Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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On Healing

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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The Invitation of Advent

I don’t know all of what Mary feared, but I can guess she had plenty. An unwed pregnant woman was not what it is today. She had good reasons to be afraid, as did Joseph, Zechariah, and the Shepherds. The Angels spoke directly to them, saying the same thing regarding the coming of Jesus: “be not afraid.” They were afraid, with good reason, and so are we.

My guess is that your fears are similar to mine. Fears of being seen or unseen: The reality that I can bear neither the pain of your rejection, nor the intimacy of your staying with me. Fears of being enough, of my value: Good enough for love, acceptance, forgiveness, or even something as simple as a hug from someone I have hurt. Fears about safety, stability, and self-control. Regardless of the fears, it’s a shining star illuminating the need for something greater.

The Angels command to not be afraid foreshadowed the coming of Peace. We are reminded in 1 John 4 that perfect love casts out all fear. Advent is the birthplace of perfect love, of God’s peace.

Advent is an opportunity to allow God’s peace to enter into our lives. But just like any other physical container, we have to remove the current contents before we can fill it up with something new. I don’t have to look too far into my life to see that I’ve filled much of my space with things like some of the fears I mentioned earlier. To allow for peace, I have to have space.

Advent’s invitation is about space. This season, the question is: Will you make room?

There was no space for Jesus’ birth in the hotels, B&B’s, or even the dilapidated truck-stop motels. There was only room in the stable, the barn. This is the place in the Advent story for us to consider what areas of our lives are too full for Jesus. The hotels and other establishments are too sensible and upscale for an unwed mother in childbirth. I imagine the innkeepers felt similar to the way I do during a church service with my kids are doing somersaults on the chairs during the doxology. The message is clear: “Go away, you’re not welcome here.”

Not all the rooms of our life need to be occupied. We need to leave space, to allow emptiness. I can’t think of a more difficult challenge than to intentionally let there be places of emptiness in my life. The innkeeper in me says, “why would I ever want to leave a room empty?” Actually trying to leave room so that you feel some emptiness might be the craziest challenge you’ve ever heard. The sensible thing to do is to fill everything up so as to not feel empty.

The Advent season is not about our sensibilities. It’s about allowing space for peace to enter. For peace to reside, take shelter, and begin to grow. This is the language of hope, and hope is not sensible. Hope is a bit crazy, kind of like giving birth to a child in a barn.

Here is the great thing about Advent. Even if we’re too full and don’t have room, Advent will still happen. The invitation will still be there when we are ready. So, keep heart, make room, and let Peace fill your emptiness. May the Peace of the Lord be with you.

(postscript: This piece was written for my graduate school, The Seattle School, for an Advent series they have created. To subscribe to the entire series of articles, poems, and other Advent reflections, click here: https://theseattleschool.edu/forms/advent2014/)

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Secret Decoder Rings

e7b3_secret_decoder_ringMy siblings and I would always fight over who got the toy out of the cereal box. It even became a sly game of determining where the toy was inside the bag without pulling the bag out of the box or in digging around inside. There were rules our parents setup to keep things fair (which in a family with 6 kids is next to impossible). There was sheer joy when you’d be the one to pour the toy into your bowl, which was supposed to be the only legit way of gaining possession (It will come as no surprise to hear that we found ways around that idea).

Most of the time, marriages start out like the pursuit of that toy. We find ways to be together. We spend time crafting ideas and ways to be creative in our pursuit of the prize. We get euphoric and that incredible rush when we finally get what we’ve been pursuing. Once we’ve gotten what we want, we often don’t really know what to do with it. So much of life is about anticipation, the pursuit, and the chase; and marriage is no different.

A couple I was recently counseling highlighted this dynamic. They explained how much coasting they had done in their relationship, that 18 years later they woke up to realize how much distance there was. The husband explained that his wife needed a secret decoder ring to interpret all of his jumbled communication. She, of course, did not have that ring and thus their communication was stagnant.

