Day 3 Love is not selfish II

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This is the 4th time through “The Love Dare” for me. This time through is a modified version, I am limited in following the “dares”, due to continued separation from my wife. I believe the lessons in this book are invaluable and can be applied to our other relationships, to a degree. If you have this book and are going through it, please share your experiences as an encouragement to those of us faced with a greater challenge in our marriages.

I grateful to be going through The Love Dare as I count down the days until my divorce is finalized. The last time I went through this book, I was an emotional wreck, it’s nice to see recovery in progress and healing, along with growth. I have been praying and hoping for God to intervene and change my wife’s heart. A change of heart is her choice, even if it is God’s Will for it to change. If this divorce is finalized, you will not hear me saying it was God’s Will. Jesus said God allowed divorce in certain situations “because of the hardness of your hearts”.

In today’s lesson we look at selfishness. Selfishness is the opposite of love and we should be aware of our motives and examine them for selfishness. Selfishness is “natural”, selfless love is spiritual. Jesus laid down His life for us out of love for us. We are to do the same, love our imperfect, selfish spouse, even when we don’t think they deserve it. That is called grace, undeserved, ummerited favor.

Pride is the force behind selfishness. God resists the proud, so how can we expect our spouses to be pleased to be around us, if God can’t be near us? Who likes to be around someone who demands their way always be done and keeps a record of every perceived slight or disappointment? If we translate our offenses and being offended into playground language, we see selfishness for what it is…immaturity.

“When a husband puts his interests, desires, and priorities in front of his wife, that’s a sign of selfishness. When a wife constantly complains about the time and energy she spends meeting the needs of her husband, that’s a sign of selfishness.” 1 Corinthians 13 is referred to as “the love chapter”, a daily reading and meditating on it is a very good thing to do. In verse 5 we read, “love does not seek its own”.

Ideally both couples subscribe to these ideas and will look at this book for guidance. But remember, we love God, because He first loved us!

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Pops Might Be “Getting It”

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In the past two weeks I have given away 4 copies of, “The Love Dare” book.  I feel like a fraud giving out what is basically a “How To” book for a great marriage.  I give the book away because I believe it is one of the best marriage books I have read.  I make a disclaimer with each gift, explaining just because my marriage is ending, this does not mean great marriages are not possible.

I continue to get insights into the errors made on my part in my marriage.  When all is said and done, all we can concern ourselves with are our actions.  It is easy to blame someone else for our errors, “they’re too sensitive”.  If you had a child who had an allergy to peanuts, would you keep trying to make them eat food with peanuts in them?  Of course not!  We have to be honest with ourselves, if our spouse is sensitive to criticism, and who isn’t, what is wrong with us when we continue to criticize?  Long before an issue gets to the marriage breakdown point, we know what the general complaints are.

I know myself well enough to realize when I am off the mark, not taking care of myself spiritually, I become critical.  Somehow I got this idea that if I feel bad, everyone around me should feel bad too, so I would say things that were just plain cruel, not witty, and inexcusable.  God places people and more specifically a spouse to help us achieve balance.  I absolutely cannot and do not blame my wife for terminating our relationship.  I do believe divorce, especially amongst Christians is wrong.

I had the opportunity to apologize to my wife for several things this past Saturday.  I wrote what I wanted to say and put that in an Easter card for her (I had the feeling I would not get to verbalize all I wanted to say).  Including what I wrote, this is what I said, “I don’t blame you for anything.  You were right in saying I was a self-righteous, judging and condemning Christian.  You were right to say I didn’t know what the God kind of love is.  I pray for your healing from the harm I have done and for healing from other self-righteous Christians judgment’s.  I ask your forgiveness.  God has placed a tremendous love for you in my heart.  I will love you forever.”

Unbeknownst to me, the letter announcing the court date for the divorce hearing was in the mail.  I received the letter on Monday (it was dated on Good Friday) and the date set for the hearing is June 20th (Summer Solstice), 2011.  I will not be attending this hearing; it’s a formality, a “default divorce”.  Pending a change of heart in Beth, our marriage will be over on June 20th.  Now I don’t have anxiety every time the mail is delivered, I was staggered by this letter.

