7 Suggestions for a Leader to have a Better Weekend

Hint: It takes intentionality

If you are like me you love your weekends. T.G.I.F., right? In fairness, my weekends are shorter than some. My busiest day is usually Sunday. But, I love the weekend I have.

In my experience, however, if we are not careful the weekend passes so quickly we begin another work week feeling we wasted the weekend we had. Or we are so stressed by the week behind or the week ahead that all we do is catch our breath and we can’t fully enjoy the weekend.

This is true for everyone, but from my perspective as a leader this is especially a problem. For most leaders, we never feel our work is done. What we are leading – and even more who we are leaving – always weighs heavily on our mind. This makes enjoying our weekend even more important, though – so we can be prepared for the week ahead. We need quality down time to experience the best quality “up” time.

So, how can we help guarantee better weekends? Every weekend – or at least most. I have learned the more intentional Cheryl and I are about planning for it, the better weekends we had as a family when our boys are home and now as empty-nesters.

Here are 7 suggestions for leader:

Plan well on Monday

Set your week up for success. Plan what you can realistically do in a week and end the week with a sense of accomplishment. I use checklists every day and every week. I try to end my Friday being as “done” as possible.

Do hard things now

Handle the hard stuff as they arise. Try not to carry it into the weekend. Obviously this is not always possible, but many times it is. For example, don’t put off a difficult conversation you know you have to have until Monday if you can and should do it today. It will haunt you all weekend. Whatever the issue, bite the bullet and handle the tough issue, as soon as effectively possible.

Be honest with others and your schedule

Don’t feel bad about declining activities on the weekend. If you want to go somewhere then go, but if you’d rather relax – don’t feel guilty saying so. The quality of and your ability to say no always determines the quality of your life and ultimately your leadership. Say yes sparingly when accepting weekend appointments. Invitations sometimes sound good on Monday, but are less exciting on Saturday morning.

Attend church

This is an appointment I think you should keep. Obviously this one doesn’t apply to my pastor friends (except when you’re on vacation and then I do think it applies – I wrote about that in another post), and I know it seems self-serving to suggest it. You should know I’m certainly not being legalistic. This is not my nature or theology. It’s just that I’ve hardly ever heard someone say they wish they’d skipped church. But I’ve heard many who believe it gave them a better weekend. We tend to think the opposite, especially on a busy weekend, but God always seems to bless the time we give Him.

Do things during the week so you can have a true Sabbath

Even though it makes for slightly longer weekdays, try to accomplish many of the “chores” you have to do before the weekend. Try to have some unplanned time simply to do what you enjoy. Sometimes I have no choice. Some projects require my Saturday, but if possible, I’m going to worker longer weekdays to enjoy a lighter Saturday.

Keep a fairly normal sleep schedule all week

If you always have to “catch up” on your sleep on the weekends, or you spend your week tired because of the late nights on the weekend, you never gain a healthy rhythm for life. Be reasonably consistent in your bedtime and waking up time and you’ll feel better and enjoy a more productive awake time.

Share time with people you love

And, doing the things you love. The best memories center around time with people we love and things we enjoy doing. We certainly have to balance the two. When the family is running in many different directions you end the weekend feeling like you “missed” the weekend. This means you may have to limit activities you or your family commits to or do things your family can do together. This takes prior thought and coordination, but makes for a more enjoyable weekend.

Pastors, this list includes you, too. I originally wrote it for you and decided to expand it to a more general audience. Your weekend may look different, as it may for other leaders, but you need to protect it. I wrote THIS POST on how I protect my Sabbath.

What tips do you have for a better weekend?

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

I’m a reflective person. This time of year, when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

I think its a great exercise.

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so – get alone – and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating – sin can have an immediate pleasure – but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships – spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended – and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again – even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year – one decision – one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life – and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk – and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being – planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will – and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life – spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself. This can be a powerful exercise.

