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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Marriage, Happiness and the World Series


You know that song?  It goes on to say your life should show it…it’s kind of a dumb song, but in the olden days, we were a captive audience when they made us sing it at camp and other places. 

They just didn't say marriage in the words of the song.  

I just read a book by a friend, which I would highly recommend, called, Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome by Nancy Anderson.  

It’s a short, but very good book full of tips to help strengthen marriages.  You can check it out on her website at  www.ronandnancyanderson.com and the book is available in soft cover and ebook formats.  Very practical ideas.  

Anyway, in her book, she mentions a tough time in her marriage when she complained to her parents that she wasn't happy in her marriage.  Being wise parents, they challenged the notion that “being happy” is the purpose or basis of why one stays in a marriage.  I thought that was a pretty good comment, given the transitory nature of feeling happy.  I know I am always pretty happy when I get on a roller coaster….but just as I cross the top of the biggest hill, my happiness seems to stay on the hill as I zoom down the side with OTHER emotions!  

Nancy goes on to say that as she searched through the scriptures, she found that, indeed, God doesn't have in there a promise guaranteeing happiness.  But you and I both know a lot of marriages end because one partner or the other, or both, declare that they just aren't happy in their marriage anymore.  How do YOU respond to that?

What was interesting for me was that, shortly after reading her book, I happened to be at the church of a friend of mine, and the pastor was challenging people in their relationship with God, and said something like God’s desire was for us to be happy, not to be struggling in life.  

But I had just read my friend’s book, and found myself questioning his assertion.  

To make matters worse, I realized that in some modern translations, the word, “blessed” gets translated as “happy” in places like the Beattitudes:  “Happy are those who…”  

Is God’s goal for our lives for us to be happy?  

Probably depends on your definition of happy, and whether you are referring to continuous happiness here on earth, or ultimate happiness for all eternity.  Before I continue, let me refer to another quote about happiness that you probably know.

Add to that what I consider to be the wisdom of the U.S. Declaration of Independence when it mentions the unalienable rights granted to us by our Creator as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  

Not happiness, notice, but the pursuit of it.  Kind of interesting, don’t you think?  

The founding fathers did not assume that life and liberty would mean that we would be happy 24/7; but they did assume it would provide us opportunities to pursue things that make us happy.  In the same vein, I really don’t remember ever hearing the word “happy” as part of the promise in the wedding vows.  “I, Froderick, take you, Elsie, to have and to hold, so that I will be happy every moment of every day of my life, and promise to make you happy every moment of every day over your life.”  I’m thinking that isn't how they go.

I have two responses I’d like to suggest.  The first that the scripture promises something different than happiness, it speaks instead of God giving us joy.  Many have pointed out that there is a huge difference between happiness and joy, describing happiness as a fleeting emotion based upon circumstances whereas joy springs from an inner confidence and relationship with God, regardless of the circumstances.  Hence Paul could write from a Roman prison, “Rejoice in the Lord, always,” (Philippians 4:4) or James 1:2 suggests that we “consider it all joy when we meet various trials,” clearly not the same as what most of us experience happiness to be.  

As I write, I am watching the World Series.  The fans in blue were very, very happy when their hitter got onto first base.  Their happiness diminished when the inning ended scoreless for them, and completely disappeared as the first Giant landed his foot on home plate.  And now they are happy again, from a RBI double that brought their first score.  And now they’re not happy at all because their batter got hit on the leg by the pitch.  

Happiness is just very fickle.  

Joy endures, because joy has its source in God, while happiness has its source in our response to the events of our lives.  In fact, Jesus explicitly says that he desires his joy will be ours and that our joy that will be full (John 15:11).  It seems to me that the implication is we should never settle for mere happiness, when we can know something far deeper in our lives.

The second point I want to make after noting that happiness comes and goes, is that there are other things that are more lasting that I think make better goals.  For instance, I've noticed that the runners of the races in the Olympics don’t look particularly happy at much of any time during the race.  They generally seem pretty intense, pretty stressed and incredibly focused…until they cross the finish line in first place.  Only AFTER their achievement do they experience the happiness of their accomplishment.  Take a look when that gold medal is placed around their necks, their smiles are almost too big to fit on their faces!  

So maybe our lives are meant to be like that, too.  When we take on the great challenges of life, when we put forth our best effort, when we see that hard things through to the finish, only then can we expect real happiness to set in, happiness from the fulfillment of having accomplished something significant.  At least, that’s what I have seen on the faces of couples celebrating a 50th anniversary, even though it wasn't on their faces every day leading up to it.  

