Childlike Faith – Living and Loving Your Life With God's Perspective

Category - learning

When You’re Playing Hide and Seek with God

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I  have a three-year old nephew named Blake, and he is the cutest thing alive.  I bet that all uncles say that about their nephews and nieces, but I personally think Blake would out-cute all other cute kids in any cuteness competition! Well, he and his family visited us this summer, and we spent our days going to the beach, swimming in the neighborhood pool, watching movies, and just spending quality time together.  And I truly enjoyed it so much, particularly since he’s of the age where he’s so much fun to play with – especially for a big kid like me.

One afternoon, we discovered that he absolutely loves playing hide-and-seek.  He loves it so much.  You should see his face light up when I ask him if he wants to play – it is the purest and most joyous expression I have ever seen!  I mean, he basically freaks out with excitement and he looks like he’s going to jump right out of his skin – it is hilarious!  I ask him if he wants to come find me, or if he wants me to come find him first.  Then, I remind him of the rules (“you have to close your eyes when you count to ten!”), and we go at it!

You should see his face light up when I ask him if he wants to play – it is the purest and most joyous expression I have ever seen!  I mean, he basically freaks out with excitement and he looks like he’s going to jump right out of his skin – it is hilarious!

Sometimes, our game starts off with Blake first searching for me.  I have to remember that he’s only three, so my hiding spots can’t be too difficult to uncover.  My favorite one is behind the hunter green curtains in my living room right by the TV and sectional couch (where the other family members are typically hanging out).  An adult could look over towards the sliding glass doors and see a Sameer-sized bulging outline in the drapery, or notice my toes peeking out from below, but Blake has to be guided a bit by others in the room who are not playing.  And after a few persuasive suggestions to check the curtains, Blake finds me, and I let out a dramatic wail in defeat, and he bursts out in laughter, screams, and runs away from me as I reach to grab him, hoist him over my shoulder, and tickle him to pieces.  I wish I didn’t have other responsibilities, because I seriously could play hide-and-seek all day with this wonderful boy bundle of cuteness.

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After Blake and my extended family left at the end of their vacation to drive back to Virginia, Rachel and I were chatting about hide-and-seek.  We reflected that our nephew definitely loved looking for me, and was thrilled when he succeeded in finding me.  However, it was clear that he actually preferred to be the one who found a secret spot to hide, and then wait to be found by me.  I mean, he was over-the-moon happy when I located him in his hiding spot – behind a door, under a blanket, between the wall and the couch.  You would think that he would be bummed out because I had technically “won” at that point, and maybe even get upset and throw a fit because he didn’t win.   But he wasn’t.  He was beyond elated when I found him.

Rachel and I thought there may be something instructive in this, and we didn’t want to miss it.  We wondered if maybe it was a picture of the heart of God, revealed by observing the heart of a child.  And so we tried to put words to the glimpse we had been given.  I remembered that “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Prov 25:2), and really wanted to dive in deep and learn from this.  I think if we want to have a vibrant, living relationship with Him, we have to exert the effort to press in when something strikes us.  Otherwise, we’ll keep missing what He wants to show us and teach us, and wonder why we never (seem to) hear from Him.

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The first thing that came to mind was that everyone waits to be wanted, pursued, discovered.  You very well may agree with me.  Think about a girl who waits for a boy to come along to show her interest, care about what she hopes for and dreams about, and become captivated by all that makes her beautiful. Think about the athlete putting in hours and hours in the pool, or the gym, or on the track – hoping that a scout might come to one of his or her games and offer a scholarship or a shot in the big leagues.

Think about a girl who waits for a boy to come along to show her interest, care about what she hopes for and dreams about, and become captivated by all that makes her beautiful.

I believe God is the same way.  He waits to be wanted, pursued, discovered.  This isn’t because He needs us to find Him; His emotional health is not dependent on our choices.  Instead, He wants us to search for and chase after Him because He knows that there is no better discovery for us than Him.  His presence, peace, and perfect love are the absolute best things we can find.  The greatest treasure of all.

Second, God doesn’t make it an onerous burden for us to find Him.   You don’t need to exhaust yourself looking high and low.  He simply wants you to be “all in” in your search – looking with open eyes and an open heart.  He isn’t hiding from His creation for the sake of hiding, just to put us through the paces.  I think He’s just checking the state of your heart.  Once He knows you are committed, He’s happy to reveal Himself to you with relative ease.

Imagine if I was half-heartedly looking for Blake.  Instead of actively going around to each corner of each room searching, I decided to plop down on the couch and watch some football.  Maybe every few minutes I might yell out something like “Here I come, Blake!” or “I’m getting closer!” just to make him believe I’m still in earnest pursuit.  How awful would that be?  It’s so disingenuous, so wrong to fool a kid like that.

I can’t half-heartedly play hide-and-seek with my nephew, and I can’t half-heartedly seek out God and His ways and His love.  He knows our intentions and motivations better than we ourselves do.

Either I am in, or I am out – I can’t half-heartedly play hide-and-seek with my nephew, and I can’t half-heartedly seek out God and His ways and His love.  He knows our intentions and motivations better than we ourselves do.  I’ve experienced His love and insight in such powerful ways when I simply come to Him, knowing that nothing else can help me feel better, and that there are no answers to be found anywhere else.

The third thing that came to mind is that Blake wants the game to be about him, and not what he can do for me.  He wants me to pursue him for him alone, and not to get him to take a selfie with me, or go to sleep early in exchange for the playtime together, or for any other reason where I’m using him to accomplish a goal of mine.  It’s likely that as a three-year old, he’s not even thinking about that.  You and I as adults, though, definitely do because we’ve been burned in this capacity at one time or another.

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One of the saddest commentaries on the human condition is that we often want others not for who they are, but for what they can do for us – how they can make us feel, how they can improve our personal or professional life, how they can meet our needs.  And to be honest, you and I often pursue God for the very same reasons, and not simply for Himself.  I wish we would think a lot more about how this makes Him feel, and how this makes us seem – particularly because we’ve all been on the receiving end of this sort of exploitative and manipulative arrangement.  It’s such a horrible feeling to realize that someone else is interested in a romantic or platonic relationship not because they love your heart and love spending time with you, but because they want something from you.

It’s such a horrible feeling to realize that someone else is interested in a romantic or platonic relationship not because they love your heart and love spending time with you, but because they want something from you.

When I play hide-and-seek with Blake, he is the end goal.  Finding him, making him shriek with glee, bringing the biggest smile to his face, and showing him how much I care about him – that is my motivation, and there is no other.  This can be distilled even further: I do it because I love him, and this is the best way I know how to show him.  Obviously, with Blake I know I am going to find him in short order.  With God, sometimes it takes a while.  But there is a point to the patience and perseverance required – it’s not random and arbitrary.  He knows what He is doing:

  • the search has a purpose in building your faith;
  • the time it takes to search strips away the false pretenses and separates true seekers from the exploiters and manipulators; and,
  • the reward – for the comparatively few who make it their mission – is incomparably grand.

This is His way, and this is His economy.  He’s made it so plain to us: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13).  I mean, how much more clear do we need Him to be?  When playing hide-and-seek, I was searching for Blake with all of my heart, with no ulterior motives and solely because I love him.  Personally, I want to be pursued by others in the same way, and so do you.  And so does God.  Of anyone, He deserves that.  This pure, passionate pursuit of Him is the deepest and highest way in which I can demonstrate my love – and so I must.  Plus, as I mentioned, it is the best thing for us –  the absolute best way we can spend our days and our lives.  He receives glory (honor, renown, magnificence, beauty, distinction) from the hiding, and we can share in that glory through the seeking and finding.  I am convinced that nothing else in our lives can match that – without inevitably falling short.

When You Can’t Help Others Help Themselves

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In my last blog, I talked about my “savior complex” and how my compulsion to rescue others from their perceived or actual problems actually made me miserable. Perhaps you could relate to that. Today, I want to explore in depth when it isn’t a good idea to get involved in other people’s lives unless it’s truly led by God, instead of your own mercurial emotions and desire to constantly be the hero. I’m sure this list isn’t comprehensive, but here are at least a few situations that come to mind when I think about it.

1. You might have the solution they need, but they might not be in a place to receive it. When this happens, it’s like talking to a wall.

