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Loneliness 1

Loneliness. You are not alone in your loneliness. And yet you are alone. So very very alone.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, Discord and other social media platforms allow us share and speak with friends and strangers. Cell phones, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and Facebook video calls allow us to see and talk to loved ones with the push of a button. Personal vehicles allow us to see friends in person at distances that would have previously prevented friendships.

Lonely. I am still lonely. I went rock climbing with a friend. We got dinner afterwards. As soon as she left a massive wave of loneliness swept over me. I live with family. I have a great relationship with my family. Yet I am still lonely.

Loneliness is a negative emotion that tells us connection is missing or broken. A good connection requires presence (the act of being fully engaged with the other person), and common experience (doing something, understanding the other).

For six years I relied on texting and phone calls. My close friends were hours away and my work routinely prevented me from seeing them. But it left me wanting. I wanted to be with them and not where I was. Now, even when with my friends I imagine and hope to be somewhere else.

I got used to my phone as a placeholder for human connection. Checking my phone gave a tiny relief to my loneliness. My phone was a very bad coping mechanism. I found out later that checking our phones impulsively is due to the brain being trained to release dopamine by checking our phones.

              Even though I have consistent time with the my closest friends who are wonderful people I still have my bad habits. Silence in conversation? Pick up the phone. Think of something to say to someone else? Pick up the phone and text them. Can’t be funny myself? Grab my phone and find a TikTok.

              We can change our emotions by changing small actions. Find the one small action. The easiest one you know you can change. It doesn’t have to be a magic bullet, but one that is part of the change.

              Below is my train of thought that got me from loneliness to stop checking my phone.

              I am lonely because I am not fully connected. I am not fully connected because I am not fully attentive and engaged with my friends. I am not fully engaged and connected because I have the emotional desire to be or do something else. I want to be elsewhere and do other things because the cell phone gives the false impression that it will heal my loneliness by connecting me to someone else (the dopamine burst).

              When I go to my friends house I tell them, “I am struggling to focus on being here and not check my phone. I am going to put it on ‘do not disturb’ It will only ring if one of my favorite contacts calls. Other than that I am not going to check it. Please call me out if I do.”

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Tik-Tok, Tuesday, and Love

         

I want a good marriage. But what does that mean?

               We are inundated with movies, tv shows, and tabloids that emphasize a hot steamy romance. It is fairly common knowledge that the chemicals underlying the passionate love dissipate between the 6 month and 2 year mark. Most towards the shorter end of that range.

               Country artist Jake Scott released a song, “Love is the Tuesdays” in 2018. The song runs counter to the image of blissful highs and lows and emphasizes daily moments. “It’s not just highs and lows, and champagne toast, I’ve come to know that love’s not only the best days, or the worst days, love is the Tuesdays” Jakes song calls attention to the steady enjoyment of life with another person.

               Everyone says this is what we want. The unexciting, healthy, committed, caring relationship. But do we really? I don’t think so.

               Tik-Tok is both a huge time waster but also an app that shares stories of the mundane. Unlike Instagram that trended towards the perfect photo, the road trip adventures, and highlights, Tik-Tok emphasizes the mundane. Is your hair a mess? Doesn’t matter. Room a mess? Who cares. Lighting terrible? Not a problem. What do people watch? Literally anything. It is just a bunch of boring people doing boring things.

Every part of life is to be enjoyed. Work to play, exploring the outdoors, and significant events. All things were given to us by God. All blessings are from him. Learning to enjoy those things is an important skill for relationships.

               Married couples on Tik-Tok are not shy showing off impressive spousal displays of affection. They are also not shy in putting arguments, frustrations, and partners foibles on camera. The husband rants about the wife leaving clothes all over and ends with giving her chicken nuggets. The wife complains that house work isn’t done or that she just doesn’t understand what he is thinking.

Are these cruel jabs? No. They are simple people expression genuine irritation underscored by a much deeper sense of love and belonging. Though much time may be wasted, at least Tik-Tok is counter cultural to our obsession with emotional bliss and Disney moments. Tik-Tok brings us back to Tuesday.

Good marriage and calling on marriage

              A good marriage is one that consistently puts the other first and chooses the couple unit. How well do you put the others needs first in communication, survival, emotional well being, etc.? This is a metric for all relationships. “and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

              The second portion I assert is choosing the couple unit. This is the wisdom part. Sometimes putting the other person ‘first’, I use human comparisons, may put the couple unit at risk. At times we will have to ask the other person to bend or put in more effort for the sake of the couple and the couples calling.

The constant call upon the married persons life is to choose and return to the other as a couple. This also helps decide on where time is spent in wisdom. We are called to love everyone. But time and resources are limited. After creating a marriage covenant we choose to love them first before others. They are the deciding factor (not their feelings but them as a person) in how our time is spent. All of this together is then subject to the purpose of the marriage before God.