There is something to be said in taking a long view in our desire for happiness.  When you have lived your life the way you know God designed you to be, and have been faithful to him and to your wedding vows there is a fulfillment of purpose that no fleeting earthly happiness could ever be worth even comparing to it. 

Somehow, I think we need to give ourselves to something bigger than mere happiness.  We need to give ourselves to making a difference in the lives of others.  Or to accomplish something that really matters.  Most of all, to be fulfilled in accomplishing the very things we were meant to accomplish, the things for which God designed us, the chief of which is living in right relationship with him.  

I think Nancy’s parents were right.  

For the married partners who want to get out merely because they are not as happy as they wish they were, they are forfeiting their opportunity for fulfilling joy of being able to look back upon a lifetime of ups and downs, trials and celebrations as they kept faithful to their marriage vows through it all, knowing it was worth every struggle they ever faced.  My first marriage didn't make that, but with God’s help, that will be the story of my current marriage, struggles and all!

I’d like to close by quoting the Serenity Prayer….the ENTIRE Serenity Prayer as written by its author, Reinhold Niebuhr, including the second half which is often ignored.  Maybe it will offer a new perspective on happiness for you.

“GOD, grant me the serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change, 

Courage to change the
things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference. 

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as the
pathway to peace. 

Taking, as He did, this
sinful world as it is, 
not as I would have it. 

Trusting that He will make
all things right if I
surrender to His Will; 

That I may be reasonably happy
in this life, and supremely
happy with Him forever in
the next. 


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Reflection on the Separation of Church and State


My last blog was a discussion of the separation of church and state in the U.S. I focused on the prohibition of government intrusion into the free exercise of religion, including the right to take stands on political and ethical issues based on one’s faith, using the comparison of separation and divorce as a paradigm.  It seems only proper to balance that discussion with a few comments about the limits of church influence over government as well, a side of the issue not as well considered in many churches.

This separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution was created by a clause - a sentence inserted into the constitution by the framers - who were concerned about the possibility of a national religion.  There was a concern about protecting the future of this country becoming a repeat of the past.  Certainly part of that reaction was against governments that select church leaders and extract taxes from their citizens to provide support for the church, creating a state run church rather than a church overseen by the religious leaders.  (I refer only to church, not mosques or Buddhist temples for example, because it was primarily out of the European and early American experience of government’s role with the Christian and maybe the Jewish faith that shaped early American thinking.)  

What history and experience taught certain founding fathers was not only that government should not intrude into religious life, but that religious leadership also should not be able to control or dictate government practice as well.  While the following may feel like rather a dry litany of history (or if you are a history buff, an oversimplification of the issues discussed), I think it would be well worth any lover of religious liberty to know and take note of these lessons from the past.

Historically, there were plenty of examples of the marriage of religion and government with terrible consequences.  Certainly the Roman Empire’s emperor worship which resulted in the mortal persecution of Christians (and any others who would not declare Caesar to be a god) left an indelible impact on history.  Once the religious tide turned in Rome with Constantine, then the excesses went the other way.  With the pope’s crowning of Charlemagne, the government moved toward becoming the arm of the Catholic Church.  In that era and subsequent years, Jews and Christian dissenters were treated very harshly, readily seen with the notorious Inquisition.  

It was in a similar spirit that the Crusades were begun (for more reasons than simply reclaiming religious lands), and the Crusaders became the arm of both the church and the government, as they sought to undo the Muslim conquests of the Middle East and Holy Lands that established the Ottoman Empire.  On both the Muslim side and the Christian side, the joining of the sword of government with the practice of faith resulted in brutal and intolerant governments, (although, with the Inquisition, the Jewish people were treated much better in Muslim lands than in western Christendom).

One would think that by the time of the Reformation, the Christians would have seen the dangers of the combination, but it was not so.  The Geneva community under Calvin’s leadership was highly intolerant of any “heretics” who did not agree with Calvin’s theology.  English Separatists suffered political and legal consequences for not abiding by the doctrines of the Church of England, even to the point of death.  

So when these Separatists headed out of England as pilgrims to the American colonies, they had learned their lessons on this topic, right?  Wrong.  

Colonial American history includes the infamous Salem witch trials and conversion of Native Americans at the point of the sword.  American religious liberty first began in Rhode Island, where colony founder and Baptist leader Roger Williams established a colony in which diversity of religion would be tolerated.  Later, Thomas Jefferson’s observation of France, combined with petition by the Baptists in Virginia, resulted in the religious freedom of the First Amendment.

Are these still issues today?  