It’s so frustrating when you want to help someone and you are convinced your insight or assistance can get them to a place of breakthrough – but you also know that they just won’t really get it. I know a married couple who has been struggling for years and years, and even if I talk to one of them about the obvious dysfunctions they have in their relationship and that they need to address them so they stop fighting all the time, they won’t. The codependency is too deep. They are too ensconced and comfortable in their messed-up patterns of interacting and living. And yet for so long I would bring it up (when they would vent to me) in my desperate attempt to get them to a better place. But I’ve stopped.

As much as you want others to learn from your bloody experiences, sometimes they just need to bleed for themselves.

Another example would be when your friend comes to you for advice in her romantic relationship, and you tell her flat out that she should kick him to the curb because you and everyone else knows he’s major trouble – but she doesn’t. And she’s not going to. She’s going to do what she wants, which is to wait for him to change, or justify the way she’s treated, or avoid breaking up because she can’t deal with being alone.

Even right now, I’m mentoring a guy and he is coming to me for advice and his situation with a girl is jacked up, but there is nothing I can do because he just isn’t getting it. He’s seeing what he wants to see, and believing what he wants to believe. Of course, I want and need to be loving and gracious towards these people in my life, because I know in my own past I have perhaps not heeded wise counsel as quickly I should have – simply because I wasn’t in a place to receive it and put it into action. As much as you want others to learn from your bloody experiences, sometimes they just need to bleed for themselves.

2.  When you come through for someone, you might be keeping them from learning the lessons that God is trying to teach them, and from the growth He wants them to experience.

People should desire in and of themselves to become whole, healthy, healed individuals. They should have an internal – and not external – locus of control and know that they (with God and their loved ones) can deal with any problem that comes their way. You can’t want this for them more badly than they want it, and if you keep rescuing them, they never hit rock bottom and decide of their own volition to make changes. And making changes in their lives of their own volition is the surest way for that change to actually last.

If you are always swooping in and saving them, they never learn personal responsibility and autonomy. Instead, you’re a co-conspirator in their learned helplessness and victim mentality, where they start to rely on others to be their conscience, their reminders, their motivation, their brain. And you’ve become a cattle prod and a full-on enabler. And eventually a major reason why they stay in the same place they’ve always been.

If you are always swooping in and saving them, they never learn personal responsibility and autonomy. Instead, you’re a co-conspirator in their learned helplessness and victim mentality.

I’ve done this. For example, I want my parents to work out more (I bet everyone wants their parents to work out more!) so that they can stay strong and healthy. But they need to want it for themselves. I used to remind them all the time, but I don’t anymore. Another example is when someone keeps bailing out a friend who has money problems. Or a person who refuses to file formal charges against an abusive domestic partner. Sometimes, you have to let them feel the full weight of the consequences they are due. Sometimes, if they sow the wind, they have to reap the whirlwind – and not be protected from it.

If someone wants to change badly enough, they’ll figure out a way to make it happen. They’ll carve time for it. They’ll prioritize it, and they’ll reach out for help, and they’ll get it done. If they don’t want it badly, it’s not up to me to convince them otherwise. It’s their life, and not mine, and that is a bitter pill to swallow. Trust me, I know. But as callous as it sounds, it is the healthiest option you can make – for yourself, and for the other person. It is tough love at its finest.

3. When you operate completely in human effort and led solely by human emotion, which is untrustworthy. This is an exhausting way to live, and from my experience far from fruitful.

I care about a lot of people, and when they post or mention their needs or wants on social media or in conversation when we’re hanging out, I always think – I could help with that, I could come through for you, I could advise you in this area, I could lead you out of this foxhole. But I have also learned over time that only when God clearly and repeatedly puts that person on my heart does my help really make a difference, and really have a lasting impact. Otherwise it’s like, “um, yay, thank you,” and then it’s back to business as usual for them, and I’m left feeling unsettled, unfulfilled, and really let down.

What I find much more productive and beneficial is when God clearly leads me to step in to help others, instead of me doing it out of compulsion, obligation, or emotion.

What I find much more productive and beneficial is when God clearly leads me to step in to help others, instead of me doing it out of compulsion, obligation, or emotion. Then, He ends up making things go way better and way smoother, because He is actually involved in the process. I always want to be led by Him. I want Him to direct my steps. I want Him to make my paths straight. I want my efforts to really, actually matter – and my experiences have shown me that He supernaturally blesses what I do when it’s been bathed in prayer and prompted by Him alone. And, to be honest, the feeling is the best feeling ever – to be led in these ways, to be a light in someone’s darkness in these days. Frankly, I want that all the time! It feels like what I was meant to do.

4. You and I actually have better things to do than get involved in every situation and drama and issue that we see in the lives of those around us.

Unfortunately, it’s so easy as a Christian who has the best intentions and the kindest of souls to get caught up in other people’s messes in an unbalanced way. And like I’ve alluded to earlier, it’s so easy to rationalize as “doing God’s work.”  For the reasons stipulated above, I just don’t think that we should invite ourselves into the problems that others are having unless He clearly prompts us. If your heart is in the right place, I promise that He will prompt you and He will push You out of your comfort zone to be a blessing to others.

But if we are constantly doing it whenever we are asked, and in any and every situation without wise discernment about what is right for us to take on, I just feel like it’s foolish. I’ve seen people constantly pour themselves out on behalf of others as a way of “taking up their cross” while their own lives, family situations, and health fall apart. It makes me so upset. It is such a travesty.

I’ve seen people constantly pour themselves out on behalf of others as a way of “taking up their cross” while their own lives, family situations, and health fall apart.

Please don’t misunderstand the gist of my message here. I fully understand that we are called to be a blessing to others, and those of you who know me will attest to the fact that I walk the walk. All I am advocating for here is more God-sourced vision and selectivity for when and how we come through for others. I hope that the reasons and examples I’ve provided above, as well as the stories of my own failures in this area, help to convince you of its merit. I’d love to hear if these words have struck a chord with you – please let me know in the comments below!

When You Always Feel Compelled to Rescue Others

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I was talking with my friend Brittany recently about the way we spend our time, and one of the things that came up has to do with our involvement in the lives of others. Now, I think we are meant to do life in community, and be connected with a group of like-minded individuals who can be there for us while we also are available for them. Life pretty much sucks when you have to do everything alone, and you have no friends with whom you can share your highs or your lows. However, we started to discuss how many individuals are too involved in the lives of others, and at best it is unproductive and unwise, and at worst it is harmful to both you and the other person.

Whenever there was a need, I would jump to action and come through. Whenever someone was sad or lonely, I would step in and work to lift their spirits through my words and actions.

Throughout my teen years and even in my early twenties, I unknowingly had what has been termed a “savior complex” or “savior mentality.”  Whenever there was a need, I would jump to action and come through. Whenever someone was sad or lonely, I would step in and work to lift their spirits through my words and actions. Whenever someone had a problem, I was the first to offer a solution.

You might be asking yourself: okay, so what is the issue? I honestly couldn’t see anything wrong at that time either. We are called to be a blessing to others, and I was doing that. We were meant to pour ourselves for others, as Christ did for the church. We are asked to love one another as God has loved us.

However, I was constantly operating out of my emotions – they were the driving force. In various ways, my actions were prompted by the following messages in my mind:

  • People now count on you. This makes you important and valued to others. Keep doing it. Otherwise, no one will care about you. You won’t have any value to them.
  • This is your identity now. This is who “Sameer” is. This is what keeps you affirmed, and validated, and appreciated.
  • People don’t have everything together like you do. They are a hot mess. You know what everyone needs, and you have what everyone needs. You should feel sorry for them and give them what they need.
  • People need you to help them because if you don’t, no one will. It’s up to you to save the day.
  • If you helped other people in the past, why wouldn’t you help this person now? You need to come through for as many people as you possibly can.
  • Life is brutal, and if you come through for others, they will come through for you – in precisely the ways you need them to. Or God will. Because that’s how this thing works.
  • Jesus died to Himself every moment of every day and was always spending Himself on behalf of others. Do the same. Be like Jesus.

Hopefully you are starting to see that while my intentions were really good, my thought processes were also kind of dysfunctional. And definitely unhealthy. I needed others to need me, and I enjoyed their dependency on me. But I never stopped to ask myself the hard questions:

  • Why do you feel this constant compulsion to rescue others?
  • Why do you feel so inadequate just the way you are that you need to constantly be the hero to everyone else?
  • Why do you feel it is your job to make sure that everyone is doing okay?
  • Why must you try to fix others and clean up the messes that they make?

