Get Out Of Your Head

I remember back when I was a teenager and just starting to like the idea of dating.  I can remember working up the nerve to call a girl or to ask her out in person.  I was not confident in this area.  What I would do of course made it worse.  I would speculate in my head over and over again about how the conversation would go.  Then after a couple of almost dials, I’d let if fly.  You know what never happened one single time?  It never went the way I made it up in my head.  Never.  Not once.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my head and what I’ve named “the pretend“.  It started when I was a kid as imagination.  And there is nothing wrong with imagination.  But as we grow older we have to move into something very important.  We have to live in the real.

Here’s the thing, the key to health in anything, be it business, ministry or our personal life is to define the reality and then deal with it.  It’s one of the key’s to mental and emotional health.

But there are all sorts of ways to avoid reality.  We can choose to hide.  We can do this by “escaping”.  We might escape to fantasy, video games, alcohol, drugs, porn, comics, you name it.  Or we might just spend all of our time alone, consciously or subconsciously avoiding real community.  Some of us have more conversations with people in our heads than actual conversations with people.

I remember this man I knew who was always mumbling.  What I realized later was that he was carrying on a conversation in his head.  If you saw it on the street you would think that guy was crazy.  But if we do it all the time in our head silently are we crazy?

It’s not healthy.  The worst thing about this “pretend world” is that it strains our minds.  And I remind you that it is absolutely not real.

As a single person in today’s world living in our own head is a real trap.  Married people can fall into it as well to be sure, but when half of unmarried people live alone there is often no one around to physically engage.  Many of our jobs have us working basically alone.  We drive in our car alone.  We go home alone.  We eat alone.  Go to bed alone, wake up alone and do it again.

There’s a reason that in prison the worst place to be is solitary confinement.  Even if we are called to celibacy, we are not called to that.

I struggled with this immensely at different times in my life. I would have conversations with people in my mind over and over again.  This was especially true when I was mad, or when I if I need to have a conversation with a girl I liked.  I would turn the conversation over and over again in my mind.  This sort of process is unhealthy.  It took me more into my own head, more isolation and frankly a lot more stress.  The reality is, from a practical standpoint, never one time did a conversation go the way I thought it would.  Not One Time.  

I remember when God started showing me it was wrong.  I can still remember the first time I prayed against it.  I was driving and getting onto a highway and I literally just prayed, “God, clear my head.  Help me to live only in the real, no pretend.”  I kid you not it was like BOOM and there was silence . . . and peace.  After that, God began to walk me out of it.

We have to submit our minds, imaginations and speculations to God.  It’s a fight but I’m telling you it’s worth it.  We need to engage God and we need to engage others.  We need to shut off the computer, the ipod, the car radio, all of it, and engage the real.  It’s not that God doesn’t want us to ever day dream or use our imagination.  But just like the rest of our life, it needs to be submitted to Him, and the incessant analyzing, conjuring, and practice conversations that won’t happen are not a part of that.  We need to take every thought captive.

The more we let the pretend (in all it’s forms) run rampant, the more it will wear us down and isolate us.  This is bad for our work, play, ministry and dating life.  You will not be who you need to be in any of those areas if you don’t pull this area under control.

So how do we fight this.  Here are some practical things:

  • Pray – this seems so basic, but I mean this in two ways.
    • Pray against this specifically.  Submit your imagination and speculation to the Lord.  Ask Him to fill your mind with peace
    • Pray about the things that you are over thinking.  Instead of speculating and imagining things, lift them up.  Don’t practice the conversation, pray about it.
  • Instead of practicing the conversation or confrontation, write down the main things you want to make sure get said and then move beyond it
  • For me, I needed to turn off the fast music when I drove.  Anything that sends you into the pretend, turn it off.  I actually do better with talk radio – because I have to engage and listen.
  • If you work alone, go to where you have to interact with people.
  • Have people in your life.  You must have community and people to engage with.  Everywhere
  • I would encourage you to not live alone.  I know some people love it.  I think it’s dangerous on many levels.

Do you have more conversations with real people or in your head?  When do you fall into the pretend?  What thoughts are not submitted to God?

Who Diagnoses Your Life?

