Saturday, March 26, 2011

Scorn for Porn: Why Talking About the P Word is Vital for Relationships

It was a Saturday morning in a downtown greasy spoon. I ordered coffee and Eggs Benedict and awaited a feast. And that's when my wife Linsey brought up the P word. She was nervous, and hesitant. As a matter of fact, I think she was more afraid than I was. What I thought was going to be a lazy day without the kids (Sports page and all) turned into a weighty conversation quickly. We bypassed second gear and went straight to overdrive. This wasn't the first Porn conversation we'd had, but it seemed like the most significant.

In most of my adult life, I've treated the symptoms of porn, and not the cause. It's what Dallas Willard calls, "Sin Management". Basically, we treat our sin like the Three Shell Game—you know the one, where the ball gets placed under a cup, shuffled around, a viola! Where's the ball (i.e., sin)? So, we think if we have the right accountability, internet boundaries, and enough will power, we don't have a problem. It's not that these things are bad, I've actually found them absolutely necessary. However, they don't treat the root, which is intimacy.

You remember the SATs—Porn is to intimacy like Kryptonite is to Superman—incapacitating!

Let's face it, "Porn" is a four-letter word, and it should be. However, it should no longer be stigmatized. We must talk about it, because if we don't, one of the biggest pitfalls of our generation will only continue to expand, inhibiting us from true and full life. As Hebrews 12:2 says, "Let's throw off the sin that so easily entangles (ensnares, traps, trips up, etc.)."

The other danger of Porn being the word that shall not be named is that it has slowly become accepted as commonplace, normal, and even expected. That is to say, since SO many men (and women) view pornography, it is simply assumed to be a part of the necessary fabric of our existence. To this, John says, "But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).

And that's what's at stake: relationships. Because we've accepted an empty philosophy that says porn is normal because we are really just higher animals (it's cruel to keep us from our nature), we've also invited its consequence, which is a lack of deep and fulfilling connection with real people. In fact, I remember reading an article in one of the major magazines about how men are beginning to prefer their Female Fantasies over and above the real women in their lives. Chilling.

In his book, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, William Struthers talks about the irony that what we choose to meet our innate desire for intimacy, actually becomes the very thing that keeps us from it (Click here to read the article):
As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. In time, these neural paths become wider as they repeatedly are traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men. They unknowingly have created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly -- as created in God's image.

What's more alarming is that to the brain, pornography can quickly become a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience. The biochemical rush from porn is compatible to that from amphetamine use. In fact, "Fantasy behaviors can trigger neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, or serotonin—chemicals similar to LSD" (M. Douglas Reed, "The Role of Pornography in Compulsive or Addictive Sexual Behaviors"). Moreover, our brain's pleasure center can be so dependent on porn, that the normal joys of life become just mundane. It's why depression is usually associated with frequent pornography usage.

In the Bible, pornography is described as much more than just simulated pixels. The apostle Paul uses the word porneia, which translates as ‘sexual immorality’ and ‘fornication’, to describe any sexual encounter outside the marriage bed. Keep in mind that the Greco-Roman culture of his day was even more liberal with even less sexual taboos than our culture today. One ancient Greek axiom describes this era well: "Wives for children; Mistress for pleasure; Prostitutes for everyday needs." It's not surprising however, since Plato's dualism was a dominant philosophy of the time (and still is today). The physical body was viewed as completely separate from our spiritual selves (the rest of us: emotions, will, personality, etc.). Some schools thought it bad, and others irrelevant.

Today, we are heavily influenced by this fallacy. We view sex as separate from our sexuality. But sex is much more than a physical act, and end in itself. Sexual intimacy is a sacred act that involves the entirely of our personhood. That is, sex cannot be divorced from sexuality, which involves our gender, personality, intelligence, emotions, conscience, and will (David Smith, Theodyssey: Sexuality).

