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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Would a Trial Separation Work?

DOES SEPARATION SAVE OR END MARRIAGES?

I recently received a pretty interesting inquiry.  After reflecting on it, I gave the writer a bit of a response, but decided that the topic was important enough it was worthy of a blog, so promised him I would have a blog for him today that begins to address the topic more fully.  I decided to invite you, my readers, to eavesdrop.  

Let me begin by sharing the contacting note with you, minus the identifying features—

I just read your 7 day seasons of divorce bible plan on my Bible app. It was very encouraging. My wife and I have been married 4 years and have two small children. What are your thoughts on trial seperations (sic)?

The blog will focus on the question raised about trial separations, but I wanted to make a couple of simple comments about the situation first.  However, let me first say, I don’t like the term “trial” separation because in a trial of a product, it is with the understanding that if we like the product we will make it permanent.  Implicit in the term “trial separation” is that we are trying separating to see if we like it.  I prefer the use of the term “temporary separation,” which implies that the goal is reconciliation.  It may not seem like much, but the words we use can often shape the way we think.

Sometimes people enter marriage and in a relatively short time conclude that it was a mistake and headed for divorce.  Having been both a pastor and a wedding photographer over the years, I have seen this happen many times.  Probably the record time was one couple who were split up after only a month!  Others begin to question their marriage within a few years.  I have known some individuals seeking divorce who discovered soon after their wedding that they had married a person who was abusive, an addict or had some other serious character flaw he or she is unwilling to face, which creates a very difficult situation.  But there are others who simply ran into disillusionment or found marriage was more difficult than they expected, and chose to get out of the relationship.  In those cases, they MAY have missed the possibility of the kind of great marriage that can come through commitment and hard work.  

In addition, I want to comment on the presence of children, especially small children.  (And let me add that it isn’t surprising a couple with small children might consider separation or divorce…though there is lots of joy with small children, it is also a time of much stress.  The good news is that the related stress does not last forever.)  I have known in my life many children whose parents got divorced, including my own children and step children.  It is a tragic thing to see.  If you have children in your home, and you truly love them, I would strongly encourage you to do everything in your power to make the marriage work (not just continue, but actually WORK), because of the impact it will have for the children.  One of the best gifts we can give our children is to truly love their mom or dad.  

At the same time, I do not believe it is healthy for children to grow up watching mom being beaten by dad (or vice versa!), or to constantly see a parent strung out on drugs or booze, especially if mom or dad also beats the children.  Short of that, I believe in the long run, doing the serious work and self-examination required to turn around a failing marriage will pay big dividends in the lives of the children and your relationship with them.  Yet there are times one partner refuses to even try, and though sometimes a partner will pray and wait until their spouse comes around, more often the unwilling partner just chooses to leave.  

NOW FOR THE QUESTION:  MY THOUGHTS ON SEPARATION…
I certainly would not claim to be an expert, so in responding to the question, I emphasize that the individual asked simply for MY thoughts about separation.  Out of curiosity, I decided to run a quick search to see what evidence there is on the internet as to how frequently separation saves or finishes off marriages.  What I found, as one often finds on the internet, is that the answers are all over the place, with people strongly advocating all kinds of opinions.  The better articles that I found tended to make some of the same kinds of suggestions I usually include, so I decided to merely offer my own thoughts and observations from what I have seen over the years.  This will take 2 or maybe 3 installments to address well, so below I offer what I think are the first 4 priorities (not in any particular order):  

  1. The first thing is purpose.  It seems to me that the couple needs to determine (and find agreement on) on what their purpose is in having a trial separation.  Is it for safety, to protect a partner who is being abused?  Is it to be a relief valve, providing opportunity for the heat of anger to dissipate and more rational thought to prevail?  It might be to remove the pressures of daily living, so that the couple can instead focus on working on the larger issues together.  However, sometimes it is done with one or both spouses figuring it is a preliminary step toward divorce…which, barring radical change of attitude will, of course, result in divorce.  Some might use it to provide opportunity for one or the other spouse to “test the waters” by dating and comparing their spouse with other individuals out there.  If the purpose is truly an attempt to save the marriage, then there needs to be some careful plans laid for the separation.

