Friday, November 4, 2011

On Marriage and Divorce - Part 1: The Root of Misunderstanding

Recently, I read a Facebook note telling about a marriage and an undone divorce. The story tells about a man who planned to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. The wife agreed on two conditions: first, the divorce must take place a month afterward, after their son finished his examination. Second, for the next 30 days, he must carry her from bed to the front porch, every morning.
The wife’s wise request slowly but surely rekindled the love between them, and at the end of the month the husband realized how foolish he had been by making an affair with another woman. He told his mistress that he decided to cancel the divorce and return to his wife.

It was a beautiful note, but somehow, I cannot help feeling that the story was rather naïve.

It is commonly accepted in daily life that divorce is mostly triggered by the intrusion of a third party.
Even though it’s true – many people do leave their spouse for another man/woman – this is not necessarily the root of the problem. It takes loads and loads of complicated, heavy burdens to undo a bond as strong as love.

If we would view a divorce under detailed examination, we would have found that there are so many unsolved problems which lead a couple into finding compensation in the form of an affair, which ultimately leads to divorce. The basic problem is not the affair itself, but the unresolved conflicts that drive the couple into a tepid state in their marriage.
It may come in the form of financial difficulties, interference from the couple’s parents, work load and time management, etc. When not handled properly, these problems tend to trigger conflicts and clashes in the marriage – and when these are not solved, the outcome is a lukewarm state, in which each of the couple begins to open up to other things outside their marriage as means of compensation to light up his/her life. Many times, the compensation comes in the form of another man or woman, who can satisfy the needs one’s spouse is uncapable of providing.

Marriage consultants everywhere in the world would advise that the key to a successful marriage is communication. It means listening and understanding the needs of our spouse, while expressing and clarifying our own needs as well.
The problem with communication is that there are no two people on this planet who communicate exactly the same way. An individual’s character, way of thinking, social background, and beliefs tend to form the way he/she communicate with others. Every man/woman is unique, as unique as there’s no such thing as identical fingerprints.
Is it a wonder that complete understanding of another individual is nearly impossible to accomplish?

Nevertheless, Ken Voges and Ron Braund say in their book, Understanding How Others Misunderstand You, that the platinum rule in communication is trying to understand other people the way they want to be understood – not the way we want to understand them.

This rule applies essentially in any marriage.
If both the husband and the wife understand one another’s needs, and adjust their personal needs properly with each other, then most of the conflicts in the marriage can be deterred, and they can create a better, more comfortable home, where there is no need to look for compensation outside the house.

I will discuss the way to understand others (based on their needs) further in the next post.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

On Mercy and Compassion

Several days ago, I found four very young kittens crying on my backyard, obviously dumped there by an irresponsible neighbor for my dogs to kill! I tried to save their lives but it was useless. They couldn't take the milk and water I offered them. They needed their mother (who was most probably dead) to breastfeed them. So they kept on crying and calling for her, for three whole days, until they all died of hunger and thirst.
I was cut to the heart at having to bury them, all in one hole.

This was not the first time people threw stray kittens into my backyard to have them killed. Sometimes, they even threw full-grown cats in!
Browsing the internet, I find out that I'm not the only one witnessing cruelty to animals these days. Cows are tortured before they're butchered in Sidoarjo, East Java. Stray dogs were massacred in Palembang, South Sumatra -- including pregnant and lactating dames. Some brutal teenagers in Brazil caught a puppy and burned it to death.
There are thousands other cases left unraveled and unnoticed due to indifference in our world. It's just another sign of how degrading our morality has become.

I don't browse if there's any related study on this, but in my honest opinion, the ways man act, react, and interact with other living creatures on this planet determine the ways he thinks and behaves toward other human beings as well.
Solomon was right when he stated, "A righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Proverbs 12:10).

A man who has compassion on animals -- creatures of lower dignity, that are created for mankind to subdue and control -- also tends to show (greater) compassion on other people. The compassion that is in his nature drives him to treat others with fairness and kindness. It enables him to sympathize and empathize with other people's feelings and circumstances, be they superior, inferior, or equal in position to himself.
On the contrary, a man who shows no mercy toward other living creatures commonly treats people inferior to him with similar abusive/oppressive attitude. Many times, he would use people equal to him for self-profit, whereas toward his superior, he exhibits a sense of fear (the fear of being abused/oppressed in the same way he has abused/oppressed others of lower positions). Mercy and compassion don't necessarily exist in his dictionary.

