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Posts tagged ‘Being other-centered’

How to Turn Your Pain into Something Positive

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Can pain ever be good?

That’s a fair question, but mostly an intellectual one to me, until recently. You see I’ve been blessed with good health and without much physical pain for most of my life. But a recent injury put me in a season of constant and intense back pain. For quite a while, I was getting just a few hours of sleep a night, sometimes feeling lost in an emotional fog. Even though it’s been a painful setback, it’s got me thinking about the importance of pain, and asking some big questions:

What will I do with my pain? How can I turn my pain into something positive?

Whether pain is physical or emotional, it can be used for good, to make a positive impact on others.

As I wrote about in my book, All Pro Dad, here are a few ways that pain can be used for something good and positive:

Pain can bring clarity to what is most important in life.

Yes, pain can create an emotional fog and make it hard to think straight. But it can also force you to an off-ramp in life for a while that can help you take stock of your priorities. As I’ve been working through the pain and fog, I’m also finding some clarity on things that are important in my life. It’s been a good time to take stock of my usage of time and resources to ensure I’m being a good steward of what’s been entrusted to me and my family.

Pain can be a bonding agent in relationships.

Pain allows you to identify with another person who is going through something very similar. Empathy is an important character trait of a loving leader. When you empathize with others, you experience similar feelings, thoughts, and emotions and then take action based on what you’ve experienced to meet the needs of others. It’s often the things we have in common that create or deepen our bonds.

Pain can change your trajectory.

Past pain can motivate us to look outward instead of just inward. Sometimes pain is paralyzing, and we get very self-focused as we deal with it. But as we do, pain (especially relational pain) can eventually help us to see the need to work towards helping others. Maybe it’s breaking a cycle of dysfunction or brokenness in a family tree that we’ve experienced, or picking up the pieces from an addiction we’ve battled that has hurt more than just ourselves. Eventually, we face a choice: stay focused on self or be motivated to help others.

Pain can give us credibility and opportunity to help others.

When we have endured pain we’ve never experienced before, we have the power of empathizing with others going through the same pain, not just those suffering in general. As a result, others are aware that we know what they are going through and will listen to what we have to say, perhaps even more so than others who try to speak into their lives but haven’t shared the same pain.

Pain can give us a future message of hope to others.

As we deal with the pains of our past or present, God gives us hope and healing that can become a very meaningful message to others. The pain can become a purpose for our voice as well as the message of hope our voice proclaims to the world.

Marriage: Don’t Fix — Feel

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

3 A’s of Empathy in Marriage

Sometimes, my wife, Susan, doesn’t need or want me to do things for her or fix things for her. Sometimes she’d rather I just feel things with her. That’s what empathy is all about. Empathy deepens a marriage through a shared understanding, perspective, or experience. I realized the importance of empathy from, of all places, an NFL coach.

As I shared in my book All Pro Dad, Coach Jim Caldwell, at the time with the Indianapolis Colts, once shared with me what he considers to be two critical components of leadership. The first one, expertise, didn’t surprise me. But the second one did: empathy.

Applying it to parenting, he said to me, “You must have empathy in both parenting and coaching. Whether it’s one of my players or one of my children, as a leader, I have to be able to put myself in their shoes. Being a coach has made me a better parent and being a parent made me a better coach. Having kids taught me how to empathize with others.”

Through the years, as I’ve thought about Coach Caldwell’s words, I’ve become absolutely convinced that he’s right…and that it applies to marriage as well. Empathy involves both the head and the heart. If you recognize the need to better empathize with your spouse, consider these three A’s to feel empathy:

  • Awareness — Be aware of what your spouse is feeling and what’s behind that feeling.
  • Agenda — Set aside your own agenda and focus on the needs of your spouse.
  • Action — Take action on meeting the needs of your spouse.

Let’s unpack each one of those a bit more.

Awareness. Being more aware of your spouse’s feelings starts with being observant around them. You can’t read their mind or heart, so you have to observe and ask and listen.

  • Read your spouse’s nonverbal cues, like their facial expressions.
  • Avoid making assumptions that whatever emotional struggles your spouse has are all about you. It could be they’re upset about something at work or the kids. When you assume the worst, you sometimes bring out the worst in your spouse.