  1. The second thing is to plan for regular communication.  More than electronic contacts, there needs to be a plan for regular face to face, or at minimum phone communication with one another.  In extreme cases, this may occur only weekly and may have to be in the presence of a mediator, counselor or pastor to assist the conversation.  But there needs to be ongoing contact, and it needs to also include communication that is NOT about the problems and issues, focusing instead on staying in touch with one another and sharing personal thoughts and feelings.  Since trust likely will have degenerated already, that sharing may be rather surface at first, but keep the contact, and find ways to take risks to move to a deeper level of sharing.  I would also encourage a nighttime and morning contact…”good night,” “good morning,” “hope you have a good day,” “I miss you,” “this is really hard for me,” “I do love you,” or “I know I loved you once, I want to be there again.”

  1.   Third is the need to agree upon clear boundaries.  This can go lots of directions.  If your separation is in the same home but different rooms, establish how you want to set up personal space, and whether certain spaces are off limits or restricted to certain times.  (There are real advantages to staying in the same home…but sometimes it may not be the most practical or realistic option.)  If you are in separate homes, then one of you will likely be in the family home in which you both lived.  What are the ground rules for the outside person to be able to come inside to pick up needed items, or to share bedtime stories with the children, etc.?

Boundaries should also be established in terms of relationships with others.  In a separation working toward reconciliation, I think it would be most wise to not permit one-to-one contact with members of the opposite sex, even if they are just friends or married themselves.  Such contact will almost inevitably begin to fill a void that ought to be filled by your spouse, which can serve to drag you further apart, rather than provide insights that bring you closer together.  It may be true that you could handle yourself appropriately, and that your friendship is different.  But if you are trying to save your marriage, why take the risk?  Or why set up something that might create false impressions and could complicate the process on down the road?  Why have a relationship about which your spouse is going to have to just “trust you” that it is strictly platonic?  Especially since trust is likely already a problem, otherwise the marriage wouldn’t be on the skids!

There are other boundaries that need to be agreed upon:  time with and responsibilities for the children, contacting one another at work, who the appropriate people are with whom to share the struggle, how to handle contacts with other family members…you have to decide what all is relevant for your situation.  If something pops up later and you realize you missed one, negotiate it when you recognize it is there.

  1. Commit to pray:  for God to help you see where you need to change and grow and to be more understanding of your spouse, for God to work to save your marriage, for God’s blessing and good for your spouse, and for God to use this time to help you both build the foundation for a strong and healthy marriage. Don’t only make the commitment, make sure you actually DO pray.  God is always the key to help us with any problems in life, and especially for marriage.  After all, marriage was God’s idea in the first place!

NEXT TIME….

POTENTIAL PITFALLS AND RISKS TO AVOID IN SEPARATION
SaveSave

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Over and Over Again!

LEARNING BY REPETITION


“Mary had a little…..”   

“Twinkle, twinkle, …”

“Peter Piper picked…”


So did you have any trouble completing any of those?  If you were from another country or culture you might not have immediately completed them, but I suspect a very large majority of us in the United States can complete every one of those lines and more that aren’t listed.  In fact, these may even remind you of others (anybody seen any wood chucks chucking lately?)

Learning by repetition, or by rote, is very out of vogue these days.  People talk more now about learning styles, whether one learns aurally, or visually, or kinesthetically.  They talk about integrated learning, where english composition may be taught through the medium of writing essays on the current History lesson. Up-to-date teachers use methods that have the children actively involved in the learning process with more than just hearing and seeing, but actually doing and learning through inductive investigations.  And I happen to believe all these things are actually pretty good ideas.  HOWEVER….

However, I also think we should be careful about giving repetition such short shrift.  After all, you still remember those little ditties, don’t you?  (as in Doo wah, doo wah, doo wah, ditty, talk about…)  Perhaps repetition is dull and boring, but it can cement things into our hearts and minds in ways that one just never forgets.  

Perhaps that is why God repeats so many of his teachings and admonitions in the Bible.  I was reminded of that fact first hand today, as I was doing my morning readings in scripture, and using different materials, but ended up with a divinely planned serendipitous experience.  In fact, my experience was to explore readings in materials designed for the years 1999, 2015 and 2016, when today they intersected upon one topic from a variety of verses scattered throughout the scripture.  

