Strength Amid Trials

Have you ever felt like you were at the end of your rope, so to speak? Or worse yet, past the end of it?

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. With all the upheaval of the last few months, to say I’m overwhelmed would probably be an understatement. Yet, when asked if I can continue or perhaps give just a bit more, I find myself responding truthfully, “Yes. OK.” I feel like Jim Carrey’s character in “Liar, Liar” when asked if he could continue his case in court after being brutally beaten by “a mad man” (himself). Unable to lie, his face shows absolute incredulity as he answers, “Yeeesss…” because even he cannot believe that his answer is true, despite knowing he cannot lie for the time being.

Incredulous is an accurate description for that feeling – at the end of your rope, suddenly finding a hidden reserve of strength that you’re sure you didn’t have before. Or did you? Where does this secondary fortitude come from? Has it been there all along, or has it suddenly come to you in a time of need? I think perhaps the answer may be both.

Often, we underestimate our own strength. We tell ourselves as we see the trial unfold, “I’ll never make it through that.” Yet somehow, we do. Perhaps even as we are telling ourselves we can’t make it, we are actually planning ahead mentally for how we can make it. Or maybe at the point where we thought we’d crumble, we tap into that hidden reserve of strength. Perhaps the we hide this reserve so deep in ourselves that we don’t realize it’s there because of a very natural desire to never need it. What normal person looks for trials, just so they can show off their inner strength? Or maybe this secondary fortitude comes from a different source altogether.

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10, New International Version

Could the source of this power be God? In difficult times, many often pray for strength or help to endure. Is the answer to that prayer this previously unknown fortitude we find? I believe that to be so. But let’s not cut the hand of God short. There are many ways He can answer our prayers for help. Perhaps a friend reaches out to us at just the right moment. Perhaps someone else needs our help, and our efforts in that direction help us to pull ourselves out of our own misery. And maybe, just maybe, we are the answer to their prayer for help.

Sometimes, just being aware of the trials another person is facing and watching them meet these trials with grace and quiet fortitude helps us to meet our own problems in a similar way. It may also deepen our appreciation for the person who has modeled these behaviors. It may add a wider scope to Plato’s words, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

So, as you fight your hard battle, show some kindness and consideration for those around you who are fighting their own.

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Holy Matrimony

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“Did you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”
Matthew 19:4-6

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Ah, wedded bliss… Or not. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2009, half of all marriages end in divorce.

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In the United States, almost 7 million households consist of unmarried couples – both with and without children. In 1960, that figure was 0.42 million. Drawing another contrast, as of 2009, only 36% of first marriages were still intact, compared to 73.5% in 1960. The average marriage lasts 8 years, not “til death do us part.” Today, over 30% of children live with a single parent. Despite the trend these statistics show, in 2007, 80% of high school seniors polled said that a good marriage and family life were “extremely important” to them.

Why are so many marriages failing? Why is an institution that goes back to the very beginning of the human race beginning to die? Could it be because more and more people today are selfish to the extreme? Could it be the attitude brought about by the facile accessibility of divorce in modern times? The attitude of “if it doesn’t work out, we can just get a divorce,” has likely contributed to the premature failure of not a few marriages. Add to that the subliminal messages that the media and celebrities send to the general public by glorifying these lifestyles and we have a culture where marriage is no longer a sacred bond and having children out of wedlock is not just a lamentable reality, but actually a planned occurrence in many instances.

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The marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (pictured above) ended after only 72 days, in what has been dubbed by many as an extremely elaborate publicity stunt. This blatant disregard for the sanctity of marriage has outraged some and been dismissed as comical or unimportant by others. Some have even observed that, in their opinion, this offense committed by the reality TV star has degraded the institution of holy matrimony more than the legalization of same-sex marriage has.

Prior to 1973, homosexuality was officially listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. Since it was removed from that list, there has been much lobbying for “gay rights.” In 1979, 75,000 people participated in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Washington, D.C. In 2000, Vermont became the first state in the country to legalize civil unions between gay or lesbian couples, but did not refer to these unions as marriage, which was still defined by the state as a union of heterosexuals. On May 17, 2004, same-sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts. Legalization of same-sex civil unions in Connecticut and New Jersey followed in 2005 and 2006, respectively. In 2009, Iowa and New Hampshire legalized same-sex marriage, followed by Washington, D.C. in 2010 and New York in 2011. And just this year, Washington and Maryland legalized same-sex marriage as well.

I must emphasize here that I am not a homophobe; I do not hate homosexuals. But I am content to be guided by God’s view of homosexual acts and therefore find said acts repulsive. (Read Romans 1:26, 27 in any Bible translation.) This is not to say that I believe homosexuals are bad people, or are lacking in good qualities as human beings. I am horrified by hate crimes; I believe that acts of violence against our fellow human beings for any reason are beyond despicable.

