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

Category: Christian Perspective (Page 1 of 14)

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.]

If Wedding Vows Were Honest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Relational Temperature, Part 2: When Others Choose Coldness

In my first post, I introduced the concept of relational temperatures and listed things that will cause relationships to either warm up or cool off.

It’s wonderful when families and friendships are close, but it’s painful when we feel kept at a distance by those we long to be close to.  This post explores ways to respond when others continue to treat us coldly, despite our efforts at warmth.

Grieve.  God created us for warm connections, so when those we care about treat us with coldness, grief is inevitable.  This grief involves not only the distancing of the person, but also the diminished relationship itself.  Additional losses may include accessibility, trust, enjoyment, support, peace, safety, security, harmony, respect, love, and delight.  Such great losses inevitably bring along the various stages of grief:  denial, anger, bartering, and depression.  Working through these is important.

Accept.  The final stage of grief is acceptance.  This does not mean throwing in the towel and giving up on the relationship, but it does mean accepting that the other person has chosen to remain cold toward us.  Acceptance recognizes that we can’t control the choices of others.  We can only take responsibility for ourselves.

Move from Madness to Sadness.  When others choose to relate to us with coldness, criticism, contempt, etc., it is deeply hurtful.  And the more we care about the relationship, the more their coldness hurts.  They have likely treated us in ways that seem unfair, unreasonable, unappreciative, demeaning, and insulting.  Anger is understandable and probably unavoidable.  Yet we can’t stay there.  Harboring bitterness only hurts ourselves, the other person, and whatever remains of the relationship.  In our hearts, we must work toward letting go of our anger and forgiving people for the hurt they caused.  Our goal is to move from Madness to Sadness.  We mustn’t remain mad, but it’s ok to remain sad–in fact, our sadness will be a beautiful testimonial to how much the relationship means to us.

Get Support.  It will be impossible to do any of this on our own—we need support!  We must take it first to Jesus, who understands more than anyone what it feels like to receive iciness in response to His warm love.  He is the one who can bring us comfort in our grief, who can help us accept what we can’t control, who can give us the willingness and ability to forgive, and who can give us the power to change our Madness to Sadness.  We’ll also need peer support.  Let’s lean on others during our time of hurt to receive needed prayer, encouragement, perspective, wisdom, and guidance.  God instructed His Church to practice the “one anothers” for needs such as ours in times such as this.  The warmth offered by Jesus and His Church is sure to offset much of the cold treatment we’ve been receiving.

Keep Our Wants and Needs Straight.  We cause ourselves needless additional pain when we confuse our needs and our wants.  Think of the weight that would be lifted if we viewed getting warmth from others as a want, but not a need.  Consider these scenarios…

  • The mom who needs her daughter to call on Mother’s Day will be shattered when she doesn’t, whereas the mom who merely wants that won’t let her daughter’s negligence define her worth or ruin her day.
  • The son who needs his parents to visit him as often as they visit the other siblings will be infuriated when they don’t, whereas the son who merely wants equal time will have a gentler response to the unfairness.
  • The wife who needs her husband to compliment her will be crushed, whereas the one who only wants his compliments will be hurt, but not let it define her well-being.
  • The sister who needs her brother to enthusiastically help plan their parents’ 50th anniversary will be incensed when he shows disinterest. The one who merely wants that will have a more tempered response to him as she honors her parents without him.
  • The friend who needs her former boyfriend to respond to communications will be absolutely wrecked by his ghosting, but the one who only wants a response will be able to recover.

So let’s be careful about what category we place things into.  Unmet needs seem catastrophic, make us feel desperate, and cause us to panic.  Unmet wants may be unpleasant, but can be overcome far more easily.  (Technically, I believe we don’t need anything from anyone, but that’s beyond today’s topic!)  

Don’t Give Up Hope.  Earlier we talked about accepting the other’s choice to treat us coldly, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hope for a warmer future.  Below are some suggestions for practical things we can do that may increase the chances of the other person warming up to us.

[Disclaimer, it’s important to acknowledge that some relationships are abusive and need boundaries rather than increased warmth.  In extreme cases, remaining cut off completely may be the only healthy response while abusive behavior persists.]   

