Sunday, May 21, 2017
PARENTS OF THE DIVORCING
A movie I really enjoy is the movie “Parenthood” with Steve Martin and Jason Robards. In case you didn’t see it, there are lots of twists and turns as the movie depicts multigenerational family life, with plenty of family disputes, dysfunctions and difficulties. The different family members have different issues, and the story centers around Martin’s character as he struggles to be a good dad, and wrestles with the decisions that involves. Robards portrays Martin’s dad, who is also struggling with issues that center around his grown children, one son in particular. In one scene, as Robards expresses the struggle, the comment he makes to Steve Martin as he reflects on the difficulties he is having with his youngest son, is that the most difficult thing about being a parent is (in -paraphrase) “that is never ends. Never. It just keeps on going.” I suspect those individuals wrestling with their child’s divorce can relate to such a statement.
Last blog I discussed the impact a child’s divorce has on parents, and the various roles the parent might play as they seek to help their child through a difficult time. I want to go one step further tonight, and make some suggestions in relation to the grandchildren whose lives are also caught up in the turmoil.
The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is a very special and unique one. Grandchildren may often feel able to discuss their struggles in the divorce that they do not feel comfortable with parents - with a grandparent. While this can become a valuable ministry opportunity for the grandparent - it is also a very heart-wrenching one. The child may describe things in one or both home that leaves their grandparents speechless, and heartbroken. While often unable to change the child’s situation, providing the child an outlet to vent can be invaluable in helping the child cope…if you are willing to provide a listening ear and comforting hug.
These conversations can be very tricky. If the child shares things about your child’s ex that trouble you….such as details about a new lover that has moved in, or how the values in that home no longer match the values they had been taught previously in their intact home. Their lives may have become more hectic, more deprived, more uncertain. The grandchildren may also bring up struggles they are having with your child during this transition time, struggles that may be very difficult to hear. On occasion, there may be a struggle mentioned that you could address effectively with your child, but more often than not, you can only listen to the grandchildren’s struggles. And cry with them. And encourage them. And hug them. And serve as an important source of stability in the midst of their discombobulated lives.
You will find there are times when you have to bite your tongue. You will find there are other times you can offer a bit of perspective, or some wise advice. You can not only pray for your grandchildren, you can pray with them. And, when appropriate, you may be able to help your child understand the struggles of their children just a little better, and sometimes even make suggestions that can help guide your child toward effective parenting.
“It never ends,” is the line from Parenthood, but that can be a good thing, because not only do you carry the heartache and the hardship, but you also have the opportunity to be the positive, supportive influence for your children and grandchildren when they most need someone. It is a privilege that only grandparents have in that unique relationship you have with your grandchildren.
Use that privilege wisely, in a godly and exemplary fashion. Not only your children, but also your grandchildren need you, perhaps now more than ever. Let me also remind you that God notices, God listens to your heart cry, and God will honor you for your commitment and ministry to children in need.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
Many years ago, I had a couple of parishioners who had been married for many years ask if they could visit with me. As we did, they shared with me their heartache over the divorce of their daughter from her husband. The dad said to me, “I think it would be easier to be getting divorced myself than to have to watch her go through a divorce.” I don’t know whether that statement is actually true or not, but it is pretty profound, wouldn’t you say?
I visited again today with another friend who is part of a couple with whom I have shared support as their child has been divorced in recent years, and they deal with the fallout. As we talked, I was reminded again of how many ripples extend out in so many ways when a couple chooses to end their marriage, especially when there are children involved.
Grandparents are especially vulnerable.
Suddenly, the opportunities for grandparents to be able to freely spend time with their grandchildren are now curtailed, as the opportunities are now restricted according to the various schedules in which the children now live. And that is assuming that both of the divorced parties are abiding by the court agreement. However, very often that only happens in an ideal world.
Not all of the difficulties for a parent of the divorcing center around the grandchildren, however. As I visited with my friend, I heard words of struggle, uncertainty, powerlessness and concern. Parents of those divorcing wonder what things they can say and help that would be helpful, and what things would be detrimental, all the time worried over watching their child on an emotional rollercoaster which sometimes spirals into depression and fear.
