Blog Archives

To Yield or Be Right: An Experiment in Acquiescence

MH900431111The British Medical Journal recently published the results of a pilot study that didn’t go so well. A purpose of the study was to find out if people lead “unnecessarily stressful lives by wanting to be right rather than happy.” The study instructed one husband to “agree with his wife’s every opinion and request without complaint,” and to continue doing so “even if he believed the female participant was wrong.” The man’s wife was not aware that she was participating in the study.

The experiment had to be cancelled after just 12 days because the man descended into a deep depression. During the trial, the man found his wife to be “increasingly critical of everything he did.” Her measure of happiness increased only slightly during the experiment. (I suspect my wife may have signed me up for some sort of secret experiment, but that’s OK with me.)

Granted, the results of an experiment with one couple can’t be taken too seriously. But it does beg the question: do we often harm ourselves and others when we abandon what is right in pursuit of peace? One positive conclusion from the experiment might be that we trigger better mental health through expressing ourselves when we believe strongly that we are right about a given topic or situation. In other words, acquiescence as a mechanism to achieve peace and happiness does not always lead to either in human relationships. Of course heavy-handed approaches when expressing what we believe to be right are wrong. Statements like “You dimwit, how could you believe something that asinine?” do not improve anybody’s mental health (plus they hurt my feelings).

Proverbs 16:13 says, “Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.”
Proverbs 24:26 says, “Whoever gives an honest answer
kisses the lips.”

The Bible encourages the speaking of what is right, but there is a caveat: we are imperfect people and can misconstrue falsehood as truth. That is why stubbornness (aka hardheadedness) must not dominate our lives. And one more thing: acquiescence to God is ALWAYS appropriate and healthy. He is the best teacher of what is right.


A Women’s Retreat for Men

MH900439274My wife, Cindy, recently returned from a Christian women’s retreat and I’ve been reaping the benefits ever since. I highly recommend a women’s retreat for all husbands . . . well, not for all husbands. If you are at least a C+ husband like me, you won’t regret packing your wife off to a women’s retreat, especially if the theme of the retreat is about marriage. Why? Allow me to elaborate. After more than 25 years of marriage, I still have a few faults as a husband (Cindy can’t fix everything). Some of my faults include, but are not limited to: failing to put a new roll of toilet paper on the empty roller (my philosophy is why bother when you’re just going to use up the replacement roll in a couple of days), neglecting to hang up my shirts after washing, leaving streaks of almond butter on my knife before placing it in the sink, failing to transfer the knife (and all other dirty dishes and utensils) from the sink to the dishwasher, failing to squeegee the glass walls of the shower stall after defiling the shower with my inglorious naked presence, failing to . . . well, you get the idea.

Why was Cindy’s retreat with hundreds of Christian women good for ME? Because ever since she returned, she kisses me more often, hugs me longer, and refrains from mentioning my shortcomings listed in the previous paragraph. I have a clever theory why this is happening. Over the years, Cindy has attended several women’s retreats where I believe she heard occasional stories from other women about the nefarious deeds of their husbands. After hearing such stories, Cindy finally had an epiphany that her C+ husband is actually an A – husband when graded on a curve. Walla! I benefit from lowered expectations. Hey, I’ll take a victory any way I can get it.

Sure, wives have plenty of problems they bring to the table of marriage (I occasionally hear about them at men’s retreats). Fortunately, most Christian husbands are not married to a train wreck, though we regretfully tend to take our wives for granted.

Finally, a word of caution for men is appropriate here. If you are not at least a C+ husband, don’t encourage your wife to attend a Christian women’s retreat unless you are OK with God stepping in to fix problems in your marriage, which can often mean fixing YOU. I’m just saying.

