Mall of Asia, Race for Life 2015
“Are you going to run with me or run ahead?”, Yasmin asked, throwing me off-guard.
I answered a nano-second too slow.
“You’re going to run ahead aren’t you?” She followed up.
I was still torn, knowing that we would be running slower but I answered, “No, I’ll run with you.”
She smiled. And right there I already won the race.
I was thinking about that moment at the race, and about the adjustment needed when choosing to walk with others in relationship. It’s difficult for me being so used to setting my own objectives and running at my own pace. I’ve realized that I have in many ways become an efficiently selfish guy. Which I never realized being single, because the ability to mark objectives, fix your schedule, and discipline yourself towards those objectives is seen as a strength, and it is. But being in a relationship introduces a new dynamic to my day, and it’s no longer “How am I going to maximize today?” but “How are we, Yasmin and I, going to make something beautiful?”
Working as a team is harder than it sounds because it’s not simply about agreeing to pray together or sharing your dreams. It’s an uncomfortable process of learning to change your rhythm or lack of rhythm and calibrating to run at a pace you both can sustain. In many ways for me it means speeding up, particularly my maturity and learning to communicate with a female better. (Which probably means I should stop referring to ladies as females.) But it also means slowing down. It means not just running around and be content to share things on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, but learning to put things down, call her on the phone, and say things like “How was your day?” or give a more detailed account to my day than “It was ok.” That might sound funny given that I’m a writer with over a thousand posts floating around, but as Yasmin has figured out by now, I’m not actually that great at communicating on the spot, that my posts are not the product of some communications expert but a process, a long one, of reflection and draft after draft. But I don’t get draft after draft with Yasmin. No guy gets a “save as draft” when communicating with their lady. We only get “published”. And I need to learn how to do that right if I’m to make something beautiful with Yasmin.
“Woah! Look at him!”, Yasmin pointed at a lean-muscled African runner speeding past, already on his way back, much much ahead of all the other runners. “Now he’s fast!”
And he really was. I have to admit to the insecurity of my heart, as my first thoughts were, “I could be running faster than I am now but I have to run at your pace. I’m faster than this.” I felt a tug-of-war within me. One side wanting to run ahead, push my capabilities, and see how well I could perform, and the other thinking about my commitment to run WITH Yasmin, not ahead of her. In hindsight, no one really cares about my time. It’s not like I’m a pro-runner or some sort of celeb. The only person who really cared about my time is… drumroll… ME. I think part of maturing in a relationship is going from wanting to be impressive to your partner to just being there with your partner through everything. That’s more mundane but not because it’s unimportant, it is, like many of the most important things in life, fundamental.
“If you want to run ahead, you can.” Yasmin said, reading my mind. “I can see it in your face.”
I looked at her and resolved to stop considering running ahead. I replied, “No we’re running together. And I’m going to pull you if I have to. We’re not going to stop until we finish.”
And that’s what I did. I took her hand, running a few steps ahead I pulled her to run a bit faster than what we were doing. Yasmin laughed, “You’re so competitive.” And I am, but I realize now that the competition wasn’t about me trying to win a race I never would have won anyway. The real fight was between me and myself. Would I let my personal desire to clock-in a better time beat my greater desire of finishing with Yasmin? I silently told the selfish part of me what I tell everything and everyone I compete with: “I’m going to beat you.” Then I pointed at a couple running ahead of us, “There’s our target. Let’s finish before them. Let’s go!” Yasmin just kept laughing.
I think there’s an extreme that’s quite prevalent in Philippine society, that what’s important is that we all get along in relationship regardless of our performance. That’s a loser’s mentality. And when we gather a bunch of people who think that way, we end up with a bunch of losers. Yes, relationships matter, but performance matters too. Yes, enjoying a party together matters, but waking up early, being responsible, and being highly successful at your calling matters too.
Here’s why: To say that you love someone means that you’re giving them your best. If your best sucks, then what your loved one will get won’t be amazing. If I say that I love someone but won’t push myself, discipline myself, fight my feelings, fight my laziness, fight my fears, fight my selfishness, to be amazing for that person then maybe I need to rethink about what I understand is love. It means I’m ok that the people I love don’t get something amazing.
I’ve realized that to love someone means that the thought of them having less than amazing is more painful to me than the pain of the effort and sacrifice of giving my very best.
