How Our Sorry State is Ruining Our Marriages (and an accessible solution)

“I’m sorry.”  “He offered an apology.”  “She made a public plea for forgiveness.”  It is hard to imagine a day’s news cycle without hearing something like this.  Everybody is sorry about something or wants someone to be sorry about something.  It permeates everything we do.  It is a smog of sorriness.  Our kids bring it home from school.  It seeps in through the TV and the internet.  We start to think sorry is our normal condition and we wonder what may be wrong with us when we find we really aren’t sorry. We are living in a sorry state.  A sorry state is a “pressed down” state.  It sits on us, this feeling of being sorry. forgive-meIt lingers over us until we start saying it for no reason at all.  A little girl who we keep in our daycare walks around all day saying, “I’m sorry.”  She just says it out of the blue.  I ask, “What are you sorry for?”  She never answers, she just starts telling me about whatever she is doing.  It makes you wonder though doesn’t it?  It makes us feel like we must be doing something wrong if this child feels compelled to say “sorry” ten times a day.  But it is a pretty good reflection of what goes on in our culture every day all day.  Many of our relationships are suffering because of this sorry state.  We are like the little girl.  We walk around with the feeling we ought to say we are sorry, but we’re not sure why.

Let me tell you a few things about being sorry.  First of all, and so obvious you may not notice it at first, feeling sorry is not natural.  If you and I are cosmic accidents who are only part of the animal world and making a way through it by being bigger, faster, stronger, then sorry is stupid.  You ever see a lion who was sorry it stole the last bite of antelope right out of the mouth of the slower lion? No.  Feeling sorry is unnatural, meaning it is something outside of us we can’t explain based upon what we see.  Second is that sorry is just the tip of the iceberg called forgiveness.  The real ruinous part of our sorry state; the thing that kills marriages and all our significant relationships, is the idea that “feeling sorry” is how forgiveness is accomplished, and if we don’t “feel sorry” we are not truly able to experience forgiveness, and if someone asks us for forgiveness who doesn’t feel bad enough (whatever that means – it varies from person to person) can’t or shouldn’t be forgiven.  Since it is almost impossible to make ourselves feel bad enough, or to know exactly how bad someone ought to feel in order for us to get on with the business of living, we end up with a lot of loose ends in our relationships; a lot of unease about ourselves and our spouses.

I asked a couple this week what they thought forgiveness was.  They told me it was about owning our mistakes and then agreeing to go on together.  I thought that was a good start.  Then I asked this:  So you uncover the fault and agree to go on together.  What happens if a week, or a month or a year from now you bring it back up again and demand more answers or more concessions or whatever?  What if every year on the anniversary of the offense the offended person brings it up again?  Is that forgiveness?  Have you really forgiven?  They both laughed at that and agreed it was not forgiveness.  I agree.  But what is forgiveness then?  Does it mean forgetting an offense ever happened?  Try that.  Many of us have tried to do that.  It isn’t very practical is it?  And it doesn’t feel healthy.  It feels like I’m trying to fool myself into believing something bad never happened, and that can’t be right.  I also discovered that when I most need to forget the offense I am in the worst position to do it.  When do you need it most?  When things are forcing you to remember the offense, right?  Triggers.  People, places, words, things.  Forgetting just can’t be the right answer.

imagesForgiveness is a decision, not a feeling and not forgetting.  Both the person needing forgiveness and the person extending it must decide.  It is not a mutual decision, but a personal one.  A decision?  Yes.  A decision about cost.  Who is going to bear the cost of the offense.  In real forgiveness the person who is hurt must decide to bear the cost of the hurt alone and not try to make the other person pay for it.  And there are plenty of toll booths set up along the way where we can make others pay; plenty of decision points.

