7 KEYS TO LIFE-LONG LOVE: Valentine Advice for Women

7 KEYS TO LIFE-LONG LOVE: Valentine Advice for Women

“Dear Pastor,

Please help. My man has gone into a shell and I can’t get him out. He used to be attentive, warm, and affectionate, but now he lives in his own world.

Don’t get me wrong. I know he loves me. He works hard and pays the bills, and helps around the house, and takes the kids to soccer practice, but he’s just, I don’t know, gone somehow. He walks with God and has good friends, but he is distant from me, operating at an emotional remove; civil, but not engaging, polite, but perfunctory. I long for the connection we had in our first years together. Is he having an affair? I don’t think so, but something is wrong. What can I do?”

That lover’s lament is fictitious, but close enough to similar stories I’ve heard in counseling to make the point: long-term romantic success isn’t easy. Worse, many women have no clue about the things motivating their man’s behavior. (Hint: neither does Cosmo).

Thus, today’s Valentine advice for women: Seven ways to build long-term love.

First: Validate his need for masculine approval.

“One motive … compels men like few others,” wrote Patrick Morely, “It is foundational, perpetual, and insatiable:” A man’s need for his father’s affirmation. You might wish your approval would be enough, but it isn’t. If your man has unresolved issues with his dad that have caused pain for him, gently encourage him to seek peace and reconciliation.[1] If his father is absent, as is the case for many men, encourage him to let God be his father and let men of the church be his mentors. He will love you for it.

Second: Validate his need for accomplishment.

Every man has “an intense desire ‘to do,’ to master his world, to shape the course of events. Every man has a desire for significance, meaning and purpose; to accomplish something with his life, especially in his work. [2]” Validate that. Pray for him to find his purpose, be his greatest cheerleader in it, and celebrate each step he takes toward fulfilling it. He will thank you for it.

Third: Validate his financial pressure and don’t increase it.

The pressure to achieve a higher standard of living is relentless and stress inducing. The best thing you can do is understand the pressure he feels to provide you with the best of everything and let him know that a used car is OK, that cheap dates are just fine, and that you can wait for that expensive honeymoon until you’ve been working long enough to afford it. Do that and he will dig for ways to spend money on you.

Fourth: Be a loyal companion.

Men are notorious loners. They learn early to keep their guard up lest someone take advantage of a vulnerability. They need a partner in life that they can trust with their weaknesses as well as their strengths. That kind of trust takes time to build and is easily broken. Ridicule him or betray his vulnerabilities and you will lose him. Keep his secrets. Prove that he can trust you, that you will not take advantage of his vulnerabilities, and he will kill himself to show his appreciation.

Fifth: Speak his love language.

Most women can talk rings around most men. It’s just the way we’re wired. Unsurprisingly, many women say that their love language is words of affirmation and many men—most in my counseling experience—that theirs is physical affection. “Whatever there is of me resides in my body,” writes Gary Chapman in his bestseller, The 5 Love Languages. “To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.” You may have many reasons not to touch him, but he is only hearing one thing: “she doesn’t love me.” Whatever the language, learn to “fill his love tank” with it and he will reciprocate.

Sixth: Feed him.

But you knew that.

Seventh: Let him lead.

Laura Doyle, author of The Surrendered Wife, “used to think that communication was the key to a better marriage. But that wasn’t how it turned out … Even though I have a degree in communications, trying for years to “communicate” with my husband never got me the connection I craved, but the principles of surrender did. One of those principles is that a surrendered wife is trusting where she used to be controlling.”

Interestingly, Doyle didn’t plan it that way, but like many strong-willed, strong-minded women, she realized she had to make a choice to let her man be in charge. For example, men will not prioritize a task list like women or do things in the same order when they get to the task. She wants it done her way right now so, she does it now. The man thinks, “OK, I’m not needed here, won’t go there next time.” Soon, a pattern emerges and next thing you know the woman is leading and the man is disengaging from the relationship.