And if the pain of the effort and sacrifice is greater than the pain of knowing the person you love will have less, we should really check out hearts.
This is why we need leaders who run ahead. People who say “Don’t settle! Fight!” But we need leaders who’ll take our hand even as they run ahead, reminding us that “Yes, we’re not going to settle, but you’re more important than the goal, to run with you is the goal, and when we achieve greater goals together we will enjoy greater fruits! Let’s pick up the pace!”
Many times Yasmin runs ahead of me. Especially in the area of patience, kindness, and gentleness, which are all part of the Fruit of the Spirit, and just as crucial as self-control (discipline) and faith. It’s also an adjustment for her to see how slow I am at that race, and I appreciate it when she runs ahead, exhibiting more patience than I do, showing kindness when I’m unkind, and being gentle when I my temper starts flaring. But I appreciate it more that she does all of those things not to show me how much better she is, but to be the partner pulling me to perform better in areas I’ve done poorly in. I’m happy that she doesn’t go down to my level of impatience or to my level of unkindness. That would be settling for less. In this race to have more of the Fruit of the Spirit, she doesn’t slow down because I’m slow, she pulls me forward.
Sometimes we run ahead of our partners and the people who follow us, and forget to stay linked. We forget that being good or smart or strategic or creative or kind or full of faith or brave or to have any talent or skill, is for us to run at an excellent standard YET stay linked, with arms stretched backwards, pull people to a higher standard. Sometimes, we stay linked at a low standard and we wonder why life doesn’t seem to be getting better or why things aren’t improving. It’s because we’ve settled together and have forgotten to grow together.
There was a part of the race where Yasmin’s knee started to hurt and instead of stopping, I went behind her and pushed her. Every time she felt like stopping, I would place a hand behind her and push her gently. A friend of mine who saw me, joked, “David! Slave Driver!” We laughed. Yasmin, told me, “Don’t stop. It helps. I want to finish without stopping.”
To make a long story short we finished. It wasn’t my best time, but it was OUR best time. Come to think of it, this was the most fun I’ve had in a race, so I did have my best time. And to see the look of accomplishment on Yasmin’s face after, to know that we didn’t stop, and to know that we finished together is priceless.
I guess here’s the lesson I would like to share: In this race of life, and maybe race isn’t the best analogy, so let me change it, in the journey of life, whether we’re building a family, a business, a community, or whatever, sometimes we need to run ahead. We need to set a high standard and not allow people to settle. Mediocrity is evil. It is selfish. It is an attitude that fails to understand that to love God and love others means to say “the pain of knowing you don’t have my best is worse than the pain of giving you my best.” But sometimes we have to go behind, pushing people forward even if it means we lag for a bit, but communicating that “You’re more than your performance, you’re my partner. And you better ante up because I’m going to push you.”
I’ve learned that being a leader, and we’re all called to lead amazing lives, requires the wisdom to know when to run ahead and when to run behind. But I’ve also seen that in a highly democratized world, where the Internet has given us access to information, perspective, and the power to influence others from our vantage points, a key skill for leaders will be our ability to run beside others. In a world of a million influences, it’s not the leader who says “Look at me. Follow me.” who will change the world. It’s the leader who says, “Run with me. Train with me. Fight with me.” who will succeed. To develop people means that someday they’re running beside you, not behind you. To help the poor means that we’re restoring equity, not simply giving handouts. To educate others means that they someday can contribute to intelligent solutions not merely learn to appreciate the brains of another. To raise mature people means that someday they’re not dependent on you or others. They’re able to carry their own weight.
Maybe we should also judge our leaders differently, not asking “Are they great?” but “Do they make others great?”
I truly believe that the leaders who desire to run with others will beat the performance of those who just simply run ahead of everyone. It’s the sustainable to path to grow. It’s also the more enjoyable way to live.
In the journey of life, if we are to thrive, sometimes, we must run ahead, setting an example, pulling people forward, and not letting them settle. Sometimes, we must run behind, giving people a strong base to push forward. And for this new world of highly empowered individuals, we must learn to run beside, influencing more than ordering, coaching more than commanding. And no matter where we are, ahead, behind, beside, we must always run in the same direction – together.
