Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Living love through gratitude...



     The primary calling of all Christians is to love God with all
our hearts, souls and minds. (Matthew 22:37-38)  Part of loving someone is showing gratitude.  Undoubtedly, we owe thanks to God.  But there is a reason that when Jesus was asked for the greatest commandment, he also gave the second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22:39)  Our love for God is fully lived out and manifested in how we love our fellow humans who are the image bearers of God, and you won’t find a closer, more intimate neighbor than your spouse.  So, just as part of loving God is giving him the gratitude that is due to him, part of loving your spouse is giving your mate the gratitude that is due to her/him.
     Sometimes it is harder to show gratitude to your mate than it is to show gratitude to God.  Why?  Well, at least in a physical sense, God doesn’t get in your face, offend you, or otherwise give you grief.  God hasn’t hurt you in the past.  God doesn’t have human flaws that you are so keenly aware of each and every day.  Your mate does.
     Yet, when you show gratitude to your spouse (who is just as broken and imperfect as you are) you demonstrate God’s love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and goodness at work in immeasurably powerful ways.
     So, with that in mind, how attentive are you to showing your love for your mate through gratitude?  When was the last time you spoke words of appreciation to your wife or husband?  Do you remember to say thank you for the simple daily things that your mate does for you to make life better—things like preparing meals, laundry, filling the car up with gas, being a great mom or dad for the kids.  While those things might be your spouse’s “job,” remember how much he/she blesses your life by doing them.  Do you thank your spouse for special things he/she does for you, or when he/she gives you that extra attention or goes the extra mile?
     As we move though this season of giving and thanksgiving, keep a journal of things you spouse does for which you are thankful; everything from regular tasks to special efforts he/she makes for your sake.  If you pay attention, it shouldn’t take too long to fill up page after page of things you mate does for you.  Think in terms of specific things he or she does for you, not just the larger, all-encompassing characteristics.  After you fill it up, take the journal and give it to your mate as a gift; a visible reminder to both of you of your gratitude for the many things he/she does for you.  Let your gratitude be a manifestation of your love.  If you start your journal now, you should have a really nice surprise for your wife or husband by Christmas.


Friday, November 17, 2017

A couple's guide to surviving the holidays

      Where are you going for Thanksgiving?  What are your plans for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?  Are your holidays normally an enjoyable time with family—a time you can laugh together, share together, and reflect on the goodness of God in your lives—or are your holidays a stress-inducing nightmare that you wish would end quickly.  (Or maybe it’s a combination of both.)  While we all dream of perfect, peaceful holidays, few find it.
     When you marry someone, you marry into a whole other family.  And with another family comes another set of holiday traditions, immediate in-laws, extended family, in-laws’ family, and an ever growing web of folks to accommodate in one way or another.  The different demands and expectations that others place on a couple, or that a couple places on themselves, can set the stage for tension and conflict throughout the holiday season.
     The holidays can be a festive time, but they can also be a time of anger, conflict, and stress in a marriage.  It's amazing how much distress we can bring upon ourselves when we're driven by guilt, ("You can't be the first person in the family to not make it home for Christmas Eve dinner in the last 27 years."), obligation ("I think we can make the hundred mile drive between both our parents' houses on Christmas morning, and then still stop by Aunt Joan's that night."), and worry ("We have to go.  What if something happens between now and next Christmas, and this is the last Christmas I can see them.").
     So how can a husband and wife protect their marriage, honor their families, and still enjoy the holidays?  Every couple has to figure out how to navigate the waters themselves depending on their circumstances, but here are a few general thoughts:
  • First, create your own traditions and guard them zealously.  If Santa comes to your house on Christmas morning, don’t let someone guilt you into giving that up.  Set boundaries together long before the holiday season hits, deciding where you will and will not go and what you will and will not do, and stick to those boundaries.
  • Second, recognize that things may have to change as your family changes.  Kids grow up.  In-laws are introduced into the equation.  Jobs change.  People move.  Health changes.  Seek some normalcy, but recognize that life happens, and sometimes it can happen very quickly and very unexpectedly.
  • Third, be keenly aware of the emotional impact those changes can bring.  Is this the first holiday season without Dad?  Is this the first time a recently married child will be spending the holidays with his/her new in-laws and not see you at all?  Are there major health changes that have created new challenges for the holidays?  If so, it's okay to be emotional about those things.  Be prepared to give you and/or your mate space to grieve.
  • Fourth, don’t become what you say you don’t like.  Think about the things that cause you stress during the holidays, and don’t do the same thing to others.  If you felt guilty every time you heard “I guess they just won’t get to see their grandparents on Christmas day,” then don’t do the same to your kids.  If you hated running to a dozen different places, don’t ask your family to spend the entire holiday on the road.  And certainly, don’t use manipulative tactics to satisfy your own selfishness.
  • And finally, don’t miss out on the spiritual blessing of the holiday.  The word “holiday” means “holy day.”  Make it a priority to let the holidays include at least some time of spiritual renewal for you and your spouse together.
     Nobody wants to offend and alienate family, especially during a time that’s supposed to be joyful and peaceful.  Ultimately you have to decide if you are going to be angry and resentful (at your spouse, at your in-laws, or at anyone else), or if you’re going to let the holiday be a blessing to you and to your marriage.

