If He Cried, You’d Understand

October 9, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Ladies, lean in here.  I am about to share with you an insight into the male psyche that could possibly revolutionize your relationships with Y chromosome carriers.

Men often respond to hurt with anger.

05-cryingman-290212-deIf you were in a discussion with your friend/sister/mom and she began to cry, you would probably rightly conclude that she was upset.  You may have to ask “what’s wrong?” to get to the root of what had upset her, but you would have a category for her emotion.  You would know to move towards her with compassion.  Her tears would likely disarm any hostility you were feeling towards her as empathy kicked in.

However, if you were in a similar discussion with your boyfriend/husband/son and he began to raise his voice and that vein in his forehead began to throb, your response would likely be very different from the compassion and empathy that you feel for a crying girlfriend.  Rather than diffusing hostility, as tears might do, his anger probably fuels your fire.  If he is getting angry, you likely feel that you can or even should take it up a notch yourself.  “If he’s gonna yell, then I’m gonna yell too!”

Cue insight into male psyche slide here:

Men often respond to hurt with anger.

The angry male in the scenario is feeling the same emotion as the crying female—hurt.  However, because we receive his anger as aggression towards us, rather than responding with compassion to his hurt, we become aggressive ourselves, causing more hurt.

This common misunderstanding is made worse by the fact that most guys, even if you asked them “what’s wrong?” would have a difficult time identifying, much less verbalizing, why they were hurt.  Now rather than understanding his anger as hurt and trying to figure out what has caused the hurt, we are wrongly assuming he “got all mad for no reason.”

So, ladies, allow me to try to fill in some of the gaps between what we are thinking they are thinking and what they are feeling but not communicating.  And gentlemen, if any of this rightly expresses what you wish you could communicate to the women in your life, you can now just point at it and say in your best caveman voice, “This. Yes.”

  • His hurt is probably rooted in feeling disrespected.

What does that even mean?  Good question.  All people have a desire to be respected (have their rights and needs matter), but for men the issue of respect goes much deeper.  God has wired men to shoulder the responsibility for providing and protecting.  We can strengthen their sense that they are man enough to rise to great responsibility through our respect.  Likewise, when they feel at all that we don’t trust them with those great responsibilities, it often echoes the ugly voices of insecurity in their heads:  “You can’t do anything right.”  “You are not man enough.”  Even if our intention is not to “disrespect,” that is what they feel when our words seem to agree with their greatest insecurities.

  • To respect a man you must trust him and believe in him.

Particularly in a marriage relationship, it is as important to a man that his wife respect him as it is that she love him.  Any inkling that you do not trust him or believe in him can make him feel disrespected and hurt.  You may think that you are just reminding him of something he should be doing, pointing out a better way to tackle an issue, or pointing out a character flaw he really should address.  However, when heard through a man’s ears, words you may have meant to be helpful may feel very hurtful.

  • I cannot overemphasize, ladies, how much more sensitive he is to this than you realize!

Open your eyes and ears to the men in your life and their need for respect.  Begin to notice when they get angry.  Take that as an opportunity to replay the conversation or events up to that point and see if you can find the disrespect trigger.  As you are learning to recognize disrespect triggers in the men in your life, help them learn to talk about them.  When the anger response comes, resist the instinct to respond in anger.  Instead try, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean any disrespect.  Can you tell me what I said that made you feel that way?”  Even if you did not mean disrespect, if that is what he feels, compassion is in order.

Beginning to grasp how greatly the men in your life need your respect may feel a bit like learning a foreign language at first.  But I encourage you to tune your ears to this new language and you will begin to hear it all around you.  Your efforts to understand your men will lead to better communication, less anger and fewer tears.

Let’s Talk About Sex

October 8, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We got the word out last Sunday that we will talk about sex at The Grove Church this Sunday.  It is not unheard of for a church to talk about sex on a Sunday morning, but it is still unnecessarily rare.  We are not talking about it to simply be provocative and potentially have a high (or low) attendance Sunday.  We are talking about sex because it’s important and we need God’s voice on this topic to be as loud as all the other voices.

Birds-and-the-beesI grew up in a church that talked about sex, at least in our youth group, but really we only had one thing to say about sex.  SEX IS BAD! DON’T DO IT!  You just keep saying that over and over again until it takes root in their hearts.  If it doesn’t seem to be working, then say it louder or with more guilt and anger.  Perhaps you should even consider using awkward illustrations, the more props the better.  Maybe you should even consider using an outdated video.

Before you think I am something that I am not, I firmly believe that God’s design for sex is only for a married man and woman.  I am 100% for abstinence.  I’m the guy who has crazy restrictions on his daughters for dating.  (Read here.) I’m certainly not encouraging anyone who is not married to have sex.

