Sunday, April 25, 2010

Partial Commitment (Part 1)

I had an argument recently with a friend as we discussed the marriage of another friend. I’d like to say we “debated” or “commented on” this other friend’s marriage, but the reality is… we were arguing. In retrospect, it was only an argument because we both care about our friend’s marriage, which quite frankly is in pretty poor shape. But I’m not writing specifically about my friend’s troubled marriage (other than to ask you to pray for the couple). Rather I’m writing about one of the big root causes to their present situation: partial commitment.

Partial commitment is a killer. Keeping options open sounds wise on the surface, but in reality, it’s draining and leads to conflicted feelings. I know all too well, because I’m an options guy. I look at something and explore the different angles, possibilities and “what if’s”. It’s a great strength for problem-solving and a huge weakness in implementation. When dating, partial commitment keeps a person from jumping into a bad relationship, but by the time a couple is engaged, their individual commitment-level needs to either reach fully devoted or they should re-think the relationship.

In the above mentioned argument, my friend stated accurately: “a partial commitment is no commitment.” My friend was absolutely correct. If a person is truly committed to a cause, then there is no room for ambivalence: you’re either in or you’re out. A person who keeps their options open is not likely to follow through on their promise when the going gets tough. After all, why fight against all odds for something when you have other, equally attractive options that are easier to pursue?

In our fear of betrayal, we keep options open. The majority of adults in our culture have seen marriage after marriage die sudden and unexpected deaths. But real commitment is total commitment; it is affirmed by actions, even when confronted with uncertainty and discomfort. A committed marriage is a courageous marriage. It’s cemented in a decision to trust in a worthy cause, even at the expense of self and all other desires. Realizing the full danger and possibility of betrayal, the committed spouse makes a decision to always pursue reconciliation. And as the couple encounters rocky cycles in their relationship, they find a growing ability to trust each other more fully.

Now just to be clear: when I write “pursue reconciliation”, I’m NOT suggesting a couples need to stay in the same house. Sometimes it’s just not safe. And especially when children are involved, someone needs to be the responsible parent and provide a safe environment for the kids. However, separation should always be done with the goal of reconciliation and a plan for how the marriage can get back on track. Otherwise, it becomes an opportunity to test out the divorce option… a partial commitment to the marriage. And in the absence of all the pressures felt when living under the same roof, that divorce option will look very attractive.

Also for clarification, this message is NOT a condemnation of anyone who has gone through a divorce. Each situation is different and there are countless “What if…” possibilities that can never be pursued after the fact. The right question to ask is “What now?”.

(to be continued...)

copyright 2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

800 Years Later...

About 800 years ago, the son of a rich Italian merchant came face to face with Jesus... literally. A soldier and partier, this man from Assisi was transformed as the living Jesus appeared to him. To the chagrin of his father, this man forsook the pleasures of this world and chose instead a life of poverty, identifying with the poor in his midst. Jesus told him to rebuild His church, and Francis worked to rebuild a building. But as Jesus transformed Francis, Francis transformed the world around him. Although he was never ordained, he attracted a group of followers who also sought the simple life.

I wonder... how would the world be transformed today, 800 years later, if Jesus' people lived an attitude that reflected the prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy

O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

I wonder, is it any coincidence that Mother Teresa made such an impact in her world as she also adopted this prayer? How would we transform this world if we allowed this simple attitude to change us?

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Phil 2:5-11 NIV)

Monday, April 12, 2010

What Do You Know About Love, Marriage and Family?

I feel compelled to write about love, marriage and family… just a few light topics before bedtime. So: “What Do You Know About Love, Marriage and Family?”

I guess the short answer to the title question for any of us in 2010 America is: “Not enough”.

I worked with a gentleman who raised not only his own children, but also his grandchild because the actual parents didn’t want the responsibility. Now, he’s in the process of repeating this cycle with his GREAT-grandchild! Why are adults refusing to grow up? While responsibility may have become a synonym for burden in our society, one thing I know is that family, marriage and love are some of the nicest inconveniences in life.

