- Latest Posts
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
Peter Greer is president and CEO of HOPE International, a global nonprofit focused on Christ-centered job creation, savings mobilization, and financial training. He will be with us at The Gathering in Scottsdale in a few weeks, and we asked him to write a few thoughts for Fred's Thursday Blog while Fred is in Philadelphia.
A few years ago, after the kids were in bed, my wife Laurel said something I will never forget: You are choosing your ministry over me—and I feel nothing for you.
She said she was committed to me, but she had been growing increasingly discontent in our marriage.
I was blindsided by the comment. We had such a good start. We knew that God brought us together. I loved my wife. I loved my kids. But I was shocked into the realization that somehow my ministry had become my mistress.
Without recognizing it, I had started to have an unexpected affair… with my job.
What was justified as just a “busy season” became a busy year. Which turned into two. Then three.
There was always guilt about calling and saying I wouldn’t be home for dinner, but I felt something else too. At work, I was needed, affirmed—almost indispensable. I felt rewarded for going above and beyond – and I could see the impact. And most of all, I really believed in the work I was doing.
But if I had looked in the rearview mirror, I would have seen that Laurel was virtually operating as a single mom while I was building a “successful” ministry.
I was so focused on the demands and feelings of worth at work that I missed both the joy and significance of my key role as a husband and father.
Too often, in ministry workaholism is praised – even when it has more to do with fueling your own ambition than following God’s call for your life. And left unchecked, it leaves families in shambles.
If you’ve felt the demands of both work and family; or if you are single, and you’re juggling friends and family (and you can justify staying late at the office because there’s no one telling you to come home), then you have experienced how easily work can become your mistress.
I give Laurel an incredible amount of credit. It took courage for her to call attention to our marital issues – and I believe this pivotal conversation ended up saving our marriage. Realizing we were at a crisis point, I canceled my business trip I was planning to take to Peru. And I cleared my work schedule. But it has been a journey to go “beyond ordinary” in marriage again.
In addition to ample amounts of grace, love and forgiveness, here are some of the guardrails that help ensure we will never again so casually drift apart in our marriage.
1. Prayer. More than anything else, getting in the habit of daily praying together has turned our relationship right-side up. When you come before the Creator of the Universe with your spouse, your perspective changes. Your arguments seem smaller. Prayer revolutionized our marriage.
2. Resignation Letter. I actually handed Laurel a resignation letter. Laurel can mail my letter to the chair of our board if she ever feels that I’m not being the husband and father she needs me to be. And with that, I would officially resign.
3. Ask! Monitoring key performance indicators on the health and welfare of our programs at HOPE, I rarely asked my wife how she was doing. Periodically now I do “impact assessments” – ten simple questions that help me know how I can be supporting her better.
4. Limit travel. We have so many good opportunities. I felt I had to say “yes” to all of them. Recently I have limited my travel to six nights per month. By saying “no” to good opportunities, I get the chance to tuck my children into bed and say “yes” to the best ones.
5. Tuck the iPhone in a drawer. One day I was helping my two-year-old son get breakfast while reading a work email on my phone. “No phone, no phone,” he said to me. This was a gut check for me. Now, I literally put my phone in the kitchen drawer until my kids go to bed, so I know my focus is on my family.
The bottom line is this—it’s not worth it to run a great ministry when your family is neglected. In fact, it doesn’t honor God. I am so grateful that my wife had the love—and courage—to confront me about where my priorities lie.
Never again am I willing to be successful at work but a failure at home.Comments
I've been watching the rise of mentoring programs for underprivileged young men. Donald Miller began The Mentoring Project because he grew up without a father. Duncan Campbell started Friends of The Children for very different reasons. Both have come to the same conclusion: being a mentor takes a long time. Duncan and Friends of the Children commit to staying with a child for 12 full years.
Sometimes it is not just the underprivileged or low-income boys needing a caring adult, and it takes even longer than 12 years. There are times in the life of the overprivileged that make friends and mentors a gift from God. In fact, it is now 50 years since I met the most important influences in my life - Bill and Peggy.
I was an angry 17-year-old trying hard to be an atheist. Hearing about a Bible study led by a young and enthusiastic couple who were new Christians themselves, I went to Bill and Peggy's house intending to disrupt the group with questions and cynical comments. Instead, I found myself drawn into their "spell," and they began what I've called the Emmaus Road journey - walking with me even while I was going in the wrong direction until, many years later, I found Christ and turned around.