However, can we agree on a couple of things?  Sex is not bad.  Sex is not a necessary evil.  Sex is amazing and an incredible gift from God.  Also, God has much more to say about our sex lives than a list of people who shouldn’t be having it.  When we act like all that God has to say about sex is that some people shouldn’t have it, we do damage.  We also make the only voices informing us about sex to be voices that are pointing people away from God’s design. So, we at The Grove Church and your lovable curmudgeon Cloften will be talking about more than just when not to have sex.  Because when we fail to do that we make the following mistakes:

1) We confuse our kids.  Your kids don’t have to be geniuses to figure out that sex is not bad.  They don’t even have to experience it to know that.  Too many people seem to be enjoying it.  Pursuing sex also seems to be very natural.  For heavens sake, they know that you have done it…at least that one time.  Please, please, please do not be one of those parents that is ashamed of your physical attraction to your spouse or make it seem awkward or dirty.  It would be better to make your kids uncomfortable and show your kids that you have a healthy love and attraction for each other rather than reinforce that sex is dirty or something to be embarrassed by.

So if you are only telling them that sex is bad and they intuitively know that is false, then you become an unreliable source.  Everything you say about love, sex and dating is false, because this one thing that you say is definitely false.  If this post gets some traction, I’ll will post later about talking to your kids about sex.  I’ll give you 23 words on it here.  Try this: Sex is awesome when done in the right context–marriage.  When you do it any other time, it causes more damage than joy.   Ok, a few more words–do not every make your kid feel embarrassed for asking a question about sex.  Affirm their question and answer fully.

2) Our marriages suffer. If we are not talking about sex openly and honestly, then our marriages will face serious consequences.  Without open, real conversations about sex, we are left with two conflicting ideas.  One is that sex is dirty and I should be embarrassed. (There is no switch that you can flip that goes from “Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad.” *Wedding Ceremony* “Sex is great.”)  The second is sex is supposed to be like it is on TV or movies, or worse, porn.  Hey guess what? It’s not.  However, it is an awesome time of emotional connection and physical intimacy which married couple should do, a lot.

Have you had a conversation with your spouse about it? Are you satisfied with your relationship? Does your spouse know? Is there something that if your spouse started doing or stopped doing during sex that would make it better? Do they know?  Talk about it!

3) We miss out on God’s awesome gift. Seriously, you know this, I think.  Sex is great.  It is a designed gift from God given to us.  If he wanted it to just be about making babies, it wouldn’t also feel so great.  It wouldn’t also be a time of such emotional connection.  Too many of us are settling from something significantly less than an ideal sex life. We don’t have this great emotional, spiritual connection with our spouse, because we don’t talk.  We are having sex too infrequently.  We are not meeting each other’s needs.  It’s just not as fun as it could be.  The simple reason is because we won’t ever have a clothes on, lights on, calm conversation about how we are doing in this area. The only time we talk, somebody is mad because someone just got rejected or feels put upon.

What if? What if we had healthy conversations with our kids and they grew up without the awkward discomfort that some of us grew up with?

What if? What if we knew how we could serve our spouse better by just asking?

What if? What if there is something way better than what we are experiencing out there?

What if you made a decision to actually talk about sex?

Parenting a Velociraptor

October 5, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Parenting is hard.  If you are a parent, you already know that.  If you are not a parent, but you pay attention, you know that.  Parenting is relentless and exhausting.  How much so?  So much, that one of my best metaphors is that it is like raising a velociraptor from Jurassic Park.

velociraptor(Side note: I have blogged about this before.  You can read that here.  I hesitated to do it again, except that if Hollywood can keep making sequels, I can too.)

So how are kids like velociraptors? Will they calm down if Chris Pratt clicks at them? Probably but that’s not what I mean. Will they obey you unless they meet a bigger dinosaur, but in the end their loyalty is with you?  Umm, rarely, but again that’s not what I mean. (Velociraptor parenting updated for the new movie!!!)

How kids are like velociraptors comes from the original movie from 1993.  In the beginning of the movie we are introduced to raptors.  Dr. Grant describes them as dangerous hunters.  Then later when he visits Jurassic Park he is horrified that they would breed raptors.  Then in what is one of my favorite scenes, Muldoon, the Crocodile Dundee-ish (Boom! Even more dated reference than the original Jurassic Park movie!), game warden describes to the scientists his encounters with the raptors.

The raptors are systematically going around the electric fence and charging it.  When asked why, Muldoon says that they are testing the fence for weaknesses.  They were relentlessly slamming up against an electric fence looking for weaknesses.  They did not care that they were getting electrocuted, they were testing the fence and looking to get out.

(In the 4 years since I first wrote about this, someone finally put the scene on YouTube.)

If you do not see the parallels to parenting, then you haven’t been parenting very long or you haven’t been paying very close attention.  Kids are relentless like raptors.  You put up a fence (a rule or boundary) and they spend their entire day/week/month/year/life testing that boundary for weaknesses.  You say to your toddler to not touch the stove/TV/fireplace.  They walk over to it slowly, right to the object (metaphorical electric fence) and reach their little hand out.  Why? To see if you mean it.  To test the fence for weaknesses.

