Real Life Stories

What A Fishing Proverb Taught Me About Relationships

Real Life Stories

It’s funny how much impact the stories we hear in passing can have on us. Success in our culture is often defined by money, education, and a good career. While these things aren’t bad, we often forget that building healthy relationships and spending time with loved ones has a massive part in our sense of fulfillment. That’s what a fisherman taught me anyway. 

Sometimes we can get swept along and just go with the flow. Before we know it we’re doing what everyone else is doing, and we can forget to stop and think about what we really want to achieve.

What do you define as success?

We’re told to be so focused on ‘success’ and keeping up with everyone else that we forget to stop and truly think about what we really want from life.

What Is Success?

What do you define as success?

I remember hearing a story a long time ago. I don’t know if it really happened or it’s just a modern proverb, but I definitely learned something from it.

The Fisherman Proverb

‘There was a guy who had just graduated with a Business degree and decided he needed a bit of a rest. So he did what a lot of young people do after uni and went travelling.

This man was from a very poor country but seemed fairly content

On his travels, he met a man who caught fish for a living. This man was from a very poor country but seemed fairly content. The graduate starting chatting to him and asked him what his working day looked liked. He replied something like:

“I get up early in the morning and go out on my boat. I catch about one net full of fish. Then I go to the local market at around midday, sell some, keep some for tea, go home and help my kids with their homework.

“We eat together and then we play for a bit. Then after they go to bed me and my wife relax, chat and enjoy ourselves”.

Making Money (?)

The business graduate’s entrepreneurial side came out, and began to get excited and exclaimed:

“Did you know, if you got up a bit earlier and worked for twice as long you could catch twice as many fish. And if you walked to the market that is further away they would pay you more money. And after one year you could buy another boat and employ someone else.

“Then after three years, you would have a fleet. Then you could buy a car and drive to all the markets in the area. Then after 10 years, you could begin to open shops. Then after 20 years, you could even start supplying most of the country. Then after 40 years, you could go international.

“Then you’ll make so much money you can retire and do whatever you want”.

The fisherman smiled back and said “But I already do what I want.”’

Redefining Success 

From a very young age we’re told by our educational system, our society, and our family, that success means investing in a career, self-comfort, and educational achievement. But success is more than that. Having people we trust, having people to share it all with, people who know and love us, are all part of it.

Our definition of success needs to include building good relationships, and not seeing it as an added extra

Having a good job and education isn’t a bad thing. But most people want to get married at some point, or at least commit to a life-long relationship and be surrounded by friends and family. Yet we can end up putting most of our time and energy into making money or into our career before we realise it.

Our definition of success needs to include building good relationships and not seeing it as an added extra. (Read The Cross Deals With More Than Just Forgiveness, Right?)

Imagine if…

Imagine if we reminded ourselves that success isn’t just found in tangible things like our job title or bank account. And saw that investing in our family, friends and loved ones, romantic relationships and non-romantic ones, as something that is just as important as the other skills we learn.

This week, make half an hour to invest in a relationship. Call or facetime someone you haven’t in a while. Ask someone how they are doing and really listen to the answer. Invest in building a successful relationship. (Read What I Wish I Had Been Taught About Love)

What other small things can we do to build relationships? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 22/2/2017

We Don’t Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Real Life Stories

My wife and I have never celebrated Valentine’s Day. We think that being forced to be romantic or affectionate on a specific day seems to miss the point for us. But some of my friends like having a day to remind them to make time, and find it helpful. Our discussions ultimately reminded me that really, it’s about making time for the small constant connections. 

I was speaking to a friend who has a very different view to me when it comes to Valentine’s Day. She is all for it and thinks it’s a good thing, and couldn’t believe that my wife and I purposely avoid it.

Yes To Valentine’s Day

She said that she and her husband celebrate it because the busyness of life, and their natural tendencies, means that they aren’t very romantic. They don’t make romantic gestures often.

She said it helps them because it reminds them to make time

She said that they find it hard to make time to connect in that way a lot of the time. They just forget and/or prioritise other things. So actually, having a day, a mark on the calendar, means that they go out of their way to do something or buy a gift.

She said it helps them because it reminds them to make time and invest in the relationship, and make it feel fun.

