Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2After all these years, I still care deeply about marriage and helping couples have the best marriages they can possibly have.  I’m always a sucker for saying “yes” when a couple (especially a young couple) asks me for help.

Right now, I’m meeting with two young couples who are preparing to get married and I’m also going to be overseeing the ceremonies of two other young couples in the next couple of months.

Here’s what I can tell you about these four couples:  From what I can see, they all define marriage in a different way.

And that is their prerogative.  That’s true for all of us.

Each of us enter into marriage with some presuppositions about what marriage is and what we are hoping ours will become.  We have beliefs about marriage that have been carved out since our childhood (when we lived with our parent’s marriages) and got further refined as we watched marriages (both good and bad) in our adolescent and young adult years.

We come to conclusions about the nature and purpose of marriage by watching and listening. The differences between us is our sources of influence.  The people we watch. The voices who speak into our hearts.  The words we trust and have authority in our lives.

But make no mistake.  What our marriages are built on…what our marriages grow into…what our marriages ultimately become…are our choices.

I’ve said this before, many times.  I always ask couples why they want to get married. They are almost always quick to tell me it’s because they “love” each other.  Now, as noble and foundational as love is to marriage, that’s never the answer I’m looking for.  At least not in the form I’m hoping to hear.

How about some of these reasons:

“ I find my greatest joy in serving her.”

“I want to grow old together.”

“We are better together than we are separate.”

“I want to live absolutely and fully committed to him.”

“Our individual giftedness compliments each other.”

“I completely and totally trust him.”

“I am drawn to her character and example like no other.”

“He refines and challenges my shortcomings.”

“She inspires me to live out a higher calling.”

The reason I seldom, if ever, get these kinds of answers is because most couples are not thinking deeply about marriage and they are drawing their definitions of marriage from sources other than the nature, character, words, and example of Jesus.

So when it comes to your marriage (current or future), here are the questions to ask:

Who is influencing your thoughts and your process of defining marriage?

What is your source of moral and relational authority?

Is your marriage what YOU say it is, or are you submitting yourself to a greater influence?

No matter what, it’s still your choice.

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayI can still remember the first wedding ceremony I ever did that ended in divorce.

I was devastated.  They were kids who had been in my youth group.  I really cared deeply for both of them.

During their pre-marriage counseling, I told them they shouldn’t get married.  I saw huge red flags.  I knew them well and they weren’t on the same page in some really critical areas.

But they luuuuved each other.  They believed that their love was bigger than any problem they would face.  They were convinced God was leading them and that He would bless and protect them.

After a few years and a couple of children, it all ended.  They were good people.  With good hearts.  And lots of love.  But those pesky conflicting values, clashing theologies, and different world views did them in.

In my youthful commitment and unrealistic expectations of myself, I carried the burden of their failure for years.  I felt responsible.  I couldn’t let go of the guilt I felt for not doing more.  For not speaking up louder.  For not laying in front of the out-of-control bus I was convinced they were driving.

My young messiah complex was in overdrive.  For a long time.

And then somewhere along the line, I had an epiphany.  Or God opened my eyes.  Or I grew up.  Or the burden of carrying the messiah cross finally got too heavy.  Or I simply stopped being stoopid.

I can never be responsible for someone else’s marriage.  That job is completely reserved for them.

I imagine I have performed well over 300 wedding ceremonies in the past 35 years, and I am not responsible for the success, or failure, of any one of them.  I will do everything I can to help them make wise decisions and point them in the right direction.  I am never afraid to tell couples of my concerns for the long-term health of their marriages, if I have them.  I try to pass on wisdom and hopefully, some relationship skills they will use to grow deeper.  I try to set the bar high.  I even promise to be a continued resource and point of accountability, if they want that.

But I am not responsible for them.

They have to do that for themselves.

You have to do it for yourself.

A sad day

Slide1I have about 125 blogs that are fed to my reader every day.  Most days I check in a couple of times to see what has been posted by people I admire and like to follow what they are thinking.  I checked more than that today.

I have never really been enamored much by popularity.  Underneath the facade of celebrity, they’re just people.  I guess when entertainers or politicians or sports heroes I have connected with over time pass away, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.  Maybe it’s just because I am growing older, but death captures my heart a little differently these days.

Today was a difficult day.  So many people reflecting on the suicide of Robin Williams.   If you want to read a couple of really good posts, you can check them out here and here.

Here’s what I want to pass on:  Depression, mental illness and addiction are real.  But, it seems like the more the stories are heard and played out for the world to see, the more polarizing the reality becomes.

For all the sympathetic and empathetic reactions to William’s suicide, there have been a huge number of cynical, unsympathetic, and judgmental responses standing in opposition to those calling for understanding and grace.

“He took the coward’s way out.”

“Depression is just an excuse for weak people.”

“Come on.  Everybody gets a little depressed sometimes.”

 “He didn’t die from a disease.  He died from his choice.”

