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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Make a Choice this New Year


Many people like to celebrate the arrival of New Year’s Day with resolutions for the coming year, seeing the holiday as a time for a fresh start, a second chance, or simply a motivator to start something new. That can be a great thing, or it can be setting oneself up for another year of frustration at unfulfilled hopes and plans.  Either way, the idea of looking forward to possibilities and move ahead to something fresh with optimism is a positive asset to have.  But those are changes that we choose.  

What about the changes we do NOT choose, but are thrust upon us?

People going through divorce find themselves in this situation, certainly.  Even if they are the ones who filed for divorce, that was not what their preference would have been when they stood before an altar making vows “till death do us part,” but instead found that life had gone in a different direction, and they now find themselves making a choice they wished they never had to make. Other people in divorce find that they face a new year all alone, having been abandoned or rejected by the person they had expected to be with them for the rest of their lives.  In either case, this new year will be a significant change in their lives.

Others approach a new year with other kinds of change brought upon them by life.  Some may have lost their jobs, and face a search for something different, or may have had to adjust their lifestyle due to having accepted a lower paying position. Some will start this new year in a different community, as their job, natural disaster or family situation forced a move.  Some will face a new year of unfamiliar and scary medical procedures, having recently discovered a condition that requires treatment.  Some may find themselves faced with the need to care for aging parents who need their help, and so their time and plans have to be adjusted accordingly. Some will experience difficulties with their children that create awkward situations, such as a child who has gotten entangled with drugs and the law, or a child whose financial irresponsibility requires ongoing bailouts or perhaps even a move back home.  

Many of these things can come about through choices we select, but many come because of the choices of others, the economic climate, or simply one of the many of the realities of life.  It is fun to face the new year with plans and dreams that we have created.  It is another thing when we are forced into places we did not wish to go.  Or is it?

To cope on a daily basis, we maintain a sense of control about our lives that is, in many ways, an illusion.  For example, I have known many people who are “health conscious” in their diets and workouts, who still end up facing unexpected illness. I have known others who worked hard in life and were frugal in planning for their future, only to have it taken away when their pension disappeared due to the actions of others, or who lost their homes when the market went crazy into a downturn and their mortgage became unaffordable.  Even the fact that we have clean water or electricity in our homes is, apart from paying the bills, beyond our control.

We get excited about choices and plans when WE make them…imagining the possibilities and placing our hope in a better day. But we generally don’t feel the same when the choices are forced upon us.  And yet, WHY NOT?  Just because the changes aren’t ones that we create ourselves, does that mean the change doesn’t bring with it the possibility of something fresh, something good?  While the change may not be everything we hoped for, are any of us really so omniscient that we actually know what is best in every situation, or what all the possibilities are in any given scenario?  What if, instead of only being optimistic about changes WE choose, we instead make the choice to be optimistic no matter why changes come into our lives?  Sort of like the old silly adage of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  Maybe the adage isn’t so silly after all.  

As you face the coming year, with hopes and plans you have created, as well as some that you would never have expected or chosen, I invite you to face them all with optimism and hope.  There is always something to learn, always opportunity for something meaningful in even the hardest of circumstances.  That was proven by people like Victor Fankl and Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who found meaning and power even in the hell of German concentration camps.  

We can’t always choose the things that come into our life.  But we can always choose our attitude as we face them.  And for those of us who know Christ, we can face those changes unwanted by us with the knowledge that God is working a plan, even if it isn’t the one we expected, and God’s promise is that his plans are always for our ultimate good. 

Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution might be to live each day reminding yourself of that beloved verse Romans 8:28---

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (NASB)

Choose to have a Happy New Year, knowing that God is in charge, and he DOES know what he is doing, even when we don’t!.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Choosing Joy at Christmas


The Christmas season is one that is filled with calls to rejoice, and to sing carols like, “Joy to the World!”  As you saw in the last blog, though, for some individuals, it may feel anything BUT joyful!  From the beginning joy is central to the Nativity, perhaps expressed best in the angel’s call of Luke 2:10--

 “ But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (NASB)

That is a wonderful sounding ideal, but is it realistic for those who, perhaps through no choice of their own, are finding themselves facing a “Blue Christmas” this year?  Or could it be that joy is to be found and expressed, even in the bluest times of our lives?  When Jesus grew up, he made a point to tell us that the very words he spoke to us, and the prayers he answers are designed to give us not just joy, but joy made full! How is that relevant when everything in life seems to conspire to take all the joy out of living?

