Thursday, March 31, 2016

10 Quick Ways to Destroy Your Marriage...

  1. Only talk about God when you need to shame your
  2. Only talk about church when you need to remind your spouse what a bad example he/she is setting.
  3. Always use phrases like, “Well you knew that’s how I was when you married me” to justify whatever behavior you want to do.
  4. Never laugh with your spouse, but always laugh at your spouse.
  5. Always tell your spouse, “You have no right to feel that way,” especially if it involves something you did.
  6. Remember, if you don't constantly criticize your spouse, how can he/she change for the better.
  7. Spend more time on Facebook than you do in actual conversation with your spouse.
  8. Only reveal the parts of a story that make you look good, and omit the parts that might cast you in a bad light.
  9. Use sex as a punishment and rewards system rather than as a holy, God-created way to connect intimately.
  10. No matter what the topic of conversation is, always try to prove that you are smarter than your spouse.

And if you're really determined to destroy your marriage, I'm sure you could add a few more things to this list...but please don't.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Sandwich Generation

     All marriages go through seasons—times of seemingly overwhelming stress, or ecstatic joy, or maybe even a unique mixture of both.  With lifespans getting longer on average, one of the increasingly common seasons a couple might find themselves in is “the sandwich generation.”
     The sandwich generation refers to people, typically in their thirties or forties, responsible for bringing up their own children, but also for the care of their aging parents.  If you are caught in that generation, you know it presents a season of life that can be very taxing on your marriage relationship.
     Couples in the sandwich generation often feel like they are caught in a tug-of-war between their children’s needs, their parents’ needs, and their spouse’s needs.  It is emotionally painful to feel like you can’t win, and that no matter what you do, someone will always have to be put on the backburner.  Being trapped in the sandwich generation generates feelings of guilt.  Even as you are doing all you possibly can to stomp out the nearest fire and serve everyone, it can leave you feeling like a negligent parent, hardhearted child, and an uncaring spouse all at the same time.
     As you and your spouse walk through this season together, here are a few things that might make it easier:

  • Don’t neglect yourself physically.  You must tend to basic self-care.  Things such as adequate sleep, a regular and healthy diet, and frequent exercise are crucial to being able to survive this season.  Remember, you cannot take care of others if you have nothing left in your tank physically to give.  And, when we neglect the things our bodies require, it can drastically affect us emotionally.  We are much more likely to be stressed out, short-tempered, and irritable.  If you constantly have to go back and apologize for snapping at others, then it will just add stress to an already stressful time.
  • Don’t neglect yourself emotionally.  Just like physical health is necessary to care for others, so is emotional health.  Make sure you have healthy outlets to vent your stress, frustration, anger, sadness, guilt, joy, or whatever other emotions you are feeling.  Bottling them up will only suppress them until inopportune times for them to boil over.  And, especially if it is your in-laws requiring care, remember to remind your spouse that you are there for him/her when he/she needs someone to lean on.  Don’t wait for your spouse to ask for emotional support and reassurance.
  • Don’t neglect your marriage.  Just like physical and emotional self-care is required during this season, so is basic marriage-care.  It can be easy to assume your spouse is okay and self-sufficient when parents and children are pulling at you from opposite directions.  It can even be tempting to denigrate your mate for wanting some of your time and attention too.  But don’t neglect the crucial components of a healthy marriage.  Communicate frequently.  Consistently share daily schedules and notify each other when changes are on the horizon (especially big changes like the possibility of a parent moving in with you).  When things change with children or parents, verbally communicate expectations you and your spouse have for each other instead of assuming your mate will pick up the slack or be aware of your new expectations.  Handle conflict as it comes rather than letting it pile up.  During this season, don’t neglect your sex life or other forms of intimacy that keep you and your spouse connected.
  • Accept your limitations.  You are not Superman or Wonder Woman.  As mentioned above, when you push yourself too hard physically or emotionally, you will eventually crash.  Give your mate permission to love you enough to lovingly sound the alarm when you’re approaching burnout.
  • Accept help.  God created us to live in community.  Accept your mate’s help, and accept the help of family, your church community, friends, and others around you.  The day will come when you can help ease someone else’s burden—but for now, let someone else ease yours.
  • Guard your heart against resentment.  Whether it is frustration at a spouse for not helping enough or understanding enough, anger against your in-laws for taking away your mates time and attention, bitterness against your children for not being more self-sufficient, or disappointment at yourself for not being able to do more, the devil is always looking for an entry point to plant seeds of dissension in your marriage.
  • Keep your spiritual cup filled.  During this season of life, stay grounded in God’s Word, fervent in prayer, and overflowing with forgiveness, grace, and kindness.  Continually pray with your matenot just for your mate, but with your mate, so that you can hear each others hearts before God and stay strong in Christ together.