I don’t know that it is necessary that I give you the specifics of those so much as it is to remind you of the kinds of things God apparently believed were so important for us to hear, that the topics are addressed over and over and over in scripture.  If God thinks they are important enough to repeat, it seems to me there are two things clearly implied:  1) in the eternal scheme of things where God make the final decisions, these things really are important;  2) we human beings tend to forget or ignore some of these lessons, and so need reminding of their importance…which also means that you or I will not have been the only person who has struggled with these lessons.

Having said all that, let me give you some words and phrases that you can run through a concordance or search and find that over and over God has stressed that these things really are important, and we really do need sometimes the reminders.  So how about these as messages from God--

Do not fear, God is with you.
Love one another.

God loves you.  Seriously, deeply, passionately and unflinchingly loves you.

Sin damages us and others more than we think.

Be courageous and be strong, with God’s power at your side.

God is to be the most important being in your life.

Rejoice, be a person of joy, confident in God’s care for you.

Eternal life is available to any who would be followers of Jesus.

This world and its possessions are not what really matters in life.  
Your relationship with God is.

Sin is serious business, which is why Jesus died to pay the penalty on your behalf.

Serving is more rewarding than being a big shot.  And much more pleasing to God!

Trust God…no matter what.

There is always hope if God is in your life.


And this list contains just a few.  Perhaps you might find encouragement, strength and guidance by perusing scripture to discover your own list that relates to the needs you are experiencing in life.  There is something in the Bible for every person, and for every situation in your life.  You just have to look.  And realize that things that are important really are worth repeating!  Maybe it’s time to repeat some of them to yourself.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Does Your Marriage Need Weeding?

PULLING WEEDS IS NOT FUN!

(not our actual garden... but a picture of a very similar garden...)

We have had a lot of rain the last few months.  And last summer and fall were pretty busy.  As a result, I have been pulling weeds.  A lot of weeds.  Some pretty big weeds, and some weeds with pretty strong roots.  And lots of baby trees that have decided to take root among the weeds.  The worst part of it all, is that some of the weeds I am pulling are in places that I had already pulled and cleaned out just a few weeks ago.  But the rain and the sunshine in between…and probably the neighboring weeds that I haven’t gotten to yet, have all conspired to replenish the weed population in those places.  

Sigh.

I hate weeding.  It is hard on your back and knees, it is very tedious, and it is never ending.  I have a long standing hate relationship with weeding.  I remember as a little kid being asked to do some of the weeding in the flower beds.  I remember being told that it doesn’t do any good to pull weeds if I don’t get the roots out, too.  But I hated weeding, and I wasn’t vey good at it, and the ground was pretty dry, so all that happened way back when was that the tops got torn off the plants until they just came back.

One thing I’m learning about weeding is that, like Henry Fonda says about parenting in the movie, “Parenthood”, it never ends!  I suspect that if I ever get to the point where I have some of the garden and flower beds weed free with rich and loose soil, then keeping them that way  may not be as bad as getting them that way.  But I’m probably wrong.  Somehow I think weeds are bound up in the Genesis curse where Adam is told that the ground is only going to bear fruit through the sweat of his brow.  It sure has turned out that way!

I think a lot of things in life need regular weeding.  I think a sometimes divorces occur because the couple didn’t do a good job of weeding in their marriage relationship.  I think sometimes people give up on their faith or quit going to church because they haven’t done a good job of weeding in their spiritual life and their faith has been overwhelmed.  I think a lot of people, probably including me, don’t do a very good job of weeding their daily schedules to match their desired priorities.  I think a lot of times there are weeds going wild in our thought lives.

I also think we make the mistake of assuming in all these areas that weeds once pulled don’t ever need to be pulled again.  Or that areas of our lives once cleared will stay cleared without effort forever.  But that is wrong.  We never get done.  And just like weeding in a garden, sometimes it takes a lot of work to get rid of life’s other weeds.  There is always something new to learn, more opportunities to pursue.  A marriage is never a completed task, it is always an ongoing venture of growth and change.  Our spiritual journey is not one of having arrived, but is about the journey itself.  Our movement toward purity will not be complete this side of heaven, but is a living work of grace that beckons us forward on a daily basis.

Are there areas in your life that need some weeding?  

Some behaviors that need to be pulled?  

Maybe some of your relationships have developed some habits that need to be removed and discarded.  