Try answering some of these questions and see how they help you start your best year ever!

The Best Christmas Present You Can Ever Give

Give words...

What’s the best Christmas present you can ever give?

Give words. Give the gift of written words.

Years ago, when I was almost 18, and just about to graduate from high school, my grandmother gave me a Bible for Christmas.

It’s a great Bible. In fact, it was my first study Bible – a New American Standard, Ryrie Study Bible. I still have it and occasionally use it today. It was a quite expensive gift for her at the time.

But, the greater part of the gift was a supplement to the book inside the Bible.

Inside she included these handwritten notes. Please understand, I know the words of the Bible are eternally more important than the words of my grandmother, but I have lots of Bibles. These words cannot be duplicated by anyone else.

She shared her heart. She wrote Scripture which was important to her. She encouraged me to live a life of value. She expressed her joy in being my grandmother.

It was the greatest part of the gift. The most valuable.

It was then and it is now. I’m 52 years old – almost 53 – and this is still one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. 

I still have the Bible – and, like I said, it sits tighter with many other Bibles on my shelf. I could replace the Bible. I can’t replace these notes.

My grandmother died in 2013, a few months after my grandfather. She was my last remaining grandparent. As soon as I heard of her death, I went to that Bible – to read the notes she had written. I have read these notes 100’s of times since she first wrote them. I’m positive – Lord willing – I’ll read them 100 more.

The best Christmas gift ever- at least that a human can give – is to give the gift of words.

Who needs a letter from you this Christmas?

Maybe a child, a grandchild, a parent, a spouse, a friend. Write! Give. Bless.

7 Simple Ideas to Strengthen Your Marriage

I’ve shared recently about ways we injure our spouse without even knowing it. You can read the husband’s post HERE and the wife’s post HERE.

A common request after those posts was I should share ways to strengthen the marriage. I should note I’m hesitant to offer what appears to be therapy by list, because a good marriage is far more than a formula. Actually, all of life is, including leadership. Any area of our life where people are involved – which is pretty much all our life – can never be reduced to 7 steps or 7 suggestions.

Plus, just being honest, it’s always easier to point out the problems than to fix them.

So, you’re naturally wondering, why I share so many lists. I’ve been called the “list king”.

Well, for one, it is the way I think. I also know, however, one reason some enjoy my blog posts is I give lists which people can easily identify with and apply to their own life. finally, lists can be effective. My theory is we can often determine the things which stimulate or encourage outcomes.

Basically, using this idea, I can’t force my marriage to be better. I also can’t change my wife. (Not that she needs changing – but for discussion purposes. I’m likely the one who needs the most changes in our marriage.) But, there are things I can do which can help my marriage improve, and often those things don’t start with my spouse – they start with me – they start with things I do or we do together.

One suggestion someone offered as a way to improve a marriage is to consider the opposite of the ways we injure our spouse. Just take the 7 points in each of the above referenced posts and do the opposite of them. That’s good, but I thought I would add some more. Another list of stimulants.

Do you want to strengthen your marriage? No, there’s not a formula. But, maybe some of these ideas can help.

Here are 7 simple things you can do to strengthen your marriage:

Share calendars

This one certainly seems simple, but it gives Cheryl great comfort to be able to follow my schedule throughout the day. I know many spouses, probably especially some men I know, reject this idea as too intrusive, but for us, it has strengthened our relationship. Cheryl knows who I’m meeting with, what the key stresses of my day are, and usually what time I should be home so we can eat together. (Or if we have dinner plans.)

The bottom line here is Cheryl loves living life with me. For most wives, they go through their day thinking about the people they love. (Not that men don’t, but it’s different for most of us. We tend to think only about the thing we are concentrating on at the time, whether work, our hobby or our family.)

By sharing a calendar there are fewer surprises for Cheryl (and me). Sure, everyday is full of things we didn’t plan, and we can spend the evening talking about those, but it helps us feel a part of each other’s day when we have a general idea of what we are doing.

