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Monday, June 13, 2016

Feeding your soul is just as important as feeding your body.

Face it, we are all too busy. There isn't time enough for all the "have to's" much less time for the optional enriching pleasures of life.

You take time to feed your body, because you'll die if you don't. But did you know that you also need to take time to feed your soul? Did you even know that was a thing? Trust me, it is. It's an important thing. To me it's just as important as feeding your body.

If you don't feed your soul, it will become sick and withered, just as your body would if you neglected to feed it for too long.

What Makes You You

I've heard a lot of people express opinions about the differences between heart, soul, flesh, spirit, etc. I'm not a theological expert, and I don't really want to dig deep into Greek and Hebrew definitions, but to me, in simplest terms, I think of your soul as the essence of who you are: your intellect, your personality, your quirks, your likes and dislikes, your emotional constitution, your aspirations and dreams.

Despite what some may say, I don't think the soul is inherently evil or good. It's clear from the Bible that your soul can be influenced positively or negatively. Obviously we want to feed our souls with good stuff.  It's important not to just ignore your soul as being "non-spiritual," because when you do, you will gradually become less and less who you really are. When lose touch with what makes us feel alive, our souls wither.

Ten Ways to feed your soul

So how can we tend our souls in a positive way? Of course there is the important aspect to keep our souls in submission to the Holy Spirit. I'll touch on that more in another post, but there are also ways to feed your soul that aren't inherently "spiritual."  (Side note: in actuality, everything is spiritual, but that's for later).

Here are ten ways I came up with to keep your soul healthy:
  1. The Beauty of God's Creation - Jenni and I have discovered that we need to regularly look on natural beauty. For us that often means renting a cabin in the mountains with a beautiful mountain view. The photo above is from a recent trip to California, where we got to enjoy lots of beautiful sights.
  2. Contemplate Other Kinds of Beauty - Beauty is not just found in nature. For some beauty may be found in art or in a cityscape. Find the kind of beauty that brings you alive and make sure you regularly spend time gazing upon it.
  3. Music that Touches Something Inside You - Music has a way of touching our souls in a powerful way. While many of us enjoy music as we rush from here to there, how often do you delibertely still  yourself and really listen? Try it.
  4. Exercise Your Brain - If you love to learn, take time to stimulate your mind. Visit a museum. Study the history of a region or country. Read up on a topic that interests you. Listen to a TED talk.
  5. Tickle your Funny Bone - Laughter is good for your soul. When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably?
  6. Relax - I'm a driven person, and sometimes have to make a real effort to truly relax. While you are doing any of these things to feed your soul, try to turn off your mental to-do list or worry about all the things are not getting done while you are feeding your soul.
  7. Play a Game - Jenni and I have found a board game that we really enjoy together. It's the right mix of strategy and luck that we both like playng it. There is something about a physical game (as opposed to an electronic one) that feeds our souls differently.  And it's something we can do together.
  8. Create Something - I have several creative hobbies (songwriting and woodworking) that I no longer have time for (or perhaps I should say no longer make time for). How about you? Maybe it's time to figure out how we can regularly make room for at least a little of creativity.
  9. Enjoy a Meal With Good Friends - I'm not really a foodie, but I do like to eat and drink a good beer. And a meal is a good way to connect with friends as a couple.
  10. Make a Difference - Is there a cause you feel strongly about? Doing something for others that makes a difference is a great way to bring your soul to life.

Do any of these strike a chord with you? Are there other things you do to feed your soul? Can you do at least some of these together as a couple? Let us hear how you feed your soul. Leave a comment.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Never stop working toward deeper intimacy!

I posted another popular intimacy post, Choosing the Path of Intimacy, in a Friday Favorite a few months ago. Below is another top twenty post from that same series on intimacy.

From the original post "Intimacy - As Much as You Want."

This is the fifth in my series on choices that lead to The Path of Intimacy. Go here to see where this started and to get a complete list of the related posts in this series.

Would it offend you if I told you that you can have as much intimacy in your marriage as you want? I know it’s a risky statement. And I know there will always be exceptions, such as a spouse who is ill-willed, abusive and/or unwilling to put anything into the marriage.

