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Monday, September 9, 2013

Life Change for Couples (James M. Reeves)

TITLE: Life Change for Couples: A Biblical 12-Step Journey for Marriage Enrichment
AUTHOR: James M. Reeves
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013, (272 pages).

One goal. Two words. Three attitudes. Twelve steps. One goal. This essentially frames up the purpose and structure of the book. of the book. The one goal is marriage enrichment. The two words are "blessed wisdom." The three attitudes are: Instruction; Introspection; and Interaction. The twelve steps are modified from the "Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous." Intended to be used as a workbook, the author begins each chapter with a basic teaching of the main points (Instruction). This is followed by clear explanations about the requirements for change, and challenging us to take the step of faith forward (Introspection). It follows with probing exercises for married couples to work through together through table talks, through open sharing, and common determination to improve together (Interaction). This Instructional-Introspection-Interaction format is consistently used through all the twelve steps.

It is important to read the foundations where Reeves emphasized the common purpose of Christ-centered growth. Such a growth is necessary because the enemy is wreaking havoc on marriage relationships. If couples are not aware that a war is being fought, they will not bother to equip themselves in the first place. They must be aware of a common enemy. The place in which the life change happens is also critical. Within a safe environment, and with both persons willing to work toward cultivating integrity in the relationship, both need to recognize that humility is the lubricant of relationships. The principle to remember that one's relationship with God spiritually can never exceed one's relationship with fellow people. Lest one becomes a hypocrite before the Almighty God, one needs to pay special attention to ensure that one's emotional links to one another are well looked after, before one ventures toward a spiritual connection. In a nutshell, one cannot happen without the other. If one loves God, one must also demonstrate that with evidence of love for one another. Chances are, couples will find the emotional/spiritual cycle and the ladder rather thought provoking, as it is an attempt to explain the close connection between the spiritual and the emotional relationship. Then, there is the pile-principle which forces each person to grab the bull by the horns, declaring the five truths which are all based on this principle:

"The pile of emotional garbage we carry throughout our lives is what sabotages our lives and relationships with God and others."

The rest of the book deals with the "Biblical 12-step Journey Toward Marriage Enrichment." Although it is called 12 steps, Reeves adopts a ten alphabet methodology instead, combining the original steps 6 and 7; 8 and 9; into steps 6 and 7 respectively. It is because the original AA steps 6 and 7 are similar, as in asking God to help remove one's shortcomings, and defects of character, Reeves combine these steps into Step 6, or F to focus on faith. Similarly, steps 8 and 9 are steps urging one to make a list of people we had harmed, to be willing make amends (inside) and to actually take the necessary actions (outside). Briefly, the ten steps are:
  1. A - Admit Powerlessness
    In admitting there is a problem first, one starts to be more open to solutions. In acknowledging powerlessness, one recognizes that when it comes to relationships, we all need help, especially divine help.
  2. B - Believe the Truth
    Here, we make a distinction between having faith on belief vs faith on God. The Truth is God sets us free, not our works. Reeves says it very well that the biggest challenge for us is not about our belief in God, but in God alone.
  3. C - Commit to Christ
    Moving forward, one needs to let the mental beliefs become convictions and commitment to Christ. Self-will and self-determination must decrease as one lets God's will increase in our lives.
  4. D - Discover Responsibility
    Honesty is one of the most important healing step in any relationships. Sometimes, people hide their true selves from one another, refusing to accept responsibility for things done or undone. Reeves then highlight the classic seven deadly sins to drive home the point that all of us need to be honest about our own weaknesses.
  5. E - Expose the Secrets
    This is an extremely vulnerable step. We all like to be open before God, but when it comes to one another, it can be real hard. Confession means taking the step of raw honesty; owning appropriate responsibility; willing to enter into the pain; and be ready to take a risk on grace. With honesty, relationships thrive. With deception, relationships dive. We may even need to be honest with our own selves.
  6. F - Focus on Faith
    Character defects removal can be one of the most difficult things to do. Fears, Failures, can prevent one from exercising greater faith. Moreover, faith is an action rather than a thought. In this step, one needs to seek God and let God have the first, the following, and all the final say. It is a call for obedience. Using the image of a train, facts is the engine that pulls faith, followed by feelings. Fact is the obedience. Faith is the trust. Feelings is the carriage that depends on the first two. 
  7. G - Go Get Right
    This comes in two parts. The first part is about being willing to take responsibility. The second part is to do it. This process comes often through forgiveness. It replaces guilt and grief with grace. Reeves also helpfully sorts out the myths from the realities of forgiveness.
  8. H - Heed the Weeds
    The key challenge is to battle complacency. It is not enough to get things right the first time. One needs to continue getting it right. In heeding the weeds, readers are urged to beware of being too complacent, which can easily unravel the good work done. Using the HOME acronym, we learn to go through the first four steps (ABCD) of this ten-step process again.
  9. I - Increase God Contact
    This step is about spiritual disciplines. Remember how Reeves talk about emotional health and spiritual health, that the former cannot run faster than the latter? This is an appropriate and logical step that once the earlier steps are completed (emotionally), one is ready for the spiritual dimension.
  10. J - Just Do It!
    This final step is essentially about practice. It revises the earlier steps and urges readers to keep on practicing the principles for life.
It is because the original AA steps 6 and 7 are similar, as in asking God to help remove one's shortcomings, and defects of character, Reeves combine these steps into Step 6, or F to focus on faith. Similarly, steps 8 and 9 are steps urging one to make a list of people we had harmed, to be willing make amends (inside) and to actually take the necessary actions (outside).

