Archive for January, 2014

Sometimes Faith Requires Caring Less

When we think of someone with a strong faith, we tend to think of someone with strong emotions and convictions. They are people who have an unflinching look in their eye when they speak, pray like their life depends on it, and sing like nobody else is in the room.

In effect, the more someone cares, the stronger we perceive their faith to be; strong emotion is equated with strong faith.

But, then we’ve all seen cases where this is not true; someone has strong emotions and they lack self-control, wisdom, good judgment, and honor for other people. The marks of a mature faith are absent from their strong emotions. They can be either ruled by their strong emotions (anxiety) or harm others with their strong emotions (anger).

Yet for those individuals, cultures, or faith traditions who equate strong emotion with strong faith maturity can be very perplexing because for them faith will be less emotional and, therefore, feel less spiritual to them.

  • People who struggle with anger will likely have to “care less” about their reputation.
  • People who struggle with anxiety will likely have to “care less” about their security.
  • People who struggle with jealousy will likely have to “care less” about their spouse.

The form that faith takes will feel wrong – less fervent, less devoted, less prepared, etc… Their internal emotional compass will register that trust for God feels like indifference. Drawing close to God will take a form that feels foreign and initially may make God feel very far away.

It should be noted that the opposite error can be made by those who value stoicism instead of emotionalism. These individuals can so equate being un-rattled and unmoved with faith that they are uncomfortable revealing the uncertainty that is necessary for faith to be seen.

  • They feel so restrained by God’s sovereignty that they won’t allow themselves to grieve for fear their sadness is a form of questioning God.
  • They feel so restrained by God’s holiness that they feel irreverent if they sympathize with someone who mourns breaking up with an unchristian boyfriend for whom they have genuine affection.
  • They feel so restrained by God’s wisdom that they feel guilty for conceding a well-made point by unbeliever who is defending their world view.

Which is better, emotionalism or stoicism? That’s a bad question. It either leads to pride (my natural inclination is better), insecurity (my natural inclination is weaker), or emotional ping-pong (over-compensating for whichever response most recently disrupted your life).

The better take away is to avoid confusing your emotions (their presence or absence) with your faith. Emotions are good. They are a gift from God and one way we reflect the image and character of God. We desire that our emotions serve as excellent ambassadors for God. We should want people around us to feel like they know God more accurately as they sense what we feel in various situations.

But that doesn’t require a predominantly high or low level of emotional responsiveness. It means that we need to know our tendency (its strengths and weaknesses), acknowledge it authentically to others, and be willing to allow our faith to change our emotional amplitude (higher or lower) as best represents God in a given circumstance.

We should expect there to be times when that feels really natural, because either inclination has times when it is faith’s most natural expression. We should also expect there to be times when it feels really unnatural. Unless we realize the latter, we will often resist some of God’s greatest work in our life because it doesn’t “feel like” what we’re used to faith feeling like.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Emotions” post which address other facets of this subject.

How to Listen Well: Marital Communication 101

We are often poor listeners because we think of listening as merely hearing and retaining information. In a day of information overload, the significance of listening is easy to overlook. Consider this expanded definition of listening – listening is how you enter the world of another person.

In relationships “insiders” and “outsiders” are determined by what you share and what you’re willing to hear. When you tell someone your private thoughts you make them an “insider.” When you withhold your private thoughts you make them an “outsider.” When you are available to listen you are demonstrating your willingness to become part of your spouse’s world, which is more than sharing the same space (house).

Read Ephesians 5:25 in light of John 1:14-18. How did Jesus love his bride, the church? Jesus fully entered her world in order to understand her unique challenges and her experience of those challenges (Heb. 2:17-18).  How do we apply the profound theological truth of Jesus’ incarnation to our marriages? We listen to our spouse until he/she feels understood. In the same way that Jesus’ incarnation provides us assurance that He understands every aspect of our life (Heb. 4:15-16), our listening assures our spouse that we are for/with them in the midst of life’s joys and struggles.

