Mom and Dad do not love each other anymore.

does-divorce-decree-nullify-life-insurance-policy

We all know the statistics. Is it 50%? 60%? I can’t even keep track of the percentage of marriages that end in divorce. Which is why I was rolling my eyes while I was flipping through the channels  and I landed on a show with a very predictable conversation.

“Kids, Mom and Dad do not love each other anymore.”

We’ve all heard it before. My feelings have changed. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I stayed when I don’t love you anymore. You don’t really want to be married to me; you deserve something better. We’ve grown apart. We’re different people now. I just need to be honest.

No surprises here. It was a typical American family conversation coming through the television. Until the little boy asked a biting question.

“But if you stopped loving him, what’s to say you won’t stop loving us?”

Wow.

That was the best sermon I’ve heard in a long time.

My heart almost stopped. My eyes opened wide. I leaned in to the television screen. What would these parents say to such a profound question?

“Stop loving you?” she retorted, “Oh no, that’s impossible.”

Impossible.

Really?

I turned off the television and I’ve been chewing on this ever since. How can a mother possibly make such a promise? How can she guarantee that her “feelings” for her children will not wither like her “feelings” for her husband? How can she promise that she and her children won’t grow apart, become different people, and need to end this relationship?

And then it hit me.

This mother was not deceiving her children; she just needed better vocabulary. She really could guarantee that her love would not fail, because her love for her children was qualitatively different than her love for her husband. You might call this kind of love grace-love, because it has no strings attached. It’s a pure gift. It’s unconditional. It’s what we read about in the oft-quoted wedding Scripture:

Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

It is beyond ironic that so many of the same people who choose 1 Corinthians 13 as their wedding theme  go on to say that their love has indeed ended. Infatuation comes easy. Attraction is a piece of cake. The average person could probably “fall in love” with 20 different people in their life. It’s figuring out this whole 1 Corinthians 13-love thing that seems to stump us.

Check out verse 7:  Love bears all things. All? Even the changing seasons of life? Love hopes all things. All? Even during seemingly hopeless arguments? Love endures all things. All? Even when the “feelings” are gone? Even when both partners change?

I wonder if we’d be better off training couples to love each other by exposing them to truly great parents and saying, “Now go and do likewise.”  If our love was as unconditional towards our spouse as it is towards our children, maybe our vows would actually endure til’ “death do us part.”

As I reflected on this great sermon of a television show I realized what the mother really meant:  If 1 Corinthians 13 is your measuring stick, you can be at peace, because that is what I choose for my children. It is not a feeling that can disappear; it’s a choice of my heart and my will. I give you my heart. On the other hand, if I use the same standard on your father and I’m honest, I never really 1 Corinthians 13-loved him to begin with. My love for him had conditions from the get-go. I shared with him my heart, but I never gave it to him as a gift.

By the way, this is precisely how bad marriage is like dead religion.

Religious people stay with God because he’s useful. Children of God stay with God because he’s beautiful. Because they love him.

Because he first loved us.

You’ve never been loved better than you were loved on the Cross.

Good wedding, bad marriage

I love weddings.

To follow a bride and smell the flowers; to watch a groom and witness the kiss; to celebrate a moment and remember your own is a precious moment indeed. In fact, weddings are one of the high points of my profession. So I’ve got nothing against a beautiful ceremony.

But something is wrong.

Take a trip to your nearest bookstore and you’ll find a dazzling display of the most beautiful periodicals related to a couple’s big day. You’ll discover something for the traditional bride, the modern bride, the Martha Stewart bride, and every kind of wedding planner known to man. What you will not find is a magazine called Wife. Or Marriage.

In all of our efforts to create amazing weddings we never learned marriage.

I go to a fitness center where they have a running loop of motivational advertisements to get the clients to stay in shape. I always chuckle at the ads aimed at the engaged woman, encouraging her to get ready for her “big day” so she can fit into her dress. It’s all about the wedding. The ceremony. The special occasion.

Think about the cost of the average wedding. Thousands are spent on flowers and tablecloths and invitations and music and dresses and pictures. The cost of a typical wedding is now approaching the salary of a first year teacher.

