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New Normal

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There is this part of me that wants to just say, “Forget figuring out a New Normal. There is no such thing. Stop whining about it and just move on.” Life in these last couple of months hasn’t been Normal, and there’s no indication that it will ever come back to what we would have called Normal in February. It’s not too hard to be pessimistic about it.

But there’s another part of me that knows that eventually we will settle back into some kind of Normal over time.

Debbie and I were living in Las Vegas in 2008, serving a truly incredible church, Canyon Ridge Christian Church, there. When the economy did it’s Humpty Dumpty header off the wall and exploded into a gillion pieces that year, Las Vegas was devastated. At one point, we had a nearly 25% unemployment rate in our church. It was awful. We were confronted with the undeniable concept of a New Normal.

But Las Vegas made a pretty incredible comeback. Before the Covid-19 outbreak and shut-down, Las Vegas had more than rebounded. It had acquired an NHL team and an NFL team, and was blowing past its former economic high times. People who make money off economic growth were very much in love with Vegas’s New Normal. It was even more profitable than it had been pre-2008.

Las Vegas held its breath, waiting for the governor to disclose a plan to open the state back up. And as it held its breath, it laid off hundreds of thousands of employees of every kind. This New Normal is very ugly. Probably more ugly than 2008.

This isn’t isolated to Las Vegas. Nearly every part of our great country has been put in a strangle hold by the events we’re weathering. Every segment of our economy and national life has been very nearly wrecked by it.

The smartest epidemiologists and the smartest economists are making their projections about what the road ahead will look like. And from these projections we’ll construct some kind of model for the New Normal. Frankly, I have little confidence that it will be very accurate. Not many of the projections related to Coronavirus have been to this point. In some ways, we’re a little like Lewis and Clark. When they left St Louis, they knew some important things about their trek West, and had a limited map to begin working from, but it wasn’t long before there was no map to chart their way forward. They were making the map as they went. Turns out the Colombia River did flow to the Pacific Ocean, and that’s a good thing. But it’s headwaters were on the other side of the most daunting mountain range on our continent. And that wasn’t so good.

We’re drawing a map of the land as we go, too, in a metaphorical sense. We’re using pencil, not ink because there will be lots of corrections. Frankly, I’m glad I haven’t been called on to do any of the drawing on this.

Or have I? The map of New Normal for the country is somebody else’s work. But the map of New Normal for me is my work. Nobody else is responsible for drawing my New Normal map.

The point of what I’m posting today is to challenge you to join me in mapping out a New Normal for our own lives and families. I’ve got a few suggestions:

  1. Think through what you want to keep of your personal and family patterns you’ve been in for these last couple of months. Some of these things won’t be much different than life before Covid-19. But there are some things that have been significantly different in your family life for the last couple of months. What of them do you want to keep?
    I’d say things like hand-washing and household hygiene would be good to keep on the list.
    Maybe things like routine phone and/or video calls with friends and family would be good to keep.
    Eating meals together would be good to keep.
    Eating out less might be good to keep. It would probably be good for your budget.
    Deciding what’s important to get done and what isn’t a 3-alarm fire would be a good one to keep. The concept of not reacting to everything like it was an emergency is a good idea, Covid-19 notwithstanding.
    Getting adequate sleep and going at a little slower pace might be a good pair to keep, if you’ve been able to pull them off.
    You’ll need to flesh out your own list.
    Write your stuff down and keep it somewhere you won’t lose it, and somewhere you can read it to remind yourself of these things.
  2. In the same line of thought, what are some things you don’t want to keep in your New Normal.
    Like doing all your kids’ school online. They probably don’t like it. You probably don’t. I guarantee their teachers don’t.
    Or staying at home all the time. That one goes on my list.
    Or eating EVERY meal at home. This one also goes on my list.
    Believe it or not, for me, anyway, not being in my entire family’s presence all day every day goes on my list. And my entire family consists of my wife, our cat and me.
    Going to church only online gets on my list, too.
    You’ve got your own things.
    Write them on the list.
  3. Call a family meeting and see what they think of your list. Let them add to it or take away from it. The point of making the list to help you and your family choose your own New Normal. It won’t do this (help you choose your own New Normal) if it’s “your list.” It’s got to be theirs, too. And the only way to get there is to give them input. So have a family meeting and talk about it.
  4. Then create a document that you can refer back to. I mentioned this earlier. You may want to put it on the refrigerate or in some other prominent place so that it can be referred back to. This is the best way to keep it from being another set of good intentions that never actually get into your life patterns.
  5. Make a commitment to live by your New Normal as much as is possible. This document isn’t the Ten Commandments. So don’t make them so set in stone that you can’t be flexible. The point is to help you live by a chosen set of ideas so that you can make the most of your life together.

If you and your family don’t choose your own New Normal, somebody else will choose it for you. That’s an immutable law of life. So take the initiative and be intentional about it. Harvest as much good as you can from this inconvenient and often very difficult season. An effort like this is recommended in Ephesians 5:15-16. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

So go ahead and make the most of this opportunity.

M.I.A.

Back in October, Debbie and I moved into our new home (well, new to us) here in Edmond, OK. We hired an independent company to move the huge truckload of stuff we had moved from NE Iowa to a storage unit in Edmond back in August, and unload it under the supervision of Debbie and our daughter Becky in our new place. The generosity of dear friends made this possible. It would have been almost more than I could have born if we would have had to do it all ourselves. God bless you, my unnamed friends.

We had intentionally downsized when we loaded the truck in Iowa. If we hadn’t, we would never have been able to get everything on the truck. In fact, we ended up leaving a lot of things behind for friends to have and use.

