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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Purpose of a Failed Marriage

What a Waste!   Or Not?

 The early days of divorce are often so terribly difficult.  One faces uncertainty uncertainty about almost every aspect of life in one way or another.  But the uncertainty is not always about the external things in life; there is also uncertainty within as one is filled with much self-doubt (which occurs for most people in life at some point, though perhaps not with the same intensity).

What is wrong with me that he/she doesn’t love me anymore? 

I must not have tried hard enough, otherwise I would still be married.

What is wrong with my judgment that I would marry somebody who would leave me?  (Sometimes phrased as, “that I always seem to pick such losers.) 

How could I have missed God’s voice so badly back when we got married, because surely God wouldn’t want me to marry someone knowing we would divorce later? 

Why did this happen to me?

Could anyone ever really love me?

In the course of those regrets, one may wish he/she could go back to before the marriage began, and start again with the opportunity to make different choices.  As if being able to go back like that would make everything okay now.  However, as is demonstrated so clearly in that beloved old Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” going back and making different choices would have many more consequences than we realize (a theme used in many other stories as well).

I want to focus on one of the things that gets overlooked in that grieving and doubting time of life, which is the way the lesson of that movie describes the real life impacts life experiences have on us as people.  That is to say, all the experiences of your life have combined to shape you into the person you are today.  Each joy, each life changing moment, each encounter with another person, and more than that, all the experiences of your marriage have helped forge the person you are today.  You might think that if you could go back you would choose differently, but you only see the need to choose differently because you have now seen the outcome, and only now have the understanding and perspective to make different choices for the future, not the past. 

There are things even a divorcing individual has learned in marriage and from that marriage partner, some of them very hard lessons to learn, that he/she would not have known without those lessons.  Things like, “I thought this was the kind of person who would be best for me, but now I realize that these other characteristics are more important for me.”  Or, “I believed a marriage could last with these foundations stones, but now know that something else/more is needed to make a marriage work.”  There can be a new self-understanding as one realizes what really is important to them, or as one selects which building blocks to retain for the next phase of life.  Or the individual may not have entered the career he/she did, or been as successful at it as he/she was, or may not have moved to the area where best friends now live all around….so many shaping things come through marriage, even marriages that fail.  One of the most important things of all may be to realize that the children you love would not have been without that relationship. 

As in all of life, some shaping feels very negative, some seems to bring positive growth.  It seems to me that it is important during a period of self-doubt and a time of questioning everything about the marriage now falling apart, to once in a while be able to step back and say to oneself, “And yet…”    All these things are hard and sad, and yet…he/she brought this to my life, he/she taught me that, he/she help me accomplish this, God used that certain aspect to help me grow this way…      

IN OTHER WORDS, though in the period of self-doubt you may feel like everything was such a failure and such a waste, in time and with some perspective, you can begin to recognize that God still used your marriage with purpose in your life, even though it may not have the purpose you were expecting.  And in faith you can trust that somehow, that shaping was preparing you for what God has ahead for you in the years to come. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Original Design... Marriage and Mardi Gras


Do you ever hear the debates about how laws here in the United States are understood and applied today, and the debaters argue what the original intention of the framers of the constitution was and how far we have drifted from that?  It occurs to me there are lots of areas like that.

I am not from a formal or “high” church tradition, so don’t really pay a lot of attention to the church calendar (or liturgical calendar) that some other churches use.  Today is celebrated in many churches as Ash Wednesday, the marker for the beginning of Lent, which is a season to reflect on one’s life prayerfully with repentance and humility to prepare for Easter.  

For recent days and weeks, New Orleans has made the headlines again with their Mardi Gras celebration, which ended last night on “Fat Tuesday.”  Lots of people really enjoy those floats and celebrations.  And yet, though I cannot say exactly how it got to be the way it is, the current practice seems to have become, “Lent is coming when we are supposed to deny ourselves, so let’s have one last party bash before it starts.” 

Somehow, I doubt that the kind of things that happen with Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans or down in Rio de Janeiro were what church leaders had in mind when they originally created the season of Lent, don’t you?  In fact, I wonder what percentage of the people who were involved in Mardi Gras will be as enthusiastically involved in the reflective and repentant tradition of Lent.  It is kind of like priorities got all twisted around somehow, it seems to me.  But this blog isn’t about Mardi Gras and Lent, it’s about how things so often get twisted around from what was originally intended. 