In retrospect, I can point to the fact that I was the oldest son in the family and already was used to taking responsibility for others. And that I didn’t actually believe that people would be drawn to me naturally, and so I had to get them to lean in my direction through my selfless actions. Or that I didn’t understand the importance of self-care, and how I need to be loving myself well before I’m really able to love others well. Or that everything was definitely not up to me.

But the reality was that back then, this is how I lived my life and this is how I interacted with people. And after a while, it started to take a very noticeable toll:

I began to get resentful because I was always pouring out to others, and no one was pouring into me.

I started to hate myself because I felt like I always had to be proving my worth and value through these selfless actions.

I was tired and drained and physically wiped out, but I felt like I had to keep gutting it out to bless others even if I was personally miserable.

It felt like if this was the Christian life, and if this is what Jesus asks of us, I didn’t know if I could do it – or even want to do it.

Thankfully, my pastor pulled me aside one day after I asked an 80 year-old woman at my church to have lunch with me, just because I thought I needed to show her love and interest since other people at our church weren’t really doing that. I’m serious. I had nothing in common with this person, nor any reason to spend time with her. I just felt compelled to be the hero, come through for her, and rescue her from her presumed loneliness.

There’s nothing wrong with random acts of kindness, and doing things for people who can’t do anything for you. In fact, those are awesome things. But that’s not what I was doing. I was operating out of a twisted mentality. I had no balance or perspective. What I was doing was becoming pathological.

I’m so much happier because my interpersonal interactions are healthy now, and not co-dependent. I own my life fully, and I let other people live their lives fully.

Through the blunt conversation I then had with my pastor, my eyes were slowly opened. And over the next few months, I faced the manifestations of my dysfunction, and really committed to rooting out the savior mentality in my life. It has helped so much. I’m so much happier because my interpersonal interactions are healthy now, and not co-dependent. I own my life fully, and I let other people live their lives fully. I really think it’s the best way to be.

Next time, I’m going to explore specific reasons why it’s simply not wise to play this role in the lives of others (based on my extensive experience with this). For now, though, I want to know what personal examples come to your mind as you think about when you’ve tried to be the “savior” in the lives of others.  Please do take a moment and share in the comments below, and I will definitely weigh in as well!

Image source: http://maryandmarthashouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/superman-kid.jpg

When God Corrects Us to Protect Us

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During our recent backpacking trip through parts of Europe, an interesting thing happened. We were walking around a city square in Ghent, Belgium one workday afternoon, and we saw a child running from the middle of the square toward the busy, crowded street. He must have been about two years old, and it caused us alarm because nobody wants to see a kid to go running into a dangerous situation packed with oncoming cars and buses and trams. I was like, whoa, what the heck, this is not good! But then I saw another child – probably around six years old – moving fast towards him on his little bicycle, with wide-eyed fear plastered across his face. He was dressed in the same manner as the younger child, and so I am going to assume it was his older brother. And I watched that older brother stop his bicycle in front of us, put down the kickstand so it wouldn’t fall over, and then run hard to reach his little brother and grab his arm before he walked out into traffic.

Despite the six-year old’s insistence, the two-year old refused to budge and move away from the street! He just sat down on the ground right at the curb, and threw a fit with screams and tears.

What next ensued was surprising, but then not surprising. Despite the six-year old’s insistence, the two-year old refused to budge and move away from the street! He just sat down on the ground right at the curb, and threw a fit with screams and tears. But I watched the six year-old patiently stand by him, and did not raise his voice or get upset. He just attempted to gently kick him and nudge him towards the square, towards a safer place. And that helped a little – the little boy did move just a little bit away from the road, and kept doing so with every gentle nudge. Albeit with his arms crossed in disgust, a constant whine and whimper, and a frown on his face.

Rachel pointed out how this reminded her of how we are with God. It’s so true – I rarely know what is really best for me. And I often run in this direction, or that direction, in search of excitement, or purpose, or fulfillment. In fact, I get on these seemingly noble but still wild goose chases where I convince myself that I *must* do this, or must do that. I see in retrospect that God has saved me from so much – the wrong relationships, the wrong work partners, the wrong investment decisions, the wrong choices. But I’m embarrassed to say that many times – before I get a clue – I am quite stubborn and childish in my immediate reaction when He corrects me, or diverts me, or undermines all that I wanted to do, or planned to make happen. My attitude and actions pretty much all the time tend to betray that I know what’s best for me. But I don’t. I just don’t. Only God does, and it’s at best foolish and at worst dangerous for me to think that I do.

My attitude and actions pretty much all the time tend to betray that I know what’s best for me. But I don’t. I just don’t. Only God does, and it’s at best foolish and at worst dangerous for me to think that I do.

Plus, when He corrects me in these ways, it feels like it’s a blow to my autonomy, my freedom. I feel like my choice is being taken away, and having that choice seems inextricably attached to my identity, my life, who I am. But the reality is that I am not losing freedom – I am simply being protected. That decision would just not be best for me. He knows, and I don’t.

But in these moments, all I can think about is how the derailing of my plans is painful. How His correction stings a little. How it’s not fun at all, and how sometimes I just want my way with no consequences. Just like I bet that two-year-old felt when his older brother was kicking him so he would move away from danger and back toward safety.

What I really want to work on is not moving ahead with any idea or choice without going to Him and making sure He’s on board. To be sure, I know that many times He won’t give me a green light and that I need to take the first step of faith if I feel good about the decision. But what I have learned from experience is that if I give Him that voice into the situation while I am taking the first step or two (before completely running off and doing my own thing), He will give me a yellow or red light. And that will serve as the direction I need, and keep me choosing options that are in line with His best for my life.

 

 

What I’ve Learned in my First Year of Marriage

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Rachel and I just celebrated our first wedding anniversary on May 23rd. So here I am, starting my second year as a husband. I’m no longer a newlywed, and in the parlance of sports, my rookie year is over.

It’s been a great first year. I say that with hesitation because I know many, many couples have had a crappy first year as they get used to each other and learn how to put the other person first. Much like my years of singleness, some were rough and some were awesome, and I know we will move in and out of different types of seasons. “For better or worse,” and all that 🙂

Some of you will have read my blog entitled “What I’ve Learned in Six Months of Marriage” – I hope it provided you a nuanced picture of the struggles we did/do face. These are in the areas of communication (because we’re different people who can’t read each other’s minds!), the reality that I can never coast (demonstrating love in any great relationship must be consistent and enduring), time (because marriage takes a ton of time in order to do well), and watching my mouth (because it’s easy to betray frustration or impatience and be a bit of a jerk sometimes). I must stay ever vigilant and mindful about those matters – and have been. At this time, I wanted to intentionally reflect on the first twelve months of matrimony from two other angles.

This summer, we backpacked parts of Europe for a few weeks, and what struck me was the lack of wedding rings on young adults and even middle-aged adults. I never really used to look at people’s hands, but now I do – as if their ring finger gives me feedback about who they are as a person. I know there are a million reasons why a person may not be married or get married, but coupled with what I’ve learned about the culture in many European nations, most people don’t want the “marriage” sort of lifestyle. The responsibility. Being tied down. The perceived lack of independence. The weight of commitment.

This made me sad. I am all about solitude, and independence, doing what I want when I want, and charting my own course – but from my perspective now on the other side, marriage is not about the loss of all that. It’s about gain. The very, very best thing about marriage – in my opinion – is that I have Rachel in my corner. She cheers me on. She encourages me. She understands why I am the way I am – the way I mask certain insecurities, the way I try really hard and sometimes still fail, the way I struggle in certain situations, the way I fight the demons and doubts, the way I hope and dream. And she prays for me – and I know she does it with her whole heart, out of the purest of love, devotion, and commitment.

The very, very best thing about marriage – in my opinion – is that I have Rachel in my corner.

I kind of want that for everyone. It’s really wonderful and while God is and always will be my main anchor, Rachel through our marriage relationship provides another constant source of stability and strength and support.

I wish that so many more of those who I saw while walking the streets of London, or Paris, or Munich had that. Maybe they don’t want to get married. That is their choice, and a solid choice. But I hope that someone else in their life provides an anchor of unconditional love for them. I just think it makes life easier. My marriage to Rachel provides that for me.