When your child is lonely, do you call, do you not call?
Do you encourage him or her to get out and start seeing someone, or do you encourage him or her to wait?
At what point does it go from healthy parenting to intrusiveness?
How much help for the child is actually helpful, and how much do you withhold to allow your child to wrestle with the difficult issues for themselves?
The grandparent I was visiting with also expressed the impact the divorce had on family dynamics in general. Relationships at family gatherings had taken on a degree of awkwardness, planning for vacations or holidays was now tied to the whims of the ex-spouse, and the need for my friends to find way to help undergird the parenting their child attempts to do in difficult circumstances.
I was not the bearer of good news to my friend, when I expressed that the complications can be almost never ending. We didn’t even touch on what things may one day be like when grandchildren graduate and anyone tries to plan graduation parties, or when a wedding rolls around and one of the divorced individuals chooses to make things difficult. Step-parents, or even new boyfriend/girlfriends that enter the picture add another dynamic, especially if they have children of their own already. The ripples just go on and on. And so often others do not understand. Sometimes a divorced person’s family members do not understand, and think the two ex’s should be able to just be friends, get along, and not be bothered when the other is around. Sometimes that is the case, but in my experience, it is a pretty rare couple that manages that kind of relationship. For the rest of the people I know, each intrusion of the ex into one’s life stirs up old emotions and struggles, and unnecessarily complicates the already difficult aftermath of divorce.
What I did share with my friend is that as a parent of a divorcing/divorced child, my friend has now entered the subculture of parents who have experienced the same thing. I shared that I have known a number of people in the same situation, who have expressed the same frustrations, the same hurts, the same uncertainties about how to proceed. I also suggested that if they keep their eyes open, around them they will find others who are struggling in the same kind of hardship, and my friend might find a whole new ministry by offering support and encouragement that only can come from someone who has “been there.”
Those people who think they will file for divorce and that will solve all their problems are sadly deluded. As someone said to me many years ago, “divorce creates more problems than it solves.” And I suspect very few people entering divorce stop to think about the effects that will ripple out to those they love, whether it be friends, grandparents or other family members, or even their own children.
All of which, I suspect, is just one more reason that God says in Malachi that he hates divorce. I do, too. Necessary though it sometimes is, it is certainly not a wonderful fix-all remedy for a troubled marriage!
Hey, maybe YOU know someone whose child is in the midst of a divorce. Don’t assume it is an easy thing for that parent…reach out to them, and let them know you care. You might be surprised how much it will mean to them.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
CONTINUITY IN TRANSITIONS
I just came inside from planting a clematis and setting up a trellis for it, after walking by a little rose garden with 8 or 9 bushes leafing out in celebration of spring. All of those plants once belonged to my father, who passed away a few years ago.
Many of you are aware that my wife and I are in the process of a very long, drawn out move from one town to another. Those of you who know me, already know that I am a sap.
Movies, songs, mementoes and photographs are just a few of the things that transport me in time, and bring back treasured memories. And I have learned that those treasure memories that helped shape who I am, travel with me wherever I go and whatever I experience as life changes and moves.
Those leafing plants are part of the connections for me during this time of transition as I move forward into this next chapter God has for my life. Every shift that takes place in life, always brings something new that creates new memories, friendships and treasures that are added to what God has already gifted to me, creating and enriching new things in my life.
Transitions are always like that. They are often not easy. It is not an easy thing to pick up roots and move from one location, leaving behind church, friends, family and familiar sights to start afresh in another. But in the moves I have made over the years, I have learned that even though there are things left behind, there are new friends, new churches, new favorite restaurants, new sights, a plethora of experiences to come that cannot be experienced without stepping away from what was. So while a time of transition (whether a forced transition or one made by choice) can be challenging, it is also a time of promise.
