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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Opportunities of Being Alone


Years ago, there was a song popular by the rock group Three Dog Night named “One,” and the chorus of that song proclaimed that “one is the loneliest number.”  

Probably loneliness is one of the hardest things to face after a divorce, and it comes in many different forms.  Loneliness can be felt at night when you turn off the last light and hear nothing but emptiness in the house.  Loneliness can be felt when you are caring for a houseful of children and suddenly realize there is no one there to help.  Loneliness can be felt when you go out to eat and see tables filled with couples, or groups of couples…or maybe you are even with a group of couples…but you are there alone.  Loneliness can even be experienced by a glance at an empty seat in the car or at the table, by the smaller loads of laundry or the meals prepared that you realize are way too big for just yourself.  It can be hard when, after years of marriage, you walk up to the ticket box at the theater and respond to the question of, “how many?” by simply saying, “One.”

Even church can be a lonely place.  

Most churches include a lot of individuals who have been widowed, and those who have never yet gotten married, but sitting by yourself because your marriage has fallen apart is an entirely different kind of experience.  A friend of mine liked to remind me during my times of loneliness that there is a huge difference between being lonely and being alone, and that as a Christian, I was never really alone even if I felt very lonely.  He was, of course, right.  It’s just that it didn’t always feel like he was right.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that it is probably best not to get into another serious relationship, until it is okay to be alone, to not be in a relationship.  I have long loved the verse found in Mark 1:35—

And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.”  (RSV)

Jesus was comfortable being alone.  In fact, there were times he clearly relished it.  He never married (despite fictional accounts in popular movies), and so his life was a life of solitude and friendships, not the life of a married man.  He never seemed to be concerned about whether he would ever find that “perfect girl” or not.  He clearly felt whole living his life single.  

We are most healthy when we are able to feel whole, even if living alone, the kind of wholeness that only comes from a relationship with God. 

Jesus, it seems to me, understood that there are opportunities that come with singleness that do not exist in marriage.  

Let’s consider the idea... Jesus, married.  Let your imagination go for a second...  (and I'll ask ahead of time for forgiveness...).

“What did you say, Jesus?  You have 5000 friends out on a picnic with you, and you didn’t even think to pack the picnic basket?  Do I have to think of everything?”  (Of course, if he WERE married, there would have been a picnic basket…the opposite gender tends not to be as forgetful about those things.)

“Okay, Jesus, I get that you feel called to be at travelling evangelist - but can’t we at least get an RV?”

“Yes dear, I understand that male bonding time is important.  But don’t those disciples have a home to go to once in a while?   I’d like some time with you just for the two of us.”

“Now Jesus, I can’t just have you running all over the place like that.  One morning you’re up way before dawn, wandering who knows where in those mountains and what if a lion attacked?  And you said you were going off to pray, and the next thing I know you are halfway across the lake walking on the water leaving me and kids to take the subway….and it hasn’t even been invented yet!”

I used to go to the all night store at 2:00 in the morning once in a while.  It was quiet there, and the lines were short, and I did not have to explain it to anyone.  Sometimes I ate breakfast food at supper and would change lunch plans at the drop of a hat…because I could.  I didn’t have to worry that my getting up to pray or turning on the lights to read was going to wake up anybody, because I was the only one there.  Being single means you can spend as much time alone with God in the Word and reflection as you want, without worrying that it is robbing time from your marriage partner.  Some of those silly things were part of what made being single okay.  And knowing I wasn’t really alone, made the loneliness more bearable when it hit. 

If you are alone these days, don’t let the loneliness be the only things you experience in this time.  Relish the opportunities that come with the gift of being alone for a while.  Jesus seemed able to do that, you can, too.

Monday, August 24, 2015

To Make Someone Love You


Many people I have met who have gotten divorced, describe it as a failed marriage and struggle with the idea that they are the ones who failed.  I am the first to grant that it is a real possibility that far too many divorces occur because of individuals who don’t try hard enough to work things out.  Although, there is a caveat to that statement, because sometimes it is that only one partner is willing to do the work of making the changes needed for a good marriage, the other either doesn’t care or has decided the their spouse is the only one with problems. 