Years ago my wife collected ceramic figurines called Precious Moments.  She put them all in a cabinet in a little walkway just off the kitchen.  Some of them were limited editions and many were no longer made.  One day my daughter hit the cabinet as she walked by it.  It came off the wall and fell onto a tile floor. The sound of breaking glass went on and on.  Out of perhaps 50 pieces only one or two survived the fall.  It was a total loss.  I remember the look on Nicole’s face and Tina’s face.  “I’m sorry Momma!  I’m sorry, I’m so sorry Momma!” she said.  It was pitiful really.  What could she do?  What could Tina do?  The mistake was made.  The pieces were never coming back together again and never could.  There was no replacement cost because there were no replacements to be had.  It was an accident, you say.  Surely you have to be forgiving when accidents happen.  Right.  And do we usually set out to hurt our spouses?  Our friends?  Our children?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t easier because it was an accident.  It is the same thing.  It is a decision to bear the cost rather than break the relationship. It is a decision to take the loss rather than to make the other party pay for it.  If every time Tina saw a Precious Moments figure from then on she reminded Nicole of how she destroyed her collection, she makes Nicole bear the cost.  If someone asked Tina where her cabinet full of figures was she used the opportunity to run Nicole down and call her clumsy, then she decides to make Nicole take the loss.

Someone is going to bear the cost of an offense.  It doesn’t matter if it was an accident or on purpose.  And here is another angle that we often miss:  if you are asking for real forgiveness you are agreeing to let the other person bear the burden for your offense.  You are not asking them to let you pay it off in an installment plan, you are leaving the decision with them and you can’t do anything more about it.  If you keep trying to pay for it, you really aren’t asking for forgiveness, you are asking them to tell you when the account is paid off; and most people will never be able to tell you when that happens.  Do you see how different this view of forgiveness is from what we’re being sold in our sorry state?  How upside down it is?  Our culture is obsesses with extracting the cost of forgiveness from the person who committed the offense.  True forgiveness is squarely on the shoulders of the offended party and their decision to bear the entire cost.  How did this get flipped on us?  Take God out of our collective consciousness and we have a real problem.  We do feel sorry.  We do feel guilty.  We are not like the other animals.  But we have no explanation for it.  No God means no right or wrong.  It means there are no burdens to bear and no apologies to make.  If you are bigger, faster, stronger you win.  And why worry about accidents when everything is an accident including your own existence?  Leave God out and you get a sorry state with no remedy, no forgiveness.  The problem is that letting God in means having to face up to offending him; to having to ask him for forgiveness.  What about that?  What if God doesn’t want to bear the cost?  How are we going to pay off that debt?  What happens when we knock all his Precious Moments to pieces?  If God decides we owe him for the things we’ve broken and wants to make us pay for them, how long will it take to pay it off?  When we’ve broken things of infinite worth we are in for an eternal work day to make it right.  Can you see now what the gospel is?  Can you see how it is God accepting the cost of calling us his daughters and sons?  When things are broken someone must bear the cost.  God decided to bear it.  The cross is the payment for God to stay in relationship with us and never abandon us.  We must accept it or try to come up with the payment on our own.  It is hard to accept true forgiveness.  Very hard.  I’ve had to watch my wife’s face when I put hurt into her life.  I had to see the struggle to decide not to make me pay while I stood by helplessly, knowing I did that to her.  I did that to the person I love.  It is terrible and wonderful to see.  What is the resource she has to do this?  How can she bear it?  She believes the cross is God’s forgiveness for her and for me.  She sees that God bore the cost of her failures so she could be his daughter.  That gives perspective.  It shrinks the size of my offenses against her.  But she also sees something else, something that releases her heart and clears her mind to remember my offenses but images (1)to live without the heavy burden.  She sees that when I hurt her it was an offense against her,yes, but it was also an offense against God, her Father.  He takes it personally.  It is his to take.  All things are his.  All abuse is abuse to his property.  All the offenses against people are offenses to his family.  And he decides to forgive. He decides to bear the cost.  Now my wife sees that she isn’t bearing the cost alone, that Jesus is under the full strain of her husband’s offense.  This is how our marriage works.  This is how we escape the sorry state.

