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12 entries from April 2012

What regrets will you have when you are dying?

When you die, what do you think you’ll regret?

I doubt you will regret the risks you took. I even doubt you’ll regret the risks you took that ended in failure. By now, I imagine you’ve seen this article. Here are the top five regrets listed by the nurse. She says that people tell her

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The article ends with this question:


What's your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

What do you think about the list? What do you think about the question at the end? The truth is that we are all dying. The breath you just took while you read this is one breath closer to death. The breaths I took while writing this all move me closer to death. In fact, I am probably closer to death than I am to my birth.

What are we doing with the time we have? I fear that too many of us are always playing it safe. We’re trying to write risk and danger out of our story. Or we are chasing plot lines that just don’t matter. We’re creating a life that we would never want turned into a movie. We’re just moving along chasing the next dollar, the next fancy car, the next “thing” that will make us happy. We’re missing out on the truth that true satisfaction will probably require us to go through unhappy times and then learn how to let that go.

Our life will not be better because we avoid risks. True courage requires the presence of fear. Fear usually comes from risk. The other day I asked what you were willing to pay for what you wanted. Today, I want to ask what are you willing to risk for it?

I thought about this truth today as I was waking up. When my eyes first opened, I literally had a list of around thirty things that had to get done today. Then my wife’s eyes opened and she smiled at me as she snuggled into me. A few moments later, my youngest crawled into bed and snuggled into my wife. Then my middle daughter came and snuggled into me. Big brown eyes looking up at me just chattering away.

My list kept running in my head.

My daughters thoughts kept running out of her mouth to my head like a sweet Italian opera. I lay there with an invisible war waging in my mind. List or daughter?

Daughter or list?

Snuggle or write?

Write or Snuggle?

Life or money?

School or Life?

Certainly part of my struggle was my own poor planning and being behind in school. But that’s part of this question, isn’t it? What do you we do when the pressure is really on? Will my grades really matter to my daughter in ten years? When she is seventeen and the idea of snuggling her dad isn’t even on her radar, will the paper I write today really matter to her or me?

I doubt it.

Will the time she spent snuggling into me telling me about her classmates and school and her iTouch even be remembered?

In truth, it probably will not be remembered. But the culmination of my choices will be remembered. I refuse to die, worrying that I chose my career aspirations over my children.

The real question I want to ask you is what values will you live by in the time between today and the day you die?

Those values will direct and be revealed by your actions. I guarantee it.

May we all live in such a way that regret is not found on our death bed.

You were probably a genius once

My guess is that there was a time—perhaps when you were young—when you had at least a fleeting notion of your own genius and were just waiting for some authority figure to come along and validate it for you.

But none ever came.

~Gordon MacKenzie in Orbiting the Giant Hairball as quoted by Mark Batterson

It's not the what, it's the what. Two important questions regarding your desires.

I want to lose 50 pounds….

I want to write a novel…

I want to travel to France...

I want to help children in Africa…

I want to start a small business...

I want my marriage to be better than it is…

I want my relationship with my child/parent to be restored…

We all have a lot of wants in our life. Most people know what they want. Even when they tell me they don’t know what they want. I usually push back a little bit. Most of the time what we want is the easy question.

The much more difficult question is what are we willing to pay to achieve what we want?

Think about the adult that says they want to go back to school but they don’t have time. What that usually means is that they don’t the time to go back to school and keep doing the things that they are currently doing. In other words, they’re not willing to pay that price.

The couple that says they want their marriage to be restored, but they are not going to apologize or forgive. What are they really saying? I won’t pay that price.

It’s important that we are honest about the price we are willing to pay. The good news is that we decide what we’ll pay. The bad news is that we are not always forthright about it.

Everything costs something.

What do you want out of your life? What are you willing to pay for it? Knowing where that ceiling is at is important. It gives you the parameters from which you’ll be operating.