It was true for them, and will be for many other marriages: Without persistent work, couples will eventually lead separate lives losing valuable insights and connection with their spouse. In the 10+ years I’ve been working with couples, I’ve seen that it doesn’t take much to throw off the equilibrium of a relationship.

It’s easy to see that a disabled family member, death of a child, or the loss of work could be highly disruptive to a relationship, but those are not the real cancers of relationships. The real cancers are the unspoken everyday fouls made with one another that do not get the attention they need.

Effort is something we reserve for what is most valuable and precious in our lives. My guess is that if someone were to visit the homes of a stale or cancerous relationship, they would see television, social media, work, and kids as the main areas that the majority of effort is spent.

Rarely do I interact with couples where I hear of regular consistent time spent together away from the easy distractions of life. This is true at my office, but also in my own social circles. The sad truth is that couples just don’t spend the time together needed to sustain their relationship.

Sure, it’d be lovely to have a secret decoder ring to find out what the other person is really saying. Unfortunately, this ring would make the relationship worse. No one wants to be in a relationship with someone who’s always right, or who knows all the answers. This would feel more akin to a relationship between a child and parent than that of a marriage. The old adage is true: We get out of life what we put into it. If you put nothing into marriage, you’ll likely get nothing in return.

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Letting Jealousy Help

Growing up, I always understood jealousy as something to be avoided like the plague. It was a sin, and we weren’t supposed to feel it. The message I remember hearing from church/parents/adults was: If you’re jealous, something’s wrong.

As an adult what I’ve found is that I cannot prevent feeling jealous. Jealousy is not a feeling that is insignificant enough for our human minds to be able to outsmart or control. If there was nothing else to it, jealousy is not a helpful feeling in life, but I stop at the idea that jealousy makes you a bad person. It really can limit (sometimes destroy) a relationship because jealousy is always about lacking something in comparison to others.

The intensity of our jealousy is equal to the intensity of our own desires to have what others have. Instead of shaming the jealous feelings — by trying to ignore, numb, or shut them out — pay attention to what the jealous feelings are actually about.

For instance, let’s say I’m jealous that a friend is starting a hat-making business. It may be that I want to start a business (not necessarily a hat-making one), or that I just want out of the corporate world where I’m working for/on someone else’s schedule or money. If I shut down the jealousy because it’s a bad thing to feel, I’m going to miss out on facing up to the truth of my own desire to start a business. I see this in my own story, but also in so many other people’s lives as well: We get too caught up in the shame of what we feel that we miss out on truth.

The best way that we can eliminate our jealousy is to act on the desires that are hidden behind feeling jealous. Create something. Start small. Don’t overthink it. Pursue the relationship, or get your idea/product out into the world in a first edition/version, then revise and edit. Don’t let jealousy stop you, let it help you.

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Befriending Grief

As I was driving into work one morning this past winter, I realized something: I don’t take pictures of the sorrowful parts of my life. Instead, I only take pictures of happy moments. I think this must be true for everyone. Spend 5 minutes looking through Instagram, your digital camera archive, or a regular photo book and you’ll see almost all pictures of joyful moments.

I think this is true because we need photographs to remember the happy times. In general, these are not the moments that make us who we are. Happy moments are fleeting and usually leave us thirsty for more. Much like fast food, happiness satisfies the most basic and simplest of cravings.

Certainly there are some exceptions to this, but I think the reason we tend to take pictures of “happy” is because sorrowful or sad moments need no documentation. They are etched into our lives like a tattoo, never needing a video or photograph to summon their memory.

We are uniquely crafted and altered by the experiences of pain, hurts, longings, loss, joy, and gladness. Having sat with lots of individuals and couples, I’m convinced that the level of our maturity and health as humans is directly proportionate with our ability to grieve and find joy in the losses of life. If one cannot grieve, one cannot grow.

So, what is grief? It’s the process of letting go of what is, what was, what isn’t, and what will not come. Everyone has something in their lives that has not gone according to plan, and most of us do not have a medal, picture, or trophy to commemorate these events.

