Wednesday, June 12, 2013

7 Easy Steps to a Crappy Marriage!

Lots of books and blogs have been dedicated to helping people have happy and successful marriages but what about those masochists out there who enjoy struggling and beating their head against the wall?  Well, I have a handful of easy things you can do that will be guaranteed to make you and your spouse miserable and best of all they are things we all do naturally on our own.  The key is keeping your focus in the right place and you won't be burdened by peace or fulfillment ever again.

1.  Focus on your own needs and desires - Make sure you take every opportunity you can to let your spouse know how they are failing you on a regular basis in case they forgot how inept at marriage they are.  Describe in detail what it would look like if they were to fulfill all of your wildest dreams and desires, feel free to reference your friend's spouses, exes, or even your parent who did things the right way.  The good part is if you each are focusing completely on your own needs and desires then you'll be too busy to actually meet the other person's needs.  It's like each of you writing out a super long wishlist for Christmas gifts and then giving them to each other instead of any actual gifts - imagine the disappointment potential!

2.  Focus on their flaws - Sure you have much more of an ability to change things in yourself than someone else, but honestly, who wants to take time looking at their own junk when there is so much to point out in your spouse?  The great part is this is super easy as, unless you are a priest and are married to Jesus, you have a sinful flawed human being in your house who screws up on a regular basis.  Pointing out when they mess up is as easy as pointing out when they breathe.  If you ever get around to fully chronicling and categorizing all of their shortcomings you can start looking at yourself, but honestly you could spend a lifetime just studying every nuance of their failure.

3.  You can't have too much criticism - Don't just hold all of that frustration about their flaws inside, make sure you say it loud and proud and remember tone of voice and timing are important here.  Make sure they are already in a foul mood or even better wait until the middle of an argument to start airing your grievances.  Also whenever possible make sure you criticize them in front of others, like at a dinner party you could publicly humiliate your spouse for extra points or do that fun thing where you act like you are talking to your kids but your are really making a jab at your spouses character like "Now Johnny, I sure hope when you grow up you get a great job so you don't have to live in squalor like we do, thanks to your lazy dad" or "Suzy, you need to ask with manners, you don't want to grow up and be an ill-tempered dictator like your mom do you?"  Make sure you disregard anything that might lead you to develop appreciation as that can throw the whole thing off, best to filter every bit of data recording all they do poorly and deleting all they do well.

4.  Never, ever let it go - When people tell you not to keep score in marriage they are trying to throw you off so you won't be able to win, because winning means remembering every single offense in vivid detail.  Keep a secret journal of when the last time you had sex was or take pictures of messy spots around the house to shame them on Facebook.  Rookies start with the very first thing their spouse ever did to hurt them and catalog everything moving forward, but if you want to do it right you can use stuff from before you ever met them like how they grew up, mistakes they made in other relationships, you can even count offenses from other people if you lump them into categories like "Men are always..." or "Women aren't happy unless..."  Don't forget anything and definitely don't forgive anything because you are likely morally superior to them in every way and don't need grace yourself.  You'll become bitter and apathetic, dying from the inside out and they will start seeing the entire relationship through your resentful glasses as well so it is a gift that keeps on giving.

5.  Make sure you keep a fixed mindset - Everyone knows you are either just naturally good or marriage or you aren't, you can't learn how to be a better spouse or how to better love them and they definitely can't change either.  You are who you are, women have been that way going back ten generations and it's your god-given right as a man to talk like that from time to time.  Throw out things like "You just need to love me the way I am" so you don't have to see change as a possibility.  Give them a mixed message of complaining about stuff wanting it to change, but attacking their character at the same time so they know they are really just too stupid, lazy, or morally bankrupt to ever pull it off anyway.  It's not like people can learn and become better at things so what applies to school, sports, hobbies, and the rest of life has to apply here as well - you are either born with it or you aren't.

6. Don't ever let the blame fall on you - It's like a fun game of hot potato where you can point fingers back and forth until the other person is stumped or runs out of ways to redirect fault.  Since most marital problems are circular instead of linear in that they just keep looping in cycles the fun really never has to end.  Don't ever apologize or even hint at the possibility that you might share some responsibility, its like being a good negotiator you have to start at the far extreme and when you get worked down to the middle it makes them feel like they got something when they really didn't.