The biggest truck I could rent was packed to the gills. If there was a square foot of unused space in it, I couldn’t see it. And all of that was unloaded into the storage unit we rented here in Edmond, where it could wait a couple of months until we could find and get into our house.

A strange thing happened after we waved goodbye to the movers and started unpacking and getting our things arranged in our new digs, though. Some pretty important things weren’t waiting for us to find their new place. A coffee maker. A subwoofer. Some other things we knew we had put on the truck in Iowa, but weren’t in any of the boxes in the garage (our staging area for unpacking) when it was time for them to find a place in the new house. I have no idea how they would have not made it from Iowa to the storage unit to our new house. Our friends in Iowa who packed the truck were so conscientious, they wouldn’t have let anything stay behind that we didn’t intend to stay behind. Our friends and family who helped us unload into the storage unit here in Edmond wouldn’t have left anything on the truck. The guys who did the last move were honest guys and worked hard. I’ve got no explanation. Our things are simply…

MISSING IN ACTION.

None of these things missing in action were deal-breakers or show-stoppers. I’d be a happy boy if they somehow showed up and could be accounted for, but none of them were irreplaceable. We replaced them, and until we did, our quality of life hasn’t suffered too much.

That’s the way it goes with missing physical items. Usually they can be replaced. You can buy coffee makers and subwoofers and a whole lot of other things. But, as you already know, there are other things that can’t be replaced. At the top of the list is YOUR PRESENCE.

Once a moment is past, it’s gone and won’t come back around. If you weren’t present for it, it’s gone. There might be a similar moment sometime later, but that particular moment won’t be coming back. When it’s gone, it’s gone. And if you string enough of these moments together, you’ll end up being M.I.A.

I’m telling this from my personal experience. I’ve confessed to you before that for the first 17 years of my ministry career, I was consumed with being a star in the youth ministry constellation. If possible, the brightest one. I loved my work and I loved kids, but what I loved even more than the work with kids was being recognized for my work with kids. That desire to be recognized as a “fabulous youth minister” drove me to spend my time and energy doing lots of youth ministry things.

Most of these things were good things. Most of them were part of my attempt to introduce kids to Jesus and help them grow up in Him. It’s hard to take exception with that. The problem isn’t that what I was doing wasn’t good. The problem is that nobody can actually do two things at once.

When I got to year 17, as I was preparing to make the transition from youth ministry to family ministry, I looked in the rear view mirror to do some thinking about my youth ministry career. One of the several things I realized was that I had spent most of my waking hours chasing down and trying to raise every kid in the country except MY kids. It was not a happy realization, but probably one of the most important realizations of my adult life.

I’d love to write that from that day onward I never ever cheated my family. That they were always number one in every way from that time forward. But, if you know me, you know that’s not true. I’ve missed the mark many times, even though one of the boldface bullet points on my personal mission statement is to be a world-class husband, dad and papa.

The balancing act on this is dynamic, not static, and never ending. The need for balance won’t go away. I doubt that I’ll ever not be juggling my ministry commitments with family. My commitment has been to spend more time with my family, and actually be present when I’m there.

In this season of forced isolation, the odds favor that you’ve had more time with your family than you would otherwise have had, and probably more continuous time than you’ve ever had. Enough more that you’re probably ready for the isolation to end and some normal activities to start. If you’ve got kids at home (especially young kids), you passed that point about 6 weeks ago. No judgment here. If our kids were young and we’d have been doing the homeschool gig, it would have taken me about a day to cross the line. I’m stir-crazy and it’s just Debbie, me and the cat. And we’ve had relative freedom to come and go. My hat’s off to moms and dads with little kids at home through this.

Against the backdrop of that, I want to challenge you with the idea – the reality, actually – that even though you’re cooped up in the same house for this extended time, it’s possible for you to be M.I.A. It’s possible that you can be there but not actually be present. I’m not casting judgment here. This is another thing I know from personal experience. Been there; done that.

The challenge is to make every effort to BE PRESENT.

Almost nothing will be as physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing as making this effort. Showing up and being present is hard work. It will leave you tired at the end of the day. For lots of us, it will leave us more tired than if we had been doing physical labor all day. For moms of preschoolers, you’ll have been doing physical labor all day, in addition to the emotional, mental and spiritual work of being present. So when you’re worn smooth out by the end of the day, you’re not a wienie. You’re a normal human being.

I’m not writing this to shame you or to make you want to punish yourself for the times you didn’t show up. Punishing yourself about that won’t motivate you to be present. It, in fact, will do the opposite. So don’t punish yourself. Just do the dance of life. Draw a line and say, “OK, from here it will be different.” And when (not if) you slide back into your old M.I.A. ways, draw another line and start over. Rinse, repeat.

I’ll make a suggestion for this and then shut it down. It’s already too long.

Take a post-it-note and write, “SHOW UP.” On it. Then stick it on your bathroom mirror, where you’ll see it shortly after you get up in the morning. Then, in partnership with the One Who is never M.I.A., show up.

It Burns My Britches…

5 Things That Burn Me Up About WordPress And Web Sites | Joy of WP

It’s popped up a few times on my Facebook feed, but I didn’t do much more than glance and move on. But this morning I had occasion to look closely at remarks made by a Harvard professor toward Homeschooling that had been in those Facebook posts. What I read burns my britches!

The prof’s name is Erin O’Donnell. She writes in Harvard Magazine about the “risks” of homeschooling (here’s a link for the whole article: read online). Here are just a few unedited cuts from the article.

She writes that homeschooling not only violates a child’s right to a “meaningful education,” but “may keep them from contributing to a democratic society.”

