Tag Archive for service

Will You Take the 30-Day Clandestine Marriage Challenge?

You can support your spouse and your marriage in at least two ways. One, you can offer support in a very visible way. This way often involves receiving some acknowledgment or fanfare in return. Generally, the more fanfare the giver requires, the less appreciated the support.  Still, recognizing and acknowledging your spouse’s support will definitely strengthen your marriage.

But I want to focus on a second way to support your spouse—the invisible, clandestine way. Clandestine support often flies under the radar. It is done without your spouse asking for it. They may not even know you did it, even when they recognize it has been done. And clandestine support will often alleviate stress for your spouse. To me, the most beautiful aspect of clandestine support is the pleasant surprise I see on my spouse’s face when she recognizes what was done.

How can you offer clandestine support?

  • Do a chore that your spouse normally does. And do it without being asked.
  • Prepare your spouse’s favorite food.
  • Bring home a treat your spouse enjoys—flowers, candy, pie (that one’s in case my spouse reads this post).
  • Plan a night out for no special reason…and make it a surprise.

I’m sure you can think of more ideas. The point is to do it without being asked and with no expectation of any fanfare or recognition in return.  Then, enjoy your spouse’s delight and surprise when they recognize what has been done.

In fact, I want to challenge you to participate in a Clandestine Marriage Challenge. Complete as many clandestine acts of service for your spouse as you can over the next 30 days. While you do, pay attention to any changes you notice in your spouse, your marriage, and your children. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

A Radical Valentine’s Day Gift for Your Spouse

We use the word “love” so often and in so many contexts that it has lost its meaning. After all, I love cheesecake, I love sunny days, AND I love my wife. Hopefully, my love for cheesecake (which satisfies my sweet tooth) and sunny days (which makes me feel physically warm and relaxed) is different than the love I have for my wife. If I’m going to have a healthy marriage, my love for my wife has to transcend the self-focused love of satisfying my sweet tooth with cheesecake and my enjoyment of physical warmth on a sunny day. My love for my wife, our love for our spouses, needs to transcend our self-centered desires. A healthy, lifelong marriage calls for a radical love. In fact, this kind of love may be the perfect radical Valentine’s Day gift for your spouse.  Let me explain the gift of radical love and some of its benefits for you and your spouse.

  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage involves giving of the self. Radical love requires us to give up our sense of entitlement and selfishness in order to give ourselves to our spouse. Radical love compels us to give our spouse our time and our energy rather than leaving them the leftovers of each. Radical love leads us to give them our attention and our listening ear. It means we give up our “I” to enjoy the “we” of marriage. Radical love invites us to give our life to our spouse…for the purpose of enjoying a lifetime together. Yes, radical love demands we give ourselves to our spouse. 
  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage also involves serving our spouses. We love our spouse and love to serve our spouse when we commit to a radical love. Who does what around the house is not an argument because we both love each other enough that we want to serve the other by doing the tasks necessary to maintain a healthy home. Radical love looks for opportunities to serve in simple ways and major ways. Radical love serves by doing the menial things like taking out the garbage or cleaning the car. It also serves by doing the noble things like supporting our spouse’s dreams. Radical love serves…and loves to serve. So ask your spouse, “How can I serve your today?”
  • The radical love of a healthy, lifelong marriage also rejoices to sacrifice for our spouses. All marriages require sacrifice. Those in the healthiest marriages, however, take joy in the opportunity to make a sacrifice for their spouse. The sacrifices of radical love may be simple or complex but, either way, the sacrifice is made willingly and lovingly. For instance, radical love sacrifices “my” desire to be heard long enough to listen to my spouse’s point of view. Radical love sacrifices “my” agenda to support my spouse’s agenda. Radical love sacrifices to express the depth of our love for our spouse.

Radical love is the perfect gift to give your spouse this Valentine’s Day. This gift of radical love would strengthen your marriage and draw you into a more intimate relationship with your spouse. Even more, your children would grow more secure and even happy as they witness this radical love. They would likely learn to practice radical love with you and one another as you model it. Soon, your whole family will be practicing radical love, even with those outside your family. It might even change a community…and it all starts with committing to radical love in your marriage.

