Monday, September 22, 2014

Fear or Pride?

There are times when I am sitting in front of a couple, locked in a power struggle, emotionally stuck, and obviously in pain. And I try to understand what is holding them back – fear or pride. In this context I would define fear as not wanting to make a mistake, and pride as not wanting to surrender and do the right thing. Sometimes I think I am confronted with one of each – pride in one person, vs. fear in the other.

Fear and pride holds us back from taking a reasonable risk, even when it might accomplish the relational goals that God would ask of us. 

Consider these inner dialogs that you might have had.

“What if I ‘turn the other cheek’ and he does the same thing again?”
 “What if I offer an apology and she rejects it and won’t forgive?”
 “What if I admit my part of a conflict and it is used against me?”

It is obvious that pride is a sin against God. What about fear? We are told to fear (God –
be in awe of Him), and we are told not to fear (to be courageous). I guess you could say the context of fear has everything to do with how you answer that question. It would seem that God would want us to take some bold stands, and not to do so would be considered sinful.

I would offer that both pride and fear are understandable. They both share the risk of losing something – a part of self. It is very hard to move in the direction of loss – it is counterintuitive. But sometimes solutions can only be found when we move against our feelings.

What Nan and I recommend to break a relational stalemate is for each person to make a small step towards the other person – called a repair attempt. When we encounter a repair attempt from another person we must acknowledge and accept it as genuine – and not criticize it or minimize it (too little, too late). It is difficult to do when we are emotionally on high alert, but if we can remember to keep the big picture in mind it makes self-soothing and calming ourselves easier.

I believe our personality and temperament may determine which side of the line a person is likely to fall on. Probably anxious people will drift toward the fearful side and stubborn people towards the prideful region. Either area is dangerous in a relationship, because it prevents God from doing a healing or even miraculous work in our lives.

I know that Nan and I have experienced both pride and fear when dealing with each other. Over the years we have probably traded positions depending on the season or the situation. It still shows up time to time. What makes “now” different from “then” is the amount of time we are willing to invest in a power struggle. Age can have its advantages. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I’m Just Being Optimistic

I was in a checkout line at a department store behind a woman who had a basket full of clothes and other items. After the clerk rang up the purchases, the woman presented a credit card. Denied! She pulled out a second and then a third card. Both denied. Then she asked the clerk to try the first card again. Was this woman being optimistic?

No, she was in denial of reality and didn’t want to accept it.

I wonder how many times a day this same scenario is repeated? Maybe you have even been there. Or perhaps the issue isn’t financial, but some other refusal to accept the truth that is right before your eyes.

For an addict, breaking denial is the first step towards recovery. This is not news – we all know this. But there are other perhaps more subtle ways in which we deceive ourselves.

  • We keep applying for jobs we are not qualified for hoping someone will hire us anyway.

  • We abuse our automobiles or our bodies and hope they will last forever.

  • We stay in an abusive or violent relationship hoping that this will be the time his sincere apology will really mean a change. (Good luck with that one!)

  • We ignore deadlines and trust that somehow there is a way around the penalties.

  • We hide bills from our spouse and believe everything will turn out OK in the end.

I love optimism. It is a predictor of success in many areas of life. Optimists tend to draw people towards themselves that want to help them reach their goals. (People tend to shy away from perpetual pessimists.) But optimists do not operate outside of reality.

Optimists will:

·         Keep applying for jobs that they are qualified for knowing that one will come through eventually. Or they train for the job they really want.

·         Maintain their health and possessions knowing that it will make a difference in the long run.

·         Leave a bad relationship knowing that a better one is bound to come along.

·         Embrace deadlines as a challenge to get things done and feel satisfied.

·         Share the hard things with their spouse, like bills, and believe that together they will make necessary changes and work things out.

A true optimist sees life with a hopeful perspective. But they do not live with unrealistic expectations. Denial is not their friend, but an obstacle to avoid.

Being in denial of our own mortality is the easiest and most dangerous position of all. However, the reality of the hope we have in Christ Jesus gives us the ultimate reason to be optimistic. If you want to know more about this hope, check out the messages at

Monday, September 8, 2014

Not Another Relationship Thingy!

I was really pleased with the turnout that we got at our last marriage conference (The Art of Marriage). Perhaps what pleased me the most were the longtime marriage veterans that showed up.  These were the people who you might think would have the lowest motivation to attend and the least to learn. But here’s the kicker: Some of the most positive comments came from these people. They were generally folks who had been to various marriage events over the years but still were interested in participating. Why?

People that are lifelong learners are winners.

The comments ranged from “Good seminar” to “I picked up a few new tips” to “I never thought about that before” to “I had low expectations but was pleasantly surprised.”

As you might imagine Nan & I have been through a sufficient amount of marriage and counseling material. It’s what we do. But still there is always more to absorb and there is an excitement that comes with opening a new book or watching a new DVD. We took some of this with this on vacation this year. In front of us was the television with a series on ‘Attachments’ playing and to the left was the pool and the ocean beyond. They both held their allure.

I actually have heard people brag that they haven’t read a book since high school or college. All I can think is “Wow, how sad, you are really missing out.” I must say that this doesn’t describe the bulk of my friends and co-workers – especially at church. Often they are exchanging book lists, looking for something new and interesting. And most of those who we counsel don’t fit into that category either. Usually there is a hunger to grow. Often we joke about “Here comes the homework part of the counseling”.

So how are you when a new relationship class or event or book is announced? Do you groan and hope your wife (or husband) isn’t interested or do you keep an open mind? In the interest of telling the most honest version of my story – I have done both, leaning toward the negative direction more often than I would want to admit in public. But I have rarely been disappointed when I have embraced the learning experience. It’s almost always been my attitude, not the event that was lacking.

Strong marriages put in the time. I have friends that do a yearly marriage retreat of some sort – and you can imagine the condition of their relationship. Nan and I take at least a yearly vacation – and a couple of long weekends away as well.

What have you done lately? What books have you read? Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Moving to WordPress

Moving over to WordPress -- move with us -- just click on the highlighted link. For those who may not know -- WordPress is another blog platform that is a bit more flexible -- we'll see if an old dog can learn new tricks. :) By the way when you open the new page, please leave a comment in the comment box -- I want to make sure it is working -- and I love hearing from you all as well! Again the address is THANKS!