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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Sudden Tragedy

 UNEXPECTED TWISTS AND TURNS

Many people will experience today a troubling and unexpected surprise when they receive divorce papers on behalf of their spouse.  Some will not be unexpected, to be sure.  But any others will be blindsided, or at the least disappointed as they were hoping to get their marital problems worked out and their marriages back on track.  

At the same time, those people are not the only individuals who will experience a sudden life change today, and have to deal with the new situation they find themselves in.  

Granted, there is a difference when someone you love turns against you and rejects your love from losing your house in an earthquake or even suffering grief through the death of a loved one…but divorce certainly isn’t the only traumatic life change people experience.  

Life is just messy like that sometimes, isn’t it?  

None of us is immune from the unexpected, and having the skills to handle such events is critical.

How do you respond to sudden tragedy?  

Sure, shock, fear, depression, anger, denial, desperation, efforts to try to reverse the reality….all those kinds of emotions and reactions are some of the natural responses, especially in the early stages of the event.  But I am asking you to consider beyond the initial responses.  When we have such events thrust upon us, we all have to decide how to move forward in life afterwards.  Very often we actually already have skills to help us through, if we remember to use them. Some life skills, however, will only be developed in the crucible of such events.

I don’t know if you have heard of Christians who like to adopt what they call a “life-verse,” or not, but I know some folks like that.  They select a verse that has special meaning for them, or special challenge, or that reflects what they perceive as their calling and purpose in life.  In conversation with a friend recently, we were talking about that idea, and while it isn’t something that I participate in, I suggested to my friend that if I were going to adopt one, some days I think it would be the first half of Hebrews 10:36—“For you have need of endurance…”

Some days, enduring is about as much as I think I can handle.  Actually, I wanted to offer that as an example of the kind of life skill that comes only through adversity.  If you never had anything you had to endure, then you would never learn the ability to endure.

When life change events come along, it is very easy to get so caught up in the loss, that you start to live in the past, longing for how things used to be, even to the point of rewriting the past and forgetting that some of the past wasn’t so great!  This kind of reaction often leads to getting stuck in life, stuck in mourning, loss and depression.  Certainly grieving the loss that accompanies sudden changes is important, but healthy grieving involves eventual acceptance of the new reality and moving forward in life.

One of the hardest things to learn in such life change experiences is that, along with the loss, something is always also gained. Sticking with divorce as an example, one of the things gained is the opportunity for self-examination so as to restructure your future according to the values you hold dear, without having to negotiate or compromise those values with a spouse whose values are in conflict.  This can lead to a fuller expression of your self-hood than can sometimes exists in dysfunctional and stifling marriages (which, ultimately are the kind of marriages that end in divorce, in my opinion).  As part of that self-examination, one is also forced to identify previously unseen personal shortcomings and flaws that may have contributed to the divorce.  Such identification yields the opportunity for growth and change if we embrace it instead of fighting against it.

Moving locations can be one of those life change events. Depending on why you move, it may be one of the traumatic kind, or one that is more positively viewed.  Down through the years, I have lived in several different locations and states.  Each time I moved to somewhere fresh, it was always a mixed bag.  I was venturing into the unknown, usually going to a place where I didn’t know anybody.  It was always a bit of a risk, but a risk I often describe as an adventure.  

At the same time, it is also always an experience of loss, as I left behind good friends, homes in which I had grown comfortable, local opportunities that I enjoyed.  For example, when I lived in the Cincinnati area, I loved visiting the many huge preserves of protected forested areas, and enjoyed regular visits to the wonderful zoo that is there.  Those experiences are now among my treasured memories, as I no longer live there or have the opportunity to visit those places as freely as I once did. However, there are other opportunities that have come in other places.  In one town, I had the chance to coach and referee soccer games, in another the chance to enjoy an older home with lots of character, and now that I am a resident of Nebraska, I had the opportunity to attend one of the College World Series baseball games in Omaha.  Each experience was unique to the location where I lived, opportunities that would not have been mine had I not relocated.  There is no doubt that I often miss being with friends I have known over the years.  Some of those friends are on the East coast, some in the Cincinnati area, some in the Kansas City area and other places.  But it is because I have moved around that I have developed these friendships in all these places with people I would not otherwise have met!

Sometimes when we grieve the changes and loss, we long for things to be as they were, to stay the same.  However, it is foolish of us to think that if we stayed in the same situation, things would be the same.  The truth is, many of my friends from the East Coast no longer live where we lived at the time…they have moved, too.  Friends who had time when we were studying in graduate school are now caught up with families and careers, and their time is limited, as is mine.  

Things don’t just stay the same.

So what kind of skills get you through life changing events? Well, they probably vary according to your own personality and experiences, but I will suggest a few. 