You may be in life transition yourself. Divorce is certainly one of those experiences, often a very difficult transition, but so is moving, job change, empty nest, and lots of other life experiences. Each time, one goes through the process of figuring out what to let go of, and what can and should be brought along. Perhaps the most important things to take with you are the things that cannot be taken away: your character, your faith, the lessons you have learned, the memories you cherish, the friendships you have developed.
I first learned this lesson from an elderly woman who resided in a nursing home for whom I was the assigned deacon to take communion to her month by month. She had only recently moved to the facility, and it was apparently not her choice to have done so. She struggled with being in the new location, she missed her house, and longed for something familiar in her life. One day when I met with her, she pointed to a simple chest of drawers and explained that her children had brought it from her house for her, and how pleased she was that they had. She then said something I have never forgotten: “You know, they can take away my things, but they can’t take my memories, and I have some wonderful memories.”
God is the same, wherever you reside.
Your memories remain your memories in any location.
Your character, your essence, the core of who you are is not dependent on where you live, but on choices you make and experiences you have had, and especially on how you allow God to use those things to shape you into his image.
That is how life is for all of us. A friend of mine used to say that the only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing! I encourage you to make your transitions with faith, hope and expectancy, embracing the positive things ahead with all the things you have become through the things that have brought you to this point already. God awaits us whenever we venture into those new chapters of life.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
I figure it wasn’t very much fun to be one of Jesus’ disciples from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. They had been very excited about what they had discovered when they met Jesus, and as they followed him, sharing in the teachings and miracles of the Messiah. It was like a dream come true. It must have felt like everything they had hoped for in life and beyond was the experience of their daily lives.
But then, when they saw Jesus crucified and buried, their world turned upside down as their dream come true turned into a nightmare come true. Not knowing where to turn, they spent their time hiding in fear, or returning to their simple lives as fishermen.
Hopeless. Dark days of isolation and sorrow.
Then came resurrection Sunday.
Friday was not the end of the story, however.
Though they experienced the depths of sorrow and despair, God didn’t leave them there. Three days later, there was exultation beyond their wildest imagination. This is the story of hope, the story of life, God style.
Resurrection living applies to many areas of our lives, where we need God’s light to shine into the darkness of our struggles and experiences to bring new hope, fresh starts, second chances and new opportunities. Whether it is second opportunity after a broken marriage, a fresh start breaking free of addictions, or simply moving to new dreams while leaving despair behind, God specializes in resurrecting the dead places of our lives.
Simple message today: offer God those areas of your life that could stand to be given new life, then watch him work. You will be as amazed as the disciples were, come Easter morning.
P.S. Nola and I went to watch the movie, “The Case for Christ” yesterday in preparation for Easter. It’s worth the time and money…I encourage you to make plans to go yourself…and invite a friend! Happy Easter!
Sunday, April 9, 2017
WHERE WAS GOD?
This morning, Palm Sunday morning, as Coptic Christians were celebrating and remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, bombs went off at their churches and killed dozens of worshippers, and wounded scores. ISIS was quick to claim responsibility.
My heart goes out to those brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe in their grief during this most special time of the year for those of the Christian faith.
A few years ago I got to go on a trip to tour sites in Jordan, Israel and Egypt. While we were in Egypt, we were hosted by a guide who was a Coptic Christian. She was a very intelligent woman, knowledgeable about the history of her nation and all the sites we went to see. Every time I read a headline about the Copts, I always think of her, and how gracious she was to us on our tour.
It wasn’t that long ago a Coptic Church in Cairo was bombed by the radical Islamic terrorists. I remember hearing later that after that happened, the next time the church gathered to worship, more tolerant Muslims gathered in front of the church to protect it and to show in a tangible way that not all Muslims are like those terrorists.
I have known of folks who have wondered, though, why God would allow things like that to happen to people who worship him, why he doesn’t prevent these things from happening.
It is a good question, and this is a good time to ask it.
