markforstrom.com

My essays about healthy relationships with God, others, & yourself.

Make a list of what you love about your spouse.

Yesterday, I uncharacteristically focused on the negative. So today, I want to make up for that by going positive!

Here’s today’s assignment: Make a list of 50 things you especially love about your spouse—things you appreciate so much.  (This may take longer than yesterday’s assignment because it’s so easy to focus on what we don’t like.  It’s easy to fixate on the stubbed toe and forget the other nine toes that work perfectly well.)

Go ahead and do it now before continuing to read my post. I will too.

 

[Pause here until finished.]

 

How long did it take you to come up with 50?  Did it surprise you how easy or hard it was to come up with this list?  Did it take more time than yesterday’s list of negatives?

(By the way, unlike yesterday’s list, I recommend you DO show this list to your spouse!  It would be a blessing to you both!  Perhaps you could “pretty it up” and present it to your spouse as part of a Valentine’s Day gift!)

Now at the top of your list, I want you to add the words, “NOT BECAUSE.”  This is your NOT BECAUSE LIST.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about how agape love is an essential component in a uniquely Christian marriage.  It’s the kind of love that the Bible portrays as being unconditional.

On the list I just made about Cindy, I came up with 50 qualities that I love about her.  But please note that this use of the word “love” is not agape love, it’s more akin to “like.”  I like those things about Cindy—a lot!  But if I want to incorporate genuine agape love in my marriage to Cindy, I’ll need to show love to her…not because.

Likewise, you also need to show unconditional love to your spouse not because your spouse provides… [insert all 50 of your compliments here].  The question I want you to consider is this: if none of your spouse’s good qualities existed, would you still agape love him or her?

I’m suggesting that our loving treatment must be completely unrelated to our spouse’s current wonderfulness.  Here’s why:  most of the things we enjoy today will likely go away.  Our bodies will increasingly become older, and uglier, and eventually may even become disabled.  Our minds may not stay as sharp and may deteriorate altogether.  We may lose our abilities and capabilities.  We won’t have the energy we once had.  Our strength and stamina will likely lessen.  Our productivity will decrease and may disappear altogether.

In a Christian marriage, we pledge to love purely and unconditionally till death do us part.  If my grandfather’s love had depended on my grandmother retaining her wonderful qualities, he would have left her eighteen years earlier rather than love her until she died.  His love was not because of her loveliness, which was fading.  His love toward her was agape love.

Why must we love our spouse this way?  I can think of two reasons:

First, the Bible commands that marital love should mirror Jesus’s love.  We are to love just as He loved. This not because type of love is the kind of love Jesus showed us.  He loved us not because we qualified—in fact, we could never qualify.  His love had nothing to do with our qualities.  He was choosing to love us without conditions.  We should unconditionally love our spouse in the same way.

The other reason is the Golden Rule, which Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12.  Imagine if it was your wonderfulness that faded (and it will), wouldn’t you want your spouse to keep loving you as my grandfather did?   Therefore, we should treat our spouses the same way.

I’ve taken these last two posts to define two facets of agape love, which are really two sides of the same coin.

Nothing we might do will make him love us less  (the even though  aspect of agape love).

Nothing we might do will make him love us more  (the not because  aspect of agape love).

Let’s make that true in our own marriages!

Make a list of your spouse’s faults.

Those of you who have met me know that I, generally, have a positive outlook on life.  So what I’m about to ask you to do may sound surprising:  Make a list of 50 things that annoy or irritate you about your spouse—things you would change about your spouse if you could.

Go ahead and do it now before continuing to read my post.   I will too.

 

[Pause here until finished.]

 

How long did it take you to come up with 50?  Did it surprise you how easy or hard it was to come up with this list?

Ok, now consider the categories of the things you wrote down.   Your list likely includes…

  • Annoying habits.
  • Personality quirks.
  • Differences in personal preferences or values.
  • Sinful tendencies.
  • Physical inabilities or deficiencies.
  • Lack of knowledge and awareness.
  • Other things that wound you—whether intentional or not.

To simplify things even more, we could probably summarize them all into one simple category:  All the ways in which my spouse is not just like me!  [By the way, please don’t show this list to your spouse–that would not end well!]

Now at the top of your list I want you to add the words, “EVEN THOUGH.”    This is your EVEN THOUGH LIST.

In my previous post, I talked about how agape love is an essential component in a uniquely Christian marriage.  It’s the kind of love that the Bible portrays as being sacrificial, selfless, and unconditional.  I cited my grandfather’s steadfast love for my incapacitated grandmother as my prime model.

So if I choose to utilize agape love in my marriage to Cindy, an admittedly imperfect person, I’ll need to show my love to her…even though.

Likewise, you also need to show unconditional love to your spouse even though your spouse does such-and-such [insert all 50 of your complaints here].

Our loving treatment must be completely unrelated to our spouse’s failures, foibles, and follies.  We must love purely and unconditionally.

Why must we do this?  Because the Bible commands that marital love should mirror Jesus’s love.  We are to love just as He loved.  This even though type of love is the kind of love Jesus showed us.  He loved us in spite of us.  Imagine if Jesus listed our deficiencies—it would be way more than 50!  Yet he loved us even though.

We were his enemies—rebellious, selfish, idolatrous, prideful, distracted, self-promoting, objects of wrath—and yet he treated us lovingly anyway by dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.    This is the good news, the Gospel.   We’re treated better than we deserve!

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

He offers us his unconditional love; we only need to receive it.

But back to marriage, let’s determine to love our spouse even though.

Tomorrow I’m going to have you make another list–one that I promise will be much more fun!  But first, why don’t you go ahead and destroy this list I just had you make.  It’s served its purpose.

 

 

[Note: as I said in my last post, I’m talking about normal marriage relationships.  If there is abuse, adultery, or abandonment involved, this post should not be construed to mean you must put up with it.  In fact, the most loving thing the abused one can do for the abuser would be to stop him or her from abusing you.  If this applies to you, protect yourself, get help from those you can trust, and institute whatever boundaries may be needed.]

Marriage is neither 50-50 nor 100-100.

I saw a meme on Facebook that I can’t help but comment on.   There are some things about it that really trouble me, so I want to use the meme as a springboard to make some points that I think are important for a strong Christian marriage.

