Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Myth #5: People Change and Grow to Want Different Things

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Previous Posts in this Series:
Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary
Myth #2: Society Says Divorce is Bad
Myth #3: Miserable and Married
Myth #4: Forever is a Long Freaking Time


 

Myth #5: People change and grow, they want different things.

What exactly is the purpose of marriage? If the purpose of marriage is happiness and pleasure, then the growth people find will be oriented towards other things that make them happy or fill them with pleasure. If it’s to grow the goodness of each other, regardless of the circumstance, then this growth will be found together, not apart.

Several years ago I wrote about marriage being like a garden. That’s the image I want to draw from as we talk about changing and growing. When we change and grow, we increase our abilities to enjoy and withstand whatever life throws at us. The same is true for a plant in a garden. We have to take special care of it once planted, and over the course of it’s early life, we water, weed, and feed the plant to ensure it’s growth. In doing so, the gardener grows in knowledge and experience as the plant grows.

Marriage is not intended to be another green house for personal growth that leads to a second transplanting in yet another garden. This has already happened once in life in our childhood homes. We are raised, grown, and matured and then we leave home to go make a life for ourselves. Too often couples mistakenly relate to the marriage in the same way they did to their childhood home. The narrative is pretty common: I feel limited by him/her; They don’t love me the way I need/want to be loved; and I’m not the person I want to be in this home. There are many other statements that I could list, but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m saying.

When our marriages begin to fail, it is entirely too easy to revert back to adolescent tendencies that lead us towards wanting to get out. The problem is that these tendencies we felt as teenagers are legit responses to a natural relational patter in our childhood homes. We are not meant to live at home under our parents care forever (nor would most parents want this). We are meant to be raised until we are ready to leave home and go make a life for ourselves.

People do change and grow after they leave home, and if they are not growing, something else is wrong. But in the context of changing and growing in marriage to the point of “wanting different things” as the myth states, it again raises the issue of what we think the purpose of marriage is. Every couple needs to define what their purposes are together. Companionship is often stated when I poll couples about their purpose, but I think marriage needs a more transcendent purpose than this. Marriage offers the possibility of safety, growth, and a place to return when all other aspects of life seem to be going all wrong.

We have a pretty large vegitable and fruit garden in our back yard. It’s fenced and has raised beds to promote growth. I want you to think about that fence and garden beds as the structure of marriage. The fence isn’t intended to be there to limit the growth of what’s inside, rather it’s there to prevent the dangers of what is outside.

Growth happens in the context of love, and in this instance, the fence is a symbol of love to the tomato, squash, strawberry, and green bean plants that reside inside. If I were to take a green bean plant outside the fence, and plant it in the middle of the yard a couple things would happen. If the rabbits didn’t eat it first, the deer would. And if those two didn’t find it before Saturday, my lawn mower would end it’s story. Be mindful of where you are finding life outside your marriage that does not seed growth inside your marriage.

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Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Myth #1 – ”Divorce pain is temporary.

Temporary pain means that whatever causes the pain wasn’t that significant to begin with. We make pain temporary by escaping and numbing ourselves. Ultimately the pain resulting from a divorce does not just affect the couple, it affects an entire community.

Marriages are an essential building block of how our communities were formed. Yet we are increasingly viewing marriage like it’s shopping mall. When we don’t get the desired product, we return it, go to another store and get different one. Disposable relationships cannot hold love for long, thus they cannot hold pain for long either. Find me someone who has lost a child that says the pain is no longer there. It’s just not true. Marriage has been reduced to a pursuit of happiness, which creates an untenable position: ‘If you don’t make me happy, someone else will.’

Marriage is an unseen fabric that binds our homes, restaurants, businesses, and community together. Without the marriage fabric there would be a chaotic “free-for-all,” making every man, woman, and child available for whatever pursuit the moment called for. Marriage provides the safety and protection for a community. By staying, loving, and committing to my marriage, I am allowing and asking for you to do the same.


Typically, a marriage happens before friends and family allowing for new friendships to be forged. If that marriage ends, it fractures these relationships. It’s like two cities that have been connected by a bridge. When that bridge is destroyed, so too are the comings and goings of those cities. My people stay my people, and the same for you and your people.