Want an action step? Spend 30 minutes this weekend sharing each other’s calendars for the next month. This is a seamless process for us now. With Google calendars when I add to my calendar or the person who keeps my work calendar does, it instantly updates for Cheryl to see.

Plan frequent escapes together

Periodically we place an escape on the calendar for a few weeks or a couple months from today. We both live stressful lives and our best times are often when we purposely get away from everything and everyone. It could be for a day trip or a couple days, but we need to know the “catch up” time is coming. The more stressful the season the more this is needed.

One actionn step here is to look a couple months out and plan an escape. Put it on the calendar you now share. Do it today!

Have a date a week – or as often as possible

Once a week is preferable, but I realize this is difficult during certain seasons of life. But, Cheryl and I need time for just us – often. Even as empty-nesters we’ve learned how critical this is for our marriage. We have a tendency to fill our schedules with lots of activities and we need some time to slow down. This goes on our calendar. Every week if possible.

I realize this can get expensive for young couples with children. This is a great place to build relationships in the church with people in a similar place in life. Offer to trade babysitting for babysitting, so both couples can more affordably invest in their marriage.

Here’s an action step – Find one night (or one day) and put it on your calendar for the next couple months as close to once a week as you can – until it becomes a habit. Then keep it there.

Increase communication

Cheryl and I can usually tell when we haven’t been communicating enough. We start to miss details about each other’s lives. We have to repeat ourselves to each other. It’s usually when one or both of us has the heaviest agendas and we are running at full speed. It’s easy to get into routines and have surface conversations. In times like this, we will often discipline ourselves to take a walk together, go for a drive, or even go to the mall together. It takes us away from the routines, phones and television and forces us to simply be together and talk. Communication is the fuel of a healthy marriage.

Again, I hear young couples all the time say they can’t make this work. For Cheryl and I when we were in this stage of life it was usually the last minutes of the day before we turned out the lights, but we were intentional to unpack the day together. If you find time to update Facebook and surf the web – or keep up with your favorite televisions program – you have time to talk. It takes an intentional effort.

Want an action step? Tonight – put your phones down, close the laptop, cut off the television, and for at least 30 minutes, talk. Bonus health points to take a walk together. (If you’re old enough – like us – you can even power walk the mall. 🙂 )

Communicate better

It’s not enough to spend time talking. We’ve got to learn to communicate more effectively. We all need to practice our listening skills and the gestures and body language we use. Often these are heard louder than our words. If you become as conscious of how you are saying something as much as what you say, you’ll find yourself injuring the other person less and causing fewer conflicts. It’s important to ask each other questions which spur deeper discussion and get to the heart of an issue rather than surface talk.

An action step here is to come up with a series of open-ended questions, 3 to 5 total, of things you’re curious about your spouse. (Such as: What’s your favorite memory of our first few dates together? Be creative here. Act like you’re getting to know each other all over again.)

Spend time dreaming together

Dreaming stretches the heart and mind and there’s no one we should dream with more than our spouse. As couples settle into routines, sometimes we stop doing this the way we once did. Dreaming together aligns the couple around shared values and goals.

Here’s an action you can do. Make a dream grid for each of you and for the couple. It can be one grid combined if you prefer. For each spouse and for the marriage, list 2 or 3 dreams you have. If there were no limitations, what would you like to do? Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet? Place this somewhere in your house you’ll see often and discuss them on your date night.

Pray for one another

Did I really have to list this one? But, would you be honest enough to admit almost all of us are weak in the area of prayer at times? And, who more important to pray for than the one with whom we are to be becoming one?

An action step you can do today – Buy a notebook of some kind and make it a prayer booklet. List new prayer requests for your spouse and update old ones at least weekly. Spend a few minutes each day praying for the love of your life.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. No doubt you’ve got your own ideas. Of course, none of these are fool proof. There’s no secret formula to a good marriage. It takes commitment, intentionality and hard work – and two willing people. But, two people working together can take actions which can spur a healthier marriage.

