Saturday, December 31, 2011

Taking Relational Risks In Dating

One of the frequent complaints I hear from our young women around our church goes something like this:

“Why won’t the guys step forward and ask us girls out on a date. We have some really great ladies around here.”

From the guys I hear something like this:

“With a lot of the girls in our community, I feel like I’m being measured for a suit I’m not sure I want to wear. I’m afraid it will be too tight. I think I would rather date someone from outside our church.”

Something’s wrong here.

The truth is, we have quality single men and women in abundance at our church. But only some of them are connecting. Our pre-married/pre-engaged class catches those that have stepped out. But what about the others?  What is holding them back?

I think part of the problem is that some of our single folks are hesitant to take relational risks.

As a guy, I might find that some girls have a pretty extensive list of expectations. Their ‘Must Have/Can’t Stand’ lists have been well-honed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be afraid of them. They might also be the ones that will go the distance in a marriage. Hopefully they are looking for good character. If that’s you, they might be right for you. Of course guys can have these lists, too, and the same advice applies.

What risks might a single girl need to take?

Break out of the pack of women you tend to travel with. It’s easier to approach a girl that is not always in the middle of a group of women. I know you feel safer with them around, but you will have better success if you make room for the more shy guys. And dress to be noticed, with taste, of course. Guys are visual by nature – make sure they don’t overlook you.    

This next part is for both men and women. Would you consider yourself “high maintenance”? Are you highly opinionated and verbal? You may attract the opposite sex, but they will not usually want to continue with you. If you get this reputation, you may be avoided.  

One of the advantages of being an older male is that I tend to see beauty in women that younger men may not see. Guys, take a sharper look around and look for girls that you may have missed at first glance. Their appeal and attractiveness is revealed as the relationship grows. Take a risk and ask them out.  

And ladies, don’t pass by the guys that are more introverted or shy. You may need to encourage them a bit by making it really clear that you are interested. Body language goes a long way here. Your eyes are powerful, and so is a calculated touch on the arm.

I am aware that it is awkward to have to exist in community with an “ex”, post break-up, and that is why some don’t want to date within the church. But it is also painful to have to move from a community that you love to follow someone from another church. There is a risk either way.

How about making a New Year’s resolution about this issue – and follow through.

Any thoughts?

Friday, December 23, 2011

What Men Want

Last night at my men’s group (going for about 17 years now, I think), the question came up about the best things about marriage and the most challenging.  Over the years we have asked this question several times of the married guys. Most of us are veterans of long marriages, but sometimes there are guys who have been married more recently.

What is interesting is that there are always similar answers. You might think that sex might be at the top of the positive list (especially for the newly-marrieds), or perhaps dual income or kids. But the most frequent answer is deep and intimate friendship – someone to do life with, someone to come home to.

For me, in addition to the daily friendship, I count having a shared vision and shared purpose as a really high positive as well. It’s not that we always see things identically, but our general trajectory is mostly the same.

What about the hardest things, the most challenging?

At the top of the list is conflict. For most guys, peace at home is of the highest value. I think that may be a huge reason why some men stay at work long after they need to. Or why they come home and hide out. They just don’t want to risk getting in a skirmish and perhaps feeling disrespected. When home is safe, men are happy.

When asked what the most desirable quality a woman can possess – again, no one talked about physical attributes (important, but not a list topper). What we came up with was this: kindness.  Does that surprise you?

Obviously, I can’t speak for the women – so ladies, what would be on the top of your lists? Do you value the same things that we men do?

Why I think talking about this is important is because the messages we get from popular culture are much different. The focus seems to be on the superficial, and the temporary. Without active dialog, we may make wrong assumptions, only to wonder why our reality doesn’t match up with the things we are being sold. 

It’s a great time of the year to offer the gift of friendliness to the one you love the best.    

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Short Life

As I was sitting in front of another young squabbling couple the other day I thought to myself, “Life is so short. Do you really want to spend this precious time arguing over relatively minor issues, when you could be enjoying the one and only life you have?”

Then I thought, “I wonder how many people have thought that about me, when I complained about something inconsequential.”

These days Nan and I get through most conflicts in less than five minutes – tops. But, sometimes I forget how long it has taken to get to this point. I can assure you that we started out passionate fighters, full of self-righteousness and indignant with offenses.    

I don’t know exactly when this started to slow down, but I don’t think it had to do with running out of energy for conflict. I think it had more to do with becoming more emotionally and spiritually mature (as a result of lots of hours of counseling). It became harder and harder to reconcile our emotional immaturity with the Word of God.

Maturity is not a result of growing older. It’s a state of the mind and heart. I know people in their 50’s, 60’s and older who are still operating emotionally the way they did in their teen years. It is sad to watch. But I also know young adults who have understanding way beyond their years.

