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

Category: Christian Perspective (Page 1 of 3)

Why I ran 60 miles on my 60th birthday.

This past Monday was my 60th birthday, and as is my custom for milestone birthdays, I decided to run my age while raising money for a good cause!

Thanks to everyone who cheered me on during the day and to the crowd who came to see me run my final mile.  It was a special treat to have my daughter Brenda and grandson Jimmy there at the end (see picture).  They came all the way from Africa!

The iGYM was kind enough to host this birthday run of mine.  (I’ve been a satisfied member there for seven years).  I ran 5 miles on each of their 12 sturdy treadmills, totaling 60.   I started at 4 am and God graciously gave me the strength to finish 15 hours later,  just after 7 pm.  I logged a total of 100,011 steps that day!

But it wasn’t easy.  There were moments during the run when I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish.  At about mile 50 I was so weak and sore that I feared I couldn’t run another mile.  The day after, Tuesday, I was so sore and swollen I could hardly move!  Today (Wednesday) I’m still rather sore and it’s clear I’m going to lose at least one toenail.  Ouch!!

So was it worth it?

Absolutely!  I did all this because I want to raise donations for a new non-profit in the Cedar Rapids area called CareNetworkCR.

What is CareNetworkCR?  It’s a ministry that makes churches more effective by networking them together to care for the needs of our community.  We serve as a hub, connecting people with legitimate needs to area churches that are best equipped to meet those needs–materially, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

The CareNetwork ascertains the real needs of people and presents suitable churches with care plans that are verified, manageable, and unduplicated.  Our motto perfectly describes what we do:  Helping churches help people.

I’m so passionate about what the CareNetwork does that I joined the board and then they selected me to be their chairman!

At the end of this post, I’ll link to an interview I did where I describe how I first saw the need for this over 30 years ago (half of my lifetime)!

How did the Fundraiser do?

My goal was to raise $6,000 for the CareNetwork, which would be the equivalent of $100 for every mile I ran.  As of today (Wed), we’ve raised $5,325.90, which is about 89% of the total.  I’m hoping readers of my blog will want to pitch in and help bring the total over my goal.

How can you donate?

Either go to our our website at or visit our Facebook page, where you can also learn more about this important new ministry.

Thanks to those of you who already have donated, or who will support us in this great effort!



As promised, here’s the video interview I did where I describe how I first saw the need for this type of ministry over 30 years ago.

Critical Spouse Theory

My wife, Cindy, and I were talking recently about obstacles to healthy marriages. One of the things we have observed happening in marriages today is the tendency to frame marriage problems using an Oppressed / Oppressor perspective.  Cindy brilliantly coined a phrase for this which I want to elaborate on today:  “Critical Spouse Theory.”

In this view, I am the Oppressed and my spouse is my Oppressor.   This approach is destructive to marriages on several levels.

First.  Both parties will inevitably declare themselves to be “the Oppressed.”  In a world where marriage is seen primarily as a means to one’s own personal happiness and fulfillment this resonates well.  Anything that blocks one’s personal fulfillment is obviously oppression!

As I said, both the husband and the wife will consider that they are the Oppressed and their spouse is the Oppressor–and they’ll have plenty of support to back their claims;  if they hop on TikToc or YouTube, they’ll find hundreds of ex-wives or ex-husbands, reinforcing this view that they don’t need to put up with such oppression from their spouse.

Second.  This way of looking at my spouse is overly simplistic.  It lumps her into the general category of Oppressor, discounting any of her good qualities.  In this worldview, there is no such thing as “partial oppression”–it’s an all-or-nothing approach.   I cannot see any of the good because I’m focusing only on the bad.

Third.  Once I apply this negative label of “My Oppressor,” I no longer look at my spouse as the precious person I fell in love with, but now I see her as my enemy.   This identity distortion will spoil every interaction between us.  I’m not talking to a decent human being so neither do I have to behave like one.

Fourth.  I develop the belief that Oppressors can’t change.  They can’t improve.  They’re not safe to be around.  I need only to protect myself.

Fifth.   This perspective, therefore, absolves me of responsibility.   The Oppressed gets a pass on moral culpability.  I hear this all the time in the counseling office.  “I don’t have to treat him decently until he stops Oppressing me.”  And of course, the culture will reinforce this.  The Oppressor is only capable of evil and the Oppressed is exempt from moral critique.

