My Little Devotional #172: “Could Be Worse”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Mean 6”

They say ignorance is bliss. They also say what you don’t know won’t hurt you. I’m not sure if either of those are absolutely true, but today’s episode made a strong case.

From the perspective of the girls, they simply thought that their short camping trip to the Tree of Harmony ran into some snags and mishaps. There were some arguments from misunderstandings, a few blow ups, and at the end of the day they saw that their prearranged campsite had been ruined.

In most situations, people in similar circumstances might say such constituted a “bad time”. They might even go so far as to call it a disaster when everyone kept arguing, the hike ended up being miserable, and the place where they stopped ended up being ransacked.

Those of us at home, however, knew that the girls had little reason to complain. Unknown to them, all of their mishaps and near scrapes with danger were the result of Queen Chrysalis and their clones’ machinations to try and steal the power of the Elements of Harmony for themselves. The small amount of misfortune and anger they had to deal with was an excellent alternative to what she would have done if she had her way, and yet they will likely go the rest of their lives chalking that up to being one of their bad days–never knowing, in the grand scheme of things, how lucky and fortunate they were.

The problem of evil has plagued Christianity as well as all religions for generations. If there is an all-knowing, all-powerful, benevolent God, then why do such senseless acts of evil, misery, and disaster happen? The oldest book in the Bible, the Book of Job, has this as its main topic, and yet thousands of years later it remains a topic for debate. The only real answer that book itself seemed to offer was that mankind can’t know why, at least completely, evil happens and in particular to good and innocent people. Many athesists, and even religious scholars, have been unsatisfied with that answer for years; especially when the bad incident is truly senseless. Even for those who still have faith, however, eventually the time will come in our lives in which we turn to God and ask: “Why did this have to happen to me?”

I don’t know if any of us will ever have the full answer, whether in this life or the next. Yet as this episode illustrates, there is at least some courage to be taken in knowing that one might never know just how much evil one is being preserved from…even in a seemingly rotten situation.

For today’s message, I would like to paraphrase a tale concerning the Prophet Elijah from the Books of Kings–a figure renown in Judeo-Christianity as one of the most pious and zealous men of the Old Testament. According to the Bible, Elijah never died but was instead taken up to Heaven while still in the body, and ever since then continues to wander the Earth to this day doing the Will of God.

There is a fable that the Rabbi Joshua ben Levi was a friend of Elijah and asked if he could join him in his wanderings. Elijah agreed on the condition that the rabbi never question his actions.

The two set out and first came to the house of an elderly couple. They were very poor, their only possession being a single cow, but they welcomed the two and offered them the best hospitality that they were able. The next morning, Elijah prayed that their cow would die and it did.

They next came to the house of a wealthy man. When they asked to stay, however, he chased them off and dismissed them both as lazy beggars. As they were leaving, they saw that one of the walls of the man’s property was crumbling. Elijah prayed that the wall would be repaired and it was.

After that, they came to a very rich synagogue. They were allowed to stay, but only with very poor and meager provisions. When they departed, Elijah prayed that every member of the synagogue would become a leader.

Afterward, they next came to a very poor synagogue, but one that welcomed them with great hospitality and courteousness. When they departed, Elijah prayed that the synagogue only be given a single wise leader.

At this point, the rabbi could take no more and demanded an explanation. Elijah answered:

  • The Angel of Death had come to the house of the elderly couple to take the wife. Elijah prayed that he would take the cow instead and he did.
  • The wall of the miser’s house had concealed a great treasure. Elijah prayed that it would be repaired and remain hidden from him and so it was.
  • A synagogue with many leaders would be ruined from the arguing and infighting, but a synagogue with only a single wise leader would go on to prosperity.

The moral of the story: don’t think that every time an evil-doer is seen prospering that it’s necessarily to their advantage, or that every time a good and righteous person suffers that it is because God is unjust.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, in my darkest times, when my doubts and fears overwhelm me, and everything in the world says to me that God has abandoned me and does not hear, grant that I will continue to cling to you and have faith in you. And I thank you for all of the unknown evils and dangers you have preserved me from without my ever knowing, as well as any act, even if it felt terrible at the time, that helped me to grow as a person and becomes a better follower of Christ. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

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My Little Devotional #171: “It’s a Group Thing”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Marks for Effort”

A good portion of this episode focuses on the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ desire to find a way to attend the School of Friendship; in spite of the fact the three are somewhat “overqualified” for enrollment. After failing to be able to get in themselves, the three attempt to attend vicariously by helping out an existing student, Cozy Glow, in her own friendship assignments. Yet things get problematic when Cozy, recognizing their desire and in an attempt to get them enrolled, purposely flubs her assignments so that Princess Twilight will think the CMCs are, in fact, “bad at friendship” and let them join in. After a mishap in which the girls get temporarily banned by Twilight for thinking they intentionally tried to ruin Cozy’s progress by mis-teaching her, everything gets sorted out and the girls end up finding a way to be included at the school by being tutors for all friendship students.

What underlies this entire storyline is one central idea: a desire to belong. Wanting to belong to a certain group or social order is one of humanity’s greatest needs–perhaps its greatest after satisfying all physical needs (such as food, water, and shelter). We seek to identify with others like us and to be around them, and, very often, we change our own behavior in order to conform with others we wish to be with…whether those changes be for good or bad.

I would contend it is very, very rare that you will meet someone who doesn’t want to find other like-minded individuals like themselves to interact with and talk to. Even if someone describes themselves as unique or a loner, at the bare minimum they will want to know people who understand and appreciate their uniqueness or who love and accept them even if they aren’t around them all the time. How the process seems to work from my perspective is that we’ll first try to find others like us who like what we like and are interested in what we’re interested in. If that fails, we’ll settle for individuals who accept whatever personality and behavioral quirks we possess. And if we can’t even find that, then we start making changes to our behavior, interests, or even thinking in order to be a better fit for others.

This third step is what I want to focus on. From one perspective, you could say that’s a bad thing as that it’s often the source of social conformity and peer pressure. Generally speaking, however, it’s a good thing for society as a whole and usually for individuals.

Think of children. Very little children might, when their parents won’t buy them something they want, pout, scream, whine, or throw a fit. Adults don’t often do that because they know that doesn’t gain anything and most people find it childish and inappropriate. A person who is accustomed to swearing like a sailor, on entering a more conservative environment, might quickly find they get dirty looks or uncomfortable glances; prompting them to stop swearing. It’s also prevalent in much bigger issues of society at large. Divorce rates haven’t gone up in this country so high simply because couples stopped being faithful (although, considering the current attitude toward sexual relations nowadays, I contend that remains a big factor) but also because society used to frown on the idea of divorce so much that even couples in an abusive or toxic marriage would refuse to get one.

As another benefit, while trying to fit into a society can definitely encourage one to adopt a universal societal viewpoint it can also encourage them to do the opposite. One would probably say the best way to get rid of racial bias is to interact with a diversity of people from a particular race. Or the best way to be more accepting of a certain religion is to actually get into a group that has a diversity of members of that religion. On the other hand, if a certain individual has the sort of mindset that promotes violence or suppression of another group of people by force, but they live in a society that strongly discourages that, they’ll likely not act out that behavior even if they don’t change inwardly because they know they’ll get the condemnation of those around them.

So while it is not good in all situations, and in many situations might actually lead to negative behaviors and traits, as a general sociological rule this sort of tendency we have to want to fit in can be beneficial. Unfortunately, in our modern world, there’s something that confounds the good side of this adaptation toward social inclusion: the Internet.

I have a maxim when it comes to the online world: “Be careful what you go looking for on the Internet, because you will find it.” The Internet is a tremendously advantageous tool for getting access to information…both good information and misinformation. It’s also a world-changing way of connecting with people…whether those are “good” people or “bad” people. Applying it to what I outlined above changes the whole dynamic. Before, we would expect societal pressure to keep certain tendencies and ideas down (for better or for worse). The Internet eliminates that. Now, we no longer have to worry about failing to fit into a group. Whatever type of group we already are can be identified, located, participated in, and, most importantly, can provide an environment of encouragement and support for that behavior or mindset.

Again, this isn’t a totally bad thing as it’s an opportunity to break down prejudices and walls and connect people. (I’m 100% sure I would have never become a fan of MLP:FIM without the Internet, as it allowed me to see others like me watched it and weren’t “weird” or “perverted” or anything.) On the other hand, it also makes it easy to adopt all sorts of lifestyles and behaviors, including self-destructive ones, while being encouraged by others doing the same. It also makes it easy to connect to a lot of hate groups who will be all too happy to confirm that one’s racism, sexism, prejudices, etc. are all perfectly justified and logical. It can even twist facts to the point where large groups of people think they’re being rational by totally ignoring facts and science. (Look no further than the preponderance of “flat-Earthers” and “anti-vaxxers” for that.) In some situations, it might even go so far as to encourage people to throw the “bratty tantrums” I mentioned in my original example well into adulthood. (Want proof? I suggest looking on Youtube for “r/choosingbeggars”.)

In the Old Testament, the Bible warns: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20) More succinctly, in the New Testament, it reads: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.'” (1 Corinthians 15:33). In both instances, the idea is the same–like it or not, the company we keep will define who we are. Whether we consider something good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, moral or immoral, will ultimately be colored by the lenses of whatever group we happen to belong to or try to belong to.