One of the phrases in the Old Testament for sexual intimacy is "to know" (Hebrew is yada). It means that sexual intimacy is the sacred act of self-revelation and self-giving. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. That means that any sexual expression that simply sets to meat its own desire is just lust. True sexual intimacy is mutual self-giving—a reflection of the very image of God. God exists in perfect communion, perfect intimacy, perfect love (Father, Son, Spirit). And in the beginning, God said, "Let us make people in our image…so male and female He created them…this explains why…the two are united into one" (Genesis 1:27, 2:24). Uh hum, "united into one" means sexual intimacy. And, so does Genesis 4:1, where it says, "Adam knew Eve his wife…"

Wow, have you ever equated God with sex? Maybe that's the problem…

Sex is so binding, so bonding, so transcendent, so sacred, that it represents the outward expression of the internal commitment of marital union. It's functionally equivalent to a wedding ring! That is to say, sexual intimacy outside of a public, accountable, life-long, exclusive, devoted covenantal union is simply a farce.

And so is fake sex on the internet. And the worse thing about it is not the shame and guilt one feels, but that it leaves us completely alone—the very opposite of what we were created for. By exposing ourselves to porn, we actually train ourselves to be autonomous. The Bible calls this Hell.

So, what's keeping you from having the conversation?

Whatever it is, the affects of not having it are far worse. Why?

  • Because it will never be easier than this moment
  • Your neurological pathways can become even more entranced than they are now
  • You have an opportunity to express honest need—a great builder of intimacy
  • You have a window to start your marriage off on a foundation of trust
  • Having this conversation later will only erode trust
  • God accepts you and loves you just as you are
  • This gives your S.O. an opportunity and an invitation to love you as God does
  • The only thing that can transform is experiencing this unconditional love

My wife is an amazing woman. The more I began to trust her, the more I've been able to share my story—that patterns of pornography were established when I was a prepubescent ten year old. Though this temptation has intermittently been a part of my life since then, I've only found true and real freedom within the Gospel—that I can't save/heal myself. Only God's transforming, boundless, empowering love can. The more I've trusted Linsey, the more love I've received, and the closer our marital intimacy has become. And I'm far less compelled to lustful temptation. That is, my pursuit of intimacy has inverted since my youth. It's a full reversal of affections. I've found my relationship with God has paralleled this transformation. As the apostle Paul prays:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Eph. 3:16-21).

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Eph. 5:1).

If you are stuck, don't stick to the status quo...We are here to help!



For Men Only:
If you are dealing with sexual sins and are stuck in a pattern of shame and guilt, then this safe small group, led by a trained facilitator, is a great start! Contact:

Sexual Healing Core Groups for Women:

- Reinicke Counesling Associates:
- Roy Rawers:
- Mary Cipriani-Price:

- "Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain," by William Struthers
- "Every Mans Battle" and "Every Woman's Battle" series, by Stephen Arterburn et al.



- Fear of rejection
- Embarrassment
- It's not that big a deal
- It's private and won't hurt anyone
- Fear of the Truth
- Fatalism (I can't change anyways)
- I need it
- I deserve it
- It augments what my S.O. can give
- Porn doesn't harm anyone
- It's just a man thing
- Sex is primarily for self-gratification
- Adults can view porn without any lasting effects
- Sexual freedom = happiness
- Love is all that's needed for Sexual intimacy
- There are no consequences to porneia
- 77% of Americans look at pornography at least once a month (The Kinsey Institute)
- Over half of all spending on the Internet is estimated to be related to sex. (Kinsey)
- US porn revenues have been estimated to exceed the combined revenues of companies like ABC, CBS, and NBC (Kinsey)
- Pornographic business trade is approx. $57 billion worldwide (as much as GNP of: Russia, Australia)
- Porn is a $20 billion/year industry in the U.S. (more than: NFL, NBA, MLB combined)
- Numerically, there's a separate page of porn for every person living in the U.S.
- A majority of married people will have an extra marital affair
- 1 in 3 visitors to adult websites are women
- Women are more likely to act out their behaviors in real life

Friday, May 28, 2010

Peeves Make Poor Pets

When the apostle Paul wrote, "Love is patient, love is kind..." I'm not sure he was referring to our attitude of Escalades that take up two parking spots and stick out halfway into the driving lane. Yeah, so, I have some "Pet Peeves"—who doesn't?! I'm annoyed by "luxury SUVs" (oxymoron); I don't like waking up to red cups in my lawn (I live next to State); I can't stand people running me over just to get a quarter sample of quiche at Costco; and I don't care for pickled beats that Pat & Oscar's insists on putting in their Greek name a few.