Sixth.   Things are unlikely to change for the better.  With this mindset, the only way for my oppression to end is for me to keep away from my Oppressor.  Divorce is the likely outcome.

Seventh.  Critical Spouse Theory doesn’t offer any hope for a healthy marriage.

Avoiding the Critical Spouse Theory worldview

Most of the essays I write on Christian marriage are the antidote to Critical Spouse Theory.   Here’s some links to several of them.

1.   We must recognize that Christian marriage must never be primarily about personal happiness and self fulfillment.  That is a consumer-based, commodifying basis of marriage.  A Christian marriage is not a contract, but rather a covenant.  Marriage isn’t a perpetual honeymoon, but it is rather a crucible for character-building, where we learn to be like Christ in how we relate in the most intimate of human relationships.   Marriage ought to be the context where we learn to love, serve, forgive, and grow toward one another, teaming up to provide a stable context for child-rearing.

2.  We must recognize that all of us are a mix of Oppressor and Oppressed.   It’s rarely one sided.  Our marital love fails.   We all hurt the ones we love.  We all fail to fully keep the wedding vows we made.

3.  We would do well to focus on our side of the equation–becoming less of an Oppressor.  Take responsibility for what you need to change about you. We must focus less on the other person’s faults.  Jesus taught to take the log out of our own eye before obsessing over the speck in someone else’s.

4.  We must get rid of the 50-50 mindset.  I’ll automatically see myself as the Oppressed when I think that I’m unfairly getting less than my fair share.

5.  We must remember that we don’t get a pass on loving our spouse even when we may feel Oppressed.

6. We remember that people can change, and we must give them that opportunity.  We should extend to others the same opportunity for growth and change that we would want ourselves.  To declare that someone can’t change is to deny God’s ability to transform a sinner into a saint.


One final word.  I’m not saying there aren’t actual cases of abuse in marriage–there are!  If you are in physical danger, call 911.  If your children are being abused, take them and get out.  Implement whatever boundaries are needed.  Yes, there are exceptional cases of abuse, but they are exactly that–exceptional.  Most of us just need to learn how to better respond to the ordinary challenges of marriage.

…and shockingly, I’m also Beloved.

In my last post, I made the statement that at my core I am fundamentally flawed, a vile sinner, a wretch, even an addict.

Today, I’m going to make the exact opposite claim–that I am Beloved–precious, set apart, cherished, spotless–a Saint.

Sinner and Saint.  Addict and Beloved.  I’m a contradiction of terms!

I’m not the only one to observe this seeming contradiction.  Martin Luther used this Latin term to describe Christians:  “simul justus et peccator,” one who is simultaneously just (righteous) and a sinner.   This is possible only through a concept called the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

R.C. Sproul explained it like this.

When God looks at [the Christian], He sees the merit of Christ. He has covered your nakedness. He has clothed you with the righteousness of Jesus. So that the moment you have faith, the righteousness of Christ is transferred to your account. And you are at one and the same time just…or righteous by Christ’s righteousness. But what else are you? You’re still a sinner. Christians still sin.

Before further unpacking these seemingly contradicting identities of the Christian, I need to explain two contrasting attributes of God: His Justice and Love…

  1. I have no problem with the doctrine of the Justice of God.  I would expect a Holy, Righteous God to display judgment toward every puny creature who insults His Holiness, just as I would have no qualms if you swatted a mosquito who offended you. 
  2. I find the wrath of God to be a very logical and rational belief.   The thing I find illogical is God’s Love
  3. Shockingly, God delights in loving His creation, even those who have insulted Him.  It’s easy to love the lovely, but love is most profound when it is applied to those who deserve it least, e.g., loving one’s enemies.  Such love for the unlovely is unexpected, counterintuitive, sensational, rare, and unnatural–indeed, God’s agape love is a supernatural kind of love.  I write about it a lot!  
  4. The obstacle is that our Just God can’t have a Love relationship with sinners until the sin barrier is removed. 
  5. This dilemma is solved in Christianity’s Gospel (i.e., “the good news”) message,  in which God sends Jesus to die on our behalf, satisfying the wrath of God required by his Justice and transferring to us the righteousness of Christ which enables us to experience His Love.

