FB conversion pixel

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Challenge of Holy Week


Were you in church today for Palm Sunday?  We were.  Visitors at a new church it was a nice morning with a good feel and a fresh challenge to the participants.   

Rev. Wallace Smith, the pastor, did a neat little presentation designed to help the worshipers get into the excitement of the original Palm Sunday experience.  Hosannas, palm leaves and garments lain on the altar by the participants.  Wallace spoke as a member of the disciples and guided us through some of the emotions of the day.  

What really struck me occurred toward the end of the service, as he was guiding us to the discussion sheets in our hands, he made a comment about Holy Week, and especially that first Holy Week.  Wallace said (in my paraphrase):

“Holy Week includes not only the excitement and joy of Palm Sunday, but also the struggle, sorrow and uncertainties that came on Thursday night and Friday… and yet the whole range of experience all came together as part of the plan.”  

Then as he went on, there was also the awareness that the same is true of any person following Christ…it isn't always the joyful Hosanna moments, but sometimes we experience the moments of panic, uncertainty and hardship, still part of the plan.

Not to run it into the ground, but what in your life is NOT that way?  When we get married, we never marry a perfect person, only another human being like ourselves, one who has faults and makes mistakes.  We experience the joy of the wedding day and the adventures of a honeymoon trip, but when we get home, somebody still has to take out the garbage and scrub the toilets!  Even the experience of having children, which is sometimes used as an illustration in the Bible, is a mixture of hardship and pain, followed by joy and wonder.  Of course, later on, they become teenagers, which on it's own has a mixture of joy, wonder and challenges. 

Our jobs, our families, our yards, our churches, our relationships….almost everything in life is a mix of the exciting and wonderful things blended with the difficult or even troubling moments.  

The same is even true in the midst of a divorce or as we put life together afterwards.  When one comes out of a torturously bad marriage, some of the divorce process can feel very freeing, but there are moments every day, if not every hour, that can be overwhelmingly hard.

Reflecting on all this makes me remember the Serenity Prayer that Reinhold Niebuhr wrote…the part that all too often gets left out of the middle that goes like this:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;

We may wish things were always rosy, or that something that is very hard would not be part of our lives, but to be at peace with God and ourselves, we need to take the world, our marriages, our spouses and children, our jobs…to take our world as it is, not as we wish it was.  God will make things right later on, but for now, it is just the way things are, and God promises to help us through it all.  

One of my college professors, Michael Tweedt, once pointed out that mountaintop experiences would not be so incredible to us if we didn't also spend times down in the valleys of life.  Personally, I hate the valleys, but it is part of how things are.  

Thanks Wallace, for helping me remember that the ups and downs of my life were embedded and paralleled in the last week of Jesus’ life on earth.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Research says... Divorce AND Marriage are a Big Deal!


The caption below the picture is a link to an interesting article about a research project from some economists at the University of Florida.   These economists decided to research, of all things, how getting a divorce affected productivity of individuals who work as hedge fund managers.   They then compared it to how much their productivity was affected when a hedge fund manager got married.  

Somehow, that is a question  I have never even thought to ask.

Have you ever wondered what in the world causes people to decide to research something as peculiar as that?  It probably has to do with government grants, or the need to fill space in a publication. 

However, it is actually interesting that somebody asked whether the divorce or the marriage had more impact on the lives of individuals.  

The long and short of it, in my summary of it, is that marriage generally causes greater impact, but that is primarily true of middle aged individuals.  For younger individuals, divorce created more upheaval.   

Kind of interesting, huh?  Is that what you would have expected?  It raises some interesting questions.  The biggest thing it raises is the notion that there are a lot more questions to be asked to fully understand what is happening.  

Bear with me for a moment as I offer some reflections of my own, totally unverified and unresearched, just thoughts that have come to me as I read it.

First, the fact that marriage has less of a disruptive impact on younger traders than does divorce makes one wonder why.  For instance, is it because when they got married, they assumed it wouldn't change anything in their lives, and so keep on working dawn to dusk, and keep their marriage tied into a tiny little time segment of their lives and dedicate only limited energy to it?  Or could it be just the opposite, that now that they are married, they especially feel the responsibility to bring in a good income and so pour themselves into their work?  And maybe when those younger people experience divorce, it hits them harder because with a divorce they are losing a lifetime of dreams, facing the fact that they have invested way too much of themselves and their time in their work and not nearly enough in the most important relationship of their lives?

