Christians, Let’s Get Back to Basics

You know, sometimes I wonder how often Christ rolled his eyes at his followers while he was here on Earth. I imagine that he was imminently patient with the frustrations of dealing with people who had spent three solid years with him, listening to everything he said, but were still just not getting it. But there is no sin in a sigh as you have to restate the same things over and over, an occasional head shake, maybe pinching the bridge of the nose, or even an eye roll. He was, after all, human.

He tried repeatedly to simplify things for them (and for us). He used parables in the hopes that the important things would click, and because he knew people have a tendency to remember stories far better than lectures. And he tried to break things down to basics. Probably the best example is this: love God, love your neighbor. Three of the four gospels have a version of this quote (John is a little different from the other three, but I’m not gonna get into that–it’s for Biblical scholars). Bear with me as I give you three copies of the same fundamental idea.

First, a little background for the passage. A teacher of the law asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest. Now we don’t know much about this guy other than that he was a Bible scholar (which for him, would have been the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Old Testament) and the books of the prophets). It says that he “tested” Jesus with his question. We don’t really know what his motivation was; it could be that he was a true seeker, and wanted to know if Jesus measured up to the hype, or that he was trying to trick Jesus into some objectionable offense (this was a pretty common occurrence). But it doesn’t really matter why he asked the question. Jesus used it as a teachable moment, one I’d dare say was one of his most important. Here are the three versions of his response, in the NIV (please don’t be upset if I didn’t use your favorite translation–I’ve read lots, and they really do come out the same; you can read yours if you prefer). Note that in the Luke quote, Jesus turned the question back to the enquirer, and the words are his, but then Jesus said he answered correctly.

Matthew 22:37-40

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Mark 12:30-31

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Luke 10:25-27

27 He {the scholar} answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

Both of these quotes come from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5[a] and Leviticus 19:18[b], if you want to look them up). While we modern day people think of the commandments as “the big ten”, he was talking about far more than that. There was a huge list of laws, some applicable to the entire nation of Israel, some specifically for the Levites (who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation), and some even more specifically for the Levite priests. But with all those rules to choose from, Jesus felt these two were the most important, and they even managed to capture the essence of all those other laws.

Basically, Jesus said, “There is too much, let me sum up.”

If you boiled everything down to its most basic roots, you’d have two categories in which all the other laws fit. Loving God involves not worshiping other gods (even things or people we treat as gods). It also includes a desire to please God by behaving as he wants us to behave. And the most important of those behaviours, what Jesus said was the biggest thing in all of the laws and guidelines God set out, was “love your neighbor as yourself”.

And what happens next? The scholar asks what all of us want to know: Who is my neighbor?  That’s right, I want to know exactly whom I have to be nice to. Jesus follows up with one of the most recognizable parables in scripture, the story of the Good Samaritan. The point he’s trying to get across to the people is this: everyone is your neighbor.

Wait, do you mean the meth addict in the line at the pharmacy? The gay couple sitting together at the coffee shop? The single mom on welfare who’s pregnant again? The girl with tattoos and facial piercings who visited the church last weekend? The unemployed man begging for change at the entrance to the shopping plaza?

Yep. All of the above. And everyone else too.

But don’t I get to decide whether they’re worthy?

Sorry, nope. That’s not your job.

There is absolutely no encouragement to do so. In fact, one of the primary points of the good Samaritan story is how lowly the Israelites thought Samaritans were (for cultural reasons), but HE was the only one who was a good neighbor.

Read the next part of the passage: (from the account in Luke)

Luke 10:29-37

29 But he {the scholar} wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I think it’s kinda funny that Luke added “the scholar wanted to justify himself”. Common disease of the human race.

And after the story, Jesus asked him who he thought was the neighbor. The (potentially imperious) student of the scriptures knew the right answer. Even if he didn’t like it, it was glaringly obvious. And Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus said, Don’t be like the priest, who was supposed to be one of the highest spiritual leaders of all Israel. Don’t be like the Levite (the tribe from which the priests were selected) who were in charge of being support staff for the priests, and caring for the temple and the other spiritual needs of the nation. Pause and think on that for a second. Don’t be like the “spiritual” people, but instead be like one of the lowliest outcasts, and put someone else before yourself. Because the “spiritual” people refused to do so.

The Samaritan didn’t say, “He shouldn’t have been walking through such a rough neighborhood.”