Or maybe life has just gotten cluttered with too much stuff.  


At least, that’s some of the things I got to thinking as I was pulling out all those stupid weeds.  And there are still more weeds out there waiting to see me tomorrow.  But I promise, I won’t turn it into another blog!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Used By God

HOW CAN I HELP?


In the first church I pastored, I had opportunity to help a lot of different people through a lot of different struggles of life.  Most of that kind of a pastor’s work is pretty invisible in private conversations at all sorts of hours.  There is in 2 Corinthians a pretty profound passage that makes a good guide for anyone willing to be used by God.  It’s found in 1:3-4 and says (in NASB)—

  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 

Sometimes I would end up attempting to help individuals going through the throes of divorce.  As I had little experience, I did the best I knew how, and, looking back, some things I did pretty well, and some of my assistance was probably was way off base.  But one of the smartest things I did is something that any of you reading could do as well.  I applied the principle given in the passage above; I would find another individual in my church who had experienced divorce, and ask them to be a friend and mentor to my parishioner going through divorce at the time.  When I went through my own divorce and learned so much from others who had experienced it as well,  I realized how good the to make partners had been.  

As I took advantage of a nearby DivorceCare ministry, I encountered again the experience of learning myself from more individuals who had experienced the trauma of divorce.  The shortcoming, though, was that the support was merely a few weeks long, while the struggles from divorce continued for a much longer period.  I came to the conclusion that God could use the same principle in my life and help fill the gap I had experienced if I put together some personal and relevant devotions for others going through divorce that would provide support for an entire year.  Hence the birth of Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce, Vols 1-2.

I would encourage you examine your own life.  What are the areas in which God has encouraged, helped or ministered to you, and then ask yourself how you could pass along that those encouragements to others now going through a similar experience.  Not everyone will share the support in the same way.  But the principle can be applied in lots of different ways.  

For example, if my books have been helpful in your life or the life of someone you know, you can make a practice of purchasing copies for others you know going through divorce.  You could also choose to provide copies to your pastor so that he or she can have them at hand to help parishioners who turn to them for support and godly counsel.  (I would have been thrilled to have something like those books available for my use in my first pastorate!)   The same thing is true of my latest book to encourage those doing Caregiving…who do you know that could benefit from it?  Those are a couple of tangible actions you could do.  But there are so many more.

No matter what you have gone through in life, whether it be financial reversal, grief and mourning, the devastation of serious illness and subsequent bills…whatever, if you would but open yourself up to the opportunities, there are people somewhere around you who need what you have to offer, because of your experience.  God does the bulk of his work through human beings willing to give of themselves.  In fact, one could almost read the passage from 2 Corinthians to say that the main reason God gives us the comfort and encouragement we need in tough times is so that we can pass it on to others!  


Have you mistakenly hoarded the comfort and encouragement God has sent your way?  Have you allowed yourself to become oblivious to the multitudes around you needing the help and hope that YOU are an expert in?  I invite you to reach out and become part of something bigger than yourself.  You will find, as I have, that you are amazed at how God can use what little you have to offer to make life better for someone else.  


Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Real Story Behind the Divorce


INSENSITIVE, MEAN OR
 JUST CLUELESS?

I was preparing to write my new blog, and then happened across a comment in something I read that struck me in such a way I decided to shift gears.  Since I am not going to be talking particularly favorably about the comment, I am going to refrain from citing the source.  

In the material, the commentator was discussing very effectively how so often things in our world appear wonderful and tempting, but once we take hold of them, they often don’t quite live up to what we expected.  That can be foods, possession, experiences…lots of things, and several biblical examples were provided.  The last two provided were King David in relation to his ill-fated affair with Bathsheba (which I think is the kind of thing we see a lot!), and then a reference to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  The writer suggested that this lesson of false allure was probably learned by the Samaritan woman by the time she reached husband number five.  The structure of the writing was such that the implication was the woman was the one at fault for jumping from husband to husband to live-in-lover.  This is that point that really struck me.

Notice, I said the “implication” was that the woman was at fault…there is a mild chance the author did not intend that and that the author had no clue of the implication, or it may well be that the author had decided it was all the Samaritan woman’s fault and chose to say so.  