I remember lying on top of cracked pots on a cool yet sunny Baguio day. Just a few seconds ago I was at the top of a steep hill, about to attempt what my older brother, Joseph, just did with no difficulty: ride a bike down the hill. For some reason I’ve already forgotten, I was using Joshua’s bike which had broken breaks (but we didn’t know that). My dad instructed me, “You can do this David. Just ride it down, break if you feel like you’re going too fast, that’s it.”
So I kicked off and started going down. Very quickly it was apparent that something was wrong. I couldn’t break and the sight of a row of plants on large pots, a lamppost, and a drop in front of me just kept getting closer. The next thing I know, I’m squinting at the glare of a bright sun, my head hurts like crazy, I can feel sharp ceramic and thorns on my skin, and I’m saying “Lord” over and over.
Then I saw my dad run up, worried as hell, check me, and then I felt thorns plucking out of my jacket as he lifted me. “You’re really a tough kid.” my dad said. “I told you not to pedal. I told you to break.” He continued. “I shouldn’t have pedaled but I couldn’t break” I explained.
When we got into the house my mom wiped the blood from the side of my head. “You’re really like Rambo now” my dad told me, and I remember picturing a bloody Rambo from a movie I used to watch over and over. “Yeah”. I replied proudly.
“Ok, rest a bit, let’s fix the breaks, then let’s go back out there.”
And we did. And I rode down the hill with no problem. And my dad and brothers and I rode down that hill, and other hills, and other paths, and trails, and roads.
I remember that incident and I realize now what my dad did, he wanted me to learn the right lesson. The lesson wasn’t that riding bikes downhill is dangerous. The lesson wasn’t you’re too small for steep hills. The lesson wasn’t you’re no good at biking. The lesson was: here’s how you conquer things. Here’s how you conquer cliffs. Here’s how you face your fears. Here’s how you get back up from failure.
It’s similar to when, just the day after my brother Joseph nearly killed both of us in a total car wreck by driving too fast, my dad throws the keys to his car and says, “You drive for us”. He wanted Joseph to learn how to be careful. He didn’t want him to learn how to be afraid of driving.
Many times I find that different people in very similar contexts, living in the same county, working in the same offices, or sitting in the same classrooms, walk away with very very different lessons.
Most people go to class thinking: I need to pass. The smartest people I know are always thinking: How do I understand. The former will learn how to pass (even if it involves cheating). The latter will learn how to understand. Guess who’ll become more successful?
Some people are stressed at work and learn: “My boss is an ass” or “I need a vacation” or “work sucks” or “the setup sucks”. The most productive people I know, the ones who make things happen, are learning: “What can I learn from my boss?”, “What can I improve?” or “How do I lead up?” or “How do I manage my time better so that I can be productive AND recharge?” or “How do I change my context to make me more efficient?” The earlier group will learn how to rationalize their mediocrity. The latter group will change their workplaces for the better.
Some people go through a breakup and learn: “I need to kiss dating goodbye” or “guys suck” or “girls are liars” or “everyone is a cheater” or “I’m not pretty” or “no one will ever want me”. Others will go through one and learn “That’s the last time I’m making looks my main priority” or “Next time I won’t rush” or “it’s time I really clearly state my values”. One group will become bitter, fearful, and probably terrible future partners or never have a partner (which isn’t so bad really). The other group will be wiser and better prepared for a new beginning.
Some people tried the entrepreneurial route, went bust, and learned: “It’s risky”, “There’s no money”, “It’s hard”, “I’m better off with a stable job”. Others will learn “So that’s what I should have done!”, “I need to choose my partners better”. Guess who will build that next great business?
A lot of religiously superstitious people will fail at something and chalk it up to it not being “God’s will”, and will miss the true learning opportunities. Maybe the lesson needed was stewardship and discipline. Maybe it’s perseverance.
A lot of people will see get-rich-quick stories and think that’s what they need to figure out instead of learning about timing, about character-building, about the reality of breaks.
Some people will see an evil person succeed, a violent man gain power, or a manipulative woman move ahead, they’ll learn that the world is unfair, that good people finish last. They’ll miss the lesson that we get what we run after, we get what we sacrifice for, but even more, they’ll miss the opportunity to reflect that maybe money, and power and fame aren’t the barometers of success, and they’ll miss the chance to know their own personal values.