Pray.  Most “coldness” issues are matters of the heart, so asking God to change the heart of the cold person is essential.  Let’s be sure to pray “for” the person and not “against” him or her.  If our loved ones have cut us off completely or are unsafe to be around, prayer for them may literally be our only option.   Where we do have contact, let’s pray also for ourselves, that we’ll avoid the temptation to return coldness for coldness.  Let’s pray that somehow, in some way, we’ll be able to build a relational bridge to the person’s heart.

Apologize.  When in doubt, let’s apologize!  Let’s take responsibility for anything we perceive we may have done to contribute to the coldness between us, and offer a heartfelt apology.  Let’s also ask them if there’s anything else we missed–other things we need to make right.  Let’s listen carefully and take full responsibility for every hurt we caused without resorting to defensiveness, blame-shifting, deflection, or excuse-making.

Hide Our Hurt.   Even though we have certainly been wounded by those who treat us coldly, let’s not share this with them unless they ask.  Let’s be especially careful not to complain, pout, sulk, act wounded, play the victim, or call them out.  Scolding willfully-cold people for treating us coldly will surely result in further coldness.  This is an occasion when honesty is not the best policy.  No, I am not suggesting we stuff our feelings.  The hurts do need to be expressed, but that’s why we have a support team in place!

Express Our Desire.  Sometimes, it can help just to state what we’d like.  We can describe to them what we liked when things were warmer between us, sharing cherished memories of former times.  We can express how we long to get back to that place of warmth again if possible.  Let’s paint a picture of an improved future and express our commitment to doing whatever we can to get there if possible.  But if we do so, let’s be careful to avoid shaming, pressuring, sermonizing, and manipulating.  Let’s allow them the freedom to disagree.

Continue to Act Warmly Even to Those Who Remain Cold.  Jesus loved us when we were still his enemies, so when we act warmly to those who continue to treat us coldly, we are being like Him.  We all give account for ourselves, not for anyone else.  They will answer for their actions and so will we.  When others are cold to us, let’s always choose to be the warmer person, the bigger person, the godlier person.  It’s the right thing to do.

In Part 3 on this topic, I will define my chart’s various temperature levels and suggest practical ways to make warm relationships even warmer.

 

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Thoughts about Relational Temperature, Part 1

To varying degrees, relationships can feel warm and intimate or they can feel chilly and estranged.   I’ve created this graphic to illustrate the wide range of “relational temperatures” that we might experience.

Healthy relationships involve warm connections with others; these are represented by the six “yellow zones” of my illustration.  We engage intimately in the center zones with just a few people; there are more people–with less intimacy– in each subsequent circle.    Regardless of the amount of closeness, intimacy, and warmth, all of these yellow-zone relationships are healthy.

Unfortunately, we are sinful people who don’t always get relationships right.  Our brokenness affects all areas of life, including how we interact with others.

Unhealthiness exists when relationships operate in the blue zones.   A relationship that includes cold-shouldering, hostility, or shunning can be crushing, especially when it involves family and friends.   The biblical story of Jacob and Esau and the account of Joseph and his brothers illustrate the pain that comes from living in these circles.  Such pain can sometimes last for generations!

The pain caused by blue-zone relationships keeps us counselors in business.

Almost all of us would prefer to relate with others in the yellow zones; only the seriously dysfunctional would want their relationships devoid of warmth.

All relationships have a temperature, but as with the weather, temperatures can either warm up or cool off.  So let’s look at some things that might cause variations in relational temperatures.

List 1.  What may help relationships Warm Up?

  • Listening for understanding
  • Pursuing clarity
  • Seeking reconciliation
  • Assuming goodwill
  • Heartfelt apologies
  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • An “others orientation”
  • Expressions of love and care
  • Being fully present, staying engaged
  • Mutual respect
  • Making others feel safe
  • Acts of kindness
  • Choosing to be unoffendable

List 2.  What may cause relationships to Cool Off?

  • Poor communication
  • Withholding the benefit of the doubt
  • Assuming ill-will
  • Making assumptions
  • Judging motives
  • Stereotyping
  • Victim mentalities
  • Resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness
  • Seeking revenge or retribution
  • Prejudice, condescension, judgmentalism, –any of the “isms”
  • Selfishness, greed, and pride
  • Withdrawing or stonewalling
  • Inattentiveness
  • Anger, out-of-control emotions
  • Exaggerations using “always” and “never”
  • Fear, intimidation

Doing more of the things on list 1 above and doing less of the things on list 2 ought to warm up any relationship.   It’s worth noting that all of the “one another” passages in Scripture would fall under list 1.  The church is to be a place of exceptional warmth!

