“We cannot live unaffected by love. We are most alive when we find it, most devastated when we lose it, most empty when we give up on it, most inhumane when we betray it, and most passionate when we pursue it. The human story seems more driven by the insanity of love than survival of the fittest.” ~Erwin McManus
I have said it, written it, responded with it many times…”you are missing the point because you are stuck in binary thinking.” There are many reasons for binary thinking, and not all binary is wrong. However, those who have a rigid black and white view of everything very often miss the point of a conversation because life tends to find her roots in shades, mystery and truth.
My daughter Emma, wrote a post recently titled Binary that caught my eye. As I read her words I thought, “Well done Emma, I like what you are saying and the voice you are writing in.” So enjoy reading through Emma’s thoughts on Binary. You can keep up with her on http://emmaelizabethwright.wordpress.com
What is a word that describes the middle ground between black and white? What about a word that describes the middle ground between big and small? To me, at least, the answers were obvious. Black and medium. When I thought about other opposites though like relaxed and anxious or love and hate, I couldn’t find an indisputable answer. There are many shades of love, and many shades of hate, and no one clear place to land in the middle.
I like to think of myself as this incredibly complex person, who hovers over the median lines of issues and debates. I like to think that politically “I’m a moderate,” and that I don’t have brown hair, but I also don’t have red hair, so it must be somewhere in the middle. (Which I call auburn). I like to believe that I am a sweet person, but that I am also intimidating and commanding to appropriately suit the situation. Yet, I like to think of Mother Theresa as a good person. I also like to think of her as a Christian. I like to think of her as a woman. For some reason, I do not like to think of her as not a perfect representation of a pair of opposites. In my mind she isn’t a good person who could potentially struggle with something, she is strictly good. Its not just her that I do this for, though. For example, Ted Bundy is evil. My dentist is nice. The lady behind me in line is impatient, and the barista at Starbucks is bubbly. I polarize people’s traits and then define them, which made me realize that perhaps people do the same to me. I got quite afraid of the reality that I am I able to be so easily boiled down to concrete, binary elements.
Thinking in binary terms can cause you to manipulate, incorrectly define, and limit yourselves and others. It then provides the increasing opportunity to fail and the inability to meet expectations. It is obviously detrimental to ourselves to think like this, but it also can cause damage to those who care about us who just cant jump through our hoops.
It frustrates me when people think that I am so easy to figure out. I’m not. I am not black, and I am not white. I am not simple and easy to define. Trying to explain me will make you miss out on getting to know the actual me. By limiting me to your schema and stereotypes, you chose the me that you get to know, and you miss out on who I really am. People don’t crave to be defined, I believe that they seek to be understood. I don’t want someone who can tell me that I tend to overreact, I want someone who will look at my overreaction and understand certain things make me short tempered. When you think of me in binary terms, you can also manipulate me into something I’m not. You can make me be better than I actually am, or much worse. Either way I am set up for failure. If it is decided I am perfect, then the disappointments will pour in because I’m flawed and I will undeniably fail you. If you think negatively towards me, then I could fall into a perpetual cycle of trying to please and prove myself when it is already settled in your mind that I am concretely bad.
This happens to me, but I engage in the cycle and I do it to others. He is a good guy, or a bad guy. I like them, or I don’t. When I have made my decision, it is made and it would take much earth shaking to make me change. I put people into the perpetual pleasing cycles by having higher than possible standards. By trying to define other human’s actions, I have limited them as people, and made the environmental context the sole reflection of their personality. I have also decided to only see the good in people and ignored the pain and hurt that they cause in my life. I am beginning to see the beauty in the gray, though. I am beginning to see the beauty in saying things like, he is unkind when he needs to feel guarded, instead of just labeling him mean. I am beginning to see the beauty in the opportunity the middle ground gives me when I am getting to know people.
I challenge you to also lessen how much you think in binary terms.
I have noticed an alarming trend in marriage. Couples that have been married for 18 – 20+ years deciding to go their separate ways. We all grew up hearing about the seven-year-itch, but it seems even stranger that a couple would end a marriage after investing that many years into raising their family.
Every couple has the hope and desire for a lasting marriage when they exchange vows. In that moment, no one thinks, “Well, this isn’t going to last.” Rather, the couple begins to dream, plan and build a family life together. When they hold their first child in their arms, rarely is there a thought that this family will not make it.They are ready to sacrifice and work hard to protect what they have.
Raising children is a lot of work…A LOT of work.