Over time, my life flowed into - and filled the - crevices of theirs. They were always available and interested. Even anniversaries, holidays and late nights were not off bounds. They took me in and opened themselves and their home to an unlovable and rebellious young man. Wherever I went in the world over the next several decades, I wrote long letters describing every stage of my life, and Peggy has them all filed away in order. There were seasons when I was angry and embarrassed about their unrelenting love for me and I would cut them off - sometimes for years.
But somewhere we crossed the line into friendship. It was probably as I became older, married and had children. Not surprisingly, my wife, Carol, and Peggy are similar in almost every way.
I've heard that friendships are formed around having something in common. For us, it was probably Bill and Peggy teaching us to love the South Carolina beaches, North Carolina mountains and the people and traditions of their roots. Filling in crevices turned into an inseparable bond between us that has lasted half a century now. In Wendell Berry's words, “We are obligated to each other. We have a call on each other's lives.”
As you are reading this I am with Bill and Peggy in Charlotte, North Carolina. Because Peggy has a form of aphasia and can no longer read or say what she is thinking, Bill will read this to her and be surprised. Peggy will know and understand as she has always known. She'll break out that glorious smile of the deepest kind of knowledge, acceptance and love. Bill cares for her now as he always has. She is the love of his life and he taught me by example everything I know about loving my wife.
Our family will drive to the beach they found for us and to which we have returned for 35 years. When we sit down to eat at Lee's Kitchen in Murrell's Inlet we'll be grateful for them and 50 years of affection, self-sacrifice, patience, friendship and love.
And for me, I will be thinking about these words from Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow and how blessed and fortunate I was as a foolish young man to be given such friends:
"Now I have had most of the life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been. I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was cut completely adrift, and times when, looking back at earlier time, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led."Comments
I was born in 1946 - one year after Torrey Johnson, Billy Graham and Chuck Templeton met and formed Youth For Christ. For years, I heard the stories of how Chuck was, in fact, the better preacher, and everyone expected him to "turn the world around."
Known as the "gold-dust twins," Billy and Chuck travelled and preached together to large crowds of teenagers until 1948. It was then that Chuck decided he wanted more theological training and tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit Billy to go with him to Princeton Theological Seminary. While Billy Graham wrestled through his own spiritual crisis at Forest Home Retreat Center in California and concluded that even though he could not answer some of the questions Chuck was raising, he decided to "accept this book by faith as the Word of God."
On the other side of the country, Chuck Templeton decided he could not believe and publicly declared himself an agnostic. He drifted from that point on for the balance of his life and died at 86 in 2001. Billy Graham said of him, “Chuck was the most brilliant, able man I’ve known. He was a true intellectual. He could do anything…He was a genius, I think.”
Growing up in the 50s, we were often told by our elders about Chuck's decision and his leaving the faith after doubting his beliefs. While there was some merit in those warnings, I think the effect was more likely a discouragement of growth than confirming genuine belief. Any hint of moving away from traditional theological assumptions was met with a reminder of what happened to Chuck Templeton when he went to Princeton.
Why am I telling this story?
Partly as a caution that we can sometimes suppress healthy growth by overreacting to our kids having different values in their giving. For at least the last 100 years the emphasis in evangelical giving has been "finish the task" and the completion of the "Great Commission.” If your adult kids are listening to and reading Tim Keller, Abraham Kuyper, Gary Haugen, Andy Crouch, Roberta Ahmanson, Ken Wytsma, Wendell Berry, Mako Fujimura or being influenced by phrases like "common grace" or "common good," then they are going to be seeing legitimate evangelical giving as being far broader than church planting, Scripture translation and personal evangelism.
It would be easy to say to yourself and them, "Remember what happened to Chuck Templeton" or some variation of that. There is a sea change going on in evangelical giving, and it does not mean the next generation has "gone liberal" or stopped believing. It means we have an opportunity to have a conversation about our own assumptions that is unprecedented, I think. In fact, these are just the kinds of conversations we encourage at the annual conference.
My father grew up in an extremely fundamentalist home as the son of a Baptist pastor. To his credit, instead of holding the example of Chuck Templeton over my head when we had differences, he told me how he managed to remain orthodox but not inflexible.