It gets worse. Under homeschooling, she writes, without the intervention of government-based education, children will not “grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.”

Addressing one of the concerns homeschoolers sometimes express, …“requiring children to attend schools outside the home for six or seven hours a day… does not unduly limit parents’ influence on a child’s views and ideas.”

And then the coup de gras, “… do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? … I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

If your britches aren’t burning a little by now, you may need to start buying your clothes somewhere else.

It seems clear to me that Professor O’Donnell is uninterested in the academic records of homeschooled youth. Their college entrance exam scores consistently outperform public school educated students by many measurables. Their grades and scores as college students reflect this, too.

Apparently, this Harvard professor isn’t interested in academic education at all. Her interest seems to be cultural indoctrination. Her agenda has little to do with the metrics of what has been the objective of education for lo these many generations. What a student has mastered in terms of subjects of study is of secondary interest when compared to what they have swallowed of cultural doctrine.

What I can draw of her view of the homeschooled leads me to wonder if to this Harvard elite, the rest of us who aren’t a part of her peer group are hillbillies who hold our worn out britches up with bailing wire and spit tobacco juice on the dirt floors of our log cabins.

This is unfair of me. Surely not all Harvard professors hold O’Donnell’s view. But I wonder if she has rubbed shoulders with a homeschooled individual?

If your britches are burning like mine are, what are we supposed to do? Good question. I’ve been wrestling with this, myself.

The reality is that not many of us have a Harvard Magazine-like platform to purvey our alternative view. My own platform is tiny. Yours is perhaps bigger than mine. But the size of our platform isn’t so much the issue as what we will do with what we have at our disposal.

Here’s what I’ve got. Social Media. I will be posting my opinions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I don’t have thousands of followers, but the several hundred I have have several hundred, and if what I write is winsome enough and thought-provoking enough, they’ll share it with their followers, who just might share it with their followers and so on, and so on, and so on.

Letters to the Editor. I’ve never had one published, but I’ll be making a run at it with this topic.

I have friends. Not thousands, but lots of them. And even with the lock-down (which is mercifully coming to a several-phased end, praise God!), I connect with and communicate with them pretty regularly. I’ll be bringing this up as a point of conversation when we connect.

I know a few influencers. Not many, but a few. I’ll be doing what I can to influence the influencers.

And MOST IMPORTANT, I am a child of the God Who is the Author and Giver of Life, and I will be asking Him to frustrate the advice of Professor O’Donnell and her ilk. There’s actually biblical precedent for this.

When King David was fleeing Jerusalem (in 2 Samuel 15) as his son Absalom was executing a coup, one of the things David prayed was that God would “…turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.” Ahithophel was Absalom’s most trusted advisor. You can read the rest of the story for yourself, but this is exactly what God did. Ahithophel’s advice was disregarded by Absalom.

I hope you can tell I’m not promoting that we gather a mob of angry homeschoolers with pitchforks and torches to storm the citadel of Harvard and expunge the evil from among us. If, like me, you’re angry about these ideas, then let’s take up other implements and advance truth with dignity and respect.

I must be careful to be observational, not judgmental, with this. I am not the Judge and I don’t have the right to judge another. Scripture makes this plane. But I do have the responsibility to be observant. This observant thing prods me to call out truth and to call out error. This is a somewhat prophetic role, but I think every Christ-follower has the mandate to pay attention. Me, you, all of us.

I do not know the character of Professor O’Donnell. I know nothing about her other than that she is on staff at Harvard University. And even if I knew more of her, first-hand, I have, as I said, no right to judge her. But as I observe what she has written and Harvard Magazine has published, I observe error. It won’t pass the “sniff test.” When I sniff it, I smell… Well, I’ll just say I don’t leave what I’m smelling on the bottom of my boots after I step in it…

Lobbing Grenades

Mk 2 grenade - Wikipedia

There’s an old Country song on a Ricky Skaggs album about a girl who’s outgrown her roots, “high-headed.” It has this line in it: Don’t get above yer raisin’, stay down to earth with me.

I’m not much of a Country Music fan, but I like Bluegrass, and Ricky Skaggs is good at that. I might never have heard this song if Ricky hadn’t put it on the one album of his that I have in my library (which I got because of one of my favorite songs, “Somebody’s Praying”). If I had otherwise heard it, I would probably have just laughed at this song. But when I listened to it yesterday on my walk, it struck me that this might be pretty good advice for most of us as we walk through what’s been called “The Opening of the Country.”

There’s lots of controversy about when and how this should be done. So many opinions. And lots of emotion connected with the opinions. If you’re on any kind of social media or listen to or watch any kind of news, you can’t have missed it. Battle lines are being drawn. Like we needed that. Very powerful political grenades have been lobbed. And, by the way, no matter which side of the isle you call yours, your team has a warehouse of grenades to lob, and they won’t hesitate to lob them.

The problem with lobbing grenades is that grenades don’t discriminate. They just blow up everything in the area to which they’re lobbed.

OK, so what’s that got to do with, “Don’t get above yer raising”? And also, what’s any of this got to do with marriage and parenting? Good questions.

It comes down to what pride can do to inflate opinion. Pride-inflated opinions generally promote grenade lobbing. Here’s what I mean. It’s simple and complex at the same time.

The simple side is that in America, we’re all permitted to have our own opinion. We’re permitted to write about it, talk about it, sing about it, make movies about it. That’s guaranteed by the First Amendment. This is true even if the opinion that’s being written about, talked about, sung about, etc., is illogical and unsupportable. If it’s your opinion, you’re entitled to it. It’s one of the wonderful blessings of living in a free country.