But even so, there is no guarantee that things will always be warm with our families, friends, and churches.  Some things remain out of our control.   In Part 2 on this topic, I will talk about how to handle it when coldness remains in a relationship even after doing your part.

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Philosophizing about experimental vaccines.

 

In my last post, I made the point that those of us who are confident in having an eternal future in heaven ought not be overly concerned with self-preservation.  We, of all people, can afford to be risk-takers.

I have two friends who have made me think about this same concept as it relates to experimental vaccines.

My one friend, I’ll call him Jacque, said there is no way he would ever take a vaccine until it was proven safe, evidenced by long-term studies of side effects.  Over pizza, I asked how long those long-term studies would need to run before he would be comfortable taking a vaccine?  Thinking about it for a bit, he decided a large sample size would need to take the treatment over a lifetime to give him confidence that there would be no latent side effects.  Only then would he be willing to take a vaccine.  He was not willing to take any risk.

My other friend, let’s call him Pierre, had a completely opposite view.  Riding with him in a car almost a year ago, he mentioned his eagerness to participate in an experimental trial of a new vaccine, effectively signing himself up to be a human guinea pig.  His view was, “I’m a Christian and I know I’m heading for heaven, so who better than me to help scientists find a cure?  Why should those who only live for this world be putting their lives in jeopardy when I can do it with everything to gain and nothing to lose?”  This was a view I had not contemplated before, and I was inspired by his courage, faith, and selfless attitude.

These two friends represent polar opposites on the scale of risk vs. safety.  Who is right?  Was one prudent and one reckless?  Was one walking in faith and one walking in fear?  Was one putting God to the test and the other living wisely?   Where is the line at which reasonable risk is acceptable?  Sorry, I only have questions today, not answers.  You’ll have to decide on your own.

And just to be clear, this post is not at all about the Covid vaccine.  I have treasured friends on every side of that controversy and this post has nothing to do with whether or not a person should get a Covid shot.  (In fact, I’ll delete any comments about Covid because that’s not the discussion I want this post to generate–there are plenty of other places to debate that.)

And another clarification is important:  I’m isolating the risk vs. safety aspect of experimental medicine.  I’m not addressing any ethical, moral, or spiritual dilemmas or information gaps that may affect medical decision-making.  That is a separate topic that I’m not addressing here.  A Holy Spirit-guided conscience should guide one through such quandaries.

Here, I’m only speaking philosophically about whether Christians ought to consider taking medical risks.

If a vaccine or inoculation or new treatment is to be developed to eradicate a human disease, it makes sense that at some point, human guinea pigs would be needed.  Clinical trials would likely involve experimentation on humans to see if it works as expected and to discover unintended side effects.  It would likely involve a bit of trial and error and the treatment would be modified and improved with each round of testing.  I don’t know this for sure, but I would imagine this is the way scientists developed vaccines and inoculations for eradicating smallpox, polio, and other diseases that we thankfully no longer have to be concerned with.

Speaking of smallpox, I will end this post by telling the story of the demise of one of my heroes of the faith, Jonathan Edwards, who died when he took an experimental smallpox inoculation in 1758.  He was 54, three years younger than me.   He took a medical risk, guessed wrong, and died, but there are a couple of interesting takeaways from his story.

Who was Jonathan Edwards?   He was the third President of Princeton University at his death, but, prior to that, was highly regarded as one of America’s most brilliant philosophical theologians.  A prolific preacher and writer, he helped start the religious revival known as the “Great Awakening,” and inspired the Protestant missionary movement of the 19th century.

Smallpox was a highly contagious virus that killed hundreds of thousands of people each year.  According to one Edwards biographer,

“Smallpox was spreading through the colonies.  Inoculations against the disease had well-known risks and were controversial, but were also proven to improve chances of survival.  Edwards, who always kept abreast of the latest scientific developments, had the whole family inoculated in late February…he soon contracted a secondary infection that eventually made it impossible for him to eat.  He died on March 22, age 54.”

(A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George M. Marsden)

Edwards had certainly weighed the pros and cons of the experimental smallpox vaccine and decided the risk was worth it for himself and his family.  But then, too late, he discovered that he had guessed wrong; his choice had inadvertantly delivered to him a death sentence.   I wondered what he thought about his decision during those final three weeks.  Did he feel angry?  Misled?  Guilty?  Ashamed?  Was he wringing his hands with regret as he learned that his bad decision was about to kill him?   According to his doctor, he did none of those things.

