Hardness of Heart

This is probably one of the tougher things to write about, because there are no easy answers to a hard heart. In some circumstances you may be able to recognize it in yourself, and if you are unfortunate enough to experience hardness of heart when it comes from another there may be very little that you can do about it.

Scripture has lots to say about the heart, not least of which comes these words:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Photo by Mark McQuitty used through flickr creative commons

Photo by Mark McQuitty used through flickr creative commons

There are warning signs that a heart is hardening; judgment, callousness, rudeness, disregard, frustration, and more. Whenever you get to the point of wanting to dismiss another, you are getting one step closer to a hard heart.

Hard heart’s are notoriously hard to break. Once an injury and impression is firmly settled it is hard to dislodge, the other has been firmly established. Even if a peacemaker comes along to try and reconcile a hard hearted person to another they will be met with the fiercest and most irrational of resistance.

Hard heartedness is a prerequisite for all wars, all lawsuits, and all disintegrating families. A lack of compassion is the catalyst for countless sorrows, and worst yet the diminishing possibility that any wrongs will ever be made right.

There’s a reason that Pharaoh’s heart is made hard. For hardness of heart can not be overcome by willing the mind to do the right thing. Hard hearts work especially well among the proud and well educated, because hard hearts are the last thing people of youth, means, and status expects to find in themselves.

A hard heart is a deceitful thing often leaving the person to whom it afflicts unable and unwilling to change.

So who can rescue us from the misery of the miserly heart? Only Jesus himself. Only the Spirit of God can help us repent and change. May the Spirit of God be able to convict you today if you are going down the road of the callous heart.

Can you think of a circumstance where you may have come across a hard heart in a relationship? Are you able to recognize your own hard heart habits? Invite Jesus to convict you of any hard heartedness today.

May you always retain a heart of compassion,
Alexei

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Things Tend to Fall Apart

“Things treated merely as things in themselves destroy themselves because only in God have they any life” (For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann)

Millennials are taught to expect things to be temporary. Whether it’s marriage or mobility, jobs or friendships, everything ends or at least everything tends to fall apart. Seasons come, seasons go. If there is one thing you can count on it’s that you can’t count on very much.

Photo by Corey Holms. Used through flickr creative commons

Photo by Corey Holms. Used through flickr creative commons

These experiences leave us with an impoverished view of friendship. This is a tricky thing to talk about, because you also have to address temporary relationships, the delay of marriage, and the loss of core relationships. If up to half of our parents (before they pass on) will divorce at least once, if we are more likely than not to have had a few possible core dating relationships before we settle on marriage, if we are told to establish ourselves in our careers before we really start putting down roots, if we are just one degree away from the perfect life relationships get handled less like relationships and more like things.

I have heard more than one friend tell me that they have put their relationships on hold to focus on what’s before them (grad school, career, etc.). It’s not a bad idea to prioritize, and if it is hard to imagine sustaining friendships and doing something that your life may depend on than the tendency is to prioritize what is most important. I don’t really have neat, simple solutions to these questions, but I do have another way to look at them.

What if commitment, honesty, forgiveness, and fellowship were to infuse our relationships. A commitment to love despite the circumstances. A true respect for the free will of the person you are relating to. A willingness, even a stubborn refusal to refrain from judging those who let you down. The honesty and the courage to be ourselves in relationship. The ability to forgive and to reconcile when things do come up. And the regular fellowship which is to mark the life of the Christian. The Christian life is lived in community. When we view community as primer to our health and not a secondary obligation, we can begin to be creative enough to serve, be, and be known by others. If we put Christ central in our relationships than he can light the way to relating to neighbors as fallen as each one of us. These values can help us in any season.

As you look at your life, who is your primary community (think of people and names)? Do you put the time and communication necessary to keep that community vibrant? How can you reconnect with someone today?

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
Alexei

The Future of Family

As I’ve written about before, my generation, the millenials, stands at the cusp of some very interesting trends. By the time our parents pass away, over 1/2 of them will have divorced at least once. In terms of American history this is unprecedented, and hopefully will be the high water mark for divorce for the foreseeable future.

What this means, among other things, is that many of us have grown up with fractured homes. You know the marriage is about love thing, has been around for at least the last few hundred years. Apparently love wasn’t enough for our parents. Many families needed a lot more than love to really provide functional models for our marriages.

Beyond the economic factors, is it any wonder that culturally speaking we’re delaying marriage, not only delaying, but seeing if we can live together first, before making a lifelong commitment, or let’s be honest even a 20-year commitment?