Back to our identity.  What I appreciate about Christianity is that I can readily admit what I know to be true–that I’m an imperfect, floundering,  undeserving, wretched sinner.  And yet–here’s the surprise–I’m loved anyway!  Despite me!  I deserve the wrath of His Justice, but Jesus took care of that so I can experience His Love, i.e., the riches of his kindness and grace!  Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  All that’s required is faith.

A Sinner and a Saint!  A Christian mustn’t give up either of these labels.

  • If we view ourselves as Wretches-only, we will be self-loathing, living in a shame-based belief system where we are constantly being scorned for our deficiencies, never good enough, and never able to gain God’s approval–as if Jesus didn’t do enough.  Sadly, some people live this way–missing God’s grace, mercy, abundance, and joy.  They deny his Love.
  • However, if we view ourselves as Beloved-only, we ignore the reality of our sinfulness.  Such Christians view themselves as wonderfully awesome–as if God were lucky to have them on His team.  Their puffed-up pride puts them in the place of God, presumptuously expecting God to grant them whatever favors they demand from Him.  They deny his Justice.

It’s only through understanding that we are Wretched, Yet Loved Anyway, that we can live with a right view of His deity and our humanity.

So I’m ok living in contradiction with the terms Sinner/Saint or Wretched/Beloved.  On this side of heaven, I will struggle with sin, but even so, He continuously treats me as His Beloved.  He sees me as I am in Christ and as I will fully be one day, clothed with his righteousness.  And that makes me exceedingly and humbly grateful!

And it makes me want to be a little less wretched, loving Him back, not out of guilt, penance, or obligation, but solely out of profound, humble, gratitude.

I’m Mark and I’m an addict…

I went to my first NA meeting a couple of days ago.   NA stands for Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program for those addicted to drugs.   The meeting opened with everyone introducing themselves around the circle, stating their name, followed by the words, “…and I’m an addict.”  In unison, the group members matter-of-factly responded, “Hi so-and-so.”

I was at this meeting because some of my counseling clients had suggested it would be good for me to see firsthand the value of groups like this as support systems for struggling people.  Unsurprisingly, I was the only one who said, “I’m not an addict,” when it was my turn.

That they were so quick to call themselves addicts was unsettling to me as I’ve always balked at labels like “addict.”  I would have rather they said, “I struggle with addiction,” (focusing on their behaviors) rather than calling themselves an “addict” (which speaks to their identity.)

But I’m starting to rethink my view on this.  Although many of them had been clean for a decade or more, these were people who had a clear understanding of their vulnerabilities and potential for relapse and were not afraid to admit their inherent weaknesses.  There was a palpable sense of humility in the room.  There was no judgment here; only knowing looks that communicated, “We’ve all been there, buddy.”  This was a group of flawed people who identified as such.  There was no pride, no condescension, no raised eyebrows.  In this room, everyone was on an equal plane.   Except me.   I wasn’t an addict.   Or so I thought.

But now after a couple of days of reflection, I realize that those precious people were on to something.  They had a more accurate view of their own nature than I did.  Because–truth be told–I am an addict too.

No, I’m not addicted to drugs or alcohol or porn or sex or any of the standard vices we think of when we think of addiction.  But I am addicted to sin in its various forms.  I’m addicted to pride, ego, comfort, attention, acceptance, accomplishments, gluttony, extremeness, efficiency, productivity, and recognition.  In short, I’m addicted to myself.   Being a sinner is my identity; I’m not merely behaviorally challenged.

I’m so glad that my new NA friends helped me see that I’m also an addict.  I’m always at risk of acting out of my sinful nature; indeed, relapse is always a potential with me.  And, like my fellow addicts, I realize that my sin struggle will be lifelong, persisting until heaven.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”             

Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

In this parable, Jesus points out that God forgives the one who humbly identified himself as a vile sinner, but not the “good” Pharisee, who merely focused on his proud behavior management.   My NA experience was like being in a room of humble, broken, tax collectors.

A final lesson learned from the addicts was that there is no chance of improvement on our own.  A foundational principle of NA, AA, or any 12-step program is that avoiding relapses requires the help of one’s “higher power.”

In my next post, I’ll explain my belief that the God of Christianity provides the only real solution for our sinful addiction to self.