All of these examples are to say one thing: As you go through life don’t learn the wrong lessons. The wrong lessons like I mentioned in my last article are lessons that teach us fear, teach us pride, teach us bitterness. They are the lessons that trap us under the guise of wisdom. They are the lessons that teach us to mistrust instead of learn who to trust. They are the lessons that harden us for the sake of security, that make us selfish for the sake of practicality, that teach us pride for the sake of self-esteem.
No one progresses by learning the wrong lessons. They will only make us more narrow minded. A narrow mind is a mind choked by the wrong lessons. It’s so full that new ideas, new concepts, even the consideration of new thoughts, can’t pass, so discovery is killed at inception.
Instead, learn the right lessons. Failure should teach you to improve. Heartbreak should show us that we can bounce back from anything, even more, heartbreaks should remind us of how broken the world is, and of how we desperately need God. Goliaths should remind us of the Davids that toppled them, and the faith that powered them. Darkness should activate us to be the lights, even better to daily live as a light, like a star automatically shining bright in a world of cold nights. If we foster a mind that learns the right lessons from anything, we will find that the wisdom we need to face the things we have to face, do the things we ought to do, and be the person we hope to be is not just available but all around us.
Disclaimer: This is my opinion and not the position of anyone I know, am related to, or any organization I belong to.
I Don’t Believe That
I don’t believe in a lot of things people believe in. I think a lot of the “advice” floating around is simplistic regurgitation designed to entertain, impress, and inspire, more than improve. Even the “harsher” opinions know-it-alls like to put on their status seems more like a “I know better than you” position than coming from a deep desire to make the world a better place. If it was truly their conviction it would be so apparent in how they handle their day to day activities.
A lot of what is going around is just entertainment masquerading as wisdom with very little real effect other than the amusement of the listener (since most won’t practice) and the lifting up of the teacher. Wasn’t the teacher supposed to be lifting up others? Why is our metric for a good teacher based on how impressively they taught than how effectively the lesson was caught?
I can make a list of things I don’t believe but for this post I’m focusing on popular relationship ideas.
“Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are looking for a marriage partner who will ‘fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.’ And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to a deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry.” – Timothy Keller
I don’t believe in Happy Wife = Happy Life.
I don’t believe that because I don’t believe that the main purpose of a relationship is each other’s happiness, just as I don’t believe that a person’s main purpose is happiness. What a small value to attach to life by summing up its purpose to such an unstable emotion. Equating a happy wife to a happy life is not just inaccurate it’s misleading.
Let’s start with the inaccuracy.
I was talking to a nice man who had been working incredibly hard to please his wife’s high expectations. He was providing (she had a lifestyle standard, particularly for the kids), he was going to Bible studies (where he always felt like the bad husband), he was serving (because good husbands are active in school and church), he was spending time with the kids (because that’s what good fathers did), he was honest, he was respectable, he was so many things yet opened up that he felt like he had a lot to improve and was discouraged. I asked him why he was carrying this huge burden, he simply said, “Happy wife happy life right?”
I told him, “I know it rhymes, but a happy wife doesn’t mean a happy life if it’s achieved at your expense. In your case your wife may be getting what she wants but would you really say your life is happy?” he was quiet.
Now let’s talk about that idea being misleading.
I believe that ultimately a person’s happiness is his or her own responsibility – not the responsibility of something or someone external. If our happiness is external, then our happiness will be circumstantial. People who truly love each other take on the responsibility of the other’s happiness, but this is a two-way street, not the exclusive role of the leader of the relationship. As the leader, the man should be bringing the couple closer to their purpose, which is not necessarily a sweet spot of comfort and security. To say that a man’s main role as a husband is the happiness of his spouse is to say that a marriage’s main purpose is to achieve the happiness and security of the couple. This statement misleads us towards idolatry. When we idolize happiness and security, we will burden our partners with the expectation of providing something they will never be able to provide instead of truly being good for them and working together to achieve a common purpose that’s greater than their “Story of Us”.
I see this burdening expectations a lot. I see it in children who expect their parents to provide them with something even as they make no contribution to their parents’ success. I see this with husbands and wives burdening each other to be a certain person but blind to the fact that they make no tangible contribution to improving the life of the other. I see bosses demanding and employees resenting. Teachers harassing and students rebelling.
