Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks Again

Every year on the way home from vacation Nan and I ask the same question of each other.

How do we preserve our ‘vacation feeling’ as long as possible?

Of course the reality is usually the same. It fades pretty quickly once we get back into the work day world. But some years we are able to do better than others. One year Nan spent a large part of vacation working through Gordon MacDonald’s book “Ordering Your Private World”, and was able to make a couple of important shifts in her life.

I bring this up now because we just celebrated Thanksgiving and I am wondering how we might keep this feeling of gratitude for as long as possible. I suspect that it is also an inside job just like keeping the vacation spirit. Last year I suggested keeping a ‘gratitude journal’ and an ‘affirmation scrapbook’. 

I would add practicing spiritual disciplines to the recommendations as well. 

Every year during our Thanksgiving celebration we have a family ritual where each member shares two things that they are thankful for that year. It helps us, young and old, to focus on the positive areas of life, even in the midst of struggles. Often I hear expressions of gratefulness for health or longevity. Others will be thankful for relationships, and some for “stuff”.

For me this year I was thankful for: (1) Sleep, and (2) for C.A. (our church) being a safe community.

I have struggled for years with getting adequate sleep, but lately I have been doing better. What a gift sleep is, but often we don’t fully appreciate it until it is in short supply. My bedtime prayers have often been for sleep – it’s nice to know they do get answered.

What I mean by ‘safe community’ is this: I am free to be myself without fear of condemnation, with confidence that if I mess up I will still be accepted. This atmosphere of grace is precious to me because I haven’t always felt it during other times in my life. Church hasn’t always been a place where I wanted to be, but Christian Assembly is – and a place I can invite people with no hesitation.

I would love to hear two things that you are grateful for this year. Perhaps it will suggest more things to add to my list.

Oh, by the way – I am grateful for all my blog readers. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

What's My Nature?

I was thinking today about all the political debates already in full swing, how they often produce a lot of emotional interactions among people. Some people really enjoy the discourse, while others are offended or become negatively reactive. The same thing can happen in other areas of relationship as well.

I would ask a question of you. How easily offended are you, or how argumentative are you? Perhaps you are both.   

I have seen argumentative people damage relationships defending their positions on issues they really don’t care one way or another about. I have also seen people playing the victim, willing to end relationships for petty or imagined hurts.  

Often I have seen these two types paired, with painful results. 

In the instance of offense, have old hurts been triggered and unfairly attributed to the current situation? (See earlier post “Adding Points” 5/08/2010) Have I failed to develop a thick enough skin to weather the ups and downs of life? People can be insensitive at times without being hostile or intentionally hurtful. Can I make room for them? Am I able to forgive?

If I have an argumentative nature is it because I felt my opinions were discounted or ignored growing up? Or is my contrary posture a character defect that I need to work on so that I get along with people better. Being in a relationship with an argumentative person can be a real challenge.

I know I have been unnecessarily quarrelsome and self-righteous and it has stressed out our relationship at times. Fortunately time and God has softened this part of me. I still feel passionately about certain things, but I have learned to filter my responses and even hold my opinion at times.

Rarely do people come around to our way of thinking as a result of a cantankerous attitude. Neither do they have much compassion for, or want to get too close to someone who is always having their feelings hurt.

So in which area might you improve?  Challenge yourself with a spirit of humility.

Isaiah 57:15 The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ineffective Habits In Relationships

I think most everyone has heard of Stephen Covey's “Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” - a huge bestseller, especially in the business world. In the preface of a more current book “Principle Centered Leadership”, he notes his brother John's (a master teacher) list of seven habits of highly ineffective people. Although the list is generally intended to be applied to business situations, I thought they were worth mentioning and commenting on in the context of relationships.

If you do any of the following you are at risk.

  1. Be reactive: doubt yourself and blame others.
Reactivity is a killer in relationships. It makes couples angry or afraid, leading to defensiveness
and distancing. Emotions under control lead to understanding and empathy.

  1. Work without any clear end in mind.
So many relationships go nowhere for years. I hear all the time of people dating for five, six or seven years with no clear idea if they are right for each other and should get married or break it off. They may get married eventually as a default rather than a choice, or get back into the dating pool at an age when it is more difficult to connect.

  1. Do the urgent thing first.
This habit usually leads to relationship neglect. When I have my priorities out of whack I will probably sacrifice my closest relationships first, expecting them to understand. The goal here is to discern urgent from important. Many things are urgent but not important. I must give priority to the important things in life.

  1. Think win/lose.
If this is my habit, I will eventually alienate the one I love. I will find myself winning skirmishes and losing intimacy in the relationship. Instead I must develop the habit of thinking “If we as a couple win, I win.”

  1. Seek first to be understood.
If this is my goal I will probably wonder why my mate is tuning me out. I am more interested in a monologue than I am in a dialogue. It is said that God gave us two ears but only one mouth for a reason.

     6.  If you can’t win, compromise (your integrity).

Compromise is the only good solution in relationships unless it is your integrity, your values, or your good character qualities that are on the line. Then you will certainly lose what is most important. However we must be very careful that we do not operate in a self-righteous way when defending these aspects.

    7.  Fear change and put off improvement.

Most growth is difficult and often anxiety-producing. What if I change, but my mate does not? Will my position become weaker in this relationship? A better question is what are the risks of not changing when necessary. What would God want from me in this area? Change is inevitable. It becomes our friend when we embrace it and our enemy when we resist it.

I'm sure that we could come up with a much bigger list if we thought about it, but I think this is a great beginning. Which ones seem hardest for you to accept? Which ones do you want to work on?