Quarantine as Sabbath

In the Lord of the Rings epic, JRR Tolkien brilliantly weaves in the practice of Sabbath in a number of ways. Often times this centers around food, the respite of a fire, and the sharing of stories together. Yet I think the clearest picture he presents of the Sabbath is Rivendell, the Elf homeland. It’s is a mythical place that Frodo and his friends had only heard distant stories about, and perhaps only ever dreamed that it existed.

The Fellowship of the Ring (a collection of Dwarfs, Men, Hobbits, and a Wizzard) was on the brink of exhaustion and death when they found a safe harbor in Rivendell. Upon their arrival, they rested, recovered, healed, ate, drank, and refilled their spirits. They had found peace. But Rivendell was never the destination of their journey. It was merely a place of rest to help them along in their journey. This time of rest gave them the opportunity to heal their wounds and regroup in order to continue towards their ultimate goal: Destroying the ring.

The quarantine we all find ourselves in might be our Rivendell, our Sabbath. The place we are visiting to encourage, rest, and rejuvenate us to return back to the work at hand.

The Sabbath is not a free-for-all cornucopia of delight and pleasures. It’s an intentional practice to celebrate that love wins. For 6 days, we work, sweat, and toil about in our lives … fighting off and pushing back death. On the 7th day, we are invited to rest and celebrate that death does not have the final say.

It’s easy to want normal back. What was normal was a known entity. We always do better with the known enemy as opposed to the unknown (sometimes, unnamed) enemy. We all have a common enemy in the virus and it’s effect on our society and lives. The rest, Sabbath, we are all participating in is centered around the virus. But what if the rest for us is bigger than that? Do you know what you need rest from, and for?

What if you need rest from how you were living your life before? Do you like who you were becoming? Do you know your purpose, why you are here on Earth? What is it that you hope to return to when, if, this is just a story we will tell our kids and grandkids?

As the late Mary Oliver so beautifully asked, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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With Ourselves

The majority of us are having to grapple with our ourselves in a completely different way due to the virus outbreak. Our limitations are on full display as we all try to navigate these new realities of life without activities outside the home. A good friend of mine said it really well about the quarantine most of us are experiencing, “this is a front on battle with idols.”  

We don’t have live sports to distract us.
We are no longer able to vicariously live through our kids sports.
We’ve lost the water cooler conversations at work that use others’ stories to make us feel better about our own.
The shelves in the meat department are bare.
The bars are closed.
Some of us are alone in our houses, unable to share a meal with others.
Some have lost their jobs.
Others have lost lives.
There is only so much Netflix, YouTube, and social media we can consume to distract the reality that we are incredibly limited and fragile people.

While much of the above is waiting for our return back to normal after the virus has passed. The question for all of us today is: What will we do with ourselves in this passing of time? Blaise Pascal said it well: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Will you press into what comes up for you when you sit quietly in a room?

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Outbreaks

Nashville has been hit pretty hard the last two weeks with an outbreak of tornadoes and now the coronavirus. This is not to suggest we’re special as a city, but these challenges have been pretty acute for a lot of people here. These two major events have illuminated how little control we humans have. We’re just not that important (despite our beliefs otherwise!).

Feeling out of control often leads to anxiety, and these intense feelings result in us grabbing onto anything that will help us to feel better, even if it’s only temporary relief. Unfortunately this often leads to more anxiety because what we grab onto isn’t all that solid. Things like social media feeds, stocking up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, various op-ed pieces, and all the different versions of news the media outlets are selling (which seem to be increasingly agenda driven, not care driven).

A friend of mine, David, runs a really popular local weather twitter (highly recommend following the account) and website account that reports the weather with care, not agendas (more of this please!). Several months ago David asked me to write a blog post for his community about taking care of weather-related storm anxiety (you can read it here). As I was writing this article, the main theme that I kept coming back to was relationships. Relationships are what keep us grounded during tragic events.