An Awesome Sex Life for Christian Couples recently posted an insightful article. The article was titled: “5 Reasons Pastors Are More Vulnerable to Sexual Temptation,” by Jeff Fisher. While the “5 Reasons” help the discussion on this emotional topic, I found the comments posted by readers quite revealing. But first, to satisfy your curiosity, here are the “5 Reasons”:

1 A pastorate is a place of power.
2 Ministers are often isolated and unaccountable for their actions.
3 Protection and policies around ministers can be lax.
4 Ministers have few people they can share their deepest struggles with.
5 Ministers frequently feed off the approval of others.

Anyhow, many of the comments on this article were revelations from Christian men that their spouses did not particularly enjoy sexual intimacy, or sex was conditional, or sex was infrequent. (If those men used their real names I’m pretty sure sex will be even more infrequent in their future.) Some of the solutions offered by commenters ranged from helpful, to comical, to a bit . . . unconventional. Nevertheless, it shocked me to learn that so many Christian couples struggle to simply enjoy sex.

The comments made me wonder if Christian couples have a higher rate of sexual dysfunction than the general population. If so, we need to ask: WHY do so many Christian couples struggle to have a fulfilling sex life?

There are many possible reasons for the problem, such as: childhood abuse, self-loathing, physical illness, mental illness, cultural influences, addictions, immaturity . . . the possible causes are numerous. But for a long time I have suspected that the church often treats sex with such a Victorian attitude that it increases the difficulty for some folks raised in the culture of Christianity to experience awesome (forgive me for using that overused word) sexual intimacy with their mate. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not proposing that Christians live a libertine lifestyle. Well, actually, a little of the libertine attitude is probably healthy within marriage. But whatever the issues preventing a Christian couple from enjoying the gift of fulfilling physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy, they can usually be overcome if each person invests completely in their marriage. It might require professional counseling, lots of listening, reading books by competent therapists, intercessory prayer for each other, and steady growth together . . . but it can get better.

You see, the Evil One wants to screw up the most intensely intimate part of our human relationship with our spouse. Why? By doing so he makes it harder for us to comprehend and enjoy a deep and healthy intimacy in any of our relationships. He knows we will eventually give up and settle for mediocre intimacy or counterfeit intimacy. Don’t give up!

A Single Mom on Father’s Day

Father's Day 2013 Super Hero Run in Sacramento, California

Father’s Day 2013 Super Hero Run in Sacramento, California

My daughter and son-in-law organized a Super Hero 5k run for Father’s Day. Over five thousand people attended last Sunday at 8 am. Naturally, as the father of the event organizer, I got conscripted to “volunteer” in the beer garden after the race. (Somehow I don’t think this qualified as a church outreach.) Anyhow, my job was to affix wrist bands on runners after the security officer checked their ID to make sure they were old enough to consume Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for breakfast. (When did Pabst become trendy?)

As runners filed into the beer garden, we gave the dads a ticket for a free beer in honor of Father’s Day. I asked one man if he was a dad. “Yes, several times,” he said. I told him he could only have one free beer no matter how many children he had. This prompted a howl of laughter from both of us. He nodded at a young lady who entered with him and indicated she was one of his kids. She was a cute girl in her early twenties. I jokingly told her: “Sorry, the free beers are only for dads today.”
“I’m a single mom,” she said demurely while shuffling in with her dad.

There was a tone of deep sadness in her response. I felt my heart break for that young mother. I’ve had a couple days to think about it and I’ve come to realize that Father’s Day can be a sad day for some single moms. Clearly, the most common turn of events that propel mothers (and fathers) into the role of single parent is divorce and abandonment.

These days, I hear the voices of many young Christians who believe the ramifications of divorce, and other social ills, are more harmful than the hot issue of same-sex marriage. Whether they are right remains to be seen. Nevertheless, our society has done a poor job assisting widows, orphans, and single parents. Sure, we throw a lot of government services at the problem, and the church helps a little, but the solution to the emotional devastation requires more than money.