But in general, I believe two things about intimacy
  1. You can have as much or as little intimacy in your marriage as you want.
  2. There’s always more.
How Much Do You Want It?

There’s an important companion question to the question of how much intimacy do you want. How much do you want it?

Intimacy is organic, a living thing. So if you want it to grow then you have to feed it. A lot.

Left untended, the natural track of intimacy is decline. The Path of Separation, as I call it, is an easy one, and to some extent it is the path of human nature. It is easy and natural for you each choose to focus on your selves, your own needs, your own fulfillment and satisfaction. If you choose to live mostly self-focused and self-protected, intimacy will eventually wither and die.

The Path of Intimacy, on the other hand, takes deliberate choice, or should I say deliberate choices. Lots of them.

I believe that optimally there’s a progression of sorts on The Path of Intimacy, as I’ve said before. It starts with spiritual intimacy, which enables and deepens intimacy in the realm of the soul (emotional and intellectual intimacy), all of which culminates in the ultimate act of intimacy, sexual.

There can be breakdowns or issues anywhere along the way. If it is more sexual intimacy you are after, look back to spiritual and emotional intimacy for issues that need to be addressed. Are spiritually connected? Do you pray together and talk about your spiritual lives regularly? How are you doing with emotionally intimacy? Are you willing to be “naked without shame” in the realm of the soul? Are you transparent with your spouse and intellectually honest? Do you express love in the way your spouse wants it to be expressed? Husbands, do you cherish, protect and nurture your wife? Wives, do you show your husband the kind of respect and admiration he seeks?

How much are you willing to invest to get the kind of intimacy you want?

There’s Always More

Regardless of where you are on the Path of Intimacy, there is always further to go. I purposefully use the word “journey” to describe the lifelong pursuit of deeper marital intimacy. It never stops. Or at least it doesn’t need to.

If you are feeling stalled or even if you are feeling like you have maximized the intimacy you enjoy with your spouse, ask yourself whether you have stopped investing in it. There is always more you can do to stretch yourself and your marriage in ways that enhance intimacy.

Again, I encourage you to look broadly up and down the path for opportunities to grow intimacy. In your sex life, how often do initiate things? Do you try out new ideas or seek new adventures in physical intimacy? As for intellectual intimacy, have you considered learning a new hobby together, taking dancing lessons, researching and visiting a new country, or jointly getting involved in a worthy cause? Is the emotional intimacy between you still growing, or have you decided you already know everything about each other there is to know? In your spiritual life, think about reading a good book the would spur you to spiritual growth, joining a small group or getting involved in a ministry.

Each area of intimacy feeds the other, so as the two of you continue to learn how to live your “one flesh” union, make sure that intimacy is thriving and growing in your whole beings: spirits, souls and bodies.

Focus on Your Part

There’s a strong temptation when dealing with the area of intimacy to play the blame game. It’s easy to blame our spouse for the lack we feel in the intimacy department. While the truth is that maximum intimacy is only achieved when you are both work at it diligently, it is also true that you can only change you.

Of course I encourage honest, open, and non-defensive expression of needs and desires. After all, your partner can’t possibly satisfy and delight you (which should be their primary focus) if he or she doesn’t know what you want and need. But truthfully, most of your effort should be focused on what you can do in your role as husband or wife to enhance intimacy. What are you doing to satisfy and delight your wife or husband? Where are his or her needs going unfulfilled?

If at all possible, and this is where it gets really hard, do the things you know you should do to enhance intimacy without the expectation of getting something in return. You want to avoid the mentality of “giving to get” and instead think in terms of “giving to bless.” This is the way of selfless and unconditional love.

Where are you on the Path of Intimacy? How much more do you want? And what are you willing to do to get it?

Monday, May 23, 2016

If time is the currency of relationships, is your marriage rich or poor?

Nothing can refresh the climate of your marriage more than spending time together.
My wife and I just spent a week in northern California together visiting our daughter and my wife's sister. Even though we were visiting with family, we purposefully arranged a few days of couple time for just the two of us. Coming in advance of a season of business travel ahead for me, it was wonderfully refreshing to have that whole week together plus those few days alone.

We are returning as I write this, feeling closer for the time we've been able to spend together.