If those are similar to your thoughts about depression, I guess I’d like to kindly ask you to keep them to yourself.  I’m not usually much for openly confronting people for voicing their opinion, but I just have to on this one.  (Btw, if you’re a friend and you’ve already posted opinions about depression like this on Facebook, trust me, I haven’t read them and probably won’t.  I don’t spend much time on FB these days.)

Here’s the truth.  If that’s what you think about depression, you’ve never been seriously depressed.  Sorry.

However, if you are, or ever have been depressed, your heart is broken for Robin Williams and the unimaginable darkness he found himself in, during his final hours.

I have never been where Robin Williams found himself yesterday.  But I have walked in similar darkness.

I’ve written about it here and here and here and here and here and here.  

If you’re struggling at all with thinking you might be depressed, I would encourage you to read my posts and see if you identify with any part of the road I have travelled.  

From where I sit, depression is real.  I have been there.

But there is hope.

And you don’t have to fight this enemy alone.  There are ways to fight back.  Give me a shout, if you want a friend on this journey.

 

People-helping

Rescue Mei’ve spent the better part of forty years helping people.

i’m no hero.  i’m just doing what god has gifted me to do.  it’s really that simple.

and as i sit here tonight thinking about it, i’m feeling incredibly humbled and grateful that people make financial sacrifices out of their weekly budget to make it possible for me to do the thing i love to do.   amazing.

in all these years of people-helping, here’s one thing i’ve learned:  we never know the whole story of why people are the way they are.

we can listen.  we can ask questions.  we can speculate.  we can try to interpret their behavior.   but it’s never the whole story.

everybody makes the decision to disclose a certain amount.  some people are open books.  some are in complete denial of who and what they are.  everybody else falls somewhere in-between.

but nobody discloses everything.

all of our stories are complicated.  people are products of their past.  family dynamics from childhood leave permanent marks on everything…self-image, confidence, fears, communication skills, beliefs, values, problem-solving, ethics.  life stories are full of successes and failures that influence how we act and respond.

and everybody has secrets.

when i try to help people, it would be great to know the whole story.  but i have to be content with what they give…and do my best with it.

when i know more of the story of why people act the way they do, it’s always easier to be patient…to withhold judgment… show love and mercy… and treat them as i would want to be treated.  i know that’s true for most of you, also.

so here’s an idea.  why not just go ahead and treat people with love and grace and mercy and patience anyway…without knowing their story?  you don’t tell all of yours…and you expect people to treat you graciously.   why do you need additional information before you withhold judgment of others?

maybe if we showed more love first, people might be more willing to trust us with more of their stories.

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage Tuesday 2please don’t dismiss this quickly.  it’s a simple principle that is violated all the time…in most every marriage.

you can’t have a healthy marriage when one of you is not healthy.  and if that isn’t simple enough, here’s another truth that’s even simpler:   you can’t make another person “healthy”.  you can only be responsible for yourself.

you want to have a healthier marriage?  get healthy.

you want to have a deeper marriage?  get deeper.

you want to have a marriage that is more godly?  be godly.

you want to have a happier marriage?  be happier.

you want to have peace in your marriage?  be peaceful.

you want your marriage to be more loving?  learn to love better.

you want your marriage to have less stress?  be less stressful.

you want to have better communication in your marriage?  be a better communicator.

should i go on?

i talk to couples all the time and all the time, they tell me they want a better marriage.  when i ask them what they are doing to make their marriage better, i usually get blank stares.

“that’s why we’re coming to you!”

that’s a good start, but here’s the reality:  i can’t do anything to make your marriage better.  and neither can you.  in fact, neither can your partner.  but you can make yourself better.  (well, not exactly.  but you can take some responsibility for the person you are!)

get a medical check up.  face your fears.  deal with your past.  read a book.  talk to a trusted friend and be honest about yourself for once.  go on a diet…i mean a “food management program”.  start walking.  read your bible.  get in a small accountability group.  get some counseling.  confront your depression.  stop drinking.  quit flirting at the office.  start coming back to church.  give some money away instead of buying things to make yourself feel better.  go to bed earlier.  put yourself in a position to hear the voice of god…instead of running.  slow down and listen.

none of these things alone will make you a better person…but they will get you on the path.  and definitely, none of these things alone will make your marriage better.  if your spouse is not doing the same…walking the same kind of path and living in the same honesty…your marriage is probably not going to get better.

people like to say that marriage is a fifty-fifty proposition.  that’s not the marriage that i see flowing from the heart of god.  his is more like a hundred-hundred proposition.

i give absolutely the best of everything i can to the relationship.  you give absolutely the best of everything you can to the relationship.

that’s the kind of marriage that is honorable to god.