7. Give your spouse exactly what they deserve - This one is key, and can't be repeated enough.  Marriage isn't a place for mercy, grace, or understanding, the most important thing you can fight for is fairness.  Before you decide to do something nice for them make sure they have done enough nice things for you, but if they aren't meeting all of your needs then make sure you withhold some things from them or else it will never be fair.  If she is being critical and nagging then just stay late and work and ignore her, if he is raising his voice in conflict just get louder, don't just get mad, get even!  Getting your spouse whipped into shape is like training a dog, don't bother with the positive reinforcement and don't reward anything other than perfection on the first try - heavy handed punishment is the key.  If they hurt you, make sure you hurt them back a little more, it's in the Bible that we are supposed to gouge out someone's eye if they poke ours right?  This creates a place where perfect people deserve a perfect spouse but the rest of us shouldn't get any breaks, and so the marriage will be fine until the first person has a bad day or makes a mistake and then, like dominoes, everything else will come crashing down.  Nobody deserves love, so why give it freely away when it is a valuable commodity to be hoarded?

The sarcasm is pretty thick through here, but for those who may not catch it I feel I should spell it out that these are the approaches I see all the time that give the same miserable results in marriage every time.  The key to improving your marriage is keeping the focus on what you can do to make things better, since that is all you have any control over.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Well, since it has been five months since I last blogged and it's New Years I guess I should try and throw up something and I'll even try to do what I've been trying for a while, write something shorter so people don't fall asleep halfway through!  So today I will talk about how to apologize well, since most of us are pretty bad at it.  We tend to do a quick 1% apology up front followed by 99% of justifying, explaining, excusing ourselves, and even blaming.  We learn to apologize while fighting with our siblings or on the playground and the forced apology we learn at that point often sticks as our only way we know how to apologize.

So most people apologize something like this:

"I'm sorry, but really I would have never yelled like that if you weren't being so darned stubborn.  I wish we didn't have to fight like that but if you would just listen to me and hear what I am trying to say I wouldn't have to yell.  Pretty much anyone in my situation would have responded the way I did and really it becomes completely involuntary at that point.  I come from a long line of yellers and between my red hair and being an only child I don't think you could expect much different.  In fact, lets just stop dwelling on stuff from the past, can't we just move on or do you just enjoy holding grudges?  So what, I yelled, big whoop, you are a big boy you will get over it, or you can just keep trying to make me out to be the bad guy who always does everything wrong.  So I guess I am just the worst wife on the planet because I yelled once, huh?  I mean compared to the way you yelled at me last week, or do I need to remind you of my mother's birthday?  You've done far worse than just yell and it is just all forgotten when you catch me yelling.  So, you knew what you were marrying and you were OK with me then, guess you'll have to be OK with me now.  I'm tired, I don't feel like talking any more about this."

A good apology is basically the opposite of that and has three main parts to keep in mind - Accept responsibility, Acknowledge the impact, and Speak to the future.  First make sure you take full responsibility for your choice, you could have chosen to act or respond in hundreds of different ways but your choice hurt the other person.  It didn't have to be purposeful harm or even conscious, but you did something that caused pain and you can apologize for it.  No blaming, no justifying, just accepting that you did something that caused pain or disappointment.  Second you make sure and acknowledge that there was hurt or pain rather than minimizing it or comparing it to pain you have felt.  They aren't just making a big deal of nothing and if you don't understand what damage was done then ask with a open heart and humility to hear.  And then finally speak to the future of how you would like to avoid hurting them in the same way in the future.  This isn't a grandiose promise to never hurt them again, which you both know to be a lie, it is taking their pain seriously by trying to find a way to prevent it in the future.  "Maybe we can figure out a way to call a time out when we start getting agitated so I don't ever get to the point where I am yelling that way, because I want to make sure when we disagree that I am able to do it in a way that always honors you."

Keep all three parts in mind and you will actually leave the other person feeling cared for rather than even more angry than when you started apologizing.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Women Are a Mystery?