We don’t make the world a better place by burdening others with our expectations. We make the world better by taking the burden upon ourselves, asking a paraphrasing of that famous statement from John F. Kennedy, Ask not what others do for you but what you do for others.
When I read stories of individuals and couples who understood that their lives were meant for more than just self-fulfillment but for a greater purpose, the righting of an injustice, the lifting of the poor, the challenging of oppression, the discovery of great knowledge, I’m reminded not to allow myself to turn my life into a pursuit of a lifestyle I want and people admire but of purpose.
To unburden people of the wrong expectations, to remove selfish entitlements, and to encourage people to focus on a purpose more than an ideal lifestyle is my motivation for writing this post.
Let me break it down:
“I want to slow down.” it’s a sentiment I hear too many times from young men. “I’m tired.” and “I’m burnt out.” It’s amazing how men in their 20s and 30s are giving in to their weariness at such a young age. I remember trying to encourage someone to hang tough. I told him, “I know it’s tiring. Believe me I’ve gone through my own crap. But don’t give up. Dig deep. If you don’t dig deep you’ll never discover the potential within you.”
It didn’t work.
I wonder about the state of our families, if the young men are burning out so young, how are they going to fight when they’re 60 or 70? If we’re quitting at extended stress at work, how are we going to fight the long and massive battle against injustice and massive corruption? If we’re slowing down now, how will our economy ever grow fast enough to have significant effect to help the poor?
I hear people say that the family is the smallest unit of society and that it’s the key to changing it. What sort of society are we going to have if our most prominent men are corrupt or pretty boys with no public stance on social issues because they’re too afraid of the ugliness of the fight, and if our young men are raised to be nice, and pure, and holy, and wise, yet unable to think independently, unable to stand on their own, unable to handle doubt and uncertainty, and unable to take responsibility for objectives, unable to bear periods of loneliness, unable to do things without external validation, and unable to handle failure?
We’re going to have a very weak man. He’ll be a nice man. His wife might even like him. But he’ll be weak. Because, like I said earlier, there’s so much emphasis on his role as chief lifestyle provider, and making sure the home has a great balance of spiritual, economic, and emotional provision, and very little emphasis on how his purpose as a leader is not towards a lifestyle sweetspot but towards a greater purpose than being nice and admirable, but impactful towards the social need of the moment. For Filipino men, I believe it should be to lead families that will contribute to the challenging and defeating poverty and injustice, because that is the social context we find ourselves in.
Reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend about the head of very large church he interviewed. He asked me what questions I would ask him if I was the one interviewing, and I answered, “Ask him if crime went down in his city during his tenure as head of that church. If poverty incidence went down too.” My friend told me, “Those are great questions but we can’t ask that. We know the answer.”
The answer was that not only did poverty and corruption not go down during his celebrated tenure but most likely increased.
Are we really successful leaders in the context God has placed us in, if we so skillfully craft holy lifestyle bubbles that shield us from the realities of the life around us, only to burn out so quickly when our bubbles are popped and the tension, pressure, embarrassment, difficulty, stress, pain, fear, and grief of the real world are inescapable?
No. How can we say we are successful when we don’t have to go far to see that we have so much unfinished, heck, un-started, work to do?
I have a hunch that the main reason why many men today are unsatisfied in their marriages is not because they don’t get enough sex or feel under appreciated (which does contribute), but because they have been so shrunk to taking care of their family’s lifestyle, instead of being immersed in a purpose beyond them. When wisdom means safe, when love means provide, when faithful means sensitive, when the dreams we’re left fulfilling are dream vacations, dream homes, and lifestyle pegs, even traditional and religious pegs, the heart of man becomes caged, yes in a velvet cage, but a cage nonetheless. And it seeks release in different ways, many times in private escapes that lead to trouble.
That wild heart was meant to go an adventure. It was meant to take risks and find that it could handle them, and handle the losses that come with being truly alive. It was meant to risk being wounded and to wear scars bravely. It was meant to reach up and out. It was built to bounce back from mistakes.
And it was meant to do all of these in pursuit of a purpose greater than his and his family’s comfort and security.
If you’re single, go find something much bigger than you and pour yourself into it. If you’re married do the same thing, and share it with your family. Again, for Filipino men, I believe that “bigger something” has to do with addressing the issues of poverty and injustice all around the country – and not just having an opinion on it. Go pick a fight. Pick a fight with your fears, with your laziness, with your apathy, with your need for external validation, with your need for comfort and security.
