Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Two Words That Don’t Belong in Marriage

On average, women speak around 25,000 words per day. Men clock in at around 10,000 words per day on average. This is pretty fascinating in and of itself, and is great knowledge to have as you and yours navigate communication. Regardless if this is true of you and yours or not, of the thousands of words used on a daily basis, there are two that do not belong in marriage: Happy and Divorce.

These two words will erode the faith and trust that you will work so hard to establish in each other. I have worked with couples who use the word divorce like it was a trusted friend. It permeates their conversations and serves as a road block for them to ever get to the core of their marital problems.

The reason, among others, this word does not belong in relationships is that divorce is an act of destruction. There is no way to candy-coat the reality that is presented with a divorce. If you’ve ever built something and then torn it down or apart, you know that it takes a fraction of the time to tear down than it does to build. The same is true of marriage. It takes years and years of effort and energy to build a foundation of trust, love, and service but only a few moments of ill-timed action to destroy that which was built.

Don’t use “divorce.“ Too often I hear the word divorce used to manipulate and coerce. One of the couples I referenced above was so immune to the effects of this word that even the manipulation had worn off. My first advice to them: Eliminate the word divorce from their vocabulary. You cannot build something when the foundation or end result is in question.

Divorce may seem like an impossibility, but one look at the divorce rate will be sobering. As part of your marriage covenant and commitment, commit to never use the word divorce unless you are willing to follow through with what that means. By follow through, I mean to say that if you do use it you will act accordingly, and be accountable to your use. Do not use it as a threat. If you are hurt, lonely, angry, or sad, then speak to these emotions. Don’t hide behind a culturally acceptable way to escape from the pain and difficulty of life.

The other word that doesn’t belong in marriage is happy. Unlike the word divorce, happy is a word to describe a feeling and is usually not destructive in it’s use. The problem with the feeling of happy is that it’s unsustainable. There are moments and seasons of feeling happy, but it is not an attainable state of being. From a Christian standpoint, nowhere in the Bible are followers of God and Christ told that happiness is a result of faith. We are promised persecution, suffering, and sanctification, but not happiness.

Happiness is a symbol of mainstream culture and is often an idol. It’s an impaired state of joy. Happy is like being entertained and comes from consuming someone or something, whereas joy comes from the acceptance of our humanity and limitedness. Marriage is so heavily influenced by our culture that many get married with the belief, sometimes unconscious, that marriage will bring happiness.

“I’m not happy anymore” is the most common phrase I hear when couples separate and split up. It’s an epidemic. When people get married for happiness, they usually end up miserable or divorced. Disappointment on our own terms is much easier to deal with alone than with another person who was supposed to bring happiness.

Like setting a boundary for the word divorce, I encourage the same with the word happy. Instead of happy, use words like content, glad, joy, alive, desire, aroused, and passion. These all describe emotions that reflect a sense of being alive and awake to what’s stirring inside of us. The fulfilled life is not found through or in any man or woman today.

If it’s happiness you seek, do not get married. You will be disappointed. If it’s real joy, redemption, healing, and sanctification you seek, then marriage might be God’s place for you.

(This article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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The Importance of Wise Counsel

Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, begin planning their life together, get married, and come home from the honeymoon expecting happy ever after. Then some kind of pain happens, and it’s as if these two people barely know each other.

I recently heard about a couple who is calling it quits after 15 months of marriage. They were young and ignored the counsel of friends and family to wait on marriage. They were encouraged to address some personal and relational issues. They didn’t listen and married anyway. These issues flared up and created too much of a block for reconciliation to occur.

After a little more than a year, it’s over. They didn’t plan on this happening, nor does any other right-minded person who is getting married.

One of my professors in grad school taught a class on domestic violence. She was the unfortunate recipient of years of abuse by her husband, which began on the honeymoon. She told her harrowing story. Upon arriving at their honeymoon beach house (the only house on this Canadian island) he told her that she was his property and that she’d better start doing what he said or she’d feel his wrath. He began physically and emotionally abusing her that day, and it continued for years. It’s a tragic story that repeats itself every day.

What we want to see in others can cloud us from seeing what is true about others. The engagement process gets so consumed with wedding plans that the relationship fails to grow or be seen for what it truly is.

At any point in your intimate or budding relationship wise counsel is your best ally. If the fatality rate of texting while driving a car was 50+%, I think that a majority of us would take heed at the importance of this stat and behave differently.

