Thoughts on the Bezoses’ Divorce

I was sad to read that Jeff & MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage.

After commenting on Amazon Leadership Principles, Jeff Bezos’ biggest fear and also comparing Bezos’ wisdom with the Bible, it was disheartening to see a leader I respect choose divorce.

Others have explored the implications of the divorce to Amazon investors, the challenges of marriage among startup founders, as well as the modern trend of “conscious uncoupling”.

I do not know Jeff personally, nor am I married, so I’m not here to judge. I just want to take what he and MacKenzie wrote at face value and think about what it means. I’m processing out loud.

Here’s their Tweet:

Frankly, my heart winces at these well-crafted words. They project unreserved optimism without acknowledging pain. While a respect for privacy and not going into the reasons why is understandable, this level of positivity perplexes me.

After a long period of loving exploration and trial separation…

It sounds like Jeff conducted an experiment to see if he and MacKenzie would be happier apart. Although it may have been a long process with “great deliberation and consultation” (cf a recent Amazon shareholder letter on decision making), experimental separation combined with loving exploration seems to result in a foregone conclusion.

New relationships are front-loaded with excitement. If you think short-term, this will always feel better than going back to long-running unresolved marriage problems. How does this decision accord with ownership and long-term thinking?

Lucky, grateful, would do it again…

The gratitude expressed in the Tweet is fantastic, which makes the decision to divorce all the more jarring. Perhaps it means that their choice doesn’t erase any of the goodness of the past–they just want to be freed up for the future.

But something feels off about that logic…maybe because it epitomizes the modern conception of marriage as self-fulfillment?

Using Amazon’s language of Customer Obsession, we could ask, “Who is the ‘customer’ of marriage?” Is it the partners, the children, society, God, or maybe all of the above? If marriage were a product (it’s certainly more than that), what would it look like to work backwards and iterate so that it fulfilled more of its purpose?

Labels have changed from married to divorced, but we’re still cherished friends…

What’s significant about dropping the marriage label? Jeff and MacKenzie are already parents, friends, partners, individuals and a family. What does it mean to be cherished friends, but no longer a married couple?

I’m guessing that it means you don’t have sex, no longer express intimacy or romantic affection towards one another, and drop all expectations of exclusivity and personal commitment. Which leads to the seemingly impregnable question: Why?

Not to belittle or oversimplify the very real struggles of marriage and the uniqueness of every situation, let’s imagine applying Amazon’s 5 Why’s exercise to this situation:

Why is marriage no longer a suitable label for our relationship?

Because we don’t love each other.

Why don’t we love each other?

Because we don’t spend time together.

Why don’t we spend time together?

Because we want different things.

Why do we want different things?

Because we already have all we want materially and the things money can’t buy require sacrifices we don’t want to make for each other.

Why won’t we make these sacrifices for each other?

… at this point, I find Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:8-9 incisive…

What now?

The Bible teaches Christians to pray for those in power. Money is power and the Bezoses are the richest couple in the world.

So last Thursday, I gathered with 30 other people in South Lake Union (Amazon HQ’s neighborhood) to give thanks and pray for the Bezos, their family, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, the whole Seattle tech scene, the relentless tech culture and the Christians who work in it. We also prayed for each other and for the impact of the tech industry on our communities.

If you’re a Christian reading this, may I invite you to pray for Jeff, MacKenzie and their family?

And if you want to pray with others, you can join our next Seattle meetup or Contact Me if you’d like materials to help you start a Pray 4 Tech gathering in your community.

“Kryptonite or Sunshine” and 2 other V-day poems

Ah Valentine’s Day, the one day in the year when all the silly, sappy and serious poetry of the past is socially acceptable to share. Here are three poems for your pleasure (read lyrically aloud for maximum effect).

Kryptonite or Sunshine

Girls are kryptonite
Or sunshine, it depends on…
I don’t have a clue…

#haiku

Longing for “At Last”

Until that time
When you are mine
I beg for grace
To endure
The anxious race
For love so pure
That it will bring
Only joy
And will sing
Bright and coy.

Through the sorrows
Each tomorrow
Leads to hope,
Faith and love.
So let’s elope
From earth above,
A taste of heaven,
That others will see,
And crave to get in
on Holy Trinity.

For They made man
And They made land
From which there came
Someone special
Not quite the same
But with differential
Glory, beauty,
winsome smile
Evoking holy
Relief and–
“At last”.

A Poem Can’t Make You Love Me

A poem can’t make you love me
But still it’s worth a try
To speak honestly and freely,
To let you hear my cry.

Why do feelings come and go,
Fleeting as they please?
I thought loving kindness would
Be enough to please.

“Give it time”
Will tell what exactly?
One day we’re fine,
Suddenly anxiety.

I’m here for you no matter what
But still it makes me sad
To hear that you don’t feel the same
As if I have been bad.

