Glorious Failure

Life is a long series of failures. Here's to failing gloriously!

Category: Relationships

Marriage and Tooth Paste

tube of tootpaste

A tube of toothpaste taught me a real lesson about my marriage and myself.

As a single man I prepared myself for matrimony. I studied God’s word to define marriage and learn what my role as a husband would be if I got married. When my fiancée and I began marriage counseling we talked through our expectations about important things and even small things like toothpaste-whether to squeeze from the middle or roll from the bottom up. To which I thought either way is fine. These preparations all taken together bless my marriage to this day. I’m glad I did it. But I’m afraid I let my preparedness go to my head.

I wasn’t married long before the discovery began. I learned that squeezing the toothpaste from the middle is actually inefficient. VERY inefficient. I learned that squeezing from the middle is in fact NOT acceptable. In fact it’s downright inconsiderate!

I learned that I really DO have a problem with squeezing, and squeezers. And that now includes my wife. This was quite a change from my pre-marital position on these topics when I thought I was so laid back that either was fine. Clearly I did not know myself.

Regrettably, I allowed the toothpaste issue to fester for several weeks before addressing it with my sweet wife. What’s worse is that as the irritant continued, my sinful heart gave in to resentment. I began to believe things about my wife–awful things against her character. They were untrue, but still I believed them.

I fed my sense of entitlement–my sense of self-righteousness. After all I wasn’t the one being inefficient or inconsiderate–I reasoned with myself. But that’s where I went wrong. I forfeited the covenant I made to my wife. I promised to love her as Christ loves the Church. From the gospel of Mark we know the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (10:45).

I was not loving my bride as Christ loves His.

God convicted me. I knew I was in the wrong to make such a big deal in my heart over something so trivial as a tube of tooth cream. When I did finally come clean with my wife, she responded very sweetly and graciously forgave me for harboring resentment against her.

What I discovered about myself by getting married: I am selfish.

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” (James 4:1 NLT) I discovered through the toothpaste test that my problem is not inside a tube of toothpaste. It’s inside me. To be more specific, the problem is the sin that dwells within me. (cf. Romans 7:14-20)

Before I got married I thought of myself as quite selfless. I served people all the time. I frequently gave up my rights to prefer others’ choices ahead of my own. Yes. I thought I was quite a giving person–until I got married.

When faced with a choice to get my own way, in the above instance, I chose the selfish path.

I’m learning that marriage really is an institution God uses to make me more holy. [Hat tip to Gary Thomas and Martin Luther]

For more on this principle of marriage making us more holy check out Gary Thomas’ excellent book, Sacred Marriage

For an excellent (and relatively new) blog on marriage check out http://www.scottkedersha.com/ He’s my marriage mentor.

Thank you, God for loving me enough to humble me–even if You use something as trivial as toothpaste to do it.

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On Fatherhood and Snotty Shirts

I was at Home Depot last night buying light bulbs for the house. It was a family trip, and my wife and I had split the kids. She had our one month-old daughter. I had our two year-old son.

I hate referring to kids as snot-nosed because it demeans a beautiful and precious gift from God, which they are. But as in last night’s case, my son actually had a snotty nose. He has a bit of a cold it seems.

As I was patiently pondering the pros and cons of LED versus incandescence, my son decided he had waited in the cart long enough. He wanted to get down and explore. So he stood up in the cart, threw his leg over the side, and began to climb down. He quickly lost his balance. Sensing immediate danger I lunged to the cart just in time to scoop him into my arms and prevent his fall.

Whew! Catastrophe averted in the Home Depot tonight! I was relieved.

In my urgency I grabbed my son any way I could. It so happened that I was holding his chest against my chest and his face was planted on my shoulder. When he righted himself and sat up in my arms my shirt now prominently displayed the contents of what had been, only moments ago, in my son’s nose. My shirt now had a three-inch green stripe across the left shoulder. If you didn’t know better you might have mistaken me for a pilot!

I placed my son safely back in the cart, along with whatever bulb was in my hand at the moment, and headed for the check out. While en route I glanced down in disgust at my shirt’s new adornment. I was quite displeased by the unsanitary nature of it. Ick! I loathe having bodily fluids on my clothing. I rather like to be clean.

However, I then directed my eyes down toward my son. He was smiling–filled with glee to behold the many wondrous sights a home improvement store has to behold an impressionable young toddler. My frustration could not be rightly directed at him. After all it wasn’t his fault.

Now I’ve only been a father for a few years. And I detest the stereotype that parents live in messy homes doomed to perpetual chaos and that they always wear dirty clothes because their children continuously soil them. I shudder to think I fulfill that stereotype. Rather I work to reverse it fastidiously.