I saw a movie, “In Good Company” (2004), where a young man is asking an older man how he managed a happy marriage. The older man responds with “First you find someone that’s going to stay in the foxhole with you, and then you keep [yourself faithful].” (Umm… had to clean up the language a bit.) There’s a lot of truth in this line. Prior to meeting my own bride, I had dated a young lady who thought love was just a feeling. This prior girlfriend would get so irritated with me when I told her my understanding:

Love is a powerful feeling, but more than that… it’s a decision.

Love is a commitment, a willful action, to stay in love… and marriage? Marriage is a responsibility to stay committed when life gets hard. It’s staying in the foxhole when the pressures of life try to pull you away.

When I was dating the lady that eventually became my wife, we were up late in the evening, talking about the nature of love. That night, she said the unbelievable: love is more of a decision than a feeling. I couldn’t believe it: I had found that person who could stay in the foxhole with me! Now, I’m not saying that either one of us has it all together or that it’s beyond either of us to stumble, but we decided long ago that the word divorce was not in our vocabulary. And with God’s help, it never will be.

Now this message isn’t condemnation to anyone who has gone through a divorce. I’ve seen one spouse work oh-so-very-hard on the marriage only to see their partner walk away. And I admit that divorce sounds like a good option when the only other option is a life of misery with someone who just can’t meet your needs. In other words: option (A) stay married and have a miserable life, or option (B) cut your losses and make the best out of the remainder of your life. But there is an option (C): make a happy marriage. If people really believed that option (C) was worth it and achievable, we would see divorce rates plummet in this country.

Is a happy marriage achievable? I think if you can find the person that will stay in foxhole with you… absolutely. It takes mutual commitment to work on it. It takes a man choosing to relinquish his selfish desires, and deciding to cherish the woman he has committed to love, courting her heart and striving to live a life worthy of respect. It takes a woman who will demonstrate respect for her husband when the chinks are seen in his not-so-shining armor. It takes a resolution to love someone when they’re not lovable, helping someone who maybe doesn’t want your help, and being available at the most inconvenient times. It takes intentional acts to re-kindle the fire and just have fun together. I believe it’s very hard, but it’s also worth the effort. Everyone around the winners in the fight for a happy marriage is strengthened by the outcome. And waves of encouragement can extend to unborn generations. It’s hard, but it’s worth it… and it takes pressing past the emotions that scream at you to “run away!”.

I believe emotions are like engine indicator lights in a car: an error indication tells you something is wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily say “what” is wrong. I had a car that gave me an error every time it rained heavily. The first couple times it happened, I was anxious about what was wrong. Eventually, though, I discovered that heavy rain gave me a faulty reading. Emotions are that way. Sometimes they indicate something is wrong with you or your marriage, but sometimes they just give you a false reading because something is wrong in the environment. Is an alarm going off? Listen to it and investigate what’s triggering the alarm.

We live in a fast-paced, task-oriented culture, but we were made to be relational beings. As a result of our culture, we can often disregard the alarm until something major has happened, and just as it took time to get into the mess, it can take time to resolve the issues. Issues can cause other issues, which of course can cause even more issues. But a responsible adult takes ownership of the issues and cleans up the mess, modeling responsibility to the next generation.

How can children learn to be responsible adults unless they have been parented? We desperately need to learn, apply and pass on to our children the lost art of life-long, loving, marriages. What heritage do we leave our children when our happiness is dependent upon our circumstances? How much better to show them that with God’s help we can make our own happiness? I don’t have this mastered, but I’m committed to learning and applying whatever I can grasp, knowing that I’ll be better for it and that I will leave my own kids with more than I started with.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Why Easter?

It’s easy for me to say: “I love Christmas!” Ever since I was a kid, it held a certain sense of expectation. First: there’s all the gifts and decorations. Then as I got older: there’s all the gifts and decorations! (just half-kidding)

As I matured, I grew to understand the joy of giving, looking forward to seeing the expression on others’ faces when they open THE package. And of course, I love the REAL message: God the Father extends peace and good will toward men.

But Easter? It never had the same pull for me as a kid. Hard-boiled eggs with fancy colors just didn’t compare to the lights of Christmas trees, especially since I really wasn’t too fond of hard-boiled eggs. And candy in a basket was nowhere near as exciting to wake up to as a mountain of toys supplemented with a stocking of sugary delights.