For instance, marriage has gotten twisted around, too.  And I don’t mean by the current debates in our culture of what does and does not constitute a legal marriage.  Instead, I am referring to husbands and wives who marry, but only to a point.  That is, they get married and will stay that way as long as things don’t get too hard.  If they get too hard, then they will simply divorce and find somebody else to marry and hope that doesn’t get too hard, too.  That is not the same as,
“’till death do you part,” is it? Marriages have wonderful times in them, but sometimes things DO get difficult, and those times require extra hard work and commitment to get through them.  That, it seems to me, is part of the original design of marriage, too:  for a husband and wife to have a life partner with whom they can face all the trials of life.  Sometimes to be able to do so requires serious marriage counseling, and may take years to work through, but marriage is about that kind of partner commitment.

Another way marriage has gotten twisted around has to do with the way couples treat one another.  Sadly, some in the Christian tradition, have decided that since Ephesians 5 mentions that the wife is supposed to submit to the husband, then that means the husband can live in the home like a dictator, issuing orders that nobody should question or disobey.  

Somehow those folks never seem to notice that just a few verses before it says that they are to submit TO ONE ANOTHER, or that what is expected of the husband is that he lay down his life and make his wife the top priority for his protection, support and love.  And, in extreme cases, that dictator may even feel justified in using physical force to beat into submission the wife who questions him.  

In a similar way, sometimes individuals choose to have a twisted sort of partnership, one in which one partner is blamed for everything that goes wrong and considered the cause of all the problems.   It is hard to counsel with such individuals, because they are so often unwilling to look at themselves and their own actions or change.

Divorce has also become twisted.  The Bible makes clear provision for divorce, even to the point of prescribing the ceremony by which it is to be done.  However, it isn’t presented as the solution to the, “we’ve grown apart” syndrome.  A couple who has “grown apart” has the choice available to them to “grow back together,” if they are willing to put for the effort.  In other words, divorce wasn’t intended merely as a way out for couples who don’t want to work through hard times.  It is for those marriages in which something has become so twisted that one partner is being extremely mistreated or abandoned.  Perhaps that is why the ceremony has the wife spit in the man’s face!  It is her chance to show the man has not lived up to his obligations.  And that particular ceremony makes plain that for a marriage to truly work, both parties have to be willing to try, which often is not the case. 

I wonder how things would be if couples seeking a divorce (excepting those where one partner’s physical safety is at high risk), would be required by the court to first go through at least a year’s (or maybe two) worth of intensive marriage counseling with no incidents of adultery allowed in that time.  And maybe have the counselor sign off that both individuals really were trying to follow the advice provided.  Because really, isn’t that more the idea of when divorce should be allowed, only as an extremely last resort, instead of simply a way to get out of the hard things?  It’s like we want the Mardi Gras, just don’t make us go through the self-denial and introspection of Lent.

I think there are lots of things that we allow to move far from the original intent.  Church buildings that have become so important that its carpet is more protected than the struggling family next door.  Or communities of faith that have moved from support and faith groups into cliques of insiders and outsiders.  Churches develop a specific perspective, which turns into a denomination and then can become an encumbrance instead of an assisting development. 

I wonder if there are things in your life (and mine) in which you have strayed from the original design and intent, things that have led you down paths that are not helpful.  Maybe this would be a good day to consider those things, whether it is in the area of personal habits, work ethic, spiritual life or personal relationships.  It is a good thing every now and again to double check whether we have allowed our lives to go awry from the things we know to be true and good.  But double checking isn’t nearly as important as doing something to make the necessary changes!  

Sunday, February 15, 2015



If you have been to a movie or concert…or almost any other public gathering lately, you will know exactly what I am talking about, possibly even before I say it.  

For Valentine’s Day, my wife and I decided to attend a worship concert by Michael W. Smith, a man whose music we have enjoyed together in several concerts over the years.  We went to see Michael W. Smith, but in addition to him, we actually saw something we often see at the local theater:  a handful of people with cell phones and electronic notebooks or tablets lit up between us and the stage.  Not really all that odd at a concert, but let me explain.

I fully understand that at concerts, people regularly have their cell phones lit up as they take pictures or wave them in rhythm to the music while standing and enjoying the presentation.  However, unlike other concerts I have gone to, this one contained a large number of older people (read:  people Richard’s age and up), who sat through most of the presentation.  (That felt really strange to me, because I tend to be a stander myself!)  It might also help if you realize that the venue was a single floor, without the usual slope toward the stage…just a big long flat space…which means whatever was immediately in front of you determined what you could see.  I was struck by behaviors I saw, and it made me start thinking.