This reality is convicting. We realize we have neglected one of the simplest, most meaningful and foundational ways that God calls us to love our spouse. But conviction without instruction results in guilt without hope. The gospel always gives hope in equal (or greater) measure than it brings convictions. So below we will provide many skills and perspective intended to enhance your listening ability.

No instruction can create or replace desire. The main skill in being a good listener is wanting to be a good listener. The core of listening is placing enough value on the other person and what he/she is saying that you quit playing your thoughts (mentally or verbally) over theirs. When you begin to do this you will find that your responses and body language almost always draw out the other person. The skills below are merely examples of things that value other people.

1. Show and Maintain Interest: Some conversations are interesting because of their subject. This makes effective listening much more natural. However, there are times when our interest is given because of the value we place on the relationship instead of the subject. When, in marriage, we only listen well to subjects of interest we either force our spouse to perform (creating undertones of pressure/rejection) for our attention or neglect important areas of life (creating family systems that will inevitably fail).

2. Honor through Body Language: The majority of indicators of interest are non-verbal: eye contact, pleasant facial expressions, nodding your head, leaning forward, facing the speaker, relaxed shoulders, unfolded arms, and removing distractions (i.e., checking your phone or working on a project). When we fail to honor our spouse through body language we create a temptation for them to increase the “force” of their speaking in order to gain our attention. Honoring body language decreases the temptation towards ineffective communication.

3. Glean Purpose before Content: Words serve a purpose. If your spouse is afraid and you debate the accuracy of his/her descriptions, then you are missing the purpose for the content – likely increasing their fear which will be expressed as anger. To slow your listening down begin with the question, “Why is my spouse talking?” instead of “What is my spouse saying?” Once you know your spouse’s purpose for speaking it will help you utilize the appropriate type of listening from the list above.

4. Be Aware of Filters: We must be willing to hear a message as it was intended, not as we experience it. Look at the list of “filters” below and consider how their influence would impair your ability to fairly hear your spouse: Fears, Past Experiences, Values, Beliefs, Expectations, Future Dreams, Prejudices, Assumptions, Interests, Recent Events, or Insecurities.

The differences that exist in the personality, history, and aspirations of a husband and wife requires that we are aware of the impact of these filters if we want to have “the same conversation” as we talk about a given subject. If we are not aware of our filters, we will change the meaning/significance of our spouse’s words and hold them responsible for our reaction. This is a recipe for shutting down communication.

5. Clarify Confusing Points: Often a confused expression or tilted head is enough to request clarification without interrupting. Good clarifying questions assume that there is a good answer for what doesn’t make sense yet. For example, it is better to ask, “How do [assumes there is an explanation] those two points fit together?” than “How can [expresses skepticism that there is an explanation] those two points fit together?” Times of confusion tend to be critical junctures where grace leaves communication. For this reason, couples should realize the need for extra grace and patience during exchanges of clarification.

6. Summarize Information: Summarize the key points or experiences your spouse has shared before giving a response. This reveals that you are listening and ensures that your “take aways” match what your spouse was sharing. Beyond insuring that you are responding to what your spouse was actually trying to say, this has another benefit. It also allows you to clarify whether your response is to a part or whole of what your spouse said. When we fail to summarize what we’ve heard, it is common for partial perspectives/suggestions to come across as total generalizations/fixes. Each time the speaking-listening roles change in a conversation that will be a moment when trust is gained or lost. This is why interruptions are so bad for communication. A 30 second summary at these exchanges often saves many 30 minute (or longer) arguments.

7. Listen to Affirm / Honor: It is so easy to just listen for what needs to be different, changed, or corrected. After all, that is where the progress, growth, or change will happen as a result of communication. When we succumb to this temptation, listening becomes a very negative exercise. Too often this kind of point is made as a way to avoid hurting the feelings of someone who is sensitive. When we frame listening-to-affirm this way, we miss how it shapes our character and attitude. If we want to be a Christ-like listener, we will discipline ourselves (until it becomes something we naturally enjoy) to find things to affirm, celebrate, or encourage in what our spouse says.