First, I’ll paraphrase the meme:

Marriage isn’t 50-50.

Divorce is 50-50 where you divide everything in half.

Marriage has to be 100-100, where you give it everything you’ve got.

I think I get the overall intent of the quote:  “Don’t be half-hearted in your marriage but give it 100% effort.”  It’s certainly hard to disagree with that!  We could all use a reminder to put more effort into the things that matter!    So I agree with the spirit of the quote.

I also agree with the first phrase: “Marriage isn’t 50-50.”  Too many people enter marriage with the idea that “I’ll meet you halfway;  I’ll do my half and you do yours.”  The problem with this 50-50 perspective is that it makes the couple competitors; we’re comparing who’s putting in their fair share of effort.  And it sets up a comparison about who is working the hardest at the marriage.  The natural progression of this view results in “I’ll match your effort, but no more.  If you’re not doing your part, I’m out.”  Fairness, then, becomes the standard, and the success of the marriage hinges upon me coming out ahead, or at least we come out even.   In this view, marriage is essentially about me getting what I deserve.  So we can agree with the meme that marriage isn’t 50-50.

But what about the meme’s phrase, “Marriage has to be 100-100.”?   I disagree with this statement on multiple levels!  First of all, as I’ve blogged elsewhere, it’s impossible to give 100%  at anything — simply because we’re human.  And with marriage in particular,  Love Fails and we can’t perfectly keep our wedding vows even for a single day.   So it’s an illusion to think we can give 100%.  I’ll never get anywhere close to that.

But an even greater problem with the 100-100 model is that it takes us right back to the exact same problem we had with the 50-50 model:  I’ll match your effort.  “You do your 100 and I’ll do mine. and everything’s good.”  We’re right back in competition to see who’s putting in maximum effort.  Fairness is still the standard and getting what I deserve is still the driving motivation.

Is this what a Christian marriage should be about?  Hardly!  It’s neither an “I’ll meet you halfway” proposition nor it is an “I demand you be all-in” one.  Business partnerships may work that way, but not a Christian marriage because that’s simply not how biblical love works.  The agape love that 1 Corinthians 13 describes is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional kind of love.  It has nothing to do with reciprocation or effort on the part of the other.  It’s loving someone regardless of what they are doing.  A Christian’s wedding vow to love until death is not a conditional contract, but rather an unconditional covenant before God that does not depend on the other’s effort.

Over the years, I’ve seen many good examples of selfless love, but the gold standard, in my view, was the love modeled by my biological grandfather, Arthur Olsen toward his wife, my grandmother Ruth.   They were married for almost 70 years, which in itself shows a tremendous amount of commitment.  But the last years became the hardest for them both when my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s at the age of 72.  For the next eighteen years, my grandfather loved her unconditionally until her death at the age of 90.

What did his unconditional love look like during that final chapter of their marriage?  For the first ten years, he took care of her at home.  During that time, he assumed more and more (and finally all) of the responsibilities in the home:  cleaning, cooking, shopping, and caring for her every need with little (and finally nothing) in return.  As her mind deteriorated, she would even fail to recognize him at times, fearfully thinking there was a strange man in the house.  Yet he patiently and tenderly reassured her that she was safe with him.  And she was.

Eventually, it became necessary for her to move into a care facility, but for the next eight years, my grandfather stayed close by her side.  Though he was required to live in a separate apartment from the nursing center, he came down to see her nearly every day, sitting with her for hours, walking with her, washing her, changing her, and feeding her lunch and supper.  He would cut up her food as needed and spoon-feed it to her.  In the final six years, she didn’t recognize him at all.  In the final year, she could no longer walk and was completely non-verbal.  She grew increasingly non-responsive, head drooping, staring blankly most of the time.  Yet he remained by her side as her faithful husband.  Amazingly, never once did he complain.

The nurses at the facility teasingly said they wanted to marry my grandfather because they saw in him what a real man and godly husband really looks like!

My grandfather took his marriage vows seriously.  It would have been an insult to my grandfather to speak of such nonsense as marriage being 50-50 or 100-100.

So what should the ratio be?

I suggest we let Jesus be our model here.  Paul, in Ephesians 5, tells husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church.”  The whole point of the Gospel is that we are undeserving sinners and yet, Christ loved us anyway.  We did nothing to deserve His love.  In fact, while we were still his enemies Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  So, was it a 50-50 proposition with Jesus, where He meets us halfway?  Not a chance!  Was it 100-100 with Jesus?  Ridiculous.  With him, it was 100-0.  And if His love toward His church is the standard for us to follow in marriage, then we’ll need a new ratio from the one in the meme.

Since we can’t be perfectly Christlike on this side of heaven, I suggest the model each of us should aim for is this:

99-x   (with 99 being what you do and X being what your spouse does).

In other words, faithfully love your spouse without regard to how much he or she loves you back.  That’s selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love!

 

[Note: in this post, I’m talking about normal marriage relationships.  If there is abuse, adultery, or abandonment involved, this post should not be construed to mean you must put up with it.  In fact, the most loving thing the abused one can do for the abuser would be to stop him or her from abusing you.  If this applies to you, protect yourself, get help from those you can trust, and institute whatever boundaries may be needed.]

How to make your wife and kids feel unneeded.

child-1160862_640How to make your wife and kids feel unneeded…

It’s quite simple, really–hardly worth even blogging about.  You pull them aside and you just say these four words, “I don’t need you.”

But feel free to be more creative if you like.

Personally, I prefer using the phrase, “I have no need of you.” Somehow it sounds a little more theatric, yet it accomplishes the same thing.  I’ve used that phrase often with my family over the past 29 years.

If you don’t believe me go ahead and ask them yourself!

Now before you call DHS, indicting me for shattering my girls’ fragile self-esteems, let me explain why we should be telling our family members that we don’t need them.

There are five reasons why I suggest we not tell them we need them.