“Edwards’s physician, William Shippen, described the pastor’s posture on his deathbed as “cheerful resignation and patient submission to the divine will through every stage of his disease”

(The Life of President Edwards by Dwight, Sereno Edwards).

Can you imagine that?  He welcomed his pending death cheerfully.  He obviously saw his death not as the end, but as his gateway to Heaven.  “To die is gain.”  He didn’t despair over the prospect of his pending death, right to the end.

Just as significantly, he also viewed his fateful inoculation decision not as a mistake to be mourned, but as God’s divine will–and he patiently submitted to that.  He had such a high view of God’s sovereignty that he even saw his apparent miscalculation as something God had orchestrated.

Do you know what Edwards’ final words were?  “Trust in God and ye need not fear.”    He summarized well the main points of these two posts:

  1. We Christians mustn’t concern ourselves too much with life extension.
  2. Christians can afford to take risks, even medical ones
  3. and even if we guess wrong we win.

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Someday, I’ll likely discover that… I killed myself.

 

My guess is that someday when I arrive in heaven, I’ll find out that I’m there because I killed myself.

 

  • Perhaps I will discover I died by my own poor judgment, not looking both ways before walking out into an intersection.
  • Or perhaps I’ll find that I should have paid attention to that noisy wheel bearing, which made my front wheel fall off, which made me lose control on the highway, which caused my fatal head-on collision with the semi.
  • Maybe I’ll learn my death was caused by the Roundup I sprayed upwind on that one blustery day, which entered my lungs and started the cancer that would kill me.
  • Perhaps I will have died from keeping my cell phone too close to my bed at night, slowly frying my brain cells.
  • Maybe my undoing will have been caused by the taurine (whatever that is) in my Rockstar energy drink.  Come to think of it, there are a lot of things I ingest without a clue about what they are–any one of them could have been my undoing.
  • Maybe it will have been due to the butter I used to eat, then the margarine I replaced it with, then the butter I went back to.
  • Perhaps the thing that will have killed me is some adventurous thing I ate overseas:  the silkworms, the cow udders, the goose intestines, the 1000-year-old egg.  None of those had nutrition labels, which I would have likely disregarded anyway.
  • Perhaps, in my obsession with fitness, I’ll learn that I ran a few too many miles per week, which actually weakened my heart instead of strengthening it.
  • Possibly I’ll learn my demise was caused by one of the many vaccines I took in my lifetime, not knowing much (or caring much, quite frankly) about any of their long-term effects.
  • Maybe I’ll find I died from a currently-unknown long-term side-effect of the Covid virus that I wasn’t careful to avoid contracting.
  • Perhaps it’ll be revealed that I died because I believed and followed the wrong medical advice from those who I thought seemed credible at the time.

Of course, it’s entirely possible I’ll end up in heaven due to no fault of my own: I was murdered by a robber, hit by a drunk driver, or killed by a tornado.  But if I had to bet, I’ll bet it’s more likely that I will have contributed to my own death.  And I’m actually ok with that.

Why am I reflecting on all of this?

Because many people today seem consumed with doing everything possible to not kill themselves.  They seem bent on eliminating all health risks, trying to live as long as humanly possible.  This would be an understandable and appropriate view for those who do not believe in the afterlife.  After all, if this life is all there is, then maximizing one’s number of days makes total sense.  Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.  Now there’s a consistent worldview!

But the Christian belief that we are currently living in The Shadowlands–as C.S. Lewis phrased it–and that paradise is our eternal destination means we mustn’t put an inordinate amount of focus on health, life preservation, and life extension.

Am I saying we should throw caution to the wind and live reckless lives?  Not necessarily.  But I am saying that those of us who hope in the afterlife should only take reasonable safety precautions–not absolute safety precautions.  We could spend our entire life fearfully consumed with avoiding every health risk, making safe choices, and joylessly striving to prolong our days, all the while potentially missing what we’re actually here for.  That would be an inconsistent worldview!

Christians like me who are convinced that heaven will be a far better place than earth should spend more energy dreaming of that life rather than holding-on-for-dear-life to this one.  The Apostle Paul said it well, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:22-23).  Paul wasn’t suicidal, but he kept a proper perspective on life and death.  For the believer, death is a promotion, not the end.

