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?

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?

How To Survive A Marriage Sermon

As a single person it’s easy to feel a lot of different things at church.  You can feel marginalized, left out, treated as less mature and worst of all lonely.  People forget the amount of guts it takes to go to church all by yourself.  Now often single people are invited by friends but for example when you are single and you move to a new place it takes some courage.  You don’t have a partner to go with.  I know, I’ve done it.  Same thing with checking out a small group.

But there is nothing that can bring out the bitterness, loneliness, or venom like the Marriage Sermon or worse – the Marriage Sermon Series.

I will admit that there have been times in my 20+ years of singleness that I have skipped those weeks.  Usually for one of two reasons.  Either I was hurting at the time and didn’t want to think about it, or I just figured there wasn’t anything in it for me.  That was wrong.

So today I want to talk about how to survive a Marriage Sermon.

Let’s first acknowledge that a lot of churches screw this up when it comes to singles.  One way is to not acknowledge us at all.  It’s like they just kind of assume we aren’t in the room. Another way is they often throw in a spiritual platitude or two without actually addressing it. This to me is actually worse.  Things like mentioning the gift of singleness without actually talking about it, or saying that we need to know this stuff for the time when we will be married.  AHHHHHHHHH.  Drives me crazy!

But we need to show up and here’s why.

First there is a difference between a sermon (series) on marriage and one directed solely to marrieds.  Most in my church are the first.

This is important.  Regardless of where we are going to end up, married or not, we need to have a right theology of marriage.  We need this because if we don’t understand marriage, how the heck will we understand whether or not we want to get married.  The more I understand it the more I can determine if I’m called to do it.

Secondly, it’s not just about you.  A lot of our friends are married (please see my posts pleading with you to be friends with married people) so it might be a good idea to know what they are going through.  If we are going to live in community (and for that matter the world) we are going to be interacting with married people.  Whether in community or on mission if I’m going to love married people well – and we are called to love people be they married or single – then having a working knowledge of how that all works would be key.  We like to talk about how the church often doesn’t seem to let us lead married people.  Well, what wisdom will you offer them if you don’t seek to understand marriage?

Thirdly, a lot of marriage issues have to do with selfishness and relational issues.  Hmm, I’m pretty sure we have those.  We ought to be able to pull some stuff out of those messages that could help with our friendships and other relationships.

Another big point is that a lot of marital issues ultimately stem from the colliding of two stories.  In other words marriage has the potential to bring out a lot of wounds from peoples’ pasts, relationships, and upbringing.  I think as a single person it is easier to hide these wounds (which can often be in the way of getting married in the first place).  So maybe, just maybe we could think about how our upbringing and wounds affect us as single people.  This is huge.  Why not face that stuff now?

This is one of the great advantages that marrieds often have.  What most of the people I know who go to marriage counseling take out of it is stuff that is wrong with them, be it wounds that need to be healed or sin patterns that need to be stopped.

I don’t know what the ratio of married people to single people in counseling is but I’m willing to bet it’s pretty high on the married side.  I promise you they are not more screwed up than we are.

I think we need an attitude adjustment here.  Look, I get it.  It can hurt.  It makes us realize what we don’t have and in fairness the church needs to figure out how to do singleness sermons (series).  They are wrong to not address it specifically.  But that doesn’t mean we should skip out on what they are doing right. So go and listen – for your own heart and for the hearts of others.

Kill The Marriage Idol

My junior year in college, I dated a great girl.  We were good for each other if only for that season.  The truth is I didn’t make her enough of a priority (not unusual for a 21 year old guy).  I just wasn’t at the “get married” stage yet and she was.

It still hurt to break up and it made me realize that I really did want this marriage thing.  I remember sitting on the side of a mountain in Colorado, telling God that I was ready and asking Him to send me someone.

That didn’t happen but something else did.  This idea of meeting THE ONE and getting married began to dominate my prayer and thought life.  In my mid twenties I dated some but only really had one person who I thought could be it.  When that didn’t work out, I was in a tailspin.  I just kept praying and really begging God to send me someone.

This would be what I call the Marriage Idol.  It is the idea that if I can get married to THE ONE that everything will be right.  How do you know if marriage is an idol?  Here are some signs.