Because of that, we should all take care to be mindful that what we consider a standard for good and evil isn’t simply what society accepts or rejects at the time. It’s important to assess, evaluate, and maintain our own morals–to know what they are, why they are what they are, and to keep that in mind whenever we’re examining not only what groups of individuals we wish to associate with but ourselves. For the Christian, this means anchoring on the Word of God and Jesus Christ.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the ‘firm foundation’ that is your Word, the Bible, and the assurance that those who build their lives on it will not be shaken. No matter where I find myself in life, both physically as well as emotionally, please help me to always set my eyes on your Word and Truth and to keep focus on it whenever I am being pressured to go one way or another; especially if such pressure to belong with others is prompting me to change my thinking and behavior toward condoning wickedness, hate, or immorality. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #170: “Shed My Skin”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Molt Down”

In this episode, Spike undergoes a bit of a transformation in which, after an assortment of uncomfortable and awkward physical problems, he molted to become a winged dragon. Getting there wasn’t an easy time. Not only did he suffer a large amount of physical stress through the process, he had to suffer from emotional and mental stress as well when he realized the scent he was giving off would attract all manner of violent beasts–making him a threat to others around him. In other words, the old adege of “change is painful” definitely held true here. The only way he could get the benefit of his new winged self was through a tremendous ordeal that left him discarding his outer skin in a gray pile on the ground.

While this change was physical and the situation was rather outlandish compared to real life, it does have some real implications for the idea of “change” and even Christianity.

It’s not unusual for people to use the term “shed my skin” when talking about going through a major change to their demeanor, outlook, or even personality. That ties into the same topic covered in this episode and in the world of biology: “molting”. In nature, many creatures that don’t periodically lose skin or hair (like we do) but instead shed it all at once go through the process of molting. Normally it’s associated with reaching a new life cycle or a time of growth, such as once a year when food is plentiful or scarce to allow it. There are a variety of kinds of actions that could be considered “molting”. The most extreme example could take place in butterflies. In their case, once the larva is large enough its skin will split and the “insides” will wriggle out as a new pupa. Yet those, in turn, will solidify and harden only to be split and discarded by its insides, which is a new adult butterfly. However, there’s much lesser examples, such as birds shedding their bright “breeding plumage” during the winter to look duller and harder for predators to find, deer shedding a thicker winter coat during the spring, or snakes, when big enough, going through the long process of rubbing against rocks to peel off their old skin.

Humans, in fact, do “molt” all the time, but it’s gradual and not dramatic. (We only shed hair and skin cells periodically rather that all in one go.) But whether it’s humans, birds, or caterpillars, the very idea of molting is an interesting concept. Essentially, animals must let their old bodies die, sometimes their old ways of life as well (such as how a caterpillar is concerned with eating and growing while a butterfly is concerned with breeding), in order to enter the next phase of life. When that happens, their old selves are literally cast off like so much rubbish.

That gets into today’s message. This central idea behind the process of molting is likewise true for Christianity and the idea of being “born again”.

Jesus emphasized the idea of being “born again from above” early in His ministry, and then (as it does now in some cases) it led to a great deal of confusion. As evidenced in his talk with Nicodemus, some people took it in the literal sense of the current physical body.

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!'” (John 3:3-4)

Jesus was, in fact, talking about the spiritual body. Sin is corrupting. It’s evil, it’s wicked, it brings pain, sadness, and sickness, and ultimately is brings death both physically and spiritually (Romans 6:23a). This nature of it caused some of the Apostles to term it “corruptibility” or perishability–an innate corruption in the body that is passed on and inherited from one generation to the next through all of humanity. The reason we die is because we sin, and sin is a part of mortal existence and inescapable as DNA. Part of the “broken” human condition and part of life.

When Jesus Christ came to the world, he came in a purely human body that was subject to all physical stresses, strains, toils, tears, and cares all people face; only in His case He endured it all but committed no sin. In doing so, He became the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. When He was unjustly put to death on Calvary, He paid the price for your sins, my sins, and everyone else’s past, present, and future. But to accomplish that, His own physical body was destroyed–taking on our nature that leads to inevitable death and destruction and suffering in full for all of the evils of the world simultaneously placed upon Him. However, because of His sinlessness, He was resurrected and came back to a new and glorious eternal life completely opposed to the rules and conditions of the previous body. All that was weak, mortal, and subjected to the pain, sadness, sickness, and death of this world was now liberated from it forever.

In the same way, Jesus has promised the same for all who accept His offer to take away their sins and become their personal Lord and Savior. Just as Jesus had a mortal body but His Spirit was from God and eternal, in the same way those that accept His Gift will cast off their own corrupted, perishable selves when their own physical suffering and death is at an end and will gain the same eternal life. And just as Jesus’ own mortal body passed away only to be resurrected in an incorruptible eternal life, the same will happen to all who put their faith in Him.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?'” (1 Corinthians 15:53-55)

There was a wonderful picture I had in college that sadly I ended up ruining illustrating this. It was a sculpture of an iron statute “shedding” off its iron coating to reveal one made of crystal beneath it. It’s a great metaphor. Iron tarnishes, rusts, erodes, and wears away, and in order to be cast aside it has to be rent and peeled off. Yet when it’s gone, all that’s left behind is beautiful and perfect. The old state crumbles away and the new life endures.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

If you would like to experience this “shedding of skin”, there is an excellent resource for how you can do it right now right here: https://www.thoughtco.com/a-prayer-of-salvation-701284

If you are already a Christian, here is today’s suggested prayer:

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I can never thank you enough for the wonderful gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, by whose blood and sacrifice I am now a new creation set free from sin. Now that I have the blessed assurance that I have been born again, please help me to use my life always to seek your will and live for you today and every day. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #169: “Nice Guys Finish Last”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Break-Up Break Down”

Spike and Discord’s discourse in this episode made me think of something. Even though it’s one of the most basic feelings of humanity, after thousands of years of human civilization we still ask ourselves the same question: “What is love?” What constitutes love? Is it an agreement? It is a partnership? Should it only be unconditional to a point? Or, as Spike and Discord themselves debated, is it even real or just some giddy emotion we feel from biological functions? And I have a feeling most people have felt like siding with Discord’s viewpoint over Spike’s in their lifetimes.

I come from a family that has had some successes in love but also a ton of disastrous failures. On top of that, I’ve seen more than my share of divorcees and I can tell you it hasn’t been pretty. I also know a couple individuals who meet that classic formula for having “struck out” at love. While I myself don’t have a succinct answer from my own life experiences (and I will be the first to admit that I’m more of a person who strikes out than succeeds), these instances have helped me at least get a definite picture of what love is not.

There’s an old adage that’s gone around for years: “Nice guys finish last.” However, it’s only been in recent history that this has taken on a dark new meaning. In modern lingo, the label of “nice guy” (or girl) is something to avoid like the plague. A man who is one of these “nice guys” initially approaches a woman behaving very politely, friendly, suave, and genteel. (Occasionally, they are a bit too polite and genteel, speaking almost like an 18th century nobleman, but that’s besides the point for now.) They offer compliments such as they have a lovely smile or they admire their work or laugh or how they performed at some public game or function, and then ask if they might go on a date sometime. At this point, the woman, who has likely just met this individual, usually politely declines until they get to know them better or apologizes and says they have a boyfriend.

Then things do a 180. The “nice guy” reveals their true colors; petulantly whining, moaning, swearing, and raging about how girls never want a nice person. They immediately accuse the woman of being sexually prolific and vilify them, insulting them in the most crude and disgusting of terms, mocking them as being cheap or any other vulgar thing, and then storm off. And worse of all, when this is all done, they insist that they are still a genuine “nice guy” and that women just won’t give them a chance.

Needless to say, you do not want to be known as a “nice guy”.

There are obviously a few things wrong here. The first is that these people are sick. They weren’t trying to form a relationship; they wanted someone to pair with to make them feel good about themselves by telling them what they thought they wanted to hear and, when that failed, they tried to make them feel bad about their own natural rejection. At both points they were emotionally manipulative, first in trying to charm and then in trying to tear down. Such individuals need to maturely face up to their own insecurities and low self-esteem and perhaps seek professional help, or they (and their partners, for that matter) will never be in a healthy relationship.

The thing I want to draw attention to, however, is a misconception that many have to a lesser degree. These people think of love as an equal exchange. They thought that, in exchange for not being vulgar, offering polite compliments, and essentially treating a person with basic decency, they were now entitled to love. And while most of us are neither “nice guys” nor “nice girls”, odds are at one level or another, especially if we’re currently single, we buy into this idea. That love is a matter of goods and services–you give something out and you’re guaranteed something back.

This may be a hard pill for many to swallow, especially for those who keep striking out, but the truth is you are never “entitled” to love. No one owes it to you based on the amount of good deeds or pleasant gestures you perform. And frankly, if you stop to think about it, you’ll probably realize that’s a good thing. Would you have wanted your parents to only care about you when you did all your chores perfectly and got good grades in school? Or would you want your friends to only desire to hang out with you when you’re buying them things or taking them places? Ultimately love is a choice. You either give it or you don’t. And true love is based on an understanding of everything about another person and accepting and loving them because of it.