I am convinced that one of the reasons people rarely see real lasting change is due to the fact that they are unwilling to pay the price necessary to achieve that change. They are not willing to push through their feelings and work on their marriage. They are not willing to pick up the phone, call their child/parent and be the first one to apologize.

This is a problem because we will often make statements about what we will do without actually considering the cost of doing whatever it is that we are promising.

So we volunteer…

We start dating…

We offer to forgive…

We promise to love someone forever in sickness and in health, good times and bad times…

We have children…

We get married…

We start a business…

We start writing a book…

We take a risk…

We say I love you…

We join a civic organization…

We start a diet…

We start exercising…

We quit…

Yes, we quit because the price becomes too high. If we had taken the opportunity to consider the cost before we started we might not have ever began the journey.

Think about the person who says they want their marriage to work but they simply cannot forgive. How does a marriage work where there isn’t forgiveness?

Think about the spouse who was caught cheating and now refuses to have total transparency. How does that marriage work?

It doesn’t.

That’s actually a person who would rather be divorced than do what is necessary to stay married.

In life what do you want is only part of the equation.

I actually think the most important question is what are you willing to pay to get it?

What is the one thing? Part 3

What is Emotional Security

        Emotional security is knowing it is safe to know and be known. Completely known by the people in your life.         

        I know a woman who is beautiful. By any definition, she contains all of the outer signs of beauty. She is also smart, articulate and funny. I met her because of a wound. Not a physical wound but one that was even more insidious. She’s never felt safe to share emotionally her entire life, with anyone. Sexually assaulted when she was nine years old, told she was worthless most of her life by her father and systematically tormented emotionally by her husband for nearly twenty years she vacillates between hating herself for being beautiful and hating herself for not being beautiful enough. She once told me, she was sick of men telling her she was beautiful because she wanted to meet some guy that was not just telling her that because he wanted to take her to bed. She was willing to go through hours of plastic surgery and spend more money than some people will spend on a house to make her body look a certain way not because she loved her husband, but because she thought that might be the final thing that would cause her husband to love her. Do you think she ever shared her dreams with her husband? If she felt that she had to go through all of that just to cause him to love her, do you think she ever really felt valued or heard? Is it any wonder that she finally came to the place in her life where she gave serious thought to suicide? Would you be shocked if I told you that she had three children that were all very angry? How good to you think Dad was at answering these core questions for them? Of course, the obvious question is how would he have been a different dad and husband if he had the three core questions answered for him by people in his life.

        I am convinced that the one thing we need is emotional security. But what is it? So far, I have told you that we need one thing and then told you that we actually have three core questions. So is it one or three? The answer is yes. Emotional security goes beyond emotional attachment. Emotional security (ES) is essential because it will glue you and your spouse to each other. If you have ever seen a person who inspires loyalty in the people that work for her, you have seen someone who knows how to create emotional security in other people. Emotional security comes from being able to answer all of three core questions in the affirmative. I believe we are hard-wired to get these answers from our parents when we are children. Mom’s and Dad’s who are reading this, please hear what I am saying, you will answer this question for your child. More than anyone else, you will form the emotional security your child will have as an adult. If you can answer these core questions for them as a child and teenager, it will set them up for life. Of course, when they get married, they will seek to have this answered from their spouse. Learning it from you will help them to be able to give it to their spouse and eventually their own children.

        Of course, your children will also learn it from how you and your spouse interact with each other. You are responsible for creating fertile ground for ES in your spouse. It is paramount for you to understand that you cannot grow it in your spouse, but you can and must create fertile ground for your spouse’s ES to grow. In many instances, you will be working against growth killers planted in the emotional heart of your spouse over the years. A person who grew up believing that she cannot trust others with anything but that one thing is not going to suddenly trust her spouse with it simply because they are married. Factor in the fact that we all know the divorce rates and to many people it only seems prudent that they would not share everything with a person that may or may not be there in the end. If you are married, your mission is to create the fertile ground for ES to occur. You get to pull the weeds that others have planted. You get to prepare the soil, and plant the seed. You may need to plant this seed over and over again. You get to water the seeds and provide sunshine. The part of this that no one likes is you get to wait.