I also would grant that one spouse sincerely praying and seeking God can often be the instrument of God’s change in the other spouse that brings healing and hope to a marriage.  But I would ask you, the reader, to also grant that sometimes that other spouse simply has no interest in making the marriage work or making in changes in themselves, even to the point of walking out.  In such cases, for a marriage to be God honoring, that disinterested spouse has to have a heart change for anything of substance to begin. 

This whole scenario reminds me of the time Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, and in tears weeping when he saw it, stating that so often he had wanted to draw the residents to himself, but they had refused.  

If Jesus himself could not “make” somebody love him who didn’t want to, why do we think that we should have been able to do so with a spouse whose heart has left the marriage?  

God can soften hearts, but it seems he also allows us to refuse to listen, and some choose exactly that.  If you sincerely tried, and put forth the effort to attempt to save your marriage or to help it become what a marriage should be, but it still failed, perhaps you need to grant yourself some grace.  On the other hand, if you are considering divorce, and haven’t really tried to change, or tried to talk it out, or spent time in counseling with your pastor or counselor…then maybe you are walking too early.

I find that the individuals who best handle the tragedy of divorce are those who can look back and confidently state that they really tried:  they gave it years of effort, they pursued counseling, they accepted that it wasn’t going to be perfect, they prayed, and they gave time and opportunity for God to work.  If, after having done those things in such a way that the conscience is clear with God, then when the gavel falls, one can walk away knowing that they gave it their best shot.  And the truth is, our best shot is all we can do in a lot of areas in life, because none of us are perfect, the fallen world in which we live has infected us all.

Did you honestly try?  Were the reasons you separated substantial and not trivial matters?  Did you spend time looking in the mirror, and work on areas God showed you there?  Solid answers to those questions lead to a more peaceful heart post divorce.  At least, it has for me.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Secret to Life


Now and again I visit with individuals whose lives are touched by divorce.  Whether due to the end of their own marriages or their children or parents, they find they are impacted by divorce in some surprising and unexpected ways.  

A recent conversation related to someone who had just experienced a family event - a reunion or Thanksgiving - the first after a divorce and the comment was that the event felt odd with the spouse missing, having always had them there in the past.  It just didn’t “feel right.”  

My response was something along the lines of, “That’s right, it isn’t the same.  And it never will be again.  Neither will Christmas or Thanksgiving or birthdays or Mother’s Day.  That chapter is now over, never to be as it once was again.” 

This is most especially true if there are children caught in the middle of the divorce.  As the teenage child opens the Christmas present, there is not the spouse at your side with whom you can recall that morning when they were young and the wonder as they opened their presents from Santa…the shared memory is gone.  Maybe your tradition was to celebrate two Thanksgivings, for instance, one with each set of grandparents.  But now, you are no longer welcome at one of those homes.  It can even be as simple as a recipe that you are never quite able to make as well as your ex did.  It could be that the woman is now handling car maintenance issues she never had to deal with before, or the man has to balance the checkbook that his wife so long managed for them.  I won’t keep illustrating, because if it is part of your life, you have plenty of illustrations yourself.

Over time, you adjust to the changes, and sometimes individuals are thrilled that the changes have come after hard years, but not without recognizing there is loss.  

The story doesn’t end here however.  

As I intimated above, after divorce a multitude of changes come that highlight the loss of someone’s involvement.  However, with the loss also comes a plethora of opportunities.  

Since things will never again be just as they once were, you have the opportunity to create what they are GOING to be, and since you are starting many things over in life on your own, you get to design them in fresh ways that are meaningful for you.  

I encourage you to not let the grief of the loss so dominate your thinking that you miss the chance to make something special of what is left.  You can choose which things to keep and what new ideas to add.  Instead of an artificial Christmas tree you might cut a real one.  Instead of grilling out for Father’s or Mother’s Day, you might use the day to try a new restaurant.  

You get the idea.

The big secret is, nothing was going to be the same anyway, really.  

Things are always changing. Life is elusive.  We only have each moment.  

The people of today may live elsewhere tomorrow.  The toddler will one day be an adult with children of his own.  

Life is always changing, and it is a foolish thing to spend our lives trying to recapture a past that is past, when the secret of life is learning how to embrace the today and tomorrow that are coming our way.  