It's time for us to save others from becoming unmerciful and unkind people.

Let's start from our own self, family, and environment:
- Teach our children to cherish life and be kind to animals. Shower them with understanding, love, hugs, and kisses. As much as they are loved, so will they spread love abroad, to all creation.
- Do good to others and stop being indifferent to other people's suffering. As long as we are able to help, please do. Helping others doesn't always count in the form of money. Sometimes, it's simply giving our time to listen and making a phone call to show that we care. Whatever help needed, whatever we can provide, see to it that care and compassion are properly carried out.
- Try to (always) keep this perspective in mind: How would we be feeling if we are the ones suffering and at the mercy of others?

Be merciful, as much as God is merciful to us!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Altruism: A Rare Jewel

Nearly a week ago, on a street in Foshan, China, a two-year-old girl was hit twice in the middle of the traffic with no one having enough compassion to rescue her. Eighteen passers-by simply ignored that dying toddler lying on the road. The nineteenth picked her up and called for help. After spending days in a state of comma, the little girl was declared clinically dead.

A year back, in the same country, a different kind of accident took place. On July 28, 2010, a factory in Nanjing exploded, resulting in 13 death and 300 casualties. The interesting story was: A camera unintentionally recorded a monkey rescuing a puppy during the incident. It ran away from the burning factory with the puppy cradled in its arms.

Ironic, isn't it?

Whereas the morality of man is under question nowadays, animals prove themselves to be more altruistic than we are!

Altruism, the unselfish concern for the welfare of others, seems to be lacking from human civilization. Compassion is a rare jewel in our hustle-and-bustle world. Humanity has turned cold and heartless, even to our own kind.

But the two contradictory examples above knock upon the doorstep of our hearts to turn from the coldness of human life to the warmth of nature. They invite us to rediscover the meaning of being human -- of having and showing compassion, understanding, and love.

Perhaps the reason why we do not care for the welfare of others is merely because they are of no value to us. We are not attached to them, or they to us. In the coldness of modern life, each man minds his own business.

But, this is not entirely true.
In the social structure of society, man is always linked to one another. Our life and the meaning of our existence is only as true as the relations we have with other people, be they colleagues, partners, friends, or strangers we meet on the sidewalk.

Yes, every one of us is a working individual: scientist, businessperson, entrepreneur, employee, employer, government staff, professional, you name it. But each of us is also a parent, a child, a friend, a trusted person to somebody else.
We can develop altruism within us by understanding that each individual is precious to some other people close to him/her, and by thinking that the less fortunate person could have been someone dear to us.
We certainly don't want anything bad happening to our loved ones with no one around to show enough compassion, do we?

Let's start shaping and polishing this rare jewel within us.
Learn from the altruistic ways of nature.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Live, Let Go, and Let Live!

The story I’m about to tell you is true; it happened over a decade ago.

There was a woman my mother and I once knew: Mrs. A, a widow with two children.
No, her husband didn’t die. He had an affair with another woman and divorced Mrs. A before marrying his mistress and settling down in another city.
As would any betrayed (ex)-wife, Mrs. A was deeply hurt and drowned in bitterness. In her hatred and anger, she cursed the other woman, praying that God would strike her ex-husband’s second wife with an illness as lethal as cancer.
She then occupied herself with work, bringing up two kids on her own and getting involved in Christian ministries as a faithful church-goer. Years turned into decades, as she waited, waited, and waited for God to fulfill the curse she cast upon the other woman.

Guess what?
Mrs. A passed away due to breast cancer in her early fifties!

You might feel a slight chill running down your spine after reading this.
You might even be thinking, “Did the curse backfire on her?”

Well, scientifically speaking, medical researches have shown that nurturing bitterness is a fine way of triggering the onset of malignant cell growth in the human body. Cancer is basically the mutation of healthy body cells into malignant ones through certain triggering factors, such as radioactivity, carcinogenic agents, and distress.
As mentioned in Cancer Helps, distress is an emotional state that disturbs the body's cellular balance. When we are constantly in distress, this state potentially incites our body cells to turn hyperactive and malignant, triggering the onset of cancer.

Biblically speaking, let’s read what our Lord said in Matthew 6:44, “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

It sounds quite impossible to apply in daily life, doesn’t it?
Nonetheless, this is not an admonition. It’s a command!

