The Primary Way to Love

Listening is an art form. Most, at best, are paint-by-the-number artists.

  1. Let the other person talk for a moment.
  2. Catch any phrase or truth they share that you know something about.
  3. Formulate an “agree” or “disagree,” “right” or “wrong” response.
  4. Find an open spot and let the other person know your thoughts.

The result? No masterpiece for sure. At best a cheap imitation of what real listening can be.

You’ve experienced real listening from time to time. And when you have you most likely felt loved. Listening is the primary way we can show someone that we love them.

In the Old Testament God was shaping his people by showing them what it meant to be in relationship. In Deuteronomy 6:4-5 we find this famous passage:

Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

The first command in relationship with God is “listen.” We know this command as the shema because that is the Hebrew word for “listen.” It is an imperative and it is imperative that we learn to start there.

The second thing we learn to do in our relationship with God is “love.” But notice that loving follows listening. Could it be that God’s instruction to us on relationship with him can teach us how to have relationships with others? Could it be that if we want to show someone that we love them the best thing we can do is listen to them?

By listening I mean we learn to hear what the other person is saying. Better put, listening happens when we hear the person. Masterful listening has to do with understanding the other person. We jettison our desire to be right or to agree or disagree. We seek to understand where that person is coming from.

How do we do that? Here are a few steps that will help:

  • Listen actively. Put your phone away. Focus on the person. Look in their eyes.
  • Respond with questions that help you understand what they are communicating.
  • Be silent. You don’t have to fill the air with your words. If you allow a pause they may continue to speak.
  • Repeat to them, in your words, what you understand them to be saying, thinking, or feeling.

Listen. First to God. Take time today to sit in his presence. Hear his word. In doing so, love him with all your heart, soul and strength.

Then listen to a family member. A friend. A co-worker. They will feel loved. And you can paint a masterpiece.

Question: Think of a time someone really listened to you? How did you feel?

Avoid the “Kiss of Death” in Your Relationship

If you value your relationship with your spouse you will want to listen to John Gottman and Robert Levenson. They say that this one factor can predict divorce with a 93% accuracy. And no, it has nothing to do with the way you place the toilet paper on the roll.

But it may have everything to do with your reaction to it. If you find yourself thinking or saying things like “What kind of idiot doesn’t understand that the paper should be on the outside and not the inside? The patent even showed it this way!” then you may be headed for a breakup.

What is the one factor that they have identified for predicting divorce? Contempt. Contempt is a mix of anger and disgust towards another person. And in the case of marriage Gottman– a psychologist at the University of Washington and founder of the Gottman Institute–studied 79 couples over a period of 14 years to arrive at his conclusion: contempt is the “Kiss of Death” in a relationship.

Contempt for the other person leads to a superiority complex in the relationship. And when one person feels smarter than the other it will lead to them not valuing the input the other has to give. Their opinions and thoughts will not be valid and you will find yourself less able to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective.

Jesus talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount. You can find a progression there that moves from anger to contempt to lust to divorce. To prevent divorce Jesus started with anger and said the root of the problem had to be done away with. If anger is done away with contempt disappears too.

What can you do if you see this trait in your relationship?  Here are a couple of ideas that might help:

  • Just recognizing it in yourself or your spouse is a good first step.
  • If you see the trait in yourself get some help in identifying why you show up in your relationship the way you do. What deep held beliefs do you have that would make you think that your spouse seldom has a valid idea? What experience did you have in  your past that made you want to be right all the time?
  • If the trait is in your spouse you might not want to attack them with your discovery. Instead invite them into a discussion about how you might make your relationship better. If that is their goal too then you can discuss your feelings of being treated as an inferior and ask them to help you.

Addressing this issue early in marriage is vital. Studies show that when contempt surfaces in the first year of marriage a couple is more likely to divorce. But sometimes that doesn’t happen until sixteen years down the road.

Contempt is the “Kiss of Death” in a marriage. Ridding your relationship of it will set the environment for better kissing.

Question: When have you shown contempt for your spouse in your relationship?

 

Find a Neighbor…and Do Something

Jim Wallis is the founder of the social justice organization Sojourners. In the November 2011 issue of their publication he tells the story of how Sojourners began.

He and a core group met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the northern suburbs of Chicago in 1971. Wallis says that many of them had decided to attend Trinity to argue with their own evangelical tradition as to what the Bible really says.

One way they did this was by finding every verse they could locate in the Bible about the poor, wealth, poverty, and social justice. They started in Genesis and worked their way through Revelation. Every time they found a passage on one of these topics they took their scissors and cut it out. (That may shock you. Does it help that they used an old Bible?)