A relationship for a man shouldn’t be a cage of to-dos but a partnership with someone who so deeply shares his life purpose empowering him to do even greater things and not limiting him, giving him more confidence to try and try harder not discouraging him with fears. In this context we see an even greater part for a wife, a part so crucial, and so fulfilling.
A part that has been reduced to being a princess.
Sometimes, when I hear girls talk about their man or their dream man, I want to tell them that I don’t believe it’s a guy’s lifetime purpose, not even their husband’s, to make their dreams come true.
I don’t believe that a man who spends more time at home to play with his kids is automatically a better family man than one who comes home late after working hard for his family, just as I don’t believe stay-at-home moms are better than working moms, or the other way around. I don’t believe that the goal is to achieve society’s popular ideal of what a relationship should be, and that the closer we are to this ideal, the better we are.
I don’t believe that the wife of a man who courts her every day is automatically luckier than the wife of a man who fights it out with the world to make a dent.
I don’t believe that the more attractive two people are the luckier they are. Sometimes good looks mask deep conceit.
I don’t believe that a girl who gets a man who is a “complete package”, good looking, wealthy, nice body, spiritual, loves her, is luckier than a girl who gets a simple man who only has love to offer. Isn’t love (and I mean true life laying love, not cheap proclamation) already infinitely more valuable than all the other qualities? And if you have what’s most infinitely valuable, and that already fulfills you, why is someone luckier to have the peripherals? Maybe love isn’t what it’s been made out to be. Or maybe we don’t grasp it enough to truly enjoy it.
Maybe if we stopped drinking idealistic and superstitious Kool-Aid we would actually appreciate the beauty of what we already have, of who we already have. Yes, there are nut cases out there, but there are also honest, diligent, kind, loving men who will not fit popular ideals but deserve much respect and appreciation nonetheless, and don’t need the extra burden of deluded expectations.
If you have a guy (and he’s not a lying, lazy, cheat), appreciate him, even if he can’t afford to take family vacations every year, or buy you fancy things, or treat you like a princess, or do majority of the 10 things popular blogs say a good man should do. By the way, historically, princesses made very little impact in society, even the treaties they were supposed to have assured didn’t last long. Why do you want to be as useless as them? Unless Disney and Hollywood are where you get your life cues – which isn’t real life.
Real life is less glamorous.
Even if your family is in a struggle, especially if your family is in a struggle, support him. Your man needs a partner not a princess, a helpmate not simply a prettifier of things, he needs an encourager not a walking set of entitlements and expectations.
A walking set of entitlements and expectations. I find that while there are many weak men, there are many bratty women, even spiritually bratty women.
The easiest way to identify brats is in the way they respond to when they don’t get what they want from others.
Brats respond with an attitude that says, “Because you didn’t give me what I want (or what I expect from you), I’m going to treat you with less kindness, less care, less respect, less priority, less love.”
It’s the woman who disrespects her husband because he’s not respectable. It’s the wife who complains to her friends (even church friends or yoga buddies) of all the shortcomings of her husband.
We see this when women complain or pout when their husband can’t afford something – even if that thing is a nice uniform for the kids, or a tutor, or tennis lessons, or vacation bible school, instead of partnering with him in prayer and hard work, sharing his load instead of adding herself to the load.
We see this when women compare their partners, even unmindfully, so impressed, so giddy, and so excited about famous people (including celebrity leaders), people they don’t even know, who don’t feed them, who don’t know they exist, yet when it comes to their partners, they’re so critical, so impatient, so disappointed, and lacking in the maturity and intelligence to know remind themselves, “This guy is imperfect. Just like me. Yet for all of his imperfections, this man makes my life possible in so many ways. Even just for that, I need to respect him. And maybe, if I paid the respect forward, he’ll walk in respectability.”
We see this when wives keep a record of wrongs, regularly bringing up a past failure for a current difficulty. “If you had done this instead of that”, “If you had just listened to me.” What would the effect be if instead of constantly making men pay for past sins, they’re told, “Hey we made a mistake. You made a mistake. But now we’re both here. And we’re going to face this thing together. When I told you I would stay for better or worse, I meant it, and I didn’t mean I would sit idly and let you continue to make mistakes, but I also didn’t mean I would constantly be a grumbler and a burden. I meant I was partnering with you, to do whatever it takes to make our joint life, and to do it all because I love you, and I haven’t forgotten that. What’s needed now is for you to step up in a big way, and for me to get more involved, not less, for us to stand together, walk together, and right now, kneel together, to invite God back in.”
