Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The only rule...

“The race is not always to the swift, but also to those who can keep running.”
When we think of a race, we almost always think about speed.  But the fastest sprinter usually won’t win the marathon.  It takes a different mentality to be “in it for the long haul.”
     When I train for long distance running, I have one rule—don’t stop.  There are times I go faster, there are times I go slower, and there are even times that I limp along wondering if my legs are going to quit on me.  But no matter where I am in training, where I am along the course, whatever I am doing, I have conditioned myself to always repeat the mantra, “Keep moving.  No matter what, do not stop.”  Because my mind is fully immersed in that thought, when the pain comes there is no room for anything else—no room for excuses, no room for rationalizations, no room for quitting because, frankly, sometimes it would just be easier to quit.  There is only the rule…don’t stop.
     Christian marriage is not a sprint.  It is a marathon.  Whether you have been married for less than five weeks or for more than fifty years, “till death do we part” is the covenant promise you make as you commit yourself to the marathon.  There will be hills and valleys, times when you are joyfully running together at full speed, and times when you are agonizingly crawling along feeling all alone.  But wherever you are at, don’t give up on your marriage and don’t stop moving forward.*
     Now don’t misunderstand my analogy.  I hate when people talk negatively about marriage and they use the phrase “in it for the long haul” as if marriage is a dreadful thing that you must endure. It is a joyful covenant relationship between two people that is rooted in Christ.  But I am also a realist.  Couples have conflict, trust is sometimes broken, disappointments come, selfishness and pride have a way of showing themselves, things occur that are beyond your control as an individual or as a couple—in short, life happens.  But if you stay centered in Christ, if you continue to humble and submit yourself to Him and to your mate, leaning on and encouraging each other as you run, then “till death do we part” will be a joyful journey with your covenant lover.
     Keep running.  There is an amazing victory at the end for those who persevere.  And if you follow the rule, even in the most difficult of times, you just might be surprised how much you and your spouse enjoy the race together—both in the moment and in retrospect.

*This post is meant to address normal difficulties that occur within a marriage relationship.  It is not meant to address extreme addictions, abuse, or other forms of marital conflict that require professional clinical counseling.  If there is conflict in your relationship that presents danger to your well-being—physically, mentally, emotionally, or in any way—or if you live in a state of fear due to conflict, seek immediate professional and protective help.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Pack Mentality

     This past Saturday, along with my wife, my daughters, and tens of thousands of others, I ran the Country Music Half Marathon.  As I ran along the 13.1 mile course, it quickly occurred to me that I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going.  When I picked up my race number and the tag that clocked my time, they gave me a map of the course.  I could have studied the map and been familiar with every turn, every hill, every straightaway.  But instead, from start to finish I just followed the pack.  If you’ve ever run a marathon or half marathon, you know that unless you’re the person in the lead, you’re constantly surrounded by hundreds of others, mostly moving in unison, as some surge ahead and some fall behind.  But most of us are just going with the flow.
     I wonder if we don’t do that in marriage sometimes—finding ourselves just going along with whatever is happening around us, letting the world plot a course for what we believe about marriage, about love, about intimacy, about commitment, about family, about integrity toward one’s spouse, and so many other aspects of the marriage relationship.
     I understand the pack mentality.  I really do.  It takes less effort.  It seems right because everyone else around me is going the same way.  There’s certainly safety and confidence in numbers.  But what if they’re wrong?  What if they took a wrong turn?  What if someone took a shortcut in his or her relationship, and rather than pay attention and try to correct the course, the next person just followed suit?  Pretty soon, the wrong way will become the norm.
     As you run the race that is Christian marriage—for better or for worse, in times of plenty and in times of want, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, till death do you part—make sure you know where you’re going.  Look for landmarks that you’re on the right path, and be confident that if you are centering your marriage on Christ, the One leading the race is always taking you in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blank spaces

“I know I should have told you, but…”