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Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Makes a great, inexpensive Christmas gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Taking off the masks...

     Tis the season for dressing up and pretending.  What are you going to be for Halloween?  It’s fun to run around the neighborhood, acting silly and having fun.  But when Halloween’s over, it’s time for the masks to come off.  I’m not going to work the next day dressed as Spider-man, we aren’t going to send the kids to school in costumes and make-up, and Lisa doesn’t want the strange looks she’d encounter if she wore a mask at work all day.
     But in marriage, one of the most difficult things to do is to

take off our masks.  Transparency and authenticity are buzz words that are heard a lot nowadays, but the actual practice of being honest, open, and even emotionally raw with your mate is no easy task.  Now, I’m not suggesting using your anger, or sadness, or confusion, or even joy and exuberance as an excuse for being disrespectful to your mate or acting out inappropriately.  But I am suggesting that when we continually lock out our mates and refuse to let them know who we really are “behind the mask,” we limit intimacy, hamper communication, and create barriers to a fulfilled marriage.
     When we’re dating and early on in marriage, most people try to “put their best face forward,” showing a potential spouse their strongest, most admirable qualities.  After marriage, a real fear can set in that one's spouse might “see you for who you really are,” and that’s a scary prospect, because no one knows my faults and flaws better than me.  So, it can become a lifetime distraction to continually try to hide behind the masks of the tough superhero, or the never-serious clown, or the helpless princess, or the tragically misunderstood monster, or the impish elf, or the crazy cartoon character, or the perfect adventurer…the list could go on and on.  It is easy to pretend to be Superman or Wonder Woman.  But it is hard to say “I’m scared,” or “I’m confused,” or “I can’t do this alone,” or “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know what to do.”
     Masks can appear at any time in a marriage.  They can last for a short time through a specific stressor, or they can last for years to try and hide a perceived deficiency.  Sometimes a person wears a mask intentionally, and sometimes he/she will do it subconsciously.
     Taking off the masks and being transparent with your mate means admitting weakness, accepting help, and surrendering yourself to someone else.  Our pride works against us doing that.  The culture tells us we shouldn’t do that.  But a healthy marriage demands we do that.
     So how do we do it?  First, you have to create a safe environment for your mate to be transparent with you.  We tend to expect from others what we know we would get from ourselves.  You will never feel safe to take off your own mask if you can’t have empathy, love, kindness, and forgiveness for your mate in his/her weaknesses.  When both mates create an ongoing environment of safety, it is infinitely easier to show one’s true self.
     Next, you have to be willing to take a risk.  It is hard to trust someone with information about yourself that is potentially embarrassing or hurtful.  But, if you don't take that leap of faith, you will never know the freedom of being yourself and how that will bless your marriage and your relationship with your mate.
     Finally, when you take off the mask and the issue is laid bare, prayerfully decide how you are going to proceed together.  Whether one of you need to seek forgiveness, or you need to grieve together, or cry together, or figure out how to reignite intimacywhatever the issuerecognize that you are one flesh, working for the same goal, the good of the marriage. 
     Again, taking off your mask isn’t an excuse to become a victim, or to be verbally, emotionally, socially, or spiritually abusive to your mate.  It is a chance to find strength in your weakness so that you can bless each other and glorify Christ in your marriage.  Are you wearing a mask that you need to take off?