"I think of orthodoxy as a very large tree in the forest around which I have tied a string,” he said. “Holding on to the end of that string allows me to go down different paths and even sometimes find myself a pretty good distance from the tree. However, I know as long as I hold on to the end of that string, I can find my way back to orthodoxy. Unfortunately, too many people head off without a string and get lost or never leave the safety of the tree."
Yes, Chuck Templeton lost his hold on the string, and it will happen to others. However, just because the next generation's priorities and interests are different from ours does not mean they have dropped the string and are lost.Comments
I'm sitting at my daughter's graduation from Fuller Seminary. Haley is just about the same age I was when graduating from Harvard Divinity. I don't recall hugging the Dean of the Divinity School as she just did President Richard Mouw. That's probably a reflection of her deep regard for him and his extraordinary relationship with the students and faculty.
There are many differences between the experience and the years that separate us, but one thing is the same. Along with hundreds of other parents, I was taking hurried and mostly blurred pictures of our kids hoping to capture the moment in one crystal-clear shot suitable for framing. Looking at my iPhone now I realize I failed. Every shot is fuzzy, dark and completely useless for posting on Facebook or passing along. I am disappointed and a little embarrassed. I like to take good pictures.
Still, it has taken me back almost 30 years to the only picture I have of my graduation. It was taken by my mother as I came through the gate into the Yard for the commencement ceremony. I remember her shouting (my mother never shouted) to my father, "Look, there he is." That could have described anyone in the long line, but everyone around knew it was me. There was something about my mother's voice that made it clear exactly who she meant. I was a little embarrassed and proud at the same time. She raised the camera and shaking visibly she took the one shot she had time for.
It was weeks before she had it developed, and when it came back it was blurred. Not badly but you could tell her hands were shaking when she released the shutter. For years I was as disappointed as she was that it was not a clear record of such a moment.
After she died, I looked at the picture again and realized something. That picture was more about her than it was about me. The obvious shaking was due to pride and excitement. Neither of my parents had much education, and for me to graduate from seminary was almost as much their achievement as mine. Yes, my mother's hands trembled when she took the shot, but it's that very trembling that I remember most about that moment. Had the picture turned out perfectly I would have seen nothing of her joy and excitement. I would have had a picture of me. Instead, I have a rare picture of her in that precious moment even though it was she holding the camera.
I would not trade that blurred shot for anything. It captured the person who took it more than I could have in a lifetime. It is a snapshot of my mother's love and devotion that was - unlike the picture itself - completely unshaken and perfectly plain.
I hope Haley will look back years from now and think about what caused my hands to shake and the final picture to be a bit blurry. I hope she will see what I see now.Comments
Today I went to the funeral of a young 29 year old man who killed himself after nine years of fighting schizophrenia. He had Christian music playing in his car and a book by his pastor on the seat next to him. Until he went away to college he was "normal" and showed absolutely no signs of mental illness. He was a kid. Just a kid.
Schizophrenia is a disease that typically begins in early adulthood; between the ages of 15 and 25. Men tend to develop schizophrenia slightly earlier than women; whereas most males become ill between 16 and 25 years old, most females develop symptoms several years later, and the incidence in women is noticeably higher in women after age 30. The average age of onset is 18 in men and 25 in women. Signs often appear suddenly and without warning.
It was in college that the symptoms developed for the first time. He called his father and asked him how long his Dad had been in the Mafia and how long the chip had been implanted in his son's head. After that it was a lifetime of therapy for hallucinations, psychotic drugs with oftentimes terrifying side effects, extended stays in specialized facilities, family turmoil, isolation and paranoia. In the end, it was a losing battle and he ended his life alone in his car. It didn't matter to the family that their son had a 50 times higher risk of attempting suicide than the general population or that a full 60 percent of young men like their son attempt suicide at least once and that 13 percent are successful. But, those who suffer are far more likely to harm themselves than anyone else. News and entertainment media have linked schizophrenia and criminal violence when that is just not true. Most people with schizophrenia harm themselves and not others. But, somehow, the statistics and the grim preparation are not comforting. They do not make it easier to every day face the prospect of the phone call that comes far too often with the tragic news.
At the end of the service we were led in singing not a dirge but "I'll Fly Away". Nothing could have been more appropriate.
Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away;
To a home on God's celestial shore,
I'll fly away.
When the shadows of this life have gone,
I'll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I'll fly away.
He did..and so will we.Comments