The need to control is generated by impatience, sometimes, and fear, but not trust. The Apostle Peter wrote: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope (or trust) in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear,” (emphasis added).[3]

Ladies, don’t let the words “submissive” and “master” throw you off. In our context it means follow the leader. If you’re in a relationship with an abusive man do not submit to it and do not make excuses for him. But if you’re a woman who is destroying her romance by over controlling her relationship I encourage you to let go of your fear, trust God, and let your man lead. You will be amazed at the results.

Happy Valentines Day!

[1] Patrick Morley, What Husbands Wish Their Wives Knew About Men, p. 16 & 30.

[2] Ibid, pgs. 35 & 46.

[3] 1 Peter 3: 5-6

SEVEN KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL ROMANCE: Valentine Advice for Men

SEVEN KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL ROMANCE: Valentine Advice for Men

My senses were assaulted at Wal-Mart last night. I strolled in, minding my own business, looking for our favorite frozen desert, when the smell of flowers and candy and a huge splash of red and pink displays hit my eyeballs like a baseball bat.

“Oh, yeah! Valentines!”

Call me distracted, but don’t call me unconcerned about matters of the heart. I’ve been happily married for 34 years and doing marriage counseling for almost that long. Those displays reminded me that flowers and candy, important as they may be, are only the icing on the cake of a robust romance.

Here men, are the top seven things you need to succeed in love. Ladies, I’ll get to you next week.

ONE: An All-Out Commitment to Christ – (See Rom. 12:1-2 & John 15:1-4). All of us bring the baggage of our sinful nature into every relationship. When the flames of passion dissipate, as they always do, the baggage remains. Our lovers often want to “throw the baggage out,” so to speak, but that creates conflict. Abiding in Christ, making our lives a constant sacrifice to God and conforming our minds to his frees him to take out the trash and replace it with real love before it begins to stink up the relationship.

TWO: The Heart of a Servant-Leader – (Matthew 20:25-28). Successful lovers lead through service. Begin by leading yourself. Your lady wants to be your wife, not your Momma, your co-laborer not your wet nurse. She needs you to grow up, maximize earning potential, use money wisely, and stay out of unnecessary debt. She needs you to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, learn how to make good decisions, and be strong in the challenges of life. Not superman. Not unwilling to take advice and counsel. Just strong, full of faith, trusting God, looking ahead, paying attention, adjusting to contingencies, pursuing a goal, refusing to wither in the face of adversity.

She also needs you to take out the trash, run the vacuum, do the dishes, change the baby and—if you can do it without poisoning her—cook from time to time. It boils down to this: study her like a good waiter watches his table and provide for her needs. You will be amazed at what this will do for your love life.

THREE: Commit to Communicate – Men who succeed in love don’t hide behind the strong-silent illusion of manhood. Learn to say what you need and ask for what you want. Make sure you know your love language and how to speak hers.

FOUR: Conflict Resolution Skills – No one grows up knowing how to resolve conflicts in romance. We leave them to fester at our peril. Successful lovers learn how to have a productive argument, and then have one. They learn how to say they’re sorry, and mean it. They even learn to say that they were wrong, sometimes ;-). After that, they celebrate with ice cream. Good conflict strengthens love. Poorly managed conflict leaves deep wounds.

FIVE: Commit to Commitment – Hollywood will tell you otherwise, but all loves ebb and flow, wax and wane. Remember this: it’s the promise that keeps the love, not the love that keeps the promise.

SIX: Practice the Art of Forgiveness – The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Romantic relationships are fragile flowers. They cannot bear the chill of resentment. They wither under a grudge. Forgiveness lets the sun in and keeps the life-giving water flowing.

SEVEN: Work at it Like a Gardner – Loving a woman is like keeping a garden, not like fixing a car. A car needs a timing belt once every 100,000 miles. Romance needs daily attention like a garden needs a gardener. Every day he’s there, feeding it with the sunshine of his affection, pulling the weeds of conflict, watering it with encouragement, and fertilizing it with affirmation. And every now and then, maybe when Wal-Mart reminds him, he feeds it the Miracle Grow of flowers and chocolate. A man like that will enjoy a fruitful garden of love. The guys who don’t get weeds.

Succeeding at love is not brain surgery men, but it does take humility, commitment and work. Trust God, practice these habits and you will succeed.

