Sunday, January 25, 2015
A DIVORCE DEVOTIONAL?
One time during an interview about my books, I was asked why I decided to write my book about divorce as a daily devotional. If you will bear with me, let me show you a few things. (The following verses are all taken from the English Standard Version Bible.)
“The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” Psalm 41:9
“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Psalm 56:8
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Psalm 32:8
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” John 6:37
”For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Do you see any possible reason why any of these verses could be relevant to a person experiencing the upheaval of divorce? Unfortunately, very often the only verse that rings in the hearts and minds of people struggling with divorce is the verse from Malachi which says that God hates divorce. But there are so many passages that can be so relevant in the difficult days of divorce, or as one seeks to rebuild their lives afterwards.
There are many good resources out there for people in the midst of divorce. There are support groups. There are self-help manuals. There are pastors and counselors. There are caring family members. But God is the most important resource available to help someone through the devastation and hurt that are so often part of divorce. And God has promised to reveal himself through the words in the Bible for those who would truly seek him in its pages.
Why did I write the books as devotional books? Because if all people would ever receive from my writings is help from me, they will be far short of the help they really need. But if somehow I can offer something that can help them hear God speaking to their own hearts personally through the words and teachings of scripture, they will have learned something that can help them for all eternity. And that has been worth all the effort I have put into making these volumes available for people in divorce who need to know God still cares about them!
Thursday, January 22, 2015
ENCOUNTERS OF THE GRIEVING KIND
It has been a very hectic January already. At least, that’s the way it feels. I went on a bit of a getaway this past weekend. When we got back, I mentioned to my wife that there were a number of times I wanted to pick up the phone and give dad a call, either to check in and see how things were going, or to pass along some of the things that were going on. But, as you may recall, dad passed away last spring, so the experience was more about the process of grieving than it was about actually contacting my dad.
There are a great many experiences and reminders that must be faced and worked through in the process of grief. Those things can be as little as running across an unexpected photo or recipe, or simply visiting a place that brings back memories. In recent years especially, I have been pretty close with dad, as we have shared together the final years of his life, so these reminders pop up fairly often, and always result in missing the opportunity to be able to have the conversations I once could have.
Often people talk about the similarities of the grief of divorce and the grief of a loss in death. And the parallels are real, of course. For instance, the emptiness of a house, the loss of the person with whom you used to talk about so many of life’s experiences, or even simple companionship are some of the arenas in which grieving a loved one compares with the grief of the loss of a spouse and a marriage in divorce. But as I missed my father this weekend, I was also struck by the profound differences once again.
For example my inability to share with my dad is what brings the sense of sorrow and loss, as I miss an opportunity that is no longer mine. After a divorce, it is possible to still contact one’s ex, and sometimes it is even necessary to do so to discuss some matters of common concern, such as raising children. In those instances, the visit itself is what may bring the sorrow and pain, perhaps because of the disparate interests represented in the conversation, or because of reliving mentally and emotionally that traumatic upheaval of life.
I admire those who manage to maintain a positive relationship with an ex….but have also learned those people are few and far between, and it is always dependent upon BOTH parties wanting to have a healthy relationship and BOTH parties treating the other with respect both during and after the divorce. More often than not, self-interest and vindictiveness prevent that from happening before the divorce is even over.
Money hidden in secret accounts, an individual intentionally running up a debt to impoverish the other person, clothes of the ex-ripped up and possessions dumped into the yard…the behaviors that often accompany divorce create a great difference between the two experiences of grief. Frankly, I don’t know how one would decide which is harder to process. But I do know that death is just part of the normal reality of the design of this world. Divorce seems like more of a betrayal of the design, a failure or loss of it.
If you are struggling with grief, regardless of the cause, it is important to know that there are no shortcuts in grief. Each step, each reminder, each task and each emotion must be faced in its time.
Grief is not something that follows a three step pattern, but is messy, unexpected and must be experienced as it comes, rather than created by design. Oh sure, you can design some things to make your grieving go better, such as making sure you have an effective support network, or time to reflect on those things that are meaningful. But much of grief refuses to be managed, it arises on its own terms, and in its own times. So hang in there, if you are grieving, for grief is part of the process by which the wounds of the heart are healed.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
THEY POSTED WHAT????
I spend very little time on Facebook. In fact, I don’t even spend very much time on the internet. I’d rather pick up a clump of paper held between two pieces of cardboard or heavy paper known as “a book”.
