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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Beyond the Seen

We’re all trying to make it in a grown up world. We’re all Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Big.” Nothing more than a boy stuck inside a 30, 40, or 50 year olds body.

It’s time to grow up. It’s time to stop living life as though it’s going to work, to fulfill you, or bring a constant smile. It’s a grown up world, and a lot of us are acting like that three-year-old in the grocery store pitching a fit because we’re not able to get Lucky Charms.

Stop spending more money than you make. Stop being late for lunch with a friend, and stop taking advantage of your spouse because “we both understand how busy we are.” Personal responsibility is lacking, and this just isn’t going to work.

The physical is where we miss each other. We see the body, the facial hair, the curved body, the jewelry, cars, and houses, but fail to recognize that these are statuses kids can attain. Kids get married, have kids, get jobs, and make lots of money. Kids do things that make them appear to be adults, but inside they’re not. Adults don’t stay in abusive relationships. Adults don’t have affairs. Kids are who buy BMW’s because it makes them feel good inside.

Adults know and value time, forgiveness, compassion, and grace. They know these things because they’ve been given these by others. They’ve been given these things by an adult. Not a child. But an adult. Virtues drive adults, not statuses.

Wisdom coaches adults, not knowledge. The turtle is admired, the hare hated. Kids don’t grow up trying to be the slowest, they want to be the fastest. The fastest wins the race, but loses the journey.

Early on, kids learn the pain of telling the truth. Maturity is about being honest, especially when it’s the hardest to do so. Not only about what we stole, or lied about, but what we fear, hope for, and desire.

This American Life recently had a 25 minute story about a politician and his friend who both lost their careers (and one went to prison) because they spent 3-4 years covering up a mistake made over a postcard during a campaign. They cheated, and had they told the truth at the time, it would have been a slap on the wrist. This is the penultimate example of choosing to believe the justification or lies over the truth. I’ve done it, and so have you. “What the heart wants, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” – Thomas Cranmer

What if we stopped giving people so much credit? What if we looked beyond the titles, power suits, big homes, nice cars, fancy vacations, and latest fashion? What would we see?

You’d see someone just like you. Someone who doubts themselves, questions God, fears vulnerability, and knows from experience to trust no one. You’d see the kid inside trying, screaming, clawing, and begging for someone to hold them and tell them it’s ok. You’d see a 40 year old man who still gets afraid of the dark, a 30 year old woman who still worries about being alone, or a 60 year old man wondering why life has been so empty.

We’ve trained ourselves and each other to judge by the seen, not the content. Because covers can be made beautiful, attractive, sexy, and appealing. There’s no such thing as Photoshop for the soul. Often the content doesn’t ever get read because we’re too transfixed by the cover. We want to believe that some have it together, because then there is hope for me. If no one has it together, where do I go? What do I live for?

Ever wondered why social media is so popular, or why there are so many so called “reality” shows on television? It’s because we want someone else’s life. We don’t want our own. You may not admit it, but your life has not been what you wanted it to be. If you don’t learn your own content, what makes you you, then you’ll be looking to live out someone else’s.

Looking beyond the seen is difficult, and takes effort, time, and being intentional. You must first look beyond the seen in your own life. Examine your own reflection, and learn to tell the story of your content, of your life.

 

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The Value of Time

We shall never have more time. We have, and have always had, all the time there is. No object is served in waiting until next week or even until tomorrow. Keep going day in and day out. Concentrate on something useful. Having decided to achieve a task, achieve it at all costs. -Arnold Bennett.

Despite the finite nature of time, and the mortal constraints we face because of our humanity, there is still immense value to time. Our life is largely spent on the past, or in the future, but rarely in the present. I think this is so because the present is a land of monotony, somewhat boring, laborious, and arena of preparation. There’s not much sexiness in spending time preparing, yet it’s what waits for us in the here and now.

There are two ways to look at the past and future, and both have to deal with time travel. The first is characterized by Uncle Rico in the movie, Napolean Dynamite. He’s stuck in the glory years of his past football accomplishments, and cannot move into the future because he’s already accomplished his life goal: To be a football star. The future holds nothing for him, so traveling back in time is seen as the only way to live.

The second way to look at the past and future is to be ashamed, angry, or sad about what’s happened in the past, and want the future to hold something different. This is the land of fantasy andthe make believe. It’s a big reason why facebook is so popular: We can project a fragmented version, the best foot forward, of ourselves for the “world” to see, love, and admire. It’s why you don’t see profile pictures of suffering, grief, loss, heartache, and sadness. Partially this is true because those emotions are almost impossible to capture in an image, nor would most want to.

We judge ourselves (and others) based on what we have done, and what we will do. It’s impossible to be equally committed to judgement and engaging in the present at the same time. You’re either in yesterday and tomorrow, or today. Choose you which day whom you will serve.

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Love Your Faults

Deficiencies, blemishes, and faults are what make us lovable, yet we’re constantly told by ads and media that blemishes need to be covered up, eradicated, and hidden. The reality is the bumps, oddities, and faults in each of us is why we’re able to form bonds and relationships.

Think of it in terms of painting or wood finishing. Before paint can adhere to a surface, the surface needs to be roughed up. WIthout the grooves and crevasses created by the sand paper, the paint would fall off the surface. It’s why painting a finished piece of glass can be easily scraped off. Glass is smooth, finished, and lacking dimensional depth.

Relationally, this is an odd paradox. Most of us strive to be without the need for others, yet cannot last very long on our own outside of relationships. The difficulty is that some of the rough spots and patches in our lives that make us lovable are very tender, swollen, and in lots of pain. You can love me all you want, but don’t touch too long or hard on these spots or I’m going to react accordingly.