One night a couple of years ago I began to have severe pain in my abdominal area.  At first it was small, but as the night wore on it got worse.  I remember being at the gas station and barely being able to get out of my car.  I went home and went to bed.  I was breaking into chills and sweat.  As I laid there I began to think of the possibilities.  Could it be my appendix?  An ulcer? Worse?  Was it food poisoning?  I thought about what I ate that day and self diagnosed that indeed that Ranch dressing and salad was the culprit.

I stuck it out and the next day felt a little better.  But I was still hurting some.  I took it easy, went to the bathroom about 10 times and by the next day I was practically normal. Looking back I think about how stupid this was.  What if it would have been my appendix?  At what point would I have self diagnosed that?  At what point would I have called for help?  The funniest thing is I actually know doctors.  It’s not like I even had to start with the hospital.  It could have been disastrous.  If I’d gone down that night in my house who would have known.

It’s one of the perils of being single.  28% of Americans live alone.  That means that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of singles live by themselves.  This can be bad for practical reasons as I’ve written about here.  There really is a safety factor.  What if you fall or pass out etc.?  What if I had self diagnosed wrong?  Who would know?  On top of this many of us work alone, or at least without a big office?  How long would it take for someone to know you’re missing in action?

But the safety factor pales in comparison to two others.

The reality is it’s pretty easy to get isolated.  Now I don’t mean that you don’t see or work with other people.  Of course we communicate and live in the real world.  But it is very easy to avoid real community and therefore end up without anyone speaking into our lives. As bad as self diagnosing a physical problem wrong could be, misdiagnosing our lives is worse – and we all do it.

All of us are deceived about our own story.  We misdiagnose both our sin and our wounds.

We look at our sin as minor and we never know the impact it has on others.  There is sin in our lives that never even sees the light of day because no one else is there to view it.  We might literally not even know we are doing it.  There is often no one to see it or call it out. There is no one to confess to.  We desperately need this.

Maybe worse, we end up believing lies about ourselves that affect everything we are doing.  If we only have our view of our story, we are in real trouble.  Things that were never our fault end up being.  We end up agreeing with ideas about our hurt that simply aren’t true.  We can spend our whole time fighting against things like, “I’m ugly”, “I’m stupid”, “I suck” etc.  It’s hard to see God’s view of us if we don’t have people in our lives who know our story and can speak into it.

In short we will take responsibility for stuff that isn’t our fault and brush off the stuff that is.  Everyone does this, married and single, but as a single person we are more likely to face little or no resistance to it.  And that is a problem.  We can hide if we want to – and we often do.

Some of us are thinking food poisoning when we need to be thinking appendicitis.  We need to reach out for some help.  Even if we have tried before and gotten burned.  We have to fight for community as a single person.  There is no doubt that it is harder.  Maybe not if you are 25 but as you hit 30-40 it is harder as a single.  I’m not whining, that’s just reality.  The Church culture is not set up for us.  28-40 is when all your crap hits the fan and you can not face that alone and win.  You just can’t.

If you misdiagnose your life at 25 you have a chance.  Do it at 35 and you’re screwed.  

1 John 1:5-7 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

As a single we have to find this.

Who besides you has a view of your story?  Who helps diagnose your life?  Where are you being deceived?

Christians Should Have More Sex – And Talk About It

One of my pastor’s favorite lines is, “The problem with our church is that our singles are having too much sex, and our married people are not having enough.”

Every time he says it there is initial laughter at how funny that is, followed by a sort of uncomfortable chuckling at just how true it is.

It’s an interesting dynamic.  There is the idea in our culture about married sex vs. single sex.  As in, married sex is boring or non-existent and single sex is all about the hot passion. This is wrong both statistically and morally.

What’s interesting to me is that it seems married people are constantly willing to tell their single friends all about their lack of sex.  I can’t count the conversations I’ve had like this. It’s kind of mind boggling really.  Married people are constantly telling me about the sex they don’t have.  Very rarely are they telling me about the sex they do have.

Now I’m not talking about when a friend is sharing their life with me.  In other words there are men that I walk with and we all have struggles.  There are other men that I mentor and they are just letting me know what is going on so that I can walk with them.  That’s all good and honesty is vital in all of that.  We all go through different stages and issues.  Sexual struggle in a marriage can certainly be one of those.