Whether due to a divorce or simply the course of life, embrace change as an opportunity God offers we can use to explore a new adventure in life.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Healing for the Abused


My wife recently got back from an international Christian conference in South Africa (which partly explains why the blogs have been sporadic of late!).   She has shared about the fellow believers she met from around the globe and the ministries she learned about through contact with them.  

Those ministries are something dear to my own heart, because I believe all too often that, at least our churches in the United States, become so consumed with our own little spheres that we fail to see the way God is moving or the needs that exist globally.  

God’s heart and work IS global.

My wife told me of divorce ministries she learned about that exist in Johannesburg and Australia, which reminded me that the struggles of divorce are also not merely an issue in North America, but are also global.  

Blogger gives me statistical data that confirms this statement.  On any given day I can look and see that where my readers are - and readers of this blog encircle the globe.  

In the world of divorce, none of us is really truly alone in our struggle…there are brothers and sisters wherever we are who share the same concerns.

One of the South African ministries my wife told me about breaks my heart, especially as a man.  It seems that in a certain area, women who come to report having been physically assaulted and abused by the men in their lives are able to make their police report, but then were left without any safe place to go afterwards.  

A woman of vision established a home to shelter these women and help them heal and to get on their feet.  Much like our battered women shelters in the United States  - these shelters give women the opportunity to heal and recover.

Unfortunately, this woman was called of God to serve in a different ministry for a few years, and then when it was complete, returned to find that the shelter had been stripped of all of its contents and even some of the structure damaged, because the person in charge had been terribly neglectful in their oversight.

What troubles me is that there is even a need for such a place in our world.  Men who choose to take their anger out physically on women are such a blight in our world, and such a garbage example of what masculinity is all about, that it sickens me every time I hear about it.  The abuse of men by their partners is also as sickening as well.  

Unfortunately, I have heard about it too many times in my life.  I wish I could say that these things only happen due to drunken and out of control men whose lives are such a mess but he truth is that even within churches this kind of behavior exists.   

It is not unknown that individuals who practice some of this kind of horrific behavior toward women and young girls served, currently serve or have been considered to serve in church leadership, both lay and pastoral.  I have no opposition to preventing leadership opportunities for these individuals and have done so in the past.   

 A number of years ago, I have been told there was a survey done by a woman’s magazine, seeking to learn what the primary concerns were for women around the world.  They expected to hear about lack of opportunity, concerns for the future of their children or things along that lines.  Instead, they discovered that a huge concern of women around the globe relates to the fear of abuse by the men in their lives.  

Actually, I should probably say the “males” in their lives, because I don’t believe that males who act that way are any way indicative of true manhood.   

I am sorry, women, that there are those of my gender who think they have the right to treat you that way.  And I am pleased when I hear of laws and efforts to help turn that tide.  And I am pleased at places like that shelter in South Africa - that seeks to be an effective refuge for women who have suffered this abuse.   

Frankly, this is one of the reasons I believe that, as long as the world is as sinful as it is, God knows there must be a place for divorce.  

I have known women crippled for life as they chose to stay in marriages and suffer time and again.  We hear news reports of women killed by their abusers.

I think God knew what he was doing when he made provision for divorce in the Bible, and though it isn’t spelled out precisely, I think God’s heart and compassion are with those who suffer in such marriages and desperately need to find a way out.  

Somehow, I am always reminded of the way Jesus responded to the woman taken in adultery.  A group of angry and self-righteous men were standing ready to bludgeon her to death with stones, and Jesus forced them to take a long hard look at themselves first.  (Point of thought - if she was caught in the act, why there wasn’t a man down there to be stoned along with her…?)

Ladies, pray for the men in your lives and in our world.  They need God.  They need the transforming power of God to swallow their pride, admit their wrongdoing and truly repent of their eggregious behavior.  Pray for our sisters who suffer and are so often trapped in such horrible and abusive circumstances.  

I will be praying, too, and do what I can to make a difference as opportunity arises.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

How Did I End Up In This Wilderness?


Recently I have been reflecting on the concept of wilderness times in our lives, those times when life seems so empty, so desolate, so hopeless.  Sometimes those come because of external circumstances, but sometimes because of our emotional state or internal struggles.  

During those times, often individuals long for God to speak to them, to encourage them, to answer their prayers, and instead feel like they hear nothing from him.  

The aftermath of divorce would certainly qualify as a wilderness or desert experience for many of us, and I will come back to that in a bit.