I wrote last month about how there are great reasons to Intentionally Create Significant Memories together.  I understand that not everyone can take an extended trip like we just enjoyed. We are greatly appreciating the freedom these empty nest years are affording us!

But time together doesn't have to mean big trips.

A Daily Dose of Togetherness

In truth, I actually think that time together every day spent in genuine connection is even more important in sustaining your marriage than monumental trips you take every once in a great while.

It can be hard to prioritize one-on-one time on a daily basis. Life can be crazy busy, especially when there are young kids in the house. I get that. Even as empty-nesters, my wife and I still have to work hard to maintain our connection on a daily basis. As I've said before, it is really easy to put your marriage on auto-pilot.

Autopilot is easy. It's also dangerous.

What About Me-Time?

When life is crazy and stressful, I understand the pull of just wanting a little "me time."  If you have young kids, when the little ones are finally down for the night, it's natural to want to vegetate with the TV or a good book. Time together can seem like another demand - another thing on your overwhelming list. Same goes for when you work a demanding job that tends to suck the life out of you.

But, as important as taking care of yourself is, it's also necessary to sacrifice some of your "me time" for the sake of keeping your marriage strong. Don't think of your marriage as something on your to do list. You and your spouse are one. There is nothing else on your to do list that you can say that about.

Time is the currency of relationships, and when you neglect time together it will leave your marriage feeling deprived and depleted. On the other hand, if you prioritize keeping your marriage strong by staying intimately connected to your spouse, it will actually energize you to do the rest of your life!

Learn to Say No

Chronic busyness has become epidemic. We tend to load up every minute in a frantic attempt to "do it all," and we leave no margin. Further, we often don't leave room for the most important relationship we have: the one with our spouse.

Somehow we think "He/She loves me, he'll/she'll understand how things are. We will find time later." The problem is that later doesn't usually happen either, because we get stuck in our crazy-busy habit.

Don't relegate your marriage to leftovers. Truthfully, there isn't usually anything left over after you are done pouring yourself into all that you have signed yourself up for (or allowed other to sign you up for).

Bob Goff (author of "Love Does") quits something every Thursday. I love that idea. Maybe weekly is a bit extreme, but what if we regularly examined our lives in order to prune away the excess activities we've accumulated that don't line up with our piroirites?

What can you quit this week? What are you spending your time and energy on that God has not called you to? What are you willing to cut back on for the sake of improving the climate in your marriage through regular time together?

Do you have any tips on how you manage to get regular time together with your spouse? Share you thoughts in a comment

If you identify with the problem of living with no margin in your crazy-busy life, here is a great book: Margin, by Richard Swenson,

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives

(aff link)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Prayer invites the atmosphere of heaven into your marriage.

When I pray for my wife, three things are happening at once (and probably more). The first is that I'm inviting God's involvement and intervention with regard to whatever I'm praying for her about. The second is that it makes me feel closer to her as I'm joining her in whatever is going on in her life. Third, my wife says it makes her feel covered and protected.

All of these have the power to affect the climate of our marriage.

Heaven's Intervention

Whether I'm praying for healing, for peace, for our marriage or for God's blessing on my wife and children, I'm inviting God to intervene on her behalf. I'm agreeing with heaven.

God is a good Father. He longs to give good gifts to His children. Jesus is also an excellent Bridegroom, who gave us the example of going to the Father on behalf of His bride. Prayer is just our way of agreeing with God's goodness and inviting His participation with us.

Heavens Atmosphere

Prayer also helps me to see things from God's perspective. It's always amazing how my thinking shifts from an earthly to a heavenly perspective when I start to offer things up in prayer.

By shifting my thinking, I am actually changing my mindset and thereby helping to shift the atmosphere in my life, marriage and home to line up the the Kingdom of Heaven.

Prayer As Conversation

You don't need a bunch of theological training to pray. You don't have to jump through any spiritual hoops or even clean up all the sin in your life. God invites us to come to him as we are.

I think sometime the most powerful prayers are the simplest ones; when we come to God and pour out our hearts in sincere conversation.  God really likes that.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
So don't disqualify yourself from praying. Jesus has qualified you to approach Him with confidence. You don't have to do anything but come.

