Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The "Zone" of Marriage

Being married is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. A large body of research confirms that married couples are happier, they live longer, they are healthier, they are better off financially, and they have fewer psychological problems than people who are not married. Americans also highly value marriage—when surveyed, people consistently rate a good marriage and having a happy, healthy family as their most important goals.

So if marriage is so good for people and society, why can about half of current marriages expect to end in divorce? Why are young people increasingly reluctant to marry—they yearn for a lifelong loving relationship but are skeptical of its possibility? Why are about 40 percent of children born out of wedlock and likely will not have a marriage relationship modeled for them? These children are significantly more inclined than kids born and raised in a “traditional” family to have children out of wedlock themselves.Are we seeing the results of the disintegration of marriage in our culture today? If so, how do we erase the decline and help people understand the value of a good marriage?

Just like laying a stable and solid foundation is the key to building a house that lasts, building a solid foundation for our relationship is one of the important keys for a marriage that lasts.The structure of that foundation is a relationship based on healthy intimacy, which in turn creates an environment where couples can grow together long enough for a deep and nurturing love to take place.

The truth is that love and marriage are difficult. When Hollywood and Madison Avenue sugarcoats them and makes romance seem like a walk in the park, they do a great disservice in creating unrealistic expectations for millions of young couples.

Loving a woman is, on the one hand, very easy. On the other, it is very difficult—sometimes nearly impossible. Frequently it doesn’t take much to make a woman happy—a kind word, an unexpected expression of love, or a romantic gesture with no expectations. Other times, no matter what a man does, it is never enough. Likewise, women probably find men perplexing as well (although nowhere near as complicated).

Most men, if they are lucky, marry “up.” They value their wives as a greater “prize” than they deserve. My wife is a better wife than I am a husband. She’s certainly a better person than I am, and if I’m being honest, she’s likely a more mature Christian as well. Not only that, but she probably rates higher on most of the positive character traits than I do. She’s more compassionate, tolerant, patient, loving, kind, gentle, caring, and humble than I am. She might even be more honest, faithful, loyal, and good than I am (okay, maybe more intelligent as well).  I’m a lot stronger physically than she is, but that might be the only advantage I’ve got on her. (This works well for my main roles around the house as jar opener, garbage remover, bug killer, and heavy furniture mover.)

I’ve noticed that there are times in life when everything just seems to go right. I have experienced these phenomena in sports, in business, and in relationships. For brief periods of time nothing you do can go wrong. In sports they call it being in the “zone.” Every basket you shoot goes in, every baseball coming toward the batter’s box looks as big as a beach ball, and every pass you throw is perfect. You feel “at one” with the field or court, your teammates, and the flow of the game. In business there are usually short periods times when every decision pays off. You feel like King Midas—everything you touch turns to gold.

And there are times in a relationship when things go perfectly—when you are in the zone. When she gets and actually appreciates all my jokes (instead of getting offended), when I am able to artfully articulate exactly how I feel, when I am smooth and suave in everything I do, and when she looks at me like I am all that matters in the world. That “zone” to my wife probably looks like this: he focuses all his attention on me without being distracted, he spends time with me, he’s open and shares his innermost thoughts and feelings with me, he treats me like a queen.

Those times probably seem to be infrequent to both spouses,but they happen just often enough to encourage us to have hope. Hope that they will come again—usually when least expected. Those marriage “zones” are when my world seems best. Like the infrequent surprise sunny day in Oregon, they make all the other dreary times seem worthwhile.

Excerpted from Rick's upcoming book, Romancing Your Better Half: Keeping intimacy alive in your marriage, by Revell Publishing, 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Marriage Fraud--What's the Character of Your Marriage?

[Marriage] is the merciless revealer, the great white searchlight turned 
on the darkest places of human nature.
—Katherine Anne Porter

Two (usually young) people start out in life together under the bliss of hormone-induced euphoria.They have well-intentioned but unrealistic ideas of what their lives together will be like.What starts out as an innocent, uncorrupted, and pure bud of love, over the years morphs into an old gnarled, scarred, and weather-beaten tree stump of friendship and devotion.And yet within this hoary old trunk beats a vibrant heart of the strongest white oak hardened by its perseverance and longevity to withstand any challenge that man, beast, or Mother Nature can throw against it.Those marriages that last for decades begin to discover the peaceful joy and contentedness that can only come from a lifetime of companionship and working together to rise above obstacles.

Many partners enter into marriage as frauds—showing only the best of themselves. But marriage has a tendency to expose the truth about two people and shine light on their true character.What was kept secretly under wraps while dating soon becomes apparent in the light of day during marriage.
When that happens, the character of the individuals either nourishes the relationship or destroys it. A healthy marriage relationship is comprised of the traits of trust, honesty, humor, faith, and commitment.Marriage in turn teaches us patience, selflessness, and humility.