I believe they are in many ways.  In the U.S., some on the extreme Christian right believe that only Christians should be in power, or that the laws of the land should always conform to the teachings of Christianity.  They have a hard time with living in a secular and pluralistic society (as also do the extreme liberal left who want an end of Christianity, or for the Christian faith to be cloistered safely out of the way in church buildings.)  But in other parts of the world, we are seeing Christianity is not the only place religion and government need to be separated.  Countries under the domination of Sharia law these days are experiencing radical and mortal persecution of non-Muslims.  

Burma has been a dictatorial society hostile to religious leaders, especially Buddhist monks.  

Israel has worked hard in its struggle to keep a balance in secular society, as secular Jews clash with the rabbinate or when various religions reach out in what some in their government call, “proselytizing.”  

Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, animistic…almost any religion can lead a government into excess attitudes toward those of other faiths.  

On the other hand, governments not guided by the truths of moral religion become even more dangerous to their people.  The Nazi regime is a prime example, but not the only example.  In Communist countries, religious leaders have been imprisoned, tortured and believers persecuted, even to the point of being denied legal job opportunities, for not adhering to the communist religion of atheism.  The resulting lack of any true moral compass resulted in a government willing to treat individuals in whatever ways they wanted, often very brutally, particularly toward any whose views or actions did not fit with the whims of the party.  

So while I made clear that I believe the government needs to not start dictating what religious practice looks like, I also know that though most religions contain some lofty ideals, the lessons of history and the world around us are that if one religion becomes too controlling of the government, it can also lead to dangerous excess.  

A secular government informed by moral religions may be frustrating at times, but still seems the best compromise in the reality of a pluralistic world.  I’m sure there are some in other countries who feel that their governments have attained a healthy balance, and if so, good for you!  But at this point, it would appear that not only the United States, but many other countries need to establish and maintain a healthy dividing line of control between their governments and their religious institutions.  

Discussion, debate and guidance should come from the religious community, but I still believe decision and control needs to remain in the hands of the governing officials for the good of ALL its citizens, including the non-religious, without bias toward or against the religious citizens as well.  It seems to me that this delicate balance is an significant issue at the forefront of many debates in the United States in our time.  Hopefully, experience and history will inform our decisions as the constitutional rights guide our leadership.   And may our motto forever be, “In God we trust.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Politics and the Pulpit


The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for free speech here in the United States, and religious freedom by which the government can neither sponsor nor interfere with the practice of religion.  They call this separation of church and state, but as my history professor liked to point out, it is called separation, not divorce.  Or, as is stated by the website called Anglican Mainstream, “This is the ‘wall of separation’ Jefferson talked about: protecting churches from the government (not the other way around).”

I remember borrowing a very old book he had, called “The Pulpit of the American Revolution,” which was a collection of sermons preached from the pulpits during the days surrounding the revolution.  Frequently those sermons addressed the issues surrounding the political ferment of the time, and my professor used to say that what often happened was that the topics addressed in church on Sunday would become the topics of discussion in the Continental Congress in subsequent days.  The church in America has always addressed moral, social and political issues of the day, just as the prophets of Israel did throughout the Hebrew Bible.  In fact, it was church leaders who helped foment the push of the abolition of slavery (although there were certainly some who were clearly on the opposite side of that debate).

But in Houston, Texas, the mayor is apparently rewriting the constitution, demanding through subpoena that local pastors send her copies of their “speeches” (she altered the wording from sermons...that makes it all okay, right?) as well as text messages, photographs, electronic files, calendars, and emails.  I don’t know all the particulars of the concern, but understand that it has to do with the pastors speaking against a gay/lesbian issue that she holds dear.  Apparently she has an issue with open and free debate or expression of a differing point of view.  In addition to her actions, I also know that in other arenas there has also been a push to threaten churches with revocation of their non-profit status if political issues are addressed from the pulpit, although it is unclear who gets to decide what issues are political!  

Last Sunday I had the privilege of hearing a couple from Romania tell the story of changing times after the downfall of communism in the country.  One thing that struck me was their description of days gone by.  In those times, whenever the local church obtained a new pastor, the pastor first had to register with the local police to be approved.  When the pastor was going to baptize parishioners, he first had to present the list to the police for registration.  Within the church individuals had to be careful about who they talked with and what they said, because present in every church on any given Sunday were government informers.  Church members were refused the opportunity for good jobs.  

It would seem there are those in the United States today who would desire similar restrictions be placed upon churches here…or at least that steps in that direction would be taken.  The Houston episode with an over-reaching mayor has placed in the spotlight the reality of such an agenda by those opposed to the stands various congregations choose to take, and some are saying this is a wakeup call for the American churches.  The website mentioned above is one of several that has a link to an online petition to address the issue with the mayor, and I encourage you to sign one.  That address is:  http://anglicanmainstream.org/global-petition-stand-with-houstons-pastors/   (The link they provide is to a petition by the Family Research Council, but I also like the Anglican article on the page given above.)  