I guess it stuck out to me, because I had never really thought about who was at fault in her past relationships.  Or if I had, it was with an awareness that women had few rights in those days…especially in the realm of divorce…and that men (especially in the biblical influenced culture of that time) tend to be the ones who believe that “the beautiful little temptress that just walked by” is worth abandoning one’s family to pursue.  In other words, I tend to think she was a woman scorned time and again, who finally became so jaded she either accepted or intentionally limited her current relationship to that of living together.  

So what is my point?  My point is that the writer made assumptions about the woman’s choices and commented in such a way that it assigned blame, and that happens all too often.  

]I can guarantee you this was the same kind of comment the Samaritan woman had heard in her village for years.  “I hope you learned your lesson!”  “That girl doesn’t know how to keep a husband!”  “Maybe she’s finally gotten it figured out!”  That was why she came to the well alone in the middle of the day, instead of coming with other women from town first thing in the morning.  That was also part of why she was thunderstruck by the fact that Jesus would talk kindly with her.  In my observation as a pastor, frequently individuals who have multiple divorces have as their biggest “fault” the inability to choose wisely in the first place, more often than not due to conditioning that arose in their childhood experiences.

It is unfortunately all too common for people to make judgments about a marriage that ends in divorce, and to assign blame based on limited information.  It is also far too common that people make comments without realizing the impact of what they are saying.  “Well, maybe you will do better next time.”  “They just took the easy way out.”  “I’ve had hard times in my marriage, too, and you don’t see ME giving up.”  Judgment, condemnation, insensitivity.  Clueless.  Why?  Well, let me tell you.

As a pastor, I have often been privy to the inner workings of struggling marriages.  That information, of course, has been confidential.  Time and again I have known of marriages end in divorce, and heard people making comments afterward.  The most striking comments tended to be when people blamed one individual or the other, not realizing that they didn’t even know the full story.  In such instances, one could almost long to say things like, 

“Yeah, she filed for divorce….but he used to beat her…did you know that?”  

“Yeah, he left her and yeah, he committed adultery, and he could be blamed, but did you have any idea that she didn’t share his bed for 20 years?”  

“Yeah, it is a shame it ended in divorce, but did you realize she was forced into that marriage in the first place?”  

“Yeah, they got divorced, but they’ve had problems for 15 years and spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on marriage counseling, so do you really think they didn’t try?”

“Yeah, she filed for divorce, but do you realize he refused to even try to work on the marriage?”

“Yeah, they are divorced…and now broke, laden with guilt, struggling to survive emotionally and alienated from their families.  

Do you really think that is the ‘easy way out?’”

You get the idea.  There is always more to the story than appears on the surface.

Sometimes we may know more of the story, but may have heard it only from one spouse’s perspective.  Or sometimes we know more of the story, but know little of the upbringing of the person involved, so don’t really understand the difficulties they face.  

Sometimes the troubling or insulting statements are very subtle.  Sometimes they are outright mean.  But the wise and godly person’s statements are filled with compassion, humility and grace.  

In my first book I share the impact made on me by a pastor’s wife some 40 years ago.  I met this lady only that one time, as she was actually the friend of the person I was visiting with at the time.  She told of the sadness in her church over the fact that the chairman of the deacons and his wife were getting divorced after 25 years of marriage.  After mentioning the heartache over the divorce, she then said, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  

Far too many people whose marriages last lack the humility of this pastor’s wife.  They fail to recognize that every one of us is susceptible to weakness and failings, and that it really is the grace of God that sustains us.  Sure, we each have to do our part, but bottom line, we cannot take credit for the fact that we were raised to value the marriage commitment, or that we did not suffer abuse disguised as love, or that God has healed us from the raging temper we once had, or an endless list of things we neglect to notice.  


When you know of a couple whose marriage ended in divorce, encourage them as best you can, show compassion and humility, perhaps even offer challenges to help their marriage get back on track, but never judge.  No matter how much you know, you never know the whole story.  Only God knows that, and the Bible is clear that judgment belongs only to God.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

Marital.... and Post Marital Freedom

FREE?  OR STILL ENTANGLED?  

Some people who seek a divorce do so in pursuit of freedom.  They have felt locked into a bad relationship, prohibited by their marriage from being all they could be, tied down to a life that is miserable and suffocating.  They long to be free from the entanglements, free to be their own person making their own decisions, free to live their lives however they choose, without being encumbered by a spouse who no longer shares their values and dreams.  And divorce is the best way to freedom, right?