My first thought was that it would be nice if, at the beginning of an event, somebody would ask everybody to turn around, and if you see happy people behind you, then realize they came to see the same presentation you did, and for them to continue to be happy means they get to do that, rather than watch you shoot pictures every three seconds or record every moment, as well as check your facebook page and text messages.  

If, on the other hand, you have chosen a seat where the only thing behind you is a wall, then record away, because you have been smart enough to sit toward the back so you won’t distract people. 

Lest you think I am picking only on technology, the same principle could be applied to particularly one individual who felt moved to stand and worship during the music…which can certainly be okay…but who did so continually throughout the concert while people were sitting right behind him merely got to see a lovely view of his back!  

What struck me most was that these individuals were so completely oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of people were sitting down all around them…and behind them.  Now, lest you think I am picking on the kids, realize that the bulk of the people participating in these activities were individuals well over 30!  In my book, that means old enough to know better.

For people like me, who have some astigmatism, the continuous lights between myself and the stage make it really difficult to be able to see well.  But even those without impairment seemed less than pleased at the distractions.  I might also mention that the disabled person in the wheelchair next to me was delighted that with so many folks seated, he was able to see easily most of the time (fortunately he was not behind the perpetual stander mentioned above). 

It seems to me that some semblance of moderation would be nice in these situations.  A few pictures here and there, instead of a phone choosing a camera where you can use the viewfinder instead of the screen, or even moving to an area near the back where you would be less distracting…that’s why they include a zoom feature!  And I also have no problem with any of these behaviors in a setting where that is the norm of most of the people participating, which is not the case in a movie theater nor was it at particular concert.
One interesting thing I noticed was if somebody asked an individual to put their phone up at least for a while, the individual’s countenance and behavior made plain they thought the person asking was terribly, terribly rude and insensitive.  Really?  The same is true of the cell recordings, most people were watching and listening to the presentation, not recording it to watch it later…they came to actually watch it right then, and the perpetual recorders made it more difficult to do.

Well, the main observation I had was that the people participating in the distracting behaviors, particularly those doing so on a continuous basis, did so apparently oblivious to the fact that others were around them who might be affected by their behavior.  

For instance, can you imagine what it was like to have been the person seated right behind the woman who had the tablet held up brightly lit over her head to shoot her pictures and recordings?  The person behind her saw only a bright screen in front of him not the concert; and not once did I see any of these people turn to apologize or even look to see if they were blocking someone else’s view.  Because it didn't matter to them, as long as they got their picture or their recording, they were content.  I also thought it odd to see individuals so engrossed in recording a concert moment that they were more focused on the recording than on the experience of being there to begin with! 

What does this have to do with divorce?  Marriage is ALL ABOUT being sensitive to the needs of another, and being aware of how your actions impact another person.  Marriage is also all about being in relationship with another person, which is significantly different from being in the presence of another person while relating to somebody else via text or engrossed in some solo activity.  (I often wonder what could possibly be so important in a person’s life that they cannot spend an hour or two with checking their texts and all their social media, or so urgent that they cannot slip out of a dark theater before checking them.)  It seems to me that more and more individuals are becoming oblivious to how their actions impact others.  It also seems that many people are becoming more interested in recording a moment than actually experiencing it.  The beloved word, “selfie” is only a few letters away from the word, “selfish,” and the distinction between the two is becoming less and less clear.  Apparently we are creating more self-centered individuals who don’t even think about how their behaviors impact anybody else.  That just doesn’t bode well for the future of marriages, does it?

But then again, if two individuals are married and are both so oblivious to the needs of others that it doesn't bother them to hold their tablet up in front of others trying to watch a concert, then maybe they would also be oblivious to the times others are not considerate of their needs.  So maybe the divorce rate isn’t going to uptick after all.  Maybe marriage is simply going to be redefined as two individuals living parallel lives, capturing every moment with a selfie and a recording along the way so that they can remember and enjoy it if they ever find the time.  Or, they might be content posting on each other’s facebook page and the especially good files could be uploaded to YouTube for everybody else to enjoy, all the while they never notice that their spouses left the marriage a long time ago!  By the way, if you happen to be the one who was sitting behind the tablet last night, you may want to search the internet, maybe that lady posted it there so that you can see the concert now! 

The saddest comment about the entire thing is that it is a fair assumption that the vast majority of these individuals last night are good Christian church going type of people.  It’s sad because, of all people, Christians have been told to love and serve others, laying down their own lives.  I guess we can do that as long as we aren’t asked to put up our devices, too.  I don’t know, something just seems really off to me in this whole scenario.  But then again, maybe I’m just an old grouch!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

For My Brothers and Sisters in the Ukraine


When you are experiencing divorce, there is a major splintering of the heart, and couples sometimes squabble and go to court over the littlest of aggravations.  It can feel like you whole world is falling apart, right?