He didn’t say, “He must have been up to no good, or he wouldn’t have been here.”

He didn’t say, “He doesn’t deserve my help. He’s probably in this predicament because of bad choices, and now he’s suffering the consequences.”

There was no victim blaming anywhere to be found in this story.

He didn’t even say what I think might have been most understandable: “His people and my people have hated each other for a long time, and I doubt one of them would help one of us. Why should I?”

It just says, when he saw him, he took pity on him. I think an even better translation of that word, in the context of the passage, is that he had compassion.

At that moment, it didn’t matter how or why the man was in the condition he was in. It didn’t matter what his race, upbringing, or fundamental beliefs might have been. All that mattered was that the Samaritan saw a need and did everything he could to help. He had compassion. In fact, he went above and beyond. He not only lifted the guy out of the disastrous situation he was in, he made sure there was enough money to help him recover fully and get back on his feet. He didn’t offer his help based on whether the man deserved it, or earned it after the fact, or groveled at his feet in thanks for his marvelous generosity. He also didn’t let the innkeeper bear the expense of a decision that he had made. He offered to cover any additional expenses the next time he was around. He lived out his convictions to the fullest. He put his money where his heart was.

So I ask you: Is this how Christians behave? Is this what the rest of the world sees when they look at people who claim Christ’s name as part of their identity? Sadly, it has been far too often not the case. We definitely have a tendency to be more like the priest and the Levite, turning our heads to people in need. And it seems to have gotten even worse lately. This is something that desperately needs to change. If the majority of non-Christians see the majority of Christians acting in ways that are the exact opposite of what Christ called us to do, in fact, the opposite of what he said was one of the most important concepts of all, it’s no wonder there is animosity towards us.

So how can we turn this around? I truly believe it starts with each individual. If I claim that Christ is important to me, then my behaviour should reflect that. I should be willing to reach out to those in need, regardless of whether their need is a result of their own mistakes, or whether their beliefs align with mine. All of the people. I should be prayerfully considering how God can use my own special gifts and abilities to show his love to a hurting world. I should be working on me, not dictating how others should be spending their own money and gifts. I’ll ponder on this, and I ask that you do as well, and next time we’ll delve a little more deeply into specific instances, because there are so many people in need in this world.

Advertisements

I Am Heartbroken for My Country

It’s less about the outcome of the election and more about how we’ve been responding to that outcome. At this point, it doesn’t matter much whether you voted Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party, Little Green Men, or no one at all. The fact of the matter remains, Donald Trump will be our president. But whether we are elated or distraught, the thing I think we’ve most forgotten how to do is truly listen to one another. I was desperately hoping that after the election we would start to get back to a minimal sense of unity, as is usually the case after elections, but it seems most people are only interested in talking over one another instead of listening and carrying out a truly productive dialog.

The problem is, fear is one of the most powerful motivators there is. And people who have been whipped up into a frenzy of fear tend to make irrational, emotionally biased decisions.

The people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are frustrated because so many white people aren’t truly listening to their concerns and grievances. They feel marginalized because saying “all lives matter” in response doesn’t acknowledge that there is a definite issue that needs to be dealt with. If we can’t understand why the Black Lives Matter movement has resonated so strongly with so many people, we’re never going to be able to address the issues that brought it about. While there are plenty of white people who have lived their entire lives in poverty, living in dangerous neighborhoods, they still don’t fully comprehend how it feels to know that you have a much higher chance of being shot and killed if your skin is dark, or what it’s like to be “guilty until proven innocent”. It’s even harder to understand for white people who have grown up in middle class or affluent neighborhoods.

The police force is frustrated by the public perception that they are bullies, and they are worried every day that they might be sacrificing their lives in the line of duty. If we can’t understand the fear that motivates policemen to respond to threats of violence with violence instead of deescalation, we will never be able to overcome the “us vs. them” mentality that has resulted in so many wrongful deaths recently.

The LGBTQIA community is frustrated because they are being discriminated against with very specific, confrontational legislation, and bullied or attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. If we can’t understand why people with a different sexuality or gender identity are genuinely afraid for their safety and sometimes even their lives, and that all most of them really want is to be accepted members of society, we are not ever going to be able to be allies and make sure that they are treated with fairness and respect.