The sad reality is: This is true for marriage. The death of marriages happens at more than a 50% clip. The divorce rate offers a warning and caution that there is trouble ahead, and the outlook isn’t all that favorable.

Assuming that one is teachable, wise counsel might be the difference between a failed marriage and a successful one. Counsel comes from friends, family, professional counselors, pastors, authors, and proverbs. Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth for the good of your soul. Friends that find no fault or see no areas that need growth in you or in your significant other are either being naive, or they are lying to you. Telling the truth is hard to do, especially when it potentially threatens a significant relationship.

Prior to getting married, my wife and I spent a couple of months with another couple who was 10-12 years ahead of us. They offered encouragement and some warnings about how our fights in marriage might play out. We were too “star struck” and in love to really understand what they were saying. Not until 6 to 8 months into marriage did we understand, and that was only because we fought daily about needs, wants, and expectations (all of which this couple had warned us about).

If you’re considering getting married, now is a great time to seek out a third party that can help you identify potential difficulties. Find a relationship coach, couples counselor, or pastor who is willing to walk through 4-6 sessions with you and your partner. Pre-engagement counseling is usually more effective than pre-married counseling because once a decision to marry has been made, it’s my experience that couples rarely hear the warnings heeded by others.

If your partner won’t go with you to counseling, this might be reason enough to not pursue a marriage relationship. Insecurities that prevent people from asking for help are always going to cause problems in relationships. Refusal to get or accept help is a sign of deep insecurity that will manifest itself in other, likely more harmful, ways. Proverbs 15:22 says, “without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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3 Components of a Good Listener

 

“I need you to listen to me with your eyes,” Stephanie, my wife, says as we’re discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Truth be told, I was in the middle of a project on my computer and didn’t want to stop.

“I’m listening, just keep talking,” I reply. She continues talking and then asks me for input about making a decision about our kids sporting activity. I hesitate, trying to recall the data from the previous 30 seconds. The reality was this: I wasn’t listening, I was just hearing her voice.

I’m a pretty typical male and have a really difficult time multi-tasking. This isn’t an excuse, it’s just a fact that I failed to be aware of in this moment. It’s not that I didn’t want to discuss our weekend plans, but I didn’t want to do it right then and there. Explaining this to her would have been helpful, and could have saved us multiple offenses.

Good listeners know and act on their limitations.
Knowing our limitations is the work of learning our own story and makeup of who we are. By knowing ourselves, we can plan and sometimes prevent situations from occurring that will hurt, trigger, or harm someone we care about. In the above situation, just by speaking up and requesting 5 minutes to finish my project would have saved my wife and I the time and energy of an avoidable fight. My limitation was that I do not multi-task well. Instead of proactively asking for this, we spent the better part of a day recouping from a five minute problem.

Good listeners ask lots of questions.
The basis for all relationships is built on the foundation of curiosity. If we are not curious people, we will not get to know others. Asking questions is a way that we can make sure that we understand and hear what the other person is attempting to communicate.

My 8 year-old daughter has a bit of flair for the dramatic and will often exaggerate a story (she’s a fantastic story teller, by the way). Sometimes when she’s recounting an offense, she will say something to the effect of “everyone hates me!” What she’s communicating is that she’s extremely hurt. If I were to react solely to her statement about everyone hating her, I’d likely miss the truth that she’s hurting inside. By asking questions, I’m able to hear what’s happening behind the outburst and get the truth about her.

This is true for all relationships. If we respond without clarifying the content and context, we will often miss the heart of the matter. Good listening behooves us to ask questions like, “tell me more.”

Good listeners act as recording devices.
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching one of the dozens of crime scene television shows likely you’ve seen a crime solved because of a clue seen or heard in the background of a recording. Replaying what you heard the other person say is a great way to clarify what’s being communicated. This might sound something like:

What I heard you say was that you feel disrespected when I ignore you. Is that right?”

One of the best ways that we can love someone is to show them that we are truly interested in hearing what they have to say. Not what we want to hear them saying, but what they are actually saying.

Good listeners develop and fine tune a third ear. The third ear is the one that listens to what is being said and what is not being said. This is the holy grail of listening: When one is able to know their own and the other’s story (limitations, gifts, abilities, etc), pay attention to the non-verbal cues, and ask questions. Good listeners make for great partners in life.

…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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Peace

This season is so full.

Holiday parties, shopping, Christmas cards, kids activities all dot the calendar landscape. It’s only 30 days or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it might as well be one week. It sure feels that way.