What tips to you have to strengthen a marriage?

Read the comments on THIS POST for some cheap date ideas.

10 Prayers Every Wife Should Pray for Her Husband

Dear Lord,

Please help him to learn and manage healthy balance – between work, family, and play.

Allow him to know his full potential and how much his family believes in him.

Give him confidence in his God-given abilities.

Soften his heart to appreciate and enjoy the things which please you most.

Remove guilt from his life and let him rest in the sufficiency of your grace extended to him.

Give him meaningful friendships with other men who will challenge, encourage, and hold him accountable.

Grant him wisdom to know Your will so he may lead his family and life well.

Supply him with God-given courage to face the challenges which come our way with strength and boldness.

Help him to slow down, enjoy life, and appreciate the little things, which are often proven someday to be the big things.

Grow his love for You and his family daily. Keep him as the apple of your eye.

In Jesus name,

Amen

7 Suggestions When a Good Marriage Isn’t Working

All marriages go through periods where things just aren’t as they should be. It’s a natural occurrence in any relationship involving people. (I suppose this would include most marriages). The stress and pace of life causes tension in the best marriages. Even good marriages suffer at times.

Cheryl and I have had several of those times, usually due to external pressures we did not cause or invite. It could be my work – or hers – or family situations. Outside stress causes tension in the relationship. Things aren’t falling apart. We aren’t questioning our commitment to each other, but we both know things aren’t working as well as they should be. We are having more miscommunication, we are more tense in our reaction to each other, or we may just feel we are passing each other through our days, not connecting as well as we usually do. Thankfully, we’ve always been intentional during those times.

Those times are usually seasonal and they happen in most every marriage. This appears especially true in the earlier years of the marriage, but we shouldn’t be surprised if they happen later in a marriage either. When major changes in the marriage or in life occur, such as children moving out of the house, loss of job, or other serious trauma, marriages can struggle for a time. That’s normal.

Those periods can last a week, a few weeks, or a month or more. It isn’t that the couple doesn’t love each other, or even that they want out of the marriage, but that they just aren’t on the same page as much as they should be. The key in those times isn’t to panic, but to intentionally work to restore total health to the marriage.

Has your marriage ever been there?

During these times the way a couple responds is critically important to the long-term strength of the marriage. Ignoring these times – or pretending they don’t exist – could have disastrous consequences.

Here are 7 suggestions for those seasons of marriage:

Communicate

It is especially important during stressful seasons you keep talking, to each other and to God. Even when it’s awkward to do so keep the lines of communication open. Admit where you are in the marriage. Again, this may hurt for a time, but it’s better to be honest now than to allow the marriage to fall apart or slip further from health later. You may need to schedule times to talk – timing is important – but don’t neglect this one.

Stay close

Keep doing things together. Sleep in the same bed. Find times to do special activities. Have regular date nights. Talk. This will help protect your heart from wandering. You must not let the tension of the times become a wedge between you. This includes letting other people – friends, coworkers, in-laws, parents, even children – should not intefere in the closeness you share with your spouse. Protect the integrity of your relationship. At one time you would have probably considered yourselves best friends. Rekindle those days.

Discipline yourself

There will be times when you are tempted to say the wrong things or treat your spouse unkindly. It will require discipline to do the right thing, and say the right thing, but it will help protect the marriage. Here’s where you may have to use the Spirit of God’s strength working in you. Before you start to say something you may regret – whisper a prayer asking for God’s help.

I always suggest this question. Would you let other people talk to your spouse the way you are talking to them?

Get help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and, don’t wait until things are beyond repair to do so. Even the best marriages need some at times. This may be counseling, meeting with Christian friends you trust, or doing a Bible study together, but it is important you invite someone to speak into your life. This is an investment in your marriage which may help you get to a new level of trust and intimacy you’ve never experienced – or haven’t experienced in a while.