Today, in our worship services, we focused on the fact that when Jesus headed into Jerusalem on the Triumphal Entry, he went in knowing that he was soon to be tortured and killed, and yet he went. He went because he knew that God had a purpose that was more important than keeping Jesus safe from physical harm--the winning forgiveness and salvation for millions who would believe. First Peter 2:21-23 addresses this and the relevance it has for those of us who struggle:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
It is interesting that this passage makes the assumption that those who follow him will also suffer, and that Jesus’ experiences of Holy Week serve as guides for how we are to face tough times. I have heard reports in the past that the Coptic Christians who have suffered so much have actually lived by the instructions in this passage, and that their response to suffering has had a great impact on those who have observed them, even causing some of them to come to Christ to follow the God who helps people in suffering such as this.
God doesn’t always explain why he allows people to suffer, and not even those who are striving to follow him in life. Nor is he obligated to do so. But over and again the scriptures make clear that God DOES have purpose when he allows tragedy into the lives of believers, and that he will work it into something meaningful and use it in a way that brings glory to him.
Perhaps you are struggling today as well. Maybe you didn’t lose a loved one in a bombing, but there are lots of ways people struggle: health concerns, emotional stress, job loss, the list is endless. Maybe you feel the betrayal of a spouse who has filed for divorce, as Jesus felt the betrayal of Judas and of the crowd who would later shout for him to be crucified. He understands what it is like to be betrayed. And he left you an example of how to cope with it.
Where was God this morning in Egypt?
He was weeping beside those who lost loved ones in the bombing, and was collecting every tear they shed as a precious treasure.
He was holding the survivors close, waiting for them to turn to him for comfort and hope.
He was speaking to the hearts of the ISIS leaders, warning them that the path they are on is not the way of God.
He was reaching out to the hearts of those who are observing the Coptic Christians in their grief, showing them that there is a faith that can sustain even in the darkest of days.
At the same time, I also heard today that Christians were able to freely gather and worship today near Mosul, after years of oppression that kept them from doing so.
God is still alive, God is still moving.
I invite you to join me in prayer for the families of the victims there in Egypt, and also for their witness in this tragic time. I invite you to join me in praying that God will help them through the rest of their Holy Week remembrance, and be especially near to them on Easter. And, though I did not write about them, let’s also be in prayer for all those victimized with the poisonous attacks in Syria. The world is just as troubled today as it was when Jesus walked the earth. Thank God, though, that he has done something about it: he sent a Savior who will one day return as judge, at which time he will make all things right. At that time, we will no longer ask why; instead, we will marvel at the wisdom of God in allowing things we would never have imagined could be turned for good.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!
Have you ever heard the jokes about the light at the end of the tunnel? You know, like the one where the guy says he finally say the light at the end of the tunnel and felt great relief, until he realized it was an oncoming train? Or the one I like best, says, something like: In order to help conserve energy and curb global warming, the light at the end of the tunnel is now turned off until further notice. It’s kind of like the person who says that, knowing his luck, when his ship comes in he’ll be at the airport! Laughing about those kinds of things can be fun, but when you are in the midst of the dark tunnel, they aren’t quite as funny.
I don’t know about you, but I have found in the course of my life, that there are plenty of times that feel like pretty dark places now and again. Sometimes it can be limited to one specific area of life, other times it may be how life in general feels. I recall that while I was going through the divorce process and its aftermath, that was a really dark time. And like the proverbial tunnel, it felt like it just went on and on and on…and sometimes there I couldn’t see any light, whether at the end of the tunnel or anywhere else!
Maybe you are reading this, and that is exactly where you are, down in that deep, dark tunnel. I remember reading a long time ago that one thing that was learned from the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnamese prison camps was that an individual can endure almost anything as long as he or she has some sense or hope that there will be an end to it, especially when the end is in sight. Sometimes it is hard to see that end, especially when things drag on and on, or seem to go from bad to worse.
At the same time, there are life lessons, and God lessons, that one can only learn when in those dark times. For example, nobody ever learned endurance without having experienced something that required them to endure! Or that you will never know God can provide for you if you never need anything. Sometimes the lessons that are learned are lessons about what really is important in life, with the result that we adjust our priorities accordingly. It still isn’t fun to go through the tough times, but at least there is a benefit in the long run.