*Please note in this post, I am not talking about ongoing affairs, substance abuse, or pathological issues that require professional intervention.

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Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Order online here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Changing leaves and marriage...

     It’s that time of year again—the leaves are changing and fall is upon us.  Several years ago, late in the afternoon I was driving along a scenic route and the leaves were at their peak of color.  As I topped a hill, the sun broke over the horizon and shone through a tree with bright red leaves.  With the full light of the sun behind the tree, the leaves lit up with a fiery glowing that stunned me with its beauty and brilliance.  I wondered if even Moses’ burning bush could have commanded more attention than this tree.  Surely, I thought to myself, this must be the most perfect tree, every leaf shining in perfection; and I thanked God for letting me share in its magnificence.
     As I got closer to this beautiful red tree, the individual leaves began to take shape. Because of the way this tree looked from a distance, I fully expected every leaf to be perfectly shaped and perfectly colored.  However, as I continued to drive along, the sun slowly moved out from behind the tree.  As I got closer to this once brilliant tree, its glory began to fade.  Slowly, the once seemingly perfect leaves came into full view.  They were dull, broken, torn, and full of bug-chewed holes.  I thought it now seemed unlikely that even one single leaf could be considered perfect.  From a different perspective, without the sun behind it, the tree was just a mass of ugly messed up leaves.
     In a lot of ways, that tree is an analogy for marriage.  We know that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage.  We are all imperfect people who come from imperfect families.  Sometimes we say things we wished we hadn’t said, do things we wish we hadn’t done, and make choices that we wish we could take back.  If we're honest with ourselves, we readily recognize just how broken and imperfect we really are.
     But a marriage shines brightly when we let our love for our mates be a reflection of our love for God.  It shines when we live out forgiveness and grace and kindness.  It shines when we speak words of encouragement to our mates, and words of praise about our mates when we are in the company of friends and co-workers.  It shines when we keep our marriage relationships at the center of our families and have healthy boundaries that protect our marriages.  Our marriages shines when we take care of each other in sickness and in health.  It shines when we lay aside the distractions and devote time and attention to our mates.  It shines when we resist our selfish impulses and look out for the good of our marriage covenants.  Our marriages shine when we embrace being one flesh and helpmates for each other.  Our marriages are only made perfect when we reflect the presence of Christ in how we treat our spouses—when we let the Son shine through us as a couple.
     Whenever you see that perfect marriage that you wish you could have, just remember, a perfect marriage is not perfect because of the husband’s or the wife’s own goodness, but because that couple allows the perfect Son to shine through their lives making them into something they cannot possibly hope to be within themselves.  As husbands and wives, we need to stand where the light of the Son penetrates who we are, and where His light can lead us together toward glorious transformation into the likeness of Christ.

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Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Order online here.



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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Marriage and the Sabbath principle



      Years ago, I was talking with a friend at church.  Lisa and I had just gotten back from vacation and my friend asked me how our trip went.  I told him Lisa and I had a great, relaxing time together.  A church leader overheard our conversation and commented that he "didn't even know what a vacation was."  He went on to say that he hadn't been on a vacation in 7 years.  Expecting to be complimented for an exceptional work ethic, I instead told him that I felt sorry for him and I especially felt sorry for his wife.
      God created us to need rest.  He set apart the seventh day, the Sabbath, and made it holy.  In the Law of Moses, to ignore and desecrate the Sabbath was a capital offense.  That’s how important this Sabbath principle of rest is.  Through regular rest, we renew our bodies, our minds, and our spiritual orientation as we affirm our reliance on God alone to sustain us.
It is obvious that in our 21st century American culture the Sabbath principle of regular rest and renewal has fallen by the wayside.  We are way too busy; way too addicted to noise and to a frenetic lifestyle.  There is always someone or something standing at the door ready to take a piece of your time or your resources.  The results of our non-stop lifestyles are abundantly obvious; health problems, relationship problems, emotional problems, spiritual decline, and more.  If a Sabbath time is not prioritized, it will not happen.
But here’s the thing we sometimes forget.  Just as an individual needs regular periods of rest and renewal, so do couples.  Husbands and wives need to prioritize time together in which they can engage each other in a relaxed setting, share in intimacy (physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual), and renew and reaffirm their covenant relationship with each other and with God.  It needs to be a time of rest, play, and spiritual growth as a couple.  After all, God gave the Sabbath to Adam and Eve together (Genesis 1:26-2:3).  If a Sabbath time together for a husband and wife is not prioritized, it will not happen.
     So what do we do?  Ongoing obligations and resources always have to be taken into account when planning a time of Sabbath as a couple.  I’d love to get away to a beach house in Hawaii with my wife every few months, but that is just not realistic.  Regardless of your limitations, find something you can do to have a time of Sabbath rest as a couple.  Set aside a day for worship together, take a walk together, read scripture together, play a game, take a vacation.  Whether it’s for a week, a weekend, a day, or even a few hours, find some way to just rest in the presence of each other as you rest in the presence of God.
        Put as much intentionality into your rest with your spouse as you put into anything else you do to better your marriage.  Put a regular "couple’s time of Sabbath rest" on the calendar.  Make it a priority.  Realize that without rest together as a couple, you circumvent God’s design for your relationship.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Married in a digital world