It is bad enough that ISIS seeks to silence Christians in Syria and Iraq by torture and murder, intimidation and coercive control on pastors have no place in a free country like the United States.  I signed the petition today, and offered up a prayer for the pastors as well as for the misguided mayor.  Let’s not allow the separation of church and state to turn into a nasty custody fight in divorce!  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Challenge to Show a Little Kindness....


So a friend of mine had me go look at something on his facebook page.  It was a note by a person who thanked him for helping her - he had sent her a copy of my books when she was having a rough time during her divorce journey.  This really made me feel good that these books were serving the purpose I hoped for when I wrote them. 

We are entering the holiday season again.  Halloween is just around the corner, and there are plenty of parents who will not be with their young children in costume at parties or trick-or-treating for the very first time.  

There are some who will not see their children on Thanksgiving, and may have a hard time finding who they want to spend the day with for the first time in a very long time.  

Some will be alone on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or will avoid New Year’s Eve parties because of that “midnight kiss” moment.  

In other words, for a lot of people these will not be the joyous occasions they once were, but a time for tears and a sense of loss.  

This sadness is not reserved for only those experiencing divorce...the death of someone special or a deployed spouse serving to protect the freedoms you and I enjoy ...  are also difficult times for individuals.  

I want to challenge you now to start looking around you for these people, not just in your circle of friends, but also among the more casual acquaintances of your life, because you have the power to make those times just a little less lonely and a little less tearful.  

There are greeting cards for every occasion, and even “Thinking of You” cards for no occasion at all.  Receiving a card from you, electronically or through snail mail, would be especially pleasing to someone experiencing loss for any reason.  In this day and age of electronic greetings, a real paper card with a handwritten note in the mailbox can be a pretty special treat!   On a day when your heart is heavy with sadness, receiving a plate of cookies or brownies tastes even sweeter, especially when you think nobody is noticing.   
As the days get closer and closer, a person who is facing them alone for the very first time will find them just a little less troubling if they already know somebody has offered them a place to go.  I can tell you from personal experience that this very first holiday season alone is one you never forget, and the people who help make it better hold a special place in your heart forever!
My divorce devotional books include in each of them a section specially dedicated to holidays, with encouragement and ideas to help face them get through this tough time.  And that is very sad, because for most of us this time of year is filled with special memories and joyous times from years gone by, but in the aftermath of divorce they can be dreaded and often the joy has been sapped away, taking a very long time to return.   It becomes one of the unintended consequences of divorce, and it is a difficult but natural part of life when a loved one passes away.  

You could even do as my friend did, and send them copies of my books (I would even personally inscribe them for your friend if you get them from our website!  www.findinggoddevotionals.com).  If you send someone the books, point them to that holiday section..they will appreciate it, I know.  Then maybe your facebook page will include words of appreciation from your friend, too.  And more importantly, if you do any of these things for that newly divorced person in their days of loneliness, you will never be forgotten for the kindness you have done.  I believe that God also makes a note that you did these things!  

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Catholic Church, Divorce, Gays and Dependence on God's Mercy

Pope Francis and Divorce

Did you see the news articles about a recent report from a synod of Catholic Bishops to Pope Francis?  The report recommended that the Catholic Church consider relaxing it's position on on gays, premarital cohabitation and divorce. 

Although, the Vatican has also been quick to point out that what was released was more of a working document, with nothing decided or definitive yet, it also marks a dramatic shift in the Catholic Church's rigid stance on these issues.  They also followed up by stating that this was only a beginning of a discussion and the church was far from making policy decisions about these very sensitive issues. 

I am interested in focusing on the divorce part of this, since that is kind of the focal point of these blogs.  And I want you to know upfront and that I am not Roman Catholic, (although my wife used to be), so I speak as an outsider.   I am intentionally not Catholic.  

Though I know and respect many good Catholics, there are just some doctrinal and biblical issues that cause me to be more at home in another church.  Know also that this blog is not merely about the Catholic Church’s actions, but their recent statements raise what I think is an important topic. 

For those who are also not Catholic, it might be helpful to know why this is a big deal in the Catholic Church.  Most Catholics I have ever known, experience the topic of divorce as nearly taboo within their church: not only is it discouraged, it is frowned upon to the point that even in the worst marriages, divorce it is seen as a terrible option and failure.  