Don’t say that word! (Rams the fence)

Don’t go in there! (Rams the fence)

Go to bed! (Rams the fence)

Eat your food! (Rams the fence)

Over and over and over again.  They are constantly ramming the fence.  Some seasons are worse than others.  We call these stages Velociraptor Mode.  They just are relentlessly testing everything that you say, every rule, boundary, everything.  All The Time!

You are tempted in these moments to give up.  Maybe you start to doubt yourself as a parent.  Maybe you begin to tell yourself that you are just too strict.  Maybe it would just be easier if you relented and got rid of the fence.  I know that it might seem that way but it is very important that you understand this.  There is a key difference between your kid and a velociraptor.  Your kid, deep down, needs and wants the fence to hold.  They need security and consistency.  They need to know that you are in charge and you have things under control.

Even though everything about the way that they are acting says the opposite, know that they do not want to be in control.  They do want the security that you provide for them.  I know this to be true, because the most stressed out kids I know are the ones who don’t know where the fence is.  It’s not that they have no boundaries (although those kids are pretty stressed out as well), it’s that they don’t know where the fence is or it is constantly moving.

Your little raptors need that fence.  They need to know that they are safe.  This goes for kids in their terrible twos to kids in their sassy seventeens.  Do not let the exhaustion of the constant testing and charging discourage you from being a great parent.  I understand that this is relentless, often thankless job.  But if we don’t lose heart, and let the fence hold, you will discover over time that you have a great kid who respects authority and is growing into an awesome young man or woman.

Again, I know that it’s a thankless job, so allow me to say “Thank you! Thank you for doing the most important job that God has given any of us–to love, disciple and raise the precious little ones that God has given us.”

In the mean time, where can we all get some of these?

raptor cage

When One of Your Worst Stories is Also One of Your Best (Parenting Post)

October 2, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

My wife and I were sitting downstairs in our house in St. Louis.  Our two daughters were (theoretically) asleep upstairs.  We had the TV on and were winding down from another day.  We were getting ready to move to Cabot and it had definitely been an exhausting few months.

Then suddenly, we hear a blood-curdling scream from upstairs.  It was Lauren.  As fast as we could, we both ran upstairs to Lauren’s room.  We dart into her room and our five year old is sitting on the floor in the middle of the room screaming her head off.  It did not take much investigation to find out what had happened.  There on the floor next to her were a pair of charred cuticle scissors and on the wall was a charred electrical outlet.

Needless to say, everyone in the house is freaking out.  Mama is holding Lauren trying to calm her down.  They are both crying…a lot.  Maylee, who is 8, has wandered across the hall also wondering what has happened.  She is now crying, not because she knows what happened but because her mom and sister are crying.  (This is what we do by the way. Dad of daughters!)  I take Maylee back across the hallway and back to her bed.  I sit with her for a little while and help calm her down.  When it is apparent that she will fall asleep post-chaos, I head back downstairs.

Mom has Lauren and I wanted to keep the chaos level down.  Mom and Lauren are laying in bed and eventually stop crying.  After probably 20-30 minutes, Heidi finally leaves Lauren’s room and slowly comes downstairs.  She sits next to me and we sit in a silence for a while.  We are still both breathing heavily and quite overwhelmed.

Heidi breaks the silence.  “You know what your daughter said to me right before I left?” (It’s never good when your spouse refers to one of your kids as your kid.)


He narrowly avoided litigation

He narrowly avoided litigation

“She said, ‘When I put those scissors in the outlet and the electricity went through my body, do you think my bones glowed like Jimmy Neutron’s?’”


(Both erupt into laughter)

That is how the one of scariest moments in our life became one of the funniest.  10 years later and we still laugh about it.  10 years later and my heart still races a little about what could have happened.

Mostly I just wanted to share that story because it’s a great story, but let’s try to turn it into something of value.

Random Parenting Advice

1) Your kids are affected by what they see on TV.  No, we didn’t try and sue Nickelodeon.  No, we didn’t ban TV for a year or anything like that.  However, don’t go to the other extreme and think that what they are watching doesn’t affect them.  We have temporarily banned a handful of shows over the years.  We noticed them talking to us or each other differently.  Then we notice, hmm, that’s how they talk to each other on that Disney Channel show.  Then, ban.

2) Your kid that is like you will repeat your mistakes.  Yes, I stuck something in an outlet once.  Yes, it was because I wanted to know what it was like.  Yes, I feel guilty about passing on my genetic traits.  If you know what your kid is thinking, use it to your advantage and help them process things the way that you wish that someone would have helped you.

3) Take great love and care with any kids that you have that you would describe as curious, scientific, and/or reckless.  Don’t think, they will never _________ because they can and will.  We had and have continued to have many conversations with her about the ideas that she is currently having.  One slipped through the cracks.  It happens.  While we are at it, pray a lot for your “Lauren.”  We plan on holding a party for her guardian angel when we get to meet her.

