Steps Towards Reconciliation in Relational Issues

Relational issues are a part of life. Learning how to work through them is something worth mastering. In a course I am taking part in that moves individuals and groups towards transformation, we took part in an exercise using a rubber band. We each had one and was asked to put one end around one thumb and the other around the other thumb. Then pull.

Other than being fun (when was the last time as an adult you were told to play with a rubber band?) it served as a memorable illustration. When you pull the band tension is created. We envisioned one side of the band being “current reality” and the other side being the “preferred future.” The space in-between, the tension, was labeled “potential energy.”

In relationships we often feel tension. Hopefully, if the relationship is important to us, the preferred future is peace and harmony. But even in the best of relationships the current reality will sometimes be described as broken, misunderstood, upset…you fill in the word.

When the current reality does not match the preferred future and we find a gap in-between we often withdraw. We do that because of anxiety and fear over having some kind of confrontation to mend the relationship.

One of our coaches made a comment that went something like this: “Our desire for the preferred future we envision has to outweigh the fear we have around having a conversation about the issue.” That’s worth letting sink in.

When we have relational issues and we decide to withdraw instead of facing it head on we are in essence telling the other person that they really don’t matter that much in our lives. And, whether we realize it or not, we are telling ourselves we will settle for less in life.

How can you overcome staying in current reality when it’s not what you prefer? Here are some ideas:

  • Triangle. You read that right. You’ve probably been told it’s a bad thing to talk to someone else about the issue if you haven’t already talked to the person you’re having trouble with. Going straight to the person is usually the best thing to do if you’ve learned how to handle relational conflict. But if not, another person you can trust can help you process and then move towards that person. A healthy triangle will do just that. They won’t merely listen to you talk about the other person. They will help you see yourself in the process and then hold you accountable for going to that person. And that’s the next idea…
  • Find accountability. If you’re having trouble making the call or sending a text or e-mail to arrange a meeting to share your feelings then have someone hold you accountable for it. There’s nothing like knowing a friend or a coach is going to ask, “Have you set up a meeting yet?” to get you moving.
  • Listen deeply. When you do meet with the other person make sure you don’t rush in with both barrels blazing. Listen first. Listen long. Seek first to understand before being understood.
  • Stick to this outline in your conversation: tell them what it is you deeply enjoy about them as a person, tell them the good you see in them, and then—only then—begin to share what you perceive is the problem. You may be surprised that what you thought was a problem wasn’t. And you may find the other person very willing to work with you to repair the relationship.
  • Finally, make a quick connection with that person again within 24 hours. Don’t rehash. Just tell them you are happy they took the time to meet with you and reassure them that their relationship is valuable to you.

Many times this will take care of the issue. Occasionally it won’t. Some things are out of your control. When they are, remember what the apostle Paul said: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Face your fears today. Seek reconciliation. Have courage. Your preferred future may only be a phone call away.

Question: Is there a relationship you can work towards cleaning up today?

Anchor Deep When the Waters are Rough

We use the word “hope” regularly: “I hope to get a promotion. I hope to buy a house someday. I hope to retire and live by the 18th hole. I hope this movie is worth the ticket. I hope I get a bigger bonus, a smaller waistline, a restful night.”

We “hope” for a lot of things. And when we do we use the word “hope” as a wishful thinking. What is it you are hoping for?

Had you lived as a believer in the first century your hope may have resided in something more certain. The Hebrew writer knows his audience needs something more than wishful thinking. They had already experienced suffering under Claudius. Soon Nero would unleash his fury upon the Christians.

That kind of opposition and persecution could cause a person to drift away from the faith. And so he writes at the beginning of his treatise “…we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”

The phrase “pay much closer attention” can mean “to bring a ship to land.” I’m not very nautical, but I have brought a boat back into dock a couple of times. When you do you’d better not be looking off at the sunset or at the bird flying overhead. You work on your speed and your approach so that you can bring the boat to gently touch the place you are docking. In the first century it may have been to just bring the boat to land.

That’s what he means. Don’t just glance at the teaching about Christ reigning now and forever. It needs to be something you pay much attention to. Why? “…less we drift away from it.” That phrase means “to glide by.” Again, the captain of a ship that is not paying attention may just glide by the place he is to dock. It happens slowly. Maybe imperceptibly. But it happens. The writer knows the possibility of drifting exists, especially in times of stress and persecution.