Lately, I've noticed that I have more "pets" at home. It's easy to understand why strangers and strange things bug me, but my personal and cherished Tera? And, to be more specific, my wife tends to be the object of my peevedness. It wasn't like this when we were "in love" during the dating process. As every nuptialed couple knows: what's endearing when you're dating can become annoying when you're married.

For example: Nothing sends me through the roof like finding shoes in every room of the house (including the bathroom)—and they aren't even with their mate! So, I have to play the matching game around the house through a maze of toys and discarded cheese sticks in order to find the other shoe in order to put them away (where they belong). Not to mention, Linsey uses the "garbage disposal" as a garbage disposal—literally. If there is any left over food, it goes in the sink. I'm not just talking about a few peas and half eaten carrots. If we bought a whole chicken to eat for dinner, the remains—bones and all—would go in the sink. Don't EVEN get me started about pen caps or eating in bed.

One particularly pestilent peeve has to do with my wife's peeves. This is like the graduate school of irritation. When our two kids are both screaming, throwing full-body tantrums, Linsey reaches a threshold and becomes outwardly exasperated (a big deal for an introvert). And that bugs me. Notice that it's not that my kids were at Defcon 5 that bugged me, but the fact that my wife was bugged, that really bugged me. And that bugs!

I know I'm not the only one.

I once counseled a spouse who brought in a list of grievances. An actual inventory on lined paper, numbered, on two sides. "Wow," I thought to myself, "that is some series bitterness." Which makes me think: I wonder what's on Linsey's list...

I remember the apostle Paul telling us that real love doesn't keep a record of wrongs. Ouch! Question: Does writing a blog with a record of wrongs count if it's a literary piece with theological purposes? Wait. Don't answer that.

I think Paul said this to put a question mark next to anything we haphazardly call love.

Linsey and I are no longer in love. [dramatic pause]. Oh, we love each other, but it's more of a verb now—it takes action, learning and effort—compared to when we were dating and just kind of 'fell' in love, which required no effort at all.

When we first became a couple, I didn't understand the illustrious "infallibility" of infatuation, but after eight years I do. There are times when I wish I could swallow the blue pill and go back into the matrix to enjoy an effortless false reality. But most of the time I'm thankful for the man I'm becoming as my character has been formed through the crucible of a chosen love.

And this love, which delights in the red pill (the truth), seeks to know the full measure of grace that it takes to "remove the plank from my own eye before considering the speck of dust in my spouses." After all, what is Jesus' Good News if not learning what reconciliation means—which usually means me coming to a place of humility and recognizing that my "pets" are a superficial means of self protection sprinkled with an illusion of control and inward shame.

I like how when Paul talks about our true home, he contrasts our entitlement to peeves with being rooted and established in love. Which means, when mi casa becomes a zoo of zeal and frustration, it's really a barometer of how available I've been to receiving God's love for me.

And, when it comes down to it, my abode is Linsey's home too, and she can leave half-full glasses of water wherever she pleases, even if it's in every room of the house. And, I know my "pets" are a parody of the reality that Linsey's list, if she were to have one, would look more like an encyclopedia.

Besides, peeves make poor pets. I think I’d like a dog instead.

Reflection Questions:
What's on your list? What pets of yours need to be spade/neutered, or put to sleep?

What do you think is on your significant other's list? How can you help alleviate any unnecessary tension there?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Emotional Spooning

Does sex lead to intimacy or does intimacy lead to sex? In many ways it depends on which gender you ask. But really, it's a trick question. Why? Because for the most part, men are like the proverbial microwave and women a crock pot. Women typically need an emotional connection as a precursor to intercourse, while men just need to be in the same room.