But in this moment last night at Home Depot I realized something. Yes I am a father, and yes I have a massive snot wad on my shirt. That cannot be denied. And I suppose to be fair then, I should have to at least entertain the possibility for discussion whether or not I fulfill this awful stereotype. Fair enough. But in this moment I lost no degree of disgust against wearing mucous for all to see. I loathed it every bit as much as I always have.

I approached the check out however, totally unashamed and without an ounce of regret for the decision that resulted in my snotty shirt. I did not regret choosing to save my son. If presented as two possible options I would much rather have a snot-nosed shirt than a seriously injured son. I realized that being a father doesn’t mean you lose your sense of cleanliness, propriety, or healthy sanitation. Those are all important. I might even go as far as to say sanitation and propriety are hallmarks of civilization. But rather fatherhood means loving someone else more than even those important desires you have for yourself.

In fact Scripture calls us to a love even greater, indeed. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NIV). Scripture calls me to value and love my son even more than myself. While I would definitely say I’m not there yet, I can also say I’m closer today than I used to be in large part because God made me a father.

I love my son. I love being a father. One thing I’ve learned is that being a father does not mean you lose all sense of dignity. Instead, I think, being a father means learning that some things matter even more than dignity. Or in this case, someone who matters more. Namely, my son.

3 ways to make sense of illogical conversations

A friend of mine asked me for advice the other day. His name is Jack. Now Jack has been talking with his friend John about a Christian response to the problem of evil. It would be more accurate to say Jack asked me to recommend some good reading to pass along to John. Jack didn’t ask me for my advice. But before I made any recommendations, I wanted to know more about John, their relationship, and how Jack has lead the conversation so far. So I asked a few questions.

Both Jack and John are believers in Christ, so they approach the issue from a standpoint of faith. John struggles to reconcile two facts he knows for certain, yet seem to contradict one another. The first is that God exists. He is good. And He is all-powerful; The second is that gratuitous evil and suffering exist.

I’m not surprised Jack asked me for help on this issue. It’s a very sticky one. Consider, for example, that it has been around virtually since man has been writing and thinking. It’s a very difficult issue – not impassable – but very difficult. To be specific, the difficulty is in accepting both statements as true without contradicting one another. Acceptance is far more difficult than understanding intellectually how they can be reconciled. Isn’t that how most things are in life?

Here’s what surprises me. The more questions I asked Jack to properly understand what’s really going on with John and to best diagnose his issue, the more Jack became frustrated. Jack was frustrated by my not answering his question. He wanted to know what books and/or articles to read so as to help John. The implication I picked up from Jack’s subtext was, “Tell me what John needs to read so he gets it–so I can fix him.”

I applaud Jack’s heart to love John with truth and to call him to a deeper understanding of God’s truth, and ultimately to a deeper faith. But I paused when I realized Jack thought John’s problem was an issue of understanding — that John just doesn’t get it.

Even though Jack is my friend, I look up to him like a mentor so I didn’t have the heart to share with him what I’m about to write which is what went through my mind next.

When people are being illogical there’s usually an explanation. John doesn’t recognize that there are intellectual (Christian) resolutions to the problem of evil. In this context Jack knows John is being illogical, but couldn’t figure out why. I propose three ways to straighten out these curves in the conversational path.

1) It’s personal. John may have history encountering people he perceived as righteous, let’s even say they were faithful Christians, yet were unduly struck by calamity. Maybe he watched that happen to his parents or a close friend. Personal experience often dictates our most closely held personal beliefs whether they are intellectual or not.

2) It’s emotional. Maybe John sees himself as righteous and resents God for the calamity that has befallen him. Perhaps he is deeply hurt and he feels God is responsible. In this case his resentment prevents him from acknowledging God can be both good and powerful, yet evil can still exist.

3) It’s a sin issue. John may be in willful sin and the direct consequences are hurting someone else, not him. He can see the death that sin leads to, but because it isn’t his death, he has no motivation to stop. Yet, to admit that God is good and just, and that evil may abound now, but one day God will justify the righteous and penalize the wicked, would require him to submit to the authority of God and lay down his sin. That’s something he just isn’t prepared to do yet. In this case John’s sin is blinding him to the truth that evil is not a problem for God.

My next step is to have a conversation with Jack that people are more than just brains. Just because what they say is illogical, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you’re saying. God made us in His image, and He is both glorious and complicated. Sometimes misunderstanding another human being requires us to dig a little deeper to make sense of what happened. Most of the time, I find it requires me to dig a little deeper to understand myself.

Glorious Failure

Life is a long series of failures. Here's to failing gloriously!

Scott Eckstein

Helping define, describe and defend Servant Leaders

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