To help them avoid drifting he gives them an anchor. “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope …” He’s referring to the promise made by God. His promises are sure and certain. And the promise he is talking about involves our hope, a hope that will encourage us—give us courage—in hard times.

If you were a first century Christian and you were hiding in the catacombs talking with others about how some of your best friends had been thrown to the lions or burned at the stake or maybe crucified and set on fire as Nero did at one of his garden parties, you would need something to encourage you. You knew the cross and its reality. What you needed was an anchor. An anchor reminds you of Jesus and a sure hope.

Life happens. And when it does it can be shaken. Too much shaking can cause us to drift from the teaching of Christ. But we can cope with today holding onto a hope for tomorrow.

Things might get tough. The waters may become rough. Anchor deep in Christ now so you won’t drift then.

Question: Are you experiencing some “rough waters”? How will you anchor deep?

Steps You Can Take to Listen More Deeply

What if you developed a different approach to conversations, especially those where conflict exists? What if, instead of having to agree or disagree, like or dislike, you could learn to understand and be understood? What if you learned to just listen?

Studies show that the average person will listen to someone 3-9 seconds before they react and begin to form a response. We would have better relationships if we learned to extend this time frame and make an attempt to see things from the other person’s perspective. A good example of this comes from Jeremy Cowart. Jeremy is an artist and works through painting and photography. He has been named “The most influential photographer on the web.” After the 2010 Haitian earthquake he watched, as you and I did, the pictures and statistics of the devastation and death in the aftermath of that catastrophic event. He wondered, “How were the people feeling?” He had heard the reports from strangers that descended on Haiti to cover the news. But he had not heard anything from the people. So he decided to go to Port-Au-Prince and ask them himself. You can watch a video of this experience here. His question was “What do you have to say about all this?” He just listened and took pictures to reveal the answers of the people. He quickly discovered the Haitian people were tired of reporters and photographers already. But when they heard that he wanted to hear their opinion they were appreciative. They respected him for listening to them and giving them a platform to speak. What he heard was telling.

  • “God showed me the path of hope.”
  • “Work is freedom and we have what it takes.”
  • “A lot of hands make the load lighter. Let’s rebuild Haiti together.”
  • One man, not too pleased with living in the tent city, said, “Home Sweet Home.”
  • Others had asked Jeremy why he was talking to the children, that they had nothing to say. One child said this: “I hope this never happens again. Too many people died.”
  • Another couple had planned to be married in a church building that was destroyed by the earthquake. After the quake they got married in front of the rubble and said, “Love conquers all.”

Cowart’s work was used at a gathering of world leaders at the UN building in NYC. Ten Billion Dollars were pledged in their meeting to help re-construct Haiti. It could be that someone listened. What happened to him needs to happen to all of us. Walk for a while in the other person’s shoes. We spend most of our time thinking about our view or opinion and looking for ways to justify, defend, or explain them. Sometimes we merely report facts and statistics. We spend little time attempting to listen deeply to someone else. You don’t have to go to the lengths Cowart did and make a photographic journal of your findings to understand the people in your circles, but there are some steps you can take to become a deeper listener.

  • Change the point of conversation from “agree/disagree” to “understanding.” There is no “winner” in a good conversation.
  • Be comfortable with the idea that understanding doesn’t mean you agree. And that’s OK.
  • Use phrases like “this is what I hear you saying” and see if they agree. If not…
  • Ask clarifying questions like, “When you say _______________ do you mean ______________?” If they say “no” then keep asking. Come at it from other angles. Or ask them to rephrase what they are trying to help you understand. Don’t just assume because they spoke some words you are interpreting those words through their filter. Your filter may be different.
  • Manage your own anxiety while paying attention to theirs. If they are getting anxious help them calm. You can ask: “You sound a little ________________. Is that how you are feeling?”

Or simply ask a question like “What do you have to say about all this?” In other words, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” You can take steps to walk in someone else’s shoes today. When you listen you may not agree. But you will understand. And that makes for better conversation. Question: Are you good at conversation? How can you practice better conversation today?

4 Things to Remember on Valentine’s Day

Every year more than 62% of Americans take part in Valentine’s Day by sending cards, buying flowers or other gifts, enjoying a romantic dinner, or doing all of the above.

Valentine’s began further back than you may realize. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus.  Each of them were martyred. One account says that Valentine was a priest who served in third century Rome. The Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage on account of his belief that single men made better soldiers.