  1. It’s not helpful to others.  It’s much more important to tell them we want them.  I am always clear to communicate “I want you,” “I cherish you,” “I delight in you,” “I enjoy you,” “I like being with you,” etc. — even while using my epic line “I have no need of you.”  Communicating “I want you” tells them that they are desirable, lovable, interesting, and treasured.  They don’t need to be needed, but they do need to be valued.
  2. It manipulates others.  Making them feel needed, can create an unhealthy sense of co-dependency, where their identity and worth are defined by how well they meet the expectations of others.  I know people whose entire adult lives have been consumed with having to please other people.  It feels like enslavement because it is.
  3. It sets us up for interpersonal conflict.  Viewing our loved one as a “need” puts us in the position of consumer with them being our provider.  It creates high expectations, where our happiness depends on their performance.  Such expectations easily cause us to manipulate others, pressuring them to provide what we think we need.  This “you owe me” attitude is a setup for serious marriage, family, and friendship conflicts.  Some may comply with our demands for a while, but most will eventually pull away relationally, causing a wall between us.
  4. It’s a deviation from what is true.  I believe that God is truly our only real need; everything else is merely a want.  This mindset encapsulates the very first of my 40 Life Resolutions: “God is my only true need.”   Everything else pales in comparison.  I would redesign Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” with God at the top and a “Hierarchy of Wants” underneath.  If God is truly the giver and sustainer of life — both now and for eternity–then the Christian technically needs nothing else.  Period.  Not even oxygen–in fact, being deprived of that will make us more alive than ever before.
  5. It’s a setup for our own devastation. We must not remove God from his rightful place as the one who satisfies us. If we do, viewing our loved ones as what we really need, this is idolatry.  It is also a setup for deep disappointment, despair, and bitterness should we ever lose our loved ones to death, disability, deficiency, distancing, or desertion.   Let me expound on each.
  • Death.  We have no guarantees.  Life is fragile.  We live in a fallen, precarious world.  Our family members are mortal.  It’s conceivable that the God who gave us our loved ones could choose to take them away. How would we handle that?  I’ve seen two responses.  Those who saw their deceased family member as a “need that they’ve been robbed of” invariably shake their fists at God and descend into a dark tunnel of bitterness.  I’ve seen parents lose one child and then become so bitter that the surviving children lose their parents (emotionally) for the next 10 years.  How unnecessarily tragic!  On the other hand, I’ve seen families lose a child yet praise God for the precious years they had together.  Although they grieved their terrible loss, they were eventually able to press forward, knowing that their child’s earthly presence wasn’t something they “needed” in order to be joyful.  In my daily prayers for my family I tell God, “Help me to treasure my family more and more, yet hold them looser and looser.”  If and when they are taken away–it’ll be hard, but it’ll be ok.
  • Disability.  We can probably all think of marriages that dissolved after one spouse became disabled.  A Christ-centered marriage shouldn’t depend on our spouse’s physical prowess or functionality.  “He (or She) didn’t meet my needs” should never be an excuse for splitting up.  That’s not what Christlike, unconditional love is.  “In sickness and in health, till death do us part” is the commitment that was made.  Thankfully, our spiritual disabilities don’t keep Jesus from loving us.  We can’t need others to function as we wish they would.
  • Deficiency.  Parents often “need” their children to be star athletes, musicians, performers, scholars, etc.  This then becomes a point of contention when kids don’t live up to their potential.  Parents sometimes derive their own esteem from their kids’ performance or try to live out their own unreached dreams through their kids.  This pressure adds stress to kids’ lives and often builds walls between parents and kids.  If parents stopped “needing” their kids to be something the parents want, perhaps these parents could help their kids explore who God wants them to be.  Better to find out who the kids actually are, not who you want them to be.
  • Distancing  Kids naturally pull away relationally from “needy” parents.  Unfortunately, when this occurs, these parents often resort to blame and shame, nagging and scolding as attempts to try to get them back.  Such manipulation always backfires and pushes them further. So many fractured families are the result of this. We also can’t need our kids to be physically close.  For example, we have to be ok if God calls our kids to move to China or to Africa for the next 20 years.  As much as we might want our future grandkids to grow up close to us we can’t need it.   Thankfully, we can be perfectly joyful and content even when we don’t have all the things we ideally would want!
  • Desertion.  Kids who abandon the beliefs, values, or lifestyles of their parents can cause devastation for parents who “needed” their kids to stay true to the faith.  These parents often try to scold, nag, or pressure their kids to come back to the fold, which ironically has the opposite effect.  On the other hand, parents whose joy doesn’t depend on their kids’ choices are free to live their own lives abundantly.  Though they will certainly remain grieved and concerned about their child’s choices and well-being, that doesn’t prevent them from worshiping, serving God, and taking care of themselves.  Ironically, the best thing a concerned parent can do to influence their wayward kids is not to attack their waywardness, but rather joyfully trust God and love others amidst heartbreak.  A genuine, unwavering, and unshakable faith may be the very thing that influences their kids to come back to the fold.

So do yourself, your wife, and your kids a favor by telling them you don’t need them!  It’ll transform your life and theirs!  And then tell God that He’s all you’ve ever really needed.

[Please note that in this article I’m using the word, “need,” in a technical or literal sense.  I recognize that “need” is also commonly used in a more figurative or pragmatic sense, such as, “We need to work together as a team,” or “I need help making supper.”   I take no issue with such “needs”!  Yet I have found it helpful to limit my use of the word “need,” substituting “want” or “would like” whenever possible as a way to ensure I don’t fall into any of the pitfalls listed above.]

[This was a revision of the original post from 2016.  I consider this one of my most important topics.]

Never say “Trust me.”

A husband who was kicked out after he had an affair begs his wife to let him back home, saying, “The affair is over.  Trust me.”

A mom whose alcohol misuse embarrasses her kids at their sporting events protests when they don’t want her to attend anymore.  “I won’t embarrass you again, trust me.”

A friend who frequently asks to borrow some money asks once more, promising, “I’ll pay you back, trust me.”

A teenage daughter wants to go with her friends to the all-night “after-prom” party at the hotel.  The parents resist and she adamantly asserts that nothing bad will happen, “Just trust me.”

Each of these scenarios demonstrates a misunderstanding and a misusing of the word trust.   We should never say “Trust me” because that’s simply not the way trust works.

Trust is not a choice.  Love is a choice.  Forgiveness is a choice.   Transparency is a choice.  Compassion is a choice.   Blogging is a choice.  Trust is NOT a choice; it’s something else.  Trust is actually a feeling.

Trust is a feeling.