The call on the couple is living out the Kingdom mandate. The terminology of ‘Kingdom mandate’ or ‘kingdom call’ is undermined by our separation of secular and sacred. The ministry to win souls and be in church is the sacred and eternal – everything else is temporary and secular. When this divorce within the Christian life takes hold of our psyche the only way a couple can be doing good for the Kingdom is in church ministry. Difficult to do when you already work a full time job. I argue the Kingdom call is supporting the other in whatever good work is before them in Christ. This may include activities together or encouragement for when they are apart. This is a broad simplification and is intentional. Live life well. The Christian walk is as simple as giving a cold cup of water to someone who is thirsty. So do good and enjoy what the Lord has given you.

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Marriage is undefined, singles are lost, and pastors are the problem

In my last post I critiqued a lack of creativity and definition of a good marriage. My concern in defining marriage well is for the purposes of dating. Dating for the Christian is a process aimed at marriage. Marriage needs a clear definition for the single person to pursue.

Marriage and relationships are common issues for pastors to cover. So why is there still confusion? Pastors are the problem, but it is not really their fault. Most pastors writing books on dating went straight into the pastorate after college. They are in a bubble when it comes marriage, choosing a spouse, and the Kingdom of God.

I agree with the pastors, authors, and psychologists that claim a marriage needs a goal bigger than themselves. Gary Thomas in his book “Sacred Search” and “Sacred Marriage” (one of the few dating books I recommend) rightly claims that a kingdom minded view is the best view for the call upon our marriages. For those going into fulltime ministry the ‘Kingdom Call’ is easy to see in their marriages and provides an easy filter during the dating process. Those not going into full time ministry do not have such an easy structure.

Concerning the dating process, Church ministry itself the filter – there are general expectations on a minister and their spouse. The girl or boy that has the same mission will already be in church. It is a neat little ecosystem that is simple and strait forward.

Outside of church this becomes complicated. I want to run my own business. This means long 90-hour work weeks. I may be in Law school and starting at a new firm. Long work ours. My work may require traveling. I can’t volunteer at church. How will I find a spouse there? What is the common calling of spouses that are a lawyer and an engineer? An artist and a city worker?

Concerning marriages, the ministers’ job is clearly involved in advancing God’s Kingdom and doing his work. They can work 40 hours, feel accomplished and then relax in their own time. How does the career person serve God with minimal free time? When I worked for a Fortune 50 company, I had two free hours a day. A portion of that time involved meal prep, cleaning, and daily chores. How does my future spouse and I work on the Kingdom calling together when we have separate vocations?

Good Marriage

Secrets to a good marriage. Take a good marriage to great. Have a healthy marriage.

These phrases ooze out of book titles, sermons, and conversational pleasantries. They are as pleasant as losing your keys. What is a ‘good marriage’ vs a ‘bad one’. Can I get a tester at the hardware store? Is there a list of ten key items so that I can grade my relationship? This would be useful and absurd.

Yet, that is what we are looking for. A test to objectively critique a relationship. What measuring rod do you use for two human hearts? The modern desire for measurable knowledge turns a rod intended to measure into one used as abuse. Yet sparing the rod spoils the relationship.

Without any clear guidepost we won’t ever find what we are looking for. If we don’t know what a good marriage is we won’t ever be satisfied in one. We may find it. But we won’t know we have found it. “This is cool. … Better keep looking” the search never ends.

 “It is always in the last place I looked” Is true bey comical definition. I never found something and thought to myself, well, better keep looking under tables and around corners (except in the hunt for a spouse). Once you find it the quest is completed and there is satisfaction. But if you don’t know what that ‘it’ is, then the looking can never stop.

Not all who wander are lost. But some who wander are most definitely lost. If the destination is the goal, but you do not know the destination you are most assuredly lost when wandering. If you are enjoying the journey as the goal then you can wander to your hearts content and be satisfied. If you want a destination as the goal then the destination must be known.

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Relationship Skills

I had the opportunity to be friends with my ex, I’ll call Holly, and visit her over the weekend in LA. I sat behind her at the bar while she was doing dishes and cooking breakfast. She shared mixed feelings for a guy she was talking to over the last few weeks. Holly stopped, turned off the water, and turned around to look at me. I looked at her bright blue eyes.

“I shouldn’t be sharing this with you. It isn’t considerate of our relationship. I am sorry.” She said with all care and sincerity.

I muddled something incoherent in reply and looked out the window or something. She waited. I returned I contact and shrugged. Satisfied she changed the subject and returned to cooking.

I do not know anyone as adept at communication skills as she was. The more books I read on neuropsychology, communication, relationships, and emotional intelligence the more I am amazed at how she just does everything naturally. No research. No books. Just good well intentioned relating.