4) Don’t be afraid to laugh at stories like this.  Sure it was scary but it was also funny.  Sure it’s embarrassing and could have been a tragic story, but it wasn’t.  Thank God (literally) and laugh.  Don’t beat yourself up. Learn, laugh, move on.

Parenting is a brutal, crazy adventure and it is relentless and draining.  Hang in there. Trust God. Enjoy the ride.

Why You Should Stop Counting to Get Your Kids to Obey

September 30, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There are some things that are so common that I begin to wonder if I am the one that has the problem rather than the rest of the world.  Am I the only sane person in a crazy world or the only crazy person in a sane world?  For example, when did pajama pants become acceptable as being pants to wear in public?  It happens so much now that I think that maybe I’m just old and cranky.  Perhaps I need to yell at kids to get off my lawn. (Side note: there are some teenagers that have decided that the hammocks in our yard are open to the public. They really need to get off my lawn.)

frustrated parentThere is a parenting tactic that falls into that category for me.  A parent is trying to get their kid to do something and they won’t.  They tell them a couple of times to no avail.  Then the parent starts to count, “1…2…”  The tactic theoretically is that when the parent gets to 3, the kid has to obey or something bad will happen.  Usually the kid responds by 2.  Sometimes the kid goes to 3 and and allows whatever to happen.  Since I only observe this in public, I can only speculate if anything actually happens to the kid that dares to disobey past 3.

Much like pajama pants, I believe this is a bad idea.  I don’t judge in the harshest sense of that word, because I recognize that many people who read this are using this tactic.  I certainly am not one of those single guys who is judging you at Wal-Mart who has no clue about what it’s like with small kids.  I have been there.  I went through that phase twice.  Wait, I’m back there again.  I have a 3 year old right now. I understand that it is hard with small children.  FYI: older kids are much the same just with a more extensive vocabulary.

I do, however, caution against doing this.  This can be frustrating for you and confusing to the child.  It also has the potential to reinforce the behavior that you are trying to prevent.  Typically you start the counting method because you are having a hard time getting your child to obey and you are frustrated because they aren’t listening and they don’t respect you.  So you start “laying down the law” by telling your kids that there will be serious consequences if they don’t obey.  They will know consequences are coming with the counting.

However, when you start counting, you are already frustrated.  When they don’t obey until the last possible second, you are still getting upset and feeling disrespected.  So it’s not helping you in that regard.  “But Cloften, at least they are obeying.”  Sure, at least sometimes, but is that really the only or even primary goal of what you are trying to teach your kids?  “As long as I get eventual obedience, then I’m being a successful parent.”  God is calling us to do much more in the lives of our kids than to receive eventual compliance.

This tactic is also confusing the kid.  They may not know that they are confused, but they are.  You are communicating to your child that they have a choice in obedience.  They get to decide when they are ready to obey.  They should not have that choice and you should not be giving them the impression that they do.  When they are asked to do something by a parent or an authority, they must comply, immediately.  When you don’t do this, you are also communicating to them that sometimes you don’t mean what you say.

(Kid in room)

“Time for dinner. Go wash your hands.”

(Kid continues to play in room)


(Kid continues to play)


(Kid continues to play)


(Kid goes to wash hands)

Your child moves when they believe that you are serious.  You didn’t really mean it until you started counting.  They learn this because there are no consequences for not listening at first and because there are times (You know there are) when you give up asking before you start counting.  If they can keep playing, they will.  When you are serious, they will obey.  Our kids need to know that what we say is what we mean.  Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  If you mean it, enforce it.

So what I suggest instead is that the consequences begin when the first act of disobedience occurs.  They don’t have to be severe, but there needs to be a consequence for not listening.  Your children are under authority and it is your responsibility not to simply get them to comply eventually, but to discipline them.  They need to learn submission to authority and humility.  Their teachers will not count, their coaches will not count, and their bosses certainly will not.

I know that it is hard and kids are relentless.  “If I got them in trouble every time they didn’t listen, they would always be in trouble, and I would be exhausted.”  That would be true, at least for a while, until you establish the better pattern.  You are already exhausted, you might as well get the discipline and obedience as well.

Then with kids that are listening and obeying the first time, you can sit back and relax…in your pajama pants…but only at home.

Bad Relationships, Forgiveness and Walking Away

September 28, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We are doing a relationship series  at The Grove Church.  We have been given people the opportunity to ask questions that they can post anonymously on the ask.fm website.  The hope has been that people would be open and honest about the issues that they are struggling with and these questions would shape the specific content of the series.  I have been overwhelmed by the number and types of questions, but in a good way.  I’m always encouraged when people open up and are willing to ask for help.

sadnessI was also surprised by what was far and away the most asked question.  Nothing else was even close.  The question was asked multiple times in different ways.  What am I supposed to do when a relationship is not working? Is it ever OK to just walk away?  People came at it from multiple angles and  you can feel the desire to honor God in broken relationships but also the hurt over the pain and disappointment.