BIBLICAL THINKING ABOUT IMMIGRATION

Sofia[1] smiled as she greeted me and asked for the birthday that pharmacies use as identifiers. Then she frowned and said, “I don’t see that one yet,” in gently accented English, “but I will check.” Coming back to the counter she smiled again, “They are filling it now. I’ll just put your other items to the side and take care of these customers, then call you when its ready?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” I said and stepped back to watch her work. We’ve known her since she arrived as a fourth-grade student in my wife’s art class, unable to speak a word of English. My oldest daughter, home from college at the time, became one of Sofia’s first friends by using her rudimentary Spanish to help the young immigrant understand assignments. Later, she gave her life to Christ through the ministry of Young Life, which our church supports.

The pharmacy was busy, but Sofia—now a junior college student and pharmacy tech—gave each customer the same cheerful smile and professional service. It never occurred to me to ask how she got here. I was just happy to see her doing so well, enjoying her work, and learning the business from the bottom up as she pursues her dream of becoming a doctor.

That happy story can be repeated millions of times all over America, as can the unhappy ones, like the increased drug trade, murders, welfare abuse, and human trafficking stories associated with illegal immigration. President Trump was elected in large part because he—famously or infamously, depending on your point of view—promised to bring illegal immigration to a screeching halt by building a wall and “making Mexico pay for it.”

Thinking Biblically about immigration means more than taking sides based on the latest heart-warming or inflammatory headline. It requires sorting through the balance between justice and compassion.

Scripture commands compassion for the stranger, as in Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”[2] Mary and Joseph, too, “found no room in the inn,” but did find refuge from the tyrant Herod as strangers in Egypt. Yet it also emphasizes justice: 20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” [3]

Empathy is easy. It comes naturally to us when we see others struggling. But empathetic compassion without justice, without something to keep it in balance, creates chaos and perverse incentives for criminal elements. Like Felix, my Uber driver earlier this month, who paid a smuggler $12,000 to get him across the Mexican border. “It’s a lot of money,” he said in a thick Cuban accent, “but safer than the Florida Straights in an overloaded boat.”  He’s working with a sponsor now to try to obtain permanent legal status, but the threat of instant deportation dogs his heels.

Barak Obama bypassed Congress when he created DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals), a clear overreach of his executive authority. Some call it a compassionate move, but not if it creates incentives for more illegal immigration. Senator Ted Cruz, in a response to WORLD Magazine’s Evan Wilt on questions about DACA, explained: “Any action on the individuals in the DACA program could potentially lead to chain migration of 3, 4, 5 million additional people here illegally.”[4] In other words, if Congress doesn’t bring justice to bear on Mr. Obama’s attempts at compassion, more chaos will ensue.

Americans, including some Christians, have a checkered past when it comes to welcoming immigrants. Even though most of our ancestors were once émigrés dreaming the American Dream, we are no strangers to bigotry. How soon we forget.

We are also oblivious to more pragmatic considerations. Birthrates are at historic lows, which is no surprise.[5] Since Roe V. Wade, we have killed 58 million babies, each a potential taxpayer. The Social Security Administration says that the fund is healthy, and fears of its collapse are unsubstantiated, but it also says benefits may need to be reduced by 25% by 2035 and taxes increased to keep it solvent.[6]

Some complain that immigrants take American jobs, but fewer Americans are willing to do the “dirty jobs” Mike Rowe made famous. Many business owners report that it’s because of our too liberal welfare system. Why work when you can eat for free? Most immigrants—even and perhaps especially the illegals—see dirty jobs as opportunities. Those kinds of jobs have always been the first step up on the multi-generational ladder of immigrant success. And the legal immigrants who work them pay taxes.

Historically, America welcomed immigration and immigrants helped build America. Biblically, we are commanded to treat them compassionately without ignoring justice and order. Politically and economically, it seems like common sense to create a path for illegals to become legal, and to reopen the doors to immigration once the injustices created by unwise compassion have been addressed.

[1] Name changed to protect privacy.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ex 22:21). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 16:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Marvin Olasky, Here to Stay? WORLD, Sept. 2017. https://world.wng.org/2017/09/here_to_stay

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/health/united-states-fertility-rate.html

[6] https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n3/v70n3p111.html

POSTMODERN PATH TO JESUS

POSTMODERN PATH TO JESUS

Don Everts and Doug Schaupp tell what skeptics taught them about their path to Christ.