        My wife and I have planted gardens in the past. Some have been an abject failure, and some have had a modicum of success. No matter the results could you imagine if the next time, we planted our garden we would become angry if we planted the seeds and then became angry because we did not see any results the same day. Would you laugh any less at us if we became angry over a lack of results a week later? How about two weeks? Of course, we think that would be silly. The analogy breaks down a little bit when we move it over to human relationships. Of course, even in gardens there is an end time. We know that eventually the corn will grow and if it does not it seems reasonable to assume that something is wrong, that we need to fix.

        The analogy breaks down a bit when we move it to human relationships. We know that they do not come with any such known timetable. I suppose, I could try to sell a lot of books by saying that I have finally figured it out and if you would just do these seven things, your spouse would have emotional security with you in seven short weeks. The problem is it would work as well as the next diet fad. Which is not to say that it would not work for some people but we all know it would not work for everyone. I do know if you are doing the things that cultivate fertile ground for ES that eventually your spouse will start to move towards a healthy place of EC. It may take some individualized counseling. It may take longer than you or I or even your spouse would for it to take, but it will happen.

You Can’t Build Emotional Security, You can only cultivate it

What is the one thing? Part 2

        Yesterday, I asked, what is the one thing? What do you believe is that one thing necessary for a happy marriage. I promised that I would answer the question today, so here it is.

        My answer to the question is emotional security. If you have emotional security, you will have a relationship that will not only last but it will thrive. It will be hot and heavy. Some people call this emotional attachment but I think that is one step away from the home run. Emotional attachment comes after I am emotionally secure. Look back at the list I gave you, they all lead to emotional security. If the relationship is to last, it will move past those things and end up in emotional security. Relationships that do not end up with a high level of emotional security will not last. The reason is simple. Things like romance, love and passion are not on a constant flow. They ebb and flow throughout a life time. Sometimes, they will flow hot and heavy. Sometimes, they will ebb slowly and trickle along. It is in these times that the emotional security will act as the glue that keeps the relationship together.

        You may have heard it said that most affairs are not about the sex. It seems so counter-intuitive but I think that it is right. Certainly affairs happen for a variety of reasons, but after talking to more cheaters than I care to count I am convinced that one of the key reasons for the affair is almost always an attempt by someone to feel more emotionally secure. Please hear what I am saying, I am not saying that the person who was cheated on is to blame for the affair. Who we need to blame is almost always a losing conversation. What I am trying to get at is the reason for the affair.

        You can have really hot and heavy sex without being emotionally secure for a time. If you don’t believe me, go walk a local high school hallway. Talk to some college students. Young people are having sex and often it is temporarily fulfilling and sex that they enjoy. It is really hard to be emotionally secure with your spouse and have boring sex. Guys, if you are having a hard time getting your wife to want to have sex, it is probably because she does not feel emotionally secure with you. If you don’t believe me, go ask her how emotionally secure she feels. Be prepared for an answer you might not like. This is the first place I start when a couple comes to me with an unhappy sex life. We almost never have to go anywhere else.

        Our level of emotional security is directly determined by the answers we find to three core questions. The first question is am I being heard? This does not just mean do you hear me, but are you actively listening to what I am saying. Are you hearing the words and examining my body language. Are you trying to understand what I am saying to the point that you want to figure out what I am not saying? If you want to convince me that you are not hearing me, just interrupt me and tell me how to fix the problem before I done talking (Guys, I am not trying to pick on us here but we are terrible at this business). There is something cathartic and healing in being heard.