This clearly is a complicated issue that doesn’t have easy answers.  Hard questions rarely have easy answers.  The simplest answer is “It depends, and it’s complicated.”  A 30 minute sermon was inadequate in covering the topic and a 1000 word blog post is even more so.  However, if the questions that we received as a church are any indication, then this is definitely a topic that we need to be talking about.  So let’s at least get the conversation started with a few questions and steps to consider when wrestling with a broken relationship.

1) Is the relationship a mandatory relationship or an optional one?  If the relationship is mandatory and one that you have made a lifelong commitment to, then the answer to if you can ever be done is no.  You are a parent, child, spouse, brother, no matter what.  These people are your family.  In some very difficult circumstances, you may have to set some boundaries with these relationships but you do not get to say that you are all done.  You stood before God and said that you would be a husband or wife forever, “for better or worse.”  You already pledged how you would handle “worse”, if you are facing “worse” right now.  You have freedom in your friendships, dating relationships, even in your work relationships if you’re willing to walk away from your job.  You do not have the freedom in your family.

This is assuming that we are not dealing with abuse.  Abuse is another matter.  If you believe that you are being abused, talk to a counselor or pastor immediately.  I’ve seen it both ways.  I’ve seen people in abusive relationships think everything is ok.  I’ve also seen the opposite.  People believe they are being abused and really they are just yelling at each other.  Regardless, seek help and counseling immediately.  Do not walk through that alone.

2) Have you talked to the person about the problem?  Sometimes we suffer in silence or passive-aggressive weirdness and never truly come to the person and say, “this isn’t working.  You’re hurting me.  Something needs to change.”  If you have not done that, then you have failed in what God has called each of us to, which is to confront someone who has sinned against us.  Go to them first and see how they respond.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

3) Have they asked for forgiveness and humbly asked for another chance?  Usually there are 3 responses.  One is to not be sorry and therefore you know that the behavior will continue.  The second is they are genuinely sorry and they want to change.  In this instance, the way forward is fairly clear, you need to forgive and give them another chance. (Exception is dating relationships.  You still need to forgive, but you can step out of these relationships at any time.  You are not obligated by forgiveness to keep dating someone that you know you don’t want to marry.)  The third option is a little more difficult to manage.  They say that they are sorry but not in a genuine humble way.  They say “sorry,” but you know that it’s going to continue. This leads to the next step.

4) Have you forgiven them?  This needs to be true regardless of how sorry they are.  Forgiveness is not optional and bitterness is never ok.  If you are holding onto resentment and unforgiveness, then you are in sin and are not in a place to make a good decision.  You have some spiritual work to do.  Do that first.  Then you will more clearly be able to determine what is the next best step for the relationship.

5) Is changing or ending the relationship best for both of you?  It should be.  If you are hurting each other, then a change is necessary.  Even if just one of you is the primary cause, you would still need to make a change.  This relationship is causing them to lash out and sin, and it is not good for them either.  They may not see it, but it’s true.

6) Have you asked God for wisdom? James 1:5 says that God will gladly give wisdom to anyone who asks.  If you are in a difficult situation, there is nothing better to have than God’s wisdom.  He’s offering, so take it.

7) Are you trying to do this alone?  If so, then don’t.  You need friends, counselors, pastors helping you make good decisions.  We rarely make good decisions in isolation.  Reach out to some trusted confidants and ask for help.

8) Finally, if you now believe that a change is necessary, are you trusting and asking God to restore the relationship in the future?  Even the worst of relationships can be restored at some point.  I have had some relationships that seemed that would be broken forever come back after five years.  God is in the miracle business.  Changing your relationships doesn’t change that.  Move slowly away but expect God to do the unexpected and bring healing and unity to you and to them.

Again, this is just a primer.  You need help and wisdom to walk through this and God has offered and your friends would love to be there as well, I’m sure.

What do you think? What have I left out? Is anything here oversimplified? How do we walk through broken relationships?

THE Reason Why Marriages Struggle

September 23, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I hesitate to say that this is the ONLY reason why marriages struggle, because as a mathematician, it’s hard to say 100% of the time to situations.  I also hesitate because of course there are some extreme cases of abuse, neglect, etc. that are the central issue to marriages struggling and/or ending.  However, in every encounter they we have had with dozens of married couples over the last 15 years,  the problem between the couple came down to one issue.  The presenting problems have been vast, ranging from infidelity to pornography addiction to money problems.  We have seen a lot.  However, at the core of all of these presenting problems is a deeper rooted problem that is a part of all marriages that are struggling:

The husband is not loving his wife, the wife is not respecting her husband, and they lack the ability to communicate about it well.