How many times have you or your mate said those words?  Maybe it ended with, “…but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” or “…but I knew how you would react,” or “…but I wanted to fix it myself and not get you involved.”  Regardless of how the sentence ended, the end result was probably the same.  Someone’s feelings were hurt.  Someone was angry.  Someone felt minimized, criticized, or disrespected.
     There are any number of reasons a person might not tell his or her spouse something.  Fear.  Shame.  To control a situation.  To control one’s mate.  Because you legitimately forget.  Because you really do not believe that it is important.  In an attempt to protect your spouse.  Whether born of pure motives or not, silence can have devastating effects on your mate.
     Why is silence deafeningly problematic?  Silence often leaves a blank space that your mate’s brain tries to fill in.  We want to know what is being hidden from us.  We want a complete picture.  So, if we don't feel like we have all the information, our minds will fill in the missing pieces with assumptions that we hold on to until we have more accurate information to replace the assumptions.  And regrettably, in our human nature, it is too easy to go to worst-case scenarios—and more so if there is already tension in the relationship.
“Why didn’t she tell me she would be two hours late.  Has she been in a wreck?”
“He’s working late again.  Is something going on between him and that new co-worker?”
“She didn’t tell me she friended him on Facebook.  I wonder what else she’s trying to hide from me?”
“He should have known I would want to know about that.  What’s game is he playing by not telling me?”
     So, what do we do when there is a blank space in the relationship?  First, dispel the opportunity for misunderstandings by being committed to sharing openly with your mate.  Second, if you are leaving something out to try and protect your mate, trust that he/she is emotionally mature enough to handle whatever you need to say.  Third, when information is missing, give your mate the benefit of the doubt and trust that he/she isn’t deliberately trying to deceive or manipulate you if you have no conclusive, concrete proof otherwise.
     Secrets, whether real or perceived, kill relationships.  With your spouse, work to eliminate the blank spaces by committing to an open and honest relationship.  It is healthy to ask questions and seek clarification, but it is detrimental to accuse and make assumptions.  The more mental real estate that we spend on filling in blank spaces, the less mental and emotional energy we have to work toward a Christ-centered, healthy, productive, covenant marriage relationship.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

After Valentine's Day sale: The price of love...

     This past Wednesday was Valentine's Day, the day that people traditionally think about love and romance.  Whether it is perennial favorites like Disney princesses, or the current vampire or 50 shades flavor of the moment, love sells.  It sells movie tickets, it sells books, and it sells fantasies.
     The problem is, what it sells isn’t real.  Whether it’s a fairy tale ending or a sexually-charged rendezvous with the “perfect” person, the media has always redefined the question “What does it mean to love someone?”
     Most media depictions of love present the idea that love is always an emotionally driven relationship.  The stronger the emotion, the more “in love” the couple are.  But what about when the emotions go away?  What happens when he gets bored because the thrill is gone?  What happens when she has a bad day and just isn’t “feeling it” at the moment.  What happens when he sees someone else and has a stronger sexual attraction to her?  What happens when she realizes that strong romantic feelings don’t necessarily translate into good communication or healthy ways of handling conflicts?
     Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for the “tingle-in-your-toes” feelings you get when you’re with your lover.  I love a great date night.  I enjoy an adventure with my bride.  But if you base your love strictly on feelings, and on an obligation to keep the other person happy (because you believe they will surely do the same for you), then you are setting yourself up for disappointment and failure.
     Feelings come and go, and a romanticized love comes and goes with it.  But love that is selfless builds an abiding relationship.  In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul said it this way (italics mine):

     Love is patient, and I need my spouse to have patience with me far more than I’d like to admit, love is kind, even when I’m unkind, my lover is still good to me. It does not envy, my mate wants me to succeed and be everything God is calling me to be, it does not boast, my spouse doesn’t demean me or make me feel inadequate, it is not proud, my lover delights in my accomplishments and victories more than his/her own. It does not dishonor others, my mate lifts me up, even when it would be easier to talk about my faults, it is not self-seeking, my lover see us as one flesh, knowing what blesses me will bless him/her, it is not easily angered, my spouse and I, we know how to push each other’s buttons, but he/she respects me enough not to take cheap shots, it keeps no record of wrongs, my lover doesn’t fight historical battles and use my past mistakes to humiliate me. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, my covenant lover always points me toward God. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and puts God at the center of our relationshipLove never fails, at least real love that comes from God and permeates a marriage.
     I hope you had a happy Valentine’s Day.  I hope it was filled with romance and fun.  But I really hope and pray that you have a marriage filled with real, lasting, Christ-centered love.  Then, when the chocolate melts, the flowers wither, and “hot” feelings lapse, you will have an abiding love that will bring you a stronger joy and peace than anything the media tries to sell you.

Valentine's Day is over, but finding real, Christ-centered love is an ongoing endeavor.  Marriage: A Blessed Promise is a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Give a post-Valentine's Day gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.