How were the pyramid's built?  How many decimals does Pi go out to?  How do teenage boys eat so much?  These are all mysteries of the universe, but maybe understanding what is going on inside the brain of a woman is the greatest mystery of all for most men.  I get the benefit of working with hundreds of married couples acting as a translator between the sexes and over time see the same basic desires expressed over and over by most women and figured I'd share what I've gleaned.

The first thing I've discovered is that the deepest desires of a woman are a mystery to men partially because they are a mystery to the women themselves.  I really have to push women to admit this, but after lots of "He should just know" and "Women are just complex" bluffing I usually get shrugged shoulders.  There often seems to be an inner desire to be cared for like a baby, you should just be able to whine and cry and an all powerful being will come in and determine what you need and make it all better.  This works as an infant as there are like four possible things wrong and so if they smell you and look at the clock they can pretty much figure out what you want, but as a full grown woman with approximately 9 trillion possible dilemmas most of which without a fix expecting mindreading doesn't work as well.  The problem is that women are far more likely to be in touch with their emotions than men as well as more open to communicate them so you get a steady slew of expressed frustrations and concerns with tons of vagueness - kind of like getting a daily job performance review from your boss with absolutely no tangible suggestions for improvement.  This results in confounded men who would love to help meet your needs but hear cultural lies like it is just an unknowable mystery so just give up.

The second thing I have discovered about the innermost needs of most women I talk to is that they don't occur to most men simply because we really don't need them that much.  It is kind of like when I was caring for an infant for several hours while my wife was at work, I had to make sure I remember to feed the baby on a regular basis because they get hungry a lot more often than I do.  I can't just think about what I need waiting on my own stomach to rumble, I have to think through what someone else needs even if it is different from anything I need (another way being a parent helps you become better in other relationships).  If we, as men, need a, b, and c to feel fulfilled in a relationship we'll readily give them out, but often if we don't have the need, we don't think to provide it for someone else.

So what is it that most women want that I speak with and help them put into words?  Three basic things, to be pursued, to be validated, and to be reassured.  Most men don't really care whether it was you or me who set up the time to eat lunch, just that it happened.  Most women, however, take it as a sign of being valuable and important that you were the one to call them, set something up, and made the arrangements.  This is even true in their friendships; when was the last time you heard a guy complain that he is the one who is always having to call his friend, Bob, and how he wonders why Bob just cares so little for him because of this.  It is the basic premise of most every fairy tale, book, or movie that has ever been that a man will put forth an immense amount of effort and endure danger to relentlessly chase after the woman he loves either to rescue her or win her back.  The harsh reality is that within most marriages the woman waited a really long time up in the tower and by the time she gave up and hunted the prince down he was unconscious in the recliner in front of a football game with Cheetos all over his chest and by the time she makes her appearance SHE is the dragon to be slain.  Maybe it's planning a date night and actually arranging childcare and having an opinion as where to go.  Maybe it is taking the lead in making sure there is ten minutes a day to communicate on a deeper level, instead of the usual 80% of marital communication being initiated by women.

Most men are able to have a conversation with another man without even a shred of validation and it is OK, we each say our opinions and how dumb the other person's opinion is and then we are good.  For women it is pretty important that they feel like we get what they are saying and see validity in it.  There are plenty of stupid jokes out there that say men should just smile and nod and say "yes, dear" to whatever she says, but that is condescending to both men and women and really doesn't make a women feel truly validated, just more of a bully.  You don't have to agree with everything they say, they don't have to be right about everything, but everything can be heard, accepted as a valid perspective, and empathized with.  Even if afterwards you have to tell them you disagree or that you feel they are sinning in the situation and need to repent, as any good leader would need to do at times, you can still validate that they aren't an insane crazy-woman with ridiculous thoughts, beliefs, interpretations, and perspectives.