One of my favorite passages in scripture is found in Isaiah 43. Verse two says:
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.” (ESV)
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.” (ESV)
I love it because, though it does not promise we won’t face tough times (in fact, it acknowledges that we definitely ARE going to), God’s promises in the verse are that we never need face them alone, and that He will put limitations on them so that, if we lean on God, they will not do us in. Those two truths are probably the best “light at the end of the tunnel” promises we could ever find. Today, I just want to encourage you to remember that, no matter how dark things get in your life, God will walk through them with you if you invite him to do so, and he will make sure you get through them okay.
Hang in there…the story isn’t over, God is still working.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
WHAT IS THE GAIN?
Much of our lives is absorbed with lots of activities that consume our energy, thoughts and attention on almost a daily basis. Things such as working a job to be able to pay bills, or trying to figure out from one month to the next HOW to pay those bills. Our attention can be drawn to how we decorate our homes and yards, or the desire to travel, or ways to get ahead on our local social ladder or in the work arena. Some of us like to collect things, while others like to sell and trade. We fill our lives with lots of activities, and some of those activities can become very demanding. That demanding nature is certainly the case with the process of divorce, as couples haggle over parental access schedules, the division of property, developing plans for a holiday schedule…all of which have to be determined as part of the process after which the judge will declare the divorce final.
I remember a couple of conversations I had with friends during that miserable time. One was surprised at some of the items I chose not take, sharing with me the viewpoint that I had not taken a fair share of items. Whether the perception was accurate or not, I do not know, but I remember responding that it didn’t matter, as those things were just “stuff,” and that what was really important to me was already gone, which was my intact family and marriage. Another individual observed my reactions along the way, and commented on being struck by the way I continued to try to seek God’s help and guidance in the struggle, even though it was hard to do. That was an encouraging comment, whether the perception was fully accurate or not.
There is a verse in Mark 8 that has often reminded me of how easily we can get distracted in life. The 36th verse simply says: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (NASB). I believe that no matter what is going on in our lives, this verse summarizes the trap that exists--that there are things demanding our attention and goals we may seek, but if we do so without considering the eternal consequences of our choices, we have ultimately failed…no matter how successful the world considers us to be.
For those caught in the throes of divorce, suppose you do get your way, obtain everything you want and win every contest at court. If your sell your soul to get it, did you really win anything? Everyone faces this test in one way or another. You might make the top rung in the corporate world, but what price did you pay to claw your way there? I think of those who like to consider themselves at the height of fashion, popularity or wealth, all of which will gain them nothing if they forfeited their soul along the way.
There is another verse I like as well, from the book of Proverbs, 4:23-- “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” We are so diligent about doing the work assigned to us, or to keeping the yard up, or paying the bills on time, or being part of that important social club, but it is even more important to be diligent about taking care of our hearts. We tend to our hearts by keeping them from things that would lead us astray, by keeping them tender toward the voice of God, by keeping our hearts free from bitterness and unforgiveness. How often life places such intense demands upon us that we can easily become distracted from taking care of the issues of the heart, which is first and foremost an issue between ourselves and God.
One of my seminary professors, Maynard Hatch, used to say, “The trouble with the rat race is that, even if you win, you are still a rat!” Today, I just want to challenge my readers to a little self-assessment. Where are you in life? What are you caught up in? If you are in the process of divorce, have you allowed it to consume you and lead you off track, or to plant troubling things within your heart? I encourage you to take a few minutes to sit down quietly, just you and God, perhaps with a calendar, checkbook and Bible before you, to examine your life and your heart, and take a careful measure of whether you have lost focus. What does it profit if you get things working your way here, if in the end, you forfeit your soul? Take stock of your life, and make sure that the priorities of your life match the priorities God desires you to have. And do it before it is too late. God is more interested in helping you get back on track, than most of us are to find that track in the first place. God will help you get there, if you but give him the chance. Don’t let anything, not even divorce or an argument with someone at church, lead you off God’s track for your life.