And while we men may think we know this, we still don't totally get it. It's like when we've had a great day with our wives and it's obvious that a great night is ahead [wink], we still have a tendency to fumble on the five yard line. "Honey, can you put the dishes in the dish washer while I get ready?" "Didn't I do it last night?" or, "Sure, right when the next commercial comes on." Classic idiocy. So, I offer this augment as an attempt to help us better understand our better halves. We understand physical connection, so maybe this prefix will help us see things from our wive's point-of-view. Below are five keys to Emotional Spooning:

1. Listen with your eyes
My wife loves this phrase, even though I swear of my multi-taking abilities. I think I ruined it for all of us when ONE time I asked her a question that she allegedly told me the answer to just minutes before. It didn't help that I was setting my fantasy basketball lineup at the time. Bottom line: "undivided attention" communicates undivided attention. I.e., if Linsey has to compete with fake sports (as awesome as they are) then she won't feel very valued.

2. Ask questions (beyond subjects of work, food and sex)
Don't get me wrong, these are all worthy subjects to talk about, but in terms of emotional connection, it's not the big game. It's not even the pre-grame warmup. It's more like driving to the stadium. Here are some questions and corresponding levels of play (caveat: full eye contact—see #1):
Beginner: What would you like to talk about?
Novice: Anything I can do for you?
Intermediate: What do you need from me now, emotionally?
Advanced: How's your soul?
Spoon Guru: How do you feel about us right now?

3. Respond to questions (with more than one sentence)
Give details, lots of details, and always include as many emotions as you can. It's O.K. if you are growing in this area. Most of us are. We suffer from "alexithymia", a condition of not being able to acknowledge and express emotion well. Just include an emotion that's not anger (tired and hungry are not necessarily emotions). Anger is usually a symptom, not the actual emotion. Feel free to use the emoticons poster if you need to. And no, the Chuck Norris one is not legit—real emotions have a range of expressions.

4. Housework is foreplay
Disclaimer: yard work and car maintenance usually are not included—sorry. Again, here is a level of play to gauge from:
Beginner: Laundry
Intermediate: Kitchen
Advanced: Bathroom
Spoon Guru: All of the above. Note: this can be over a weekend, you don't have to be a miracle worker. There was once a legend of a man doing the trifecta in one day, but it's most likely a myth to keep us honest and striving.

5. Don't try and fix it
Seriously. Even if you were to ask, "Do you want me to fix it?", and she says, "Yes," don't try and fix it. That would be a situation where yes means no. It's a test. Most of the time your wife will be gracious and say no, but the idea is that you would eventually learn not to even ask the question (it's a rookie move). In fact, let's get a temperature of where you're at with this. Pretend like your wife comes to you with a situation from work and asks you, "Do you think I should tell _________ about how that made me feel?" You say _________. Now, look at your answer. Ha! that's a trick. You don't give an answer. You ask another question: "What do you think you should do?" It's the classic Socratic method and does wonders for emotional spooning.

BONUS. Initiate all of the above
If your wife has to lead you into numbers 1-5, then you're not quite ready for spooning—more like holding hands, which is good, just not a utensil. And, we like utensils because it allows us to enjoy the main course.

Husbands: Rank your Emotional Spooning skill: Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Spooner

Wives: Rank your husbands on the same scale.

Now, talk about it. Husbands, practice 1-5 above as you talk.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vince Vaughn & Reese Witherspoon: Promoters of Divine Truth?

Last Friday night I had a critical choice: Do I rent a movie that I want to watch, or one that will make my wife and mother of our two children happy? (This may seem like a false dichotomy, but in 10 years of dating her, we've only mutually enjoyed a handful of films.) Well, the Good Samaritan in me won out and I rented Four Christmases (two days before Mother's day). That's true love people. Or, maybe just marital wisdom. Or, maybe just common sense.

And, we both really enjoyed it. I can say this without fear of male malpractice because Vince Vaughn was the leading man. He's one of the few men who can be in a romantic comedy without nullifying a 'Man Card' in most Y chromosome schools of thought.