The overall story of the Bible illustrates the difference between the two very well in a history that spans both Old and New Testament over hundreds of years. The ancient Israelites received two things from God when he chose them to be his own people: his Love and his Law. The latter of the two formed the basis of a covenant; in which both parties were expected to give something. Israel was to follow the letter of the Mosaic Law carefully and obey it completely, and in return they would receive the Promised Land and God’s material blessings. However, they violated that covenant by embracing idolatry and breaking the commandments, and as a result God withheld his own end of the covenant and allowed them to become prey to the Babylonians and for the ancient nation of Israel to cease to exist. At that time, many of the scattered Jewish people equated the Love and the Law. They believed that God had now fully rejected them because the covenant was broken.

The truth was God’s love remained even once the covenant was gone under a “greater” Law, because while the Law demanded certain obligations in exchange for certain favors, God’s love was always a conscious choice. God himself likened his Love for Israel as a parent for his child. “‘But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!'” (Isaiah 49:14-15) And just like a parent can’t ever stop loving their child no matter how disobedient they behave, the same was true for him. And that eventually manifested itself in the form of Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself gave the ultimate expression of God’s Love by being sacrificed for the sin of the world…even when the world put Him to death themselves and sought no mercy or absolution for it. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8)

Now please don’t take this to the extreme and think that means that to truly love someone we have to put up with abuse. While being in a loving relationship is a matter of choice and not favors, any individuals who truly love and care about each other will demonstrate that by tangible acts of affection naturally (and if they consistently do not, that might be a genuine problem), and they won’t willfully try to mistreat or control their partners. Yet just as everything in Lord Jesus’ life was a model for us, this serves to show us  true love is given, not earned. Therefore, we can’t think that by performing a set of purely external actions like showering people with compliments, pretending to be more pleasant and polite than we are, or otherwise subscribing to some “magic formula” we will ever gain true love. We must be honest with ourselves and our feelings first, and frankly we must also love ourselves first. And if we find that we really are doing something that we don’t like and can’t expect others to either, then we need to focus on improving that before trying to cover it up.

On a final note, if you find yourself in an unfortunate place where you yourself are believing that “true” love is a matter of pleasing someone, I strongly urge you to take out whatever time and assistance you need to grow to love yourself first; whether that be a true friend, a good church community, or a counselor. And if there are any non-Christians reading this who would like to experience more of the Love of God firsthand, I strongly suggest that you seek out a good church in your area and inform the pastor you’d like to learn more.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, who demonstrated to the world the ultimate act of perfect love. Grant that I might be as selfless in the love I give to others, and deliver me from the folly of treating love and affection as matters of obligation and exchange. And if I find myself caught in the trap of believing that love is something that can only be earned, please help me to experience your true affection for me and deliver me from my emotional bondage. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #168: “I’m Not Touching You!”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Non-Compete Clause”

To say that Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s behavior in this episode is frustrating is a bit of an understatement. Their normal competitiveness, this time taking the form of wanting to be the School of Friendship’s teacher-of-the-month, caused them to ruin both of their respective activities through their arguing and fighting. However, what was even worse and more unbearable was that after Twilight called them out on their selfish desires to get the award they began to compete for it in a different way…namely by trying to make themselves look the most gracious, friendly, and deferential so that they, in turn, would appear more selfless and therefore more deserving of the award.

Dealing with people who let competition and personal pride cause them to constantly butt heads with each other is fairly frustrating, but it can get downright unbearable when they attempt to mask it, as in this episode, under a guise of faux beneficence. That’s especially true when that sort of behavior is targeting us and, I imagine, when we find ourselves doing it to others. And even more so when this sort of behavior is somewhat or entirely subconscious. At that point, it turns into something called passive-aggressiveness.

Passive-aggression was originally classified as a mental disorder, but actually encompasses a wide variety of behaviors that anyone can produce. In layman’s terms, it’s a way of acting out in hostility and anger toward someone or something without actually acting that way. Examples include purposely procrastinating, intentionally making mistakes, disguising criticism with compliments, harboring a sullen, stubborn attitude, mentally keeping score in histories of arguments, slipping in that one “last word” as an insult, and, perhaps most prevalent in the modern age, sabotage.

The primary reason behind using passive-aggressiveness is to avoid an overt confrontation over feelings or a disagreement. Sometimes this is because the person is being devious and malicious; purposely seeking to undermine or take jabs at their opponent. In other cases, it’s not ill-intended but is rather a way to try and avoid having to face up to someone or something. In either case, however, the reasoning in the same: to avoid getting into an overt conflict and/or appearing to be an instigator, hostile, or unsociable to others. It allows a person to “be the bad guy without looking like the bad guy”. And in my opinion, at least in some cases, I believe some individuals have fooled themselves into thinking that by not being openly aggressive or hostile that somehow they aren’t being that way at all, and therefore are absolved of all wrongdoing.

This is especially true in the modern day with our access to social networking and the like. Say, for example, two friends went out to a meal and one was supposed to pay but ended up forgetting about it and only had enough to pay for themselves. Rather than confront the person about it, the other friend gets onto social media and says something like: “I learned a life lesson about how thoughtless some people can be today. It really helped me see who my real friends are and who is just taking advantage of me.” They basically just attacked their friend indirectly and exposed it for the world to see, but they can claim that they didn’t do anything and that they could have been talking about anyone because they didn’t “name names”. Or if two people are angry at one another and one gets, say, a promotion at work and announces it, they might reply: “Congratulations on the new title! I guess all the smarter people at work quit by now, huh?” When it comes to online arguing, it’s positively vitriolic. The posts are endless as everyone tries to get in the last word with that one last jibe and, in the case of Christians, they make it worse by appending a “God bless!” to the end of it as if that somehow magically makes it not an insult. (Which is why I find if you get yourself caught in one of those, the best thing to do is simply “ignore the last post”…let them get the final word without feeling the temptation to respond.)

Colossians 3:8 reads: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” In numerous lines of the Bible I myself tend to focus on the overt actions and sins, but passages like this take it a step further and say to get rid of even the “inner” ones such as rage and malice. It’s not enough to try and just be externally “good” while you still have desires for evil and sin inside you, as this episode illustrated when Applejack and Rainbow Dash tried to work together and defer to one another yet still harbored their desire for the award inside of them. In the end, it became not only obvious but totally unbearable.

We all have a responsibility to be honest and truthful with our own feelings so that we in turn don’t act passive-aggressive ourselves as a way of hurting other people and saying we did nothing wrong. And we might not be able to control when other people are being passive-aggressive as a way of getting to us, but we all can control how we respond to it and, more importantly, keep ourselves from doing it.

As our Lord says: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for all the opportunities for me to resolve difficult situations in my life; for they teach me discipline and help me grow in maturity and responsibility. When I am angry with my situation, grant that I may always be honest about it to myself, especially if it involves someone else, and thereby deal with my anger in a constructive way. And please help me always to respond appropriately when, either directly or subtly, a person is seeking to get the better of my own emotions. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #167: “Caregiving and Caretaking”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Parent Map”

You can’t spell “smother” without “mother”. 😛

Joking aside, I’m sure that’s exactly what Sunburst was feeling about his own mother in this episode, and what Starlight Glimmer was feeling about her father in a similar light. Most of it was a form of mild torture for them as they were forced to deal with the overbearing, controlling and/or condescending behavior of both parents. Starlight was infuriated that her dad was still treating her like a filly after all these years while Sunburst was aggravated that his mother was still trying to plan out his life for him. I personally can see where Sunburst is coming from, and I can imagine that many folks out there can see a bit of themselves in either Starlight or Sunburst in this one.

However, I think it is important to keep in mind that while both parents went overboard with their children, the motivation and intent behind their behavior was pretty understandable. The fact of the matter was both Starlight and Sunburst had long “bad” periods of their life they went through. Both of them suffered from emotional scarring: Starlight from having lost her childhood friend and spending many years isolating herself from others, and Sunburst having felt like a failure for most of his life for dropping out of magic school. Firelight felt that he had to take care of all of Starlight’s needs himself, while Stellar Flare thought she had to plan for Sunburst’s future; and both thought doing so would be the way to get them through their personal problems.

What both parents failed to realize is that personal problems are ultimately just that: personal. When individuals are children and are both emotionally and intellectually immature a parent may need to step in and do most of the work both for support and for planning, but eventually children grow (or, even more importantly, need to grow) into adults and become responsible for their own emotional and personal well-being. At that point, their “help” not only became unnecessary but also unwanted, insulting, stifling, and frustrating.

Over the past decade, I’ve noticed a popular trend among outspoken Christian fathers toward their daughters. I’ve seen how they always talk big about how they will repel, sometimes physically, all potential boyfriends away from their girls if they don’t meet a rigorous set of standards both from a moral and behavioral standpoint. Often they speak of this as a point of pride; as if this is not only something great to be applauded but that it’s what a true, good Christian father would and should do. Me? I can’t help but grimace a bit at it.