They had found over 2,000 texts. After cutting out the passages they were left with a “Bible full of holes.” Wallis would take it with him and show what a Bible looks like without compassion whenever he would go speak. The group’s preaching made people uncomfortable and almost got them expelled from the school.

James 5:1-6 is one of the passages that would have been cut out. It’s the kind we would like to expel from our Bibles. James tells his audience they have “lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” They have “murdered the righteous person.” They did it by holding back wages of day laborers while they had so much their treasure was rotting.

I’m glad James berates those rich people and not you and me. But maybe we need to rethink who is rich. If you go to the website www.givingwhatwecan.org you can find a calculator under the heading “How Rich am I?” I took the median household income in America for 2013 which was $51,939. I plugged in two adults and one child since the 2010 Census revealed the average household size to be 2.58 people. (I didn’t know how to put in a .58 people.) And I figured adults might cost more with clothes and food so I gave the extra full person to the adult.

The result says that this person would be in the richest 5.9% of the world’s population. That income is 17.2 times the global average. And if you gave 10% of your income you would still be in the richest 6.9% of the world’s population and still be 15.5 times the global average.

James wants us to understand that “it’s not about us!” What God gives us is to be used for our sustenance but also to bring about his kingdom. Accumulating too much can cause us to believe that the world revolves around us. James wants us to learn to love our neighbor.

When the rich don’t listen to the cries of the poor people die. So find a neighbor and do something.

Find a global need and meet it. There are numerous organizations that you can donate some of your income to that are helping meet the needs of world hunger and water shortage. Just Google “world hunger.” No excuses. You’ll find plenty of ways you can help by giving up a coffee run once a week.

And find a local need and meet it. People are hungry in your community. And those needs will grow as your community grows.

When we do that we will see the Kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven. In the meantime, don’t cut out the poor from your Bibles. And don’t cut them out of your life.

Question: Where do you see the poor in your daily routine? How might you help?

 

Love…Infinity and Beyond

When our boys were very young they were taken by the movie Toy Story. (I was too. I miss the days when our boys were young and I could take them to Pixar movies that I wanted to see under the pretense they were dragging me along since they couldn’t drive or pay for the movie.)

They especially liked Buzz Lightyear. The phrase “To infinity…and beyond” was heard routinely around our house by our oldest son. He was captivated by the word “infinity.”

Maybe it was the idea of “endless-ness” or the reckless abandon of “boundless-ness.” Whatever it was that seized his imagination and made this his favorite word it soon became our favorite word.

So one night I was putting the boys in bed. Our routine would have me squeezing in between them both and telling them a story. This particular night, after the story I crawled back out and tucked them under their covers. The bedsheet and comforter were pulled right up under their little chins.

Then I asked them, “Do you know how much I love you?”

The answer came back with great confidence: “Infinity!”

“Do you know how much ‘infinity’ is?” I asked.

“No Daddy, how much is it?”

I had them take their arms out from under their tucked positions and said, “Stretch your arms out as wide as you can!” They did until I thought their shoulders might come out of their sockets. I said in a somewhat secretive voice, “Now, let’s get you tucked back under the covers and I’ll tell you how much ‘infinity’ is.”

I tucked them under and leaned in close. “You know how far you stretched?” “Yes, Daddy,” came the reply. “Is that how far ‘infinity is?”

I paused. “No. Can you believe it’s even further than that?” I asked them. “It’s so far it never stops.” Their eyes were wide as the ocean.

Then I added, “Do you know how much God loves you?”

They looked at each other. Then at me. Then in unison a little louder said, “Infinity!”

Sometimes life gets busy. And sometimes we forget to tell the people we are closest to how much we love them. We need to show them how much we love them. But we also need to tell them.

So tonight before you go to bed tuck your kids in and take a few extra minutes to tell them how much you love them. If they’re grown maybe you could make a phone call or two. Tell your husband or your wife. Call your parents.

And while you’re at it listen to God. That’s how much he loves you too. So much, in fact, that He cannot love you more than He does right now. So much, in fact, that He will not love you any less. God is love. And He loves you…Infinity!

Question: Who do you need to tell that you love them?

 

 

A New Tagline for Your Life

I owe John an apology.

For years I have thought that he was a bit boastful. I thought he was letting us in on a secret that the others may have wanted him to keep to himself.

And because I heard him wrong I’ve thought wrong. About myself.

John says outright that he is the one Jesus loved. When he was gathered with the other disciples with Jesus in the Upper Room he says, “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved…”

John is always one of the three: Peter, James . . . John.

At the end of his gospel Jesus is with the disciples again, after his resurrection, on the beach. Jesus gives Peter the task of feeding his sheep and tells him that when he is older “You will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” “Stretching out his hands” was a way of saying he would be crucified.