For those struggling in a bad marriage, viewing divorce from the outside the possibility of a divorce on the horizon, it certainly appears to provide a lot of freedom.  There are, indeed, freedoms that come through divorce.  I remember some of them from my time of post-divorce singleness.  I had the freedom to sleep on the couch if I wanted and stay up watching television, or go to bed early.  I could make a 2:00 run to the all night supermarket if I chose.  I selected which movies I might go watch, what sports events to attend, what kind of car to buy or home to live in (within budget constraints), whether to do dishes in the evening or the next morning, and arrange my schedule or spend my money according to my own priorities as I saw fit without obligation to consult anyone else.  I could go where I wanted, when I wanted, with whom I wanted, and had to explain my choices to no one.  

After divorce, one becomes free from daily interactions with a spouse with whom those interactions had become difficult or adversarial.  If physical, emotional or verbal abuse were part of the marriage, there can be freedom from the daily suffering associated with that abuse.  This kind of freedom can certainly help with one’s sanity or physical safety. 

But there is another side to the issue that might be described as the hidden underbelly of divorce, for which the word “freedom” does not seem appropriate. 

For instance, after divorce my finances were my own to manage…subject of course, to court decrees which first divided them between my ex and myself, and for many, the decrees also entail regular withdrawals to cover child support or alimony payments.  There may also be other court-mandated financial requirements, such as continuing to provide health or life insurance for the ex, or making payments on bills that have been divided between the two of you, or a required back payment for some kind of restitution in the form of garnishment.  So the divorced individual is free to deal with his or her money as they choose, as long as it is done within the confines of the court’s invasion of one’s financial privacy and control!

Another example is that in an intact family, both parents have unfettered access to their children and the children’s events.  That free access also suffers the invasive actions of the court as it seeks to establish some kind of equity of access to children between the two divorcing parents.  More often than not, one party or the other finds their parenting access severely curtailed, often to every other weekend and a longer summer visit, though in practice even that time can fall apart over time.  To complicate matters, with divorces in which there was some kind of abuse, restraining orders restricting contact with the ex may be in place which end up also impairing free contact with children at even public events.  Holidays are also divided, resulting in the freedom, for example, to celebrate Christmas Day with your children every other year and between certain assigned hours.  Within those court ordered restrictions, the divorced spouse is free to attempt to effectively parent their own children.

Then, of course, there is also the freedom from the ongoing hassles of a daily relationship with a difficult spouse.  Most of us have heard stories or seen movies about individuals divorcing to escape from abusive relationships, only to find themselves living in fear and hunted by an angered abuser, sometimes even losing their lives because of it.  Certainly not the freedom expected when the divorce was filed!  In some cases, the ex may not go to those extremes, but may choose to continually harass through letters, emails, phone calls, visits to the home or other annoying behaviors.  Restraining orders may be filed to prevent this, but making those orders have the impact intended is not such an easy process.  Though the abuse may be curtailed, often one is not entirely free from ongoing hassles.

Even short of that, when children’s lives and schedules are to be dealt with, the difficult spouse may turn out to become an adversarial ex who no longer has incentive to compromise or has become focused on self-serving interests, and what was once a difficult relationship turns into an impossible situation.  Though the court may order that you have opportunity to spend Father’s Day or Mother’s Day with your children, the residential spouse may choose to make other arrangements for the day, leaving you with no recourse but to file contempt charges that have no real impact in the form of consequences for the offending spouse.  So though one is free from the daily hassles with the spouse, there may linger ongoing interactions that are just as difficult if not worse, even if on a more occasional basis.  

Lastly, let me suggest that there also exists an entanglement of an internal or emotional nature.  The soured relationship of the past may haunt divorcees in interactions with others in the future, as they overreact to simple statements or actions of other people who, with the best of intentions, may have innocently stumbled into a painful memory.  There may be a lingering heartache over a failed marriage that impacts one’s sense of self-worth or remains a deep hurt in one’s heart for many years to come.  One may go on in life seeking to move forward freely, but the individual may not have come to grips with all the emotional impact of the past, resulting in a life cluttered with current reactions to past events.  An example might be that one might decide that if he or she remarries, it will never be to a person who keeps house the way a former spouse did.  As a result, every new person is judged not on his or her own merits, but on a scale based on the actions of a former spouse.  Rather than choosing freely a future, the individual is living in opposition to the past.  Emotional freedom requires intentional, serious introspective work and healing.