Agenda. This is about being selfless instead of selfish. It’s about putting your spouse’s needs before your own.

  • Deprioritize your plans. If your spouse is struggling and you have plans, making their needs a higher priority speaks volumes to them. You can’t be selfish and empathetic at the same time.
  • Resist the urge to fix things. Sometimes your spouse needs to hear you say, “I love you and I care about you” more than a game plan for how to make their life better.
  • Set aside your agenda even if it’s inconvenient. I remember having my Saturday all planned out and thought it would go just as planned. So, when Susan wanted to share how she was feeling with me, I got frustrated and let her know that she infringed on my plans. I learned very quickly that my reaction was not only selfish but also didn’t do much to build intimacy in our relationship.
  • Hold your schedule loosely. Being late to church, a kid’s practice, or a dinner reservation may be a small price to pay to really connect with your spouse. If you choose your schedule over your spouse, you might bulldoze your spouse’s heart in the process.

Action. Find something you can do for your spouse that shows that they are your priority and that you understand them.

  • As the saying goes, Actions speak louder than words. There are certain things we can do that tend to be especially effective at filling the chambers of a wife’s or husband’s heart.
  • Actions speak louder than words, but attitudes speak louder than actions. Whatever you do for your spouse, do it with a cheerful attitude.
  • Do things with pure motives. If I see Susan heading into a jam-packed week and I say, “Hey, let me go the store or do laundry for you,” but I did it to get something in return, that’s not loving well.

Relationships: Are You a “S-O-G”?

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

Why Scare My Wife?

Corlette and I have very different depth perception. A car that I see as being a hundred feet away she sees as being a hundred inches away.

So when I’d make a left turn with a car coming towards us in the opposite lane, she would tense up, grab the door handle, and jam her foot against the floor as if there was a second brake pedal on her side of the car.

Her apparent lack of trust irritated me, so once we’d made the turn, I’d sigh loudly and say, “See, we had plenty of room” … which did nothing to diminish her sense of near disaster or reduce the adrenaline that had sent her heart racing.

Frankly, it didn’t do much for our relationship either.

All of this changed when the Lord prompted me to evaluate my behavior through the three lenses of relational wisdom: Self-awareness, Other-awareness, God-awareness (aka, the SOG plan).

As I thought about Corlette’s reaction, I realized that this was not a matter of trust; she was truly frightened by my driving. It wasn’t something she chose to feel. When I turned in front of an oncoming car, her brain simply processed the data in such a way that she was genuinely convinced we were in danger … thus the rush of adrenaline and reflex pumping on a nonexistent brake.

Although it was not premeditated, I finally saw that I was repeatedly subjecting Corlette to unnecessary fear.

This realization forced me to take an honest look at my own heart. Why, to save a mere six seconds of time, would I knowingly scare my wife?

The answer to that question was not pleasant to face. I was guilty of insensitivity, a lack of empathy, pride, selfishness … in short, a recurring failure to love.

Finally, I had to ask myself how God viewed my behavior. It took only a moment to realize I was not pleasing him. The Bible contains clear instructions on how to treat people in general and my wife in particular, all of which I’d been sinfully ignoring. For example …

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Rom. 14:21).

“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:24).

“I try to please everybody in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many” (1 Cor. 10:33).

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

“Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor …” (1 Pet. 3:7).

As I reflected on these verses, I realized that I had not been looking out for Corlette’s interest to feel safe. I was not giving up my driving preferences for hers. And I was certainly not living with her in an understanding way.

I finally saw that this wasn’t some small difference of opinion between her and me. It was a matter of me sinning against God. It was time for repentance.

So the next time we were driving together and I needed to make a left turn with a car coming toward us, I waited … and waited … and waited. By the time the car passed and I actually turned, it was obvious to Corlette that there had been plenty of time to turn ahead of the other vehicle.

Realizing I’d waited in deference to her, she reached over and gently touched my arm. With a warm smile and pleasant voice, she said, “Thank you. That was very thoughtful of you.”