Unfortunately, as divorce has become more common, the strength of our communities has deteriorated, thus leading to more divorce. I rarely hear a couple talk about what is best for “us”, instead most talk about what is best for me, and what I’m not getting. The pervasive idea is this: “I deserve to be happy. I want what I want when I want it. To hell with anyone, including my spouse, who stands in my way.”

The pain in life is temporary because we want it to be. Divorce is no different. We humans are pretty adept at finding ways to escape from our pain. Very few people actually travel the road of healing by facing the pain they feel. This reality is true for all aspects of life, not just marriage. It’s why relapse rates for addictions are so high. The more we escape pain the more entrenched we become in our habits.

Like a piece of candy, pleasure is short lived and always leaves the consumer desiring more. If the pain of a divorce is short lived, it’s because the orientation of the marriage was towards immediate gratification. We wouldn’t marry if self-gratification delivered the goodness of life we all desire.

Marriages will never thrive if happiness is the sole purpose of the relationship. The hope of marriage is that my spouse will be as oriented towards love as I am. If we can join together in that love, the pain of ending that hope would deter pursuits of divorce, not encourage it.

Next Up — Myth #2: “Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.”

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Are you Hopeless in Marriage?

Most people who have not done significant spiritual or relational work do not know how to do conflict well. Invariably, we will unconsciously adapt our conflict styles to what we were exposed to in our childhood homes. The saying “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” is true here, how are we to know a different way of being without the help of someone else to show us another place?

Marriage provides the context for taking another person to another place. It offers hope that I can live alongside someone who will help me to become a better person, and I can do the same for them. The reality is that once the newness wears off (which happens at different rates of time for different people), couples often lose sight of the purpose of marriage.

I often hear, “I just want to be happy and live in peace” when asking people what they desire in their marriages. Generally this is in reaction to the growing disconnect and conflict that exists between husband and wife. However, when you don’t do the necessary maintenance and work, It decays and begins to break down. This is true of the material world just as it is for relationships.

Cleaning up and fixing something that has been neglected for a long time takes more energy and effort than the time it would have taken to maintain. In relationships, if you do not spend the time proactively working and engaging the faulty issues in your marriage, when it comes time to “fix it” or “buy a new one”, it’s going to feel overwhelming.

This overwhelming feeling coupled with the already everyday needs and demands of life make it even more difficult to find the courage, energy, and hope to dig out of the mess. If you’re at this place of hopelessness in your marriage, seek out a counselor. If you’re afraid you’re on the road to hopelessness, here are some suggestions to work on:

Do go on regular dates with your spouse.
Do monthly budget meetings to review and plan financial concerns and needs
Do yearly/bi-yearly marriage enrichment activities (counseling, retreats, books, etc)
Do not turn on the ’screen’ (tv, phone, computer/tablet) at least 2 nights per week
Do not blame your spouse for anything, ever. Take responsibility for your actions.
Do not use the word divorce unless you are filing.
Do not have an affair with work, alcohol, Facebook, video games, food, or the TV.
Do practice non-sexual touch without it leading to sex.
Do not hide behind your kids activities to avoid conflict.
Do not use your kids to fulfill your loneliness.

No relationship is beyond repair. I have seen couples dealing with multiple layers of betrayal, lies, and brokenness work diligently on repairing their relationship. When you married your spouse, they became the right one, don’t buy into the lie that there is someone better out there for you. If you’re willing to do the hard work, your hopelessness can be healed.

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Thriving the Holidays

Raise your hand if you don’t feel some twinge of anxiety about the family dynamics during the holidays.

If you’re honest, you feel pretty conflicted about having your parents or siblings over for Thanksgiving dinner, much less visiting your childhood home. And you likely feel somewhat reluctant about going to your in-laws or some other place than what is normal.

Surviving the holiday season is all about eating more food, drinking more wine, and watching more football. Basically, if you want to just make it through the holidays without rocking the boat, spend as little time sober around your family as possible. And by sober, I don’t mean alcohol and food inebriation, rather I mean that you not engage with what you really think and feel. Alcohol and Food provide great buffers to numb out the pain that so many of our family situations trigger. Surviving is about just getting by, Thriving is about being present and not letting the old patterns and behaviors become the go-to actions.