  • Your prayer life is wrapped up in it.
  • Whenever anyone asks you what they can pray for – your answer is a spouse
  • You’re pretend life involves marriage or hurt from relationships you thought would lead there.
  • Your identity is wrapped up in being single

All of this can dominate us.  For many years it did me.  It has different effects.  It leads some people to constantly be in dating relationships and trying to make even the worst relationship work.  For others it means they can never have a dating relationship because they have to figure out if they could marry them first before they go on a date.  Haha – I’ve done both!

Some people want to say that the decrease in marriages means that people are idolizing marriage less or holding it with less value.  While I think on one level that might be true, I would submit that actually marriage as an idol can delay marriage because it has to be just right.  I mean if this is the ultimate thing in my life then I have to be absolutely sure that you’re THE ONE.  Having it as an idol puts incredible pressure on dating.  Being scared of marriage is just another version of the same marriage idol.

Marriage is good.  It was instituted by God.  But when it becomes the thing that drives us or dominates our thoughts and prayers we are in trouble.  Even if we get married.  Actually getting married might be the number one way to kill the marriage idol.  However that leads to hard stuff in marriage.  If however we can kill the marriage idol while we are single – we are set – whether we get married or not.

So how do we kill the marriage idol.  It’s not easy for many of us but here are some thoughts.

  • Fight to have your identity in Christ not in marital status.
  • Don’t lead with your desire to be married in every prayer request situation.  Have some other things to pray for.
  • Kill the Pretend – I keep saying this but we HAVE TO do it.
  • Have deep friendships with married people.  This is so huge.  You need to have an inside view of actual marriages.
  • Get a right theological view of marriage.  This is why we need to actually listen to the sermon on marriage and read the books.  We need to have a realistic view instead of a romantic one.  We need to have a biblical view of marriage instead of a secular one.
  • If you never go on a date because you have to figure out if you’re going to marry them first – go on some dates – seriously.
  • If you have never not been dating – take a break from it – seriously.

Look here’s why the marriage idol is so powerful.  It’s the idea the if I just had the right relationship with the right person in perfect union then all would be alright.  Read that last sentence again.  Do you see it?  That’s God’s spot.  What makes the marriage idol so dangerous is that a relationship with another person is the next closest thing to a relationship with God.  We are created in God’s image.  If I’m looking for fulfillment in my life then another person will be the next best thing.  It’s a trap – and it’s one that not only kills us in singleness but also in marriage.  If I’m married and looking for fulfillment in that person, my marriage will suffer.

Only if I get my fulfillment in God can I be really free to love anyone, let alone someone I would marry.

So how about you?  Have you ever had marriage as an idol?  Has anything helped you kill it?

Are You Hot Or Not?

Here’s a question you have to answer.  “Are you good looking or not?”

For a long time my answer was no – hard to believe right? Ha.  I grew up not really thinking I was good looking and then in college I somehow thought I was and then in my 20s thought I wasn’t.  Confused?  So was I.  What’s funny is that when I go back and look at pictures in a yearbook, I was actually a pretty good looking guy.

One of the big traps as a guy is to think that your looks are the main thing that makes you attractive to a girl.  Now I think looks matter to women but not in the same way that they do to us.  According to most women I know, it is about an overall way we carry ourselves more than looks per se.  And let’s be honest, we just aren’t as good to look at as women.

However how we look does matter in several ways and how we think we look is hugely important.

For starters I think being in shape and “looking our best” sends a message to women.  It says, “I have my self together” and/or “I care about myself physically.”  I think how a guy looks matters in that way.  If he is in shape it says that he has some sort of discipline, that he takes care of stuff (and therefore might take care of her).  It might be subconscious but women notice it on some level.

But WAY more important is how you carry yourself as a man.

I’ve talked being confident and how that makes us “hot” to women.   What we think of how we look affects our confidence level.  What I’m saying is that our looks affect our view of ourself way more than a woman’s view of us.  This is part of the reason that the average looking guy can get the really attractive girl. That guy is confident in who he is and that is attractive.

Here’s a crazy fact.  I feel way better about how I look at 40 than I did at 30. Here’s how that happened with some thoughts of how it might relate.