Too much the antithesis of what I want this season to be about, though I realize I’ve dug my own hole and booked myself and family too much. Each year I anticipate the peace that the Christmas season promises, and each year am saddened with how busy it becomes.

It’s loud. Too loud. People shouting, shoving, and posturing on Black Friday. Others leaving notes on cars because they weren’t parked “correctly” in the mall parking lot. So much of the busyness is self-inflicted … and yet I wonder if this is an age-old dilemma.

I wonder if the fullness of the “holidays” are akin to what God-fearing people felt as they waited and anticipated the coming of Christ. Perhaps they too felt full and maxed out. They needed the Savior to come and relieve the tension, anxiety, and worry. To save them from themselves. To save them from trying to buy happiness, contentment, or fairness. They needed Christ in the same way we do.

Maybe that’s why Christmas day is about the only day of the year when many of us stop our normal comings and goings and accept peace. Accept the truth that we don’t have what it takes, but someone does and he came. For us.

I’m glad He came.

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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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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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First Half Reading

One of my goals this year is to read more books. Of the dozen-plus books I’ve read so far, here are four that I suggest everyone read:

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction

A dad reflects on his son’s addiction to drugs (meth). As a parent, this is a terrifying read as I consider what is out there for my kids to face. But it’s a good kind of terrifying. It has forced me to face this possibility and begin conversations with my kids about addictions. Conversations won’t keep kids off of drugs, but my hope is that our relationships will give them what they need through the tumultuous years of adolescence and young adulthood.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

I’m sure you’ve heard of this book, or story, and rightfully so. It’s one of the best stories that I’ve ever read. It’s a story of survival, pain, suffering, tragedy, and the will of the human spirit. All stories have loss, and all stories have redemption. The story of Zamperini has loss and redemption over and over again. Read this book and ask yourself: “Where is the parallel in my story?”

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

Written in a conversational format, characters discuss the nature of how war and peace interact, where does peace come from, and how do we engage it with the people around us. It’s got some powerful illustrations that help to bring the read to see that we often focus on what’s wrong with other people, but ignore the majority of what they do right. Furthermore, we often treat others more so as objects than as people and that we expect them to fully trust us even if we don’t fully trust them. This is a great book for anyone who is in any form of leadership (parents, business, marriage, church volunteers, etc — essentially anyone who deals with people in any organized fashion).

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Probably my favorite book so far of 2012. The first half of this book, if you let it, will call you out and challenge every part of your fear. Resistance is the main culprit to our boredom and lack of pursuit to what we want to create in life. It carries a number of little nuggets that can apply to anyone. This is a book that I will read again, and again.

 

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On the Money

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

The American Dream has altered over the years but still fuels our culture. Its message permeates the airwaves, social media and modern advertising. We’re promised a better body, popularity and sexier hair all promising a happy life. In the place of the white picket fence and 2.2 kids is the good looking, popular and rich homestead.

A big motivation (whether known or not) for people to make a lot of money is to buffer the realities of a life that doesn’t work. A friend shared a great line with me the other day. He said,

If we can buy our way out of a problem, it’s not really a problem.”

I hadn’t considered it that way but believe it’s true. You can’t buy happiness but you can put some margin between you and life. (Despite the studies that show you can indeed buy happiness up to making around $80,000 per year, I think money delays and buffers disappointment).

Marriages contend with this struggle for happiness and financial freedom on a daily basis.Gone are the days that your paycheck is yours and yours alone. Instead of being able to easily decide the impact of a purchase, the married person now has to consider, engage and discuss the impact of a purchase on the other person. Watching the issues of money erode marital relationships is what we have all thought about the Titanic sinking: Just slow down and heed the warning of those before you.

… continue reading over at Start Marriage Right

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The Opposite of Poverty

A Historical Perspective

A few months ago my wife asked me what is the opposite of poverty. My first thoughts were related to money; wealth, being rich, or having enough. The more I thought about it, the less I considered financial categories as able to explain what it means to be impoverished. My answer today?

Wisdom.

Wisdom is the opposite of poverty. It implies knowledge, understanding, and the wherewithal to resist fleeting temptation. We get wisdom from history, others, and our own story. Wisdom is a historical perspective.

When we get a splinter in our foot, we wear shoes the next time we go out. When we bounce a check, we make sure to balance our checkbook. When we do something that results in pain, wisdom teaches us (if we’re willing to listen) to do it differently next time.

Wisdom is available for all who are willing to learn. If you are without wisdom, no amount of money or possessions will keep you from folly.