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A Leader Not a Prince. A Partner Not a Princess. A Purpose Not a Lifestyle

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:

A Leader Not A Prince
(You’re more than the Chief Lifestyle Provider)

“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.

A Partner Not A Princess
(Grow up from being “daddy’s little girl”)

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.

A Purpose Not A Lifestyle
(Rising from External Standards to the Standard of Love)

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.

(The Son of the King and the Wonderful Counselor)

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

A Shopping Guide for Life

“But you can never go wrong with the priceless things. They’ll always be a steal.”

The start of a new year is always a good time to step back and take deep look at the state of our lives. It’s a good time to evaluate ourselves, our desires and dreams, goals and accomplishments, our challenges and concerns, as well as our actions and decisions.

I actually think we should be doing this regularly – as in all-year regularly.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions simply because, based on my experience and casual observance of others, we rarely sustain these grand decisions. Instead, I like to follow the Japanese practice of Kaizen – continuously growing through small improvements each day. So every evening, right before reading a self-imposed number of chapters before bed, I like to evaluate my day, what went right, what went wrong, what should I work on tomorrow or the next few days, what goes on my to-do list, what are the challenges, and after considering them I lift them to God to bless, to redeem, sometimes to forgive. I try to apply this practice of incremental growth powered by God’s grace to the things I do, whether it be business, social work, study, my creative pursuits, or whatever.

Despite this I can still be a jerk (a capital JERK to some), still be selfish, or unkind, or lustful (Yes, you women can be incredibly beautiful – and irritatingly illogical so don’t let your head get too big.). I can still be arrogant sometimes (Ok, more than sometimes.), still insecure (Which is why I’m arrogant.), still fearful (Which is why I’m insecure.), and incredibly limited in my goodness and capabilities (Which is why I’m fearful.).

All these shortcomings are products of wrong decisions, which in turn are products of a skewed value-system. Somewhere along the way, whether consciously or unconsciously, I learned to value the wrong things. Not everything of course, I do have right values, but enough mistaken valuations to leave a mark.

When my brothers and I were kids my parents read us a story from the book No Wonder They Call Him Savior by Max Lucado. It tells the story of an unusual kind of robbery where some thieves broke into a store, and instead of taking items all they did was switch the price tags around. Some expensive things became cheap, and the cheap things became expensive.

The funny thing was that no one noticed the price change at first. So people shopped as usual, buying things at unusually huge discounts and unusually huge markups.

And sometimes our world is like that. We shop around through life sometimes making decisions that cost us more than what we get for it and sometimes taking other things of value for granted. And just like walking through a superstore, walking through life can be overwhelming with all the options calling out to you.

And so to help me remember (because I can be immensely forgetful) I have brought out a shopping list – a shopping list for life that I thought about when I was a teenager, detailing the things I would pursuit. I’ve changed some of the words and ordering but the treasures have stayed the same. Proof that, despite my lack of experience and knowledge at the time, an open heart can see with amazing clarity.

I use the article “a” instead of “the” because I don’t want to suggest that my list is the only list possible list or even the best. This is merely MY reminder for MYSELF that I hope will cause you to evaluate your situation, to see what it is you’re purchasing with your life decisions, and to weigh the cost that you’re paying.

My simple shopping list for life:

1. A real relationship with God
Where I’ll find it: In time spent with Him
Where I won’t find it: Religion

2. A family with a lot of kids
Where I’ll find it: With the birds and the bees, and a ball and chain – Kidding. I’m still trying to figure this one out.
Where I won’t find it: In my chauvinism, E-Harmony (Not that there’s anything wrong with E-Harmony. How do I say it? It’s just not me?)

3. The means to help the poor and unjustly treated
Where I’ll find it: Proper valuation
Where I won’t find it: In my selfishness that only focuses on what I want and what I need

4. The ability to steward the resources that are entrusted to me
Where I’ll find it: In humility – I don’t have it. I don’t know. Father, give me grace.
Where I won’t find it: In my arrogance and self sufficiency

Every now and then I get lost, while driving, while looking for a restaurant, or a shop, or just inside my head. Sometimes I get distracted, by a looming concern, a pretty face, a smart conversation. And even sometimes I lose my way, forgetting what’s really important, purchasing baggage at crazy prices. So I have to keep reminding myself of what I really want, of what’s really important to me. Because you’ll always go wrong by buying something you don’t really want, no matter how seemingly cheap. But you can never go wrong with the priceless things. They’ll always be a steal.