First, I was out of shape at 30.  My workout habits were bad and my eating habits were worse.  I think we need to get healthy.  It will make us look better and more importantly feel better all of which equals more confidence which equals attractiveness to the ladies.

Second, I got invisalign braces and fixed my teeth.  Now I had felt subconscious about my teeth for a long time.  But my passivity kept me from doing anything about it.  That was stupid.  Now I don’t have movie star teeth now but it is way better.  Guess what, braces work – that’s why millions have had them.  The point here is that sometimes we just need to man up a little and take care of certain stuff.  If you have an area that you don’t feel good about that’s fixable (I’m not talking crazy like plastic surgery here) then why not do it.

This is one of the places where community has to have a role.  We need people in our lives who tell us the truth about stuff like this.  More people should have said, “Hey – you should get your teeth fixed,” or at least asked me why I hadn’t.

But the most important I did was divorce how I looked from my lack of success with women.

Here’s how that happened.  First I began to realize that average looking guys dated and married really attractive girls.  Then, kind of by accident I ended up dating a couple of really attractive girls.  Now none of those relationships lasted, but then it dawned on me, why would they have gone out with me to begin with if they found my looks undesirable.  I mean I didn’t run around dating people I wasn’t attracted to so why would they.  This was a revelation.  If I could get the first date, then my looks weren’t the problem.

What I had thought was the reason that I couldn’t get the girl wasn’t the reason at all.  I thought I wasn’t attractive enough, but no girl had ever really told me that.  I just bought the lie.  It was a lie that I had believed since I was a kid and I needed to healed of it.  It was like God just kind of showed me, “Justin, this is not the problem, you look fine.  It’s been a lie.”

If you would have asked me ten years ago if I was good looking I would have said no.  Now I’d say yes.  That’s God.  That’s also hot.

So here’s the question again.  Are you good looking or not?  What are you basing your answer on?  How does that affect your confidence?

Mourn The Losses Of Singleness

So when I was single in my early 20s I just figured that I would meet someone in the next couple of years.  Then as I moved to my later 20s I still kind of thought, “Hey this will happen soon enough.”  When I was in my early 30s, it was time to hurry this thing up a little. HAHA.  But in my late 30s several interesting things have happened.  First, I realized for the first time, “This thing might not happen at all.”  That was fun.  During this same time (about age 35 or so) God really walked me through some hard stuff and at the end, I’ve ended up being a lot more comfortable with who I am and being single which has been great.

One of the other things I’ve realized is that no matter what happens there is some stuff that won’t happen.

If I get married, my wife and I will not get to start out life together.  Yes I know we will start a new life together, sort of – but thats not the same thing.  I will not enjoy the wife of my youth – because I won’t be in my youth.  I won’t get to share any of the moments of victory or defeat that I’ve had over the last 20 years of ministry.

I probably won’t have kids and if I do it will be different.  I was joking with a friend on the golf course today who asked if I still wanted kids.  I said, “Maybe, but I’m 40 this fall and let’s say I get married in the next year and had a kid within a year.  I’m 42 and changing diapers.  Then I’m 50 or so when they are really ready to play catch.  When they are a teenager I’m in my late 50s.”  I still remember the first time, the summer before my sophomore year, that I beat my dad one on one in hoops.  My kid might beat me at 12.

About a year ago, I started thinking about this stuff.  And you know what it kind of hurts. Now it’s all redeemable.  In fact God has redeemed so much of my story already.  For example after working with teenagers for a long time, I’m a father figure to a pretty large amount of people.  That’s awesome and means the world to me. I love those guys. But it’s not the same thing.

We all (single, married or other wise) face loss.

We need to mourn those losses appropriately.  It’s part of being emotionally healthy.  If we deny the losses then we aren’t living in reality, we are staying in the pretend.  That is not where we want to be.

This might be obvious when we have a big physical loss, like a death of a friend or family member.  But is the less obvious stuff that creeps up on us.  Loss can come from sin (like the loss of our virginity), it can come from wounds from our childhood, or from friends. Even just the common stuff in life, things like the loss of our dreams, our youth, a business loss.

