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Overcoming Discouragement One Day at a Time

By Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D.

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Sex Addiction Recovery Tips from Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D.

Overcoming Discouragement One Day at a Time

We have no greater right to focus on ourselves when we have been struggling and doing poorly in response to temptation than we do to focus on ourselves when we have been doing well. Both are forms of pride: the former is pride from the bottom up, the latter is pride from the top down (see President Benson’s talk on Pride and Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis). Both forms of pride fuel feelings of insecurity and discouragement.

I learned long ago that “to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). However, until recently I assumed that these terms–carnal mindedness and spiritual mindedness–were to be used as adjectives, to describe the kind of people we are. However, Paul treats these as verbs, pointing out in Romans 8:5 that we either “mind the things of the flesh” or “the things of the Spirit.”

This gives us a new way to approach our efforts to improve. We are better off when we actively mind the things of the Spirit, regardless of what our performance has been for that day. Instead of minding (actively focusing on) the flesh (either “I’m failing miserably” or “I’m doing so well today”), Paul pleads with us to mind the things of the Spirit (“live by faith [so that] the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen” [1:17, 20]). He contrasts pride, “worshipping and serving the creature more than the creator,” with a preferable alternative: “retain[ing] God in [our] knowledge” (Rom 1:25, 28), focusing on Him and his plan and his greatness and even his mercy.

Now read verses 21-22: He points out that instead of glorifying God and being thankful–having that be our focus–too often we have become vain in our imaginations. We want to see ourselves as good and wise, but when we dwell on how we’re doing in a good way, that sets us up to later be obsessed with how we’re doing in a bad way (what fools we are). Of course, focusing on the things of the Spirit instead of the things of the flesh is harder when we have just sinned. Spending time in the darkest depths of the ocean, we tend to get globs of seaweed and other gunk on our diving masks that can limit our vision even when we look up toward clearer water. However, if our focus today, even when we have sinned recently, is a little bit more than usual on God and his goodness and other things of the Spirit, gradually, over days and days, we can ascend from the depths, out of the murky water and to regions where we can see more and more clearly. Hopefully I can shift to a different water metaphor without causing too much confusion: Remember, today we cannot control the overall concentration of the reservoir much. We can just control the trickle that’s going in. However, if, every day, that is our focus–controlling the trickle (by minding the things of the Spirit instead of the things of the flesh), then over time the concentration of the reservoir changes and eventually the outlet is releasing liquid (behavior) of a completely different nature.

This idea of using the trickle method to change the content of the reservoir coincides with President Hinckley’s counsel on page 382 of his new book, Stand a Little Taller. “I don’t worry too much about the future, and I don’t worry very much about the past. The past is gone, and you can’t change, you can’t correct it. The future, you can anticipate, but you can’t necessarily do very much about it. It is the present you have to deal with. Reach out for every good opportunity to do what you ought to do.” Interestingly enough, the scripture he chooses to coincide with this focus on the present day is one that counsels us to dwell upon God instead of ourselves: “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

I had lunch recently with someone who, after years of struggle with his addiction and various kinds of recovery work, has been pleased with how things are going over the last several months. He told me he had a new favorite scripture–Alma 34:31: “Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.”

My friend described how, over the last couple of years, he has had numerous “times and days” of his salvation. The power of the atonement has worked immediately for him in countless moments, giving him the feeling that he can once again seek to draw closer to God and his ways. In the larger scheme of things it, each one of those days’ efforts only raised him to a little bit higher ground than he was on the day before or the week before. Nonetheless, looking back, he can see that this process was exactly what he needed to bring him to the point where he is now doing much better in general, even though he still struggles to some degree at times.

This process of gradual cleansing and clarifying and purifying and sanctifying can be so different from what we had hoped for. We were thinking we could go through the spiritual equivelant of having our stomachs stapled, radical surgery that would bring about a complete behavioral bypass. The prescription we receive instead is for more fiber and leafy greens in our spiritual diet and a boost in our daily workout.

Interestingly enough, this need to go through the process of purifying our lives on a daily basis by minding the things of the Spirit more than the things of the flesh is not something that sets us apart from individuals who have never struggled with an addiction. Rather, it is a universal need. This last week, one of my clients said that in their last stake conference, his stake president said, “If I don’t do the things I need to do every day to keep the Spirit with me, I get into real trouble very quickly.” My client was relieved: “He has to take the same medicine I take and he has to dose-up just as regularly or he gets sick, too! I shouldn’t be surprised and I don’t have to be ashamed that I need this kind of regimen to maintain and improve my spiritual health.”

Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D. is Salt Lake City-based clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of sexual addiction. He can be reached at 801-564-7566. His offices are located at 1258 West South Jordan Parkway, Suite 202, South Jordan, UT and in Davis County at 1785 East 1450 South #233 Clearfield, UT. Mark is author of Wanting More: The Challenge of Enjoyment in the Age of Addiction and coauthor of Willpower Is Not Enough: Why We Don’t Succeed at Change. He specializes in the treatment of addictions and compulsive behavior. Contact Dr. Chamberlain to try out his eWorkbook, “Turning from Other Dependencies to God.”

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2 Responses to “Overcoming Discouragement One Day at a Time”

  1. julie said:

    I love this article. Too many times have I been carnally- minded and relied on the flesh of men in my life. It reminds me of the story of the foolish man and wise man, one built his house upon the sand and the other on the rock. And of course who would know better than Paul to remind us of these things since he was the one who suffered from a thorn in his side. I often wonder what that thorn was… To be carnally-minded is physical, the flesh, which does not last. But our spirits last forever and one day we will be made into new creatures of flesh and spirit. So I understand how focusing on God would help us build upon a stronger foundation so we will not fall.

    Thanks Rex for including this article in the blogs.

  2. Rex Goode said:

    Thank you, Julie. Dr. Chamberlain is the one to thank, although I don’t have a valid email address for him anymore. He stoppped offering me tips a few years ago, but the ones he gave me for the site have been priceless.

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