Of course Easter is no more about the flowery traditions than Christmas, but the fact remains: as a young boy, it was never packaged up very nicely. Still, I remember somewhere around the age of 12 lying in bed the night before Easter, thinking how clueless I had been about the holiday. For example, Good Friday… what made it so “good”? Jesus was beaten nearly to death and ultimately finished off in a harsh, humiliating way. Was THAT “good”?

And now, 2000 years later, we just comment nonchalantly how Jesus rose from the dead after three days in a tomb. Either that or we categorically deny that it ever happened because “people just don’t come back from the dead”. (By the way, that’s called a “circular argument”, which in the academic discipline of Logic and is basically a bad thing to do.)

So as an adult, I still think we package up Easter poorly.

Why “Good” Friday? I watch “The Passion of the Christ” and it still doesn’t feel very good to me. Commenting on the movie, a friend of mine said: “I can’t really say I enjoy the movie. It’s like watching your best friend get beaten to death. How can you enjoy that?” I agree. As an adult, Good Friday still doesn’t feel very “good”.

As a matter of fact, had I been alive at the time, I would have been one of the most disappointed! I can picture myself back in the garden with Jesus as the soldiers come to take Him away, thinking: “Okay! This is when the power of the Messiah is going to be displayed!” I can imagine my disappointment as He is bound up and taken prisoner. I imagine my hopes rising as I picture a new outcome when Jesus is taken to Herod, thinking: “Yes! Jesus will convert Herod and the nation will be united in purpose as we step into our destiny!!” I can even imagine my anticipation as Pilot brings Jesus out with Barabas, knowing in my heart of hearts that Jesus is just going to walk away from the situation!

But Jesus didn’t walk away. Instead, He walked knowingly into a humiliating death. Hanging naked on the cross, struggling for breath, blood pouring down, ridiculed by malicious onlookers, and having to see the heart-break on the faces of those who loved Him dearly, He died. Seeing the growing despair on His followers’ faces, He still had the grace to ask His Father to forgive the perpetrators of this crime. Dying in front of the very ones who had welcomed Him as Victorious King only days before, Jesus did not walk away… because He understood the greater good.

On that truly Good Friday, He took the punishment for me, completing that Christmas message of the Father’s peace offering. He took my punishment so I could be made acceptable and inherit the kingdom of God, unworthy as I am. The Worthy One took my punishment for me so I could live. That is truly a goodness I can’t fully understand, and I confess still I can’t appreciate this gift as I should.

Still all of that would have been a questionable message if He didn’t rise from the grave. If He stayed in that tomb, then I could be tempted to think of Jesus as just another messenger from God. Do you want to shake my faith in Jesus? Prove the resurrection didn’t happen. But Jesus didn’t want to leave a doubt as to His identity, His authority or His mission! So on the third day, just as He predicted, Jesus rose from the dead, affirming that death has no power over the Only Begotten Son of God!

Hallelujah, Christ is risen! The Lord has risen indeed, Hallelujah!!

The Resurrection of the Christ is foundational to all believers, who in the midst of trial and suffering can proclaim with confidence that this world is not our home! We withstand persecution and ridicule for our faith because we can point to the certainty of Jesus. We remain here simply as ambassadors of a great kingdom in service to our Great King.

Since the day of His resurrection, people have been trying to hide the truth. But the attempts to cover up the incident speak just as credibly to His resurrection as the many eye witnesses to the fact. One of the most telling indicators that He actually rose from the grave is that the Roman guards weren’t killed after His body disappeared from the tomb. Roman guard duty policy was essentially: “guard it or be executed.” But in the attempt to keep the guards quiet about what really happened, they were given their lives in exchange for a lie: telling people that Jesus’ followers took the body.

Jesus IS alive… He is risen… and He embraces those that seek Him!

Why Easter? Why do we take the most significant event of all human events and package it up as an inferior holiday? Why do we, in effect, take the best Christmas present ever and put it in a wrinkled, brown paper bag, still thinking: “I can’t wait until they open it up!” I like to think of myself as an out-of-box thinker, but I acknowledge my own difficulty with this problem. Our Easter present needs to be made more presentable, but all I could afford this year… was this blog.

Peace and Good Will to all men!