Unguarded Beauty

My wife is a beautiful woman.  I knew this the first time I saw her walking down a hallway in High School.  I just turned right around and followed her.  She had Sun-In bleach blonde hair and a ribbon around a single ponytail in back with wings in front, and she used a lot of blue eye shadow (it was the 80’s).  I have a very clear picture in my mind of this moment – this first “seeing.”  But I also have other moments when I saw her for the first time again.  I old_pix_0002wish I knew how this happens so I could teach it to people, but I don’t know how to make it happen.  It just happens.  There is no particular pattern to it.  Some times it happens a lot in a short period of time and then it may be a very long time before it happens to me again.  It is always a surprise and a delight.  I think it is a gift God gives me, like many of his gifts, for no good reason other than He delights to delight us.  The most interesting part of this gift is that Tina never provokes it.  She never poses or tries to look a certain way that triggers this gift of re-seeing.  In fact, most of the time I’ve never told her about it because it was too hard to explain.  So she may be reading about this for the first time along with you.

There is a kind of beauty in this world that is unguarded.  It is raw and real and striking.  You may not immediately recognize it because it hides in plain sight.  Advertisers know this about us; that we are susceptible to capture by unguarded beauty.  That’s why they try so hard to make their spots look like they just happened; that there was no real preparation and this beautiful thing or setting just popped out of the background.  We know its fake though.  In our true hearts we know this is not unguarded beauty – it is well fortified beauty.  Beauty built from scratch and etched and carved and photoshopped.  We know lies when we see them because we feel the truth when it hits us.  It isn’t trying to be true or beautiful; it is true and it is beautiful.  C.S. Lewis said in his famous essay The Weight of Glory that we are far too easily pleased, and he was right.  We are also far too easily deceived.  It is almost as if we let ourselves stop hoping for unguarded beauty because we can’t produce it ourselves.  And since we can’t be in control we start to say to each other that the less than and the plastic; the faked beauty is real or it is all we are going to get so we might as well embrace it.  I’ve done it myself.  I do it myself.  But I’m sharing my glimpses of unguarded beauty with you in hopes that you will throw off the lies and stop contenting yourself with less.  I’m sharing with you so that you will share with me too.  Together we may be able to live more authentically in light of our accumulated unguarded beauty.  Of course this is a gift.  Being able to see it at all is a gift.  All of these gifts come IMG_2560from the greatest unguarded beauty of all, Jesus.  The Bible teaches that in his light we see light.  In other words Jesus is the light that shows all other light – he is the beauty that makes everything beautiful.  He fell into darkness and brought us light.  He was marred beyond recognition and made us beautiful.  Do you realize that in Jesus we can know that God looks upon us like I look upon my wife?  We don’t have to guard ourselves or pose or create; we are completely unguarded and completely beautiful to God.  That is beauty unguarded and unassailable.

10 (counterintuitive) Ways to Have More and Better Sex

1. Get Married (yes this is a statistical fact)
2. Become a Christian (another statistical fact)
3. Stay Married
4. Talk to your spouse about stuff; any stuff that is on your mind
5. Listen to your spouse when they talk about stuff
6. Read the Bible to get good tips about sex (much better and more explicit than Cosmo)
7. Be generous with your possessions (sex is about giving and stingy people make bad lovers)
8. Plan spontaneity (fun things happen when we make room for them to happen)
9. Wash the dishes, clean off the desk (an ordered living room makes for a free bedroom)
10. Practice (no one does anything perfect the first time and every good thing takes practice to perfect)


The Number One Predictor of Divorce (and how to get rid of it)