The Power of “How Can I Help You?”

You have at your disposal a powerful question that can strengthen your family relationships. It’s a simple question: “How can I help you?” Of course, there are variations:

  • “What can I do for you today?”
  • “Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • ‘What would you like me to do?”

We underestimate the power of this little question, power that would benefit every family. Take a moment and consider its power for your family.

  • “How can I help you?” honors your family. It communicates our interest in our family members. It expresses how much we value them and their work. It reveals our interest in their lives and their work.
  • “How can I help you?” shares grace with your family. It shows your spouse, your children, and your parents that you care enough about their daily life and work to invest your time and energy in it. It means we will give up your desire to be in charge and let them be in charge, let them direct you in how you can help them.
  • “How can I help you?” promotes togetherness within your family. It opens the opportunity to work together.
  • “How can I help you?” communicates grace by opening the door for you to serve other family members.

Are you beginning to see the power of this question to strengthen your family relationships? By asking this question we honor our family, we show grace to our family, we promote togetherness with our family, and we open the door to service within our family. In other words, we lay several of the building blocks needed for a healthy family just by asking this simple question: “How can I help you?”

To truly experience the power of this question, I suggest a 30-day challenge. Every day for the next 30 days, ask a family member “How can I help you?”  You could ask the same family member every day or you could ask a different family member each day. Either way, ask a family member this question every day for the next 30 days.

After 30 days, reflect. How has this impacted your relationship with your family? How has it changed the way you think of your family? How has it changed the way your family acts toward you and you toward them?

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the changes your family experiences because of this one simple question: “How can I help you?”

Sacrifice is Necessary in Marriage…BUT It’s Not All the Same

Marital happiness and stability require sacrifice. In fact, you have to Give It Up to Lift Up Your Marriage. An act of sacrifice communicates value to your spouse and commitment to your marriage. Acts of sacrifice promote a sense of security, safety, and peace in your spouse (The Lost Art of Sacrifice).  BUT, not all sacrifice is the same. The difference, according to a study published in 2019, is not in the sacrifice but in the eye of the beholder. Specifically, the authors of this study concluded that “perceiving a partner’s sacrifice had no effect on appreciation [gratitude and respect for spouse] or relationship satisfaction when the recipient held strong sacrifice expectations” (italics added).  

What? An expectation of sacrifice can hinder our appreciation of the sacrifice and the one sacrificing? Hold on a second. Wait…let’s look a little closer.

If we have a strong expectation that our partner should sacrifice for us, many of their sacrificial acts will be considered minimal. They will not meet our standard. After all, their sacrifice was expected. We assumed they would do it. We deserved it. We had it coming because they are our spouse. It only right that our spouse “give it up” for us. That’s what they’re supposed to do in marriage. In a sense, we feel entitled to such sacrifice. We don’t see our partner as “giving it up” for our marriage, but as offering what I’m entitled to in a marriage anyway. It’s hard to find gratitude and respect in that sense of entitled expectation.

On the other hand, if we have a low expectation that our partner will sacrifice for our marriage, then any act of sacrifice is appreciated. We have confidence in our spouse’s desire to strengthen the relationship, but we are pleased to see their actions communicating that desire. We trust our spouse to support our marriage, but we stand amazed at how much they are willing to give up to make our marriage stronger. We recognize that our spouse is a flawed human being and admire their intent to express their love through sacrifice. Not expecting this sacrifice, we receive it as a gift, a grace, an expression of love.

Let me add one more caveat as I think about this study…just a thought about expectations of sacrifice in marriage. Perhaps we need to change our focus. Rather than focus on my expectation about my partner’s willingness to sacrifice, I need to focus on my willingness to sacrifice for my partner. After all, we are not called to look out for our own personal interests (AKA—how much my partner should sacrifice for me) but also for the interests of others (AKA—how much I will sacrifice for my partner). This shift in thinking changes everything. Anything my spouse does is over and above any expectation I have about their sacrifice for me because my expectation is focused on my willingness to sacrifice for them. I’m not even focused on their level of sacrifice. I’m focused on my desire to sacrifice for the one I love.  

