Wednesday, September 21, 2016
SEEING IT THROUGH??
Reading the last blog, as applied to marriage and divorce, one could deduce that I was suggesting that God ALWAYS wants people to see their marriage vows through, no matter what.
Is that true?
That is to say, does God want every marriage to work? Does God want nobody to get a divorce? Can God save EVERY marriage that is in trouble?
Those questions are actually the kinds of questions Christians who are considering divorce or who have been divorced struggle with at times. The answer is a difficult one, and also an easy one. But applying such an answer with confidence can sometimes be not quite so simply. Today, I hope to challenge your thinking in this area.
Does God want every marriage to succeed?
Can God save any marriage, no matter what the problems?
Let me answer that by analogy.
Does God want everyone to come to Christ and be saved for eternal life? Can God save any person, no matter how sinful?
I suspect that, if you know scripture at all, you would quickly acknowledge that God most certainly desires that everyone be saved…2 Peter 3:9 is one passage that says so very clearly. Can God save any person? That is, does God have that ability, is there any person so far gone God cannot save them? Of course not, God’s grace is far greater than any sin that drags us from him.
However, you and I both know, not everyone does believe in Christ. The problem is not that God isn’t capable of saving them; the problem is that some people refuse to be saved. Theologians debate the role of God’s work and free will, but no matter how that theology works out, the fact remains that some people walk away from Christ rather than accept Him as their Savior.
It seems to me that makes a pretty good parallel for our question about marriage and divorce. OF COURSE God wants every marriage to work. In fact, I think everyone who enters a marriage covenant wants it to work, too!
Can God make every marriage work and prevent divorce? Of course God’s power is great enough to do that, but for whatever reasons, the world is not set up for God to force His will upon people who choose to reject it. It isn’t the case in salvation, why would we think it to be the case in marriage and divorce.
To complicate matters further, we are not talking about just one person, but two. In many cases, one partner longs for the marriage to work, while the other refuses to do the work or make the changes necessary to make it happen. Certainly a Christian can pray for God to move, to solve the problems in the marriage, to soften the heart of their spouse and rekindle their love. But for whatever reason, God allows individuals to refuse to work on their marriage, even if one of the partners wants it to work. Sometimes, God will do something that causes even the most hardened hearts to soften toward Christ or toward a spouse. Sometimes, though, God permits individuals to continue down a destructive path.
The complication of two individuals and the impact each one’s attitude can have on determining the success or failure of a marriage was probably most concisely presented by my own attorney during the final days of my divorce proceedings. The attorney had the final papers, which she went over with me and then pointed to where I was required to sign. In Kansas, one can file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, which is what my wife had done, so that was what was written on the paper my attorney asked me to sign. I told her I did not believe the differences were irreconcilable, because I believe that if people work hard enough, actively seek appropriate help and are willing to make the necessary changes, any problem can be resolved in a marriage. I frustrated my attorney, I am sure, because we went round and round the signature multiple times, with her pointing out that something had to be decided, and choosing not to sign could create a rather awkward situation.
Finally, the last time I told her that I did not believe the differences to be irreconcilable, my attorney replied, “But if she is not willing to reconcile, doesn’t that make them irreconcilable?”
I then signed the papers.
You see, what God desires, what His perfect will is may well be for every marriage to succeed. God could make every marriage work, if both partners were totally submitted to God and to living lives that honor God. But the world we live in is less than the experience of God’s perfect will. Our world is fallen, tainted with sin, and people’s lives are cluttered with sinful behaviors, and their decisions affected by their fallen state. God COULD save any marriage and resolve any problem, but sometimes one or both partners are not WILLING for God to save their marriage, just as some individuals are not willing to let God save them. Whether it makes sense to us or not, that is how God has created the world to be.
So, was God’s desire for your marriage to not end in divorce? Of course God’s desire was for a great marriage in accordance with his will and ways. However, as Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 7:15, sometimes an unbelieving partner will abandon a spouse. Or Jesus mentioned several times that sometimes individuals will betray the marriage vows by committing adultery with another person…they, too, have left the marriage. God’s desire is one thing, but when people get involved, things can get mucked up and something less than perfection results.