It’s Not About One Day 

I do understand what she’s saying, but for my wife and I, we think that we should be trying to make time throughout the year. We should be doing it anyway, and not on a day when we feel like we have to because there’s a sign up in the card shop.

You can feel the need to spend money

My wife is also very aware that our single friends can feel very lonely on Valentine’s Day. That’s not to be patronising, I felt that way when I was single on Valentine’s Day too. It can be another day that makes people feel like they’re missing out because they’re single.

Another friend said that she thinks Valentine’s Day is very in your face, and you can feel the need to spend money. It’s a bit like Christmas, the meaning of it has been hijacked by the pressure to spend loads and make it commercial.

Maybe My Friend Has A Point? 

I can’t see myself celebrating Valentine’s Day this week, or any other year. But looking back, I have probably let the romance slip recently.

Like my first friend said, in the busyness of life, having a reminder to connect and make time for your relationship is important.

People in romantic relationships need to make that time to connect. We can easily think that our partner will be there tomorrow, so we will connect or do something romantic then. After all, there is work that needs doing right now, or the other many distractions mean that we just keep pushing time for the relationship back.

Before we know it, it’s been weeks or months and the time to connect has got lost. (Read Should I Be The Source Of All Their Romance?)

Need A Reminder

After thinking more about our discussion it made me realise that it’s really about making sure we’re feeding that connection.

I know someone who used to travel around a lot doing various talks at churches. He used to always go in to a local shop and buy his wife something, and phone her as soon as he finished on stage so she would feel and be part of his day. He remembered to make time to connect.

If we’re not investing in the relationship, it will be getting weaker

If we’re not investing in the relationship, it will be getting weaker. Intimacy needs time and effort, it doesn’t just happen or get maintained automatically. So whether it’s Valentine’s Day or something else that reminds us to make a connection, we need to make time to connect. (Read Unhealthy Relationship Expectations We Should All Know )

Imagine If… 

Imagine if, in the busyness of life, we made sure we made time to connect. We reminded ourselves to invest continuously and constantly. Relationships are made stronger in the small acts, the small sacrifices, the attention given to the small things.

What could you do to make sure you make time for those small constant connections? Whether it’s being reminded through special occasions, setting aside the same evening every week for a date night, or setting a reminder which prompts you to do something later to build a connection.

What helps you to stop and invest in your romantic relationship? Comments welcomed below.  

Originally posted 13/2/2017

Interviewing Aukelien van Abbema: Dare to Date

Guest Blogs, Real Life Stories

I had the privilege of interviewing Aukelien van Abbema, who is about to release a Christian book in the UK called Dare to Date. She explained a bit about her vision behind the book, and why it’s so important to think about how we date, and her personal journey behind the book. 

I love hearing about other people and organisations helping people to think about their faith, dating, and singleness. I’m a big believer in working together to build God’s kingdom and not just our own little kingdoms. Which is why I was so encouraged and excited to hear about Aukelien van Abbema’s soon to be released ‘Dare to Date’ book.

The Interview

It was a slow-moving afternoon for me, so a Skype call with anyone would have been welcomed. But I was looking forward to this one because it was about an exciting new book. I found out that I was the first person to interview Aukelien about it.

No pressure then! As I frantically crossed out all the obvious questions I was going to put forward.

Thankfully, Aukelien is a very friendly and warm person. We had briefly met a few years ago, and then once more at a conference. We also crossed paths in the virtual world of social media, so the pre-interview chat was more than welcomed.

I discovered through this pre-interview chat that this book has actually been available in Dutch for three years. After years of knocking on some doors, it has been translated into English with a publisher in the UK, and will be released on 19th January.

I actually expected people to be shy or uninterested, but they weren’t at all

It also confirmed, as I thought I had remembered, that this book was written as a result of a dating course she had been running in churches for many years.

The time came to get down to business, and I began to ask her a few questions about this new chapter in her life (pun unintended).

André: So Aukelien, How long have you been running your dating course? 

Aukelien: The first one was in 2011. No wait, it was longer, it must have been 2010.

André: How did that first one go? Was it a big success straightway?

Aukelien: Well, the first course had 60 sign ups within an hour! We had to close the list. People were actually crying because they said the church doesn’t talk about dating, and now something is happening and they’re missing out! I actually expected people to be shy or uninterested, but they weren’t at all.