Valentine, a romantic at heart, didn’t agree and defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine was found out he was put to death.

Another legend has it that Valentine was imprisoned and fell in love with a young girl, possibly his jailer’s daughter who would visit him. Before his death it is said that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine.” The phrase has carried on until today.

Written Valentines began to appear after 1400. History.com tells us

The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Today over one billion cards are sent every year,second highest in number only to Christmas.

So if you are one of the 62% who will take part in Valentine’s, here’s some advice:

  • If you are just now thinking about what you need to do for your special loved one you’re already late. You’ve got today to come up with something special or unique to say “I love you.” No sweat. But get busy!
  • Even if that’s the case remember: it’s just one day of the year. Don’t put too much on this one day to get it right. You may be sick or your loved one may be having a bad day. Love lasts year round, so celebrate yours on this day but remember you have 364 others too.
  • If you don’t have a special “Valentine”… don’t feel any pressure to rush out and get one. Bad things happen when you try to force romance.
  • And, because it’s all over the movie news this weekend, know that the color of  real love isn’t 50 Shades of Grey.Women—most likely your husband isn’t Mr. Grey. And for that matter, you most likely aren’t Anastasia. (I only know the names because I Googled them. Really.) And men, your wife may not be on the cover of Sports Illustrated this month. But you probably aren’t to be found anywhere inside the magazine either.  Spice up your marriage by loving the uniqueness of your relationship—not one you find in a book or on screen. Men, let your wife know that she is the number one woman in your life. Women, let your husband know that he’s the main man in your life. Build each other up through love and see what great things happen.

Take on the spirit of St. Valentine and love someone in an authentic, unconditional way today. And if some romance happens along the way…good for you!

Question: How will you tell someone that you love them today?

3 Sure-Fire Ways to De-Stress Your Biggest Stress Inducer

A whopping ¾ of Americans say they are stressed about this one common factor. Want to know what it is?

According to The American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey results for 2014 which were released this past week, 72% of American’s say they are stressed about money. And 22% say they are extremely stressed by it.

The top three things that set off the stress are:

  • Paying for unexpected expenses
  • Paying for essentials
  • Saving for retirement.

The hardest hit are basically any group that aren’t wealthy Baby Boomers. Parents, Gen X-ers, Millennials, and lower-income households (making less than $50,000 per year) feel the pinch the most.

More women have lain awake at night in the last month than men due to stress over finances: 51% of women compared to 32% of men. Parents are more likely than non-parents to turn to unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking to deal with their stress. And 31% of adults with partners cite money issues as a major source of conflict in their relationship.

Can you relate? Probably about ¾ of you can. So what can you do to de-stress our money stress? Here are three things to help:

Make a budget. Many people have never made a budget. They look at the bank balance and think there’s money. And maybe there is until bills come due, the tires go flat, or retirement arrives. You would not run a business well without a budget. Neither can you be a good steward of your income without one. Start here. “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:3,4).

Spend within Your Means. Once you know where your money is going discipline yourself to live within your means. We get into financial trouble when we want more than we can afford. Be content with the simple things. Paul wrote Timothy and said, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). Can you say that? In an instant gratification world that can buy on credit this is character quality we need to learn to value.

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5).

Work towards a 10-10-80 Plan. Someone once told me to “give the first 10% to God, save the next 10% for retirement, and live on and enjoy the remaining 80%.” It’s a pretty good plan that will de-stress you if you live this way. The Scripture speaks of the tithe but the New Testament speaks about giving. Wherever you land on this issue, giving is something that is in the nature of God and is something he would want you to do with your income.

And saving for the future is important too. Saving for retirement is one of the stress “triggers” financially. Why not get a jump on that and start today. Can’t save 10% right now for retirement? Then start with something. Just start.

Picture yourself as part of the ¼ of Americans who are financially stress free. And take some steps today to become one.

Question: What is the source of your greatest stress?

What Makes Marriages Work

In a fun TED Talk writer Jenna McCarthy shares some actual research on how marriages—and especially happy marriages—work. The results might surprise you.

In the U.S. alone about 2,077,000 couples make a decision every year to get married. They promise to stay together for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and until death do them part. And 50% of those marriages end within a decade.