Now imagine if my spouse and I both hold this perspective. I will sacrifice to live up to my expectation about how much I desire to sacrifice for my spouse. My spouse, focused on her own desire to strengthen our marriage through sacrifice, will focus on her desire to sacrifice for me. As we do, we are both filled with joy because of our partner’s sacrifices, the sacrifices we never expected. We create an upward cycle of gratitude, respect and marital satisfaction by carrying out our expectation of how “my” desire to sacrifice for our marriage. Now that sounds like the kind of marriage I’m talking about!

Generosity Can Save Your Marriage!!

Every now and again, I bring home flowers for my wife. (Now that I think about it, maybe I should do that today.) We put them in a vase with water and enjoy them…until they wilt. We also have flowers in a flower garden in our back yard. Guess which flowers last longer. You know it; the flowers in our backyard. They are planted in rich, nurturing soil that generously provides the nutrients they need to grow and blossom time and again.

Our marriages also need a rich, nurturing soil to generously provide the nutrients necessary for our marriages to grow and blossom time and again. Each spouse is part of the rich soil in which your marriage is planted. And, from our richness we need to generously provide at least seven nourishing qualities in extravagant abundance to our spouse and our marriage.

  • Generously give your time…lots of it. I’ve quoted it before and I’ll quote it again, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.” We give our time to those people and things that are important to us. So, make sure your “Daily Planner” reflects the priority of your spouse and your marriage. Give them the time reflective of their value. (Practice a marital sabbath to give time to your spouse.)
  • Generously give your caring attention and presence. Spending time with your spouse is important. However, it takes more than merely being a body in their vicinity. Lavish them with your caring attention. Let your active daily involvement in your spouse’s life, your presence in their life, speak of your concern, love, and affection.
  • Generously give your ears. Remember the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.” Give your spouse your ears in abundance. Listen deeply. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen. Listen. Listen. (Listening deeply in this way will prove a powerful way to improve your marriage.)
  • Generously give your affection. It’s been said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth” (Virginia Satir). Don’t keep your marriage on a survival mode. Be generous. Give your marriage what it needs for growth, lots and lots of affection in words and actions every day. (For more on the power of generous hugs and affection read And a Hug to Grow On.)
  • Generously give simple acts of kindness and service. Kindness and service are powerful. They proclaim our love. They melt hearts and restore relationships. They nurture an environment of encouragement. They stimulate greater intimacy. Give kindness and service to your spouse with extravagant generosity. (Try these 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
  • Generously give forgiveness. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness from time to time. Forgiveness is necessary for a marriage to survive and flourish. Give your spouse forgiveness as often as needed. And, if you’re asking for forgiveness bear the fruit of repentance with great abundance.
  • Generously give prayer for your spouse’s well-being. Notice I say pray for your spouse’s “well-being.” Don’t ask that they change to become the person you want them to become. Accept them and pray for their well-being. Pray for their happiness. Pray for them to feel loved. ….(Read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity for more on the power of prayer in your marriage.)

Yes, generosity can save your marriage. Throw caution to the wind and start lavishing these seven gifts of grace on your spouse today. And watch your marriage blossom and grow.

Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace

My wife, my daughter, and I went to a choral concert presented by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh entitled PEACE.  We heard several composers’ choral renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace. We also heard various testimonies and readings from three people who have invested their lives in various avenues of promoting peace within our communities. The whole experience was beautiful, inspiring, and peaceful. Then we left the concert setting and returned to the world of confusion, animosity, and conflict.

Peace seems so distant in our immediate environment of division, antagonism, and hostility. Everywhere we turn dissonant, hateful chatter rises up and floods over the banks of polite boundaries and congenial discourse. Fear and anxiety, resentment and hostility are infecting the lives of our children. Peace seems, at times, a distant dream. But, as we listened attentively to the various renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem and contemplated the readings offered, I realized peace is not so distant after all. Peace is very near. It begins with a God of peace who “is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist….” Peace is our original design. Peace destroyed was restored through the sacrifice of One Man who “is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Paul—Ephesians 2:15). The One who sacrificed for our peace has “proclaimed peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Paul—Ephesians 2:17). Since we have been given peace it is very near to us. We need only open it, pursue it, and promote it (Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14).

