Monday, May 23, 2011

The Children of Divorce: Choosing New Family

I’m slowly reading through The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. The following is the third post interacting with the book and my own experiences.

For the first time in my life, I am a little brother. My dad got married a couple of weeks ago to a wonderful woman who loves him very much, and both of her daughters are older than I am. The oldest was having quite a fun time calling me “little brother”, which made it quite weird for me because “little brother” has never been part of my identity. But to be honest, it is probably not as weird for me as it would have been if we were all living in the same household.

I cannot imagine how weird it may have been for my youngest brother when he went from being the baby in my mom and dad’s family to being the oldest in my dad’s home in his second marriage. The challenge to navigate in both of those worlds as he formed (and is still forming) his identity would have been and is great.

In his book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being, author Andrew Root writes that the “pure relationship” nature of marriage today allows people to choose relationships in which “the self is free of obligatory structures”. Root writes that a relationship chosen by two individuals who have committed to marriage based on their love for one another is a “pure relationship [that is] contingent on the choice to be together outside of any kind of coercion.” (pg. 39) In contrast, “children are bound to their parents not by choice but by biology.”

My parents have both chosen new spouses. As good as their new spouses may be to them (and they are), I have not chosen my new family and I have no biological bond with them.

I will always be the child of my mom and my dad. My current reality is that I will always live in the tension caused by the divorce. How much time does each “family” get? Where do I stay when I visit “home”? How many stories do I share that involve the other parent? What do I reveal or not reveal on facebook? Root writes:

"When the biological obligatory bond is broken, and one world becomes two separate worlds, children are forced to form identity not through the solid place of shared being, but through choice. Children must be two selves in two different families, neither which firmly hold them in biological correlation.” (pg. 42)

Children of divorce struggle with identity issues in blended families. I do not know how to be “little brother”. It is not a role that I am familiar with in a family. I have always identified with being the oldest brother. Those of us who get to minister to and love these children must understand these issues and the complexity that comes with it. The children must be given the freedom and time to “choose” to love those that were “chosen” for them. Parents who have chosen divorce and then remarriage should understand that it is both complex and difficult for the children to navigate the world of blended families. The “new family” dynamic will never look like the “old family” dynamic.

As an adult child of divorce who has found his identity in Christ and His church, it is easier for me to love my new step-family because I can “choose” to love them as brothers and “big” sisters in Christ. But it will take time, and the bonds formed will be different than the biological bonds I have with my parent’s children.

I pray that my “new" family will have patience with me. I am still very attached to my “old family.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

3 Keys to a Healthy Marriage

A relative of mine looking to get married soon asked this question the other day: How do I avoid divorce?

Knowing her story, and knowing that both of her parents had been married multiple times, I appreciated her question. Someone else answered her in the moment, but this is how I would have answered.

In my almost six years of marriage I have discovered that in order to keep the relationship with my wife healthy, I must remember these things:

1) Communicate expectations clearly. Every relationship has roles and responsibilities. Each individual must be up front in letting the other know what they are expecting of their spouse. If you expect your husband to hang the toilet paper so it hangs from the front, tell him before getting mad at him. If you expect dinner ready at 5:00pm, communicate it. If you expect that you and your spouse will go to bed at the same time, communicate it. If you do not communicate it and your expectation is not met, you cannot hold your spouse responsible for what they do not know.

2) Give without holding back and without expecting anything in return. Marriage is about trusting your spouse with your life. Make sacrifices to show that they are the most important person in your life. If you cannot trust the person you are planning to marry, you should reconsider making the commitment to that person.

3) You are on the same team. Marriage is not a competition. Spouses are not in opposition to one another. When you criticize, demean, or harshly rebuke your spouse you are only hurting yourself. Previously I wrote about having a greater purpose in marriage. My wife and I are united in our mission to pursue God and make him known. Be about your greater purpose and understand that when there are disagreements, there is no winning or losing if you are on the same team.

There are obviously more keys to a healthy marriage. What would you add?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Maniac Shooting Flaming Arrows of Death

Jokes are convenient ways to turn frustrating situations or individuals into something we can understand and control. When a situation is turned into a joke, we control the punch line. When a person is turned into a joke, the joke teller holds the power over the person (the punch line).

In a conversation before a meeting this week, a friend of mine called me on my increasing use of sarcasm. He was right. Sarcasm is defined as harsh or bitter derision or irony. I have a tendency to increase my use of sarcasm when I feel like I have arrived in a position of leadership or authority. It is a weakness that I use to help me feel like I am “right” or “in control”. It is less work to deride someone I do not understand or disagree with than it is to seek restoration. It feels better to me to make a joke out of someone when I want to be “right”.

I am grateful for my friend’s accountability.