So, bottom line, I encourage you to never rush into divorce. Instead, give God ample opportunity to work in your life and the life of our spouse. Do everything you can to pursue God’s perfect desire of a godly and healthy marriage. But if the day comes when that great hope is dashed through the brokenness of this world’s fallen state, grant yourself the grace to accept that not everything is in your control, nor does life always live up to God’s greatest desires.
That is why there was a crucifixion.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
SEEING IT THROUGH
I have a copy of Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation. I haven’t read it yet, but I will. Because I grew up with it. My parents were from that generation.
I don’t know if it really was the greatest generation ever, I mean, America’s Founding Fathers were pretty impressive, and those guys who got the Renaissance going have something to take note of, don’t you think? Nonetheless, this “greatest generation” did something pretty impressive, accomplishing some pretty impressive things, like ending the Nazi threat of world domination by rising to the challenge through sacrifice, hard work, and inventiveness.
Also, from everything I have heard, the Great Depression, as well as the Dust Bowl days in the plains of the Midwest, were also pretty challenging experiences. Perhaps those very experiences were the very things that developed the character necessary to face the great challenges that evolved around the world in the subsequent years.
I think there were several things in particular that were the lessons my parents learned that shaped their lives, and which were communicated through their parenting.
The first lesson was that “things don’t make you happy.”
Dad used to say, looking back at how little they had and how hard their family had it on the farm in the Depression: “We were miserably poor, but I guess we didn’t realize it, because everyone else was poor, too!” He learned that joy and meaning in life were not tied to having the fanciest meals to eat, or the nicest clothes to wear. He knew that family is important, and it isn’t our circumstances, but our attitudes and choices that determine whether we are content with our lives or not.
The other lesson I want to pass along today is that Dad also believed that life is hard sometimes. Yet, hard times are opportunities to rise to a challenge, and even in the midst of hard times, there are joyful moments and experiences for those who bother to notice and enjoy them.
I wonder what kind of characteristics would be highlighted to describe the generations alive today. I suspect we may be remembered as the generation who allowed the moral compass to be misplaced, and political correctness to stepped into the vacuum left behind, claiming to be the “new morality”. I wonder if we will be remembered as a generation who lost their “staying power,” preferring instead quick and easy “bandaid” solutions rather than truly facing the tough issues, such as declaring a love for mother earth and green causes, while drinking water from fashionable plastic bottles that simply do not biodegrade.
I have known a number of marriages in which the couples hit hard times, and it appeared they gave up very quickly, rather than tackle the hard things. Last night at church we talked about people who come to Christ, but don’t last, giving up instead when hard times hit. We also considered how often people in churches will abandon ship rather than see the tough times through in their church, even though all churches face tough issues of one sort at some time.
Let me also add that living and working through the aftermath of divorce is also one of the hard times of life that can either get you down and send you looking for a quick and easy out, or cause you to rise to the challenge in a way that produces character and deepens your faith.
It occurs to me tonight, that just because the tide of the times may be flowing in directions that could encourage you to quit, to give up, or to take the easy way out in lives, doesn’t mean you can’t swim against the tide and stand strong. In fact, I suspect that choosing to swim against that tide makes your stand even more profound.
So whatever tempts you, hang in there. Maybe you will end up setting the standard for the NEXT “greatest generation”!
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Sunday was the day that was marked as the 15th Anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. Much of the focus was on New York, but let us not forget the families of those who also died in a field in Pennsylvania or at the Pentagon in Washington. Saturday night, in worship, one of our talking points was how life can change in a moment, and we can realize that it is much more fragile and less secure than we sometimes think it to be.
Though not on the scale of the 9/11 attacks, we suffered our own tragedy Saturday evening, and I thought I’d like to share from the personal side.
Not to trivialize the 9/11 attacks, or to say that there is any comparison in terms of scale, our tragedy occurred when my wife’s beloved dog ran out in front of a moving automobile and was struck dead by it. If, like me, you have lost a pet you loved, you know what it can feel like, especially when it occurs in such a sudden and tragic way.
