married at first sight & back to school photos

One of my favourite times on the Facebook calendar is back to school week. My newsfeed is flooded with naaawwww-worthy photos of ‘firsts’. First days of school (massive backpacks on little legs and hiding under seemingly enormous sun hats; school dresses triple hemmed and ‘shorts’ that reach down to mid-calf), first days in a new year level or a new school. Last first days for those at the other end of their schooling. Some show the side by side photos of the changes made across the years – tracking the inevitable growth and accompanying differences. Moving from teary hugs and farewells at the classroom door to the increasing independence that sees a child walking or riding off on their own or with friends.

I love it! It marks a new season, acknowledges the passing of another year, signifies for the family yet another shift in life stage and rhythm and celebrates the success and potential of movement through education and other life markers. And it’s pretty stinkin’ adorable, too.

Running parallel with that this year, was the start of another season of Chanel 9’s super successful ‘reality’ show, Married at First Sight. “Successful” in terms of its ratings, not in regards to its success in bringing couples together who actually stay together. It’s a psychological and relational train wreck that produces fascinating television viewing and boosts the social profile of those who participate (surely that’s part of their purpose for being there, right?). But it also highlights underlying cultural and personal expectations that the narrative of a ‘normal’ or ‘fulfilling’ life is centred around finding your soul mate and living in marital bliss.

In the lead up to the show’s airing, one participant, Sarah, recorded a sound byte that played on repeat,

“I’m 38 years old and I have nothing to show for my life.”

As she looks at her life and she applies the known methods for measuring it, she finds herself with nothing to show for it. This comment (and the fears and feelings that framed it) represent her justification for applying for the show. She’s 38, she’s not married and has no children – time is a’wasting! It’s time to employ emergency measures!

At a cursory glance, this comment is dismissible as untrue. Without knowing anything much about her we could readily identify things she might have to ‘show’ for herself. Lives invested in, experiences she gathered, career and other successes she’s enjoyed. But I think we need to listen to what she’s saying. To lean in a little more and seek to understand more fully what her comment is echoing of a message society sends (in both subtle and more overt ways) of how a life should be measured and celebrated. And particularly how that translates for a Single and/or childless person.

For those who are married, each anniversary is an opportunity to reflect with gratitude and celebrate the achievement. High five, us! We made it through another year! Social media gives opportunity to publicly affirm one’s spouse and for the couple’s community to congratulate and encourage them.

For parents, milestone days – the birth of children, firsts of all kinds, ‘before & after’ pictures denoting achievements, changes and growth, performances and of course, birthdays, engagements and weddings – all bring opportunity to gather friends and family (in real life or online spaces) to again, celebrate, and encourage. To reflect on the journey till now; to dream and plan together for the future.

To use Sarah’s language, these are many of the things you have to “show” for the years you have lived, the transitions you’ve navigated and the impact you’ve made on the earth. These are the things publicly celebrated. They are acceptable, anticipated and even requested opportunities to share with others the rewards of the labours of time, money, energy, expertise and sacrifices of all kinds that bring about these moments.

So, if you are not married and don’t have children – how does your life’s journey get marked and acknowledged? In what moments are the community of a Single person called to gather to celebrate, publicly affirm and encourage, to invest advice and energy, to reflect growth and change, to honour success and draw others in?

Commonly, Singles report that attempts to share moments of celebration, difference or success are often perceived as self-absorbed or self-promoting (“why are you making such a big deal about your birthday?!“) or met with jealousy (“I wish I were Single so I could travel more!“).

The success stories told usually include friends, colleagues or family stepping in to facilitate those celebrations and affirmations. My friend Nancy is a champion at this! She enthusiastically and creatively celebrates the birthdays, new jobs, buying a home, graduations, return from holidays and moving days of her Single friends to ensure they’re well marked. And to draw his or her community into expressions of encouragement and celebration.

Think about the people in your world (specifically but not exclusively Singles and/or childless). How can we act to ensure they know what they ‘have to show’ for the life they’re living? What moments of reflection, celebration, affirmation and gathering can we be part of facilitating?

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lessons from driving | do you beep your horn?

The last time I beeped my car horn (other than the friendly little beeps to stop someone from reversing into you) was about 3 months after I got my licence. 

I was 18 years old and driving with my Dad to the local shops. A car was doing dumb things in the carpark – who knows what – they were in my way and not indicating any plans to get out of it. So I beeped. 

My dad told me off. I tried to defend myself with the usual stuff about the other driver being irresponsible or inconsiderate or incompetent. But he pushed back by asking, “but what will it do for them?”