Paul picked up on the same concept of joy, issuing to us a charge to live in joy always.  Here are a couple of references that say this:  

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  (NASB)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”  --Philippians 4:4  (NASB)

Notice that he doesn’t describe joy as something we passively receive in life.  Rather, he indicates that we have a choice in the matter, that we choose to rejoice, to express joy, to live in joy, to focus on joy, to share joy, and he says it is something we are to do ALWAYS!  Obviously, he doesn’t have a clue about how hard life can be sometimes, and how much these things can get you down, right?  Wrong.  When Paul wrote the Philippians verse, he was sitting in a Roman prison under arrest, soon to be facing execution.  He expresses in his writings that he had suffered beatings, rejection, imprisonments and shipwrecks, poverty and almost anything else life can throw at us, and yet he continues to admonish us to rejoice!

Let’s go back to where we started.  Christmas from the very beginning was designed as a cause for great joy.  Why? Because the Son of God has come to earth to dwell with us and to teach us the ways of God and to give his life as our Savior so that we could be set free from sin and its penalty.  No matter what comes into our lives, no matter what reversals we experience, the facts of the coming of Christ and the purchase of salvation never change.  That is the cause of joy, that is the source of joy, that is the constant in life for which we are called to always rejoice.   Jesus addressed this same issue after sending his disciples out to do ministry on his behalf, and when they bring their report of all the great things that happened as they went, Jesus words to them were:

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”  --Luke 10:20  (NASB)

You see, Jesus is describing the key to joy in life, the joy that remains no matter how much life changes, no matter how many difficult and discouraging experiences come our way.  The disciples came back joyful and excited about all the things they had seen God do, including their experience of authority of evil spirits just as Jesus had been doing.  But Jesus challenged them to adjust their focus, to not rejoice on the things here on earth that are so subject to change and variation, but to rejoice that their names are on the rolls of heaven.  If you are letting the blues get you down too much, perhaps you, too, are focusing on the wrong things as your source of joy.

When we give our lives to Christ, accept him as our Savior and the forgiveness he offers through his sacrifice on the cross for our sin, that is the day our names are written on those heavenly records in permanent ink!  Our health may change, our relationships may change, our circumstances may change, all of which can affect our emotional state, turning our happiness into sorrow or worry.  But our joy is not based on any of the changing things of earth.  Our joy is based on the fact that our names are written in heaven.  When things are hard, remember that promise.  When everything seems to work against you, remember that you have One who is for you in all eternity.  When you despair of life here, remember that it is but a breath of time compared to the real and beautiful life that awaits there.  Our emotions can affect our attitudes and our outlook and our energy…but they have nothing to do with the joy that we can count on as we rejoice that our names are written by our Savior on his palm forever.  

No matter what you face, happy times and sad times, times of prosperity and times of need, times of comfort and times of adversity, don’t let those things distract you from your real source of joy. Remember the angel’s call to the shepherds, which is also God’s call to you and to me today:

“ But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (NASB)

And then, go about your daily life and rejoice!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Is it Really a Time to Celebrate?


This year, at my church, we will be hosting a “Blue Christmas Vespers Service,” designed for individuals who, instead of looking forward to Christmas with joy, are doing so with a deep sense of dread and sadness.  For some of my readers, this will be the first Christmas post-divorce.  That means money may be very tight.  It may mean that they will be with their children only a portion of Christmas, as the children are shared between parents.  For some it will mean spending what is supposed to be such a joyful holiday all alone, shedding tears of loneliness.  

Others are dreading Christmas for other reasons. Perhaps a spouse or loved one passed away in the last year, and so this is the first Christmas without that person. Others will have lost their job, or, for those folks out in California, some will have lost their homes and their possessions.  Some will be dreading the holiday simply for the reason that family members are not going to be able to come home, and so it will be a holiday all alone.  Others are just struggling financially, and wrestle with the fact that they don’t have the wherewithal to purchase the gifts they would like this year.  And there are those who are the ones who have been displaced, serving in the military overseas, or far away for educational or work reasons, who are going to spend the holiday away from family and home. 