André: Why did you start working in the area of dating in the first place? 

Aukelien: I usually say it’s because of three stories. It began with my personal story. I was single and very shy. I felt like I couldn’t connect with single men my age and really struggled.

When it came to talking to single guys my age I panicked

The second story is to do with my education. At 28 I had my own house, my own business, and was training to be a fully licensed counsellor. One of the main issues I was dealing with as a counsellor was anxiety, but I realised that I suffered from anxiety too!

When it came to talking to single guys my age I panicked. I was fine with other guys, but when it came to single guys my age I would avoid eye contact and be really shy. So I started to explore why this was. I was my own guinea pig.

The third story is to do with the problems I kept seeing in church. I had so many friends who said they couldn’t connect and felt like I felt. They either struggled because of anxiety or had bad relationships in the past and were scared about failing again.

André: What happened next? 

Aukelien: Well I started by setting up a think tank in church. We just started to ask ‘why are people in church not dating? What’s stopping them?’ I eventually started to write and design my own course to help these people.

André: As someone who is fortunate to have read a pre-published version of your book. The main thing I took from it was that it’s about giving people very practical steps to begin dating. To move from shyness and anxiety, like you say, into dating. Is that the main aim of the book and course? 

Aukelien: The course started out being all about changing behaviour. Getting people to ‘get over it’ and start dating. But now the course and the book are more about holistic help. I find people are often scared. There’s a lot of fear nowadays. People see divorce and wonder if they should even bother. I want to bring hope and a good perspective, so they can build towards survival and start dating. (Read What Should I Do On A First Date?)

André: So what is success? How do you define success? 

Aukelien: The course has had many marriages! There are other stories too. There was a man who had been engaged twice but struggled in relationships. He later said that my course didn’t solve all of his problems, but he became more committed to God, himself, and to those he dated. It helped him to date better. There was another guy who said it simply gave him the courage to date.

My real aim is that I want people to feel liberated, and empowered to date and reject

But not everyone has gone on to get married. And some people who have got married are struggling a lot because of other personal issues.

My real aim is that I want people to feel liberated, and empowered to date and reject. That they know why they are dating and why they may be rejecting people.

André: And what is success for the book, what do you want to happen? 

Aukelien: I would love it to be a success, and for people to read it. Especially if they are shy but desperate to connect. I hope that the book brings them hope and the search is less frustrating. (Read What The Bible Actually Says About Singleness).

After our short interview, Aukelien told me she was speaking later at a church on the whole issue of sustainable relationships, which sounded very intriguing. She kindly asked me about Naked Truth Relationships and what I’m up to. As she said, it’s great to know there are fellow ‘colleagues’ out there doing this important work.

Imagine if…

I think this book will really speak to people who just want to know about how to get over those initial steps of shyness and anxiety, and feel empowered to dare to date.

Imagine if people in church, and beyond, know that God cared about their singleness and dating, and wanted to be involved. I don’t care how they discover this, as long as they know it and believe it!

Do you think many single Christians you know struggle to Dare to Date? Comments welcome Below.  

Originally posted 4/1/2017

I Want To Trust Them, But I’ve Been Hurt Before

Real Life Stories, Relationship Difficulties

We’ve all be hurt by friends, or family, or romantic break-ups. By people we thought we could trust. As a result, we often build walls. We think ‘I let someone get close and was hurt, so I’ll stop people getting close again’. But thinking through why we do this, and why this person and this relationship is different, can hopefully help us remove a few bricks. 

I remember when I became a Christian. I started to make new friends and get settled into the church. I enjoyed it, felt connected to God and felt like I belonged and had some close friends.

Two people I thought I could trust… left me feeling like I was alone

Then, one of my closest friends started to say comments about me behind my back. He spread rumours for no apparent reason (I later saw him do the same thing to other people too). Another close friend of mine ‘abandoned’ me after he got a girlfriend.

Two people I thought I could trust and rely on, left me feeling like I was alone and isolated.

My Wall 

Thankfully, we managed to work it out and are still friends. But looking back, it really affected me. I went on a destructive spiral of withdrawing and isolation. I built a wall because I didn’t want friends getting too close and hurting me again.