     What does it mean to be married in a digital world?  Are you and your spouse’s digital habits helpful or harmful to your pursuit of a healthy, Christ-centered marriage?
     We all are aware of the benefits of our digital world, and we are all just as aware of the dark side of the worldwide web.  Temptations aboundeverything from pornography, to jealousy and unhealthy comparative living through social media, to websites and apps designed to encourage and facilitate infidelity,  and more.  The devil is definitely prowling around our digital world, looking for those he can devour.
     You can find numerous reports in both popular media and scholarly circles citing the rise in social media directly correlating with marital dissatisfaction and divorce.  Over a third of divorce filings now cite Facebook or other social media as a major contributor to the marriage ending.
     So what do we do?  When we say “I do,” we intend for it to truly be a blessed relationship for life.  How do we protect ourselves and our marriages from a rapidly moving digital culture?
     The easy thing to do is to just jump into the digital flood and get swept away by the current.  But Christian marriage calls us to do something different—to be something different.  And that begins with an honest and serious conversation between you and your mate over what the guidelines for living in a digital world need to be in your marriage and in your household.
     I’m not going to give you a list of specific rules because everyone’s context is unique, but as you and your spouse discuss this, here are a few thoughts that need to shape that conversation.

  • You can’t fight the future.  Change in communication and our perception of the world is inevitable.  It is more beneficial to discern ways to positively and appropriately incorporate the digital world into marriage and family life than it is to fight change.
  • People matter more than devices.  When your mate enters the room, do you put your devices down, make eye contact, and speak?  If you must work on a digital device in your spouse’s presence, do you communicate it verbally when he/she enters the room so there is not a feeling of being snubbed or ignored?
  • Remember, your children will mimic the digital behaviors they see in you.  Is the way you interact with your mate in a digital world the same way you want your child to interact with his/her future spouse?  Your rules for living in a digital world need to reflect the values you want to pass on to your children to help them have healthy, God-honoring marriages.
  • Only post with permission.  Whether it is a picture, a quote, a funny story, or even what your spouse had for breakfast, don’t post anything about your mate without getting his/her permission.  While you might not see any harm, if your spouse has a problem with it, there is a problem.  Regrettably, we all know someone who seems to be lacking any filters when it comes to what they post.  Don’t be that someone towards your spouse.
  • Be aware that none of this is a new problem, it is just a different context.  Character, priorities, and identity always matter.  As new as it might seem, the temptations and secrecy perpetuated by the digital world is only a modern day version of an age old problem.  In the digital world, we firmly establish our character (or lack thereof), display our priorities in how we love, respect, and admonish our spouses through our posts, and establish an identity that either allows the digital world to drive a wedge between us and our mates, or gives us a forum to establish a strong identity rooted in “one flesh.”
  • Write it down.  As you discuss, refine, and finalize your own rules for living in a digital world, take the time to write it down.  When we write things down, it becomes more concrete and has a stronger effect in shaping thoughts and behaviors that will bless your marriage.

For other considerations in coming up with your rules for living in a digital world, please read the posts TBT and the dangers of social media and Password please…
     As I said above, we can’t fight the future.  But we can let our Christian worldview, and particularly our view of covenant Christian marriage inform how we engage and interact with the digital world.  To paraphrase an 80’s song, “We are living in a digital world, and I am a digital husband/wife.”  Don’t let “digital” replace “Christian.”