One is developing the ability to not only see the hardship and loss, but to find ways to see opportunity and advantages, to reject the blinders that keep us from seeing only the hard things in life.  

Another is learning how to not face these changes alone, leaning on old friendships and developing new ones to provide the companionship and encouragement we need when life leaves us confused and uncertain.  

And to close the blog, I would suggest only one more skill to develop, and that is the skill of appreciation or gratitude.  Appreciate and treasure those memories and special times from prior to the life change, rather than simply mourning them.  But don’t let yourself get stuck even there….develop the kind of perspective that allows you to also appreciate and be grateful for the positive things that are in your life NOW…refusing to live in either the past or the future, recognizing instead that each day of life is a precious gift, and that there is always something good around us if we would but take the time to notice.  


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Wrestling with God

 LISTENING TO GOD?

For those of you here in the United States, I hope you had a good celebration for the 4thof July.   I happened to be on the road late in the evening the night before, and skirted the western edge of Omaha just as fireworks displays were lighting up the night sky.  I’m not quite sure why they were being done on the 3rd, but it was something to see, because it appeared that there were neighborhoods or suburbs all around the city each having their own display.  As a result, I was treated to a horizon of multiple fireworks displays almost 360 degrees!  Last time I saw something like that was when I was in San Francisco on the 4thof July some years ago, and went up the hill in Berkeley from which we could see the displays of San Franciso, Oakland and Richmond simultaneously.

At the same time, I might add that to me, it is a hard thing to celebrate our country’s freedom and heritage when we are seeing its citizens on both ends of the political spectrum declaring the other end to be their enemies, with so much vitriol and anger…...and choosing to do battle against one another instead of finding ways to work together, which is what the U.S. is at its best.  

Our people and our leaders have a long way to go to heal the divisiveness and rift that have torn our nation apart in recent decades.  It is sad.  Pray for change, and then work to learn to actually respect and accept people who happen to have a different view of things than your own.  

Well, that’s my rant, but not really the subject of the blog. Today in worship, the topic for the day was learning how to hear God’s voice, based on the words of Jesus describing those who have “ears to hear.”  For those individuals experienced in the Christian lifestyle and trained in biblical teaching, that seems to be such a simple topic…a foundational piece of the Christian faith.  After the service, though, I had an individual remind me that to some people, the very idea that we could hear God speak to us sounds utterly foolish or crazy. (Gee, what biblical book have we heard THAT before?...the answer, by the way, is 1 Corinthians 1…non-Christians have been making that claim since the very beginning!)

After our consideration of ways to be able to recognize when God is speaking to us, my parishioner shared with me that while watching a national television talk show recently, the same topic had come up.  On the show (and I shall leave it unnamed), the individuals were discussing a well know person and that person’s faith.  My parishioner said that the general tone of the discussion was that it was one thing to claim to talk to God, but they just found unbelievable the idea that somebody could actually believe that they can know when God is talking to them.  I suspect that most Christians would find unbelievable the idea that people think God DOESN’T or CAN’T or WON’T talk to the people he created.   It made for a very interesting contrast this morning.

Many religions teach the notion of a transcendent being they call God, a being far beyond us in power, understanding and even presence.  Their notion is that there is a God, but that God is so big or so busy that God can’t be bothered with the trivia of our individual lives. 

But the most profound teaching of Christianity is that there is a tension that exists in the fact that God is, indeed, transcendent and far beyond us, but that in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God is also imminent…present with us.  

One of the Christmas names of Jesus is Immanuel (or Emmanuel), which means simply, “God with us.”  Jesus goes so far as to say that God knows when every sparrow falls from the sky, and the number of hairs on our heads, and it is God’s desire for us to know him personally in an ongoing, mutual and intimate relationship.  But for those who only know the concept of God in terms of his transcendence, the notion that God would be interested and involved in communicating with us and guiding us and listening to our concerns is absurd. Such is the wisdom of men, which is foolishness to God.  

One of the passages we mentioned today was from the story of Jacob, whose wrestling with the angel of God is recorded in Genesis 32.  Jacob took hold of that angel and refused to quit until he had received what he needed from God, which in that moment was God’s blessing.  That is the challenge for us, as well, to approach God and not give up, not let go, until we hear from God what we need to know.  

If you are a person struggling in the throes of divorce (or any other of life’s struggles for that matter), I want to encourage you to remember this central and powerful teaching of Christ:  

that no matter what your struggle, God is with you, and cares for you, and will help you, guide you, and yes dear talk show hosts, even speak to you! There is nothing that you can encounter in life that you have to face alone.  You can invite Christ to be part of your life, and walk through life’s toughest journeys with God at your side.  Even if nobody else understands, you will know that you have been in the presence of God.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Slave to a Better Master

 INDEPENDENCE DAY 

Tomorrow, in the United States, is July 4, and we celebrate Independence Day, remembering the date when our founding fathers decided it was time to rebel against Great Britain and form a new nation.  It took several years for that declaration to become reality as they fought against the British soldiers in a variety of skirmishes, and then had to come to agreement about how the new nation would be constructed. Nevertheless, it is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed that we remember and celebrate.