        The second question we seek to have answered is Am I valued? Not just for what I do but for who I am. Is there intrinsic worth to you in me. Do you find time to be with me? Am I high on your priority list? Am I more important than Sunday afternoon football? Am I more important that shopping with the girls? Where do I fit in your priority list? Am I more important to you than the feeling you get when you angry with me so you avoid saying hurtful things? If you want to convince me that I am not valued, just ignore me. Don’t find time to talk to me. Of course, don’t find time to hear me and you can give me two no’s at one time. How much of our various youth culture movements are an attempt to be heard and to be valued? When a young man pulls up next to you and his stereo system is loud that it reverberates through your car, I cannot help but wonder if he actually just asking to be heard—I wonder if he is asking if you and I if we will value him. When someone covers his or her body in various tattoos or piercings, I wonder if he or she isn’t simply trying to be heard and valued. How much of our attempts to stand out (usually by fitting in) are simply attempts at being valued?

        The last question we ask is perhaps the most important. We all want to know if I can be safe to share with you emotionally. If you hear me and you even seem to place some value in me but I cannot trust you to keep what I share with you, I will not be emotionally secure with you. If you trust me and I judge you or use what you share with me in moments of anger (think of couples fighting), you are not going to be emotionally secure with our relationship. And like a tree that needs space, sunshine and water to grow, our relationship needs all three of these to grow. Take one away and the tree may grow a little bit but it will not grow to full capacity. Many times, it will whither and die. Emotional safety is the glue that keeps being heard and valued together.

What is the one thing?

Sometimes, when I go out to eat I embarrass my family. Well, mostly I embarrass my kids. I love to ask the server one of two questions. And now, I would like to ask you one of those questions. Your answer to this question will impact how you treat other people in your life. Your answer is probably the number one driving force in how you treat your spouse, or how you treat those you love.

Even if you are bad at relationships, and seem to have one bad relationship after another you have an answer to this question and it is effecting your life. Your life is probably more shaped by your answer to this question than any other force in your life, even if you don’t realize it. Are you ready for it? Will you do me a favor? Will you go and grab a piece of paper and a pen? I’d like for you to write the answer to my question down on the paper. If you get more than one answer, I would love for you to write as many down as you can.

Whatever comes to mind, just write it down.

What do you think is the single one more important thing to making a relationship work? What went through your head? Did something immediately spring to mind? Sometimes, people look at me and say that there is not just one thing but that there is actually many things so I ask them to throw two or three at me. In your case, just write them down on the paper. What came to mind? I have compiled an official list over the years of answers I have received from various people. I’ve listed a few of them for you below.

        ◆        Communication

        ◆        Trust

        ◆        Common goals/interests

        ◆        Common spiritual beliefs

        ◆        Trust

        ◆        Love

        ◆        Similar ethnic backgrounds

        ◆        Passion

        ◆        Romance

        ◆        Hard work

I actually think that all these things are great. On one hand it is a fantastic list. A strong relationship will have all of these elements in it. In fact, the healthier the relationship the more these things will be in the relationship. But—you knew there was one coming didn’t you—these things are not the most important thing in my mind. They are important. But there are marriages that all have these things that end up in divorce. What was your answer? Do you know anyone who has had that “thing” whatever it is in their relationship and they still ended up divorced? I know someone who had had at least one of those and sometimes more than one characteristics in their marriage and the marriage still ended in divorce.

        I have a strong connection with many faith communities and the city that I live in is inundated with a high church population. Often, I hear people say that having a similar faith is the key. Sadly, the numbers do not bear this out. Look them up, you will find that people inside the church are getting divorced at the same rate as people outside the church. I have had too many people tell me that they loved their spouse but they had to get divorced—even if they didn’t really want to get one. Love and church do not seem to be a safe insulator against divorce.

        I think that all of these things lead to one thing and I think that one thing is the most important thing. I wonder why we take something as emotional as relationships and take emotion out of it.

What is your answer? Tell me in the comments. I’ll tell you mine tomorrow.

