I’m finally getting around to reflecting on an enlightening talk from September 12, 2007 at our local CAPS meeting. John Norris challenged a group of counselors in the Dallas area to “explore the importance of investing in relationships to enhance diverse communications.” He delivered both depth and breadth. I’ll elaborate more in another blog post about his synthesis and assessment of wide disparities that could pull our society apart. Thanks to Alvinette McCleave for all the photos in the video and for connecting us to John Norris. I came away personally with a reinforced notion of how poorly we handle differences. Furthermore, we can base intense polarizations on the smallest of differences. Six “big differences” that can distance us from others are Age (which I am getting a lot of), Race (of course), Ethnicity (which is different from Race), Gender, Physical Abilities, and Affectional Orientation. Eight ‘secondary dimensions of diversity” are Work Background, Income, Marital Status, Military Experience, Religious Beliefs, Geographic Location, Parental Status, and Education. Reflecting on these dimensions made me sad to think how much any one of them can trigger distance and negative judgment of others. I would like to think that we could make our differences work together (like gears) to accomplish so much more and experience life so much more richly. Then I open the front page of the newspaper.
I love this picture. Kudos to Hobby Lobby for the courage to print this full page add in this morning’s paper. They got it right. The Savior was born. We need to be saved because we are naturally not right with God. He was born as a human being so he could take on our sins (which separate us from God). He was born divine so he could pay the price for purchasing our salvation. He was born to die that we might live — spiritually, eternally, united with Him. What mercy. What grace. What love. I’m deeply moved with gratitude this Christmas morning.
In my previous post, I asked the question, “What is the key to a marriage that is long lasting as well as satisfying?” Here are some ideas of mine that I had included in that post, but my wife thought it was too long. Clearly, if we treat marriage like a marketplace commodity, we will soon experience what Dr. Becker referred to as the “mean reduction,” that addictive treadmill that keeps us searching for more satisfaction and happiness. I think Christianity provides the ultimate model of investing in another person. This investment involves at least three things: commitment plus sacrificial devotion to another person plus total personal surrender to our God.
I’m reading David Instone-Brewer’s book on the Bible’s treatment of the contract of marriage. Contracts are those agreements that nail down commitment. In his book, he describes binding covenant agreements, or contracts, with strong negative consequences for breaking the conditions. In another article, George Mendenhall defines an oath as “a conditional self-cursing.” That is to say, “If I fail to uphold my commitment, I subject myself to several specified negative consequences.” But we need to carry a god-like level of commitment into our marriages to get us through the painful tough times. God expresses his commitment to us in passages like Ezekiel 16:60. After chastising his people of Jerusalem for their unfaithfulness, he says “Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” In the New Testament, we are reminded “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5, a quote from His assuring words to both Moses and Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:5). God Himself is our model of commitment. But commitment does not mean simply repeating the same things over and over again for many years. commitment requires an involved patience that is creative and active.
Our Lord Jesus Christ models devotion for the care of another person. He said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 1:45). Marriage is designed to be a workplace for that kind of sacrificial giving for the benefit of another. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, . . .” (Ephesians 5:25-26). Very few people seek counseling because they want to learn better ways to contribute to the well being of their spouse. Most often, they come because they are miserable in their unhappiness. Sometimes it’s about selfishness; other times it’s about not knowing what to do that’s new.
Our personal surrender is a relational dependency on God captured in the metaphor of a branch’s relational dependence on the vine. As such, the branch dies if severed from the vine. Connected, it prospers. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4). Doing your best isn’t enough. It’s about praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower you so your efforts are driven by something beyond your will. I think we need to recognize that God not only continues after our limited efforts fail, but He also causes those efforts that we can do to be effective.
I think these three characteristics of spiritual relationship need to be added to the pursuit of happiness at the economic level to provide fulfillment and happiness that does not go flat, but keep going and growing. Yes, we need a return on our investment or else we run dry. But we need to learn that need and resource must be reciprocal experiences within an intimate relationship with another person and with God.