  • Of safety.
  • Of confidence.
  • Of certainty.
  • Of comfortability.
  • Of a lack of apprehension.
  • Of a lack of worry.
  • Of a lack of skepticism or cynicism.
  • Of a lack of anxiety.

Since trust is a feeling, commanding someone to “Trust me,” is about as senseless as telling someone to “feel nauseous,” “feel sentimental,” or “feel lonely.”  Trust is not something one simply decides to do.  Like all feelings, it’s merely a description of what is.  We don’t change feelings by imploring people to feel otherwise.  Healthy people don’t tell others to feel–or not feel–a certain way.  We shouldn’t minimize feelings or encourage others to stuff their feelings.  Feelings just are.

It’s true that feelings, including trust, can change, but we don’t change them by begging someone to change their feelings.  We change feelings by changing the conditions that caused the feelings.

Here are some tips if you want someone to trust you

1.  Be consistently dependable, principled, wise, honest, and safe–in other words, be trustworthy!   This is the best way to gain and maintain trust.  Since no one is completely consistent, when you do fail –and you will!–be sure to quickly accept responsibility and make things right.  That’ll restore trust promptly.

2.  If someone feels unsafe due to the magnitude or duration of your past hurtful behavior, this is a sad situation. Trust is easy to lose and hard to regain, and it’s entirely possible that trust will never be restored.  But if you care about the relationship, you will do whatever it takes to attempt to restore trust.  And, be assured, it will not be easy.  Here are some thoughts for you…

  • Trust is yours to earn, not the other’s to grant.  The onus is entirely on you to prove you are worth trusting.
  • Restoring trust involves the past, present, and future.  It is possible only after 1.)  owning and repairing the damage already done in the past and 2.) acting significantly differently in the present and 3.) consistently showing safe, changed behavior from here on.
  • How much time will it take?  No one knows how long it will take, not even the distrustful person.  The longer the harmful behavior lasted and the more serious its nature, the longer it will take to restore trust.  Since trust is a feeling, it’s impossible for anyone to predict when that person will feel safe–it could take a week, a month, or more than a year.  We can’t put “Trust will arrive here!” on the calendar.  But, the more aggressively you take responsibility for past mistakes and make noticeable changes from here on out, the better your chances will be.  Focus on showing consistent, improved behavior over time, while waiting, hoping, and praying for trust to someday return.

3.  Sometimes the lack of trust isn’t about you directly, but about issues pertaining to the other person (past abuse, assumptions, stereotypes, anxieties, awareness of human nature, etc.).  If this is the case, it would be wise to spend time getting to understand the distrustful person’s hurts, fears, prejudices, or anxieties.  Then you can work together on alleviating those that can be overcome. By showing empathy, sensitivity, and care, you will be increasing the chances that you will overcome the disadvantages and be trusted in spite of them.

Two Final Thoughts

It’s ok to say, “I want you to trust me”  just as it would be ok to say, “I want you to feel safe with me.”  This is a statement about a desired outcome, not a demand for the person to feel a certain way.

Only God can truly say, “Trust Me!”  Because of his faithfulness, holiness, and perfection, he alone has the right to tell us to feel safe with Him!

Never say I’m sorry.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Some of my clients and I have recently been pondering the phrase “I’m sorry” and now I want to write some thoughts on that subject.   I’ll share my conclusion before making my case below:  we should try to avoid saying “I’m sorry” as much as possible!

This announcement may come as a surprise to those who know my proclivity toward apologizing so let me explain.

Here are five reasons why I think we should discontinue using “I’m sorry.”

  1. It’s overused.  Some people use the phrase in self-deprecating ways, saying “I’m sorry” about nearly everything they do–they even seem sorry about their very existence.  Of course, when you ask them to stop saying, “I’m sorry” their response is “I’m sorry.”  Such people have a low self-concept and use the phrase either to assume more blame than is warranted or to solicit endless sympathy from others.  Either reason is unhealthy.
  2. It minimizes. “I’m sorry” can be a meaningless concession phrase just to get someone off your back (often followed by “Jeez Louise” or the equivalent).  It’s an easy out that minimally admits error without truly taking responsibility.  We can use it to get off the hook or trivialize the one who is offended.
  3. It provides an easy segue to deflection, blame-shifting, and excuse-making, especially when followed by the word, but.   “I’m sorry…but you gave me no choice…”,   “I’m sorry…but if you weren’t so pushy”, and  “I’m sorry…but if I had a little more support around here…”
  4. The phrase is too vague.  When I say “I’m sorry,” exactly what am I being sorry about?   It’s unclear.  Sorry that I got caught?  (i.e., “worldly sorrow”). That I might suffer consequences?  (i.e., self-pity).  That I tarnished my reputation?  (i.e., pride). That people will disapprove of me?  (i.e., insecurity). Or that I hurt you deeply and am deeply grieved by my actions (actual remorse).  Any of these are possibilities so the phrase lacks usefulness.
  5. The phrase is misused when empathy is needed.  We say “I’m sorry” when someone tells us of their misfortune even though we were not responsible for their pain.  Their predictable response then becomes, “Oh, don’t you feel bad; my pain is not your fault!”  This is detrimental as it shifts the focus of the talk from their hurt to our lack of culpability.  It would be more direct and constructive to simply say “I feel bad about what you’re going through” or “It pains me to hear about what happened to you.”   That would elicit the response, “Thank you,” showing that empathy was felt, not sidestepped.

While I am suggesting we try to avoid this oft-misused phrase, I’m not suggesting we not apologize!   In fact, if we care about healthy relationships, apologizing is one of the most important things we fallen humans must do!  I’m just saying to try apologizing without saying, “I’m sorry.”  So how do we do that?

[Important note: apologizing starts with actually being remorseful.  If you can hurt someone and not feel remorse, there is something deeply wrong with you.  If you are indifferent about hurting others, or even worse, you take pleasure in doing so, something needs healing in your own heart.  This is a spiritual problem; God commands us to love others, not hurt them without regret.  Ignore everything else in this post and get to work on your own soul.   See a counselor, pastor, or spiritual mentor right away.]   But for the rest of you…

After cooling off and calming down, here are the components of a “heartfelt apology.”