Men tend to see relationships as static, they just are - Bob, Frank, and Jimmy are my friends and Betty is my wife of twenty years.  Women tend to see relationships far more accurately, as eternally dynamic, constantly shifting and growing closer or further away.  Jenny is my newer friend who is really getting closer to me while Rita and I have been growing apart for years, while my husband and I are drifting further and further apart for the last few months.  There is a need for men to grow in relational awareness in order to not feel like their wife is just complaining when she is simply sounding the alarm that your Titanic is heading for an iceberg and only a fool would ignore that.  What it also means is that men need to make sure and reassure their wives on a regular ongoing basis that they still find them attractive, still love them, and really value their marriage as well.  We tend to think that if we said at some point in the past that we love our wives and "I do" then that should be the point of reference moving forward in case there is any doubt.  Unless there are major issues we don't usually question how our wife feels about us, like we don't question that the next time we look at our grass it will probably still be green.  We figure if anything changes we can send our wife a memo, but otherwise we shouldn't need to keep repeating ourselves.  The problem is that in the midst of that silence tons of doubt creeps in and it means a lot for our wives to be daily reminded that we are still committed to them and love them more than we ever have, and that we still get giddy as a middle schooler when we see their beauty, and that we are proud to have them as our wives.  Silence isn't seen neutrally but rather as a lack of value and importance for them and the marriage.

So unless your wife says my list is crap and wants to fill you in on their core needs just assume that if you are being graded on your husbanding skills it is likely how well you are pursuing, validating, and reassuring.  If you are a wife and your husband is randomly pushing buttons like a monkey trying to please you, but frustrating you both in the process please share this or your own desires with him, you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Honor Above and Below

I've been thinking more and more lately about the concept of honor and how is is similar yet very different from respect.  Honor is important not only to our relationships but to our faith, and seen and practiced well gives us an opportunity to make our relationships healthier, our faith stronger, and even allows God opportunities to shower us with blessings.  We live in a culture where we are encouraged to treat others with the level of respect we feel they have earned, nothing more, nothing less.  What this means is that people we don't know shouldn't get any respect, people who have hurt or disappointed us surely don't get it, and people who don't respect us shouldn't be given respect in response.  If there is someone above us in authority it is no longer necessarily essential to treat them with respect, if anything it makes you a bigger target for disrespect today.  If someone is below us in authority we can use our power to force obedience, but there is no need to do it in a respectful way.  If someone is beside us in authority then it is fine to see them as competition in need of being squashed so that we can get ahead while they lag behind.  All of this runs contrary to what following Christ actually looks like, it's rather just following our culture.

Phillipians 2 is a great chapter describing how Jesus lowered himself to take on the form of man rather than lording his power and authority over others.  Jesus encouraged paying taxes to Caesar and supporting the authorities we have been placed under with honor and respect.  I would say that how you handle power and whom you are willing to honor may be the most insightful peek into your heart possible.  How do you choose to act towards those you feel like you don't need, how do you care for those underneath of your authority, how willing are you to submit to the authorities you are under?  These are the questions that reveal your real character, not just the polished exterior you present to the world.  If you are only kind, giving, and respectful to people you feel you need or can benefit you in some way then you aren't loving, you are exchanging or manipulating.  You either wait for them to do something beneficial for you then honor them and therefore pay them for their services or you do for them with strings tied, expecting a payout down the road, and therefore are manipulating them to get what you want.  How well do you treat those under your authority or whom you have more power?  Do you lord your power over them expecting perfection or do you use your position to display grace when they mess up, compassion when they struggle to meet demands, and forgiveness when they wrong you?  What about the authorities over you, do you submit to them as unto the Lord, do you openly defy them with flagrance, or do you sneak around trying to get away with as much as you can without being caught? Do you feel like you can pick and choose who is in authority over you or do you believe what the Bible says about government leaders being established by God, children needing to honor their parents, husbands and wives needing to submit to each other but the husband being appointed as the head, employees (slaves) needing to obey their bosses (masters)?  Often we decide that since I didn't vote for the current president I have the right to criticize, demean, and defame him privately and publicly - yes we have the American right of free speech, but if we claim to be a Christ-follower we are called to a higher standard of honor.  Often we decide that when our spouses don't meet our expectations then we have the right to criticize them openly to anyone who will listen rather than honoring them with our hearts, minds, words, and actions.  Children who pick and choose what they will or will not obey of their parents will develop the hearts that rebel against God's authority.  Children who see their parents berate their teachers for daring to expect compliance from their child are being taught that authority figures are to be challenged and that honor and submission are signs of weakness rather than Christ-likeness.  Children who see their moms criticize their dads learn that either mom is the true highest authority in the house or that there really is no authority and everyone gets to just decide on their own.  We need to model humility, honor, and submission to authority to our children if we ever expect them to respect our authority or to ever be able to bow their own selfish will to God's authority over them.  Because that is what it comes down to when it comes to honoring and submitting to those in authority over us - if we feed the rebellious, stiff-necked, selfish, unable to be corrected spirit within ourselves by dishonoring those in authority over us it just reveals our true heart towards God, that we'll listen as long as we agree but then do whatever we really want behind closed doors.  I heard a woman married over 55 years telling her best advice for how to have a loving, long-lasting marriage and she said: be able to forgive well and be able to receive correction well.  Both of those are power and authority issues - who has the right to tell me what to do and what will I do to someone I feel wronged by and therefore have power over.