Is there something in your relationship that predisposes you to divorce?  According to studies conducted by John Gottman, a professor and head of The Relationship Research Institute, the leading indicator of potential for divorce is found in the way a couple communicates.  The presence of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt are all bad signs, but contempt is the worst.  Gottman claims that when he and his imagesresearchers discern contempt between couples it is an 85% plus indicator that divorce is imminent.  Malcolm Gladwell detailed the method Gottman uses in a book titled Blink.  The method is simple; a couple sits together and discusses whatever they like; whatever is on their mind. Researchers measure their body language.  Facial expressions. Posture.  Body and hand movements.  They dissect a video of this exchange and categorize what they see.  And they can see contempt.  Is that hard to believe?  Not for me it isn’t.  I don’t need a super slo-mo break down of someone’s body language or facial expressions to detect contempt. It is hard to define contempt, but I know it when I see it, and I know something else; I know when I am showing it.  How about you?  Can you feel it when you are receiving or giving contempt?  I can understand why it is a predictor of divorce.  It is belittling.  It is discounting.  It is placing someone below you and acting as if who they are and what they think are of no consequence.  It is relationally corrosive whether you give it or take it.  Contempt is relational rust, and it will disable not only our marriages, but our friendships, our families – anything it touches.

According to the research I should be divorced.  Not only have I dished out a heap of contempt upon my wife, but I have done plenty of things worthy of her contempt.  But there is a secret to disinfecting our marriages.  There is a way to stop the rust in its tracks, and to restore and renew the metal underneath.  It isn’t painting over it.  Some years ago the Secretary of Defense came to visit our ship during a Fleet Exercise off Puerto Rico.  The Captain ordered us to paint the bridge wings even though we didn’t have time to properly prepare the surfaces.  We painted right over the rust.  The Secretary came and walked around our great looking bridge wings.  He came and went in an hour.  A week later we had all the rust plus paint peeling all over the place. The bridge wings looked worse than than ever.  You can’t paint over rust.  You have to acknowledge it and take a grinder after it until the metal shines.  And this is how you survive contempt.  Acknowledge it, and grind it out.  This is simple, but it isn’t easy.  The way we discovered it was the way most of us survivors discover it; we got married to a person who we never thought we’d hold in contempt and ran right into the fact that both of us were contemptible.  This was a shock to our system, so we did what most people do; we glossed over it.  We pretended it just wasn’t there.  After a few cycles of shocking ourselves and covering it over, we had a real mess on our hands.  We had contempt popping out from under our paint and we couldn’t ignore it any more.  We had to face the fact we married someone contemptible, and then we had to decide to grind it out.  Getting down to bare metal is not comfortable.  It hurts.

The truth is that it takes more than just you or your spouse to get it done.  We are not contemptible people because our spouse says so – marriage didn’t make us that way, it only revealed what was already there.  It revealed the true and deeper relational rust.  There is corrosion at a much more profound level; between us and God.  What God did to save us from this was truly amazing, and it was what saved my marriage.  The gospel is that God who could belittle us and count our opinions and lives as meaningless, demonstrates through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that he does not hold us in contempt.  God allows himself to be held in contempt so that we don’t have to be.  Do you see the practical application of this?  How can my wife hold me in contempt when God doesn’t??  She can’t keep me there!  If God says I am beyond contempt, I am beyond contempt and no one can hold me there but me.  And when I try to arrest my wife and throw her into my own little holding cell, I realize how ridiculous it is to try keeping her there.  This is the grind; the gospel meeting contemptible people day after day, knocking off the real cosmic rust and taking us back to a true view of ourselves.  My wife and I live with this grinding as a reality.  It keeps us shiny and new looking through the harsh environments we’ve sailed through in our marriage.

An Unusually Good Reason to Get Married

“But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
(1 Cor 3:28)

The only people who don’t believe this are either comatose or they’ve never been married.  If your goal in life is simply to avoid trouble you are going to have to avoid people – and the further away you get the better off you’ll be.  Marriage is the exact opposite.  It is putting on the handcuffs and swallowing the key. It makes everything more difficult.  Youtrouble may be able to avoid every one else but how can you avoid another person when they have become ‘one flesh’ with you?  You can’t.  Avoiding trouble means avoiding growth and life.  Conflict with no resolution is hell.  No conflict and no resolution is stagnation.  Conflict and resolution equals growth.  Living things grow.  A good reason to get married?  It will cause trouble.