Here’s some ideas on thriving this holiday season:

1. Don’t expect changes to have occurred in any of your family of origin relationships. This isn’t to say that you need to expect them to have not changed, but be available for surprise if that has happened. You’ll build resentments if you have unrealistic expectations.

2. Practice not saying all that you have to say. It’s easy to get triggered and have a flood of old emotions come sweeping in during time with family. Use caution about what you say, and who you say it to.

3. Plan your exit strategy ahead of time. Set boundaries for how much time you will spend, and where. Don’t let big decisions be made on the spot, make those proactively.

4. Be mindful of eating and drinking indulgently. There is always copious amounts of food and drink during holiday celebrations, and it’s easy to numb out to excessive caloric intake or alcohol.

5. Don’t completely deviate from your normal routine. Take some of your normal non-vacation habits with you. Bedtime, morning, mealtime, etc. The more familiar you are with what the day holds the healthier you will be able to respond to challenging situations.

Above all, be honest with yourself and those that are committed to truth and vulnerability. The holidays can provide some great contexts for healing, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be involved in that process.

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Finding Light in the Darkness

(c) http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/04/20/news/final-shootout-in-boston

Celebrations in Boston after the news of the 2nd bombing suspect being captured.                                                                                Image curtsey of MN Public Radio.

Over the past week the people of this country have once again proven one of the most powerful human laws: Grief brings people together. This reality struck me on a number of levels last week as we watched an entire city be terrorized by two young men, a small town shaken by a tragic explosion, and a suburb locked down for almost 24 hours for a manhunt. I’m always amazed at how the experience of grief unites and connects people. No other experience matches it.

Each of these events, though two of them one of the same, brought to light the same story told over and over again throughout history. When people are unnecessarily hurting, we gather as friends, not enemies. We hug, cry, celebrate, and dance together.

Friday night after the second Boston gunman was caught, the celebration rang throughout the country. There were no party lines, no religious differences, and no declarations of morality. We were all united. United simply by the same goal we all share: To be treated fairly and respected. Tragedy breaks down walls.

I hate tragedy, but I respect it’s unjust place in life. We cannot keep it from happening, but we can keep fighting on behalf of good.

Tragedy doesn’t bring darkness, it invites light.

Tragedy says, “Look over here, I am broken, vulnerable, and afraid. I wish for peace, but cannot guarantee it for myself or my loved ones. Come some light, shine in the darkness and bring hope to this scary, uneasy, and very lonely place.”

In the end, tragedy exhausts the callused. Tragedy invites allegiance to the common good, the commonality that all humans share … the commonality that goes deeper than sexual preference, religious affiliation, or political party lines. Tragedy is an invitation. And in the end, tragedy is what fuels the sleepless nights on a manhunt.

Though I would never wish any semblance of human suffering to befall anyone, nor myself, I know of no other way to grow than through adversity. Adversity of the soul is the only way the soul is stretched, challenged, and matured.

Understandably, depending on where one is in the process of acceptance, the message that tragedy invites might be offensive. I too have felt this truth in my life because coming to accept my human finitude requires first that I find the end of myself, and thus find the beginning of Something larger, greater.

If you want to see “United We Stand” in action, visit a hospital waiting room. Atheists pray, grown men cry, enemies embrace, and the Tin Man gets his heart.

There are few experiences in this life that are as sacred as the grounds of grief. If you look closely, the light is ushering you to come forth from your hiding place to be welcomed and loved by friends and strangers alike.

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5 Virtues of Marriage

Looking back over the past year is one of my favorite traditions. I get to remember the ups and downs, the growth that occurred, and see what themes continually show up. This is the first year that I’ve applied this to my professional life, probably because it’s the first full year I’ve had as a private practician (previously having split my time in a non-profit agency). In looking back over the past year, I’ve seen an emphasis on 5 different virtues about marriage.


1. Choosing marriage is choosing to give up control of your life.
I cannot emphasize this virtue any stronger: Marriage will cost you your life. If you value your own authority, singleness, or ego more than that of others, do not get married. Choosing marriage will require you to give up control of your life. You will make decisions that will affect at least two people (more later when you have kids), and this is a very difficult change from that of a single life. It might be the best gift ever given to a single person, and it’s the costliest.In a very real way, marriage is much like salvation. In accepting God’s plan and will for your life, you are setting aside your own to be submissive his his plan. This means that you’re an active participant in his plan, but your life is not about your happiness. Marriage is about giving up of ones life for the sake of the other, which translates to a giving up of control.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for another” (John 15:13).