  1. Name the crime in direct, first-person language.   Describe what you did in accurate detail. This takes humility.  “I yelled at you unkindly.”  “I came home drunk again.”   “I treated you like crap in front of the kids.”   “I accused you unfairly.”  “I gave you the cold shoulder.”  “I was controlling, demanding you do it my way.”
  2. Don’t minimize what you did or offer explanations.  Take full responsibility for what you did to the other person with no excuses.  Sure, there are reasons for your bad behavior, but talk to your pastor or therapist to figure out those root causes.  For now, only describe to your loved one what you did to him or her that was hurtful.
  3. Recognize how you must have made him or her feel.  Try to see through his or her eyes and think about how your bad behavior must have felt to your loved one.  Describe the wounds you caused in ways that show understanding.  “I frightened you by coming at you like that.”  “It must have crushed your spirit to hear me say such degrading things to you.”  “I insulted your character, which must have been infuriating.”  Try to include likely emotions as you describe the negative impact of your behavior.
  4. Emphasize how he or she didn’t deserve to be treated that way.   Show your loved one that he or she deserved better treatment.  “You didn’t deserve that kind of disrespect.”  “How could I have treated you so unfairly?”  “No one should ever treat you the way I just did.”
  5. Show your remorse.  “I’m embarrassed about how I treated you.”  “I wish I could retract what I said to you.”  “I’ll always regret having treated you that way.”  “I wish I could travel back in time and unhurt you.”
  6. Assure that you intend to learn from this mistake and do better in the future.   Simply confessing what you did wrong is not enough.  You must show genuine repentance by showing that you are serious about changing.  “I can’t undo my past but want you to know that I have learned from my sin and my goal is to treat you properly in the future.  Moving forward, I plan to show you significant improvement in my behavior as I learn from this blunder of mine.  I intend to learn to love you more and hurt you less.”
  7. Make amends if possible.  If there’s any way to make amends do so.  If you’ve treated your loved one with dishonor, compensate by doing something to show him or her extra honor.  If the infraction was in front of others, set things right with all those who witnessed it.  If something was broken, replace it.  If something is threatening, remove it permanently from the relationship.  If you created fear, replace it with safety.
  8. State your need for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a subject I want to flesh out more in a future post, but it still needs mentioning here.  Stating your need for forgiveness is about you humbling yourself; it is not about putting an obligation on the other person.  Stating your need for forgiveness makes you beholden to the other person.  You’re admitting that your abusive behavior has created a debt needing forgiveness.  It is a relinquishing of the power you had over the other person and it’s giving the other person the power to forgive you or not to.   Be careful not to demand forgiveness or pressure your loved one to grant it.  Like love, forgiveness cannot be forced.   Often it takes time and likely will correspond to your demonstration of true repentance.  “I hope that someday you’ll be able to forgive me for what I did” is a good way to declare your need for forgiveness without pressuring the person to grant it immediately.  Ultimately, whether or not the other person is able to forgive you is out of your control.  You take responsibility for yourself.

Two final thoughts.

  1. Remember that tone and facial expression must correspond to the words.  In fact, these communicate more clearly than the words themselves.  Look the other person in the eyes and show genuine sadness about how you treated him or her and show honest determination about making changes.
  2. We should apologize frequently, not just over big things, but also over little hurts.  This will keep resentment from building up.   Since we will fail each other frequently, we should be quick to heal the wounds.  All of the steps outlined above may not be necessary in each case, but, when in doubt, I suggest erring on the side of over-apologizing rather than under-apologizing!

Love means never having to say you’re sorry.   A heartfelt apology is much better.

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The reasonable solution to Perfectionism!

Both in and outside my counseling office I encounter people who are seriously distressed by their own imperfections.  They want to do everything perfectly and are perpetually disappointed in themselves for falling short.  Overwhelmed and under-rested, these people spend much of their lives on the performance treadmill–yet, they seem to get nowhere.  And they often struggle to take pride in the work they do accomplish;  nothing they do is good enough.  Eventually, they become wearied and exhausted.  Some even end up despairing of life itself.

These are the perfectionists.

There are many reasons why people may become perfectionists, but I’m not going to explore that here.   Instead, I want to talk about the root problem of perfectionism and offer a reasonable solution.

The problem of perfectionism is this:  Perfection is an illusion!  Like trying to grasp a hologram, perfectionists are chasing after something that can never be caught.

Here’s why I say perfectionism is an illusion:

We are human.  As I blogged recently, the most loving husband or wife remains notably imperfect!  Truly, all of us fall short because we are fallen people living in fallen bodies in a fallen world.  Our bodies themselves are far from perfect;  our faces are not even perfectly symmetrical!  In heaven, it’s possible we’ll do everything perfectly, but that’s impossible on this side of eternity.

We don’t just have one thing to do.  We have many roles and responsibilities to fulfill in life, not just one.  For my part, I am a disciple of Jesus, a husband, a son, a dad, a grandfather, an uncle, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a counselor, a neighbor, a friend, a citizen, a church member, a homeowner, a gardener, a runner, a student, a blogger, a janitor, a nursery volunteer, a musician, an occasional preacher, and a board member of two separate non-profit organizations.  Can I be perfect at all of these roles?  Not a chance!  In fact, I can’t be perfect in any of these roles.  [If a person only had one role–such as a professional figure skater–and dedicated their life to that one thing alone, I suppose he or she could approach perfection in that singular area.  But they would be even further from perfect in all other areas!]

Our energy is limited.  We only have so much energy to spend fulfilling the roles just mentioned.  We consume and burn about 2,500 calories a day to fuel our brains and body.  We also need to sleep to recharge our brains and bodies.  God designed our human bodies with physiological limitations and the need for a sabbath rest, so we must live in that reality.  If we don’t slow down, pace ourselves, and practice self-care we will either peter out, burn out, or be taken out.

Our time is limited.  Another reality is that each of us is given exactly 1,440 minutes per day–no more, no less!   We can’t supersize our day or purchase an extension pack to gain more minutes.  We each have a finite amount of time with which to accomplish whatever we can.  [We don’t have the luxury of living like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.  He could approach perfection because he had a virtually unlimited amount of time to get it right.  He was able to master French poetry, create beautiful ice sculptures, master the piano, plan the perfect robbery, toss cards perfectly into a hat, and know every detail about everyone in his town–only because he had no time restraints!]  If Malcolm Gladwell’s theory is correct in that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at any one thing, there’s just not enough time for any of us to become perfect at much of anything!