This little dog, a “Shorkie” (half Yorkie, half Shitzu) put up with a lot of verbal abuse from me, in which I generally referred to her as not being a real dog at all, because she was so small, and so fuzzy, that I knew her to actually be “a stickless mop”. If you have read my divorce books, you will know her as the dog described in a devotional who could never quite make up her mind where the perfect place would be to “do her business” when outside. She was very persnickety about that. Just the other day as I walked her in the early morning, I was amazed once again at how much difference a foot or so could make in locating the perfect place to make a “doggie deposit”.
Despite the teasing she (and my wife) got from me, Sophie was one of the happiest dogs you would ever meet, and specialized in bringing joy to others. My mother never particularly liked dogs, and certainly never allowed them into the house if she could help it. UNTIL Sophie (and Alzheimers) came into mom’s life. Mom had a number of physical ailments, some of which were very painful and discouraging. But when we came to visit and Sophie was with us, Mom’s entire countenance would change in an instant as Sophie ran to her chair and bounded into her lap…whether or not she was invited to do so! I was always amazed that Mom never did get mad at Sophie for that, but instead laughed, played, pet and even kissed the little dog. I don’t remember exactly how much my wife paid for Sophie as a puppy, but whatever it was, just the joy she brought to my aging mother was worth the cost and beyond.
After Mom passed away, Sophie continued the job of bringing joy to others. I often took her with me when going over to help Dad with things, and Sophie would stand with her front paws on the dashboard, looking out the window and wagging her tail, especially when we turned on the street that headed to Dad’s place. She knew the way. I think Dad’s love for Sophie came from the fact that he knew how much happiness the dog gave to Mom. But my 90+ year old dad always greeted her with a smile, and was glad to have her come visit. Although, he also regularly shook his head at her, amazed at the dumb things she did.
I anticipate that I may yet find a doggie bone buried somewhere in my car, as she rarely ate the treats given her at the bank, choosing to hide them in the car instead. I never did get that, because she rarely found them again, and when I did, they became treats for the other dog who knew treats were to be eaten, not stored.
Most of all, that little dog was my wife’s pride and joy, and kept her company whenever I was away on a trip. On the other hand, when she went on trips, she also left Sophie at home either to spy on me, to watch out for me, to keep me company or to give me something to do as I had to follow the proper diet rules and all the other instructions left behind. We will miss that little dog…and especially my wife, Nola. It is a sad thing to see someone you love in the midst of sorrow when someone precious to her has died.
We all know that loss of any kind is one of the hard experiences of life on this earth, and everybody experiences it sometime in one way or another…but that knowledge doesn’t really make it any easier when it is our turn to suffer loss.
I don’t know if dogs go to heaven or not, even though the old cartoon movie asserts that they do. I tend to think they might, as they aren’t the ones who brought sin in to the world, right? Anyway, if they do, then I suspect that Sophie bounded around until she found my mother up there in heaven, and then jumped into Mom’s lap and heard Mom say, “Well, honey, what are you doing here?” Then Sophie was the recipient of a great big, “welcome to heaven” hug!
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Someone said that the only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing.
Some changes are anticipated and embraced, other changes are avoided or resisted, especially when those changes are foisted upon us.
Some changes are gradual, occurring at a pace that helps us adapt, but some changes are so sudden that we find ourselves caught up in a whirlwind. No matter how it comes our way, change will always come into our lives. To survive well in this world, one has to learn which things are essential to cling to, which to let go of, and how to adapt to the new situation.
Change can remind us that our world is not as stable and secure we convince ourselves it is, and that nothing lasts forever. Fifteen years ago today, the world changed dramatically as battle lines were drawn, as evil announced it remains a potent force in our world so graphically illustrated by the evil men who flew their planes into various locations in their mad efforts to destroy innocent lives. The borders of the United States did not feel quite so secure. The world saw there is an underbelly of Islam where some individuals choose to dwell rather than pursuing the more noble tenants of that religion. War was no longer a pitched battle between two clearly defined and uniformed adversaries, but now lived in the shadows and attacks were on targets of impact rather than strategic, military installations.