Instead of the mutual irritation such turns had previously caused, I felt a wave of affection and thankfulness from my wife and for my wife …

Which moved me to ask myself, “Why did it take so long to realize that such a simple gesture would bless her so much?”

How about you?

Have you been ignoring ways that you scare, frustrate or disappoint another person?

Have you been oblivious to ways you could comfort, encourage, or support someone else?

One way to overcome such blind spots is to simply look at your relationships through the three lenses of relational wisdom: self-awareness, other-awareness, God-awareness.

Like me, you may find that major improvements come from very small changes … like waiting just six seconds to make a left hand turn.

Marriage: 50/50 OR 100/100?

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Family Life/Dave Boehi

The Futility of the 50/50 Plan

Don’t you hate it when you see a couple arguing in public?

Recently I was sitting at my gate in an airport, waiting to board a plane. Nearby was a young couple with a baby, and observing them was like watching someone open a can of Coke after shaking it for 30 seconds. I knew what was about to happen, and I wanted to duck for cover.

They were frazzled and frustrated. Each wanted to relax and let the other person take care of a cranky baby and a pile of carry-on items. The husband appeared to be one of those men who gets angry whenever things don’t go as he wishes.

As they walked down the ramp to the plane, the wife received a phone call. She wanted her husband to hold the baby while she talked, and he exploded. “I’ve been taking care of her all day long!” he complained (loudly). “You’re always on the phone.”

“You’ve hardly helped at all,” she replied. “And you’re never on the phone yourself?”

It went on from there, all the way down the ramp. I wondered how they treated each other behind closed doors if they acted like this in public.

Fortunately they calmed down on the plane, thanks to the intervention of a saintly flight attendant who showered them with attention and encouragement. She did everything she could to make the flight pleasant for them, and that seemed to relieve the pressure.

It appeared that this couple had no clue about how to resolve conflict in their relationship. But I found myself thinking about an underlying cause of their conflict: They seemed to be operating under the common worldly pattern of marriage—the “50/50 Plan.” She felt she was doing her part in raising their daughter, and her husband was not doing enough. He seemed to feel the same about her.

The 50/50 Plan is based on performance. Typically, couples work out some sort of agreement about how they’ll divide family responsibilities and household duties, declaring, “You do your part, and I’ll do mine.” Acceptance and affection is often tied to how well each spouse does his or her part. As Dennis Rainey writes in Starting Your Marriage Right, “Performance becomes the glue that holds the relationship together, but it isn’t really glue at all. It’s more like Velcro. It seems to stick, but it comes apart when a little pressure is applied.”

On the surface, the 50/50 Plan sounds reasonable—why shouldn’t both spouses pledge to do their part? But in the end, it won’t work, for a number of reasons:

  • You can never meet all of your spouse’s expectations.
  • Inevitably you focus on your spouse’s weaknesses and failures and lose sight of your own.
  • It’s impossible to know when your spouse has met you halfway.

The truth is that both spouses in a marriage are sinful, flawed human beings, and both want their own way. As Rainey continues:

What a marriage needs is the super glue of Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” It’s what we refer to as the 100/100 Plan, which requires a 100 percent effort from each of you to serve your spouse.

The Bible describes this plan well in Matthew 22:39: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There’s no closer neighbor than the one you wake up to each morning! And since most of us love ourselves passionately, we are well on the way to implementing the 100/100 Plan if we take a similar approach to loving our spouses.

Start by stating the 100/100 Plan like this: “I will do what I can to love you without demanding an equal amount in return.”

With the 100/100 Plan, both husband and wife are willing to step in and do all the work. At home, both are willing to get the chores done. At the airport, both are willing to care for a fussy baby.

The 100/100 Plan allows for the inevitable trials and difficulties that any couple will encounter during the different seasons of life. It keeps a family going when one spouse is sick or injured, or working odd hours, and is therefore unable to contribute as much. It allows for the richness of a relationship in which each spouse complements the other because of differing strengths, personalities, and abilities.

In short, it’s the plan that provides the best picture of a biblical marriage.

Manipulative Double Messages

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

One of the most effective ways to undermine a relationship is to use double-messages to manipulate other people.

