If you saw Tuesday’s blog, you know that generosity is one of the biggies when it comes to happiness in marriage. While that finding came out of the National Marriage Project, you don’t have to be a sociologist or an expert researcher to know that generosity is a pretty great thing to have, regardless of the relationship.
Here’s a simple prayer that packs a powerful promise. Try praying it for yourself or for someone you love:
I pray that _____ would be rich in good deeds, generous, and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:18)
Robbie and I are gearing up for the Alpha Marriage Course, which starts this Sunday night at our church. It’s a terrific class and you’d think that, having taught it five times already, my beloved and I would be coasting, but every time we go over the material, we learn something new.
One time, for instance, “we” learned that it’s not a good idea to interrupt your spouse when he is talking (even if you are pretty sure that what you have to say is way more interesting).
During another session, “we” discovered that cleaning out the garage is not, in fact, everyone’s primary love language. Some people, it turns out, would rather have sex.
And then there was the time that we got to grade each other on questions like, My partner is good at meeting my emotional needs, and “we” got a zero. (Honestly, though, that was not a fair question. I mean, I didn’t even know Robbie had emotional needs.)
(But now I do.)
So here we are, getting ready to go at it again. And this time I have a secret weapon: I’ve been following Brad Wilcox on Twitter. Wilcox is the brainiac behind the National Marriage Project, and his research offers everything from tips on improving your relationship to indicators that a marriage will last (inviting a lot of friends and relatives to your wedding bodes well; “sliding” into cohabitation before marriage does not).
Sometimes, the findings are surprising. Like, you might expect things like “commitment” and “sexual intimacy” to show up as factors linked to a happy marriage. But the third of the Big Three? Generosity.
“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful,” Wilcox explains, in a New York Times Magazine article, “but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate.” And that, he says, promotes a “virtuous cycle” that leads to happier marriages.
Wilcox & Co. even have a quiz you can take to determine your generosity rating. (Can you tell I recently learned how to add links to a blog?) I’d take the quiz, but Robbie’s the one who makes the coffee around here, and I don’t want to go into Sunday’s class with another big “L” on my stat sheet.
But I am going to try to be more generous. Like, when Robbie brings me my coffee in the morning, I will tell him I love him. Even if it’s not hot enough, because I will know to overlook that.
See? Who needs a marriage course?
Don’t answer that.
(But do check out The Marriage Course. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for one year or 50, you’ll find it well worth your time. Even if you already know that your man has emotional needs.)
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the full house and the empty nest is the amount of laundry that needs doing. For years, particularly when we had four children all playing different sports, my life had a rhythm all its own:
Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat.
Partly to break up the monotony, and partly to attach some sort of meaning to an existence that seemed to be measured in soccer games and grass stains, I started using the laundry cycle as a prayer prompt. I looked up a few verses about clothing and pressed them (a-hem) into service.
Here’s one of my favorites. This year, instead of groaning when you see the laundry pile, why not try this prayer when you pull a load out of the dryer? It might not help you find that missing sock, but at least you’ll be investing in something that lasts beyond tomorrow.
Heavenly Father, let _____ know that he/she is holy and dearly loved. Help _____ to clothe himself/herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a time of relative calm, one that can provide space for reflection as the bustle of the one is pretty much over and the demands of the other have not yet come to call.
Sometimes, sitting here with my coffee and a stale Christmas cookie, I find myself looking back with a pang of regret, thinking of mistakes made or opportunities squandered over the past 12 months. Sometimes I turn my attention forward, making lists and plans and wondering how they will all unfold in the year ahead. In either case—looking back or looking ahead—I am grateful for Isaiah 30:21.
I’ve prayed this verse for my kids as they’ve walked toward relationships, colleges, and careers: “Show them the way to go, Lord. Be the voice that they hear, and keep them on the path you have chosen.”