I don’t think much of anyone appreciated the change that came to the world on 9/11/2001…except perhaps those who are filled with hatred toward the United States.
Regardless, the change came and we have all had to adapt to a different world view, like it or not.
How are you at handling change? If divorce is part of your life experience, then you know personally how dramatic change can be. As noted in the first paragraph, the change of divorce can also be gradual or sudden, anticipated or resisted, and regardless of which, change comes.
Grieving is part of adapting to change at any level, for with every change, some things are gained, some are lost, and often it is a mixed bag of sorrow and joy. Grief allows expression of tears for pain over the loss of something or someone special. Grief also helps us to treasure and celebrate the privilege of having experienced the positive things of life, placing those joyous moments in the proper perspective and chapter of our lives. In the changes and the grief they bring, there also comes a realization of hope, for a new chapter begins when an old chapter ends, and at that moment the new chapter has yet to be written by our choices, words and actions. Grief acknowledges that something significant is lost, but not everything is lost, that some things have ended, but some things remain.
What changes are you facing in life? What changes are you choosing? What changes have come, though you would never choose them on your own? How are those changes opportunities for something more than you imagined, more than you had in your past? How can you make those changes work for you as you embrace them, rather than drag you down as you resist and cling to a past now gone?
When life changing moments come into our lives, even tragic change such as that sparked by 9/11/2001 they are only the announcement that a new chapter has come. What we write into that chapter is our own to choose, preferably under the guidance of God. And, when you stop to think about it, if nothing ever changed, life would get pretty boring, don’t you think?
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
PET PEEVE, ANYONE?
(read on, there is a point!)
Monday was Labor Day. My wife and I have kind of started a tradition that I find kind of nourishing…in more ways than one. It began last Labor Day, when she suggested that we take the day and drive somewhere new where we could have some time away for a relaxing picnic. If we don’t leave the house, then we tend to do other things than relax. I have never been one for big Labor Day celebrations, except when I was in Cincinnati which hosts the most incredible fireworks show on the Ohio River that weekend…I’m jealous of my friend Alex, who told me that was what THEY did for Labor Day! But I digress.
She indicated she didn’t want to have to drive too far this time, so I pulled out a map and located a couple of State Parks across the border in Oklahoma on a nearby lake. We decided to go there.
State Park #1—mainly for camping, not much in the way of Lakeside locations, pretty full of people, and lots of trash on the ground, as well as dead fish and bait left by fishermen. Yuck.
State Park #2—the ranger had warned us there wasn’t much at this one, and so we thought just a shady place to throw a tablecloth on the ground could work. No shade near the water’s edge, and shade anywhere else had the same problem as #1—trash.
State Park #3—the ranger had told us was closed because of flooding that had destroyed a lot of the area. We kind of ended up there accidentally, but looking around, saw what he meant…pretty bad shape. However, not too far from it was a riverside spot that was shady and quiet. Though it would have been nice to have cooler temperatures, there was a breeze, and not nearly as much trash (must have been washed downstream in the flooding), and a big, green frog who offered protection from mosquitoes. At least, I’m guessing that’s why he just sat there a few feet away the entire picnic.
Noting a plastic water bottle in the water, I commented to her, “What is wrong with people that they are always dumping trash in places like rivers and parks?” I have been to a fishing lake near my home a number of times lately, and the trash left by fisherman and campers is amazing and disgusting. I always think that if you goal is to enjoy catching fish, then it would make sense not to pollute the place you are fishing, wouldn’t it?
I grew up during Lady Bird Johnson’s era, when she started the Keep America Beautiful campaign and declared the war on litter. “Please, please, don’t be a litterbug, don’t be a litterbug.” If you don’t know what that ditty refers to, count your blessings. If you do, I’m sorry, because the tune will probably be stuck in your head all day now! I also lived through the 70’s, with the big environmental emphasis on pollution and ecology. So maybe I am hypersensitive when I walk these parks. But maybe not.