For those who are older, the marriage has more disruption than a divorce.  What would you speculate about that?  I kind of wonder if it has to do with the fact that when somebody gets to be an old codger like me, you realize that making a commitment to a marriage is a major undertaking and is going to require real arranging of priorities and schedules to make the marriage what it ought to be.  Maybe divorce does not have as much impact on job performance at that older age because after being around for a few decades, one experiences enough struggles and heartaches in life to develop some skills in knowing how to face them effectively.  

Or…..maybe it is just that when you reach a certain age, productivity has already dropped because you are slowing down, and so the divorce isn’t going to have the same impact because you are already moving more slowly anyway!  Trust me, I feel some of that every day!

Okay, regardless of what the economists from the University of Florida pointed out in the whole matter (if there is one), I think there is an important point to be observed in the discussion.  Marriage is a major life change event that will also require significant lifestyle changes away from the worldview of singleness into a world in which there is one earthly relationship that is more important than any other earthly involvement.  That commitment must be honored, protected and nurtured if the marriage is going to be successful. 

At the same time, many people realize how much their life changed after they married, but fail to realize that divorce has a similarly powerful impact on every area of one’s life.  Viewing the change in the context of comparison to the life change of marriage is probably not a bad context to use---it IS a big deal.  

I remember a time when I was so discouraged because I felt like I was progressing through the emotions and recovery of divorce way too slowly.  In that time, a wise friend said to me: “Maybe you just need to give yourself permission to NOT get over it quickly, to recognize that it really is a big deal and that it is going to take time to recover from it.”  

Turned out she uttered some pretty wise words that day.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Don't Rush! Time for Healing


I am not a big follower of television/radio/internet preacher types and don’t make a very good groupie for their work.  I have heard several over the years one way or another, but don’t really keep up with any of them to any degree.  This week, though, I happened to be turn on a car that had a Christian radio station on, and Ravi Zacharias was speaking in his regular show.  I generally have enjoyed his messages the few times I have heard them, so appreciated listening to him during my short jaunt across town.  

I picked it up in the middle of the message, and had to turn it off before it was completed, but in the portion I heard, Ravi was discussing 1 Timothy 5 and the church’s obligation to widows.  

In the course of the presentation,  I noticed that he mentioned verse 9’s description of widows who qualified for assistance, and that he referred to her as “being faithful” rather than having only had one husband.  I didn’t get to hear his full discussion of that, but was pleased because that has also been how I have understood the reference in that passage.  Many have taken the wording there and the wording regarding elders and deacons back in chapter 3 to mean that the individual cannot have been divorced.  Being a one woman man, or a one man woman, could be taken that way, but it seems to me more natural to go with what I think Ravi was saying and place the emphasis on being faithful to one individual in our marriage relationship, rather than rejecting all who are divorced, which does not seem to match with other statements of Paul.  I may have misunderstood what Ravi meant, since I missed the other part and probably won’t be looking it up, but I think I caught it correctly.

However, the main thing that I really appreciated (and which reinforced my understanding above), was that Ravi made a point to say that if someone’s spouse dies…or if an individual ends up divorced…then they would be wise to wait at least two years before considering entering into another relationship or making a major decision, and recognize that during those two years, one’s ability to make good judgments is likely impaired.  

I was pleased that he included both options of losing a spouse, and I am in full agreement with his recognition that one’s ability to think clearly and make good decisions is clearly impacted by the trauma of death or divorce.  Just as a physical injury takes time to recover before regaining full strength and restoration, so also the emotional and spiritual impact of loss of a spouse (or other close loved one), will leave an imbalance that takes time to be renewed.

I have heard it said that healing/restoration after a divorce takes 1 year for every 4 (or some say 5) years of marriage.  That is, if you were married 20 years before divorcing, the healing of the brokenness you are experiencing will require at least 4 years, maybe 5 or more.  Not that it isn’t possible to move forward before that “deadline”, but the wise individual will be very cautious about how far forward and how quickly those steps will be.  And I really agree with Ravi, that major decisions should not be made for a while, and two years seems to me to be a good number. 