Many people seek independence in lots of ways.  I think that, no matter how independent we may think we are, the truth is we are far more dependent and inter-dependent than most of us would want to admit.  We rely on others to manufacture vehicles and provide gasoline so we can move from one place to another.  We rely on others to make medicines to help us when we become ill. We rely on others to provide clean water to our homes, along with electricity and natural gas to light and heat our homes.  That list could go on forever, for we really are not as independent as we might like to believe.  

In Romans 6, the assertion is made that none of us is actually independent at all, for we are all either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness, depending on whether or not we are pursuing God’s ways in our lives or ignoring them.  A lot of people like to pretend this isn’t true…but challenge someone to live a single day without a single sin….it will become quickly clear that they are not able to do so.  It might be a small sin that day, but it will not be the perfection of God they experience on their own.

In seeking independence, though, people pursue many different avenues to get there.  Some seek to throw off any constraints on their behaviors, reject the norms and rules of others and declare themselves “independent”…often to their own hurt. Others declare independence when they reach adulthood, and move out of their parents’ home to establish a home of their own, fending for themselves as they venture out into a new life.  That tends to be a pretty good thing, it seems to me…although sometimes it is done in a very high-handed and angry manner. Still others decide they can no longer handle the ties of their marriage, and run to divorce court seeking their independence.  Interestingly enough, that isn’t what they always find is the result of pursuing divorce. 

Of course, it truly depends on the circumstances.   For instance, there is the person who has suffered years of abuse, and been stifled from being able to be the person they were meant to be because of a domineering and controlling spouse (which can be the husband OR the wife, by the way).  Such a person may well experience the divorce as a liberation into the freedom to be the person they truly are meant to be, and to experience a meaningful and positive life rather than the repression they have suffered.  But a person whose experience of marriage has been shared responsibility in the ongoing tasks of life may well find that their so-called independence has instead become a very burdensome life dominated by overwhelming tasks that once were cared for by their spouse.

When children are involved, so-called independence from a spouse can become instead an entangled nightmare of waiting for or trying to raise child-support, figuring out holiday schedules that are not convenient for anyone, and lop-sided parenting with children receiving very different perspectives on what the divorce means and what appropriate values in life are. Sometimes, the individual trying to manage to pay child support can find themselves struggling to meet their own daily bills to survive.  Far from being the wonderful independence imagined, life becomes extremely complicated and frustrating.  Sometimes it would be wise for those seeking independence through divorce to take time to visit with someone who has gone through it, so that they base their decision on reality, not on a fantasy notion of what independence from their spouse would be like.

My point is, sometimes “independence” isn’t really all we are led to believe it is.  There certainly is great good in the idea, as I certainly have no desire to live in a country run by a capricious dictator.  However, it seems to me that the most fulfilling of lives is not found in demanding some kind of independence, but in learning, as Paul said in Romans, how to be slave to a better master than self-centeredness and sin.  God’s slaves, or servants, end up pursuing the kind of life for which they were designed by their Creator, and thus find a kind of fulfillment that can be found nowhere else.  Dependence isn’t such a bad thing, when you dependent on Someone whose goal is to make sure you have the best possible life you could ever have, and who has promised to meet every need you would ever face.  
         
By the way, my fellow Americans, early wishes for a Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Blindsided

WHAT DO I DO?

I feel like I have been running a mile a minute lately, hence it has been a day or two since put a blog out, so today’s the day.  I hope you had a good Father’s Day, which can be very difficult after a divorce…believe me, I know what that’s like. 

Every once in a while I receive a contact from someone who has suddenly been blindsided by the emotional trauma of unexpected and undesired divorce, who reaches out to me asking for something that can help him or her figure out what to do.  After some I received recently, I decided it might be worth putting some ideas into a blog, because there are those who don’t write, but may well have the same kind of questions.  So here are ten suggestions, in no particular order, many of which were helpful for me some time ago:

1)     Do your best to maintain your normal routine…job, church, sleep patterns, etc.  It can be tough to keep it all going, but do what you can.

2)   Grant yourself some grace.  You are dealing with a major life event, don’t expect yourself to always be at the top of your game.