The second observation I have after my first year of marriage occurred to me while doing a lot of hiking in the Swiss Alps. If you haven’t been or are not familiar, villages are spread up and down and across the mountainsides, and most tourists travel between them via train or cable car. A few people hike between villages. But what we realized was that most people travel via train or cable car to a higher village, and then hike down to one at a lower elevation. Rachel and I did the opposite. And we realized this while we were slogging our way upward and couples kept passing us on their way down. And I was like, what the pez, why do we always do things the hard way? But of course, I said it tongue-in-cheek and never actually wanted to do it the other way around. And neither did Rachel.

And after talking it out with her, this is what we realized…. We are not masochists. We don’t do it to prove our strength or endurance or mettle. And we’re definitely not better than anyone else for doing so. But we did think it was a metaphor for life. On one of the hikes, I started singing to Rachel improvised lines from Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl (“You’re my Uphill Girrrrrrrrl!!!“). Even though I couldn’t hit the high notes, it still made her smile.

I’m glad she is like that. I am glad we are like that. We choose to go uphill when everyone else is going downhill. We choose to climb when there is a much easier way to travel. And specific to marriage, she commented on a train ride a few days later that recently-married couples in a relationship will face a rough slog of it sometimes – and if they’ve never trained or prepared themselves for those times, it’s going to be brutal.

We allow the other the freedom to point out unhealthy patterns or destructive attitudes, and receive correction in love – reminding ourselves that the other person has our best at heart.

We continue to intentionally work on ourselves – individually and together – so that the uphill seasons of our married life aren’t as brutal as they could be. Yes, they will be tough (just like it was every single time we headed up a mountain trail). But they were doable. They were bearable. And they made us better. We regularly tackle our emotional health. We assess and adjust boundaries. We identify and articulate personal struggles. We stop and fix small conflicts or weirdnesses before they fester and metastasize. We allow each other the freedom to point out unhealthy patterns or destructive attitudes, and receive correction in love – reminding ourselves that the other person has our best at heart.

None of this is easy. It would be much simpler to just sweep those things under the proverbial rug and get on with working and paying the bills and dealing with health issues and in-laws and kids, and eking out a little comfort and pleasure when we can. And while we could definitely coast by taking the downhill path for a while, those problems will rear their ugly heads in much worst manifestations than if we dealt with them upon first notice. This has to remain our priority, perhaps above all else in our lives.

Every time we confront wounds from the past, or we ask the hard questions, or face the dysfunctions, or call out the false pretensions, we’re getting stronger.

Every time we confront wounds from the past, or we ask the hard questions, or face the dysfunctions, or call out the false pretensions, we’re getting stronger. And it’s not only increasing our ability and skillset, but also our confidence that we can overcome anything. Plus, anyone who has ascended a hill – let alone a mountain – knows the view is so much better and the air so much sweeter when you reach the summit. This is true literally, and it’s true figuratively – in education, business, and of course in relationships. Our love grows deeper every time we go uphill, and work together towards reaching the top. What is more, our intimacy becomes richer – on every level. This is the glory of marriage. I can’t even imagine what a lifetime of this will produce. God willing, we will keep climbing. For you, for me, the way is the same: one step at a time.

How to Get Over the Girl

pikes peak
So there was this one time where I really liked a particular girl.  It was way back in 2005.  She was all wrong for me, but I still wanted it to work, and gave it my all because I thought it just might.  I would be sweet and endearing and thoughtful.  I would demonstrate in meaningful ways how much I cared about her and her family.  I would put in the effort to keep in touch on a regular basis.  But something wasn’t right…and I would think to myself, man, it shouldn’t be this hard.  But I didn’t have a reference point against which to measure what a great relationship looks like.  And “on paper,” it seemed like we would be great together.  To be honest, I think it was one of those situations where the timing was wrong.  In the past, she had seemingly liked me, but I wasn’t feeling it.  And now, I really liked her, and she wasn’t feeling it.  But I couldn’t let it go, and detach.  It felt like it was taking over my entire life, and it was eating me up inside.  Constant questions filled my mind: “What is wrong with her?”  “Why won’t she reciprocate?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Why isn’t this working?” And my mind and my world WOULD NOT STOP SPINNING.

Have you ever felt this way?  It’s so awful.  When you’re caught up in it – whether it involves a girl, or a boy, or a friendship, or something at school, or at work, or even with a parent – you’re just a complete mess.  You have zero perspective, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s like you’re in a deep, dark hole that you’ve unwittingly dug for yourself.  But you have no idea how it even happened.  It just did.  You’re just stuck – and the hole is seriously getting deeper.

Have you ever felt this way?  It’s so awful.  You have zero perspective, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s like you’re in a deep, dark hole that you’ve unwittingly dug for yourself.  But you have no idea how it even happened.  It just did.

Eventually, you may get to a point where you are completely unstable, and it starts to affect the other areas of your life.  And those who care about you are so confused, and begging you to get a grip because that one thing – in my case, a girl – can’t possibly have such power and control and influence over you.  And you know that’s correct, but it doesn’t change the fact that right now, you are in a total fog.  And every day is getting increasingly worse.  And you feel completely helpless.  I’ve been there.  It sucks so much.

What do you do in these situations?  Well, there is no easy answer.  And in those moments, it’s hard to even hear suggested answers, let alone implement them – despite the good intentions with which they are offered.  But I personally have to believe that there are things we can do, and I can at least share what has worked for me in the hopes that it can help someone.  You know I am all about childlike faith, and in my childlike faith I am convinced that God doesn’t want us to get stuck in these places, and actually wants us to prevent them from even happening, as much as possible.  But I also want to be gracious towards everyone and remember that life is broken and people are broken, and issues of mental health, chemical imbalances, and unbelievably painful pasts complicate the situation tremendously.  So, I share this with hesitation but in love.

Regain Control of Your Mind

First, I remind myself that because Christ lives inside of me and given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit, I can take every thought captive and make it obedient to how He would want me to think.  I truly believe that.  We are not supposed to just swallow all of the ideas created by our untrustworthy and random emotions, and assume they are the truth – the truth about who we are, what we’re worth, and what our future looks like.  But so many people do.  We can agree that our emotions are all over the place, and yet we allow those emotions to guide how we feel, and most of what we say and do.  As if they were trustworthy.  Which they are not.

We can agree that our emotions are all over the place, and yet we allow those emotions to guide how we feel, and most of what we say and do.  As if they were trustworthy.  Which they are not.

I can’t take every thought captive in my own strength.  I’ve tried.  Perhaps you’ve tried as well.  It may work for a short while, but not long-term.  And it’s fallible, because I am fallible.  The cool thing is that it is not solely up to us, and that He is ready and willing to help.  I know it’s hard for a lot of people to think that we have actual, real spiritual support when we live in a world and culture that exalts science and disparage spirituality (which I find funny, because science hasn’t – and can’t – prove absolutely everything).  But the fact of the matter is that if you are a believer, He is there to help you.

Set Yourself Up For Small Victories

But, I can’t do it arbitrarily or randomly.  I actually have to be more intentional than that to get out of the hole I’m in.  And so I once again remind myself that His Spirit is within me, enabling me to do all things, and I to go on “mini-streaks” in my mind.  So when it comes to this girl who I could not let go of and get over, I would try not to think about her for ten minutes straight.  If she entered my thinking, I would remember His words, and outright reject the thought of her and figuratively cut her out of my thought life.

I knew it had to be a clean break.  I couldn’t allow her to have a foothold – or even a toehold – in my mind, given how emotionally wrapped up and messed up I was at that point.  And I didn’t need to be reminded of her in any capacity, and she had to be deleted from my phone and blocked on social media.  Nothing against her, of course – I just needed to do what I needed to do to regain stability and health.  That’s most important anyway, and so I couldn’t hesitate to take drastic measures if my actual well-being was the goal.  If I got to ten minutes of not thinking about her, I would feel really thankful and proud of myself.  And then I would try to get to thirty minutes.  And then an hour.

And I didn’t need to be reminded of her in any capacity, and she had to be deleted from my phone and blocked on social media.  Nothing against her, of course – I just needed to do what I needed to do to regain stability and health.

It wasn’t easy.  It took me a solid week to keep her out of my thoughts for an hour.  But I was making progress.  And after many weeks, I got to an entire day.  And then I knew that it was happening.  He was helping me conquer this.  And I was getting back on track.