What I’m talking about is this general idea out there that sex in marriage is not so great.  I feel like that is not really the best thing to tell single people.  What is the message exactly? Is the Christian community’s message, “Whatever you do, don’t have sex outside of marriage, wait for marriage.  And by the way, it’s not really that great then either.”  Really?!

I get that telling a wide eyed 20 year old that marriage is not a sex on demand scenario is probably pretty wise.  But constantly sending the message to the average Christian single that sex in marriage is always infrequent, hard work and often not good, seems kind of counter productive.

Let’s get real.  Even in the “evil and dangerous” secular world, the statistics don’t back this up.  In all the research I’ve seen married people have more and better sex than single people who are trying to have sex.  40% of married people have sex twice a week, compared to 20-25% of single and cohabitating couples.  Not only that but a significantly higher percentage of married men and women say sex is emotionally and physically satisfying than single people.  To top it off, married couples are more likely to hit orgasm – so that’s nice.

This isn’t to make light of the struggles that many married people have sexually.  I’ve walked with some people through tough stuff so I know it’s real.  But we need to do some things differently here if we are going to be honest and encourage single believers toward marriage.

To begin with, as my pastor says, married people need to have more sex.  Seriously.  For about a hundred reasons.  If you aren’t, then you HAVE TO get help and figure it out.

Next, married folks need to realize that what they say about sex has impact.  They also need to realize that the biggest problem out there right now isn’t single people rushing into marriage for sex, it’s that they are running away from marriage period.  The context has changed.  You are not doing the single person any favors by downplaying sex in marriage.

Finally, we need the married people who are having sex to be more real.  I remember one time talking with a friend after his ten year anniversary trip.  He said, “Bro, gotta tell ya. Great trip.  Stayed at the cabin.  Man, that cabin will never be the same.  I mean . . . wow. I don’t know if you’ve had premarital sex at all but I have.  And it is nothing compared to what happened this weekend.  I mean when there is trust, commitment and intimacy, all things are possible. . . just trust me on this. . . wow!”

Now that’s a ringing endorsement of marriage.  I’m in!

I think there is this tendency with married Christian couples to only talk about sex when it isn’t going well.  We need you to talk about it when it is.  We don’t need the details.  My friend didn’t say what positions they tried.  He didn’t video it and post it to facebook.  But he did share how he felt about it.

It’s true that we need realistic expectations.  What we don’t need is a message that says, “make sure you wait for it, but it’s not that great.”

What message have you received from married believers about sex?  Has it made you more or less excited about marriage?

Is Attraction Secular?

Two summers ago I was in a rough spot emotionally in terms of dating.  I’d worked through a lot of my personal stuff and had been on quite a few dates via online and set ups etc. But I just wasn’t excited about any of it.  It’s not that some of these ladies weren’t great but I just wasn’t into it.  I joked that my give a shizz was broken.

One night while hanging out with my brother, his wife and some other friends this subject came up.  My sister in law said basically, “well marriage isn’t all about attraction.  I mean it’s tough sometimes and really it’s a decision.  You don’t always ‘feel it'”

Now those are true and wise words.  And in a sense there is an even deeper truth – you could marry anyone and if you are committed great stuff could happen.  But, as I pointed out that night, that is not how we typically start out and almost no one marries someone they aren’t attracted to.  No woman wants this as a proposal:

“Hey Sally.  These last few months have been ok.  I know we don’t really have much spark but I think we match up pretty well.  I know we’d both be committed.  We love Jesus and could learn to love each other.  So what do you say?  Let’s get married.”

Now I’m not saying that it couldn’t work.  Heck, I’m not even saying that it shouldn’t work. But what I am saying is that is not the world we live in.

Here’s a question we need to ask in the Christian dating scene.  Does attraction matter? Or better asked, is attraction a secular phenomenon?

There are some in the Christian culture who would say, it’s not about attraction.  Now there is some wisdom in this.  It’s important for people to gain an understanding that marriage is not all about sexual attraction.  This is where the secular idea of romance has led us astray.  The secular model implies that you must always feel this or something is wrong and you should end it.  That is consumer dating/marriage and it is for sure wrong.