Being a parent is a life of sacrifice…(think about all those recitals, soccer games, homework, social events, late nights, doctor visits and financial costs)
Being a parent is a life of frustration…(attitudes, disrespect, lack of problem solving skills, inability to communicate, sibling rivalry, more to-dos than time to do them,)
Being a parent is a life of worry…(from the friends they hang out with to peer pressure, bullying and your stress when they begin driving a car!)
As a parent, it is not until your kids leave the house that you realize how much of the last 18-20+ years have actually been all about raising your kids.
The house is empty…
You and your spouse look at each other in the stillness of the moment…
No shoes to pick up…
No dishes to gather from every conceivable corner of the house…
No clutter that magically appears right after a room has been cleaned…
No urgent crisis phone call demanding you drop everything to fix their dilemma…
No…it’s just the two of you. The joint adventure of raising a family has left you tired, different, uncertain and curious.
Do you know the person you married anymore?
Has your life become so enmeshed with your kids that you lost the soul-connection with your spouse that started this whole adventure?
Do you even like each other anymore?
Unless you approach your parenting with a long-term plan for your marriage, you might enter the empty nest years thinking that raising kids was a death-sentence on your relationship. Unfortunately, this is what I see happening in so many marriages today. No plan to stay connected and in love during the years of raising kids, and as soon as the kids get to the age where they can take care of themselves, couples are looking for greener marital pastures.
As I have just entered into those empty-nest years with my wife Amy, I am actually excited about what the future holds (I hope Amy is too!) I love my kids and I am proud of who they have become and the journey that they are currently on…but I also love their mom. She has been my best friend for the past 33 years. We are both different now. We both know each other at a far deeper level. We both bear the scars of raising kids in a very challenging age. Yet we both still like hanging out with each other.
Here are a few of my thoughts that can help you transition into the “Empty Nest” years with your marriage intact:
1. Pray Daily For Your Spouse:
I am putting what I believe to be the most important practice to keep your marriage strong at the top. Find time every day to stop and pray for your spouse. If you are mad or angry, praying will begin to break the foothold that bitterness and unforgiveness establishes. Praying helps you move more quickly to a place of forgiveness and reconciliation. Prayer realigns your heart with God so that He is able to reveal things that need to be repented of, or made amends for. Your marriage has many enemies today. To purposefully and consistently pray for your mate is the way to fight for your marriage. I’d recommend three times during the day where you do this: In the morning before the day begins; Lunch time and then before you go to sleep. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. A simple word to God to protect, watch over and keep your hearts knit together is a great place to start. From their, your prayers will expand. If your kids are still young this practice will pave the way for a strong marriage in the empty nest years.
2. Words of Affirmation:
Never stop being the primary encourager and fan of your spouse. If you aren’t, someone else will, and that is where the enemy can gain traction. Every single person that breathes needs to hear things like:
- I am so proud of you.
- I love who you are.
- You are so good at _____________
- You look hot;awesome;gorgeous;stunning;sexy;handsome;beautiful;_____________
- I love the way you ________________
- I know you’ll do a great job at that!
- I just like being around you.
This list can go on and on but I think you get the point. We are all affirmation-starved people in a world that affirms very little. Each day we are bombarded with 1000’s of messages that say:
- You are not good enough.
- You are not pretty enough.
- You are too fat.
- You are too thin.
- You’ll never amount to anything.
Be your spouses best cheerleader and you will move into the empty nest years will anticipation and not dread.
3. Surprise Your Mate:
When you have been raising kids for many years you know that establishing a routine is crucial to survival. That same routine that helped you survive can also eliminate the spontaneous “spark” that your love-life needs. When was the last time you surprised your spouse with something? When you surprise your mate, they are generally more impressed with the amount of time, energy and thought you invested in them than they are the gift! They feel cared for, loved, appreciated, valued. It doesn’t need to be much, it could be something like:
- A book you know he/she wants to read.
- Dinner out, baby-sitter booked, restaurant reserved.
- A weekend away.
- A Stay-cation in your house that you cleaned.
- The dishes, laundry, lawn, project is completed.
- Book a hotel for your spouse to have a “solitude” break for a night.
4. Never Stop Dating:
This is an important rhythm to establish when your kids are little. If you keep dating in the early years, you will have a great connection in the empty-nest transition. If you are approaching the empty-nest years and haven’t been dating, then it’s time to start! Select a consistent time that works with your schedules and make sure that NOTHING gets in the way of that time. If you have hit the empty-nest years and you haven’t been dating, this can be an awkward reintegration but a fun one!
Start dating as if you have never been out before. Don’t talk about the bills, ask questions about the hopes and dreams that your mate has. Re-meet your spouse. Be attentive. Be romantic.