I need to remind myself it’s a different situation

Even now, when I feel like friends are ‘abandoning me’ or I hear of them saying things about me, it makes me retreat. I’m tempted to build a wall and stop anyone getting close.

I need to remind myself it’s a different situation, with different people, and I can’t let past fears affect the present negatively.

We All Have Walls 

I was listening to a podcast series recently which highlighted ‘wall building’ to me again.

It’s called Heavyweight and the presenter, Jonathan Goldstein, deals with past issues and hurts in the lives of people he knows. For example, he helped his Dad and uncle, who hadn’t spoken in 20 years, reconcile.

 He felt unable to be vulnerable in relationships because of the damage that break-up did

In episode 5, titled ‘Galit‘, his ex-girlfriend, which happens to also be his first ever girlfriend, gets in touch. They eventually meet up. It’s a fascinating episode.

In the lead up to the reunion, Jonathan tells the audience about how devastated he was after their break-up. He reveals that for the rest of his life (he’s now in his 40s) he felt unable to be vulnerable in relationships because of the damage that break-up did.

He said he built walls to protect himself and found it hard to break them down. Even with his wife, he struggles to be vulnerable because of that experience.

My Way Of Coping 

It reminded me that most people can probably relate to these stories.

Our past hurts can create coping mechanisms to make sure we don’t get hurt again. I know mine did. We all build walls and stop people getting too close. (Read Dating Someone? Commitment Assumptions Can Cause Cracks)

They become so natural we forget were doing it. When people get too close we hide a bit of ourselves or stop them getting closer.

Yet we crave closeness.

We want to have people we can rely on no matter what

We don’t want to get hurt, especially if we have been hurt multiple times. But deep down, we want others to see the real us and stick around. We want to have people we can rely on no matter what. We want to take down the wall for the right people.

How Can We Change

I’m not naive to think I can sort out deep-rooted emotional hurt in one post. However, I think there are a few things we can do to start bringing the wall(s) down. These are a few things which help me. To help us get closer to creating the relationships we want. By building trust, being vulnerable, and our true selves with the right people.

1) Ask If I Build Walls 

It sounds stupid, but some of us may build walls with friends, family and in romantic relationships without realising it. It’s worth asking ourselves: Am I an open book? Do I tell people what I really think and feel? Do I hold back? Do other people say I hold back?

We need to make ourselves aware when we’re building the wall.

2) Why Do I Build Walls? 

Are we building the walls because of a particular relationship that hurt us? Or was it a series of relationships? Knowing why we act the way we do is important. The reasons are probably justified. This question isn’t about feeling guilty, but realising what caused us to build in the first place.

3) Is This Relationship Different?

This is the key question really.

If we’ve been hurt in the past by someone and it looks like it would happen again, we need to be smart. But if this person, relationship and context is different, we will miss out if we let past hurts hinder potential happiness.

He cried because he knew his wife wouldn’t leave

In the Heavyweight episode, Jonathan said he used to cry a lot. However, in the last 10 years, he only cried once. It was on his wedding day. You may say this isn’t really surprising, but it wasn’t because it was a happy day, or because he was worried his wife may leave him like his ex. He cried because he knew his wife wouldn’t leave.

He had been hurt but he wanted to get to a place where he could form a relationship that builds trust, safety, and enjoyment. He could see how this relationship was different. He learnt, and is still learning by the sounds of it, to take down the wall, or at least a few bricks.

Imagine If…

People get hurt and we hurt others. It would be great if it didn’t happen but it does. (Read What Do You Do If You’re The One Who Got Dumped?) But this new year we can strive to build the relationships we want.

Imagine if we could at least realise the impact this has and the walls we build because of it. We can then realise and reassure ourselves when a new relationship is different. Then begin to take steps towards hopefully building great relationships where we can be vulnerable, feel safe, and like we belong.

How many people do you know who build walls to protect themselves?  Comments welcome below.

Originally posted 2/1/2017

Single For Now, Or Single Forever? What’s God’s Plan?

Real Life Stories, Singleness

There are single people in the church who want to get married one day, and others who feel like God is calling them to never get married. Both are fine, but some people are unsure. No matter where we are on the scale, I think the answer is found in giving God our relationship plans, then trusting He is a good God.  