“You complete me,” might be one of the most famous lines in the movie Jerry Maguire, and it might be the most misleading. Marriage will offer you the unique and unparalleled opportunity to grow. Marriage will not fill you, rather it  will make you more aware of your emptiness and need for God, and only God. Unfortunately there is no real way that Hollywood can show more than an infatuated love. So we don’t get a real picture as to what mature, longstanding love looks like. Instead we get a glimpse of the joy and warm fuzzy love that we all want to have. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not a lasting version of love.

2. Couples that protect pain from happening are preventing intimacy (connections) from developing.
Its no secret that people don’t like pain. It’s also no secret that being in a close relationship is an inevitable date with pain. The challenge is viewing pain as though it is a gift, not the plague. Pain is not fun, but neither is numbness. I don’t know about you, but when I leave the dentist after getting a shot of Novocain, I cannot wait for it to wear off. The feeling of not controlling half of my face is miserable (not to mention the inability to know when I’m drooling). We were not made to be numb, we were made to feel.

The poet Mary Oliver penned this line, and it speaks well to the realities couples face: “I was once given a box full of darkness, it took me many years to realize that this too was a gift.” Pain shapes our lives either in our acceptance of it or our refusal to experience it. Creating a space for pain to be a welcomed guest in your marriage will serve you well. This is the task of every marriage: To create and develop a philosophy of dealing with pain. You will raise the next generation of people based on how you and your spouse engage each other in times of pain.

3. Marriage is a muscle: Use it or lose it.
Marriage takes work, and will not naturally grow on it’s own. It takes consistent time and energy much like your muscles. If you were to sit all day every day for a year, you would notice a significant amount of atrophy in your body. Your inability to function after that year of sitting would likely take you a more painful and greater amount of recovery to return to your previous abilities (if ever at all). Once you have lost muscle mass, it is very difficult to get it back.

Your months and years of dating and courtship are very much like a daily trip to the gym. You’re exercising the muscles of the relationship that cause it to grow. When you get married, continue your visits to the gym (literally and metaphorically). Read books together, attend marriage workshops, go on dates, spend intentional time together, take trips. Do all of these things regularly and your marriage will not atrophy.

4. One plus one equals three: Becoming one, requires two.
One of the more nuanced challenges of marriage is to become one together, but remain distinctly individual in the process. It will take both husband and wife bringing 100% each to the marriage to make the relationship work. This is not a 50-50% proposition, it’s a 100-100% arrangement. Only bringing 50% of yourself to the table means you’re not being fully you in the relationship.

When a husband or wife begin to lose their individuality, marriage problems will soon follow. Being an individual is not the same as being single, rather it’s being an individual who maintains their autonomy while being 100% committed to the growth and health of the other person for the sake of the marriage. M. Scott Peck in his bestselling book, The Road Less Travelled, said that Love is to tend to the spiritual and emotional growth in another person. This is the goal of marriage, to tend to and care for the spiritual and emotional health in our spouse. We have the best chance of doing this when we are operating out of our fully unique and individual lives.

5. Marriage is Redemptive.
I know no other way to describe marriage more simply than it’s capacity to enact redemption in life. This comes in unimaginable ways as past wounds, hurts, fears, and resentments are all confronted with the woman of our dreams. Surrendering ones life to another is hard, yes, but it is also glorious. I believe this is the hope that beckons us to get married in the first place. We might not know this is what we are signing up for, but the spirit in us all moves us towards a need for being saved from ourselves. Marriage offers us just that: An opportunity to be saved from ourselves.

(This article was originally published at StartMarriageRight.com)

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The Marriage Ascent

Tanya and Daniel had been married for 3 years when they returned to my office for some help on a few conflicts they were having. I wasn’t surprised to hear they were having some issues. Marriage is a struggle. However, with this particular couple, during pre-marriage counseling, I’d highlighted 3-4 key themes they would need to watch for that would likely cause some hefty conflict in marriage. They, like most couples in pre-marital counseling, couldn’t simulate the reality of marriage and thus couldn’t see the full effect of these areas of conflict.