I visited briefly with a gentleman one day, whose spouse has recently entered a care facility for people with Alzheimer’s disease…and just talking about the upcoming Christmas was difficult for him. 

 As everyone else is singing “Joy to the World” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” what are these individuals to do?  

As I have been working on the preparations for the service, one of the things that has really struck me is that even the first Christmas was not all jolly and merriment.  After all, Mary and Joseph were themselves displaced for the purpose of taxation…and who in their right mind would be joyful about that?!?  When they got to the village, they weren’t even able to stay in a proper facility, but had to be out with the animals in a manger (no advance reservations or Presidential suites for them!).  And, of course, as we all have been reminded by our mothers and wives at some point or another, even the birthing of the baby Jesus involved the pains of labor.  Sure, that anguish tends to be replaced by the joy of having a newborn child, but that doesn’t diminish the pain gone through to get there.  

But most of all, I am somewhat haunted by the portion of the story found in Matthew 2:

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and 
he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 

  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

 “A voice was heard in Ramah,

    weeping and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

    she refused to be comforted, 

because they are no more.”   (ESV)

Our world is filled not just with joy and celebrations, but also with sorrow and pain, suffering and hardship.  It always has been.  And that is true of the first Christmas as well.  The story of Immanuel, “God with us” includes the fact that, from the very beginning, in Christ, God was with us in the midst of our sorrow and sadness, not as an escape artist far removed from it.  What anguish there must have been in Bethlehem as day after day, funerals were held for those poor little children so viciously attacked.  How the mothers and fathers eyes must have been red with tears and their nights filled with troubled sleep.  And yet…

And yet, even in the midst of this awful tragedy, Jesus was present on earth, beginning the life that would one day redeem us and lift us above all the weights of this world.  The Spirit of God has been sent forth to those who believe, so that no matter what hardships we suffer and face, we know that we are never alone…Immanuel:  God is with us.  In the months after my divorce, when the house felt so empty and loneliness was overwhelming, a wise friend reminded me more than once that though I may be very lonely, I was never truly alone.

In the story of YOUR Christmas this year, there may also be a mixture of angelic rejoicing and tearful anguish.  It is the way of this world.  It was there when Christmas began, and it will continue to be in one form or another until the day when God calls it all to an end, and personally wipes every tear from our eyes.  Take comfort in knowing that it wasn’t into some storybook fairy tale world that Jesus came, but into the world in which you and I live…the world filled with joy and hurt and kindness and hatred and acceptance and racism…God has entered into the world as it is, and invites us to walk with him through whatever that life may bring, so that we may find meaning and hope no matter what comes. 

As you journey toward Christmas, may you always remember that you never need to journey alone.  

Immanuel—God is with you.  

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Purpose and Plans


Are you one of those people who wrestles with meaning in life events?  You know, I mean the kind of person who faces hard things, and then tries to figure out what possible purpose it could serve in your life?  

You think, “Maybe this is to teach me patience or endurance.  Maybe I am going to come out a stronger person.” In doing so, sometimes you can drive yourself nuts trying to figure out a purpose, sometimes you can find a meaning that will help you through a rough time, sometimes you come up with an idea of what it’s all about only to find that it doesn’t work out at all, and sometimes you don’t have a clue!  

Regardless, there is something within us that longs for life to have meaning, for our hardship to have purpose, to have a sense that our lives are more than just random experiences that come our way.  

The good news is, that instinct within is something hardwired into us by God, because life does have purpose, each life has purpose by design.  We really are uniquely designed to fill a specific role God has for us during our days here on earth.  As a result, there is an inner longing to discover what our unique contribution is to be, and how the various experiences of life fit into that design.

When philosophers and theologians get caught up in this discussion, often included are conversations about free will, the role and existence of evil, and whether God allows painful experiences in our lives or designs them to be there for a specific purpose.  One of the answers I like best focuses not so much on the origin of those hardships, and instead emphasizes that God is able to take every experience of our lives and use it for good.  