8. Postpone Evaluations: There is a time for evaluative thinking in marital communication. It is usually near the end of a communication exchange (unless it’s a purely problem solving / decision making interaction). The willingness to suspend critical thinking during casual conversation is a way to communicate trust and to show that the relationship has value beyond what it achieves. This is why casual conversation (next chapter) is so important to marriage; it is a primary time when the marriage is honored and your spouse is cherished simply for who they are.

9. Listen Like You’re Taking a Prayer Request: The question is often asked, “How do I know if I have listened well?” Here is a good litmus test – could you pray for your spouse about this topic of conversation in a way that he/she felt like accurately represented him/her to God? God may use you to answer the prayer you would pray and if He chooses to do so the time you took to understand your spouse’s concern will make you a much more fit instrument in His hand. Until you can represent your spouse in prayer you have listened well.

10. If You Don’t Know What to Say, Ask More Questions: Often the pressure to know what to say is what prevents us from listening well. We become like the person who so badly wants to sleep that his desire to sleep prevents him from sleeping. Listening is best done when we’re relaxed (otherwise our fears focus our attention on ourselves instead of our spouse). Giving yourself the freedom to merely ask another question if you don’t know what to say can often be the thing that makes the implementation of these other skills possible.

This resource was taken from the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication” seminar.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Communication” post which address other facets of this subject.

Tweets of the Week 1.28.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Video Resource: Burnout

Burnout from Equip on Vimeo.

Burnout is never caused by a single area of life. Burn out is a function of our total life management. One area of life cannot get out of order without overt choices of neglect being made other areas of life. This means that if we managed the others areas of our life well, it would have contained the area (i.e., work, ministry, parenting, etc…) that was the primary cause of burnout. We must resist the temptation to blame life, or even one area of our life management, for the experience of burnout. Burnout is a result of how we have managed our life as a whole.

So we might begin our assessment of burnout’s cause with this foundational statement—burnout is the result of living beyond our means with the time God has provided. It is common to say that someone is “living beyond their means” financially. There is a cultural epidemic of people spending more than they earn. The majority of Americans have a negative net-worth; we owe more than we own. We will use this parallel of financial and time management many times, so begin to think in these categories.

The first thing God’s fairness requires of the person moving towards burnout is to rest in the fact that everything fits in a 168 hour week. This means that even if there are 200 hours worth of excellent things to be accomplished in a week, that you can have assurance at least 32 hours of your agenda is outside the will of God for your life; not “outside the will of God” in terms of being bad, but “outside the will of God” in the sense that God will accomplish this, if it needs to be done, through someone else.

Resource

In my booklet Burnout: Resting in God’s Fairness there is a “time budget tool.” Here is a printable version of the blank and overdrawn sample of this resource.

  • Blank: Burnout Time Budget
  • Overdrawn Sample: Burnout Time Budget — sample

Guilt Math in an Incomplete Story with Romans 8:28

Sometimes we add “ghost words” to passages of Scripture; words that make sense to us, change the meaning of passage, but are not really there. See if you can spot the ghost word that I’ve added to Romans 8:28.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for more good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

You probably could catch the word “more” because it reads a little awkward. While the word doesn’t fit, I’m convinced it captures part of what we try to do with this passage that often makes it painful-offensive instead of comforting.

After our pain we try to identify the “good” that comes from it that would make it “worth it” for God to allow our suffering. We weigh our pain and we weigh our blessing. If there is not “more” blessing than pain, we begin to doubt God’s Word.

Let me begin by saying, I believe it is okay for us to wonder about God’s goodness in the midst of suffering. If it were not, then God would not have given us so many Psalms of remorse, lament, and grief. To whatever degree we can read God’s intent into statistics, God thought we needed more Psalms of confused sorrow than clear praise.