One of the difficulties in pre-marriage counseling is that it’s nearly impossible to simulate what marriage will look like. The result is a challenge to arouse enough honesty from the individuals to fight about before their married. I suspect one big reason for this is due to the fear of rejection and losing the other person. Both acute and very real fears in relationships.

This was one of the challenges I experienced with Tanya and Daniel: Neither one was willing to risk opposing the other, which resulted in very clean, nice, and polite counseling sessions. I challenged them to speak up about offenses, hurts, or issues that felt too difficult to talk about. Each session was like the last, both explaining in different ways that everything between the two of them was perfect.

At our last of six session, I encouraged them (as I do with every pre-married couple): Don’t lose heart when your marriage doesn’t go according to plan. Keep your head up, stay engaged with each other, and call me if you run into something that feels hopeless or never-ending.

They returned for six months of really difficult, yet very fruitful marriage counseling. A number of different themes arouse through their time in my office, and I want to share these with you.

Marriage as a journey, not a Destination

A mistake that Tanya and Daniel admitted to making was their view about the status of “being married.” They thought marriage would be a place they could arrive at together, and this arrival would alleviate the problems they were facing separately as single people. They saw marriage as being the solution to their problems, not the incubator for more problems. Over the first 3 years of their lives together, they realized that the problems they had as single people were now intensified. His problems were with hiding shameful activities such as porn and the occasional pot use. Hers were mainly about body image and self-esteem issues.

Tanya and Daniel were right—Marriage intensifies existing problems, it does not alleviate them. This is a hard trap to not fall into as an engaged couple, and is very common. A change in perspective might help to keep this from happening in your marriage. Marriage is a journey, and on this journey there are high and low points, happy and sad times, finding and losing, and full of life. To consider this lifelong journey as anything other would be a disservice to the institution of marriage.

Training and preparing

If you’ve ever trained for a major sporting event such as a long-distance run, climbing a challenging mountain, a triathlon, or other event that requires preparation, then you understand that to perform well in crunch time, you have to practice and train well ahead of time. Culturally, Americans tend to believe that we ought to be able to do things on our own, without help. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in marriage.

Marriage is the ultimate long-distance sport, and requires the necessary time and attention that one would give for such an event. To be successful in marriage, we need to train and prepare with input from outsiders. This comes in the form of counseling, reading books, attending retreats or seminars, and getting involved with community of others. Without a commitment to training, marriages will not flourish when tested.

Follow through.

One of the most hopeless moments in Tanya’s life came when Daniel calmly, yet detached, said: “I’m done with you and this relationship. I want a divorce.”

This event was the imputes in her seeking out help. The reality for Daniel was that he was done with how the relationship was functioning, not with Tanya and their marriage. At the time he spoke these words, he truly believed he was being honest with her. Unfortunately, these were words he’d uttered many times before in fits of rage as empty threats.

These words were used as partial truth. As we explored what Daniel meant, we found out that he was intensely disappointed in marriage and didn’t see a way out. He admitted to using the word “divorce” as a way to shut her up and get from her what he wanted. This manipulation was understood by Tanya, but never named as such. Early on in their counseling, I challenged them to never use the word divorce unless they were willing (together or separately) to follow through with such a statement.

The lesson here: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. The best gift you can give your spouse is trust. Trust is built on the foundation of follow through. This was a hard concept for Daniel to understand because he felt like I was giving him freedom to divorce Tanya if that’s what he wanted. The reality is that I was asking him to be accountable to the words and desires he had for their marriage. If divorce was what he wanted, he needed to follow through with it. This “freedom” that I gave him was a bind. He either needed to step up and file, or stop using that word as an escape from their problems. Both were difficult scenarios and both required him to engage honestly. He chose to re-engage with Tanya, and their marriage grew because of this.

Tanya and Daniel realized they were unprepared for marriage, just like 100% of other couples entering their first marriage. They admitted to each other that their vows towards each other were intended to bring happiness, but what they needed was to mature and grow up in their capacity for love and respect. Marriage is an ascent up and down rugged terrain that only promises to make you stronger and less self-centered if you stay the course. It’s not possible to serve two masters, serving the self and marriage cannot coexist—each spouse has to chose one. That is the challenge, and ascent, of marriage.