That assurance frees us from trying to figure everything out, so that instead, we can watch and wonder as we see God take the hard things of life and use them in amazing ways.  The greatest example, of course, is the awful ugliness of the brutal and unjust crucifixion of Jesus which God used for the ultimate good, the purchase of our redemption and entry into eternal life with God.

Sometimes we may not grasp the good God is accomplishing this side of heaven, because it will only be explained in eternity.  For instance, I think of Abraham, who had been promised special blessings from God, but never saw any of them come to fruition while living on earth except the child, Isaac, who was born to Abraham and Sarah late in life.  But thousands of years later, God used Abraham’s obedience in a way that brought into existence Messiah Jesus in Bethlehem, resulting in making salvation for any who would come to him in faith—accomplishing something Abraham never would have imagined.  What good might God accomplish through your efforts to follow him in obedience?

One of the hardest experiences of my life was my divorce. It was something I did not want, something I did not believe was God’s desire, and something that was awful to go through.  

To this day I have a hard time understanding how God will use the various results for good. However, I have also become aware that the books I wrote to help people through divorce, could never have been written had I not gone through the experience myself.  

What makes that significant is that as a result, I have had opportunity to help people struggling in divorce by means of the book, the blog, and emails with individuals I have never met, but who have found the help they needed in these simple efforts.  I must say those things have given meaning to that difficult period of my life, and are ways God has done something good that I never would have expected at the time.

What things are hard in your life, right now?  What are you confused about, doubting that God could ever use it for anything good?  It’s okay if you can’t see it yet.  Wait, watch, endure, follow God as best you can, and one day, you will find that God will surprise you with a good you never imagined.  It is one of the best promises God has for those who love him! 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

New Year. New Place. New Idea.


If you read my books, you know that one of my suggestions about holidays post-divorce is to create new traditions of your own. However, the same can apply in almost any transition of your life, when it is time to close one chapter and start the next.  The importance of embracing fresh traditions to renew or enrich old meanings, or to discover new ones for a new time of life should not be underestimated.  After all, when those transitions come, so do the questions.

For instance, parents who have for years been immersed in their children’s daily needs and activities one day encounter an empty nest when they come home.  The questions come pouring in now?  Who am I, now that I am not the mother or father of a little child?  What does it mean to be a good parent for an adult child. Or after the death of a spouse, the questions become things like, “How am I supposed to go on without her?” or, “How do I fill the emptiness in my home?”  New traditions can help us find those answers as we build new meanings for new times.

I think back over my life, and there have memories of traditions, both those that have carried with me wherever I was, and others have varied in different places and different times.  For example, from childhood on, I have always spent time watching at least part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s (you can imagine my thrill when I got to attend each of them in person!)  Or almost every New Year’s Eve for about 30 years now, a small group of friends have gathered at one another’s homes to play Spades and watch the ball drop in Times Square.  (And for those of you math whizzes who are trying to use that to figure out my age, yes, I knew how to play cards when I was 5!!)  And no matter where I have been or my situation in life, Christmas Eve always has included a candlelight service at church before any presents were to be opened.

Other traditions have come and gone.  For example, there was a time when the Christmas season meant the annual trek to the Cincinnati zoo when it was all lit beautiful lights and the fountain was flooded and turned into a free ice-skating rink, or the walk by Carew Tower downtown with the marvelous exhibit of model trains and festive windows.  In Kansas City I loved to drive through a suburban neighborhood where everyone joined together with decorated homes and huge greeting cards in the yards.  I communities where I pastored, one we celebrated an annual Christmas party and white elephant gifts with a study group, and another had churches combining to stage a driving tour of live biblical scenes of Christmas and the life of Christ.  Or in more recent years, we gathered with my cousins and my dad and uncle, around a long set of tables for a humongous Thanksgiving meal together, or on Christmas Eve for a crazy mad dash game built around white elephant and fun gifts and laughter, which ended after our parents passed away and my wife and I moved.  But you see, each of those memories is unique to each of those place, and each of those times, and so becomes a special chapter in my heart.