I wear my wedding ring still, inscribed inside are the words, “Faith, Hope, Love”.  The greatest of these is love, which I still have for Beth.  I have no faith that she will change her mind, no hope, but love abides.  I do have the utmost faith in God, He is the hope of my salvation and the reason I have a tremendous love in my heart towards Beth.

All Avenues Exhausted

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I am grateful for many things, more so since going through this very painful divorce experience. I am grateful that I am a recovering alcoholic in a 12 step program.  Every meeting I attend, I witness the gradual life rebuilding miracle of recovery.  I witness the Love of God towards those of us who have exhausted all humanly possible attempts at changing our lives around.  I see people so bitter towards a God that “abandoned” them years ago, come to believe in the God that never leaves us, nor forsakes us.

Our faith was exhausted, life had no joy for us and many of us contemplated suicide, some actually did kill themselves, cutting short the promise of a new day.  I was blessed to be in a meeting this past Monday, that was the most emotional meeting I have ever been to in my 20 years in AA.  I did not share at this meeting my own suicidal tendencies.  Four people out of the fifteen in the group had spouses that suicided.  Two people had toddlers die on them.  All of us had been at the end of a death march of sorts.  At the close of the meeting, all the women were crying, the men were choking back tears and we were all so glad to be there!  We are a strange family, brought together by an illness that resisted all outside interventions, only God could relieve us of our disease and would if He were sought.

I began writing this post with the frustration of a failed marriage in mind.  I was discouraged, wavering in my faith, and generally at wits end.  I have been here before and it is exactly at this point where I once again lay all my concerns, all my fears, my powerlessness in the very capable hands of God.  I will not lose my faith with this marriage, all I need to do is keep going to meetings and I can see the work that God is doing.

I have been guilty of an idolatry regarding my wife.  My wife stated that, “nothing on earth or in heaven can make me change my mind” of divorcing me.  I believe her, but God is more powerful than my wife.  She may get her divorce, but I do not think it is going to give her what she thinks it will give her.  Everyone, including myself who has had the audacity to stand up to God and challenge Him, has been humbled.

I have accepted that this marriage will end in divorce.  I accept it, I do not approve of it.  The filing will probably be done this week, and since we are in a “no-fault divorce state”, that will be the end.  Many strong believers have prayed with me, for the marriage, for my wife, and I am very grateful for that.  Just because we miss God’s plan for our lives, does not mean God’s plan is untrue, or not possible for those who seek it for there lives.

All avenues are exhausted, except for what God chooses to do in this situation.

World’s Way vs God’s Way

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Jesus came to take away the sins of the world, to heal the sick and save the lost.  I don’t know of another baby born whose life was laid out in such detail ahead of time.  Since the “Fall of Man” a picture emerged of the coming Messiah, written by many different authors over hundreds of years.  It’s like a large canvas stretched and protected for hundreds of years and every so often an artist comes along and places a few strokes on it.  This canvas would have to be huge; it would have names of Jesus on it, scenes from the life of this child through manhood and ultimately showing in graphic detail His death on a cross.  Then this Man walks in this building and is the exact image of the Man in the painting!

“And you shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us”.  When I first accepted the full import of this saying, I was well out of the parochial school upbringing I had.  I did not understand salvation, the Godhood of Jesus or that His death replaced the 10 Commandments.   I was not stupid and this was a Lutheran school, so how did I miss it?  Martin Luther let the common people know the truth of salvation, that it is by faith we are saved and not works.  God’s grace saves us from the penalty of disobeying the 10 commandments and gives us a “New Law” to live by.

I became what is called “legalistic” by my upbringing in the parochial school.  I thought the 10 Commandments were it, the final word.  The seeds of salvation through the sacrificial death of Jesus were planted deeply in me, so it wasn’t all bad.  Jesus said we have the 10 Commandments to make us aware that we fail, so we can repent, ask for and receive His forgiveness and live better lives.  If there were no speed limits, we would not be guilty of breaking the law by driving as fast as we wanted, same idea.  This is not to say that we can do whatever we want, ask forgiveness and everything will be all right.  How many times as kids, or have your kids tried that with you, doing the same wrong things, saying “sorry” and repeating the behavior, doesn’t work for long.  That’s where the repentance comes in, we “turn away from” those behaviors, in other words stop doing the wrong thing.  God gives us the notice that we do wrong and He gives us the ability to stop those behaviors, what a good system, if we use it!