However, my wife, who is pretty internet savvy, occasionally sends me a link for something she thinks I would find interesting. One day she sent me a link to a New York Times article by Hannah Seligson entitled, “Facebook’s Last Taboo: The Unhappy Marriage,” I followed the link and went to read the article---after all, she might be trying to tell me something!
Here is the link to the article, in case you want to check it out for yourself before going any further, (though I will give you some summary statements myself):
To read the article click this link: Facebook's Last Taboo
In a nutshell, the article sprang from a posting by a couple who were in the process of divorcing and had both posted on their facebook pages their divorce announcement. In the announcement they included appreciation for the support others offered and a statement about how well they are doing together divorced. Other individuals are also discussed in the article, along with some analysis as to why people rarely let others into the inner workings of a struggling marriage, instead creating the impression that theirs is a wonderful marriage. I thought it might be worth reflecting on some of the issues raised in the article.
One of the big themes of the article focuses on the “artificial image” we allow to persist about our marriages, as if everything is alright when in fact there may be struggles, disappointments and heartaches.
As a pastor, I can attest that this very phenomenon is true in every church on any given Sunday, as families sit together nicely going through the motions of their faith, never allowing the veneer of happy marriage to crack enough for anyone to see inside. Once they are divorced, however, those around are often surprised and say, “We had no idea they were even having problems.” But as their pastor, I may have known for years that there were serious issues in their marriage.
Should the other people have known of the problems as well?
Should all their facebook “friends” have been told all along? That is the core of the article’s questions.
The author raises the issue in this way, through the words of the individual who made the facebook post:
“There is a fairy-tale marketing of marriage that we all participate in,” Mr. Ellsberg said. “It’s a mirage, and it does a disservice to people who are thinking of getting married…”
I think most of us understand what Mr. Ellsberg is saying, which is also reiterated and discussed by the article’s author. Fairy tale is an interesting usage here, because do you not recall that most fairy tales describe the romance up to the marriage, and the only subsequent comment is that “they lived happily ever after”?
As far as we know, Cinderella and Prince Charming never argued about anything, never had to face financial stressors, never had children with the resulting stress on their time and energy. They lived happily ever after.
That so isn’t real life, is it? Which, of course, is why it is called a “fairy tale;” it was never intended to be real life, but a representation of the finest moments in life, and to evoke the longing and hope within each of us for something better, the striving for the ultimate perfection, which is only fulfilled in heaven. Even the fairy tale dreams beckon us to search for what Milton called the “Paradise Lost”.
Do we do the disservice of creating false impressions for those not yet married by not sharing our problems publicly? Do these false impressions add to the divorce rate by setting up unrealistic expectations? Or do the public presentations people perceive mimic the role of the life of the fairy tale in beckoning us to reach for the very best?
Would opening the struggles of our marriages and private lives by revealing the “sordid details” to the world help these young people or ourselves? Or is stoically bearing the pains in private, as suggested by the adage to “not air your dirty laundry in public” the better way to go?
Are there only these two options? Is there not a difference between living a lie and choosing to keep some areas of our lives private? And really, any child knows that their parents’ marriage is not always perfect, and that awareness can do a lot to offset any fairy tale images along the way.
It has been my experience that wise individuals find a middle ground, in which they teach and learn from other couples with whom they have developed close and trusting relationships with the result that each couple grows and develops. Les and Leslie Parrott refer to these as marriage mentors, couples helping one another learn how to handle effectively the struggles and joys of marriage. On the other hand, I have observed that those who open their lives to any and everybody - do nobody any service at all, and reap only ill-founded if well intentioned advice from individuals whose prying interest is more for self-gratification than real help and hope.
I do believe those who try to live their existence through the creation and projection of an illusion of the perfect marriage, end up frustrated as they live lives of denial and disappointment because of unrealistic expectations and efforts to live up to a lie.
No marriage is the perfect fairy tale. But marriage doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth cherishing and nourishing. It probably is not a good idea to create a false impression about our marriages to the point that we lead others believe we have the perfect relationship and refuse to acknowledge our own struggles.
On the other hand; it also seems to me that people whose view of marriage are that it is only a relationship filled with problems and challenges and therefore not worth pursuing are perceiving it imperfectly as well. This perception may lead them to pursue live-together relationships (about which there are also false impressions out there), or at worst, avoid a serious relationship. In either case, they never experience what an incredible thing a good marriage really is…even if it is NOT perfect!