The Catholic Church’s teaching is that marriage is a sacrament, a spiritual moment of divine significance, and divorce does not automatically free someone from their sacramental obligations.  Therefore divorce alone does not rescind the marriage vows, so if you marry another person without the process of annulment - you are defined as someone who is in an adulterous union - a consequence that results in the exclusion of participation in the sacraments of the church.  Therefore, you would no longer be able to participate in the Eucharist, or communion, or any other of the seven sacraments of the church.   So while divorce is strongly looked down upon, remarriage presents real issues for someone who wants to be an integrated member of their church.  

If you know history, you may recall this topic caused some serious royal problems in England, which eventually resulted in the formation of the Anglican Church.

The alternative provided is annulment of the previous marriage, in which you pay the Church some money (the amount seems to vary depending on the kindness of the priest, and it can be quite expensive) and go through the appropriate paperwork.  In this process, it doesn’t matter whether the marriage lasted 6 months or 40 years, it can be annulled.  

Annulment is the way the church and you agree to officially declare that it wasn’t really the spiritual union that marriage should be (so somehow it doesn’t count), and then you are free to marry.  This is their way of protecting communion and the sanctity of marriage while dealing with divorcing individuals.  For us non-Catholics, it seems very odd, even if we also believe in the sanctity of marriage and consider divorce to be a last resort option not to be taken lightly. 

For a Catholic, to be refused Communion is an important issue, as it would be in many churches.  Important for a catholic, because of the denominational belief in the sacramental nature of communion as a necessary part of salvation.  The impact is that a person who has already been struggling with divorce and then begins to put life back together is faced with the difficult choice between remarriage or communion, unless an annulment is pursued and granted.  

For many though, the annulment itself feels like a charade, so the whole thing can become very awkward.  So for the leaders of the Roman Church to be discussing ways to be more sensitive to the divorced is a very significant thing. 

All of that discussion illustrates how difficult it is to be divorced and remain part of the Catholic Church; it is a very awkward time.  A discussion of how to be more welcoming to divorced individuals is very important.  

Maybe somebody is finally realizing divorce isn’t the unforgiveable sin, if sin is the right word for divorce anyway? (As I pointed out to a friend, if it is a sin, it is the only sin that the Bible also gives specific instructions on how to commit it properly!)  Or maybe they are recognizing the reality that many who end up divorced go on to have meaningful and fulfilling marriages that deserve to be recognized.  Maybe it is that the pope is trying to help his leaders realize that people are important and good doctrine should not be pushing them away, that divorce isn’t a good enough reason to make them feel like second class citizens or exclude them from Communion when they move on in life.  

Now, before you non-Catholics start to gloat or look down our nose at the Catholics (which by the way, is a sin), I would want to point out that we non-Catholics have plenty of issues of our own around divorce, and have plenty of ways we also create a sense of second class citizenship for divorced individuals.  Sermons that strongly condemn divorce while ignoring the biblical provisions for it result in alienation for divorced individuals.   The exclusion of divorced individuals from various leadership roles also isolates and seperates those individuals as well.  

Every divorced person I know recognizes and celebrates the incredible beauty of those who have 30, 40, 50 year marriages, people who have fought hard to make their marriage work. But there can be no smugness for the success of such marriages, the better choice being the humility demonstrated by a happily married individual I knew who, upon hearing of a friend’s divorce responded, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  

Do you ever think your church (or you personally, for that matter), needs to find ways to be more welcoming to people whose life experience include divorce?  

I know of many instances where a pastor has made statements that, hopefully unwittingly, communicated to the divorced in the congregation that they did not truly belong…not really, because they had failed in their marriage.  Yet those same pastors would consider themselves welcoming to people who have struggled with divorce.  

Maybe before you decide whether your church is welcoming or not, you ought to ask a divorced person in the congregation who trusts you enough to be totally honest about it with you.  You might be surprised at what you hear.  

It seems to me there is something fundamentally troubling about this whole thing, and that is the singling out of divorce as an issue to be discussed, while other relevant issues can so often be ignored or maybe even tacitly condoned.  In the Catholic Church, an example would be the devastating instances of molestation by clergy that have come to light in recent years, but so often poorly handled and rarely condemned as rapidly and strongly as it should have been.  That, it seems to me, is much worse than divorce.  

Non-Catholic churches also have had plenty of scandals (or church secrets) involving pastors, youth leaders, deacons, church organists, and church secretaries.  The toleration or condoning of such things as gossip when disguised as prayer requests.  God's gospel of love proclaimed in a harsh, judgmental manner.  And finally, as a friend of mine likes to point out, the sanctimonious gluttony observed at every potluck fellowship dinner.  

It just seems so wrong to continue such blanket condemnation of the divorced without consideration for individuals or circumstances, while we know that there are other significant issues that we choose to ignore.  (It might be a good moment to remind yourself of verses like Matthew 7:3-5, Romans 2:1-4 and following, or 1 Corinthians 10:12.)