The entire Bible is filled with what we are to do to please God, and what it is He expects from us.  The Bible tells us there are things He hates.  People spend their entire lives trying to please parents that may or may not even appreciate our efforts, why wouldn’t we want to please the God of the entire universe?  We can purposely disobey God’s commands, His desires for us.  He is not waiting to smack us over the head with a 2×4, or punish us in any manner.  We are accountable to Him for our behaviors and there are consequences, sometimes dire for disobeying God.  Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  The good life is not an accident, as Christians we are called to a higher calling and as examples of the goodness of God.

If we live like everyone else who has no moral compass and do whatever it is that pleases them, what is the point?  That kind of living is what is referred to in the Bible as living “like the world”. It says in the Bible that, “friendship with the world is enmity with God”, why would I want God as an enemy?  I believe as Christians we are not to talk” like the world”, impressing everyone with the shock value of swear words or the knowledge of pornographic exploits.  With the power of God coursing through us and living in us, the 10 Commandments and all of God’s principles should be a worthy goal and obey-able.

God hates divorce, period.  The illustration of the church (those who accept the salvation God has provided), is of Jesus as the Bridegroom  and the church as the Bride.  This is an eternal condition in this example, we are to be a testimony of this arrangement as Christians in marriage, not as the world does it with serial marriages, but one for life.  When we take our wedding vows, those vows are made to God.  Do what you want, any way you want but there are consequences for not honoring those vows.  Jesus warns us against making vows, He said, “ Let your yes be yes and your no, no”.  So many Christians are like the world (enmity with God),  in how we treat our marriage vows.  Is there forgiveness for divorcing, of course; the supreme sacrifice (Christ crucified), was made to forgive us all our sins.  BUT there are those sometimes dire consequences for disobeying God’s design.

If you are a child of a divorce, even an adult child, you know very well the consequences of divorce in your own life.  I have been divorced once and my second wife wants a divorce from me now.  She can divorce me, but there will be consequences, and that does not make me happy.  I have a hard time when I violate God’s desires and continue to do so, then ask Him for something I need.  We need to make things right as far as we can, as part of our repentance, than we can go to God with a clear conscience.  Again God isn’t waiting to punish us, but as in His physical law, if you step off a building and say you don’t believe in gravity, you’re going down anyway.

 

 

 

Day 28 Love Makes Sacrifices

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I would like to hear from someone who is working The Love Dare while they are actively married or in a committed relationship.  I would like to hear how they feel when they come across all the areas they need to improve on.  I don’t think that the people who have successful marriages would use this book or would be failing in so many areas.  I for one, feel terrible that I have failed so miserably on so many levels.

I received a timely message from someone I respect a great deal.  Their life journey is familiar to me, their hardships, their beliefs and pain.  What I really want to be able to share is their victory.  I am reminded to let go completely, that my best efforts got me where I am.  God wants to carry the load; He is the source of all solution, comfort and love.  It’s hard for me to admit, “It’s over”, period!  I am to clean my house and “get out of the basement” of my dysfunctional thoughts.  This person found “True Love” and is enjoying the life God promises to His followers.  I am very happy for them; it does the heart good to hear of God’s healing and restoration!

We are by nature and maturity level, selfish and self-centered, at least I am.  The less emotionally mature we are the more we are like the kid who doesn’t get his way and let’s everyone know how unhappy he is.  We are the first to think how hard life is, how difficult we have it and usually the last to know when those closest to us are having difficulty.  When my wife complained, I knew something was wrong but I usually categorized it as “her way of seeing things”.  Whatever, how lazy is that?  I wanted her to know when I was having it tough, and when she wouldn’t respond, I’d feel sorry for myself.

Some self-help or support groups caution against being too “other” oriented.  I really think that is impossible, given the basic self-interest that is ingrained in all of us.  The most selfless person ever to walk the earth was Jesus.  His example is to be a model for our life.  We are to sacrifice our life for others, put them first, especially our spouse.  He taught us that the evidence of love is found in seeing a need in others, then doing all we can to satisfy it.