In all reality, pursuing and promoting peace are integral aspects of our daily life. We can pursue peace by sharing polite words with those you meet. We promote peace by listening, really listening, to understand those who speak. We pursue peace by opening doors for others, literally and figuratively. We promote peace in patiently merging into the various streams of life with others and generously allowing others to merge into those same streams of life. We encourage peace by offering words that build up instead of words that tear down, words that bless instead of words that curse.  We promote peace when we lift one another up, even those who disagree with you, rather than shaming and ridiculing. We nurture peace when we forgive those who have offended and apologize to those you offend.

Truly, peace is closer than we think…but it takes the investment of our words and actions. Begin the peace investment in your home as you treat your spouse, your children, and your parents with honor and dignity, decency and grace. As we do, our families will become the catalyst for peace in our communities. Yes, peace is closer than we think. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace.

Family Happiness in 1938 AND Today

The year: 1938. The question posed by the Bolton Evening News: “What does happiness mean to you and yours?” Bolton is a town in northwest England. Bolton “reached it’s zenith in 1929” with over 200 cotton mills and textile industries. Recently, researchers from the University of Bolton recovered and analyzed the answers given by the original 226 respondents. Three themes emerged in the analysis of the respondents’ answers.

  1. “Contentment” and “peace of mind” contributed to happiness. In other words, being satisfied with what one has rather than constantly seeking more contributes to happiness. Having a healthy family filled with emotional connection and acts of honor increases a sense of contentment, even when we don’t have the most expensive shoes or the newest gadgets.
  2. “Family” and “home” were important to happiness. A happy marriage, healthy children, loving family contribute to happiness. A home is a celebrating community of honor and grace. As we shape our homes around honoring one another and sharing grace to one another we find greater contentment and more happiness. That is a reason to celebrate!
  3. Helping “other people” contributed to happiness. Actively seeking ways to help other people brings happiness. It turns our focus outward and opens our lives to relationship. Helping others as a family strengthens our family. And family, as noted in #2, contributes to happiness. (Read more in Lessons from the Past on How to be Happy.)

These three themes can still help to build happiness in your family today. Read these blogs to discover ways of building each of the characteristics into your  family.

  1. For ideas on filling your family with “contentment” and “peace of mind” read
    1. The Secret to Family Peace
    2. Recognizing the Benefit of Emotions in Parenting
    3. Beatitudes for a Happy Marriage
  2. To improve your “family” and “home” conenctions
    1. Why Family Honor
    2. Become the Catalyst for an Honorable Family
  3. Help “other people”
    1. The Paradox of Happy Families
    2. Give It Away for Family Fun

You can find many more blogs to build these characteristics into your home and family. Just explore the many blogs on this site, put them into practice, and…find family happiness.

A Paradoxical Way to Strong Family

In a previous post I mentioned that the best family advice I’ve ever heard wasn’t even family advice. It was discipleship advice. And, it was given by a man who was single and even alienated from His own family at the time He gave voice to this advice. The advice comes in two parts. Part one was to “deny yourself.”  Part two is to “take up your cross.”  When this advice was first spoken, the cross was a way to punish, in a very public and humiliating way, those who threatened the way the world was organized under the ruling authority of the Romans. To take up our cross as a family means to live a family life that will stand in stark contrast to the world around us, to have a revolutionary family life based on principles in opposition to the “world powers” around us. Let me explain by offering a few examples.

  • The world encourages us to assert our power, stand up for our rights. A family that “takes up a cross” will submit to one another in love and service.
  • The world encourages us to promote ourselves and “build our brand.” We are told to climb the ladder of success on the backs of others because it’s a “dog eat dog world.” A family that “takes up a cross” will encourage one another, promote one another’s success, and build one another up rather than focus on my own success.
  • The world calls us to achieve a status in which we can BE served. A family that “takes up a cross” strives TO serve one another within the family and TO serve others as a family.
  • The world encourages leadership through power brokerage techniques, such as taking charge, delegation, and telling others what to do. A family that “takes up a cross” will lead through love. Each one will want to lead in forgiveness, showing kindness, and serving one another.