I am always fascinated by the overlap of one field of study with another. Often, principles that apply in one field are wonderful illustrations that clarify those in another field. Dr. Gary S. Becker, a professor of Economics and Sociology at the University of Chicago, was recently interviewed by two investment advisers, Jim Whiddon and Lance Alston, on a local Dallas radio show called The Investing Revolution. You can hear the whole interview by clicking here. In the discussion of Human Capital he linked finance to psychology in a way that did not demean either but rather, enhanced areas of overlap.
Concerning happiness, he referred to “mean reduction” which says that happiness reverts back to the mean or average level, so we need more and more to make us happy. For example, we buy a large house with a beautiful view only to get used to it in a short time. Then we want to buy a bigger house with a better view to increase our level of happiness. Lance clarified that people and places last longer than things. So those who seek happiness in “things” are most likely to exhaust themselves on the addictive treadmill of pursuing more things that quickly lose their charge. So from the point of view of an economist, investing in people provides happiness with staying power. This is good news for me, a former “loner” who now delights in connecting with people.
Dr. Becker even extended his principles to marriage, emphasizing how single people look for human qualities like education, compatible values, etc. in choosing a mate. From a theological and psychological point of view, I can see some overlap of issues in what he would call supply/demand and resource/need. While he was emphasizing the importance of including human factors in the otherwise impersonal aspects of the science and numbers of economics, I can see how we get into trouble when spouses treat the relationship like a commodity whose function is primarily a resource for personal happiness. Like a thing that has been purchased, it loses its “kick” and they say “this person doesn’t do it for me any more.” So, like a ballpoint pen that has “globbed up” they toss it and get a replacement that is smoother and more satisfying. What, then, is the key to a marriage that is long lasting as well as satisfying? I’ll address my thoughts on this in my next blog post.
At Dr. Becker’s banquet speech, he said:
Economics surely does not provide a romantic vision of life. But the widespread poverty, misery, and crises in many parts of the world, much of it unnecessary, are strong reminders that understanding economic and social laws can make an enormous contribution to the welfare of people.
I think Dr. Becker’s perspective contributes a better understanding of why it’s important to invest in people more than things. Typically, an economic view of human relationships cheapens the strength of the relationship by mechanizing it and reducing it to gratifying payoff and return on investment. Dr. Becker seems to have done the opposite. He strengthens the economic perspective of life by humanizing it. The only dimension I would add would be the vertical relationship with our personal God out of which the fruit of joy and peace flow in abundance.
I value people and change, particularly when these changes produce growth. I was feeling pretty good about my recent growing awareness of global trends and, in general, what’s happening in the world. Professor Has Rosling (Professor of International Health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute) just blew my mind not only with his insights about these trends but also with his powerful graphics that make data come alive.
A friend of mine, John Oliver, introduced me to this video. It showed me that my view of the world is still very stereotyped and provincial. The world is changing! This video makes me wonder what it would take for my awareness to keep pace with significant changes that impact people.
Here’s a great little video of the basics of knowing your future partner. No rocket science. Lot’s of common sense (which is often very uncommon). I suggest using these tips a the bare minimum. The more you know now, the less you’ll be surprised later. I’ll write more later about my thoughts on premarital counseling along with some good resources to help out.
Matt Turvey with PREPARE/ENRICH sent me the button below which gives you entrance to a much more personalized and detailed tool called the Couple Checkup. Even though it’s designed for dating or engaged couples, it also works for married couples. My wife and I took it this afternoon and found several areas of focus for us to refine our marriage. I think one of the best uses of tools like this is to focus discussion. You can take this inventory at home for very little cost and get a user-friendly 15-20 page report. I’m going to recommend it for my clients as well as for my own marriage. Check it out.
And now for an edited addition in response to Adam’s comment asking for more: Smart Marriages offers a directory of resources available across the country. With this list, there can no longer be an excuse. I’ll just list the headings here:
Deeply Troubled/On the Brink of Divorce
Infidelity – You Can Recover
Inventories – compatibility and strengths
Stepfamilies & Remarriage
Marriage Enrichment – make your good thing better.
Cruises, Retreats, Destinations, & Get-Aways
At a Distance – Strengthen your marriage without leaving home (Telecourses, DVDs, phone coaching, internet, etc.)
State & Community Marriage Initiatives (CHMI)