Use Your Faith to Defend Against Attacks

It wasn’t easy or automatic.  Thoughts of her did creep back in sometimes.  But when they did, what also helped me was reminding myself to take up the shield of faith.  And yes, that is metaphorical, but it actually activated my mind and heart to lift up and set in place a figurative “force field” of sorts – something to stop and deflect and extinguish all of the fiery arrows (negative thoughts) that are volleyed against me.  I don’t care where they come from – from my own self-doubt and fear, from societal pressures and expectations of what I or my life should look like, from Satan – it doesn’t matter.  God wants us to remember the agency He has given us to overcome.

You would agree that no one and no thing has the right to physically abuse you, and you would do absolutely everything in your power to keep it from happening.  However, we are sometimes willing participants in our own emotional abuse.

To be honest, some days the negative thoughts keep coming.  They are relentless, and they are vicious.  But I am not a helpless victim.  You would agree that no one and no thing has the right to physically abuse you, and you would do absolutely everything in your power to keep it from happening.  However, we are sometimes willing participants in our own emotional abuse.  And we don’t do a single thing to stop it, let alone everything in our power.  We just take it.  But He’s told us what we should do, and He has promised us to help us along the way.  We just have to do our part and implement His instructions, instead of looking everywhere else for advice and solutions.

Build an Altar of Remembrance

Finally, I am a big fan of altars of remembrance.  This is when I create a defined moment in the history of my life where I give something over to God in a profound, hallowed, and ceremonial way.  This has been modeled by so many heroes of the faith, and to me their lives are worth emulating in this manner.  So, in 2005, I flew out to Colorado, and my best friend Dan and I decided to climb the 14,110 feet of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs.  Because I wasn’t acclimated to the altitude, it was a pretty miserable six-hour slog to the top for me.  But I had to get to the summit, and I wasn’t going to quit no matter what.  Along the way, I thought about the girl, and my life, and attempted to view the situation from God’s perspective.  I thought about His love for me, and His epic plans for my future, and how I knew without a doubt that He didn’t want me struggling so much like this.  Over a girl.  And frankly, over anything.  And I knew I wanted to be completely done with it, and surrender it over to Him, fully letting go and fully letting God provide me the right relationship He had for me at the right time.

And so when we got to the top, I remember catching a snowflake on my tongue (it had just started snowing right up there at the top – even though it was the middle of August) and then corralled Dan and our other friends together over on the side, off the beaten path, and away from other hikers.  And I reached into my backpack and took out a pen and some scrap paper.  And I told them that I had been struggling with something that was weighing heavily on my heart, and that I needed closure.  And I told them I was going to write it on a bit of paper and then bury it at the top of Pikes Peak.  And leave it here, forever, and be done with it.

I told them that I had been struggling with something that was weighing heavily on my heart, and that I needed closure.  And I told them I was going to write it on a bit of paper and then bury it at the top of Pikes Peak.  And leave it here, forever, and be done with it.

And Dan spoke up and said that he’d love to do the same thing, and one by one so did our other friends.  And so I tore small pieces off of my scrap paper and handed them out, and everyone wrote down at least one thing (and perhaps more) that they were dealing with, and that was holding them back and messing them up.  And we all folded up our pieces of paper (mine, of course, had the girl’s name on it) and created a hole into which they could be deposited.  And after covering them up with a lot of rocks, we all stood over the spot in a circle and prayed.  We prayed that God would honor our heart’s desire to pursue emotional health by deliberately burying what was plaguing us, what was worrying us, what was causing us to not trust Him.  And there, we let them go.

When I got back to Florida and the girl randomly popped into my mind, I told myself that I had left her and the hope of the relationship at the top of Pikes Peak.  That was my altar of remembrance, where God and I ended one chapter, and started another.  And that helped me so much.  I have altars of remembrance in certain places across America, definitely in Florida, and even in other countries (when I’ve gone on missions trips).  And they represent other areas in my life too – not just involving girls. And taking every thought captive and employing my shield of faith has gotten markedly easier as I’ve put these strategies into regular and constant practice.  It takes a long while, but you do reach a tipping point, and I can’t emphasize how much it is worth it.

When I start to head in a bad direction because of something in my life, this is exactly what I do.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  It isn’t magic, and it doesn’t perfectly solve every problem.  But it truly can make a drastic difference.  When you are starting to flounder and fail, maybe you can try these techniques.  Just try to do so as early as possible, because the longer you let it go, the harder it is to escape the deep, dark hole you’re in.  But no matter where you find yourself, do not give up.  There is always, always hope. There is always a way out.

When You Really Want to Find a Mentor

The Karate Kid – the original version, which came out in 1984 – is one of my all-time favorite movies.  Why? Well, I could relate to Daniel LaRusso, the introverted, awkward, skinny underdog who was valiantly trying to make friends and fit in at his new school in California.  Plus, most boys my age saw the film and instantly developed a hopeless crush on Ali Mills in all of her ponytailed spunkiness, and could empathize with Daniel’s wistful desire to win her heart and be the hero of the story.  Finally, I loved the movie because I knew what it was like to be bullied, and the feeling of helplessness that stemmed from a sheer inability to stand up for myself.  I mean, no one had ever shown me what to say or what to do when other kids gave me crap or pushed me around.

As you’ll recall, Daniel didn’t either.  Until he met Mr. Miyagi, and his life was forever changed.

The aforementioned reasons underscore why the movie enjoyed commercial and critical success, Mr. Miyagi and his role in Daniel’s life still stands out in my mind decades later.  If you’re familiar with the story, you remember that he was the repairman at Daniel’s new apartment complex, and early in the movie he defends Daniel against five members of the Cobra Kai.  As a result, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him how to fight, and is then taken under his wing.  Through this relationship, Daniel not only learns karate, but also many lessons of greater import related to life, relationships, stability, confidence, and courage.

Through this relationship, Daniel not only learns karate, but also many lessons of greater import related to life, relationships, stability, confidence, and courage.

I wanted that.  I wanted that so badly.  And I saw it all in so many other stories: Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan, Neo had Morpheus, Harry had Dumbledore, Frodo had Gandalf, and Peter Parker had Uncle Ben.  I can’t express to you how much these relationships resonated with my heart – and still do, even today: the desire for an older man to come along and train up the next generation in the way he should go.  To mentor me, encourage me, and teach me tangible skills.  To advocate for me, champion me, to always have my back.  To simply be there – as a guide, as a sage – and remind me that I didn’t have to face everything alone.  Author John Eldredge writes about how that is the primary thing all men struggle with: the feeling that everything is up to us, that there’s no one out else interested or available to really help us through the tough stuff of life.  I know that is a plaguing thought with which I wrestle constantly.  The question remains: who really is there for me…to show me the ropes, to go to bat for me, to teach me the ways of the warrior?

The question remains: who really is there for me…to show me the ropes, to go to bat for me, to teach me the ways of the warrior?

My dad and I are very close, and he has raised me well to be a man of integrity, wisdom, discipline, and cultivated in me a deep love and loyalty to family.  But I didn’t receive spiritual mentorship from him.  Instead, three pastors invested in me over the years: Pastor Mark in Orlando, Pastor Bob in West Palm Beach, and Pastor Matt in Stuart.  They have taught me about true faith, and developing a friendship with God, and waiting for His best, no matter what.  In between, I also was spiritually mentored by a number of Christian authors who taught me about authentic masculinity, how to honor and cherish a woman, how to set boundaries for healthy living, and how to remain stable in the midst of storms.  Sure, I would have loved to learn those things from people in real life, but that wasn’t what happened.  The cool thing, though, is that God’s plan to train me up in the way I should go wasn’t dependent on the people immediately around me.  He made so much of it happen through books, and I am grateful for that.

Even still, there is so much that feels solely up to me.  I wish someone would teach me more about investing, about certain home improvement projects, about how my car works, about how to build a successful business, and about how to walk the line between letting others know what you have to offer, and waiting for God’s hand to exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6).  Right now, I’m having to learn a lot on my own – and pretty much every guy I talk to feels the same way.  It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s downright exhausting.  I think of Thoreau’s words…how the mass of men are leading lives of quiet desperation.  Honestly, I think there is a bit of desperation in trying to figure out how to do life well on your own, and fending off the questions and lies and accusations and doubts that you are in this alone, with no one really there to help you.