What is amazing is the following statements Jesus made to His disciples, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me”  Matthew 25:35-36  The disciples were confused by these statements and Jesus explained that when you did these thing to the least of these, my brothers, you did them to Me.  Still applies today, The Love Dare uses these examples of needs and applies them to marriage.  See page 137 for the examples.

What amazes me about this whole process is the simplicity of it, but it requires the stripping of our pride and egos and making way for God in our hearts.  It is His love that is put in our hearts for others; it is His grace that gives us the strength to do His will.  His will is to love others as He loves us and to tell them the Good News, that God has made it possible to be right with Him and enjoy eternal life and happiness.  He paid the price; all we have to do is accept what He has provided for us.  It is all God given, God driven, God forgiven, and we just need to get out of our own way to have abundant life!

I have reviewed the notes from my two other times through this book.  What is I see is that I have gained insight into my “stuff”.  I’m embarrassed by my own notes; sometimes, they are filled with pride and false conclusions and plain BS.  I would greatly rejoice, if someday I went through this book and was able to proclaim, “Yes, I’m doing this, yes I did that and yes it is great!”

 

 

 

Day 26 Love is Responsible

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It’s one thing to write a blog and pretend you’re anonymous; it’s another thing to have your 34 rear old daughter call you and ask if you are a recovering sex addict.  I admit to being somewhat defensive when asked this, and said, “Yes; I’m messed up and that is why I need God so much!”   I later realized I violated a personal rule and let her fill in what she thought was a sex addict.  I later explained to her that I believed sex is used as one of the most intimate expressions of love and that in the past I did not use it that way.  She replied, “Okay, I was confused.”

I believe that pride and it’s dark twin, shame are the main reasons we resist getting help with things in our life that have become big problems.  The first step in 12 Step Recovery is, “We admitted we were powerless over ________, that our lives had become unmanageable.”  I recognize the 12 Steps as spiritual principals, so when my life becomes unmanageable, I turn to them for solutions.  The second step has promise.  “Came to believe that a Power greater than us could restore us to sanity.”  I like that.  My greater power is God, through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

The Love Dare reading for the day starts out saying that today will be hard.  I’ve been thinking that facing all my failings throughout this whole book has been hard!  The lesson is on taking personal responsibility, acknowledging our own mistakes.  I have referred to applying the principals in this book as taking an “honest and fearless moral inventory”.  (Step 4)  Pride needs to take the backseat in this endeavor.   Shame is like a reverse pride, we say that we are so bad that we are unforgiveable.  That’s not what the message of the cross says.

We are not to pass blame on our spouse for our own mistakes.  “When love takes responsibility for its actions, it’s not to prove how noble you’ve been but rather to admit how much further you have to go.”  “Love doesn’t make excuses.  Love keeps working to make a difference—in you and your marriage.”   I ask myself, how many times when I was in an argument with my wife, did I stop and think if what she was saying had any merit.  Usually I came back with some counter blame or excuse.

The responsibility to take a look at our own faults and admit our errors, is also addressed in Step 10, some refer to it as the maintenance step.  “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”  I think being responsible to your spouse demands an awareness of our selfishness and admit we are wrong immediately.

“Are you taking responsibility for this person you chose for yourself as the love of your life?  How deliberate are you about making sure your spouse’s needs are met?  … Love calls us to take responsibility for our partner in marriage.  To love them.  To honor them.  To cherish them.” (The Love Dare)

I asked myself how long I was going to have to tear into my faults and feel bad about what I discover.  An answer seemed to come to me, “as long as it takes for you to get it!”  Pride resists admitting weaknesses and mistakes.  We are to be humble before God and our spouse.  The Love Dare says this is crucial for a healthy relationship, with God and our spouse.

The good news in this is that the Bible promises, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1.9)  We need to make sure we are on solid ground with God first and foremost.    We are to seek forgiveness from our spouse, no matter how they respond.  The problem is we must swallow our pride and be sincere.  They “should” forgive us but that is not our responsibility.  Admitting my mistakes is my responsibility.