Apostle Paul was the man who followed this command to his last breath, and he had proven that the Lord’s word is not impossible to perform. If it were, surely Paul wouldn’t say, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ!”
In his letter to the Romans, he explained on how to behave like a Christian, “Bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse!”
Again, he wrote, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men,” and “do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul was elaborating Lord Jesus's command to love our enemies and do good to those who did us wrong. Simply speaking, the apostle was filling up the details for us to practice kindness – not bitterness – toward others, and our enemies in particular.

Thus, we can conclude:

• Loving others, even those who hate and mistreat us, is God’s command for us to perform. We cannot be justified before Him by living against this command, no matter how much and how great the service and faithfulness we offer Him in return.
Honestly, we can’t bribe God!

• Human vengeance is basically an act of rebellion against God’s supreme control over the universe.
We might wonder why God said, “Vengeance is Mine.” We are the ones who are wronged (not Him!), surely we have the right to avenge ourselves!
Uhm, not really.
Let’s put it this way, through a more universal perspective: when something wrong happens in the universe, it means that one of God’s law had been broken. As a result, an imbalance take place (we see this whenever evil seems to triumph over good; we can read Asaph’s complaint in Psalm 73 and Habakkuk’s groaning in the first chapter of his book concerning this).
Nevertheless, however dire and long-lasting the imbalance might be, there is another law that God had set since the beginning of time. It’s called the law of sowing and reaping.
The law of balance.
Whatever imbalance taking place in the universe must sooner or later right itself (to the Greek, it’s known as “nemesis”), and God always provides the agent(s) of righting the imbalance and restoring the universe to its previous, balanced state – without interference from our part.
Thus, we see that vengeance is purely and solely prerogative to God.
Who are we to challenge His sovereignty?

• Yes, it’s true. It’s much easier to curse and hate those who despise us and did us wrong.
But, then again, try viewing it this way: what good does cursing and hating bring us? By doing so, aren't we simply proving that we’re no better than they are?
The Lord’s wisdom stands!
o Bless those who curse you.
Perhaps, after being blessed, they would change and stop being so hostile toward us.
o Do good to those who hate you.
Maybe their wrong impression would alter afterward, and – who knows? – we might even be friends or allies.
o Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much,” wrote Apostle James. It’s very possible that through the prayer of faith, God opens the eyes of those who persecute us, so they’ll gain a brand new insight and follow the Lord’s way in uprightness.

In short, bitterness, hatred, and vengeance truly don’t pay.
Live and let go – and let live!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Significance of the Name

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare proposed.
This saying of his has made its way down the generations to the present time. Whether he stated that question out of romantic context in his tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, or simply out of ignorance, one can never tell. But, it sure sounds foolish in the hearing of the Orient.

“What’s in a name?”
When you ask this question to an Easterner, he/she will tell you there are loads of precious things a name contains.

For instance:
• To most (if not all) tribes in the East, a name determines one’s rank and status in the society. This is especially true in patriarchal, feudalistic communities.
The name “Siregar” in Northern Sumatra, “Raden Mas/Raden Ajeng” in Central Java, and “Ida Bagus” in Bali indicate prominent position by birth.
• The Javanese do not give their children names before they are born, since they need to consider the day and the time of a child’s birth in order to ensure that the “weight” of the baby’s name does not exceed his/her “capacity” of lifetime fortune. Otherwise, it will bring bad luck upon the child (so they say).
• The Japanese, who preserve the roots of their culture and tradition even to the era of post-modernism and sophisticated technology, also hold fast to the sacred giving of a name – this is recognizable even in their pop culture.
Take the manga Bleach by Tite Kubo, for example. In the Soul Society universe, it is known that within every sword (katana) lives a sword-spirit (zanpakuto). A sword will remain a sword and will not reveal its true potential before the wielder learns the name of the spirit dwelling within it. Only after discovering (through years of arduous training) the name of the zanpakuto, the wielder will be able to “release” his/her sword actual power.

In his book, The Mysticism of Sound and Music, Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote about how all mysteries remain stored within the meaning of name. All knowledge of all things stands ultimately upon the knowledge of name. Without knowledge, there can never come power, since one cannot have power over matters he/she does not know.

For this reason, at the creation of the world, when God first created man from the dust of the earth and blew His spirit into him, He gave Adam the task of naming all creatures that had been created before him – a privilege He didn’t give even to angels!
After Adam had finished giving names to all living creatures, God commanded mankind to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
With the knowledge of the name, comes power!