Of course, the greatest help you can get is from the Creator of marriage. Now is a time to grow your relationship with God individually and as a couple.

Learn

There are always principles to strengthen your marriage that can be learned during these times. Cheryl and I have learned, for example, that during especially stressful periods we have to be more intentional with our marriage. You may need to learn how to communicate better, how to handle conflict, or how to dream together again. This is a great season to do some of those things. It’s also a good idea to surround yourself with people in stronger marriages – maybe even find an older, mature couple to mentor you in marriage. (This is usually not parents. You need more objective voices.)

Be Patient

When you are in a “season” you’ll want change immediately, but relationships don’t work that way. Chances are it will take longer than you expect or want it to take to get through this period. Be patient. A good marriage is worth it.

Hang on

This may be the most important. Don’t give up! Renew your commitment to the marriage and each other. These seasons won’t last forever if you continue to work on your marriage. Be committed enough to your marriage to stick with it until this season passes. Every marriage can be restored and improved with two parties working together – especially if you are intentional and do something before things get desperate.

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about times of abuse, neglect, affairs, or severe marriage issues. I’m speaking of times when the marriage just isn’t as much fun anymore. This is also when both spouses still want the marriage to work and are willing to work at making the marriage better. If any of those more serious issues are occurring, get serious help immediately.

You might also read my post “Making Marriage Fun Again“.

Again, have you been there?

Help others out. How did your marriage survive through a stressful time in marriage?

4 Ways to Keep Your Marriage from being Injured During the Holidays

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a couple after the holidays because of problems developed – or were exaggerated – between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? Sounds like a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to keep your marriage from being injured during the Christmas season?

Plan a budget together.

Agree upon how much you are going to spend – and, stick to it. This may require compromise. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. A good principle is don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your family first.

Even if it means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. Have time together as a family. (For years we did this wrong and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and they could voice that they wanted more time with just us that we started to scale back our schedule.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time before you spend your time anywhere this holiday season. You may have to support each other with the other spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.) This doesn’t mean your decision will be popular or that it won’t be challenged, but your children will only be children for a few short years.

Build traditions which help build the family.

We often get distracted by things which matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter or annually letting Linus from Charlie Brown’s Christmas remind you of the true meaning of Christmas as you watch it together. The baby, who is a Savior, has been born – He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas – the real Christmas – and you’ll enjoy it even more.

When tension is outside don’t let it reign inside.

The Christmas season can be so busy. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. It seems emotions run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. It can lead to tense relations. There’s often tension in the stores and on the streets and in someone’s kitchen. Decide now nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple and as a family. Make this a celebration season which grows your heart stronger as a couple and a home.

Just a few suggestions. Any you have?

How to Correctly Identify Constructive Criticism

Organizations, churches, and societies need this...

Constructive:

Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.

Criticism:

The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

Constructive Criticism

You’ve heard the term. As a leader, I hear it all the time.

If you’re a leader then you’ve certainly had people offer criticism. Some even say they are just giving “constructive criticism”. Or, they believe so at the time.

Most of my pastor friends have heard, “Pastor, let me give you a little constructive criticism” — (Sometimes just as they are about to deliver the weekly message. 🙂 )

So, what does “constructive criticism” mean?

I’m thinking we often misuse the phrase.

And, it’s not just with leaders. It’s in every phase of life. I think it’s a societal issue. It’s even on social media. We think we are offering “constructive criticism” when we update our Facebook status or Tweet about our service with an airline or a restaurant or a school system – for example. Or anywhere else we feel a need to criticize for some reason. We may not label it that way, but I’m convinced it’s what we think we are doing – offering constructive criticism.

In reality, I’ve learned that phrase – constructive criticism – is sometimes just a nice way to say, “I have a personal complaint about a personal issue, but it will make me sound less self-serving and more justified if I label it (maybe just in my mind) as constructive criticism.”