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.  Ephesians 5:33

This is Paul’s summary statement about what a marriage relationship needs to look like.  He is describing what wives’ and husbands’ greatest needs are in marriage and how the other spouse is supposed to meet them.  When we can understand what this verse is asking from each of us, learn to implement it well and begin to have healthy conversations with our spouse about it, then we will see God produce healthy marriages in our homes.

What you are about to get is a relatively brief summary of the piece of advice that Heidi, my wife, and I have given countless times to numerous couples.  One of the hardest things that people say to us when we are counseling them is “We’ve been married _____ years and no one ever told us that.”  This idea is what the Bible says is the key to marriages working, our experience has backed it up numerous times and people don’t know because they haven’t heard.  That is why we talk about this in premarriage counseling all the time and why we share it with you today.  We don’t want you to struggle because you don’t know.

1)      The husband is called to love his wife. This is an unconditional command and the primary responsibility that a husband has to his wife.  The key to success is understanding what does love mean in the context of a husband’s relationship with his wife.  We have found that it comes down to 2 things.  First, a wife needs to feel cherished and valuable to her husband.  She needs to know that more than anything he values her.  He values her more than work, sports, time alone, money, other relationships.  Everything.  When she believes that there are areas or people in his life that he values more, the relationship breaks down.  Second, a wife needs security, both relational and financial security.  She needs to know that no matter what, he is not leaving.  She also needs to know that the family is going to be OK financially.  He will do whatever it takes to make sure of that and won’t do anything stupid to wreck the family.

2)      The wife is called to respect her husband. This also is an unconditional command.  “Wait, wait, wait.  Love is unconditional, but respect is earned.”  False.  That is not what the passage says.  Both commands are given without condition.  Just as a wife would say that she needs love the most when she feels unlovable, a husband needs respect when he feels unrespectable.   This also breaks down into 2 parts.  First is words of affirmation.  He needs to hear from you that you think that he is a great man and a great husband.  He needs to know that you believe in him.  Second is sexual responsiveness.  (Yep, I just said that.)  You being into him physically like he is into you makes him believe that you fully trust and respect him.

3)      Learn to talk about this well. Understand yourself well enough to know why you are getting angry.  You aren’t angry with your husband because he is messy with his dirty laundry.  You are angry because he is showing you that he doesn’t value you or your time enough to pick up his stuff.  Who cares about socks on the floor? You care about how he values you.  You also aren’t angry with your wife for asking too many probing questions about your day.  You are upset because you feel like she doesn’t trust you and is checking up on you.   Knowing why you are upset and being able to communicate that makes a huge difference.  The same goes for understanding why your spouse is upset.

Again, this is just a primer.  There is much more that could be said.  You can anticipate a lot more in-depth analysis on how we can understand and live out these three principles well over the coming weeks and months.  I leave you with this to think about.  The issue that has you so upset right now—chores, money, golf, personal space—is that really why you are upset? If not, what is it really?  What is it about those specific problems that triggers such a big response from you and how can you communicate that better to your spouse?

It’s Not You, It’s Me

September 21, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There was a time in my life when I believed that every boss that I had was terrible.  One boss might be too passive.  Another might be too aggressive.  They were all less qualified than me to lead.  I often found myself wondering why I wasn’t the leader.  These guys were not good leaders.  I, on the other hand, was a great leader, and I couldn’t understand why I was always getting stuck with sub-par leaders.

It wasn’t that these guys were all the same kind of leaders.  They were very different in their personalities, leadership styles, ages, well, everything.  The one characteristic that they had in common was that they weren’t very good leaders.  I didn’t feel like that they respected me enough and were not being the kind of leader that I needed.

Then it dawned on me one day.  There is one primary factor that all of these relationships had in common that I had not really considered.  That common factor was me.  They were all different with different personalities and approaches, but I was the one constant.  Then it hit me.  What if the reason why these work relationship weren’t great wasn’t their fault at all?  What if it were me?

That seems rather obvious in hindsight.  Of course it was me.  I was selfish, prideful and immature.  It was impossible to lead me well, because I was a terrible follower.  My pride prevented me from being led.  Great men tried a lot of different ways to lead me, but no matter what they tried, I was critical and prideful.  I thought that I had it all together and they didn’t, when the reality was the exact opposite.

But what is obvious in hindsight, I was incredibly blinded to at the time.  I couldn’t see outside myself.  I was unwilling and unable to see what I was doing to make this a problem.  My eyes could only see the faults in other people and I couldn’t see the glaring faults that I had.  Hmm, there’s a verse about that somewhere:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

I couldn’t see them clearly because of the giant log in my own eye, but I couldn’t see or comprehend that there was a giant log in my own eye.  My thinking had gotten so crazy that I began to believe that there was some conspiracy against me, either created by God or people.  I didn’t know which.  I went to crazy lengths to justify and explain why it seemed everyone around me was wrong and I was right.