I’ve also prayed it for myself, both as a request for wisdom or guidance when I don’t know what lies ahead, and as a prayer of relief when I realize that I’ve made a wrong move and I need to get back on track. It’s during those “uh-oh” times that I particularly love how The Living Bible captures the Isaiah promise:
And if you leave God’s paths and go astray, you will hear a voice behind you say, “No, this is the way; walk here.”
Isn’t that encouraging? How blessed are we to have a God who cares so deeply about our lives, who is willing to take us by the hand or whisper in our ear to keep us on the right road! As you look ahead to 2015, it doesn’t matter whether you carry regrets from the past, fears about the future, or a sense of hope and excitement regarding all that is to come. God is paying attention, and he promises to walk alongside you, keeping you on the right path as you listen for his voice.
I have no idea what the new year will bring (other than Annesley and Geoff’s wedding, which reminds me that I need to stop eating cookies and start shopping—ugh—for my MOB dress), but I do know this: I am grateful to serve a God who cares which way I walk, who knows what lies around the next bend, and who is willing to hold my hand, every step of the way.
Christmas is a time of growth, a time when the soil of our hearts may soften and we sense God’s presence in new and often unexpected ways. As you think about the people you love and what they need during the coming year, sometimes the simplest prayers are the best:
Heavenly Father, may _____ grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)
If you grew up going to Christmas pageants and candlelight services (or even if you just watched the Peanuts special every year), these words might be so familiar that you read right over them. You know what’s coming: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born.
In other words: He. Is. Here.
But stop for a quick second and think about how the angel must have felt, announcing the news: The One we’ve waited for. The One who will bring joy to the world. The One who will change everything. He is here!!!
Doesn’t that just make you want to, I don’t know, fall down? He is Emmanuel, God with us. And he is here.
Wherever this Christmas finds you–rejoicing in certainty of God’s presence, yearning to experience his love, or anywhere in between, may you know the good news: He. Is. Here. And may these words, from Isaiah 60, allow the good news to color your life afresh each morning, both today and throughout the new year.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
Well, tonight’s the night. Tonight’s the night that we dust off our Messiah handbooks and haul ourselves off to Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, where a quartet of talented soloists will join forces with Symphonicity to present Handel’s Messiah. And, in what might be the most charitable gesture of the season, they will let people like us sing along.
This will be Symponicity’s 32nd Messiah performance. I figure we’ve been to at least half of ’em; it’s what my mother wants for Christmas every year. She doesn’t seem to care that the lowest grade I got in college was in a course called Music Appreciation. I’d tell you how my kids really feel about the annual event, except that my mom is probably my most faithful blog reader. Suffice it to say, we will don our gay apparel (and yes, there was a year when I wore “the sweater”), clear our throats, and let ’er rip.
And it won’t be pretty. I made my kids take piano lessons (as did my mother before me, and her Juilliard-trained mother before her), but almost none of it stuck. And it’s not just words like allegro (which is not, as it turns out, a pasta dish) that mess us up. We don’t always get even the English words right. For years, Hillary lifted her sweet little soprano voice and warbled, Come for tea! Co-o-ome…for…tea! Little did she know that Handel wasn’t into Earl Grey; he was drawing from Isaiah 40, proclaiming the tender and redemptive “Comfort Ye” power of God.
So why, if we can’t read music and we don’t even sing the right words, do we go to this thing every year? Maybe it’s because of verses like Ephesians 6:2-3, which remind us that “Honor Your Father and Mother” is a commandment that comes with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
I will admit that I started going to The Messiah with my mom because I knew this verse and I didn’t want to get hit by a bus. Somewhere along the way, though, I began to actually like the music. (Appreciate it, even.) And, although I could be imagining things, I think the complain-o-meter on my kids is starting to drop, too.