I have been thinking about the term lately – even as I might use it personally.

First, let me be clear, I’m not down on constructive criticism. I think it’s good. And, often needed.

Using the definition (serving a useful purpose; tending to build up) constructive criticism serves a place within any organization – even the church. It can, by definition, help us all.

There is a place for constructive criticism.

But, how can we make sure the criticism we offer is actually constructive?

And, what is it actually? I think this is the bigger issue.

How do we know when it is “constructive criticism”?

And, how can we give constructive criticism to others?

By definition, here are 7 indicators of constructive criticism:

It builds up the body or organization for everyone,

It’s helpful for the good of the entire vision. Everyone can benefit from constructive criticism.

It is not self-serving.

This is a huge one. Constructive criticism doesn’t seek a merely personal gain. Scripture makes humility an ideal, encourages unity among believers and commands us to consider others better than ourselves – even to pray for our enemies.

It offers suggestions for improvement.

I’m not saying it does every time. Sometimes we just know something is wrong, but this would certainly be an indicator the criticism is actually constructive (again, simply by definition).

It creates useful dialogue.

And, here again, this may not happen every time, but if conversation can lead to the benefit of everyone, then it could be an indicator of being constructive – it helps build – construct.

It affirms others or the vision.

As I understand the terms, constructive criticism would never tear down the overarching goals and objectives of the body or organization. This would seem to contradict the definition. Criticism might, but not constructive criticism.

It can be realistically implemented or discussed.

I’m just working with the term and definition here, so if the criticism is an impossibility – would never work – then it seems to me it isn’t “serving a useful purpose”. (Extreme example: I once had someone criticize my allowance of phones in the worship center. They thought I should be like a school teacher and take them up at the door. Okay…)

It is not overly divisive.

Constructive criticism serves to build up – not tear down, so to meet the definition it must not divide people as much as it at least makes an attempt to bring people together around common values and vision. Of course, this is not always possible. It’s near impossible to get everyone to agree on anything, but constructive criticism doesn’t seem to be the type criticism which would splinter the groups opinions or divide people extensively.

This may simply be my personal rambling thoughts on the issue – maybe it’s not even constructive, but I’m all for offering better criticism. Constructive criticism seems like a better societal way to go.

There may be a need for non-constructive or destructive criticism sometime. Jesus cleared the temple this way. We may need to clear some things. If so, let’s deconstruct.

But, all I’m saying is – if we are going to attempt to constructively criticize constructive criticism should live up its name.

The Biggest Mistake of My Life

I hope you learn from my error...

One of our boys has always been such a deep thinker. When he was 3 years old, watching a movie with him was a chore, because he would analyze every aspect of the plot. We would try to explain to him it was only a cartoon, without a ton of hidden meanings, but it was never enough. Even today he’s the analyzer of life. He asks the deep questions.

Personally, he takes after me (although he’s much deeper than I am). I’m a questioner too – and believe it’s been a help to me in life, ministry and leadership.

The best questions get the best answers.

So it was not surprising when one day – he was an early teenager – seemingly out of nowhere Nate asked, Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?”

I didn’t have to think long.

We had owned a very successful, fast-growing business. We stood to make lots of money in the years ahead. We sold that business to buy another. It was devastating. If it could go wrong it did.

Although it’s a very long story and we felt we were doing the right thing at the time, it proved to be a very painful five year experience until we sold the business, basically walking away with nothing and starting over again financially.

I told Nate (we call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying the other business was obviously the biggest mistake of my life.

Nate countered quickly, “Yea, but you’ve said you probably would have never surrendered to ministry had that experience not occurred.

You’re right,” I replied. “I was too busy chasing a dream. God worked it for good. But, that was definitely my biggest mistake in life.”

