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

Author: Mark Forstrom (Page 2 of 3)

Scrapping the Honey-Do List

Recently I did something that has made my life much more enjoyable.  I scrapped Cindy’s Honey-Do List–permanently!   Since getting rid of it, my life has improved considerably.

For you singles reading this who may someday get married, let me explain what I’m talking about.  A Honey-Do List is a list that your spouse will make for you and leave in a prominent place for you to see.

Usually, the list will contain household projects or chores that you won’t care about whatsoever (otherwise you would have already done those things and there would be no need for a list.)   To you, most of the things on your list will seem needless, irrational, frivolous, or a waste of time and energy.   Your spouse has likely gotten tired of nagging you about these things and is hoping that putting them in list form will motivate you to action.  This will rarely occur.   And if you ever do accomplish the projects on your list, you will likely do them with much grumbling and eye-rolling.

Except for the nagging part (Cindy doesn’t nag), that’s how it’s been with me for the past 37 years of marriage.  That changed a few months ago when I discovered an easy way to scrap Cindy’s Honey-Do List and be free from its burdens.   Why didn’t I think of this sooner!

Before I scrapped them, Cindy’s Honey-Do Lists would often contain things that I considered to be a total waste of time.  Things like:

  • Paint the deck where the old paint is peeling.
  • Rake the unsightly leaves from the yard.
  • Put covers over the air conditioner unit and grill.
  • Shovel the 8 inches of snow off the driveway so the ladies’ group can get to our front door.
  • Unreasonable stuff like that

As you can see, pretty much everything on Cindy’s list was totally ridiculous.  Surely,  you can sympathize with my reluctance to comply with such frivolous tasks and can understand my incessant eye-rolling about such matters!

So how did I shake free from this oppression?  Let me tell you the story.

Late last fall another ridiculous item appeared on Cindy’s Honey-Do List–Check the gutters for leaves.   In Cindy’s “irrational” way of thinking, leaves could blow on the roof, get washed into the gutters, and clog the gutters, causing water to stop flowing down the gutters, turning to ice in the gutters, causing ice dams to form, causing water to leak through the shingles and into our house, causing untold damage and destruction.  As I said, ridiculous!

As usual, I protested in my head, appealing to logic and common sense as my reason to resist.  The tree in the front doesn’t have that many leaves and it doesn’t even hang over the roof.  We’ve never had ice dam problems in the 33 years we’ve lived here.  The risk of me falling off a ladder far surpasses the risk of having our house destroyed by a theoretical ice dam.   It’s cold outside.  And on and on my mind went, looking for any way to opt-out.

And that’s the moment when I had my epiphany about completely scrapping Cindy’s Honey-Do List.

This profound thought hit me.  What if reframed Cindy’s list from…

Things That Need to Be Done  (which, of course, we will disagree on and which I will stubbornly resist)

and instead, think of it as a list of…

Things That Would Mean A Lot To Cindy  (which no one can disagree with and which I actually find motivating)

This new viewpoint literally made a world of difference for my attitude.  I literally rushed to the garage, grabbed the ladder, set up the ladder, climbed the ladder (putting my life at risk by the way), and looked up and down the gutters (confirming my prediction that there were no leaves).  And then I climbed down and put the ladder away, and rushed inside to announce to Cindy, “Honey, you’ll be so relieved to know that there are no leaves in the gutter to be concerned about.”

Loved wife.  Big kiss.   Happy home.

What made the difference?  When I looked at her list as a list of things that need doing, it was hard to avoid questioning whether those things were actually needed or not.  It caused contention about who’s opinion was more correct and whether the things were truly needed.  It set us up for a tug of war battle.   But when I looked her list as being  measurable ways to show her love everything changed.  It was akin to identifying Cindy’s extra love languages.

Ever since that day, we’ve scrapped the Honey-Do List at our house.  The new list is on my dining room table as I write this.   At the top, it reads:  “List of Things That Would Mean A Lot To Cindy.”   I think I’ll quit blogging now and go find something to check off!

How to decide what to do next.

(note:  I originally posted this in 2018, but wanted to post it again because this tool continues to be a help to me and my clients who are working on better self-management.)

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”   (Eph 5:15-16 ESV)

I want to share a free app that I have found to be extremely useful in helping me “make the best use of my time” as I manage my own life.  It’s called WhatsNext? by the Corporate Coach Group.

I don’t usually promote products, and I’m not getting a commission, but this app has helped me so much that I want to pass this resource along!