“Evangelism is a process and God is the author of it.” I learned that proverb the hard way in the 1980’s when, as per my seminary’s requirements, I tried each week to lead total strangers to Christ using a four-step presentation of the gospel. I was never any good at it.

If you love people and want them to know Jesus, but can identify with my evangelistic frustrations, you will benefit from Don Everts and Dough Schaupp’s, I ONCE WAS LOST: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus. The book helps us find our place in God’s process.

People aren’t projects nor are they targets, but creatures made in the image of God with all the curiosity that entails. But Everts and Schaupp explain that the gospel suffers from bad branding that has quenched that curiosity.

“Christa doesn’t trust Christians because she was once told she’s going straight to hell. A professor told Ryan that the Bible is full of mistakes. Bonnie read The Da Vinci Code and thinks the church is one big conspiracy. Julie was invited to a church outing but felt like an outsider the entire time.”

Everts and Schaupp worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on college campuses. The book comes from the stories of 2000 mostly millennial people who came to Christ over the course of ten years.  Though everyone’s story is unique, the authors identified five thresholds most post-moderns pass through on their way to the Kingdom: Trusting a Christian; Becoming Curious; Opening Up to Change; Seeking After God; Entering the Kingdom.

Each threshold has a chapter and includes advice on how to help our friends cross that threshold, as well as some common mistakes like my favorite: giving five-gallon answers to six-ounce questions.

“The better we listen, the better we can serve those on the journey. If someone hasn’t even crossed the first threshold, for example, we can stop handing them copies of More Than a Carpenter and realize they are at a place where considering the claims of Jesus isn’t the issue; just trusting a Christian is the issue.”

Nothing is more rewarding than introducing a friend to Jesus Christ and watching that relationship grow. I ONCE WAS LOST will help you do that.

Can We Hear Them Now?

Can We Hear Them Now?

Facebook, 2018: A young father shared the moment he felt his daughter in her mother’s womb.

“I’d only briefly felt this baby move before. I tried to feel her move again and again to no avail. But finally, lying there last night next to her mom, snuggled up close because of the cold, I felt kick after kick. Long after my lady had gone to sleep, there was our little one still kicking away. There ain’t words to truly describe what my heart felt.”

I read that post and smiled, remembering what it was like to be a young father many years ago, when before my daughters had voices they spoke to us with kicks.

Another story I saw this week took me back even further, to the moment the world stopped hearing the voiceless words of children in the womb.

Dr. Richard Selzer, an enlightened surgeon, fully committed to the latest medical philosophies, and desiring to learn the best techniques, wanted to watch a new procedure. He’d heard of it, but never seen one performed so he asked a fellow physician if he could attend.

The patient was 19 weeks pregnant, lying on the table, prepped for the procedure. The surgeon took a syringe filled with a prostaglandin solution, sank the needle up to its hub into the woman’s belly, pushed the plunger down and left it there for a few moments.

Selzer described what happened next. ““I see something other than what I expected here. … It is the hub of the needle in the woman’s belly that has jerked. … Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.”

Slowly, the desperate fight for life faded. The needle stopped jerking. The voiceless screaming ceased, but not in Selzer’s head. “Nothing can argue against the truth of what I saw that day.”

That story, “What I Saw at the Abortion,” originally appeared in Esquire in January 1976, and appeared most recently in Marvin Olasky’s World Magazine interview with pro-life feminist Frederica Matthews-Green.*

The trajectory of Green’s life was changed by that brief paragraph in Esquire. Up until then she sported a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t labor under a misconception. Legalize abortion.” Now she is known by her most famous quote: “No woman wants an abortion like she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

Would that the trajectory of the world had changed with her.

Ideas have consequences and, as John Stonestreet says, they also have victims. The two greatest victims of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s were women, who lost the protection long afforded to them by traditional mores and the covenant of marriage, and children, who lost the protection not only of a two-parent home, but of the womb. Both suffer in abortion. Both need our help.