So, as we near this year’s Valentine’s Day, here’s what makes for a happy and successful marriage as shared by McCarthy:

  • The wife is thinner and better looking than the husband. (McCarthy says that all the wife needs to do is fatten her husband up.)
  • The couple has a habit of focusing on the positive.
  • The husband does housework. This makes him more attractive to the wife.
  • People who smile a lot in their child photos are more likely to have a good marriage.
  • In successful couples neither has won an Oscar for Best Actor. (You can probably check that one off the list. She says that in Hollywood winning an Oscar is called “the kiss of death” for a marriage.)
  • Watching Romantic Comedies can make your relationship plummet. Therefore, happy marriages don’t watch them. (Any man reading this can thank me later.)
  • Drinking alcohol is bad for a marriage. Healthy marriages monitor their intake.
  • Healthy marriages have friends who have healthy marriages. The flipside is that if a friend gets divorced it spikes your chances of divorcing to 75%.

The good news is that healthy marriages are good for you. People with strong marriages:

  • Make more money.
  • Are healthier physically and emotionally.
  • Have kids who are more stable, happier, and more successful in life.
  • Have more sex.
  • Live longer.

The Hebrew writer said it like this: “Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband.”

Make Valentine’s an everyday occurance. Be positive. Do housework together. Smile a lot. Hang around other people with good marriages. Don’t drink too much. Watch more action movies and dramas.

And while you’re at it … don’t win any Oscars anytime soon.

Question: What is the best part of your marriage?

The Pursuit of Joy

For about six years we lived in Tyler, Texas. Although there were many, our best memory was the backyard swing. The previous owners had left a swing on the old oak tree that stood tall and strong in the middle of the yard. Ropes came down from at least twenty feet above, tied securely to a thick limb that reached out at a ninety degree angle like a steel beam of a building.

The boys loved the swing. We’d push them as high as the swing would go and they’d be yelling and laughing with a mixture of fear and delight. Sometimes I’d get a little nervous and think, “What if they lose their grip on the ropes?” and I’d slow them down and keep them lower to the ground. At which they would always say, “Again, Daddy, again!”

The boys were full of joy when I was pushing them on the swing. But I have to admit the same was not always true of me. I was working full-time, coaching their soccer teams, and working on a Master’s degree. There were many times I wanted to just get through our playtime and get on with more pressing things like writing a paper or finishing up some work.

All the while I was very conscious of the fact that I did not have the joy they had. You probably know what I’m talking about:

  • Your days are long and your nights are short. You’re weary.
  • Your car is making a sound that cars are not supposed to make and your bank account is about to take another hit it’s not ready to take.
  • The people around you drain the life out of you and even though you’ve heard it takes more muscles to frown than to smile you figure at least a part of your body is getting a workout.

Maybe that’s why Jesus told us that to enter into his kingdom we must become like children (Matt. 18:3). Children possess a joy that adults often have lost along the way to grownupness. But wouldn’t you like to regain it?

We can. Jesus said so. He said so even on his way to the cross. He was gathered in the Upper Room with his disciples and told them, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). His desire for us is that we have joy and that it is full.

“Full” means more than just a little. Let’s say your joy is contained in a football. If I take the football and only put 12 ounces of pressure in it, apparently it is not full. Anywhere between 12.5 and 13.5 ounces of pressure is full. But not 12. So if your joy is like a football Jesus wants you to have at least 12.5 to 13.5 ounces of joy pressure. He wants you to have as much as you can possibly hold.

He tells us how it can happen in “these things.” He has just told them that the Father loves them just as the Father has loved the Son. He tells them to abide in his love. And then he explains that abiding in his love means keeping his commandments.

Be confident in His love. When you are, you’ll trust his guidance for your life. When you do then add these “joy-producers” to your life:

  • Find times to celebrate. Throw a party. Enjoy a festival.
  • Hang out with joy-carriers. Know some people who naturally exude joy? Get around them and they’ll spread their joy-virus to you.
  • Learn to think joy. People who have a deep-seated joy see the big picture. The small stuff that can zap most of joy doesn’t deflate theirs. They know they are going to be fine in the eternal perspective.
  • Serve others instead of yourself. When all you see are your present problems, your past mistakes, or possible future predicaments you’ll be a pitiful person. But focus on others and serve them and watch your joy return. God designed us in a way that the more we get rid of self the more room he has to fill us with joy.

You can have joy starting today. Go out and find a swing. Take off. And you’ll find a joy you haven’t known since you were a child.

Question: Where do you find the most joy in your life?