So how do you make that new tradition and adapt? After my divorce, for Thanksgiving, I bought one of the deep fryers for whole turkeys, and for several years enjoyed the difference that made in my Thanksgiving feast (as well as among the college students I was leading).  I still have the fryer, but don’t use it as often…it was more important at that time. As I struggled to find new traditions to brighten Christmas after the divorce, a friend introduced to an idea that became a great tradition, which was to attend a nearby extravagant dramatic production of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, which I used as a special time with the children, and with my second wife.  I remember that time fondly whenever I hang the “God Bless Us, One and All” ornament on the Christmas tree, even though it has been over a decade since I went.  

Another shift for me was that, having used an artificial tree throughout my first marriage, I decided when alone to return to my growing up years, and so for many years in my new home, both when single and with my second wife, Nola, I would make everyone bundle up and we would go to a Christmas tree farm where we could select and cut down our own Christmas tree…but only after searching for a significant period of time to make sure we found the perfecttree.  (Well, except maybe that one year when there was also an ice storm and bitter cold, so the youngster with us on the wagon out to the trees “just happened” to find that perfect tree very quickly and were able to spot it without even having to get off the their seats to go and look!)

Memories, meaning, traditions—new and old, each for a time, each for a place, each taking their role in the chapters that compose the story of my life and relationships.  Some of those chapters came into being because I moved to a new location.  Some came because of life changes such as death or divorce.  And some have been there since childhood.  This year, I encourage you to look around and consider, what could be that tradition for you?

Oh, perhaps you are wondering about the title of this blog? Well, Nola and I moved to a new church and a new town in Nebraska just a couple of years ago, so we have been having to create new traditions, as she has reconnected and introduced me to relatives on her side of the family.  This week, I think I found what I hope will become a new Christmas tradition that will become one of my fond memories from this place and this time.  You see, I was recently listening to one of my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas cd’s to help me get in the mood as I was making plans for the church for Advent.  In the midst of it, the thought suddenly occurred to me that I love their music and have always wanted to go to a concert, but never knew when they were coming and so always missed it.  This time, it was well before Christmas, so I decided to look on the internet to see what their tour was, and lo and behold, they were going to be nearby.  I suggested it would make a great Christmas present if my wife wanted to take me, and so she bought the tickets, we went this past week to an absolutely phenomenal concert (if you like their style, of course), and I told her afterwards, I think I have found what might be a new Christmas tradition!  I heartily recommend it!

(By the way, I also told her how refreshing I thought it was to listen to an entire Christmas concert that wasn’t an overtly Christian specialty, and to not once hear anything about Santa Claus or Rudolph or a Grinch or Jingle Bells…just reminders of the wonder of Christmas and the birth of the babe in the manger.)   

May you each find some fresh and meaningful traditions to embellish this chapter of your life.  Start now.

Thursday, November 8, 2018



As I write this blog, voters are standing before machines, screens or with paper and pencil in hand, casting their votes in this year’s mid-term election.  If things go the way YOU want them to go, you might be very joyful tomorrow claiming that the nation has experienced some kind of deliverance.  If it goes AGAINST your preferences, you might declare the day a disaster!  

Do the elections seem capricious to you?  

Do you get frustrated at political maneuvering and gerrymandering? 

Do you think it has all gone awry somehow? Sometimes, because we live in a country where leaders are voted upon and decided through those votes, we seem to forget that ultimately, God is the one who is in charge.  I can’t explain how God uses our election system to accomplish his purposes, but make no mistake:  just because we are voting, does NOT mean God has abdicated his place on the throne to bow to our whims.  