There is a bit of desperation in trying to figure out how to do life well on your own, and fending off the questions and lies and accusations and doubts that you are in this alone, with no one really there to help.

Most of the time, I trust Him to be what I need, give me what I need, and provide the right opportunities and people in my life at the right time.  Occasionally, I cry out to Him for more, because I do need guidance and insight and tangible help.  I do.  We all do.  I’m okay with that.  And He understands.

Through all of this, I’m learning two things.  One is that I need to pay it forward.  Well, let me strengthen that statement: I want to pay it forward.  And so I’m trying to be readily available and am seizing every opportunity to do that when it’s clear God wants me to step in.  And He does make it very clear – I know when He is sovereignly orchestrating it, and when I want to do it only because I feel the need to try to rescue the other person.  It works out so much better when it’s arranged by Him, instead of rooted solely in my own human effort.  I find great joy in guiding and mentoring the teens He has put in my life, and He keeps confirming that I am made to do this, that I am meant to do this.  This also helps me stay balanced, so I am not wasting my life building my own kingdom and a protected, comfortable little life for myself.  I don’t want that.  I want a life that is epic, one that has a transcendent and inspirational impact for many.  And I have learned over and over again that any other kind of life is pretty empty.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” ~ King Solomon

The second thing I am learning is that I need to position myself so that others see a need and want to help me, as they are prompted by God.  If no one sees or hears about my needs, no one will rise up to the challenge.  No one will pray about whether God wants them to step in and be that guide or mentor or positive influence in my life.  I do believe that other men are surrendered to His will and leadings, and would gladly swoop in to help a younger brother out when the occasion presents itself.   This is because they have experienced the same need, or they themselves were taught and counseled along the way, or they viscerally understand that – like Jesus – the best lived life is the one poured out for others.  Thinking back to Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, it’s patently obvious how much the Karate Kid needed and benefited from his sensei.  But upon closer observation, it’s also clear that Mr. Miyagi needed and benefited from Daniel in his life in equally wonderful life-altering ways.

Asking for help is super hard, and goes against the things I have told myself to steel up my defenses, and grit and grind through life as I’ve known it.  But I know I must.

So, I am trying to ask for help more often.  I can’t do everything – and really don’t want to do everything – on my own.  But asking for help is super hard, and goes against the things I have told myself to steel up my defenses, and grit and grind through life as I’ve known it.  But I know I must.  I know it is the right, healthy, and honest thing to do, even if it renders me vulnerable to rejection and failure.  I have to ask.  And just see what happens.

And no matter what, I have to trust the process.  Even if someone doesn’t come through for me, I know that God will.  He always has, in one way or the other.

Let us all be more sensitive to the needs we see around us, particularly those which we could rise up and meet.  Let us be quick to come through for others, because we remember how much we have needed someone to come through for us.  Let us do so enthusiastically, knowing that we are spending our life in the most worthy of pursuits, honoring God, and doing Him proud.  And let us humbly but pointedly ask others to consider being that guide, that sage, that mentor in our lives.  If they say yes, they will be blessed.  If they say no, the only thing that will hurt is our pride.  And even then, we can hold onto the truth that God is still working everything together for our good, and He’ll make something else awesome happen – in time.

Image source:
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When You Catch Someone Messing Up

A while ago, I stopped by CVS after playing ultimate frisbee at school to pick up some mouthwash and some toiletries. It was just time to run some errands, no big deal. But as I was walking through the aisles by the pharmacy, I saw this guy – who looked to be around 23 or so – grab what seemed to be some over-the-counter medication and put it under his shirt, under his waistband in the back. And I walked by him and in my head I was like, WHOA. And then I thought to myself, maybe I go should let a CVS employee know? And then I looked around, and was like, where are the cameras????? But then I said to myself, wait, let’s go talk to him! Be brave, Sameer. You got this. And so I walked up and started talking to him.

And I said, “Hey, can I just buy that for you?”

And he looked at me in complete shock…and said…”Um…No, it’s okay. I will put it back. I don’t need it that bad. I’m sorry.”

Me: “Are you sure? I really don’t mind buying it for you. You can pay it forward sometime.”

Him: “No, it’s okay. I’ll put it back. I’m really sorry.”

Me: “Don’t you need it? Won’t you need it in the future?”

Him: “No, it’s fine. I don’t really need it.” And he apologized again.

Me: “It’s okay…I know how life can get. I’ve been there. Thanks.”

And then he went and put it back, and apologized to me one more time. And then he left.

And I just stood there in the aisle, wondering what just happened. All I remember thinking was that I really wanted him to keep his dignity. The fact that he apologized so much showed me that he was remorseful and just felt a lot of shame about it. And I just wanted to try to show him love. I should have asked him his name. I should have asked if he wanted to hang out. I got so sad afterwards. I just was like, God, nothing else matters except him…and I just want him to have hope. I just want him to have joy. Please take care of him and bless him and help him. My heart just ached for him and his situation. And maybe it’s not a big deal, maybe it was just like an impulse thing…but to me it seemed bigger than that. It seemed symptomatic of a bigger problem, I don’t know if it was related to meth production or an addiction, or what. I was just like, God, I can’t stand seeing people like this. Struggling. Please help him. If And I thought to myself that if I see him again, I will ask him to hang out. It was just a jarring experience and I am glad that it affected me because I want people’s sadnesses to affect me. I just want to care more.

I bring this up because I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. As you may know, the book is about the powerful effects of shame in our life, and how to overcome them. Dr. Brown discusses how we overwhelmingly need love, connection, and belonging – because we are relational human beings – and how our fear of being rejected causes us to stiff-arm or run away from showing our vulnerabilities. In order to find freedom from the prison that shame keeps us locked in, we are to own our vulnerabilities, embrace self-compassion, and reach out to empathetic others. What is more, we are to choose to live an engaged life where we step out of the shadows, and embrace the risks and emotional exposure that come our way in every interaction.

The goal in all of this is wholehearted living: “engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging” (p10).

I would venture to say that the vast, vast majority of us don’t feel this way on a regular basis. And that is so awful to consider. We struggle mightily with self-worth and self-blame, and it completely undermines our ability to live life to the full. I have felt that feeling more than I would like to admit, but I have a tough time recognizing when I am being too hard on myself. When I see others mired in shame, though, I recognize clearly that they don’t deserve to be riding themselves into the ground. You’re probably the same way. We both know on an acutely visceral level when we have failed or fallen short to some standard. And it almost automatically affects our perceptions of our intrinsic value and worth. At that point, we’re already down on ourselves, and the last thing we need is for others to pile on top of that.

All of us struggle with shame on some level, and all of our stories are complicated and occur against a backdrop that seriously no one else can fully see or understand.

On a regular basis, life has shown me in very gripping and convicting ways that “there but for the grace of God, go I.” It would be easy for anyone to judge this person I met in CVS, but whatever he was dealing with was no worse or ugly or shameful or jacked up than anything I deal with, or have dealt with. Or anything you deal with, or have dealt with. All of us struggle with shame on some level, and all of our stories are complicated and occur against a backdrop that seriously no one else can fully see or understand. And that backdrop sometimes induces us to make wrong choices and consequently feel shame, which Dr. Brown vividly defines as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

That guy needed connection. I tried to connect with him and convey to him that I didn’t judge him for what he was doing. I just wanted to be there for him. I just wanted to pay for the product he was trying to steal if he couldn’t afford it. I just wanted to come through. I wanted him to know that there were others out there who would demonstrate love and care and kindness to him no matter what he did. I know that might sound way too magnanimous, but that was the truth and I believe that is what he needed at that moment.

And I think that is what we all need. Desperately, sometimes. You know what you feel shame about in your own life, and you know how it affects you and keeps you hedged in. It paralyzes you on some occasions, and suffocates you in other encounters. Same with me. If shame in our lives is a universal truth, and we all can agree that it is destructive, does it not demand that compassion should be universal as well? I mean, it seems so intuitive. But we just don’t see it displayed as often as it’s needed. And we definitely don’t feel it as often as we’d hope.

You know what you feel shame about in your own life, and you know how it affects you and keeps you hedged in. It paralyzes you on some occasions, and suffocates you in other encounters. Same with me.