Bottom line, it boils down to whether you are living a life of integrity and genuineness, not whether or not you are telling everybody about your problems.
I think many of our issues are best worked out privately between the individuals involved, maybe with the help of a pastor or counselor. The naïveté of youth believing theirs will be a perfect wedding and a perfect marriage and they will live happily ever after would probably not change because somebody told them about their marriage problems. You know youth, “well, that won’t ever happen to ME!”
Instead, modeling a life in which you live in a committed marriage relationship, willing to face each challenge as it arises is what might help others, who somehow believe that they should end their marriage just because it wasn’t “perfect.” It may not always make a difference, but at least the example is there!
Sunday, December 28, 2014
WHAT DOES 2015 HOLD FOR YOU?
Do you make New Year’s resolutions?
If I make any, I tend to make resolutions such as that I will not eat any brussels sprouts and limit my consumption of coconut in. Or maybe that I won’t accept any positions to be CEO of any multinational corporations. These are the kind of resolutions I know I will be able to keep.
New Year’s resolutions are all about making changes for the better, about getting life out of a rut and onto a new plain, about becoming a more responsible person or taking on the tasks you have always put off. It is a time many people use to reflect on their lives and consider whether life is going where they want it to go, time to make a fresh start.
Of all the holidays we celebrate, in many ways, New Year’s is possibly the one that fits best after a divorce (as long as you stay away from the New Year’s parties where couples are giving one another that midnight kiss for luck).
After a divorce, life is all about making fresh starts, about choosing to take on the things that you have never done but wish you had. About assessing where you are in your life and where you want your life to go in the years to come.
Sometimes individuals who have ended up divorced go back to school to get that degree they never completed. Sometimes they rearrange the furniture and redecorate their homes. Sometimes they restart projects and hobbies they had long since forgotten. Sometimes they use the time to build the kind of home that reflects the priorities they have always believed were important, but were unable to live by in their marriage.
After a divorce, some individuals use this time to start a new and deeper relationship with God, and to examine whether or not they are living their lives in accordance with God’s will and plan, as best as they are able to understand it.
As you approach New Year’s, and especially if you are divorced and now having to start so many things in life all over again, I would encourage you to consider combining the post divorce decisions with your New Year’s resolutions and ask yourself what the priorities of your life truly are, and what you want them to be. I encourage you to find ways to build wisely, or maybe for some of us “more wisely,” so that this opportunity for a fresh start in life that has been thrust into your life won’t be wasted.
You have a few days left to prepare those resolutions, so get started!
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
BELIEF OR PRACTICE?
I was reading my daily devotional the other day, and the scripture passage was one of many in which the appearance or action of God resulted in great fear and wonder by the individuals in the story. What really struck me was the incredible difference between the reaction of biblical individuals like the ones in the story I read, and the kind of attitude I perceive in people who claim to be believers now.
What I often see now is a rather lackadaisical approach to righteous living, as if it doesn’t really matter. It is as if modern day American Christians have decided that the Christian faith is about what you believe, and not about how you live. But such an understanding is opposed to the clear teachings of scripture.
Perhaps this attitude has arisen in reaction to people who act “holier than thou,” earning the church the reputation of hypocrites over the last half century.
Perhaps it is that our churches have so focused on the grace of God and forgiveness through Christ.
Whatever the reason, the result is that it would appear many Christians answer yes to Paul’s question in Romans 6:1 “Should we continue to sin that grace may abound?” They fail to read on to verse two that begins, “by no means!”
What do I mean? Well, for instance, the ubiquitous OMG, spouted from the mouths of even Christians with no sense of fear or reverence for the God whose name is being invoked. Many, and maybe you are one, think that even raising this issue is picayunish and ridiculous. But when God’s name is to be hallowed, such usage simply is out of line. In one youth group we used to work with, we had a policy that whenever anyone said, “Oh my God,” we required them to finish the prayer! It served to remind them of the meaning of the words they had used.
But that is only one small instance. There are far too many Christians whose behavior cannot be distinguished from the actions of non-believers, in terms not only of language, but even topics of discussion, use of alcohol, sexual practices, handling of finances, and attitudes about almost everything. One example that bothered me was when I heard a famous Christian teacher claim she believed God has blessed her, and so she has no problem living an extravagant lifestyle, including her $500 suits. This lies in contrast to the scripture’s teachings, such as having our hearts set on our treasure in heaven, not on earth. Whatever happened to being light and salt for the world?