     The sandwich generation is a tough place to be.  It feels like you are constantly being squeezed by the expectations and demands of others.  During this time, it is important to care for your children.  And it is important to care for your parents.  But it is most important to care for your marriage.  Children will grow up and leave.  Parents will pass on to their reward.  But your spouse is with you “until death do you part.”  And that covenant relationship is a blessed promise that you need to nurture above all else.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

And then there was Thomas...

     It’s days later.  The rumors have been swirling since last Sunday.  The people he trusted affirmed it.  He knew that he wanted to believe it himself.  More than anything, he wanted to believe…but he just couldn’t.  Throughout the past few days there had been so much fear.  So much confusion.  So much loss.  His participation in a powerful, life-changing ministry was suddenly ended on a cross.  The confidence and hope he had for three years was replaced with the screams of death and then deafening silence as a large stone sealed a tomb.  He wanted to believe.  He wanted so very, very badly to believe.  But a lifetime of trusting his senses wouldn’t let him go there.  Still, he wondered to himself, what would it mean if Jesus really were alive?
     As the story of Thomas unfolds in John 20, it is easy to scoff at his unbelief, his inability to trust his friends, his failure to rejoice in the hope that was before him.  The story of “doubting Thomas” has even become a byword for a person’s lack of faith.
     But we might need to cut Thomas a little slack.  To have your world radically altered is disorienting to say the least.  It can be difficult to know who to trust after something tragic, or painful, or unexpected happens.  It can be difficult to know what to trust, or how to discover what it takes to establish a new normal that again gives meaning and purpose to your life.  Thomas wanted to see Jesus, to touch his wounds to feel a real body of flesh and blood.  And then, he would know.  “Give me something I can believe in,” he might have thought to himself.
     For any couple who has walked through a dark valley together, it is an incredible blessing to come out the other side and be at a better place together.  But more often than not, it is a tough journey that takes patience, grace, forgiveness, changes in behavior, and new ways of thinking about your world.  Because we live in a microwave-society, we want instant answers, instant satisfaction, and instant restoration.  But relationships are a crock-pot-process that takes time.  So, we cautiously go through the process to heal.  And when things are finally better, it can be easy to become a “doubting Thomas,” knowing that the feelings you are having don’t line up with the hurt you have been through.
     Hurt can come in a lot of different ways.  It can be a quick, one-time happenstance or prolonged series of events.  It can come from a moral failure, or from ongoing miscommunication that leads to resentment and frustration.  Regardless of how it comes, it creates a rift in the relationship.  It compromises trust.  It causes feelings of isolation.  It can cause feelings of shame and guilt. So when healing occurs and the hurt subsides, it might be hard to trust that something else besides those negative feelings toward your mate can reside in your heart—and not just reside, but grow stronger each day.
     But the important move for Thomas came when he accepted the reality.  When he knew undeniably, Jesus is alive.  Jesus is exactly who and what he said he was, and this is something solid that Thomas could now build on.  In marriage, the move to a better relationship happens when you can lay aside the doubt fueled by past hurts, and take hold of the goodness that is now beginning to grow in your relationship.  Depending on where you are at in the healing process, it might just be a small ray of hope right now.  And you might feel tempted to ignore the good that is happening and hold on to the hurt, because that seems less risky than putting your hope and faith into your mate again.
      If you are coming out of a time of pain, it is understandable that you might want some solid, convincing proof that the good you’re now experiencing with your mate is real.  But there comes a time that you have to step out on faith in what you see, and hear, and experience, so that you can respond in kind, continue to reconcile, and find a new and stronger “normal.”  Even Thomas didn’t remain a “doubting Thomas.”
     Trust is rebuilt through time and consistency.  As you mate demonstrates good intentions toward you and the marriage relationship, have faith that in Jesus, you and your mate can find hope for a stronger marriage.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

At Last!