But, in the Church, often times we act as if attraction shouldn’t matter or at the very least, we don’t know what to do with it.  We know that it can’t be the only thing, but we don’t seem to know what role it should play.  Often in an attempt to push back against the secular idea that we must always be attracted, we end up negating it almost completely.

I think this is a huge mistake.  Attraction has to be part of the conversation.  We can’t just attack the secular version without owning the reality of attraction.

It’s a mistake we make all of the time.  Too many times throughout history the Church has denied the obvious.  We’ve basically said that science or reason or philosophy is wrong, just because we don’t like the reality.  Or, maybe worse, we acquiesce parts of the battle and fall back to a defensive position.  In so doing we end up with a God of the Gaps.  In the science example God becomes the God of the stuff we can’t explain by science.

The biggest problem with this is that God owns it all, including science and in this case, including attraction.

God created us and he gave us the feeling of attraction.  It’s not a bad thing.  It is part of what makes us want to get married.  Yes the secular world has perverted it.  But that doesn’t mean we get to ignore it, we have to instead take it back and put it in it’s proper place.

We don’t get to just say that it’s not all about attraction and move on.  We have to actually deal with what healthy attraction looks like.

I get that “back in the day” there were arranged marriages and you got what you got.  (In fact one of the theories about the origin of not seeing the bride before the wedding was so that the neither party would make a run for it because they weren’t attracted).  But unless the Church is willing to go back to arranged marriages (future blog) then we are going to have to deal with attraction.

The truth is we need some serious help here.  There are some who unless they are “perfectly attracted” won’t commit.  That’s completely unrealistic and we need to step in. There are others who don’t know how to handle themselves when they are attracted and we need to step in there as well.  Finally there are those who unknowingly keep making themselves less attractive.  In true community we need to have the guts and honesty to help them as well.

We need to own and understand attraction because God does.  It’s not the problem, our response to it can be.

What has the Church (your Christian community) taught you about attraction?  Has it helped or hurt your singleness and/or marriage?

Interpretation Is Everything

In the movie “A Perfect World” Kevin Costner plays a criminal, Butch, who has escaped from prison.  He takes a young boy, Phillip, hostage.  As times goes on, they become drawn to each other.  Phillip has never really had a dad and Butch begins to teach him all sorts of things about “manhood”.  In one scene Butch has just gotten Phillip some new clothes.  They’re in the car and on the run, so he tells him to go ahead and change.

Phillip is hesitant (I get that the whole premise of boy being kidnapped is bad, but hang with me anyway).  Butch basically says, “Is it because you’re embarrassed I might see your pecker?”  Phillip says, “It’s . . . puny ”  Butch says, “Let me see, I’ll shoot you straight.” Butch looks over with a quick glance and says, “Hell no Phillip, good size for a boy your age.”  Phillip smiles.

Who interprets your life for you?

When I was in third grade I got picked on by some sixth graders. They threatened me on the way home from school.  For the first time in my life as a kid, I was scared of injury from another person.  I can still see that kids fist in my face.

In my third grade mind I was now weak.  Once you have an interpretation other events begin to get interpreted the same way.  In fifth grade a peer straight up punched me in the face as hard as he could.  I didn’t even fall, but I didn’t fight back. I could have thought, “I just took that kids best punch and I’m not hurt – I’m tough.” Instead, I took it as another confirmation that I was weak.

All sorts of things are constantly happening to us and around us.  Each time, we interpret what is happening and make agreements about what it means. Others help us interpret, starting with our parents when we are little.  If you’re a parent understand this: One of the most important things you will ever do is speak interpretation into your kids lives. How you react, what you say and what they hear from you when something happens to them forms the base interpretation for their lives.  No pressure. . .

We all deal with this of course, married, single or otherwise.  But I think this affects the single person in an extremely significant way because many of us are asking, “why am I single?”

There are all sorts of people helping us interpret that answer.

There’s hollywood.  You’re single because you are not a 10 or don’t have a flashy enough car or job.  If I were 007 I’ve had all the ladies.  I laugh as I write that but seriously, for a lot of us, the media is one of our main interpreters.  We’ve grown up on it and the message is obvious.  You’re not cool enough, hot enough, or rich enough to be loved back by another person.