Sound familiar? I know that you don’t want it to sound familiar, but it is.  We find ourselves in situations where we believe that a large group of people are against us or failing us in some way.  We have our own conspiracy theories.  Why do I only attract jerks in dating relationships?  Why do none of my kids listen to me?  Why are all my friends so mean to me?  Why is everyone I know an idiot?  You begin to view yourself as a victim, the only sane person in a crazy world.

However, the common denominator in all your dysfunctional relationships is you.  That may sound overly harsh, but it is true.  If you always are attracting the wrong kind of person in dating relationships, there is something wrong with your sensors.  If none of your kids are listening, there’s a problem with your approach to your kids.

The last diagnosis (that it’s my fault) that we will consider in why our relationships aren’t going well needs to become our first.  What can I do differently?  Maybe I am the one who is unhealthy and needs to make some changes.  While I strongly encourage you to share this post on social media, please don’t tag anyone else.  Resist the urge to think about how someone that you love needs to read this so that they will change, but consider instead that this is for you.

So what do you need to do?  The primary action item for you is to get right with God spiritually.  Make sure that the most important relationship in your life is healthy.  When that relationship is healthy, we have the energy that we need to work on the other relationships in our lives.  When it isn’t healthy, we become demanding and prideful and began to ask more from other people than we are willing and able to give ourselves.

Then when that relationship is solid, ask God to help you become emotionally healthy.  Ask him to heal the hurts that you have and to make you whole again.  What he will do is heal you and then point out for you the areas in which you need to grow and develop.

You’ll then be pleasantly surprised how your attitude about the broken relationships in your life change and the energy that you have to love and serve people around you.  God will heal those relationships in your life, because you humbly allowed him to heal you first.  That begins with a humble admission that, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

The Questions You Wish They Would Stop Asking by Heidi Loften

September 18, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

“Hey Hon. How was your day?’

“Who did you meet with today?”

“What did you and the kids do today?”

“How was school?”

These are typical questions exchanged in a typical family on any typical day.

But our thoughts when we are posed these questions are frequently less than receptive.  Cue cartoon thought bubbles…

“Basically the same as every other day this week.”

“I didn’t want to have the meetings in the first place.  Much less rehash them now that I am home.”

“We bought groceries and cleaned house and did laundry and picked up the same 47 toys 47 times.”

“It was school.”

The questions may be different. The answers may vary.  But the sentiments are the same.

Q:  “Talk to me.  Invite me into your world.  Share your information with me so that I can connect with you.”

A:  “The information is unimportant and recounting it to you is tedious.  What do I have to say to get you to stop asking me questions?”

The problem with the daily question ritual is that it frequently frustrates both the asker and the asked because it requires the recounting of unimportant facts and does not lead to the true connection desired by the asker.  Depending on your personality and relational dynamics, you may find yourself usually the question asker, usually the asked, or occasionally both.  I am frequently the asker, pumping my husband and kids for information to give me a window into their lives and a taste of the outside world that most stay at home moms are starved for.  However, I am also guilty of rolling my eyes and gritting my teeth before answering inquiries of, “What did you and Laylah (3) do today?” from my well-meaning husband or kids.

Whether you are asking the questions or avoiding them, taking a closer look at what is really happening in this daily ritual, might help us all trade the Q & A dance for interactions that truly invite connection.  There are some things that both parties “need to know” and corresponding “to do’s.”

1. What you need to know:  The heart behind the questions is connection.

Viewing the person drilling you with unwelcome questions as a person who wants to emotionally connect with you, rather than the equivalent of a buzzing mosquito will radically change the tenor of you interaction.

What you need to do:

Look for ways to connect with the question askers in your life.  Offer them your eyes (rather than a view of the back of your phone).  Recognize the love they feel for you and how much they value you.

2. What you need to know:  Information is power.

Yes, the details of what you did today are unimportant.  However, sharing those details with a loved one invites that person into your world and communicates that you value him/her and want to connect.

What you need to do:

Answer the questions.  Place their desire to connect above your desire to avoid tedious questions.  Value others above yourself.

In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2: 3-4

3. What you need to know:  Asking someone to rehash their day rarely leads to true connection.

You ask, “How was your day?” but you want to know “How are you?”  Invite people to talk about things they want to share about.  Questions they want to answer lead to answers you want to hear.

What you need to do:

Ask different questions.  Rather than asking for a play by play of the day’s happenings, ask for their color commentary.  “How did you feel about your meeting?”  “What are you looking forward to tomorrow?”  “You seem happy.  Did something good happen today?”

Let’s push outside of the easy and mundane questions to draw our family members into real conversation.  Better questions will lead to better answers.  And the next time someone you love asks, “How was your day?” resist the urge to eye roll and take a moment to be thankful you have someone who asks!