I’ll admit that there are a lot of creeps out there and that adults often know better than their kids, and perhaps at a certain age it would be better for this kind of behavior. But these fathers need to realize their “little girl” isn’t going to be their little girl forever. She’s going to be a woman one day and part of becoming mature is being able to make your own mistakes and learn from them. If a parent spends all of a young person’s early years sheltering them and forbidding them from making any decisions for themselves, eventually they could feel too controlled and constrained and grow resentful toward the parent about it. That might lead them to making an even greater act of rebellion than simply dating a subpar boyfriend with much more undesirable consequences, especially if this constant behavior makes them begin to think they can’t take care of themselves and need the male figure in their lives to make all their decisions for them–whether it be their father or otherwise.

In a similar vein, many other parents follow a history of “caretaking” and “supervision” even until late in life; wanting to either take care of their children well into their adult years or dictate a plan for their lives that will give them success. In most cases, this is based on a combination of love and fear. All true parents care for their children and they want them to have better lives than they did. Problems arise, however, when they end up feeling that they must continue to care for them past the time when they need to care for themselves. Sometimes parents take care of their children too much to the point where they never gain maturity and become codependent upon them; needing their parents to constantly bail them out to survive while the parent needs to constantly act as caregiver to keep from “feeling guilty”. Other times when parents are too controlling–feeling that they always need to correct every little mishap or roadblock in their children’s lives rather than let them make their own choices for good or ill–leads to resentment and anger on the part of the children and can make interacting with parents unbearable (as it was in this episode) to the point where familial ties are strained or even broken.

The Bible has a lot of words to say about parenting, with most of them being geared toward not shying away from disciplining your children so they don’t grow up spoiled or wayward. However, there are a couple of passages that tie into this episode I’d like to focus on.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

What these two verses say to me is the key of “long-term” Christian parenting, which is rather than try and make choices for a child their whole lives parents need to focus on teaching them how to apply the same instruction that they themselves do to their own lives (namely Biblical instruction) and use it to direct their own decision making. And part of that, to me, is to create a solid enough foundation in a child that they have confidence in true morals and principles as well as in their own efficacy to make the right choices of their own.

This is just my opinion as I myself am not a parent yet, but, going back to the Christian father barring boyfriends from seeing their daughter, what I would say would be far more valuable in the early dating than acting as a personal bodyguard is to make sure that their daughters know who they are, what they want, and have respect for themselves so that they will already know whether or not someone is mentally or emotionally abusive/manipulative so that they will not tolerate that sort of treatment to themselves. The same thing with all other decisions in life. Maybe a child won’t always know what the best choice is or what exactly they want to do, but they’ll know what the bad choices are and will know to avoid them, and they’ll know to be responsible enough to recover from the ones they end up choosing. Will they stumble and make mistakes? Of course. Every young person makes mistakes growing up. But some mistakes are far less costly than others, and giving a child the “freedom”, so to speak, of suffering through it, being forced to dig themselves out of it, realizing that the advice and principles they learned earlier were the ones they should have followed all along, and deciding to follow them in the future is all ultimately better than simply jumping to the rescue or dictating what they should do.

Remember the story of the Prodigal Son. When we have our own plans that go awry, God doesn’t always immediately leap to our rescue or stop us where we are and dictate a new plan to us. Sometimes he lets us go our own way until we’ve learned something from the experience, even if it’s painful, and then remember him and seek to return to him and his instruction. Maybe we should do the same with our own children.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you have given us the ability of free will, so that virtue may truly be virtue when we choose to pursue it and wisdom and obedience are also true when we choose to follow you. For all of us who are parents, please help us to guide our children the same way you guide your own children: through constant love, appropriate discipline and instruction, affirmation, and ultimately plenty of opportunities to grow toward completion. Please help us to always give our children what they need, and not simply what we think they need. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Merry Christmas everyone.

My Little Devotional #166: “Leader of the Pack”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Horse Play”

Princess Celestia has gotten a lot of flak over the years if you’ve been in the fan community. Often thought of as being useless, lazy, incompetent, or even an epic troll in terms of being a leader of Equestria, most of her good qualities come from the “Positive Void” rather than ever seeing her do anything on screen. Yet, as episodes like this show, when push comes to shove she can be a good, prudent, and fast-thinking leader with only minutes to spare…even if the crisis in question is simply salvaging a play.

Leadership is ultimately a necessity for human society. All communities are made up of varieties of individuals who have an assortment of proficiencies in certain talents or spheres of influence–many of whom are intelligent or knowledgeable in one or many fields. Even in the best of situations, if all of these individuals tried to act independently toward a common goal there would be confusion, disorganization, and a lot of stepping on each other’s toes. In worse situations, there would also be bickering, squabbling, and infighting. And in a crisis, all of those things would be potentially fatal. Simply put, people need those in positions of leadership if only to give a voice that all can march to or a common direction to follow, like a band leader or a conductor. Often it means much more than that, for the same individual to be the one who makes big decisions on behalf of others or takes charge in times of crisis as well. And for Christian leaders, it means even more as they usually have charge of preaching the Gospel and/or directing the community in their interpretation of the Bible and godly living.

It’s a bit corny and overused thanks to things like Spider-Man, but it’s also true: the more power and authority a position has, the greater the responsibility to maintain it (James 3:1). Since Christians believe their spiritual leaders have responsibility for the spiritual well-being of their community, that entails a very special level of responsibility. In the days of the Bible, the leaders were seen as representatives of the people as a whole and, therefore, were especially culpable for both their virtue and vice. It was, after all, their duty and charge to direct the people responsibly. And as such, primary punishment was always reserved for them when they neglected their people (Isaiah 10:1-10; Matthew 18:6), and they had a special obligation to pursue sound judgment and righteousness (Proverbs 11:14, 29:12).

Indeed, history is rife with examples of religious leaders who led peoples, communities, and sometimes entire nations astray with their interpretations of their religions, whether their interpretations were accidental or motivated by personal greed and self-interest. Yet even for the more honest and forthright among us, there probably aren’t many who envy having that position when they consider the responsibility and diligence it requires. Even so, there will likely be at least a handful of times in our lives in which all of us will be offered the chance, voluntarily or involuntarily, to take charge of a small situation. And for the Christian, that means being as responsible in the small matters as the large ones.

So what makes a good leader of Christian values?

1. A good leader consults the Lord.

One common theme of the good leaders in the Bible is that they always had recourse to the Lord; good times and bad. When in times of distress they cried out to him, when in times of fear and despair they prayed to him, and when in times of joy and plenty they praised him. David’s entries in the Book of Psalms are an excellent example of this. He may have been one of the greatest kings of the Old Testament but his life was anything but peaceful and worry-free. Yet no matter the time or the season, he didn’t forget the Lord and always turned to him no matter what he was feeling. Many leaders in the Bible, just like those in real life, frequently had to choose the best option out of several with no guarantee of success even then. Recognizing the limits of human wisdom as well as the uncertainty of the unknown, committing themselves, their people, and their nations to God was always a first and foremost step.

2. A good leader doesn’t rule in a vacuum.

Any leader can give a directive or an order for other people to follow, but a wise leader recognizes their own limitations and delegates responsibility to people of trust. They identify who are good and valuable people in their service who have a good talent and they appoint them to do what they’re best at; making the best use of everyone’s talents and not weighing themselves down with either the exhaustion of being overburdened or the overbearingness of micromanagement.  As a Biblical example, consider King Solomon. He is known as the wisest mortal man of all time who no one on Earth could match. And yet, even he had counselors in his service (1 Kings 12:6). Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus Himself designated twelve apostles above the rest of his disciples to act in positions of leadership, and they themselves later designated others to handle the normal day-to-day affairs in the Church community so they could devote themselves to preaching the Gospel (Acts 6:1-7). No one knows everything or is a pro at everything, or has the luxury of the time and energy to direct everything. One of the best things a leader might do with people under their charge is look for who knows best about A or B among them and consult them accordingly, and be humble enough to accept their help. “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” (Proverbs 11:14)

3. A good leader seeks the good of others over himself or herself.

In this episode, Twilight Sparkle may have created her play out of a desire to give Princess Celestia a chance to be a star, but Celestia herself realized it was more important for everyone involved to make the play a success. In the same way, all good leaders seek the success of those under their charge as a whole, while poor ones use leadership as an excuse for their own glory. In the Bible, some of the worst rulers ultimately stemmed from ones who cared little about their people compared to their own glory. There was the Pharaoh of Egypt in the Old Testament, who let misery and one plague after another afflict his people without care for their suffering due to the pride and obstinance of his position…until the last one finally struck him personally as well. There was Jeroboam, the first ruler of the northern kingdom of the divided Israel, who sought to preserve himself by inducing his nation to abandon the Lord and serve his idols, and in the end destroyed both his own house as well as Israel with him.  And then there were the latter day rulers of Judah, who became so oppressive and corrupt that eventually the Lord declared their doom through the prophets (Ezekiel 34:1-10). By comparison, Lord Jesus Himself, the King of Kings, set an example by putting the good of everyone ahead of Himself. ““I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

4. A good leader makes decisions that are right, not popular.

While it’s generally a good rule of thumb for any leader to make decisions on what is going to bring the most amount of benefit to the most people under their leadership, there comes times…possibly many times…in which a leader must use their position to enforce an unpopular decision in the name of the greater good. No one ever said doing the right thing would earn you praise or even make you popular. Going back to David, part of the reason he had such a tempestuous reign is because he was not terribly popular among all of his subjects. After spending years as a fugitive of his own country and the reigning monarch of the time, he became king at first only over the region of Judah for a period of seven years, and once he did become king of Israel he had to deal with two separate rebellions: one led by his own son. Pretty much every decision Moses made was hated by the Israelites, from the moment he made his first proclamation against Pharaoh which resulted in their workload being increased to their constant desires to return to Egypt while journeying to Sinai and the Promised Land to the multiple occasions of attempted revolt and rebellion during the 40 years in the desert. One need hardly mention just how unpopular Jesus was in His time; not just with the religious leaders but with many of His disciples (John 6:66). And yet all three of these individuals, especially Jesus, were considered to be some of the most upstanding and god-fearing men of the Bible along with the most sound judgment.