As you might imagine this caused Peter some concern. He saw John and asked what would happen to him. Here’s the way John wrote this scene down:

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

John seemed to bring up the fact that Jesus loved him even in tough moments, like when Peter was being told he would die by crucifixion. Peter may have been hoping for some company. I don’t know. But what I do know is I might have been a lot like Peter, wondering why Jesus seemed to love John more.

I’ve had a belief that Jesus loves me. I just have had a hard time believing I’d be the “one whom Jesus loved” if the Gospels were being written today. Oh, I’d be in the Twelve or maybe the crowd. But probably not the one who would be leaning up against him.

And so I’ve always been glad to be around Jesus. Near him. But never quite sure he loves me like that. Yeah, I know, pastors aren’t supposed to say things like that. But it’s true.

Until today. Today I was reading John. And today I heard John. You see, I don’t think John is saying he was closer to Jesus than Peter or Andrew or James. I think John is just saying this is his identity. He is the one whom Jesus loved.

The problem wasn’t John. The problem was me. Part of following Jesus is believing he loves us. It is gaining a new identity. Jesus was clear that in his Kingdom everything turns upside down. The last are first. The foolish are wise. And there is no pecking order.

John’s identity is my identity. And it’s yours. “The one whom Jesus loves.”

Question: What is your identity?

Ask this Question and Kick Fear to the Curb

You were born to be loved. Problem is you don’t have to live long before you feel the sting of “not loved.”

Some are born into a family that does not know how to love. Maybe the parents perpetuated what they had learned and now a young child learns the opposite of love. Fear.

Some have a loving family but encounter “not loved” through school. Kids can be mean. Especially kids who come from homes where they haven’t been loved. And so they pass on what they know and now one who is loved at home experiences the realities of an unloving world.

Gerald Jampolsky writes in his book Love is Letting Go of Fear about the time he took a course called A Course in Miracles. That course  stated there were only two emotions: love and fear. The first is what Jampolsky calls our “natural inheritance.” The second is what our mind manufactures.

Fear is learned. It is what happens when we choose not to trust love. Genesis tells the story of mankind. When Adam and Eve chose to not trust God they chose to distrust love. The minute they moved away from love they came to know fear. They came to know anxiety.

And it’s interesting that fear and anxiety came from their not trusting God. “God is love” is John’s simple description of God. Not “God is hate” or “God is fear-producing.” “God is love.”

But does not the Scriptures teach to “fear” God? Yes, but that fear is a fear of reverence and understanding that he is holy. Which means God is “other.” We are not like him. And the kind of “fear” we are to have is one that respects God for who he is and trusts him in what he says. Especially when he says he loves us.

John continues to write that “perfect love casts out fear.” In other words as we learn what love is—our natural inheritance—fear will dissipate from our lives. We will live more confidently knowing that no matter what happens we are loved.

We were born to be loved.

Jampolsky’s book helped me during a season I was experiencing anxiety and fear. A steady, low undercurrent of anxiety. Fears about my performance. About the future. He gave me a question to start asking myself whenever I was experiencing anxiety and fear:

“What is the worst thing that can happen to me?”

So I started asking that question. And in every case my fear was really a fear of not being loved in some way.

Try asking that question next time you experience fear. Then see if trusting that God is love will help “cast out” that fear.

You were born to be loved. Claim your inheritance today.

Question: What fears do you face today? How can love cast out those fears?

 

Three Ingredients to Baking a Flavorful Marriage

No one would ever mistake me for a Master Chef. My wife Karen, on the other hand, can mix whatever food is available into a tasty dish like Michelangelo could throw paint on the Sistine Chapel and leave behind something to talk about for centuries.

Imagine my anxiety when in our first year of marriage Karen was working part time until eight o’clock at night and the cooking duty fell to me. I knew how to put a microwaveable dinner in the microwave, set the time, and sometimes not burn it. Now she would leave me a cookbook open to a page and say, “Let’s have this tonight.”

One night I was following the instructions and came to this step: “Baste the chicken every fifteen minutes.” This was before the internet and Google so I had to humble myself and call Karen to ask her what it meant to “baste” something. She paused. She giggled. Then she giggled some more. When she regained her composure she explained to me what to do.

Sometimes we need a little help with recipes.

And sometimes we need a little help with the recipe for love. We did. When children came along we realized quickly that all those moments we could spend with each other without interruption before children were over.

Somehow we hit upon a formula that seemed to work for us. Every two weeks we had a date night. We had good friends with whom we’d swap off baby-sitting. When we had our friends’ kids they’d go out. (Side benefit to us is that our kids played the whole time and we could just monitor them.) Then the next week they’d watch our kids and we would go out.