Does Your Spouse Admire You Enough?

download (2)Who do you admire?  What if they were to call you and ask to have lunch this week?  Would you rearrange your schedule to meet them?  Would your priorities stack up differently?  What would it do to you if you discovered they admired you?  That they rearranged their whole schedule to spend time with you?  It would radically change the way you looked at yourself to discover you were admired by the admirable.

Many of us forget that our spouses admired us so much that they rescheduled their whole lives around us – that’s called marriage.  Your spouse does admire you that much.  How does it feel?  Fulfilling?  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes the spouse we admire admires us and makes us feel so full we can’t imagine being more full.  But this doesn’t always work and it never lasts.  We need more admiration than anyone is capable of giving, even if that person gave us the promise of a lifetime.  We need more. Our spouse needs more.

At the root of the word admire is the an old Latin word meaning “miracle.”  There was a time we thought it was miraculous to have the admiration of our spouse.  I thought it was at the time.  And still do most days.  But there is something more miraculous about the story of the gospel, and it carries both me and my wife when we don’t have enough admiration for each other.  Here is the most admirable person who ever lived making the promise of not just one lifetime given to us, but an eternal lifetime given to us.  Bending the schedule of eternity around me. When I see this – really see it for what it is – I am admired enough to last when my spouse doesn’t admire me, or just as significantly, when I don’t admire myself anymore.  There is a way through.  There is a way up.  Does my spouse admire me enough?  No.  But miraculously, God does.

admiration (n.) early 15c., “wonder,” from Middle French admiration (14c.) or directly from Latin admirationem (nominative admiratio) “a wondering at, admiration,” noun of state from past participle stem of admirari “admire,” from ad- “at” (see ad-) + mirari “to wonder,” from mirus “wonderful” (see miracle). The sense has weakened steadily since 16c.

What My Wife Likes to Wear

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There is a perfume my wife wears that makes me nuts.  Its called Pleasures…yeah.  She wears it well.  But there is no perfume that can make a woman smell so good as the compliments of her husband.  The scent of a well loved woman is obvious to anyone around her.  A man who takes out a bottle of the finest praise and pours it all over his wife will fill his home with the fragrance of life.  And thats really what we want more of right?  Just life.  None of us is too poor to afford the most expensive and desirable cologne.  We should use it lavishly.  Does your home, your marriage smell like a locker room?  Full of competition and clashes and cutting words?  Mine has.  Plenty of times.  Its usually because I’ve treated my wife like one of the guys instead of treating her like she is a woman, The woman.  The one I chose and the one who chose me.  Competition is over.  We won.  Cutting words are really putting down my own self, belittling my own choosing.  Calling myself a loser.  Cutting my self down.  The reason we don’t have enough compliments to pour out on our wives isn’t that they are not worthy of them, its because we lost sight of who we are.  The world takes it out of us.  The world gives us nothing if we con’t pay for it in sweat and blood and time.  Compliments?  Did we earn them??  More than that the constant pressure of bosses and banks and brothers pushing us out of shape, putting us down so they can go up on our backs.  It is hard.  Very hard to see ourselves rightly.  Listen carefully.  The reason you don’t give compliments to your wife any more isn’t that she “lost it” some where, its because you lost it.  You stopped seeing yourself for what you are; a man.  A man who lives before the eyes of God.  What does God think of you?  If his eyes condemn who can stand up?  Who can fight back?  Who can wrestle against that power and win?  But if that God renders and opinion about you, if He compliments you, who will contradict it?  Who will take it from you?  If only you could know what He thinks of you.  Does he render a good opinion?  Does He compliment?  The gospel says yes.  He gives an opinion.  He offers his praise.  You are worthy of it.  We are worthy of it.  He heaps praises upon us through the gospel.  He thinks so highly of us that we are stamped with it.  Complimentary.  Free.  Given without asking a price.  Paying the price so that it can be given.  Look at you.  Man before God.  God looks upon you with favor.  Do you believe it?  Do you accept this opinion?  This compliment?  Now look at your wife.  Pour out life in your home.