Muslims, and indeed anyone who even looks like they might be Muslim or from a “terrorist country” are legitimately afraid for the safety of their families. There is still so much residual distrust and suspicion haunting us since 9/11. We need to understand, acknowledge, and attend to the fears that they have, as well as the fear that non-Muslims have about another potential terrorist attack.

The Christian right is frustrated because they fear they are losing ground on what they see as moral issues: abortion, gay marriage, etc. I’ll talk about Christians and the culture war in another post. Or several. Probably several.

Women are afraid that our country indulging a man who has repeatedly disrespected women will send the message that appalling “locker room talk”, sexual harassment, and even worse behaviours are perfectly acceptable, even expected.  Young boys will grow up seeing women as objects instead of equals.

People on both sides of the gun control issue are frustrated with, well, the adamant stance of the people on the other side. If we don’t even attempt to understand the fear that motivates both sides, we’re never going to be able to meet in the middle.

I hope you’re starting to understand what I’m getting at. Each of the major issues I’ve listed has at least some element of basic fear involved, and there are many more that I didn’t list. The thing about fear is that it’s hard to overcome. Many of these fears are quite justified; some, in your mind, may not seem justified, but that doesn’t change the fact that some people do feel them. We can’t really dictate to people what they are and are not allowed to be afraid of, nor should we want to try. It’s also pretty counterproductive to tell someone that their fear is ridiculous, unnecessary, or overreacting. That just shows more clearly that we’re not really listening to their concerns. If we don’t come together, acknowledge that there are some major issues that need to be dealt with, and start working toward some resolutions, we are going to continue to have ghastly, horrific, divisive political campaigns like the one we just endured. We have to realize that the majority of Americans are not acting out of hate, but out of fear. Unfortunately, fear has been responsible for some particularly reprehensible actions (consult the annals of history). The thing is, it just doesn’t work to tell someone that they shouldn’t be afraid, or that they shouldn’t act in response to their fear. It’s part of the human condition.

But we’ve forgotten how to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. In fact, most of the time it seems like we’ve forgotten how to, or perhaps lost the will to even try. It’s so much easier to click share on that smug article gloating about the outcome of the election, or the one bemoaning how horrible it is, and that it’s the end of our country. We’d rather lash out at our opponents, instead of remembering that ultimately, we’re all in this together. While it’s true that there are certainly some extremists on both sides of every issue, the majority of people are somewhere in the middle, in spite of the way it seemed during the election. This is somewhat easier to recognize when we view people as individuals rather than groups (i.e., those people), and if we try to refrain from using exceptionally inflammatory language like calling one another evil, Hitler, Antichrist, etc.

I’d like to propose something. If you see something on social media that makes you feel affronted, afraid, defensive, defiant, incensed, indignant, offended, or outraged, stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Pause and try to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling, and why you feel that way. Then, take a second to fact-check and make sure that the objectionable story, article, or statement is founded in truth. Please, please do not pass on misinformation or opinion pieces as fact, or worse yet, pass off satire as truth. Next, take a moment or two to try to see where the other person is coming from. Sometimes this is the hardest part of all. There are simply some aspects of another person’s state of mind that we can’t ever truly comprehend. But at least give it a shot, for the sake of the country. Then, consider what you’d like to accomplish by passing something on. Are you trying to help people understand one another, or are you really just trying to engender outrage at the actions of a few unrepresentative obnoxious individuals. Are you pursuing unity, or are you deliberately encouraging division?

The comedian Craig Ferguson, former host of The Late, Late Show, has a stand-up routine themed “Does This Need to be Said?”. I think we would all be well-served to try this approach as much as possible; it boils down to this:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

I might even add a corollary: Am I using the most effective, least divisive language and tone that I can, while still getting my point across?

Regardless of whether you were for or against Hillary, if we want to Make America Great Again, we have to acknowledge that we are Stronger Together. United we stand, divided we fall. Those are not trite platitudes, it is an absolute necessity, especially if we are to surmount the challenges that will face us from without.

We’ve got some pretty ugly tears in the fabric of our country. Let’s start the process of mending them, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.