I can’t control how other people act, and whether they are moved in the same way I am. But I’ve just been thinking this week that I really need to always do my part. And so whenever I feel the tendency rising up within me to criticize, ostracize, or otherwise judge someone else for ANY REASON, I just want to immediately remember how badly I need others to NOT do that to me. Ever. Because they don’t have a clue about what I’ve been through, or what I’m dealing with, or what my story is. Just like I don’t know theirs. Or yours. Compassion should be my first response, always. In every situation. It’s hard, and it’s not always natural, and I definitely mess up sometimes. But I pray He keeps sensitizing me to this truth so that I really get it, deep down in my heart. Because I know it’s right.

What I’ve Learned in Six Months of Marriage

I am six months in. To marriage. To being a husband, and having a wife. And it’s actually going great. You know me by now, I always want to be completely candid so that in my vulnerability you can find value. And so really, it’s been solid. I honestly thought I was going to struggle a lot – not because of Rachel, but because I have been so used to solitude, and quietness, and doing my own thing (pretty much) whenever I want. Growing up in my parents’ house, I always had my own bedroom. And then while going to school, I always had a single dorm (apart from one semester at the beginning which reminded me I much prefer to live alone). And I’ve lived alone since graduating. It had been so wonderful. I could think, I could grow so intimately close to the Lord, I could play guitar and journal and write poetry and (pretty much) never be bothered or distracted. I knew God had called me to be an amazing husband and, in time, a father – and so I was ready for the significant change that was going to require and assumed it would be quite difficult. But it hasn’t. Being with Rachel has been a breeze. Another reminder that God has been in our relationship from the very beginning and that, like my mom likes to say, marriages are made in heaven.

All of this said, I’ve definitely learned a lot. And so I want to share with you some points to ponder along this journey, because many of you will be where I am soon enough. Here’s my first entry, six months from our exchange of vows.

1) I thought I was really good at communication, but I’m definitely not as good as I need to be. For example, I still expect her to read my mind. Seriously. I seriously want her to notice the things that I notice, and be prompted to do what I would do. For instance, I see things that need to be done around the house, and I want her to see those things in exactly the same way I see them, and view the importance of getting them done in exactly the same I view them, and to tackle them with the urgency that I would tackle them. This does not happen. But it’s not her fault. She has been so incredibly loving and giving every single day, and constantly checks in with me to ask if she can help me with anything. But it’s very hard for me to specifically say, ‘please do this’ or ‘please do that’ because then it feels to me like I am ordering her around. And I am just incredibly sensitive to that, and for whatever reason try to avoid that like the plague. It makes me feel so awful inside to tell her what to do. And so really, I just want her to know what I am thinking, and what to do. WHY CAN’T SHE JUST KNOW!!?? I don’t know how to get over this. It’s my own messed-up perception, and has nothing to do with her. So, since it’s so hard for me to verbalize requests because of this weird hang-up of mine, we create To-Do lists in an app called Wunderlist. I think it’s helping…assuming we daily check it when we have a moment free, and are motivated to knock some items off the list in the interest of loving our spouse through such acts of service.

I just want her to know what I am thinking, and what to do. WHY CAN’T SHE JUST KNOW!!??

2) Being married requires me to completely understand that there will never come a time where I can love her so very well, and for such an enduring amount of time, that I just can stop and coast for a while. I can’t tell you why I even want to coast for a while. It could be because life is tiring and I always feel like so much is on me to come through in many areas of life. But I do. Maybe every guy feels like that. That’s fodder for another blog post. Anyway, there is no coasting in marriage. Ever. And so I have learned that if I am doing special things to try to make “deposits” in her “love bank” (like date nights, and flowers, and chocolate, and quality time, etc.), I had better be doing it because I can’t help not do it. And for no other reason. If I’m doing it because I want to be able to make “withdrawals” down the road (as extended alone time later, or more time in the office, or more work on my own individual dreams) we have a problem. Rachel wants to support me doing all of those things – and frankly anything that I need to do because she trusts my heart. But she doesn’t want me spending time with her as a favor to her, just to get her to grant me favors of what I want. She wants me to do everything out of an unadulterated affection and passion for her. And she wants to do things for me out of the same motivation. A marriage relationship does not and cannot be transactional. It must involve generous and selfless actions with pure motives, no expectation of return, and no expiration date. I am learning this. But it is hard work. People need to know this before they commit, on a visceral level. And they should be ready for it, as much as possible.

A marriage relationship does not and cannot be transactional. It must involve generous and selfless actions with pure motives, no expectation of return, and no expiration date. I am learning this. But it is hard work.

3) Relationships take an absolute ton of time. Really, so much. And I am so grateful that God helped me to put in years and years of hard work before Rachel came along so that I could be in a really good place when it came to discipline, and character, and responsibility, and sacrifice, and all these other personal characteristics which – while I was learning them at the time – felt pointless and just another reminder that life was brutal. And so now, even though I obviously need to continue to grow and improve in a bunch of areas, there is much frustration and stress that we are protected from because I co-endeavored with the Lord to be prepared as much as I could. It was often begrudgingly, and I wish my attitude was better during that very long season of my life, but He was gracious to me and understood my pain. And it was such a gift, I can’t express how grateful I am for it. I guess this is just another reminder to those single to try to embrace your own season of preparation even when it gets really, really hard and really, really lonely. Your dreamboat will come along. It will happen. Just get yourself ready as best as you can.

4) The biggest mistakes I make are the ones with my mouth. We know what James says about the impossibility of taming the tongue. I wish I was perfect in this area. And you guys know me, I don’t even talk that much, and I really do try to measure my words. But sometimes my tone, or the sentiments I vocalize, or the way I articulate and convey something – it betrays irritation or busyness or disappointment. It feeds her own doubts and insecurities – the ones we all have – that we are not important, that we are not worth being prized above anything and everything else. And if I am not sensitive, and immediately apologize and make it right, these can be axe blows to the root of my bride’s self-confidence and ever-unfolding beauty. They clip her wings. They dam up her river. They stunt her growth. Thankfully God helps me to not mess up too often, but my point is that this is the area about which I and arguably everyone else should really be most mindful. It’s so crazy to think that even one short phrase or sentence I might utter in a moment of frustration might very well irreparably shatter her heart. That is how powerful our words can be. It’s scary, but in a good way.

Sometimes my tone, or the sentiments I vocalize, or the way I articulate and convey something – it betrays irritation or busyness or disappointment. It feeds her own doubts and insecurities – the ones we all have – that we are not important, that we are not worth being prized above anything and everything else.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough for now. I know I am incredibly blessed, and people I care about deeply have had an extremely rough go of it during their first six months of marriage. Hardships are inevitable for every couple, and who knows what the future will bring for us. As of now, things are awesome. I just want to remain humble, and teachable, and always willing to change and improve. Because I don’t ever want to hurt her, and I want to bring so much joy and honor to God as He observes us live out the union He orchestrated. And I really want our marriage to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to the singles and the couples we know. They will be able to tell if it’s genuine, or if we’re faking it. For these reasons, and because we’ve been given a platform and voice into the lives of others, it’s absolutely critical for us to do this right.

Where Do I Get My Identity?

I have been thinking a lot about identity this week, probably I went to a concert this Tuesday. I finally got to see New Found Glory live, one of my all-time favorite bands and one that I’ve listened to for the last 16 years. They are a pop punk band out of Coral Springs, Florida, and I absolutely love their music because of the lyrics, the energy, the guitar licks and base lines in their songs, and because they basically play the soundtrack of my youth. They pretty much sing about girls and falling in and out of love (as I guess most artists do), but they do so in such an awesome, fun, and compelling way. If you named any one of their eight studio albums since 1999, I could tell you who I had a crush on during that season of my life. This is because I would listen to their songs all of the time and, of course, have a certain girl in the back of my mind that I was pining for. Oh, Sameer. This sounds so desperate, but whatever, this was my life! I thought about girls a lot while growing up…what can I say?

Anyway, back to identity. My musical tastes have varied over the years, and while I have largely moved on from 80s music, rap, and country, I have never stopped loving emo/punk/indie/hardcore music. I think this phase started in around 2000, and it’s held strong. And one of the largest acts in the genre of pop punk is New Found Glory, and I guess their songs stand out in my mind as best representing this longstanding season of my life. But as important as the music was to me, so was the scene. So much so that I began to attach myself to it and constantly desire to be associated with it. I was looking to belong to something that came across “cool” and “edgy,” and also resonated with my adolescent and young adult state of mind (e.g., moody, rebellious, confused, impulsive, sensitive, reckless). It just worked for me. And I embraced it.