One area I see this coming out often in counseling is the clashing of my generation with the one that came before mine (I am 35 if that helps).  Both generations have erred when it comes to honor and the differences create major conflict as we interact as adults.  The generation of my parents were raised in a society that taught that children were to be seen and not heard and that elders were to be catered to and always given deference.  My generation was raised in a society that said that children were to be the most important people in the house and elders should cater to them.  Put them together and you have parents who spent a great portion of their lives placating and pandering to a bunch of adults that treated them like a nuisance at best or cattle at worst.  They grow to become older and expect that their investment will now be paid back with the generation below them placating and pandering to them now.  This is met by my generation's narcissistic response that old people are great if they are doing stuff for us, but otherwise are just a nuisance - the reverse of the seen but not heard principle.  Put it all together and both sides expect to be catered to and feel slighted that the other isn't doing what society promised them.  The solution is honor; when you honor those below you, above you, and beside you not just with lip service but in response to the love and honor God has poured out for us then we all have life breathed into us.  When we choose dishonor it not only hardens our hearts but limits God from being able to fully bless us the way he would like.  If you feel like you just aren't making strides in your walk with Christ it's worth asking yourself; do I have any unconfessed sin, do I have any bitterness from not forgiving others, or is there anywhere that I am not honoring those above or below me in authority?  God opposes the proud, he despises when bullies use their power to harm rather than enhance, but he also can only do so much with people that rebel against authority, that can't be corrected, and who are unteachable.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Insufficient Funds

Sex, Money, and In-laws - most surveys say these are the top three topics that couples argue about and I'd say that is true, even if the core issues behind all three usually are more related to pride, selfishness, and self-centeredness.  90% of the time when couples come in arguing about one of these things I can usually help them best not by whipping out slides and spreadsheets on how to do them well but rather to point them back to what is really at the root and needing to be discussed - we're really talking about MY money, MY freedom, MY pleasure, MY body, MY not being controlled, MY family, etc.  If both people's hearts are in the right spot and they just need guidance then I can help people with the nuts and bolts of how to relate within extended families but I'm about as qualified to instruct people in financial matters as I am in lovemaking.  I can tell you how me and my wife do things (just financially) but I'm no expert.

In fact I'm a financial idiot, not because basic math eludes me but because willpower does, and I can rationalize my way into anything.  This lead to a scenario that probably only happened 5-10 times over the course of the 9 years I was responsible for running the family's finances, but each time it was mortifying.  It seemed to happen more often to my wife than me, but it was standing in the check-out line of the supermarket with a buggy full of groceries and no way to pay for them.  A good hour of life has already been invested in selecting just the right items and then apparently rough approximations of remaining checking balances and maxed out credit cards don't equate to a return on that time investment.  So you have to walk out of the store either staring blankly at your wallet hoping it might console you or looking around hoping you don't know anyone in the store before jumping back in the car and driving home empty handed.  Then later on you reach in the pantry to get something you purchased before you are once again reminded of your blunder as just because you picked something out doesn't mean it made it home with you.  I share this not only so I can be openly mocked by the greater world but because I have a hunch I'm not the only one who has been there or somewhere close.  The good news is you don't have to stay there, as my family will never be there again thanks to getting together with a financial counselor.