(authors note: This article was originally published at Start Marriage Right. Due to issues of confidentiality, names and identifying information in vignettes have been changed)

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Not all Space needs to be Filled

If your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly life with all the activities, commitments, and “things you do regularly” were manifested as various sized cardboard boxes in your home; what would your home look like? Would there be any open spaces, or would you be the next candidate on a “hoarding” reality show?

The U.S. is a culture that values doing more than being. We don’t rest well, which means that most spaces and places of our lives are filled up. We are a culture of performers, of doers. Unfortunately, when cultures are driven by performance, doing, addictions and life controlling habits flourish. Said another way: We fill our lives up with stuff. Shopping, Toys, Food, alcohol, internet, reality (not really) TV shows, porn, and drugs are all ways that we medicate the reality that we don’t have enough capacity to get what we want.

It’s impossible to live life for long as a human doer. We are human beings. We’re finite creatures with needs that sometimes defy age, logic, and reason. We’re not the great conquerors and rulers of life that we want to believe we are. As the poet and songwriter Lenoard Cohen once said, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Living life with spaces, pauses, takes great discipline. It also takes acceptance about our limitations and finitude. We cannot perform as though we are whole creatures and value brokenness and faults. Not all spaces — in all aspects of life, physical, emotional, relational, mental — are meant, or need, to be filled. Rhythms create space. What rhythms are you practicing?

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Back to the Future

(…originally published at StartMarriageRight.com)

Growing up, one of my favorite video games was Zelda. In addition to the combat and puzzles, my favorite part was discovering and conquering unknown levels. As the player, you’d know how much of a particular level you’d discovered based on the map in the lower right corner. However, in beginning each new level, the map resets to black. As you progressed in the new level, it would only illuminate where you’d previously been. The main component missing on the map: Where you were going.

Unknown territory, enemies, and lands all waiting in darkness to be discovered. As in real life, the map is a very crucial part of the game. Without it, the player/character would be doomed to revisit the same board or level over and over again. Our life map looks very similar to that of Zelda: Portions are illuminated because we’ve previously visited, and portions are darkened awaiting our visit. Unfortunately, many rarely visit the darkened portions of maps because of fear.

The known or the unknown? A common phrase that holds people back from getting more out of life is “fear of the unknown.” People are afraid of what might happen in the future if they pursue a public speaking job, start a blog, confront a friend or loved one, ask a girl on a date, or any number of risky vulnerabilities. For some the “fear of the unknown” is what to do with success, and for others it’s what to do with failure. These questions about the future are only powerful because this “fear of the unknown” is quite the opposite: It’s the fear of the known.

I’m afraid of spiders because of what I’ve seen—what I know. What they can do to someone doesn’t bring comforting thoughts or feelings to myself (perhaps watching the movie arachnophobia as a kid didn’t help matters). If I’d never been exposed to the harm of a black widow, brown recluse or other poisonous spiders, I probably wouldn’t be afraid. But I have been exposed to these potential dangers and thus I carry a warranted known fear of spiders.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to fear the unknown. We are afraid of what we know—those things we have previously uncovered or discovered. In playing Zelda, you have a sense what’s located in the undiscovered portions of the map only because you’ve been to previously undiscovered places. But you never know what was there until you’ve experienced it yourself.

As humans, we’re born with fear. Fear is that feeling that alerts your senses to potential danger or potential vulnerabilities. We react out of our fears to keep ourselves safe. It’s our human survival instinct, and is often referred to as Fight, Flight, or Freeze. We do any of these three in reaction to danger, to a fear. My fear of spiders is based on different literature I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, and being personally bitten many times by these minuscule beasts.

Though my encounter with spiders is a tangible example, the far more devastating and dangerous fears are what we do with our dreams and desires. Fear elicits feelings of being out of control, and we humans do not do out of control well. These feelings cause our fears to blind us to what’s present today by diverting our attention into the future; to what we can control. If pursuing one’s dream feels scary or out of control, the easiest way to gain control is to come up with an excuse as to why we cannot. The statement of “fearing the unknown” is an excuse. It’s an easy pass out of the tension of facing reality today.