It would have been easy for me to say “I was only joking”. But sarcasm has its roots in bitterness. Proverbs 26:18-19 says “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’” When we use sarcasm in an attempt to make light of a situation we knowingly and unknowingly use our words to shoot flaming arrows of death at our intended targets.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) When we use sarcasm, it only benefits the joke teller. My hope is that my words are helpful in building others up. God’s desire is that we use words to encourage and make others look good. Paul goes on to say in verse 30 that our words can grieve the Holy Spirit. Our words can make God sad. That is definitely not on my to do list.

Before you make that crack about your senior pastor, or about that one board member or elder, check yourself. Before you tear down your parents with “witty” jokes, check yourself. Before you make a generalized statement about men or women, or about kids these days, check yourself. Or before you tear down your teacher or a politician, check yourself.

Instead, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What are your stories about?

What stories are you telling in your everyday conversations?

We’ve all got stories we like to tell. Some of us have stories that we will share with everyone we come in contact with. We have stories that everyone around us have heard over and over and over again.

What are those stories about?

I was realizing the other day that I have a tendency to tell stories that make me look good in comparison to other people. Sometimes, probably often, I tell the stories that prove my “right”ness as they measure up to someone else’s wrongness. I’m getting uncomfortable with those stories. I’m tired of justifying my life’s “successes” based on someone else’s “failures”.

I would rather tell stories that make others look good. I would rather boast on the accomplishments of the people around me than criticize their weaknesses. I want to tell stories of how God delivered me from my weaknesses and mistakes.

What are your stories about?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Children of Divorce: The Purpose of Marriage

I’m slowly reading through The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. The following is what I hope to be one of many posts interacting with the book and my own experiences.

Marriage didn’t happen for me until eight years after my parents’ divorce. I am quite thankful for that because it allowed me to take a look at the relationship patterns in my own life that I saw as contributing to the breakdown of my mom and dad’s relationship. Then I was able to submit those things in my life to Christ for healing and transformation. The most formative thing for me out of our family’s tragedy was my desire to know what I wanted out of marriage.

Before we were together, my wife used to tell her friends and family that she “wasn’t going to get married unless her husband would help her serve Christ better.” I had a similar approach in that I wasn’t interested in marrying someone unless we shared a trust in Christ and, even more importantly, we shared the same mission in ministry.

In the first chapter of The Children of Divorce, author Andrew Root lays out the history of marriage making the point that our modern way of marrying for love is a recent cultural phenomenon. Root makes the point that before the 16th century marriage was about passing on property, power, and tradition. Between the 16th and 18th centuries marriage was about maintaining tradition in a world of needed labor. Then in the 19th and 20th centuries people began marrying for intimacy. As marriage became more and more about the fulfillment of self, it became increasingly permissible for individuals to leave marriages that were not fulfilling their individual needs. Root suggests that marrying for love may be the reason why today’s marriages struggle to last a lifetime.

Love in and of itself can be fleeting. Even for the most devoted couples. Root’s point in the chapter is to point out that when couples choose to separate for reasons relating to self-fulfillment that children suffer because they have no choice in the matter. The child’s understanding of self is completely tied to who they are in the family.

It is important then, that families that intend to last have a purpose grander than acquiring “love” for self-fulfillment. My wife and I are united by our love for one another, but beyond that we are united by our desire to raise our kids to become fully functioning adults, and beyond that our calling to be ministers of God’s word in the Church. We are committed to staying together because our community would suffer if we did not.

If you are single, wait for a spouse that can help you live beyond yourself. If you are married, work together to find a purpose for your marriage beyond taking care of each other’s needs. Then, perhaps, fewer kids will have to suffer the tragedy of divorce on their lives.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Children of Divorce: Belonging To A New Community

I’m slowly reading through The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. The following is what I hope to be one of many posts interacting with the book and my own experiences.

I was an adult when my parents divorced. Needless to say it rocked my world. The family that had been responsible for the development of my understanding of “who I am” was irreparably broken. The family unit who helped to form my faith no longer existed. I was in the middle of college, still unsure of what I was going to be when I grew up, when the foundation of my identity crumbled beneath me.

It forced me to find community and identity outside of my family. Because my family wasn’t the same. It would never be the same.

As my parents moved on after the divorce, I struggled with knowing where I belonged in their new families. I liked my step-families, but didn’t feel like I fully had a place in them that I belonged. I felt like an outsider, and still do sometimes. I belonged to my mom and my dad. And that unit was broken.

I found my new place of belonging in the Church. My central community became those I worshipped Christ with. Whether it was a college aged group at churches outside of my home (mostly family) church, or intentionally connecting with other believers outside of my family in my home church, I discovered that I had a place to belong in Christ’s family.

And I’m confident that is where I’m supposed to be.

The Church is the place for the broken and identity-less to discover new identities where they can be loved and suffered with.