So come to God freely and frequently, and pray for your spouse.  Just watch as the climate in your heart and in marriage change for the better. 

How has prayer affected the climate of your marriage? Leave a comment and let us know.

Previous Climate Change Posts:
  1. Affirmation
  2. Kindness
Next up in Climate Change: Time Together

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kindness is like a warm tropical breeze blowing through your marriage.

Love is kind. At least that's how the Bible talks about love in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter.
It's surprisingly easy to let a pattern of unkindness seep into your marriage. Little annoyances become big ones over time. Unmet needs cause bitterness to settle in. Even if unkindness doesn't characterize your marriage, would you and your spouse specifically describe each other as kind?

I'm not sure I have always appreciated the power of kindness to change the climate of my marriage. I used to be a lot more focused on myself, my circumstances and what I was getting from my wife. All of these affected my happiness and in turn, the amount of kindness I expressed.

When things were going well and I was happy, kindness came pretty easily. But if I was stressed or not feeling like my wife was doing all the things I thought she should to make me happy, I could easily let my pricklies come out. I think I treated kindness like a kind of reward. If I felt kindly, then fine, I'd be kind. If not, then frankly, I could be pretty unpleasant to be around.

Over the years, however, I've discovered that the cool thing about kindness is that isn't really all that difficult or costly. Regardless of whether I'm "feeling it" or not, all it takes is a little bit of awareness and intentionality.

Show a Little Kindness

Kindness doesn't need to come in the form of grand gestures. Here are a few small, simple ways to show kindness to your spouse.

Smile - Even after almost 33 years of marriage, my wife's smile still melts me to the core. Fortunately, she smiles easily and often. There is a look in her eyes when she smiles at me with kindness and love that warms my heart. You can do the same for your spouse.

Touch - Touch ranks high on my love language list. Same for my wife. But even if your primary love language doesn't include physical touch, it's still a powerful act of kindness. Sit close together, knees and thighs touching. Hold hands while you walk. Lightly touch your spouse's arm or the hair on his or her neck. Give a gentle back or neck massage. When we touch our brain releases Oxycontin, a powerful bonding chemical.

Encouragement - When kindness is lacking in your marriage, words of encouragement can go a long way to cause a shift. Text your spouse short bits of encouragement throughout the day.  "I love you."  "I'm praying for you." "Thanks for last night [wink]."  Make a phone call just to check in and say you were thinking about your spouse. Put a post-it note on your spouse's mirror with a kind thought, a word of appreciation or an encouraging scripture verse.

Sift Your Tone - Research suggests that more information is received by how you say something than by the words you use. Sure, words are important but your tone probably does more to convey kindness (or the opposite) than you realize. I know when I'm tired or stressed, I sometimes have an edginess to my tone that can convey things I don't intend to my wife. It's at these times I have to be more aware of how I'm saying things. It's not always easy. It helps to watch  your spouse's reaction to what you say in order to detect that you've sent unintended meaning by your tone or words. Be willing to admit it and make it right.

Grace - Our natural reaction to unkindness (intentional or not) is to react with unkindness in return. After all, we feel justified. The problem is that this only ups the ante in the discord and causes an escalation in the conflict, inviting more unkindness. But when we react with grace and forgiveness, it will deescalate the conflict and inject positive direction in the conversation. As I often say, grace is an invitation to intimacy. I'm not suggesting you allow your spouse to walk all over you, but I've observed that a lot of the unkindness in marriage is unintentional, so start with that assumption.

The Climate Changing Power of Kindness

Here's the coolest thing of all about kindness: when I'm in a funk of some kind, being kind toward my wife actually helps to lift me out of it. Yes, intentional kindness actually changes the climate of my marriage, of our home and in, in turn, within myself.

Further, when I'm having a hard time for whatever reason and my wife extends kindness to me in the face of my prickliness, it often melts off those prickles.

Want to take the chill out of the air of your marriage? Try intentionally blowing a little kindness into your relationship and watch things warm up!

What other simple ways have you and your spouse found to show kindness to each other? Leave a comment and share your ideas.

PS  In case you missed it, Part 1 of my Climate Change series is about the power of Affirmation.

Next Climate Changer: Prayer

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