This eternal perspective allows us to worry little about life extension.  In fact, it goes the other way and even enables us to become risk-takers since the self-preservation of our mortal bodies is no longer our ultimate goal.   I have history on my side here;  we see the Christians’ disregard for health and safety throughout church history.  Look at the physical sufferings of the apostles. Look at generations of martyrs who chose to surrender their bodies to death rather than recant their faith.  Do we accuse them of self-harm or commend them for their strong faith?  Faith.

Consider the physically reckless way the early church cared for those with communicable diseases.  This morning I was reading how the early Christians in Carthage responded to the great plague of 251 AD.  “Cyprian urged them to nurse sick people and touch them.  He reminded them that they could act in this mortally dangerous way because their faith in Christ, which gave them hope for everlasting life, had healed their fear of death.”  [The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, 2016, by Andrew Kreieder, p. 111].

Someday I may learn that I killed myself.  It will likely have been due to ignorance, inattentiveness, or personal failure.  Oops.  Nevertheless, what I really hope to discover on that day is that my brief earthly life was characterized more by “fruitful labor” than life extension.

For part 2 on this topic, click HERE

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Honesty is not the best policy

 

I don’t want you being honest with me — and I promise not to be honest with you either.    I want us to withhold the truth, avoid transparency, and be pretenders.  In fact, I don’t want anyone in the world being honest with each other.  Honesty is not the best policy.

My friends may be surprised at me saying such an outlandish thing.  As a God-fearing person who often speaks about truthfulness, integrity, and accountability, this doesn’t sound congruent.

Here’s what I mean.

We don’t need to disclose everything we’re thinking.  Just because it’s in my head doesn’t mean it needs to be spoken.   Before talking, I need to consider whether speaking my thoughts would be beneficial.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Here, Paul tells the Ephesians not to let everything in your head come out of your mouth.  In other words, “Put a filter on it!”   Prior to opening up your mouth, make sure your words suit the occasion, build up, and give grace to the hearer.  Less is more.

James, in 1:19, agrees, telling us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Our culture today completely fails in this area.  People are slow to listen, quick to speak, and filterless — particularly in our online communications!

Less is more.  We don’t need to share all of our opinions or always get in the last word.  Why do we feel it so necessary to tell others all the things that displease us about them?  How about putting a stop to our constant critiques and obeying Philippians 2:3 instead, which tells us to treat others better than ourselves!

We’ve drifted a long way from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous Sonnet 43.  “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.”  If written today it would read, “How have you offended me?  Let me count the ways.”  People are quick to point out their dissatisfactions, grievances, and disappointments in brutally honest, hate-filled attacks.  Let’s be different;  let’s never insult others by our honesty.

But what if the honesty of others insults us?  What then?

I recently read a book about apologizing, where the author contends that we must honestly tell people whenever they hurt us.  I completely disagree.  As I’ve blogged elsewhere, we can forgive someone who has hurt us without needing to inform them of the hurt they caused.  Let me take my hurts to Jesus, who understands mistreatment better than anyone, and then let me treat the offender with undeserved, unconditional mercy, grace, and love.  Only if it would benefit the other person do I suggest telling them what they did to me.

Is honesty ever a good policy?  Certainly.  Here are occasions where I think honesty is vitally important:

  1.  We need to be honest with God, ourselves, and others about our own weaknesses.  To hide our fatal flaws is foolish.  That’s why one of my personal Life Resolutions is to “keep no personal secrets of any kind, but rather disclose any areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable…”
  2. If I become aware that I’ve hurt someone, I should confess my sin honestly, request forgiveness, and seek to restore harmony.  Matthew 5:23-24 says, “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
  3. When a person has hurt me AND it would also benefit him or her to understand the effects of that hurt, my honesty would actually be a kindness.  But make sure our motive involves his benefit, not our vindication or comeuppance.  The goal of such honesty must be to help him learn the ways others may be adversely affected by his actions.  The focus should be on educating more than confronting.
  4. When someone’s performance is sub-standard, a supervisor’s honest feedback and possible discipline are necessary.
  5. When someone exhibits behavior that is unethical, self-destructive, or harmful to you or others, honest, constructive criticism is essential.  Such honest communication may help reveal the person’s blind spots and prevent further harm or abuse.  But be sure the motive behind such honest feedback is protection and reformation and not judgment or condescension. Galatians 6 admonishes us to restore a straying person gently, something that takes great sensitivity, courage, and honesty.

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