Finally, when it comes to spiritual leadership, many Christians have the privilege of “choice” in being able to pick which leader they are going to listen to and let influence them. Likewise, because of the special power and authority a religious leader wields, they have the ability to sway and direct people in many ways that more secular leaders cannot…as well as, if they so wish to, manipulate them. For that reason, even if we find ourselves always being a member of a “flock” and never taking a turn as a “shepherd”, it’s always a responsibility for everyone to choose carefully who they let lead them.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the example of Lord Jesus and the model He gave us to follow when seeking to be a leader. Whether I find myself in a position of leadership or following others, please grant that I will always consult you first and seek your glory, that I will always be humble enough to seek the help of others when necessary, that I will desire the good of others over myself, and that I will always make the right decision rather than the one that gets the most people to like me. And please grant me a discerning heart to do the same toward people I put my faith and trust in to lead me. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic Annual

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Synopsis:

Many years ago, in the nearly-complete Canterlot Castle, Starswirl the Bearded shows off a hall of mirrors to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna; each of which serves as a stable method of going to another world. As Celestia and Starswirl talk about the risks and benefits of having stable portals like this following the incident with Luna (in the first “Legends of Magic”), all of the mirrors suddenly let out dozens of shadow creatures who try to seize the princesses–calling them “the destroyers”. Starswirl ultimately fails to save them as he and the girls fall into the mirror portals, and all mirrors save one are shattered. Meanwhile, in Rockhoof’s village, the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria are taking some casual time as the pegasi of the Royal Guard are put through an obstacle course made by the Mighty Helm. The exercise is ruined, however, when a drained Starswirl suddenly pops into existence, having just managed to teleport himself back to his world of origin. He explains that the princesses have been captured but sets out to try and rescue them himself, only for Stygian to actually show off his anger for once in insisting that the rest of the Pillars come with him. On arrival back in Canterlot, Starswirl finds that the remaining portal has been destroyed from the other side, leaving no way to easily get to the princesses, which causes Stygian to chastise him again for being irresponsible. In the end, Starswirl makes a new, albeit very temporary, portal to take the group in after them, and they arrive in the same dark, bleak world where Luna was taken when she was abducted. Although he has a spell to key in on the girls, it won’t take effect until the group gets close to them, so they split into three groups: Stygian and Rockhoof; Somnambula, Mistmane, and Meadowbrook; and Flash Magnus and Starswirl. While searching, Rockhoof points out that Stygian is growing increasingly upset with Starswirl’s nature and says he’d follow Stygian if he was willing to speak up more. The two are attacked by a gang of monstrous lightning bugs, but during the encounter Stygian finds, much to his surprise, that they obey him when he gives them orders, and so he commands them to lead them to the princesses. As for the ladies, Mistmane points out that the entire world they are in seems to have been permanently corrupted with anger and hate. On being attacked by corrupted Lumber Bears, Mistmane is further distressed to find even she can’t purify them. Finally, Flash Magnus and Starswirl run into a monstrous “pony of shadows”, who recognizes them from their counterparts in this world. He easily defeats Flash and turns on Starswirl, saying the version of him in this world betrayed him and tried to stop him, and in return he destroyed him along with the rest of this world’s Pillars of Old Equestria. Before he can do the same to Starswirl, however, Stygian and Rockhoof find the unconscious princesses and launch a signal. Although all of the Pillars see it, the shadowy pony is able to teleport there before any of them. On arrival, he confronts Rockhoof and Stygian and reveals he kidnapped the girls to corrupt them into their malevolent alter-egos Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon, then use them as his enslaved minions to destroy all other realities and corrupt them just like his own world. However, although he doesn’t recognize Stygian, he hesitates to attack Rockhoof, saying he’s the only one he “misses”, and that allows the rest of the group to arrive. Knowing Stygian can command the shadow pony’s legions, Rockhoof overrides Starswirl and tells him to lead the charge. While the rest of the group battles the corrupted creatures, Stygian goes to save the princesses. The shadowy pony tries to stop him only to get a shock when he and Stygian annihilate each other’s attacks. He then attempts to order one of his minions to grab the princesses, but is thwarted when Stygian calls out a command over his and the monster instead gives the girls to Pillars. As they make their escape, the infuriated shadow pony demands to know who Stygian is. Reveling in his chance to be the hero for once, Stygian tosses his name over his shoulder in a one-liner. Once the group is back home, the mirror is smashed, Starswirl takes the girls aside to their rooms to wake up, and, as a result of sleeping through the whole thing, they again only recall Starswirl ever had anything to do with their rescue. The rest of the Pillars, however, praise Stygian and Rockhoof decides to take him out to try the “oat boat” challenge. Meanwhile, back in the dark world, the shadowy pony realizes who Stygian was on hearing his name as well as how he was able to thwart him, as he lowers the darkness around him to reveal himself to be that world’s version of Stygian.

Review:

As I mentioned before, part of the reason I was rather underwhelmed with “Shadow Play” was the fact that they spent so much time building up to the villain and he ended up being rather underwhelming. Ultimately, in the main series, the Pony of Shadows was quite literally all shadow and no substance. While he talked more about darkness than Xehanort from “Kingdom Hearts” on a cloudy day, that’s all he really ended up having. Other than the fact that the Pillars of Old Equestria seemed incapable of beating him on their own, it wasn’t exactly clear what threat he represented or potential he had.

While most of the “Legends of Magic” arc handled Stygian and why we should feel more for him and his relationship with the others, it was this annual that escalated the Pony of Shadows into one of the greatest and most terrible villains.

If we can assume that, left unchecked, the Pony of Shadows from the main universe would have eventually become the one from the alternate universe, then he is one of the most fearsome and heavy foes ever encountered. In his universe, he not only killed Starswirl the Bearded and most of the Pillars of Old Equestria, but it’s heavily implied that he committed pony genocide. No ponies, enslaved or otherwise, are ever seen in his universe–indicating that there aren’t any left. If that wasn’t enough, his entire world is permanently corrupted. Even Mistmane can’t purify anything there. All of the animals have been consumed by his anger and hate, and it looks as if nature itself right down to the trees and weather are the same way. And if all of that wasn’t enough, the Pony of Shadows isn’t satisfied with being an evil thing of darkness and hate on a consumed world. He wanted to do the same to every world out of a mixture of malevolence and madness by turning two kids into his enslaved personal attack “dogs”.

Definitely the worst.

However, it’s a bit interesting that, in spite of this arc making Stygian one of the worst villains ever, it showed that he still clung to one thread of his humanity(pony-ity?). I’m not sure if it was just a side-effect of him being the first one Stygian recruited, but the comic brought his relationship with Rockhoof full circle when it showed even the Pony of Shadows still clung to his memory of their old friendship. There’s the part where he says that he’s the only one he “misses”, of course, as well as admits he was the only member of the Pillars he didn’t kill himself but who died in an accident. Yet even more than that, note that on the previous page when the Pony of Shadows appears he doesn’t immediately attack but tells Rockhoof and Stygian to run away and never come back…showing out of all the ponies he’s massacred Rockhoof is the only one he’s willing to spare.

Well, the big factor of this issue out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of it.

This was more the kind of issue that I wish the entire “Legends of Magic” series has been–adventures featuring all of the Pillars of Old Equestria. As it was, this once again covered older territory by having the villain from the series, but even so it was nice to have more chances for them to be all together. I will say it was kind of a disappointment for ones like Mistmane and Somnambula to once again have little to nothing to do or add, but the good relationships it had already established in the earlier series were strengthened.

As we see was eventually his biggest fault, we have another issue where Starswirl once again assumes he knows best and tries to head up everything by himself. Once again, we see this isn’t really entirely based on ego but based on the fact that his reputation has fed in on itself. Everypony always expects him to know best and do the best, and so he expects himself to know best and do the best. This time, however, we get to see the beginnings of the eventual “breakup” between Stygian and the group, although his anger is mostly centered against Starswirl in this one. He starts to call him out not only on his bad decisions but is actually snide at a point or two. However, as the issue progresses, we can see that some of that is still misplaced. Once again, Stygian suffers from his perpetual self-doubt and inadequacy, and that this is likely being projected as a result.