So why are we afraid to be deficient? Because perfectionism, performance, and having it together are celebrated as tenants of successful people. Rarely will you see a rock star, public figure, pastor, or other famous person exposing their bumps and bruises authentically. It’s just not what we naturally do as humans. Yet all great stories are great because they contain rocky sections, failures, or deaths.

The great “success stories” aren’t great because of the end, but because of the process and journey taken. If you want to love and be loved, you’ll have to get cozy with your faults, and others’. If you’re perfect, you don’t need me and I don’t have anything for you. Blemishes don’t work well to sell magazines, but they show us that we people are indeed human. When people can see that you’re human just like they are, friendships are born.

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Stay Here And Feed Your People

 

One of my favorite podcasts is The Moth, a story-telling organization that hosts “story nights” around the country.  Audience members, similar to the Price is Right, are the stars of the show. They get on stage and tell a story, sometimes in reference to a theme of the evening, and they do this without notes. It’s often exciting, usually moving, and always beautiful. Stories make the world go round, and The Moth offers an intimate glimpse into some of these stories.

Last fall, The Moth hosted a “Grand Slam” event that brought 10 storytellers to the stage, and they competed against each other for the title of Grand Slam Winner. This event was in Chicago and was hosted by the Peter Sagal of the NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t tell Me.” (Wait Wait is another one of my favorite podcasts.)

Towards the end of the show, Sagal was sharing a story of his own. He had a friend, Morgan, who helped to put on a develop plays in the local theater. During this time in her life, Morgan began asking questions about her own significance and place in this world. Consequently, she became a huge fan of Mother Teresa. When Mother Teresa came to town Morgan found her at her hotel and to meet her.

Morgan expressed her admiration and respect, and said she wanted to join her in Calcutta doing work in the orphanages. Morgan said, “The work you do is wonderful and important, I want to come with you to Calcutta.”

Mother Teresa replied, “No. You don’t do this work because you think it’s wonderful. You do this work because you so love the poor people of Calcutta that you can’t be away from them. That’s when you come and do this work.”

“What do you do?” Mother Teresa asked.

“What I do isn’t important,” Morgan said. “I work at a theater and I help put on plays. What use is that?”

“There are so many different kinds of famine in this world,” Mother Teresa said. “In my country, there is a famine of the body. In this country, there is a famine of the spirit. Stay here and feed your people.”

Who are ‘your people’?

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Making Black and White, Grey

 

Over the past few months, I’ve heard and read a lot about the bestselling book series “50 Shades of Grey.” This series is permeating so many different levels of cultural conversations: From sports talk radio, to morning talk shows, to social conversations, to “Shades of Grey” themed parties. One point is salient with all this: America are depressed. Due to our depression, we are not easily aroused from this numbed state of being. It’s taking more and more to wake us up, and 50 Shades of Grey is doing just that to a lot of people.

I have not read the book(s), but I get why they are popular. Twenty years ago, Fabio graced the covers of many romantic novels, which presented the fantasy of a man so tender, soft, and loving, yet beautiful, strong, and safe. He was the symbol of comfort, safety, and the lush fantasy of how to please a woman. Today, Fabio is dead and in his place is the hard, chiseled, and dominant fantasy of Christian Grey (the male character in the trilogy). In discussing this book with those that have read it, I get the sense that what’s so erotic about the series is the BDSM nature of the books sexual encounters (for those unfamiliar, BDSM stands for Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism).

Gone is the day that Fabio rules the bedroom with his long flowing hair, and emotionally charged conversations and walks with the maiden. The prevailing notion behind these books is that women ultimately want to be dominated and controlled. Taken into the bedroom, a world of overt sexual fantasies is constructed and exploited to the nth degree. The author has taken the nature and need of safety in relationships and turned it into sexual dominance.

The problem with this book (which represents an entire genre of literature) is that it’s mentally and emotionally pornographic. The main audience is women, which is normally the case for erotic/romantic based literature. And as is the case with so many other books/stories like this (The Twilight series being another example, though less erotically driven), the heroine is a shell of a person. She typically has little to no personality, an absence of curiosity or uniqueness, and is represented as the ‘flatlined’ character. All of these traits allow the reader to project themselves into the character as though they are the main character. This is not a new insight, or original thought, but the reader gets to feel what the character feels. The reader imprints their unique story into a story that’s written, and let the fantasy take them away.

It’s a brilliant way to write because it hooks the reader in so quickly, and immerses them so deeply into the story.Porn and fantasy are both hollow and shallow in nature and require more and more exposure to satisfy. One book isn’t enough, there must be three. After experiencing so many highs (emotionally and physically) in the reading of a book like this, the reader wants more. The next logical step is to take the fantasy into real life.

The main consumer of pornography is men, and the main consumer of emotionally driven romance novels (emotional porn) is women. The convergence of these two realities are happening in our neighborhoods, and are having a devastating effect on marriages and families. There is no risk, no fear, and no rejection in pornographic material.

My advice to anyone considering reading these novels: Don’t. It might provide a brief respite from the doldrums of life, but eventually the fantasy will wear off and will result in a deeper pain that will now include one’s sexuality. You can’t unlearn fantasy scenes. Research has shown that sexual experiences produce oxytocin, a naturally produced chemical in your body which works to emotionally bond two people together. When these experiences are had in the context of visual or emotional porn, your bonding chemicals get released to fictitious people and characters. It’s difficult to detach from those images and ideals when facing real-life issues.

If you’re feeling depressed about life, sexual issues, or your marriage or relationship, a fantasy novel won’t help.  Americans are quite adept at numbing our feelings through substances, entertainment, or relationships. These novels provide a secret way to escape the trappings of reality, but ultimately will end up leading the reader into a deeper and more desperate way of life.