Wives don’t need their husband to be amazing to do that. Just as people don’t need other people to be amazing in order to be amazing themselves. Ladies can transcend their situation and be the woman they’re supposed to be regardless if those around them play their parts.
Just like I encourage the people in my teams to get good at where they are, to commit, not to hedge, because hedging (having fall backs) because we’re afraid, seems safer, but assures failure, because having an alternative means you divide your attention, and success in life’s great things, such as marriage, requires undivided passion. So instead of complaining about and disrespecting what you have, get good at making whatever it is you do have beautiful.
Don’t be a walking set of entitlements and expectations. You’ll never be happy. You’re going to be a bottomless pit. You’re going to consume so much resources, grow old, and have nothing to show for it. And don’t attach yourself, don’t be in a relationship, with a bottomless pit. You’ll never provide enough, never pray enough, never be excellent enough, never be wise enough, never strong enough, never anything enough. You’ll tire yourself to death yet never feel appreciated. Why live that way?
(Of course guys can be guilty of all the above as well, just as women can be weak.)
A partner without a greater sense of purpose than the lifestyle of her family is going to be a bottomless pit.
This leads me to the last part of this post.
People who have applied to work for one of the companies I manage, know that one of the questions I ask is, “If you could do anything, and money wasn’t a consideration, what would you do?” Most of the answers I get fall into two categories: the security bucket and fun bucket, both of which I dump into one big lifestyle bucket.
The main ambition of people I talk to is to achieve a certain lifestyle sweetspot. For some it’s a materialistic sweet spot, for some it’s a religious sweet spot, and for many it’s a hybrid of the two. But the common thing is this: If money weren’t an issue, I would live the lifestyle I’ve always wanted.
“If I could do anything and money wasn’t an issue, I would travel around the world.” that’s an incredibly common one.
“If I could do anything and money wasn’t an issue, I would save and invest a large chunk of money so I won’t have to worry about it running out.” is a another very common one.
“I would build my dream house and a house for my family.” is another very common one.
Buy a dream car or some dream toy, experience some rare thing, visit some popular destination, start a business (particularly restaurants), start a social business because it’s a good thing, these are things I hear over and over and over. And this is after being blindsided with the question have to spend a few moments to think really long.
But once in a while I hear something different, something that makes me lean forward, and it’s not a correct answer or a correct way to answer, it’s not a great idea or an admirable one. It’s not even so much a word but a tone.
It’s the sound of passion. Not the thunderous sound of showmanship but the quiet sound of a deep burning. It’s the fire of purpose. True passion is found in people who burn with a purpose, with a reason that’s truly their’s, not their family’s or company’s, or community’s. Theirs.
And it’s so rare. Too many people are living for a dream lifestyle of comfort, security, and respectability.
I can’t say everyone I’ve hired has this burning. Many times, I feel it’s my responsibility to help kindle that burning, to help show them that life is way more than achieving a lifestyle sweet spot of respectability and no cares. I know from personal experience, that despite many many embarrassing failures and not being able to afford many things I want, that my life has been incredibly fulfilling.
Because it’s not about achieving a respectable lifestyle – but about chasing what I’m convinced is my God-given purpose, which is, through all of life’s ups and downs, victories and defeats, glories and sins, run to Him daily, and give the world I face the very best of me.
This living for lifestyle trap is prevalent in relationships. We see this ideal relationship, some celebrity kissing his wife, some worship leader carrying his baby, some couple on a dream vacation, a story of first kisses on a wedding day, an article of how “love won”, a portrait of a great dad with a sexy mom, and we set them up as lifestyle pegs. We set them up as standards for ourselves. We set them up as standards for others. We set them up as standards for our kids. And the closer relationships are to these standards, the better.
My opinion here is a big NOT NECESSARILY. Because I don’t believe that lifestyles should define the quality of relationships but the other way around. Your relationship should define your lifestyle.
If you’re both broke, don’t despair that you can’t afford what others can. Your relationship isn’t worse. It is what it is. Instead, practice self control and save, and enjoy the process of growing together.