Is it any wonder for Christians that at the Name which is above every name, “the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”?
By His glorious name, the Church was born, the gospel of peace was preached all over the globe, millions of lives were saved from Satan's clutches, new hope shone forth, and divine light finally dawned upon civilization.
By His victorious name, we are given a new life, overcome the power of darkness, destroy the fortresses of evil, save souls staggering toward perdition, and triumph over all tribulations.

“What is in a name?”
There is power in the Name of the Lord!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Public vs. Private

The ways people post in Facebook are sometimes bewildering, if not dumbfounding:
• A university graduate wrote curses as his status.
• A notable bank employee shared a promiscuous note on her wall.
• A middle-aged businessman created a photo album of himself making love to a voluptuous woman.

The list goes on.

While it is true that one has the right to express himself/herself, the freedom of expression – in whatever manner suitable to one’s own liking – depends largely on an absolute dimension one calls “space.”

The virtual world, whether we realize it or not, is a world nonetheless – a world where space and time exist. Similar to its reality counterpart, it also possesses “public spaces” and “private spaces.”
Facebook, Twitter, weblogs, forums, and mailing lists are public spaces, where people meet, share, and exchange information openly. They are sites that allow access to any and every information, exactly like coffee shops, markets, and libraries in the material world.
E-mails, inbox, and instant messengers are private spaces, where the information shared is strictly confidential between two parties or a group of exclusive members. Any exchange of conversation or information made through these private lines is not accessible to all, similar to letters or phone calls in the real world.

Being real – though virtual – these spaces also have what we in the material world call “ethics” or “manners.” As part of the global society, we are expected to act and react accordingly to these codes of ethics. Just because we are not talking face to face under the same roof, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be as true and well-mannered as when we are.

One of the underlying rules is this: know your place.
We must know exactly what to write/post/comment in one particular space:
• Is the issue public or private?
• Is it offensive to all or to an individual only?
• Is it private and confidential, or open and informative?

Understanding this rule, though extremely basic as it may seem, can prove essential to gain other people’s trust of our credibility. The three examples given at the beginning of this post show evidences of people who do not seem to understand some of the most fundamental manners. If they do not know how to behave in virtual public spaces, how will they win people’s trust in the material world?

Thinking (more than once) before posting or re-posting is of great importance:

You have something against some other folks?
Send them e-mails.
You want to share something private to certain people?
Start a closed group.
You need to find a date?
Join a matchmaking site.

IMHO, as adults we truly should know what to say or do, in the right way, at the right place.
If we haven’t understood how to do so, perhaps thinking thrice before stating our minds out-loud could help.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Disappointment = A Reason for Giving Thanks (?)

"Better cry for a month than a lifetime."

A friend once told the above words to cheer up his good buddy, who had just completed her divorce papers and had to raise two kids on her own.
I have another idea:

"Better a heartbreak than a divorce."

Do you notice the difference?
Statement #1 = let go, don't cry over spilled milk.
Statement #2 = thank God, you needn't cry over spilled milk.

Happiness and disappointment, success and failure, joy and sorrow, are normal, everyday happenings we face through life. Besides, people can't fully understand the meaning of "happiness" when they have never been acquainted with "disappointment," or grasp the meaning of "success" without knowing what "failure" is. Such is the joy and sorrow, ups and downs, gloom and brightness of life. It's what makes life purely colorful.

Over a decade ago, during a Q&A session attended by youths and senior mentors, a troubled girl proposed a question, eager to know what to do when facing heartbreak.
One of the senior mentors replied, "Give thanks! That means, God is planning to give you a better life-mate!"

When we broaden the scope, the above admonition also applies in other areas of life: "Give thanks for your present disappointments/failures/setbacks, for it means that God is planning better things ahead!" -- as long as you look beyond the present anguish you're experiencing.

Sometimes, we tend to focus too much on whatever we have in sight. We struggle and strive for something we think as best for us at the present, without realizing the hidden negative potential it contains, which might just be a time-bomb ready to explode in the future.

God is good.
He unravels the hidden threats long before the countdown stops and routs our plans from the very beginning. Indeed, it may plunge us into great disappointment, but disappointment is much more useful than regret. When we're disappointed, we turn to God so as to cling to His plan and His way, whereas regret is incapable of bringing any meaningful impact for the betterment of our situation.

Are you facing heartbreak? Has your proposal been turned down? Did the other party cancel the project or contract?
Whatever you're facing: Give thanks! God has already planned something (much) better ahead!

[Read the Indonesian version: My Facebook Notes]