rules that keep others from fulfilling their God-given responsibilities of serving Him or learning more about Him? How are we getting in the way of the gospel? How are we, in fact, a stumbling block?
We all need our heavenly Father
The Gospel message is one of grace, filled with love. It recognises that we all fall short and all need our heavenly Father. If we become aware either of our own inappropriate behaviour or witness it in our fellow brothers/sisters, I think a loving question would be something like, “is this a behaviour that you want to continue?“ If they answer with “No”, then lovingly explore alternatives with them that might help them become an overcomer in that area of their lives. If you’ve observed ongoing behaviours in yourself that you think displease your heavenly Father, and you’re struggling to stop by yourself, I urge you to talk to someone in the TFT support team who can help point you in a good direction. You don’t need to struggle alone, and many people within our organisation do genuinely love you and want your walk with Jesus to be ever closer.
By our own actions, or lack thereof, we can choose where our signposts direct others. Whom do you need to encourage today to take up their cross daily and follow Jesus?
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Autumn 2020 edition of Ascend