Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Have Healthy Relationships

Casual observations by an ordinary girl, originally published as a series of Facebook posts.

How to Have Healthy Relationships, Part 1: Stop being so opinionated! It's very simple, really. Everyone does not have to think exactly like you. What do you care if the couple down the street just had their 8th child in 8 years? Are they expecting you to babysit or buy diapers? Then relax and congratulate them! Why does it matter if your brother is sending his children to public/private/keeping-them-home-from school? Will his choice make or break any established system? Do you really feel so strongly about breastfeeding, GMO foods, recycling, church doctrine/denomination/attendance, and dandelion-free lawns that you will alienate people to honor your convictions? Seek to find common ground with your family, friends, and neighbors. You don't have to be a spineless chameleon waffling around with no thought of your own. If it is not illegal or immoral, do whatever you want and keep quiet about it. All of life is not a competition. Learn to use phrases like, "Good for you!" and "That is certainly one way to look at things," or at the very least this non-threatening phrase, "Wow--that's different!" The world does not have to be such a snarky, abrasive place. Verse for the day: "As much as it is possible, live in peace with everyone." Romans 12:18

How to Have Healthy Relationships, Part 2: Admit you don't know everything. When we act like we know-it-all we'll eventually trip ourselves up because we are flying high without a net. The inevitable crash that ensues is often public. Have you ever been out walking in the world and stumbled and/or fallen? What is the first thing you do? Look around to see who saw you! Tripping up in arrogance works the same way: You are headed for a fall and people around you know it and are waiting. Endeavor to adopt a humble, teachable spirit. Train yourself to get down on a child's level and say things like, "That is so interesting! I never thought of that before," and "No, I don't know what that means. Can you tell me more?" There is nothing attractive or endearing about people who think they can't learn anything new. Revive a sense of wonder in your heart and see what happens in your relationships with others! Verse for the day: "Pride goes before disaster, and an arrogant attitude precedes a fall." Proverbs 16:18

How to Have Healthy Relationships, Part 3: Give someone the gift of your complete attention. This has become a scarcity in our world. We are so obsessed with the gadgets we hold in our hands we forget about real things like eye contact, the human voice, and body language. When a loved one is talking to you, stop what you are doing. Ignore your phone. Face the speaker and focus on what is being said, and maybe what isn't. Don't let your eyes wander and become distracted by others in the room. Calm your little heart down for five minutes and really listen. Nod, smile, resist the temptation to let your mind sneak off to compose what you will say next. Curb the "need" to one-up every story you hear or use it as a springboard to segue into your favorite subject. Learn to ask good questions that don't have simple yes or no answers. It's amazing how such simple, intentional actions can make a person feel loved, valued, heard. Verses for the Day: "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." James 1:19-20

How to Have Healthy Relationships, Part 4: Give courage. The world is a big and scary place. The TV, internet, and Iphones bombard us with a steady news stream of school shootings, terrorist attacks, war, killer tornadoes, wild fires, abductions, child abuse, earthquakes, and antibiotic resistant bugs and we are constantly tempted to fear. In our homes we wrestle with work stress, unpaid bills, chronic illness, divorce, infertility, chemical abuse, aging parents, wayward children. Secretly we battle discouragement, hopelessness, depression, and anxiety over so many threats--real and imagined. Every person you meet today is facing some sort of challenge: The person in front of you in the grocery line, the boy riding bike past your house, the guy who flipped you off at the 4-way stop. Your mechanic, your hair dresser, the teenager on her cell phone at the library. Closer to home your loved ones are struggling: Your grandmother, your sister-in-law, your nephew, your spouse. Yet, there is something you can do, something you can give them--it's called COURAGE--or more commonly, enCOURAGEment. The spirit of fear is not from God. He has filled us so that we can show calm assurance in the midst of storms, we can draw others into a peaceful embrace. We can smooth ruffled feathers, soothe fearful hearts with our presence and our faith-filled words. "Now is not the time to panic." "Let me pray with you." "I am WITH you--we are well able to meet this difficulty." "God is BIGGER." Be ready to dispense this gift of courage whenever you have opportunity. There are far too few cheerleaders in the world. Pick up those pompons and root for your team! Verses: 1 Thess. 5:11, "Therefore, encourage each other and strengthen one another as you are doing." And Romans 14:19, "And now, let us run after peace and after building one another up."

