Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayAccording to my clock, I’ve still got about an hour before Tuesday is over this week, so here comes a Marriage Tuesday…

I have dozens and dozens of divorced friends.  The last thing in the world I would want is for my words to inflict any more pain on them than their own reality has already done.  It’s with that awareness these thoughts are offered.

There is no question the ones who feel the brunt of the pain of a divorce are the husband and wife.  It was not their goal to grow apart.  It was not their desire to draw loved ones into their conflict.  The needs of the children always weigh heavily on the parent’s hearts.

Even though one almost always feels more like the “victim”, neither is ever entirely blameless. Sometimes one feels like they are doing all the work, while the other is just going through the motions.  Some couples work and work and work to figure out what’s wrong and stop the bleeding and heal the hurts.  Every now and then it pays off.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

There is almost always a mess of collateral damage, also.  Some of it is obvious.  Finances. The house.  Loss of identity.  Loss of confidence.  Changed relationships with in-laws and extended family.  Holidays.

Here’s one issue that’s seldom talked about: How the divorce affects the church.  When the divorcing couple are both part of a church family (along with their kids), the church is living in awkwardness.  We don’t know the “whole” story…if we know any real story at all. Sides are often chosen and loyalties are declared.  Story lines are controlled by who’s talking and who’s listening.  Truth is slippery.

Worse yet, the church family can know absolutely nothing, because the couple has chosen to keep their struggle private.  Maybe they believe it’s nobody’s business.  Maybe they’re hoping it will get better and reputations can be spared.  Maybe they are simply living in denial, while their friends are living in the dark.  Until it blows up.

When that happens, we (the church) lose one, or sometimes, both of the partners.  Our children’s ministry loses their kids…at least half the time.  We lose their shared responsibilities.  We lose their financial support.  We lose friendship.  Their need to move on (for the health of their new relationships or just the need for a fresh start away from memories of their old life), leaves the rest of us just feeling loss.  And less than what we were.

And me?  Because I am usually more intimately involved with the couples, my feelings of loss are usually pretty acute, even though my emotions are mixed.  Somebody’s loss is almost always someone else’s benefit.  It doesn’t mean I have to like it!

So here’s the takeaway.  To all of my divorced friends:  My prayer will always be for your best. I hope the painful part of your life is in your past and you have found healing and strength in your new life…filled with new friends and new opportunities for you and yours.  May redemption be your song.

However, if you are still married and your relationship is less than what it should be…falling short of what it could be…hidden from what others see…held together by a veneer of social respectability, while it is crumbling below the surface in ways that only you and your partner know…it’s time to raise your hand.

It’s time to let someone in.  It’s time to swallow your pride.  It’s time to remember your vows. It’s time to live by faith and no longer by sight.  It’s time to ask for help.

It’s time to face the prospects of the potential collateral damage.  Before it’s too late.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2How 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.  I 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 differently… 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. 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?

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage Tuesday 2I know a lot of people who have gotten divorces. Many of them are fantastic people.  Full of life and goals and love and faith.  They believe in marriage. They see its value and made pledges of lifelong commitment to their spouses they truly intended to keep.  They never believed divorce would be the outcome of their partnerships.  They are not losers.  They are not failures.

But they divorced anyway.

For most of them, their reasons are as personal as they are complex.  There may have been identifiable tipping points, but most would say the death of their marriages happened over a long time, rather than in a moment or a singular event.

Although I have listened to story after story through the years, I am no expert on divorce.  I’m pretty sure there are really no experts on divorce (who would ever want to be one, anyway?)   But I have learned some things that are worth passing on.  Here’s one…

Death and taxes are not the only things we can be certain will happen.  Over time, people change.  You can be certain of that!   The question is, in marriage, how are you going to deal with it?   How are you going to make room for it?

Over the course of our marriage, I have changed.  A lot.  My education has changed.  My theology has changed.  My politics have changed.  My hobbies have changed.  My physique has changed (multiple times).  My hair has changed.  My clothing styles have changed.  My food tastes have changed.  My musical tastes have changed.  My confidence has changed. My job has changed.  My emotional stability has changed.  My health has changed.