In the introduction to The Children of Divorce, Andrew Root writes:

The scars and regret of my parents’ divorce remain, but I no longer feel transparent or cut free. Rather, I have found a new community for my being, one created from love and shared suffering. It is my hope as a theologian that communities of faith can be such communities of love and suffering, created around the love and suffering of God in Jesus Christ. (pg.XX)

If you are broken from the pain of divorce, my hope and prayer is that you will, too, find community and a place for healing in the Church, God’s instrument for ministering through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why I Love Rebecca Black and Friday

Remember how awesome middle school was? It was a strange combination of awkward and playful. There were those times when being goofy with friends was everything I looked forward to. And then there were those times when I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere and I felt mostly awkward.

There is a playful goofiness that comes with being 13. And it is awesome and weird all at the same time. In my ministry with middle schoolers, I see this all the time. The outside world looks at them and shakes their heads wondering what in the world is going through their heads. We adults often look at what they do and label it as dumb or stupid. And we are wrong.

Just the other day I was visiting the home of one of my students, and she and her friend had decided to make a slip and slide on her hill with a tarp and a snow sled. It sounds like great fun, except that it was 40 degrees outside. And windy. And they didn’t have shoes on. It was so easy to label their efforts as “dumb” or “stupid.” But you know what? They were having fun. They were being creative. Their attempt wasn’t as successful as they would have liked. But it was good. It was that awesome combination of awkward and playful.

Rebecca Black is one of those awesomely awkward and playful 13 year olds. She just happened to record a song and video (find it here if you have been living in a cave) that was equally awesomely awkward that has become an internet and iTunes hit. The songs’ lyrics and video have been judged as dumb and stupid. And because of her success the teen, whose parents paid $2000 to the record company to record the song, is also being judged as dumb and stupid.

I love Rebecca Black and Friday because she epitomizes life as an eighth grader. I prefer to celebrate the awkward and playful nature of 13 year old awesomeness. I want to see more “successes” and “failures” like Rebecca Black and my young friends.

Because me and my young friends, well, “we, we, we so excited!”

And it is pure awesomeness when that strange combination of awkward and playful come together in a middle school student in various creative ways.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Three Year Old Makes Pancakes

A couple of weeks ago my boy woke me up with loud noises coming from the kitchen. Wanting to make sure that he was okay I rushed from the bedroom to discover that he had dragged a dining room chair to the kitchen counter. He had grabbed the box of pancake mix from the cupboard (one of the loud noises), pulled the carton of eggs out of the refrigerator, reached into a different cupboard to pull down a mixing bowl (another loud noise), and was using a ¼ cup measuring cup to scoop up the powder.

He had decided to make pancakes.

By himself.

The only ingredient he was missing was the milk. But I don’t think he was finished retrieving all of his ingredients. He even told me that he needed “two cups of powder”, which was exactly what the recipe called for.

I was impressed.

I love it when my kids start doing things on their own. It means that I have one less thing I need to do for him. It means that he is one step closer to being able to function independently as a member of our society. It means he has the confidence to live life outside of my watchful eye. Because, as his parent, it is my job to teach him how to live in this world.

I remember the joy my parents felt when I started driving. They no longer had to drive me places, and they were able to take advantage of having an extra driver in the house to help them run errands. Independent acting children are able to make a contribution to the family, and beyond that to their community.

When I was coaching high school distance runners, our most successful seasons came when the student athletes had a leadership role in preparing our workouts.

In my ministry to young people, I have seen their spiritual growth explode when they were able to do the work of the ministry themselves.

If you have children, what are you doing to give them permission to act independently? Is your home a safe place for your children to fail so that they can learn what it takes to succeed?

If you work with children, are you giving them opportunities to do big things? Are you giving them a safe place to fail so they can learn what it takes to succeed?

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Hear Voices In My Head

I hear voices in my head.

It’s true. They may not be actual voices, but they still have a tendency to speak up when I encounter their favorite subject in my life. When I run, I can still hear Coach Clancy’s voice in my head cheering me on or challenging me to run harder. My parent’s voices are often the loudest and rightly so, as they are the people who have had the most influence in my life.

One thing I am learning about the voices in my head is that, like all of us, they are not always right. Often they are right, which is how they became significant voices, but sometimes they are wrong. And it’s okay not to listen to them anymore. Because it is just a voice. Not the actual person.

More importantly, I’m learning to differentiate the voice in my head from the person I think belongs to the voice. It is so easy to move from “that thought is wrong” to “that person is wrong” and begin to make judgments of the person behind the thought. That is not fair to the person who may no longer think that way anymore and would never say now what you think they said then.

The truth is the voices in your head no longer belong to the person who you think they belong. They are now your thoughts. They do not belong to your coach. They don’t belong to your teacher. They don’t belong to your dad. They are yours and yours alone. You cannot blame and judge that other person for your thoughts.

If you do not like the thought, or if the thought is wrong, then your mind can be and should be made new in Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”(Ephesians 4:22-24)

My prayer is that I would judge the thought, not the person, according to God’s righteousness and holiness and that I would allow my mind to be made new.

Who do you blame for the voices in your head?