Will We Ever Be Happy?

Falling in love is a wonderful experience. You’re on top of the world, and you feel like you’re the luckiest person in the world, hoping it’ll last forever.

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Then it starts to change.

At first it just doesn’t feel the same. Then comes the pain, followed by the realization that it’s over. Soon, you’re singing the oldie from the Carpenters, Goodbye to Love.

Too many marriages in the United States end in divorce, and many of those who stay together aren’t happy. The burning question is this. What are you and your spouse going to do to make sure you stay together and are happy?

After we’d been married five years, my wife and I came to a point where life was hard. We didn’t have enough money to pay the bills. She was stuck at home with a toddler and an infant. She noticed that I invested a lot more time, energy, and thought in my work than I gave to our marriage. We were both dissatisfied and unhappy. We weren’t getting enough sleep. Stress was high. We got angry easily, and didn’t laugh much. We also discovered that men and women speak different languages. She was too emotional, and I was too insensitive.

One day, I came home from work and my wife met me in the kitchen. Without hesitation, she blurted out, “Are we ever going to be happy again? Will our marriage ever be good again?”

I told her, “I think so, sweetheart. I’m not sure, but I think so.”

It would have been easy to throw in the towel and call it quits. Just as easy to start blaming, accusing, and getting angry with each other. Or maybe even look elsewhere for love and affection, and have an affair.

But we didn’t do that. Instead, we decided to do our best to be kind to each other, treat each other right, and see what happened.

Eventually, the joy did return. We got through that dark time, and we’re glad we did. But we needed to help each other through the process.

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When the Lights Go Out

It was Friday night, we’d gone out for dinner, and barely made it back into the garage before the downpour.

When the power went off, I was writing at my computer and my wife was reading an ebook on her tablet. The plan was to watch a movie a little later, but there we were with no electricity, no lights, no internet, and no television.

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“What do we do now,” she asked.

I reached into the desk drawer for the flashlight that doubles as a cell phone power source, plugged in my phone, and turned on the mobile hotspot so we could maintain internet connection. Then I walked over to the kitchen pantry where we keep two battery-operated camping lanterns, pulled one out, and placed it on the kitchen counter, where its light sprayed throughout the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Not a lot, but enough.

Lights On

For the next hour, rain poured from the sky as if God had picked up the Atlantic Ocean and was dumping it on us. Linda took the lantern over to the couch to read; my laptop had plenty of charge for me to finish the work I was doing.

Although the rest of the house was dark, and the temperature grew warmer because the air conditioner was off, we didn’t have a crisis when the lights went out. During the previous weekend, we had checked the batteries in those emergency lamps and charged my mobile power back-up. Because we were ready, there was no emergency when the storm caused a blackout. We didn’t panic, and there wasn’t a crisis.

The same can be true if something terrible happens and life itself comes to an end. If we’ve taken time to prepare in advance, even death isn’t a crisis, and we don’t have to panic.

In Philippians 1:21 the Apostle writes, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That doesn’t sound like a man who is afraid of the dark or of death. He was prepared for whatever might happen.

Job is another who had a deep confidence when facing the storms of life. Despite all the pain and ugliness that he faced, he still declared, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).

When the lights finally came back on, we watched an old Alfred Hitchcock movie starring James Stewart and Doris Day. It was a lovely evening—despite the storm raging on the outside.

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Look What Amazon Delivered

Jeff and Barbara posted this picture on Facebook with a note that said, “Look what Amazon delivered today! We’re looking forward to reading it together. We’ve always been grateful for the wisdom you shared with us in the past. PS How do we get this autographed?”

Jeff & Barb Hall Pic Holding WisdomBuilt

My good friends and I used to work together, once upon a time, and amazingly, they STILL decided to get the book. Since they’re in Utah and I’m in Florida, we’ll figure out how to get together, go out for dinner, and do a personalized, one-on-one book signing. I love you guys, and hope you enjoy the book.

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking at Peoples Church

Tomorrow morning, Sunday February 10, Linda and I are speaking at People’s Church, 3800 Recker Highway in Winter Haven, FL. There are two morning sessions, 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and we’ll be at both.