Then again I feel confused,
Sometimes you seem happy
With true delight, affection, joy,
Feeling like we’re lucky.

But other days you seem so scared
Of problems overwhelming
And want to hide inside your bed
From dangers that are felling

Your joy and peace
Both day and night
Pushing you to
Fight or flight.

But pillows make
For sorry shields–
To knightly strength
Does danger yield.

I mean of course
Your Mighty Friend.
I’m a lowly
Squire hand,

Holding up the shield of faith,
Slashing with the Word.
More at stake than chemistry,
Your joy in Christ, the Lord.

If that you have,
But romance hides,
I’ll be content
And stand aside.

But if Satan seeks to steal
Your happiness in Christ,
I will fight with all my strength
For your abundant life.

A poem can’t make you love me,
But love can make a way
To wait and speak and act and give
Grace for another day.

Something to look forward to if you are single (or not)

Looking forward to Christmas

What do think is the most romantic time of year?

I have always considered it to be Christmas: the festive atmosphere coupled with below freezing temperatures that bring people together or the fresh winter air contrasting with the warmth of a hand and a breath.

After a recent evening at church, I once again felt the ache, but in my futile attempts to express the ineffable, I stumbled upon an insight into what I actually sought: something to look forward to.

For a single person, it is one thing to set goals, make plans, fulfill responsibilities, think, read, write, code, play, socialize, work and all sorts of other good activities. Yet after each trial or accomplishment, something feels missing: someone to share it with. Without someone to look forward to seeing when the work is done, the motivation for the work is diminished.

While pondering these thoughts, the song Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground) played on the radio and on the wings of its soaring chorus I realized: this looking forward to being with someone is what Advent is all about. Listen to any carol and you’ll feel it–the joyful longing and sweet anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. Read the Scriptures and you can experience the deep desire for his return:

So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-5)

So if you find an abiding desire for someone to look forward to seeing amidst the joys and sorrows of daily life, take heart! Whether or not God satisfies that desire through a significant other now, there is someone to thoroughly look forward to seeing and being with: Christ.

The first time he entered this love story was to lay down his life for his Bride (people like you and me, if we believe in him) and when he returns it will be to eliminate evil, to establish his righteous reign, to wipe away our tears and turn to them to joy, and to throw the greatest wedding party in history.

Singles, could anything compare to that day when you see God face to face?

Or if you do not know God, would you like to?

PS, learn more about Advent by following this devotional.

Lonelyphobia

After a tiring week at work, I wanted nothing more than to relax at home alone, but a gnawing anxiety crept through my heart on the bus ride home. I’m calling it lonelyphobia.

There are all sorts of causes for lonelyphobia and in my case, I felt “lame” for not wanting to socialize. I felt like a loser for staying home on Friday night and feared that I actually didn’t want to be alone, but was simply too “lazy” to seek company. Thankfully I could share these feelings with my sister and she said that barring the miraculous appearance of a girlfriend I should buy a dog.

I think most dogs are excellent emotional capacitors. You lavish them with affection and when you’re down they can return it to you in full measure. Their cute faces act like mirrors of the soul, reflecting back to their caretakers the feelings they have been nurtured with. Unlike humans, you can almost be sure that the delight you express towards a dog will be happily reciprocated without making the relationship confusing or awkward.

Yet with all its joys, the dog-man relationship falls short of human companionship. My friend Will recently noted that loneliness wasn’t so much, “a lack of society, but a lack of like-minded society–people who you can share your heart and interests with.” His thoughts echo the Scriptures:

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

I think we often mistake socializing for companionship. How often have you been to a gathering where you made smalltalk, but never connected with anyone? Have you had lunch with a friend, but felt miles apart in conversation? Although “it is not good for a man to be alone“, it seems better for a man to know he is alone than to confuse superficial relationships with true companionship. There’s no point getting demoralized over not socializing enough, but it seems good to be “anxious” to find loyal friends.

Do you have true companionship?

Sign up here if you’re looking (don’t worry, it’s private :-)):

I think lonelyphobia is particularly common among goal-oriented people. We feel frustrated if we hang out at the expense of making progress on our goals, but we feel guilty if we don’t socialize because we are pursuing our goals. The goal could be as simple as doing well on an exam or as complex as creating a company, but whatever it may be, we crave companions who share the same mission (by the way, please leave a comment if you care about technology entrepreneurship for the gospel!).

As I wrestled through writing this post, I realized that although I could suggest visiting meetups around common interests, attending conferences or joining a small group, I didn’t really have any answers. The only hope I have is God. If he has called you or me to a mission, there’s probably going to be plenty of loneliness (and joy) along the way.