There’s a lot of good dramatic moments and action alike in this one, just as I always hoped. I do have couple few beefs with it. It never quite explains whatever happened to the dark universe’s version of Celestia and Luna. The text indicates Starswirl tried to protect them from the Pony of Shadows and died trying, but the fact that the Pony of Shadows obviously didn’t succeed in getting them means he had to have done something to keep them from being captured. Did he banish them? Turn them into stone? Possibly kill them to keep them from ever being used, as we know Starswirl might sacrifice? It also ends, surprisingly, by leaving me wishing for a bit more explanation and follow-up. On the last page, for example, it’s not exactly clear what happens from here. This annual came out well after the Season Finale for Season Seven, so everyone already knew Stygian and the Pony of Shadows were the same person long before the end. Therefore it doesn’t really come as a huge shock to see the alternate version of Stygian at the end. However, if Starswirl opened the portal to his world, it seems likely that Stygian could open a portal back to Starswirl’s without a mirror. So I’d say they haven’t necessarily seen the last of him. In that case, what does the last page mean? Was it just put in for whoever hadn’t seen the final episode of the season? Or does it mean there’s still a touch of hope for that world’s version of Stygian?

Those beefs are very minor, however. Overall, this was a great annual and a great way to cap off the “Legends of Magic” series. If you’ve seen “Shadow Play” and liked it, or if you didn’t like it and wanted the backstories of the core characters fleshed out, I recommend it highly. It will give the season finale the weight and force that it was going for all along.

Fun Facts:

This issue serves as the conclusion to the “Legends of Magic” series. Chronologically, it obviously happens between the defeat of the Dazzlings and Stygian’s turn into the Pony of Shadows, but it seems to be closer to the latter than the former. Stygian is no longer timid but actively calls Starswirl out on his behavior, clearly beginning to grow angry with him.

At least in the comic universe, this episode hints more at Luna having a pacifist nature. Even when being attacked by dark creatures, she still sees them as creatures and doesn’t want to counterattack.

Mage Meadowbrook’s offer of a cure to the dragons was so great it led to a treaty, namely the “Treaty of Meadowbrook”. 😛

Rockhoof has a banner in his room saying “Oat Boat Winner”.

Stygian predicts that the princesses will ensure Equestria remembers Starswirl but will forget the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria, a prediction which turns out to be completely true.

In the main series, the Pony of Shadows was made to stand out from the rest of the cast by being hand-drawn rather than flash-animated. In the comic, he again stands out by having a different font and black word balloons.

This is the first appearance of an “ogre” in the series.

Technically, this is the first time Daybreaker has “appeared” in the comics.

When Stygian and the Pony of Shadows attempt to attack one another, their spells cancel each other out in spite of the fact the Pony of Shadows is far stronger. This indicates that a unicorn can’t overcome his or her own magic, and could be something of a similar effect to the “Priori Incantatem” of Harry Potter lore in which two wands of the exact same nature can’t overcome each other if a spell is cast from both at the same time.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #7-#12: (Untitled)

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Synopsis:

Following the events of “Shadow Play”, Sunburst is (cheerfully) preparing to rewrite all of his history notes based on the events he went through. Yet just as he is getting started, he gets a mysterious book and a note on his front doorstep, reading only that the individual wishes to tell his “side” of the story and signing it “S”. Guessing who it is, Sunburst digs in…

Stygian the unicorn was never brave, wise, magical, or considered himself a hero. He lived a quiet scholarly life studying the sea and looking to it for answers about where ponies came from. One day, however, he heard a voice calling to him from the sea and was surprised and delighted to find three “sea ponies”. The creatures introduced themselves as the Dazzlings and said they were sirens, and asked for his help in holding a concert in which everyone in the town could hear their voices. When Stygian hesitated, however, they suddenly grew vicious and angry momentarily, scaring him into running off. On looking at one of the guidebooks of his idol, Starswirl the Bearded, he discovered that while no one had ever seen a siren, he suspected that they thrived on the negative energy of others. Nevertheless, after calming down, he decided to research more about them and then meet with them again to see what he could learn about them, but first had to go and help with chores for a local elderly mare. Yet when she failed to return long after nightfall, Stygian went searching for her and found his entire town in the hypnotic grip of the Dazzlings, whose songs were driving them to fight with each other as they fed off the chaos that resulted. Being too far away for their song to hypnotize him as well, Stygian fled home but, not knowing what he could do, instead looked to his books and identified six of the greatest heroes of Equestria. He decided to recruit them to defeat the Dazzlings and set out to find them. After journeying for weeks, he finally arrived in a northern town at the edge of a volcano searching for the first on his list, only to find the villagers worried before suddenly falling into a hole that seems to appear out of nowhere. Not long after, however, a mighty stallion with a warshovel appeared to help him out.

Stygian recognized the pony as Rockhoof of the Mighty Helm, who was digging a new trench about the town in preparation for another volcanic eruption. Unfortunately, he seemed unable to help Stygian with his problem as Captain Steela needed his help with another problem: allowing a school of filter fish, which kept their water clean, to reach their destination while trying to fight off a swarm of lumber bears. The tasks seemed impossible as the river ran through a forest, where the lumber bears could rebuild themselves as soon as they were smashed. Stygian, however, got an idea to reroute the river around the forest, allowing the lumber bears to be defeated while sparing the fish. With Steela and Rockhoof helping him, he managed to enact the plan and help the town; and thereby got Rockhoof to willingly join him. Now with a companion, Stygian found the next leg of his journey much more bearable until they reached the swamplands of Equestria. Shortly after arrival, they were assaulted first by a vicious bunny and then a swarm of forest creatures, but were rescued by a blue pony in a bird mask. After mistaking her for a hippogriff, she removed it to reveal herself as Mage Meadowbrook. However, she declined to join the group as she needed to cure whatever was making the animals of the forest vicious first. When Rockhoof and Stygian offered to help, she initially declined based on how she had just saved them, but an off color remark by the two allowed her to realize that only the herbivores of the forest were going wild while the carnivores were hiding in fear of them–leading her to conclude the culprit was a local fungus affecting the plants. She returned to her home to start making a cure, but Stygian and Rockhoof soon found she wouldn’t have long to prepare it as the herbivores were massing for an attack.

To try and buy some time for Meadowbrook to finish her cure, Rockhoof barricaded the door with his own body while Stygian went upstairs; directed by Meadowbrook to use her potion collection to fend them off. The potions had mixed results at first, but eventually Stygian accidentally threw a strength-granting one that made the attacking bunnies a group of hulks. Fortunately, they broke in just as the cure was finished and Meadowbrook rapidly dispersed it to all the animals. The next day, Meadowbrook agreed to help out the group and they set off again. On the next leg of the journey, Rockhoof and Meadowbrook began to grow close to each other, but Stygian grew increasingly worried about the fate of his village. The group finally arrived at the training ground of the Royal Guard, where they were accosted by Royal Guard member Grimhoof. After “exchanging pleasantries” with Rockhoof, they asked if they could speak to the fastest of their order, Flash Magnus, only to find he was otherwise preoccupied with a a coming war…against the dragons.

Stygian broke up the epic battle between the pegasi and the dragons by shouting out his request to them. At first they ignored him, but Rockhoof got their attention again by taunting them until Flash Magnus went down to see what they wanted. While Stygian talked with him, however, Rockhoof had Meadowbrook talk to the dragons and got them to retreat by giving them a cure for their scale rot (which is why they were attacking Equestria in the first place). Freed of his need to protect the skies, Flash agreed to help the group, and on the way Rockhoof explained he didn’t know if Meadowbrook could have gotten the dragons to retreat, but counted on either her or Stygian being able to resolve the issue without a fight. Stygian also revealed that individual talents alone weren’t his sole reason for choosing the six heroes that he was looking for…that he suspected, in reality, they all had a special quality about them that made them important when united. The four made their way to Southern Equestria in search of Somnambula, but instead found a hoard of mummy ponies hungry for brains. Rockhoof, Flash, and even Meadowbrook leapt into the fray to try and beat them all off, but there proved to be too many until Somnambula quite literally dropped in. Seeing them as a group of legendary adventurers, she readily joined up with them without hesitation and explained that this was all happening due to one pony in particular bearing a cursed gem. The five quickly worked out a plan that made use of all of their respective abilities that allowed Somnambula to shatter it; revealing that the whole thing was a nightmare Prince Hassan was having when he accidentally put on an evil enchanted emerald from his enemies. The land saved again, she enthusiastically set out with the group for their next destination. Meanwhile, in a far distant garden and greenhouse, the unicorn Mistmane addressed her plants saying that she would need to leave them for a time soon, only to suddenly be eaten by one of her own massive flytraps.

On arriving at the greenhouse, the group found it locked from the inside. Rockhoof and Flash’s attempts to force their way in went rather badly, but in doing so they discovered the plants inside themselves were barricading the way. Getting an idea from that, Stygian and Meadowbrook used one of Meadowbrook’s own plant growth potions as a bribe to trick the plants into opening up, but Flash (still groggy from hitting his head trying to dash inside), accidentally revealed the deception and got them all assaulted by the monstrous plants. Fortunately, Stygian and Rockhoof were able to open the flytrap that ate Mistmane, who, on emerging, revealed the plants were just afraid to let her leave and calmed them all down into releasing the others. She further revealed she knew they were coming all along; that she detected a change was coming across Equestria. She also guided them correctly to the future site of Canterlot and the nearly-completed Canterlot Castle for the final member of their group: Starswirl the Bearded. As he was Stygian’s idol, he initially felt too humble and afraid to even address him, but with some coaxing from Mistmane he approached Starswirl. After first getting detracted by giving his personal account of what he thought of Starswirl’s focal figures in “Great Heroes of Equestria”, revealing how much love and admiration he had for all of them, Stygian finally managed to explain why he came and introduced the wizard formally to the other five.