Our guy sat down with us and walked through what it actually looks like to construct an exhaustive budget and live by it, how to set aside money each month in savings for expenses that aren't monthly, and how to use a cash envelope system so you are going to the store with cash instead of a debit card and hopeful thoughts.  What this means for us is no longer living paycheck to paycheck, building savings, eliminating debt, and most of all a freedom that comes from being in charge of our money rather than our money being in charge of us.  You may be awesome at all this stuff and if so good for you, read a different blog entry, but if you are like me then stop rationalizing or getting more information and get guidance and accountability.  If you are in the Charlotte area contact Kim and Loree Heimbach at or 704-604-3485. If you aren't then check out to find somebody in your area.

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's All Good

If you asked your average Christian what the single greatest threat to Christianity was you'd likely get answers ranging from Islam to Obama, to a Muslim Obama.  We usually think of the worst threats being external and either religious or political, when I believe the greatest threat to the future of Christianity in America really is a cultural issue that has been sneaking within.  Just because certain other religions disagree with us doesn't mean they are the real competition, and I believe Satan is happy as can be having major world religions just look at each other squabbling while religion itself is eroded away.  I also think vilifying either side of the political spectrum with religious arguments just contributes to the problem by making Christians look small-minded and focused more on agendas than a life changed by their savior.
Keep in mind that I believe enough in the sovereignty of God to think that Christianity itself can be killed off or that it is actually in danger, we aren't that powerful to screw it up.  What I'm talking about is on an individual level and especially for our children to pass on an authentic faith that will serve them as adults rather than weak superstition, rigid dogma, or assuming they have it all figured out when they don't have a clue.  I'm more interested in how to engage a teenager about faith or how to discuss my faith with someone who just doesn't see it as all that important.  What it comes down to is the term "Christian" has really come to lose a lot of its meaning, we can't just assume that when the term is used that people actually know what it means.  Its like the word "love," which can be used to mean anything from "I passionately love my wife and children" to "I really love chocolate ice cream."  Now people refer to themselves as "Christian" if they sometimes go to church, or kind of believe there might be a god out there somewhere, or if their parents are Christians, or if they just happen to be an American.  This makes it kind of hard for me as a counselor because I often have clients state right out of the gate that they are a Christian and for me that has a set of presuppositions that often aren't what they were implying.  It also means that talking to teenagers and young adults about faith involves a verbal jujitsu to get them to consider God at all much less allow themselves to be pinned down by any label or categorization.  

For me it helps to have a starting point of what it is that someone actually believes rather than me making random assumptions one way or the other, but it seemed like it kept coming back to one coherent set of beliefs that really weren't Christian but couldn't be otherwise categorized.  Finally the great University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill produced a sociologist named Christian Smith who has written a book that has defined exactly this set of beliefs I keep running into.  In Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers he writes about a concept he refers to as moralistic therapeutic deism which to me helps elucidate the belief system that our culture serves up in heaping doses through every form of media until it becomes just the atmosphere we walk around in.  Maybe the saddest part of the study revealed that for most teenagers the interviewer was the first adult in their lives to ever ask them questions about or engage them in discussion about matters of belief.  Most parents rely on church, youth group, or their own sterling example to be sufficient for helping their teens know everything they need to know about faith.  The belief system of Moralistic Theological Deism (MTD) can best be understood by the following five belief statements:
1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."
2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."
3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."
4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."
5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