I have had a few dates with young girls who are very present and engaged. It isn’t a completely lost art, but it is definitely difficult to find. I think it is an affect of social media and cell phones. Eye contact has become increasingly difficult to manage. Many are so lost and disillusioned that they have difficulty ignoring themselves long enough to really listen and engage with another human being.

That is the goal. Learn the habits that lead our hearts to putting the other person first. Some of us naturally put the other first. Others need a lot of help with lots of practice. I lived genuinely selfless before others and developed a severe selfishness disorder. The last five years have been fighting to get it back. I still fail regularly.

A few months after this interaction I unfortunately didn’t think of Holly first. I put her in an uncomfortable situation because I couldn’t die to my own desires first.

Love Despite Flaws

I recently listened to a lecture regarding writing on family. He continually qualified everything he said with, “I love my family.” “I want to make it very clear that I do love my family.” “People often ask me how I can love my family”.

              I found this repeated declaration odd. It rarely occurs to me that some irritating trait or negative experience would cause me to question my affection for those I love. People are annoying. Relationships are difficult. People are flawed.

              The idea that we don’t love someone because we are open about their flaws, or that we don’t love someone despite any number of major blunders I find problematic. This can breed fear of losing a friend for even petty things.

Woman Amen – a lesson in humility

I am a hopeless romantic. When I listen to Dierks Bentley’s “Woman, Amen” for the first time my heart jumps a bit. I dream of the day when I meet the woman who gives “this drifters heart a home”.

Friends always at some point always seem to drift away. As careers, school, and spouses begin to take up time it becomes more difficult to keep up on consistent daily or weekly schedule. I myself have difficulty deciding what to do with my time: guitar, piano, voice, mountain biking, sailing, kiteboarding, writing, hiking, dancing, cooking, martial arts, lifting, and reading are just a few of my hobbies and interests. I want that day when I will have someone to stick with and who becomes the first one to say, “yes to” and the reason to say, ‘no’ to everything else.

Words matter and I cannot listen to songs without careful analyses. The song is not a cute romantic song about a mans love for a woman, but a ballad representing my sinful obsession with marriage.

The Christians call is to seek first the Kingdom of God and love the Lord your God with all your heart. As C.S Lewis teaches, we are to become little Christs. Our relationships and marriages are intended to make us more like Christ and help us seek His Kingdom. They are not an end in themselves. Kingdom first, then your spouse. If you miss this order you become as Solomon who was led astray by the women he married.

“She gives me faith, she gives me grace, she gives me hope… … strength … … love … love without end” “Thanks for the moon and the stars up above, Forgiveness’ a sin and your undying love, every twist every turn for the way you made sure, all my roads led to her” each verse focuses on the woman, with a nod to Christ.

I live the same priorities. In grade school I wanted to be good at everything  in preparation to seek the Kingdom in all things. After two heartbreaks and difficulty dealing with a revolving door of friends and friend groups, I started obsessing over the stability of a spouse to always be there.

Everything I chose revolved around a future spouse, even to the detriment of my own soul. I have given up new cars, motorcycles, trips, vacations, and my own hobbies (including writing) in an obsession with being able to provide my wife with whatever she wanted.

Did I have conflict with my family? It was practice bearing with someone difficult. Nothing involving doing good for the Kingdom of God in the present or the future, or about being more like Christ. (We will skip over the terrible marriage picture I had that bearing up under ‘relational suffering’ was a primary virtue of a good marriage relationship).

“This world has a way of shaking your faith / I’ve been broken again and again / But I need all the cracks in my shattered heart / ‘Cause that’s where her love gets in” The cracks in my life is where Christ’ love gets in. It is also through the brokenness that God worked to show me how I had replaced a desire to be a man after God’s own heart with a desire to be a husband after some fictitious future spouse. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all these things will be added unto you.

Epilogue:

I wrote the above piece in April of 2018. I am humbled that I learned nothing from what I wrote with my own hands. More than a year later and I found a girl that was everything I wanted on paper. From physical appearance to personality quirks and her relationship with God. Ironically what attracted me to her most was her very clear knowledge of her calling in all things to help those who need just a little bit of extra help in life. Something I had completely lost. Regardless of the lack of a ‘spark’ I became obsessed. Here was the kind, hospitable, spunky, slightly wild girl that I could go through life with.

Graciously God ended that relationship. It is the most painful breakup I have been through. I was breaking up with not just her but all my hopes for a spouse and family. God was cutting away the obsession that crowded out all desire for the kingdom of heaven. Cutting out part of ourselves even when good for us is painful. It is part of me learning to say ‘yes’ to the call of God to serve his Kingdom and ‘no’ to everything else.