Do you remember these scriptures:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.—Romans 13:1  (ESV)

For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
 but it is God who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.  –Psalm 75:6-7 (ESV)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior”  --1 Timothy 2:1-3

These are just a couple of the scriptures that remind us who is really in charge, that nobody wins elections just through their own maneuvering or popularity, for behind it all there is a God who is acting in ways unseen to accomplish his will.  You may want to argue this point, and even choose to use Adolf Hitler as an example to prove God does not appoint the leaders, because of how evil Hitler’s reign was.  But I would remind you that when Paul wrote that Romans passage above, as well as this one from 1 Timothy, he was living under Roman domination, a rule so frightening that it was deeply hated in Israel.  It was also the Roman Empire that persecuted Christians for daring to not believe that Caesar was divine, culminating in the tortuous murders of Christians under the rule of Nero, who may have been the one in power when Paul wrote Romans.  When Paul was facing his own death sentence, he didn’t write another letter telling everyone he had been wrong, that God doesn’t place these wicked people in power and we shouldn’t respect or accept their authority.  Paul truly believed that God is behind the selection of governmental leadership, accomplishing his own purposes whether those leaders bow to God or not.  

Do YOU believe that?

When this election cycle ends, I can guarantee you that there are going to be people who won’t like the outcome, whichever way things go.  Personally, I think the perpetual grumbling against the government got its biggest boost during the Vietnam and Watergate eras, and that ever since, instead of respecting the office people have sought to bring specific leaders down while freely and viciously criticizing the various officials.  Now don’t get me wrong, I can grumble with the best of them!  And with the political leadership I have witnessed over the decades since Watergate, there seems to always be plenty to grumble about!  

But if we truly believe that God is behind it all, raising up one leader, removing another, establishing the authorities, then surely that requires us to take a different approach, does it not?  Paul spoke against a ruler who was unjustly punishing him once, but when he discovered it was an official leader of the people, he apologized and quoted this verse from Exodus:

“You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.”--Exodus 22:28  (ESV)

I wonder how the tone of our country would change if everyone took this stance.  If instead of grumbling about the elected leaders and all the government waste or abuse, we took to heart the admonition of 1 Timothy and seriously interceded for these individuals, whether we voted for them, and whether we like them or not.  In fact, perhaps one of the causes of poor leadership is that instead of praying for them, we grumble and complain instead.  Maybe part of the problem with government leadership isn’t found in the capitol, but is found in our own prayer closets. 

Let us all remember that no matter which side of the aisle, and no matter which end of the political spectrum we may be on, together we make up the United States of America, and those opposite us whom some would like to deem to be enemies are, in fact, fellow citizens who also love their country, even if they have a different view of how things should be. It is the ability to learn from one another, to listen to one another, to work our compromises that address the concerns of all that make our government strong. 

So, tonight, if you end up rejoicing, please remember that there are others who are disappointed, just as you may have been in a previous election with a different outcome.  And if you end up despairing, remember that no one point of view holds all the answers for our country, we need to learn from one another.  Most of all, however you feel after it all, remind yourself that God is still on the throne, and he is moving history just the direction he knows is best….even if you and I are unable to see it ourselves.

Join me tonight, and pray for our leaders, won’t you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Don't Believe It, Persevere. Don't Give Up.


When a spouse initiates divorce proceedings, the number of things that change are stunning.  Housing, banking, holiday planning, scheduling, friendships…it’s like a major seismic shift.  

One of the arenas of life impacted is often church life. 

In some cases, I have known individuals who find they are no longer welcome at their church.  Others find that worship at church suddenly feels very awkward, especially if both spouses are still attending the same church.  And the awkwardness appears in the strangest ways.  The place you have always sat together as a couple now suddenly now feels out of place, like you no longer fit there.  Worship had always been a shared experience, but now, walking in the door alone, sitting alone, attending small group alone…it can be a very challenging experience.  

I once even had an individual who had been divorced for a year or two share with me just how much they hated Christmas Eve services…because of all the services at the church, that one felt the most family oriented to this individual now sitting all alone.  All of this is one of the unexpected and unintended consequences of divorce.  There are parallel experiences for those who lose a spouse or other family member through death.  The empty space beside you can be paralyzing at times.  

What is the solution?  Sadly, for far too many divorcing/divorced people, the solution is to stop attending worship altogether.  Especially if they are still attending worship in the same sanctuary in which they were married.  Memories can be overwhelming.  This, too, can be the experience of someone who lost a spouse and then is faced with memories of the funeral and an open casket in the same space.  Simply too painful, too overwhelming sometimes, and it can drive a person away.