With utmost hope for our restoration,

Karen

A Ray of Sunshine Instead of a Rain Cloud

Let’s talk about cooking for a bit, shall we?  Imagine a big pot of your favorite comfort food slowly simmering on the stove.  It might be stew, or chili, or potato soup, or gumbo, or veggie soup.  You’ve been working on it all day, and you just taste tested it; it may be your best batch ever.  Perfectly seasoned, perfect texture, perfect blend of ingredients.  You can’t wait to sit down and have a nice big serving, maybe two.  But then someone comes along and throws in a big chunk of rancid meat.  Or a tiny vial of poison.  Or a ladle of sewage.  Suddenly you’re not so apt on eating that perfect bowl of comfort food.

There are a lot of phrases we use to symbolize this idea:  one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, a little yeast leavens the whole batch, etc.  While I’m not sure it’s quite as absolute as my above example (would you just scoop out the offending item and eat a bowl anyway?), I truly believe that even little bits of negative garbage can have a drastic effect on our lives.  And if it happens often, it becomes a real problem.

If we surround ourselves with people who put us down, put others down, or put themselves down, we’re going to end up being down.  That’s just how it works.  It’s even worse if WE’RE the person putting everyone down, including ourselves.  Think about the things that come out of your mouth (or end up as your Facebook status): I hate my boss; he/she is horrible.  I can’t stand so-and-so; they’re so intolerable.  I hate my body; I wish x-y-z was different/prettier/better.   The reason the country is being ruined is because of (insert least favorite politician here).  If you find that statements like these outweigh more positive statements, you may want to rethink that choice.

Do you really want to be the one who chucks poison or sewage in everyone else’s stew?  Do you want to continue to throw those things into your own stew?

Perhaps your boss IS horrible.  But if you do in fact have a boss, that means you’re employed.  And while circumstances are not an excuse for being horrible to another human being, you don’t know your boss’s back story.  There may be something going on that is consuming his life right now, or something in his past that has left him like that.

Maybe your body is not exactly how you’d like it to be.  Stop focusing on what you hate about it.  Change the things you can (and be patient because it doesn’t happen overnight), and stop whining about the things you can’t change.  Find something about your body that you really like, and think of that when another self-berating thought pops up.

I know everyone gets sick sometimes, and I don’t have the least bit of problem with the occasional, “Ugh, this illness is really kicking my butt” statement.  But if every single post is whining about every single ache and pain, people begin to wonder if anything good ever happens to you.

And I said I was pretty much going to avoid politics on this blog, but I have seen so much negative garbage lately, it makes me ill.  I have seriously considered “un-friending” some people just because their status updates are nothing but constant political poison.  Regardless of your political affiliations, there are two things you need to get through your skull:  one person cannot single-handedly destroy our nation, nor can one person single-handedly bring it out of the difficulties we’re in.  Nobody has that much power.  If you disagree, you were clearly not paying attention in government/economics in high school.  I invite you to educate yourself–there’s this really cool resource called the internet that’s great for that sort of thing.  I might recommend that you avoid sites that pat you on the back for spewing poison, though.  That’s not really going to help the issue.  Nor is it likely to educate you.

I’ll admit it’s not an easy habit to break.  You have to completely retrain your mind.  And hijack your mouth, most of the time.  And then you’ve got to nail those internal thoughts as well.  Like I’ve said before, you can’t control when a negative thought pops into your brain, but you CAN decide how long it gets to stay there, and whether it makes it out of your mouth (or onto your FB page).

While I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution (not really my thing), I do intend to continue working to improve myself in this area.  I have a ways to go yet, but I think progress has been made.  It’s very important to me that I am a source of positive input to my friends and family instead of being a constant rain cloud.  Excuse my Pollyanna moment for the day, but I’d rather be a ray of sunshine.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite episode of Doctor Who:  

The Doctor, after Amy is heartbroken that they couldn’t save a friend: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.  We definitely added to his pile of good things.”

May I always be mindful of whether I am adding to others’ piles of good things, and may I not add to their pile of bad things.

What Makes Life Worth Living?

I think this is a question that people often ask themselves, but tend to answer very superficially.  In the article “What Makes Life Worth Living?“, author Dustin Wax reflects upon some of the things that are really important to us.  With Thanksgiving in our so recent past and Christmas right on the horizon, and many friends doing the “30 days of Thankfulness” on Facebook, it’s nice and fresh in our minds.  I don’t want to marginalize this exercise, because I think anything that causes us to focus on what we have over what we don’t have is a good thing.  But let’s not let it be a superficial thing, or let it only last for the month of November.  Dustin came up with these great points on what makes life meaningful:

  • Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
  • Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but therelationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
  • Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
  • Realizing: Making, working towards, and  achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
  • Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
  • Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.