Sometimes we need some perspective.  And today, I would suggest recognizing the struggle in the Ukraine can help us gain some of that perspective.  I particularly selected that region for several reasons, on of which is that there are several individuals in the Ukraine who read my blog, so they are part of my own personal world.

I have had the privilege of meeting several Ukrainians over the years.  I recently saw another news report about the turmoil experienced with the Russian invasion of the Eastern region of the Ukraine.  One of the pastors I have met from over there was telling about his city, which has already fallen victim to the Russian onslaught.  A burned out church, bombed apartment complexes, living without electricity and running water, as well as the struggle of finding food enough to eat are the descriptions of what life was like in his town when he left.  It is very sad.

When you know that other people live on a daily basis wondering if they will have any food for the day, whether a rocket shell might land on their house or apartment or whether their church will still be there this Sunday, then somehow who gets the silverware doesn’t seem so important. 

Divorce forces us to deal with extremely tedious and mundane things, as the settlement pushes forward and court day approaches.  It helps to remember they are just mundane things.  During my divorce, the way I said it was, “It’s all just stuff.”  What was really important to me were things like wedding vows now abandoned, or time as a family shattered, or the opportunities to spend time with my children now cut in half.  And yet…

I believe all those things are important.  

I also believe that even then, compared with what my brothers and sisters in the Ukraine are experiencing, I think we get caught up so intensely we lose sight of several very important things.  

Like the fact that, though divorced, we still have freedom to worship in church any Sunday without hindrance (at least in most churches…sometimes we may need to find a different one after a divorce), while in the Ukraine at this time, the church may or may not be left intact by Sunday.  

Time with children may now be restricted, but our children are alive, and healthy and safe at home, without daily worry of falling bombs.  

We may lose half of our household belongings, but there are still some of them in our possession; they aren't buried beneath the rubble of warfare.  

Most of us don’t lose our jobs in a divorce, but in the Ukraine, factories cannot operate without electricity, markets cannot sell produce that doesn't arrive and medical care isn't provided without a hospital. 

Feeding our children is always a priority, but imagine feeding your child in Eastern Ukraine a midst the battle areas where food is scarce and utilities services are disrupted by war.  

Hard as divorce is, there are things in this world that are much worse, wouldn’t you say?

For my brothers and sisters in the breadbasket of the east called Ukraine, from a simple writer in the breadbasket of the United States called Kansas

Know that many of us here in the U.S. are praying for you, and admire your courage in the face of tremendous suffering.  With all you have going on in your country, I am humbled to think some of you take time to read this little blog.  God bless and keep you, and may your witness for Christ be great.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Thinking About Children

What About the Children?

My wife teaches.  I have pastored churches and been involved in ministries that include all ages of youngsters.  A significant shift has taken place in our culture that is pervasive, and it can be most readily illustrated in the form of assumptions:  a) you can no longer assume that children with different last names are not brother and sister living in the same household; b) nor can you assume that the children in a home all have the same father or mother; c) nor can you assume that a children you know have the same name as the parent with whom they reside, IF they reside with a parent at all.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, step-parents, foster parents---families are very much more complicated these days than in years gone by.  Also, children are very much more confused about marriage and family, and often enter our presence with private heartaches, losses and fears.

A radio interviewer once told me the story of a family member of hers whose ex, after years of being divorced, would still drive the children to a meeting location supposedly for the purpose of letting the children go to their dad’s for the weekend, when she in fact already knew that he would not be there because had called in advance with a conflict of schedule. Why did she do that?  Because then she could tell the children that his not coming proved he didn’t love them.   Then she would turn around and drive home.  Of course, I have no way to verify the story, but sadly, I find it very believable.  Because I am sorry to say, it is only one of a multitude of similar stories I have heard down through the years.

In many ways children suffer the most through a divorce.  It is not an insignificant statistic that a high percentage of American children living in poverty are in single parent homes.  Granted, there are times a divorce actually gives children a chance at a more normal life that protects them from abuse.  But most of the time, divorce is about the adults, not due to concern for the children.  Some parents work very hard to help their children navigate the tough waters of splitting parents, doing their best to protect the children from unnecessary heartbreak.  Other parents use their children as weapons to wreak vengeance in anger at their exs.  And there are parents who are good pretenders, saying they are acting in the child’s best interest and doing it in such a way as to convince the children they are, but who in fact are manipulative and deceptive about the web they weave.  In that case, it may be a long time or perhaps never that the children learn for themselves to understand and appreciate the “enemy” parent for who he or she really is without the colored lenses provided by such a parent. 