The movie was not only entertaining, but also an exhortation of truth. Below are five relational principles that Hollywood got right in 4Xmases:

1. Honesty happens in a healthy relationship
Brad (Vaughn) and Kate (Witherspoon) are understandably jaded about marriage and family. Both come from dysfunctional broken homes. At the beginning of the movie, Brad parrots an axiom he learned from his embittered and embattled father: "You can't spell families without lies." As the story unfolds, the cynical mantra becomes the push off for truth to prevail. A loving and growing intimacy is embedded with honesty. For many young couples however, the church seems like a place where married relationships have it all together. Consequently, when relational obstacles ensue, people tend to believe that they are uncharacteristically flawed, resulting in shame and isolation. Pretense has no business in God's economy, which means we marrieds need to practice being real. How else will people learn about grace and reconciliation?

2. Partial commitment is actually not commitment
One of the funniest parts of the film happens when an engaged couple asks Brad and Kate, "When are you planning on getting married?" To a curt response of, "Oh, no, we aren't getting married." Bewildered, the questioning fiance blurts out, "But don't you love each other?" The two, taken off guard, began to clumsily stutter through a 'party line' speech about the freedom they enjoy as a 'no strings attached' couple: "Why ruin it with an agreement that says we have to be together?" Again, this setup serves as a conceptual antagonist of a key theme that Kate championed at the climax of the movie when she proclaimed: "I'm tired of being one foot in. I want us to be open, to love each other however it's going to be. And if one day that means we get married or if we have kids one day, I feel like that's okay. I wanna be in a relationship that goes where it needs to go." The irony of a relational test drive is that it DOES have strings attached. That's why 'dating' implies temporal--the time before committing to either end or commence a relationship. It seems that in no other time in history has 'one foot in' been so celebrated. It's no wonder we're an intimately anemic culture. Fulfilling love only comes with a complete commitment.

3. Parents are still the #1 influence of healthy adult relationships
Each of the four families Brad and Kate visit (both moms and dads and their families) helps paint the commitment phobia picture that plagues them. While it's true that friends and culture play a large role in shaping a person's character and worldview, there is positively no influence more instrumental than one's parents. That's always been true and always will be--for better or worse. It's an amazing grace, and a formidable power. In a world where performance has become the number one priority of parenting, we are reminded of the simple truth: great, committed, steadfast marriages will likely reproduce the same. Or as the apostle Paul said in his letter to Galatians, "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love."

4. Male mentors are an endangered species
Brad's brothers are stereotypical caricatures of MMA loving, PBR drinking, Whiskey-Tango, good-ol-boys. Which is fine. These men exist in the world and some of them are my friends, who are unwaveringly loyal and heroic. However, the chilling male relationship exists between Brad and his father, who is obviously placed as the oppugnant example. E.g., the male par excellence in America is a James Bond type who doesn't really need anybody and proves his worth by performance in the ball field, bedroom, and boardroom. Tragically, this identity continues to propagate itself and it could be the downfall of civilization as we know it. Popular literature calls it the epidemic of fatherlessness. As John Mayer put it, "Fathers, be good to your daughters, Daughters [and sons] will love like you do."

5. Men that are funny (and faithful) will beat out McFlurry every time
Brad (Vince Vaughn) is funny--real funny! When you add that to his character transformation (becoming a real, wife and child supporting, self-giving man), he is able to capture the heart of a woman like Kate (Reese Witherspoon). Frankly, I've found this truism to play out in real life most of the time. All  my good friends married way out of their proverbial league. And, they are all funny and faithful. I'm funny and faithful and Linsey is BEAUTIFUL on the inside and out! As been noted in this blog before, I don't like the McDreamy or McFlurry or whatever that is perpetuated by popular media. In the real world, egotists make others miserable. Funny people make life fun and when they are faithful, they also make life better for those around them.

Who says Hollywood can't reflect God's truth?!