My Comments

I commend Reeves for being able to classify the various steps and principles with easy to remember acronyms and pedagogical tools. What can be confusing for readers is whether the proposed steps are twelve or ten. On the front cover of the book, we read about a "12-step journey." Yet, in the book, even though there are actually twelve steps that have been squeezed into a ten-step alphabetical structure, I think it will be more beneficial and less confusing if the author can just say "10 steps." There is something else that I find a little disconcerting. While the workbook has been written in a clear and comprehensible way, and stepwise explanation of what needs to be done, it may not necessarily apply to all couples. Instructors may need to remind all couples that the ten steps are not to be seen as written in concrete. They are guidelines. Sometimes, one may need to work on multiple phases at the same time. For example, committing to Christ requires a fair amount of honesty. Trusting God is necessary for all steps, not just step B. Heeding the weeds (Step H) may even be exercised much earlier, as some of us may be rather absent minded. At the same time, remember too that couples are not identical robots. One may even jump ahead much faster than the other along the steps. This calls for not mere adherence to the methodology but the heart behind the desire to work through the process. In that sense, we let the "blessed wisdom" mentioned early in the book to guide us.

In blessed wisdom, let me share five thoughts. First, we learn to wait for one another. Patience is a virtue. Waiting slows our sinful selves to the speed of sensitivity and sensibility. Waiting helps one to let each other be themselves. Waiting is gentle and encouraging. This attitude of waiting needs to accompany not only the steps per se, but the transitioning through each step. Second, in transitioning or while working through any stage, we need to make sure expectations are never imposed on others. If need to, let the expectations fall on one's shoulders first. Expect oneself to obey. Expect oneself to observe the steps. Expect oneself to implement any personal ideas first. In other words, use oneself as the guinea pig. Third, prayer is a significant component in any couple wanting to grow spiritually. In fact, prayer must be present through the entire process. Reeves may have placed the spiritual disciplines toward the end of the ten stage process. I urge readers however to include the practice of prayer, Bible reading, and other spiritual disciplines at every stage of the journey. It is a way of acknowledging we need divine help and guidance. Four, there is no guarantee that every stage will result in a nice feeling in the heart. Sometimes, due to various situations, like pressures of time or unforseen circumstances,  couples may need to combine steps or to vary the length of each stage. Moods change. People change. Circumstances change. Some may even feel not ready for any transition at all. In such a case, remember the train picture: Fact-Faith-Feeling? It can guide. Five, there may even be more or less than ten steps. I encourage couples to be creative, and to develop a system that they can call their own. Improve on the ten stages. Add, expand, shrink them, and modify in such a way as to suit the unique situations of each couple.

This book is another resource for pastors, teachers, leaders, counselors, or marriage courses facilitators to use for the benefit of enriching marriages. Used in conjunction with other more established materials, this book will certainly be a solid resource for exercising and enriching marriages.

Rating: 4 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Publications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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