It gets complex when your opinion and mine don’t align. What I do about our differences of opinion is maybe the biggest indicator of my emotional maturity. And what you do with this shows your emotional maturity.

When two emotionally mature people come to an intersection of opinion, they’re able to say, “That’s interesting. It’s not the conclusion I’ve drawn. How did you get there?” in a respectful tone. If discussion ensues, the outcome may be, “Let’s agree to disagree agreeably.” You may easily see that there aren’t that many people who are this emotionally mature.

But when two emotionally immature people’s opinions clash, grenades are likely to be lobbed. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” “How can you be a part of what everybody knows is a hoax perpetrated by the devil himself?” “You’re just an idiot.”

If the participants are sufficiently immature, a fistfight may ensue… It may only be a verbal fistfight on social media, but some sort of violence will happen. If the immature people are pride-invested in their opinion (and generally they will be), their level of pride sets the level and intensity of violence. These people usually leave a wake of broken relationships behind their boat.

In a marriage or family, when pride rises above respect, there will be some sort of violence. Somebody’s going to get hurt. Somebody will win and somebody will lose. The problem is, in a marriage, if one spouse loses, you both lose. In a family, the same principle applies, although children need secure boundaries, which sometimes will feel to them like they’re losing.

Pride is what nudges or drags us above our raisin’. It inflates us and our opinions. And it makes us oversensitive to most any difference of opinion.

If you don’t think your state should be opened back up, you’re welcome to that opinion. If you think it should have been opened weeks ago, you’re welcome to that opinion. But, please don’t make your right to your opinion your excuse to lob grenades at people who don’t agree with you. Please don’t judge me because I don’t agree with you.

If you feel you’ve got to convince me to change my opinion, you won’t get there with judging me. The door gets slammed on judgementalism. If you want to convince me to change my opinion, humility and respect will open the door, though.

So here’s what I’m going for. Moms and Dads, model humble respect to your kids. If you’ve got a strong opinion that you believe is supported by facts, good for you. But what you do about that well-supported opinion is actually a classroom for your kids. So teach them well.

If you’re a husband or wife, almost nothing will wreck your affection for each other as quickly as judgmentalism over differences of opinion. Don’t go there. Most of the time you don’t have to. Take the path marked, “Humble Respect.”

Just, please, don’t get above yer raisin’.

What One Thing

A long time ago I read a very simple, but supremely challenging, question: What one thing, if you began doing it today, would have a dramatic positive impact on your life?

It was one of the most challenging questions I’d ever come across. And one of the most difficult things I’d ever tried to do. Actually, I think I made a difficult thing even harder by misunderstanding how to go about working this question out. I thought it was about the 0NE-AND-ONLY thing I could or would change or do to make a dramatic difference in my life. That makes a difficult challenge very nearly impossible. I don’t have a crystal ball to tell me what this magic one thing might be. I began praying about it, and I didn’t get any word from God on it. So I gave up on it for a while. A long while. “It’s beyond my pay grade,” I thought. And in that form, it’s way over my pay grade.

But recently the question has come back into my mind in a better way, I think. It’s not the ONE-AND-ONLY, supreme thing I could or would change or do. It’s what one thing would/could I begin doing TODAY that would make a difference in my life TODAY. Just one thing. Not the holy grail of one things. This changes almost everything about how I think about this question. It becomes do-able.

There are lots of things that would make a positive difference in my life if I would do them today. More exercise. Less Facebook. Fewer calories. Fewer hours in front of the TV. More time reading. More time writing. More time telling Debbie how much I love her and how amazing I think she is. More time communicating with my friends. More time connecting with my kids and grand kids. And this doesn’t even get into the classic Christian things: more time in prayer, more time in Bible reading, more time telling others about the hope of the Gospel.

Narrowing the focus to one thing is hard. But my question isn’t, “What is the ONE-AND-ONLY…” It’s about just one thing that would make a difference today. I don’t – and you don’t – have to have a tournament between all the things you could choose from to decide what’s the most noble or the most Godly, or even the most effective thing. Take “most” out of it. Just pick ONE. Unless it’s immoral, we’re good to go.

For me, today, the One Thing is riding my exercise bike – something I haven’t done in many weeks. It won’t solve all my problems. It won’t make me a wonderfully successful blogger or husband or dad or grand father. It won’t even burn the last 10 pounds I’m trying to lose. It won’t effect world peace. But it will make my life better today. If I develop a habit by doing this daily, it will have a long-term positive benefit. Those kinds of long-term habits start with me doing it TODAY. And then tomorrow. And then the day after that. But even if I don’t make it a life-time habit, it will make my life better today. It would be better if it became a long-term habit, but that doesn’t take the value out of it for today.

So why am I writing about this in what’s supposed to be a marriage and family blog? Because if you want to be a better spouse or parent or any other role in your relationships, Doing One Thing Today will set you up to be that better person in your roles. “Set you up” is the operative thought. This Doing One Thing Today thing is just a useful starting point. But if you have no starting point, you’ll never reach a good destination.

I don’t get to tell you what your One Thing should be. That’s not up to me. It’s between you and God’s Spirit, Who will nudge you toward a good One Thing, if you ask Him to. I won’t even make any suggestions. You and the Holy Spirit are way smarter than me or any of my suggestions. I’ll just offer the challenge for you to spend a few minutes in focused thought, in partnership with God, right now about what the ONE THING YOU COULD DO TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR LIFE.

And then do the One Thing.

And then tomorrow, ask and answer the question again, and see what God might go with it. I’m pretty sure it will be good.

Yer welcome.