There’s our well meaning friends.  Mostly they tell us that there is nothing wrong with us, which doesn’t seem right, but we hope it’s true.

Then there is the Church.  Usually this interpretation hinges on the fact that God has a plan – meaning that He has a Christian Soulmate for me.  It them moves in one of a couple directions.  Either I need to become better so that God will reward me with a spouse (this could mean date better, be content, wait on God, etc) or I don’t need to do anything because God’s perfect spouse for me just isn’t ready or the timing must not be right.

The worst part is that most of us, myself included for many years, have some sort of sick twisted combination of all of the above going on in our head.  I’m not good looking enough (insert strong enough, rich enough, spiritual enough. . . etc), and/or there’s nothing wrong with me (men/women just suck), and/or God will bring me the perfect person but for right now (and apparently for the last decade) He’s just holding out on me.

How you interpret your singleness affects your view of God and vice versa.  It affects how you see yourself and therefore how you relate to others.  If we interpret it wrong, then we’re going to have a hard time figuring out our calling (celibacy or marriage), let alone our pursuing it.

What we need first though is God’s interpretation of who we are as a person.  We need to grow in our identity in Christ.  If we are going to do that, we will need to reinterpret a lot of things and we’ll need to let some people in to help.

Most of us are afraid of the truth, but in reality most of the time the truth is better than how we have interpreted. Either way we need the real actual interpretation in order to have a chance at true spiritual health.

Who interprets your life?  What is your interpretation of your singleness?  How sure are you of that interpretation?  Who are you helping with their interpretation?

I’m A Poser – And So Are You

I’ve always said that one of my goals in life is to get over myself.  One of the keys to doing this is to identify and kill the false self, or what one might call the poser.

There are I suppose different reasons we pose but the main one I find is how I view myself in relation to how I view others and what I think they think of me.

What’s funny about this of course is that we are all posers.  So when I meet someone else, most of the time, I’m meeting that persons pose.  This just exasperates the problem because I don’t even consider that fact.  Instead what I do is compare my true view of myself (which is usually my insecurities etc) with the pose of the other person.  This leads me to pose more – lest they find out that I’m not as good as their posed persona.  Exhausted yet?  Yeah we all are.

Jesus is of course constantly trying to take out the poser in people.  Think of just about every interaction He has with people in the Bible.  People are constantly posing around Him.  Obviously the Pharisees but many others as well.  The rich young ruler and the woman at the well come to mind.  Jesus is always cutting to the chase and calling out who the person really is.

We pose in order to hide our wounds, insecurities and sin.  It makes us look better, or at least justifies us feeling better about ourselves.  As men, we are constantly posing.  We could be the “busy guy,” the “funny guy”, the “dominant guy”, the “in charge guy”, the “nice guy”, the “business guy” or the “ministry guy”.  We pose, and the bad news is, it works.  We actually sort of become known as that.  Even if we say we hate that people see us that way, there is comfort in it.

The worst part is that it keeps us from dealing with our real self.  It “protects” us from our wounds and hurt.  It keeps us from our identity in Christ.  We are afraid of our real self being exposed.  But if we are in Jesus, we don’t have to be.

Jesus is in the process (sanctification is the official word) of making us who we were created to be.  We are becoming.  He is restoring us to who we were meant to be when He thought us up.  We aren’t there yet of course, but we are on the way.  If I’m with Jesus then the truest thing about me is that I belong to Him and my validation comes from that.

This whole posing thing can really kill us as singles in several ways.  There’s the obvious stuff when it comes to the opposite sex.  But honestly that isn’t really where I’m going today.  I think the bigger issue is that killing the poser is basically impossible to do alone.

One of the great things about marriage is that we have to deal with another person, every day.  Yes that is hard, but it’s also good.  We are relational beings created by a relational God, to be in relationship.  You can pose your way all the way to marriage, but at some point, be it a day, a month, a year, whatever, you are going to be exposed.  What happens then kind of determines how your marriage is going to go, but that is a different post.

Let’s face it, as a single person it’s just easier to hide.  50% of unmarried people live alone. Think about that.  Most of us don’t have friends that really know everything about us.  Who knows your hopes, dreams, fears, sin?  Who knows the worst thing you’ve ever done or the thing your heart desires most?  Who knows what you did last night, last week, last year?  Who is your mirror?