I hate to break it to you, but you cannot be perfect–and, as I wrote six years ago, you shouldn’t expect your kids to be either!  Perfectionism is an illusion.

Yet, people keep trying anyway.   In this second half of my post, I want to explain how you can get off this perfectionism treadmill.   Just as treadmills have an emergency-stop safety mechanism, I want to show a reasonable way to stop the perfection belt from running you ragged.

The solution to perfectionism is this:  Let’s only do what is REASONABLE instead of trying to do everything perfectly.  

[Before I explain further, let me be clear that in renouncing perfection, I’m not advocating for sloppy or shoddy performance, and I’m not encouraging laziness or mediocrity.  The standard I uphold is doing a reasonably excellent job in each of our various responsibilities.]

If I spend too much time and energy trying to be the perfect employee, working overtime, etc., that will come at the expense of my family obligations.  If I invest too much time being the perfect family member, that will detract from my church responsibilities.  If I spend too much time being the perfect church member, that will keep me from practicing self-care, etc.  Each area competes for my limited time and energy.  Attending to one thing always comes at the expense of something else.  To reduce it even further, every minute spent on one area is a minute not spent on another.

So, considering all the roles and responsibilities I need to fulfill, my aim in life is to be a reasonably effective–not perfectly effective–husband, dad, grandpa, citizen, friend, blogger, runner, etc.  I don’t have unlimited time or energy, so I have to find a reasonable balance between each of these competing roles and responsibilities.

So how do we figure out what is reasonable?

First.  Let’s reconsider what roles and responsibilities we should be fulfilling.  Perhaps we are investing our time in too many things or even in the wrong things.  Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  Just because it’s a good thing, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing.  Having worked as a youth pastor for over 30 years, I often observed exhausted, depressed, teenagers who were overinvolved with good activities:  multiple school sports, club sports, show choirs, marching bands, all-state competitions, AP classes, mock trial, speech competitions, theater performances, color guard, etc.   And that’s just at school!   We should step back and think about what propels us to do more things than we reasonably should.  And we should also think about things we ought to be involved with but aren’t.  Honestly, I sometimes felt jealous that the youth group was only given leftovers from some students!  But my judgments don’t matter; the important thing is what God expects.  Ask Him to show you what your reasonable roles and responsibilities should be as you go through the various seasons of your life.

Second.  Once we identify our proper roles and responsibilities, then we need to figure out how to reasonably allocate our limited time and energy between them.  Just as we do in financial budgeting, we need to discern how much of our time and energy we can reasonably apportion to each area of life.   How many hours is reasonable to spend working?  How much time is reasonable to spend on date nights with my wife?  How much energy should be reasonably spent on long-distance racing?  Or marching band?  Or karaoke?  Or video games?  Or Netflix?  Or show choir?     Again, the important thing is to discern what God currently expects of you.  He’s the one who has given you your time and talents, roles, and responsibilities for this season you’re in.  Ask Him to show you how to reasonably allocate your life.

Third.  Be ready to adjust and don’t feel guilty about it.  There will be no perfect allocation because needs constantly change and opportunities constantly arise.  We’ll need to frequently modify how we spend our time and energy.  The plans we had at the beginning of the day might have gone out the window by mid-day.  Your plans to study for the science test fell apart because you helped your neighbor whose basement was flooding.  You didn’t get the dishes done because you had to take the baby to the clinic.  You didn’t get the promotion at work because you wanted weekends with your family.  You got kicked off the team because you chose to go on a missions trip instead of the tournament.  Remember, the goal is no longer perfection–its reasonableness.   Give yourself permission to go to bed saying, “I couldn’t do it all perfectly, but all things considered, I did what was most reasonable!”

Ultimately the question to ask yourself is this: “Given my present circumstances, how is God nudging me to reasonably divvy up my limited amounts of time and energy?” This is something we ought to ask Him continuously!

But hold on a minute!  Doesn’t God demand our perfection?  Spiritually, yes, but the spiritual perfection He demands was satisfied in Jesus and is imputed to believers by justification through faith.  But in all other respects, God doesn’t seem to demand perfection.  He created us and thus understands our physical, emotional, mental, and temporal limitations even better than we do.  He sympathizes with us in our weaknesses.  God knows our frame, that we are dust.  He is a God of mercy and grace, not a cruel taskmaster.  Jesus is gentle and lowly.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  It seems clear that our perfect God has very reasonable expectations of us.

At the end of my life, I don’t expect to be judged by the impossible standard of perfection, but rather, by whether or not what I did was reasonable.  People who know me, know that “reasonable” is one of the theme words of my life–I talk about it a lot!   In fact, at the end of my life, I hope I’m remembered as the guy who did what was reasonable…reasonably well!

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If Wedding Vows Were Honest

People love weddings.  I should know because I officiated over 50 of them!  Everything is arranged to make the perfect day.   Everyone cleans up, dresses up, covers up, and gets made up.   Friends and family converge from all over the world and sit expectantly through the prelude.  Then the elegant wedding party glides down the aisle until the real head-turner appears–the radiant bride.  Then we blush with the stunning groom who is grinning from ear to ear as he beholds her approach.   She arrives, the bride is given, he takes her arm, they come forward and, as the ceremony proceeds, they gaze into each other’s eyes transfixed.  Everything is picture perfect!   As Uncle Herman reads 1 Corinthians chapter 13, “the love chapter,” eyes are moist all around.

And then we get to the culmination of the whole event–the exchanging of vows.   A holy hush occurs as everyone strains to listen to what the lovers will pledge to one another.

In a Christian wedding, they’ll traditionally sound something like this.

“I, Ken, pledge my undying love to you, Barbie, as I invite you to share my life. I promise to be kind, unselfish, respectful, and trustworthy, serving you and putting your needs before my own.  I promise to love you with unconditional, agape love, like Christ loved the church.  Barbie, today, before God and these witnesses, I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, remaining faithful to you as long as we both shall live.”

Beautiful words of promise fit for such a beautiful day.  Everyone melts.  Tears flow.  Cameras capture it for posterity.