In the New Testament, the scripture says that the kinds of things non-Christians do shouldn’t even be mentioned among Christians and our speech is never to include immorality or impurity or coarse jesting, for example. That though we once were children of darkness, we now are to walk as children of light. Every deed we do and every word we utter demonstrates to the world the truth or untruth of what we say we believe.
This distinction also applies to the world of marriage and divorce. We are to take our marriage vows as a sacred covenant, and do everything we can to uphold them as such. We simply are not to be turning to divorce for the kinds of trivial reasons that often occur. We are to see divorce truly as a last resort that God has allowed only because of the fallen state of the world and our sinful condition. Even then, the way a Christian goes through a divorce ought to be clearly distinct from the behavior of non-believers, most visible, perhaps, in the realm of honesty about finances and the honoring of one’s obligations in terms of visitation or child support.
Now I will grant that in our quest for righteous living, it is important to avoid the traps of legalism, salvation by works and of self-righteousness. But avoiding those traps does not relieve us of the responsibility to pursue the holiness that God requires and the recognition that we, too, will give account for our careless words and thoughtless deeds.
The call of Christianity is not merely to believe the appropriate list of doctrines.
The call of Christianity is to follow Christ in a life transformed that reflects the very holiness of God.
The sin in our lives should break our hearts and be wrestled against, not treated lightly as if nobody cares. God does care, for our words and our actions reflect on the reputation of God.
Whatever your station in life, I want to encourage you to consider how well the way you live your life reflects the Christ you say you believe in.
If you are in a position of teaching others, does your teaching appropriately challenge those who hear you to pursue godliness and not excuse sinful behavior in their lives?
Do your words honor God, or embarrass him?
Do your actions draw others closer to Christ, or cast stumbling blocks that hinder them?
Do you live life with a healthy fear of God?
Would you change anything about your life if Jesus were standing right beside you?
If what you believe as a Christian does not impact how you behave, then either you don’t truly believe, or you have never learned enough to even understand what it means to believe in Christ. In either case, that is a dangerous place to live.
For those of us who are believers in Christ, our very lives are the witness that convinces others of the truths we believe and the reality of our faith. I want to encourage you today to do your best to make sure that in all you undertake, God will be glorified because of YOU.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
FOR THE HOLIDAYS:
THE GOLDEN RULE IN DIVORCE
If you are a person who grew up attending church, there is a good chance you will have heard of the passage called, “The Golden Rule.” And even if you didn’t, I suspect the paraphrased words will probably still be familiar to you:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The actual references are found in Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12. The Jewish rabbi Hillel said something very similar when asked to summarize the law, he instructed his disciples to not do to others the things they did not want done to them.
Holidays are times when individuals caught in divorce or its aftermath could be well served to keep this little rule in mind. Sometimes you hear individuals twist the passage into something like, “Do unto others BEFORE they can do unto you,” or. “Do unto others as THEY HAVE DONE unto you.”
Sadly, these reflect the behavior many of us choose to use toward those we don’t get along with, including our ex-spouses.
Far too often, ex-spouses choose to make plans for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even the birthdays of children, in ways that are in opposition to the Golden Rule, rather than in accordance with it. Individuals sometimes refuse to cooperate to make it possible for their children to be with the other parent during holidays - disregarding any court ordered plans or prior verbal agreements they made with their ex-spouses.
Time and time again I have listened to stories regarding this topic. It is all very sad.
If you have been on the receiving end of such actions by a vindictive or insensitive ex, then you know how painful and difficult such an experience can be.
The temptation often is to respond in kind, and to find ways to pay back the ex for such shabby treatment by doing something that will create the same hardship for the ex to make that person know what it feels like.
Others choose to pre-empt their ex-spouses by arranging holiday plans in a way that will be self-serving so that the plans are already locked down with the children and with no consideration of the other parent. The result is that when the other parent starts to make plans, the planning process is quickly frustrated by the inflexibility of the ex.
But the Golden Rule is to treat others…even our exes…the way you want to be treated by them.
Not the same way they treat you.
Not before they treat you.
Not even treating them by keeping to the letter of the court ordered arrangement.
The idea is to treat them the way you WANT them to treat you.
Whether they treat you that way or not is irrelevant.
Do you want respect? Treat your ex with respect, even if he/she ridicules you for it.
Do you want some consideration? Find ways to be considerate of your ex this holiday season, even if he/she takes extreme advantage of your kindness.