Because here’s the thing about a Messiah sing-along. It doesn’t matter whether or not you can recognize a treble clef or even sing on key (although it helps if you don’t park small children in the bass section, which we have been known to do). You can go and pretend to sing—and when you do, you’ll get a short course in biblical prophecy, the events surrounding the birth of Christ, and a rafters-raising “Hallelujah” about God’s eternal reign that is worth the price of admission right there. (And Mom, don’t be emailing to tell me that the event is free; I am just trying to make a point.)
Speaking of…I guess the point of this blog (and I really hope my kids are still reading) is that you should give your mom what she wants for Christmas. You might not appreciate her taste. You might not even think it’s a good present. But she will like it. And, chances are (and with a nod to Ephesians 6), it will wind up being good for you, too.
Psalm 121 is the passage my mom asked us to learn this year (a Scripture verse, and going to the Messiah sing-along, is what she wants for Christmas every year). With less than a week to go, I think my family might have a better shot at memorizing the Hallelujah Chorus than nailing the whole psalm, but we are trying. And I gotta hand it to her; Mom picked a good one. In addition to being just plain majestic, Psalm 121 is chock full of powerful prayer promises.
If you (or someone you love) could use an extra measure of help, strength, or protection, Psalm 121 has you covered. Try praying the whole thing, or just use the last two verses:
Heavenly Father, keep _____ from all harm. Watch over his/her life. Watch over his/her coming and going, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)
That’s the offer made inside the book jacket on this little book written by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page, and Jon Gordon, three guys who’ve experienced more than a little bit of success in business, athletics, and family life. I got a copy of One Word after meeting Jimmy at a lacrosse tournament (he was coaching a Fellowship of Christian Athletes team), and I think it’s terrific.
Instead of making New Year’s resolutions (which, studies show, are abandoned by half of the people who make them by the end of January), Jimmy and his family pick one word–things like serving, purpose, surrender, grace, determination, connect, and shine–each year. Then they “live it”–with some pretty remarkable (and sometimes challenging) results.
If you’re tired of making commitments that revolve around things like exercising more, drinking less, or managing your money (yawn), or if you just want a fresh take on the New Year to share with your family (or with a circle of friends; a few girls and I have been “picking words” for years, and praying each other through the transformations they effect), why not give One Word a try? You’ll find tips on quieting your heart, discovering “your” word, and then learning to live it, powerfully, no matter what 2015 brings your way.
Like many of you, I have been following the University of Virginia rape story, a sensational, horrific, and (as it turns out) inaccurate account published last month by Rolling Stone magazine. As a U.Va. alum with three Wahoo daughters (two have graduated; Virginia is in her third year there now), the school is dear to my heart, and the students dearer still.
Even with the magazine’s reporting now discredited, almost everyone agrees that there are problems that still need fixing: Students drink too much, the “hookup culture” contributes to confusing relationships, and sexual misconduct – while arguably not the norm at U.Va. – certainly takes place, and no matter how you parse the statistics (and there have been dozens of studies trotted out), one rape is one rape too many.
If you’ve read even a handful of my blogs, you know that I don’t use this space for social or political commentary and – despite having a host of strong and not necessarily well-informed opinions – I don’t plan to start spouting off now. I wouldn’t even mention the story except for this photo, which Virginia texted to me early yesterday morning:
YOU ARE LOVED.
That’s the message on Beta Bridge, the oft-painted University landmark that doubles as a billboard for parties, charity events and – too often, at least this year – a community’s grief.
How fitting that these words – YOU ARE LOVED – would show up during Advent, a season when the space between heaven and earth seems to shrink, a time when we mortals may stop, even just for a moment, to consider how God sees the world. How he sees us. And how he longs to breathe new life into our lives, to fill our hearts with hope, and to show us how incredibly much we are loved.
You are loved. Amid a cacophony of finger pointing – It’s the fraternites’ fault! It’s the administration’s fault! It’s the parents! The government! The police! – this is a message that cuts through the noise. It’s a message that offers hope. It’s a message U.Va. needs to hear.
It’s a message we all – with our anger, our pride, our confusion, and our pain – need to hear.
Hear it now: You are loved.