Sometimes simple shifts can make a huge difference. If attending worship is really bothering you, consider some alternative ideas.  If your church has multiple services, try some of the different service times.  Most worship attendees tend to sit in the same place week after week.  Simply moving to a different location on the other side of the sanctuary can make a big difference.  In most churches, if you pay attention, there are almost always individuals who are sitting by themselves.  Some of them would be appreciative of the companionship, if you are willing to sit with someone new.  

Perhaps your difficulty is when you attend the small group or Sunday School class you have always been part of, and now feel like you no longer fit in.  You may feel that way because the class is filled with couples, or it may simply be that the group has too many individuals who knew you as a couple, and it is hard to discern how some of them feel about you now.  You may end up considering a different small group, but at the cost of losing the close support network you have enjoyed in that group. On the other hand, it can give you a fresh start, a fresh identity, relationships and support that are all your own.

Some individuals find that none of these ideas are helpful, that any contact at their church just feels too awkward, too depressing.  For those individuals, I would encourage you to consider visiting some other churches in your area…you may find a new niche of your own.  That search may take time, but don’t give up.  In fact, that is the main concept I want to impress upon you: don’t give up.  Don’t abandon your church attendance.  It is an important priority, and if you start skipping now and then because it feels awkward, now and then becomes often, and eventually it becomes harder to attend, as you fall of the grid.  The healthy habit of regular church attendance can quickly become the habit of NOT attending…and that is not a healthy habit to have if you are supposed to be a follower of Christ.  

It may take a while for you to find that new niche. It may even take years.  Friends may not understand the trauma you feel whenever you attend worship.  It is easy to get discouraged.  It is easy to think you will never fit in anywhere again.

But don’t believe it.  Persevere.  Don’t give up.  

When those feelings start to overwhelm you, visit with the pastor to share your struggle. Odds are there is someone else in the congregation who has gone through a similar experience, and that person could be a good resource to help you through.  With patience, you will one day find that new niche where you once again experience God’s presence in worship.  But only if you don’t give up.  And if you don’t give up, I promise that one day, you will be glad that you didn’t.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Assumptions about Cohabitation

Have you heard the old story of individuals who work to put their spouse through medical school, law school or to help them get that chance at a career, only to find that once the goal has been achieved, they are dragged to divorce court while their spouse moves on with their lives with someone else?  I know people who have had that happen, don’t you?  

Well, imagine that same scenario, only this time, they did not get married, but only “cohabitated” (as the term goes).  The same breakup, the same broken hearts, the same person being taken advantage of and left high and dry.  But what is NOT the same, is that there is no legal recourse. 

There is no court to insist that the spouse deserves some financial support to compensate for all the years of sacrifice and commitment that were made.  There is no opportunity to make a case as to who should keep the house or the furniture.  If one person decides to try to hide away all the money, or unfairly take advantage of the situation, there is no recourse to make address any such wrongs that have been suffered, no judge to make sure that each person is treated equitably, because there is little or no legal standing to help. 

Beyond that, when a couple living together split up, it is unlikely that they will receive the kind of compassion, support and encouragement that sometimes comes to those whose marriage fails, because it appears to people to be not much different than a simple dating breakup.  But for those who have entangled their lives with another, the emotional baggage can be as devastating as a divorce.

Many people today ASSUME living together before marriage is the best way to go.  In fact, many consider it the norm today.  They often believe it will give them better success if they do get married, as it gives them a chance to test it out, so to speak.  But, as I regularly share during pre-marital counseling sessions with individuals who are living together, the facts are just the opposite:  those who live together first actually INCREASE the likelihood of a divorce, and more!  

Let me give you some sources and let you look for yourself.  Below I offer three webpages, easily found in any search, that explain what is real and what is not in terms of marriage, living together first, and divorce.  

I think it will surprise you.  

You can jump to the pages by clicking on the picture above the statements from the website.  I especially want to emphasize these truths to folks who have been divorced already, because very often, since they are already divorced, they can come up with a mindset that it really doesn’t matter, since they have been divorced before, or because of the divorce they are even more hesitant to commit.  I especially urge those of you who are in that situation to consider the information below very carefully.