Before beginning the final portion of the story, the narrator of the book again explains that he isn’t a hero, and that he should have followed a rule about being a scholar – “Never meet your heroes”.

Starswirl the Bearded was marveled to meet the legendary heroes of Equestria but almost immediately began to overlook Stygian. On hearing about the Sirens, he joined the group but almost instantly supplanted Stygian’s role as the unofficial leader. He refused to let Celestia and Luna know about the group’s existence as well, as he believed that they wouldn’t be there forever and the two girls would eventually have to rule Equestria without them. As Starswirl began to connect with the others and largely overlook him, Stygian’s feelings of inadequacy continued to grow, right down to the point where Starswirl cut him off in the middle of him formulating his plan to defeat the Dazzlings with his own. He further supplanted Stygian’s own theory about them all having something special about them with his own version of it, believing they represented Sorcery, Strength, Bravery, Hope, Healing, and Beauty, and represented the “Pillars” on which the power of Equestria was upheld–that united they could wield a power that was far greater than any one individual could. However, when the others asked what Stygian’s virtue was, he refused to believe he contributed anything to the group, and despite the others assuring him that he had put himself through danger time and again to bring them together and that the friendship he displayed was it’s own virtue, both Stygian as well as Starswirl refused to see any value in it. Starswirl ended up rejecting any plans to try and reason with or reform the Dazzlings, declaring that “ponies don’t change” and that they needed to be banished to a magicless dimension instead. After a long pause, Stygian decided again he wasn’t a hero and deferred to Starswirl’s judgment. As a result, he was forced to stand to one side and simply be a spectator for the climactic battle with the Dazzlings. Right as Starswirl managed to banish them, he was happy that he had saved his town…but also told himself he should have been fighting the battle as well. The story ended with Stygian discovering a way to give himself greater abilities by borrowing a bit from each of his six heroes.

The story over, Sunburst seeks out Stygian in the Crystal Empire, who, following his time as the “Pony of Shadows”, feels more weak and unheroic than ever. Sunburst, however, points out that Stygian brought the element of friendship to the group and says that, under a different set of circumstances, he could have been his generation’s “Twilight Sparkle”–something that brings tears to Stygian’s eyes. As the two walk off, Stygian admits he has other stories besides that journal about the Pillars of Old Equestria, and Sunburst proposes the interesting theory that, given all of his mess-ups, Starswirl the Bearded might secretly be the greatest villain in Equestrian history.

Review:

Now this is what I “paid to see”.

I considered “Shadow Play” to ultimately be a failure for all of its buildup due to a combination of factors. The one that impacted both it and the comic was the need to cater to a younger audience and thereby had to water down some of the stakes and relationships, but aside from that there was the fact that it had so much character overload that it ended up being mostly an exposition dump. Not just for the plot itself, but for the character relationships. Most of the Pillars of Old Equestria didn’t even get a chance to speak more than a couple lines, and Stygian himself was largely a plot device. Unlike a similar situation with Tempest Shadow, who managed to not only have some emotional buildup but managed to tell her story by showing the audience rather than orating it to them, everything was so thrown out at once that we had no chance to connect with any of the characters.

The nice thing the comic did, especially in this six-part miniseries, was not only get into greater detail about who the main characters were but actually formed some solid relationships between them, and ones that didn’t require the narrator to spell out.

Finally, in this comic, we get a sense of who Stygian was. In a sense, one can see him as the sort of reluctant hero or individual who needs to step out of his comfort zone and realize his own potential; sort of like a Bilbo Baggins type character. Just like the titular character in “The Hobbit”, Stygian initially doesn’t expect much out of himself and is content with his peaceful, quiet life. Yet when disaster forces him to be spurred into action, and he finds himself reluctantly going on an adventure, he gradually shows that that he does have a spark of true bravery and heroism in him.

The difference, however, is that unlike Bilbo, Stygian never realizes he has greatness inside himself. And one can attribute that difference from something like “The Hobbit” to Gandalf vs. Starswirl. Gandalf always saw “the spark” inside Bilbo, and he always treated him as if it was there even when Bilbo adamantly refused to believe it was. By comparison, Starswirl snuffs him out as soon as he begins. Whereas Gandalf eventually threw the burden of responsibility and leadership on Bilbo, knowing that he was ultimately capable of handling it even if he didn’t at the time, Starswirl seizes the role of leadership from Stygian just as it begins to become clear to him that he has that capability, and, through his actions, destroys what self-confidence Stygian has and leaves him forever feeling “less” than the Pillars of Old Equestria…completely forgetting he was the one who gathered them together. Having no faith in himself, he stands aside and lets the history books erase him even from the footnotes and his “idol” gets all the glory.

In a way, this is probably one of the more mature ways the series as a whole has ever portrayed a “villain”. Starswirl the Bearded is often called a jerk in the main series, and with some good reason. Here…you can’t really blame him. He’s an individual used to everyone always looking to him for answers and wisdom. He’s a wizard who’s accustomed for everyone to come to with problems they need solving. There are a few moments in the last issue where, if Stygian had more confidence in himself, he might have changed his mind. He didn’t, however. He kept repeating a mantra of self-depreciation and failure: “I am not a hero”. As a result of this, it’s mostly another mark against the Pony of Shadows. The hate and animosity he built up against Starswirl was, in fact, partially his own fault. He blamed Starswirl for what was essentially his own feelings of inadequacy. And even at the end of the six-part series, Stygian still doesn’t quite believe there’s anything to him even when Sunburst says that he’s the same kind of individual Twilight Sparkle herself is.

To sum up, the series does everything that the main series tried to do with Stygian in 44 minutes: it establishes his character from when he was still a good pony who nevertheless never had enough faith in himself, it shows that his corruption was partially due to external factors and relationships, but it also does not fully absolve him of his own role in his own corruption. In doing so it takes him from being a friendship plot device to a genuine character you actually care about.

That was the main thing that was good about this arc. There are other good things, but…they’re watered down by other factors.

This comic is now likely the “canon” introduction to the Dazzlings in their original forms, usurping the rather comedic, tongue-in-cheek version from the “FIENDship is Magic” series. It works well in establishing how, even in their native forms, they prey on the innocence and friendliness of their victims; relying on the natural inclusiveness and friendship of ponies to seize upon them. It also clearly shows this is all nothing more than deception toward their truly vile and hate-filled natures, as when Adagio snaps viciously at Stygian when he hesitates. However, it makes Aria and Sonata pretty much carbon-copies of Adagio as well. Aria’s more hostile personality is omitted as is Sonata’s cluelessness.

One opportunity that this arc had was for the Pillars of Old Equestria to finally be seen in relation to one another, getting a chance to dig into their personalities and teamwork and interactions with each other. And it seized upon it…a little. Rockhoof is shown to be something of a mixture of Applejack and Thor. He definitely has a bit of an ego about his own athletic prowess and feats but not an overbearing one, and, just as Stygian says, he has a nice vibe with him that looks like an older-brother/younger-brother dynamic. And that’s great, because that’s something the show has never touched on before except extremely briefly in “Marks and Recreation” with Thunderlane and Rumble. Mage Meadowbrook is also good. In spite of her caring personality, she shows she also has a touch of personal pride and ego about herself. Like Fluttershy, she prefers to work alone and without involvement of others, explaining her isolation, but not from a perspective of being naturally shy and timid around others. Quite the contrary, she actually is very self-sufficient and independent and actually has a bit of tomboyishness to herself as well as a desire to prove herself, but none of it is overbearing or in your face as her character. And, of course, the romance they hinted at between her and Rockhoof was a really nice touch that I really wish the main series had rolled with in “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place”.

Yet after those two, the series starts suffering from the same thing the main series did: character overload. As more Pillars of Old Equestria got introduced, less time was devoted to them and their relationships. Flash Magnus has a bit of a nice attitude in spite of his own ego, but other than him puffing himself up in a Rainbow-Dash-like manner we never see much of it. Somnambula is pretty much in her own little domain most of the time, much like Pinkie Pie. And Mistmane fulfills the role of most of the sage-ly types you find in this kind of group and is pretty much just there to look wise and mysterious. Stygian even says the only thing about her is her mere presence is calming, rather than anything she says, does, or how she acts. Neither this arc nor her stand-alone ever draws attention to the fact that Mistmane is not an elderly pony…she merely looks that way as a result of the spell she performed. Mentally, she should not only still be in the prime of her life but still have a more youth-orientated world view.

The biggest disappointment, however, and what ruined the potential for the group to be shown interacting with each other was the fact that the entire series was merely building up to the Pillars of Old Equestria’s first major challenge: defeating the Dazzlings. Not only was this already seen in the main series, it eliminated the chance to see them working as a group or team on any other threats they could have encountered in original stories. Granted, this was something of how it had to end since it was mostly about Stygian and how he faded into the background once Starswirl joined, but it was another possibility that had to be eliminated in the end.