We’re profoundly lonely, fragile, insecure, and limited people. When an outbreak like a virus or tornado strikes, it’s painfully obvious how little power we humans have. We often become lost in our reactions to these feelings of being out of control. And when we are left alone to deal with this powerlessness, it is emotionally debilitating.

As we move into this new reality of having to deal with outbreaks that painfully reveal our powerlessness (tornadoes, viruses, cancer amongst our friends or family), will you pay attention to what reactions you have? It is likely that your reactions are a plea for help, and that help won’t be found in your newsfeed or at the grocery store. The great news is that relationships are built on the foundation of a common goal. Today, that goal is obvious for all of us: A virus.

Help is found in the power of relationships; the comfort of feeling and knowing that you’re not alone in your fears. Perhaps this is time to find a support group, a Bible study at church, attend a 12-step group, call that counselor you’ve been meaning to call for a while, or call a friend that you know will pick up the phone and listen.

What help do you need today?

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Marriage and Lent

Lent is the penitential season of the church calendar that usually involves fasting (or giving up) something that gets in the way of your relationship with God. This season prepares the way for Good Friday, and the celebration of Easter Sunday. One of my good friends is a pastor, and he wrote this as an invitation entering this Lenten season: 

“Is there an area of your life where you would like to experience more healing? Consider picking a fast or adopting a discipline that creates space for healing in that area. I’ve heard of people giving up sarcasm or cynicism as well as others who read a poem a day to increase space for God’s beauty and joy.”

– Danny Bryant

Most wouldn’t be surprised to hear of someone giving up sweets, alcohol, or junk food during Lent. It’s safe to say that these sugary and fatty substances are not good for our physical health. What many of us don’t know about are the types of relational “junk food” we consume every day. All marriages are either growing, or dying, there is no in-between.

There might be places in your marriage that are keeping growth from happening. This Lenten season might be a time to fast from those activities or actions that are negatively impacting your marriage. Things like social media, tv show binging, and other “on-screen” activities all take time away from important relationships. Then there are more relationally focused actions that hurt space for beauty and joy like criticism, shaming, and words/actions of contempt towards your spouse.

Sometimes we have to stop an action first before something better can have space to show up.

What is something you can give up that would open you to God’s beauty and joy in your marriage?

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Who Is Sex For?

One of the most challenging areas of a marriage is a couples’ sex life. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but in the 15 years I’ve been working with couples, I think it boils down to one core issue: Who is sex for?

No one escapes childhood and adolescences sexually unscathed. There are various degrees to which we are sexually named, but everyone has a story of how their sexuality was used, abused, provoked, seduced, sabotaged, or marked by ill intent. We all bring these stories into our marriages hoping, praying, and expecting them to be rewritten.

These stories of harm, pain, and disappointment all result in feelings of shame about our sexuality. Shame says that something is wrong with us, that we’re flawed, and our desires are bad. Without knowing it, we often engage sexually with an intent to quiet or get rid of our shame. The result? Sex usually serves ourselves, not our spouse. A great sex life takes practice, conversation, and service.

Unfortunately, too few couples address their sex life outside of the bedroom. If this is you, a great place to start a conversation is to think about and answer this question together as a couple: Who and what am I serving in our sex life?

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Maturity

Maturity is the ability to resist acting out on behalf of what one feels.

One donut is amazing. Two probably isn’t as amazing, but I’m still probably going to have another one. I know from experience that three is not going to feel good in a few hours. And if I really don’t like myself, I’ll eat four or more. 

Just because something feels right, good, or enticing does not mean that it is right, good, or will deliver what is promised. Often what we desire has nothing to do with what is available right in front of us. That goes for food, sex, media; or things in relationship like a terse reply, name calling, or an explosion.

We become mature from failing. From being encouraged and called to something more than just a knee jerk response. We don’t mature alone. We need others influence and involvement in our lives.

What do you need to resist acting out on today?

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Control Freaks

We’re all control freaks. Not just the type-A personalities, but also the B’s, C’s, and Z’s of the world. 