Now, lest you blame it on Oklahoma, I’ve seen the same and worse in California and New York and the south and most places humans go. I find it odd that people talk about the “plastic bottle island” in the Pacific and how terrible it is, but have no qualms about dropping a plastic bottle onto the ground or into the water near them. Last time I checked, rivers and streams tend to head eventually toward what? THE OCEAN!!! In fact, I think this obsession with plastic bottles of water is ridiculous and irresponsible…but that’s just me.
Having said all that, the experience got me to thinking about what might be other areas of our lives we litter. For instance, what kind of garbage do we toss into our brains through what we watch and read? What kind of junk (food) do we throw into our bellies and allow to “pile up” on our sides, or to clog up the streams of our arteries?
There are even people who trash their churches by the things they say and do, and even literally as I have so often noticed bulletins, flyers and candy trash left in the pews and hymnal racks (even though the people walk right by a trash can at the back of the church on their way out…again, I don’t get it).
What about in our relationships? How many divorces occur because we don’t take proper care of the “parks” we call home and marriage? How much do we trash or litter those relationships with things best disposed of properly , or maybe recycled into something useful? In some ways, our Labor Day has now been recycled into something that is a relationship and memory builder (despite the yucky memories of decaying fish…bleah!) Of all the things in our lives, shouldn’t we be cherishing our relationships and making every effort to keep them beautiful? Yet far too often we allow garbage to build up, littering them with thoughtless words and junk activities, or trash the values that make it strong.
Well, I think I will stop before the rant gets too awfully long. I will leave it to you to decide whether you are littering your life and world, or making it beautiful. As for me, I kind of like the policy of trying to always leave the places we spend our lives a little bit better than they were when we arrived. It may mean picking up somebody else’s litter. It may mean repairing something around the house. It may mean pulling a few weeds. It may mean learning to be a nicer person. But our mark is left on everything we touch and everyone we meet. I hope we are smart enough to not leave litter in our wake!
P.S. Somebody pointed out how sad it is that when man first visited the moon (and subsequently), part of the heritage we left behind was…you got it, trash. Even the very cool Mars rovers, will one day become litter on Mars!
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Remember when you were a kid playing a game when you made some kind of mistake and needed a second chance? The way it was handled was often to call out, “redo” or “do over.” When a “do over” was granted, it was like the original effort no longer existed, you got to go back and start it up again.
Many folks in life wish they could have “do overs,” but life just doesn’t work that way. We can’t go back to our youth and remake choices we made then. We have been shaped by our past, and only have the option of dealing with the past effectively and moving forward. But every now and then, we get an opportunity that feels like a fresh start, or a second chance. Sometimes it comes our way through a move to a new location, other times via a new job, and then sometimes it is begun by simple forgiveness and choosing to refocus a relationship onto a new track.
One positive thing that comes out of the tragedy of divorce is that you end up with an opportunity for a fresh start. Though you may not have wanted a fresh start, and being forced into one it can be difficult to even see it as a positive thing, it can become a very special opportunity. As is the case with moving on from any difficult circumstance in life, it is important to not allow yourself to be so caught up with hurt and self-pity that you fail to see and take advantage of the chances you have for a restart in the direction of your life.
Yes, you may feel like you are having to start all over at a time of life when you have no desire to do so. I mean, who really wants to re-enter the world of dating when you are 45, for example?
Or you may have suffered a financial hit that has you in the hole having to catch up, maybe even having to restart a retirement account that was devastated in the process.
You may have had to move, though you did not want to, and you may find yourself needing to search for a new church home, or to develop new friendships. It can be very hard.
However, it can also be very exciting. You have the opportunity to choose exactly who you desire to be…mistakes you have made in the past or character flaws you feel you have allowed to take root need not be determining factors for your future. You can choose to set your life on a different course, to try a fresh route. You can develop new habits. You can decide to pursue more healthy relationships. You can alter the priorities of how you spend your time. Perhaps you will get remarried, and in doing so, choose a partner and a relationship style that is much more healthy than what you experienced before. Even your relationship with God can undergo transformation into something new and fresh. In many ways, this is the overarching theme of the second book in the Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce set…where the emphasis is that there is hope, there is a future, there is a tomorrow, and the challenge is to take hold of the opportunity for a fresh start and weave something good out of it.