The same is true for Wanda.

Most (though not all) marriages I know of that have ended, share a common struggle with change.  “He’s just not the same man I married a few years ago.”   “She’s different now.  It’s like I don’t even know her anymore.”   “I’ve just got different priorities and interests.”   “We’ve grown apart.”

So what’s going to keep changes from getting the best of you and your marriage?  How are you going to combat the potential effects of the inevitable flow of change that will flood your lives over time?

You’ve got to have some unchangeables.

There have to be some shared, immovable, unshakable core beliefs you are both  committed to and ideals that form the foundation of both your personal and shared lives together. These need to be beliefs that are bigger than life goals…and have the capacity to draw you together in unity and affect every single area of life.

These beliefs don’t happen accidentally.  They don’t happen by chance.  They happen because you determine to work on them together.  They are forged out of a common understanding that marriage is designed for something more than our personal pleasure.

We have ours.  Do you have yours?

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayThe older I get, the more frustrated I get whenever tradition wins out over truth.

I’ve never liked the imagery of the lighting of the unity candle.  Sorry.  The whole two-flames-making-one is all right, I suppose…but when each of the people blow out their own candle, I always kind of cringe.  I think it actually feeds into the fear that many people have about marriage.

I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to through the years that were afraid they were going to lose something when they got married.  That somehow the person they used to be was going to get lost in the new union…that they would end up being somebody totally different from before they “tied the knot”.  (I’m not too fond of the whole “tying the knot” visual, either…)

We need to understand when we get married, we don’t stop being what we once were.  Rather, we are to bring all of what we are to the table.  But this creates another set of problems.  Lots of them.

We don’t lose our identity when we get married.  We don’t lose the essence of what makes us…us.  As a matter of fact, one of the biggest mistakes people make is when they enter into marriage with the hope…or even expectation…that the partner will change.  Many… and I mean many… think that marriage will slow people down…or make them grow up…or cure the wandering eye…or turn them spiritual…or produce emotional maturity…or mysteriously cause them to become responsible human beings.  But it doesn’t work like that.

Yeah, I will stipulate that marriage has a way of affecting us.  But you are a fool if you think being married is going to make the other person something other than more of what they already are!  Get it?

Wanda and I are wiser, deeper, stronger, kinder, less selfish, more patient, and better equipped to live for the good of others than we were when we got married.  But our marriage didn’t make that happen.   Surrendering to the pleasure and presence of God did.  Marriage is simply one of the anvils God uses to pound us and shape us into something useable.

And if you are not surrendering to the neoprene-covered sledge hammer of God, your marriage will pound you.

And it won’t be pretty.

sledge hammer

Marriage Tuesday

 

Marriage TuesdayOne of the things I say in pre-marriage counseling is you are marrying more than you can see at the moment.  You are marrying everything the other person brings to the table.

You are marrying their strengths, their skills, their successes, their promises of love and faithfulness, their partnership, their support, their dreams.  This is a wonderful thing.

But you are also marrying their expectations, their fears, their beliefs, their way of doing things, their definition of truth and love, their values, their theology.

You are marrying their world view.

You are marrying their baggage. You are marrying their strengths and their weaknesses.

You are marrying their family dynamic and their family rules.  Sheesh.  You are marrying their family.  You marry their family’s way of doing things.  You marry the skeletons in their family closet.  Maybe you marry into a lot cash.  Hey.  Just sayin’…

It’s sad, but I see so many couples these days who function in an unhealthy way.  One partner has more influence, so the other partner makes the necessary concessions, in order for conflict to be minimized.  They do this in the name of love and keeping peace, but often, all it does is undermine the stability of the relationship and strip away the dignity of one, or even both.  What looks like commitment-based compromise, is really nothing more than disrespect and taking the easy way out.

Real love is doing what’s in the best interest of another.  In marriage, that doesn’t always mean we give in to the partner with the strongest personality or the one who inflicts the most grief when they don’t get their own way.