It is amazing to me how frequently Christian leaders like to rant and rail against the sins of others, rather than addressing the sin that affects themselves or their own congregations.  We have to face the reality that sometimes people end up divorced, and sometimes that occurs even though there has been great effort by at least one partner, if not both, to save the marriage.  The reality is, even Catholic marriages fail and people move on in life.  

In fact, reality is none of us are perfect; we all are dependent on God’s mercy.  

In my opinion, when dealing effectively with the theological issues surrounding divorce, requires a balancing act between principles and the genuine needs of people.  I understand the importance of sound theology - and to behave in a manner that suggests that theology doesn't matter - is contrary to God’s teachings.  But to become so harsh in one’s theology that there is no place for individuals struggling in life...  Or the opposite extreme focusing only on God’s love while ignoring God’s call to righteousness...   turns the gospel to mush.

When I look at the life of Jesus, I have no doubt that his theology was sound.  Yet, his theological principles never caused him to turn people away, though some chose to leave.  Instead, Jesus’ theological principles compelled him to invite people to come.  Even people whom the “official religious teaching” declared were unworthy of God’s mercy.  

So maybe Pope Francis and his Bishops have decided that Jesus had a pretty good idea after all, huh?  I hope so.  I’m sure there are some good religious folk who aren’t going to like the idea.  

But God might, just might, be pleased when somebody who claims his name recognizes that all people are important to God.  Even people whose lives are filled with heartache, struggle, poor choices or questionable behaviors.  From God’s perspective, they are important enough that Jesus was willing to die for them.  

If your church has told you (or told others) something less, then maybe your church could learn a thing or two from Pope Francis.

Or maybe you need to change churches.  At least, that’s what I think about it all.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Life After the Divorce


In some communications with a friend of late, an interesting word popped into the conversation.  As my friend was briefly commenting on her experiences since her divorce some years ago, she mentioned the difficulty of figuring out what is her particular niche in life these days.  That word, “niche,” really resonated with me as a very meaningful word in the process of recovering from a divorce, but it will probably take some explanation.

When we are young, everyone asks us what we want to be when we grow up. So we decide what we would like to do, attend college or other training necessary and launch into our careers.  We fall in love, marry, start a family and make a home, make a life.  In other words, we make our niche in the world, hopefully following what we believe is God’s purpose for us.  When our spouse announces he or she wants a divorce, suddenly everything we have built up is shattered and we feel like we have been thrown back to square one.  The world we have worked so hard to create, the home that has been our refuge is forever altered.  What do we do now? 

Divorce is not the only experience that creates this kind of situation.  The death of a loved one, job loss, factory closing, bankruptcy, war, natural disasters…all of these can cause a similar sense of loss.  In each of those situations, you have to start all over.  There is a difference with divorce, because these other things are not intentionally inflicted upon you personally by the one person in all the world whom you were closest to and you once trusted implicitly.  

That one factor changes everything. 

In the years following a divorce, the great task is to begin reassembling life all over, to determine how to create the appropriate niche for the rest of your life.  Do you stay in the same community?  Will you be able to keep the same friends, or will they be friends for you ex instead?  Can they be friends for you both?  Will you have to move, if you haven’t already?  How will your relationship with your children change?  Will you be able to be a good parent alone?  Will the children understand who you are or end up with a skewed perspective of you and of the divorce?  Where will you celebrate the holidays?  What about church, will I need to go to a different one, or even to a different denomination?  Will people at my old church still accept me as a divorced person?  Would they at a different church?  God remains faithful (although sometimes that can be hard to see), but even your relationship with God is now under strain and scrutiny.  You are no longer a husband or wife; now your identity is single parent and divorcee.  Some of the characteristics of who you are will remain core to your identity, but with new life directions, there are some things you may choose to leave behind and some new ones you may choose to adopt or develop.  How will you decide which to keep and which to leave aside?  So many choices.  So many changes. 

It takes time to create a new niche, to find the meaningful new identity and reassemble the shattered pieces of your life into the new structure for the future.  Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error.  Sometimes there are foolish choices made during a time of emotional craziness or vulnerability, choices that can cost a lot.  For a period of time you may retain many elements of your old life, but over time you find that some of them simply no longer fit.  God may well be leading into new directions for your future.