If you didn’t get a great start in your relationship, don’t despair that you don’t have the fairy tale of someone else. You have your story. Was St. Paul greater than St Augustin? Doesn’t matter. They both changed the world. Was Michael Jordan greater than Lebron James? Doesn’t matter. They’ve both won championships. Put the comparing, the judging, and the criticism aside. No one can live out your relationship better than you for the simple reason that it’s not theirs but yours.
If you’re young, and don’t know a lot, don’t despair. Enjoy the learning process together.
If you’re old, and don’t have a lot of time left, make the most of each day.
If you’ve followed the book, that’s awesome! Enjoy the fruits of your wisdom.
If you’ve blazed a trail, that’s awesome too. Go make it a trail worth following.
Our relationship, who we’re with, the stage we are with them, our realities, should define the lifestyle we have NOT some idealized perception. We don’t have to live according to external standards.
But this also means we’re responsible for our relationships. This means that if things go wrong, they didn’t “just go wrong”, we let them go wrong. And if they stay wrong, they didn’t “just stay that way”, we let them.
Yes, we’re free from the comparisons with other relationships but we’re not free from the greater standard of love.
External standards say, “Be this kind of couple.” Love says, “Be humble.” External standards say, “Make sure he knows your love language.” Love says, “I love you even when you haven’t been loving.” External standards say, “Live this way” Love says, “Die each day”.
The freedom from external standards comes with the difficulty of the standard of love. Maybe this is why we prefer the formulas of external standard. They may cost time, money, and energy, but they don’t cost us everything.
True love costs us everything.
I like dreaming. I like imagining things. I like sitting on my beanbag, closing my eyes, and picturing grand things. I like reading stories of successful people, particularly startups that are doing amazing these days. And I especially like thinking about the benefits that will come if we achieve our goals.
Then the words achieve our goals hits me, and I get up from where I am, grab my notebook, open my laptop, and get back to work, or study, or make a call, or write an email. I step back from dreaming and place more time on achieving.
Because without hard work, discipline, commitment, diligence, and passion there won’t be any dreams to live out, just the ones gathering dust, stuck in my head. But the best dreams are the ones that get out of our heads. They’re the ones we live out, we turn into stories, we share with others.
To take a picture in your head and turn it into a reality is part of the creative calling that God has given us.
And that requires a lot of work.
It’s the same with relationships.
First, we need to have a greater dream, a greater purpose, than just achieving a lifestyle sweet spot where there are no worries. Getting out of this helps us bounce back from discouragement when things don’t go right, and protects us from living a small life of selfishness. It helps us stop comparing ourselves to others but measuring ourselves based on how well we’re living out our purpose. Again, for Filipinos I believe it must involve helping the poor and righting injustice, that goes beyond participating in “events” and “comments” but making sure that they poor and unjustly treated within our own immediate circles are served.
Next, we need to remember that we’re free from the external standards of what a relationship should be BUT we’re not free from the high standard of love. I don’t have to afford what other couples afford, I don’t have to look like them, act like them, or be like them, but I do have to lay my life down. That’s incredibly difficult.
That’s why we need to work on them, paying more attention to growing in love than feeling in love, judging our relationships not by how they compare to external standards but by how we’re putting each other first. This is very very very difficult. Even as I write this I remember many moments of personal selfishness, times like when my precious schedule is interrupted, that I need to defeat.
After thinking through my ideas on relationships, after saying all of that, I inevitably am faced with the reality of how much my leadership needs to improve, of how much I need to be a better partner, and of how far I am from the beautiful but lofty standard of love.
And this is why we need to end this post with the Gospel. Because with Jesus, the Son of the King came down not to live like a prince but to lead us from darkness to light. With the Holy Spirit, we have a helpmate, a wonderful counselor, someone who never leaves us – even when we’re despicable and have failed all sorts of standards. The story of the Gospel is not about a man who found a secret way to live, a moral code that leads to eternal happiness. It is the story of the power of true love in His pure life laid down.
Maybe if we copy His example and lay ourselves down more, we’ll see love truly win, not because some religious institution or supreme court said so, but because true love’s transformational power to heal the sick, feed the poor, comfort the weary, and lift the weak are undeniable in our every day lives.
And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.
– Luke 7:22