Too often, unhealthy and immature win.  Too often, the voice of reason is drowned out by a dysfunctional past.  Too often, compromises are made long before both sides have mustered the courage to be completely honest.  Too often, couples leave the negotiating table and retreat to their silent corners.  Too often, best is sacrificed at the altar of expediency.  Too often, doing the right thing is ignored, in order to placate the partner who is the most emotionally manipulative.

Harsh?  Maybe.  The truth is that way sometimes.

In marriage, the table of negotiation is also the table of love.  So learn to stay at the table longer.  You will both be better off because of it.

 

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2What do you and your spouse talk about?

Do you even talk?

Honestly,  I think information is exchanged between most couples… about the kids…about finances…about schedules… about other people…maybe a lot of other things.   But talking? It’s something totally different.

Information exchange  takes place at the surface.   Talking wades into the deep end.   Information exchange is all about passing on the data.   Talking is all about expressing feelings and opinions and dreams and insights.   Talking takes time.   Talking takes self-awareness and the willingness to create a safe space for the other person.

Easier said than done.

I think one of the reasons for so little real talking in marriage is because of the safe space thing.

safe space is a place where opinions and personal insights are free to be expressed and respected.   A safe space is where we can say exactly what we think or feel without fear of repercussion or judgment.   A safe space is where my take on any particular issue can be openly communicated without the discussion being reduced to competition.

My experience (in all relationships…including marriage) is that most people have a high need to be right.  Which means the other person is wrong.  And when that happens in a marriage,  the safe space is blown away.

Surprise.   I’ve got an opinion on just about everything.   So does Wanda.   And if you dig deep enough,  we both have those opinions because we think we’re right.   But the issue of  “who’s right?” simply doesn’t come into play in our relationship.

We love to talk.   Sure…we still talk about our kids.   And finances and our schedules and other people.   But that’s not all.   We have always talked about politics and culture.   We talk theology…end times and worship practice and ministry and miracles and Israel and giving our offering.   We talk lifestyle and economics and global issues.   For real.

And we don’t agree.   On a lot of things.   Over the forty-five years we have been together,  we have had some pretty spirited debates.   We have challenged each other’s positions and have both gone back to the drawing board to rethink our rightness.   We have each changed our minds about serious issues.

But our space for talking has ALWAYS been safe.   Always.

Neither one of us has a need to be right.   Our boys would tell you they have never really seen us argue.   They probably haven’t.   It’s because we value our safe space to talk.   We have always treasured the freedom we both have to see things differently and totally respect the distinctives we bring to the table.

Is your marriage a safe place?   Have you outgrown your childish need to be right?  Have you grown comfortable with silent (or loud) conflict?   Is your marriage about talking…or has it been reduced to information exchange?

Raise the bar.

Marriage Wednesday. Part 2

Like I said yesterday, this is a personal message to young adults…both singles and couples.

marriage 2Over the last two decades, I’ve seen changes in the part of life (young adulthood) I hold closest to my heart.  We were both barely 21 in our first year of marriage.  This summer marked 40 years since Wanda and I made the promise to spend our lives together.  We moved away from the motherland twenty years ago, so most of the changes I have witnessed have happened here in the Great State, but I suspect they may exist outside of the frontier, also.

(Warning. Beware of “over-personalizing” every observation I make.  I’m dealing with some specifics, as well as some pretty huge generalizations.  Some of them may nail you right between the eyes…others may miss the target altogether.  When shoes fit, put them on.  When they don’t, put them back on the shelf.  I am a master of the mixed metaphor…)

I look at what’s going on today, and I see something totally different than how Wanda and I lived in our 20’s and 30’s.  I see culture exerting its will over the hearts and schedules of young adults in ways that were completely foreign to us.  I see young adults growing more and more inward and protective of their time and money and possessions and children.  I see your battle and hear your frustrations.  

Rather than “choosing” a lifestyle, I listen to story after story of people who feel their lifestyles are being dictated by demanding jobs and incomes that are being stretched so thin they are ready to explode.

Here is the path I see the majority of people following these days: People will work hard…get up early…stay late…and put up with high demands and uncomfortable situations…as long as it nets a paycheck or directly benefits their home/family in some way. But most people simply don’t want to be pushed outside their comfort zones in their “negotiable” time…what little they have of it.