Unfortunately, as Ravi also pointed out, our emotional state can become so impacted that we long to move forward and are tempted to rush the process (or short circuit it).  We are tempted to get out of the pain and uncertainty by lunging ahead and not recognizing that our thought processes have been significantly hindered, because we have been knocked so off balance by the trauma of our loss.  

If you are a person who is recovering from a divorce or death of a spouse (or know a person who is in such a state), I strongly encourage you to not allow yourself to be hurried by the whirlwind of emotions around you.  

Though the pain may be intense, and the loneliness overwhelming, moving into another relationship out of that intensity and loneliness can set you up for a second loss with further devastation on down the road.  Much wiser is the one who first works with God on his or her own recovery and emotional healing, walking through the pain to get there, so that if a time comes when a new relationship emerges, he or she will enter that new relationship as a healthy and whole person, rather than as a needy and unstable one.  

The truth is, though you may want to rush, there is no need to do so. 

If God indeed has another relationship for you in your future, that relationship will be there at the appropriate time, and since God is in charge, can wait for you to heal up so that what you enter next will be the best relationship possible.  

God’s timing can move quickly or it can move slowly, but it never hurries, and it never rushes things.  

God’s timing is deliberate and wise, and for us to move forward with God, we need to be the same way.  I have known individuals who tried to rush these things, and ended up creating more heartache and loss as a result.  

Instead, walk with God toward that healing first, one step at a time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Avoiding Divorce


Many years ago, one of my college professors, Bill Ballinger, made a comment that I have remembered over the years as a statement filled with great wisdom.  It is a simple little sentence:

                      “When you take something from someone, you also take  
away their opportunity to give it to you.”

It is a statement I have often quoted during pastoral counseling sessions with married couples or engaged couples planning for their life together.  The phrase is relevant for lots of contexts, but seems especially relevant for life as a couple.  

How many times does a partner in a marriage try to get their way about one thing or another, and attempt to do so by pouting, or by nagging, or by browbeating, or by…well, you can make that list as well as I can.  

It is true the person may get their way about the thing, but it will have a bittersweet taste to it.  There will always be an underlying uncertainty, “Did my partner do that only because I coerced them into it?  Would they have ever given me such a great thing as a gift of their own free will, just because they love me?”  

The sad thing is, the one asking such uncertain questions will never know…they took away the opportunity their spouse had to do something just because, and created a situation where the deed was done with lots of baggage attached.

I have spent many hours talking with individuals in relationships discussing this very fact.  I could harass and harass and harass my spouse (and sometimes I misguidedly do!) until she finally, grudgingly, gives in and does the task I am harassing her about.  But it will be obvious that is was done grudgingly.  Instead of building affection, it will have fed resentment.  OR, I could develop the kind of relationship where I let my needs or wishes be known, maybe even have a little reminder note I put on the refrigerator, ONCE…and then let her choose when and if to comply with the request, which she might choose to do as a special surprise one weekend, or do in way differently, probably even better, than I might have requested.  As a result, she will feel good about knowing she is doing something she knows that matters to me, and I will have a pleasant surprise  as I receive a gift of a nice service done in response to a request, and we will have grown our love and affection for one another just a tiny bit more.  And THAT is a good thing!

The same principle can apply with our children, our co-workers or subordinates at work, or in a host of other relationships.  The way we make our requests can foster hostility, or friendship and love.  

Will it always work?  Probably not.  There are things we may simply have to decide we will just have to do for ourselves.  But choosing to take away somebody’s opportunity to be nice to us is in all likelihood, rarely a good choice.  

Who knows how many divorces would have never occurred if the couples had applied these few simple words...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Peace - At What Cost?