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The theme for the morning is “Created for Unity” and focuses on the importance of developing and maintaining unity as husband and wife. What can you do to get unity? What prevents it? What are the results if you do maintain unity? And what happens when you don’t?

This is the second of a four-part series on relationships called “Woven Together.” Pastor Mike Spivey started the series last week. Linda and I have the second session tomorrow and the third session next week on the 17th. Then Pastor Mike will conclude with the fourth part on February 24. The principles we’re talking about are relevant to all relationships, by the way. So if you’re not married, it’ll still be helpful. If you’re able to come, it’d be great to see you.

When the Ship Sinks

Dorchester 1Fifty-five minutes past midnight on February 3, 1943 the USS Dorchester was on its way to Greenland with more than nine hundred men on board. Captain Hans Danielsen, aware that German U-boats were in the area, had ordered the men to stay ready and keep their life jackets on, but many of them disobeyed the order because the life jackets were uncomfortable and impossible to sleep in.

Four Army chaplains were on the ship: a Methodist minister, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Reformed Church pastor. All four had been Boy Scouts. All four were brand new lieutenants in the Army. All four were ready to serve their Soldiers, their country, and their God. All four were prepared to give their lives if necessary.

When the torpedo hit the ship, the lights went out. A lot of people died instantly; more died in the water. Others were injured. Men who were trapped below began to panic, looking for their life jacket, trying to find a way to the top deck so they could abandon ship.

As soon as the chaos began, the four chaplains sprang into action. They encouraged panic-stricken young men, guided Soldiers towards the upper deck and to the lifeboats, and helped them find life jackets. When there were no more life preservers to be found, they took off their own and gave them away in order to save the lives of a few more men, knowing that it certainly meant they themselves would die.

Dorchester 3Two hundred thirty men made it into the rescue boats that night. As they looked back at the sinking ship, they saw the four chaplains standing on deck, arms linked, praying and singing in Hebrew, Latin, and English.

What do you do when your ship sinks? How do you respond when your world is at its darkest and there seems to be no way of escape? Or when the future holds no promise and there seems to be no hope?

If Ecclesiastes 3:1 is true and there is an appropriate time and season for every purpose under heaven, and if different times and seasons call for different actions, then how we live, how we behave, what is appropriate, or what is best, may be more a matter of discernment than following rules. There is a time to shout and a time to whisper, a time to drop the bomb and a time to lay down the weapon, a time to wear the life jacket, and a time to give it away so another may live.

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An immoral man behaves inappropriately for selfish reasons. A moral man does what is right because of legal, humanitarian, or religious obligations. A hero rejects selfishness, takes his moral obligations into account, then discerns with artistic altruism a course of action that will benefit another human being, even when that act may bring harm to himself. That’s what love does. That’s what genuine spirituality aims for. That’s what Jesus had in mind when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Most societies pay tribute to their heroes, and the four chaplains of the Dorchester are heroes who deserve that honor. They could have lived longer, ministering for many more years, making a difference, perhaps for thousands of people. Yet, discerning the time and the season, they chose to whisper, “I love you.” They decided to take off their life jackets. “Here, take mine.” They loved the men they ministered to, knowing it certainly meant they would die, and in making that decision, they painted a magnificent work of art.

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Attitude Check

los-angeles-2679490_1920I used to drive more than fifty miles to work, and the same distance home in the evening. The traffic was usually pretty bad, often rainy, and as you’ve probably experienced, other drivers are sometimes not very nice. When I started despising drivers who made stupid decisions, I developed a bad attitude and realized I needed to do something about it.

After praying, I decided to come up with a phrase I could say whenever another driver irked me. Here’s what I ended up with.

You are a fabulous human being,

fashioned in the indelible image of the Creator.