The family that “takes up a cross” exhibits different values than the family that lives according to “the world system.” It may, at times, lead to some ridicule or misunderstanding from those outside the family. However, it will also lead to a stronger more intimate family. “Taking up a cross” creates a family whose strength is found in humble service, loving accountability, sincere encouragement, and kindness.  It sounds odd, even wrong, but taking up your cross to build a strong and intimate family is a wise and powerful action to take!

Teach Your Children to Live Happy

I’m always on the lookout for ways to promote happiness in my family and teach my children how to live happy lives (Family Fun Night). Researchers from the University of Zurich just added another tool to my Family Happiness Training Toolbox (Generous People Live Happier Lives). In this study, fifty people were given 25 Swiss Francs each week for four weeks. Half of them pledged to spend it on others and half pledged to spend it on themselves. According to Functional MRI’s, simply pledging generosity activated areas of the participants brains’ associated with altruistic behavior and areas associated with happiness. In other words, simply pledging to use the money generously increased the pledging person’s happiness. Over the course of the four week experiment, those who pledged to spend the money on others made more generous choices.  They also showed an increase in self-reported happiness. Interestingly, generosity did not have to be extraordinary or exorbitant to increase happiness. Just a “little more generous” produced greater happiness.

Why not use the knowledge to promote happiness in your family? Just bring up the idea of doing something nice for someone when you meet with your family. Maybe you can bring it up while eating dinner or while driving home from an activity. The suggestion could be as simple as:

  • Wouldn’t it be nice to give some cookies to your teacher next week?
  • I hear Mr. Smith isn’t feeling well. How about we cut his grass this weekend?
  • I have an extra $10 this week. If you could do something nice for someone with $10, what would you do and who would you do it for?
  • Let’s write the church pianist a thank you note for playing this week. Which card do you think she’d like best…or would you rather we make the card?

You get the idea. Be creative. You could come up with the idea or ask your family to come up with an idea. After you have the idea, enlist your family’s help in getting it done. Then get out there and do it…. You will have done a nice thing and that will increase your family happiness.

One last caveat…. You might find your children really like this kind of activity. They may start coming up with all kinds of ideas to share generosity. When they do, seize the moment. Jump on board. Work with them to make it happen. When you do, do you know what you’re doing? You’re teaching your children how to create happiness in their lives…and that is a lesson worth teaching!

Happy Wife, Happy Life…& The Rest of the Story!

A recent study of 1,981 middle age heterosexual couples supports the saying, “happy wife, happy life” plus more!  What could be more?  Well, it’s not just about wives. “Happy husband, happy life.” “Happy wife, happy life.” They’re both true! A happy spouse Senior Couple - Kiss on the Cheekcontributes a healthier life over time. In fact, the principal investigator of this study observed that “simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.” (Read having a Happy Spouse Could Be Good for Your Health for more on this study.) Having a happy spouse may contribute to health because:

  • Happy spouses provide stronger social support.
  • Happy spouses encourage their spouses to get involved in activities that promote good health.
  • Happy spouses may simply make life easier.

So, if you want a healthier life, work to increase your spouse’s happiness. If you want to encourage your spouse’s health, enhance your own happiness. Here are four ways you can do just that!

  • Develop an atmosphere where everyone expresses gratitude on a daily basis. Express gratitude for what your spouse does for you, for your family, for your home.
  • Develop a home environment of service. Seek out ways to serve your spouse every day. Serving your spouse may be as simple as washing dishes, changing diapers, or working in the yard. Doing little things every day will add to your spouse’s happiness.
  • Develop an environment of emotional connection. Take time to emotionally connect with your spouse every day. Respond to your spouse’s attempts to interact and connect. Initiate interactions with your spouse. Support their interests and share your own interests with your spouse.

I’m sure you can think of many more ways to enhance your spouse’s happiness and your own. These four tips simply point to one important fact: enhancing your spouse’s happiness centers on doing little things for your spouse every day. So, do the little things every day. Make your spouse happy because “happy spouse, happy (and healthy) life.”

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