But let’s not use God’s patience with our bewilderment as a reason to exacerbate the disillusionment we feel when life is hard. Instead, let’s re-examine what inserting the concept of “more” into this passage does.

First, it causes us to do what I would call “guilt math.” We try to force ourselves to say that whatever good comes from our pain makes it “worth it” in order to protect our view of God.  We begin to live as if any sense of tension was non-faith; we live as if we were not caught between the “already” (effects of sin) and the “not yet” (full effect of redemption).

If we learn anything from the candor of Scripture, it’s that God doesn’t need us to protect him. We live like children who are afraid to admit they are scared in the night because they fear offending their parents. God inspired a gritty-honest Scripture so we would live in authentic relationship with him. Part of authenticity means that we quit doing guilt math.

Second, the rushed-ness of guilt math causes us to declare the winner before all the votes have been casted. We don’t know what good is coming. Why would we feel coerced to already say the balance has tipped? Some people may experience so much redemptive-good early on that this is natural and that is wonderful. But why do we feel like its non-faith to say, “At this point in my life I still feel that the sorrow of traumatic event ‘x’ is greater than the good that has come from it”?

Who watches a redemptive-tragedy movie and thinks it was “good” 90 minutes in? Who watches a great comeback and thinks it was epic before overtime? What abandoned spouse can say it was “worth it” in 18 months? What grieved child can say it was better to have a deceased parent? The obvious answer is… no one. My point is simply that God is not the one rushing us to the right answer.

So what do we do with this reflection? Answer – throw away the scale. Quit trying to measure the cumulative benefit (in your life or vicariously for others) against the cumulative sorrow. The math does not honor your pain and is not needed to justify God. All it does is rush you through guilt math in a way that leaves you feeling defeated, rejected, or cynical.

So what do we do instead? We begin to view “good” as a destination instead of a counter-balance and trust that God can get us there. In our pain we often wonder if life can ever be good again, can we ever know peace, or whether hope can ever seem real. The answer is yes. That is what God is promising.

God can bring us to a place that is good, ultimately heaven, but not only heaven in spite of all that Satan intends for our harm. In this sense we live like Joseph (Genesis 37-50). We do not know the length of the journey and the math may seldom seem to “add up” but we trust that the hardships of life are no hindrance to God’s ability or faithfulness to bring us to a place that is “good.”

On this journey we may cry out to God many times. That is part of the “good.” Not because God delights in our sorrow, but because it is an indicator that we are not trying to be more spiritual than God requires or more biblical than the Bible prescribes. It means that our hearts are remaining un-calloused towards God to be open to his love along the journey and for eternity.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Emotions” post which address other facets of this subject.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Suffering” post which address other facets of this subject.

Online Gospel-Centered Marriage Evaluation: Character & Role Expectations

This evaluation is meant to correlate with chapters four through six of the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations” seminar. For the next live presentation of this and similar materials, please visit www.bridgehavencounseling.org/events.

Click Here To Begin Evaluation 

This seminar is part of a series of “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage” seminars that also includes:

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

Tweets of the Week 1.21.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it’s funny… #SermonAudibles

Video: A Portrait of Christ-Honoring Wisdom

The videos below is one part of the live presentation of the Finding Your Confidence, Identity, and Security in Christseminar. For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

Finding Your Confidence, Identity, & Security in Christ Part 6 from Equip on Vimeo.

Online Gospel-Centered Marriage Evaluation: Marriage As Covenant

This evaluation is meant to correlate with chapter three of the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations” seminar. For the next live presentation of this and similar materials, please visit www.bridgehavencounseling.org/events.

Click Here To Begin Evaluation

This seminar is part of a series of “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage” seminars that also includes:

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

Online Gospel-Centered Marriage Evaluation: Healthy Expectations

This evaluation is meant to correlate with chapters one and two of the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations” seminar. For the next live presentation of this and similar materials, please visit www.bridgehavencounseling.org/events.

Click Here To Begin Evaluation 

This seminar is part of a series of “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage” seminars that also includes:

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.