This kind of positive shift often does not come automatically. Old habits die hard. Learning a new way to relate to others requires working on relationship skills. Practicing forgiveness and letting go of the past can be a challenging task demanding intense effort and focus. Learning to live with different priorities takes practice and sometimes lots of reminders. But the upshot is that you can end up in a totally different place in life, and come a lot closer to being the kind of person God designed you to be, with the kind of life that is most fulfilling for you. You can even choose to make yourself available for God to use in fresh ways by volunteering to lead a children’s group or work at a soup kitchen, or gather some friends you know are struggling so as to create your own Bible study and support group. Whatever you do, don’t waste the chance you have for something fresh!
In many ways, this is a strong parallel to what we experience in the invitation of Christ for our lives. Jesus invites us to a fresh start, to a second chance, to take part in a great “do over.” He can help us use the opportunities after divorce in the same way….when we respond to his invitation. A couple of scriptures come to mind, which I will share as a closing invitation to you, no matter what kind of fresh start you need in your life:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” --Matthew 11:28-30 NASB
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” --2 Corinthians 5:17-18 NASB
Sunday, August 28, 2016
HANG TOUGH…GOD DOES CARE!
In the last blog, we talked about the emotional rollercoaster and intense impact of the experience of divorce. The intensity of those emotions can be overwhelming, but as we discussed last time, no one need to walk through the it all alone, as God promises to see us through whatever comes our way. Yet life is not done, and God is not done shaping or using us, and so in spite of the pain, we must walk forward. That is the hardest part, because many days, you don’t feel like walking forward. You may not even feel like walking at all! What then?
In life we daily make choices about the way we spend our time, the priorities we choose and the tasks we undertake. Through the course of our lives, those choices and those priorities become our habits.
If we are wise, we choose to develop habits that will serve us well over the course of our lifetime. However, in the toughest times, such as the aftermath of divorce, when we are confused and overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty, the temptation is to allow those habits to fall by the side. We can blame it on a lack of energy but we find ourselves lacking interest, and in the midst of it all our confused thinking can lead us astray.
How do you get through this time of heartache?
This is a time to go on “auto-pilot.” Let the good habits you have developed carry you forward. Though you may not feel you are getting anything from it, continue to open the Bible and read those words. Even though it is awkward, don’t neglect worship and fellowship with the body of Christ. Continue to pursue the character of Christ with your honesty, integrity and upright living. Move one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, one day at a time. And do your best to stay on the same narrow path you have walked with the Lord for years…this isn’t the time to change course.
People around you may not understand how profoundly things have changed for you. Worship can feel hollow. Time in the scripture may feel like meaningless routine. Our time with friends can leave us feeling more alone than ever, as we remember the times we shared with those friends with a spouse, before the divorce, or as we feel like the proverbial fifth wheel in the circle of friends. I remember how every entrance into the church sanctuary was so surrounded with memories from years gone by, and I just didn’t feel like I fit there any longer. It was very hard to sit in familiar places alone for the first time. Well, for that matter, for the first time, second time, third time…it was just very hard. So I made adjustments. You may need to make adjustments as well.
Sometimes the adjustments are very minor. My church had a little chapel at the back, which also served as a cry room available for younger mothers. There were a variety of individuals who chose that as their seating location. I decided it was a fresh place to sit, allowing me to continue to worship with people I loved and who loved me, but to do so in a way that eased the pain of difficult memories. When attending long standing social events or other activities I used to enjoy, I did so in the company of others, friends I invited to go with me, or sharing the event with one of my children instead. There were others, and there will be for you, as well.
You have spent a lifetime shaping some of the values you cherish...don’t forsake them now. At the same time, there may be some habits that you know have led you astray, have affected your life adversely. This could be a time to make minor course adjustments through repentance and a fresh commitment to Christ. God still has great aspirations for your life. Painful though this time might be, it may be the start of something fresh you can’t yet see…if you will hang on, and let God hang on to you as you move forward one day, one hour, one step at a time.