Now some of you may read those and think, "well that's pretty much what I believe," or "what is so wrong with that?"  It isn't a problem except that it isn't even close to Christianity even though as my religion professor referred to it, "It tastes like chicken" meaning it is close enough to resemble orthodoxy to make its way inside the church and gain widespread acceptance.  When most teens, along with most public figures and celebrities talk about Christianity, this is what they are talking about.  It would take way too long to break down exactly what the theological differences are but I'll hit some of the high points.  MTD sees God as "something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process." Some major things are missing or perhaps purposely excluded because they make us as Americans uncomfortable, like the depravity of humanity.  If the only people who make it to heaven when they die are "good" people then we are all in trouble, because Jesus will be standing there all alone.  We like to use the term good, because then it is up to us and we can just send Jeffrey Dahmer, Bin Laden, and our ex-husband to Hell while we and all our friends and family get to be good as determined by us.  If however we think we can really be "good" then it follows that God would want us to be that, except that the cross is a blaring reminder that we are all screw ups in need of mercy and grace rather than rock stars getting cheered on by a god who just wishes he were as awesome as us.
MTD also assumes that everything in this world is all about us as humans, whatever makes us happy, while Christianity says that the entire created world is about God and his glory and honor.  We like to rewrite things with us as the central focus, but in Christianity there is no room for that - God isn't focused on our happiness that comes and goes, if anything he cares more about our holiness, but ultimately he is focused on everyone experiencing just how huge he is and being humbled in the process.  There are great benefits we receive when we see God accurately but the cost is having to see ourselves accurately as well, because if it is all about God and not us then he gets to decide reality and not us, he gets to judge and not us, and he gets to decide when and how he involves himself in our world.  He isn't a genie to be rubbed so we can get bailed out of crises but ignored when we think we are good, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords to be worshiped and obeyed.

Where is the good news in all of this?  MTD leaves you feeling self-righteous, important, and good enough but ultimately unfulfilled because it is hollow.  We all want something to devote our lives to that is bigger than ourselves because at the core we all know we really aren't that important and even when we define good for ourselves we don't live up to our own standards. All the conflict in our lives stems from seeing ourselves as the most important thing, it is outrage that we aren't being treated the way we feel we deserve because of our greatness.  Without a God that forgives us exactly because we can't make it right on our own and are hopeless without his mercy we will never be able to truly forgive another person - unless you know what it is like to be forgiven the best you can do is ignore or try and rationalize the harms against you.  Without a God who is greater than us and the collective opinion of others we'll never develop a stable sense of worth and value.  And if we don't understand God's unconditional one-sided love that benefits us while we have absolutely nothing to offer him we'll manipulate every relationship we have trying to get what we want and expect from people.  

So maybe rather than asking stupid questions of our kids, coworkers, and friends like "Are you a Christian?" we can begin asking what their thoughts and beliefs are on God and what he wants in their life.  We need to stop blithely accepting labels thrown out that have no meaning and actually engage in real dialogue or we'll both be nodding and have no idea how far apart we really are.  I think one reason we avoid the deeper conversations is we don't feel confident in what we believe because our entire culture presents a different picture.  It's OK to talk about a loving God who wants you to be happy that is there for you in a pinch but knows when to scram so you don't ever have to feel bad.  But popping someone's bubble and letting them know that they aren't their own God, that the world religions have vastly different and mutually exclusive belief systems, and that trying hard to be good just polishes the facade and  you invite criticism and ridicule.  Laying out the beliefs of MTD should help us engage our culture in a relevant way, open up dialogue, and provide hope for people who as try as they might can't squeeze fulfillment and purpose out of a false gospel.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Keeping Score

Lots of couples keep score in marriage, I'd wager to say that most everyone who has ever been married has kept score at some point and probably routinely.  By keeping score I mean holding on to some sort of measure of fairness in the marriage based either on number of times the other person has screwed up, number of times they have let you down, or how long it has been since a desired action or behavior has occurred.  Men are quick to accuse their wives of this as they are usually pretty good about ignoring the 49 things fully accomplished on the to-do list and focus in on why exactly the toilet didn't end up getting cleaned when they have never been the one to get urine anywhere other than in the bowl.  But then I have also found that most every husband on the planet can give you how many days/weeks/years/minutes it has been since the last time their wife had sex with them, data which they are pretty sure is scientifically reliable but almost always errs on the side of exaggeration.  Most of this comes from always having a front row seat to observe what we are doing but only occasionally seeing what they do, knowing full well how many times we held our tongue but only having access to the data of when they don't.  Whether it is how many times I have done the dishes because you forgot or how many times you have said you are sorry in the last year or the last time I felt like you called me at work and didn't have a complaint from me we all seem to have a running internal scoreboard that is constantly updated.  The problem with this scoreboard is that it is rarely even remotely accurate and even if it were it all is a push for fairness in a marriage - and fairness is something that should have been crushed in Kindergarten but seems to survive for most of us.