What is the key to achieving this?

I think three things are required, minimum. One is desire, the second is education and the third is humility.

Truly, I must want to grow, see the value in growth, and accept nothing less than growth. We are not going to follow through with anything that we do not believe in. Our actions will always follow our beliefs. My desire to have right beliefs must be intense.

There is usually a point in counseling where the focus shifts from establishing what changes are needed to the question of how to make those changes. I have found that this is often the missing piece, and this is where information and education is necessary. And this is where active learners often have an advantage. They are hungry for insight and will pursue many avenues to gain it.

Lastly is humility. Change is hard. Bad habits do not die easily. They must be aggressively squashed. To do that requires a kind of surrender that is not part of my nature. It probably isn’t your nature either. It often means admitting that I am wrong, that I have failed in some areas, and that I am part of the problem (most couples come in for counseling with the goal of changing their partner). It means staying quiet when everything inside of me is screaming to be heard.

So what is the goal?

Maybe, like us, it is getting your conflicts resolved in less than five minutes and returning to joy, because life is short.    

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Safe At Home

It was five o’clock at the Martin house. All of a sudden Mrs. Martin noticed the time.

“Quick, kids. Your dad will be home soon. We have to pick everything up - now.”

The urgency in her voice was unmistakable. If the house didn’t look near perfect when her husband got home she knew they would likely have a bad evening.

This is just one example of an unsafe home. Over the years I have heard many tragic stories of how the atmosphere at home was anything but welcoming and warm. Sometimes the home was downright dangerous.

What makes a home safe?


Peacefulness and calmness

Predictable positive routines

Reasonable standards of cleanliness and tidiness

Patience with each other, even when we are frustrated

What makes a home unsafe?

Violence – physical or emotional

Yelling, screaming, blaming or guilt-producing language

Addictions – alcohol, drugs, hoarding. These behaviors usually produce chaos

Unrealistic expectations of performance

I find that the root cause in many of my clients dealing with anxiety can be traced to the environment of the home in which they grew up. Critical, violent, unpredictable or anxious parents create anxious kids, who become anxious adults. Often these behaviors are passed down generation to generation with disastrous consequences.

What can you do?

If you are an adult living in an unsafe home you must confront it, probably not by yourself. It takes a lot of effort to break old patterns and make significant positive changes. Depending on the situation the resistance may be intense.

If you are the cause of the problem, breaking denial is the first step. You will most likely have to confront the hurts of your past. You will need to examine maladaptive behaviors (coping mechanisms) that are a part of your current life. You may need to deal with entrenched addictions.

What are the benefits?

Emotional health for you and your family

A safe haven from the troubled world

Growth towards spiritual wholeness, and obedience to God    

Do you relate? Please comment on your current or past situation.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Comfort and Joy

By now almost everyone is aware of what is called the “holiday blues” – waves of sadness that overtake people who have: experienced losses in their lives on or around the holidays; or who have become acutely aware of the people, finances, or relationships that have disappeared or never existed.

Our tendency when we encounter these people can be to do one or two things that are not helpful.

The first is to try to fix them or cheer them up. We offer suggestions on how to get rid of the feelings. Or we try to distract them, as if they were children that need to be redirected. Or we offer lame platitudes that only make them feel worse.

The second is to distance ourselves from them as if they carried a contagious disease. And in some ways they do. It is hard to be around people who are sad without us also being infected or affected.  It can be especially difficult during a season that is naturally joyful for us, or where we are having a hard time accessing the spirit for ourselves.

We, as a culture, don’t seem to deal well with grief in ourselves or others. There is a tendency towards denial of our limitations, whether dealing with our or others lifespan, our accomplishments, our capabilities or other forms of personal power. But we are limited, and when we come up against one of these barriers, there is loss involved, and where there is loss there is sadness. We feel our powerlessness and lack of control and we grieve.

So what do we do when we find ourselves with friends and family experiencing the holiday blues?

We come alongside. We just sit with them and listen to them. We offer the warmth of our presence, our smiles and our touch. We offer them a safe haven and let them grieve.

What if we are the one going through the sadness?

We need to not isolate from people. We need to seek community and get involved. We need to let people comfort us when they are willing. And we need to look outward and try to focus on others. Nothing seems to lift our spirit like serving others in some capacity.

One way to change negative associations with the holidays is to build new, positive memories. We can initiate new rituals (like participating in volunteer efforts) and respond affirmatively to invitations to gather.

So where is the joy?

We can turn to God in prayer. We serve a God who understands our pain. Jesus experienced great loss and pain during his time in the world. He knew He could not leave us alone in our suffering and so He sent His Holy Spirit to dwell with us and comfort us. He promised that He would turn our mourning into dancing.   

2 Corinthians 1:    3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.