I think we all want to live fulfilling lives, ones that make an impact, lives that leave a legacy after we’re gone. But sometimes we don’t really know how to go about doing that.  It’s far too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, especially this time of year, and end up just getting through instead of leaving our mark.

I know I am much happier if I have done at least something in one of these categories each day. Even on days when I can’t manage to check much off my “to-do” list, as long as I’ve done something fulfilling, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  And sometimes I have to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.

I’d like to make two points here:  First, let’s not beat ourselves up for not making every second of every day a Mother Teresa level activity.  Everyone’s gotta have down time, and everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed by everything that they have to do.  All the greats had their times of inactivity, and I’m sure they had times when they felt like they weren’t accomplishing much.  Seriously, they were human just like the rest of us.

Second, on the flip side of that coin, I think it helps to evaluate the value of an activity based on its lasting worth.  If I have an hour to spend, do I really want to spend it playing a video game, watching reruns of my favorite sitcom, or spending time with my family?  My time is at least as valuable a resource as my money, and what I choose to spend the majority of it on shows pretty clearly what is most important to me.

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to balance. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless activity that has no real value in the light of eternity.  But if the majority of my time is spent on meaningless things rather than the things that will make a difference in someone’s life, I’m very likely to come to the end of my life with some pretty significant “death-bed regrets”.

So try to go though your coming days with this in mind.  Take an extra second to hold the door for a fellow Christmas shopper.  Make a call or send a message to a friend of family member you haven’t reconnected with in a while.  Take time to recharge your own batteries so that you have something to spend.  And give yourself the Christmas gift of reasonable expectations.  A Christmas celebration does not have to reach Martha Stewart level perfection to be memorable.  After all, it should be all about the time with loved ones anyway, shouldn’t it?

Merry Christmas to you all, and shower the people you love with love!

Why Your Kids Shouldn’t Be The Only Thing In Your Life

Even if you don’t believe in God, you can glean some good advice from this article, They Are Third {on holding our children loosely}

I have said this to many of my friends: Yes, we should adore our children and love them unconditionally, but we cannot hold them too tightly.  And we cannot put them before everything else in our lives.  Because above all, we are trying to raise them to be independent, mature adults, and eventually they will leave.

I have seen marriages fall apart because the parents (often the mother, actually) made the children more important than nurturing their relationship.  Not that there aren’t sometimes urgent things that require our attention, and our spouse time gets put aside temporarily.  But our marriage cannot ALWAYS be on the back burner.  Because ideally, our spouse will still be there long after our kids leave, and we are going to need to know who they are and how to connect with them.  It is far too easy to start treating a spouse like a roommate instead of a life mate.

I’ve said it before: We ARE going to grow and change, the trick is making sure that we grow together.  We do our children no favors if they always come first.  Besides the fact that we’d be teaching them that investing in our marriage is not important, we’d also be teaching them that they are entitled to always be the center of the attention.  And who wants to be around an adult who has grown up with that delusion?  Think about how hard those people are to stomach.  Is that really what you want your child to be?  Besides, if your kids know your marriage is weak, they will become EXPERTS at playing you and your spouse against one another in order to get what they want.

So I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that your children should be well aware that they do NOT come before your marriage, when they get old enough to understand that.  They know that I expect them to leave and lead lives of their own, and that their dad and I will still be together long after they’re gone.  We want to continue to grow together, instead of being struck speechless by empty nest syndrome.  Chances are, both our kids will be leaving within the next couple of years, and we don’t want to be one of those couples who are at a total loss as to what to do with themselves once the kids are gone.

And I’d like to take a moment here to add: Know who YOU are without the kids.  In addition to knowing your spouse (if you have one), every parent should know who they are on their own.  This is doubly hard for single parents, I think, because without a spouse it’s easy to let the kids become everything.  But again, your goal is that they will eventually leave.  You don’t want to be left floundering, directionless, and unable to be your own person when they do leave.  Nurture your own well-being, physically and mentally, and you will be better able to give your children what they need.  Constantly deny yourself and you create selfish, dependent children, and you’re too wiped out to give them what they need anyway.  It’s always a balancing act, but make sure you don’t spend all your time at the bottom of the priority list.