After I memorized the sentence, I started saying it whenever a driver did something dumb or dangerous: ten, eleven, a dozen times a day. Nobody else knew what I was doing. I’m the only one who heard me, even though I said it out loud. It helped me remember that every man and every woman has the divine image, even those who are not living for the Lord. Even those who are terrible drivers.

world-549425_1920Being in God’s image and likeness is an important part of the Judeo-Christian world view. We’re not merely the product of a godless evolutionary process. While we may have many similarities with the animals, what distinguishes us from the rest of creation is the image of God. The very first page of the Bible says, “God created man in His own image; male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism poses the question, “How did God create man?” And then provides the answer, “God created man male and female after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”

To be in God’s image has two meanings. First, it means we are like him. Second, it means we represent him.

How we are like God refers to his activity and character and the ways we are like him. God communicates. He creates. He relates. He loves. He keeps his word. He is loyal. He is compassionate. He has knowledge. We can make these same statements of human beings, because we are fashioned in his image. We have the ability to create, to communicate, to relate, and to love. We have moral capabilities such as loyalty and honesty. We have an ability to show compassion. We have the capacity for knowledge. And like our creator, we have the ability to make our world a better place.

The fact that we represent God has a different focus and a different starting point for how we think and live. The emphasis is not on how we are like God, but that we represent the Lord. We represent God and his values to the planet and to other people. We represent him in matters of social justice and spirituality, which is why Christians should be involved in the community, setting an example of alleviating pain in the world, and caring for the needy.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20 the apostle writes, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ.” Not only do we have the divine image, we have the Holy Spirit in us, another powerful reason for understanding we are to represent the Lord at all times, even when driving on the freeway.

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Why We Write

Pen 100A friend of mine ministers to college students at a state university. Much of his work is meeting with people one-on-one, leading small group discussions, teaching bible studies, and preaching in local churches. But, a couple of years ago, he believed the Lord was leading him to start writing.

So, he did. Soon, he had written a short book about what it means to encounter God and live life on a higher level.

No agent or publisher wanted the book, but that was OK, because he didn’t write with the hope of “being published.” He wrote out of obedience to the Lord, and that was enough. He self-published the little book and made it available via Print-on-Demand and as an ebook.

About four months later, he got a call from a missionary/evangelist overseas. The guy on the phone had met several men who converted to Christ because of an ebook they found on the internet, and he wanted to let the writer know of the impact he was making on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

scroll-1410168_1920There may be any number of reasons why people write. Some do it as a form of personal therapy; it’s one way they work through their own issues. Some people write to entertain their audience; they have a gift for storytelling, and people respond to them. Still others write because it’s their job, and they have to make a living. This man writes simply because God told him to.

In Colossians 3:17 the apostle says, “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (HCSB).

Whatever your reason for writing, do it faithfully and joyfully as unto the Lord. The issue isn’t whether you get a big contract from a major publisher, or post your work on a blog, or make it available as an ebook. If the Lord called you to write, then write, and trust Him for the outcomes.

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Watering the Pinapple

pineapple-627290_1920Three or four years ago, a friend gave me the top of a pineapple his family had eaten. He told me, “Plant this in dirt and it’ll grow. It sometimes takes a few years, and doesn’t even need a whole lot of water.”

So I put the thing in a plastic grocery bag, put it in the garage, and forgot about it. A year-and-a-half later while cleaning the garage, I found the parched pineapple top and assumed it was dead. But then I thought, “Why not put it in a pot with some soil and see what happens?” I started watering my experiment once in a while, and after a few months, new life sprouted. When it got to about 20 inches tall, I transplanted it in the back yard. Within another few months there was a pineapple growing in the center of the plant.

There are times when it seems like your marriage is dried up or dead. It might have been months or even years since you’ve paid attention or invested in the relationship with the one you used to love and care about the most.

But it’s not necessarily over. It’s not too late to plant new seeds of love and kindness, to offer a timely word of encouragement, or to start “watering the pineapple.”

If you decide to start fresh, you’ll need to be patient. My pineapple had been dried up and discarded for over a year, and when finally planted, it took months to begin to sprout, and then another year or more before the fruit appeared. It just takes time. Sometimes a lot of time.