As I said, I’m an analyzer too, so several days later, while I was in a time of prayer, Nate’s question came to my mind. I decided to ask God about it. In my prayer, I remember saying something such as, “God, why did you allow me to make the biggest decision of my life? I would have followed you if you had made it clear. Why couldn’t you let me do it another way? That was such a difficult time in our life.

(It was one of those rare pity parties I had with God. Don’t be afraid to have them. He understands.)

God seemed to interrupt me before I could continue. Now please understand, I have never heard God audibly. I’d love to say He speaks to me everyday, but, there have been a few times where I am certain I heard the impression of God on my heart – where I know God “spoke” clearly to me. This was one of those times.

(As a side note, these times will always line up with truth from God’s word. God will never contradict Himself.)

Anyway, I sensed God say, “Ron (I’m so glad He knows my name), your biggest mistake was not buying that business.”

I was surprised. I figured it must not be God to hear such a reply. So, I snapped back, almost as if I was sarcastically speaking to my own false thoughts, “Oh really, well then what was the biggest mistake of my life? Because I can’t think of one bigger.”

God interrupted again.

“Ron, your biggest mistake was following your will in your life and not mine.”

And, God was silent.

Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions. And, God apparently had nothing else to say.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life – including my wife, but I had ignored them – continually replying we are all “called to ministry”. I resisted the surrender to vocational ministry for many years.

God’s counsel that morning has proven true so many times, as I reflect back over my life and the decisions I have made. The greatest failures in my life always seem to be a result of when I do what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do.

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.

9 Suggestions for Winning Back The Heart Of Your Wife

In working with marriages in distress I’ve discovered most men have injured the women in their life emotionally, at least at some level. To understand how this can happen one needs to first understand one of the ways men and women are usually different. Most men are predominantly thinking beings – they receive and process experiences in life in a predominately rational and logical way. If someone says something which offends a man he will accept or dismiss it based on whether it is true.

Most women are different. Women are usually more in tune with their emotions. They are often more relationally aware. When life happens to them their dominant reaction is often to respond emotionally first. When someone hurts a woman’s feelings, for example, even though the information they receive may be false, it takes them longer to work through the feelings associated with the emotional injury. 

(Of course both of these two paragraphs are general statements, but they ring true for most men and women.) I would contend though – every woman’s heart is injured to a certain extent. (And, fairly, probably every man’s.) Sometimes this injury occurs gradually over time. Sometimes it comes suddenly through serious breaches in the marriage trust.

The heart, speaking in terms of the seat of our emotions, was created much like other parts of the body. When a finger is broken the body is designed to instantly start to heal and protect itself from further injury. When a person takes a swing at you your natural reaction is to put your hands up in defense.

The same is true of the heart. When a person’s heart is injured, it goes into a self-protective mode to keep it from further injury. Over time, after years of injury, the heart becomes almost calloused, refusing to allow anyone to injure the heart again. A woman who has had years of emotional injury doesn’t have much heart left to give to anyone, but especially to the one who has done the injury. She has closed off her heart to keep from being hurt anymore.

Most men enjoy trying to “fix” problems, but men cannot fix their wife’s emotions. Emotions are not repaired as easily as one could fix a leaking faucet or program a computer. So what is a man to do if he feels his wife’s heart is injured? How do you heal a broken heart? 

Of course, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He can come in, erase all the pain, and make the heart brand new. Most of the time, however, at least in my experience, He lets us wrestle with life’s heartache while we learn to better love one another.

The following steps are designed for a man to help heal his wife’s heart. This post developed when a pastor came to me with a horrible story of his wife’s sexual abuse as a child. Even today she struggles to trust any man, including her husband. I gave him this advice.

Here are 9 suggestions for winning back the heart of your wife:

Seek God

Whatever draws you closer to God is a good thing — and will make you a better man, regardless of what happens with your marriage. When you are attempting to rekindle your wife’s love, use this time to develop and strengthen your relationship with God. It starts, as all relationships with God begin, through a recognition of who Christ is and your belief in Him. Start there and grow.