Testing Motives

Motive - Highway Sign image

One of my Marriage Counseling Mantras is TEST ASSUMPTIONS. You can read my rant about this here: https://homeworkwithst.com/2020/04/13/mis-information/

A companion, maybe even a sibling of that mantra is TEST YOUR MOTIVES. Of the two, I think testing assumptions is usually easier. Testing your assumptions will often require that you swallow your pride and ask the other person if what you think they mean is actually what they mean. This is sufficient to keep lots of people from testing their assumptions. That’s too bad, really. Swallowing pride leaves a little after-taste, but doesn’t usually give indigestion. And the pay off is so much bigger than the cost of swallowing one’s pride.

Testing your motives is harder. Getting to the core of why we want what we want, or do what we do is a much more difficult process. Because it’s a core issue, it takes deep thought. Objective deep thought. And that’s what makes it so hard.

I don’t mean to judge you, but most people are not good at either objective or deep thought. We’re more likely to be subjective and shallow. It takes less time and effort. And besides, I’m the center of the universe, aren’t I? Or at least one of the centers. So, as a universe-center, I don’t have to examine or justify my motives. I just go for what I want. Or I expect you to provide it. Or at least stay out of my way.

That’s a pretty pessimistic view. Unfortunately, it’s accurate for a whole lot of husbands and wives. Not you, of course. But you’ve probably got a neighbor or a family member who’s this way.

This kind of deep self-reflection takes a lot of maturity. This may explain why it seems to happen so seldom.

I read once that getting to the core or root of motive takes at least three “whys.” This intrigued me, so I read the article. Turns out it’s the same “Why?” question asked three times.

“I think I’ll go play golf.”

“Why do you want to go play golf?”

“Well, I love to play and I’ve got the time and money.”

“Why’s that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why do you want to play golf, since you have time and money?”

“Because I love to play?”

“Why do you love to play?”

“Step aside. I’m putting my clubs in the trunk.”

You can see that answering the three “whys” takes some thought. And time. There are only a few things I can do at the same time I attempt to contemplate on this level. I can drive and ponder. I can sit and ponder. I can also play golf and ponder. Maybe golf was a bad choice for an example…

It’s not wrong to have desires. Unless your desires are wrong. This isn’t always an easy thing to call, though. Some things are clear. Refer to the Ten Commandments for a starter on this. But some things are more difficult to judge.

What about when my desire conflicts with yours? Or what about when a desire will bring short-term satisfaction, but will in the long run keep me from reaching higher, more important goals and objectives? What about desires that are OK in one context, but not in others? There are those, you know. While some things are always wrong, no matter the context, there are other things that are wrong in some situations because they’re inappropriate, though not morally wrong. Have I sufficiently muddied the water?

But the context I want to set this in is your marriage. Think back over the last 6 months and identify any conflict you had with your spouse. My theory is that the vast majority of marriage conflict comes from either untested assumptions or untested motives. As you look in the rear view mirror of your marriage, see if this isn’t true.

Untested assumptions almost always lead me to assign wrong motives to the other person, and that will result in some kind of defensive behavior on my part. Untested motives almost always leave me pushing for what I want without regard to the bigger picture, and in marriage, my spouse and her needs. Both cases are grenades with the pin pulled.

Getting to the real reason you want what you want isn’t rocket science. It takes work and thought, like I’ve already said. But it doesn’t take any particularly rare skill.

It comes down to asking yourself and then answering the question, “Why do I want this?” The three whys would be a good exercise for this.

Here’s a few other questions that are worth asking:
– “Is there any reason I shouldn’t do this?”
– “Who else will this effect, and how will it effect them?”
– “Will the result of going for this bring a short-term or a long-term benefit?”
(Not all short-term benefits are wrong, but there
are many short-term benefits that aren’t really
worth what they cost.)
– “What if I don’t go for this? What will that mean to my life?”

Ask whatever questions you want. The point is, ask yourself why. Don’t lock yourself up by going trough some big self-reflection thing every time you want something. You’d end up being a mess and making a mess. But building the habit of asking why is one way to keep your balance in a very dynamic world.

Simon Senik wrote a very insightful book a few years ago, titled Start with Why. It’s written to the business and organizational community, but it has tons of application in all human relationships. Part of his premise is that if you know your why, and can articulate it, you can persevere when the going gets tough. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing can trump adversity. It’s an idea worth diving into. And a book worth reading, even if you’re not in business.

For your marriage, testing your motives does many things, but two of the most important things are that it honors your spouse, and it keeps you from being (I’ll use a clinical term here) a selfish jerk. And those two things can make your marriage better, no matter how good it is right now.

Mis-Information…

Census is Asking the Public to Help Fight Misinformation Ahead of ...

In these weeks of isolation and captivity, I’ve found myself wondering where and to whom I should look for actual information. It’s not like there’s not enough information out there. That’s not the problem. I’ve got gigabytes of information at my fingertips. thanks to Google and thousands of sites on the Internet. The problem is that there’s so much information out there it’s overwhelming. I don’t know how to sift through it and find the real, actual information.

No offense, but if you’re not having a similar difficulty, you may not be thinking for yourself enough. Either that, or you’ve found reliable sites I haven’t found. I guess there’s another possibility. You may have a much more accurate sniffer than I do, and you can just tell the difference between fact and fake.

I’m a political conservative. You’ve probably already picked that up, though I’ve tried pretty hard not to be political with these posts. It could be my conservative bent that accounts for my low level of trust for most news sources. I’d like to think it’s also because I try to be a thinking individual and actually want to discover the facts and then make my own decision about what the facts mean, as opposed to having a particular agenda (conservative, liberal or somewhere between) more or less crammed down my throat.

