Daffy Duck and Doing Good

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Heb. 13:16, ESV

Doing good. Sharing. These are things we learned to do in kindergarten. They are what most people would consider “basic moral principles for living.” And they are encouraged across multiple cultures as well as religions. So why is something so universally accepted deemed a sacrifice? Wouldn’t a lifetime of practicing these characteristics make them not sacrificial but habitual? An act of desire, not duty?

Apparently not.

I think what the apostle Paul is getting at is that we human beings are by nature selfish. Like Daffy Duck in the above cartoon, we cling to our stuff, proclaiming, “MINE! MINE! MINE….I’m a happy miser” instead of sharing what we have and doing good. It takes self-discipline, empathy, and compassion to deny ourselves all that is ours and willingly give it to others. Whether that thing is something material or whether it is something immaterial (like a talent or ability), we struggle to selflessly release what we have and share it with others.

Why? Because on some level we always want a form of reimbursement. Some want money.  Others want fame and a life of ease. While still others desire recognition, a returned favor later in life, or even the little warm fuzzy feeling that comes with helping another person in need.

But this venal currency is useless in the kingdom of God.

Echoing Christ’s statement to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the author of Hebrews strikes at the heart of normal human behavior and calls us to exchange reimbursement for pleasing God.

Such end goals make our actions sacrificial.

For as long as we strive to balance what we have given with what we will receive, we remain in a continual state of self-centeredness with a morality that asks, “what’s in it for me?” But when pleasing God is our goal, God receives and transforms our self in His image. No longer do we pursue some form of self-glorification. Instead, we lay aside the self so that the beauty and perfections of Christ shine through our good works and ignite the people of this dark world to lay aside their selves to do the same. (Matt.5 :15-16)

This is the ultimate good: when we share what we have in Christ with another person. It is not only about obeying a certain list of do’s and don’ts or following a moral code of loving your fellow man. It is more than that. It is about proclaiming through our actions and our choices who Christ is and what He has done for us. It is about giving Him the glory at the expense of ourselves. It is about exchanging the “MINE! MINE! MINE!” for a life that proclaims “HIS! HIS! HIS!”

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Remember What You Have

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November 10, 2016.

3:43 p.m.

My phone notifies me that my wife has texted me. I am finishing up an appointment with a client and think to myself, “Ok. I’ll call when we’re done.”

3:44 p.m.

My wife calls me on my phone. I decline the call. Whatever she needs is obviously urgent. I begin to hurry my session to a close.

3:45 p.m.

She calls back a second time. This is our signal for 911. I excuse myself from my meeting and answer the call.

“Hello.”

“Mark! You need to leave. Right.  Now. Luke and his friends were crossing the street near the bus stop and have been hit by a pickup. The police say they need a parent on the scene.”

Images of a lifeless, bloody body laying on the ground cloud my mind, making it hard to catch my breath.

“Mark?”

“I’m on it,” I exclaim, rushing out the door with only a brief explanation to my client and our receptionists.

Twenty minutes later I arrive at the scene. The police have gone. The paramedics have left, and a call to my son tells me that he is now at home.

When I walk into the house, I find him sitting at his computer, eating a Pop-Tart.

“Why are you home early,” he asks.

I raise my eyebrows. “Uhhh. Because you were hit by a truck?”

“I’m okay, Dad,” he says. “Really. It’s not that big a deal.” He points to a small abrasion on his wrist that is about an inch in length.

He tells me that he and two of his friends decided to go to the park near our house after getting off of the bus. As they were crossing the street, they noticed a pickup truck stopped at the stop sign facing them. Initially, they waited for him to go, but when he remained stopped, they decided it was safe to cross. However, once they were halfway into the street, the truck began to make his right-hand turn and hit all three of them. My son saw the truck coming and jumped back enough to only be clipped by the vehicle’s side mirror. One of his friends, though, suffered a bruised rib, and the other had two fractured wrists.

I hug my son and breathe a sigh of relief.

Later that night I tell my wife, “You never realize how quickly your life can take a left turn into hell.”

She nuzzles herself into me on the couch and begins a refrain that we will take turns repeating for the rest of the evening: “I’m just so thankful. It could have been much, much worse.”

A week and a half later I am still chilled at the idea of what could have happened, and I find myself randomly thanking God for His protection and grace.

It is a gift I do not deserve. No amount of good deeds could have been exchanged for the life of my son. He is of infinite value and I am a man of limited resources. If God were to weigh me on the scales of justice, I would always be found wanting. And I am acutely aware that there are others in the world who have not been as fortunate as I, so I cannot claim that some cosmic “fairness” is owed to me.  I can only express appreciation and gratitude for being allowed to have my boy, first as a life loaned to me from God and now as a life spared.

But that is the nature of thankfulness, I suppose. One cannot appreciate what he has unless he juxtaposes it against the tragedy of its potential loss. And it is this juxtaposition that lays the foundation for the joy in whatever we have. This is as true for children as it is for jobs, marriages, finances, health, or lessons learned through life.

Too often we forget to measure the breadth and depth of our blessings and falsely presume that they will endure continually. But everything we love, everyone we treasure, every possession we hold dear can vanish in an instant. Everything in life, even life itself, melts away like the morning dew, and if we do not acutely attune ourselves to the transient nature of all our blessings, we will fail to be thankful for what we have been given. Nor will we recognize how God abundantly displays His goodness in our lives.