No one likes to be out of control. Those that act as though they don’t care about being in control are just practicing an apathetic version of control. 

My barber laughed as she exclaimed, somewhat proudly, that she’s a control freak. “I love having a plan, and hate it when plans change.” The opposite side of this coin might be the person that never has a plan because they hate being boxed in to one specific track or idea. 

Regardless of the favor of control practiced, something that rarely gets asked is this: What exactly are you trying to control? 

What order (or disorder) are you trying to bring to your life? 

What outcome for your life would make your problems disappear? What new problems would appear? 

What room is there for others inside your controlled life?

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Narcissism

Narcissism is a word that is thrown around a lot, especially in attempts to describe certain world leaders currently in office. Despite how common of a term it is, it’s difficult to know, with certainty, that someone we are in a relationship with is a narcissist.

To a certain extent, we are all narcissistic in nature. We care about our image more than anyone else. We spend more time thinking about ourselves than anyone else. We automatically look for ourselves in a picture. We’re concerned with #1. But that’s not really a definition of narcissism.

Narcissists are charming, perhaps even seductive (not just sexually seductive). They bend the rules to their liking, and break the ones they think are stupid. They find others to do their dirty work, or to clean up the messes they have made. You know you’re in relationship with a narcissist when a vacuum is felt when they leave the room, or when there is a feeling of chaos that only abates when the “leader” is in the room speaking about said chaos. Relationally, they are like a black hole. They absorb all the energy and light around them, and it’s difficult for someone to escape.

Narcissists charm others by making them feel amazingly special, included, an insider, and a part of the group. But as soon as you’re a threat to leave, abandon them, or disrupt their control, they will turn on you. As special as you felt when you were on the inside, you will feel equally as hated and condemned when you are on the outside.

It’s difficult to leave narcissistic cultures, and people. It often takes a lot of guidance, help, and support to do so without getting harmed in the process. Unfortunately, many are married to, work for, follow, or have a parent that is a narcissist.

Don’t go it alone. Get help to find a safe way through the minefield.

Boredom

When my kids were younger, they would often complain of not having anything to do. It was tempting to spring into action, and give them a project or some kind of entertainment to quiet their boredom. At some point in those early parenting years, we stumbled onto something together: Boredom is the gateway to creativity.

When we let our kids be bored, they found their imaginations. Cardboard boxes became space ships. Flour and sugar littered the kitchen because they baked cookies. The couch cushions were fashioned into the walls of a tent kingdom in the den. 

I wonder what boredom might uncover in your life. What creativity might you fid if you said no to the many distractions. 

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Day 15: A New Vision

This post is a part of The 15-Day Relationship Challenge. If you’re just now tuning in, click here for the whole series.

A New Mission & Vision

Welcome to the final day of your 15-day relationship challenge! 

I hope that it has been a productive, connecting, and celebratory journey together. You’ve spent some time in your individual stories, in your marriage story, and we’re going to end with spending some time in developing a plan for the future stories you will live. Your marriage needs a mission statement. Just like a business, every marriage needs a mission for why it exists and what it hopes to accomplish. If you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time. 

A mission statement provides a guiding light in times of distress, confusion, trouble, and glorious moments. Without a clearly defined mission, marriages become lost and aimless in how they attempt to resolve difficulties, and accomplish goals. This loss of clarity can (and usually does) lead to couples fighting against each other, instead of for each other. 
When we don’t set our sights on an achievable destination, we invariably end up at the same place that we were attempting to avoid. So let’s define what you’re aiming for. 

Creating your marriage mission statementThe first step is to identifying your marriage mission is to brainstorm together. Brainstorming is like free-time on the playground — there are no rules, right or wrong ideas. Let anything that comes to mind be stated and not be judged (even by yourself). 
Every mission statement needs to have a defined purpose, values, and hope.