Well, of course my hope was that it would reveal to them the error of their ways and lead them to be a more diligent, thoughtful driver in future. But even as I said it, the unlikelihood of that happening became clear. 

He said I would just make them angry, defensive, frustrated or stressed. And what is that going to mean for them? For the way they’ll drive out of here? For the attitude they’ll take into the rest of their day? For how they’ll drive or speak to their kids or act on the sporting field or speak to the sales assistant? 

Good questions right?

So, I have never beeped in aggression or frustration since.

That resolve was added to by the fact that when people beep at me in traffic I have been known to cry – like actually. I would never drive to be intentionally annoying and so I feel like they’ve misunderstood what I was doing – I want to pull over and explain myself to them. Or I have made an honest mistake and I am traumatised to have made someone mad. I need a lighted sign that says “sorry” so I can switch it on as they drive past.  

My resolve has been further added to as I’ve observed the high level of stress and aggression on the road (manifested in unbelievable and terrifying stories of road rage related violence) and the speed at which people can be prompted to frustration or anger. There appears to be a lot of people who live very near the edge of ignition and only need the smallest spark to erupt in flames. 

Ultimately, beeping at someone is unlikely to do anything positive. While it might satisfy my self-righteousness temporarily it hasn’t really contributed anything good to others or brought any real positive change to the world. 

How about you? Are you a beeper? To quote Dr Phil – “How’s that working for you?” 

becoming more patient | #1 a big picture perspective 

On the scale of zero to ‘please don’t make me wait for anything, ever’ – how patient are you? How patient would others say you are?

Patience is defined as

the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious

Waiting is not patience. Patience is about how you wait. Experiencing delays, problems and suffering doesn’t mean you’re a patient person – because we all experience those – the attitude with which you journey them is the determiner of patience. Doing things for a long time doesn’t mean you’re patient – it just means you’ve done things for a long time! Doing things without becoming annoyed or anxious is the key characteristic of patience. Our attitude, our grace, our tolerance, our peace and calm, our lack of reactivity, our persistence – these are all indicators of our degree of patience.

Relationships are where, simultaneously, our patience can be so profoundly tested and also where our patience is so intensely required. Impatient people make for unpleasant work colleagues, parents, partners and friends. Impatience expressed through frustration, snappiness, aggression, huffing and puffing or irritating repetitiveness (‘are we there yet?’) are killers of healthy relationships.

We all need to become more patient for our relationships to be positive and enjoyable.

As a quick thinker, speaker, mover, responder and decider, I constantly wrestle with impatience. I want everyone to move at my pace and sometimes do poorly at managing the lag time between when I get something and when others do … seriously, hurry up already!!!

TIP #1 – WE NEED A BIG PICTURE PERSPECTIVE! 

Often our impatience comes from being way too caught up in the moment to understand its significance (or lack of) in the big picture.

Like aggressively racing around someone in traffic only to be stopped beside the same car at the next traffic light. In the big picture of a trip to work, that car going a bit slower isn’t actually going to make us late. But our frustration in the moment can cause us to act irrationally or become unnecessarily emotional (and potentially make unsafe choices).

When children are learning to tie their shoe laces parents or teachers can become frustrated by the need to do it – ‘when are you going to get this yourself!?’. But there aren’t many adults who still need their parents or work mates to tie their shoes. They do get it. Keeping that in mind helps us to be more tolerant in the moment. This won’t be forever – even if it feels like it will.

So much of our intolerance and impatience is related to growth. We want others to get what we get; to know what we know and think like we think and respond like we do. But, often, they don’t have the same knowledge, wisdom, emotional maturity, life experience, perspective or skills and so are unable to respond the same way we would until they do.

When we zoom out our focus to see the big picture it grows our empathy and changes how we gauge others’ actions. Keeping the end in mind can drastically increase our grace, compassion and understanding in the now.

What do you think? How would keeping the big picture in mind shift your ability to be more tolerant and patient in your relationships?

AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU – #4 Grow in Forgiveness

Have you ever had someone hold a grudge against you? A family member or a friend? You said or did something wrong … maybe recently but maybe ages ago … and they just won’t move on or let it go – they seem determined to hold it against you.

It hurts, doesn’t it?

And even if it’s got to the point where it doesn’t hurt anymore, it’s probably at the expense of the relationship – because relationships can’t function where unforgiveness and bitterness and resentment are active. Continue reading

AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU – #3 Grow in Understanding

I spend a lot of time thinking, reading, learning and writing about relationships because I find that most of my own personal challenges manifest themselves in that space but also the majority of the kinds of things I find myself talking to others about come back to the area of relationships too. Whether I’m speaking to children or parents about family conflict or frustration or people who are struggling to connect well with others in their ministry teams or people having difficulties at work or school – I find myself constantly needing to process with people a greater understanding about themselves and then about others.