50 Life-changers… #1

Smith #1nearly twenty years ago, i was going through a dark time in my life.  i was unhappy.  i felt like a failure.  i was lonely.  there were a lot of factors, but the uncomfortable reality that i was facing everyday was a spiritual and emotional emptiness.

it was a black hole.

and even though i couldn’t see my way out,  i dug in…got some counseling…went back to some really basic bible reading…and instead of running away from my confusion, i ran into it.  during this time, i started reading a book that not only turned my life right-side up, but also changed the way i have counseled people ever since.

it’s a book called lifemapping , by john trent and, among many other things, it helped me understand the connection between the significant life events of my past…and my present struggles and achievements.  the book isn’t the most popular ever written.  most people, even counselors, have never even heard of it.

but for me, it was money.

part of the genius of the book is the work you have to put in while reading it.  you actually build a map of your life.  each of the chapters is devoted to a different path on the journey and the reader is challenged to think seriously and critically about what has happened on all of those paths.

i can remember as if it were yesterday.  i went down to a local art supply store and bought myself a big piece of brown paper bag material, about three feet by three feet…and i taped it to the wall in our bedroom.  wanda and i have never been real big on interior design, so it probably matched the decor about as well as anything else did.

i divided it into the right number of columns and put in the proper headings…and i dove into the book.

slowly, but surely, things began to get unwrapped.  pieces of my life that i thought had little or no significance started to take on massive meaning.  for the first time, i had perspective to my life that had always escaped me before.  i saw reasons behind the way i was acting and feeling.

my personality…my strengths…my weaknesses…my fears…my public personna..and my hidden self were all connected.  like connecting the stars with straight lines to form unique constellations, i was connecting the dots of my life.  everything was linked.  everything…big and small…was interrelated.

and all of it had shaped me.

this life-mapping experience took about three months to complete.  some times it was invigorating.  sometimes it was just emotionally painful.  but it changed me.  it empowered me.  it enabled me to see that god had really been at work in my life in ways i had never noticed.  it was a life-changer.

over the holiday break, i decided it was time to do this again.  for me.  maybe for you.  who knows?  once a week for the next 49 weeks, i’m going to write about a different life-changing event on my journey and how it has played a role in shaping me.  

some will be crazy good.  others…not so much.  but each one has played a role in shaping the dude you see right now.  and i’m still blown away at how god has woven them all together.

maybe you can make your own journal of life-changers along with me?

if you’re a tight-wad, it’s cheaper than going to a counselor…

Marriage Tuesday

how do you know if your marriage is in trouble?

i wonder sometimes, if couples are aware that their relationship is wading out into the deep end…or if they are simply clueless.  it think it’s more like denial.

nobody wakes up one day and decides they want an empty marriage.  i think most couples get going at such a rapid pace in their lives that bad relationship habits begin to form without recognizing them…and then those habits just sort of become the modus operandi.

we all get entrenched in routine.  the demands of life are relentlessly…demanding.  bills to pay.  schedules to keep.  chores to be completed.  and if you’ve got kids in the house,  just ratchet up the intensity level about hundred times.  date night?  what’s a date night when you’re up to your ear lobes in runny noses,  grass-stained laundry and failed science projects exploded on the dining room table?

how do you know if your marriage is in trouble, when you don’t even make the time to think about your marriage?

the thing is,  i’m pretty sure most married people know when there’s trouble brewing.  they know what emptiness feels like.  they know the initial signs of neglect and coldness and rejection.  they know the difference between good-natured ribbing and the deliberate incision of a well-placed stab of sarcasm.  they know.  you know.

so what do you do?  could it be the answer is simply for you to tell somebody?  yup.

i like to fix things.  actually, that’s not entirely true.  i’ve learned to fix things.  for years, whether it was a young youth minister’s salary or living on missionary support or dealing with the fallout of those years, i learned to fix things myself.

and it was in those years that i also learned to ask for help.  i didn’t want people to do it for me,  but i did want them to tell me what i could do different…to tell me how to fix things a better or more efficient way.  sometimes that included them showing me.  sometimes my friends have taken the lead and we did it together.

from rebuilding a carburetor to installing 220 to repairing a broken water main to dealing with my depression , three things were always the same.  i accepted that i had a huge problem.  i admitted i couldn’t fix it all by myself.   i turned to people who could help.

through the years,  i’ve learned to fix a bunch of things myself.  i’ve even become a person that people turn to for help in getting things done or getting through difficult situations.  that’s a pretty cool thing, but i would never be where i am at or the person i am without the help of others.

(i am not discounting the role of god’s word or his power and presence in my life through all of these times.  i’m just saying it appears that people were often god’s method of communicating his wisdom and discipline and patience to me during those times of growth.)

look.  it’s not easy asking for help.  pride gets in the way big time.  nobody wants their dirty laundry hanging out so the neighborhood can see.  but if that’s what it takes to get your marriage back on track…if that’s what you need to find wholeness in your union and strength to reach the finish line…then start waving your arms for somebody to see.

you’d do it if you were drowning, wouldn’t you?