It is just as likely that when you begin to express loving, healing thoughts and words, it might take a while before you start to see new life in your marriage. So be patient. Keep on investing in your marriage. Continue loving. Be genuinely interested in your mate’s well-being. It’s going to be hard at first, but if you are willing to hang in there and continue treating each other right, your marriage can be restored.

Couple 3Several years ago, we went through a pretty rough time in our marriage. We didn’t like each other. We were pretty unhappy. Things weren’t going well. I came home from work one day and my wife asked me out of the blue, “Are we ever going to be happy again.”

“I don’t know, Sweet-heart,” I answered. And I really didn’t. “How ’bout if we just try to be nice to each other, don’t do anything that we’d come to regret, and see what happens.”

Six or seven months later, we could tell that the joy had returned to our lives. We could smile at each other. We could laugh together. We enjoyed being in the same room. But it didn’t happen automatically, and it didn’t happen fast. We had to invest in each other, and we had to be patient.

Perhaps you’ve discarded the idea that you can be happy, or that you can have a good marriage. That pineapple in my back yard is a good reminder that even when things look lifeless, there’s still hope. You can reignite the love and the joy in your marriage too.

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Let Go of the Past

suitcase 1When we say a person is carrying a lot of baggage, what we mean is there has been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it. We often have trouble letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

There’s a Biblical Principle of Marriage in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritually, in order to fully live in the present we have to let go of the past. If we want to enjoy the Christian life and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, we have to allow God’s grace to set us free from our past, and move forward in a new direction, with different habits and attitudes, forming a different lifestyle that is shaped by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. This might entail ending some relationships and forming new ones.

Relationally, if we want today’s marriage to succeed, we have to stop focusing on previous relationships, good or bad, and live the life we are currently called to live. We can’t afford to live in the past.

While Genesis states that it is the parents who must be left in order to form a new unity, there are others besides parents we must leave behind as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover or spouse. There may be a number of people and situations that have to be included in what we let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, sports, or any number of things.

Future Past

One couple lost a son in a boating accident. The woman drove her husband to divorce because she was unable to let go of the pain and loss, unable to heal, and unable to stop blaming him. She couldn’t let go of yesterday, so it ruined today.

But it’s not only the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes we have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, the perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth, fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete whose playing days have come to an end is often headed for emotional and relationship disaster. A business person or a Soldier whose career comes to an end might find it hard to stop living that life and transition to retirement. Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work can have a tough time accepting the new reality, and letting go of the previous physical ability.

It is crucial that we understand the power of forgiveness. When we forgive, we release ourselves and others from the pain and injustice of the past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t happen quickly. It happens slowly, with a little understanding, and with some confusion. It has to sort out the anger, the pain, the betrayal, and the injustice. When forgiveness finishes its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and liberated.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. We typically carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group Point of Grace sings a song called “Heal the Wound.” The words of the chorus deal with the scars that might remain for a lifetime.

Heal the wound but leave the scar

A reminder of how merciful You are

I am broken, torn apart

Take the pieces of this heart

And heal the wound but leave the scar

RiverOne middle-aged couple recognized that they still carried some of the baggage from their past, so they decided to do something about it. They had both been in a previous marriage, and still felt some attachment and affection for their exes. They also felt guilt and pain because of some of the decisions they had made early in life. They called their pastor for guidance. He suggested that they create a private ritual, during which they would identify the aspects of their past that they wanted to be free from. They also talked about how to forgive each other, and how to receive God’s forgiveness. They took a month to plan, and then went camping. The second day, they took a hike along the river, until they came to a suitable spot. They both wrote down the specifics of what they wanted to let go of. Then they read them to each other. They prayed and asked God to wash them, forgive them, and help them to let go of the past. They also asked each other for forgiveness. Then they threw their lists into the river. Watching them float downstream was therapeutic. The river represented a washing or cleansing, and they were able to start fresh, committed to each other, committed to living in the present.

To the degree that a couple is willing and able to leave the past, they have an opportunity to create a new unity as a couple. The opposite is also true. To the degree that they cannot or will not let go of the past, they will be unable to create the unity essential to growing a healthy, happy marriage.