It’s interesting to me that no matter what the issue is, conservatives feel their point of view isn’t being represented, or that it’s being disrespected and disregarded by media, and liberals and progressives think the same about their point of view. Did I write “interesting”? I think I meant exasperating. It’s a conflict and anger cycle that fuels itself.

I find this to be true in marriages, too. Not in terms of political views, but about feeling and assuming one’s perspectives and points of view aren’t being respected and accounted for. My experience as a counselor and a husband is that very nearly all marital conflict comes from untested assumptions. These untested assumptions are almost always wrong.

At one point, I thought the key was to eliminate assumptions and that would make conflict go away. Assumptions were the enemy, so just get rid of them. I don’t think this any more.

Assumptions are essential. If you had to make individual, processed decisions about everything in your life, you’d burn your brain up. When I flip the light switch, I don’t consciously process the passing of electricity through the switch and to the light. I just assume the light will come on. When I get in my car and start a drive to anywhere, I don’t process all the things that have to happen for an internal combustion engine to work and for me to reach my destination safely. I just assume that the car will start and I’ll be safe and will get to my destination fine. We assume thousands of things every day. God gave us the ability to make these assumptions as a gift.

The problem is that there are some things that are much harder to make accurate assumptions about than light switches and cars. At the top of this list is HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS. The reason is pretty simple. There are so many more variables with human relationships than with most all the other assumptions we make.

I’ll get to the bottom line here. The problem isn’t that we make assumptions. It’s that we don’t test and verify our assumptions. We tend to treat our untested, unverified assumptions as fact. Often in human relationships, they’re not facts. Lots of times, they’re not even close. This is the problem. Conflict often happens when we act on our untested, unverified assumptions as though they were facts.

Most of us make more assumptions than we think we make, usually in the form of mind reading. That’s what running with our assumptions amounts to. We assume we know the meaning, the motive, the intent of someone else without testing it or verifying it.

Debbie and don’t have a perfect marriage. We’re humans who make mistakes. I make untested assumptions and so does she. But after being married 45 years (46 next month!), we’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what each other thinks and feels. As in I bet we’d be around 75% accurate in the mind reading department. This may not be a world record, but it’s better than average.

If you got on an airplane and were handed a parachute and told it’s very reliable – that it works 75% of the time – how confident and secure would that make you? I’d say, “No thanks. When’s the next plane depart? And do they have any parachutes that have 100% reliability?”

You see the connection here, don’t you? The best you’ll ever do with mind reading will be less than 100%. And that means that your assumptions will be less than 100% accurate. Even if you’re really good at mind reading and feel you have the spiritual gift of discernment.

I’ve changed my approach from eliminating assumptions to eliminating mind reading. I’m OK with making assumptions as long as they’re tested and verified. But the problem is that we sometimes don’t even know we’re making assumptions. It’s so much a pattern for us, we don’t notice it.

But you better know that the other people in your life know it. Your spouse knows it. Your kids know it, if they’re old enough to do abstract thought. It’s probably not right to say that everybody in your life knows it, but I’ll say that all the significant people in your life – those close to you – who are old enough to think like adults know. What this means is that there are lots of people who are getting the backwash of your assumptions. Most of the time, it’s toxic.

So here’s my challenge to you. Make it a goal that you will eliminate mind reading. You do this by testing your assumptions.

This takes courage, but it’s not rocket science. You don’t need an advanced degree in human relations or communications. Here’s a simple line to start with: I need to check an assumption.

You don’t have to apologize. You don’t have to dance around the subject. You don’t have to be diplomatic (although in some cases it will be helpful if you can figure out how to do it diplomatically). You can be direct if you’re respectful.

If you test your assumptions before you drag them into an encounter, trust me, you’re much more likely to get good out of it. And when this becomes a pattern for you, your relationships will be empowered and set free to grow and thrive.

Good Friday

Who Died on the Cross? — Crescent Project

For most of us who are church-goers and Jesus followers, I’d guess this will be the oddest Easter weekend we’ve ever experienced. It will be for me.

I’m writing this on Good Friday. For the last many years, Good Friday has been the start of the busiest weekend of the ministry year for me. I was usually scrambling to either get the last pieces of the puzzle in place, or helping somebody else get it in place.

But this year’s different in many ways for me. This is the first Good Friday in 45 years that I haven’t been employed by a church. Good Friday and Easter weekend will look different for that reason. It’s the first time in a long time that I’m not responsible for some aspect of doing something – or at least participating in something – special with the days.

And, of course, like you, it’s the first time I’ve experienced Good Friday in captivity.

But while I’ll miss the unique Easter weekend gatherings at church – the crowds, the music, the Easter outfits, the baptisms – being sequestered and quarantined gives me a chance to do something I’ve not really had the luxury of doing in my ministry career: meditate on the meaning of Good Friday. It seems a shame, but I’ve always been so busy with pulling off Good Friday at church that I’ve never had time to dwell on the actual meaning of the day. I don’t imagine I’ll do anything dramatic. But I will meditate on it.

I don’t know if you and your family have traditions for Good Friday and Easter weekend. But if you don’t, this might be a good time to institute some that will take you beyond Easter Egg hunts (I’m not anti-Easter Egg hunts…). If you have some, this would be a good time to really go through them slowly and thoughtfully.

I have a tool and a suggestion for this. The tool is a video of less than 4 minutes. The suggestion is that if you have kids old enough to understand the basic meaning of Jesus’ death, you’d bring the family together and watch the video as part of your Good Friday.