One Simple Thing You Can Stop Doing That’s Stressing Out Your Kids

September 16, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So there I was at McDonalds on a Sunday morning, doing what I do every Sunday morning–playing games on my iPad when I should be polishing up my sermon.  No, no, no.  I’m working on my sermon. Then a family comes and sits in the booth next to me.  The mom sets the dad and the kids down at the booth and before she goes and orders, she asks her 2-3 year old son a question.

“What would you like to drink?”


“Do you want milk?”








You might think that I’m exaggerating the number of times of this back and forth went down because I’m a curmudgeon.  However, I assure you that if this is not accurate, it is because that it is under-reported.

Disclaimers: I am not normally an eavesdropper.  I usually keep to myself in these situations and try not listen to other people’s conversations.  This was loud and right next to me. Also, I am not the kind of guy who judges someone’s parenting by their worst moment at Wal-Mart (What is it about Wal-Mart that makes kids throw fits? Something in the air?  Also, something in the air of malls sucks the life out of dads.) I’m sure this is a good family.  I’m simply making an observation about this situation and what it says about a troubling trend in parenting.

So what is the problem here at McDonalds?  The mom asked her son to make a choice when she didn’t really want him to have a choice.  She wanted him to have milk.  She was hoping that somehow her son would naturally choose against the sweet sugary caffeinated drink that energizes and hypes him up and instead would choose the healthy option so that his bones would be strong.  That is not a choice that a lot of kids are going to make, if they legitimately have a choice.

So now they have this altercation in public and the mom is stressed because the kid won’t choose milk.  The kid is stressed because someone asked him what he wanted and he told them.  Then they decided he wasn’t going to get what he wanted.  Not just that, he was being told that what he wanted.  She’s stressed.  He’s stressed.  I’m stressed. (Wait. That’s irrelevant.)

What should the mom have done?  Simple, yet potentially controversial, answer: stop giving your kid choices.  Give the kid milk.  The kid is too young for soda, and it would seem that you know that.  You don’t want him to have soda.  Don’t give the kid soda.  Don’t give him the choice for soda.

“Wait, wait, wait.  It’s important to teach kids how to make choices.  We don’t want to be controlling.  We want to foster healthy self-esteem.”  Fine, I’ll soften it a little bit.  Don’t give a kid a choice when he doesn’t really have a choice.  Only give choices when choices are actually available.  “You are having milk for breakfast.  Would you like to drink it out of the carton directly, do you want a straw or do you want me to put in a cup for you?”  Now you have given your child a choice they can make.

How do you know the difference?

1)       Don’t give them a choice if there is a wrong choice. This stresses kids out big-time.  You are giving them a false sense of control when they have none. You are telling them that they can make their own decision, but they can’t.

Mom works all afternoon making dinner. “We are having chicken for dinner. Would you like some?”  “No.” Gives kid chicken for dinner.

How frustrating is that?  You make the kid think they have a choice.  They don’t.  Better to teach your kids that there are some areas in our life where we don’t really have a choice.  There are boundaries to the decisions that we can make.  Their teachers do not ask them if they are ready for the test.  They place the test on the desk.  Their boss will not ask them if they are ready to come to work.  They tell them when work starts and fire them if they determine they are “not ready.”

You are the parent.  Teach and show them what they are supposed to do.  Teaching your kids right and wrong supersedes their need to make choices.  Show them right.  Point them away from wrong and when they later are in situations where there is a right and wrong choice, they will be equipped to make the right choice.

2)      Don’t give them a choice that they are not ready for. Do not ask your child at bed-time if they are ready for bed.  Do not ask them at dinner time if they are hungry.  Unless, they are rhetorical questions.  Even still, I advise against it.  Tell your child it is bed-time.  Tell them it is time to eat.  Who cares if they are ready? They don’t know how much sleep they need.  They don’t know when or what kind of food they need to eat.  You do, because you are the parent.

This does not end when your kids get older.  They become ready for some choices and are not ready for others.  My girls do not get to decide when they are ready to date or whom they are going to date. (I get a smug satisfaction from using whom correctly.)  My wife and I decide that. They don’t get to decide when they are ready to drive on their own.  Their parents decide that.  We want them to be a part of the process.  They can give input, but they don’t get to choose on their own.  Our oldest is a Senior and is making a decision about college.  Let me say that better.  She is a part of facilitated process where together we will make a decision.

Doesn’t it frustrate your kids that they can’t make their own decisions? Doesn’t it bother them that you don’t trust them?  Simple answer: yes.  However, I don’t believe that it is near the level of frustration that a kid has that has to make choices that they don’t know how to make or to be given false hope that they can make a decision when they can’t.

It is our job to train our girls.  We have to teach them to make good decisions.  We have to help them to get ready for decisions that they will face when they are away from us—school, with friends, etc.  That is hard work and it can be very stressful, but not near as stressful as dealing with a kid who is being asked to make decisions that they shouldn’t or can’t make.

« Previous PageNext Page »