It seemed to work great for us. We reserved some special time for us and through the years were able to model for our boys that even though we loved them we loved each other first.

I was reminded of those days when I came across an article this week that may be of help to you. The advice it gave was this:

  • Every 2 weeks go out on a date.
  • Every 2 months go out for the weekend.
  • Every 2 years go out for a week.

That’s good advice. It’s a good recipe for keeping the flavor in your marriage. And just like any recipe you can tweak it and add your own touches.

Basting keeps meat moist and adds flavor. Baste your relationship in 2-2-2 juices this year and see if your marriage doesn’t begin to taste better.

Question: When was the last time you and your spouse went out on a date? Plan a date on your calendars now.

How a Different Perspective on Conflict Can Change Your Relationships

Conflict is inevitable. What? You wanted me to say that you can skillfully maneuver through life without ever experiencing conflict? Well, I’m not going to do it and so now you are in the middle of a conflict with me.

Better get used to it. We live in a fallen world and conflict is a part of it. Jesus experienced it from the beginning of his ministry. Some of it came from other people’s misunderstanding. Some of it he caused on purpose because he was just being who he was. (For example see Mark 3:1-6 and note verse 6 especially.)

And if Jesus experienced conflict it’s a safe bet we will too. The problem is most people are not good at conflict. Many are conflict avoiders. I know. I was one for a long time. I’d run from conflict as fast as Usain Bolt runs the 100 meters. (In fact, if you had conflict trying to catch me, I might be able to beat him in a race.)

That all began to change when my wife and I were taking a training course on how to help marriages. The person teaching the course told us that the homework assignments the couples would take would lead them into conflict. I remember feeling the anxiety in my own body and thinking, “Why would we want to do that?! We’ll have to clean up the mess!”

But then he began to explain why learning to handle conflict is so vital to a relationship. He wrote three words on the board. At the top was the word INTIMACY. Below that word he wrote CONFLICT. And then at the bottom he wrote WITHDRAWAL.

In short form here’s his lesson. We want intimacy in our relationships. But when conflict surfaces and we don’t deal with it in healthy ways we move to withdrawal. There may be no fighting or no arguing. But there’s no intimacy.

Then he said, “You’ve got to have a different view of conflict. Conflict is just one step away from intimacy.” I definitely wanted intimacy so I started creating a lot of conflict in my marriage until Karen told me, “That wasn’t the point!” (I knew that. I was just hoping she wouldn’t catch on.)

But because she did we started working on how to deal with our conflict. We learned to listen more deeply. Respond less quickly. “Be quick to hear and slow to speak.” We looked for times either of us tended to withdraw and worked on the process of engaging the places of conflict.

One principal to keep in mind is that you can’t avoid the conflict. You can’t move from withdrawal straight to intimacy. Why? Any intimacy you find won’t last because the conflict is still present. You have to go through the conflict that is being avoided to get there.

Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. But intimacy is attainable. Learn to see conflict as a stepping stone that will get you to the intimacy you desire.

Question: How do you and your spouse or close friends handle conflict in the relationship?

Check the Patent for a Great Marriage

Ever thought it would be so easy if marriage came with an instruction manual? A definitive answer to all of the issues that come up between a husband and a wife?

For instance, there’s the age-old stresses that are created because one person squeezes the tube of toothpaste from the bottom and the other squeezes it from the middle. Worse yet the top third.

Or, one leaves the seat lid up. The other wants it down.

Just mention these at a wedding and you get laughter every time. I know. I’ve used that line before.

But perhaps the greatest debate surrounding bathroom propriety revolves around which way to turn the toilet paper on the roll. Should the paper roll be on the outside of the underside? Interesting how we tend to have our preferences on that issue.

Now you can have the definitive answer. Making the rounds on the web is the 1891 patent by New York businessman Seth Wheeler who invented the “wrapping paper with perforations.” He clearly intended the roll to be on the outside.

That’s how the creator of the toilet paper intended us to use his invention. Now all the “unders” can repent and get on track towards a more happy marriage.

And while you’re at it, you might check in with the one who created marriage. Many of the disagreements that lead to marriages falling apart could be avoided if we would only turn to God for direction.

  • Having a disagreement? “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”
  • Wanting your way all the time? “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
  • Thinking of yourself and your needs too much? “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That includes your spouse.
  • Eyes starting to stray a bit? “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”

Good marriages take good work. Great marriages take even greater work. Look at the patent again and make the necessary adjustments.

You’ll be rolling right along before you know it.

Question: Where do you turn when you have marital issues?

 

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?