     It’s Sunday!  There is a buzz that keeps getting stronger and stronger.  First the women reported that the tomb was empty.  Then, Peter and John confirmed it.  Two men coming from Emmaus said it was far more than an empty tomb.  They claimed they walked and talked with Jesus—that he is alive!  Then, to their overwhelming surprise, Jesus is standing in the middle of the disciples, showing them that he is not a ghost, not an apparition, not a figment of wishful thinking.  He has real flesh and blood, and he is as alive as any of them.  And then, then it comes to them at last.  Their version of Messiah involved earthly political powers, overthrowing a foreign government, ascending to positions of authority.  But Jesus was giving them something far greater, far more powerful.  He was inviting them into the resurrection life, into a new way of living that supersedes everything else.  He was giving them peace, joy, and hope beyond understanding.  He was calling them back to God’s purpose for their lives.  At last, Easter Sunday had arrived!  At last, new life can begin!
     Easter is a continually call to embrace the new life we have in Christ.  We remember that we are called to different kind of life—the resurrection life—that is radically different from the old life we put to death.
     So what does that have to do with marriage?  If marriage is a Kingdom calling (which I believe it is), we must continually ask the question, “How are you bringing ‘new life’ into your marriage on an ongoing basis so that the world can see Christ in you as a couple?”
     I don’t know where you are in your marriage right now, but if your relationship is characterized by your selfish desires, demands, and expectations of your spouse (and all of us are that way at one time or another), then it’s time to put those things to death so that you can start moving toward a “new life” with your mate.  That new life in your marriage will be characterized by
  • selflessly serving your mate
  • loving in action as well as word
  • forgiveness without any strings attached
  • embracing a renewed trust
  • a shared hope that can only come through Christ
     We live in a world marred by darkness.  The ongoing Easter call is for us, by the power of God, to continually drive out the world's darkness that tries to seep into our marriages, and replace it with the light of Christ.  Often times, the first step to a “new life” in your marriage is being honest with yourself and your spouse about the things you need to change.  Once you do that, you open up yourself and your marriage for God to do powerful things through you—at last!

The previous post for Marriage and Holy Week can be found by clicking on the following links:

Monday--Cleaning House
Tuesday--Enemies at Work
Wednesday--Woe! Red Flags!
Friday--Sunday is coming


     It’s Saturday.  It is a God-ordained day of rest.  But there is no rest from grief, disappointment, emptiness.  The disciples’ minds are flooded—the things Jesus said, the things he did—Jesus gave them such hope.  And now he is lying in a grave.  In a guarded tomb no less.  They think about what they might could have said differently, or done different, to change where they were at now.  But that is wishful thinking, and the reality now is that Jesus is dead and they are left waiting.  Will things get worse?  Will the enemies who are now gloating in their victory hunt down the remaining disciples?  Will the disciples just scatter to the wind and be forgotten?  Do they keep looking for the Messiah they’d hoped Jesus would be?  It is a Saturday of waiting.
     Have you ever had a period of waiting in your marriage?  The words or actions have passed and the damage is done.  Regret has already been expressed.  If stubborn pride or paralyzing fear hasn’t kicked in, reconciliation might even already be in process.  But the sense of any kind of hope, any kind of normalcy is yet to appear on the horizon.
     Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “How did we get here?” or “Where do we go from here?” or “Why does being here hurt so much?  Why does just…well just “being” hurt so much right now?”  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but the moment of waiting is painfully present.
     In my experience counseling couples, waiting is usually the toughest part of the process.  Our microwave society makes us want to hurry things along, force something to happen, shape reality to our current desires.  We want intimacy, but we want immediacy even more.  So in that period of waiting, some couples give up.  Some pursue destructive behaviors even more intensely, as if to prove they are as bad as they believe his/her spouse sees them.  Some become the victim.  Others become the blamer.  But some…some wait.  Patiently or impatiently, some wait.
     Jesus was in the grave three days.  The disciples could only wait.  In your marriage, you will go through periods of waiting, trapped between dread and hope, as you make changes to heal and improve your relationship.  And in that period of waiting, as painful as it can be, we give room for God to work on our hearts and minds.  We give space to walk away from selfishness and walk toward a healthy God-centered relationship.  We allow healing to take place.  We allow hope to return.
     But first, you may just have to wait.

Click on the links below for the previous posts connecting marriage and Holy Week:

Sunday is coming...