Prov 4:7 Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you get, get understanding.

Other translations say, “though it cost all you have, get understanding/insight”.

I can’t even number the times I’ve made bad calls or responded inappropriately because I haven’t fully understood where another person is coming from – what their motives or intent are, what information they did or didn’t have, what other factors are influencing their behaviour or choices. I, like you I suspect, can be quick to assess and quick to judge because I automatically think that they know everything I know – in which case, there’s no excuse for their behaviour. It happens too often – hopefully less often – but too often.

Likewise, I could write pages about the number of times I’ve been misunderstood and judged accordingly – and critically. Whether a motive of mine has been questioned or I was saying something in jest and it was taken seriously or someone thought I did something that I didn’t … and then I’ve had to receive the hurtful rejection or criticism … and it’s hard!

Relationships take a beating when people don’t take the time to understand or have the grace to give others a chance to explain.

“Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.” Never let your decisions – particularly of the negative kind – be made on the basis of presumptions and assumptions. Do whatever it takes to understand fully so any response or reaction is based on truth.

  • START at “I don’t understand” – don’t finish there!

When you come to that place in an interaction that you exclaim (or even just think) “I just don’t understand you!” you have arrived at a great place to START to really work on that relationship. When we acknowledge that we don’t understand we are best positioned to clarify misunderstanding and misalignments. “I don’t understand” is the gateway to “help me understand” which is the key to unlocking all sorts of wonderfully healthy things needed for your relationships to flourish.

  • Choose to fill the “gap” with TRUST.

At our Kids Min Team Retreat I made a commitment to my team that I would always seek to fill the gap of understanding with trust. That when I don’t know why they did or didn’t do something, or when I hear something about what they’ve said or done, or there’s a chance for disappointment in an unfulfilled expectation … I would presume the best until I knew otherwise. I committed to trust that whatever I didn’t know or understand would be enough to have me not need to react … so I will wait.

It’s really hard to do – but it’s really worth it. It can save us a whole lot of unnecessary hurt and set us up in the right position to move forward in our relationships.

As far as it depends on you … how much energy do you invest into understanding others? What would it look like if you were to let “I don’t understand” be the starting point for relational interactions? How might things change if you were to fill any gaps in your understanding with trustinstead of suspicion, doubt or judgement?

#1 As Far as it Depends on You (read now)
#2 Grow in God’s Love (read now)
#3 Grow in Understanding
#4 Grow in Forgiveness (read now)
#5 Grow in Humility (read now)
#6 Grow in Persistence (read now)

AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU #2 Grow in GOD’S LOVE

When it comes to relationships, to loving other people, you can’t give what you don’t have.

If you’re finding people hard to love and you’re finding relationships are difficult to manage … maybe part of that is that you don’t fully get what love is all about. Maybe it’s because you don’t have a lot of experienceobserving or receiving real love in action? Maybe we don’t fully ‘get’ GOD’S love? The more you understand of God’s love towards you and others, the more that fills you up and overwhelms you, the more that will overflow from you.

You can’t give what you don’t have.

In Luke 15 we see an incredible snapshot of what God’s love looks like. Jesus tells three stories. Firstly the one about the lost sheep – you know, where the shepherd who has 100 sheep notices one missing and leaves the 99 to go searching for it … and then He tells the story of the woman who loses one coin of the ten she had and virtually turns her house upside down to find it … and then there’s the story of the prodigal son or the patient father – who waits patiently and hopefully for his wayward child to return.

All three of those stories end the same way … they end with a celebration!!! Each of them calls their friends and neighbours and says “Rejoice with me!! Something that was important to me was lost and now it’s not!”

Jesus uses that context to tell us that Heaven throws a party when one of us who was lost is found. ALL of Heaven throws a party when one person who is far from God turns back towards Him. Just for one! God loved the world (and the one) SO much, that He sent His only Son to pay the price required to restore us to Himself (John 3:16) – translation – God loved you enough to sacrifice His own Son so that He could have relationship with you! YOU matter to God. And, from the stories Jesus told we can see that in God’s economy PEOPLE MATTER – every one matters … every single one gets a party! Everyone who has wandered off is noticed and missed, everyone who is lost gets searched for, everyone who returns is welcomed and embraced … every ONE matters to God.