How many marriages have been ruined by video games? A reflection on a question

Let me tell you what this post is not. It is not a slam on video games. In fact, I bought the video game in question yesterday. I intend to play at some point in the next two days. I was in a meeting with a number of other counselors yesterday and one of them casually said, “I want to do a study on how many marriages have been ruined by World of Warcraft.

We all laughed. We all shared real life stories of people playing video games like it was their part time, or in many cases, their full time job.

It does beg a question though, what is it about video games that is so alluring? Why will people sacrifice anything for the feelings they get playing a game?

I think it’s because of the story they get to get to tell in the video game. No one is fat in a video game. No one is slow in a video game. Everyone is fearsome and awesome and fantastic in a video game. Watch the commercial at the bottom of this post.

Grown men are crying like babies.

        Perfect strangers are embracing and hugging and kissing.

                Beards are being cut because….

The CUBS have FINALLY won the World Series. So real it’s unreal is the tagline.

Most telling, the player of the game is sitting on his couch somewhere on the North Side with tears streaming down his eyes as his team of pixels celebrates on the TV.

Video games give us a chance to tell stories that most of us will never attempt to tell in real life. Real stories involve risk and danger. Two things we have religiously and judiciously legislated out of our lives. Risk involves the potential for failure.

Video games also give us the chance to accomplish “something” without actually working all that hard. I mean, you can win a world series without ever having to run a lap or skip a dessert. You can conquer a world without ever having to figure out how to use one. Whole armies and people’s will follow you even if your own mother doesn’t like to eat dinner with you because you’ve never learned how to get along with people.

It’s not that video games are bad. They’re not. They just are. But when we use them to replace real life, we’re in trouble.

Video games will never actually replace real meaning. Almost everything we get without risk, ends up being close to worthless. We need to tell better stories with our actual lives. The flesh and bones lives that do involve risk and hand work. The lives that require us to change and grow. When that happens, video games have an appropriate place. One that won’t put our marriages and relationships at risk.

I want to forgive but how do I forget? What if forgiveness is done better by remembering?

Recently I had a conversation with a friend from another city. He essentially said, "I want to forgive, but how do I forget?" This is a comment lament when the conversation turns to forgiveness. How exactly am I supposed to forget the hurt that has been done to me. We've all heard the trite statement,

"You just need to forgive and forget."

That is usually easier said than done. I once heard someone say it to a rape victim.

Then I started thinking....what if we're not supposed to forget? What if we can't? What if remembering is actually a key to forgiving?

Most people that I meet want to forgive but they are unsure how they forgive. We are not sure what it means to actually forgive anyone. Yesterday on my Twitter account, I asked "define forgiveness."

The answers were all wonderful. One friend told me to forgive is to forget because "that is how God forgives."

But I'm not God. Neither are you. I'm human. While I believe that is how God forgives, I wonder if in our broken world there isn't a different way forward for you and I.

I think we often come to the place where we look at our hurt and we think, "If I forgive this person, it means my hurt will go away." But this isn't true. Most of the time, we can purpose to forgive someone and the pain is still there. The hurt rears up like a geyser shooting from the deepest depths of our hearts. Pretending that isn't there will not work.

I think this is the greatest moment of opportunity.

What if forgiveness isn't forgetting but is rather choosing to care for/love the person in spite of remembering? What if not forgetting isn't a requirement? What if choosing how we act in spite of how we feel is actually the act of forgiveness?

I think this is an incredibly important distinction because if we choose to move forward in building a relationship with someone who has hurt us in the past, we are going to have to act in ways that go directly against our feelings.

Forgiveness is often a process not an event.

If that is true, then forgetting is not a requirement for forgiveness. Remembering is an involuntary act. It is the same as breathing, you don't think about it, you just do it. However, we can choose what to do when we remember. Do we choose to fixate on the pain, or on the fact that we are choosing to forgive? Do we turn the hurtful event (events?) over in our mind again and again or do we replace those thoughts with the remembering that we have chosen to forgive?