The Americans & How to Stop Being Fearful

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Elizabeth: “You know what I wish, as I fall asleep every night?  That I’ll wake up and not be worried.”
Phillip: “About what?”
Elizabeth: “Everything.”
Phillip: “You can’t live like that.”
Elizabeth: “Show me another way.”
from The Americans – conversation between two deep cover KGB spies living double lives in America.

Most of us aren’t living double lives like the spies in The Americans.  Well, at least we aren’t doing it on purpose.  But we do worry a lot.  The spies are worried about getting caught; getting exposed for being something they are not.  They are always looking at download (2)every person and every situation from a posture of threatening their existence.  We are worried about…about what?  What are you afraid of?  The money running out?  The kids going off the rails?  Your health going down the drain?  We look at things threatening us too.  What if the economy tears away our livelihood or age or disease steals our health or bad people turn our children into bad people?  How will we survive if that happens??  Spies develop elaborate cover stories and engage in activities intended to keep their secrets safe. In The Americans the two main spies have gone so far as to have two children together to make their fake marriage appear real.  The children don’t even know they are pawns in international espionage.  We have our own cover stories though.  We build elaborate defenses to keep us safe and happy.  We build financial walls.  We pursue education or skills we think will keep us valuable.  Some of us do have children because we want to feel our lives are meaningful.  The thing you fear the worst will be very close to the thing you believe you can’t live without.  And you may go to bed worrying about it on a regular basis.

Worry is strangling in slow motion.  Worry will not make you better at your job.  Fear will not improve your parenting skills or make you a better lover.  It will choke friendships and marriages and keep families from fulfilling their highest goals.  It will chain you to places and jobs and people you should leave behind.  Fear needs to be ruthlessly eliminated from our lives if we are going to live well.

There is only one solution for getting rid of worry and fear, and it is counterintuitive.  The way to defeat our fear is to embrace a higher fear; we must have a huge fear to defeat our little fears.  The Bible teaches this.  Our fear of everything else is supposed to be swallowed up in the fear of God.  We are not supposed to deny the fears one by one.  They exist.  They are real.  Some of our worst fears are going to come true.  We don’t deny these things; we deflect them with our fear of God.  How does this work?  What is fear?  It is a focus uponscreen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-11-42-am some object.  It is something we must reflect upon in relation to our lives.  If you are afraid of clowns and I tell you there is a clown in your living room, what are you going to do?  Stay away from the living room!  You’ll go out of your way to avoid that room.  Fear is a reference point.  Remember what I said about the spies – everything in every situation had to be looked at in relation to their lies and blowing their cover.  A new man in the corner cafe reading a newspaper could be the FBI or the CIA staking them out.  No rest for them, ever.  If you keep your reference point on your bank account, your marriage, or your children, you will be afraid for those things all the time.  If you move your reference point to God, you have only him to fear.  What is higher than God?

OK – I admit there is a hole in this method of getting rid of fear.  If we move our reference point onto God, we also have moved our fear to the person with the greatest potential to destroy our lives.  No one has more knowledge or power than God.  No one could do more damage.  Not only that, how do we know what our relationship is with God?  If we are going to reposition everything relative to God, we have to know how that works.  How do we know what He thinks of us?  How do we know its safe?  How do we know that fearing God is any different than fearing anything else?  Because of the gospel, we can answer those questions.  In the gospel fear is actually turned inside out.  Whereas all the other fears (reference points) cause us to build defenses in order to keep the fearful things away, the fear of God lets us take down all the walls.  Why?  Because the One who had all the knowledge and all the power took all his knowledge and all his power and bent it down to help us, not to destroy us or condemn us.  This is the Christian gospel – the good news – and it is either true or it is not.  If God did what the Bible says he did for us, we can be sure that none of the things we fear outside of him are fatal to us.  Paul sums it up in his letter to the Roman Christians: if God is for us, who can be against us?

So I will show you another way.  Believe the gospel.  Believe God was and is willing to give up everything to have a relationship with you that is based on love not effort.  This is what Christians call being “saved” or being “born again.”  Either way, it is a completely different way to live that deals with our fears without denying or suppressing them.

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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.

A Man’s Take on a “Gentleman’s” Take

An article titled “A Gentleman’s Take On Why Women Should Never Settle For Less Than They Deserve” showed up in my Facebook feed today.  I don’t know what is more funny/sad; the article itself or the commentary it is accumulating.  Go read it for yourself ladies and see what it makes you feel.  Guys go and read it too and ask yourself if you downloadwant this man around your wife, sister, daughter, grandmother…any female you actually love and respect.  Does this sound like a gentleman?  The author obviously believes he is a gentleman, many of the commenters agree, both male and female, and over 27k people shared it so far.  Why is this getting so much traction?  This article’s take on women is so demeaning as to be a bad joke; a parody I’d expect out of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.  The author unknowingly illustrates his own point.  The reason so many women lower their standards is that the standard is so low that he can seriously pass off patronizing womanization as gentlemanly!