And that means YOU and it means ME and it means everyone that we meet – incidentally as we go about life or those that we DO life more closely with … everyone matters to God! If we are able to view people through that lens it will change how WE love, it will change how we do relationships. How we understand God’s love for us and for others changes how we love and connect with other people.

As far as it depends on you … do you LOVE deeply, selflessly, passionately, committedly? Does the way you love look like God’s love? Does the way you love other people reflect how much they matter to Him?

#1 As Far as it Depends on You (read now)
#2 Grow in God’s Love
#3 Grow in Understanding (read now)
#4 Grow in Forgiveness (read now)
#5 Grow in Humility (read now)
#6 Grow in Persistence (read now)

AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU #1

I’m a little addicted to Pinterest. Just a little. Some of you will relate. It’s a veritable treasure trove of creative ideas and handy hints and a reliable source of inspiration for almost every project, storage conundrum or DIY task you could encounter. “3 ways to do that”, “5 things you didn’t know about this”, “74 games to play with one balloon”, “how to remove any number of stains from your clothes, carpet, couch or cat” … you name it!

Pinterest boasts over 70 million active users and I would posit that its success is found in the fact that it taps into people’s general desire to “get better”; to “move forward”. To always be growing and improving, becoming more proficient at what we already do or to learn something new.

We’re always investing time in learning. We read books, magazines and blogs, we watch things on TV, we talk to people with more knowledge or expertise, we go to classes or buy the latest tools and gadgets. We are constantly looking for ways to be more efficient or effective – in our work place, in our sheds and workshops, in our homes … to save time and money, to get better results.

Imagine if we were to invest that kind of energy and effort into our relationships – into loving people BETTER! Imagine! Imagine if we took classes in how to do relationships or read books on the topic. Imagine if you had groups that got together JUST to discover how to be better at communicating or conflict resolution or understanding people in your life. Imagine!

The resulting transformation in our relationships, our families, our communities … our world … would be immeasurable!

In John 13:35 Jesus says that our love for one another will prove that we are His. The testimony of loving, healthy relationships will show that we are Jesus’ disciples because when we love we look most like Him. And when we love like Him we show a hurting, broken, needy world a way of living and doing relationship that is different to anything they could experience apart from Him.

I know what you’re thinking – and I tend to agree – all of your relationships would be so much better if “they” were better at loving! How many people do you know who could benefit from some good up-skilling in their relationship-doing!? There are so many people who really need to get better at communicating, serving, listening, anticipating, obeying, apologising (& forgiving), remembering, submitting … you know what I mean! They really should read this article. You should forward it to them!

Romans 12:18 says, “…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

As far as it depends on you! And by ‘you’ we can gather Paul is talking more to ‘me’ than to ‘them’. As far as it depends on ME, live at peace with everyone.

What would it look like for you to do everything that is possible to make all of your relationship better? To take full responsibility for everything that ‘depends on you’ – your attitude, your pride, your responses, your language, your tone, your generosity, your sacrifice, your effort.

In the next 5 blogs we’ll look at specific ways we can grow and increase our capacity to love others. But it starts with embracing this idea first: at least SOME of the relational conflict, tension or disappointment you experience ‘depends on you’. Not all, but probably some – and probably more than we would care to acknowledge.

#1 As Far as it Depends on You
#2 Grow in God’s Love (read now)
#3 Grow in Understanding (read now)
#4 Grow in Forgiveness (read now)
#5 Grow in Humility (read now)
#6 Grow in Persistence (read now)

Understanding Others #4 – “Help Me Understand”

In our quest to better understand one another an awareness of temperaments and personality types is a useful tool (you can read about them more here). None of these diagnostic instruments can DEFINE you and aren’t intended to PIGEON HOLE you but they can give us great insight into ourselves and one another. We can learn more about the kind of environments where some people will thrive and where others would be completely overwhelmed. We can appreciate that people will engage differently in social situations, that they will be motivated to action in diverse ways and that the way they communicate (talk, listen, respond or react) will be unique to their way of perceiving and receiving information and interpersonal nuances.

As I’ve previously mentioned, understanding firstly myself and then others in this way has been transformational – to my self-acceptance and appreciation, to all of my relationships, to the way I lead and teach, to the way I counsel others, to the way I give instructions and feedback … to virtually every area of my life that involves any kind of interaction with other people.

I’m sure you’ve all reached that point in an interaction with another person (or even an observance of them from afar) where you exclaim “I just don’t understand you!” – either out loud or just to yourself.

“I don’t understand why you would / wouldn’t do that!”

“I don’t understand how you can react that way.”

“I don’t understand why you made that decision.”