Finding that new niche is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of divorce.  It takes time, because like the old niche, it will have to be built on discovery, experience and choices.  It reminds me of what I learned in archaeology about the buildings of ancient Israel.  Often, after a city was destroyed by war or fire, the time would come that people would resettle the area.  They would level the space, and build again by combining stones and other materials from the previous structures with new materials to form the new building.  In places where this happened time and again over the ages, the location would pile up into a mound, called a “tell.”  The new city was filled with new habitations, but was built on the remnants of the old buildings now gone. 

That seems to me to be an apt picture of rebuilding after divorce.  

There are things worth keeping and reusing. 

here are things that will be discarded.  

And there are new materials that must be added in order to create the new structures of your life.  

The result is a new home, a new life filled with new meanings, shaped by the past but designed in the process of building anew.  Just as they say Rome was not built in a day, neither will the new structure of your life.  Some of the materials of your old life now appear useless and may be discarded.  Some new ways are going to be necessary, and some of them will be a lot of fun, like a new adventure, while others may bring the sorrow and struggle that are necessary to build something new.  But there are some important pieces of who you are that have always been there, and have nothing to do with your former marriage and everything to do with who God created you to be.  Those precious character blocks that you and God have planted into your life can serve you well as guides for building the next niche for your life.  That niche may come in surprising ways, in the form of a new career, a new relationship, a new location, or a new kind of ministry and service to others.  It can work out into something very special.  After all, God is an expert at transforming things that awful, such as a cross, into something marvelous and new.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reaching Beyond Ourselves...


So I saw an interesting article by Deborah Grau on Yahoo the other day, which described a project actor Matt Damon has helped to start.  According to her article, Matt and water specialist Gary White have begun an effort to help people in poverty around the world gain access to clean water.  Their non-profit, called Water.org, helps develop ready access to water so that individuals no longer have to spend major portions of their day obtaining water. Resulting in opportunities for work and school.  

I don’t know much about this particular project, but have seen others along similar lines, but I like the idea that they are addressing real needs for people who desperately struggle in our world.

I believe it is important to be involved in something bigger than yourself.  

As I like to say, a bit tongue in cheek, with the big push of I-phones, I-pads and selfies, people just don’t seem to care enough about others.   I’m always glad when I see celebrities who are so often treated like demi-gods, move past that to find causes beyond themselves, as Oprah has done with her schools, or Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie have done with the children they have taken on, or as I just learned about, Matt Damon. 

Those actions make important examples, and there are a number of people of wealth who do try to use their position to make a real difference for others.  I am also aware that studies indicate that poor people can also be generous and sensitive to the needs of others, sometimes in higher percentage of income than the very wealthy.  It isn’t, therefore, how much you have to offer, but how much you offer of what you have.  But I think it is important that we not only be generous, but generous in ways that truly meet the real needs of others.

When someone is going through a divorce, the struggle can be very consuming and one can become rather self-absorbed.  I always encourage divorcing people to find some way to make some difference in the lives of others.  Serve at a soup kitchen, help out at a local homeless shelter, tutor a struggling child, find another person new to divorce and let him/her know there is someone they could talk to if the need ever arises.  It doesn’t matter so much what you do  as that you do something to make a difference beyond your own world.

Sometimes we can make a difference in the most basic of needs, such as Damon’s efforts with clean water.  Sometimes money is so tight that the difference we can make is more about the giving of ourselves and our encouragement than the dollars we pass along.  There are a lot of very lonely people in the world who would love to have just one good friend, or know that somebody cares that they are struggling.  A simple phone call or well written e-card can brighten somebody’s day more than you may think.  In a day and age where people seem to becoming more and more self-centered, would you be willing to be one who helps turn the tide around?

These books I have written are one of the ways I have been trying to help other people who have been struggling, because I know personally how difficult divorce can be.  

A good resource with words of encouragement and guidance would have been something I would have appreciated during my divorce journey, but little was available in the churches around where I was, or was of limited time and help.  

My hope is that these books will help fill that void, and be tools God can use to touch the hearts and lives of individuals caught up in divorce.  I have been especially moved when I have seen evidence that they have helped someone, such as the times I have received notes from folks who have read the books, or as I see a variety of names of people who appreciate something I have written in a blog and I realize that I don’t recognize a single name. 

No matter how difficult your life is right now, or how good things are for you, there are people out there waiting for somebody like you to show you care.  It is good medicine for the troubled soul, the best antidote to selfishness and a great demonstration of God’s love.  Of all the blogs I have written, don’t let this one be something you simply read.  

Instead, let it be something that causes you to examine your life as you put actions to ideas by reaffirming your involvements with others or stepping out into some new venture of caring.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Memorable Moment!


Checking the blog tonight...I realized that our page counter now has us over 25,000 page views!  That is pretty exciting information for a self promoted book - thank you for your kindness and faithfulness in sharing our message.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Therapy to Get the Day Going


(Anyone who knows Richard...knows that this is not his garage...just a dream...)