Have you also noticed, we’re a statistic crazy culture. We always have ways of explaining why bad stuff won’t happen to us. Take these stories here and here, which reassures us that college educated couples will have a lower divorce rate. We love numbers to tell us that if we work hard, do the right thing, make the smart choices, we can forestall pain, suffering, and even failure.

Culture creates a sort of cocoon around the truths we choose to hold dear.

So why marriage, why life-long, why any of this stuff? Because it’s what it means to be human. We lose our humanity when we miss out on the milestones, when we miss out on the full orb of human experience.  Marriage and children are a part of the human story. We sell ourselves short when we opt-out.

We also miss out on the people we would have been, if we had taken to the time and the energy and the risk in marriage. There is risk in almost every decision in life, but there is a special risk in commitment and in having children. We miss out on the sort of people, the sort of character that we could have developed if we had taken the risk. We become fuller people for doing so.

Marriage also reflects God’s relationship with people. God does not forsake, God rescues, God endures, God loves, God sacrifices. This is the Christian message that Christ came into the world to secure us in relationship to himself. You don’t hear about it put this way that often, but that’s the analogies you hear when it comes to marriage.

It sacrifices  it endures, it binds, it bears children. It goes back to the very beginning, when God says that it wasn’t good for people, for a person, to be alone. God gets our isolation and knows that we need someone who will commit to be with us as we venture forth in life. That’s the idea, but love isn’t enough.

Commitment, admitting mistakes, in Christian terms repenting of sin, but also sacrificing for the betterment of the family, that’s the Christian option. That’s the intent and it’s an open invitation for all of us. Your parents didn’t have to be successful for you to have a successful marriage, what it takes as an ability to trust God, to trust another person with your vulnerabilities  A realization that God entered this human story through Jesus, a man who wept, cried, and knew what it meant to be human.

Cohabitation before Marriage

In a recent New York Times Opinion Piece, Professor of Clinical Psychology Meg Jay observes that, “[a] majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation.”

Most of us know people who live and sleep together before marriage. Cohabitation has become a cultural norm that dominates the dating to marriage landscape.

The truth is insecurity dominates all of our significant relationships. We have a need to be in relationship with others, and, yet many of our closest relationships remain in flux. Knowing this, many of us hope to game the system when it comes to marriage. We want to find a way around the inevitable pain and disappointment that comes from relating to others; the same disappointment and bitterness that many of us have experienced through the divorce of parents.  We think cohabiting will help us get to know the person better before we move on to marriage or another relationship. Maybe with enough experience we’ll be able to come up with the right dynamic that helps us with long term success in marriage. Many women see cohabitation as a step to marriage, while men can view it as a way to delay commitment and marriage.

In short, our vision of marriage and living together has become too small.

If we want to avoid the messy divorces of our parents’ generation we have to find a surer way forward. We can’t run away from insecurity and pain in relating but we can help live into the dynamics that these relationships present to us.

Marriage is designed to help both couples grow in wholeness and mutual enjoyment through love, commitment, sacrifice, and service. I take the words of Jesus to heart, “there is no greater love than giving your life for your friend.” I think that’s a pretty apt metaphor for marriage. I don’t have any greater love to give than to look to my wife’s interests before mine.

I don’t do this to be taken advantage of, but out of the need to lay aside my own worries and insecurities in simple acts of service. This sort of disposition helps me to act in a loving way that is good for my wife yes, but more importantly is good for the health of the marriage itself. There will be times when I need to rely on the love and service of my spouse to get me through the day. By modeling that love I can find a dynamic way forward for the marriage.

Many of us need tools to be able to adequately handle the strain and inevitable sin that comes in marriage. There are acts that separate us from God and each other, these acts manifest themselves in sin most often in the form of pride and a rush to hurt those who have caused us pain.

To deal with sin we have to learn about the sin in our own lives and the need to pursue forgiveness with our significant other. I say pursue because too many of us fail to live out the practices of forgiveness. Forgiveness involves confronting the other person with our pain and emotions and choosing, with God’s help, to release them from the retribution we think they rightly deserve. We forgive our spouse because we know that we ourselves will need forgiveness in the relationship if the relationship is to have the short of staying dynamics needed to last.

We have forgotten what it means to be the sort of people who forgive and are forgiven by others. Too often our relationships end in deep mistrust and pain, the only sure antidote to that sort of relational transience is an active willingness to love and forgive, a willingness that comes from living out authentic faith.