Now, neither of my kids have left yet, so I may be overly optimistic about my reaction, but I think I’ll be ok.  I think my husband and I will be ok.  And I think my kids will be ok.  I certainly pray that all of those things are true!  Those of you who have already survived the empty nest, please chime in and give the rest of us some sage advice!

Keys to a Healthy Marriage

I don’t claim to have the perfect marriage.  But I’m a little saddened when my kids’ friends comment on how unusual Rob and I are in that we’ve been married for almost 22 years and are still madly in love.  They find it a little bizarre that we still hold hands, offer little pecks as we pass in the hall, and engage in playful banter.  We are, in fact, still courting.  Even though we bicker about some pretty stupid stuff sometimes, we both know that we’re in it for the long run, partners against all challenges, and we have no intention of letting go of that.

http://www.brianhowardblog.com/5-things-you-absolutely-must-do-to-have-a-healthy-marriage/

Although this post was specifically targeted towards men, there is some great advice here for both partners.

Be Pursuant–Actively pursue your spouse and opportunities to meaningfully connect with them.  Pretend that you’re still dating, and you’re trying to convince them that they want to spend the rest of their lives with you.  Because in a way, you still are.  Show them that they are worth pursuing.  Commit random acts of kindness whenever you see an opportunity.  LOOK for opportunities.

Be Present–Both physically AND mentally.  Take some time to bestow your full, undivided attention upon your spouse each day.  NO, being in the same room while you’re both on your iPads does not count.  Find something you enjoy doing together.

Be Playful–Not just on the topic of sexuality, but in little things too.  There are enough serious moments in our day-to-day lives; we need to share some playful moments with our spouses, even if it’s just a saucy wink as you pass each other.  Why do you think “He makes me laugh” is so often at the top of the list of things women love about their men?

Be Pride-less–This is without a doubt the hardest point to remember.  It’s the underlying source of most conflict in marriages.  “I don’t want to admit that I might have made a mistake, so I’m going to fight you tooth and nail, even though we are supposed to be on the same team.”  We are supposed to be partners with our spouses, us against the challenges this world throws our way, not us against each other. Whenever you find yourselves getting off track, take and step back and see what it’s going to take to get you both back on the same page.  Chances are, you’re both going to have to admit that you were at least a little in the wrong.  It’s hard to do, but worth it.

Be Prayerful–If you believe in God, praying for a strong, healthy relationship with your spouse should be pretty high on your list.  Even if you don’t, spending time thinking about your relationship and how you can help make it stronger is always a plus.  Dwelling more on the positives than the negatives helps adjust your own attitudes towards your spouse, as well as tempering your reactions when they do something that aggravates you.  Because it’s a guarantee that they’re going to do something that aggravates you.  Just as you will aggravate them.

And if I might follow the alliteration and add one of my own:  

Be Purposeful–None of this stuff happens on its own.  No marriage thrives when no one is putting any effort into it.  And don’t wait for your partner to be the first to start putting effort in.  That’s a recipe for disaster.  You have to be intentional about making things happen, especially when you have first made the decision to put in the extra effort.   As you go along, it will become more and more second nature until you don’t even have to think about it any more.  Trust me, it’ll happen!

Having a strong, healthy marriage is never easy, although it does get easier the more you practice.  But it’s totally worth the effort that it takes.  Think back to the reasons you got married in the first place.  If it takes hitting the reset button in order to get past something negative that has happened between you, so be it.  If recommitting yourselves either in private or in a public ceremony will give you a chance to start over, by all means, do it!  If something seems insurmountable, get some outside help from a pastor or therapist.  You’ll be all the stronger knowing that you fought through it TOGETHER.   Anything that brings you closer means that you both win!

Random Acts of Kindness

As I wrote in the Keys to Happiness, helping others is a fantastic way to improve your own outlook while making the world a better place.  I am so impressed with this organization, Random Acts, and everything they’re doing and encouraging others to do.  It was founded by actor Misha Collins, who is also one of the more entertaining celebrities to follow on twitter.  But I have always loved seeing celebrities using their fame and fortune to help others and have a positive impact on the world around them.  The best thing about this organization is that it encourages us “regular people” to make an impact as well, even if we don’t have the same resources available to us.  Every little bit helps, right?

Are there any similar organizations that have really impressed you?  Are there celebrities who you admire not only for their work, but for the work they do in their “off” hours?