Going through items from my parents’ home, now that they are gone, I keep running across all sorts of interesting odds and ends.  Threw one away yesterday I had forgotten about, a framed print that used to hang on my wall as a kid.  Stored in the basement, time had not been kind to it and I had to throw it away.  (Which, of course, makes my wife very happy…the more I can get rid of, the better…we have plenty of stuff already…though I am working on culling things.  I really am.)  Anyway, I did feel a twinge of sadness, a sort of saying goodbye in the process of grief as I placed it in the bag to take to the curb.  

Okay, so all of that was chasing a rabbit.  The point STARTED OUT to be, in the process, I ran across some little cards I collected when I was a kid that came with chewing gum.  The cards were called, “Kookie Plaks” produced by Topps.  Some guy on ebay thinks they’re worth $500.00 apiece!  Dream on…they are found dirt cheap…no treasure chest there for me!  And why the Kookie Plaks survived while my Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Sandy Kofax, Roger Marris and other great baseball cards got pitched I’ll never know!  

Well, I remember one of those cards had the little saying on it:  “Don’t just DO something.  STAND THERE!”  (See?  I told you the Mickey Mantle card is what should have been saved!)   

You know, dumb as that is, it can give you cause to think, too.  Sometimes people get all bothered about things and run around in a flurry of useless activity when they just need to stop, to stand there for a bit.  There are times we need to quit doing and learn to stand in faith.  But in the midst of depression, such as often accompanies divorce or grief, sometimes you find it hard to have enough energy and drive to even stand at all!  I know, I have had days like that myself over the years.

When you feel like that, it is very difficult to accomplish much of anything.  You can feel numb, paralyzed, fearful, useless, incompetent, and lots of other things.  On days like that, it can be hard to even get out of bed or do the simple tasks of daily life, let alone deal with the big challenges you face and accomplish big things.  For me, I have learned that is a good time to apply the “Do-Something” therapy.  

Basically, my little therapy goes like this.  On any given day, most of us have enough things to do and responsibilities to care for  -  that we could fill a 48 hour day.  That overwhelming list can add to the feelings of despair and helplessness if we focus on it for too long -  as it reminds us that there is no way to get everything done in the day that we think needs to be done.  

It is when I am feeling like that I force myself to apply the “do something” therapy.  I admit to myself I don’t feel like doing much of anything.  And I also admit to myself that, while I wish it was all done, I don’t have the desire or drive to jump in and tackle it all.  If you are really in the dumps, you can feel you don’t have the desire to jump in and tackle ANY of it.  That is the time I insist to myself that I need to do SOMETHING, almost anything, as a way to turn the day around.  I select any item on the long list and tackle it, early in the day…the earlier the better.  

But there are guidelines in the selection of the task.  It must be something that actually needs to be done, and preferably something that has been on the list for a while.  I choose items that are completable…tasks that can be done in an hour or an afternoon, not a project that will take several days.  I prefer to select things that are visible, because then I can tangibly see the difference whenever I am in that area.  When I really lack motivation, I also try to find at least one thing that can be done outside, where the sun shines and the body will produce Vitamin D.  Sometimes I will select a project that requires me to be around other people, maybe even needing to have an individual assist, so that I have company while working.  And sometimes I will intentionally select a project that I really DON’T want to do, something I have avoided about as long as I can already.  That results in not only a feeling of accomplishment afterwards, but also the lift of not having that dreaded task still waiting for me. 

While this does not always completely remove the dreary feelings, it always makes a difference.  At the end of the day, I can point to at least one thing I accomplished, one thing that is better, one less thing on the list.  (Some people actually find having a written list where they can scratch off items to be a helpful lift, too.)  And more often than not, especially if I tackle that project early in the day, it serves as a kickstart that will launch me into other projects that come to mind along the way.  

I found a kindred spirit for this years ago when I heard counselor and teacher, Jay Adams, speak at a conference in Colorado.  Jay wrote a number of books some years ago, with counseling ideas and tips.  One tip was that someone depressed can benefit from tackling projects, and referred to Genesis 4:7, in which God speaks to Cain after his offering had been rejected.  God told Cain that if he did well, his countenance would be lifted up.  My twist is that even if you Do SOMETHING, your countenance will lift.  

Getting started is often the hardest part.  Sometimes a self-applied kick in the rear can make all the difference, but once you select something and finish it, you can rest that rear in a comfortable chair, feeling a little better because of the something you accomplished that day.  If you are feeling down, I encourage you to give it a whirl.  It won’t solve all your problems, but it can help make the journey a little brighter.