We live in a culture where more than half of these couples who marry in pomp and circumstance will dissolve in a bitter divorce court. That same couple that would spend $500 on a bouquet of flowers won’t spend $150 on marriage counseling. The same woman that invested every spare moment of every day for six months in preparation for a wedding, finds herself annoyed at the prospect of dealing with her husband.

It’s all about the wedding.

We have mastered the art of weddings and failed in the art of marriage. We have mastered the big event, but failed in the lifestyle. Ironically, the very wedding that is meant to bless a couple often serves to bring strife, offense, and indebtedness to the couple and families involved.

There is nothing wrong with a wedding, but the real deal is a marriage.  Give me a weak wedding and a strong covenant over a magnificent ceremony and a weak covenant any day.

It reminds me of Christianity. Conversion-experiences are wonderful, but Jesus never said to go make converts; He said go make disciples. That’s the deal. It’s a wonderful thing to go to an event where you experience God. But learning to do everyday life with God – now that’s the deal.

We Christians love the big event; we adore the conference; we spend money on the retreat weekend; we buy the t-shirts and believe the hype: “This event will change your life!”  It’s Monday morning that trips us up. And Tuesday afternoon.  And Friday night.  We invest tremendous resources to create experiences that are absolutely unforgettable. The problem is simply that in our striving to manufacture our events we haven’t seemed to learn to live.

Good wedding, bad marriage.

In all our efforts to make converts and “do church” we forgot to teach people how to make disciples and do life.

So let’s ask the invasive question. Are you making disciples? Is there anybody in your life to whom you could point and say, “Now there is a disciple. That man is becoming a passionate follower of Jesus. That woman is changing her center from self to God. That teenager is learning to live by the words of God.” Take a step back. Are you a disciple? Are you learning the ways of Jesus even in the midst of holidays and finals and challenges at the office? Are the words of Jesus being tattooed on your heart?

Parents, we need you to disciple your kids.

Older men, we need you to disciple the younger men.

Older women, we need you disciple the younger women.

Do you have a strong marriage? We need you to disciple the weaker couples.

Are you a leader? We need you to do more than build your program; we need you to build people.

Let’s go do some marriage.

Entitled people are never grateful

Watch out for entitlement.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m thinking about that Samaritan leper healed by Jesus. Remember the story? Ten outcasts get healed, and only one comes back to say thanks. It’s a strange story.

Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18) Good question. Why would nine pure-breed Jews simply move on with life while a half-breed Samaritan comes back to give thanks to this Jewish messiah?

Because entitled people are never grateful.

You will not be grateful for the things you feel entitled to. You will not be grateful for the things you think you deserve. You will not be grateful when you feel like you have the right to expect something of people. Entitlement kills your thanksgiving. And your joy. And your peace. By the way, few things kill a marriage like a couple of entitled people living together, highly aware of how much the other person owes them.

Entitlement is anti-grace.

I’ll never forget the week I spent with persecuted Christians in Cuba. They challenged me in a multitude of ways, but one sentence in particular still rings in my ears. Life is a gift, not a right.

No wonder we’re not more thankful. My culture has discipled me to fight for my rights. The problem is, I never see gifts while I’m focused on my rights.

Let’s do this.

1) Go vertical. Give thanks to the Lord. Take some time to count your blessings. Name them one by one. Ultimately, recognize the amazing gift of the gospel and go practice your Spanish. Gracias. I love this word because it reminds me of it’s root: gracia. Grace. I don’t want what I deserve, and neither do you.

2) Then go horizontal. Make a few phone calls. Write a few notes. Send a few texts. Let a few people know you see them as gifts of God in your life.

Don’t miss the grace for the gravy. Happy Thanksgiving.

The story I tell myself

I was speaking with a young couple on the verge of getting married and the subject of my marriage came up. The more I talked about the marriage I have experienced – and the wife I enjoy – the more grateful I became. My final assessment was, I am so blessed it’s crazy.

As I walked away from the conversation I began to think about how rose-colored my glasses seemed to be in that moment.  Was I really being honest?  Was I setting this couple up for disillusionment when they don’t feel that reality I described?  God knows how many difficult seasons these 17 years of marriage have endured .  Some of that has been basic life tribulation.  Much of that has been my sin. A microscopic amount has been my wife’s sin. 🙂  During many seasons of difficulty I’ve not been so positive.

So why was I walking away from this conversation with such joy?

Continue reading “The story I tell myself”