Thanks Vince and Reese.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fantasy, a.k.a., Lust Lite

"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." That's normally the phrase we parrot if we feel something is being taken for granted. As if to say, "You should be more appreciative for what you already have." But what if the grass really IS greener on the other side?

Case-in-point: Both of my neighbors have healthy, vibrant, luscious, grass-green grass. The kind of lawn that makes you want take your shoes off, frolic for a while, and then grab a pillow and snuggle in it. It's perfect. I could probably eat it and forgo my normal vitamins and fiber cereal. But, I digress.

My grass, on-the-other-hand, is Bermuda. It dies in the winter and seems to take control of EVERYTHING.

I fantasize about my neighbor's yard [sigh]. I say "fantasy" because people tend to tune out if the word "lust" enters the picture—as in, "that's not me." But what is fantasy if not lust with a lingering.

I also dream about having another bathroom so I don't have to hold it in (which is every time my wife and I come home together and she beats me to the door). I often imagine having a car with a posh bev holder and gadget that I don't even know what it does—that's how cool it is. And, I wonder what it would be like to be married to someone who was amorous towards me all the time--like the girl in the beer commercial who is into a dude just for drinking bear! [awkward pause]. Then life would be good, wouldn't it?

Every fantasy comes with a question, and every question a promise. "The Myth of the Final Solution" as it's often been called. I.e., if I get ____________, then ___________ will happen. Typically, this seemingly infallible idea begins in the infatuation stage of a relationship. E.g., s/he will take away my loneliness and I'll be happy once-and-for-all. Everyone married knows this is a fallacy, and yet somehow, the mirage perpetuates itself like a mutant virus.

Within a year or two of marriage, fantasy becomes again a subtle sanctuary--an escape from mere mortal life. "If I was married to so-n-so, then..." And we flirt with fantasmic thought, which is inviting.

Augustine noted as much in his autobiography, Confessions. When describing his conversion process, he personifies temptation, which hauntingly calls out to him (in a manner of words), "You will never get to have me again if you leave me." And such is the siren that sings to each of us. And to each response is a consequence.

The apostle James describes it like this: "Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away." And eventually ensnared as the author of Hebrews paints it. Mind you, it doesn't have to be with an actual person. Many a marriage have diminished over pixels, whether from a screen, magazine, or book cover. Why? Because the motivating factor of fantasy is comparison, and no real person can compete with something 'flawless'.

When I first moved into my house, I was ecstatic with the idea of even having a yard of my own. I nourished it, toiled over it, and enjoyed it.

A friend of mine says that "the grass is always greener where you water it." Yes, and pull weeds, adjust sprinkler heads, mow, and fertilize.

I love my yard and consider it a gift. That's why I spent part of my Saturday caring for it. Maybe you should too...

Questions for reflection:
- Assess your own fantasy life:
out-of-control ------------------ OK ------------------ never better
- What are some strategies you've employed to combat the comparison of fantasy?
- Have you had a 'real' conversation with your significant other about each other's fantasy life? If not, what are you most afraid of?
- What is at the root of your fantasies? I.e., what is it you really want?

    Feel free to comment with any other thoughts you have.

    Thursday, April 29, 2010

    Linsey is Lucky to Have Me

    Linsey is lucky to have me. Now, before you "x" out of this page in disgust, hear me out. Linsey is blessed to be my bride, but NOT because I'm "ridiculously good-looking" or irresistible like the Old Spice and Just for Men commercials say I can be.

    It's not because I'm particularly patient. I don't have a cool accent. Nor do I have a nickname with "Mc" in front of it. Also, I don't have ripped abs, or own a horse, and I'm not as mysterious as a vampire.

    As a matter of fact, from a worldly perspective, I actually don't have much to offer. I don't make Wall Street wages, nor can I afford a nice car for her. I'm no longer good at sports, and I'm not an expert in anything. My hair is falling out of some places and growing in others. Oh, and I watch too much T.V. and let her get up with the kids as the sun is coming up. I'm annoying at times, bossy, irritable, and occasionally cantankerous.

    And yet, Linsey is lucky to have me.