Here’s the link for the video: http://kairosfocus.blogspot.com/2013/10/its-friday-but-sundays-coming-original.html

The darkest, most hopeless Friday in all of human history was the day of ultimate goodness in all of human history. My prayer is that God will bring that goodness into my heart and yours in a powerful and personal way.

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

YOU KEEP USING THAT WORD I DO NOT THINK IT MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT ...

The other day, I asked a young dad-friend of mine if he’d ever seen the movie, The Princess Bride. He told me he doesn’t do Chick Flicks. You’re kidding?! What Chick Flick would have Andre the Giant as one of the main characters?! I did my best to expand my young friend’s horizon by giving a few reasons he and his family should sit down and watch TPB, but I doubt he will. His loss.

I’m biased, of course, because it’s one of my top 10 favorite movies. It’s incredibly quotable. In fact, I’d say, inconceivably quotable. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll get the pun. If not, you should see the movie. (And with most of a month left for this quarantine, you’ll have plenty of time for it…)

Here’s 14 seconds that contains one of my favorite lines in the entire movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTRKCXC0JFg

There’s a word I’m hearing and reading a lot right now that I think fits in the “I do not think it means what you think it means” bucket. I think it gets used with the best of intentions, but if you think it through, it does not mean what they think it means.

The word is SELFLESS.

I believe that when it’s used, what they mean is a very intense and elevated form of the word unselfish. They’re hoping to convey the idea that some act is beyond common unselfishness and on to a level above that. I get that.

The problem isn’t with their intended meaning. It’s with the actual meaning of the word selfless. Look at it. Actually, you have to separate it into its two parts to look at it. Self. Less. Or literally, without self.

Here’s why this is a problem for me. I’m a word person. Too often, a picky word person. And this word means something, if you take it for what it tells you it means. Something that I don’t want for myself, and I don’t want for you. It means, literally, as I’ve said, without self. I believe this is both practically and theological impossible.

I do not believe God sent Jesus into the world to redeem us so that we would have no self. I believe He sent Jesus so that our selves could be redeemed and remade. For me, as I give Jesus and the Holy Spirit more and more authority in my life to do the redeeming and remaking, I become more and more the self God had in mind for me to be from before the beginning of the world. I think this is what Paul meant in Ephesians 1:4. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. This was His first, perfect design for us.

God isn’t in the business of making our selves better. He is in the business of making our selves new, re-built and remade into his first image of us. This is the point of 2 Corinthians 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

At the Wedding Feast in Cana, in John chapter 2, Jesus didn’t just make the water better water. He made it into wine, something it had not been before. That’s the idea I’m trying to get at here. God intends to make us not just better selves, but different selves. God’s design calls for our selves to be remade, made new.

I believe as we cooperate with Him, as He works in our lives through the Holy Spirit and the events he permits or brings into our lives, He is shaping us into this new, different self. Romans 8:29 says the goal of this work in our lives is that we will be made like Christ, conformed to the image of His Son. As this process moves forward in my life, I’ll begin to see more of Jesus and less of me in my self. But I won’t see my self disappear. Instead, I’ll see the self God had in mind from before creation.

This transformation doesn’t happen by leaps and bounds. It happens in millimeters. It doesn’t’ happen in weeks. Sometimes it doesn’t even happen in years. It happens in my life over decades. But as I partner with the Spirit of Christ, He changes my self.

I’ve heard people say that the death of Christ was a selfless act. I disagree. If ever there was a person fully in control, fully owning, fully living from His true self, it was Jesus. He didn’t become without his self when He laid down on that cross and gave Himself up for me. There was possibly no moment in His eternal life when He more demonstrated that He was in full possession of His self than in that moment. When He willingly gave Himself for me, He did this because He was in possession of His self, not because He was without it.

OK. That’s as deeply in the pool of philosophy and theology as I can go. I already can’t touch bottom, and I’ll sink if I go much farther in. But do you get my point?

God’s objective in our lives isn’t that we will become selfless, but unselfish. An unselfish person is in possession of their self, but not dominated by it. This possession-but-not-domination is how they can be willing and able to say no to themselves so that they can say yes to what is good for another. This is at the heart of Christian maturity.

So what’s this got to do with your family and marriage? EVERYTHING! Great families and marriages aren’t the result of selflessness. They’re the result of people who are in possession of their selves, and are learning how to be unselfish.

The question isn’t, “Are you still selfish?” Everybody still is. The point is to intentionally direct yourself to be unselfish.

If you have kids, you already know that your kids will pick this up from you through your habits and behaviors far more than by your words. You’ll need to talk about it, yes. And often. But talking about it without modeling it won’t do it. Your kids can see through that in a New York minute.

Here’s just a couple of suggestions on this unselfishness thing in your family life. First of all, notice it when your kids are unselfish. Praise them for it. Don’t throw a party or start a parade, but praise them for their unselfishness. Point it out. They need to know that you noticed.

Second thing: point out unselfishness whenever you see it. Every once in a while, you’ll see it in the plot of a TV show or a movie. If you’re looking for it, you can see it in news articles. You can see it at the grocery store, and in parking lots and pretty much all the places you go (once we one day get to go…). But you have to look for it and call it out when you see it.

Right now, unselfishness is on display as doctors, nurses, nurses aids, medical technicians, intake and administrative personnel, and janitors risk their own health (ultimately, their lives) by showing up for extremely long days and nights at the hospital. It’s on display in truck drivers and grocery store employees and postal carriers, and a few dozen other essential workers as they do their jobs. Point it out. In fact call it out so often that your kids will tell you they get it. And then keep pointing it out until they’re pointing it out to you.