We tend to take each other for granted when we have been married for 20+ years. While we think we know everything about each other, we really don’t, and the years of raising kids has changed us.
We are different now.
We are trying to figure out who we are, what has changed, and what we have lost as well as what we have gained. So, there is so much to learn about your mate, so go and learn it on a date!
5. Learn his/her Love Language:
If you have not read the best-selling book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, then now is the time to read it. This book, while very simple, has helped thousands upon thousands of couples figure out why they were not really meeting each others needs. When you discover your spouses love language, it becomes a blue print for relationship success (if you actually do what is revealed). So grab a copy of the book, and use it on your next date night to discover how God wired you and your spouse to receive love. You won’t regret it.
6. Serve Together:
Our church has many opportunities for Amy and me to serve a greater purpose together. We have helped build teams in Russia, served in Mexico, and more locally, served the poor and marginalized in Seattle through our Urban Mission Team. When you do something together that serves a greater purpose, you are creating a divine connection with God and your spouse. Perhaps you could volunteer at your local food bank, or tutor at the elementary school your kids used to go to. On your next date, throw some ideas around about what you could do together.
7. Self Differentiate:
The empty nest is also a time for you to rediscover some of those passions that were benched while you helped your children discover theirs. As you get to know yourself better, and become increasingly aware of who you are (and who you are not) give yourself permission to be you…
As you are…
Not what others what or need of you or think you should be…
Who is it that God created you to be that was swallowed up over the past 20 years?
Rediscover that person and give yourself permission to explore.
As you rediscover who God made you to be, share that with your spouse, you will both grow closer together as you become known.
May your next adventure in the empty-nest be your best!
The ability to convert ideas to things is the secret to outward success.
~Henry Ward Beecher
If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.
Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind. ~Seneca
Goals are dreams with deadlines. ~Diana Scharf Hunt
Guess what? January is just a breath away. As the calendar turn us yet again into another year, there is a natural sense, hard-wired into us, to reset our souls, realign our priorities and establish goals to accomplish our dreams.
There are so many different lists of questions out there that have been written to help you successfully launch into 2014. The following questions I think are the top 10! Read through the questions, and then write out answers your answers. After you have answered the questions, the next step will be to prioritize them and set some short-term and long-term goals in order to measure progress and see movement toward the direction you are going.
1. What area of your life is most in need a change this year?
2. What is one thing you can do to dramatically improve your relationship with God this year?
3. What would happen if your best dream came true? What is your best dream?
4. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
5. What positive habit would you most like to establish this year?
6. Where will you commit and invest your time and talent this year?
7. What book(s) will you read this year (outside of the Bible) to enrich your life?
8. What area of doctrine/theology/spirituality do you want to study for better understanding this year?
9. What one thing can you do this year that will leave a positive and lasting legacy for your family and community?
10. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year?
Persistence allows you to keep taking action even when you don’t feel motivated to do so, and therefore you keep accumulating results. Persistence will ultimately provide its own motivation. If you simply keep taking action, you’ll eventually get results, and results can be very motivating.”
A friend of mine also sent me a great article with many more great questions to start off the year with: Take a look here http://www.crosswalk.com/special-coverage/happy-new-year/ten-questions-to-ask-at-the-start-of-a-new-year-11643580.html
After you have finished answering these questions, it is critical that you create a “next step” of what you will do to make your answer become a reality. Dreams and goals are great, but if they are absent an action plan they generally never see lift-off. As you create actionable steps employ someone you can share your list with and ask them to keep you accountable to doing what you know you need to do.
The choices and decisions you make today -will- determine your life experience and outcome in the next 5-10 years. So carefully answer the questions and establish a plan to accomplish the goals you have made.
Bonus Questions for those who dare!
1. Ask your spouse,
- What is it like having me as a husband/wife?
- What can I do differently this year to improve our marriage?”
2. Ask your kids, “What is it like having me for a mom/dad?
- What is it like having me for a mom/dad?
- What can I do this year to be a better parent?
3. Ask your co-workers,
- What one thing can I do differently this year that will make the most positive impact for our company?
- What is it like to work with me?
4. Ask your pastor,
- What is the greatest need our church has that I can help with?
- Where should I be plugging in at church to become the person God created me to be?
Here’s a final thought on persistence from Zig Ziglar:
“Persistence is the ability to maintain actions regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting. When you work on any big goal your motivation will wax and wane like the waves hitting the shore. Sometimes you’ll feel motivated, sometimes you won’t. But it’s not your motivation that creates results – it’s your action.