But is it honest?   Will Ken really love her unconditionally?  Will he really put all of her needs before his own?  Will his love be unwavering when things get worse, or poorer, or in sickness?   No.

The problem is, Barbie is not marrying Jesus, she’s marrying Ken.  And Ken is a fallen human being, just as she is.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, it is a guarantee that all of us will miserably fail at consistently delivering Christian agape love to those we care about.  1 Corinthians, chapter 13 vividly describes God’s perfect love, but only He demonstrates it without fail.   Though hopefully, we are growing in Christlikeness, we will demonstrate it intermittently at best.  This is because we are humans with some serious limitations, which means…

  • we get distracted
  • we forget things
  • we get overloaded
  • life depletes us and wears us down
  • we get tired, hungry, and uncomfortable
  • we run out of energy
  • we sometimes speak before thinking
  • we lack sensitivity
  • we see things from our limited perspective, etc.
  • we don’t know how others interpret things
  • we don’t know what it’s like to be our spouse
  • we are ignorant, not always understanding what is needed in certain situations
  • we lose momentum
  • we lose focus
  • we misprioritize
  • we get lazy
  • we get selfish
  • we think our way is better
  • we can only hold it together for so long
  • we have limits

We can’t keep it together for a single day, let alone ’till death do us part!

So if wedding vows were honest, I think they would sound more like this.

I, Ken, take you, Barbie, to be my wedded wife.  As your husband, God calls me to love you as Christ loved the church, with unconditional, agape love.  With God’s help, I will strive to love you that way, but I know that my love will often fall short of that ideal because I’m human, and because my pursuit of Christ is a work in progress.  I promise that it is my intention to treat you with the kindness, respect, and trust that you deserve, putting your needs before my own.  I also promise that when I fail, and treat you in ways that are not loving, I will admit my sin against you, repent of it, make things right with you, and then learn from my failure how to love you better in the future.  I also promise that when you fail at loving me, I will be quick to forgive you and will do everything I can to restore our relationship and grow from it as well.  Barbie, today, before God and these witnesses, I promise to work on loving you more and more, repairing things with you when I fail, and making our home one that models perpetual grace and forgiveness–through better or worse, for richer or poorer, and in sickness and in health. Whatever God brings our way, I promise to remain faithful to you for as long as we both shall live.

Now please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting every future bride and groom needs to change their traditional wedding vows to match my honest ones.  In fact, at our own wedding,  Cindy and I shared traditional vows that were very similar to the ones in the first sample above.  If there was ever a day to celebrate idealism, it would be on your wedding day!  I’m not wanting to kill the mood!

But what I am saying is that–regardless of promises made–we should live with the expectation that we will regularly fail to love our loved ones and they will regularly fail to love us.  That’s the real promise!   So let’s adjust our expectations and be prepared for that.  And then when we do hurt each other, let’s be quick to heal the hurts and grow from them so that we might learn to love more and hurt less.

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Why I think you should give your kids HEFTY allowances! (Part 2)

[This is an update from a post I did in 2018].

In Part 1, I made the case for why I believe every kid should be given an allowance.   Scroll down and read that post first if you haven’t already.

Today I want to make the case for giving responsible kids HEFTY allowances.

Someone will say, “But we don’t have any extra money in our budget to start paying our kids hefty allowances.”  I’m not suggesting you add even $1 to your overall family budget.  I’m merely suggesting you transfer some of the money you’re already spending on raising your kids–to them!

Think about it–right now, you’re already spending a certain amount of money to buy them treats, gifts, clothes, fashion accessories, cosmetics, games, entertainment, etc.  How about handing them some of that same money and letting them pay for some of their own expenses!  This will lighten your load and teach them a lot about managing themselves.

Realizing that every family’s amounts will be different, let me share how it worked in our house.  We paid our girls $1 a week for each year of their age.   That means when they were three, we gave them $156 a year and by the time they were 18, that had increased to an annual amount of $936. That may sound like a lot, but it’s really not, compared to the total cost of raising a child.

Six considerations

  1. We made them put 10% of it in their savings bank and 10% in their “Jesus bank” to take to church periodically to put in the offering.  From the earliest age, we wanted our kids to learn the importance of generous living and wise saving.  (Savings money could only be used for investments that we parents agreed were worthy ones:  e.g., musical instruments, computers, major school trips, cars, etc.)
  2. Their remaining *80% of “discretionary” money, was theirs to spend as they chose–for the most part.
  3. Parents will need to restrict what purchases are–or are not–allowed based on their own values.  Examples of “outlawed” purchases might be explicit music or violent video games.  Be sure to major on the majors though, and don’t be afraid of letting them waste their money!  (For years our 8-year-old daughter Lexi would spend all of her weekly allowances on frivolous purchases, living from “paycheck to paycheck.”  Then one day she decided she wanted an American Girl doll.  She started saving almost all of her allowance for the next 6 months and when that doll arrived, it was a hard-earned treasure.  She learned an important lesson on how “the best things come to those who wait”–a lesson she’s never forgotten!)
  4. Each year on their birthday, they would get an increase in allowance, and often be informed of new things they would need to start purchasing for themselves.  Parents would do well to envision how much much financial responsibility they would want their kids to have on their first day of college and work towards that.
  5. Depending on the age and situation, parents might physically dole out cash or transfer amounts into an account–perhaps even a debit card.  Admittedly this takes some time and effort, but the benefits from creating financially responsible and independent kids make it worth the effort.
  6. As I’ve blogged about elsewhere, allowance money can easily be deducted from the child’s next “paycheck” to pay for fines, consequences, unfinished **chores, etc.  No arguments are required!

What kids might pay.