How to Have Healthy Relationships, Part 5: Realize the only person you can change is YOU. We all have challenging people in our lives--and perhaps WE are the difficult person in someone else's life? Counseling offices are filled with people who are seeking ways to improve their relationships, often hoping the other person will get with the program and shape up. How many times have you sat listening to a sermon and thought, "So-and-so really needs to hear this!" instead of examining your own heart? It is so easy to see how others are screwing up. And yet, in my own life, I have found that some of the behaviors/attitudes that bug me the most are those I SHARE. How awful, right? So before I am too quick to judge, I need to pick up a mirror and take a good long look! I believe that no one is in our lives by accident. God selects people to love and mentor us but also to sand away at our rough edges and sharpen our character. Do you believe this? Then thank God not only for the people you love, but those you find hard to love knowing that these are often His instruments of change in our lives. It is not our responsibility to see that THEY change, but to cooperate with our loving Savior as He seeks to form us more and more into His own image. Verses for today: "For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own?" Matthew 7:3-4

How to Have Healthy Relationships, Part 6: Set loving boundaries. Up until now, I bet you thought I was suggesting you continually roll over and turn the other cheek with all the people in your life. Well, now I'm telling you that LOVE sets LIMITS. We must constantly be on guard that we are not turning our loved ones into idols that we must serve/please at all costs, even to our own ruin. As Christians, our goal is to please an Audience of One. That means we must seek first His kingdom and will for our lives and this may often run counter to what others want for us. When this happens, what do we do? Go with God, speak the truth in love, and let the chips fall where they may. Remember earlier I shared the verse, "As far as it is up to you, be at peace with everyone?" Well, sometimes this peace-maintaining is not up to you and your loved one may be unhappy with and/or vocal about your choices. There are even times when the relationship becomes toxic and then you need to proceed with caution. For example, I deplore the use of chemicals on our lawn but they are the only thing that keeps our yard from being overtaken by creeping charlie. Though it does serve a valuable function, I don't have to BATHE in it! A little bit goes a long way. And that is how it is with some people. It would be unwise for you to expose yourself to large doses of these folks. You don't have to be at war, or turn them into enemies. Just set limits on how much time you will spend together, and how influential you will allow their voices to be in your life. Realize that by setting limits with them, and speaking truth in a respectful manner, you are contributing to work that God wants to do in both of you. Be aware that the conflict you are experiencing is not really about what it might appear. Don't lose sight of who your real Enemy is. Verse for the day: "This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent. We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness, and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world." Ephesians 6:12

How to Have Healthy Relationships, Part 7: Live Forgivingly. People you love will hurt you--often and sometimes deeply. The fact that we hold these loved ones in such high esteem, trust, and value their position in our lives only makes the damage that much worse. Actions occur and words are spoken that wound us--cutting at our hearts in ways no casual acquaintance ever could. We feel betrayed, unappreciated, misunderstood. Knowing this in advance helps us prepare for the offenses that will most certainly come. Become familiar with assuming your own share of the blame (remember the speck and the plank) and practice saying things like, "I'm so sorry," and "Will you forgive me?" Then, if the other person is so gracious as to follow suit be quick to say "I forgive you," NOT, "It's okay," because it probably isn't. Extend forgiveness whether an apology is verbalized or not. Holding onto hurt does untold damage in your mind and your body. Teach yourself to take thoughts captive. Once you've committed to forgive, refuse to entertain thoughts to the contrary. Resist the urge to recite the story to anyone who will listen--as well as refusing the offense air time in the privacy of your own head. Remind yourself of how much you have been forgiven and ask God to help you extend that same kind of grace. Who but Jesus understands better the pain of undeserved mistreatment? Verse for the day, Colossians 3:13, "Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others."

I thought I was done, for now, with my mini-series exhortation on relationships. But something happened that made me want to add a PS. We were on our way out to the lake yesterday morning, merrily traveling down Hwy 1. I was turned in my seat talking to passengers in the back of our mini-van when I heard Ron say, "Uh-oh...hang on!" He slammed on the brakes and swerved into the left lane and I turned my head to see the bumper of a red car looming in the windshield. Two cars were stopped dead in front of us without warning. We barely missed the red car, but a tan car ahead of it was turning left. Ron veered the van to the right again just as the red car decided to follow the tan car in a left turn: No looking back in mirrors, no signal of their intentions--completely unaware of our presence--just turning. Ron stepped on the gas and, somehow, managed to shoot BETWEEN both turning cars and onto the shoulder without rolling in the ditch on the left, and got us back onto the right side of the road. We were all shaken. I don't think either of the other vehicles even saw us until we loomed between them, so intent were they on finding the perfect entry to the river for tubing. Ron manuevered our mini-van like a Hollywood stunt guy. We were breathless that we missed both cars and did not have incoming traffic in the oncoming lane. How quickly life can change in an instant! My relationship advice to you today is this: Number your days. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Live intentionally. Live in the moment. Appreciate the people around you and let them know how much you love them. Verses for the day: Psalm 103:14-17 [The Lord] knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here. But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children

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