In college my friends and I would go mountain biking in the Ozark Mountains. It was an exhilarating way to spend an afternoon away from studying and the hard life of a college student. Upon cresting a hill, we’d stop at the top and choose a direction downwards. As we surveyed the impending descent, working up the courage to propel our bodies off the ledge, one or all would say, “no falls, no balls.” And with that, we’d push off and fly down the hill. Sometimes flying down the hill turned into crashing down the hill. After a crash, there’d always be an increase of fear at the next hill.

Conquering fear requires facing it head-on. There is no way to get around it. Shortcuts will only intensify and prolong what you are trying to avoid. The way to conquer supposed “fear of the unknown”, is to face the fears that you do know. Face the fears that are presenting themselves today, and take them one step at a time. Look back to where you’ve been, and you’ll find reasons and stories that illuminate the fears of the future. In a sense, by taking a look where you’ve been, you’ll get to go back to the future.

 

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Q&A About Marriage

Last week I participated as a virtual panelist on a Facebook page for an organization where I’m a contributing writer. This discussion was posted as a Question (below) and then was commented on by myself and the “fans” of the Facebook page. It was a really good discussion, and I wanted to share my responses (which were separate comments, so they don’t necessarily read as a article would) to the questions asked of me. Here they are in no particular order. Chime in if you have additions to these questions.

 

What does it mean to be “one flesh” in marriage?

– For one, it means to put aside living life for oneself for the sake of the other. You cannot thrive in your marriage if you are in it for you. It just won’t work. Becoming one flesh is a lifelong process that will cost you your life, which is why not many marriages make it “till death.” The death of the relationship is far easier than the death of oneself.

– Another way is that it means that together, we create new life. A relationship is the first child of a marriage. It’s birthed the day you meet, and takes the same care and attention that a baby would need. Becoming one flesh means that I bring all of myself and combine it with all of you, creating a wholly new life, a relationship.

– A word of caution about this idea of “one flesh.” When we marry, it’s very easy to “lose oneself” in the context of an intimate relationship. It’s somewhat of a paradox, but it takes two people being fully who God created them to be for a marriage to thrive. By becoming one flesh, we are doing away with selfish ideas, and replacing them with “soul-fish” ideas. Our soul is the place God resides, and that place needs to be protected and offered to the marriage as a gift.

– Sex, the sexual embrace, is far more encompassing than just the physical act. The act of being “one flesh” is celebrated, not created, by the sexual union.

 

What if I get annoyed with my spouse and don’t want to be around him/her?

– There are a couple of ways to look at this. One, to be annoyed could mean that you wouldn’t do “x” the way your spouse does “x”. This might mean that you’re not annoyed, rather you don’t like being out of control or that someone does something different than you. Another way to look at it is that your spouse’s behavior is a coverup for you feeling cramped, trapped, or “shut in.”

– What does the word “annoyed” mean to you? Does it stir up a stronger emotion? My wife has many “isms” about her that have been annoying to me in the past. Most of the time though, I’m not annoyed, I’m feeling something else: Resentment, anger, hurt, lonely, etc. Annoyed, frustrated, disappointed, and some other commonly used words are often vague cover-ups for what’s really going on inside us.

– Also, It’s not uncommon to feel trapped early in marriage, and if we’re not being honest about this, we will find ways to express this trapped feeling. Enter things that annoy us about the other person. It’s not really that they annoy us, but that they are in our space and we don’t know how to live in that space with them.

– If the way you address the annoyance is with an angry or spiteful, sarcastic, or critical spirit, more than likely you were feeling anger and not annoyed.

 

What do we do if family and friends don’t agree with our engagement? 

– Assuming that your family and friends are looking out for your best interest (they love you) then I’d encourage you to give serious consideration to what they have to say. Ask them questions and explore why they don’t agree with your engagement. Is it a moral issue, an opinion, a “sixth sense”? Again, assuming that they love you, ask them to let you know if there are red flags, or just yellow ones. Some other questions to consider: Do they see something in him/her they don’t like, is it a matter of how you’re being treated by your fiance, and what is their solution to their concerns?

– I agree that prayer is a much needed part of this process. And, I would say that the insight your friends and family have to you is unique and needs to be considered. Obviously this is a difficult thing to do when you’re clearly wanting to marry someone, and your family/friends are opposed.

– There are plenty of family systems that do not want their children to “fly the coop.” If this is your family, kindly thank them for their concern and advice, and move along.