“Admitting that we ought to try the novel and absurd experiment in politics of tying up the hands of government from offensive war founded upon reasons of state, yet certainly we ought not to disable it from guarding the community against the ambition or enmity of other nations…Let us recollect that peace or war will not always be left to our option; that however moderate or unambitious we may be, we cannot count on the moderation, or hope to extinguish the ambition of others…To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace; and that to model our political system upon speculations of lasting tranquility would be to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.”
Excerpt from The Federalist Papers #34---Alexander Hamilton

Isn't it interesting that the founders of the United States, just a couple hundred years ago, included this kind of statement in the Federalist papers?  

They were explaining that while they might desire to create a country that desires peace, that alone would not guarantee the existence of peace simply because not everybody seeks that same goal.  

Now I will be the first to grant that the history of the U.S. includes a lot of conflicts, some of which could be used to challenge whether or not the U.S. has been a truly peace loving country.  However, there have also been times when our entry into conflict was not just for our own purposes, but for the interests and well-being of others.  And the way we have helped countries after their defeat, represents a different way of treating conquered nations that has at times been exemplary.  

Having said that, though, I think there is great wisdom in the Hamilton's words.  

                           Our desire to have peace, does not determine whether or not our               nation will be drawn into war.  

The wording of this document makes clear that both parties have to desire peace for peace to be attainable.  

Oh, I suppose there is a sense in which that could be considered untrue.  For example, Hitler would have been willing to make peace with the United States--all we had to do was be willing to submit to his absolute authority and be willing to help kill all the Jews and any Christians who disagreed with Hitler or his anti-Semitic policies, as well as others designated inferior or undesirable.  

And nobody can say that ISIS or Boko Haram wouldn't be willing to negotiate peace with others.  All that is required is for us all to be willing to bow to the new "caliphate" and to live under an antiquated interpretation called “Sharia law,” and demand that all women be appropriately covered so that not even a single hair would appear that could "cause" some poor man to lust.  Any takers?

Noble though the ideal is that we could just sit down and talk things out with people of radical points of view, just as the writers of the Federalist Papers were keenly aware, in this real world there are individuals who are more interested in having their way than they are in having peace that would require any kind of compromise.  

By that same Federalist guidance, our government officials are expected to recognize those realities of life in this world and respond accordingly.  Theologically, these issues exist because of “the Fall” and the sinful nature of humankind.

Let me point out, though, that there are those, like the Society of Friends (Quakers), Mennonites, Amish and others, who actually practice pacificism, even at personal cost to themselves.  Biblically, their lives are based on teachings such as that “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  

I admire their sincerity and their idealism.  Maybe I should be the same.  

Even if I did, it may well be that what I practice as an individual be different from what is required of governmental authority, which is expected to protect all its citizens from aggression.  

At the same time, the scriptures are also clearly against the opposite mistake, which is putting trust for protection in military power INSTEAD of in God, rather than recognizing that the military power might be a tool used by God.  

That was perhaps best illustrated in the story of David and Goliath, where Goliath came with weapons of war mocking God, and David came to battle with a few stones in the NAME of God.  

Frankly, I firmly believe that this trust in military power was a primary factor in the victory by the Allied Forces in World War II.  Though I also think an argument could be made that many in the United States have forgotten where their trust ought to be.  (Without diminishing the foreign aid and other generosity by the people of the U.S., I have often wondered if we had spent as much money and research on weapons of peace as we have weapons of war, what kind of world we might have helped create.)

Sadly, the real life of conflict I just described on an international scale, also exists in many marriages, households and families.  

There are many individuals experiencing that fact while in the midst of divorce or suddenly faced with contemplating divorce.  

There cannot truly be peace with a person who refuses peace.  

Some individuals in marriage choose peace at any price, but that might mean being willing to accept that one's spouse sleeps around every week, or being willing to accept the physical and emotional scars of abuse...neither one of which fits any legitimate definition of a healthy marriage.  Others experience the brokenness of strained relationships with children or other family members.  

Many of our families at many times are very far from our best aspirations and ideals, wouldn't you say?  

If we cannot effectively and consistently maintain peace within marriages of two, or in our households of a few, then is it realistic to think we are going to manage to do so between nations of millions, which include people we don't even know or may not love as much as we do individuals in our own homes?  Not that the pursuit of peace and for people to be able to live in harmony with one another are not noble goals to pursue in our marriages, household and world, but we must pursue them with open eyes and realistic perspectives.  That might be worth remembering the next time you hear of another war between countries.  It also might be worth remembering the next time you hear of another divorce.