Overcoming challenges is what makes us successful and grows us as human beings.Whether in a sporting event, at the workplace, or in a science lab, the person who is able to overcome the greatest difficulties is celebrated as a winner.Why should marriage be any different?When the hardships of a relationship confront us, we shouldn’t easily quit but rather give it the same effort we would any other worthwhile challenge in life.Certainly a good marriage is more important than throwing a basketball through a hoop in the larger scheme of things, yet people go to great lengths to improve themselves in sports when they won’t spend nearly as much energy trying to overcome minor obstacles in their marriage.  

Certainly marriage is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our spouse.  That's worth fighting for.  Don't you think?

Excerpted from Rick's upcoming book, Romancing Your Better Half: Keeping intimacy alive in your marriage, by Revell Publishing

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Do Only Men of Faith Achieve Greatness?

 I was raised in an alcoholic home with all the disadvantages that environment brings with it. I was raised to believe that religion was a crutch for weak people and that all Christians were hypocrites. By the age of forty, after attaining all that the world says should make you happy and successful, I found myself yearning for more. Something was missing. I had a hole in my soul that could not be filled by success, achievement, or materialistic acquisition. That chasm in my soul was literally destroying me.

In a desperate attempt to find inner satisfaction and peace, I studied a number of religions and belief systems. At the time (like many men) I did not have any real friends or other men I looked up to for advice, so I decided to look at the lives of men throughout history whom I admired to see what they had that made their lives significant. Interestingly, the only common denominator I discovered between all these great and admirable men was the fact that they were all Christians—men of great faith.
That epiphany was a mighty blow to the worldview I had been raised with. I personally had always been a bit contemptuous of Christianity. At the very least it just seemed inconsequential or insignificant in the bigger picture of things. I wasn’t necessarily hostile toward it; I just thought it was a misguided philosophy designed and developed by perhaps earnest but intellectually weak or even ignorant men thousands of years ago to keep uneducated and ambitionless people content with their lot in life. Sort of along the lines of Karl Marx’s quote, “Religion is the opium of the people.”

However, upon making this discovery, I began to investigate the history and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. I set out upon a yearlong study of anthropologic, geologic, and historical components of Scripture in order to disprove the validity of the Gospels. After that year I came to the conclusion that not only could I not disprove the truth of the Gospels, but that they were in fact true. After accepting Christ as my Savior, I felt a huge sense of peace, satisfaction, contentment, and most of all forgiveness that cannot be described or proven by any scientific method I’m aware of. I just knew in my soul that this was truth in its purest form. I felt fulfilled and whole. This then propelled me into the work I do today, which has allowed me to lead a much more fulfilling life than I ever thought possible.
The study of great men throughout history was what initially led me to be interested in pursuing salvation. Was it coincidence that every historically significant man I happened to study was a Christian? Probably not. But as I have investigated and researched further, it appears to be extremely difficult to find any men throughout history who have made a positive and significant difference in the world who were not Christians or at least men of great faith. (For example, someone such as Mahatma Gandhi could probably be considered a man who made a significant, positive difference in the world and, though not a Christian, had a deep religious and moral faith.)

 “I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.”
--C.S. Lewis

With that in mind I use great men throughout history and the character traits they were most famous for to illustrate the foundations we need to instill in young men in order to develop healthy and truly life-giving masculinity. Were these men perfect? No. They were ordinary human beings like you and me—flawed, imperfect, and prone to making mistakes. But they did not allow those imperfections to keep them from changing the world for the better.
Too many men in our culture today either use the power of their masculinity to do harm or they neglect and waste it. If we are to teach boys and young men to wisely use the power God has endowed them with by virtue of their gender, we must be intentional. If we are to teach them to use that power to bless the lives of others, we must proactively develop and implement a plan, not just hope and pray for a positive outcome.

In the early nineteenth century, an idea called the Great Man Theory was developed to describe how “great men”—through their personal attributes, such as charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or political skill—used their power to significantly influence history.
For purposes of my newest book, I chose a number of men of faith whose lives were significant and who impacted the lives of many others. All of these men led exemplary lives on some level—not perfect, but significant. Each chapter contains a short bio on the man and how he exhibited the character trait he was known for, a section on why that specific trait is important to teach your son, and finally some practical ways to intentionally instill that character trait into your son’s life. These character traits are not in any particular order of importance, although I did try to put similar traits together in the chapter order.
These traits are not the only traits our boys need to learn, but they are a good starting point to begin to intentionally develop a plan to proactively teach our sons to become leaders and good men.

We need to have the courage to raise men of great faith and character. Our culture is at a crossroads—we are seeing the effects of poor male leadership over the past several decades. We need great men to once again lead and shape our culture through strong character and divine inspiration. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that only a few of the men that I referred to in this book have been alive in the last forty years or so. We create great men by intentionally growing them from boys. As you go through this book, keep your eye on the ultimate goal—to create men who will change history. Without those great men. . . may God help us all.

QUESTION - Can you think of any men throughout history who accomplished great things who were not men of faith?

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, A Man in the Making: Strategies to Help Your Son Succeed in Life.  Find out more at