This all-too-common process was perfectly illustrated in a recent edition of Baby Blues, one of my favorite cartoon strips.

Double Message

Wanda has clearly mastered the art of “control without coercion.” By saying “It’s fine,” she gives the appearance of being reasonable. But she long ago loaded those words with another meaning: “Go if you want to, but later on you’ll pay the price of a cold and irritable wife.”

As the last frame shows, both her husband and his friend know exactly what her words really mean … and they give up their plans to avoid a conflict.

I’m embarrassed to think of how many times I’ve used these kinds of double-messages to manipulate people in my life, especially my wife.

I’m good at saying words that sound right on the surface, but it’s all too easy to add a subtle tone of voice or facial expression that sends a contradictory message … one designed to bend others to my will without overtly exposing my selfishness.

How about you? Is this something you do as well? If you don’t think so, ask the people closest to you for their honest opinion.

If this is a habit in your life, there are three things you can do to overcome it.

First, confess it to God, as well as the people you’ve manipulated, and ask those closest to you to bring it to your attention whenever you do this again.

Second, pray that God would press ahead with his promise to conform you to the likeness of Christ by giving you an active hatred for this sin and by replacing your desire to control others with a genuine joy for serving and encouraging them (Rom. 8:29; 2Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:22-24).

Third, develop the habit of intentionally using all of the means of communication God has built into you (words, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language) to send honest and congruent messages to those around you, especially when they might have some doubts as to your real intentions.

Had Wanda done this when her husband wanted to play ball with his friends, she would have first needed to go through a quick internal examination and adjustment of her own heart:

“I’m feeling disappointed and irritated. Why? I was really hoping Darryl would spend the morning shopping with me. But that’s selfish; it’s all about me. He’s been working really hard lately, and I know he doesn’t enjoy shopping. It would be good for him to get some exercise and have fun with his friends. Since I’ve punished him in the past for not following my plans, I need to make an extra effort to assure him that I really want him to go with Mike.”

Then she would have turned to her husband with a genuine smile, and with a warm and encouraging tone of voice said,

“I always enjoy it when you go shopping with me, but today I think it would be great if you had some time with your buddies. You’ve been working really hard lately, and I’d love to know you’re doing something you enjoy. I’ll have some ice packs and a cold drink waiting for you when you get home and look forward to hearing about all you great shots!”

An affectionate kiss would be a nice reinforcement.

These simple applications of the READ and SERVE principles would have blessed her husband, added a big deposit to their “relational capital account,” and set a positive example for their daughter, who (as you can see in each frame of the cartoon) is carefully listening to … and learning from … every word her parents speak.

May God give both me and you grace to renounce manipulative double-messages and use our words only to bless the people around us–even if it means giving them freedom to shoot hoops instead of going shopping … or vice versa!

Six Lessons in Good Listening

SOURCE:  Desiring God/David Mathis

Listening is one of the easiest things you’ll ever do, and one of the hardest.

In a sense, listening is easy — or hearing is easy. It doesn’t demand the initiative and energy required in speaking. That’s why “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The point is that hearing is easy, and faith is not an expression of our activity, but our receiving the activity of another. It is “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2, 5) that accents the achievements of Christ and thus is the channel of grace that starts and sustains the Christian life.

But despite this ease — or perhaps precisely because of it — we often fight against it. In our sin, we’d rather trust in ourselves than another, amass our own righteousness than receive another’s, speak our thoughts rather than listen to someone else. True, sustained, active listening is a great act of faith, and a great means of grace, both for ourselves and for others in the fellowship.

Lessons in Good Listening

The charter text for Christian listening might be James 1:19: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” It’s simple enough in principle, and nearly impossible to live. Too often we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. So learning to listen well won’t happen overnight. It requires discipline, effort, and intentionality. You get better with time, they say. Becoming a better listener hangs not on one big resolve to do better in a single conversation, but on developing a pattern of little resolves to focus in on particular people in specific moments.

Freshly persuaded this is a needed area of growth in my life — and possibly yours as well — here are six lessons in good listening. We take our cues from what may be the most important three paragraphs on listening outside the Bible, the section on “the ministry of listening” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, as well as Janet Dunn’s classic Discipleship Journal article, “How to Become a Good Listener.”