Forgive me for not looking up the precise wording he used, but in his books recounting his years in the White House, Henry Kissinger writes that historians often talk about countries existing side by side, until the moment war breaks out between them.  

Kissinger then goes on to say that a more accurate view of the history of mankind might be described as nations at war with one another, and hat every once in a while, peace breaks out.  

I do believe one of our most godly moments is when we are the ones who actively help peace break out…in our homes, our communities, our churches and our world.  Or to at least be involved in trying.   And sometimes that means leaning on and supporting those who are the peace keepers in our world.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

When God Chooses Your GPS Route!


I’m not a big fan of those little GPS things that tell you which way to drive to get somewhere.  I like the maps they offer, because they help me find roads I might not otherwise know about from the larger maps I carry, but I don’t like a little gadget telling me which way to go.  Especially because I often frustrate it, as I enjoy driving alternate routes, and when I do so the GPS gals hate it.  For what seems like an eternity, they say “please turn around at the next opportunity” until they finally give up on me, at which point, with disgust and disappointment in their electronic little voices they say, “rerouting.”  They hate that.  They probably file a report with the NSA or something, too, just for spite.

This past weekend, my wife and I had plans, which involved a couple long days of driving, a family get together and a high school drama production.   What was NOT in the plans was the huge snowstorm that would overwhelm Texas, huge that is in geographic terms, only an inch or so in terms of how bad the snowstorm was.  An inch or two is not a big deal in Kansas, but in Texas….well, let’s just say that snow removal and winter storm preparedness is not the forte of the Lone Star State.   

As a result, we got to be the ones who were the GPS system!  Which is to say, we had established the planned route for the weekend, but God had something else in mind.  First, the plane we were supposed to meet at the airport when we arrived was delayed.  Then cancelled and rescheduled.  Next, the road we were on was shut down because of a wreck somewhere up the way, so we got out my atlas and the GPS map on the device and then we found a way we could reroute onto another road.  When we met a friend near the airport to await arrival, we got word the family member’s flights were cancelled, and she would not make it.  Then we got word that the drama production had been cancelled for the next night.  

Like the GPS, we were thinking…wait, go back, go back…and finally end up saying to ourselves, “rerouting”.  In one case we got off a highway and took another road to reach our destination.  In another case, we changed dinner plans and ended up with a less hurried meal with a friend.  Another aspect changed where I was staying, one night with the friend instead of two.  Rerouting, rerouting.  Rolling with the punches is the phrase that used to be applied.  But then this morning I got to thinking, maybe there is more than I realize.

When the GPS yells at me to turn around, it is because it is under the mistaken notion that it knows what I am wanting to do.  It reroutes when it finally figures out that I’m not doing what it thought I was doing.  The next morning, after all the reroutes the previous night, I began thinking about whether I really was like the GPS and clueless as to what this whole trip was about to begin with.  

That is, I thought we were coming down for the family get together, including the individual who didn’t make it, and the play.  

Perhaps God had something else in mind.  

Maybe those weren’t the purposes God had in mind for the trip.  Maybe I only THOUGHT I knew what God was planning.  Maybe the real purpose God had was for us to have a weekend away to rest.  Or maybe it was so I could see my friend, and the other planned events were what would get me here.  Or maybe it is about a different person in the family, or a different moment in the family interactions.  My rerouting may be nothing more than adjusting my direction to the circumstances God brings into my life.

In my last blog, I spent some time talking about meanings to be found in the upheaval of life and divorce.  

Today, I’d like to suggest a step further, that maybe when your marriage fell apart and you were forced to restructure your life accordingly, maybe it was like my little trip.  

Maybe God was forcing you to reroute, because you only THOUGHT you knew what he had in mind for you, and only through the forced reroutings will you end up on the road that leads to the purposes God actually does have in mind for you.  

Make no mistake, God DOES have purpose for your life, and that purpose is the one that is good.  In fact, it is the best.  Just remember that while you are trying to figure out how to reroute!