3)    One of my aunts gave a pretty useful piece of advice:  find something to 
bring you a smile or a laugh each day, just a little joy can help even the             darkest days.
4)   Do something nice for yourself now and then.  Go to a movie, buy some new clothes, visit a museum, have dinner out with a friend, just something to take you out of your context and let you focus on something else for a while.
5)   Keep going (or start going!) to church, and make time for daily prayer and Bible reading. It doesn’t matter whether you know what to pray or not, even just sitting in God’s presence is worthwhile. If you don’t know what to read, I would suggest finding a devotional that can help (which is why my books are set up in devotional format).  You can also read through the Psalms or the Gospel of John are good places to start.  As for church, it may feel very awkward, sitting alone after years of marriage.  It’s okay.  Sit in a different place, sit with new people, or if your own church is just too difficult to handle, take a leave of absence and attend another for a while. But make worship a priority, keep that connection with God going, because if you let it drop, it all too easily never returns.  
6)   Make time for appointments with a counselor and also with your pastor.  In some cases, money may be too tight for a counselor, but if so, some places like county mental health centers operate with a sliding scale, and pastors don’t usually charge.  A trained individual with a good listening ear can be extremely helpful.
7)   Find a support group.  DivorceCare is one I often recommend.  It is a good program, down to earth and real.  They list potential locations on their website, but not all places always have meetings, so you may have to followup with other locations to find one.
8)   I often encourage folks to look around their church to find an individual of the same gender who has been through divorce, and ask if they would spend some time with you over dinner or lunch now and then.  Very often those who have been through it are very willing to help others in the throes of the process.  
9)   Invest your attention and energy on your children, if you have them.  They are experiencing the major life event as well, but with much less understanding of what is actually going on.  They need your support.  And they need the support of your ex if he/she is still involved with them. They need all the support they can get, don’t shortchange them.
10) Finally, thought I’d offer a few Bible verses that I found helpful.  HOWEVER, I’m not going to quote them, I’m just going to give you the references and make you look them up for yourself.  This is just a random sampling of some that can be encouraging (there is a much more extensive list provided in my books on a daily basis and in the index).
 Joshua 1:5-9, Isaiah 42:1-3, Isaiah 43:1-7, Jeremiah 29:11-14, Psalm 121, Psalm 46, Psalm 62, Psalm 34, Psalm 42, Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 28:20b, Romans 8:26-38, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, John 16:32-33, John 14 the whole chapter, Hebrews 4:12-16

Hang in there. It does get better, but not always quickly.  God WILL get you through this.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Living in the Present

 SEASONS…of Divorce and more

Not long ago I was rejoicing at seeing the flowers blooming and birds returning that signals the start of springtime.  It won’t be long now, till we officially reach summer with the hot days and muggy nights.  And for those who are really big fans of summer, vacations and camping and boating and skiing and swimming and mosquitoes and sunburns….sorry, just can’t help myself I guess.  It sounds like I don’t like summer, but that isn’t true.  I actually enjoy all the seasons.  My sister lives in the Pacific Northwest, and she claims her summer is about a week long.  She also claims that she has missed the turning of the seasons over the years as she lived in southern California and now the Pacific Northwest.

As for me, I find each season has good things and not so good things, and it is up to us to decide which we want to focus our attention upon.  My book titles, the whole Seasons of Divorce concept…is a simple recognition of the changes that come as one phase of the process passes and individuals move on into the next.  The Finding God part of the title is that, as in life, God is always present for those who will look and seek him, but can easily be missed if we focus on the wrong things.

People have used the images of seasons to talk about life in general, with the springtime of youth and the autumn of later years.  I wonder, in what ways are you experiencing some kind of “seasonal changes” in your life?  It could be related to a relocation, to a job change, to the physical changes that come with aging, to the change in relationships as children mature, or in the area of personal growth and spiritual maturity.

How do you do at handling those changes?  Life is full of them.  In fact, it’s like the old saying:  The only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing!  Life is like that.  The moments and experiences you have today are here for a season, only.  Enjoy them now.  Treasure them now.  Find the good in them now.  Find how God is using them now.  Too often we long to be able to have once again one of the special time of our lives, to relive some special experiences.  But we cannot.  They were here for a season, and in this new season there is also always something special for those who seek it. 

The principle is true in the aftermath of divorce.  After my divorce, I had a season in which I enjoyed the advantages of being single and free to use my time and resources as I chose.  After that, I moved to the season of a second marriage, and have enjoyed all the wonderful experiences that have come with it.  But you don’t have to go through divorce to know that the seasonality of life is always fleeting.  I spent time with some good friends today, reminiscing about some special experiences we shared in our spiritual journeys.  Those experiences, too, were for a season, though the impact is forever.


I simply want to challenge you to not spend so much time longing for the past, or hoping for the future, that you miss the joy God has for you in the present!  And I want to remind you that so much of our lives is seasonal, fleeting and temporary.  I encourage you to make sure that you are investing in those things that are eternal, and not merely the things that will fall away as time passes and as your life draws to a new season, or to its conclusion.  There are lots of opportunities to Find God throughout whatever season your life is in right now.  Don’t miss them!