I touched on this idea here: in talking about the myth of compromise, but fairness doesn't just infect decision making, but our general stance towards the other person.  Either they are doing a sufficient job at pleasing me (Because my happiness IS the supreme ruling force of the universe to be striven after by all, not the worship and glorification of our creator and savior...) and I feel like the scales are balanced, or I am doing the lion's share of the work, responsibility, and sacrifice and therefore I am owed a debt.  But if doing things for the person we love and have pledged our life to produces resentment or an invoice then what are we saying about them but that they are really just an object and not a person to be appreciated and loved?  Love doesn't expect to be paid back, an exchange does, and if you are part of an unchristian, legal-document, formal contract arrangement then your work and effort needs to be compensated, but if you are loving someone then just shut up and do it.  If loving someone who can't love you as well in return makes you foolish then Christ is the biggest fool of all.  Maybe you are a part of a relationship with your creator and savior who knowing full well you couldn't begin to pay him back for the lavish love he decided to pour out on you still decided to enter a relationship with you and will never back out.  If so and you call yourself a follower of Christ then love deeply and foolishly and pray that your idiocy brings God more glory.  If you exist in a world where you are what is most important than by all means squeeze every bit you can out of your spouse, use them up and spit them out, guilt and manipulate them into giving you what you want and throw them to the curb when they stop producing.  If loving someone causes resentment because you don't feel paid back then you need to reassess whether you even know what the word "love" means, because apparently you are treating them like a retirement account - you put stuff in and invest so that eventually you can get even more back out.  

I've had a relatively easy and trauma free life but I've often thought that Viktor Frankl must have had a hard time biting his lip as a therapist when people came in to complain to him.  Probably could have gone like this:
Client: "Yeah, my wife is getting fatter and I'm just really not attracted to her any more.  It's just not fair, I make lots of money and she just lays around eating bon-bons all day..."
Frankl:  "Hmmm, yeah I had a wife once.  Her, my mom, and my dad were all murdered by the Nazis in a concentration camp I only survived because I was a doctor so I was useful.  They needed my psychiatric skills to calm down the cattle that were being lead to the slaughter.  I'm sorry, what were you saying?"
While I am pretty sure this never happened, he did have the ultimate trump card for peoples complaints and in a way the Bible gives similar advice - gratitude and appreciation are pretty important and you only get them with perspective.  Are you worried?  The Bible says when you stop to appreciate what you have and how God has always provided for you it gives you the perspective to trust him.  Are you in an unfair relationship?  The Bible says if you are in relationship with Christ it is far more lopsided and unfair than any other relationship you have but you like it that way.

You see, when people tell me they just want fairness they don't really mean it, they want more and better, even more than they deserve.  You want fair?  The average family income in America is $31,000 a year, so it would only be fair to be given that to work with as a couple.  But then internationally you are considered statistically in the "rich" category if you make $8,000 a year so really it's "unfair" you have so much money.  One in four women and one in four men will be sexually abused at some point in their life, so fair means you should have to throw that into your marriage and see how that affects things.  22% of wives are abused by their husbands, as high as 42% in other parts of the world so fair would say that you should spend at least a fourth of your marriage cowering in fear of retribution.  30-60% of marriages involve an extramarital affair, etc, etc.  The truth is you don't want fair because your wife gaining weight is a burden the vast majority of the world would have a hard time sympathizing with you for as 925 million people do not have enough to eat.  Bickering about who has to clean the house you actually own when warlords and corrupt governments make that difficult in some places, who should get to drive the "newer" car when people walk miles to the nearest semi clean water, and how often your husband wants to have sex with you when millions of women and girls around the world are sold into sex slavery and forced to have sex with 40-110 "men:" a day seems like we could all use a bit of perspective.  Because it is only with a healthy perspective that we can see the immense blessing that our spouse is and how blessed our lives are, and it is only by deciding to stop manipulating our partners to get what we want that we open ourselves up to truly loving them.

Best line from a sermon I've ever heard was "Fair died on the cross."  We don't want fair, we don't want what we deserve, we want some counterfeit myth of the perfect husband or wife we were promised by a deluded society. 

Fair died on the Cross