    Why?! Because marriage is not what we think it is when we exchange the nuptials. That is, whether we know it or not, we marry for happiness. And yet, the pursuit of happiness for the sole sake of it is as allusive as trying to chase the sun. The reason for this is that we define happiness today as a feeling of pleasurable satisfaction. But Boston even knew that it's "more than a feeling."

    I recently saw a documentary on PBS called, This Emotional Life. The particular episode focused on marriage and interviewed some of the world's most respected marital clinicians. According to one researcher, the longer a couple is married, the less 'happy' they report being. Pretty depressing. But, my question is, "How is happiness defined?"

    The classic definition of happiness meant 'to flourish'—defined as one's character growing in wisdom and virtue. "Virtue" essentially means strength. Like a muscle, these strengths were attained through training, dedication and perseverance. That is, in sight of the long-term goal, suffering is considered a natural aspect of character growth. Jesus and his followers later added the missing elements: humility, faith, hope and love.

    Why does this matter?

    Anyone who has been married more than six months knows that there are times when you are NOT happy (per the cultural definition). However, there is NEVER a time when my character is not given an opportunity for growth. Another way to put it is this: marriage is a primary context for personal and spiritual formation. It's a crucible.

    Of course, my perception of marriage will determine the trajectory of it. If I'm in it for a feeling of happiness then my marriage will be short-lived. And, as you can see from my list of attributes above, Linsey would have left me a long time ago if that was her goal.

    Instead, Linsey is more formed and complete then when she first met me. She is more patient after being tested by my pestilence. She is more faithful after practicing perseverance. She is more humble from honoring me in spite of my hubris.

    And, Linsey is not alone. I'm lucky to have her too. Marriage has exposed my "selfish gene". But unlike Richard Dawkin's determinism theories, I'm changing against my nature. Linsey's faithfulness to me has taught me grace and what it means to be loved without condition or expectation of performance. It fuels my fortitude to 'press on'.As Jack Nicolson once said, "[She] makes me want to be a better man."

    Linsey and me—we're lucky to have each other.

    What about you? What version of happiness is guiding your marriage? How has God formed you through the "better or worse" times of your continual 'wed-ding'?

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    There's Something to Hear from the Morgans

    Linsey and I recently watched, Did You Hear About The Morgans? I'm not just saying this because I'm supposed to, but I let her go into Blockbuster and choose the movie. OK, can we leave it at that. The next part, however, I have to own. I wasn't expecting anything more than some cuddle time with my wife, and for the first 45 minutes of the movie, mission accomplished. But, as the story progressed (Hugh Grant provides some laughs for the men out there), I found a heart in the movie.

    If you look up the Morgans on Rotten Tomatoes, you'll only see a meager 13% rating. And, as that's probably deserved if you compare to such greats as An Affair to Remember, Out of Africa, Forest Gump, Three Amigos, and so on (that last one is true, don't deny it). There is something that the reviewers totally miss—simple, no strings attached redemption.

    Without ruining the movie for you (if that's possible), the Morgans are separated due to an infidelity—a dispicable act that can't be justified. And such is our sin (or lower) nature. The unexpected part comes in remorse, engagement (repentence), loving-endurance (perseverence) and forgiveness. These are divine attributes. As Alexander Pope once said, "To err is human, to forgive is divine." In short, the circumstances the characters are thrown into also provide a crucible to build character and learn to love again.

    So many couples these days don't take the time to receive this precious gift that only suffering through something can provide, even if the source of the pain is the other.

    Gary Thomas in his book, Sacred Marriage, describes a time frame of 9-14 years before a couple really 'gets' oneness. Ironically, marriage research guru John Gottman reports that the majority of divorces happen within the first 4 years of marriage.

    The Morgans may not be on anyone's Top 10 list this year (or Top 200 for that matter), but if one considers the philosophy that often pervades popular movies, maybe it should be.

    The best part of the Morgans is the Easter egg at the end. I won't spoil it for you, but it communicates yet another vital truth to the vast richness that only real, battle-tested love has to offer us. Hint: It's not just about us.
    Copyright 2009 2B1