The women were voiceless until 2017, stifled by fear, or powerful men, or both. Now they are speaking and the nation is listening. Maybe in the context of so much truth-telling those other heretofore voiceless victims will also speak.

Can we hear them now?

*Marvin Olasky, “Path to Pro-Life: Overcoming Pro-Abortion Peer Pressure with Facts.” Interview with Frederica Matthews-Green by Marvin Olasky in World Magazine, January 20, 2018. https://world.wng.org/2018/01/path_to_pro_life

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

John Donne famously wrote,

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Nevertheless, everyone feels isolated, everyone feels alone now and then, perhaps especially during the holidays. It’s part of the human condition, a result of the fall. Eve caved to the serpent’s song followed closely by Adam, each seeking to be like God, only to find that they lost connection with God and each other. Loneliness began in the garden.

From that day to this every man, woman and child knows the ache of loneliness, the pain of separation from his fellows and his Creator. Loneliness assails us especially on significant anniversaries when we feel the loss of loved ones long gone. The divorced also feel the pain, with the added grief that separation was by choice rather than by chance.

It was with such melancholy mental meanderings that I turned to meditate on John 14:1-4, a passage so familiar that the words felt lukewarm on my tongue as I recited them back to God. Lukewarm that is, until I spoke verse three: “And if I go and prepare a place for you,” said Jesus to his downcast disciples, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

… that you also may be where I am. That little phrase lit a pale flame on the horizon of my soul that grew in magnitude like the sun rising in the porch window, filling it with warmth and banishing the night.

… that you also may be where I am, is Jesus telling us that he is just as unsatisfied with the separation as we are, that he knows the ache in our hearts, and that he is doing something about it.

… that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us how much he wants to be with us, even more than we want to be with him.

…that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us that we are welcome at his table no matter how inadequate we may feel about being there. It is he who prepared the way, not us, for he was the only one who could.

…that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us that we are not alone.

I don’t know where this meditation finds you today, perhaps full of joy and good fellowship. But if you are experiencing that existential ache, if you are feeling deeply the losses of life, Jesus offers the way home.

How? Funny, that’s the same question Doubting Thomas asked, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

THE MEMORY TREE

THE MEMORY TREE

The tree appears like magic every year, the day after Thanksgiving. Rising from the floor to its full seven feet, strung with lights and nothing else, a green canvas of branches waiting to be adorned by the master artist I married.

From old boxes emerge simple ornaments, each a reminder of years and blessings past. First the forty, communion cup ice cream sundaes, created the year we met.  Then twenty-five Nut Cracker characters, crafted from clothes pins our first year of marriage when we were poor as church mice. Twenty decorative fans follow, formed from folded Christmas cards and glue-on lace that second year of seminary poverty. Cross-stitched frames with our girls’ names find their favorite branches, gifts from Grandma’s hand. Miniature presents from the “My Gift is Me” story, wrapped in metallic green, red, blue, silver, and purple are accompanied by popsicle-stick sleds the girls made with Mom.

A starfish Santa that came from the lady who had a Christmas tree in every room – “Can we do that?” my dear decorator asked.

“NO!”

But she could make driftwood Santa’s to keep the solidified starfish company, and she did, along with thirty of our fifty-odd nativities, made of cloth, flower pots, fabric, wooden spoons, and everything you can think of. An angel from our missionary friend, a star from Sandie, in our then-new pastorate. And finally, on winter’s first whisper, sixty hand crocheted snowflakes, gifts from another pastor’s wife, because snow can’t fall till it gets cold.

I gaze with greater wonder each year. How does she do it? There is no plan, no scheme, no blueprint or photo of where to place each ornament. Even if I had one I couldn’t do it, not without her. She has the eye, the perspective, the balance of all the elements in her head. By themselves in a box they are just pieces of paper, thread, and popsicle sticks. Stuff other folks would throw away. But in her hands, they come together to form something money cannot buy: beauty.

Simple, lovely, one-of-a-kind, a memory tree never exactly the same from year to year, but always a powerful visual aid that the Creator-Redeemer can take whatever we give him, no matter how plain or simple, and arrange it into something beautiful.

Merry Christmas!