This being said, a good friend of mine often complains of the fact that homosexuals demand “equal rights,” and have gay pride parades. But, as she points out, there is no heterosexual pride parade, and that spells inequality – in favor of homosexuals. Interesting perspective.

Why, as humanity “progresses” are the values that once formed the backbone of societal structure being sneered at? Dare I woefully prophesy that, if left to this course, it will be heterosexuals who will one day have to fight for “equal rights”? As a practice that once was strongly condemned becomes legal, accepted and eventually preferred, what other behaviors will be legalized?

But let us return to the original institution of marriage. What can be done to have a happy and healthy marriage? Besides the obvious detrimental behaviors of cheating and physical abuse – in my opinion, both “dealbreakers” – what should be avoided in order to build a strong, loving marriage?

DO:
• Communicate clearly, politely and frequently. Explain yourself, speak in a kind manner and with kind words. Make sure you listen.
• Spend time together often. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate date night; even performing simple mundane tasks – such as grocery shopping, cleaning, etc. – together on a regular basis will strengthen your relationship.
• Forgive. With the exception of the aforementioned “dealbreakers,” most other shortcomings on the part of your spouse are likely “small stuff” not worth holding grudges over. Remember, no one is perfect, and it’s definite that you will make mistakes that need forgiving as well. Be patient.
• Laugh together. Have fun together. Take time to remember what made you fall in love with one another. Look at your wedding album and other photos taken throughout your relationship.
• Function as a unit. Stand by your commitment. When you said your vows, you joined yourself to your spouse, so what affects one affects the other. Make decisions together and support one another.
• Be affectionate. Make your spouse feel loved. Make your marriage your first priority.
• Have reasonable expectations. A real human being is not going to behave like a character from a romance novel or look like a supermodel.
• Be honest. A strong marriage is built on trust.

DON’T
• Yell and scream, use abusive language and/or body language, or hurl insults at your spouse.
• Belittle your spouse in public or private.
• Undermine your spouse’s decisions or say “I told you so!” when they fail.
• Expect the impossible.
• Use sex as a weapon.
• Give the silent treatment.
• Use guilt to get your way.
• Subscribe to the thought process that “he/she married me, so they just have to put up with my bad habits/obnoxious behavior/rudeness/etc.”

At the end of the day, remember, you and your spouse are both on the same team. Don’t work against each other, work for the common good – your marriage. Keep the spark alive, or rekindle it if need be. If you make a happy, healthy marriage your goal and priority, you will have – and be – a loving and loyal best friend and partner for years to come.

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True Love

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“Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. … Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13

A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
Dictionary

The above definitions of love – both the Biblical and the secular – are both accurate, though the Biblical definition is more descriptive and poetic.

Love is, without a doubt, the most important thing in life. I’m not speaking of just romantic love, but love on a grander scale, love that truly endures and never fails.

Love can mean different things to different people, but true love differs from passion, lust, or strong enthusiasm. True love makes a better person of us, gives us strength, and brings us joy.

In the Bible passage above, in the original Greek, the word translated “love” is just one of four ancient Greek words for love. Αγάπη (agape) is the word used. It differs from φιλία (philia), love between family members and close friends, έρως (eros), romantic love, and οτοργή (storge), affection or fondness. This agape is a principled love – selfless, altruistic, committed, and perhaps the highest level of love known to humanity.

It is possible to love one person with all four loves, most likely a spouse. But when troubles come, which of those loves will keep the marriage strong and intact? Not romance or affection, but the selfless, committed love. In a serious marital crisis, only a deeply committed, principled love will save the marriage from failure. What moves you to make sacrifices for the sake of the relationship? True love. As Shakespeare aptly put it in his 116th sonnet:

“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken…”

True love is enduring. It is not flighty or unreliable, but constant, faithful, and steadfast. Sadly, it is also becoming rarer.

There are too many news stories of marriages breaking up, parents dumping or otherwise abusing and endangering their children, of “friends” backstabbing each other, of grown children abusing elderly parents, and the like. It’s downright depressing. What is happening to love?

Can you think of someone hurting an elderly person and not cringe in pain? Could you look into a hungry or endangered child’s eyes and not be moved to help in some way? Is there someone in your life that means more to you than life itself? Is there a person you know who can make any trial worthwhile? Is there a human being that you would die for, if it came to that? It doesn’t have to be someone you’re romantically involved with. You don’t have to be a parent to feel this love. But have you simply opened yourself up to the possibilities that this kind of love could bring?

The extraordinary thing about real love is that it always begets more love. It multiplies exponentially. You could find one love in your life, and through that love be connected to more love. It could be a spouse, a friend, a relative, a child. Before you know it, you’ve built up a network of love. But you must be willing to open up to it. People need people. Human connections are vital to our well-being, and we are all connected more than we realize. Make it count. Open your heart. Let love in, let it move you. Watch your life change because of it. Love never fails.

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