The Dating Disease

No one knows when the epidemic started. But it spread rapidly and was discovered all at once all over the world. It infected young and old and crossed international borders. The devastation broke up families, caused best friends to abandon each other, and un-measurable heartache. The dating game is now a disease and wrecks emotional havoc on the human heart.

This phenomenon is not unique to America. I have friends in Germany, Latin America, France, Japan, and even neutral Switzerland that all attest that dating is horrible. Symptoms include ghosting, bread crumming, one date willies, long drawn out breakups, repeated makeups, and more time spent analyzing symptoms than living.

Articles are starting to pop up with cures for the above list of dating symptoms. Most articles deal with avoiding the symptoms. These are not cures if you want fulfilling lifelong relationship. The only way to cure dating rather than avoid symptoms is with healthy platonic friendships. If you can find un-infected ones. The worst part is that the cure itself has its own issues.

Platonic friendships are infected by the transient delusional realities of social media and a consumer driven culture. Most communication happens through electronics. Interpersonal communication has mutated from an in-person eye to eye communication of events that requires intention and care, to the upload of a simple photo / or status share with no particular ‘friend’ in mind as the recipient. Without a specific intent, the communication becomes insignificant to a relationship.

Friends become commodities. A seemingly endless supply exists through dating apps / friendship apps, and the ease of adding someone on social media. One can try on friends like one tries on clothes. Don’t like how they respond to your complaints? There is that one acquaintance you had in high school you can meet again. Do they expect you to grow up and occasionally disagree with you? There is that other person you met at the bar last week. No permanence. No humility. No self-sacrifice to stick by your friends.

Friendships should be for life, at least a few of them. You should have a few friends that know everything, you intentionally make time for, plan trips with, bring up the difficult conversations, allow to call you out, and call them out. These types of relationships are difficult, time consuming and require you to sacrifice your own wants and needs for theirs.

The lack of these tightly connected relationships allows the infection of romantic relationships with the feelings and desire for support that should be held by lifetime friends. This emotional attachment is more than a dating relationship, or any romantic relationship, should bear on its own. The emotional attachment to an innately unstable relationship is what causes most of the pain in dating.

Each relationship needs to have an emotional, physical, and time commitment that is equal to its permanency. If the relationship has no permanency or commitment, don’t give up the emotional parts of yourself that are important. Is the friendship permanent? Then you should actively seek them out to share in person the important parts of your life.

A dating relationship is not permanent. When it is given the same amount of emotional and energy input as a permanent relationship, it causes the pain and sickness. The only way to make dating less painful, is to treat it like dating, and treat your best friends like best friends, with energy, intention, and dedicated love.

Spirals, Doors, and Feelings

Have you ever noticed that every time you hold a door for someone who is more than four feet away? They always smile, look at you, look down and rush the open door avoiding any awkward human contact. Or when you stop in the car and wave someone across the street: smile, look down, and then run.

I do the same thing when someone holds the door open for me or when I cross the street. I do not want to make them wait. Which, is silly and insulting. I feel insulted when I am holding the door and others rush. Excuse me, but do you really think that my kindness and charm is so petty that I would not be willing to wait? I did offer. At the same time I feel bad that I caused them to rush.

Am I the only one thinks this way? That there is a slow downward spiraling trend towards bad feelings? The door opening recievee, (the walker? Wait… no.) feels bad that someone has taken the time to hold the door and must wait. The person holding the door feels bad for the one who ran. Both feel they did a good deed. The one holding the door knows they held the door. The runner feels they saved the door opener from having to wait longer. But for why?

Why cannot we, or I, graciously except the offer of an open door just as we are? Walking whatever speed we are at. Do we not believe they are gracious enough? They may have offered yet still are burdened? As though their lives are so poor that waiting a few minutes longer would mean a mental breakdown later that evening.

But it is the same thing most anything we are offered. When parched and given water we suffice with one glass when we could have four. When fed we eat a meager portion when we could eat the whole pig.

If you ask me a question for which I have a ten-minute energetic answer, I shorten and deprecate my own answer. I do not have faith in the other person’s patience. I do not want to be a burden. I am afraid that if I talk to much I will not be liked. Living through fear and belittling my own voice I am depriving them from an experience of life, listening. I am depriving both of us the relationship developed from experiencing me more fully. I sink myself into a deeper isolation.

I am not a hero when I do this, and even if I was I am not the Hulk. I am not endless in my patience and long suffering. I am human and need a friend to speak with, share with, to be free to talk for five hours strait with (I have done this when I was little). I will take the risk. If you ask I will answer, and if I wear your patience thin I learned more about you and we are both better off.

So I commend you, when someone opens the door for you do not rush. Walk at the same pace through, smile, and look up. Look them in the eye with all the time it takes you to get to the door. Make it a real connection, and say thank you.