Most “task manager” and “to do list” apps have you assign a priority level to each task (high, medium, low, etc.)  That’s a start, but it doesn’t really help you prioritize which of your “high” level ones to do first.  If there are 10 things in your “high priority” list, how do you decide in which order they should be done?  Funnest first?  Most difficult first?  The ones that would make God, or my boss, or my wife the happiest?

This app solves this problem of real-time decision-making, and makes it easy to determine which–of all the things that I could do today–should I do first, then second, third, etc.  It’s not designed for long range strategic planning or for managing all the tasks that could be done, but it works perfectly in making decisions about the handful of things I could do today.

To use the app, you simply plug in the five or eight or ten things you could do today.  Pressing the “prioritize” button then brings them up two at a time and compares each one with each of the others.  So instead of looking at 12 things and saying, “where do I start?” you simply compare two and say, “If I had only time to do one of these two things, which one would I want to have accomplished at the end of the day?  In other words, which task is most important for me to do–today?

When finished comparing all the possible combinations, the app gives you a list of all your tasks in order, so you simply begin working on #1, then #2, etc. You don’t have to give it any more thought!  And if you don’t have time to finish them all, no problem!  You did the most important things first, so you can sleep well, knowing you did the most important things with the time you had.

The app allows you to save multiple lists, such as “Things I could do on my day off” or “Home improvement projects I could do.”   And for adding tasks on the fly you can either insert them one-at-a-time into a previously prioritized list or you can run the program again.

The lists can even be backed up to the web and can be emailed too!

Here’s the link if you want to give it a try.


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 “Forgive me.”

This essay runs parallel with my two previous “never say” posts: Never say “I’m Sorry,” and Never say “Trust me.”

But before I make my case for why not to say “Forgive me” to people, let’s talk about what forgiveness entails.  It happens after an injustice has been committed–physically or relationally.  A debt has been incurred; a crime committed.  Forgiveness occurs when the victim decides to “drop the charges ” or “cancel the debt.”

Forgiveness is necessary for harmony to be restored, yet forgiveness, if it is granted, must be done willingly by the victim.   It cannot be commanded or pressured.  If I’m the perpetrator and I’ve wronged my neighbor, it’s not my place to demand that he drop the charges against me and let me off the hook.  It’s not mine to insist that he cancel the debt I owe him.  So saying, “Forgive me” seems presumptuous and self-serving.  It smacks of entitlement, demanding that the wrong I did be dismissed.

So, even though forgiveness is required to make things right, demanding it is never appropriate, which is why this post discourages using the command, “Forgive me.”   Like love, forgiveness cannot be pressured or forced.

However, when you’re the perpetrator, I’m not telling you to ignore the issue of forgiveness.  It’s actually very good to state your need for forgiveness because it humbles you, shows your heart, and makes you beholden to the other person.  You’re admitting that your inappropriate behavior makes you indebted to the other person–like writing an “IOU.”   Stating your need for forgiveness relinquishes the power you had over the other person and it acknowledges that the other person holds the power to forgive you or not to.

Forgiveness, if granted, often takes time and likely will correspond to your demonstration of true repentance and your making proper amends.

“I hope that someday you’ll be able to forgive me for what I did” is a wonderful way to declare your need for forgiveness without pressuring the person to grant it immediately.  Whether he or she chooses to forgive you is his or her responsibility.

If forgiveness is withheld or delayed, sure, it will negatively affect you.  But remember you negatively affected that person first.

What about saying “Forgive me” to God?

I’ve been talking about asking people for forgiveness, but what about God?  Didn’t Jesus command us in the Lord’s Prayer to say “Forgive us our sins?”  Here are a couple of added reflections:

  • Christianity teaches that Jesus’s death on the cross has already paid for the debt we owe God because of our sins.  He has extended His offer of forgiveness to everyone who believes.  So when we say “Forgive me” to God, we are not commanding Him to do something He doesn’t want to do.  We are not ordering Him around.  We are essentially claiming what He has already promised.  We are taking Him at His word.
  • The Lord’s prayer actually says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”   It’s a statement that God ought to forgive us in accordance with how readily we forgive others.  That should give us something to think about when we are the victim.



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.  To repent means to turn.  “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’m determined to love you more and hurt you less.”  By stating your commitment to an improved future, you instill hope and optimism for a better relationship moving forward.
  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.  Stating your need for forgiveness is about you humbling yourself, expressing that you are indebted to him or her.  Ultimately, whether or not the other person is able to forgive you is out of your control.  You take responsibility for yourself.  I’ll write more about forgiveness in a future essay.

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.



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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