I don’t have an absolute solution that will fix this problem. However, I’ve heard my fellow Christians say that Jesus is the answer. I believe that is true but I also know we have a cross to bear in the struggle against the ills of our society. For instance, I see a tremendous amount of immaturity in young adults. As a culture we don’t demand much maturity from our young people. Instead, young adults (especially men) apply the majority of their energy to the acquisition of skills that will earn them good money so they can have a good time. Maturity is much more than work hard play hard. For one thing, it requires you to exert a lot of effort to learn how relationships work while growing your commitment to remain in the trenches when the relationship gets difficult.

Until parents start to talk often with their adolescents about maturity and expect it from them, young people will struggle to break out of the make-money-and-have-a-good-time mindset. That mindset DOES NOT work when you enter a serious relationship, get married, and have children. I know because I was deep in that mindset during my twenties and thirties. And others suffered because of my immaturity. I was eventually able to gain a little maturity because of the example and admonitions of my parents, especially my father. So parent’s, don’t give up hope.

Now that I’ve preached at you young adults, here is a word of encouragement: growing up and acquiring maturity is tough but it feels great. It also does not mean you can’t have fun. Don’t expect that maturity will automatically come into your life as you grow older. I’ve known people in their fifties and up who never left the playground, metaphorically. Maturity must be valued and sought. Generally, young women are more mature than young men (except for the girls on Bridezillas). To catch up, I recommend that young men emulate the examples of maturity in the life of Christ and spend time reading the book of Proverbs. With a little more maturity in the minds and hearts of young adults, perhaps there would be fewer sad single moms on Father’s Day.

Bickering Like Crows: The Value of Argument in Marriage

MC900030492Did you know that crows often bicker like married couples? (I admit my propensity to spend too much time observing the antics of crows is rather odd, but we all have hobbies.) Yep, just drop a half-eaten bag of French fries in a vacant city parking lot and watch the fun begin. One crow will swoop down and go to town on the fries. Soon another crow will appear, then another, then another. Before the French fries appeared, the crows were all buddies hanging out in the trees. But now they are bitter rivals. They flap their open wings at each other while lunging in and out to grab French fries. And their language is obscene. Still, I suspect that if there were no crows we’d be up to our necks in discarded French fries and other fast-food refuse. Makes you appreciate these black-feathered janitors of the skies, don’t it?

I sometimes wonder if crows mate for life (or if they are promiscuous). And where do crows raise their young? You see thousands of adult crows in my part of the country, but you rarely see where they nest. Given the ill-tempered nature of crows, I am certain married crows argue a lot.

Humans are a bit like crows. For instance, I saw an article recently that listed the most common things that rankled married couples. Here is a sample:

He leaves the toilet seat up.
He won’t look for food in the back of the refrigerator.
He puts dirty dishes in the sink instead of in the dishwasher.
After showering, he leaves the damp towel on the floor or on the bed.
He leaves dirty clothes next to the laundry hamper instead of putting them in the hamper.
He puts the garbage on the kitchen counter right next to the garbage can.
She leaves kitchen drawers open.
It takes her weeks to unpack from a business trip.
She doesn’t hang the towel back where it belongs after showering. (Perhaps that is why he leaves his damp towel on the bed.)
She takes too long in the shower.
She worries too much.
She has poor communication skills.
She constantly loses her car keys. (My personal favorite.)

Many years ago, an older pastor looked me in the eye and said he never argued with his wife. (And here I thought lying was frowned on in the pastorate.) Even if a tiny fraction of married folks don’t bicker, I wonder if something is amiss in those bickerless relationships. The Bible says that a man and woman who marry will become one flesh. That process of becoming one flesh can be uncomfortable. A man I recently met said he occasionally argued with his wife over trivial stuff because it somehow helped him feel like HE was still there. In other words, husbands and wives can, at times, feel like they are losing their individual self within marriage. But committed couples learn to compromise and adjust. And a funny, almost counterintuitive, thing happens as the years pass: we become one flesh with each other while at the same time our individual self matures. That’s cool! And maybe it’s akin to what Jesus meant when he said if we lose our life for his sake we will find our life.

Crows can bicker all day over French fries and it won’t help them become better crows. Human couples can bicker and become better people or bitter people. It’s a choice.