     It’s Friday.  There is sadness and confusion.  An unnatural darkness covers everything.  The betrayer’s guilt has caused him to take rash, horrible action.  The denier stays at a distance still weeping over his cowardice.  Those who know each other best, who should be the closest, are lost, uncertain, broken, and defeated.  And Jesus…well Jesus hangs in agony, condemned to die with criminals, as his mother and one last disciple helplessly look on as the very scent of death lingers in the air.
     Have you ever thought about what went through Jesus’ disciples minds on the Friday of the crucifixion?  They’d been with Jesus through years of good times.  They’d seen him teach, perform miracles, heal the sick, and care for the poor, the oppressed, and the rejected.  At one time, they were even willing to die for him.  But then things went bad.  And just as quickly as they once so convincingly stood by him, they now doubted him, fled from him, denied him, and even watched him die.  But God was still there.  And Easter Sunday was coming.
     Every couple walks through their own “Fridays,” when it seems things couldn't get any worse, that any hope of...well...hope, seems unlikely.  The joy you once experienced seems distant and an unnatural darkness has crept into your relationship.  I don’t know what your Friday is.  It might be a new couple’s first major disagreement.  “Where is the man I married?”  It might be deception.  “Did she really believe I would never find out about her secret credit cards?”  It might be the loss of a job.  “He feels so worthless, and I don’t know how to help him.”  It might be of a physical nature.  “The disease is progressive and she won’t get better.”  Whether it is a spouse’s really bad choices, mismanaged stress, financial difficulty, family problems, or whatever else, all couples encounter fearful Fridays.
     But God is there.  He is always there.  And there is a “Sunday” coming that brings the hope of new life, reconciliation, and renewal.  Jesus’ disciples couldn’t see it on Friday, and more often than not a couple in the middle of a crisis can’t see it either.  But trust God and know that Sunday is coming.
     In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul says:
 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
The most important part of our faith is knowing; knowing that resurrection Sunday is coming.  And in knowing we have “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  The most important part of our marriage is knowing; knowing that Fridays come, but if we hold on to Him who gives us our hope, if we live in love, forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation, then our Sundays are coming too.
     I don’t know what Fridays you’ve already lived through, what Friday you might be experiencing now, or what Fridays lie ahead, but please don’t give up on your mate.  Please don’t forget God is always with us.  Please don’t lose hope.  Hold on to Christ, and hold on to your mate, because Easter Sunday is coming.

For the rest of this week's posts on Easter Week and Marriage, click to links below:


     It’s Thursday.  The preparations have been made, and Jesus is eager to share in what will be his last Passover with his friends.  There is still so much to be said.  So much that will happen in the next few hours.  But before any of those things transpire, there’s another matter to attend to as Jesus and his friends sit down to supper.  Whether out of custom or out of necessity for a pleasant meal, their feet need to be washed.  And apparently, everyone is sitting there expecting to be serviced, rather than to serve.
     So, when Jesus, who is clearly the leader and most important person in their company, begins to wash their feet, they are surprised.  One by one, he washes the sweat and grime off of their feet and then dries their feet with the towel wrapped around his waist.  There is an exchange with Peter about what it means to be clean.  And somewhere in this process, Jesus washes Judas’ feet.
     What?  Why would Jesus serve the one who he clearly knows is about to betray him?  Was it just a ruse to keep the others from figuring out what was about to happen for fear that they might try and whisk Jesus away to safety or that they would turn on Judas in a most unpleasant manner?  Why would Jesus care?  Why did he wash Judas’ feet?  Because in spite of all the pain Jesus was about to suffer because of Judas’ wicked choice, Judas was still one of Jesus’ disciples.  He was still a part of the company.  He still was an image bearer of God, loved by God, and loved by Christ.  To serve him, to wash his feet, was to serve God.
     In marriage, we are called on to be selfless rather than selfish—to give of ourselves for the blessing of the one with whom we share our covenant relationship.  But we also live in a fallen world.  We make mistakes.  Whether massive, looming things like infidelity, or frequent little jabs meant to cause pain, we hurt our mates, and our mates hurt us.
     I don’t know where you are at in your marriage.  I hope you haven’t had to go through betrayal, or pain caused by irresponsible choices, or that your circumstances haven’t caused you to question and mistrust your spouse.  But what do you do when there is tension, hurt, the sting of uncertainty?  Jesus says, you serve your mate.  Your wash his/her feet.  You live in the reality of the situation, but you don’t let it cause you to compromise who you are as a child of God.  In serving your mate, you serve God in whose image your spouse is made.
     I don’t know how easy it was for Jesus to wash Judas’ feet.  I’m guessing it wasn’t easy at all.  But he did it.  In Matthew 7:12, Jesus said “Treat other people the way you want to be treated.”  We call it the Golden Rule.  The problem is, most people think it says “treat other people the way that they have treated you.”  Seek vengeance.  Blow for blow. Hurt for hurt.  Insult for insult.  But that’s not what Jesus said.  Treat your spouse the way you want to be treated.  No matter what he/she has done to you.  Is it easy to serve your mate, especially in seasons of pain?  No.  But when you do, you are reaching out from the very heart of God.

Links to the previous posts for Marriage and Holy Week: