Entries in grace (7)
It is a difficult and lonely place to be, to work on a marriage (or any relationship) when the other has no interest in counseling, marriage seminars, relationship books, or even conversations about one’s marriage. Working on a relationship with another who is resistant to the process of growth is not a journey for the faint of heart.
At some point, the focus must turn from “How can I make our marriage better?” to “How can I be a loving, committed, healthy wife/husband/father/mother/sister regardless of the fact that I am doing this alone?” It is possible to be a loving mother to a child who will not reciprocate that love. A difficult marriage should not be a shameful fact for the husband who gives 100% for his wife. An ethic of love asks that we give even when we do not receive, that we sacrifice even when the hands of that sacrifice are stepped upon, and that we continue hoping for change when there are no indications of transformation.
This ethic of love is a journey of a disciplined mind, deliberate movements, and a well of strength.
1. Disciplined Mind
My friend Alicia Britt Chole says (I quote her a lot because she is the wisest person I have ever met), “Intellectual strength is not merely the ability to think…it is the ability to choose what and when to think.” Wow! If we could train our minds like an Olympian trains their body, can you imagine the freedom that would accompany such obedience? Racing minds, hateful dialogue in one’s head, rehearsing past and future conversations, plans of revenge, hurtful wishes toward others, self- sabotaging “why me’s?”… these are all indications of an undisciplined mind.
Questions for change:
~ What am I thinking about right now that is causing me to feel so terrible?
~ What could I think about that will help me to be a more loving spouse in this moment?
~ How can I take care of myself emotionally, spiritually, physically, so that I can have the energy to continue loving?
~ Am I in a good place to communicate in a healthy way?
~ Where should I spend my mental energy right now?
2. Deliberate Movements
One-sided relationships (or relationships which suck-the-very-life-right-out-of-you) deserve thoughtful actions after healthy thinking.
Steps for Change:
~ I suggest the book “Bold Love” by Dan Allender and “Boundaries in Marriage “by Cloud and Townsend.
~ It is important to seek counseling and friendships that will help you walk the very difficult journey of sacrificial love!
3. Well of Strength
Some call it a “Higher Power,” some cry to God, some rely on friends and family... You need not be alone.
~ Calling a friend who will support you.
~ Cultivating disciplines including silence, solitude, and contemplative prayer. There are many resources for this. I suggest any book by Henri Nouwen. “The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us” by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun is also an excellent resource.
There is a freedom found at a point on the journey as you walk in obedience in the ethic of love. You no longer love the other in order to receive love back. The grip of trying to control loosens and you are free. Free to love.
The day that I intellectually knew would arrive in my life came a bit unexpectedly on April 25th. My appointment with my cardiologist was planned for five months and it was a follow-up to check on a bad aortic valve that I had had as long as I could remember. My health was good but my tests were bad… bad enough that my doctor strongly suggested surgery for a valve replacement. I was a bit stunned but not shocked. I knew that the surgery would one day be necessary, but I was feeling so well! After hours of thought and days of prayer, Renee and I both felt that it was time to take the step. I am writing these words nineteen days after my surgery and am doing well so far. Here are some post-op lessons:
1. You cannot rush recovery. I am an impatient man and prone to make things happen faster if I deem the pace is too slow. Recovery, however, has a pace all its own, and taking the requisite time to heal is the fastest way to true recovery.
2. Pain is a tutor. Instead of masking pain, learning from it is necessary in understanding the healing process. I don’t care for pain, but I need to heed it at every turn and allow it to teach me the best direction to head for my healing.
3. Taking care of your heart is a good thing. It is true… you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Having attention drawn to one vital part of your physiology is a true attention getter. Blood pressure, beats per minute, arrhythmia… all these factors are crucial in living a healthy life. I need to pay attention!
4. Life is best lived moment to moment, not event to event. Seizing the moment is the best way to live life. Too much is missed otherwise. I am continually struck with the fact that every day is chock full of wonderful stuff, stuff that is too easily missed if I don’t pay attention.
5. God is the One who heals. Certainly this is a no-brainer for believers, but it is all the more poignant when one’s life hangs in the operating room balance. The only time I was brought to tears before my surgery was in the waiting room of my surgeon’s office. In that room hangs a painting of an operating room scene with a surgeon and his team working on a patient. Standing next to the surgeon, guiding his hands, stands Jesus, the Great Physician. It still brings tears to my eyes…
6. Doctors and nurses are key instruments in God’s healing. What wonderful people! Words cannot express my gratitude…
7. Each day of healing is a unique journey. Ups and downs are inevitable in the healing journey, and even though I knew this, I am reminded of this process every day. Patience…
8. Family and friends are a healing balm. My wife’s care, my family’s comfort, my friends’ concern all join together to make the burden lighter and the days less stressful. I thank God for them all.
I’m still in the healing process, but I trust the learning process will never cease. Thanks to all of you for your love, care and concern. I love you right back!
As we enter another Easter season, I’m reminded of amazing themes that this time of year brings to us over two millennia. Life over death, good over evil, humility over pride, and sacrifice over selfishness… these are just a few that come to mind. A few days ago I was tossing a small football with my three year old grandson, Keller, and noticed that when I tossed the ball to him he instinctively turned his head every time. The ball would not have harmed him if it hit him, and my tosses were appropriately soft for a child his age. Still, every time his head would turn, no matter how much I encouraged him to “watch the ball”. He was fearful. Here was another Easter theme played out in the front yard of my daughter’s home: confidence over fear. My grandson, try as he might, didn’t have confidence that I could throw the ball to him and not cause him harm. His instinct of fear took over.
This is my Easter theme this year: I can overcome my fears with the confidence that God has my best interests in mind and that I can trust in His pure and unconditional love for me. His Son laid down his life as a sacrifice for us so we can “…draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Use this Easter season to bring God into your fears and allow Him to teach you about his grace and mercy. And as we see Him at work in our lives, then, with confidence, we’ll be able to keep our eye on the ball without fear.
Christmas is less than a week away and I’m already looking beyond the holiday to the year ahead. Clients of mine have been through very rough sledding this last year, due in part to the perilous economic times we live in. Jobs are in short supply, and good jobs seem to be almost non-existent. However, Christmas provides a good environment for perspective. The man Jesus came to this earth in dire economic times, to a family extremely poor with no hope of any dramatic improvement in their circumstances. He was born in a stable… with neither position nor influence that would allow them to enjoy anything close to being in an adequate environment for the birth of a child. And his life after he was born was immediately in danger from a madman who governed the land in which he was born. Perilous times indeed!
But the Good News of Christ’s birth still speaks to our hearts even two millennia after the actual event. Out of desperation comes hope; out of discouragement comes wonder; and out of confusion comes wisdom. Regardless of your circumstances this Christmas season, Jesus still provides us with perspective. He still calls us to a life of faith, hope, and love, and His birth is the most poignant reminder of God’s overwhelming love for us. And, all believers still exclaim along with the Apostle Peter, “Where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life!” So here’s to a Christmas where our thoughts are turned from ourselves and our own personal problems and predicaments, to the recounting of God’s blessings and a view ahead to the hope He alone can give us. May you enjoy a Christmas with a view to eternity, and be reminded not only of the wisdom of Jesus, but also of the loving sacrifice He was for us all. Merry Christmas!
Hospitals, emergencies, and unknowns…our health can be a great interruption in our lives and can take us away from the things that we desire to accomplish. There is a reality that our lives are finite and the time that we have needs to be stewarded well. Last week was a hospital week for me. I have a history of gastric bleeds and this one required hospitalization and a blood transfusion. To say I was sobered was an understatement. But these are the best teachable moments we have and here are some of the things I learned or was once again reminded of:
- Relationships are most important. Right before I went to the hospital, my wife asked me if I was afraid. I told her no I wasn’t, but I was sad in thinking that I might not see my grandchildren grow up and I would miss her and my kids.
- God speaks loudly through our pain. If ever there were a time to realize that I am not in control it’s when I’m ill. God is in control and I am better for acknowledging it and accommodating myself to where He is taking me.
- I need to take care of my body. I am an American (with German heritage!) and I push myself too hard and don’t care for my physical body as I should. Nothing like an IV in your arm to remind me that I need to pay more attention to my physical needs.
- I need to use my time well. Our lives here on earth are finite and I need to avail myself of the time allotted to me in such a way as to wring every drop of life out of every minute I live.
I could go on, but you get the gist of where I’m going. If you read this, it’s just a friendly reminder to stay focused on the things that matter: your relationship with God, your loved ones, and the tasks that God has privileged you to perform on earth. Everything else is fluff.