This holiday season, before you carve the turkey and watch the football game, take time to walk around the house. Reflect on how far you have come over the years. Enjoy how the crisp autumn air has gradually wrapped each tree in thin brown paper. Have a conversation with each person who is at your home. Revisit your favorite memories. Tell a story or two. Laugh with each other.

What is here today can be gone tomorrow.

Remember what you have. And be thankful.

 

 

EXTRA! EXTRA!

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For over a year I have been writing the blog “Living in the Tent.” Initially, I tailored my blog to express how to live a Christian life, both from a theological perspective and a relationship perspective. As a Christian marriage therapist, I felt this would be a great way to blend both of my passions into one expression.

However, as I began to review this blog last month I realized that the majority of my posts on here were more of a devotional nature and less about relationships. I still enjoy writing about how to manage one’s marriage successfully, but I have to recognize that this blog is no longer able to sustain a dual focus. Therefore, I have decided to do the only thing that anyone with a passion for writing, loving God, and helping couples can do…I’m starting a second blog!

This blog will remain intact and continue to deliver the devotional posts that you have been reading. However, my new blog will take up the mantle of providing relationship advice for couples. As anyone can tell you, a wedding is one thing but a marriage is a whole other animal. That is why I decided to create After the Aisle. If any of you are interested in my new blog and the relationship advice that I will be giving there, please click here and check it out. I hope you enjoy it!

5 Minute Therapy: Overcoming Procrastination

procrastination-clipart-procrastinationOk, everyone knows that change is rarely easy but it is often necessary. If you find yourself in one of those seasons of life where change is needed but “things keep getting in the way” or you’re “too busy,” then we need to discuss what is holding you back. We need to talk about procrastination. And since I know that your time is precious, we will only use five minutes or less to discuss this demon and how to overcome it. Continue reading

Making Marriage Fun Again

marriage1-620x449“Marriage is work.” Have you ever heard that statement before? You probably have, and if you are like many people, your visceral reaction to that little, three-word sentence is “Ugh.” The reason? The word “work” conjures up images of hard labor, calloused hands, low pay, unappreciation, long nights at the office, deadlines, unreasonable expectations, performance reviews, lazy coworkers who shuffle their load onto your desk, and a boss who just loves to micromanage. Who wants a marriage like that?

Instead, we want a marriage where we are excited to be together. Where it may be tough, but we know we can survive the trials of life because we support and encourage each other. We plan together, solve together, laugh together, and argue together. We take dates, raise children, take vacations, bury loved ones, and discover how to help each other accomplish their dreams. We realize that yes, marriage is difficult. It is not easy to navigate situations with someone raised completely different than you. There are responsibilities, and you must take intentional effort to nurture the relationship, but for the most part, marriage is not about the tasks you do. It’s about the person you are with.

So, let me ask you: Which way do you think about your marriage? Or your partner?

Are you keeping your head down, avoiding each other, just trying to make it through the day without any huge conflicts along the way? Or are you looking up, smiling at each other, taking joy in being with the one person who is both your best friend and your true love?

If you are the former, here are some tips that may help put some fun back in your marriage:

  1. Don’t call it a date. Just do things with each other. Lots of things. Relearn to enjoy each other’s presence. For some people, the word “date” connotes pressure to do something special. That’s an old holdover from adolescence. Adults know that getting away from the kids and going to Barnes and Noble for an hour can be just as fun as tickets to Broadway.
  2. The feeling of love comes in both being loved and giving love. If you only define love as “what’s in it for me,” you will either develop the habit of constantly using others for your personal pleasure/gain, or you will continually be disappointed in your partners.
  3. There is a difference between responsibility and pressure. Responsibility is about helping out a person you have a relationship with. Pressure is about fulfilling an obligation. Or, to put it another way, it is the difference between desire and duty.
  4. Find what is funny to your spouse and reintroduce laughter into your marriage through a humorous context that they enjoy.
  5. Reintroduce flirting in your marriage. There is nothing like a little banter charged with the electricity of wit and attraction to make marriage fun again.
  6. Rebuild your friendship with your spouse. Find those areas of commonality, whether it is similar frustrations, likes/dislikes, types of entertainment, opinions, etc., and connect them like Legos through continual communication. C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
  7. Expect nothing in return. Marriage is not a quid pro quo relationship. You give because the other person is valuable to you, and because you want to express the depth of that value to them, not because you will receive a reward in return.
  8. Look for how your spouse likes to demonstrate love to others, then reflect that back to them.
  9. Look for ways you can assist your spouse, whether it is in physical or emotional ways. Tune in to what is going on in their world so that you can either pick up the slack or put an arm around them to get them to the finish line. Romance is in the attention to details in your spouse’s world and attending to them more than ultra-creative moments you design for each other.
  10. Finally, in case you haven’t figured it out yet: Love is a skill, not a feeling. If you are telling yourself “I don’t think I have the ability to do marriage successfully,” it’s okay. No one has that ability in their nature. We are innately selfish creatures. That is why love is the skill of selflessness practiced endlessly with (and for) another person. It is not something that you arrive at through a two-hour seminar or a sermon on Sunday morning. It is a daily practice you engage in.