Practice patience.

The first thing men need to do is to recognize restoring a broken heart will not happen overnight. Emotions heal very slowly. Steps should begin to restore an injured heart or to rebuild the marriage, but men should not expect too much too soon.

Love your wife

This is by far their greatest need. Most wives have their love need unmet. The standard for our love is perfection, since a man is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. As imperfect men we will actually never love our wife enough. The wife knows, however, when the husband’s attention is somewhere else. Many men sacrifice their marriage for their careers or other interests. A wife’s love need is new every day. A wife needs to know that she is second only to God in her husband’s affections. 

I have found for my love for my Cheryl to grow I need Christ’s help. I pray for this often.

Romance her

Every woman has a certain need for romance. Many wives had a fairy tale idea of marriage when they were growing up. They realize early in marriage this isn’t reality, but their need for occasional romance remains. Most men rarely know how to do this. A man should be genuine, but should recognize and value the uniqueness of his wife and find ways to give her romance. 

I gave my wife a “romantic” trip to New York City for Christmas one year. We were going to dance, walk through Central Park, and just enjoy each other. It didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned it, but I earned huge points in the romance category with my wife.

Value words

When a man comes home and says “This house is a mess”, being a mostly factual being, that’s probably all he meant. He looked around, made a physical observation, and stated a factual conclusion. The wife, however, probably did not receive the information that way. The wife most likely heard lots of negative information, such as, “You have done nothing all day”, or maybe even, “I don’t like you.” This sounds impossible to most guy’s rational minds, but with emotions receiving information anything could be heard, whether it was the intended response or not. Men need to learn how to be gentle with their wives and the words they use.  

One question I ask men, “Would you let another man talk to your wife the way you talk to her?”

Communicate on her terms

Many women communicate best heart to heart – not head to head.  A man should allow his wife to see his heart. He should be willing to be vulnerable with her. Men may need to ask their wives to help them learn how to say things to her. Men cannot talk to their wives as they would their guy friends. Women require understanding, compassion, openness and honesty in communication.

Give constant assurance

Trust is an important need for a woman in relationships. The wife needs to know that her husband is going to be faithful. Men should not take offense, for example, when their wife asks details about their schedule or the activities of their day. The wife desires to be a partner in her husband’s life and these details help her provide trust and security in the relationship. A man should also tell his wife frequently he loves her and is committed to her. She needs this consistent assurance.

Learn to Live by Truth

Ultimately life cannot be lived strictly by emotions. We need truth. Emotions are often unreliable. A woman who feels unloved may be very much loved by her family, but she fails to feel that truth because of years of emotional abuse. Men should gently, but consistently speak truth in love, reminding his wife of her worth, her beauty, and her place in his life. Over time – truth, when given with love, can help heal damaged emotions.

Keep doing it!

The heart is damaged over years and years of injury. Sadly many women have deep and tragic heart wounds, but much of this injury will have been unintentionally delivered and small in terms of the magnitude of the incident. Years of emotional injury builds up in the heart until the heart becomes closed.  The erasing of the pain will happen just as it was developed – a little bit at a time. The husband cannot try this for a week and then stop. Protecting a woman’s heart must become a lifestyle.

Recently I was talking with a man whose wife is experience deep depression. As I talked with this man it became apparent that, though probably unknowingly, he had been damaging his wife’s heart for years. He cannot seem to understand why his wife is so emotional; “Everything seems to upset her”, he said. The man told me he had tried to help her through her problems and everything they had going against them he could “fix” if she would let him. I am not sure I could have ever convinced this man his attempts at “repair” were probably one of the chief causes of his wife’s broken heart.

Most men tell me they don’t know how to be who their wife needs them to be or wants them to be. I believe if we want to win back the heart of our wife we may need to learn how. It’s never too late to begin!