Earlier this week I wrote an article about the effect of more and more men using pornography.  Ultimately that effect is the objectification of women; reducing women to things rather than beings.  A Gentleman’s Take shows you the result of a porn saturated male mentality.  Not that the author himself is a porn user, I have no idea about that, but he writes from a culture where porn has dumbed down both men and women to the point where a man can assign himself not only the title of gentleman, but can purport to speak for all gentlemen on a web site that calls itself “The Voice of Generation Y,” in an article so silly, immature, and condescending as to be written by a horny 13 year old boy in any high school freshman english class.  The picture accompanying the article itself contains specifically pornographic elements intended to do what porn does; titillate and attract.  And the content reveals that gentlemen read poetry, roll their r’s, and like to get a few vodkas into a woman before they gently and oh-so-politely invite her into their bedroom (which is probably in his parent’s basement).  Evidently gentlemen are not very humble because other men are just “losers” who are “not worth the squeeze.”  The author ends by suggesting that women go out there and find a hopeless romantic (like him) because they are men not boys.

To the porn saturated mind, women are primarily objects of desire.  Men and women alike adjust to this reality.  Men maneuver to obtain the object and women maneuver to become more desirable.  Men who lack one tool to obtain their desired objects will find others.  The same with women.  The interplay between the sexes has always operated like this to one extent or another, but porn amplifies it by making sexual satisfaction of desire so readily images (1)obtainable that men can get whatever they want out of a digital woman without opening a door, buying a dinner, or meeting her mother.  Women are competing with cheap digital hookers for the attention of men.  This is how an article written by an obvious womanizer gets widespread acceptance.

How can we all, men and women, escape the lowering standards?  Go on a war against pornography?  Root it out of popular culture?  Men need to become men and women need to become women, not within the confines of a romantic relationship, but before the eyes of God.  Kierkegaard said there was only one “sin unto death” – one sin that would kill us as dead as dead can be – and that it was trying to become a self outside the presence of God.  Ladies, if you try to become your self merely in the presence of a man, even the best man, a true gentleman, you will never be all you were meant to be.  Your standard is too low.  Gentlemen, if you try to shape your self in a way that makes you acceptable to a woman, even the most lovely and worthy lady, you will not become all you were meant to be.  Your standard is too low.  God’s opinion of us is so high that every other opinion is not only a low opinion, it is a life-stealing opinion; it is death unless it is taken in relation to his opinion.  Don’t think so?  Try consoling your daughter when the boy she is dating decides someone else is better than she is.  Watch her wither.  What will you do for her?  Tell her another boy will come along?  His opinion will restore her to life?  For how long?  The best boy may grow into a man and give his whole life to her, but there is a helping-handsday coming when sweet lips cease to speak and a gentleman’s touch is cooled by death.  And that opinion is forever lost.  She must have a higher opinion and truer opinion, a permanent opinion.  There is only one man who gives this and gave it and promises to keep giving it.  The gospel is God’s opinion of us.  It is the promise not to hold us to a higher standard, but to lift us to an impossible standard.  This is the answer to our pornographically broken world; to accept his elevation.

“And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Are You Looking for the one or THE ONE?

Compatibility_1

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.

You’re Closer than it Appears

objects-in-mirrorObjects in the mirror are closer than they appear.  Why?  Because the mirror bulges in the middle.  Imagine the mirror as plastic wrap spread across a frame.  If you took a ball and pressed it into the wrap it would bulge outward taking the shape of the ball.  This is a convex mirror.  Light reflects differently in this kind of mirror, bouncing off at an various angles.  In a flat or planar mirror light reflects at ninety degree angles virtually recreating a picture of the object being reflected.  In the  convex mirror on the passenger side of cars the different angles of light compress the image in the middle and expand the image at the outer edges increasing the field of vision by about 30% but making  reflected objects appear to shrink.  Both mirrors are useful in their place.  If you want to see around a corner you’re going to need the convex type, but if you are trying to put in your contact lenses a flat mirror is going to be your best bet.

Have you notice how some people have a wider perspective than others?  They can see things other people don’t see.  On the other hand there are people who are very good at reflecting exact pictures of what they see.  Same light, different reflection.  Mirrors have warnings.  People don’t.  In relationships it is often a good thing to suspend judgment about who saw something in a certain way until you have a better feel for their perspective.  Flat mirror types often feel like the picture they see is getting distorted by convex mirror types.  Convex mirror types often feel like the flat mirror types aren’t looking at the big picture.  Both perspectives have value and can be combined to  help you safely navigate your relationship.

Talking About The Trash

27garbage_600Most couples I see for marriage counseling stopped talking about their relationship long ago.  There was a time when we first met that we stayed up all night long exploring our ideas, our pasts, our dreams.  We wrote them and spoke them and pondered them when we weren’t together.  If we don’t put forth an effort to keep talking like this, it won’t be long before we only talk logistics.  Who is picking up dinner or the kids?  How much money is in the bank?  What time is the meeting?  Who is taking out the trash.  Years of neglecting our heart talk in favor of logistics means the old pathways are harder to find.  They are awkward to reopen.  They become foreign.  Getting back to real things takes time and trust, and many times it takes community.  People who help us hear each other again.  People who remind us of what we were and show us how we can be again.