God sent Paul to preach the gospel and he was deserted by his ministry team. Elijah’s passion for God made him the target of an assassination so that he fled into the wilderness alone to save his life. Jesus knew his disciples would all leave him when he faced his deathly mission to save the world by sacrificing his own life. In every instance the only hope they had was that God remained with them. No wonder the Scriptures ring with refrains of:

  1. I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5Joshua 1:5)
  2. I am with you always (Matthew 28:20)
  3. Be strong and courageous, for I am with you (1 Chronicles 28:20Joshua 1:9)

So if you feel lonelyphobia, trust in God! Don’t feel guilty over not socializing (that’s my merit side saying I don’t deserve friends if I don’t hang out…). Don’t feel lazy self-pity over having no true companions (they are a grace we should ask God for and take responsibility for loving). Buy a dog, attend a meetup, invite a friend to dinner, but always remember that God is with you and that he alone can fully satisfy your desires for companionship, intimacy, and adventure.

Note: This post was really hard to write because the topic felt way too big. I didn’t get to address dating, fellowship, leadership, the etymology of companion (breadfellow), and so much more. If you’d like to add more the conversation, please leave a comment!

PS, Here are affiliate links to books you might find helpful:

How to Rebuke a Friend

The look on his face said it all. A stiletto tongue emerged from his rage contorted countenance,  launching a barrage of words accusing me of misinterpreting, badmouthing and misjudging. Words designed to stab the heart and twist hard. Words designed to shift blame and attention away from the issue at hand to protect a vulnerable ego.

I’m sure almost everyone has experienced something like this. You have someone’s best interests at heart. You notice something they did wrong, which damaged themselves and hurt others, indicating a deeper problem in their lives. You want to help correct them, but three barriers keep you from diving in.

First, you wonder whether or not you rightly appraised the situation.

Did I misunderstand that e-mail? Maybe it sounded mean to me, but the others found it funny. Maybe I should be more understanding since he was tired from staying up all night.

Once you get over all the possible excuses and decide you care enough to bring it up, you think about what to say.

What if they take it the wrong way? Maybe I should overlook the problem–it’s not worth the trouble.

You dither between taking action and leaving well enough alone. You wrestle through every word to say and then go overboard trying to address every possible objection. Eventually the mental chess softens your arguments like Downy and you have a sweet-smelling, fluffy rebuke, but fall asleep exhausted before you can deliver it.

In the deep of the night, your heart psyches itself out on the third question.

Who am I to rebuke my friend about this? Why should he listen to me? He’ll probably bring up stuff I’ve done wrong in the past. Maybe I should just ignore the problem since I’m not one to talk.

Come dawn, the anxieties wear you down and you choose to pretend like nothing happened. No conflict, everybody is happy (at least on the surface) and you didn’t have to do a thing :).

This has happened in my life more times than I can count, even though I know the frequent exhortations of Scripture:

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (Proverbs 27:5-6)

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Revelation 3:18-20)

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)

It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
than to listen to the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:5)

Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor
rather than one who has a flattering tongue. (Proverbs 28:23)

So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. (Luke 17:2-4)

Most of the time, I am okay rebuking a little kid when I see him do something wrong, but when it comes to peers or superiors, I would rather keep my mouth shut than endure the consequences of calling out problems I see. It’s a lot easier to whine to sympathetic friends since feeding the gossip monster is far safer than risking a friendship or taking the heat for rebuking someone in power.

When we forget that God alone can change a person’s heart we agonize over our responsibility to rebuke and preemptively give up because we feel powerless to guarantee a positive response. This anxiety often expresses itself in sympathy seeking gossip. When we ignore the fact that God commands us to rebuke and restore, we may only pray about the problem, expecting God to fix it for us and so continue in a passive-aggressive holding pattern without ever taking the actions that God prescribes for healing the relationship. Thus we have the vicious cycle of courage burying anxiety producing despair-fueled laziness.

Instead of giving practical advice on “10 ways to be an awesome rebuker” or “20 tips for making your friends listen to you” let’s see what a biblical view of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility can do for us (I’m totally preaching at myself here). God is in full control of every human being, including wayward friends/leaders. This is a big relief since we know that it’s his place to change them, not ours, and when he chooses to do so, it never fails. Even so, God holds us responsible to speak the truth in love, which inevitably includes upbuilding rebukes (pretending like nothing is wrong, is a form of lying!) because that is how He planned to grow his children to maturity. Since God’s plan cannot fail, our efforts to follow him in this matter are guaranteed to grow his children to maturity as well.

So instead of succumbing to anxiety or despair, let’s make rebukes a healthy part of our relationships with superiors, peers and subordinates. If a person responds poorly, we discover early that we may need to follow the advice of Proverbs 9. If the person responds well, our relationship can only get stronger.

If you’ve had a difficult situation confronting people you care about, please share about it in the comments. Thanks!

PS, I found Pastor Sam Crabtree’s book Practicing Affirmation a helpful balance to these thoughts on rebuke. He recommends an “affirmation ratio” of 10 affirmations for every rebuke you give a person to demonstrate that the rebuke is truly given in love. (Note: this is an affiliate link, so I benefit if you buy the book through this link).