Last thing: pray with your family for the unselfish people you see around you. Give thanks for their unselfishness, and ask God to give them stamina and protection as they do their jobs.

Yer Gettin’ On My Nerves…

OK. We’re on isolation for 30 more days.

You’ve gone through all but one puzzle in the game closet. It’s 1000 pieces of a picture of the ocean. You hate it. It’s the one you got as a White Elephant gift at your office Christmas Party. The one you’re saving so you can give it next year. Hopefully to the person who gave it to you.

You’ve played cards until the cards are too flimsy to shuffle, and the printing on them is getting worn off. Is that a Queen or a Jack?

You’ve worn a groove in your iPad from playing Solitaire.

There’s no more yard work you can do. Not on your own yard, anyway.

You’re reciting the lines of the Andy Griffith Show you’re watching before Andy and Barney do.

The walls are closing in.

In the beginning, you thought it might be kinda nice to stay at home and get some good family time in. You know, figure out how to simplify your life and how to use a home office. You sort of envied those people who “worked remotely.” And it was nice for a few days. But we passed a few days a long time ago. Now the family you were looking forward to quality time with is getting on your last nerve. If you hear, “MOMMY!” one more time, you’ll scream. Or worse, make the child who said it scream.

The refrigerator has been opened and closed so many times the bulb’s burnt out and the hinges are now in jeopardy.

And speaking of Jeopardy, you’ve watched enough episodes you’re thinking about seeing if you can get a Master’s Degree in trivia online.

Can I get an amen?

Times is hard, ain’t they? Sorry. I’ve been watching way too much Andy Griffith…

But these are trying times. Especially for parents of kids who are still at home. I’m pretty sure none of us has ever been through anything quite like this before. I’m not sure that if we had, it would have helped us be ready for what we’re going through now, though. And our kids are less equipped to deal with this time than we are.

I apologize, but I don’t have good advice for how to navigate this. No “5 Things To Do To Make This Time Awesome.” I don’t have a dozen things for you and your kids to do that will make this next month a joy. No big sermon about being positive and honking if you love Jesus. You can probably find all that on Pinterest or something.

The reality is none of us is going to get through this thing without a few bruises. And some of us will have some scars. There’s nothing I know of to keep this from happening. Put this many people in this kind of close proximity for this long, with this much at stake, and there’s just going to be damage. There are things you can do to limit the damage, but I very strongly doubt that anybody will come through this without some damage.

All I want to do right now is remind you of something you may already know.

You know how much your family’s getting on your nerves right now? You can’t get on God’s nerves that way.

This is really important. God never has to take a deep breath and back away to get space and perspective. He never has to disappear into the back bathroom and lock the door so He can calm down and not do something He’ll regret. Never. Lucky Him.

Here’s the reason. He loves you. Period. Not because you’re lovable. Not because you’ve done anything to make Him love you. He just loves you, simply because you exist. And His love is so perfect that nothing can shake it. You can’t do anything that will make Him love you any more than He does at this very moment, and you can’t do anything to make Him love you less than He does in this moment. It’s impossible for you to get on His nerves. He totally gets you, and He totally loves you.

Now, don’t mistake that to mean that He’s thrilled with everything you do. There are lots of things we do that He’s not thrilled with. But He is never not thrilled with you. Don’t ask me how He can pull this off. I can’t explain it other than by saying He’s perfect. This affection for us, this kind of crazy love for us is the result of His perfection.

I have a friend who says, “On my worst day, God’s nuts about me.” On my worst day, it’s hard to believe, but I believe he’s right.

There are lots of times I’m not nuts about me. I’m getting on my own last nerve. I’m sick and tired of how dumb and selfish I can be. I’m really worn out with how I make bad choices. But He’s not.

This is a hard concept for me to get my brain wrapped around. I’m still very much in the process of pulling it from the intellectual file cabinet into the real-life one. I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life.

But as I’ve been doing this, learning how to see myself and God in this way, I’ve discovered that I have a little wider margin before people get on my last nerve. It’s not magic, and I’m way not “there” yet. It’s not like nobody gets on my nerves anymore. And it’s way not like I don’t get on anybody else’s nerves. But it’s slowly happening.

I learned an idea from a friend in the Recovery World that’s helped me with this. Sometimes, H.A.L.T. gets in the way of me seeing God, myself and others through this lens of perfect, unconditional love.

Here’s what H.A.L.T. stands for: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These four things tend to make me vulnerable and touchy. They cloud my judgment and get in the way of clear thinking and me being the best version of me. When I’m Hungry, Angry, Lonely and/or Tired, it’s really hard for me to reframe things into this perfect-love-of-God thing. I’ll bet H.A.L.T. gets in your way, too.

It’s smart to pay attention, so that when H.A.L.T. starts to hijack life, we’ll notice it and address it. Just a thought. If it doesn’t help you, throw it away.

Learning how to see yourself the way God sees you is the point. It will be very hard – maybe impossible – for you to see others the way God sees them until you see yourself as He does. I think this is a legitimate interpretation of Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Don’t stretch it out so far it doesn’t work any more, but learn how to love yourself so you can love your neighbor. You know, the one you can’t get away from for another 30 days. The one who keeps trying to take the remote.

This simple prayer might help you. “Lord, I want to believe that I can’t get on your nerves. I want to believe that You’re nuts about me. But there are things in my history and memory and experience that push pretty hard against this. Remind me that You love me this way. Make it vivid in my heart and mind. And then help me treat other people this way. The way You treat me.”

Use your own words. But I think this is a prayer He wants to answer. And as He does, you’ll find people getting on your last nerve a little less.