People are just like Silly Putty

I loved playing with Silly Putty as a kid.  Its consistency is so strange that it seems to originate from another planet.  It’s so unnatural–sometimes it acts like a solid and other times a *liquid.  I still find Silly Putty so amazing that I even keep a container of it in my counseling office!  Partly to play with, but mostly to demonstrate to my clients how people are just like Silly Putty.

How to make Silly Putty — and People — become SOLID.

If you take Silly putty and roll it into a ball, you can throw it on the ground and it will bounce back up, just like a superball.  In fact, the harder you throw it, the resistance increases, causing a bigger bounce. Amazingly, no matter how hard you throw it, it doesn’t change its shape at all!  It stays exactly the same.

People are just like this–I know I am.  If you treat me roughly, I will instinctively resist you.  Abrasiveness, criticism, and confrontation don’t produce growth, but instead put us on the defensive.  When we feel attacked, our brains immediately go into “fight-or-flight mode with self-protection as our natural response.  We don’t learn, change, or grow when approached with harshness, shame, or blame.

How to make Silly Putty — and People — become LIQUID.

In contrast, if you are gentle with Silly Putty, it behaves like a liquid.  If you lightly press and ever-so-gently tug it, it soon becomes so pliable that it almost runs.

People are just like this.  If you want to help people change, adapt, grow, or understand your concerns, you have to be gentle with them.

Proverbs 15:1   A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Galatians 6:1   …if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…

Scripture asserts that tenderness is the path to great transformative power.  And it’s not only true, but it works!  In my counseling office, I’ve seen firsthand, that gentleness is the pathway to genuine, lasting change.

So if we desire to be influential in helping people change for the better, let’s approach that task with great gentleness.

*Silly Putty, according to Wikipedia contains viscoelastic liquid silicones, a type of non-Newtonian fluid, which makes it act as a viscous liquid over a long time period but as an elastic solid over a short time period.

Something even better than Better-Than-Sex-Cake

I still remember where I was when I first heard about Better-Than-Sex-Cake.   I was in my late 20s at my mom’s aunt’s house in New Jersey.  The description of this dessert left an impression on me that remains–almost thirty years later!  My great aunts’ portrayal of the coveted confection literally made me drool:  rich chocolate cake, drizzled with gooey caramel, chocolate-covered toffee, and topped with frozen whipped cream.

Now to be honest, I’ve never actually tasted Better-Than-Sex-Cake, but from everything I’ve heard, it must certainly qualify as the best delicacy on the planet!

Recently I’ve been pondering: what if there was something in the universe even more delightful than Better-Than-Sex-Cake?   That would be amazing wouldn’t it!   Wouldn’t you want that?

I sure would.   And I believe I know what it is.   C.S. Lewis points us to it…

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Lewis asserts that there exists something infinitely better than mud pies or chocolate cakes.  This “infinite joy” that he talks about is nothing but God Himself!  What if we were to experience a delight in God that surpasses all earthly delights?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  The Bible describes the Creator of the universe as One who wants to delight those who trust in Him.  Psalm 37:4 says,  “Delight yourself in the Lord, And He will give you the desires of your heart.”   Is God really delightful?  Many people live as if He is not.

It occurs to me that God is the One who created the pleasure sensors in our brains and the neural pathways that allow us to experience pleasure through our five senses.  He also created all the pleasures themselves, including the ingredients for Better-Than-Sex-Cake, not to mention the activity that inspired the cake’s name.  Wouldn’t it make sense that the Creator of these earthly delights is more desirable than all of them combined?  The Giver of gifts is greater than the gifts themselves.

Thinking about this reminds me how much I need to improve in finding pleasure in God.  To those like me who trust in Him, He offers unconditional love, kindness, forgiveness, patience, peace, and purpose. He gives me meaning in this life and hopeful assurance for the life to come.  He treats me quite the opposite of what I deserve.  What could be more desirable than that?  I find, like C.S. Lewis, that I have been far too easily pleased.

Time spent with Him through His Word and through prayer should become more delightful to my soul than any earthly pleasure.  Relishing God Himself ought to literally be the highlight of my day–every day.

And if it’s not the highlight of my day–which I’m ashamed to admit is most days–that means that this is something I really need to work on!

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.]

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