1. Good listening requires patience.

Here Bonhoeffer gives us something to avoid: “a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say.” This, he says, “is an impatient, inattentive listening, that . . . is only waiting for a chance to speak.” Perhaps we think we know where the speaker is going, and so already begin formulating our response. Or we were in the middle of something when someone started talking to us, or have another commitment approaching, and we wish they were done already.

Or maybe we’re half-eared because our attention is divided, by our external surroundings or our internal rebounding to self. As Dunn laments, “Unfortunately, many of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy either deciding what to say in response or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view.”

Positively, then, good listening requires concentration and means we’re in with both ears, and that we hear the other person out till they’re done speaking. Rarely will the speaker begin with what’s most important, and deepest. We need to hear the whole train of thought, all the way to the caboose, before starting across the tracks.

Good listening silences the smartphone and doesn’t stop the story, but is attentive and patient. Externally relaxed and internally active. It takes energy to block out the distractions that keep bombarding us, and the peripheral things that keep streaming into our consciousness, and the many good possibilities we can spin out for interrupting. When we are people quick to speak, it takes Spirit-powered patience to not only be quick to hear, but to keep on hearing.

2. Good listening is an act of love.

Half-eared listening, says Bonheoffer, “despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” Poor listening rejects, good listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person, while good listening invites them to exist, and to matter. Bonhoeffer writes, “Just as love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Good listening goes hand in hand with the mindset of Christ (Philippians 2:5). It flows from a humble heart that counts others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It looks not only to its own interests, but also the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). It is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4).

3. Good listening asks perceptive questions.

This counsel is writ large in the Proverbs. It is the fool who “takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in exercising his opinions” (Proverbs 18:2), and thus “gives an answer before he hears” (Proverbs 18:13). “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,” says Proverbs 20:5, “but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

Good listening asks perceptive, open-ended questions, that don’t tee up yes-no answers, but gently peel the onion and probe beneath the surface. It watches carefully for non-verbal communication, but doesn’t interrogate and pry into details the speaker doesn’t want to share, but meekly draws them out and helps point the speaker to fresh perspectives through careful, but genuine, questions.

4. Good listening is ministry.

According to Bonhoeffer, there are many times when “listening can be a greater service than speaking.” God wants more of the Christian than just our good listening, but not less. There will be days when the most important ministry we do is square our shoulders to some hurting person, uncross our arms, lean forward, make eye contact, and hear their pain all the way to the bottom. Says Dunn,

good listening often defuses the emotions that are a part of the problem being discussed. Sometimes releasing these emotions is all that is needed to solve the problem. The speaker may neither want nor expect us to say anything in response.

One of Dunn’s counsels for cultivating good listening is: “put more emphasis on affirmation than on answers. . . . [M]any times God simply wants to use me as a channel of his affirming love as I listen with compassion and understanding.” Echoes Bonhoeffer, “Often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously.” At times what our neighbor needs most is for someone else to know.

5. Good listening prepares us to speak well.

Sometimes good listening only listens, and ministers best by keeping quiet, but typically good listening readies us to minister words of grace to precisely the place where the other is in need. As Bonhoeffer writes, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

While the fool “gives an answer before he hears” (Proverbs 18:13), the wise person tries to resist defensiveness, and to listen from a non-judgmental stance, training himself not to formulate opinions or responses until the full update is on the table and the whole story has been heard.

6. Good listening reflects our relationship with God.

Our inability to listen well to others may be symptomatic of a chatty spirit that is droning out the voice of God. Bonhoeffer warns,

He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life . . . . Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

Good listening is a great means of grace in the dynamic of true Christian fellowship. Not only is it a channel through which God continues to pour his grace into our lives, but it’s also his way of using us as his means of grace in the lives of others. It may be one of the hardest things we learn to do, but we will find it worth every ounce of effort.

Marriage Isn’t For You

SOURCE:  Seth Adam Smith

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.  Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided we no longer wanted to be just friends. 🙂 I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s “Walmart philosophy”, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and anguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.

Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.

 

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