‘Is God giving me the gift of singleness? But I want to get married!’

‘I think I could be single for life, but it would be the burden I carry!’

I have heard these words, or the like, many times before. There are some people in the church who are single but don’t want to be. This is a real and understandable concern. (Read What The Bible Actually Says About Singleness. Part 1).

Some people I speak to ‘worry’ that they may be the next Paul or Jeremiah and God is calling them to a life of celibacy.

I have also met people who are seriously considering being celibate and single for life. But they worry if they could do it forever. And/or worry about future temptation. And/or if that is definitely what God’s want.

 I always wanted a girlfriend. I had had some but was single most of the time and wishing I wasn’t

My Story

I wasn’t always a Christian when I was growing up. I became a Christian when I was in my last year of high school. Before that point, I always wanted a girlfriend. I had had some but was single most of the time and wishing I wasn’t.

I became a Christian, and my enthusiasm for finding someone did not change at first

I thought God may have been calling me to singleness for life

I spent the first few months in my new church trying to find a girlfriend. But the more I went, the more I realised God had more in store for me than match-making. I still didn’t want to be single, but I was excited and ‘distracted’ by getting to know God more.

Single For Life? 

After a failed relationship with a non-Christian, I started to really think more about relationships. Long story short, I thought God may have been calling me to singleness for life.

No girlfriends, no marriage, no sex.

After a bit of resistance, I thought this may be a real calling God had for me. So I stopped looking for a girlfriend. And I don’t mean I was just ‘passively looking’. I mean not looking at all. Actively not trying to make something happen.  Actively not looking at girls in that way, because it wasn’t going to happen.

We talked about… why the Bible talks so positively about marriage and singleness

I remember reflecting and talking to a lot of older guys in my church. Some married, some who felt called to singleness for life, some single but wanting to marry. We talked about what a Christian marriage and dating relationship was all about. Why God invented marriage, what singleness is for, and why the Bible talks so positively about marriage and singleness.

This went on for about a year. Like I say, I wasn’t ‘taking a break’ from relationships. I was actively discerning and preparing myself for a life of singleness.

Giving It All To God 

In the end, I didn’t feel God was calling me to singleness for life. I felt like God saying this wasn’t for me. I did go on to date and get married. But the moral of this story isn’t ‘I took some me time to discover who I was’ and lived happily ever after.

The moral of the story was I gave it all up.

During that time I gave God my desire for marriage. My desires for a relationship. My calling of singleness. I gave him my sexual desire. My sexual identity. I gave him everything.

I said ‘God, I don’t want to write my own script. I don’t want to box you into Sunday worship while I take control of the rest. Take it all. Even the things I really want.’

I said ‘God, I don’t want to write my own script’

This wasn’t easy, but I had to trust He was good. And whether He handed me back a calling to get married and be a godly husband, or the calling to be single, I had to trust that He would be enough in both situations. And that He wanted the best for me.

I know other people who have done this too, but people think it’s crazy. They can’t understand, why would people even consider saying to God that you can have my relationship status and my desires for the future.

What’s Your Calling? 

The thing is, it isn’t really about us or our preferred plan. The answer is found in whether we are prepared to give Him everything and say He is enough. No matter what He hands back to us. Whether that is the call to be a godly spouse or be single.

Some of you may be reading this and want to get married. That’s fine

The pain of wanting to get married but being unable to is real. And that is something to take very seriously. (Read ‘What The Bible Actually Says About Singleness. Part 2). Some of you may be reading this and want to get married. That’s fine. I’m not saying God doesn’t want that too. But are we telling our plans to God or seeking him?

Some of you may be reading this and thinking about life-long singleness. Working out what that may look like. Please don’t see it as second best or something to be feared or a more godly path. God is in marriage an singleness. God is involved no matter what.

Imagine If…

No matter what relationship status box we tick, we all need to think about how to seek God more. How can we use our marriage, dating, or singleness to build his kingdom more?  How can we inspire others to do the same?

What is the small practical thing you can do this week? Whether that’s praying more, serving more, or whatever. How can we make sure we are seeking him first, give him everything and trust he is a good God?

Are all relationship statuses really celebrated in the church? Comment welcomed below. 

Originally posted 19/12/2016