I was looking to belong to something that came across “cool” and “edgy,” and also resonated with my adolescent and young adult state of mind.

I would discover and listen to all of all of the coolest bands that hadn’t yet gone mainstream and “sold out.” I would buy band stickers at shows and plaster them all over my door and above my computer desk. I would drive all over Florida and Michigan (where I went to school) – even by myself – to see the groups I loved. I got unique piercings (no tattoos, though!). I wore choker necklaces, and loved the way they looked on others in the scene. I would wear skate shoes or black workboots, as most others did. I would brave the mosh pit, and pinball around with other rowdy, sweaty guys and girls while the music roared in front of us. I would reach out for the setlists that were taped to the stage, and I would plead for a pick from one of the guitarists, or a drumstick from the drummer. I would wait patiently for the band at the merch table after the show to get an autograph and a photo. And I would always hope that one day at a show, I’d talk to a super cute punk rock girl, someone who wore blue nail polish and sparkly makeup on her eyes and face, and a hoodie representing a band I listened to, and then we would be lifted up onto the pulsating mass of the concert-goers around us, and crowd-surf together…into the sunset. That never happened, but I always thought it might.

So, fast forward again to this past Tuesday. I was out in Denver for a conference, and it just so happened that New Found Glory was playing. My friend Dan lives out there, and loves them as much as I do, and we grew up going to shows together, and it had been years since we’ve done it, and so we were like…dude, this is a God thing, let’s make it happen!!! And so we did. And all day Tuesday I was honestly so pumped. I haven’t been as excited about something in months, and so I just was listening to their music, and rocking out in my room, and reminiscing on all of the good and bad memories that flooded back into my mind. It didn’t make me depressed at all, though. It just made me happy inside, because it felt like I had stepped into a portal of my past, and I was somehow able to deeply feel the deep feelings I felt all these years ago. You remember adolescence and young adulthood – it’s absolutely laden with emotion and passion and intense sensations of all types. That’s how I felt again. So much nostalgia. But none of the sad stuff. Just the good stuff. And even walking eight blocks to the concert venue underneath the downtown city lights, I was just buzzing with excitement and floating on a cloud. And I was like, man I should do this more often, I totally miss this feeling!

You remember adolescence and young adulthood – it’s absolutely laden with emotion and passion and intense sensations of all types. That’s how I felt again. So much nostalgia.

The show was ridiculous. It was absolutely bananas. And I had such a fantastic time. Really. I loved singing at the top of my lungs all of these lyrics which meant so much to me while growing up. They were the tangible representation of my emotional state of mind, and painted these vivid word pictures that crystallized the angst and pressure and fear and strangeness of every new experience I faced in life by simply reminding me that I wasn’t alone. And that others felt them too. I loved being up near the front of the stage, smooshed together with a thousand other people, with the lead singer periodically shoving the microphone in my face so I could sing along and feel even more a part of the delightful madness that surrounded me. It was one of the best nights ever. But…it got me thinking. And, like even the most amazing things we ever do in life, it left something to be desired.

I don’t want to point to the fact that I am now firmly ensconced in adulthood as the reason why I am not completely fulfilled by even the most awesome experiences in this world. But the fact is that as you get older, you gain perspective, and you realize that even mountaintop experiences still don’t fully satisfy. And what was profoundly obvious to me after the show was that everyone there wanted to be connected to the band. To the lyrics. To the music. To the punk rock scene. To what it represented – something cool, something edgy, something underground and DIY and decidedly outside of pop culture. I also wanted that connection – both that night and while growing up. I longed for it. I was actively seeking to be swept up in something bigger than myself. And to feel something transcendent – something above and beyond my own complicated but often mundane existence.

I was actively seeking to be swept up in something bigger than myself. And to feel something transcendentsomething above and beyond my own complicated but often mundane existence.

That’s how it is with everything we do. We are sometimes (frequently?) unsure of our identity – of who we are and where our value comes from – both as adolescents and as adults, and this makes us feel unstable. And so we gravitate towards something else that seems much more solid and stable. It could be your job, career, or the school you go to or went to. It could be CrossFit or yoga or favorite athletic activity. It could be your girlfriend or wife or kids. It could be your favorite sports team. I’ve done all of these things, and I still have a tendency to do it. But I’m trying to faithfully and fervently remind myself that I simply cannot get my identity from any of these external, temporal sources, and must take a gigantic step backward when I catch myself headed in that direction.

It’s not easy, though. Self-correcting your course back towards God feels pretty boring even though you know it’s the right thing to do. Basing your identity and worth after what God says about you is simply not as tangible nor as immediate as everything else. Yes, I can read His Word and meditate on how He feels about me – but it doesn’t usually translate to what my real life looks like at that moment. My real life looks like a mess sometimes – and sometimes feels like it. And God doesn’t deal in emotions as much as all of those other things we use to give us our identity instead. He’s not about making sure that we are, for example, bursting with anticipation and joy when we finish doing our devotional, or when we finish church, or after we listen to praise and worship music. You’ll recall I was so pumped on my way to the show on Tuesday night, but I don’t typically feel that way during my daily discipline of pursuing Him. Yes, it does happen on occasion, but I feel like He definitely does not want us equating Him to emotional highs because then we will equate Him to emotional lows. And while I know He cares deeply about our emotions, He doesn’t want our actions and choices in life tied to such a mercurial thing. He wants them based on our faith and trust in Him.

I feel like He definitely does not want us equating Him to emotional highs because then we will equate Him to emotional lows. And while I know He cares deeply about our emotions, He doesn’t want our actions and choices in life tied to such a mercurial thing.

I’m okay with that. I’ve lived long enough to know that He does always come through (although perhaps not in the way I want, but the way that is definitely best for me), and that sourcing my identity in anything else other than Him leaves me feeling unsettled, incomplete, and searching for more. Searching for better. Searching for the next thing. And still coming up short.

But when I base my identity in what He has said, and I get it inside of me, deep in the core of my being, I don’t feel like something is missing, and I don’t need to search anymore. He has clearly told me that before I was even born he set me apart. I’ve been dwelling on that sentiment for the last twenty years, and you’ve probably heard me say it in a meaningful conversation with you, if we’ve ever hung out one-on-one. And its truth is reflected in all of my attitudes and actions. I believe 100% that I am set apart – because He said so. Seriously, 100%, like, with zero doubt. And it is one of the most life-affirming, confidence-bestowing things ever.

He also says that I am chosen – which to me means that no one settled for me, but that I was wanted, and am wanted, because of my heart and my potential to do great things for Him and for others. This helps me to remember that no matter what anyone else says, and no matter how I feel on my crappiest days, He saw something in me way back in the day that prompted Him to chase after me and love me and never give up on me. And so I’m not going to give up on Him. He also says that I am created in His own image. I mean, nothing is more beautiful and spectacular and more rock-star than God. I value Him for being freaking awesome all the time, and so I am going to value myself regardless of how I’m feeling or even the mistakes I’ve made and the regrets I have because He made me like Him, and my heart’s desire is to always get better over time. And I believe that’s all He is asking of us.

No matter what anyone else says, and no matter how I feel on my crappiest days, He saw something in me way back in the day that prompted Him to chase after me and love me and never give up on me.

The concert was so rad, and I was really thankful that I went. Even now. But I have no desire to try to replicate the high I felt before the show or during the show. Even while I was rocking out with everyone else there in front of the stage, I could step outside myself and know the truth: that I was having an absolute blast, but it would end soon and take all of these warm feelings and nostalgia and belongingness and connectedness away when the stagehands were packing up the instruments and speakers and mic stands. But what wouldn’t end was the reality of the Lord in my life, and how much He loves me and values me. And the close, personal relationship I can forever enjoy with Him.

We have so many things here in this life to delight in and experience. But they’re just things, even though we sometimes make them to be so much more than that just to fulfill the longings we have and combat the insecurities we feel. I’m thankful that I am increasingly aware of my inclination to do this. I want to appreciate all He’s put in my life and all that He allows me to do, but I don’t want to get caught up in them and make them fulfill me, define me, and show me that I finally belong to something bigger and better than just myself. I just want to be caught up in Him. Because He’s already done all of that, in the best and most lasting way possible.

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