  • Here is a list of expenses kids might be expected to pay for, starting from age three and progressing through high school:
    • Small Toys, snacks, candy–anything the 3-year-old might beg for at Walmart!
    • Hobbies and crafts (slime comes to mind!)
    • Pet expenses (100%–food, cages, shots, etc.)
    • Bikes, scooters, etc. (parents might choose to pay for safety equipment, helmets, etc.)
    • Electronic games (including batteries, accessories, etc.)
    • Entertainment (movies, bowling, books, magazines, etc.)
    • Hot school lunches (if they don’t want to pack their own)
    • Netflix or other streaming services (e.g., parents could charge a fee per movie or show watched to help defray the entertainments bills)
    • Room decorations (paint, themes, accessories, etc.)
    • Clothes/shoes (anything beyond the basics–they pay for unneeded clothes or expensive name brands)
    • Cosmetics/accessories/toiletries (anything beyond the basics of deodorant, essential hygiene items, etc.)
    • Haircuts/hairstyling
    • School/church trips, proms, club sports (a percentage–see below)
    • Cell phone/data (beyond the basics–see below), apps.
    • Car (purchase, gas, insurance, repairs–see below)
    • Saving for College (see below)

What parents might pay

  • Parents should make clear what expenses they will cover.  For us, in addition to the basics (food, essential clothing & toiletries, school supplies, transportation, housing, utilities, insurance, etc.) we told them we would pay for the following:
    • 75% of church activities/expenses.  (The high percentage shows how this was a priority for us.  Yet, we also wanted them to participate in deciding which church activities were most important.  However, if they had been reluctant to go to church at all we would have gladly paid 100%.)
    • 25% of extra school activities/expenses such as uniforms, trips, prom costs, band trips, club sports, etc.  (School costs were admittedly a lower priority to us than church ones.)  One time, this policy of ours forced our 15-year-old daughter Lexi to decide which was more important–paying 75% of a spring break band trip to Ireland (which would cost her several thousand dollars) or saving her money to purchase her own car.  She opted for the car.
    • Birthday presents for friends (However, this was a predetermined “flat rate.”  They would need to pay the extra if they wanted to purchase extravagant gifts.
    • Basic phone and data costs (If they wanted the latest, coolest iPhone or unlimited data, they would need to pay that difference)
    • One weekly music or sports lesson.  We wanted to encourage their skill development, but we didn’t want them burning out.  If they wanted a second type of lesson they would need to pay those costs.  (BTW, if kids are too lazy to practice between lessons, they should pay for those lessons!)
    • A percentage of car insurance or fuel costs once they own their own car (this is because they are saving us money by driving themselves.)
    • Half of college expenses (This helped one of our daughters determine where to attend since it would significantly affect her pocketbook.)

I hope this gives you some ideas of how you might incorporate allowances into your family structure.


*Others, like Jeff Anderson, have suggested making kids save a third, give a third and use 33% for discretionary spending.

**I’m not suggesting allowances are given in exchange for doing chores.  I explain the difference here.

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Why you should give your kids allowances! (Part 1)

[This is a revision of a post I did in 2018, but it’s just as relevant in today’s economy.]

Our goal as parents is not to raise children, but rather to raise responsible adults.  Sadly, too many parents end up with chronically-dependent high school graduates who can’t manage their lives — or their money.

So today I want to make the case for giving your kids allowances, which will make your kids better prepared for life.  And that means your life will be better too!

But first, I want to share with you an email I received from a missionary mom in Nicaragua, where I did a parenting seminar a number of years ago.   She followed my advice about giving kids allowances, and surprised me with this beautiful testimonial about doing it with her THREE YEAR OLD!    [I’ll insert my comments between hers.]

.Our 3-year-old son is learning the value of $ as he spends all his $1 per week on gum.

We might think of gum as a waste of good money, but to him, this is what he values most.  He’s had to do some self-reflecting in deciding what he cares about most.  Someday he’ll figure out that there are better uses for his money, but that’s something he’ll need to figure out on his own.   Most importantly he’s learning that his parents are trusting him with the responsibility of making his own decisions and that he’ll be living with his decisions.

He is quickly learning which gum pack gets him the most pieces.

Amazing!  Notice how he already is learning to stretch his dollar, to look for bargains, and to do comparison shopping to get the best value!  He’s being forced to use simple math to figure out what is in his best interest.  He’s already learning to advocate for himself.

He is learning not to eat the entire pack in 2 minutes because he doesn’t have $ to buy more.

See how he’s learning about delayed gratification, patience, pacing himself, relishing what he has, and living within his means!  How many teenagers never learn these lessons!  How many adults never do!

He even paid me a nickel the other day to carry the laundry into the house because he did not want to do it.  I explained to him that it is one of the small chores he is required to help with and therefore would have to pay me for his portion of the work.  Amazingly he looked at me square on and asked, “How much?”  I told him, “One nickel,” and he paused, thought awhile, and finally said “I want to pay you because I don’t want to do it.”

Wow!  This three-year-old is already learning to weigh pros and cons, to make decisions, to negotiate with others, and to wrestle with priorities regarding his time, money, work & leisure!  He’s learning that “time is money” and about simple economics.

I share this because if someone told me that this stuff would work on a 3-year-old I would never have believed it.  But, he is the youngest of 3 so we included him in the [allowance] process because he was feeling SO left out.  Now we know it is effective even at 3.

I love this story because it vividly demonstrates how giving some measure of financial control even to the youngest of kids can serve to build their character.

My next blog, Part 2, makes the case for HEFTY allowances, but let me close this post with some general thoughts about giving kids allowances.

  • It makes children feel valued and trusted and gives them a measure of control over their lives.
  • It gives them money to waste.  Failure is a great teacher.
  • They can experience the joys of giving and the rewards of saving.
  • It minimizes whining in stores about things they impulsively want (“Did you bring your money purse?  No?  Well I guess you’ll have to remember to bring it next time.”)
  • It gives you opportunities for reasonable, non-emotional disciplinary action (“If you forget to do your chores, no worries, it just means you’ve hired one of us to do them!”)
  • It doesn’t cost you anything.  You’re already spending money on your kids — this just transfers responsibility onto them for certain purchases.
  • If you don’t give allowances, because if you hold all the money, they’ll always be coming to you for withdrawals, which can cause conflict.  Better to transfer at least some of their money into their care and let them learn to manage it.
  • Parents can still set limits on what money is allowed to be spent for (but remember, don’t prevent them from wasting it.).
  • Instead of butting heads with them about their financial wants, it forces them to make decisions about what matters most, learning important life skills.
  • It gives them cash that can be used to reimburse you for any damage they may cause.
  • It gives us opportunities to consult with them about their financial choices.
  • It makes you the coolest parents on the block!
  • Cash might be best for younger children.  Reloading a debit card might work for older children.

 

 

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