For some, this is a failed (or failing) marriage; for others, it’s the death of a loved one. Regardless of the loss, ultimately it’s the loss of hope in something desired. It could be that the loss of a dream is what has shaped you the most. The loss of trust, security, or relationships all summon the same feeling of being lost and not knowing where to turn.

Here’s the deal; grief doesn’t always mean heaviness, depression, or sadness. Usually what we refer to as “joyous moments” are the byproduct of something lost. For example, one of the biggest changes in my life happened when I became a father. Peterson (who is now 10) came into my life when I was 24 and I grieved the loss of my singular focus in my marriage. Now instead of it just being Stephanie (my wife) and I, we now had someone else to consider. I was glad to do this, but I had to say goodbye to my life as a self-serving person. The crazy thing is that this was also the most joyous event of my life. It is so difficult to hold both of these emotions together at the same time.

Dr. Seuss wisely says to not cry because it’s gone, but smile because it happened. Grief is crying because it’s gone and learning to smile because it happened. This doesn’t literally mean that we always shed tears, though often times we do when our old friend grief shows up. Regardless of where one is in life, grief and joy beckon. This is a difficult beckoning to heed, and often presents a challenge to our maturity.

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a hard battle,” (Philo of Alexandra). This is the truth of life, that you and I are both mired in a great battle, fought to secure hope and, at the least, to remain present enough in our lives that we can give and receive grace and love to and from those around us.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Introverts and Marriage

Introverts have long received the label of “misunderstood.” Some estimate that at least a third or more of the population are introverts. While this is a subjective estimation (everyone has some extroverted and introverted parts), it’s safe to say that most marriages will have one person who is more introverted than the other.

If the term “introvert” is an unfamiliar one, let me give a brief background to this personality type. Introverts tend to be more concerned with the quality of relationships, as opposed to the quantity. They also are more interested in the depth of understanding, not the breadth. Introverts are people oriented but usually require time away from large groups of people to re-energize. Whereas an extrovert would have more energy after a social outing, an introvert would likely be left feeling a bit depleted.

A common misconception is that introverts only like to be alone. Certainly this is sometimes the case, it’s more likely that introverts are more limited in their social energies than of their counterpart, the extrovert. “Intro” refers to inside, which means that processing happens internally. The Myers-Briggs personality test is a great resource for helping to shed light on which personality types best describe people.

So what happens in marriage when an introvert, one who tends to be quieter, slower, and more internal in their processing, marries an extrovert? A feeling of being overwhelmed with all the stimulation of having another person inside in their world.

As an introvert with four young kids (at this time, 10 years old and under), I’m continually faced with people getting in my business. Sometimes, it’s too much for me. Two of my older kids are extroverts, as is my wife, so I’m definitely in the minority. Prior to getting married, I used to journal 4-5 times per week. It was my therapy as I processed the ups and downs in life through written word. I used to fill up journals of content every year, but when I got married, I stopped journaling. Part of this is because I didn’t have any words left for my journal. I used them all with my wife. The other part was that I really didn’t know what to do with someone else in my world on a constant basis.

I was confused. I loved Stephanie, my wife, being there, but I wanted space. I battled guilt for sometimes wanting to be away from her, but at the same time I resented her. It was an odd time. You or your spouse might face a similar situation. Here are some suggestions about navigating this area of your relationship.

First, be forthright about the emotional and/or relational needs that each of you have. How much time do you need apart or where there is enough space to recharge? How often do social gatherings need to take place? What about travel to family events, or weekend plans? All of these questions will address the needs of both the introvert and extrovert. Because introverts tend to be slower processors, they need space to think and consider what is happening in life. Talk about the specific needs you or your spouse have, and agree together how to go about accomplishing these needs.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to split up on any given event. You both don’t have to be together at every social gathering. If the setup is that both go together or not at all, one is going to be susceptible to resentment. If one of you does stay behind, make sure to check in with one another after the event, or the following day. As with all things, keep short accounts with each other.

Lastly, trade off leadership responsibilities in regards to date night or social gatherings. This is a great practice to do outside of the conversation about introversion/extroversion. The helpful aspect of this is the chance to invite the other into your world and what it is that you enjoy doing. By trading the leadership in this way, both partners will be given freedom to express themselves to their spouse.