In conclusion, there was a lot to like in this arc, but not as much as there could have been. It did its main job well and much better than the main series, but as for all the “side quests”, so to speak, it only managed to pick up some of them. The ones it did do were done so well, however, that it increased the feeling of disappointment that it couldn’t cover everyone.

Nevertheless, a good arc and, in my opinion, one of the more solid ones in the entire series, and a chance for the IDW writers to shine.

On one final note, one thing that this series failed to do was enhance the prestige of the Pony of Shadows at all. He had considerable buildup in both the comic and the main series, but when push came to shove he was an even bigger letdown than King Sombra ended up being. I had entertained some hope that the comic could fix that issue. This arc failed to do that, but as it turned out there was one entry left that would…

Fun Facts:

Stygian’s appearance in the comic is slightly different from that on the show, making him a bit “cuter”. To emphasize looking weak and unremarkable, on the show he had more of a body type akin to Snails with smaller pupils. In the comic, his neck is thicker, his eyes are larger, and his head isn’t quite as elongated, making him more similar to other characters.

The appearance of the Dazzlings in this arc effectively retcons “FIENDship is Magic #3” completely. The original story in that one was radically different from how they entered Equestria and encountered Starswirl the Bearded. See my review for details.

Ms. Malus, the Latin word for apple, is likely an ancestor of Applejack’s family.

Stygian spells out his logic for his selections for the group throughout the story. Rockhoof’s job is to hold off the worst of the hypnotized ponies. Mage Meadowbrook’s job is to break the hypnotic spell. Flash Magnus’ job is to serve as a diversion to the Dazzlings. Somnambula and Mistmane’s jobs were to provide their own brand of unconventional wisdom.

In referring to taking on a challenge, Rockhoof says: “Remember the oat boat?” That was the first eating competition Rockhoof won in his stand-alone “Legends of Magic” comic.

The attack of the rabbit might be a reference to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

“Every good party needs a healer!” Basic RPG Logic. 😛

A “William Wallace” bunny breaks into Mage Meadowbrook’s house.

Somehow, Meadowbrook has spray bottles in spite of the time period. Also, in true Southerner fashion, she treats Stygian and Rockhoof to lemonade and rocking chairs.

Mage Meadowbrook mentions she stopped traveling after she ran into a town of zombie ponies, a reference to her own stand-alone “Legends of Magic” comic.

When Rockhoof is trying to remember Flash Magnus’ name, he throws out various “pony-fied” names of individuals who were the Flash of DC Comics. (Such as “Mare E. Allen” = Barry Allen.)

Flash Magnus tends to act a lot like Rainbow Dash, having something of an ego and being raring and eager to go into the first sign of a battle. However, this is perfectly canon considering the fact in “Shadow Play” the two hit it off so well they pretty much imitated each other.

When bombarding the fake mummies, Somnambula yells “Stay on target!”, an allusion to “A New Hope”.

Flash Magus nicknames Somnambula: “Cleopatrot”.

Somnambula is worried the site of Canterlot Castle might have snakes around, a reference to her own stand-alone “Legends of Magic” comic.

When Stygian meets Starswirl the Bearded and says he read his book about “Great Heroes of Equestria”, he mentions that he made Somnambula sound “a bit stuffy”. This might be a subtle way of trying to harmonize the IDW comic portrayal of Somnambula and the main series version by explaining the reason she didn’t act more silly and cheerful in “Daring Done?” was because that wasn’t actually Somnambula but rather Starswirl’s interpretation of her.

Celestia and Luna briefly reveal they can pull off the same instant teleportation that Twilight Sparkle is infamous for.

Rockhoof states that there’s actually been several “warshovels”, saying the first was ruined by the cherufe in his stand-alone comic.

Somnambula nearly says “friendship is magic”, but in the end says “friendship is…not nothing”.

The fateful moment in which Stygian is told to decide what is to be done about the Dazzlings mirrors Twilight Sparkle’s own moment in which she had to choose to follow Starswirl’s advice or try and save Stygian in “Shadow Play”, only Stygian elected to go with Starswirl.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #165: “Separation Anxiety”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Surf and/or Turf”

I think we all wish life was as simple as this episode.

The hippogriff Terramar finds himself in a difficult situation when his father elects to move back topside and live as a hippogriff full-time while his mother elects to remain in the sea as a merpony–leading him to think he has to choose between the two of them. The dilemma has a rather handy solution when it turns out he doesn’t have to choose at all and can live between the two as he pleases, which is something both of his parents approve of.

Many saw this as the show making attempt at a metaphor for the issue of children going through a divorce. To me, it’s a bit unfortunate that they danced around it with a metaphor at all, because we are at the point where over half of all marriages in the USA end in divorce (and the number only looks to keep rising) so they might as well face reality. Yet even more unfortunate is that the resolution was so neat and tidy as, in my experience, divorces rarely end so “neatly”.

What I have seen more in my own life is the two individuals involved in a divorce having the absolute worst brought out of them; turning into deranged, irrational, hate-filled “creatures” (because “human” is a rather loose term at best in those cases). Everything becomes bitter, everything becomes hostile, everything becomes about one trying to get an edge on the other, and, in the middle of it all, both of them try to leverage their children as emotional weapons against one another. With few exceptions, I never see people at their most malicious, twisted, and depraved than when going through a divorce.

And of course, every time, it’s all “the other person’s fault”.

When it comes to social problems, a favorite target for a lot of Christian preachers is to rail against divorce. For them, that’s often an indicator about how “corrupt” and “godless” our society is becoming. I do think that’s a bit biased and oversimplistic (It seems one reason marriages last so long around the world has nothing to do with a want to breakup but rather the fact that society and the law frowns on the idea of divorce and often leaves one partner [almost always the woman] with little recourse to obtain a divorce or financial means if they go through with it; even if they are in an outright abusive relationship.), but that being said, I will admit…one of the reasons I think divorce is so commonplace in the USA at least is because we’re all addicted to the notion of instant gratification and hedonism. If it feels good, do it. If it looks cute, get it and get it now. If it feels bad later, then it can easily be disposed of and a new one obtained. That goes from everything from soft drinks to relationships.

As a member of a number of fan communities, I can tell the only criterion for wanting to see two characters as a couple is if they look cute together. Whether they have opposite personalities, no common ground, they’re enemies, or even if neither of them is interested in a same-sex partner…that doesn’t matter. It looks good together so do it. In the end, making a “cute couple” seems to be the only important thing. So it’s no surprise to me that I see younger people getting married while still having outstanding relationship problems or ones on the horizon that could cause a severe interpersonal strain, expecting that “love will let us work through it”, only for those same issues to never be resolved and cause a breakup later.

The very idea of instant gratification and hedonism is the natural antithesis to self-discipline and commitment. On one hand, you only ever pursue what gives you pleasure or satisfaction. If it gives you pain, the solution is to immediately seek out what gives you more pleasure and to abandon the old thing. On the other hand, self-discipline and commitment starts off by promising nothing but pain and discomfort with the idea of a reward either over the long term or in the future. Hence, you can’t emphasize one side without de-emphasizing the other. And since our society embraces one it’s natural the other will suffer.

Any couple that has lasted a long time together will tell you the same thing: marriage is a commitment. Like all misfortune in life, conflicts in a relationship are inevitable. Assuming that you are going to enter one and never have any is more of a fairy tale than a show about talking, pastel-colored ponies could ever be. And people will inevitably lose their temper or give in to their anger, frustration, or hurt and do or say things particularly bad and mean-spirited. What’s important is what you do in those times and what you are committed to doing no matter how painful it gets and how much work needs to be put into it.

Christians often quote Jesus in passages like Mark 10:8-12 when talking about marriage and divorce. However, perhaps they should also quote Luke 14:28-32. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.” While Lord Jesus was referring to the cost of being His disciple in this passage, the same can be applied to marriage because, after all, the reason marriage is considered a sacred institution is because it represents the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). And as both relationships are lifelong commitments, then one would think it would make sense to not only plan for a long haul, so to speak, but to prepare to stick by it even when times are rough and relationships become rocky.

Finally, if divorce really is inevitable (and in many cases it will be), a Christian has a much greater responsibility to keep themselves from degenerating into hate and spite as so many divorcees do. Doing so means the hardest task of all: being honest with oneself. Contrary to what many exes would believe, it is a rarity that any relationship difficulty is simply the fault of one individual. (If nothing else, the other individual allowed a bad behavior to happen unchecked until it became an irreconcilable issue.) Strive hard to see and be humble enough to admit what was your part of the problem, always maintain a good attitude and Christ-like view of everyone (including the ex), and, like in this episode, make sure that your child never feels pressured to “take a side”.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for relationships and for the institution of marriage. Please grant that all of my relationships, especially those with my significant other, will personify the love of Christ and His people. Please also grant me the strength to be Christ-like in all times of interpersonal difficulty of my relationships, even if it comes to the point where a breakup is unavoidable. Finally, please help me to be honest and open with myself so that, in any difficulty, I will face what I am contributing to the problem and responsibly overcome it. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”