Peter Scazzero points out that typically we insulate ourselves from the hurt through things like denial (It doesn’t bother me I’m not married yet), minimizing (It’s no big deal if I don’t get to be a mom), along with rationalizing, blaming, intellectualizing, and distracting (make a joke, change the subject).

But God invites us to more.  

He invites us to enter into loss with HIm. This doesn’t mean dwell on it.  This doesn’t mean make it bigger than it is.  My cat dying and a friend dying should elicit a different amount of mourning.  By the way over reaction to a minor loss is usually a sign that there is a bigger loss that hasn’t been grieved.

God isn’t asking us to deal with it so that we can stay there, but rather so that we can move through to freedom.  There’s not space in a blog post to go into all of the process of this but here are two key things.  First we have to take it to God.  We need to take our hurt and loss to the feet of Jesus and ask Him to heal us.  Jesus is fully capable of healing any loss – He came to heal the brokenhearted and put things right.  Secondly, it will go a lot better if you have other people you can trust in the mix.  We need people who walk with us in community.

Whatever we do we need to face our losses and honestly admit it hurts.  It’s hard but freedom is worth it – whether we stay single or get married, it will help us grow.

What losses have you grieved?  What losses are you avoiding dealing with?

Kill The Pretend

When I was a little kid I had a really active imagination.  In the same day I could be a soldier, Luke Skywalker, and Major League pitcher.  My stuffed animals all had different personalities.  As I got older I was the Missouri Tigers in the driveway winning the national title (talk about imagination).  As I got a little older I was me, playing for the Tigers.

Imagination as a little kid is vital.  Taking time out from reality creates great play and creates visions of who we can be.  It is good for a little kids’ emotional health.  However it can be our enemy as an adult. As an adult it can take away from reality – and for the most part, escaping from reality means not dealing with reality which is bad, bad news.

One of the huge traps of Singleness is isolation.  As a society as a whole we have become more and more isolated.  We drive to work alone, often work alone and here’s the kicker, as a single person we come home alone.  In fact the latest stats show that 28% of American adults live alone, and that number is rising.  I’m not saying living alone is always bad but it can be.  One of the results is that it is easier to slip into what I call “The Pretend”.  It is the world in our head that doesn’t actually exist.  It’s not real.

“The Pretend” includes all of our daydreams, speculation about what people are doing or thinking, and fake conversations with others (often with the person of the opposite sex we like) among other things. (By the way – for free – one of the ways to find out who you are not reconciled with is to ask “who do I have pretend arguments with in my head?”).  It also includes secret sexual thoughts that lead to fantasy, porn, and masturbation, etc.

Here’s the thing.  Besides being a colossal waste of time, it never turns out the way we speculate, most of it is bad, almost all of it is wrong, and none of it is real.

Now to be sure all people deal with this, married or single.  This isn’t just a singleness problem.  But one of the advantages of having a spouse, and especially kids, is that you are snapped back into reality over an over again.  You go home and there they are.  Now of course you can hide from your spouse or kids, plug in the ipod, jump on the internet etc.  You can definitely be physically present but emotionally and mentally absent.  But at least you have a physical person as an option.  You can choose to disengage but you can also choose right and engage.

But as a single person this can be even more of a battle.  There is no one there to snap you back to reality.  Once you head down the path of getting into your own head there is often nothing there to stop it.  I shutter to think of all of the time I’ve spent in the world of my head, in “the pretend”.

The cost of this is monumental.  It can cause us to miss the real stuff.  It can stress us out and tire our minds.  It can lead us further into isolation and escapism.  It can make us awkward around real people (especially around the opposite sex). It can keep us from engaging others and most importantly God.

We have to fight this – and it is a fight pure and simple. The road to victory is to engage.  We have to engage God. Several years ago I started praying against “the pretend”.  When I start to go there I just flat pray, “I come against “the pretend” in the name of Jesus.  Give me the real.  I want the real with you.”

 What if instead of speculating, or daydreaming we prayed.  Think about that.  Crazy right?!

We have to engage people.  The most sure way to not be awkward around someone is actually engage them.  We need to get out of our head and into the real.  This is one of the keys to mental health and it is a absolute necessity if we are to avoid the trap of isolation.

When do you go into your own head?  Does your “pretend” honor God?  Do you have anyone in your life who snaps you back to reality?