To get those clearly defined, work together on the following questions:

1. What are the opportunities or needs we are passionate about that we want to address? (the purpose of the marriage) 
This could include an internal (family) need or an external (community) need. An example of this purpose for our family is hosting. Stephanie and I love to host. This takes shape in having friends over for dinner, out-of-town guests stay for a weekend, or having other families come over and enjoy good food, drink, and conversations. We see a need for fellow travelers to have a place of respite. We want to create a home that is a respite for our family, as well as others. 
Other purposes could include: 

  • Raising children
  • Adventure
  • Live Contently Together
  • Fight together, not against
  • Serve our community
  • Encourage others

2. What principles or beliefs guide our marriage? (the values of the marriage)
This is about your moral, ethical, and spiritual beliefs and how they show up in your relationship. What role do you want God to play in your marriage, and how will this impact the needs we answered in question 1? What virtues do you want to live by in your marriage? There is a difference between values that we already live out, and values that we aspire to live by. 

3. What are your unique strengths both individually and together as a couple?
First Answer this question individually, and then share your answers together. There are three parts of this question: My strengths, My Spouse’s strengths, The Couple’s strengths. Often times we see in others what they cannot see for themselves. This is a good opportunity to speak some truth into your spouse’s life.

4. What goals do you want to accomplish in life together?
Setting goals will help you to identify what your you want your marriage mission statements to look like (ie – we want to take a big vacation every 3 years….the mission of this could be that we want to create memories and adventures together). If you are thinking of starting a family be sure to add what values you will teach them into your statement as well.
Now that you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to write your marriage mission statement. Here are some guidelines that will help you to craft your statement:  

  • Short and sweet. Make sure that you can remember what your mission is without having to pull the dusty file folder out of your closet out to find your printed version. Keep it to 2-3 sentences.
  • Avoid clichés. 
  • Mission statements do not need to shame or cause guilt-trips. 
  • KISS – Keep It Simply Simple. Don’t try to impress, be true to your relationship.
  • Use proactive verbs that describe what you want to do/accomplish.
  • A good marriage mission statement will provide vision and clarity when life happens.
  • Address the marriage, family, and community. 
  • Keep it up to date. Review your mission a couple of times a year to see how you’re doing. 

Here are some examples of others’ marriage mission statements: 

John & Carly (M. 11 years, 3 kids)
Our marriage hopes to raise our children to be productive members of society, to provide a safe and playful environment at home, and to explore the world around us together. We give grace to each other, desire to seek and grant forgiveness, and serve each other first. We want our friends and community to feel welcome in our home, and encouraged in their lives.

Roger & Sherrie (M. 36 years, 2 kids, 3 grand kids)
The purpose of our marriage is to glorify God, reach the next generation for God’s kingdom, and live together in sacrificial love. We value keeping short accounts of wrongs with each other, spending time in nature together, and rich experiences with others. Above all else, we want God to be pleased with what we have done with his grace.

Rondell & Tonya (M. 9 years)
We want to live a happy, peaceful life together being quick to forgive each other. We desire to have a home that is warm and welcoming to our friends and neighbors, and that we are generous with our time and money. 

Once you have written your statement, revisit it in a few days and make any changes. Then share it with your family and friends that are close to you. Let them in on the healing and new vision that you are aiming for. Remember, supporting a marriage takes a community. We need others around us to accomplish what we hope to do. 

Now that you’re finished with this 15-day challenge, you might be wondering what’s next. Some of you might be exhausted from all this reflection and home work, some of you might want to do more of it. Take some time and talk together about what you might want to do next together. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Play. Go do some fun things together.
  • Read a book together. Start with fiction, then read non-fiction.
  • Travel. Go on dates. Make memories.
  • Need further help? Setup some counseling or marriage coaching with a professional. 

I hope this has been a relationship-changing experience for you two. If so, would you mind dropping me a note to let me know how this was for you? Also, if you wrote a mission state, I’d love to read it and share it with my readers (with your permission).

Please consider sharing this challenge with your friends and family who could use some encouragement and work on their relationships. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up to receive updates in the future on more challenges, courses, and projects yet to come. 

Be Well!
Samuel