First Things First

 First Things First:

This website lists the following, and explains that these are untrue beliefs:

Living together is an easy way to “try out” a relationship before committing to marriage.
Living together will give us a stronger marriage.
Sharing finances and expenses will make things easier on our relationship.
Your sex life goes downhill when you get married.
Marriage is just a piece of paper. 
It’s only temporary.  (60 percent don’t get married…39  break up and 21 just never commit.)

Love to Know

Love to Know
“A couple who does not live together prior to marriage has a 20 percent chance of being divorced within five years.  If the couple has lived together beforehand, that number jumps to 49 percent.  If a couple chooses to live together as an alternative to being married at all, the likelihood that the relationship will break up within five years is 49 percent. At the 10-year mark, a married couple has a 33 percent chance of breaking up.  For the unmarried couple who is living together, the likelihood of a breakup is a whopping 62 percent.”

The Spruce

“Living together is considered to be more stressful than being married.”
“In the United States and in the UK, couples who live together are at a greater risk for divorce than non-cohabiting couples.”  
“Cohabiting couples had a separation rate five times that of married couples and a reconciliation rate that was one-third that of married couples.”

The more you read on the topic, the more you realize that many people today are falling for a lie, and it is ruining their lives. Living together, without the honest commitment of a lifetime, in a relationship that still maintains “mine” and “yours” mentalities, or the option of a supposedly easy exit, does NOT accomplish what most believe it will.  In fact, it often undermines the very thing they are hoping for:  chances for a stronger marriage.  If you are considering this option, I advise you to rethink your plans.  And if you know someone else who is considering this option, you may save them a lot of heartache if you tell them the truth that nobody else is saying. God knew what he was doing when he designed marriage as a permanent cleaving together of husband and wife.  None of our supposed improvements are really improvements at all!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Is this true?


I ran across an article on Yahoo the other day that indicates the divorce rate in the U.S. has gone down some 18% from 2008 to 2016, and that “the trend has been driven by younger women, despite divorce rates among older women higher than in the past.”   It goes on to say that the marriage rate has fallen as well. 

Click on picture to access full article 
The Maryland professor who apparently did the study, suggests that marriage is becoming more selective and stable.  The article then quotes a psychologist who is pleased about the trend, since divorce is so painful and difficult, and speculates that the two people still likely to be getting married are those who deeply hold traditional values and those who have taken a lot more time to choose their mate.  

There are some interesting ideas underlying all of this.  For instance, one of the things that is also a trend that living together, which used to be the exception and relatively rare, is now described as “the norm.”  It also implies that, all along, those who hold strongly to the traditional values of marriage, and those who have taken time to think through their selection before getting married, have been the ones who were most likely to avoid divorce. 

Another unspoken issue is that now, as couples choose to live together rather than marry, when they split up (as they often do), their split is not counted in the divorce rate as it used to be when they got married instead.  Somehow, I think if one were to include those breakups, we would find that the rate of split is the same or even higher, since there is already a higher divorce rate among those who live together first than those who do not. (That topic will be addressed in a future blog.)

It also seems to me that the counselor who sees all of this as a good thing, (since divorce is an awful experience), has missed realizing that when a couple living together breaks up, that is ALSO a traumatic event…and perhaps even worse than divorce!  

Among those who work with teenagers, it has long been considered that the breakup of a long-term dating relationship is as traumatic for them as a divorce is for an adult.  If that is the case after merely dating, how would it not also be the case after a couple living together split?  In fact, I would suspect that it might be even worse in many ways….which I may also address in the future blog.

So while I agree that a falling divorce race is a good thing, especially if it means that people have developed such a high attitude toward marriage that they take time to think it through thoroughly before committing. But if that falling rate is attributable to the fact that the marriage rate is also declining, with people choosing to be refuse to really commit, and choosing to ignore the emotional and moral issues involved in choosing to opt out of making the choice of a marriage, I am not particularly impressed.  In other words, I think there is much more going on than meets the eye, and the pain and brokenness that comes with the dissolution of deep and meaningful relationship remains significant, whether the couple dared to take the risk of committing in marriage or to stop short of that.  Broken relationships hurt, and I suspect there are still a lot more of them than this study is suggesting.