Introverts help us to slow down, to think things through, and to settle into helpful rhythms. Without a sense of care, an introvert will shut down and become removed from the relationship. Care well for the introvert in you and in your marriage, and enjoy the fruits of a deeper relationship.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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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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Choosing Curiosity over Judgment

Recently I was playing golf with a friend. At the tee box on the 8th hole we were lectured and scolded by an older player about course and golf etiquette. We had a good reason for the accused action, which was not harmful to anyone or the course, but was evidently offensive to this other golfing tandem. The interaction was unsettling to me, and after finishing our round, I spent the car ride home considering what had happened. Ultimately, I felt judged by a complete stranger. Normally judgement from a stranger wouldn’t illicit much of a reaction, but it was the way this man judged me that was difficult. What I do want to suggest, though, is the weight of our actions and words on those around us.

I suspect that if this man would have approached us with a spirit of curiosity, opposed to one of condemnation, that our conversation would have played out very differently. But as it was, the interaction was quite hostile. I don’t know his story or what led him to lecture me, but I do know that his accusations and judgement were obtuse and very offensive. Were it a different setting, I would have liked to return to the conversation and re-engage with what had happened. But it wasn’t a situation conducive for this, nor are many situations in life.

Another setting that one-way judgements are plentiful is in a vehicle on the road. There are countless opportunities in 30 minutes of driving for judgement to be dished out. Again, it’s nearly impossible (nor suggested) to interact/engage with those we have confrontations with on the road (as an aside, road rage is a serious issue that is potentially very dangerous). If drivers would drive with an understanding that all of those around him are facing some difficult life situation, our responses would look very different.

I think we do this because judging others on their poor, or offensive, behaviors is second nature. It’s easy to point out the faults in/with someone else than it is to explore the reasons for the faults or actions.

Curiosity is key.
There’s a spot on the interstate on my afternoon commute that merges from 3 lanes to 2. During heavy traffic situations, the 3rd lane is used by drivers to get as far down the road as possible to prevent sitting in traffic. It’s also used by drivers who are exiting the interstate at the next exit. There are times that this lane will be blocked by another driver who will intentionally position their car in such a manner that prevents others from “cutting in line,” as it were. Almost every time, I chuckle at the sophomoric activity by seemingly grown adults. But this activity highlights my point: Judging others actions without first being curious results is harmful interactions.

The car blocking the lane has zero ability to know or understand what’s happening with the person in the car behind him (or 10 cars back, for that matter), yet her policing the lane is done so assuming that all the other people are just trying to cheat or cut in line. In the same way, the golfer who approached me had no idea, nor concern, about my situation. The end result of these two moral judgements is a displacement of peace. Which, I suppose, is very similar to how wars begin.

So, what can we learn about drive-by judgements?
1. It’s difficult to live a life of curiosity. At some point we all suffer the loss of our innocence, be it in childhood or later on, and with this loss goes the ease of being curious. We usually replace our broken spirit of being curious with contempt, judgement, and mistrust. These, unfortunately, come very easily, perhaps as easily as curiosity once came for us as children. It is much easier to react out of judgement than out of curiosity.

2. We arrogantly assume we know what is best, for ourselves and others. Though if you really consider it, the reality is we never know what’s best, for ourselves or others. We can have ideas of what’s best, but we’ll never know for sure until the benefit of hindsight is available. This is what makes relationships (parenting, marriage, friendships, etc) so difficult. At times we must act on a belief that we know what’s best, but hold fast to a teachable spirit that our decisions may or may not be right.

3. By judging first, we miss out on giving and receiving of a gift. Sometimes these gifts are ones we do not know we have, nor do we know when we give them. This is a great mystery of life: We have no idea what affect the words or actions we choose will have on another person.

The next time you find yourself dishing out a complaint or critique to someone, first ask yourself the question:

“Do I know the whole story, or just a part of it?”

Your answer to this question just might create a different, and encouraging, outcome to a normally difficult situation.

(article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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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?