Do you want plenty of time with your children? Make sure your ex has plenty of time with them, even if he/she robs you of yours.
Because this principle has nothing to do with how your ex behaves.
Instead, it is about what kind of person you are, and what kind of person God wants you to become. Your ex may never notice or appreciate all the little kindnesses and considerations you send his/her way. It is most likely that your ex will not.
But you are not really doing these things for them anyway. You do them so that YOU can become a better person.
You do them to please God.
God notices every single time.
God will honor you for your choice to live by this principle…even if your ex does not.
Isn't God’s approval what really matters anyway?
So make your celebration plans, taking into consideration how your choices affect others, and letting go of past hurts and resentments.
Celebrate the upcoming holidays in ways that will make your Heavenly Father proud!
Sunday, November 30, 2014
THE MAD DASH IS ON…
Black Friday, the largest shopping day for Christmas - which now begins relatively early on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. Cyber Monday, the online holiday bargain hunt, begins in just a few hours. Calendar counting now shifts from the traditional daily number to a countdown of remaining shopping days. All of this giving us the indication that the Christmas holiday will soon be upon us.
In addition, the stores I have been in the last few days are playing music related to Christmas, usually warning that I better watch out and better not cry.
I also know the holiday time has begun because as I drove home from the store this evening, I passed plenty of homes with Christmas decorations shining away. I have none up yet…my time has been occupied with other more pressing activities.
One house I passed seemed to have every inch of their yard and porch roof covered with lighted figures of Santa, elves, snowmen, reindeer and similar characters. Missing were any angels, wise men, shepherds, nativity or religious decorations of any sort, which reminded me of something that recently occurred to me.
Have you ever noticed how many people like to get in on the celebration of Christmas…despite those who protest and get perturbed whenever they hear a Christmas carol or see a nativity scene. When I was in college, even one of my Jewish friends loved to put up her Christmas tree right alongside her Hannukah menorah. So the other day I got to thinking about why people, who have no interest in Jesus, have adopted the celebration of Christmas as their own, albeit with a focus not on Jesus, but on St. Nicholas (about whom they also know very little in reality). I didn’t research it, but I have a theory, and I thought I’d share it as we enter this season of celebration and obsessive compulsive shopping into debt.
Most of the time, when I do something that I see somebody else doing, it is because I think it looks like fun, or looks interesting, or is something that brings great benefit. So I wonder if over the years people have seen Christians celebrating Christmas and seen the joy, the sharing, the love that is integral to the meaning of the holiday.
Maybe sometime way back when, people saw smiling Christians, filled with happiness and overflowing with charity and love, and then decided that was something they would like to have in their lives, too. Or maybe their children came home one day asking how come little Johnny down the street received special presents last week when his birthday isn't until August, and why they didn't get any presents at all. Child-driven-hope-I’m-a-good-enough-parent-guilt is a manipulation card children learn how to use early in their lives.
However it occurred, and for whatever reason, it seems likely to me that non-Christian individuals saw something they wanted as they observed Christians celebrating a remembrance of the birth of the Savior. Perhaps that is how the various trappings began to be added. The Saint Nicholas turned into Santa Claus who inherited a reindeer with a red nose, snowmen began to sing before they melted away, and toys became the dominant theme because everybody knew that somehow, Christmas has something to do with children. Thus the celebration spread around the globe and toy manufacturers were very, very happy.
However, it seems to me that what has happened is that people have tried to capture the wonder and joy of Christmas by manufacturing their own, in hopes that they could experience the joy Christians experience with the Incarnation.
They have adopted the forms, but neglected the substance.
We Christians aren't filled with joy at this time of year because we get to share in Christmas presents and old familiar songs, rather we celebrate the gift given by God that we could never attain ourselves, and the songs sung by a young virgin named Mary, her relative
and the angels who sang to shepherds.
Pretty lights and trees that remain green don’t remind us of Christmas,
they remind us of the Light of the World and the promise of eternal life. Elizabeth
Oh sure, we Christians get caught up in all the trappings of the celebration, too, and sometimes can forget what the core meaning of Christmas truly is, but for many of us, as we sit in a chapel on Christmas Eve, holding candles, taking communion and singing carols, we are reminded again the it is the gift of the Christ child that makes the holiday truly wondrous.
I invite you this year to find out in a deep and fresh way what the holiday really means, and why it began to be celebrated, because the joy of Christmas is only truly known by those who also know the Christ of Christmas personally.