I believe that all freedom is within appropriate boundaries, rather than the anarchical notion some mistakenly call freedom.  And I believe that true freedom is only found when the boundaries are those established by God, rather than the whims of society or one’s personal preference.  (Hence, Jesus’ statement in John 8:36—“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” NASB)  This kind of freedom can be realized within even a bad marriage that finds renewed hope, or it may be found in working through the aftermath of divorce with the help of God.  But make no mistake, the “freedom” so often perceived as the promise of divorce is not nearly as free, and certainly not as automatic, as some would hope.  If you are a person choosing to divorce, make sure that you have a realistic view of what you are about to do, rather than assume it is the panacea that will heal all ills.  And find your real freedom in Christ, not in unrealistic expectations of divorce, which leaves lots of entanglements and ragged edges behind.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pick Your Battles!

AND THE WINNER IS…..

I really liked the attorney I had back during my divorce days.  She was really good at respecting my values, talking things through with me and helping me make choices, as well as warning me of potential minefields.  She did a good job.  

One day there was an issue that had to be decided, and it was an issue in which I could choose to acquiesce to what was offered, or choose to fight it in court.  She indicated that if I chose to take it to court, the odds were heavily in my favor that the judge would side with me, because I had really good grounds to contest the issue.  The words she offered to help guide me at that time were words I have not ever forgotten, because they were pretty profound.  They apply not only to divorce, but to a lot of things, so I thought I’d pass them along today.

While I don’t have the exact quote to give you, the conversation was pretty close to something like this:

Richard:  So what do you think I should do?

Attorney:  Well, if you want to pursue it, you have pretty good grounds and would probably win.  At the same time, I don’t know if I’m just getting old, or have been through too many divorce cases, but a lot of times I think that in matters like this, you can go to court and win, but I beginning to doubt if, in the long run, anybody really wins when that happens.  And in matters regarding children, it is always good to keep in mind that in a few short years, they will be grown and do what they choose, so any arrangements you make now are pretty temporary, and sometimes it is worth just waiting for that time instead of going to court in dispute.  Besides, circumstances change, and in a year or two, it may all change anyway, because kids are like that.

Richard:  Okay, so if I have a good case, and I decide to pursue it, how much do you think something like that would cost? 

Attorney:  The price of a college education.

See what I mean about how profound stuff she said was?  The college education piece?  I have seen it happen…individuals dragging each other back to court over and over and over for petty and stupid stuff, and money being frittered away that could have gone to help the children’s college costs.  Even the basic cost of a divorce attorney has that kind of impact even WITHOUT fighting over every little thing.  If parents would just suck it up, get rid of the ego and do what is right to do (pay the child support, get the kids where they are supposed to be for visitation, work with the other parent to provide consistency for the children), there wouldn’t be the need to go back to court anyway!

The part I want to focus on, though, is that nobody really wins.  The fighting and the bickering may result in somebody getting some extra time or a few extra bucks, but can leave the combatants bruised and bitter, with the innocents caught in the middle confused, angry and more.  A process that could have taken a few months instead gets dragged out over years, wasting precious life that could be better spent on productive and positive actions.  And believe me, a child whose parents have gotten divorced needs all the productive and positive attention they can get!

Lots of losers in the process of divorce, and much is lost, but winning is certainly not the experience of receiving a trophy for a good race…it is still very bittersweet.  The time, money and energy could be better invested.  In fact, another friend of mine, Paul Fitzgerald (check out the website at heartconnections.org) suggests that going through such conflict times are best done when individuals try to think in terms of creating “win-win” situations, where each party’s needs and interests are respected, and agreements provided that make sure both parties receive benefit from the agreement.  

Remember that big advice people give to struggling parents:  “pick your battles”?

The same is true through the divorce and post-divorce process, and is true of many of life’s relationships.  Realize “winning” often makes losers out of the winners, and that sometimes, finding ways for everybody to get ahead is the smartest way to go.  Let God sort out the real winners and losers at the end of time.