Because well-paying jobs are harder to come by, young adults are willing to be miserable in order to keep those jobs.  Part of this is noble.  We must take care of our families.  But I hear fewer and fewer stories of idealism and dreaming and living by faith…and see more and more looks of emptiness, frustration and “shoulder shrugging” resignment.  My heart goes out to so many young adults these days who see a richer and deeper life, but it sits outside their grasp.

Our houses have become sanctuaries for personal retreat and insulation from the nasty, demanding world outside our doors.  Home improvement has little or nothing to do with the quality of relationships that are built inside our walls…but about the next new thing we can add to make our behind-closed-doors experience a better one.

On the positive side, I see more young parents taking their roles of protector-provider very serious.  But I also see parents who are bowing down to worship at the altar of their own kids!  That’s when life is allowed to revolve around the kids…when parents sacrifice everything for their own kid’s personality development… happiness…education…experience… schedule…to the exclusion of community life outside the family walls.

More than anything, I see young adults who have lost sight of bigger pictures. The need for a greater community experience…the command for genuine, selfless service to others for free…the cry for deep, transparent, challenging friendships…the profound value of a village for our children to grow up in…these seem to be pearls that are losing their worth.  Quickly.

Hey, it’s easy to throw stones.  It’s a lot harder to provide light for the journey.  There are no easy, quick fixes.  Life seems to be a lot more complicated for you guys, than it was for me when I was your age.  But if you hunger for more… If there is something inside you that says there is a more meaningful life out there to be had…here are a few suggestions for turning it around:

Find a person or a group of people that needs what you have to offer…your talents…your gifts… your passion…your love…your service…and make a commitment to those people. Make it so they depend on you.  Make it so that if you don’t do your part, those people lose.  Make it so that breaking your commitment is simply not an option.  Teach a class.  Lead a group.  Serve on a team.  Don’t just volunteer your time.  Invest your life.  I didn’t say it would be easy.  But you can do it.

Find a group of like-minded, like-hearted young adults and begin meeting with them regularly.  Find an existing group.  Start your own group.  Meet about something that interests you.  Read a book.  Study a topic.  Go out to eat.  Play on a team.  Share a hobby.  Meet a need.  Just do it together with some people.  Regularly. I think you will be blown away by the change that happens in your heart.   And you may even find the stress in your schedule is much easier to manage. I still believe in a God that changes people.

Practice saying “no” to yourself and your family.  Everybody will be much better for the experience.

Make the time to really determine if you want to live a life of selflessness…a life of community…a life of transparency…a life larger than your personal family unit.  Some people don’t want it. Some people are quite content with being the center of their own world.  So be it.

(Here’s a side note:  In 35 years of youth ministry, it was always pretty easy to pick out the entitled, overly self-absorbed, inflexible, kids in the youth group, whose mommy’s and daddy’s had over-protected, pampered, and micro-managed.   They were the kids that seldom, if ever, wanted to go on our road trips or camps.  They simply didn’t know how to surrender their need to have everything just the way they wanted it, for the greater good of the group or the purpose of the trip.  They were the kids that complained and whined more than anybody else.  Although they were usually “nice” kids, honestly, they were also the kids nobody in the youth group really liked.  I sense the same is just as true these days, as it was back in the dinosaur days when I roamed the land.  But it’s not too late to make changes!)

However, if you sense a calling to walk in hallowed footsteps…if the size of your world is shrinking…if you don’t want your children to grow up like you…then you have to step boldly. Is the life you are living really the life you were meant to live?

I’ll close with a quote from one of my all-time favorite books, We Really Do Need One Another by Reuben Welch:

You know, we want to save ourselves and hold ourselves back as though the highest goal in life would be to look good in our caskets.  It’s no special blessing to come to the end of life with love unshared,  selves ungiven,  activities unactivated,  deeds undone,  emotions unextended.  It’s not an encouraging thought,  especially at my age in life—but I have the feeling that when a person is middle-aged,  he ought to be about half used up.  And when I read this passage,  I keep asking myself what I’m saving myself for?  Isn’t it God’s intention that when we come to the end of the line, we’re just about used up?