Often when biblical teachers refer to the wilderness, they like to talk about all the things Moses learned there, or how God taught the Israelites out in the wilderness.  Mention is made of Elijah after his victory at Mt. Carmel, heading out to the wilderness where he heard that “still, small voice,” or the people who flocked out to hear John the Baptist.  The Qumran community of the Dead Sea scrolls deliberately chose the wilderness as their home, and Paul says that he went out into the desert for three years to learn from God.  

Thus there is a significant biblical example of wilderness learning.  However…

I have heard it said that there are some things one can only learn in the wilderness experiences of life.  Perhaps.  Certainly, the Israelites would not have learned what Manna was had they not wandered all those years and been forced to rely on God’s provision to help them.  

But is that the same as saying they could not have learned how to lean on God’s provision if they had NOT gone into the wilderness?  

I think sometimes such things are overstated.

Let’s review a few thoughts.  

First, Moses wasn’t SENT by God out into the wilderness to learn from him, he fled there as a fugitive after he decided to take things into his own hands by committing murder.  Once out there, God did at some point appear to Moses, but could not God have revealed himself to Moses back in Egypt had Moses not done what he did?  

By the same token, Elijah had been living in obedience to God and been used of God in a mighty way at Mt. Carmel, but God didn’t send him into the wilderness, either.  Elijah fled there because he was scared, afraid that God wouldn’t be able to protect him from the evil queen, and when God confronts Elijah out there, the first thing God asks him is what he is doing there, as if to suggest he is in the wrong place!   

There is also the image of King David, out in the wilderness through no choice of his own, but because of the stubborn disobedience of King Saul who kept David away from his rightful place.  Paul went out to learn from  God in the wilderness for three years because he had spent his life resisting what Jesus was trying to do for him, and realized he needed corrective training.

Jesus is the only one I recall who was specifically led by the Spirit of God to GO into the wilderness….but the purpose was to be tempted by Satan, to do battle with the great adversary of God.  

That is what later monks sought to do who went out into the desert, to do battle with Satan through prayer and intercession.  In fact, the image of the wilderness in the Bible tends to be a God forsaken place, where evil spirits dwell and into which the scape goat is driven carrying the sins of Israel.  

But I am not noticing scriptures where God tells people they have to go into the wilderness IN ORDER TO learn lessons from God.  No doubt they did learn, but it seems very often those people in the wilderness learning lessons were having to learn them there because they were not listening or obedient WHERE THEY WERE.  

It is certainly true that the distractions of this world can make it difficult to hear God, and in the desert places those distractions are removed, giving one clarity to hear God.  

Or maybe it is more like learning lessons the easy way or the hard way.  We can take the word of the carpenter who tells us that if we hold the hammer and nail a certain way we will hit our thumbs, or we can choose to do it our way and let our aching thumbs teach us.  

The point is, are you learning the lessons of life God would want to teach you, or has your ear grown deaf and your heart hard so that the only way you will hear is if you are FORCED to do so?

Some people in the wilderness after divorce learn that things were better than they realized and they have made a great mistake.  

Some of those people are able to return and restore their marriage, but not all.  

Some learn that they should have paid attention years before in their marriage, worked harder at changing themselves and less hard at changing their spouses.  

Some, to be sure, are like King David, forced out into a wilderness not of their own choosing, having to learn hard lessons as they wander far from home.  

And just like Jesus, any recently divorced person knows that temptations abound in a time of desolation, temptations that will sorely test your commitment and faith.

Whether in a wilderness state of life or not, I want to invite you to consider the lessons God might be seeking to teach you, and the response you are giving.  

If you are in a good state, stay malleable so that God can shape you where you are.  

If you are in a time of desolation, ignore the screaming heat of the sun beating down and instead turn your attention to the voice and Word of God, so that you won’t have to spend 40 years out there as that rebellious generation of Israelites did so long ago.  

God has a Promised Land for each of us.  Ultimately, it is the heaven to which we are invited if we accept his offer of forgiveness.  But even on earth, there is a future hope that God has for your life, something he desires to shape into your being and into your experience.  And one way or another, he will make sure you have the opportunities to learn what it is.  

Personally, I prefer trying to learn it before I end up in the wilderness places!