Your Wife is Not Yours To Have and to Hold

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:29-31)

Paul isn’t afraid to lump marriage in with things that will pass away and therefore things we shouldn’t hold on to as if they were ours to keep.  The healthiest marriages (or any other kind of relationship) will be the ones in which neither person makes undue claims to ownership.  The having and the holding of our marriage vows are not having titles or holding death grips, they are having faithfulness and holding in earnest for the true owner.hold


Are You Looking for the one or THE ONE?


There is One who knows you utterly.  He is not the same one as THE ONE constructed in the great American spin machine.  He is, however, the One whose very essence builds compatibility where the greatest incompatibility of all exists; between God and Man. He makes us able to change in the most profound way, in holiness (whole-ness), growing into the creature He intended us to be.  He can manage the mutual change of a marriage and bring about authentic compatibility.  Without Him couples are merely making sure their deck chairs match while they temporarily enjoy their cruise on Titanic.

I Married the Wrong Person, Now What?

We  know the divorce rate stats.  Marriage is a 50/50 proposition.  As a caterer and a preacher I probably attend more weddings in a year than anyone attends in a lifetime.  I can tell you this:  no one looks worried about the divorce rate at a wedding.  No one.  Worried about the cake falling over, yes.  Worried about a wrinkle on a tablecloth, yes.  Worried about whether or not the mash potatoes on the buffet are good enough, yes.  But no one is worried about divorce.  I’ve never seen a bride huddled with her girls stressing over whether or not the groom is the right one.  I’ve never seen the groom with his boys wistfully looking over the women in the room and wishing one of them was in the white dress instead of his bride.  But I sure have heard a lot of people saying they married the wrong person a year or two or ten down the road.  This is supposed to make everything better.  It is a magic formula pronounced over a struggling marriage.  It absolves the speaker of guilt.  It is the equivalent of saying “I’m not really broken.  I’m marriageable.  I can do marriage.  I just needed the right partner and this one isn’t it.”   This seems to overlook at least one crucial fact: even if you did get the wrong partner for marriage, it was you who chose them – it was your judgment call.  What makes you think your judgment is good enough to go out and find the right partner?  And, more immediately, if you have such poor judgment about one of the most critical decisions of life, what makes you think you are qualified to judge the true state of your marriage?  No matter how bad the marriage looks at the moment (and no marriage looks good all the time), it is wise to remember that your discernment got you here, and the worse the marriage looks, the less you should trust your own ability to see it clearly.  You got fooled.  Maybe you should take time to figure out how that happened.

Ask yourself if it is possible that the problem is not who you married, but that you don’t understand what marriage is.  What if marriage doesn’t create your problems but reveals them.  What if the purpose of marriage is to create a situation where the real fatal flaws in us are exposed so the opportunity exists to get them repaired?

If these things are deep enough there may be no way to get them to the surface other than a committed relationship with another human being who never goes away.  We all wear a success suit for the world and we hop around in it all the time like rabbits.  It covers up the things inside we don’t want to show others, the pain, the scars, the shortcomings, the fear.  Hop, hop, hop.  But marriage is there all the time, and sooner or later we can’t keep hopping.  We unzip the suit and let it all out.  It was always there underneath.  We didn’t show it to anyone especially not someone we were hoping would marry us.  Most of us don’t do this on purpose.  We don’t set out to deceive anyone.  We may not even realize where those flaws are, their roots and their fruits.


If the Christian story of the world is true, and if the Christian concept of marriage is real, this is precisely how the gospel works its way into us and helps us.  Marriage is a means through which grace is pushed deeper into our lives than we would on our own.  Marriage is a means to get at the deep deceptions that dwell in us because of our God-loss.  And a key component of this view of marriage is that this grace comes to us in any kind of marriage.  Bad or good.  Fulfilling or unfulfilling.  This grace is the realization that Jesus Christ is a spouse that marries the wrong person on purpose.  He marries people who are not lovely, but he loves them into loveliness.  Finding out you married the wrong person may be the only way you can figure out how much you need to accept Christ’s marriage proposal to you.