But we need to work to kill the poser as best we can, especially as we get older.  We should not be 35 and reacting the same way we did 5-10 years ago.  We should be more of who we are supposed to be.  But to do that, we’ll have to have humility, community, and guts.

Humility to even acknowledge that we pose in the first place and seeking help. Community because we need people who see the real us and fight for our hearts.  Guts because honestly, it takes courage to actually deal with our sin patterns, wounds, and insecurities.

If we don’t do this, we get worse, not better.  This is a serious issue.  There are a lot of 30 something singles in a worse emotional/spiritual/mental state than they were in their 20’s.  As we get older, it gets easier to hide.  Less people ask questions – we aren’t the young unmarried guy who needs a mentor.  We are the mentor. That is when it really get’s crazy.

What is your pose?  How are you hiding?  Who really knows you?

You Are Not Called To Be Alone

One of the great struggles of singleness is the feeling that you are alone.  Now I know that even if you are married you can still feel that way, but it is almost a guarantee that if you are single for any length of time you will feel it.

It can be made even harder by the fact that we live in a culture that has become more and more individualized.  Not all of that is bad, we have more freedom to move different places, explore different options and take different opportunities.  But there are a lot of unintended consequences.  One of those is that we end up switching friends all the time and not really going deep.  And this can lead to feeling alone or to for all intents and purposes, actually being alone.

We end up not really knowing how to have real community.  But we need it, whether we are single or married.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and then says, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  You see God was not alone.  He has always been in perfect relationship as the Father, Son, and Spirit.  And He created us in His image, which makes us relational beings.  It is critical that we get this.

In our world we are told that it is all about the individual.  It is all about you, making your way and doing what you need to do.  It is about self advancement.  Even in the Church it can become about my relationship with God, my ministry, my spiritual growth.  Now there is truth in that.  You and I have an individual role to play in the story – but heres the key – we are not THE story.

I think one of the many reasons we have more single people than ever in history is that we are more alone to begin with.  We get used to operating on our own and going after the stuff that helps mainly us.  We are not used to working stuff out in community, let alone with another person that I have to be with every single day.  It’s hard work and even though we are made for it, we are resistant and we’ve been trained to be.

It’s gotten to the point where it is just kind of accepted.  “I’m on my own.”  But you are not supposed to be.  Even if you are called to celibacy (to be single and not marry), you are not called to be alone.

People who are truly called to celibacy typically get this.  Priests and nuns are typically less alone than us.  Throughout time, they’ve typically lived in community.  They get that the call to celibacy is not a call to aloneness.  (By the way I learned more about the call to celibacy and marriage and the difference in about an hour sharing a panel with a priest and nun than I have in 20+ years of being in the protestant church – but I digress.)

The point here is that we are not created to be loners.  My pastor spoke on this last week and he brought it perfectly at the end.  He said, “What if you didn’t have to navigate your marriage alone.  What if you didn’t have to navigate your singleness alone?  Or your parenting? Or your career? Or your wounds? Or your success?”  Exactly!

We need people in our lives who know us.  People who know our story – both where we’ve been and where we are trying to go.  Yes I’m talking about accountability, but more than that.  Yes I’m talking about meeting together, and sharing together, but more than that.

Marriage is not the only covenant relationship available to us.  If you get married it is the number one covenant relationship in your life (behind Jesus) but it doesn’t have to be the only one.  It’s all over scripture.  Look at the early church.  Look at Aaron and Moses or Jonathan and David.

But it takes work and more importantly it means making a decision to be in it no matter what.  This kind of community doesn’t “just happen”.  If it can “just happen” then it can just as easily “unhappen”.  That doesn’t create security, trust and unity.

I think one of the huge traps as a single person is that we can, over time, become more and more independent, to the point that we are actually alone.  And alone is bad.  We are not meant to carry our burdens, sins, decisions, fears, dreams, and celebrations alone.  If we are indeed called to be married we will be way more prepared if we have real community that we have had to work at.  If we are called to celibacy then it is just as critical so that we don’t become isolated.

Do you have real community?  Who knows your dreams, fears, sins, successes?  Who knows your heart?  Whose heart do you know?  Are you single, or are you alone?