Children should not have to hate one parent in order to be able to love the other.  Children should not have to choose which parent to be loyal to and whether they can have a loving relationship with each.  Children should not have to be pawns dealing with issues that the adults in their lives are unable or unwilling to deal with themselves.  Children should not suffer the brainwashing that a divorcing parent might try to impose.  Children already feel insecure enough as the world they call home crashes down around them, every effort should be made to provide assurance for them in as many other areas as possible.  The broken hearts of children should experience healing from their parents as agents of God loving, protecting and caring for the little ones in their charge.

I realize that even the best of parents makes mistakes, and that children even in the best of families may suffer heartbreak and wander far astray.  So when I say the things I did above, I mean we should try our best, trusting God to make up for those times we fall short.  But for parents whose actions are more self-serving than children serving, I remember with trembling the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:5-7----

And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How Big is Your God?

I Can Fix It!

There is a passage of scripture that God has reminded me of perhaps more than any other.  I was sharing with a friend of mine my most recent reminder, and he wrote back some interesting insights, and so I would like to use the passage and his comments as the base for today’s blog.  First the passage from Matthew 6 (ESV):

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

And now, here are Randy’s comments to me:

We struggle because we assume we have to. I mean, you and I were part of a generation raised by shade-tree mechanics and self-starters. If something’s broken, you fix it. If something needs doing, you do it. If you want a new toy or tool or appliance, you save up for it or do something else to earn it. Nothing’s free and it is our nature to actively make things happen rather than passively living with a sense of entitlement. So this passage naturally goes against the way we were taught to live – the expectation that Someone is taking care of us is a concept we’ve been taught NOT to rely on since childhood. And of course, there are times when we get totally stressed and depressed by the fact that there is more that needs doing than we can handle or the task before us is simply beyond our ability to cope – and these verses are the answer. But still hard to process.

I don’t know about you, but his comments describe my approach to many things very aptly.  

And it applies to the areas of marriage and divorce as well.  When a marriage has problems, for those of us with the mindset Randy describes, the task is to face the problems head on and work to solve them.  Enlist counselors, read books, attend weekend seminars, take hours of time to try to get away and talk….whatever we can do to try to save our marriage and get it back on track is what we do.  However, real life is there are some marriages that cannot be fixed like that….at least, not by just one partner.  

It is a very hard thing to believe that God led you into a marriage, that you have been faithful in that marriage, and that you have worked hard to deal with the problems in the marriage…and yet God would allow the marriage to fall apart and end anyway.  We like to think if we just try a little harder, or that God will come in and somehow make it all okay.  But that doesn’t always happen.  You can blame one partner or another or society or Satan or whatever you want to blame, but the bottom line is that you come out feeling a failure that you weren’t able to fix it.  But God has the ability to take our failed attempts at fixing a marriage and use them to form the basis for the next stage of our lives…which for me has been a second marriage that is very different from the first.  In the times when the marriage home is collapsing all around, it is hard to hang on to Jesus’ challenge to have no anxieties or worries, and truly believe that God is looking out for you even in the midst of that devastation.

And then, after the divorce has come, when money is tight, futures uncertain, hearts are broken and fears assail, we once again are faced with the challenge of this passage.  It is one thing to have no anxiety when the bank account is full and the job is secure and the home is a haven and life is good.  But when everything has fallen apart, and the money has been divided between you, your ex and the attorneys (not in that order) and the cupboard is less full and you fear that your children’s future is at risk, not to mention your own now that you are all on your own for the first time in how many years?...  

When life is like that and you read verses like these, the test comes strong…as if God is saying, “Do you trust me?”  When problems loom large, it can be hard to remember that God is even larger.  Passages like Isaiah 40 can remind you of that fact, though, and the assurance of Jesus that God’s care is always there can become the one thread of sanity to which you hold while everything around you seems skewed through the insanity of the divorce process with all the ensuing emotions.  We can't fix all those things either.  

Sunday at church we sang a song I had not heard before, which included the encouragement that God has never allowed us to walk alone, and he never will.  So I invite you, no matter what your situation in life as you read this, to take time to read once again for yourself the passage above from Matthew, reading it with an awareness that Jesus is speaking in it to you.