“I don’t understand how you so completely misunderstood me!”

“I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

“I don’t understand where you’re coming from.”

“I don’t understand why this matters so much to you.”

“I don’t understand … I’m sure you can fill in this gap yourself…”

Whilst for the most part, this indicates that we’ve come to the end – we’re exhausted, we’re overwhelmed, we’re sick of it: “I don’t understand…” can actually be a very empowering place to find ourselves if we let it be.

“I don’t understand …” is the gateway to “Help me understand” which is the key to unlocking a whole new level of interacting and an entirely different dimension to your relationships.

Solomon says, “though it cost you all you have; get understanding” and the reality is it might only cost you the time to say, “Help me understand.” It really isn’t that high a price to pay for the significant relational improvement that could happen as a result.

When we say “help me understand” we demonstrate that we place a high value on the relationship. When we say “help me understand” we are giving the other person an opportunity to explain themselves to US but also to understand themselves some more as they do. When we say “help me understand” we are giving ourselves tools for better interactions next time, for avoiding coming back to the same old place (y’know … the same old place!) for establishing a new way of tackling an old topic. When we say “help me understand” we are demonstrating a level of grace and submission that are necessary for healthy and helpful human interactions.

Try it out for yourself! Next time you find yourself frustrated, confused, angered or despondent over another person’s attitudes, action or speech; next time you’re in the middle of one of those circular arguments that inevitably escalate; next time you feel the disappointment of another person toward you or fear that you’ve ‘done something wrong’ … try these three words.

“Help me understand.”

More in this series
Understanding Others #1
Understanding Others #2
Understanding Others #3

Understanding Others #3

In her book “Personality Plus” Florence Littauer outlines generalised descriptions of four personality types. She gives a diagnostic tool that you can use to determine which of these you are most like but you may be able to identify yourself in one of these categories purely on the following brief descriptions.

POPULAR SANGUINE

Pros – The Sanguine is the outgoing personality, life of the party, entertaining, engaging, fun and spontaneous. They are exciting to be around because they are so interactive and energetic. They’re the most likely to shout or cheer if you tell them good news and will probably laugh the longest at your jokes and stories.

Cons – Sanguines generally lack structure and order and pay little heed to schedule or routine which can make them unpredictable and unreliable. They are often running late and leaving tasks unfinished. They can also be socially dominating.

POWERFUL CHOLERIC

Pros – Cholerics make great leaders and CEOs because they are very ‘driven’ and motivated. They are great in directing and overseeing and have capacity to accomplish projects on a large scale. They are confident and respond to challenges. They are ‘can do’ kind of people and work quickly and decisively. Cholerics take on projects that most other would be intimidated by.

Cons – The Choleric is typically strongly task focussed and can often be so to the detriment of helpful relationships and group dynamics. Whilst they are charging off to achieve great things they can often hurt people and leave a wide path of damage in their wake. They can be bossy and domineering.

PEACEFUL PHLEGMATIC

Pros – The majority of ‘people’ are Phlegmatic and this is what keeps the world going around! They are great followers; great supporters. They are able to remain emotionally neutral in difficult situations providing stability with their ‘unflappability’. They are agreeable, amiable and often helpful in mediating others and keeping the peace. They are faithful and loyal.

Cons – The Phlegmatic’s “whatever”, easy going attitude can often morph into laziness and/or stubbornness. They can be hard to motivate to action, difficult to inspire to emotional response or reaction and resistant to change. Their ‘steady’ pace can often bring frustration to those wanting to move a little faster.

PERFECT MELANCHOLY

Pros – Melancholy people are deep and creative thinkers. They do a lot of internal processing and analysing. This makes them great at strategy and logistics. They can identify potential problems and think ahead to possible solutions. They are often musical or artistic. They are great at keeping records and recalling details.

Cons – Because the Melancholy spends a lot of time in thought and internal dialogue they can become TOO introspective, negative or even depressed. They are often fearful in social situations because they over-analyse things. They are often slow to make friends and can tend to hold grudges.

Which one are you? Which one is your spouse, children, work colleagues, family members and friends?

These descriptions are not designed to pigeon-hole or ‘label’ you. They don’t EXCUSE any nuances of your personality but they may help to EXPLAIN something more of who you are and how you are more likely to respond to and interpret situations.
For me personally, this framework was instrumental in my journey to understanding and appreciating myself more (there’s a whole SECTION that describes me, I must not be *that* weird) and radically transformed both my understanding of others and my understanding of how they understood me (or didn’t).

More next time!! …

Understanding Others #1
Understanding Others #2
Understanding Others #4